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"Labyrinth of Reflections" by Sergey Lukjanenko 8 страница  Просмотрен 375

Either I'm not watched or this is being done skillfully enough for Vikato raise the alarm. I ascend the wall under the guards' looks and step ontothe horsehair bridge. How many meters will I be able to walk without exiting virtuality Iwonder? One step, another - the thread shakes under my feet, I feel dizzy. Theblue bands of rivers and hot orange glow of lava lakes are hundreds ofmeters below, between conglomeration of cliffs. - Hey diver, you're staggering! - the mocking call from behind. I'm not just staggering, I'm falling down already. Maybe this is how Moslem sinners fall down trying to pass into theirHeaven, to tender houries and the mountains of rahat lakoum... My feet slip, I fly, grab the thread and it indifferently cuts myfingers off. The air blows into my face coldly and strongly, inviting to myshort journey, the cliffs rotate below, growing and showing needle sharpcrests. When I touch the rocks, Al-Kabar's server will report that I'm underterminal accelerating forces and the exit deep-program will be launched. But I'm not interested at all in what colors will be my death paintedby my imagination. Abyss-abyss, I'm not yours... Blood on the screens, a familiar image. I took off the helmet, leaned onto the table and pulled the phone cablefrom the socket. - Communication breakdown! - said Vika, - No dialtone! Check the plug! - It's alright, - I mumbled plugging the cable into place, - Restart. - Seriously? - Yes. Blueish color and the falling human figure on the screen. And nastyfeeling in my soul. I'm stuck in the very serious matter. If Al-Kabar, "Labyrinth" andthose who stand behind Man Without Face start fighting... Oy!.. It's betternot to fall between such millstones. The best thing now would be to forgetabout virtuality for a couple of weeks, to play ordinary games, to drinkbeer with Maniac, to upgrade the computer, to travel somewhere to Antalia{the Turkish resort, very popular in Russia} where it's still warm, to swimin the sea. Of course, I'll have to forget about Vika, the real one, and for a longtime. To bid a farewell to the dream about the Medal of Complete License. And certainly, to cross Unfortunate out of my memory. Who is he anyway to worry about him so much? Homo Computeris? Computerhuman, able to enter virtuality without any phones-modems? So what? It's notworthy to hope that his ability - if it really exists - is so easy toacquire. All kinds of specialists will study him, make encephalograms andmeasure all possible and impossible parameters. Unfortunate will be placedbefore various types of computers, they will turn modems on and off, bringhim to the phone lines and hide him in underground bunkers. And they willdemand - enter the Deep! Tell us what you feel! What feeling do you have inthe thumb of your left foot when you enter virtuality and how does yourstool change after three days in the virtual world... Thus will he spend therest of his life somewhere in the heavily guarded estate in Switzerland orin the Texas desert, in some CIA research center. One very valuable andrespected guinea-pig. Maybe he's Russian though, a Russian citizen. If I throw the info abouthim in the open Net or to the proper authorities... I even laughed of my own naivety. So what? Will the ole' good Russiareally send its carriers and tank squads to guard Unfortunate? Wasn't itenough talented programmers taken out of the country - say, 14-year oldSasha Morozov, a guy from Voronezh was flown out by the charter flight. Justmaybe our intelligence service would gather the remains of its past braveryand would intercept Unfortunate just in order to lock him forever in its ownresearch center somewhere in Siberia or the Ural Mountains. When the Deep was created, the Freedom was its banner. We are independent of all corrupt governments, shabby religions andPuritan moral. We are free in everything - and forever. No information