(Сам не читал, просмотрел по диагонали - кажется, это пародия на записки путешественников типа "Десять лет в джунглях".)
Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast,
a memoir of the West Coast Ethnographic Expedition of 21XX, as related by one of the participants, Professor S— H—
For three days we bivouacked in the ruins of the galleria, sleeping on the floor of what had once been an amusement arcade, strewn with the luridly painted hulls of primitive mediatrons long since gone cold and gray. One of the galleria's glass-walled lifts was stalled at the third and highest story and provided a superb observation point over the parking lots to the south. It was from this quarter that Captain Napier anticipated the attack, so there we posted a twenty-four-hour watch. Tod, our native guide, was astonished that the glass walls of the lift were still intact, and ran his hands over them until drawing the wrath of Captain Napier: "The glass is only useful insofar as it is transparent! Go find a rag in one of the old clothing stores and wipe away your fingerprints lest they conceal the approach of some deadly intruder!" Tod cringed away from this reprimand, backed out of the lift, and scurried off in the direction of a store that had not yet been looted to the floor slab.
To our astonishment, Captain Napier turned and kicked one of the walls forcefully! Dr. Nkruma and I averted our eyes, half expecting to be struck by jagged fragments. To our surprise, though, the glass absorbed the impact as if it had been granite or marble. Captain Napier evinced some mischievous amusement at our reaction. "We who grew up in the Diamond Age know glass only as a constituent of the rubble of an earlier era," he said. "As children, who of us did not cut his hand or foot on a fragment of glass while exploring some old ruin, and thus form a pejorative opinion of that substance that, until the development of our modern crosslinked diamondoids, constituted every window in the world! And yet a careful perusal of late twentieth-century architecture will remind you that glass was frequently used in applications where ruggedness was of paramount importance — as is the case in this elevator, where loss of a pane would obviously pose a lethal risk to the occupants. Our friend Tod, I would wager, has amused himself of many an idle afternoon throwing rocks through the windowpanes of unused buildings, and come to view an unshattered pane as an affront to his athletic prowess; and yet I would wager that he could throw rocks against the wall of this elevator all day without effect."
During the course of these remarks, Dr. Nkruma had begun to stroke his goatee, as he often did when in a reflective mood. "Governmental potentates of the previous century were frequently shielded from the effects of kinetic-energy weapons by barriers of thick glass," he said, "but I had not been aware that such technology had come into commercial use." He gave the glass wall an experimental kick or two, as, I must confess, did I. Soon, Tod had returned, proudly displaying a handful of yellowed paper towels as if they were rare parchments from an archaeological site, and commenced vigorously scrubbing the glass; but once again Captain Napier had to admonish him. "Remember that glass is softer than our modem replacements for it, softer even than many of the microscopic dirt particles that are spoiling our view so, and that when you scrub it thus you are grinding those particles into the surface and thus doing more harm than good." Tod, it must be recorded, listened to this disquisition in something of a daze. Captain Napier's attempts to lift our native companion out of his abysmal ignorance spoke well of the former's noble spirit but were probably too late to improve the latter's situation. "In other words, Tod," our leader finally said, noting Tod's lack of comprehension, "you must first wash the glass with copious amounts of water, and scrub only when the gritty stuff is removed." This instruction, expressed as it was in relatively concrete terms, was clear as crosslinked diamondoid to Tod, who immediately bustled away in search of a bucket. I was surprised by his unwonted diligence until I recalled the facts of our situation, and reflected that Tod, with his relentlessly practical and earthbound mentality, must appreciate that small matters such as the clarity of the glass surrounding our sentry post might soon make the difference between life and death for all of us. The 4Wheelers might be content with simply dispatching Captain Napier, Dr. Nkruma, and myself, but Tod they would no doubt perceive as a traitor to their tribe, and kill only after they had given him ample cause to beg for the favor. My mind went back, as it had frequently in the last few days, to the sight of poor Britni Lou, dragged to death behind a 4Wheeler's pickup simply for the crime of smiling at me during one of the 4Wheelers' ceremonial meat-roastings.
