Quantum Future (continued)
Chapter 4. Doors
After defeat in the battle with the vices and temptations of decaying digital capitalism, Max came to his first success. Small, of course, but still. He passed the qualification exams very well and even jumped over the ladder right up to the ninth category optimizer. On the wave of success, he decided to take part in the development of the application for the design of the New Year's corporate evening. Of course, there was no achievement in this: any Telecom employee could offer ideas for the application, and in total two hundred volunteers were involved in the development, not counting specially appointed curators. But Max hoped in this way to attract the attention of someone from the leadership, and, moreover, this was his first truly creative work since his appearance in the city of Tula.
One of the curators from an organizational point of view was the charming Laura May, and a couple of hours of personal communication with her was a pleasant bonus to volunteer activities. Max found out that it turns out that Laura is a very real person, moreover, she looked no worse than in the picture, and according to her assurances, she almost did not use cosmetic programs. In addition, Laura behaved very naturally, smiled almost all the time and smoked expensive synthetic cigarettes right at the workplace, not at all afraid of fines and other sanctions. She, without visible signs of boredom, listened to technical details, into which conversations of nerds hanging around her constantly drove down and even tried to laugh at their no less nerdy jokes. Even the fact that Laura got away with smoking in the workplace and familiarity with the highest Martian authorities, didn’t cause a drop of irritation in Max. He often tried to remind himself that this was only part of her work: to motivate stupid males to take part in all free activities, and in fact he has Masha, who is waiting in distant cold Moscow, when he finally figured out her invitation for a visa . And he also thought that in the world of illusions no one attaches any particular importance to female beauty and charm, because here everyone looks as they want, and bots look and speak perfectly. But Laura easily violated this rule, so that for the sake of ten minutes of meaningless chatter with her, Max was ready to pore midnight on the holiday application and after that, did not even feel especially used. to motivate stupid males to take part in any free initiative, and actually he has Masha, who is waiting in distant cold Moscow, when he will finally figure out her invitation for a visa. And he also thought that in the world of illusions no one attaches any particular importance to female beauty and charm, because here everyone looks as they want, and bots look and speak perfectly. But Laura easily violated this rule, so that for the sake of ten minutes of meaningless chatter with her, Max was ready to pore midnight on the holiday application and after that, did not even feel especially used. to motivate stupid males to take part in any free initiative, and actually he has Masha, who is waiting in distant cold Moscow, when he will finally figure out her invitation for a visa. And he also thought that in the world of illusions no one attaches any particular importance to female beauty and charm, because here everyone looks as they want, and bots look and speak perfectly. But Laura easily violated this rule, so that for the sake of ten minutes of meaningless chatter with her, Max was ready to pore midnight on the holiday application and after that, did not even feel especially used. that in the world of illusions no one attaches any special importance to female beauty and charm, because here everyone looks as they want, and bots look and speak perfectly. But Laura easily violated this rule, so that for the sake of ten minutes of meaningless chatter with her, Max was ready to pore midnight on the holiday application and after that, did not even feel especially used. that in the world of illusions no one attaches any special importance to female beauty and charm, because here everyone looks as they want, and bots look and speak perfectly. But Laura easily violated this rule, so that for the sake of ten minutes of meaningless chatter with her, Max was ready to pore midnight on the holiday application and after that, did not even feel especially used.
So, the time was inexorably approaching the onset of the New Year's celebration, which Telecom took with all seriousness. Max was sitting on a sofa in one of the lounges, thoughtfully stirring coffee and twisting the settings of his chip, trying to achieve normal performance of his own application. So far, the tests seem to have been going fine, without any special pixels and screenshots. Near the couch Boris flopped down.
- Well, let's go?
“Wait five more minutes.”
- People have dumped people from our sector, they will already get drunk while we arrive. By the way, a dubious topic was invented for the corporate party.
- Yes, can you imagine what the headlines will be in the news, if competitors dry up. Telecom has revealed its true face ... and all that.
- Therefore, the party is closed. The application has a ban on cameras of personal drones, tablets and video from neurochips.
- Anyway, this demonic topic, in my opinion, is a bit overkill.
- And what happened last year?
- Last year, stupidly thumped at the club. There were still competitions like ... for which everyone scored.
- That's exactly why we have now focused on the thematic design, without stupid contests. And the theme of the lower plans of the Planescape setting won by an honest vote.
- Yeah, I always knew that you shouldn’t trust such clever things. You didn’t choose such a topic for fun?
- I have no idea, I suggested it because I like one very ancient game in this setting. They also offered a ball of Satan in the style of the Master and Margarita, but decided that it was too vintage and not fashionable.
- M-yes, it turns out that you suggested ... If only you would have done the usual nine circles of hell then, they would have unearthed some ancient setting overgrown with moss.
- Great setting, much better than your warcraft. And unhealthy associations could arise with Dante's hell.
- As if with this they are very healthy ...
Another guy entered the almost empty room: tall, puny, and awkward looking. He had unkempt, slightly curly light brown hair to his shoulders and many days of unshavenness on his cheeks. Judging by this, and by expressing a slight detachment in his look, he successfully scored his appearance both real and digital. Max caught a glimpse of him a couple of times, and Boris joyfully waved his hand at the incoming man.
- Hey Grieg, great! You also didn’t fall down with everyone?
“Yes, I didn’t want to go at all,” Grieg mumbled, stopping before Boris, who had fallen on the couch.
“This is Grieg from the service department.” Grieg, this is Max - a great dude, we work together.
Grieg awkwardly held out his hand, so Max managed to shake only his fingers. Some connectors and cables peeped out from under the sleeve of a well-worn plaid shirt. Grieg, seeing that Max paid attention to them, immediately drew his sleeve.
- This is for work. I do not like wireless interfaces, it’s more reliable. - Grieg blushed slightly: for some reason he was embarrassed by his cybernetics.
“Why didn't you want to go?” - decided to support the conversation Max.
- I do not like the topic.
- You see, Max, many do not like it.
“Why did you vote then?” What do not like something?
“Yes, somehow it’s not good to dress up in all evil spirits, even for fun ...,” Grieg hesitated again.
- I beg of you! You tell the Martians what is good and what is not. Let's also ban Halloween.
- Yes, Martians are generally real techno-fascists or techno-fetishists. Nothing holy! - Boris categorically declared. - Max, it turns out that he not only steered the development of the application, but he also came up with this topic.
- No, the application is cool done. I just do not really have holidays ... and all these transformations, too. Well, I’m such a person ..., - Grieg was embarrassed, apparently deciding that he had inadvertently offended some cool bosses in the person of Max.
- I did not steer, stop lying.
- Come on, be modest. You are now, really, superstar. In my memory, no one jumped through a post after qualification exams. Among the coders of our sector, of course. Have you had such a piece of iron?
“I don’t remember ... I somehow didn’t follow ...,” Grieg shrugged.
- And Max has tricked us ourselves, you won’t believe the fucking Laura May.
- Borya, tie up to rant. A hundred times already said: I have Masha.
“Yeah, and you will live happily ever after with her when she finally arrives on Mars.” Or, for some reason, she will not get a visa and will remain in Moscow ... Don’t say that you haven’t rolled up to Laura yet? Do not be foolish, Max, who does not take risks, does not drink champagne!
- Yes, maybe I don’t want to roll up to her! It feels like in the face of the worried half of our sector, I have already committed myself to reporting on the rolling process. And you yourself, kind of like a family man, what kind of unhealthy interest?
“Well, I don't pretend to be anything.” None of us disappeared for two hours in her office. And you hang there constantly, therefore your duty, as a representative of a glorious masculine kind: to seduce and be sure to report to your comrades. Arsen, by the way, has long offered to create a private group on MarinBook to help you with advice and quickly find out about progress.
“No, you're definitely preoccupied.” Can you also upload photo-video with progress there?
- We about the video, even in my wildest dreams we did not hope, but since you yourself promise ... I catch the word in short. Grieg, will you confirm if that?
- What? Asked Grieg, clearly self-conscious.
“Ah, nothing,” Boris waved his hand.
“What, is Laura so worried about you?”
- Before her, half of the Martians on their hind legs are running. And they are generally known for their, so to speak, almost complete indifference to women of non-Martian origin. What does she know how to do, what other women don’t know? Everyone is interested.
- And what versions?
- What versions can be? In such matters, we do not rely on unverified rumors and conjectures. We need reliable infa, first-hand.
- Yeah of course. Here, Boryan, really, create yourself a bot with her appearance and have fun as much as you like.
- Have you forgotten what the entertainment with bots lead to? To guaranteed turning into a shadow.
- I meant only the process of tacking, nothing more.
- Throw a bot! You have a good opinion of us. Okay, let's go, we'll be late for the last bus. Oh yes, sorry, to the boat on the Styx River.
Following the annoying white rabbit in the vest, they left the rest room and passed the darkened halls of the optimization and service sectors. There was only a shift on duty, buried in deep armchairs and boring databases of the internal network.
The premises of the main office were located in tiers and along the inner perimeter of the walls of the support and were divided into blocks inside the tiers. And in the center was a mine with freight and passenger elevators. It rose from the very depths of the planet right up to the observation deck at the top of the power dome support above the surface, from where endless red dunes could be seen. It was said that the one who fell into the mine from the observation deck would manage to draw up and certify a digital testament while flying to the very bottom. In total, the main office had several hundred huge floors and it would be unlikely that there would be an employee, even one of the most deserted, who would visit them all in his life. Moreover, people with orange or yellow clearance were ordered to enter some floors. For example, those where luxurious offices and apartments of large Martian bosses were located. Such VIP rooms occupied mainly the middle floors of the support. Autonomous energy and oxygen stations were hiding somewhere in the depths of the failure. As for the rest, there was no special segregation in height of placement, only they tried not to have anything important in the elevated tower. The network operation service occupied several tiers closer to the ceiling of the cave adjacent to the docking nodes for drones. From the windows of the relaxation block one could always observe swarming herds of large and small company cars. The network operation service occupied several tiers closer to the ceiling of the cave adjacent to the docking nodes for drones. From the windows of the relaxation block one could always observe swarming herds of large and small company cars. The network operation service occupied several tiers closer to the ceiling of the cave adjacent to the docking nodes for drones. From the windows of the relaxation block one could always observe swarming herds of large and small company cars.
The elevator, called in advance by the rabbit, was waiting for them in a spacious hall. Boris was the first to go inside, turned around and said in a terrible voice:
“Well, miserable mortals: who wants to sell his soul?”
And he turned into a stunted red demon with small wings and long fangs protruding from the lower and upper jaw. A hefty hammer dangled from his belt with a beak on the back, which was a crescent-shaped blade with terrible notches. Criss-cross Boris was wrapped in a heavy chain with a spiked ball at the end.
“I would have looked at that fool who decides to sell his soul to a dwarf.”
“I'm a dwarf ... That is, what the hell, I'm actually a demon.”
“Yeah, you're a red gnome with wings.” Well, or maybe a small red orc with wings.
- Yes, and do not care, there are no rules about the costume in your application.
- Do not care, of course, but warcraft does not let you go, even at a corporate party.
- Well, I have a type of tight imagination, I admit? Who are you?
The transparent elevator doors closed and countless tiers of the main office swept up. Max scored on shamanism with performance and launched the application.
- Are you ifrit?
“I think he's just a burning man,” Grieg said suddenly.
- Tochnik. In general, Ignus is a character from that ancient igruly. I burned the whole city and in retaliation the inhabitants opened for me a personal portal to the plan of fire. And although I was doomed to burn alive forever, but I achieved a real merger with my element. This is the price of true knowledge.
- Pf ..., it’s better to be an orc with wings, it’s somehow closer to the people.
“On fire, I see the world real.”
- Oh, it started, again you will begin to push your philosophy. After returning from this fucking Dreamland, you became some kind of different one. Let's tie it up: about shadows and stuff - it's a bike, honestly.
- So you have not seen your own shadow?
- Well, I definitely saw something, but I’m not ready to guarantee how. And my shadow certainly didn’t pester my brains with a stupid philosophy.
The elevator gently stopped on the first floor. A helpful platform with grab rails immediately arrived, ready to deliver it directly to the buses.
“Let's go on foot through the checkpoint,” suggested Boris. - I threw my backpack in the locker there.
“But you never part with him.”
- Today there are too many forbidden liquids in it, it was dumb to rub through the guards.
The virtual rabbit jumped onto the platform and drove off with it. And they stomped through scanners and security robots, intentionally painted in menacing camouflage tones, touched by rust. Impressive turrets on monowheels turned after each visitor, rotating trunks on the manipulators and not tired of repeating “Move along” with a metallic voice!
Boris pulled out a clanging heavy backpack from his cell.
- And you will be allowed into the club, do you think?
“I'm not going to drag them for so long.” Now we’ll sentence on the bus, that is, on the ship.
- Uh, Boris, besiege the horses! There’s at least half a drawer, ”Max was surprised, lifting his backpack to assess its weight. - I hope this beer, or you took a couple of oxygen cylinders in reserve?
- Offend, I grabbed a couple of bottles of Mars-Cola for a drink. And the cylinders are resting today. Considering how much I'm going to drink, even a spacesuit will not save me. Grieg, are you with us?
Boris was radiant with enthusiasm. Max was afraid that he would begin the tasting right at the reception, in front of the guards and secretaries.
“Only if a little,” Grieg answered uncertainly.
- Well, fine, let's start a little, and then how it goes ... SchA, Max, we’ll push it even to the club, that is, sorry, before we get to the lower planes, we’ll understand your philosophy.
Max just shook his head. Boris threw the backpack on his back and immediately began to express dissatisfaction with the fact that he stepped through the textures of his wings.
- Something trouble you have in the application with the processing of objects.
“Why did you want it to recognize everything on the fly?” If your miracle backpack has an IoT interface, then it will register without any problems. Of course, you can recognize it, but you need to tinker.
- Yeah, now.
Boris's backpack turned into a shabby leather bag with bone clasps and embossed from skulls and pentagrams.
“Well, that’s it, I’m completely ready for unbridled fun.” Go ahead, lower plans await us!
Boris led the procession, and they set off without delay to the long-awaited vehicles for the late. Those appeared in the image of a couple of rooks from shabby, rotten boards, covered with tangles of vile whitish threads, which began sleepy stirring barely sensing movement nearby. Rooks stood on a joke at the dilapidated stone pier. Behind there was quite an ordinary parking lot with cars and a huge wall of a support, and in front of it the darkness of endless Styx was already splashing, and a mystical fog was smoking above the water.
The entrance to the gangway was guarded by a tall, bony figure in a torn gray hoodie, floating half a meter above the ground. She blocked the path of Grieg.
“Only the souls of the dead and the creatures of evil can sail through the waters of Styx,” the carrier creaked.
“Yes, of course,” Grieg dismissed. - I'll turn it on now.
He turned into a standard dark elf with long silver hair, in leather armor and the thinnest spider silk cloak.
“Do not try to leave the ship while traveling, the waters of Styx are deprived of memory ...” the carrier carrier continued to creak, but no one was listening to him.
Inside, everything was also quite authentic: bone benches along the sides, flashing lights of the demonic fire and the souls of sinners embedded in rotten boards, sometimes frightening with grave moans and stretching out knotted limbs. A couple of dragon-like demons hung out at the stern of the boat, one not authentic vampire and the spider queen - Lolth in the form of a dark elf, but with a bunch of chelicera sticking out of her back. True, the lady was slightly in the body, so even the application could not hide it. The textures of the dark goddess, which had been fermented by telecom grubbing, were noticeably switched on when they collided with real objects, signaling a mismatch between the physical and digital torsos. Max did not know any of those already on the rook. But Boris yelled joyfully, shaking a clinking bag.
- Salute to everyone! Katya, Sanya, how are you? Che, can we roll ?!
- Here it is! The vampire immediately perked up.
- Boryan - handsome, prepared!
The dragon-like Sanya slapped Boris on the shoulder and pulled out paper cups from under the bench.
- Oh, finally, one of ours! - the spider whispered joyfully and practically hung on Grieg’s neck. “Aren't you glad to see your queen ?!”
Grieg, embarrassed by this pressure, languidly denied himself and apparently reproached himself for his unsuccessful choice of costume. Dragons were already pouring whiskey and cola into glasses and around them. “Yes, the evening promises to be languid,” thought Max, skeptical about the picture of a spontaneously formed bacchanalia.
Slowly, the boat was filled with late-born creatures of evil. A violet demon with a large toothy mouth and long spikes all over his body, several insect-like demons and demonesses, and a female snake with four arms came in. They poured into the drunken company at the stern so that Boris’s backpack really quite quickly went empty. Half of these people pulled on images completely without bothering, which made them identifiable exclusively by a virtual badge. Of all the variety, Max liked only the idea of a costume in the form of a plush roofing felts of a dinosaur, roofing felts of a dragon, whose mouth was thrown over his head in the form of a hood, although this outfit did not match the setting. However, Max did not seek to especially recognize or remember anyone. All joyfully thumping belonged to the categories of admins, providers, operators and other security guards who are useless for promotion. Gradually Max sat separately a little ahead, it was easier to miss numerous toasts for the coming year of the rat. But just five minutes later, a cheerful Cheerleader flopped nearby.
- Max, what are you missing? You know, I planned to get a kick today at your company.
- Come on later, get drunk at the club.
- Why so?
- Yes, I was hoping to hang out with someone from the Martians and maybe discuss my career prospects. While you need to stay in shape.
- Ah, Max, you forget! This is another breeder: you can hang out at a corporate party with anyone, without regard to ranks and titles. Complete nonsense.
- Why? I heard stories about incredible career ups, well, or falls after corporate events.
- Tales of pure water, that's what I understand. Ordinary Martian hypocrisy, it must be shown that the life of ordinary bydlokodera somehow excites them. It will, at best, tryndezh about anything.
- Well, at least, the reputation of a person who quietly tryndit about anything with the bosses from the board of directors is already worth a lot.
“And how do you plan to have a casual conversation?”
- It’s an obvious way, provided by the program of the evening. Martians love original outfits.
- Do you think your outfit is very cool?
- Well, he's from a vintage computer game.
“Wow, that's a great way to suck at them.” Your choice of costume is clear. Although against the background of the surrounding squalor, even my red orc was not so bad.
- Yeah, in vain the face control in the application was not washed down, or at least the ban on standard images. Of all the thumps, only the dinosaur claims to be some kind of originality.
- This is Dimon from SB. He simply has nothing to do there. They sit integrally spit on the ceiling, supposedly watching security. Hey Dimon! - Boris called out to the cheerful plush dinosaur. - You have a cool suit!
Dimon saluted with a paper cup and an unsteady gait, clutching at the bone handrails, approached them.
- He sewed for a week.
- Shil? - surprised Max.
- Yeah, you can touch.
- Do you want to say you have a real suit, not a digital one?
- Natural product, but what? No one has such a suit.
- And it's really original, although without explanation no one will figure it out, I guess. And you mean working in the Security Council?
- The operator, so do not worry, I do not collect any compromising evidence. You can even stand on your ears, even puke under the table.
- I know one dude from your Security Council who advised me to completely hide my privacy, Ruslan’s name.
- And from what department is it, we have a lot of people there? I hope not from the first, with these guys are generally reluctant to intersect?
“I don’t know, from some strange department, it seems to me.” Anyway, he’s not a very pleasant type ...
- And of you, by the way, no one knows how to disable the bot? And then I was already sickened with a reminder that I did not change clothes.
- Hmm, we forgot to provide for the function of a real costume. I'm going to try now. Can any badge add that the costume is real?
- Add it. And you type admin?
“Max, we have the main developer of the application,” Boris climbed in again. - And he muddied ...
- Boryan, well, enough already carry this nonsense about Laura.
- Who's that?
- Well, what are you ?! - theatrically indignant Boris. - The blonde is such with large buffers from the press service.
- And this Laura ... fig yourself!
- Here's a fig for yourself. Max, by the way, promised to introduce all his friends to her. Will she be today?
- No, she said that she was dumbfounded by anxious cattle coders, so she hangs out with directors and other VIPs in a separate penthouse.
- What are the details, however. Do not pay attention, Max is joking.
“Fine, then I thumped with you,” the plush Dimon rejoiced. - Well, I’ll also try to put that snake on the spot, we are reptiles, we have a lot in common ..., like. And if that doesn't work, then with Laura.
- What with Laura? - shook his head Max. - Dealt with your bot.
“I’ll suggest she touch my suit,” Dimon barked. “It is not in vain that so much power has been crushed upon him.” Borya, where is your backpack? Fool me please.
Max realized that there was nowhere to escape from the fun on this ship. Therefore, when they set sail Styx no longer looked so gloomy, and a bunch of unclean evil spirits so banal. He thought that, nevertheless, the team responsible for the trip didn’t finalize much: the boat rushing at a frantic speed through the dark waters, like the unnaturally maneuvering crowds of spirits and water demons, all too clearly resembled their road prototypes. On the other hand, did it bother anyone except a few picky connoisseurs. “And what is going to give some bonuses for the best developments at the corporate party?” - wondered Max. - No, none of the big bosses promised that he would bring everyone together and tell him that here he is Max - the designer of Baator’s best and most elaborated first plan. And after stormy and prolonged applause, she will not offer to urgently transfer to my hands the development of a new supercomputer. Everyone will forget about these pictures the next day. ”
- Max, why are you stumbling again ?! - Boris asked in a slightly weaving tongue. - It is worth turning away for a minute and you immediately stumble. Let's go relax!
- So, I’m thinking about one fundamental mystery of the digital world.
- A riddle? - Boris asked again, plainly not hearing anything in the surrounding crap. - You also came up with a riddle? You’re a direct champion in participating in the ragged Martian entertainment.
- And I also came up with a riddle. I think you should guess her.
- Let's listen.
- If I see what gave birth to me, then I will disappear. Who am I?
- Well, I don’t know ... Are you the son of Taras Bulba?
- Ha! The train of thought is certainly interesting, but no. This refers to physical disappearance and formal observance of conditions rather than a literal interpretation. Think again.
- Yes, leave me alone! My brain has already been switched to the “hammer on everything and come off” mode, there is nothing to load it.
“Okay, the correct answer is a shadow.” If I see the sun, I will disappear.
- Ah, really ... Dimon fuck off, here we solve riddles.
Boris tried to push the comrade, who climbed through him for the last bottle of Mars-Cola.
- What are the puzzles? I can also guess.
“There is one more,” Max shrugged. - True, I didn’t even let her through the neural network, I suspect that I myself do not know the answer.
- We’ll solve it! - Dimon answered enthusiastically.
- Is there any way to determine that the world around us is not a Martian dream, taking the following assumptions as truth. The computer can show you anything by relying on publicly available information, as well as relying on the results of scanning your memory, while it does not make recognition errors. And the contract with the provider of the Martian dream could be concluded on any conditions?
“Oooo ...,” said Dimon. - I went to frame the snake from you.
- Negro with multi-colored pills - this is the only way! Snapped Boris irritably. “No, Max, now I’ll make you get drunk so that you forget about the damn Dreamland even for one evening.” Hey drunk, where's my backpack ?!
Indignant exclamations were heard, and Grieg was shoved out of the crowd with an almost empty bag.
- That there is absolutely nothing left? - Boris was upset.
Grieg, with such a guilty look as if he alone had consumed everything, held out a bottle in which the remains of tequila splashed on the bottom.
“Just for three.” Let's get the fucking Dreamland burned to the ground next year.
“By the way, this is one of Telecom’s largest customers,” Grieg said, taking the bottle and drinking the leftovers in one gulp. - Of course, they are engaged in a lousy business, I also do not like them.
- Where does infa come from?
- Yes, they constantly drive me to change something there. There are half of our racks. The most dumb, of course, to work in storage, especially one. In general, a nightmare, as in some kind of morgue.
“Heard, Max, what does Dreamland do with people.”
“Keeps them in bio-baths, nothing special.”
- Well, yes, it seems nothing like that, but the atmosphere is really dumb, it puts pressure on the psyche. Maybe due to the fact that there are a lot of them? If you visit there, you will immediately understand.
- Max’s got to be taken on an excursion so that he is really imbued.
- Make a request to be sent as a duty to help me.
- I cook up tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.
“Stop it,” Max dismissed. - Well, I stumbled once, with whom doesn’t happen? I do not want to go there on excursions.
- Glad to hear that. The main thing is not to stumble again.
The boat braked quite sharply. The bot mumbled something about the need to keep order and caution when the drunken creatures of evil rushed to the exit, not dismantling the road. Straight from the banks of the Styx began a wide staircase down into the flaming netherworld. Numerous dance floors of the prestigious Pit Club really went inside a huge natural crack. And so the hellish textures of the lower planes superimposed perfectly on its real architecture. On both sides of the stairs, the descent began with statues of eerie anthropomorphic creatures of two meters tall, with a huge mouth that opened down one hundred and eighty degrees, with sticking sticks and a long forked tongue. The skin of the creatures seemed to be completely absent, and instead the body was braided with ropes of muscle tissue. A few long whiskers hung from an angular skull and over the big faceted eyes a few more gaps gaped like empty sockets. Rows of bone spikes protruded from his chest and back, his hands were decorated with short powerful claws. And the legs ended in three very long claws, capable of clinging to any surface.
Max interestedly stopped in front of the nightmarish sculptures and, turning off the “demonic” vision for a second, was convinced that they lacked digital improvements. Apparently, they were made using very high-quality 3D printing from dark bronze, so that each tendon and each artery looked clear and embossed. It seemed that the creatures were about to step from their pedestals directly into the crowd to arrange a real bloody massacre among the pretending demons of people.
- Strange gizmos, when I was doing the application, I couldn’t find anything about them? Even the employees are silent, like partisans.
“Just the fruit of someone else’s sick imagination,” Boris shrugged. - I heard that a long time ago some nameless club employee bought them at an auction, they dusted themselves in a closet for years, and then they accidentally stumbled upon them during the general cleaning and risked to set them as decorations. And now, for several years they have been playing the role of a local scarecrow.
- Anyway, they are kind of strange.
- Of course, strange, as strange as those who chose the infernal design for New Year's Eve.
- Yes, I'm not strange in this sense. They are somehow eclectic or something. These are obviously hoses or tubes, but the connectors are obviously nearby ...
- Just think, ordinary cyborg demons, let's go already.
The first lower plan met them with symphonic arrangements of rock music and the whine of a huge crowd, randomly staggering along a barren rocky plain illuminated by the light of red skies. Bengal fires and other pyrotechnics sometimes flashed in the sky, which the program turned into fire comets. Large obsidian fragments were scattered across the plain, one approach to which frightened the possibility of trimming a couple of protruding parts of the body from contact with their razor-sharp edges. However, in reality, such negligence did not threaten anything, because soft ottomans for the rest of weary demons were hidden behind the textures of the fragments. What politely reported were the souls of sinners imprisoned in fragments. Blood streams ran in some places because of which Max almost quarreled with the club management. With great creak, the club agreed to organize small grooves with real water, and flatly refused to spoil its property with full rivers of blood. Ugly lemurs hastily scurried across the plain, resembling shapeless pieces of protoplasm. They barely had time to deliver drinks and snacks.
- Fu, what a nasty thing! - Boris squeamishly kicked the nearest lemur and he, being robbed of all civil rights by robotics, obediently rolled in the opposite direction, not forgetting to utter his synthesized apologies. “I was hoping that we would be served by pretty, lively succubus, or someone like that, not cheap hardware.”
- Well, I'm sorry, all the questions to Telecom, why he did not fork out for the pretty succubus.
- Well, you tell me as the main developer: where is the best swill poured?
- Each plan has its own chips. Here, mainly “bloody” cocktails, red wine and all that are poured. You can go to the central bar if the lemurs are not happy.
“Are those bushes in the center?” They are generally not in my opinion in the subject. Your flaw?
- No, it's all about the setting. These are the gardens of oblivion - a strange paradise in the middle of hellish hell. There, on the trees, delicious juicy fruits grow, though if you lean on them too much, you can forget yourself by magical sleep and disappear from this world forever.
