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Thread: S. Lukyanenko. The Dreamline . Proofreaders are welcome )))

  1. #41
    Moderator Lampada's Avatar
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    На всякий случай, для тех, кто захочет читать книгу и по-русски, вот текст: http://bookz.ru/authors/sergei-luk_anen ... r_126.html
    Рамиль, может быть, можно будет поместить законченную работу в разделе Dual-Language Books?
    "...Важно, чтобы форум оставался местом, объединяющим людей, для которых интересны русский язык и культура. ..." - MasterАdmin (из переписки)



  2. #42
    Завсегдатай Ramil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lampada
    На всякий случай, для тех, кто захочет читать книгу и по-русски, вот текст: http://bookz.ru/authors/sergei-luk_anen ... r_126.html
    Рамиль, может быть, можно будет поместить законченную работу в разделе Dual-Language Books?
    Можно, если я её когда-нибудь закончу ))). Но тогда уж, ближе к концу, т.к. я постоянно что-то кое-где правлю.
    На самом деле я специально выбрал фантастику.
    Современный язык (не классический), много диалогов с прямой речью и описаний. К тому же, некоторые слова нужно выдумывать самому.
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  3. #43
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    His sleep or catching up with his sleep, to be precise, was calm. There were seven deaths behind his back – it was quite an experience. Besides, Kay was sure that Curtis Van Curtis wouldn’t let them die so trivially.
    Arthur, as it appeared, didn’t understand it.
    “Dad, wake up…”
    Kay pried his eyes open cursing everything and everyone. Nothing was so much fatiguing as the interrupted sleep while anticipating death. But Arthur, as all children do, rushed the life and his concept of life comprised death quite naturally.
    “You’re waking me up over trifles again” he murmured. “What’s happening?”
    The living module of the freighter was tiny. There were two piloting seats and two folding berths on the side walls. The whole front wall was a screen – a stupid custom on Kay’s opinion. It was silly to look on the stars through that ‘window’ and controlling the landing through it was simply suicidal.
    “There’s something wrong with the engines.” Arthur said guiltily.
    Kay rose and caught himself at genuine hastiness of his moves. He was starting to believe in the ‘flight’ of their ‘ship’ that was standing on the ground. It was good.
    There was indeed ‘something’ wrong with the engines. The small control screen of interphased drive of the freighter…
    …a semblant drive on a semblant ship…
    …displayed a chaotic dance of figures that represented the power of the focusing field. The alarm light of the autopilot was flaring red and then changing to green repeatedly. Kay tapped the screen with his finger and remarkably, the figures obediently stopped at normal readings.
    “What the hell?” Kay said angrily.
    “Maybe we should lay adrift?” asked Arthur from behind his back.
    “And lose another day for calculating the new coordinates? Let’s call for technicians and the Patrol instead!” sarcastically replied Kay.
    The field power changed again – up to the highest limit. The ship jolted slightly. Arthur smiled meekly.
    Is he afraid?
    “Well… It’s either a generator malfunction or the control block went haywire.” Kay turned around. There was a cabined with equipment, detectors, spare blocks… “Arthur, replace the central processor in the control block of the drive. I’ll hold control from the panel.”
    Arthur didn’t move.
    “He’s afraid!”
    “What is it with you, son?!” Kay screamed.
    “Yes, daddy.” Arthur grabbed the plastic box with the processor from Kay’s hands and ran to the airlock.
    “And do stop shaking, we have bought the aThan!” Kay shouted after him.
    Is this the accident promised by Curtis? How very humane. A momentary explosion… but how can an interphaser blow the whole ship up?
    What are you up to, Curtis Van Curtis?
    Arthur ran through the airlock and opened the hatch to the engines bay…
    …and the generator power dropped to zero on a panel. Alarm sounded in unison with a low explosion.
    Kay was thrown on the control panel. Something was breaking nearby and Kay heard as the air was running out into the space.
    “Son of a bitch” Kay thought without any spite while raising his head. Blood was coming out from the wound on his forehead. His liver started aching – the last regard from the bulrathi. His ears got stuffed up…
    Then he saw Arthur or what had left of him – some bloody pieces of clothing and something else. Kay didn’t want to look closer. Curtis senior chose a quick death for his son.
    For him, he chose a realistic one.