The ruggedness of the northern approach to the galleria precluded a frontal assault from that direction. During our day-long retreat through that treacherous landscape of crumbling reinforced-concrete ramps and bridges we had used our supply of explosives to good effect, detonating one sheet charge after another, crashing down entire ramps on top of other ramps in a process that Captain Napier, in characteristic black humor, referred to as "civil de-engineering." If the 4Wheelers wanted to approach from that direction, they had two choices: pick their way on foot through the briar patch of snarled iron rebar that sprouted from the still-settling rubble, or drive their vehicles through the narrow defile we had left as the path of our own retreat. As one unlucky motorist had already discovered, this path was now strewn with mines capable of flinging the burning wrecks of their primitive four-wheeled conveyances a dozen meters into the air.
The south parking lot was too vast for us to mine with our limited supply of explosives. My readers may perhaps be forgiven for not appreciating the vast extent of this space. At first glance it appears, to the modern eye, to be a vacant plain, inexplicably wasted by the architects of the galleria. On closer inspection one descries a faint grid of yellow lines, like marks on a poorly erased chalkboard, and this leads the unwilling mind to the realization that the territory is not a natural formation but a man-made slab of pavement of inconceivable size. As when we look at the Pyramids or the Great Wall, we are impressed not by the work itself, which would be a trivial job for modern engineers, but by the simple fact that men bothered to do it at a time when doing it was much more difficult.
When one considers that as many as twenty thousand customers might have flocked to that place at one time; that nearly all of them came alone in automobiles; that each of these, if it were registered today, would be categorized as a full-lane conveyance, requiring a berth of some twenty square meters; and that half of the parking lot was used not for parking spaces but for traffic lanes; then the reader may begin to appreciate the dimensions of this asphalt steppe, and of our current dilemma. Time had woven a fine, intricate net of cracks across the slab, providing opportunities for various weeds that someday might subsume the entire substance of the parking lot into the soil. For the nonce, it was still fairly level, and for the 4Wheelers with their special lorries equipped for travel on rough landscapes, it might have been smooth as a windowpane.
We deployed an array of sentry pods in the airspace above the lot, but from the original complement of some ten thousand pods with which we had set out from Atlantis/Seattle we were now down to no more than a thousand, and these so low on power that, if the wind blew hard for a few hours, they would spend themselves out just fighting to keep their assigned stations. Captain Napier deployed them anyway just for the impact they would have upon the morale of the superstitious 4Wheelers. What we would have given, at that point, for an extra megawatt-hour of power, stored in a usable format? Our ability to store energy in tiny spaces, and to move it expeditiously through superconductors, has given us a light regard for it, and we have forgotten that in more rustic settings we might have to burn a hundred trees or spread solar panels over hundreds of hectares in order to gather enough energy to recharge a fingernail-sized battery. Now, as we approached the end of our six-month expedition, with the towers of Los Angeles nearly in sight, we found ourselves in mortal peril from a foe we might have brushed away like so many insects had we not been running low on batteries.
Readers of a critical bent may ask why we did not simply pack more, but those patient enough to have absorbed the present narrative in its full length know of the many surprises we encountered on our way, which could only have added to the length of the expedition; in particular the three months we spent among the nearly extinct techno-shamanistic neo-Pagan tribes of the Humboldt region, trying one desperate stratagem after another to rid our bodies of the insidious nanosites with which we had been deliberately infected, while concealing from them at all costs our secret portable Source. Our disguise as itinerant missionaries, combined with the fact that we had to assume we were constantly under surveillance, made resupply impossible once we had departed the safe confines of Atlantis/Seattle.
Now our miniature Source, so cleverly disguised as a religious statuette, awaited our command. We had water to give it, and air was of course plentiful. Unlike our giant industrial Sources that draw directly upon the mineral wealth of the sea, this one compiled only systems made from nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and carbon, and the nanotech-nological designs in its secret library used those four species exclusively. Despite this rather severe limitation, the crack engineers at Protocol Enforcement had devised an ingenious set of programs that, with the appropriate input of energy, would cause the matter compiler in our little statue's pedestal to produce small but extremely useful devices of all descriptions — including, of course, weapons.