canbe secret - and we have a right to discuss whatever we want. Freedom oftravel can't be limited - and Deeptown will never know any borders. We'llfight for our right to have all rights. We'll purge only those from ourranks who will rise against the freedom. Lord, how naive and enthusiastic were we! The people of the new cybernetic world, of the free and unlimitedspace! The people reveled in the freedom, playing with it as a kid risen fromthe bed after the long illness, cheerful and proud by ourselves. The Deep'sinterests - everything for it, for the name of it, forever... amen. But why do I still believe in all these funny slogans with the sameenthusiasm as I had being a kid, believing in communism? Why do I want to believe so much, despite everything? Breaking the laws, trashing someone else's computers, stealing someoneelse's 'intellectual property', not paying taxes to my poverty-strickencountry, not trusting anybody except a handful of friends - and still tobelieve in something warm and fuzzy, clean and eternal? In freedom, kindnessand love? Maybe I'm just from the breed that can't live otherwise. And well, nobody really prevents me from believing in freedom further,after I change my entrance channels and the Net address. It's so simple - to believe. I was looking at the 3D mesh of Norton's table, at the neat lines ofdirectories and subdirectories. Three gigabytes, all completely full.Service programs, viruses-antiviruses, pieces of Vika's "consciousness",audio files and games, stolen data and new books, unpublished yet. Here is"Hearts and motors - in the travels again" by Vasiliev, here is a freshmystery by Lev Kursky, prolific like piranha (?), here is Oldi's novel thathave made so much noise. I can go out now, buy lots of beer, print a coupleof books on my old LaserJet and land on the sofa. To sleep - as much as Ican! And those Mr Urman whose real face I'll never see, and Mr Without Facewhom I'll never see all the more can feel free to fight over Unfortunatewith Willy-Guillermo... I never liked stupid people and kamikaze. I picked the phone from the case of my 'five' and dialed Maniac'snumber. I was lucky again, he was neither hanging in virtuality norsleeping. - Allo! - Shura, it's me. - Ah... - Maniac lowered his tone a bit. - Are you busy? - Well... a little. - Writing a program? - No, peeling potatoes... Galya is cooking. - Congratulations. - With what? - Maniac pricked up his ears. - With your reconciliation! - Ah... yeah... okay. I'd better not abuse his time, especially after the recent rejoiningwith his spouse. - Shura, tell me please, is it possible to enter "Labyrinth" withweapons? - You mean the virus? Isn't BFG enough for you? - Maniac is obviouslyamused, - Your kidding. This is a space within a space, created with exactlydefined purpose. It's easier to smuggle the virus into the Pentagon, then topass through "Labyrinth"'s filter with it. - Wasn't it you who made the filter for them? - No, - confessed Maniac with regret, - Not me. But I know who and howhad made it. - So how? - Your image is copied when you pass the portal. If you have anyprograms with you, any programs, those are cut off. Just your exact copypasses into the "Labyrinth"'s server. - And there's no way to bypass? - I inquired helplessly. - Think. - Don't I have to think too much lately? - I growl, - Shura! Just tellme, can I break through the filter? - Only walls can be broken... by foreheads, - said Maniacinstructively, - What happened? - Very lousy situation. Extremely lousy. - Lousy for whom? - For all the Deep. And for one good guy. - And what about you? - asked Maniac directly and I remembered "ThreeMusketeers" involuntarily. - Complete shit, believe me. Maniac didn't reply at once, he even began to whistle something. - Shurka! - Will "Warlock-9000" be okay for you? - What is that? - A local virus. As usual. - Will it pass the filter? - Maybe. - Shura, don't I distract you too much? I mean... from potatoes. - Isaid, possessed by the sudden guilt.