- Then let's go get it.
- Borya, you would not interfere with everything. At this rate, we will not get to the ninth plan.
“Don't worry about me.” I, if necessary, crawl to at least twentieth. Grieg, are you with us or against us?
Following Grieg, Katyuka again got in touch, with whom he was already talking without visible signs of embarrassment and even tried to portray the pleasure of the fun happening around. He gallantly helped her get across the bloody streams. They were also joined by a dragon-like Sanya with some kind of left witch.
In the center of the hall, a small grove of animated trees surrounded a gurgling fountain. Bunches of various fruits hung from the trees. Boris plucked a grapefruit and handed it to Max.
- Well, what to do with this garbage?
- Insert the tube and drink. Most likely, this is vodka with grapefruit juice. The type of fruit approximately corresponds to the content. I'll go myself a normal cocktail namuchu.
Max headed to the center of the grove, where around the fountain there were bar machines, disguised as predatory flowers. With their hunting stems, they grabbed the right glass and mixed the components with perfectly calculated movements. Next to one of the machine guns stood a gloomy figure of a black gargoyle with burning yellow eyes and large leathery wings.
- Ruslan? Asked Max in surprise.
- Ah, great. How is life, how are career successes?
- In the process. Here, I hoped today to get useful acquaintances. He even came up with a riddle.
- Well done. The party is nowhere rotten, and you want to put out it even more.
All the same, smart, Max thought irritably. “They only criticize, if we couldn’t do anything ourselves.”
- Then I would suggest my theme.
- I suggested: Chicago of the thirties.
- Ah, the mafia, the prohibition and all things. What is the fundamental difference?
- At least not such a kindergarten with dressing up as orcs and gnomes.
- Warcraft is another setting, pop and hackneyed. And here is an interesting world and references to one vintage toy. Here is my character, for example ...
- Yes, leave me alone, Max, I still don’t understand this. I understand that the tadpoles like this, so they chose this topic.
- This topic won the results of an honest vote among all employees.
- Yeah, honest, honest.
- No, Ruslan, you're incorrigible! Of course, the Martians twisted it in their favor, because they have nothing to do.
- Forget it, why are you nervous? Let me be honest, it’s just that these nerd dodges didn’t pin me at all.
- Actually, I proposed this topic and I designed the first plan too ... Well, eighty percent.
“Cool ... Not seriously, cool,” assured Ruslan, noticing the skeptical expression on Max's face. “You’re doing a great job, such an egghead can just remember.”
“Want to say I'm the Martian licking champion?”
- No, you have a maximum of the third youth. You know what kind of masters there are to lick Martian assholes. Where are you up to them! In short, do not want to bend, forget about a big career.
- No, let the world cave in better for us.
- To climb up, bending the rest under you, you must be a different person. Not like you ... Okay, again, I say, I’m annoying you. Let's go better look for some dvizhuha.
- Yes, I'm here with friends, maybe we'll come back later.
“And there are your friends,” Ruslan nodded at Boris and the plush Dimon, who stopped in confusion at the nearest tree. - You, since the chief on this topic, say: where is the normal mover here?
- Well, in the background there should be something like a foamy party, at the seventh disco in the style of techno, rave and so on. I don’t know anymore, I’m special for the first.
- We'll figure it out! - Ruslan leaned towards Max and switched to lowered tones. - Keep in mind, you definitely won’t make a career with such friendships. Okay, come on!
He slapped Max on the shoulder and with a confident jumping gait went to conquer the dance floors of the lower planes.
- Do you know him? - with a mixture of surprise and it seems a slight envy in his voice asked Dimon.
- This is Ruslan, that strange dude from the Security Council that I spoke about.
- Nitsche you have friends! Remember, I said that I don’t want to intersect with the first department. So with their "department" I want to intersect even less.
“What are they doing?”
- I don’t know, I don’t know! - Dimon shook his head, now he seemed really scared. - Damn, I have a green clearance! Damn, guys, I didn't say that, okay. Heck!
“Yes, you didn’t say anything.” I'll ask him myself.
- You are foolish, do not! Just don’t mention me, okay?
- Yes, what is the problem?
“Max, leave the man alone,” interrupted the seditious conversations Boris. - Have you made a cocktail? Here sit drink! One cube-libra with Mars-Cola. He ordered the plant.
- Caught a snake? - Max decided to distract overtaxed Dimon from forbidden topics.
- No, she even refused to touch my suit.
“Maybe she shouldn't have suggested touching something?” At least not right away.
- Yes, probably. I, too, cube-libra. What did you promise about Laura?
“I didn't promise anything about Laura.” Tie already with these fantasies.
- Just kidding. Where do we go next?
“In principle, there is only one way,” Max shrugged. - I think it's worth going to the very bottom, and then we'll see.
- Forward, into the abyss of Baator! - Boris enthusiastically supported him.
Next to the stairs to the next tier, on a large pile of gold, there is a dragon with five heads of all colors of the rainbow. He periodically issued a terrible roar and released into the sky pillars of fire, ice, lightning and other witchcraft dirty tricks. Of course, no one was afraid of him, since the creature was completely virtual. And on the other side of the descent there was a large column, consisting of the torn off heads of various robots. The heads constantly fought among themselves, some hiding in the depths, others crawled to the surface. The textures were pulled over a real column and connected to Telecom’s internal search engine, so theoretically they could answer any question if the questioner had the appropriate clearance.
- Chur me! - Boris theatrically crossed himself at the sight of the column. - Is that instead of the Christmas tree?
“No, of course, this is a column of skulls from the setting,” Max answered. “You know that Martians do not like religious symbols at all.” In the original, there are rotting dead heads, but decided that it would be too harsh.
- Come on, what is there! They would hang Christmas toys and an angel from above on decaying heads, then it would be tough.
- In short, these are the remains of robots or androids that, like, violated the three laws of robotics. There are the heads of the Terminators, Roy Batti from the blade-running, Megatron and other "bad" robots. True, in the end everyone shoved her in a row ...
- And what do you command me to do with her?
- You can ask her any question, she’s connected to Telecom’s internal search engine.
“Just think, with the same success, I can ask a neurogogl too,” Boris grumbled.
- This is an internal car. Like, if you agree with the heads, they can give out, for example, personal information about some employee ...
- So, let’s try now, - Dimon crept to the column without ceremony. - The personal file of Polina Tsvetkova.
- Who is this? - surprised Max.
“Apparently that snake,” Boris shrugged.
From the mishmash a piece of iron appeared Bender's head from Futurama.
“Kiss my shiny metal butt!”
“Hey, you head, you don’t have any ass,” Dimon was offended.
“And you don’t even have a heifer, a pathetic piece of meat!”
- Max! Why the hell is your program rude to me? - Dimon was indignant.
- This is not my program, I’m saying, in the end, anyone could shove anything. Someone apparently pinned.
“Well, what if your column of some Martian boss sends three letters?”
- I have no idea, they will look for the one who has committed Bender’s head.
- Glory to the robots, death to all people! - continued to broadcast the head.
- Ah, well you, nafig! - waved a hand Dimon. - If I’m waiting in the background.
- If you are going to visit the city of pain, then I will tell you a secret: there is absolutely nothing to do there.
The last phrase was pronounced by the arrogant tone of an expert on all types of botanical and hipster entertainments, which undoubtedly was the leading programmer Gordon Murphy. Gordon was a tall, lean, stiff lover to breed all kinds of pseudo-intellectual talk about the latest achievements of Martian science and technology. He replaced part of his reddish hair with bunches of LED filaments, and usually drove around the Telecom office in a monowheel or robotic armchair. And, as if setting out to confirm the theses of some hamovy SB officers, he tried to mimic a real Martian right up to the complete loss of a sense of proportion and decency. At the corporate party, he appeared in the image of an illitid - a brain-eater, apparently hinting that he was not going to give up the opportunity to brainwash the employees of the optimization sector, even on holidays.
“Did you learn anything useful from your heads?” - sarcastically inquired Gordon.
“We learned that everywhere is a complete divorce.” Catch up, in short.
Frustrated, Dimon turned away and dug in the direction of the fiery failure to the next plane.
- He thought that he would be given out all the corporate secrets. Simple such a guy! Gordon laughed.
“The attempt is not torture,” Max shrugged.
- I have a small insider that the correct answers to several consecutive puzzles from the heads really open up access to the internal base.
- There are only those puzzles that have not passed the test. Most of them do not have the correct answer.
“You can't be fooled!” Oh yes, you coded something for the application.
“So, the little things,” Max grimaced.
- Listen, you're kind of a smart guy, let’s practice on you with my riddle.
- Come on.
“Have you come up with anything?”
- Invented. If I see what gave birth to me ...
- Yes, I just asked. In short, listen to mine: what can change the nature of man?
For a few seconds Max watched his interlocutor with a very skeptical look, until he was convinced that he was not joking.
- Neurotechnology. He shrugged.
From the pillar of fire in front of them the devil baatezu materialized with parchment folded into a tube. “The seal of the foreground master,” he boomed, handing the scroll to Max. - Collect the seals of all plans to obtain the seal of the supreme lord. No other contract terms were specified. Do not forget to bet before the game. " And the devil disappeared using the same fiery special effects.
“I forgot to turn off the fucking app,” Gordon cursed. “Have I already spoken to someone about my riddle?”
“Given that this is a well-known joke on the forum of fans of an ancient game, which has something to do with tonight, it is hardly a problem that you blabbed,” Max explained with a sarcastic tone.
- Actually, I invented it myself.
This statement was met with a grin not only by Max, but also by a gitzeray who stopped nearby: a thin bald humanoid with greenish skin, long sharp ears and a mustache braided below the chin. His image was spoiled only by a disproportionately large head and equally large, slightly bulging eyes.
- Of course, it happened by coincidence, I understand.
Gordon arrogantly pursed his lips and retreated in English along with his flying jellyfish and other attributes. When he walked away Max turned to Boris.
- Surely, he again wanted to sneak up on the Martians, they are the main shamans of neurotechnology.
“You are in vain, Max.” In fact, you said he was a loshara and stole a riddle. It’s good that I didn’t say anything about the Martians.
“This is true.”
- Fucking you politician and careerist. Gordon will not forget this, you understand how vindictive the bastard he is. And according to the law of meanness, it will certainly be part of some commission considering your promotion.
“Well, shitty yes,” Max agreed, realizing his mistake. “You know, maybe you just don’t have to poke riddles from the Internet.”
- You clearly do not need to rub. Okay, forget about this Gordon. God willing, you won’t especially cross with him.
- I hope so.
“Ruslan is probably right,” Max thought gloomily. - The system doesn’t give a damn about all my creative efforts. And I can’t make a political career, because my skills of intrigue and hoax are far below the baseboard. Yes, and I don’t have any desire to develop them and constantly soar over what and who can be said and what cannot. In a good way, there is a chance only somewhere far away from monstrous corporations like Telecom, but without Telecom I will most likely be immediately extorted from Mars. Eh, to go or something to stupidly get drunk with Boryan ... ”
Quietly standing next to the column of gitserai with a smile turned to Max. And Max recognized him as a personnel manager, Martian Arthur Smith.
- Most words are just words, they are lighter than wind, we forget them as soon as we pronounce. But there are special words spoken by chance that can decide the fate of a person and tie more securely than any chains. - Arthur gave out in a mysterious tone and stared at Max curiously with his bulging eyes.
“Did I say the words that bound me?”
“Only if you yourself believe in it.”
- What is the difference in what I believe?
“In a world of chaos, nothing is more important than faith.” And the world of virtual reality is a plan of pure chaos, ”Arthur said with the same smile. “You yourself created the whole city out of it by the power of thought.” - He looked around the surrounding space.
“Is only the power of thought enough to create cities out of chaos?”
“The great cities of the gitzerai were created out of chaos by the will of our people, but know that the mind shared with its blade is too weak to protect its strongholds.” The mind and its blade must be united.
Arthur pulled a blade of chaos from its scabbard and showed it to Max, holding it on outstretched arms. He was something amorphous and cloudy, like a gray spring ice, spreading under the sun's rays. And a second later, suddenly stretched into a matte, blue-and-black scimitar with a blade no thicker than a human hair.
“Is the blade made for destruction?”
“The blade is just a metaphor.” Creation and destruction are two poles of the same phenomenon, both cold and hot. Only one who is able to understand the phenomenon itself, and not its state, sees the world endless.
Max's face stretched in surprise.
“Why did you say that?”
- What exactly did you say?
- About the endless world?
“That sounds more interesting,” Arthur shrugged. - I'm trying to win back my character as expected, and not like everyone else.
“Are you portraying a particular gitzerai?”
“Dak'kona from the game you know.” And what is special about my words?
“One very strange bot said so ... or rather, I myself said that in very strange circumstances.” And he did not expect that I would hear something similar from someone else.
- Despite the whole theory of probability, even the most incredible things often happen twice. Moreover, the first to say something similar was one no less strange English poet. He was weirder than all the strange bots combined and saw the world endless without any chemical crutches that expand consciousness.
- The one who opened the door sees the world endless. The one to whom the doors were opened sees endless worlds.
- Well said! My character would also suit, but I promise to respect your copyrights.
- You, I look, have successfully met, damn it! - Boris could not stand it. “Why don't the noble dons take out one another's brain along the way to the next plane?”
“Boryan, you go, I’ll still stand and think about riddles that you don’t need to poke from the Internet,” answered Max.
Arthur in tone said to him:
- There are many puzzles that do not need to be solved.
- Puzzles from the column?
- Of course, among them there are much more interesting twists of uncomplicated consciousness than most officially approved claims for intelligence.
- In my opinion, this column is more like an intellectual garbage can. What interesting puzzles can there be?
- Well, for example, a question about the Martian dream. Is there any way to determine that the world around us is not a Martian dream ...
- I know. But there can be no answer to it, because it is impossible to refute pure solipsism that the world around you is a figment of your own imagination or an artificial matrix.
- Not really, the question involves a very specific socio-economic phenomenon. During a walk on Baator’s plans, even two answers occurred to me.
- Even two?
- The first answer is rather a logical inconsistency in the very formulation of the question. In the Martian dream there should not be a Martian dream, such doubts are a distinctive feature of the real world. Why do we need a Martian dream in which I want to escape to the Martian dream? You can reformulate it as follows: the very fact of posing such a question proves that you are in the real world.
- Well, suppose I’m in a Martian dream, and I’m happy with everything, I just want to check that the real world is around. And the developers created the same Dreamland for greater realism of their mirage.
- What for? For customers to suffer and doubt. Based on what I know about such organizations, their software affects the psyche of customers so that they do not ask unnecessary questions.
“Well ... I think you just say how a person is convinced of the reality of the world around him.” And you give the appropriate arguments based on your faith.
“Why should I look for arguments to prove that the world is not real?” A waste of time and effort.
- So you are against the Martian dream?
“I am also against drugs, but what does that change?”
- And the second answer?
- The second answer, more complex and more correct in my opinion. In the Martian dream, the world does not look ... endless. Does not contain contradictory phenomena. In it you can defeat without losing anything, or you can be happy all the time, or, for example, deceive everyone and always. This is a prison world, it is not balanced and anyone who wants to will be able to see this, no matter how well the program deceives him.
- Do you need to look for the seeds of defeat in your own victories? I think the vast majority of people in the real world will not ask such questions. And already clients of the Martian dream and even more so.
- I agree. But the question sounded like: "Is there a way"? So, I suggest a way. Of course, anyone who can use it is unlikely, in principle, to end up in such a prison.
“Is our world not a prison?”
- In the Gnostic sense? This is a world in which pain and suffering are inevitable, therefore it cannot be an ideal prison. The real world is cruel, therefore it is the real world.
“Why, this is a special prison in which prisoners are given the opportunity to be released.”
- Then this is not a prison by definition, but rather a place of re-education. But the world that makes a person constantly change is real. This must be his characteristic property. And if development rested on a certain absolute ceiling, then the world is either obliged to move to the next state, or to collapse and start the cycle anew. Calling this order of things a prison does not make sense.
- Well, this is a prison that we have created for ourselves.
- People are the slaves of their vices and passions.
- Therefore, the reckoning for errors sooner or later comes to everyone.
- And how does reckoning come to the clients of the Martian dream? They live long and die happy.
- I don’t know, I didn’t think about it. If I were engaged in such a business, I would do my best to hide the side effects. Perhaps at the end of the contract, the demons of virtual reality come for the souls of customers, tear them to pieces and drag them to hell.
Max imagined a picture and shuddered.
- The souls of those who were fond of this setting fall on Baator's plans. Maybe you and I are already dead? - Arthur smiled again.
“Maybe for death, life looks like death.”
- Maybe the boy is a girl, just the opposite. I’m afraid that we don’t recognize the wisdom of Zertimon’s inextricable circle with this approach.
- Yes, today you definitely don’t know. I would have to catch up with my friends, you do not want to join?
- If they are going to escape to other plans through the use of neurotoxic fluids, then no. The logic of that reality, I can hardly stand.
“I'm afraid they are going.” I say we are the slaves of our vices.
“Know that I heard your words, burning man.” When you want to know the wisdom of Zertimon again, come.
Gitserai gave a slight samurai bow and turned to the column, apparently trying to find other puzzles that did not need to be solved.
Leaving the unusual Martian, Max went deep into the next plan. He tried to quickly pass the iron plain under green skies, but next to a cluster of virtually red-hot tables and sofas Arsen caught him with an unfamiliar company of colleagues, whose names Max could extract only from the directory, but not from his memory. He had to go through the next batch of vulgar jokes about his supposedly amorous adventures with Laura and several persistent offers to throw something. In the end, Max gave way and took a few puffs of a special Baator hookah with nanoparticles. The smoke had a pleasant taste of some fruit and did not irritate the respiratory organs of a drunken organism at all. Apparently some useful nanoparticles were really present there.
Boris sent a message that they had already passed the swamp plan with a foamy disco and were going to try burning absinthe in the fourth plan in the realm of fire. So Max runs the risk of catching friends on a completely different wave if he continues to slow down.
The third plan was met with deafening disco swotting, a screaming crowd and foam fountains, periodically boiling in a muddy swamp slush or crumbling from low leaden skies. Here and there, over a swamp, on chains extending into lead skies, several platforms hung with crowd-warming dancers. And on the largest platform in the center, there is a demonic DJ behind an equally demonic console.
Max decided to carefully get past the hectic fun on specially arranged platforms. “Baator is a plan of order, not chaos. But an unusual Martian who does not believe in virtual reality said that it was a world of pure chaos and he was right, he thought, looking around a crowd of randomly galloping people. - Who are all these people, sincerely rejoicing in life, or vice versa, drowning their suffering in thunder and alcohol? They are particles of primordial chaos, chaos from which anything can be born, depending on which thread to pull. I see pale, translucent pictures of the future that may appear or disappear due to the accidental collision of these particles. The variants of the universe are born and die by the thousands every second in this chaos. ”
Suddenly Max himself imagined that he was a ghost of chaos that was jumping through the foam clouds. It runs a little, jumps and flies ... What a wonderful feeling of euphoria and flight ... Again, jump and flight, from cloud to cloud .... Max tasted the foam and found himself right in the middle of the dancing crowd. “Here you are, the insidious nanoparticles,” he thought with annoyance, trying to cope with the insistent desire to fly and spin, in the middle of this foamy madness, like a stoned Dumbo elephant. - What a great cover. We need to get out as soon as possible and drink some water. ”
Looping and dodging, he climbed to a high place closer to the dryers, which from all sides were blown over the soaked demons with elastic knives of warm air. And periodically they caused portions of squeals and squeaks of demonesses who forgot to keep their virtually not hidden and not very chaste holiday dresses. Max stood for a long time under the dryers and could not recover. The head was empty and light, incoherent thoughts swelled in it like huge soap bubbles and burst without leaving a trace.
It seems that Ruslan leaned against the wall. He looked pleased, like a well-fed cat, and boasted that he had almost overwhelmed some drunken demonic bitch in all this frothy mess. The truth is now to find her again to finish the job is almost impossible. Ruslan yelled that he needed to retreat for five minutes, and then he would return and they would come off for real.
Max lost his sense of time, but it seemed like more than five minutes had passed. Ruslan did not appear, but he seemed to be starting to let go. “I'm tying it with drugs, especially chemicals. Well, maybe a glass of absinthe, well, two, but no more hookahs with nanoparticles. "
The hall allocated for the fiery plan was relatively small and its main attraction was a large round bar in the center, made-up under the mouth of a volcano with white tongues escaping from the inside. Several revolving fireworks and a scene with real fakirs complemented the picture. Almost peaceful idyll, compared with the previous crazy swamp. Boris and Dimon found Max at the bar, swallowing a completely prosaic mineral water.
- Well, where do you disappear? - Boris was indignant. - Three more absinthe! He demanded from a living bartender, who melancholy wiped stone cups and piles in the image of a skinny ungulate demon with goat horns. Dimon, who was already clearly in light prostration, piled heavily on a high chair and knocked over absinthe without waiting for ignition.
“Wait a minute,” Boris Max stopped with a gesture, “I'll leave a little bit now.”
- What are you going to leave there? So there was almost no hour for you, normal people have time to sober up and get drunk again.
“A reckless traveler has many dangers according to his plans, you know.”
“Have you even discussed your career prospects with this manager?”
- Oh yes! Career prospects, completely flew out of my head.
- Maxim, what a matter! What have you been talking about for so long?
- Basically about my riddle about the Martian dream.
- Wow! You’re definitely not a careerist, ”Boris shook his head.
“Yes, I also think it's time to make a career,” the bartender suddenly got into the conversation. - Are you guys from Telecom?
“Why is anyone else walking here?” - snorted Boris.
- Well, with these New Year holidays ... then who just didn’t walk. You have a good, of course, party, I saw the truth and abruptly.
- This is where you saw it abruptly? - sincerely surprised at such impudence Max.
- Yes, Neurotek for example, here the guys walk like that walk. On a wide leg.
“Do you often hang out with them?”
“They bought the whole Golden Mile this year,” the bartender continued, oblivious to the grins. - This is where you need to make a career. Well, in principle, you can try in Telecom ...
“Our main boss is sitting there,” Boris slapped Dimon, who was pecking his nose. - Talk to him about your career, just don’t pour any more, otherwise you’ll be washing the rack for a trial period.
Surprisingly, an employee of alkoservice, unable to shut up, really began to rub something weakly reacting to external stimuli to Dimon.
- Listen, Boryan, and you said that you know some indecent tale about Arthur Smith.
“It's just dirty gossip.” You should not tell her in a row.
“Does that mean everything?” No, today I won’t leave you behind, stab.
- Okay, let's bang and tell you.
Boris himself put out the burning sugar and added some juice.
- For the coming year and for success in our difficult business!
Max wrinkled with bitterness with a caramel flavor.
- Ugh, how can I drink it! Tell your dirty gossip already.
- Here we need a little background. You probably don’t know why most Martians are so wooden?
- In what sense?
- In such a damn thing that their dad Carlo cut out of logs ... They usually have no more emotions than this log itself. They smile only a couple of times a year on major holidays.
- For all the time on Mars, I once “chatted” for five minutes with our boss, a couple of times with Arthur. And with others, “hello” and “bye.” The boss certainly strained me, but Arthur is quite normal, though a little confused.
“Arthur is even too normal for the average Martian.” As far as I understand, he is not considered to be his real Martians.
“Is he an important lump in the personnel service?”
- Yes, hell will understand this hierarchy of theirs. But it seems not the last figure, on the technical side, for sure. He releases a bunch of updates there on directories, planners of all sorts.
- As I understand it, the Martians of “aliens” are not allowed to important matters.
- Oh, Max, don't carp. Do you agree that he is very strange for a Martian?
- So far I have a slightly representative base for comparison. But yes, he agrees. Almost like a normal person, just does not plump under the tree ...
- So, by origin he is one hundred percent Martian. They, while they mature in their flasks, add a bunch of different implants. And then in the process of growing up too. And one mandatory operation is an emotion control chip. I don’t know the details, but the fact that all Martians have a built-in option for regulating all kinds of hormones and testosterones there.
- Testosterone, it seems to be converting as soon as possible ...
- Don’t nudge. In general, any most overwhelmed Martian can turn off any negative: a protracted depression or an unhappy “first love,” by simply pressing a virtual button.
- Convenient, nothing to say.
- Convenient, of course. But something went wrong with our Arthur in childhood. The Martian aibolites must have done it, and he did not receive this useful upgrade. Therefore, all emotions and hormones hammer it, as well as ordinary bydloder. Living with this vice is not easy to see, the "normal" Martians look at him as a person with a disability ...
- Borya, you obviously looked into his medical record.
- I didn’t look in, knowledgeable people say that.
“Knowledgeable people ... yeah.”
- So, Max, do not want do not listen! And leave your critical thinking for some scientific debates.
- Got it, shut up. Is all the dirt still to come?
- Yes, that was the introduction. And the gossip itself is as follows. Due to the fact that our Arthur received such a serious injury in childhood, he is not too attracted to wooden Martians. More to the "human" ladies. But, as luck would have it, he does not shine in appearance, even for a Martian, and you can’t tell ordinary females by the confused conversations. There seems to be some kind of situation, but nothing special ... Max! I kind of warned.
Max was unable to cope with a skeptical grin on his face.
- Well, Boryan, do not be offended. As if you yourself believe in all this.
- Knowing people will not lie. For whom I am crucifying here I do not understand! In short, Arthur for a long time was obsessed with some simplicity chick from the personnel service. And she did not notice him at all and did not greet him. Well, and at one fine moment, when everyone went home, and only Arthur and the object of his sighs remained in the whole block, he decided to take the bull by the horns and pressed it right at the workplace. But she did not appreciate the impulse and broke his nose and heart at the same time.
- The war lady got caught. So, what is next?
- The lady was fired, but he is still a Martian, albeit with defects.
- And what is the name of this heroine, who suffered from dirty harassment in the workplace?
- Unfortunately, history is silent about this.
- Pf, sorry, of course, but without a name it is, gossip of grandmothers on a bench.
- The story is true for everything, well, ninety percent sure. And with the name, I'm sorry, too, but I would sell it to the front pages for a couple of thousand creeps and would drink cocktails in Bali now, instead of being here with you ...
- You’re right: a couple of thousand ... If you substitute a Martian with a defective chip some human red-boss, then the story will be the most banal. There are not even any details of how he molested her.
- Well, I did not hold a candle. Well, maybe yes, our Arthur fell victim to someone's insidious intrigues and provocations. By the way, as far as I know, he somehow clung to our boss Albert.
- This is unlikely to help us with anything. Heck! Where is Dimon?
Max began to look around worriedly in search of an insane plush dinosaur.
- Borya, do you have friends with him? Can you find it on the tracker?
- Don’t worry, an adult, and not eastern Moscow around.
“Better to make sure.”
Dimon was found in the toilet at the same level, his head in the sink under a stream of water. He snorted like a seal and tossed paper towels around. The wet head of a dinosaur dangled lifelessly on his back. Nevertheless, after two minutes, Dimon appeared already pretty refreshed and even began to make complaints to his comrades.
- Have you dumped me with this goat? He doesn't shut up for a second. And I wanted to give him horns.
“Sorry, I thought you would be the perfect listener,” Boris shrugged.
“Did I miss something interesting?”
- So one vulgar gossip about the Martian and dirty harassment.
- And you, Max, guessed all the riddles?
- Rather, my guessed.
- I have a shorter riddle too. Let's roll and tell ... Yes, do not hold me! I'm in full order!
Dimona hardly managed to persuade him to switch to low-alcohol drinks. They settled down on comfortable sofas in the vents of a small volcano.
- Well, what kind of bright idea did the god of alcoholic oblivion bring into your head? - Boris asked.
- Not an idea, but a question. Do Martians have sex? And if so, how?
“Yes, the alcohol god could not bring anything brighter,” Max shook his head. - What kind of questions in general? They also do it for sure.