Perhaps unfortunately for those of us who enjoyed a certain sort of romantic literature as youths, the days are long gone when the weapon was an extension of the warrior's hand, its effectiveness a function of his prowess in the martial arts. Now, as often as not, combat is a function of matching energy against energy, mass against mass, and the stealth of microscopic intruders against the depth and diligence of the defenses intended to stop them. Fortunately for us, and for all tribes that respect Protocol, the 4Wheelers did not have access to this latter type of weapon. Even their energy supplies were mostly limited to solution-phase systems, and so we did not have to concern ourselves with centrifugal rounds ("cookie-cutters") and the other fiendish systems used, in the modern world, to deliver energy into human flesh.
But mass they had, in the form of their seemingly endless fleets of steel-framed four-wheeled vehicles dating back to the Elizabethan era. Hence the 4Wheelers, despite their general technological weakness, had the ability to mount a most impressive sort of mechanized cavalry charge across the proper sort of terrain. The parking lot spread out below us could not have been more perfect for their purposes, nor more difficult for us, with our nearly extinct energy supply, to defend.
Our days and nights in the galleria, then, were spent in a kind of deliberate regression to an earlier technological era. Granted, I might have turned my knowledge of engineering to writing a new program that would cause the matter compiler to generate destructive nanosites of some description. But now that the 4Wheelers knew we were, in fact, secret agents of Protocol Enforcement, they would be sure to protect themselves with Nanobar before approaching our position. As has been discovered by many of the disreputable engineers whom it is our sworn duty to eradicate, Nanobar can be pierced if one has no respect for Protocol, but the engineering challenge is far from trivial. Our system lacked the development tools, and I lacked the time, to undertake such a programme.
Guns of the sort used in the previous century would, paradoxically, have been even more difficult to engineer on short notice, as the secrets of their design have passed from the domain of the engineer into that of the historian. Such weapons rely on the density of the projectile, but our compiler could, of course, not produce lead or any other dense element. And the explosives used to propel the bullet would have required a large energy input to produce.
The modern reader may, therefore, be amused to know that, before the final assault of the 4Wheelers, we had regressed, not merely out of the Diamond Age, but backwards through the Atomic and Industrial eras all the way to medieval times, when weapons drew their energy from the warrior's muscles. As the compiler's library contained a large repertory of springs, I was able to cobble together a sort of handheld catapult, made entirely of lightweight hydrocarbons, designed to launch small bolts about six inches in length. Each bolt was tipped with a rather wicked four-bladed head. Those blades, of course, came straight from the matter compiler and thus possessed a degree of sharpness incomprehensible to any medieval armorer, who would have sneered at the insignificant weight of the projectile, thinking that it could never possess sufficient momentum to cut its way through an opponent's defenses. But the powerful springs provided by our new technology propelled these bolts with such velocity that, in our initial test firings, they were able to penetrate half an inch of steel. It is almost superfluous to relate the depth of the impression made upon Tod by this wonder.
As Tod reeled about our makeshift fortress uttering a seemingly endless string of astonished commentary, Captain Napier, Dr. Nkruma, and myself, without exchanging any words, judged (and here I must beg the reader's forgiveness for conjuring up what is morbid and distasteful) what effect such a weapon might have when directed, not against a steel plate, but against a human being.
Captain Napier reviewed my innovation in favorable terms, which modesty forbids me from repeating here, and, so, after equipping each of the four of us with a launcher, I programmed the compiler to generate ammunition as rapidly as possible. Tod, whose anxiety over our situation had mounted almost to a state of catalepsis, suggested that we create a battery of launchers, and set them up as man-traps near all the entrances to the galleria. I must confess that I found this in some respects to be a tempting idea, but Captain Napier quashed it without hesitation, pointing out that an unused trap might lie in wait for an indefinite period of time and one day strike down an innocent curiosity-seeker.