    ‘I’m a pilot; I don’t believe in aThan, I must struggle…’
    Kay started towards the airlock on his faltering legs. Gravitation still remained. He had to make an attempt, a futile attempt to get in the spacesuit…
    He didn’t expect what he saw, not even from Curtis. The airlock was torn apart and the space could be seen through the ragged hole. He saw the streamlined body of the cargo hold drifting slowly away across the blackness that was stitched with the starts. Blue sparks danced across the engines console…
    ‘Damned son of a bitch…’ thought Kay helplessly feeling as his eyes started to bulge. Then the bloody haze veiled the world around him.
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  4. #44
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    PART TWO. THE BODYGUARD

    1

    That day Vladimir Chen was on a stand-by duty in an aThan branch office on Incedius. He was the youngest employee – he had not even turned thirty. Moreover, he had never died yet.
    A night was coming, a feast of death. It was the third hour of his duty. The old people were dying from illnesses, the young ones were dying from wounds, and the neurotics were committing suicide having forgotten about immortality they had bought. This was the time of the most intense work on any planet. Incedius, however, was too poor a world, and many aThan clients had exhausted their immortality during that month.
    “A signal” Chen said and pushed a button of overall readiness. Lines of text were appearing on the screen before him. The neural grid transmitted the information instantly, yet, its decoding needed time. Ann Horn, Vladimir’s workmate took her eyes from a magazine.
    “Gertrude Khai… human… female…”
    “Oh really?” inquired Horn.
    “Citizenship… Incedious. Real age… forty two, the matrix was taken at forty one, resuscitations… once. Stand down, aThan is unpaid.”
    By pushing a button Chen deleted the half-decoded signal.
    “Prepare a report.” said Horn returning to her reading.
    “I’m doing it…” Vladimir’s fingers started dancing on the keyboard. “Isn’t it sad, is it? There was a life and now there is no more.”
    “Many are no more.” Ann had stopped even being tired from such conversations. Her body breathed with the maturity of a woman in her mid-thirties. But she had been living nearly for ninety years and got used to view the philosophy of novices as light and unavoidable nuisance.
    “After shifts like this, one regards differently such things as life, love, beauty…” Vladimir squinted.
    Ann sighed and crossed her legs. A low seat presented her in the most appealing aspect. Unfortunately it had not yet occurred to Chen that Ann’s attitude towards him was not even maternal. Her eldest grandson could have been a father to Vladimir… besides she preferred sex with women in recent years.
    “You know, our work is not just a discount for aThan and good money for me.” Chen continued reassured by Horn’s silence. “You start to perceive life. And I made friends… I got to know you…”
    Horn put the magazine away. It appeared to her suddenly that the only way to calm the guy down would be giving it up. Perhaps it would be less tiresome.
    Chen had an ill luck.
    “You have a signal.” said Ann rising from her seat. “There is the second one…”
    Vladimir turned to the screen. The work interested him still and his irritation went away quickly.
    “Arthur Ovald… human… male… Citizenship… Endoria… Endoria!”
    “He’s far from home.” Ann sat by a parallel control panel. “Some blotter perhaps. A journalist.”
    “Many birds are flying in” agreed Chen readily. “Real age… twelve…”
    “A kid.” Horn allowed herself a slight smile.
    “The matrix was taken… ha… at twelve, resuscitations… none… aThan is paid.”
    “A lucky one.” Horn even smacked her lips. “I may even cut a strand of his hair. For luck.”
    Chen strained and made a vulgar joke. Horn winced. Scabrous sayings didn’t suit Vladimir, the more it was when they concerned children.
    “Another signal” jabbered Chen getting the feeling that his chances for a midnight sex were minimal now. “Kay Ovald… human… male… citizenship… Endoria. I bet a cup a coffee it’s his brother.”
    “Go bring one. The real age is thirty five… the matrix was taken at thirty five… there were no resuscitations, aThan is paid. It appears their ship cracked up. It’s his father, Chen.”
    “Not necessarily.” replied Vladimir without much confidence. “Ann, would you see to the reanimators?”
    Horn looked at him preparing to say some things about certain negligent employees that risk losing both the discount for aThan and good money, but decided against it. Vladimir was so young and so fervently silly…
    “Curiosity made a cat perish, Vlad” she said rising up. Later when she was walking down the corridor to the molecular replicators module, Ann thought that everyone had undergone this stage. It’s rather interesting to watch the first thousand of deaths. Later you understand that they are all alike…

    … Having been left alone Chen took a tiny chip from his pocket. After half a minute of fumbling he wired it to the central computer. The only thing that remained to be done was to decide whom to begin the browsing with…
    The technology (at least the one that had been available to him) allowed reading the data of visual and acoustical analyzers of a person that had died. It resulted in some kind of a film, a little bit strange, but fascinating. Vladimir was not troubled by scruples. He was resurrecting these people, after all! What would happen if they shared a little bit of their memory?