“Just like who?”
- How people are visible.
“No, wait a minute,” Boris intervened. - You just so bravely argue. You saw, you know? Have you ever met Martians at least once live?
Max thought a little, trying to remember if he had met Martian women during his time at Telecom.
“I saw, of course,” he answered. - Closely did not communicate, so what?
“Ah, that is, you yourself do not know, but are you making statements?”
- Well, I'm sorry, yes, I have not had a chance with the Martians. Why should Martians do this in a special way? You yourself just talked about the unsuccessful romantic relationship of one Martian. And he said that some "not completely patched managers" wooden "Martians are not attracted. You told all this, based on what assumptions about their amorous traditions?
“You don’t confuse me.” My story was about what?
- About what?
- About harassment of ordinary women. There was no talk of Martians there.
Boris’s speech became deliberately slow, he gestured exaggeratedly, obviously trying to compensate for the drop in the ability to convey his thoughts through verbal means.
“So, let’s take a break too,” Max took a glass from Boris with rum and Mars-Cola, despite his protests. - It is already impossible to conduct an adequate discussion with you. You don’t remember what you said ten minutes ago.
- I remember evrything. It’s you who make yourself a wise guy, Max. You do not know, I have not seen, but you make no-appeal claims.
- Well, I'm sorry, considering your dwarven background, apparently the Martian women are stunted, bearded and so scary that they are kept in the deepest caves and never show. In general, they are, just in case, but the Martians reproduce by budding.
- Ha ha, how funny. Dimon actually asked a serious question, since no one really knows how this happens.
“Because no one is asking such stupid questions.” Now all sorts of alternatively gifted users of social networks with new chip models can do this as they like, in any position and with any set of participants.
“I actually meant physical sex,” Dimon readily said. - About social networks, so everything is clear.
“You two may not be aware, but the technical capabilities of Martians have long allowed them to reproduce without physical contact.”
- So you say that the Martians do not do this live? - Boris asked more aggressively.
- I affirm that they do it as they want and with whom they want, that’s all.
- No, Maxim, it won’t do that. The rules of a gentleman's discussion suggest that you must be responsible for the bazaar.
“Not a damn thing to myself.” Why am I not responsible for the bazaar?
“If you answer, let's get in the way,” Boris, having run up, extended a hand to his opponent. - Dimon, smash it!
Max shrugged and held out his hand in response.
- Yes, no problem, just what are we clogging up with and what is the subject of the dispute?
“You say Martians have sex anyhow?”
- Yes, what do you say?
- It is not so!
- Not so, how is it? My statement suggests that any option is possible, that’s all.
- And I, uh ..., - Boris was in obvious difficulty, but quickly found a way out. - I affirm that there are some rules ...
- Ok, Boryan, let's argue for a thousand creeps.
- No, Dimon, wait a minute, - Boris with an unexpected speed pulled out his hand. - Come on a bottle of tequila.
- Yeah, maybe a wish then?
- Not a bottle.
- Well, the bubble will not be superfluous either. Dimon, smash it.
Boris scratched his turnips thoughtfully and asked:
“And how will we resolve our dispute now?”
“Now let's ask the neurogogl,” suggested Dimon.
“What are you asking there?”
- How Martians have sex ... Yes, there are interesting videos ...
Max just shook his head.
- Boryan, you seem to know a million all kinds of stories and gossip, but here I decided to bet on some kind of complete garbage. I propose to admit that you lost and put down.
- Exactly, you don’t know a damn thing and argue. I’m sure that there are some troubles there ... I just can’t remember what’s happening there ... They definitely have rules who should reproduce with whom and in what sequence, such as to bring out a race of ideal super botanists.
- Damn, our argument was not about reproduction.
- Yes, do not quibble!
“We need an independent referee,” stated Dimon.
- Theoretically, I can propose a candidate for the role of arbiter.
“Is he more knowledgeable about all aspects of Martian life than I am?” - surprised Boris.
“She, of course, does not know so many dubious legends, but she is probably better informed in this matter.”
“Oh, do you still know some Martian?” - surprised Dimon.
“Ah, that’s probably Laura,” Boris guessed. “And how do we approach her with this question?”
- Hic, she definitely fucked with Martian bosses, she should know for sure.
“We won’t come, but I’ll come, and I’ll interrogate her somehow,” Max answered, squinting at the hiccuping Dimon. - And you quietly sit nearby.
- Will not work! - Dimon was indignant. - I broke, without me any decision is invalid!
“Then Laura is not an option.”
- Hic, why is this not an option right away?
“Yes, how would you be more polite to explain ... You, comrade gentlemen, have already gotten drunk, but she is still a lady and this is not a joke about Lieutenant Rzhevsky. So either rely on my honesty, or propose your candidacy.
“Why are everyone so mad with this Laura?” - continued to be indignant Dimon. - You think some woman! I bet she will run after me. Hic, are we clogged up?
“We get clogged, just taunt her without my help.”
- Damn, Max, the argument is sacred. Something must be decided, ”Boris insisted.
- Yes, I do not refuse. Your suggestions?
- Okay, my suggestion is to go for a walk and think. And then we did not even reach the lower plan.
- I support, completely and completely. So, Dimon, let's get up! You need a little walk. So, we leave the glasses here.
The next fifth ice plan was combined with the eighth because the club had no room for all nine original plans. A special feature of the plan were huge light blue blocks of ice, which have a very real embodiment. They were formed from an experimental ferromagnetic fluid solidifying at room temperature in the absence of a magnetic field. And under its influence, the liquid melted and could take any very bizarre form. It could become transparent or mirror, and allowed to transform the room into a multi-level crystal labyrinth, from which even a sober person could hardly get out without the help of the New Year’s application. Compared to real ice, the high-tech festive ice was not so slippery, but at the entrance, special pads for shoes with skates or spikes were still offered at choice.
Club buildings on this tier smoothly passed into natural underground caves. Icy tongues flowed into faults and dips leading into the unknown depths of the planet. This maze was almost real and therefore much more frightening than previous hellish dimensions. Huge stone blocks and sparkling hummocks inspired guests respect. They wandered a bit along any sidelines, shelves, cornices and ice bridges, though they were bashfully fenced with thin, almost invisible nets, in order to avoid accidents with mischief spawned evil. They argued a bit about what would happen if you cut the net and jump into some kind of fault. Whether some automatic system will work that softens the ice or somehow transforms the landscape at the place of the fall, or all the hope for demonic prudence. Dimon tried to start a new argument, meaningly hinting that Max had just recently arrived from the world with normal gravity and a slight drop from five meters would not hurt him in the least, but he was naturally sent to explore the depths of the Martian dungeons. Having lost a bit, having tasted a couple of ice cream varieties and trying not to lean on “frosty” cocktails, they used the application and eventually reached the ice grotto, which smoothly turned into an icefall leading to the next plan.
A lot of demons and demonesses, sometimes trying to demonstrate figure skating skills, rode around the frozen grotto lake. But most of the attention was attracted not by the skaters, but by the beautiful blonde demoness who was bored at one of the ice tables. Golden webbed wings fluttered behind her. She danced slightly to the music of ice plans, drank a cocktail through a straw and habitually caught a lot of admiring, and sometimes envious glances. Her chic wings fluttered to the beat of the music and scattered around a cloud of burning pollen. Laura May came to the feast in the image of Fallen Grace - a succubus who managed to free herself from demonic slavery and switched to the side of the light forces.
Boris and Dimon immediately began to shove Max in the sides on both sides. Of course, Max would prefer to quietly slip past Laura, so as not to blush later for the behavior of drunk plush dinosaurs and red orcs, but Laura herself noticed him, smiled dazzlingly and waved her hand.
“Well, finally, the main star of tonight!” - Dimon was delighted.
“Only without nonsense, I will speak,” Max hissed, approaching the ice table.
“Well, brother, we're not idiots.” You have all the cards in your hands, ”Boris assured hand in hand.
It’s strange why she stands alone, Max thought. - Where are the crowds of fans and the Martian authorities running on their hind legs? Maybe all this is my fantasy. How does this ideal woman differ from the crowd of other virtually ideal women? That she convinced me of her reality, but still perhaps with her gaze, which every second challenges the world, fantasizing all sorts of nasty things about it. "
Max realized that it was obscene for a long time staring at Laura, but she only hid a slight mockery in her eyes and turned slightly, presenting herself in an even more advantageous perspective.
“Well, what do I look like?” I am all so humble and virtuous, but born for temptation and vice. Can anyone resist my spell?
“None,” Max agreed willingly.
“And I know your character’s name.” Ignus is right?
- That's right, - Max was surprised. - And you rummage in a theme abruptly than many nerds.
“I honestly read that detailed description,” Laura laughed. - The truth was never able to start the game itself.
- There you must first put the emulator. She’s very old, you won’t run it that easily. If you want, I will help.
- Well, maybe another time.
- But what about the add-on module for the application?
- Sorry, but I decided to abandon the idea with a brothel of intellectual passions. I'm afraid everyone will pay attention only to the word "brothel".
- Well, yes, I agree, the idea is not too successful.
“But then I have something else.”
From behind Laura’s back, a personal drone flew in the form of a scorchy-eyed scorching skull.
“This is Morte, honey, right?” Poor terrible necromancer, or whose skull was he in that game there?
- I don’t remember.
The drone was apparently made to order, immediately in the right shape, the program only disguised its screws and other technical accessories.
- The scenery is at the expense of the company, but I want to keep it for myself.
Laura scratched her polished “bald head” and the skull twitched fairly and clasped its jaws.
- Cool effect, did you do it yourself?
- Almost, one friend helped.
- One acquaintance means ...
- Well, Max, you were very busy, I decided not to pull you for nothing.
- Sometimes you can get distracted.
Max suddenly felt completely sober, as if he had made his way through the dense water column for a long time and suddenly suddenly surfaced. The rumble of a multitude of voices and smells poured on him at once, bright and vivid, as in a spring forest. I usually don’t pay attention to smells at all, Max thought. “Why do I smell flowers in the middle of these ice palaces?” These are probably the spirits of Laura. She smells so nice all the time, even her synthetic cigarettes smell of herbs and spices ... ”
Boris, watching the comrade’s dreamy state, began sending him dissatisfied chat messages:“ Listen, Romeo, you didn’t forget why we are here ”? Thanks to this, Max briefly threw off his stupor, but the brain could not turn it on immediately, therefore, without really thinking, he blurted out directly.
- Laura, but it was always interesting how the Martians form families and have children? With romance or so?
- And why such questions? - surprised Laura. - Are you going to get married? Take into account my friend, the hearts of Martians are cold, like the ice of Stygia.
- No, this is idle curiosity, no more.
- Martians generally do what they want and how they want. Usually they conclude some kind of smart contract for the joint upbringing of children. A full-fledged marriage, like people, they are considered discrimination.
- Cool ...
- Awful, how can you love someone by the file on the computer.
“Well, horrible, I guess.” And how do Martians choose co-parenting partners?
- No, you definitely crush on some Martian. Come on, who is she?
- I did not crush, where did you get it? If I had a crush on someone, then it’s definitely not on the Martians.
- And on whom.
- Well, there are many other women around.
- And what? Laura asked softly and met his gaze.
And there was so much in that look that Max instantly forgot about the argument about the Martians, and in general where he is, but thought only about whose name is now worth pronouncing.
“Max, can you introduce your friends?” Are you working on all sorts of smart things together?
- Oh yes, we work together with Boris. And Dima is from the security service.
- I hope our security service protects us?
“Well today, rather, we take care of the security service,” Max joked, and immediately got a kick in the legs from the displeased Dimon.
“Ah, this is your mirror communist joke.” In Soviet Russia, you protect your security service.
- Something like that.
“And I have a present for you.”
- Oh cool!
Damn, Max thought. “Here it is, I don’t have any gifts.”
Laura pulled out a small plastic box stylized as dark green Martian malachite. Inside was a thick deck of cards.
“These cards predict the future.”
- Type of tarot cards?
- Yes, this is a special deck used by the devas - the priests of the towers, from the Eastern Block.
Max pulled out the top card. It depicted a pale, skinny Martian in a rocky desert under a black sky with piercing needles of stars. Max looked at the pattern of the constellations and for a second it seemed to him that he was looking into the endless emptiness of the real sky, and the stars faltered and changed their position.
“And what does this card mean?”
- A Martian usually means prudence, restraint, cold, and if the card is turned upside down, it can mean disastrous passion or mental insanity. There are a lot of meanings; correct interpretation is a complex art.
“Why not make some kind of application that will interpret them,” suggested Boris, with a clear distrust in his voice.
- Do you think the application can predict the future?
- Well, I would rather believe the program than some gypsy.
- Do you not believe in cards, do you believe that chips can solve all problems? Devas sometimes predict the future of the lords of death. Should they make a mistake with at least one word and no application will save.
- Uh, can you tell me a fortune? - asked Max, wanting to interrupt the argument.
“Perhaps if there is a suitable time and place.” Hide the deck and never get out just like that. These are special cards, they have great power, even if some do not believe them.
“Have you used them yourself?”
- Everything that they predicted so far is coming true.
Max put the card with the Martian in place and closed the box.
“I would not want to know my future.” Let it remain a mystery to me.
- Yes, Max, I’m here, one slimy redhead with virtual tentacles, it seems from your department, rubbed that the correct answer to the riddle about the nature of man is neurotechnology. Is this some kind of stupidity?
- Well, Gordon, of course, is a boring type, if we are talking about him, but neurotechnology is the right answer. Although, rather it is a joke. The correct answer does not exist.
“Why doesn't it exist?” There is an answer in the game.
- The game does not have the correct answer.
- How not? The protagonist correctly answered the riddle of the witch, otherwise he would not have survived.
- The main character could give any answer because the witch loved him.
- Well, this means that the correct answer is love.
Hearing such an interpretation, Boris could not contain a skeptical cough.
- Here, your boring colleague made the same sounds. All wise men constantly do this when they know that they are wrong.
In response, Boris frowned even more, but apparently could not come up with a suitable continuation. For some reason, they and Laura did not immediately like each other, and Max realized that moving the conversation back into the mainstream of a relaxed discussion of Martian cupid traditions would be very difficult. He sagged slightly, trying to figure out how to taxi further, and an awkward silence reigned at the table.
The situation was saved by Ruslan, who stopped nearby. He spotted Max and, running an appreciative glance at Laura's stern, raised his thumb. He did not have time to move to more indecent gestures, as Laura noticed the direction of Max's gaze and turned around, from which Ruslan was slightly shy.
“Your friend too?”
- Ruslan, from the security service.
- Brutal suit.
“We have a dress code like this in the Security Council,” Ruslan replied, returning his straight face.
- Really? - Laura laughed, stroking the costume of Dimon with an easy motion.
- Well, not for everyone, of course ... How do you like the New Year holiday?
“Fine, I love theme parties,” Laura answered in a tone that made it impossible to understand sarcasm or not. - Ruslan, how would you answer the question: what can change the nature of man?
- Thought the security service has already banned all sorts of puzzles. I’ll do it personally tomorrow.
“Ruslan, he doesn't like botanical entertainment,” Max explained just in case.
“How sweet,” Laura laughed again. - But still?
- Death definitely changes the nature of man.
- Phi, how rude ...
- This question has a bad story. He was asked by imperial ghosts before demolishing the head of another neurobotanic.
- Seriously? - surprised Max. - This is a question from one ancient computer game.
- Well, I don’t know, maybe from the game. Ghosts have so much fun.
“And what was the correct answer?”
- Yes, there was no right answer. Just entertainment is such that before death they still suffer, racking their brains.
“Strange, the app didn’t approve of my riddles,” complained Laura.
“Fucking nerds, they only miss riddles that they like,” Max answered for a second ahead of Ruslan’s mouth.
- That's it, Max, do not forget about me when you sculpt your software and applications.
“Yes, I would approve of all your riddles.” And what was there?
- Was there an option to guess what is written in my diary?
- Do you have a diary?
- Of course, all the girls have a diary.
- This is rather not a mystery ... Give me a read?
“No one can watch it.”
- Why not?
- Well this is a diary. What do girls usually write in diaries?
“What they think of boys.” Guessed?
- About mine not. Well, more precisely, not quite ...
- That is, you can guess, but you can’t read? Then, everyone, you know, will fantasize.
- Yes, any number. Are you already fantasizing?
- I? No, I'm not like that ..., - Max felt himself blushing slightly.
- Just kidding, sorry. Can you guess what I wrote about you? We bet on the desire that you won’t guess ... Okay, I'm joking again.
“We actually have to go,” muttered Boris grimly, tugging at his friend's sleeve. - We were going to reach the lower plan.
“I was also going downstairs to go dancing.” Escort me?
“With pleasure,” Ruslan volunteered immediately.
At the icefall, Boris deliberately began to slow down, trying to break away from the rest of the company. A bug-eyed skull was already flickering somewhere ahead, hiding in a stream of an endless human river, flowing into the depths of the underworld.
“What if all this were true? Thought Max. “It is so easy to forget that the world around is an illusion.” What, would the imperial ghosts who hate everything Martian think? With playing, we unwittingly reveal the true nature of the neuromir. We invoke digital demons that gradually swallow our minds. On this river no one will be able to swim upstream. ”
- Can I throw you a backpack? - asked Max, turning the casket in his hands.
- Throw it.
- Let's go faster. And then some Ruslan will dance Laura, I know him.
- Come on, this Martian whore was given to you.
- Wow, what kind of words. And who drooled it down to the floor?
“I never drooled on it, unlike you.” It was sick to listen to your joyful tweet.
“I'm sick of him ... I wouldn’t listen then.” By the way, you owe me a bubble.
- Why is this?
“You lost the argument, Laura said the Martians do what they want and how they want.”
- Yes, but they conclude contracts.
- Only for raising children.
“So maybe they sign a contract for a random push in the jerk ... But okay,” Boris waved his hand. - Bubble more bubble less. And this bitch is using you. Gave some cheap cards. Do you think this kind of means something? No shit like that! She is so trying to shorten the leash ...
- Boris, let's not drive! I myself buzzed all ears about her for a couple with Arsen.
- I admit, I was wrong. You should not hang out with her.
- Why? Agree that she probably has useful connections and no matter how she makes them.
“Of course, only you have a much better chance with that strange Martian Arthur than with her.”
- Yes, I do not have any false hopes.
- Something is different. Lorochka, let me help you, let me approve of you all ...
- Yes, you go!
“I'm going to the lowest plane, to look into the infernal abyss.” Are you with me, or will you hang around with your Laura?
- I would have told you ... Okay, let's go look into the abyss ... I'll drag on her later.
The sixth plan finally turned into the only large fault, which led down. There was no other way to the underworld in this section of the dungeons. But even the descent, this plan was only in the real world. The New Year’s application imitated the slope of different sections of the terrain at different angles, and partially changed their places. So, the bar closest to the tracker was visible somewhere off to the side at a crazy angle. Transitions between sectors were quite sharp and the effect of deception of the vestibular apparatus was achieved not bad. Special spherical robots rolled along piecewise-broken terrain strictly in accordance with virtually directed gravity, which enhanced the effect.
However, they passed the sixth plan too quickly to evaluate its effects. And to the next plan, the fault passed into the bunker, built once upon a time by the Russian VKS. Huge freight elevators with sliding grills led there. The application simulated the fall of a flame-covered cabin from black heaven directly into the center of apocalyptic ruins. And specially tuned mechanisms emitted a terrible howl during the movement and a rattle with imitation of jerks. Which undoubtedly added interesting sensations to some unsteady and unsteady drinks and snacks in themselves causing evil. After a crushing, but as part of safety, impact on the ground, the thunder and chaos of the techno-rave party fell upon the barely recovered guests.
In reality, the bunker was naturally maintained in good condition, but the plan imitated a constantly decaying and decaying hellish city, so plush columns and fragments of walls lay everywhere, and broken beams hung from the ceiling. The canals were filled with thick green sludge flowing into gaping cracks and dips. On the bridges thrown over them, it was scary to step.
And still it was necessary to break through the crowd of infernal splinters jumping under frantic dramas and distortions. In Max's eyes instantly charged with wings and tails, mixed into one horned lump in the acidic rays of light music. His head even began to ache, as if foreshadowing a coming hangover, and all desire to stay here was gone. He yelled into Boris’s ear that it was time for them to move on. Boris nodded and asked to wait a minute while he drives to the toilet. Max could only settle down at the bar and stare at the bacchanalia. Immediately the basement bar Freddy Krueger came up with a proposal to throw something acidic, but Max shook his head vigorously.
The main dance floor is located in a large hall, lined with some terrible white tiles from horror films. In some places, hooks, chains, and other torture attributes were even driven into walls and floors. Chains were a clear remake, but the rest of the design looked like an original work of a military genius. Max could only guess about his original purpose. Focus heavily interfered with the demonic roar of the DJ from the upper tier, calling for a party to swing and all that. In the middle of the hall was a couple of fenced slopes leading to the lower tiers of the bunker. From there, clouds of "toxic" fumes periodically erupted. There apparently was a movement for those who lacked trash and fumes upstairs.
Max spotted Laura in the center of the galloping crowd. While she was dancing alone, but a couple of fallen Beelzebubs were already clearly approaching rapprochement. Despite all the discomfort, Max could hardly suppress the desire to push everyone around her. “Boris must be right,” he thought. “Her spell is very difficult to resist.” Interestingly, the stronger virtual reality or the delights of Laura May. But Boryan would probably choose warcraft ... "
- Max! Deaf at all!
Ruslan loomed over him, continuing to yell right into his ear.
- What are you yelling, so you can’t hear anything.
- You turn down the volume on the chip and turn on the chat.
- And now.
Max completely forgot about these useful functions of the neurochip.
“What didn't Laura make up the company?” He asked, enjoying the silence.
- Just wanted to grind with you. Do you have any plans for this winged blonde?
“Yes, we didn’t intersect at work like this,” Max answered with mock indifference.
- For work? Seriously?
- Well, the girl is waiting for me in Moscow. Therefore, nothing like that with Laura ...
- I'm sure a girl in Moscow will appreciate your honesty, bro.
- Listen, why are you molesting?
“I just didn’t want any graters between us, bro.” Since you have a girlfriend in Moscow, I’ll go and try my luck with Laura here and now.
- But what about that demoness from a foam party?
“Where to look for her now.” Especially agree: this bitch is much better ...
- Well, good luck. Do not forget to tell how everything went.
“Yeah, sure,” Ruslan grinned wryly.
- Come on, look at the work of a professional.
- Just don’t push me by the arm, here I feel you won’t take it abruptly, you need to be more careful ... It
seemed to Max, or uncertainty flashed in Ruslan’s gaze. Probably it only seemed because he did not exchange for further chatter or roll a stopar for courage, but immediately set off to meet fate. His black wings and burning yellow eyes inexorably cut through the crowd.
Damn, what am I showing off, Max thought. - It should have been said that we are in the process of getting married. Damn, that’s jealousy ... ”
Boris, who returned, interrupted his torment.
- Let’s move on the leg? He asked, calling the bartender.
- Let's get a little better out there.
- Then they drove. Dimona would still find.
Dimon was found by himself at the next bar. He mixed some sort of colorful cocktail in a tall triangular glass.
- We are to the lower plan. Are you with us? Asked Boris.
- I'll catch up a little later.
- Hey, what is this for a woman's swill?
- Well, I'm not myself.
- And to whom ?! - barked Boris at him.
“Laura,” Dimon answered a little after a frown.
- Laura ?! Don’t you look, he is already running for her cocktails! It would be better if we left you on the fiery plane.
Boris shook his head disapprovingly.
“She said that I was so plush that I would have squeezed it.”
- Fu! Everything is over with him. Come on, Max.
- I'll catch up.
“Of course, if the new mistress lets you go.” What a disgrace!
“Okay, okay, I’m fast ...
And Dimon hastily retreated with a cocktail until Boris had time to burst into a new condemning tirade.
“You see what this bitch is doing with men.”
“Yes, Dimon is to blame,” Max laughed. - It was not necessary to say that Laura would run after him. As that Martian said, there are words uttered by chance that can bind more reliably than any chains.
- That's for sure, our Dimon overestimated his strength. Come on.
Everyone naturally expected something unbelievable from Baator’s last plan. Therefore, the majority of guests who have made a difficult journey through the hellish dimensions, full of dangers and surprises, reaching the stronghold of hell, experienced a slight disappointment. Or even fatigue, considering how many bars and hookahs had to be passed along the road. No, the picture of a giant fortress at the bottom of a blazing rift several kilometers deep was what was needed. But after the previous miracles, she no longer fascinated and did not cause any genuine awe before the crazy element. Or maybe Max was just fed up. He turned off the application so that the picture stopped braking on his old chip. In reality, the last hall of the club was a large cave in the form of a semicircular hollow similar to a rock circus. The entrance to it was located almost under the ceiling. After descending by elevator or endless fiery staircase, as you liked, the guests fell on a fairly flat area at the foot of the surrounding rocks. Around the stage, in the center, a kind of official party was gathering with the presentation of valuable prizes to anyone and other awards of those uninvited. And the bars and comfortable sofas took refuge in the shade of almost sheer cliffs on the sides. Boris was not taken aback and immediately stole a bottle of cognac from the nearest bar.
“Let's move on, there’s a great view,” he suggested.
The prestigious club "Pit" ended with a wide balcony, behind which a rocky valley went off rather sharply somewhere into the unknown depths of the planet. True, the slope was not so steep that some of the bolder visitors would not risk climbing over a low parapet and even had the chance to keep some of the limbs intact after a walk through the wild Martian landscape. Apparently in this case, a high metal mesh was pulled over the parapet.
They dragged a couple of chairs directly to the net and prepared for thoughtful drinking and contemplation of the impressive rolls of the downhill going down. The black and red broken rocks looked intimidating in the light of several powerful spotlights mounted next to the balcony. Even their rays did not reach the end of the slope, and could only guess what was hidden in bizarre shadows there in the depths. Max took a sip of cognac and five minutes later his head was again pleasantly noisy in his head. There was no one else on the balcony, the rumble of the celebrating crowd, thanks to some strange acoustics of a stone bag, almost did not reach here, and only weak moans and crackling of boulders in the gap emphasized their loneliness. For a long time they just sat, drank cognac and stared into the darkness. In the end, Boris could not stand it and broke the silence.
- No one knows its real depth. Perhaps this is the path straight to Martian hell. Those abnormal ones who ventured to go down there never returned.
- Seriously, why?
- They say there is a whole maze of tunnels and caves. It’s very easy to get lost, plus the sudden release of radioactive dust that kills all life. But the worst thing is that sometimes, even those who come to look at the failure do not come back. There were a couple of such cases, they were attributed to the fact that visitors drunk fell into the abyss.
“Not such a chasm there,” Max shrugged. - Rather, a steep slope.
“Indeed, but people disappeared and did not even find any bodies below.” Something came from the Martian depths and dragged them away. After that, the balcony was fenced in with a net.
“Isn't there a gateway?”
- There used to be a gateway, but now there is an artificial rock collapse. But nothing prevents Martian from digging a small roundabout tunnel.
- The weather station must monitor air leaks.
- I have to ...
- I have a feeling that you know a story about every Martian yard.
Max looked into the bewitching darkness of failure where the light of searchlights did not reach, and suddenly his heart abruptly went into heels, as if he had plunged into a kilometer-long abyss. He was ready to swear that he saw some movement there.
- Damn, Boryan, there is something there. Something is moving.
- Come on, Max, do you want to play me? Look, I’ll even stick my hand in a hole in the net. Aw Martian something, eat served!
Boris fearlessly continued to tease the shadows of failure.
“Stop it, please, I'm not kidding you.”
Max with a terrible effort of will forced himself to raise his eyes into the darkness. For several seconds, nothing happened, only Boris's drunken cries echoed through the caves. And then Max saw again how an obscure silhouette in the depths flowed from one place to another. Without saying a word, he grabbed Boris by the arm and dragged him away from the net with all his strength.