Our little Source worked valiantly day and night, compiling the bolts half a dozen at a time, releasing its vacuum with a hiss when a batch was finished. Those of us not on sentry duty in the elevator made some pretense of sleeping; but I only lay awake listening for that periodic hiss from the compiler, much like a nervous parent listening to the breathing of a newborn infant.
The attack came just before dawn. Dr. Nkruma was on duty in the elevator, but his vigilance was wasted; the roar of the massed internal-combustion engines on the far fringe of the parking lot penetrated the entire galleria so that all of us were on our feet before he could even sound the alarm. Captain Napier brought us together in the arcade to rehearse the order of battle one last time; to remind us of our solemn duty to the Crown, namely, that given the knowledge each of us stored in our heads, we must never be taken alive by those who would wield the power of modem technology without first bowing to the rule of Protocol. Finally, Captain Napier approached our Source, which to anyone not familiar with its inner workings looked like nothing more than a rather lurid statue of the Virgin Mary, and uttered the code words that initiated its self-destruct programme. By the time we left the room, the Source was a pillar of white fire rising from the bare concrete floor. We went each to his station and steeled ourselves for the onslaught of the 4Wheelers.
The first wave consisted of vehicles that were even more decrepit than normal by the standards of the 4Wheelers, and peering through my field glasses I soon understood why: they were empty decoys, sent out to test our grid of security pods. Not knowing false from real attackers, the pods swarmed down like African bees, futilely expending their final energy supplies. Several of the vehicles exploded as our pods detonated their fuel tanks, but most of them continued to lurch mindlessly across the parking lot, eventually veering into one another or crashing into the galleria itself. Thus did the 4Wheelers clear a path for their true assault, which was a primitive and gaudy spectacle: half a dozen squadrons of several vehicles each, flying colorful flags, converging upon the galleria's several entrances according to some scheme no doubt engineered by King Karl himself.
I will not test the reader's patience by explaining in full the details of the strategy by which Captain Napier hoped to throw back this assault, other than to say that it inevitably relied upon deception, guerrilla tactics, and various psychological gambits we supposed would have a profound impact on the 4Wheelers. In any case such details are not relevant, as very little of our plan was ever implemented. We had foreseen every eventuality except one: that the 4Wheelers would have access to some technology not far below the level of ours. Before any of us had laid eyes on the foe, we had been incapacitated by powerful electrical shocks, delivered by microscopic agents that had been insensibly placed in our own bodies.
Karl himself was kind enough to provide an explanation some time later, when we awoke in his dungeon — the basement of a former office building. Captain Napier, Dr. Nkruma, and I were tightly secured to four-by-eight-foot sheets of three-quarter-inch plywood by means of innumerable ropes and straps. Tod was nowhere to be seen, and it is up to the reader to imagine his fate. Karl entered the dungeon after all of us had been awake long enough to exchange brief accounts of our experiences, which differed from one another only in details. "Them dee-coy cars tole us all we needed to know'bout yer dee-fenses in depth, namely, that there was no depth to the sucker," he crowed, "so once we got into the building, all we had to do was ree-lease the hunter-dee-liverers, and when they found y'all, they nailed each and every one of yew with a nice little ol' nanosite that split in two. The two halves floated round in yer blood 'til they was a certain distance apart and then ZAP! because, ya see, they was exactly the same 'cept for about ten thousand volts' difference between 'em."
"Impossible!" I exclaimed, "such technology is to be found only within the Protocol-respecting phyles."
"Oh, it ain't that hard," Karl leered, "when you got buddies like PhyrePhox and Marshal Vukovic here. Ain't that right, fellas?"
To our utter astonishment, into the room stepped the man calling himself PhyrePhox, whom, as attentive readers will recall, we had encountered under very different circumstances two months previously. On his heels was none other than Marshal Vukovic of the Greater Serbian Expeditionary Force, whose bloody quest for stolen technology was already the stuff of legend.