- No, I'm finishing already... I don't like cordless phones, it's enough radiation for me already frommy dear computer. As for Maniac - on the contrary, he can't imagine his lifewithout them. And now also, he stands pressing the phone to his ear with ashoulder, tearing the peel off potatoes. - Pour it in for me. - Just to pour it in? - Yeah, - I asked gathering all my impudence. - Hold on, it's not that easy. What apps do you use to create yourimages? - Various ones... "Bioconstructor"... "Morphologist"... "Guise". - I see. What personality will you use when using the virus? - Personality #7, Gunslinger... - What is the file's extension? - Huh? Extension? Hold on... - Fire the terminal up, - said Maniac tiredly, - Set the completeaccess for the password... say, "12345". - One-two-three-four-five, - I repeat dumbly. - In numerals! - specifies Maniac, - I'll tune everything by myself. - Thanks! - Not that fast... You'll owe me beer... Maniac sighed one more time and threatened before putting down thephone: - I'll call in 5 minutes. Your old girl in on already, waits for me andis as docile as a schoolgirl. Is that clear? I rushed to the computer. In three minutes Vika agreed to submit to theone who calls with the password "12345" and moved over to the kitchen tocook myself a supper. I haven't even filled the teapot yet when the phonerang in the room and then connecting modem started whistling softly. I'm stupid after all... and kamikaze. Though, it's ridiculous to love myself too much, I can afford to bestupid for some time. I just had time to drink some tea with jam found in the sideboard, thenrefilled the mug and returned to the room. Maniac was just disconnectingfrom my computer having left the burning red line on the screen: "Took someyour old junk to read and play virus plugged in instructions by voice in aminute". Maniac have carelessly omitted all punctuation. Exited into Norton, I found the file of Gunslinger's image (it'sextension was most trivial: .clt), and started to compare it to the other,unchanged images. Nothing have changed that I could have noticed. As expected. Maniac called in five minutes and quickly explained what and how Ishould do. I could only shake my head when I got just what did he do to myimage "#7". Obviously, "Warlock-9000" was something he was preparing for a longtime, kept for the very special cases. If this thingy is used even once,hundreds of plagiarists will follow. - Beer, beer and more beer... - I said turning the phone off. Nobodycan tell though whether I'll be able to provide him this beer or not. I was going to raise such a storm in the Deep which it haven't seen forquite a while. The storm it deserved. - The terminal is on, - reported Vika. I clicked the connection icon,and was on "Russia On Line"'s server in several seconds. The address left by Man Without Face I remembered by heart: some Polishserver which doesn't really mean anything. It's just a router, the signalwill pass a couple or more countries on its way to Man Without Face. There was no video support on that server, no drawn muzzles or animatedphotos on the screen. A severe styled menu in Polish and English, some tenmore languages supported, including Romanian and Korean... no Russian. Ourbrotherly nation doesn't favor us too much, alas. I replied to operator'sgreeting and asked to establish connection with "Man Without Face" {inEnglish in the original}. The operator switched to the Russian keyboarddriver in half a minute and asked me to name the addressee in my nativelanguage. "—Ґ«ъўҐЄ ЃҐ§ ‹Ёф ", - I typed in. They started to throw me from server to server. The first two were openones, I couldn't tell anything about the next three. Then I saw "Pleasehold" on the screen. In Russian by the way. I was holding for fifteen minutes. First five minutes quietly and modestly, then - getting a beer from thefridge and putting the old "Nautilus" album in the CD-player. Good singerButusov is... until he starts trying to write the lyrics himself. I remembered my dream, where was a singer on the stage and poor Alex, aprophet dream in some sense. But why did I imagine Unfortunate as a singer?Never had I any familiar musicians in my life, and risked to sing myselfonly in complete solitude. "Who?" I pulled myself to the screen and typed without much thinking: "Me" "How goes, diver?" "I suppose you know that." I would give very much to find out who is he - Man Without Face. "Yes." "I can't handle it." "It's your problem." "Not only mine." A short delay - either Man Without Face was thinking or there