    ‘Let’s begin with the father’ he decided.
    Athwart Curtis Van Curtis’s notion his employees widely practiced ‘peeping’; it was an old and innocent term. They were interested in sometimes not only in the last minutes of people.
    Chen picked the three last days from Kay Ovald’s life from the whole array of data and turned the screen on at random moment.
    The picture was confused as usual. Some individual details were very vivid and contrasting; everything else was static and blurry. The peculiarities of memory…
    Kay Ovald was walking in the forest with someone. Then, very abruptly, he came out to the sea, and then he was by a live fence of sick bush. Endoria appeared to be a diverse planet… Kay’s companion was out of his field of view they didn’t talk much and Vladimir switched to the events of the last day. The fight with the bulrathi and many other events remained unseen.
    “Let’s go to sleep. We’ve already checked the cargo, so…” said a dark haired boy looking into Kay’s face. Must be his son, of course. Chen imagined the long hours filled with the inventory of boxes and containers and wanted even to turn the screen off. Nevertheless, he scrupulously checked if the boy and the man went to different beds then switched over to replay the last minutes.
    His curiosity was richly rewarded here. Curtis’s stage managers would be pleased. Vladimir Chen watched the catastrophe in space for three times in a row. He also replayed the same events from Arthur’s eyes twice. This record, however, was shorter and thus, less interesting.
    Speculating over the horrors of space, Vladimir decided to keep the record of Kay Ovald’s three last days. The death in space was a spectacular show and Endoria too was worth seeing. He didn’t copy the Arthur’s memory.
    Curiosity made a cat perish, but not a cat alone. Vladimir Chen was steadily walking the same path.
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  5. #45
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    Kay’s first thought after his resurrection was that he wouldn’t forgive Curtis this death. It was not about pain, an algopistol killed more painfully being what it was. It was simply a disgusting death, disgusting and perfectly staged through.
    “Name?” asked a soft woman’s voice.
    This is my first aThan…
    “Oh, where am I?” Kay started to stir on the replicator disk; its hardn surface was familiar and friendly. The indicator on the wall displayed ‘Incedius’.
    “Everything is all right, mister. You are alive. What is your name?”
    “Kay… Kay Ovald… Where am I?”
    “Your citizenship?”
    “Endoria… I am a citizen of Endoria and I demand that… is this aThan?”
    “Yes, you were saved. You’ve been granted a new life. Tell me your code. This was a very patient woman, an old woman with a young face. Kay told her the code. Then he played embarrassment having noticed that he was naked. He put on aThan’s free clothing that was only suitable perhaps for mopping the floor and exclaimed:
    “Oh my god, my son! He’s dead!”
    “Arthur Ovald is here, nearby.” said woman reassuringly. “The both of you have returned to life.”
    Kay beamed with a smile and said in half-whisper:
    “It appears the aThan was a lucky catch after all! Didn’t it?”
    “We hope we will make a long standing partnership” the happiness on woman’s face was almost sincere. A medic on duty quietly moved to the corner behind Kay’s back. He was hiding a syringe with a sedative in his fist.
    “You are carrying it out quite well… for a novice.” a woman noted.
    Jackass!
    “We, the Ovalds are not so easy to break.” assured Kay. “Miss, can I see my son?”
    She hesitated.
    “Our rules… well, never mind, follow me.”
    “Can you tell me, where have we ended it up?”
    “Incedius.”
    “I heard something about it…”
    “Yes, they say a lot about our planet right now. Right here, mister Ovald, you may come in.”
    Arthur was sitting on the edge of the replicator. He had already put on his free pants and he was putting on a t-shirt. His movements was slow, it appeared that the medic had to work here for a change.
    It was unclear whether he was just playing or he had really panicked.
    “The old geezer Curtis didn’t lie in his adverts!” shouted Kay. “We’re alive, Arthur!”
    Arthur Curtis raised his eyes. He didn’t look any younger; at least not younger enough for noticing it, still the semblance with the boy that had killed Kay on Cailis dissipated a little.