"Hello, my missionary friends," PhyrePhox cackled, grinning maniacally through his tangle of red dreadlocks, "I see that you are still diligently spreading your gospel. Now perhaps you will preach to us about the inner workings of that pretty Source you carried!"
"This is impossible," I said. "The 4Wheelers, CryptNet, and Greater Serbia — allies!?"
"And that ain't all," Karl said, "we also been getting help from your buddies, the — "
"Silence!" Marshal Vukovic cried, whirling toward King Karl. "Remember that our agreement specifies complete discretion as to the extent of the network."
"It ain't indiscreet to be talkin' to three dead men, 'sfar's I'm consarned," said Karl, whose rustic affect barely concealed his resentment at Vukovic's reprimand.
"They are not dead yet," said PhyrePhox, "though the system that they represent is doomed. New Atlantis, Nippon, and the lesser phyles who have been foolish enough to join together under the Protocol, together represent a dying race of dinosaurs. They control the world by controlling information — information about the potential surfaces defined by certain atoms, and how they may be merged together in order to create structures collectively known as nanotechnology. But information wants to be free — is doomed to be free — and soon it will be available to all, despite the best efforts of Protocol Enforcement to restrict it! Our network is on the verge of breaking forever the monopoly of the Protocol-respecting phyles!"
Throughout this tirade, Captain Napier leveled a steady gaze upon the frenzied PhyrePhox, and the confident smile on his lips did not waver even when those dreadlocks, like a nest of red snakes, were writhing in his face! "Your words have a familiar ring," Captain Napier said, "we read them in the business plans and prospecti of the Second Wave startups thirty years ago — before they went out of business or merged with the titans they had sought to overthrow. We heard them from the Parsis, the Ismailis, the Mormoos, the Jews, the overseas Chinese, before they saw that nanotechnology promised enough wealth for all, and signed the Protocol. And now we hear the same words again from a motley assortment of synthetic phyles, who would have us believe that the very system that has brought undreamt-of prosperity to most of the world is in fact nothing other than an insidious system of oppression. Ask the peasant in Fujian province, who once labored in his paddy from dawn to dusk, whether he is oppressed now that he can compile his rice directly from a Feed, and spend his days playing with his grandchildren or in a ractive on his mediatron!"
"When that man worked in his paddy he was self-sufficient," retorted PhyrePhox, "he belonged to a community of workers who produced their food together. Now that community is destroyed, and he is dependent on your Feed like a baby on his mother's teat."
"And are we meant to believe that your conspiracy will somehow save this peasant from the dire fate of eating three square meals a day?" Captain Napier shot back.
"Instead of a Feed, that peasant will have a Seed," said PhyrePhox, "and instead of planting grains of rice in his paddy he will plant that Seed, and it will grow and flourish into a Source of his own, whose proceeds he can use as he sees fit — instead of relying on a Source owned by foreign strangers a thousand miles away."
"It is an idyllic picture," said Captain Napier, "but I fear it leaves out a great deal. This Seed of yours is more than a food factory, is it not? It is also potentially a weapon whose destructive power rivals that of the nuclear bombs of Elizabethan times. Now, as you have evidently realized, I live on Atlantan territory where the possession of weapons is strictly controlled. The children and women of Atlantis can walk anywhere at any time without fear of violence. But I was not born into this happy estate. No, I grew up a thete, living in an off-brand Clave where the ownership of weapons was completely unregulated, and as a boy exploring my neighborhood I frequently came upon dead bodies striped with the lurid scars of cookie-cutters. Now you would place technology a million times more dangerous into the hands of persons without the education, the good sense, the moral backbone" — here Captain Napier shot a defiant glance at Marshal Vukovic — "to use it properly. If this plan succeeds we are all doomed; so if you intend to torture us for the information you crave, then have at it! For we have all taken a solemn Oath to our God and our Queen, and we will gladly die rather than break it."