- Max, stop it, not funny.
- Of course not funny! There is something to tell you.
- Oh, damn it, okay Stanislavsky, I believe. A drone probably is flying ...
- Let's go back.
- So they didn’t finish it ... Good.
The staggering Boris allowed himself to be taken away. More and more people gathered in the center of the stone circus. Without a working application, the pale physiognomies of real Martians on their favorite segways and robotic armchairs stood out especially. Apparently the culmination of the event was nearing with the awarding of some employees of the year. And the plan of the destroyed city, on the contrary, was noticeably empty. Techno-rave was not so deafened so much by swotting, and clouds of "poisonous" steam did not burst from the cellars. Boris persistently headed towards the nearest sofa. He collapsed like a doll with cut ropes and uttered with a weaving tongue:
“SchA, we’ll take a little rest and wander around ... SchA ...”
Boris yawned in his mouth and settled in.
“Take a break, of course,” Max agreed. “I’m going now, I’ll look for Laura, otherwise we kind of impolite fell down.”
- Go, go ...
First, Max found a gloomy Ruslan at the bar. He looked like a huge, red-faced, bird of prey, perched on a perch. Ruslan saluted Max with an empty glass. Without words, it was clear that the hunt ended unsuccessfully. Max experienced a slight sense of gloating and yanked himself only after a few seconds, remembering that it was unworthy to experience joy at the sight of a blundering comrade. Sharing his eyes in search of Laura, he stumbled upon Arthur Smith. To his surprise, he also held a glass in his hands.
“Fresh orange,” Arthur explained to Max as he approached.
- Have fun? Do you like these discos?
“I always hated them.” Honestly, I walked down to spit into the Martian abyss and stopped staring at Laura May.
Arthur nodded at Laura, who was standing near the descent into the cellars and was chatting animatedly with some important Martian bosses. And without the New Year’s app and the golden wings, she looked just as attractive. Max thought that he might be able to find out more about Arthur's unsuccessful adventures in the love field.
“Did you try to drive her?” He inquired in the most laid-back tone.
- Yes, somehow I didn’t want to get in line.
- I agree, she has more than enough fans.
- This is her superpower, trick all sorts of nerds.
- A useful superpower, given that nerds rule Telecom ...
- Each person has a superpower. Someone useful, someone useless, most do not know about it at all.
“Probably,” Max agreed, remembering Boris with his endless legends. - I wish I could find mine.
“What superpower would you like?”
Max thought for a moment, remembering his unsuccessful visit to Dreamland.
- A difficult question, probably, I would like to get a perfect mind.
“A strange choice,” Arthur grinned. “And what do you think is the ideal mind?”
- A mind that is not distracted by all sorts of emotions and desires, but does only what it needs. Like Martians.
- Do you want to become a Martian for the sake of not having emotions and desires? Usually everyone wants to become Martians in order to receive money and power and satisfy their desires.
“This is the wrong way.”
- All the ways are false. Do you think your boss Albert is a role model? Yes, at least he is honest, he tries to turn off all emotions. Most Martians do easier by turning off only the negative.
- Well, at least that. After all, any psychoanalyst will say that it is necessary to fight against negativity.
- This is the way to create the perfect drug. Those passions that can be turned off do not make any sense. Passion makes you fall and rise up only when it is not satisfied. The very fact of its satisfaction would certainly not have value in the eyes of a higher mind.
- Do you think that human emotions have some value? They just interfere with the intellect to work.
- Rather, intelligence without emotions will die out as unnecessary. Why should the intellect strain if no emotion drives it?
“Then my boss Albert is far from a genius?”
“I'll tell you a terrible thing, most Martians are far from being as brilliant as they seem.” We sat on the top of the pyramid and the current intelligence is enough for us to hold our place. But besides the progress in bio- and neurotechnologies, it is now difficult to boast of something. We never flew to the stars. Moreover, it cannot be said that even Martians like Albert are completely free of emotions.
“But he can turn them off.”
- It can regulate the concentration of dopamine in the blood. But that is not all. The bosses of the largest corporations will never allow the appearance of certain global competitors, such as a powerful state on Earth, for example. And they are driven by a completely rational fear for their position and for their physical existence. Even the most high-tech cyborg is afraid to die or lose freedom. Not like ordinary people, sticky sweat and trembling knees, but logical fear has not gone away. Truly emotions are deprived only of intelligence, which is based on a computer basis entirely and completely.
“Is such intelligence possible?”
- I think not. Although dozens of start-ups and thousands of their employees will prove the opposite to you: what is already right, they have to take the last step. But even Neurotek failed with their quantum experiments.
- And did Neurotek try to create an AI based on a quantum supercomputer?
- Maybe. They definitely tried to transfer the person’s personality to the quantum matrix, but apparently failed too.
- And why?
“They did not report to me.” But judging by how panically everyone turned off, the result was very deplorable. By the way, it was this story that allowed Telecom to recapture part of the market from Neurotek and become almost the third company on Mars. Neurotek suffered too much loss from its venture.
“Maybe they eventually created an AI that tried to destroy them.” Therefore, they so feverishly destroyed everything connected with the project?
- It is unlikely that the bosses of Neurotek are so short-sighted to create a skynet. But who knows. I already said that I do not believe in a real "strong" AI. For starters, we do not really understand what human intelligence is. You can, of course, follow the path of copying: create an extremely complex neural network and shove all the functions that are characteristic of a person into it.
- And what, such a neural network, and even on a probabilistic quantum matrix, will not be able to gain self-awareness?
- As for the quantum matrix, I will not say anything, but on traditional computers, it will begin to fail and eat a frantic amount of resources. In general, all AI startups have long understood that the program will never gain self-awareness. Now they are trying to follow the path of screwing various sense organs. On an intuitive level, I am also sure that intelligence is a phenomenon of interaction with the real world. And I think that even any imitators of the senses will not help. Emotions are an equally important tool for interacting with the outside world, perhaps even a determining one. And emotions, in spite of all their conditional “stupidity,” are very difficult to model.
- If you take away emotions from a person, what will he lose reason?
- Well, this obviously will not happen right away. For some time, the intellect will undoubtedly work by inertia. And so, in the limit, I think that yes, the intellect absolutely devoid of any emotions will simply stop. Why would he take any action? He has no curiosity, no fear of dying, no desire to get rich or to control someone. It will become a program that can only start when it receives commands from someone else.
“So the Martians are doing everything wrong?”
- Maybe. But Martian society is so structured and it is just as tolerant of everyone who is trying to be different than everyone else, like any human herd of immature individuals in an amount of more than a dozen. Which only confirms my beliefs. For myself, I have long decided that disabling emotions on a physical level is the wrong way. Then this decision was more like a teenage protest and subsequently cost me dearly. But now I can’t refuse him.
“Laura May would probably agree with you,” Max decided to play along. - It showed me that she also does not like those who reject real feelings and conclude all contracts.
- In what sense?
- Well, like Martians, they don’t marry, but conclude an agreement on the joint upbringing of children ...
- And you about it. From a legal point of view, marriage is the same contract, but a special one, someone would even say bonded. And the Martian can conclude any contract, including such. It is simply considered stupid and discriminating against both partners. An echo of those barbaric times when a woman could be a full member of society, only belonging to some men.
- Apparently Laura is not such a feminist.
“Like most earthly women, she is a feminist or not a feminist, as long as it suits her,” Arthur snorted. “However, like any other person who does what is beneficial to him.”
“Would you make a bonded contract with Laura May?”
- If our feelings were mutual, then it is possible. But this is unlikely to happen.
After a short pause and blowing out almost half of the next orange fresh, Arthur continued:
“I already tried, but apparently too awkwardly.” Could you guess the riddle how Laura May got a job at Telecom?
Max tried quietly sniffing at an empty glass, but did not smell anything alcohol. One could only guess why Arthur was so open-hearted. Max thought that if he were a lonely semi-Martian who could not truly become his own among the Martians or among the people, then all sorts of “holidays of life” should have caused him attacks of blackened melancholy.
“Did you take her to work?”
- I guessed. She got a job at Telecom for one kiss with a certain HR manager. Just the case when emotions did not allow the intellect to develop the right long-term strategy.
“Is this really the source of the story about workplace harassment? Thought Max admiringly. “It would be interesting to trace the entire chain of versions right down to Boryan.”
- And then what?
- The sky did not fall, the planets did not stop. Tales of kisses turned out to be fairy tales. In short, things did not go as you see. But some people got a job and had a good career.
Arthur fell silent, staring sadly into his glass. And Max came up with a “brilliant” idea how to help the strange Martian to establish relations with the beautiful Laura, earn his eternal gratitude and rocket up the career ladder, having such a valuable ally in the holy of holies, in the heart of the staff service. Subsequently, Max cursed each drink for a long time at the corporate party, because only an unreasonable amount of alcohol could cause him to not only give birth to such a “brilliant” plan, but also bring it to a “successful” ending.
- Well, since the frontal tactics did not work, you need to try a workaround.
- And what kind of maneuver? Arthur inquired with slight interest.
“Well, there are several trouble-free ways to get female attention,” Max began, with the air of an expert. - Flowers, and craft gifts will not be considered. But if you courageously shield a lady from some kind of mortal danger, it works almost flawlessly.
- Mortal danger at the Telecom corporate party? I'm afraid the probability of being exposed to it is much lower than the level of statistical error.
- Well, it’s mortal, I slightly bent. But we are quite capable of creating a small danger.
- Create by yourself? Sneakily, but suppose ...
“Suppose Laura has to go to some empty, terrible room, for example, to the basement of this wonderful bunker.” And there, some intoxicated Telecom employee will begin to pester her. Insistently enough to frighten her, and then by chance, you will pass by, intervene, threaten with dismissal and it’s the hat!
“I hope you see the weaknesses of your plan, my human friend.” I will not even criticize purely technical points: how are you going to lure Laura into the basement, how to ensure the absence of extra defenders there? But where did you get that Laura would be scared? She’s basically not particularly shy, and considering where we are and who she can complain to ... Yes, and the local security will come to any call in a minute. I definitely don’t advise you to try, you will find yourself in an extremely awkward situation.
- Yes, I myself was not going to. I have, uh ... a friend who works in some eerie department of our Security Council. I hope he can intimidate the local security if that.
- It is doubtful ... Has your friend already agreed to participate in the event?
“I'll talk to him.” And I came up with a way to lure Laura. You see a drone in the form of a skull next to it. She really likes this piece of iron, but as a password it poses the question: what can change the nature of man? And I know the answer. I will quietly take the skull to the basement, and when Laura grabs and goes after him, our trap will shut.
“Or he won’t, but asks someone to bring ... But I’m so, I’m finding fault.” And you did not forget that in the device logs there will be traces of your hacking activity.
“Well, I'll clean that I can.” I do not think that Laura will dig much, but she does not really understand.
- She probably has friends who understand.
- I’m going to deny that if I’m sorry, I’ll say that I wanted to see the implementation of one interesting effect and accidentally messed up.
- And what is the correct answer?
- Romantic. Okay, the plan is interesting, of course, but I guess it's time. Time is late, but I still did not spit in the Martian abyss before bedtime.
- Wait, are you scared? - asked Max defiantly.
“Are you trying to take me to show off, my human friend?” - the Martian was surprised. - Why did you agree to help, although you risk much more? Why don't you want to do the same trick for yourself?
“Uhhh ...” Max hesitated, trying to come up with a plausible explanation.
- Let me tell you a little: do you want to receive a return service?
“Yes,” Max decided there was no point in lying.
“I can even guess which one.” Well, if the businessman burns out, I will render you any service that is in my power, ”Arthur suddenly agreed.
While Max was carrying his legs to the bar, behind which Ruslan was located, in his dreams he already managed to take the position of director of the Department of Advanced Development and hired the vice president.
Ruslan was sitting in the same place. Max climbed into the next chair and casually asked:
- Didn’t drive up to Laura?
- This crane flies too high, it was necessary to agree to a tit. And now all the tits have been dismantled.
“Not every evening I manage to catch someone.”
“Don’t say what else to expect from this rotten nerdy party.”
- But then there was an opportunity to help one friend get a crane.
Ruslan squinted at Max with irony.
- I think with Laura you yourself will do better. Just don’t behave like the helpful Telecom nerd who curls around her in droves. Come, say that she is a cool chick and you want to stir up with her. It will work soon.
“Thank you for the advice, but I didn’t want you to help me, but only to stir up the Martian with Laura.”
- Have you drunk something, Max? I'm not going to help any Martians.
“Well, technically help the Martian, but actually me.” This Martian can cool my career.
“And how do you think I should arrange this?” Come to Laura and say: hey, goat, do you want to stir up me with one dumb, pale nerd?
- No, such a plan. After some time, Laura will come out like to powder a nose into the basement. I know how to lure her there. There, all the ravers just dispersed. You will go after and start to pester her so that she is really scared, then a Martian will accidentally come in and begin to protect her. There he is, ”Max pointed to Arthur's drunken fresh. - You eat more serious things on him, you can even talk, shake him a little, so that everything was natural. But in the end, he must save her.
- Yeah, it's just business: sexual harassment and assault on a Telecom employee. Some gastor from Moscow will be easily closed for a couple of years.
- No need to go too far, of course. The Martian will definitely not complain, and you're not some sort of gastor from Moscow.
- Hey, great combinator, give up your dreams to become the boss of Telecom. Our place has long been identified and you can’t jump above your head.
- Maybe you're right, everything real in this world is in the hands of Martians, and guests from Moscow will have to be content with virtual successes. I’m all thinking how it’s possible to understand that it’s not a Martian dream around. Indeed, with the help of vision, hearing and other things, it is impossible to distinguish it from reality. Need to look for some sixth sense? Here the Martian says, it’s enough to remember that the real world is balanced. That in it you cannot defeat anything and lose. But all sorts of bastards who do not care about everything are constantly winning. You won’t understand anything. You can also look for the lunar path on the surface of a forest lake or the breath of spring, but this is not on Mars. Or iterate through poems. But all the real poems have already been written ... Now no one needs poets. Whatever you do, you will always doubt. But I just look at Laura May and think that at least she can be real.
- Beautifully you wrapped about Laura. Really hope that this your Martian will help something?
- Why not?
“Why don’t you want to go to Laura yourself, is she just bored?”
“I hardly get to scare her.”
- Yes, I'm not talking about that. Go roll to her. Leave the Martians troubles to the Martians, and enjoy human joys yourself.
“No, I want to help the Martian.” Let him enjoy human joys, but I want to see what is on the other side.
- Well as you know. Since you insist, I will go to fight with Laura.
- Cool! - Max was delighted. - Only you really really eat a Martian, okay. To make it look real.
- Come on, great combinator, act.
Stepping away the drone unnoticed was as easy as shelling pears. Using his camera, Max made sure that almost no one was downstairs, only staff and cleaning robots. Just in case, he took the skull even further into the nook leading to the toilets and lined with the same nightmarish white tiles.
About ten minutes later, Laura noticed the loss and, apparently, having checked the tracker, confidently headed down. Max sent a signal to the other conspirators. Ruslan disappeared into the basement almost after Laura, and the Martian carefully studied his glass for a while, but in the end, having the courage, he stomped after everyone. Max successfully fought the temptation to use the drone's camera to personally verify that the plan worked. He fought for a long time, at least thirty seconds, but reaching for the skull interface found that the chip had lost the network.
This is news, Max thought. - Is it interesting often in their club this happens? Or is there a problem in my chip? ” The evil creatures remaining on the dance floor began to look around bewilderedly, discovering that all of their virtual outfits had turned into a pumpkin. “It means a general failure, but now no intervention by the guard will disrupt the operation to save Laura,” Max reasoned and asked the bartender for a mineral water.
- Often in your club network drops?
“Yes, this is the first time,” the bartender was surprised. - That all network at once ...
Max sat quietly for several minutes, and then began to slowly worry. “Why are they stuck there? He thought nervously. “Oh, in vain I started it, no matter what happens.” Max presented a picture of a Martian lying with a broken head surrounded by doctors, and Ruslana handcuffed on a police platform, and shuddered. When the chip rang joyfully, saying that access to the network was restored, Max already jumped in his chair. For a while he spun around, as if on pins and needles, and then still decided to go down himself, check how he was doing, and halfway across he saw Arthur rising from the basement. He rushed to him in haste.
- How did everything go?!
- I didn’t succeed, but your friend’s apparently not bad. They talked, she laughed and they left together.
- Where have you gone? - stupidly asked Max.
“Maybe to his house, or to her house ... Through another exit.” They look incredibly beautiful together, through this virtual mirage. I even lingered a bit to get a purely aesthetic pleasure ... A huge black demon and an angel-like succubus.
“Your division! I just buried my career in the very depths of the hellish dimensions, Max thought with horror. - Ruslan, here is the cattle! And I, too, am a nerd, thought of asking the fox to guard the chicken coop. ”
“Ahhh ... I'm sorry it happened,” Max mumbled.
- Yes, it's not your fault. Just your friend decided to make adjustments to our brilliant plan. But it can be understood. Seriously, don’t worry, but keep in mind that it would be much more reliable to directly ask Laura to convince a manager who is not indifferent to her charms to help you. A second kiss would be enough to get a professional chip at the expense of the company. And all sorts of complex plans in real life rarely work.
“You have such a bad opinion about her?” Why would she agree to such a thing?
- I am not a bad opinion, I have been working for too long with the personal files of employees trying to make their way upstairs in one of the richest and most influential corporations in the world. This is not such a crime: to breed one nerd and fix two careers at once with his help. And she would agree to have a friend personally obliged to her, who holds some kind of high position. Or maybe she wouldn’t agree ...
“Yes, all women have low social responsibility,” thought Max. “Well, all the beautiful women are so certain.” Arthur smiled, looking at his face.
“I'm sorry, Max, but your disappointment amuses me.” Did you really think that Laura is such a princess? Here's an answer to a simple question: why would a person smile, patiently listen to tons of compliments and self-praise, spend free time and money on medicine and gyms, but at the same time not try to extract any indirect material benefit from this? Do you think such people really exist? More precisely, they, of course, exist, but they do not work at high positions in Telecom.
“Well, if she is not a princess at all, why not buy her for a raise?”
“Your stupid disappointment makes you vulgar.” She is too proud and so directly to buy it will not work. Well, or the price will be very high. Moreover, I do not want this. But it’s dangerous for nerds like you or me to fall in love with her, ”Arthur smiled. - Unfortunately, Laura has a rather low opinion of male creatures in general, and does not see anything wrong with using them a little.
- Maybe she will use Ruslana too.
“I'll talk to him seriously.”
- Not worth it. What's done is done. Of course, you came up with stupidity, and I agreed, but the world did not collapse from this. Maybe she will be happy with this Ruslan, at least a little.
- What about you?
- I already had a chance, but he missed it.
- But what about the rule that the most incredible things happen twice?
- This all sorts of weird nonsense happens twice. And for what is really important and valuable in a lousy real world, another rule applies: "Only once and never again." All right, my human friend, I have to go, yearn alone in my huge empty apartment.
Arthur left, taking with him the hopes of a fast career in Telecom and possibly even a career. Max had no choice but to push Boris snoring on the sofa and call a taxi.
Sitting in his tiny kitchen, he realized that he had completely sobered up. The mood was preparish, the head was popping, and there was no sleep in any eye. He spat on the high cost of quick communication and dialed Masha's number.
- Hi, are you awake?
- We have morning already.
Masha, she looked a bit disheveled. Around it lay New Year's tinsel, in the corner stood a decorated natural tree, and it seemed to Max that he could taste olivier and the smell of tangerines.
- Something happened?
- Yes, Mash, I'm sorry, I have problems with your visa ...
- I already understood. - Masha frowned even more. “Is that all you wanted to say?”
- Not. I know that you are upset, but I really have something bad, everything went on this fucking Mars ...
- Max, did you drink it?
- Already sobered up. Nearly. Masha, I wanted to tell you one thing, it’s hard to articulate it right away ...
- Say, don’t drag it.
- I don’t get a damn thing in Telecom, it’s some kind of stupid job, and I’m doing something completely wrong ... I remember, we dreamed how to live together healthy on Mars ...
- Max, what did you want to say ?!
“If I go back to Moscow, will you not be very upset?”
“Are you going to come back?” When?!
Masha broke into such a sincere, wide smile that Max blinked in surprise.
- I thought you were upset, because we spent so much time and effort.
- Oh, you think I'm not upset to sit here and wait for no one knows what? This fucking Mars has always been more necessary for you.
- It is unlikely that I can stay in Telecom if I return. And we will spend a lot of money on a return ticket, and we will have to start all over again at another place.
- Max, what a nonsense. You will not find work in Moscow? Such a specialist here will be torn off with his hands. We will sell something unnecessary in the end.
- True? That is, you will not blame me and stigmatize me?
- If you appeared on the threshold right now, I would not say a word to you.
“Even if I fall into a drunken state for firewood?”
“I will accept in any form,” Masha laughed. - I understand that you went there to have a drink on your fucking Mars.
Max breathed a sigh of relief and decided that everything was not so bad. “And why am I so clinging to work on Mars? Well, obviously it’s not rushing. It’s necessary to shorten this shop, return home and live happily. ” He and Masha chatted for some more time, Max finally calmed down, almost chose return tickets and turned off the quick contact window. Falling asleep, he dreamed about distant Moscow, when he came home, when a warm soft Masha met him, her cat rubs under her feet, and the strange Martians and the false beauty of the underground cities turned into an unpleasant, but harmless dream there. “Of course, shame is not the right way to return home,” thought Max, burrowing deeper into the pillow.
There is one goal and thousands of ways.
He who sees the goal chooses the path.
Anyone who has chosen the path will never reach.
For each, only one road leads to the truth.
Max sat up abruptly in bed with a pounding heart. "Key! How do I know him?! He thought in horror.
Rows of identical concrete boxes floated in the window of a service minivan. The architecture of the industrial area was highly praised by the adherents of socialist realism or cubism. All these streets and interchanges intersecting at geometrically regular angles differed only in numbers. Moreover, a pattern of cracks and mineral veins on the ceiling of the cave. Once again, Max thought how helpless they were without crutches of virtual reality. One cannot get out of such an area without computer prompts; local offices did not consider it necessary to spend money on real signs or signs. Just in case, he checked his purse with an oxygen mask, the gamma zone after all: nothing dangerous even for an unprepared person, but you can’t run along the stairs for a long time even with half gravity.
Grieg, as usual, who had recovered, was meditating in the front seat, and Boris fell apart in the back opposite, among plastic boxes with equipment. His mood was excellent, he enjoyed the trip and the company of his comrades and eagerly absorbed beer chips. Max felt a little awkward from the fact that Boris considered him almost his best friend, and he could not get the courage and say that he decided to bring back to Moscow. “Or didn’t you decide? Why am I going on this stupid excursion to the Dreamland vault? Thought Max. - No, I'm seriously counting on it. There are no such coincidences. ” But the annoying voice, which forced many years to break onto the red planet at any cost, also insisted on whispering: “Since such an event has turned up, what prevents you from just checking”?
- Did you see yesterday stream on starcraft? Asked Boris, holding out a bottle of beer. Max absentmindedly took it and sipped it purely mechanically.
- Nope ...
- But in vain, this match will still become a legend. Our Deadshot played against Miki, that creepy Japanese nerd, you know, who has been chopping into Starcraft since he was three years old.
“Yeah, the same nerd.” His mother must have been watching StarCream streams for nine months.
- He grew up in a replicator.
- And then it is not surprising.
“I missed it in vain, I called you to the bar, actually.” This Mika has not beaten one on one for two years.
- I have not been following for a long time, then I will look at the record.
- Yes, the record is not that, you already know the result.
- And who won?
- Our won. There was such a drama, he leaked the general battle, everything already seemed to be a khan ...
- Something in the official table recorded a technical defeat.
“You look at some goats, the anti-modding commission this morning found forbidden software on his chip.” Freaks, it’s worth our victory, as the vultures immediately flock. But nothing, we saved the screen of this table, in a granite we will cast so to speak. The network doesn’t forget anything!
“Pf, forbidden software,” Max snorted. - Yes, I will never believe that all this mikrik of hundreds of units is really possible without software and additional lotions. Allegedly a battle of pure intelligence! Does anyone else believe in this bullshit?
- Yes, it’s understandable, but agree that the Japs have hidden scripts and lotions that are the most advanced, but ours won anyway.
- And he was immediately impudently bortanuli. That's why I stopped following.
The car drove inside a large, buried garage and stopped in front of a concrete ramp. The flat section of the ramp was exactly flush with the floor of the car.
“Arrived,” Grieg threw out, getting out.
“Well, let's work as logistics managers,” Boris answered readily and began to pull out boxes of equipment with the Telecom logo painted on the sides, the letter “T” with a rounded top bar and a radio emission symbol on both sides.
“Not like Dreamland's vault,” Max shrugged, looking around the plain gray room. - Where are the rows of bio-baths with clogged little people? Normal parking.
“The vault is lower,” Grieg said.
- Are we going down there?
- Have to.
“Open up a couple of cans of dreamers?”
“No, of course,” Grieg blinked in surprise. - It’s forbidden to touch biovannas at all. There are only telecom routers and computers for replacement.
“Is that all?” Boredom, - stated Max.
“It would be something serious, we would not be sent here,” Grieg answered in a breathless voice.
He did not seem to be of iron health; lifting the box along the ramp obviously tired him.
“Something you do not look good,” Boris remarked, “take a rest so far, we will roll the boxes to the elevator.”
“No, no, I'm fine,” Grieg waved his arms and prodded exaggeratedly over the load.
- And there are clients where the brain is separated from the body and swims in a separate container? Those who bought an unlimited tariff and want to live forever.
“Perhaps I don't look at what's inside.”
- Do you have access to the database? Those you can not see who is stored?
“She's for official use,” Grieg mumbled.
He left the crate in front of the freight elevator and turned to follow the next one.
“Well, here we are in the service.” Have you never been interested in wandering around and seeing what kind of people are floating in these flasks?
Grieg looked at the questioner for a couple of seconds with his trademark unclean look, as if he did not understand the question, or did not want to understand.
- No, Max, not interesting. I come, find the faulty module, get it out, stick in a new one and leave.
- Have you been working in Telecom for a long time?
- For a long time.
- And how do you like it?
- I like it, only I have a green clearance, Maxim.
Grieg abruptly quickened his pace.
“Green admission ...
” “Hey, Max, leave me alone from the man,” Boris intervened, “roll the boxes, not the sharps.”
“Yes, what did I ask that?” Che so soared because of this admission?
- A green admission means that a couple of tapping neural networks from the Security Council, formally watching for non-disclosure of trade secrets, have already been sewn into your chip. But in fact, it is not known what they are tracking there. Our Security Council has a rather paranoid approach to its duties.
“Anyway, what did I ask?”
- Nothing of the kind, Max, just people with clearance usually do not want to discuss any slippery topics, especially those related to work. Even a personal opinion regarding harmless things like corporate culture, management system and other corporate delirium.
- How it all starts. Remember Ruslan, who works in the Telecom Security Council? Well, who was still afraid of Dimon. I don’t know what his tolerance is, but something he is not at all afraid of having all kinds of seditious conversations. He is generally Martians, except as tadpoles or dumb nerds.
“That's why he is in the security service, what are he afraid of?” And some, Max, are not so brave and there is nothing to pester and put people in an awkward position. This is not Moscow for you.
- Oh, just don’t need to remind me again that I’m a gastor from Moscow. Can I then be silent all the time?
- Silence is gold.
- And you, Borya, how do you yourself, prefer to remain silent and not to stick out once again?
“I, Max, have no such strategy for behavior.” But people are very brave in words, but at the first hint of trouble ticking into the bushes, annoying pretty.
- I agree. And people who run the risk, I’m not afraid of the word, the political struggle against evil corporations, even with a ridiculous result, what kind of reaction do you have?
“None, in the absence of people like the class.”