was a lagalong the lines somewhere. "What do you want?" "Help." "I can't help. Everything you need is inside you." If he was here, a real person, I would say something to him that ispossible to say only or even better not to say at all. So I said that aloudbut the Net has its own norms of communication and my fingers typed: "Who is he?" "You were told already." The spiders. The spiders, stretched their thin threads into eachother's dens. Urman watches after "Labyrinth" while Man Without Facecontrols Al-Kabar. "Was that true?" "Maybe" "I CAN'T HANDLE IT!" - I typed in CAPs. "Pity." And almost instantly the line have appeared in the bottom of thescreen: "Addressee have disconnected." - Connection broke! - confirmed Vika, - Do you want to reconnect? - No, - I replied. For some reason I didn't have any doubt: the Polishserver won't connect me with Man Without Face again. Maybe he feels offended that I've told about him to Urman. Maybe hehave just lost faith in my abilities. The result is the same in either case. - Vika, am I smart? - I asked. There's almost 1000 keywords stuffed into Windows-Home. Sometimes it'spossible to make really funny talks with the computer... almost intelligentones. - What answer would you like to hear? - deviated Vika as usual when thewords were not formulated as an order but were unclear to her. - The honest one. - I don't know Lenia. I really wish I could answer but I really don'tknow. - Stupid you are, Vika. - And you're a boor. I laughed. If anybody not familiar with modern operating systems couldhear me he would decide for sure that my Pentium is intelligent. - Sorry, Vika. - That's okay, I'm not angry. Intellect and its fake... Where is the border between them? We alreadytalk to our computers, they greet us and wish us good night. Many peopleincluding me spend most of their time in virtuality. But it's not a victoryof the human intelligence, just a fake of the victory, bright coloredbanners and fireworks above the void.
Higher processor speed, more memory -and the computer gets human look and feel. But nothing more... And Unfortunate - he can be a program too. Just as cunning as Maniac'svirus, penetrated through the filter, rooted itself in the 33rd level'sserver, the one able to support the talk and to shoot the monsters. - Shit!! - I shouted. It's so simple! Just a hundred of phrases said sometimes in the righttime, sometimes irrelevantly. The program that learns on its own words,returning you your own thoughts, obediently following its naive rescuers...Sure it doesn't need any comm channels. What did I tell Unfortunate, what did he reply? I strained my memory. I don't know... It might be a program. Then both Al-Kabar and ManWithout Face were too wide of the mark. Good if I'm right, the riddle is solved quite simply. The Silence, Gunslinger... I shivered, remembering the void that rolled over me after his words. A program? Unfortunate, carrying the drawn kid with such care... A program? - I can't understand a thing, Vika, - I said, - Absolutely nothing, andyou can't help me. - Can I help? - replies Vika inopportunely. - No! - Who can then? I was silent for a while before replying. - The real Vika. The Deep! - Deep program start? I put my hands on the keyboard instead of an answer. Deep Enter. The darkness on the screens is lined by falling stars, the rainbowspiral whirling before my eyes, erasing reality, pulling me towardsDeeptown's skyscrapers. The first second is the most difficult one. The room is the same, but Iknow, all this is an illusion, a mirage. - Is everything okay, Lenia? I rotate my head. The room is okay. It's me who is different. - Personality #7, Gunslinger. - Acknowledged... This time my appearance changes painfully long, nothing can be done,it's an inevitable cost of the weapon. - Is everything okay Lenia? I stand up and look at my reflection in the mirror. - Yes. Thanks Vika. I open the fridge looking for soda. Sprite is over, only Coke has left.It'll do. - Good luck, Lenia. - Thanks. I drink the most popular beverage in the world greedily which - howfunny - was created as a diarrhea relief... Urman estimated that I have fivehours more, now only four have left. I can almost feel how somewhere in thegreat distance, on other continents, the various officials' brains screechin strain, starting to comprehend the Unfortunate's phenomenon. Very soonthe 33rd level will be shut down, very soon the hunt for Unfortunate willstart. It's not important whether he's a human or a program, I'll get himout. - Call the taxi, - I say leaving the