    “Father.” he said with a trembling voice.
    “My boy.” Kay picked Arthur in his arms.
    Quite suddenly Curtis junior saw it fit to start crying.
    Even standing with the kid in his arms with his eyes half-closed Kay didn’t stop monitoring the situation. There were seven people crowding in the reanimation module, apparently the whole personnel that was on duty. There were two women in white coveralls – the replicator operators, two men in pale green suits – the doctors. Some swarthy and golden haired young creature of indeterminate gender– a girl most likely. Two very sturdy men – the guards.
    The whole staff of aThan came to get a moral satisfaction.
    Yes, it must have looked very touching to onlookers – a self-satisfied provincial merchant and his teenage son having only just purchased the aThan that survived in a catastrophe.
    Hip, hip, hurrah!
    Who’s slandering aThan? Simple people, the backbone of the Empire, rise from ashes for a new life! Only the most dangerous criminals are deprived of the aThan. Work for your immortality, work for yourself, work for Curtis Van Curtis!
    aThan was only available to three races in the galaxy. Only the humans imposed no restrictions on immortality. Pay and live…
    For a short and elusive moment Kay Altos saw himself with the eyes of the aThan personnel. He saw a man who got lucky. He saw a stiff merchant that softened after seeing his resurrected son.
    For a moment Kay Altos was very glad for himself…
    A young creature approached them and said with velvety voice:
    “I am a thanatologist of the company. Let me congratulate you with your first aThan and give several recommendations.”
    Kay nodded. Arthur was still in his arms clutching at him.
    “You have a right for one recovery day. I recommend you to make use of our service. Remember you have a temporary aThan within the company’s office. Have a rest and consider the renewing of your immortality.”
    Kay started nodding obediently.
    “There is a store and a bar at your disposal. Do you have a credit in aThan?”
    “Yes, the card… It remained there!”
    “Do not worry we’ll give you a new one.”
    The young creature lowered its voice:
    “We can render any service that may help in overcoming the stress.”
    Kay pointed at Arthur with his eyes. The thanatologist nodded with understanding.
    “May we have your permission to publish the information about you? It is such a remarkable incident.”
    “Dad, don’t! Mom will w-worry!” mumbled Arthur.
    “No, I think we shouldn’t at that.” Kay expressed a vivid worry.
    “As you wish” the thanatologist was the politeness itself. “If you have a desire to speak… to tell about what had happened, to take a load off your mind – I am at your service.”
    “Yes, damn it… It was the goddamned interphaser. It has a focusing field which controls that the delta-space wouldn’t appear within a ship, but either it was due to wear or due to a bug in the program, this field became unsteady…”
    Thanatologist’s little face faded out.
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  6. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    10

    Whatever were Curtis’s thoughts about what had happened he never talked of/about it ever since. Two medics that were working too well for ones looking/ones who looked so young had glued/closed the Kay’s wound, administered several ampoules of unknown preparations and then applied a thin film of aerosol as a finishing touch.
    “Will it hold for two days?” inquired Kay.
    “Even for two years if you like.” said one of them as he shrugged his shoulders. The familiarity/experience of/in the tone of voice only strengthened the suspicion that these two “young guys” had undergone the aThan not long before.
    Kay was relaxing in his room. It was twilight outside; the rhythm of life in the estate was bound to the local time of the tower.
    The silicoid appeared when Kay was starting to doze off.
    “In the fights with organic lifeforms the bulrathi sometimes used poisoned claws” he informed instead of saying some words of greeting.
    “He didn’t have time to apply poison and the medics administered some anti-toxin, but thank you anyway.”
    “May I?” the silicoid had floated to the sofa and even before Kay could react in surprise he bent his body and sat beside Kay. Kay moved farther away – the stone body poured out/radiated heat. “Let’s have a moment of silence in memory of a life gone.” solemnly said the silicoid.
    Kay went silent for two minutes. Then he asked:
    “Is it difficult for you to set a screen?”
    “It’s easier at closer distances. Unfortunately you cannot move closer. It’s done. We’re shielded from any listening.”
    “Even from Curtis’s?”
    “Yes.”
    “Are you so sure that I have some words for you?”
    “Yes, speak.”
    “The Bulrati have found your weak spot, boulder. The structures that generate your force field are unstable. Isn’t it amusing for a race that is obsessed about power balance/the balance of power, is it? A sound of specific frequency and intensity resonates with them… so even a slight push would be enough to turn you into a motionless, helpless albeit still thinking stone.”