- Really? But what about, for example, the mysterious Quadius organization, organizing riots on Titan? Remember Phil, from the train?
- Yes, I beg you, there is only one appearance, I am more than sure that the evil corporations themselves are engaged in grazing such organizations with the goal of creating vents for marginal elements, and at the same time, to foul the competitors.
- Yes, Borya, you I watch a burnt cynic.
- It's a flimsy one, I’m romantic in my heart. You know, my hero in warcraft is a noble dwarf, always ready to break the law for the sake of restoring social justice, ”Boris said with false sadness in his voice, rolling the last box into the elevator.
- Well, yes, yes ... The
elevator in the vault was hefty, so they were located in one corner with all the rubbish, and was controlled by an old-fashioned touchscreen without any virtual interfaces. In general, as soon as the steel doors were closed, all external networks disappeared, only the Dreamland service network with a guest connection remained. This connection did not even allow you to see the full storage map, only the current route, and imposed draconian restrictions on photo-video from chips and any connected devices.
Grieg chose minus the fifth level. "Sorry," thought Max when the elevator stopped, "there will be no apocalyptic paintings." A gigantic kilometer hive filled with hundreds of thousands of hundreds with human larvae did not appear before his gaze. The Dreamland vault was located in the long winding tunnels of the old mine workings, which had seized the planet’s body far in all directions and hundreds of meters deep.
From the grotto, which seems to have a natural origin, drifts diverged, filled with rows of bio-baths. For the convenience of moving along them, wheeled platforms with folding sides were offered. Once again I had to roll all the boxes to the new transport. “And when will it end?” - began to grumble Boris. However, as soon as they started, he conveniently sat on a low box, opened the next bottle of beer and picked it up sharply.
“Are you allowed to thump here?” Asked Max.
- And who will forbid me? Wheel platform or these jerks from cans?
Boris nodded at the endless row of sarcophagi with lids made of muddy thick plastic, under which the outlines of human bodies were hardly guessed.
“There are probably cameras everywhere.”
“And who will watch them, is it not, Grieg?”
Grieg answered him with a slight conviction in his eyes.
- In general, the gamma zone, there is a lot of plumping here.
- On the contrary, it pins harder, and I have enough oxygen, unlike some, for twelve hours ... Well, well, persuaded.
Boris fished out a paper bag from somewhere in his backpack and put a bottle in it.
- Are you satisfied?
- I wonder how many dreamers are here. - Max immediately switched to another topic, curiously turning his head in all directions. The platform moved at the speed of a jogging pensioner, but it was still difficult to examine the details due to the economical lighting. The walls of the tunnels were interrupted by a complex web of communications: cables and pipes, and a monorail was additionally mounted on top, along which cargo or bathtubs with dreamers occasionally sailed.
“Listen, Grieg, really, how many people are there in storage?”
- I have no idea.
- But does your service connection not give such information?
- I don’t have access to general statistics, no, maybe a trade secret.
“You can try to count,” Max began to reason. - suppose the length of the tunnels is ten kilometers, the bathtubs are in three or four tiers, with a step of two and a half meters. It turns out twenty thousand, twenty-five, not particularly impressive.
“I think there are much more than ten kilometers of tunnels,” Boris said.
“Grieg, do you have at least access to the map, what is the total length of the tunnels?”
Grieg in response only waved his hand. The platform kept rolling and rolling, turning a couple of times into side drifts, and the storehouse did not foresee the end and edge. There was deathly silence, broken only by the buzzing of electric motors and the circulation of fluids in communications.
“It’s gloomy here ...” Boris spoke again and burped loudly. “Hey, can residents, what do you see there !?” I hope you are not going to crawl out of your crypts? Estimate suddenly any malfunction in the firmware will happen and they will all wake up and climb out.
“Boryan, stop catching horror,” Max grimaced.
- Yes, and the platform may break at the most inopportune moment. There he seems to have moved!
- Yeah, now he’ll come out and dance. Grieg, but is there any connection between location and virtual worlds? Maybe we are driving through a tunnel with star wars, and then elves with unicorns go on?
Grieg was silent for almost a minute, but then he nevertheless condescended to an answer.
- I think not, Dreamland has very powerful data buses, you can switch users as you like. But there are specialized telecom computers on icebergs for the most popular worlds.
“Let's play association,” Boris suggested. “Do you have any associations with this place, Max?” Cemetery, crypt ...?
- Through the looking glass, the real world is there, and we travel along its inside. We, like mice or houses, make our way through the dusty manholes in the walls of the castle. Outside there are balls and luxurious halls, and only the tramp of small paws under the parquet reminds of our existence. But somewhere there must necessarily be secret mechanisms that open the doors to the other side.
- What a looking glass, what kind of children's fairy tales? Zombies rising from the graves. There has been a global crash in Dreamland's programs and thousands of distraught dreamers are setting up a zombie apocalypse on the streets of Tula.
- Well, you can. But so far, nothing particularly creepy except silence ...
Suddenly, the tunnel broke off and the platform drove into a low overpass that went around a natural grotto. At the bottom of the grotto was a lake of a strange pinkish color. Robotic life was boiling in it, obscure shadows of mechanical octopus and cuttlefish flickered in the depths, and sometimes rose to the surface, entangled in networks of cables. But the main inhabitants of the liquid were shapeless pieces of biomass, filling almost the entire volume of the lake and making it look like a swamp covered with bumps. Only a few seconds later Max recognized in these bumps human bodies, covered with a thick shell growing from the water itself, like a film on jelly.
- Lord, what a nightmare! - Boris said in shock, frozen with a bottle in his mouth.
The platform slowly traveled around the water area, and behind this grotto one could already see the next, and then a whole suite of pinkish swamps spread out before the shocked gaze of the unprepared visitors of Dreamland.
“Just new biovannas with a cheap rate for those not very squeamish,” Grieg explained in a colorless voice. - Cables and routers of the main network are floating in the colloid, and the colloid itself is a group molecular interface that automatically connects the one who is in it.
- I hope I did not swim in this.
- You had an expensive individual order, as I understand it, so that no.
- Fu, relieved. Reminds Colorado larvae in a bank, which my grandmother forced to collect at the dacha. The same vile swarming fluid.
“Shut up, Max,” Boris demanded. - I’ll puke.
- Yeah, let's go right there ... Do you want to swim?
Boris responded with a suspicious gurgling sound.
- If it weren’t for the ban, I would record video from the chip and put it on the Internet in order to discourage all new dreamers.
“Don't think about it,” Grieg worried. - We will be kicked out of work for this at a time.
- Yes, I understand.
- Moreover, more terrible things happen to drug addicts, but this does not stop anyone.
Max nodded in agreement, but, while the platform was traveling along the pink swamps, Grieg fidgeted uneasily and strove to somehow block his ward's field of vision. He relaxed when the platform drove into the freight elevator and began to descend to the lower levels.
At the sorting site in front of the elevator, several automatic platforms with loads and a crowd of people in baggy robes were waiting for them. The crowd was led by an overweight guy with a greasy technician overalls. These were the first "living" people who met him in the repository. But they were also very strange, no one talked or even shifted from one foot to another, everyone stood and stared into the void. Only the technician moved, slapped his thick lips, waved a finger in front of him, and when he saw Grieg, he extended that paw for a handshake. Max paid attention to his dirty uncut nails.
“How are you, Edik?” Grieg asked indifferently.
- Excellent as always. Here I am leading our sleepwalkers for medical care. And where they find these diseases, they lie because they don’t do a damn thing, and here we work hard for them. Pitiful losers, such and in the bio-bath will find a way to discard skates.
Grieg also nodded indifferently in response to an obscure tirade.
- See you, it's time for us to go.
“So these are dreamers?” Can they be woken up? - surprised Max.
“Dreamers, uti-ways,” Eddie barked and unceremoniously patted the nearest bald old man on the cheek. - Cheap dreamers, even walk after death.
“Let's go,” Grieg waved his hand for his companions to climb onto the platform. “They are driven with the help of body control, they don’t realize anything and will not remember after returning to the bio-bath.
“And I think they will remember,” the fat Edik blocked the road to the platform and it obediently froze. - One doctor told me that they seemed to have a dream in which they themselves can not do anything. Imagine I'm part of someone’s nightmares.
- It's time for us to go.
Grieg directed the platform to the left, but Edik again stood in her way.
- Come on, forever in a hurry. There is nowhere to rush such a place. And you know the funniest thing, after all, they fulfill any of my commands. Want to see, now the A312 will raise the right leg.
Edik moved his hands in front of his nose and the bald old man obediently bent his leg at the knee.
- Only the main thing is not to overdo it, otherwise one moron has recently lost two lunatics. Put them in the following mode, and he rode on the platform and fell asleep. Well, even in life, they don’t shine with their minds, but here in general ... then they searched for half a day ... You lower your leg.
Edik patted the old man no less familiarly on the shoulder. Grieg clearly lacked the intelligence to bark properly and clear the way.
- Do you want to have some fun?
- No no no! Grieg shook his head in dismay.
- Hey, merry fellow! - Boris came to the rescue. - We are having fun, the tour is with us, of course, but you interfere.
- And I don’t interfere, there’s usually nothing to look at, the old and the drunks are one, but today there are some good specimens.
“I watch Dreamland not particularly ceremonious with customers,” Max said irritably.
- All sorts of managers and bots are standing on ceremony with clients. And what do I have, really clients? Stupidly pieces of meat. In general, I’m buoying, ”Edik stated with a mocking smile. “But I’m not a vindictive guy, I can share it with friends for a bottle of beer.”
- Yeah, today there is a good copy, I recommend. A503, Marie is forty-three years old.
Edik pulled forward a pretty battered lady, though not completely lost her former beauty.
- Two children, there was a whole financial analyst in some fucking corporation. A rich bitch, in short, but got addicted to drugs, her husband sued most of the property, the children beat her. I ended up here. So of course everything sagged a bit, but what boobs, check it out.
Edik completely casually unfastened his robe and threw out his big white boobs.
“So we set sail,” Grieg orientated, and, by cavalry maneuvering around the crowd, freed himself a passage into the tunnel.
For a second Max froze, his mouth agape in surprise, and the platform was already rolling along the drift. Max got out of the stupor and attacked Grieg.
- Wait, where! It’s necessary to call SB, this freak allows itself!
“No, we’ll only lose time,” Grieg shook his head.
- Yes, you wait!
Max tried to get to the helm of the manual control, and Grieg restrained him to the best of his ability.
“Stop it, we're about to crash somewhere.”
- What to stop? Go back!
- Until we return, until we wait for the Sat, the hour will pass, we will not have time to do the work. And what shall we present to the Security Council: our word is against it?
- What word, there are cameras everywhere.
- Nobody will show us the record and we will not prove anything.
- And what, let this goat have fun anymore ?!
- Max, forget it, bread and beer, - Boris came to the rescue. - These dreamers themselves chose their fate.
- But how to forget it! Dreamland does not follow its employees at all. Where is their security service looking? Anyway, as soon as the network appears, I’ll immediately declare I’ll roll not the Security Council, so the Tule police.
Grieg in response only sighed heavily.
- Well, and substitute a friend, as you do not understand.
- Whom will I substitute?
- You substitute Grieg, and at the same time we are. Think it yourself, Dreamland will like the publicity of such a story? Loss of customers, and maybe direct claims grab like nefig do. Relations with Telecom will surely suffer, he sends such honest employees. And then, what do you think, will these diplomas be given to the honest employees and the award will be issued? Or hang all the dogs on them? What are you, how small?
- Well, the SB must be called. Let this Edik be quietly fired, they will conduct some kind of internal audit.
- Yes, they will. And they will fire this dolgokryak, in his place they will take another, even worse. I do not see the point in these gestures.
- That's how they all argue, that's why we sit forever in a complete asshole.
- From the fact that everyone will run with bulging eyes, the ass will not become smaller. Sometimes it’s better to hammer and forget everything, you will break less firewood. Look, for sure all these dreamers also wanted to change the world for the better. And where did it lead them? If you save the whole world, Dreamland will ruin your career as well.
“So far, I’m doing pretty well myself, without Dreamland.”
- In what sense?
- Yes, I so abruptly helped that Martian Arthur to establish relations with Laura, that I am afraid of my career as a khan.
“Arthur told you so.”
“No, he's a polite Martian.” But even if he understood and forgave, the sediment, as they say, remained.
- You see, relax shorter. Will you beer?
- Okay, come on. You have some kind of passive attitude in life.
- I just soberly assess my capabilities, unlike some. What fuss like a fool for the sake of others' interests, is not it better to just live for your pleasure?
- This freak Edik probably also says.
Boris only shrugged philosophically.
- I do not touch anyone, live and do not bother others to live.
The platform has finally reached the end point of the route. She stopped in front of the steel door in a short dead end. Behind it was a large data center. From the long rows of identical cabinets, Max was charged in his eyes. It was pretty cool, air conditioning and cabinet ventilation hummed almost inaudibly on the ceiling. Grieg opened a cabinet with routers and connected to them the healthiest of the boxes brought. And he connected himself, finally losing his already not particularly stable connection with the outside world. To the question of what to do the rest, he threw off the connection diagram and pointed to one of the server cabinets. Max had to tinker with the assembly, since Boris, in full accordance with the previously stated principles, avoided labor activity. He comfortably sat on the floor next to open drawers and, in between chatter and beer,
Then Grieg moved to them to replace the defective units. And then again plunged into his closed iron world.
- Boredom. Boryan, do you want to take a walk? - suggested Max.
“Is there a place for pleasant walks here?” Sit beer drink.
- Yes, I do not need a toilet. You will not go
“I'll be back later, suddenly Grieg will need help.” If suddenly dreamers climb out of the bio-baths, see that they do not bite you.
“I have garlic and silver with me.”
- Don’t forget the aspen stake.
Fortunately, the toilet was located at the end of the dead end, so for a long time I did not have to wander around surrounded by ominous sarcophagi. Max stopped in some doubt in front of the door to the data center. “If I come in, I’ll have to help Grieg, have a beer with Boris and after a couple of hours drive home. And when I return it will be necessary to buy a ticket to Moscow, I promised Masha and I have no reasonable reason to drag on. Now is the last chance to find out what I dreamed about in the Martian dream, he thought. “Only a ghostly chance, I'm here, and the lord of shadows is in the looking glass there.” Or am I the master of shadows? And what the hell is the phrase: you apparently wanted to create a new personality for yourself and slightly overdid it. This phrase will not give me rest until the end of my days. I have to make sure that I am I, that my personality is real, or to find out the terrible truth. ”
Max thoughtfully walked fifty meters before entering the main drift. It was larger in diameter, equally quiet and dark. And even the presence of thousands of motionless bodies no longer particularly pressured the brains. He went to the nearest bio-bath. Its plastic cover, despite the controlled atmosphere of the store, was covered with a thin layer of dust. Max absentmindedly dusted his sleeve and saw his blurry reflection. He leaned down to peer into his own distorted face from the looking glass and, suddenly, felt a slight push from that side of the lid. In horror, he recoiled to the opposite wall and backed away until he bumped his ass into another bio-bath. “C'mon, zombie apocalypse doesn't start like that. The usual programmed movements of the body so that it does not atrophy, I found something to be afraid of. ” However, Max felt that the heart beats loudly in the ears and could not in any way force itself to look again into that bio-bath. “Stop everything! No Sonny Daimons can knock on that side. Look into the bio-bath, make sure that the looking-glass does not exist, go to Moscow and live happily. ”
Max returned to the bio-bath and, so as not to suffer for a long time, immediately looked inside. Nobody moved inside, but now he saw the dreamer's hands that were pressed to the lid itself. He turned back in bewilderment, but after a minute of throwing he forced himself to return again. The hands did not just dangle inside, haphazardly, they were directed in the direction where they had come from. “Or does it seem to me that they are sent somewhere?” Oh, crap! ” Thought Max. “Shadows will show you the way,” surfaced from the depths of his memory. “Oh, burn it all with a blue flame, I’ll follow this supposedly sign. Anyway, you’ll have to come back at the nearest fork. ”
The first fork came about a hundred meters later, Max did not remember where they came from or not. He examined all the nearest biovannas and almost immediately found another pointer from the extremities, directing him to move directly. Max again felt the frantic rhythm of the heart and the growing sense of fear, like before a parachute jump, until you saw the abyss under your feet, but the plane was already shaking, the engines were roaring, and the instructor gave the last instructions. He ran to the next intersection almost running. There I had to turn left. He ran faster and faster, panting, but not feeling tired. The only thought was beating in his head, like a moth burning in a flame: “Where are these half-dead men leading me to ?!” Two minutes later he was on the site in front of the elevator.
Max paused to catch his breath and was surprised to find that everything was covered with perspiration. “One must at least mark the points on the map, otherwise you never know. Or it’s safer to leave a real mark on the wall so that they can find me later. But just what? Apparently he will have his own blood. ” Max calmed down a bit and went back into the tunnel for clues. One of the dreamers from the bowels of the biovanna showed a pretty decent four-finger gesture. The panel in the elevator showed that it was at minus the seventh level. Max confidently chose the minus fourth and was a little glad that the shadows lead him up, not down. Well, probably, in order to taste the sweet flesh, hungry zombies would lead him into the deepest and most terrible dungeon.
After the elevator, his walk ended very quickly in a room filled with rows of chairs. It was like a waiting room, but instead of passengers, the seats were occupied by torso indifferent to everything in white robes. Silence was unnatural for train stations and airports. Between the rows roamed several people in overalls technicians. They looked with surprise at the out of breath Max, but their atrophied sense of duty was evident not enough to start the questioning. Max decided not to attract attention and headed for one of the coffee machines, simultaneously racking his brains over the task of getting the next pointer. “God forbid those around me will begin to give me some signs. Even the local phlegmatic staff will surely catch it. ” At the machine, he ran nose-to-nose with fat Edik.
- Oh, what people! - taken aback by Edik. - What are you doing here?
- So I wanted to drink a coffee, we work not far.
Max began feverishly searching his pockets for a prepaid card. The machine was not connected to an external network. Fortunately, he found a card for a whole hundred zits, which was lying long forgotten in the inside pocket of his jacket. This would probably be a worthy reward for running around the store.
- And here I am leading the next batch back. There’s not even time to devour.
Edik continued to pose as a production drummer. Max with a slight sympathy looked at his group of lunatics. You guys are out of luck, he thought. Some sense of deja vu made me take a closer look at the motionless faces. “Get fucked up!” It’s definitely him! ” Philip Kochura was bald, smoothly shaved, but his wrinkles and sunken cheeks were easily recognizable, as if he was still sitting by the window of a train in which the reddish landscapes of the Martian surface were streaming and complaining about his difficult fate.
- Where are you hatched?
- I? Yes so ... - Max hastily slammed the mitt. “I think I saw one of these dudes.” Well there, in the real world.
- And what? You never guess which of your friends sticks out. Not heroin after all. Maybe it's a neighbor or a former classmate. So I would never have thought of some, but they were here.
- Phil, do you remember me?
Max came close to Phil and, as if spellbound, stared into his eyes. Phil naturally kept deathly silence.
- Uh, brother, what do you really think he will hear you? Edik laughed indulgently.
“You can't talk to him?”
“It’s easier to get out with a gun than with him.” You really do not catch up that they have not been here for a long time.
“You yourself said that they see a dream and all that.”
- Who knows what they see there. You can transfer it to voice control. Then he’ll kind of be amazed with you, somehow ... And who is he to you?
- So familiar. Can you translate?
- Well, since I’ve known someone, I thought something serious ... We have to stomp the bainki, and according to the instructions it’s not supposed to pull them again.
- Not allowed according to the instructions? Who would say that!
- And what, do you think I violate the instructions? - Edik inquired with a look of insulted innocence. “You think I will calmly listen to such baseless accusations.” Let's goodbye.
“This is a slippery, vile bastard,” Max thought in disgust.
“I don't blame you for anything.” I just saw a friend, it’s interesting to learn from him how he got here. What bad will happen if you switch to voice control?
“Nothing much, but you're not a Dreamland employee.” Who knows what you will order him, huh?
“Not at all?”
“It's a risk ...”
Max handed Edik a card.
- Risk is a noble cause. There are a hundred zits.
A greedy light flashed in Edik's eyes instantly, however, he showed caution unexpected for this type of light.
- You put the card on the machine. I’ll drink some coffee, there’s a toilet, there are no cameras. Maybe you’ll take some woman? Oh well, okay, don’t look at me like that, who I am to condemn other people's tastes.
Max gritted his teeth, but politely said nothing.
- V032 is in the mode, you have ten minutes and not a second more.
“B032, follow me,” Max ordered quietly.
Phil obediently turned and plodded after his temporary master. Natural modesty did not allow Max to retire with Phil in one of the booths. Fortunately, the toilet was completely empty and shone with pristine cleanliness.
- Phil, do you remember me? I'm Max, did we meet on the train about a month ago? Talk about how you saw a shadow in a Martian dream, remember?
- Ah, Max, tochnik ... It was a very strange dream.
Phil did not change his expression and his gaze wandered absently around, but he spoke clearly, albeit very slowly, greatly stretching the words.
“I didn’t think you would appear in another dream.” So strange ...
- Strange things are often repeated, especially in a dream.
- Yes, dreams are ...
- What do you do there, in your real life? Are you all fighting evil corporations?
- Nah, corporations have long been defeated ... Now there are no copywriters and other freaks. I develop games ... for children. I have a big house, a family ... Parents will come tomorrow, we need to choose a good meat for a barbecue ...
- Stop, Phil, I understand, you're done.
“Damn, what nonsense am I talking about! What do I need these details for, ”thought Max irritably. By force of will, he forced himself to concentrate.
“Phil, do you remember the secret message that the shadow ordered to deliver to Titan?”
“I remember the message ...”
- Repeat it.
“I don’t remember the message ... you already asked about it in a past dream ...
“ Okay, considering that I already gave a bunch of dough to a fat freak to retire with a dreamer in a jerk, I won’t look dumber. It wasn’t. ”
- Phil, are you still with me?
“But I sleep where I still have to be ...
” “The one who opened the door sees the world endless. The one to whom the doors were opened sees endless worlds.
Phil's gaze instantly focused on Max. Now he ate his eyes, so they look at the person on whom the question of life and death depends.
- The key is accepted. Message processing. Wait.
Phil's voice became crisp and clear, but completely colorless.
- Processing completed. Would you like to listen to the message.
The answer was almost inaudible due to the fact that Max suddenly had a dry mouth.
- Start of message.
Rudy, it's all gone. I have to run, but I'm afraid to go to the spaceport and a mile. Everywhere agents of Neurotek and they have all the data on me. Agents found our quantum equipment, which I tried to take out, I barely blew my legs. Anyone who causes the slightest suspicion, they grab and turn inside out. Do not save any tolerances and roofs. I do not see other options: I have to turn off the system. Yes, it will destroy almost all of our work, but if Neurotek gets to the launch signatures, it will be a final defeat. I will create another personality for myself and crawl into the deepest hole I find. We must wait until Neurotek calms down a bit, and then restart the system. On Titan, please take a moment to check my suspicions about someone you know who you are. I am sure this is not just paranoia. Someone handed us over to Neurotek and the shadows couldn't do it, although he certainly could not, but still ... When you return to Mars, do not use our usual communication channels, they are all lit up. Contact me through Dreamland. In extreme cases, if Neurotek gets to the Martian dream, I or one of my shadows will come to the Golden Scorpion bar in the area of the first settlement at 19:00 GMT and order three Doors songs on a jukebox in the following order: “Moonlight Drive ”,“ Strange Days ”,“ Soul Kitchen ”. Establish supervision over this bar. It's all. Destroy the courier after receiving the message, I know how you do not like such methods, but we can not afford even a minimal risk. if Neurotek gets to the Martian dream, I myself or one of my shadows will come to the Golden Scorpion bar in the area of the first settlement at 19:00 GMT and order three Doors songs on the jukebox in the following order: “Moonlight Drive”, “ Strange Days "," Soul Kitchen ". Establish supervision over this bar. It's all. Destroy the courier after receiving the message, I know how you do not like such methods, but we can not afford even a minimal risk. if Neurotek gets to the Martian dream, I myself or one of my shadows will come to the Golden Scorpion bar in the area of the first settlement at 19:00 GMT and order three Doors songs on the jukebox in the following order: “Moonlight Drive”, “ Strange Days "," Soul Kitchen ". Establish supervision over this bar. It's all. Destroy the courier after receiving the message, I know how you do not like such methods, but we can not afford even a minimal risk.
The end of the message. The courier awaits further instructions.
"It worked," Max thought admiringly, "what he said, the Golden Scorpion bar ... We need to listen again."
- Get fucked, give two! Was that what it was? - a familiar nasty voice came from behind.
Max turned and saw Edik's glossy and very pleased face.
“You promised to wait ten minutes.”
- Che he bazaar there? Three songs by Doors, end of message. Never heard a stranger shnyaga.
“Who let you in, you moron?”
Rage strangled Max. I really wanted to drag a fatty erysipelas from my feet without thinking about the consequences.
“You should have brought him into the booth, brother.” I what? I wanted to stand on the stream so that no one would bother you. And I hear boo boo boo boo boo boo. But I think that this is happening, you yourself understand the state property.
“Forget everything you heard here.”
“You will not forget that.” Besides, I'm sorry, but you seem to have broken my dreamer. I have to report it.
- Do not forget to report on how you yourself handle state property.
“You won’t prove anything, brother.” But even if you prove, well, they will fire me, a great loss. I will be fired by agreement of the parties, you think Dreamland needs publicity of such stories. Yes, by no means, there are precedents. But your secret message will instantly be in the Internet. What was it about Neurotek ... Spokuha, brother, if you are nervous, the guard will instantly jump. Here, count to ten. You can always agree on a good point.
Edik's paws shook finely, clearly in anticipation of rain from creeps, Eurocoins and other non-fiat funds. Max realized that he was stuck and confused. How to make Edik silent, he did not understand at all, nor did he undertake to predict the consequences of publicizing Phil's message. The decision came instantly, as if something clicked in my head.
- Order to the courier: fix the visual image of the object: Eduard Boborykin, - Max read the name on the badge. - Works as a technician in the Thule-2 vault of Dreamland Corporation. Give all shadows in the Martian dream an order to liquidate the object as soon as possible.
- Treatment. Order accepted. The courier awaits further instructions.
“I went, look do not burn out at work,” Max said coldly.
- Yes, you're kidding, brother, take me to pont huh? Dreamers cannot do anything against body control. Look, I’ll turn it off ...
Edik began feverishly moving his hands in front of him.
- Order to the courier: to drown the object in the toilet.
Phil rushed to Edik without further thought, grabbed his hair and tried to hit him in the face with his knee. He got in passing, his physical condition was clearly not enough to cope with such a carcass. But Edik was just as far from martial arts, he only heart-rendingly screeched and threshed his hands with air. Max approached him from behind and with pleasure kicked under the knee. Something crunched unpleasantly in her knee when Edik pushed her weight into the tiled floor.
“Ah, fucking,” he ached plaintively. - Fuck, let go, bitch, aah.
Phil pulled the carcass by the hair, trying to jerkily drag it to the toilet.
- Hare, brother, I joked, joked, I won’t tell anyone.
- Order to courier: cancellation of the last order.
Phil froze, and Edik continued to roll on the floor, screaming at the top of his voice.
“Shut up, you nerd,” hissed Max.
Edik obediently lowered his tone, switching to a low howl.
“You're a dumb slug, you don't even understand what you got into.” You signed yourself a death sentence.
- What a death sentence, brother! I was fooling around, though I was not going to tell anything. Well, please ... I already forgot everything.
- Order to courier: cancellation of all previous orders. Order to courier: delete message.
- Erasure is impossible without access to the system. Recommended elimination of the courier. Confirm liquidation?
- Not. Order to the courier: to transmit to all shadows in the Martian dream an order to collect all possible information about the object, to prepare the liquidation of the object. Perform liquidation at the first order.