apartment. I descend in a smallclean elevator and open the doorway. An old Ford is waiting for me, the driver is a sleek young guy in awhite shirt, an exact copy of the one that I killed two days ago beforepenetrating into Al-Kabar. I even feel shame looking at his friendly smile. - Brothel "Any Amusements"! - I growl. It looks like Vika made Madam to establish a special status for me.When I enter the lobby, I see the three men in there. All three pull theirheads up, in all three's eyes is confusion and fright. They don't see eachother, two of them are even overlapping in space looking like some kind ofugly siamese twins. These two are stately blue eyed brunettes, standard bodies fromWindows-Home's kit, obviously put on for disguise. The third one is aswarthy robust guy with a cleanly shaved head. The common feature of allthree is their look, the one of somebody caught being busy with pressing outpimples. So, I'm now what, have the same rights as the brothel's employee? I cansee all three customers, enter the service areas... - Hi... - I say raising my hand limply. All three nod quickly. One ofthem puts aside the green album with artificial negligence, the other onecasts the purple one aside. Only the shaved guy continues to look throughthe black album stubbornly, curiously studying the pictures. I approach the guard, he opens the door before me obediently and Ileave the lobby sparing the visitors from their soul tortures. Nobody is going to escort me but I remember the way. The corridor isempty, some doors are opened. Bursts of laughter can be heard from behindone of them. There is a small pavilion surrounded by blossoming sakura, thegentle spring sun shines in the sky, the cone of Fuji is seen in thedistance. Two girls are drinking tea inside, noticing me they wave theirhands cheerfully: - Hi Gunslinger, want some tea? - N...no, - I mumble and walk away quickly. An absolutely naked girlsteps out from the other door, without even a hint of shyness. - Vika is busy! - she says, - Maybe you'll stay with me for a while?I'm boooored! There's no hint in her words whatsoever and the thought about havingsex doesn't excite her more than the process of inhalation-exhalation.There's something dreadful in the situation itself... in all those cheerfuland friendly young girls. I suddenly realize what do they remind me of, some old sci-fi bookabout merry young people who are busy with their favorite work, who spenddays and nights at it, they are friendly, they are always ready to helptheir friend, they are unable to say a single bad word about each other... It's like a distorted mirror, the false reflection. The evil had put onthe dress of good and as strange as it may seem, it fit! - Thanks, but I'd better wait in her room, thanks again... - I saysmiling desperately. The girl pouts sorrowfully and disappears in her room. I go furtheruntil my look meets with the black kitten's on the picture. - Meow! - I whisper softly pushing the door. The kitten opens his tinymaw, mews in return and freezes again. The mountain hut is empty, just the wind from the opened windowflutters the short curtains. Leaned against the window-sill, I watch themountains for quite a time. No, this is impossible, to create the wholeworld absolutely alone and not for fame and money, not at an order, just forherself and even never enter it! To create it just in order to know that it exists, right here, behindthe window: the sparkling snow on the mountain crest, the endless blue sky,rocks on the slopes, the black moss under pine trees, birds soaring in theskies and squirrels scurrying about in the trees. The world of silence,cleanliness and serenity, the world where the word 'filth' is not invented. I think that Unfortunate would like it. I really hope he will like it. - Lenia? Vika enters quietly and it takes me by surprise. - I'm sorry... didn't they tell you? She shakes her head. - I just wanted to be with you... for a little time, - I start makeexcuses involuntarily, - Are you... all right? Vika nods. - You shouldn't dive in the Deep so often, - I say approaching her, -have you at least had some snack? - A little... It's a flood of customers today. She doesn't look aside, she got used to consider this a work but it'ssomething wrong with me. I can feel a cold lump in my chest, quick andpungent like a snow in the frost. I swallow some air and say: - Do you really have to work so much... Madam? Vika goes to the window and asks without turning back: - How did you find out? - I felt it. - Leave Leonid. Leave forever, okay? - No.