    “What is the sound?”
    “I cannot emit it. You would need a throat of a bulrathi.”
    “You could be lying.”
    “Perhaps, perhaps not.”
    “Why have you disclosed this to me?”
    “The humans/Humans fought with you only episodically. You live on the planets we wouldn’t willingly go to. The Human Empire may have its interests; the Bases of Silicoids may have its own. They don’t cross. And even if war happens we wouldn’t send a bunch of castrate singers against you. A laser pistol would even our chances, a fusion blaster would give me a ten out of ten advantage. One has to be a bulrathi to seek the advantage in a hand-to-hand fight with a silicoid.”
    “We were worried about that, Kay” sounded or murmured the silicoid. “We don’t like unclear situations.”
    “I thought so myself… What can you tell me, silicoid?”
    “Curtis Van Curtis bought the aThan prototype from the Psilonians for twenty five hundred credits.”
    “Well, at that time this price was…”
    “… as surprisingly low as it is now. A year and a half later the Psilonians had encapsulated their space. That’s all. I said everything I could. My debt/obligation to Curtis will last for quite a long time.”
    The air quivered as the protection screen disappeared. The silicoid took the air. The sofa was emanating a faint smell of burnt leather.”
    “We have honored the deceased with silence. As clear a silence as he deserved. And now, Kay, Arthur Van Curtis is waiting for you. You have work to do.”

    When Kay entered the premises of Arthur Van Curtis he remembered his asylum. Any of the rooms of Curtis junior could easily house his whole “G” block with its multilevel dormitory, learning and recreational modules. This one, for example, was an oval hall ornamented with tapestries painted in dark colors. Kay didn’t have any complex on inferiority about that; Altos gave him the only thing it could give – life. It was just a childhood flashback.
    “Hi, daddy.” said Arthur. He was sitting on the floor in the Lotus pose with his eyes closed and his hands resting on his knees.
    “You’re wrong, it’s me.” said Kay and sat nearby.
    “I know it’s you. But we should be getting used to our legend, shouldn’t we?”
    “That’s right, hi sonny.”
    Arthur winced without opening his eyes.
    “No, I don’t think you call me ‘sonny’. It would sooner be ‘kiddo’.”
    “No way.”
    “All right, let’s think about it… You are tedious, boring and very pleased with yourself; you save every credit, and you try very hard to bring up a decent merchant out of me… You call me ‘son’ or simply by name.”
    “Ok, son. Can your name be shortened somehow?”
    “What?” Arthur opened one eye.
    “When we are revived I will have to express a lot of emotions. According to the legend this will be our first aThan. No matter how cold-hearted and stiff I should be I shouldn’t just say “my son Arthur”. How did your father call you when you…”
    “Son.” Arthur smiled and closed his eyes again.
    “Well, we’ll decide it once we're there then. Where do we live?”
    “Endoria. We’ve got a house near the ocean…”
    “…two storeys high, a vineyard, a landing pad for flyers…”
    “…you leave your ship at the government port. It’s farther than Endoria-Plus but far much cheaper…”
    “…you’ve graduated the compulsory course at the average private college then I’ve decided to educate you myself…”
    “…my mother runs the financial affairs of the “Ovald & son” company and never flies with us. Sometimes you cheat on her, and you have a lasting affair on Ruch. I pretend I don’t know about it.”
    “It’s all right.” Kay nodded. “Now we know the official part. Let’s speak about things that weren’t in the instructions.”
    “Are you the one of those who always try to play it safe?”
    “Of course, I have to be. What food do you like?”
    “Tasian jelly.”
    “A son of a minor trader couldn’t have ever tasted it.”
    “Why? We were freighting the jelly from Tasia to Terra. For Curtis Van Curtis himself. And we ate the two percent that is written off for the transportation losses.”
    “Well, all right, I suppose. What is it you don’t like?”
    “Cheese sandwiches.”
    “Why?” Kay was at a loss.
    “I really don’t like them!”
    Kay nodded and rose up with difficulty stretching his numb legs. Arthur continued sitting as if he had turned into a stone.
    “A couple of questions outside the legend. What is this room?”
    “It is the hall for meditation. Why?”
    “Just interesting. Have you got any brothers?”
    “None that I know of.”
    “Have you ever been off Terra?”
    “This is the third question already.”