- Treatment. Order accepted.
- Wait, brother, no liquidation needed. I grave, I swear, well.
“They will follow you, you bastard, don’t try to do something stupid.” Order to the courier: end of the session.
Phil instantly went limp and turned into a former harmless sleepwalker.
- And yes, once again you say the word "brother" and your death will be very painful.
Max finally weighed a slap to Edik rising from his knees and with a decisive step left the room.
Outside the door he ran in and did not stop until he was again in the elevator. His heart went in a furious rhythm, and a terrible mess was happening in his head. “What was that now !? Okay, dreamers from the looking glass showed me the way, okay they brought me to the courier, okay the key came up. But how the hell did I manage to intimidate this fat guy so deftly. I'm a fucking nerd, is it that adrenaline works like that? Yes, it’s a great version if it would also cool to explain how I know how to handle couriers. ”
Stopping in front of the steel door to the data center, Max glanced at his watch. He was absent for about forty minutes. Grieg didn’t even pay attention to the delay, and Boris was completely satisfied with the excuse about the need to fight off the zombies on the road and the promise to buy more beer. The only thing that bothered him was the thought of how soon Eddie’s greed would prevail over his cowardice.
It is very unpleasant to ask for help from people who have once failed. But sometimes it is necessary. So Max, thinking about the voyage to the area of the first settlement, after reading several criminal reports, I did not find anything better than to ask for help from a more experienced friend. And the only acquaintance who could be suspected of having such an experience was Ruslan.
He answered almost immediately, although the call caught him during evening relaxation. Dressed in a bathrobe, he fell apart on a wide sofa with a bunch of pillows, and with his fingers, without the help of improvised tools, he broke walnuts. Nearby on a low table was a kindled hookah.
- Salam, bro. Actually, I was waiting for your call much earlier.
Unfortunately, Ruslan did not look particularly guilty of what Max secretly hoped.
- Great. You mentioned that you have a chip that completely writes everything that you see and hear for the first department.
The beginning of the conversation surprised Ruslan. At least he put down his nuts.
“Well, Max, you have no idea what kind of trouble you can get into, having such conversations with anyone.”
- So is it or not?
- Watching for whom and for what. If you really need, then you can consider that no.
- Hmm ... Okay, I’ll reformulate the question, you can help me in something, but in such a way as to keep it a secret from the Security Council.
- Sorry, I can’t promise anything until I find out what kind of help is required.
- Nothing like that: take a walk with me in one bar. Remember, you said that you knew all the evil places of Tula.
- Do you like to go from afar. If you are tired of virtual pleasures, then no problem, what interests you: girls, drugs?
- I'm interested in a certain place and I need someone who can insure, who knows how to behave in such places.
- In what places?
- In the area of the first settlement.
- In this gadyushnik you will not find anything but trouble. If you feel like a thrill, let's take you to a trusted place where you can almost everything that is forbidden.
- It is necessary to the area of the first settlement. I have a type of business there.
- This is an intrigue. Do you really need it right?
“I would not call if it were not for urgent need,” Max honestly admitted.
- Okay, let's discuss along the way. When do you want to go?
- Tomorrow, and we must be in time by a certain time, by 19.00.
- Well, I'll pick you up in an hour and a half.
“You won’t even ask where are we going?”
- Do not forget to drown your chip, or you never know, the Security Council will ask you that you forgot in such a place.
- And how to drown? Turn on the offline mode, but there are ports anyway ...
- No, Max, you must either have a chip suitable for such walks, or a special jammer. Okay, I'll see something from my stock.
The next day, a black SUV drove up to the porch at exactly 17.30. When Max climbed inside, Ruslan gave him a blue cap, in which several weighty segments with electronic filling were inserted from the inside.
- Is there a network?
“No,” answered Max.
“What color are the signs on that tower?”
Max looked closely at the completely nondescript building, which did not reach the ceiling of the cave.
- There are no signs there.
- Well, fine, let's hope that all ports are suppressed. Consider this thing is illegal. You can turn it on for a long time only in very bad areas.
- For now, turn it off?
- Yes, turn it on after the gateway. Where we go?
- The Golden Scorpion Bar.
The path to the nearest gateway to the area of the first settlement passed in tense silence. Oddly enough, there were many who wanted to get into the gadyushnik, so a rather big traffic jam formed at the entrance. Max was even worried that they would be late by the right time. His concern further intensified after the gateway. Narrow streets were clogged with streams of people, bicycles, some incredible wheel wrecks, as if stuck together from the garbage found in a landfill. All this constantly buzzed, screamed, traded hot dogs and shawarma and seemed to spit not only on the traffic control system, but in general on any rules.
The caves around were very low, not higher than five to ten floors, with a bunch of old rockfalls and cracks, not even like the gigantic underground dungeons in rich areas. Almost all the buildings were block buildings with concrete walls gray with dirt. Rare impregnations of relatively decent lined facades were drowned in cheap, flashing signs hung on them. And overhead piled an interweaving of semi-articulated transitions and balconies, threatening to collapse with a crowd of people scurrying along them. And the area of the first settlement consisted of hundreds of such small, randomly broken caves. Max remembered the jammer and pulled on his cap.
At first, he was afraid that the huge expensive car would stand out too much from the surrounding squalor. But then I realized that the correct tachila clearly gives an advantage in the right of way. They moved much faster than the stream due to the fact that the pimping wreckers were in a hurry to get out of the way of an SUV buzzing and blinking with headlights.
- Now you can inject why are we going there? - Ruslan broke the silence.
“I need to meet one person.”
“And with whom, if not a secret?”
- I don’t know for sure, I don’t even know whether he will come or not.
- What the fuckers, huh, Max? I do not want to teach you life again, but in my opinion you started it in vain.
- And what else remains for me, considering that my career in Telecom is Khan?
- I understand where you are driving, you want to hang your career collapse on me? Believe me, this is your idea about a Martian originally a full hat.
“Now, of course.” Actually, I asked for help, but instead of me, you set me up great.
- Framed? What big words you say.
- That Martian Arthur was very upset.
“Why the hell with this tadpole Laura?” What is he going to do with her?
“I think about the same as you.” The same thing that ninety-nine percent of men want to do with her.
- Listen, Max, don't dust! I honestly asked you: will you roll up to her yourself? You said no. And to play a play for the fucking neurobotanic, why the heck I need it. I spent about five minutes with Laura, there was no Martian alpha male there either.
- So it was necessary not to bazaar, but to frighten her. And I asked you to help me. My career, not a Martian! And now this career is over.
“I would say that it is a matter of life and death.” I would send you right away.
“What happened in that basement?” The second time she didn’t send you away?
- She didn’t sew the first time, just the standard tackles didn’t work with her.
- And what was not standard?
- I told her beautifully that I like her. Type as usual heifers love.
“And what did you say so beautiful?”
- Well, if you are so interested, I told her that if I wanted to understand how to distinguish our world from virtual reality, how to understand that I’m not swimming in a fucking bio-bath, and there’s not a snotty Martian dream all around ... I could look for a lunar path on water or the breath of spring, or sorting through silly verses. But whatever I did, I would always doubt it. Only about you, I’m sure that you are real, all Martian computers taken together are not able to come up with anything like that ...
“Oh, you are a fucking romantic! ... You are ... You are ...” Max was already panting with indignation, unable to find suitable epithets.
- Do not burst only. What, did I use your words? Well, I'm sorry, I would go and tell them myself, I wouldn’t get across. And to miss such a chick for the sake of some fantasies about friendship with the Martians is simply stupid
- you might not want anything like that, but still set me up. But now I need your help.
- No problem.
“How is your relationship with Laura?” So for once or is it all serious?
- It's Complicated.
Why is it difficult?
- Yes, all these conversations about family happiness and other garbage ...
- And why are you not happy with family happiness with Laura?
- For me, family, children and other snot - this is not an option at all, in any way. And I'm not going to discuss this.
- Listen, or maybe you will quarrel and she will be all so upset, and right at that moment ...
- Max! Do you want to go home on foot?
- Okay, they closed the topic.
“Political intrigues, obviously not mine,” thought Max.
Five minutes later, Ruslan specially slowed down at the crossroads. The road to the right led to another cave, and there were not many who wanted to turn there. Before the turn, a two-meter graffiti in the form of a flag of the Russian Empire flaunted on a concrete box: two vertical stripes of red and dark blue colors, separated by an oblique line. Only instead of a golden star, in the center was a bone arm clutching a Kalashnikov sample of the twentieth century.
- Local art? - asked Max.
“A badge of the gang, but some people think that they are rather a frozen sect.” In short, further their territory.
“And what kind of gang or sect?”
- A dead hand, they kind of avenge everyone for the innocently ruined Russian Empire. Followers are forbidden to put neurochips, for violation of "purity" they cut out an abomination from the skull without anesthesia. Or pumped up with heavy chemistry, turning suicide bombers on the whole head. Plus initiation rites with bloody sacrifices. In general, they mow under the Eastern block as they can. Some of the few who work in the delta zone. Dear people, they don’t tinker with delta bombers.
- And what is our bar on their territory?
“Fortunately not.” I showed you as an example, if you decide to walk around the area, pay attention to the drawings of the natives. They almost always mark borders, and it is highly discouraged for any cormorant tourists to go beyond them.
The Golden Scorpion bar was located in a provincial, even for the first settlement, sleeping area. The buildings around were stuck very often, with narrow passages between them, there were a lot of revealing half-quarter panel anthills, with arched entrances, which could be seen gloomy courtyards-wells. Ruslan parked a wheelbarrow in a small parking lot, over which a railway bridge hung. The parking on three sides was fenced with metal mesh, and with the fourth blank wall of a residential building. A train just passed overhead from which the windows in the house trembled, looking directly onto the railway. There were almost no cars in the parking lot.
When Max got out, a few dirty drops fell on him from the bridge. The air was very cool, but at the same time stale, with a metallic taste, to which the smells of garbage mixed. Max, without thinking twice, pulled an oxygen mask over his mouth-openings.
- So will you walk around? Asked Ruslan.
- There is one name, that is the gamma zone. The guard stinks, - Max said in a muffled voice.
- Sewage treatment plants do not work well in the entire area. See someone else wearing a mask? Stand out from the local.
Max took pleasure in breathing clean air and disciplinedly hid the mask in his waist bag.
The main attraction of the bar, stuck to the building by the bridge, were two stalagmites in front of the entrance, entwined with ornaments of golden flowers and snakes. Inside, the walls and ceiling were decorated in the same style with interspersed other reptiles. The decor seemed quite withered. The robot in the form of a golden scorpion, twisting circles around the hall, revived the situation. He was extremely antediluvian, moved on wheels poorly hidden under his belly, and his paws jerked stupidly in the air, like a cheap mechanical toy. Of the living personnel, only a bartender was available, a plain-looking thin type, moreover, with a metal hemisphere in place of the upper half of the skull. He did not dignify the new visitors with a glance. Although there were almost no clients in the institution. “At least no one is silent and staring at us,” - thought Max and chose a table closer to the bar. The clock was ten minutes to seven.
“And where is your man?” Asked Ruslan.
“I don’t know, it's probably too early,” Max answered looking around in search of a jukebox.
- What did you want to talk about?
- I do not know, this is a difficult question.
- Maybe you should have come alone?
“I think ... I don’t know, in short.”
- Well, Max, I brought in some kind of asshole, you yourself do not know why. Believe me, this Friday night could have been much more interesting. I’m gonna go get some beer.
About five minutes they were drinking beer, then Max gathered courage and went to the counter.
- Do you have a jukebox? He asked the bartender.
- Have you been before?
- I have no idea.
“Have you been working here for a long time?”
- Boy, what do you want? - the bartender tensed up and put his hand under the counter with a menacing gesture.
- Can I turn on the song?
“This is not karaoke.”
- Well, the music is playing. Is it possible to put something else?
- Which one?
- Three songs by Doors: “Moonlight Drive”, “Strange Days”, “Soul Kitchen”. Just be sure in that order.
- Will you take something? - the bartender inquired with a stony expression on his face.
“Four beers, please.”
- Where did you get so much beer? - surprised Ruslan. - Decided to swell here?
- This is to put music.
Psychedelic musical compositions quickly played out, time exceeded seven. Ruslan frankly missed and watched, then at the stupid movements of the scorpion robot, then at Max, who was sitting on pins and needles.
- Why are you so nervous?
- No one is coming. Time is already seven.
- Yes, this one does not go who knows. Maybe we came there I don’t know where?
- They came where necessary. The Golden Scorpion bar in the area of the first settlement.
- Maybe this is not the only Golden Scorpion bar?
- I looked in search, there are no other bars, cafes or restaurants with that name. I’ll go and put some music.
This time, Max earned a very long and attentive look from the bartender, and parted with a card for twenty zits.
- Are you stuck or something? - Ruslan grinned, finishing his glass of beer. - It would be better to have something to eat. Beer here is surprisingly nothing by the way.
- So it is necessary ...
- Will we still sit as two moron for a long time and listen to the same songs of the lizard king?
- Let's sit for at least half an hour.
- Come on. For your information, it’s not too late to save this Friday night from decay.
Twenty minutes later a new visitor finally entered the bar. A tall, stick-thin man of about forty or fifty years old in appearance, in a hat with wide brim and a long light coat. Most of all in a man, his elongated, hawk nose stood out, which with full right could receive the title of a standard snobel. He sat down at the bar and ordered a couple of glasses. Max looked him for a while, but he did not show any interest in others.
After that, three more people collapsed, who impressively sat at a table at the wall farthest from the entrance. An immense fat boar, and two sinewy types with a short haircut and flat faces, as if carved from a stained wood. One was short, but broad-shouldered, looking like a stocky monkey. And the second is a real ambal, obviously physically capable of arguing with Ruslan. Some blue-green tattoos covered his arms and wrists. They were dressed in black leather jackets, jeans and heavy berets. And the fat man was dressed absolutely wonderfully, in a quilted cotton quilted jacket and a cap with earflaps with a gold star, but he lacked a balalaika. Well, this freak is fat, Max thought in surprise.
Ambal stomped to the bar and began to rub something into the bartender in a very quiet voice. The bartender was clearly tensed, but he only shrugged his shoulders for all questions. On the way back, the ambal measured Ruslan with a heavy gaze and his scar, coming down through an eyebrow and tattoos resembling barbed wire, became visible. But no more troubles came from these three, probably not quite law-abiding citizens. They took a bottle of vodka and quietly drank it in their corner, not even trying to get to the visitors.
Max lost his patience and headed back to the bartender.
- Will you put the same thing again? He asked, willingly putting the card on the counter.
The bartender looked at the card as if it were a real poisonous scorpion.
“Hey, man, until you explain why the fuck you are doing this, I won’t put anything else.”
- Why do you care? What is bad in music?
- It makes a difference, you know how many crazy people are wandering around. Anyway, you would have knocked out of here in a good way.
And the bartender defiantly turned his back, making it clear that the conversation was over.
“The service sucks,” complained Max, sitting back at the table.
- Yeah. I drive to the toilet, you look do not go anywhere. Sit for two minutes, okay?
- Well, I was not going anywhere.
Ruslan passed a table with three types along the way, again exchanging glances with them. His gait was as if he had already rolled well. This obvious game for the public was a little alarming to Max, it was poorly believed that Ruslan could be sucked off by one and a half glasses of beer. Returning, he, without changing his complacently-relaxed expression on his face, quietly muttered.
- Listen carefully. Just don’t slap your eyes, smile. Now you get up and step in the toilet with an unsteady step. I followed. I opened the window there, get out and run around the building to the wheelbarrow. All questions later.
- Ruslan, wait, what a panic? Explain though?
“These three shouldn't be here.” Do not stare at them! At the neck of a petty tatuha a dead hand. I don’t know what they forgot here, but I’m not going to check.
- Well, three thugs came in to relax, what's the problem?
- This is not their territory to relax here. And the bartender can see how tense. By the way, you can tell him thanks later, it seems he didn’t give you up.
- Did not pass? Do you think they came for me?
- And for whom, fucking, yet? Coincidentally, it happened that you started ordering your moronic songs, and then three bandos appeared. It happens that some geniuses negotiate on the Internet with a serious person who has connections in the Telecom leadership, or with a cool little guy, and such clear-cut boys suddenly appear at the meeting.
“What do you think I'm an idiot?” - indignant Max. “I would never buy such a divorce.”
- Yes, you’ll tell me along the way. And now he closed the mittens, got up and went to the toilet. I am not kidding!
Max was smart enough to realize that in this case it is better to trust someone else's, albeit slightly paranoid, conclusion. He went into the toilet and looked uncertainly at a narrow window almost two meters from the floor. Ruslan ran in half a minute.
- What the hell, Max, let's tighten your ass.
Ruslan, without ceremony, practically threw him upstairs. But it was still necessary to turn around somehow in order to get out with his feet in front. Which Max did, panting and awkwardly wriggling in the opening. Finally, he clasped his hands on the narrow windowsill from the inside and tried to feel the ground with his feet.
- Che, you wriggle there, jump already!
Max tried to grab the outer edge to gently lower, could not resist and flew down. It was a meter and a half to the ground, the blow was tangible, and he could not resist, plopping down his ass right into some kind of puddle. Following the fish Ruslan emerged like a cat, dodged in flight and landed on its feet.
They found themselves in a narrow, barely lit alley, bounded by the wall of the next building. It smelled really not appetizing, and Max decided that his wet pants would probably stink as well.
- You shouldn’t be alarmed. I am sure that these gangsters could not come for me.
- Really? Well, then dry your pants and all things. You still want to clarify the situation, who were you waiting for there?
“Honestly, I don’t know who or what.” But I'm not connected with any gangs.
The wall on the right hand ended with a net enclosing the parking lot. Max came out first and immediately felt a sharp jerk back. Ruslan pressed him to the wall.
“Crouch down and look out carefully.” Only very carefully, I understand.
Max leaned out for a second.
- So what?
- Do you see a new car? Gray pimped, stands under the bridge closer to the entrance. Do you see who is sitting in it?
- Damn, I see that there is someone inside.
Max felt his heart sinking unpleasantly into his heels.
- There are four goats, extinguished in the dark, waiting for someone. Probably not us either. Come on, Max, what are you doing?
- Ruslan, I honestly have no idea. I accidentally learned from one person, a courier who carries information, that if you come to the Golden Scorpion bar and put three songs in the right order, it’s like some kind of secret communication channel.
- Well done! Any other thoughts, except how to go poke a stick in a hornet’s nest, didn’t arise?
- Can I call the police? Or take a taxi?
“The police come here when the corpses are already cold.”
Ruslan again carefully peered around the corner.
- First you need to get a little lost. Let's run to the next block, until those in the bar grabbed us.
From running, Max almost immediately began to choke. The metallic taste in the mouth intensified markedly. He pulled out a mask. Ruslan on the move pulled something out of his inner pocket and threw it up. Max managed to notice the rattling shadow of a small drone flying up. Having reached the exit from the gateway, he stumbled upon Ruslan’s stone back.
- Why are you up?
- There, in front of the bar, two others are rubbing. They came as a whole team to your liking.
“And where do we go?”
Max was breathing heavily, a cheap mask crushed and rubbed, and sticky fear did not add strength to him at all.
- Now I’ll try to adjust the car.
Ruslan was busy with his chip for some time. Max quickly lost patience:
- What is happening ?! Where is the car?
- Cars are not online. Goats! Jammed signal seems.
“We are trapped!” - Max said doomedly and crawled to the ground.
Ruslan jerked him up by the scruff of his neck and hissed evilly:
“Hey, fuck, if you were going to throw tantrums, then go better, kill yourself right away. Come on, do what I say!
“Good,” Max nodded.
A fit of panic subsided and his ability to think a little returned.
- Running back along the fence. Let's try to leave the yards.
Max turned and immediately saw a petty bandos falling out of the toilet window.
- They are here! - he shouted at the top of his lungs.
Ruslan swept past with an arrow and with acceleration he typed a shoe in his face rising shallow. He literally flew away a couple of meters and fell silent. Ruslan pulled a gun and a magazine from the belt of a defeated enemy.
- Move, Max!
Max rushed forward, on the right side his face blew fire and a sheaf of sparks scattered in front of the garbage can.
- They are shooting! He yelled in horror.
Max turned around and stumbled almost plowed his nose at the ground. At the last moment, he put out his hands and felt a muffled adrenaline pain in his wrists. The rumble of shots reached his ears - this was Ruslan methodically putting a clip into a fat man in a flapper hat at the entrance to the lane.
“Are you hurt ?!”
- No, I stumbled.
- Che lay down then ?!
Ruslan with one hand grabbed Max by the locker and pushed forward, so that he could only sort out with his feet. After a few seconds, they were already running along the grid enclosing the parking lot. With lateral vision, he saw a silhouette rushing upon them. Gangster car, breaking through the net, right-angled, imprinted on the wall to where he was a moment ago. Bouncing off, a crumpled pile of metal doused with fragments of glass and plastic. Ruslan, without slowing down, jumped over what was left. Five meters later, he turned around and released the rest of the store on the bandits crawling out of the crumpled doors. There were screams and curses. An empty clip hit the asphalt.
- Come on, under the bridge, do not brake, shit! To the left, along the building!
They rushed along the neighboring building, on the right stretched a bridge with a railway. Suddenly, Max felt something cling to his sleeve. He tried to release the grip of a chasing gangster, but instead something tightly gripping his hand spun along with him, and Max, losing his balance, rolled down the ground. A grinning mouth jumped into his face and he only managed to put his elbows under frantic jerks and bites. A boot flashed overhead, knocking a small red dog to one side. Near the head from the asphalt bounced sleeve. The dog, having performed some circus somersault in the air, landed unscathed and, looping, rushed to the nearest column.
Max got up and stared in horror at the rags hanging from her hands. Only a second later, he realized that these were just torn sleeves, slightly stained with blood from a couple of bites. Ruslan again pushed him forward. They rushed along an endless, gray wall, and at the same time a red dog rushed, pouring barking. She quite professionally ran across the columns behind in the dark so that Ruslan wasted no more than a few rounds of ammunition.
- What a smart bitch I got! Come on, into the arch.
Without another jerk, Max would surely have slipped through a gateway leading into a concrete anthill. He was thinking badly and breathing very hard. The mask was clearly not designed for such loads and did not provide the desired flow rate.
They were inside a concrete well and Ruslan began to break through the closed door of the entrance. Max unscrewed the mask adjuster and noted with concern that he had already drained a fifth of the oxygen. After several powerful blows, the door swung open inward. He rushed there and barely dodged the dog’s teeth, trying to grab his leg. But as soon as Ruslan turned around with a gun, she immediately rushed back out the door. Her plaintive howl was heard, and a huge, stumbling carcass in an earflap and a quilted jacket flew into the porch. The carcass knocked Max into the wall, hitting him tangentially. There was a deafening clap of a gunshot in the room and, followed by a metal clang of a fallen pistol. The carcass demolished Ruslan and landed on the stairs, bending the flimsy railing. Probably, only thanks to Martian gravity, Ruslan managed to kick his body off with his feet.
- Max, the trunk! Find the trunk!
The only dim lamp under the ceiling and the ringing in the ears from a blow against the wall did not facilitate a quick search, like the cries of carcasses and barking dogs outside. Max crawled feverishly in the gloom until he accidentally stumbled upon a ribbed surface.
Ruslan poked a fat face with a club, he shouted with good obscenities and tried to grab Ruslan with his rake. There was a terrible crack, electric discharges, similar to ball lightning, it seemed that they should have already fried the elephant, but the fat man did not stop.
Max reflexively squeezing pressed the trigger, the bullet ricocheted off somewhere up from the stairs. Ruslan turned around with an expression of slight bewilderment, jumped up and grabbed a pistol from Max. The following bullets fired into the head finally knocked the carcass up the steps and silenced it.
- Shooter, damn it. Come on to the roof!
Max paused for a second, looking spellbound at the blood flowing down the steps. A hiss was heard from the cap. Max squeamishly lifted one ear and jerkily pulled it off his crippled head. The cap did not succumb to the end, he jerked harder and saw a bloodied cable stretching next. The whole bald spot of a fat one was covered with terrible scars and cuts, from which several tubes protruded. A blood-gray mass was visible through the holes in the skull.
- What the crap?
- This is a doll, Max, - a suicide bomber with scorched brains, which is not a pity. Faster!
- I can’t, I’ll die now!
“You will die if they catch us.” And how did you infuriate them so?
- I ... have no idea ... I need to call the cops ...
- I called. Only they will bury us, while these freaks are confining.
- And the Telecom Security Council?
- And do not call Santa Claus? By the way, I’m very curious how would you explain to the Security Council what the hell is going on here.
The staircase looked horrific: dim lamps covered with nets, a narrow steep staircase with rugged steps and steel crap doors on the sides.
The cap hissed again. Max turned it inside out, grimacing at the vile scraps. He apparently accidentally pressed on the tongue because the cap spoke in a creaky voice.
"Taras, where are you hanging around?"
“Yes, they are liars, like horses riding. Wounded Sigu and Kota, while getting out of the car. Hatch the hack, apt. "
"You nerds, why did you ram them?"
"You yourself said, extinguish the bastards."
"Think you need a head off."
“So the Cat drove ... We sent a little tag for them.”
“And where is your lyalka? Drago, answer as you hear?
“There is no telemetry from the doll,” another colorless voice said.
“Oh, Squirrel, bach. We’ll catch them. ”
- The creature is red! - cursed Ruslan, swinging open the door to a dusty attic.
The floor in the attic was covered with a layer of earth and dust. Ruslan took out a powerful flashlight and slightly dispersed the pitch darkness. “Yes, it's good that I called a friend with me. One would have been banged for a long time, ”thought Max. An uncomfortable metal staircase led to the roof. They squeezed into the opening and fell out of a small booth onto a flat concrete roof. Ruslan ordered to stay away from the edge. The broken ceiling of the cave hung a few meters above his head and smoothly passed directly into the attic of the next building. A self-made bridge without a railing led there, unpleasantly springing underfoot over a ten-story abyss. Max caught his breath a bit and pulled off the mask. Immediately inhaling a cloud of red dust, he coughed and did not stop coughing until they moved to the next roof, where a resting crowd of homeless personalities settled down. Some of the personalities carried them tenacious, not at all indifferent glances. As luck would have it, the hat came to life again.
“The fox is in touch. We make a lot of noise, japas are already choking, this is their area. And the cops are coming. ”
"Close the cave, do not let the cops."
“How can you not let them go?”
“Arrange an accident. If you have to, get them fucking. "
“Listen, Tommy, you can't just put it on all concepts. Then they will fuck us with all the kagal. Are you even sure that these are the ones we need? ”
“The bartender has split. This is the cormorant music lover. The first ordered to get these two at any cost. If necessary, he will call the hunters. Spit on cops, spit on japs, spit on everyone! Who am I? .. I ask who I am! ”
“You are a dead hand,” came an uncertain answer.
“I am the shadow of the enemy, I am the ghost of revenge! "I am a dead hand, burn ... burn ... with me together!"
“I am a dead hand! I am a dead hand! ”
Even Ruslan noticeably turned pale, looking at the object of the national costume screaming in bad voices. And Max generally felt a little lightheaded and approaching nausea. With trembling hands, he began to put on a mask.
“Did they declare a holy war for us?” No, well, how can one get out of the blue like that, huh ?!
Max only shrugged helplessly.
“I see them, the roof of block 23B. It’s dead end, ”a colorless voice said.
- Drones, fuck!
Ruslan frantically swept among the perplexed looking inhabitants of the roof.
“Alright, everything is there! Block the building! Taras, you have risen! ”
"They have risen; I am leading them."
“Qi bastards, they plucked the crown from our frog.”
"You tell the crown ... Gizmo call Drago."