- Why the hell do you pester me? - shouts Vika turning back, - Why thehell would you need a prostitute as a friend? Get out! I like that, okay? Ilike to fuck a hundred of times a day, to change bodies, to order the girlsaround and to pretend that I'm one of them! Is it clear? Is it? I just stand there waiting for her to vent it out, then pad closer andstand by her side by the window. I can't talk now and can't touch her, but it's dangerous to stay silenteither, though I have no choice and I wait for I don't know what. The mountains start and the floor begins to shake under the feet. Vikashouts clinging to the window-sill, I grab her by the shoulder and set thesecond hand against the wall. The earth is quivering, the white mountaincaps start flowing with a white smoke, stretching down tentacles ofavalanches. The huge rock whirls down by the window. - Mommy... - whispers Vika sinking on the floor, looks like she is moreexcited than scared, - Duck, Lenia! I fall down beside her and just in time - a good load of stony shrapnelblows into the window. - Fifth degree at least! - shouts Vika, - Seventh! - Eighth! - I suggest. Hardly had she ever seen the real earthquakes,otherwise she wouldn't be so cheerful now. The hut's floor is still shaking but much less now, with a smallconvulsive shiver. - Cool, - whispers Vika sprawling on the floor. I catch her look andtouch her cheek gently, - Don't be mad at me Lenia. - I'm not. - The customers... piss me off sometimes. - The Cap? - I remember. - Exactly. - Who is he? Vika shrugs. - I don't know. He wears different bodies and doesn't tell anythingabout himself. He only... - she smirks, - always wears a cap. That's why hisnick. - Is he a sadist? - Yes, maybe... but a special one. Her lips whisper a short obscenity. - You what, accept any customers here? Even those who make you climbthe walls? Vika stays silent. - I thought you sort out the worst idiots. If it's possible to identifyCap beforehand... - We accept everyone. - What is it, a kind of the company honor? "Any Amusements"? - You might assume that. Looks like the earthquake is over, I rise and look into the window.Avalanches still move, the river below is blocked by landslide and fills inslowly, searching for the new bed. - It calmed down, - I whisper involuntarily, as if my words can wakethe nature up again, - Vika, why did you make the earthquake? - I don't have anything to do with it. This world lives by itself, Idon't have any control over it anymore. - Not at all? Vika glances at me, rises and studies the changed landscape. - Absolutely. The world becomes real only when it gains freedom. - Just as a human. - Sure. - Do you believe in freedom so much? - You don't have to believe in freedom. When you have it, you can feelit yourself. I think I expected her to say these words. - Vika, what if some man... a good man is in trouble... If he can losehis freedom forever... would you agree to help him? - I would, - she replies calmly, - Even if he's not that good a man.This is a principle of a sort if you want. - I need to hide somebody. Vika shakes her head in some funny manner, so that her hair scatter onher shoulders. - Lenia, what are you talking about? Hide where? - In virtuality. - What for? - He can't exit. - You're talking about the one in "Labyrinth"? - Yes. - Lenia... - Vika holds my hand, - How long ago were you in the realworld? - Half an hour ago. - Really? Don't you need some help yourself? I have... - she bites herlip, - one familiar diver. It's true, they really exist! How funny... - Do you want me to ask him to meet you? - Vika... She calms down. I'm not used to such care, to be honest. This is my profession - totake care of people who got lost in virtuality. - I'll help, - says Vika, - But you're wrong... I think. I don't have time for arguments now. - Thank you. Are your security systems reliable enough? - Quite. Do you understand something in that? I nod. Of course, I can't create the security program myself but I hadto break those so many times that it's high time to consider myself anexpert. - You can talk to the Wiz about that. - Will he tell me? - Not to you, and neither to me, but to Madam... Vika hesitates and looks at me as if asking to leave. I go to the door,but she calls: - Lenia.. Don't. I want you to look. She pads to the wall, waves her hand and the boards part, opening asmall door. It's a light behind it, a cold bluish lifeless light. Vika's silhouettestays in the doorway for a second, then disappears inside and I follow hereven if I don't want that at all, like hypnotized. It's a shed. Or a morgue. Or Blue Beard's museum. Shiny nickel coated hooks stick out from the walls, human bodies hangon them, almost reaching the floor with their feet, girls for the most part,light and dark haired, several reddish ones, one is completely bald. Alsoseveral middle-aged women and a couple of old ones, several girls and boys. All eyes are opened and empty. - This is my costumier room, - says Vika. I stay silent, I canunderstand that anyway. Vika walks along slightly rocking bodies, looking into the dead faces,whispering something as if in greeting. Madam is hanging somewhere in theend of the first dozen. Vika looks back at me making sure I'm watching andsnugs close to the splendid body of the brothel owner, hugs it as if in theoutburst of perverted passion. Nothing happens for a second, then - I can't catch the moment of change- Vika and Madam change places. Not Vika but Madam backs from the helplesslyhanging body. - That's it, - says Madam in her low voice. - Why... in such a disgusting way? - I ask, - These hooks... thismorgue... why? Vika? Madam looks at Vika, nods sadly: - Vika my dear, why? Should we explain to Lenia? Vika, threaded on the hook by her nape stays silent.