    “All right, let’s continue…”
    Kay walked around Arthur.
    “Are you afraid of the dark?”
    “No.”
    “Height?”
    “No.”
    “Death?”
    Arthur turned his head and their eyes met.
    “Of course not, daddy.” said the boy with an icy voice.
    “And are you afraid of me?”
    “Only when you have been smoking trab.”
    “Never had it.”
    “All the traders smoke trab. There is a package in the bone casket behind the drapes. Take it.”
    There were many interesting things behind the drapes. A casket with trab, several other caskets, an opened though turned off communicator’s control panel, an activated sentry droid whose cameras were steadily watching Kay’s every move… Kay put the plump package into his pocket and returned to Arthur.
    “Do I smoke it often?”
    “When the business is bad. Seldom.”
    “Do I like to preach morale?”
    “Of course.”
    “Have I told you about the differences between stamens and pistils?”
    Arthur began to smile.
    “Yes, when I turned ten, you summoned me to your study… to the cockpit and said ‘Arthur, you’re growing up and you have to learn about some aspects of adult life. When a man and a woman are in love and they want to have a little baby they do some things…’.”
    “Do I have to be such an idiot?” asked Kay.
    “Yes, every time, everywhere. You do want me to act natural?”
    “Ok, now it’s your turn.”
    “Do you shave?”
    “Every day except for the days I’ve been smoking trab.”
    “Do you snore?”
    “Sometimes”
    “Are you unkempt sometimes when you think nobody sees you?”
    “Of course.”
    Arthur made a back roll and easily straightened out/up.
    “You’re not bad, Kay. Would you like juice? Or wine?”
    “A glass of yellow Mrshhan”
    “A glass of yellow Mrshhan and a glass of orange juice” repeated Arthur in the air. “Damn, I wish we had more time. We would/could have pulled together/we could have gotten our legend down then.”
    “We will. We don’t have any other choice. Let’s continue…”

  7. #47
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    11

    They woke Kay up shortly before dawn. He went/had gone to bed at three o’clock and his awakening was far from being pleasant.
    “Curtis Van Curtis is waiting for you” simply said the man that came. He was wearing a powered armor with activated protection and the holster of his “Bumblebee” was unfastened. Kay preferred not to argue with this kind of person. He dressed in silence and went out of the room. The man in armor followed Kay and directed him with slight touches of his hand. His helmet was closed so Kay didn’t/couldn't see his face. There were two corridors and three local hypertunnels. As they walked and passed the tunnels more armored guards were joining them and finally they had brought Kay to a study that was unfamiliar to him. The room resembled the cockpit of a medium cruiser judging both the design and the number of instruments. Curtis walked out to meet them.
    “The situation has changed, Kay.”
    “And so I became unnecessary?”
    Curtis frowned.
    “Why do you say so? Nick I didn’t order you to bring Kay under escort!”
    “I’m sorry, Van Curtis. We’ve been providing protection.”
    Curtis took Kay by the shoulder and nodded releasing the guards.
    “Everybody is high-strung at the moment, Kay. A spy has been caught, one of my employees. It’s possible that he had managed to transmit something, I don’t know. We had to kill him.”
    “Interrogate him…”
    “He’s dead.”
    “I thought all your men had the aThan.”
    “Of course, but he was not human.”
    “Pity.” Kay agreed.
    “The operation must begin immediately. Have you checked your legends?”
    “Don’t tell me you don’t know, Curtis.” Kay fumed.
    “Be quiet, mister…” Curtis’s gaze immediately stopped being friendly.
    “I hired you for a very important mission… and I expect good work. You will deliver my son to Graal safe and sound. Not a single hair should fall from his head. If worst comes to worst you will kill him yourself. And remember, Kay. Immortality! Eternal pleasure or eternal torment. Remember that!”
    “Dad?”
    They both turned around. Kay had started to live by the legend.”
    Arthur Van Curtis was no son of god anymore. They saw a boy wearing shabby jeans, a checkered oversized shirt and battered shoes. There were a dozen lapel pins with planetary coats of arms on his shirt: an undying fashion among the young. Kay remembered that when he had treated himself into a cruise onboard the “Southern Star” a year before, the boy steward attached such lapel pins after visiting each new planet.
    “Are you sure/certain in/about Kay, son?”
    “Well, yes.” Arthur went silent. “Yes, father. He will try hard.”