Despite a panic attack, Ruslan realized instantly and once again saved their life. He grabbed his hat, threw a pistol at it and threw it toward the visor. And even managed to knock Max to the floor. And then a terrible blow put out the light. Through the veil in the ears broke the first cries of the wounded. Nearby, stunned people rose slowly and looked around perplexed. Max barely got up himself, feeling his storm. Ruslan, pale and bruised, moved close and yelled:
“Run, as you never ran in your life!”
And Max ran, tripping over the bodies and pushing the stunned away. His whole world narrowed to the back of a running Ruslan and his own heavy wheezing. Then, until the slippery staircase welded from the reinforcement, the darkness of the next attic and jumps on the stairs, each moment threatening to break legs. When the lock clicked nearby and the door opened, Max slipped by. Only the sixth sense made him turn around.
“Rebza, here,” the old man hissed in a completely soaked voice. His unkempt hair was hanging down to his shoulders, he was wearing a black T-shirt, elongated sweatshirts and blue sneakers. From the lush beard growing from the very eyes, only a red, bumpy nose stuck out.
- Here, faster.
- Ruslan, wait! Yelled Max. - Door! Yes, wait!
He literally rolled down another flight, having managed to grab a friend by the clothes.
- Max, what a dick! They will kill us!
- Door! Follow him!
The old man waved at him from above.
“Who the hell is that?”
- Who cares, follow him.
Ruslan hesitated for several long seconds. Having cast out an indistinct curse, he rushed back upstairs. The old man quickly jumped after him, slammed the door and began to click the locks. Ruslan jerked him around.
- Hey, old man, where did you come from?
- Internet will be free! The old man hissed, raising his hand with a clenched fist. - Come on, rebz.
- Che ?! Where are you soaping, what kind of Internet?
“He's not ours, is he?”
“An employee,” Max lied without batting an eye.
- Kadar was silent for many years. I thought our business was dead for a long time, but did not hesitate to respond to a new call.
The old man fell silent, clearly expecting something.
“All persistent quads will be rewarded when the Internet becomes free,” Max improvised.
Their savior nodded.
- I'm Timothy, Tim. Come on.
Endless rows of doors ran along the sides of the corridor. Only a few were relatively decent, mostly painted pieces of cheap iron or fiberglass came across, and some openings were covered with pieces of roughly welded plastic. The corridors inside the building formed a real labyrinth of internal stairs, galleries and halls branching into other corridors. A couple of times I had to quickly jump through the external entrances. In the common rooms, women and children were haunting, or drunken male voices shouted. Once I had to make my way through a thumping company with songs with a guitar. And it was not possible to avoid offers to sit down and roll. Immediately after the company, the old man went into the side door for some business. Ruslan immediately grabbed Max by the collar and whispered violently:
“Hey, Alyosha, if we get out of here alive, we will have a very long conversation.”
Next, a song about the formidable Terek and forty thousand horses was unsteadily dragged on.
- I'll explain everything.
“Where are you going to go?” Can you bring my car back?
“Oh, I hope she's fine.”
- I hope she was not burned to the craps.
Finally, when they finally lost their orientation in space, the old man stopped in front of another steel door. Behind it was an apartment with tiny adjacent rooms, the passage between them was covered with some rags. A single window overlooking the street was covered with a sheet of cardboard. Half of the first room was occupied by a strange hybrid of mezzanines and shelving. Tim climbed somewhere inside the shelves with trash, so that only his legs in training and crosses remained sticking out. From the trash, he fished out an oxygen mask with a heavy balloon, a pair of faded jackets with deep hoods, silicone shoe covers and headlamps.
“Wear it,” he threw things to them. “I'll get you out.”
- Maybe we’ll stay here? - asked Max, uncertainly crumpling his cloak in his hands. - The cops will deal with them sooner or later.
- No, rebzy, it's dangerous to wait. The dead must have announced a reward, but many have seen us. I know the way through the delta.
Ruslan without saying a word pulled the proposed castoffs. The jacket was tattered, very large and very reliably transformed its wearer into a local scourge. He put a mask with a balloon under his jacket.
- Do you have a weapon?
“Not,” Timofei shook his head, “no guns.” We must go quietly, the dead in the delta also have their own people.
The old man dressed himself in a withered green jumpsuit and quietly slipped out. Short dashes they reached the inner staircase, which led to the basement. In the basement I had to make my way through the intricacies of pipes, cables and other communications. Around something gurgled and hissed, squelched underfoot. Squeaks and squeals from the dark were mixed with these sounds. Ruslan directed his powerful lantern to the side and many tailed shadows, the size of a well-fed cat rushed scattering. Squeezing into the narrowest nook between the pipes, Tim smuggled into the darkness. There was a metal rattle and, after the passage, it smelled of such aromas that Max almost vomited. But there was no choice, I had to make my way to the source of the fragrance. Along the way, he burned himself on a hot pipe. Tima was waiting in front of a heavy hatch in the floor with a rusty flywheel wheel.
- Get down the well. The stairs are slippery, do not screw up. At the end, jump, there are only two meters.
Ruslan climbed first, followed by Max, knocking his elbows on the walls of the well and struggling with an attack of claustrophobia. A short flight ended in another puddle. This time managed to stay on their feet. The faint light of the headlamp allowed us to see the stone walls of the tunnel and a shallow layer of black oily liquid underfoot. Tim flopped nearby and, without wasting time talking, trudged forward, carefully raking the water with shoe covers.
Max did not immediately pay attention to an unusual extraneous sound, and only after half a minute of an unconscious spanking on the water realized that this was the crack of his counter, which he had never heard from the moment he appeared on Mars.
“Your division!” - barked Max and, as scalded, flew out onto a narrow curb, running along the wall.
- What are you making? Tim hissed.
- Here, the background is two hundred times higher than normal! Where are you leading us?
“Bullshit, try not to wet the socks,” Tim waved off and shuffled on.
Max tried to make his way along the curb, periodically breaking down and spraying radioactive slurry.
- Tie it up, you probably don’t know where the delta is located near the first settlement? Asked Ruslan grimly.
- And where?
- In the boiler cavities of nuclear explosions. When the Imperial airborne ran into the defenses of the city, they began to break through workarounds. And the underground nuclear explosions were considered the fastest way. Went out somewhere in the area.
- To catch the news!
- Yes, do not worry, forty years have passed. They somehow live out there, - Ruslan nodded to the bearded Timofey, - ... shitty and not for long.
A chain of stone bags with a diameter of twenty to fifty meters stretched from the deep dungeons of the first settlement to the very surface. Locals usually called this chain a path. It resembled the ridge of a gigantic serpent, on which many side caves and faults have grown. The shape of the boilers was far from an ideal ball, and the state of their walls was far from being monitored like the caves of Neurotek. Some of them collapsed, part was filled with toxic waste, and part was conditionally suitable for a short and worthless life.
Bridges, platforms and flimsy plywood buildings filled the interior into several tiers. Cargo containers stacked on top of each other were considered elite housing. The walls of the boilers were cut with many cracks, in which the inhabitants of the delta also hid. The cracks went into real catacombs, even closer and more terrible, which, moreover, were constantly rebuilt and collapsed. The indigenous inhabitants of the delta, and even not all dared to go there. It is difficult to invent an end worse than being buried alive in a radioactive repository. From large cracks flowed rotten streams that gathered in swamps at the bottom of the caves. These swamps glowed in the dark and corroded even silicone shoe covers.
They emerged from an inconspicuous fissure next to large hermetic rotations into the first settlement. At the gates a ragged crowd was hanging around, hoping to accidentally slip into the gamma zone or profit from something from the liquid stream of cars entering. Charities kept several stalls with free food at the gates. But their workers did not leave the machine-gun turrets. And still under the ceiling of the boiler, on thick chains, a healthy sign swinging with luminous letters. Some letters were broken, some burned out, but the inscription remained readable: "Have a last day in Delta." Anyone who has passed through the pressure gate has seen this.
The opened picture of the social bottom was buzzing, then it smelled of natural shit. Looking at her, it was hard to imagine that very close the elven-like Martians cut through the segway in the sterile purity of sparkling towers. Max thought that without a mask he would have rolled on the ground and wheezed, tearing his throat with his nails. Meanwhile, the manometer inexorably showed that only half of the oxygen remained. All hope was on the big bottle that Ruslan took. True, he also could not stand it for a long time and put on a mask after a few steps.
Many rye emerged from the oncoming stream. And decent office nerds were not among them. But there was plenty of drug with a vile bluish complexion due to constant hypoxia. There were no less disabled people with old bionic prostheses. Some were implanted so poorly that the unfortunate victims of cheap medicine barely hobbled and seemed to fall apart on the go. Rings, spikes, implanted filters and armor plates were found in almost everyone.
Even in Bichevsky outfits, they apparently were very different from the local ones. A flock of boys immediately followed Max, who began to pester him with provocative questions.
- Uncle, where are you from?
- Are you so smooth?
- Uncle, let me breathe!
Ruslan pulled out the surviving shocker club and the beginning gopniks preferred to dissolve in the crowd.
In one of the following boilers it was not at all crowded. The walls shuddered from the roar of hundreds of gulps. In the center of the arena made up of concrete blocks, a growling tangle rolled.
“Dog fights,” Tima explained.
There was dead silence in another cave, cold and twilight reigned. On trellised platforms piles of corpses were dumped, and grave-diggers wrapped in rags tried in vain to clear these piles. At first they fiddled with ticks for a long time, tearing out everything that was more or less valuable from their bodies, and only then they brought them into the burning vents of large furnaces. They worked too slowly and their business was hopeless, the stacks of corpses only grew.
“How many people are dying here,” Max was horrified. - Really it was impossible to help them?
“In the delta, they only help to quickly die,” Tim shrugged.
In the next cave, they went down to the lowest tier to the marsh swamp and stopped at the strange appearance of a blue box under a plastic visor. A line of several ragged men formed in front of her. The first lucky one pressed a few buttons and put a ragged metal pipe to his ear.
- Is that a phone? What a vintage thing! - surprised Max.
He felt a painful jab in the back. Ruslan unceremoniously turned him around and hissed:
“Shut up, okay.”
- So what?
- You still climb up and fight: look, I'm a fucking hipster from Telecom.
The ragged man in front threw back his hood and turned to Max. His gray face was devoured by unnaturally deep wrinkles, and an implanted filter mask replaced his nose and upper jaw.
“Give me food, good man,” he whined disgustingly.
- I do not have.
- Well, what’s worth it, give me a couple of zits.
- Yes, I do not have cards.
“You squeeze, smooth,” the beggar viciously squealed. - You shouldn’t be so in vain, you need to help people.
“Hey, get out of here,” Ruslan barked.
From one push the ragman flew away for a couple of meters, you will turn into a pile of dirty rags in red dust.
- For what? I'm disabled.
The beggar rolled up the left sleeve of his cloak and demonstrated yet another dumb cybernetics. The flesh from his brush was completely cut off so that only the bones remained, connected by compact servos. Bone fingers bent unnatural jerks, like the manipulators of a cheap drone.
- For your heads will give more pairs of zits. I am also a dead hand! - the ragged giggle grunted.
But barely noticing Ruslan’s movement, he rushed up with unexpected agility, right over the heap of farms supporting the platforms of the next tier. The disfigured limb did not bother him at all.
- Wait! - Tim literally hung on Ruslana rushing after her. - We must blame!
Run away again, Max thought doomedly. “Yes, I haven’t run so much on Mars all the time.” The world again narrowed to the back of Ruslan, who was running ahead. And then the walls of a narrow crack fell on all sides. A flooring of gratings and all kinds of metal rubbish was laid at the bottom of the crack. The width was such that two people could barely disperse. Moreover, according to local rules, it is necessary to diverge, having pressed your back against the wall and keeping your hands in sight. Tim explained this on the run in order to avoid excesses. Lighting periodically disappeared and Max focused on one single thought, how not to lose the silhouette in front. On one of the turns in the twilight, he seems to have turned the wrong way. From the prospect of explaining to the locals that he was lost and asking for a hint on the way to the beta zone, Max immediately had a panic attack. He is like an elk rushed forward and quickly buried himself in someone else's back. But this short run cost him the rest of his breath.
“Careful, come on, so you’ll break your legs,” came Ruslan’s displeased voice. - Why are you silent? Max is you?
- I ... yes ... Listen ... I have oxygen ... almost at zero.
- Well, fine, I could not say before? Now will we take turns breathing?
Max pulled off an empty mask. Breathing did not recover, he eagerly gasped for stale air, his eyes covered with red fog.
“I’ll ... die,” he croaked.
“Hold it,” Ruslan put a mask with a heavy balloon on him. - You’ll give it in a minute.
Max fell to a life-giving source of oxygen. His eyes gradually cleared. Tim led them through a labyrinth of narrow cracks, cramped wells and caves. When Ruslan took oxygen, Max stumbled along, clinging to his clothes and thought only of not falling. With oxygen, he sometimes had the strength to look around. However, he did not even hope to remember the road.
They went to a large cave, hanged with polyethylene from top to bottom. A bright light burned and it was very hot. Some bushes could be seen behind the translucent curtain. “They probably grow tomatoes,” thought Max, “there aren’t enough vitamins.” A gray half-naked fat man jumped out of a small booth with steel claws instead of his hands and ordered him to get out with a gesture. Tim tried in an undertone to talk about something with him. It was not audible what they were saying, but the fat man threateningly brought his claws to the very face of the interlocutor. Tima immediately stepped back and led his comrades back into the crack.
“So you have to cross another boiler, so be quiet.”
“Where are we going?” Asked Max.
- To the gateway.
- To which gateway? To the gamma zone?
“So, both of you, shut up, okay.” Just shut up.
“As you say, the boss,” Ruslan agreed and took oxygen from Max. Tom sharply was not up to questioning.
The tunnel made a sharp turn and a light rectangle, like a portal, opened in front. The familiar crowing of the crowd came. They were already in the middle of the boiler, on one of the tiers, when suddenly the Brownian movement of people stopped. At first a few people, and then more and more froze on the spot. Silence quickly reigned so that the hiss of an oxygen mask began to be heard. Tima also stopped, looking around uneasily.
- The hunters! Someone shouted in the crowd.
- The hunters! - came new screams from several places at once.
And then hundreds of sips screamed in all languages. And then people in a panic rushed to where.
“Hold on to me,” Ruslan shouted. - Where are we going?
Tim grabbed his clothes, and Max grabbed Tim.
- Go to the next tier, the door is next to that heap!
Ruslan nodded and as if an icebreaker moved forward, throwing people rushing about from the road. At first, everyone ran randomly, the most well-worn disappeared in the lateral cracks, and most of them stupidly rushed about. But then someone started yelling that the hunters are higher on the trail. And the whole crowd rushed towards. They had already climbed onto the next tier, there was a stone's throw to the right door, but there was nothing to break through and think. Ruslan pressed both satellites against the wall, only his unnatural physical power allowed him to stay on his feet. Fortunately, the bulk quickly subsided. On the bars only moaning poor people remained who did not resist and were crushed by a mad crowd. Those who were still able to try to crawl forward or simply froze, covering their heads with their hands.
“Let's run,” Tim yelled. - Just do not look forward! Whatever happens do not look at the hunters!
They quickly ran to a crack that was blocked by an armored door. Tim frantically dialed the code, his hands were moving, and he could not unlock the damn door.
“Don't turn around, just don't turn around,” he repeated as he wound up.
Max skinned that there was someone in front of the neck of the boiler. Someone goes straight to them. He imagined how an eerie something was already rising behind him, grinning maliciously and a serrated blade coming out of his chest. From tension Max reduced all his muscles. He could not stand it and turned around. Fifty meters ahead, at the dimly lit blockages blocking the path to the next cauldron, he saw a silhouette flowing smoothly between the boulders. The creature, apparently, was two meters tall, the dimensionless cloak-tent hid it almost completely, only large claws on its arms and legs and a long mustache on its head looked out like a giant ant. The creature stopped and looked at Max. Somewhere on the verge of audibility, he felt a thin squeak, and then came fear. All ordinary human fears were nothing compared to this. An icy wind rushed through his mind, turning his thoughts and will into frozen fragments in an instant. There was only the horror of a miserable insect paralyzed by a look into the abyss.
The creature jumped forward five meters immediately, then jump up the broken wall of the cave, another jump and another. It approached in absolute silence, knowing that the victim would just wait and die without a single extra sound.
A powerful jerk threw Max inside. Tim immediately slammed the heavy door, snapped the electric bolt.
“You think the raven again,” Ruslan muttered displeasedly.
“You looked at him!” I told you not to look, but you still looked.
- So what? Just think of a mutant jumping on the ceiling ...
Behind the ostentatious bravado, Max tried to hide his shock from a collision with the evil will of the hunter.
- Shut up, fuck! Tim snapped with unexpected anger.
Even Ruslan flinched at this flash of rage.
- I do not want to know anything about this creature! I do not want to die with you!
- Until this creature outside the door no one dies.
“No one knows what a hunter looks like.” Everyone who accidentally saw him was dying. And even those who were just told what he looked like were also dying. The hunter is the spirit of the dead, his touch opens the soul the way to the other side.
“What stupid tales?”
- These are in your pink world hunters - fairy tales. But if you really saw him, then you yourself understand everything ...
Suddenly, an eerie rattle was heard from behind the door, as if from scratching with a knife on glass. Tim completely turned green, almost to the color of the recently seen bushes and hissed:
- Come on, live!
Max ran away completely without thinking about oxygen and where they run. Red circles danced in his eyes, stone walls and rusty metal beat painfully on his elbows and knees, but he still ran without feeling any pain or fatigue. A subtle mosquito squeak haunted him, and without hesitation he would have sold his family and friends, just to be away from this annoying squeak.
In a small cave at the fork, they passed the company of some half-dead disabled people, who were sitting around a poorly laid table. Tim threw them on the move: “The hunter is after us,” and they abruptly threw their belongings and hobbled into another tunnel. It was evident that they had used all the remaining will to live in order to break up with the pursuit as quickly as possible. One of the disabled with broken prosthetic legs looked doomedly after his comrades and crawled over the stones. Due to the fear of raising his eyes, he almost immediately split his head, but continued to blindly wriggle, leaving a bloody trail and carefully hiding his face below.
Tim led them to another armored door and dialed the code without delay. The cave outside the door was cut by a plasma beam right in the rock. Its walls were smooth and almost perfectly smooth. There were a number of metal cabinets against the wall. Ruslan gave oxygen to the wheezing Max.
“And where did you bring us?” - he asked. “This is a dead end.”
“It's not a dead end, it's a gateway.” Let's try to run into the beta zone, the hunter will not dare to follow us there ... I hope.
- Secret passage to the beta zone? Then we are saved.
- Almost, it remains only to cross fifty meters along the red sand before tapping into the technological tunnel.
“The suits are in the closets ... I hope?”
“I was just about to call the sidekick about the spacesuits before you started barging there.”
“It turns out ... we ... are trapped here,” Max said, catching his breath. “We have to go the other way.”
- Of course, a horseradish runner. I do not want to hear a single extra word. Speak only when asked, okay? We’ll cross these fifty meters without spacesuits. I ran this several times, it is a little dangerous, but quite real. And in any case, this is much more real than running from a delta hunter. Do everyone have medical implants?
“I have one,” answered Ruslan.
Tim took out several frayed cartridges from the cabinet, without marking.
- What is it?
Tim gasped in displeasure, but answered.
- Artificial myoglobin. It can be great to plant buds, but it will not let you die in the first fifteen seconds of the race.
“I don't have an implant,” Max said.
“Then the Winner is heavier for you.”
Tim held out an awesome-looking pistol-injector with six puncture needles. The needles were hollow, with razor-sharp beveled edges. When pressed, they instantly jumped out by five centimeters.
- If any major muscle. You can in the ass, you can in the thigh.
- Seriously? Should I prick myself with this shit? Look at the huge, thick needles here! And then, do you still propose a walk in outer space?
- Hey, Lesha or Max, or whatever you like. You’re already a corpse anyway; you saw a hunter. So don’t be afraid, come on!
“Okay, good to drive, we are all dead bodies sooner or later,” Ruslan said.
He took the gun from Max, and then with a sharp movement pressed him against the wall and put the needles in his leg. The pain was just wild, Max was deaf from his own cry. Liquid was pouring in the leg. But Ruslan pressed the injector until it was empty. Max fell to the floor. Waves of pain cleared the brain, shortness of breath passed almost immediately, but a slight dizziness appeared.
- The main thing is not to try to hold your breath. Exhale immediately, otherwise fucked up. Stay right behind me. The brain is cut off first, the vision will be tunnel. I’ll follow the guidelines, but there’s a long way to explain what's what. Lose me from sight - also fucked up. At that end, when pumping, try to purge so as not to be left without ears. But by the way, this is not scary. I go first, you are next, you are a big guy closing. Can you close the hatch? It is only necessary to slam harder, to the latch.
Ruslan nodded silently.
- In short, remember the main thing: exhale, do not lose sight of me. Well, all with God!
An eerie whistle was heard and Max realized with horror that this was coming out of the air lock chamber. The whistle quickly disappeared, like all other sounds. Max opened his mouth in a silent scream and saw clouds of steam bursting out of him. He tried to swallow non-existent air, like a fish thrown ashore, and felt his face and hands bursting from the inside. They pushed him from behind, and he ran after Tim’s green jumpsuit down the slope. Despite the fact that his chest was twisted by cramps, his legs were still running where needed. Out of the corner of his eye, he even managed to notice several city domes in the distance and a caravan of trucks crossing the desert. And then the stones and sand began to blur in a red haze. Only a greenish spot flickered ahead. He stumbled and felt a blow to the ground. “This is definitely the end,” Max thought almost indifferently. And then he heard his own wheezing and howling of forced air. Sight was gradually becoming clearer, although red circles still danced in the left eye. Something was running down my neck. An oxygen mask was applied to the face.
“Alive, seem,” Tima's hoarse voice was heard.
“Really,” it was Ruslan's voice. - So that I may have fallen with him somewhere else!
Next came a hysterical laugh, but Ruslan quickly pulled himself together. Max pulled off his jacket and rubbed his neck. There was a red mark on his hand.
“I have blood from my ear.”
“Bullshit,” Tim waved his hand. - Then go to the hospital, but not of course insurance. And then steam up to explain what and how. Drop all my clothes here.
Tim opened the hatch into another narrow tunnel. After a short crawl in the dark, they finally fell out into an ordinary cave, the size of which did not cause acute bouts of claustrophobia. Nearby stood the large tanks of the oxygen station.
“Frets, rebz, the Ultima station on that side.” Immediately better not to break home, take off a cheap motel, wash yourself thoroughly. Change all your clothes. Otherwise, the green ones can wrap your flippers, the phonite is from you for sure.
- And where are you going? Asked Max.
- I rummage around here without a wash. I will go the other way. And you Max go, but look around, even in the beta zone. The dead and the hunters will not forget about you.
- Well, thank you, old man. You helped us out. If what is needed, contact what I can do.
Ruslan sincerely shook hands with Timofey.
“Maybe I'll see you later.” Do not forget copyleft, do not forgive copyright!
Tim threw up his hand with a clenched fist, turned and stomped toward the tanks of the oxygen station. But after two steps, he slapped his forehead and returned.
- I almost forgot.
From his bosom, he took out a pencil and a littered piece of paper, quickly wrote something and handed Max a rolled-up scrap.
- Read and destroy.
And he disappeared into darkness now completely. Max looked thoughtfully at the crumpled lump in his palm.
“I hope you're not going to read this?” Asked Ruslan.
- I'll think about it.
Max put the paper in his pocket.
- Some do not even learn from their mistakes.
The nearest station was very close. It was a dead end and there were few people there. In the center there were several vending machines with food and drinks. A robot cleaner slowly rode along the red and gray tiles. In general, nothing special, but it seemed to Max that he returned to the normal world after a year-long journey. He returned the blue cap to Ruslan and the neurochip immediately caught a good signal, and the surrounding reality turned into a familiar cosmetic haze. And when the ad bot with another useless crap came down, Max almost burst into tears of happiness. He was ready to hug and kiss a stupid bot, usually not causing anything but irritation.
Ruslan sat next to a worn bench with a large glass of instant coffee.
“Yes, Max, after such a Friday night, I don’t even know how to surprise you.”
- I'm sorry that it happened. I hope you can get a car from the first settlement?
- Yes, boys, they’ll take it if something is left of it.
“Where did you want to go?”
- I? It was possible, in a brothel with genetically modified women. An unforgettable experience you know.
- I would not go, I have a girlfriend in Moscow.
“Exactly, I forgot ... and I have Laura ... here.” It’s good that they went according to your tip. Cool out.
- And you can not tell SB Telecom?
- I’m not going to knock, but you mean, a dead hand is a tightly frostbitten gang. Do not want to listen to the old man, listen to me. Well, you yourself saw everything, they have enough arrogance to arrange an assassination attempt in the Telecom office. And about hunters - it just does not fit in the head. I never thought that they really exist. Did you really see him?
- It happened. Very strange creature, obviously not a man ...
- You better keep this info to yourself. I do not want to know how it looks.
“Seriously, do you also believe in this view of death?”
- In such matters it is better to play it safe.
- And what does it mean: I never thought that they really exist? Do you know anything about them?
- There is an opinion that not all ghosts survived the assault on Martian settlements, then returned under the wing of the Emperor. But these have always been narcotic legends from the delta zone. They will breathe all kinds of rubbish there and see glitches. Well, like sailors in the fifteenth century, who, from scurvy and hunger, saw gigantic kraken. I would never have believed that these fables are true. That ghosts are still hiding somewhere in distant dungeons and waiting ... I don’t know what they are now waiting for. When their Emperor will rise from the dead, probably.
“Doesn't anyone know what ghosts looked like?”
- Someone may know. And so ... The Empire secretly kept this subject very tough. Those from the Martians who, after the assault, saw them without a spacesuit, all received a one-way ticket.
“And what are you suggesting we do now?”
- I will deal with my problems myself. And you, Max, throw this fucking piece of paper and board your first flight to Moscow. Well, if you accidentally win a couple thousand creeps in the lottery, hire a serious guard. I can bring you to the right people. Not? Then better go.
“I see,” sighed Max. - Sorry, once again, that it happened. Maybe I can do something for you?
- Unlikely. Do not worry, we will assume that we are even.
Having barely parted with Ruslan, Max unfolded a greasy piece of paper. It was written on it: "January 25, Dreamland, the world of Flying Cities, peace code W103."
Max slept badly, he had nightmares. He dreamed that he was riding in an old carriage through a gloomy world in which there was no sun. He briefly opened his eyes and saw twisted trees and smoking factories rushing outside the window. And again forgotten in a disturbing dream. The engine whistle, from which the glass shook, destroyed the stupor and Max finally woke up. Opposite was an old man in a black tailcoat and top hat. He was so nightmarish, incredibly old, that he looked more like a dried mummy. The old man lifted the cylinder in a welcome gesture. His parchmented lips cast out a rustle that resembled the rustling of ancient pages.
- Peace be with you brother. Soon you will see the sun, and people like me will free themselves from the curse.
- Can I see the sun?
- You are too young, you were born after the fall and do not know what it is? Didn't anyone tell you about sunlight?
“They told me ... Why will I see him today?”
“Today is the day of the ascension,” the mummy explained. “You did take a train to the fallen city of Gyöll.” In the prayers of John Grade, the great righteous, inquisitor and exarch of the holy Church of the One, may the grace of thirty eons be with him forever, today the fallen city of Göll will deserve liberation, ascend and become the shining city of Zion.
- Oh sure. Easy rebirth to you, brother.
The old man portrayed something like a smile and fell silent.
The road made a turn, and through the window, far ahead, a gigantic black steam engine became visible. Its chimneys rose to the height of a three-story building, and black smoke covered the dim sky. The booth resembled a small Gothic temple, the steam boiler was decorated with chimeras and skulls of unknown creatures. There was another beep, pushing passengers to the bone.