- In order to never forget, Leonid. Not to forget for even a second -they are not alive. I look at Madam, far more calm and wise than Vika, and if to approachit unbiased - much more beautiful. - You had to see it, - says Madam. - I have. We exit the 'human meat warehouse' through the other door, the one thatleads into Madam's room. This is a completely different world. There's anoisy and crowded beach behind the window, the hot sun in the sky, the roomitself is full of luxurious old furniture, books are scattered everywherealong with opened candy boxes, clothes, cheap jewelry and golden bracelets,half-empty perfume bottles, playing cards. The huge bed under the plushcanopy is uncovered, the slipper is lying under it. A variety of startedbottles is in the sideboard, the dusty guitar hangs on the wall, Persiancarpet on the floor is bitten by moth and is stained with wine in patches. - Now you can try to guess which me is a real one, - says Madam. I ain't going to. There's no other truth in the world except the one wewant to believe in anyway. We don't stay in Madam's room for long and I'm glad about that verymuch, it's too stiffly in there. - Lenia, sometimes I tend to think that you're just a young boy, - saysMadam, - one can't be so naive after all. - Why not? - It's too hard to live that way. - Nobody had promised me it'll be easy. I walk by Madam's side thinking about how could we look from the side.A pale and tall Gunslinger fits to be Madam's son in his age but there's noresemblance between them. Maybe it must look like a disguised aristocrat 'svisit to the cheap brothel. - Steep stairs here, - warns Madam. - I remember. We enter the recreation area and the girls under umbrellas greet Madamwith cheerful squeals. The gay splashing in the water just by the shorequickly stands up and waves his hand. The tousled head of Computer Wiz pokesup from behind the bar and ducks back down quickly. - You see, Vika is not here, - says Madam to me loudly, thenprotectively puts her hand on my shoulder, - Girls, Gunslinger will wait forhis girlfriend here! Don't hurt him! The general meaning of the answers summarizes to the idea that they'llhurt me for sure but I'll like that. Madam waves her finger at the girls,then goes to the bar. The Wiz appears at once, as if feeling herapproaching. - Talk to Gunslinger, - Madam asks him gently, - He has somequestions... answer all of them. - Absolutely all? - inquires Wiz. - Absolutely. - Well Madam, don't say later that I forced this out of you. - I wish it was necessary... - sighs Madam. I'm waiting for Wiz by the table which stands a little aside from theothers, the girls don't need to hear our talk. - Champaign! - declares Wiz, approaching me, - Hi Gunslinger! You'redrinking champaign, right? I don't, it's too many bubbles in it, my stomachrumbles after that! He moves in an odd manner, very smoothly as if being on asphalt. Iglance at his feet, they don't touch the sand: the shabby slippers are onWiz's feet, with tiny wings growing from their sides that hammer the airquickly. - I'm drinking champaign with the girls only, - I refuse, - Do you havevodka over there? - Everything is there! - Wiz plops the bottle of caustically violetcolored liquor on the table and runs away with unclaimed Abrau-Durso. Justin a minute he returns in the same gliding manner with a bottle of Ursusvodka, a crystal pitcher filled with water and a package of Zuko. - Here, mix that... I never tried Ursus but it's a good vodka as they say. Hoping thatsubconsciousness will work out the taste for me, I pour in a cup. Wiz grabsthe pitcher and mixes the beverage by himself using his own hand as a mixer. We're in virtuality after all... mo germs here. I swallow the vodka inone shot and take a mouthful directly from the pitcher, then ask: - Where did you get this cute footwear from? - These slippers? Ah, made them myself today... was sick and tired ofbogging in the sand. You like them? You