At this defiant peroration (which I must confess did much to revive my own faltering strength of purpose) PhyrePhox flew into a perfect frenzy of rage, and had to be restrained by Karl the 4Wheeler and one of his minions lest he slay the helpless Captain Napier on the spot! "Very well, then!" he cried. "You shall be the first, as you are the military man here, and I suspect that the information we seek is to be found with the others. We shall test your endurance, Captain, and let your two companions view the spectacle, and see if they have any fine speeches to deliver after they have seen you systematically reduced to a gibbering wreck!"
Without further ado, Marshal Vukovic gestured theatrically to a technician, who pressed some mechanical knobs and levers on a control panel. Captain Napier cried out involuntarily and bucked against his straps as a surge of electrical current shot through his body.
A respect for basic decency forbids me from detailing the dark events of the next few hours; suffice it to say that Captain Napier was as resolute as Karl, PhyrePhox, and Marshal Vukovic were cruel, and that in this fashion they matched each other volley for volley until my comrade hung loose and unconscious in his web of bonds. One of Karl's minions was dispatched to obtain a bucket of water. As we all awaited his return, the three conspirators spoke in low tones in the opposite corner of the room while Dr. Nkruma and I exchanged a long glance, no words being required to convey our thoughts: which of us would be next, and would we be as strong?
We were startled out of these frightful ruminations by a sudden alarm in the adjoining corridor. One of Karl's guards glanced out the door, cried out in abject terror and slammed the door, shooting the bolts to lock us all inside. Through the heavy door we could hear the sounds of a brief but vicious struggle outside. Then, to our astonishment, a fountain of smoke and powder erupted from the concrete-block wall, and when it cleared away we could see the terminal six inches or so of a narrow, gently curved blade which had apparently been thrust all the way through the masonry! The blade sliced downward through concrete, mortar, and reinforcing steel, describing a roughly oval shape about the size of a man, and sending forth a shower of dust that soon threw a dense haze over the lights and set us all to coughing. Karl, PhyrePhox, and Marshal Vukovic, now trapped in their own dungeon, could do little more than watch dumbfounded, and ready their weapons to defend themselves against this mysterious onslaught. They did not have to wait for long; in a few seconds the ellipse was complete, and heavy thuds sounded from the opposite side. The oval slid into the room and collapsed onto the floor with a tremendous crash and cloud of dust, and standing in the opening thus created we were delighted to see none other than Major Yasuhiro Ozawa of Nippon's Protocol Enforcement Contingent, dressed in full battle armor and wielding the astonishing concrete-cutting sword! Behind him was a full platoon of others similarly equipped. Ignoring the furious commands of their now-impotent leaders, most of our captors threw their weapons down at once, and in short order Captain Napier's torturers had been arrested while Major Ozawa was kind enough to turn his sword to the easier work of cutting us free. "It is much like a chainsaw, but on the nanometer scale, of course," he explained in impeccable English. I could not help but be glad that such a dangerous technology was firmly in the disciplined and reliable hands of the Nipponese, and not encapsulated in a Seed that anyone could grow in his vegetable patch.
While a Nipponese doctor tended to Captain Napier, Major Ozawa explained that our distress spore — the pollen-sized message-in-a-bottle that I had engineered at the suggestion of Dr. Nkruma — had wandered into the immunological field of a Nipponese floating world hovering just off the coast of Los Angeles. Because of its unfamiliar shape it fell under the eye of a Defense Force engineer, who, in the course of unraveling it, found the message hidden inside. Under the care of Major Ozawa's doctor, Captain Napier soon returned to consciousness, though a full recovery would take somewhat longer. Agents of Protocol Enforcement serving both the Emperor and the Queen were at this moment striking at many nodes of the web spun by PhyrePhox, King Karl, Marshal Vukovic, and their associates, so for the moment there was little for us to do. We exchanged bows with our saviors, toasted our respective monarchs with an excellent sake thoughtfully provided by Major Ozawa, and then embarked on the most important part of our mission: reuniting ourselves with our families, and delivering a full report (of which this account maybe considered only an executive summary) to Her Royal Highness Queen Victoria II of New Atlantis, to whom this work is humbly dedicated.