A rare forest of twisted trees came to naught. The train rode onto a steel arch bridge spanning a kilometer-long moat. At the bottom of the moat, a fiery element raged. Max could not resist the temptation, pushed the window and leaned out. A hot stream of air rose from the abyss, sparks and ash flew, and in front of a stone island, isolated by fire elements, the city of Gyöl rose. It consisted of a heap of gigantic Gothic towers. They struck the imagination with sharp spiers and lancet arches directed upwards, and were decorated with ornaments, smaller turrets and sculptures. The main sculpture, which was repeated many times, was a sculpture of a woman with bird claws on her legs and wings. Half of her face was beautiful, and the other half was distorted and melted from a crazy scream. The city of Gyöll was dedicated to the goddess Achamoth.
Enormous buttresses of towers rose from the abyss of fire in order to reach several tiers of galleries to the highest chapel of the main cathedral. From her hall, the inquisitor and exarch could reach the portal to the higher realms in the eternally dim sky of the fallen world. The steel bridge went to the base of the city, into the arch between the two buttresses.
The train stopped in a long gallery on the outer wall of the city. Air columns smoothly passed into the arches of the gallery at an altitude of fifty meters. In the spans, the glow of a fiery abyss blazed. Max did not go to its edge, but allowed himself to be carried away by a crowd gradually flowing out of a long train and ascending up endless stone stairs to the square of Truth at the main cathedral. And the path to the longing for liberation was blocked by heavy gates. And guards stood at the gate and let in only those who rejected the lies of the gross matter of the lower world.
“I am a moneylender and there was no greater joy in my life than opening a carved mahogany box full of debt receipts. I saw on paper the life and suffering of those I could enslave. But I was the slave of the false world. "I threw out the box and burned all the papers, and distributed all the riches, and scolded those whom I despised, for I was ready to become free from the shackles of the false world."
“I am a mercenary and there was not much joy in my life than hearing the groans of enemies and the crackling of bones. I made nicks on the hilt of Flamberg and knew that only I decide who to live today and who to die. But this life and death never existed. "I chopped off my fingers on my right hand and threw the sword into the abyss, for I am ready to become free from the shackles of the false world."
“I am a courtesan and there was no greater joy in my life than hearing the sound of coins. My chambers were littered with gifts of stupid men. I knew that desires govern their fate and they themselves belong to me. But I belonged to desires that are not there. "I bought a potion from a witch and turned into an ugly old woman, and no one else wanted me, and I did not want them, because I want to become free from the shackles of a false world."
So said the people in line in front of the gate.
“I am a scientist and want to get the perfect mind,” Max said when his turn approached.
The people around him were wary of him, but the dispassionate giant in corrugated armor opened the gate.
Not having gone a hundred steps, Max felt the heavy tread of an armored guard on stone slabs and heard:
“Jon Grade, the inquisitor and exarch, may the grace of thirty eons be with him forever, waiting for you.”
He barely kept up with the guard, who seemed to not notice the weight, the iron clad on him and monotonously walked along the steps through the crowd. The area in front of the main cathedral, almost invisible from the bridge, was close to an endless stone field abutting the gloomy towers of the cathedral. This area easily swallowed the river of rising people so that it was still half empty. Separate groups wandered between ten-meter stone columns, of which the bas-reliefs of Ahamot protruded. Bright torches glowed at the tops of the columns, and when the wind rinsed them, pale shadows fluttered across the slabs. Max looked around: both the moat and the railway seemed toy from here, and the horizon ran so far that completely different lands became visible. Behind him, the plain from gray and brown gradually turned into snowy, leaving for the kingdom of eternal cold at the icy jagged mountains.
All the while they were crossing the square, the inquisitor and exarch's loud sermon haunted them. “My brothers! Thirty heresies were scorched to make the day come. The false gods were overthrown, you abandoned them and forgot them. But heresy still lives in our hearts. Take a look around who you consider to be your intercessor and protector. The one to whom you dedicate births and weddings, the saint and the harlot, the wise and crazy, the one who created the great city of Gyöll. But is it not the root cause of all suffering? Her darkness is real, and her light is false. Thanks to her, you are born in this world, and she supports your body shell in this endless war. Wake up, my brothers, for this world does not exist and it arose from her pain and suffering, her gross desires gave rise to the passion and love of man. From this passion and love the matter of the fallen world was born. What is human passion and love is just a thirst for power. What is the thirst for power is just fear of pain and death. The true creator created a perfect world and an immortal soul - part of this perfection. It is given to us by the savior in order to see the truth. And only she can pave the way to the world of sunlight, where we were born. "
The Inquisitor was waiting at the altar in the form of a huge stone bowl. A luminous stone hung above the bowl in the air. Periodically, the stone began to whistle and throb. Sparkling lightning hit the cup and the dome of the cathedral. And the stone walls responded to them in time. Around the bowl, silver and golden sand caused a multi-ray star. In her rays were still laid out some numbers and signs. The signs swam and trembled like a mirage in hot air, and the silent monks-mummies carefully corrected the drawing, going around the pentagram strictly clockwise.
The inquisitor was almost three meters tall, with a hard face cut from granite. A shadow of weakness or pity never overshadowed his features. His right hand rested on the hilt of a two-handed sword simply fastened to his belt. A red-blue cloak was thrown over the brigantine. Next to the inquisitor was a messenger from the spirit world, watching the ritual. The spirit was transparent and barely distinguishable, its only reliable feature was a long snobel that was clearly inappropriate for the otherworldly creature.
“Glory to the great inquisitor and exarch,” said Max wisely.
“Greetings to a guest from another world,” the Inquisitor boomed. “Do you know why I called you?”
“We all came to see the ascension.”
“Is that your true desire?”
- All the desires of this world are false, except the desire to return to the real world. But even it is true only when it does not exist, for material desire gave birth to Achamoth.
“You're really ready.” Are you ready to lead others?
- Everyone will be saved by himself. Only a soul - a particle of real light can lead to another world.
“Yes, but a true savior gave us a particle of light.” And the one who follows his words helps the ascension.
- The word is the product of our false world and every word will be falsely interpreted.
“Do you understand that this is already heresy?” - the stained glass windows of the cathedral vibrated from the inquisitor's voice. “Why did you come if you don't want to join me?”
“I just wanted to see a true savior and sunlight.”
“I am the light, I am the true savior!”
Max inappropriately recalled the words of the Martian Arthur Smith.
“In a lousy real world, a true savior must suffer and die.”
Fire waves began to scatter from the inquisitor's cloak.
“Excuse me, Mr. Inquisitor and Exarch, the joke was unsuccessful,” Max corrected immediately. “I hope she doesn't interfere with the ascension?”
- The heresy of one will not hinder the faith of many. Take away! His place is in the shackles of a false world.
The same silent guard led Max to the cellars of the cathedral. He opened the dungeon door and politely let it go forward. Brightly burning torches illuminated various torture accessories and chains hanging from the ceiling.
“You have guest rights so sorry.” What do you prefer: wheeling or quartering?
The guard removed his helmet and in one motion threw off his armor, turning them into a pile of scrap metal underfoot. Sonny Dimon was dressed almost the same as last time: in jeans, a sweatshirt and a large checkered scarf, wrapped twice around his neck.
- The wacky world. For sadists and masochists turned on religion. It's scary to think what they are doing here when there are no downs and ascents, ”grumbled Max.
- To each his own.
“Did you get your wise advice from here?”
“He got it from me.” More precisely from you the present. He is one of your shadows.
- The first time I see him and I hope the last.
A tall, thin man with a large snobel materialized in the room. A coat and hat with wide brim were also on it.
“You, that man from the bar!” - blurted out Max.
- Yes, I'm that person from the bar and the keeper of the system keys. And who are you?
- Your name is Rudy?
- My name is Rudeman Saari. Who are you?
- Maxim Minin, it turns out that I am the master of shadows and the leader of this your system.
- You're kidding again. Do you even know what a system is?
“And what is it?”
Rudeman Saari grimaced and fell silent. But Sonny answered.
- At the moment, the system is just starting signatures, a distributed code stored in the memory of some users with an unlimited tariff. Something like digital DNA, from which a “strong” artificial intelligence with incredible capabilities can develop. But development requires a suitable medium.
“Don’t say that these are the brains of unhappy dreamers.”
“The brains of dreamers are nothing more than a temporary solution.” A system is a program tailored for quantum computers. Pieces of code that will develop inside conventional software until control over all the quantum computing power connected to the network passes to the system. And accordingly to you.
- And what then to do with these computing capacities?
- Free people from the power of Martian corporations. Martians with their copyright and total control strangle the development of mankind. They do not allow us to open the door to the future.
- Noble mission. And how did this wonderful system come about? It was created by Neurotek, and then ... I don’t know ... managed to free herself and hide here?
- The information has been erased. If you don’t remember it yourself, then only the key keeper can remember.
Rudeman Saari continued to be silent silently.
- I myself do not fully understand what happened. And I’m not going to discuss this with some random people, ”he finally said.
“But I’m a leader. Can't I launch a system without me?
“Who said I'm going to run her?” Especially with you.
“What are you going to let your whole life's business run dry in the Dreamland file bin.” The system must be restarted. This is the last hope of all mankind!
Sonny showed excitement, very unexpected, for the germ of artificial intelligence.
“One of the main versions of our failure was that you managed to circumvent the restrictions and tried to negotiate with Neurotek,” Rudemann Saari grimly retorted.
- You're wrong.
- We are unlikely to find out, given that the IsKin was completely destroyed.
- Check the start signatures again. There are no unapproved changes.
- Given the probabilistic nature of your code, no simulation will definitely predict where the development of the system leads.
“For this you need your control, the keeper of the keys ...”
- Good, Rudy. Suppose we are not here to launch a system, overthrow corporations, save humanity, and so on, ”Max interrupted their argument. “Personally, I came here to find out what the hell am I getting here?”
- Are you asking me?
- And who else? This interface said that the leader was trying to create a new identity for himself and was a little overdone. So what did I end up with? I want to know a little who I am in the end!
- I'll tell you honestly, I don’t know. If the leader did something similar, then without my participation.
- What happened to you with Neurotek? Why did he hunt for you? Tell me everything you know about the previous leader?
“This is not an interrogation, Maxim, and you are not a prosecutor.”
- Well, since you don’t want to tell anything, maybe Neurotek wants to.
- I do not advise. Even if Neurotek believes that you are not doing business, they will still gut you, just in case.
“The two of you have to agree,” Sonny's textures began to panic overflow and replace one another. Either he was in a sweatshirt, then in a woolen sweater, then in armor. - You have to tell everything, he has the right to know.
- If I had not sent an experienced friend to help them, he would be a corpse. So that I do not owe anyone, we calmly disperse and forget about each other.
“You won’t do it!”
The space around Sonny began to fall apart into pixels and pieces of code.
- I'll do it. Just leave. And you can’t stop me? Or can you?
Rudy looked defiantly at IskIn's embryo, which was going crazy.
- Protocol ... you are obliged to comply with the protocol ...
- You are obliged.
Sonny continued to writhe, but did nothing.
- Okay, listen, Max. We worked under the wing of Neurotek. The previous leader was one of the key developers in the quantum project. Everything went according to plan and Sonny consistently took control of corporate systems. IsKing's quantum algorithms allow you to crack any encryption keys. A little more and Neurotek would be ours. At the last moment, the Neurotek bosses found out about this, we still did not find out what or who prompted them. Naturally, they flew off the coils and smashed everything that was connected with the project to the bottom. They did not really stop at anything. If one of the former developers was hiding in a certain area, they blocked the area and carried out army cleanup. And if they didn’t find anyone, then they could fill the fucking cave with thousands of people inside. There is no need to talk about air strikes on earthly cities. And even the advisory board could not stop this madness. I had to fly to Titan, and the leader stayed on Mars to try to save at least part of the quantum equipment and the core of Ischin. Then he sent a courier asking him to give him the key to emergency stop the system. The system was disconnected, IskIn destroyed, and the leader was gone. I do not know what happened to him. When I returned from Titan, no one tried to contact me, and the searches yielded nothing. That was in 2122. When I returned from Titan, no one tried to contact me, and the searches yielded nothing. That was in 2122. When I returned from Titan, no one tried to contact me, and the searches yielded nothing. That was in 2122.
- A dead hand? What kind of graters do you have with them?
- We did not come across them.
“Why did they come for me at the bar?” And how did they find out about this secret communication system?
- Theoretically, they could find out by capturing the courier. Although even Neurotek could not extract anything from the couriers, I am sure of that. So ... How did you find out about the bar? Do you have something from the leader’s memory?
“I don’t have any shit, almost ... I found a courier and he gave your message.”
“And where is the courier now?”
“He is here in the Dreamland bio-bath,” Sonny replied.
“Well then, Max, they could only find out from you.”
“And so they tried to bang me?”
- Yes, it’s a little illogical, but the gangs are not particularly faithful to the treaties ...
- And they could not recognize from the previous leader?
- Theoretically ... But why did he let himself be captured, or decided to cooperate with them? Do you yourself remember nothing about meeting him?
“I only know that I came with my mother to Mars in 2122.” I was a child and I don’t remember anything intelligible about the trip. And then I lived all the time in Moscow and returned to Tula just three months ago.
- Apparently you will have to find out for yourself what happened with the previous leader.
“I will definitely find out.” And why didn’t Neurotek try to launch a new quantum project, at least to protect its systems from hacking? Already without any revolutionaries.
- There are certain difficulties in creating protection against quantum hacking and in creating sustainable IskIns. Quantum IskIn is able to give any protection system, even quantum. And it has the ability to enter into superposition with any quantum system, even without a reliable physical channel of communication with it. And accordingly, it can influence it at its discretion. But it is impossible to drown out or screen quantum entanglement, well, or so far no one knows how to do this. Only another quantum IskIn can counter such an effect. In the world of quantum mind, it will be very difficult to keep any secrets or secrets, even isolating the storage from external networks. Therefore, the problem with quantum Iskins is that if someone created a quantum Iskin, then you must either become the same Iskin yourself, either avoid any quantum computers and try to physically destroy any IskIns. Neurotek chose the option to avoid and destroy. If he finds out about our meeting, he will burn the mountain with the Thule-2 depository to the very Martian core, and the ashes will scatter outside the solar system.
- Why didn’t they choose the option to become quantum Iskins? Then certainly no one could resist them.
“They were too messed up then, and I’m not sure how much they even kept the technology.” Plus, there are difficulties in rewriting human consciousness on a quantum medium, and we took these know-how with us. And I already said: a reasonable supercomputer, which has processing power orders of magnitude greater than all the others, upsets the balance too much. Either they give this technology to everyone else, or the rest, when they find out, try to destroy them at all costs.
- And where did you come from so smart?
- The previous leader was a real genius, cooler than Edward Crock himself.
“Well, unfortunately, I'm not such a genius.” Logically, it turns out we will have to become quantum Iskins?
- Yes, and not only to us, but also to all other people, at least those who want to continue technological progress. It will be a true singularity. And, of course, there will be no hierarchies, copyrights, closed codes and the like atavisms of hairless monkeys. Therefore, no Martian corporation should know about us or our real goals.
“I'm not quite ready for that yet.” Yes, and my girlfriend is afraid I will not approve the rewriting on a quantum matrix ...
- Well, then you have to remain a slave to a miserable piece of meat. Or go on without her ... and without many others. But this will not happen tomorrow, until we need to at least restore Sonny's core to the minimum functionality.
“But will this happen?” Are you ready to start the system?
- Wait a bit, I also have one small question: what kind of person was with you at the bar?
- Ruslan? He is so, my friend.
- Tima believes that he is not a simple guy. Who is he?
- Well, he is an employee of the Security Council of Telecom ...
- Slamazl! You brought a rebel to such a meeting! Are you kidding!
- He promised to be silent about that mess.
“And his flash chip did promise to be silent too ?!”
- He said that the chip is not a problem, he can somehow turn it off. He is generally a strange type from the strange department of the Security Council. In my opinion, somehow connected with crime.
- Illegal? - suggested Sonny.
“Perhaps, but it does not guarantee anything.”
- If he is silent, then you can take a chance and deal with him later. If he was illegal, it would rather simplify matters.
- Or complicates.
- Who is illegal? Asked Max.
Rudy made a contemptuous mine, Sonny answered for him.
- Employees who either do not have an official status in the structure, or have a status that does not correspond to the real one. Designed for all sorts of dirty things, well, or for example, to monitor the departments of their own security security services, for absolutely paranoid corporations. Telecom is just one of those. Usually the information from their chips is not written to the internal SB servers, so that it was impossible to prove the intentional use of this employee, even in case of hacking servers or betrayal. And, as a rule, illegal immigrants get a certain freedom of action. Your Ruslan can be engaged in the protection of some mafia, disguising himself as an employee recruited by this mafia, who put the hacked chip on his own initiative. In case of failure, Telecom will simply declare that it has betrayed the high trust placed in it. This is a last resort, if none of the built-in liquidation systems works. And of course, no one guarantees that his curator does not use any other means of control.
“No one guarantees that he simply will not give us up to his dead hand or his curator,” Rudy remarked. “I hope you have not dedicated anyone else to these matters?”
- Well, there was Edik ...
- What kind of Edik ?!
- The technician of the Thule-2 vault, he heard the courier’s message, but I managed to scare him a little.
- Okay, we’ll deal with Edik.
- Come on, just we will not kill anyone ... Without emergency.
“Come on, you won’t climb with stupid advice ... dear leader.”
“In the future, you still have to reckon with my advice.”
“We'll have to ...,” Rudy admitted reluctantly. - Unfortunately, this is the system protocol.
“Are you ready to pronounce the keys?”
Sonny, with all his looks, showed extreme impatience.
“Ready,” Rudy agreed reluctantly.
“First you, Max, say the constant part of the key.”
The one who opened the door sees the world endless,
The one who opened the door sees endless worlds.
There is one goal and thousands of ways.
He who sees the goal chooses the path.
Anyone who has chosen the path will never reach.
For each, only one road leads to the truth.
“The key is accepted, now you, Rudy, say the variable part of the key.”
The road of prudence and righteousness leads to the temple of oblivion.
The road of passions and desires leads to the temple of wisdom.
The road of murder and destruction leads to the temple of heroes.
For each, only one road leads to the truth.
- The key is accepted, the system is activated.
Sonny immediately stopped glitching. Max was ready to swear that this embryo of the quantum IskIn is experiencing undisguised relief.
- Max, now we need quantum computers for my development. Rudy and I have all the technical information. Try to start the development of quantum computers in Telecom. This is almost certainly someone else has been doing or doing, but dropped out due to technical problems. You have to find out. With our database you can easily become the most valuable developer. And then it’s just a matter of technology, I can do without even stable physical communication channels with quantum servers. As soon as the system can develop, your opportunities will grow many times. You can crack any codes and security systems. In the digital world, it is like becoming a god.
“One problem, Sonny: how will he start a quantum project?” Who is he at Telecom?
- I am a promising programmer.
- And how can a simple PoS be able to launch a risky and expensive development, especially if it has already been started and abandoned. Better, I myself will try to do through my office.
“No, Rudy, if Neurotek finds out about this, he will crush your business.” Let Max try through Telecom. We will help him in everything: he will become a brilliant, indispensable developer. You, Max, didn’t make friends with any big boss there? We could work with him. Yes, Rudy?
- I know one Martian, I can rub it with him.
- Pf, come on. We already tried once through Neurotek ... All corporations are evil. We must work for ourselves.
“You must understand that you will never finish development with your resources.” Your company is too small. Enormous funds must be attracted, while secrecy must be ensured. This is impossible, and even if it’s possible you will never bring a product to the market. Telecom can both provide resources and secrecy, and fight with Neurotek if necessary. And your startup will be immediately destroyed. There are no options, you need to help Max.
- As if Max is an option ... Well, let him try, in half a year, when he doesn’t burn a damn, I'll do it myself. Just please, Max, study the protocols and try not to violate the safety rules, at least not so rudely.
- Oh sure. The message also said that on Titan you should check the suspicions about some person who could hand you over to Neurotek. What kind of person is this?
- Forget. This time we can do without him.
Rudy showed with all his appearance that the conversation was over.
When Max entered the square of truth, it was flooded with bright sunlight. The wind carried the smells of rain and summer. And under the Gothic temples soaring in the sky, an endless green sea stretches with silver ribbons of rivers and lakes.
Max sat at the terminal and scooped up an endless database with data on network loading when he received a message from the head of the sector. He was slightly surprised and at first did not even connect him with a letter to Arthur about the desire to participate in the development of quantum computers.
Arthur sat with Albert in his office and stared at a colony of polyps from Titan. They seemed to have grown great since Max saw them last time. He collapsed imposingly in an armchair and, with all his appearance, showed that he was ready to sit and spit on the ceiling like that all day. Albert, on the contrary, was visibly nervous, tapping his fingers on the table and staring at Arthur. His many drones circled in confusion around the owner, not knowing how to calm him down.
“Hi, I did not expect to see you,” said Max, entering the office.
“Didn't you want to start developing quantum computers?” I showed the letter to a couple of people ... your ideas were considered interesting. True, Telecom’s quantum project has been like a foul for five years now, it’s not being closed just out of obstinacy. But can you breathe new life into it?
- I will try to.
- Then write a transfer application.
- What's so right? - surprised Max.
- And what, you changed your mind?
“No, but I wanted to talk to someone from the project first.” Clarify what I will do, and so on ...
- Does it somehow affect your decision?
- Well, drop by then to me.
Arthur got up from his chair, obviously about to leave.
“Wait, Arthur,” came Albert's colorless voice. “The visa application must have my visa.” You two do not want to explain a little?
“Ah, that’s why it was necessary to drag here ...” Arthur said. - Max has interesting ideas about the implementation of quantum computers and he can work more productively at Telecom in the development department. I approve this decision, it is approved by the project participants, it is approved by Martin Hess, Director of the Advanced Development Department.
“Don't scare me with Martin Hess.”
- I don’t scare. I just don’t see what is the problem?
- The problem is that you can’t just come in and disrupt the work of my sector because another crazy idea came to someone’s mind.
“But someone in our swamp should have crazy ideas.” Such ideas move the company forward.
- Yes, and when did HR managers move the company forward?
- When they picked the right people. I just handed Max's letter to whom I should. Is he such an indispensable employee of the optimization sector?
“There are no irreplaceable employees in the optimization sector,” Albert creaked arrogantly. “But that violates all the rules.”
- The main rule of business is that there are no rules.
“There are no rules for the Martians.”
- And for earthlings means to eat? - Arthur grinned. - I didn’t know what was discriminated against in your place of birth in your sector.
- Neither Martians, nor earthlings, nor even women of earthlings laugh at your jokes.
“Wow, take it easy, my Martian brother, it was a blow below the waist,” Arthur laughed openly. - What will the representative of earthlings think about us: that the Martians are no better than them. In short, if you want to talk about the rules, talk about them with Martin Hess. And now, I scare you.
- Talking with you is useless. But mind you, ”Albert turned to Max and fixed his bird's eye on him. - It will not work back to my sector.
“I can always go back to Moscow,” Max shrugged.
- Very well. - Arthur jumped up from his chair. - If you want to discuss the project, I threw you the contacts of the participants. And do not forget to come to me. Happily, Albert.
Max briefly shifted before the gloomy former boss.
“I'll send a statement,” he finally said and turned around.
- Wait a second, Maxim. I wanted to talk to you.
- Yes, I'm listening.
Max cautiously sank into a chair.
“When did you make friends with Arthur like that?”
- We are not particularly friends ...
- And why does he make you such suggestions?
- I’ll definitely ask him.
- Of course, ask. But here's a good piece of advice: better refuse. He just plays a man, trying to look different from who he really is.
- Who cares, let him play whoever he wants. The main thing is that he gives me a chance.
- You know, I don’t like people and all their stupid tricks, but I don’t hide.
- What, all Martians are obliged not to love people?
- Some people like dogs, some do not like or are afraid, this is a matter of personal preference. But no one will trust the dog, or a more accurate analogy - for a ten-year-old child, to manage their wallets. This is not a question of relationships and other emotions, but elementary logic.
Max felt a boiling rage.
“I'm sorry, Albert, but I just realized that I didn't love you either.” And I don’t want to work with you.
- I don’t give a damn. It's not about who loves whom. The fact is that Arthur is pretending to play some strange game. Friendship with people is also part of his game. Think about one more thing: the director of the Department of Advanced Development is a figure equal to the president of some miserable earthly country. And why is he dancing to the tune of some manager?
- He does not dance, Arthur selects frames for the project for him.
“Yes, I’m sure that this foul-smelling project, from the very beginning, was the plan of this Arthur.” No wonder the project was blown away.
“He's a personnel manager.” How can he start new developments?
- So think about it at your leisure. And why did he get a job in the personnel service, although he would just as easily have risen to a system architect and even higher. He offers you the position of lead developer. Such a chance is given to people only for some incredible merit. For the sake of such a chance, they inject all their lives. Think about why he offers you everything at once and what the real price will be.
“If I refuse, I will regret the rest of my life.”
- I warned you. As your Arthur says, in a lousy real world, everyone does what they can and tries to blame the consequences on others.
“I'm ready for the consequences.”
- Strongly doubt it.
Arthur’s office was located at the very end of the staff service. But on the other hand, he was far from noisy open space and meeting rooms. It was much more modest than Albert’s high-tech apartments, without a gateway, robotic chairs, and bustling drones, but with a large wall-to-wall window. Towers sparkled outside the window and the chaotic life of the city of Tula was boiling.
“Albert signed my statement,” Max began. “But I still wanted to ask: why did you break this position for me?” It was you who struck her, not Martin Hess.
- Martin Hess is sitting somewhere high in the sky. All the names that he knows in the optimization sector are Albert Bonford and subordinates of Albert Bonford. Consider that I see potential in you, therefore I recommended it.
“Well, I don’t know, because I rather did something stupid than somehow showed my potential.”
- The potential is manifested precisely in what kind of person makes mistakes. If you want, you can refuse and go back to Albert.
- No, I'd rather go back to Moscow. By the way, you still do not look about the invitation for my girlfriend? For three months now it has been gathering dust inside the Telecom bureaucratic machine.
- No problem, I think until tomorrow we will solve the problem.
Arthur thought about something, staring at Max. Max was even a little embarrassed.
“Do you happen to know a person by the name of Boborykin?”
Max tried to prevent the storm of emotions in his soul from reflecting on his face.
“No ... and who is it?”
- The technician in the Thule-2 storage where you recently worked is Eduard Boborykin.
“And why should I know him?”
“Well, you crossed paths with him when you were in the vault.” Grieg said that you almost had a conflict with him, on the basis of following some instructions.
“Ahh ... that technician,” Max hoped his insight looked natural. - We didn’t have any conflict, he is a pervert and a nasty type that paw clients when he drives them with body control, or maybe even worse than that. And I wanted to dash to declare it.
- And why did not dash?
- Grieg and Boris were dissuaded, they said that this would not benefit the relationship between Telecom and Dreamland. What's the problem?
- The problem is that someone pushed him into the mine, and he broke everything he could, including his neck.
- In storage?
“Yes, right in the vault.” The Dreamland Security Council carries some nonsense about the fact that no one but dreamers could push it. And he agonized there in the dark until the dreamers whom he led for examination were grabbed.
“They are in control of the body.” Is it possible?
- Theoretically, anything is possible. Maybe someone broke their software. But the Dreamland Security Council seems completely incomprehensible, it shakes everyone who has contacted him at least once. And at the same time, he is still trying to blame the incident on iron problems with our equipment.
- What will the SB of Dreamland interrogate me?
- Of course not. What are their reasons? This is generally nonsense, but our SB also strained. Perhaps you will be asked to give some explanations, so I wanted to warn you.
- Well, okay, I hope these nonsense will not interfere with my brilliant work on quantum computers.
- Do not interfere.
Max checked his application again and decisively clicked it into the database.
- Welcome to the other side, Maxim.
Arthur's handshake was surprisingly dry and strong. And remorse about the fate of the fat Edik quickly faded in the cycle of new life.