see, in Deeptown it's possible towalk on the floor only. So I had to glue a piece of floor to the soles. It'sno problems now: walk on air as long as you want, until tired! Wiz laughs and makes several small steps, ascending almost to the tablelevel, then crosses his legs, falls into the armchair, opens the liquor anddrops to the bottle with a smacking sound. - Superb thing! - he declares, - Sweet-sweet! Real Cura ao! - Do you spend the whole day here?, - I inquire. - Whole day? Ha! I exit this place to eat something, and pardon me, tovisit bathroom! - Madam says, all security here depends on you. - Wrong word! Everything depends on me here. - May a stranger enter here? - And how could we earn the living if we wouldn't let them in? - I'm not about that. Is it possible to penetrate into the brothel'sservice areas? - Institution's! This is not a brothel, but Institution! No, it is not. - Absolutely? Wiz sighs and becomes more serious. - Are you hacker or lamer? - A 'newbie'. - Okie, I see... The absolute security doesn't exist. The closer you'reto the absolute reliability, the less comfortable you feel in virtuality.It's a quadratic dependence here - your ability to receive and to transmitdata falls as the security level becomes higher. The most important thing isto find the optimal ratio between comfort and security. Our security systemwas created with the elements of artificial intelligence. When breakingattempts are detected, the warning is broadcasted, additional passwords areimplemented, dummies are activated... - Dummies? - Autonomous mobile security programs, phagocytes. I call them dummies,they are all dumb. Why don't you drink? I pour myself more. - If an intensive attack happens, - Wiz goes on, - then the degree ofsecurity grows unlimited, up to the complete encapsulation of theInstitution. Of course it never happened before, but it's meant to work thisway. - So you want to say that the security IS ideal after all? Wiz hesitates, the vanity which he obviously has struggles withobjectivity. - No... If the big group of professionals would plan the break-in,they'll be able to enter before the defense starts to work in full volume.But who on the Earth would want to do that, huh? I understand that it'd be stupid to expect any different answer.There's a sword for any shield. - Thank you, Wiz. - Ah, don't mention it! - he waves his hand, - Do you want to make yourown security system? Drag it in here, I'll help. Or better yet, let's go toyour place! - Wiz fires up, - I'll do everything myself, I'm so bored ofsitting here! I shake my head, he guessed wrong. - I'm just interested in how it's handled here. - Ah, you're the auditor? - starts Wiz, - Hushhh... I've got it, I'mquiet... Why haven't Madam told me immediately? Who might audit the brothel I wonder? What for? Very interesting... butI don't dare to question Wiz any more. - Okay, time to go... and Vika must have freed already. - I say. Wizbecomes solemn and serious instantly: - You watch it, don't hurt her!, - he warns, - she is... a great girl,I'd kick anyone's ass for her. Wiz sighs and looks at the sea dreamily. - I have just wanted to score her but you were the first... - heconfesses, - You know, she had a great crush on me... or maybe even stillhas... but don't worry, I never take girls from my friends. Some time ago I thought that the soap opera computer guys arecompletely fictional characters. Hah! If it just was really so. They doreally exist. - But don't you even think to approach that blondie! - he adds, - She'sso desperately in love with me, she suffers that for almost half a year... The poor girl laughs aloud hugging her friend, not suspecting about herill fortune. - Or maybe I'd go after Natashka... - thinks Wiz, - they're all suchlovable types here! He picks up his liquor and moves towards the laughing blonde in adancing walk, while I use the moment to get out.
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