    Kay thought ‘What a filthy son of a bitch.’ then stepped towards Arthur and patted his head. “It’s time, son.”
    “It’s time dad.”
    “You’re doing well.” said Curtis sourly. “It sounds convincing.”
    “Everything will be all right, Mister Van Curtis” Arthur promised while taking Kay’s hand.
    “Me, Arthur and Kay to the imitation room.” Van Curtis commanded without bothering to hide the irritation in his voice.
    The world around them flickered and changed. They disappeared from a hall filled with control panels and appeared in a tiny empty room. The walls were tiled with pale blue stones and there was a single door there.
    “Go now.” Curtis pushed Kay to the door. “I don’t know how much time you will have but everything will happen quite real (really quite fast ?).”
    The door opened as soon as Kay had touched it. He entered the airlock – a tiny cylindrical cabin with two more hatches in it. So… the right one leads to the cargo hold and to the engine bay, the left one leads to the living (command ?) module. It was a small freighter, one hundred maybe one hundred and fifty tons of working load, one of several thousands that scurry across the galaxy. There were a couple of space suits in protective cases, a photograph attached with a sticky tape on the wall – a pretty woman was wagging a finger and on it the sprawling words ‘See if there is a planet before getting out!’.
    Yes, it was a greeting from caring/concerned Mrs. Ovald to her scampish husband and naughty son. The buzzard (buzzer ?) Van Curtis worked thoroughly.
    Kay looked at the opened ‘external’ hatch. Curtis Van Curtis put his hand on his son’s shoulder and was telling him something. The only words Kay heard were “… remember, I am always with you. Return immediately if the situation goes/gets out of control. I love you Arthur and I believe in you. Don’t hurry; we have an eternity at our disposal…”
    An eternity of pain…
    Kay turned away and checked the space suits. The small one was nearly new while the bigger one was well worn but still in rather good condition.
    There was the noise of the closing hatch.
    “I’m thinking about buying a new spacesuit. What do you think son?” asked Kay without turning around “If this flight proves profitable.”
    “Of course, dad.”
    Arthur’s eyes were dry, but Kay had seen a lot of tears that had been wept somewhere inside.
    “You look sad, Arthur. What are we going to do?”
    “Let’s go to sleep. We’ve already checked the cargo, so…”
    Kay nodded. Many novices think that death in a sleep/that dying while asleep is the easiest one. They’re wrong. Usually you wake up anyway…

  8. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    12

    His sleep or catching up with his sleep, to be precise, was calm. There were seven deaths behind his back – it was quite an experience. Besides, Kay was sure that Curtis Van Curtis wouldn’t let them die so trivially.
    Arthur, as it appeared, didn’t understand it.
    “Dad, wake up…”
    Kay pried his eyes open cursing everything and everyone. Nothing was so much fatiguing as an interrupted sleep while anticipating death. But Arthur, as all children do, rushed life and his concept of life comprised death quite naturally.
    “You’re waking me up over trifles again” he murmured. “What’s happening?”
    The living (command ?) module of the freighter was tiny. There were two piloting seats and two folding berths on the side walls. The whole front wall was a screen – a stupid custom in Kay’s opinion. It was silly to look at the stars through that ‘window’ and controlling the landing through it was simply suicidal.
    “There’s something wrong with the engines.” Arthur said guiltily.
    Kay rose and caught himself at/in genuine hastiness of his moves. He was starting to believe in the ‘flight’ of their ‘ship’ that was standing on the ground. It was good.
    There was indeed ‘something’ wrong with the engines. The small control screen of the interphased drive of the freighter…
    …a semblant drive on a semblant ship…
    …displayed a chaotic dance of figures that represented the power of the focusing field. The alarm light of the autopilot was flaring red and then changing to green repeatedly. Kay tapped the screen with his finger and remarkably, the figures obediently stopped at normal readings.
    “What the hell?” Kay said angrily.
    “Maybe we should lay adrift?” asked Arthur from behind his back.
    “And lose another day for calculating the new coordinates? Let’s call for technicians and the Patrol instead!” sarcastically replied Kay.
    The field power changed again – up to the highest limit. The ship jolted slightly. Arthur smiled meekly.
    Is he afraid?
    “Well… It’s either a generator malfunction or the control block went haywire.” Kay turned around. There was a cabinet with equipment, detectors, spare blocks… “Arthur, replace the central processor in the control block of the drive. I’ll hold control from the panel.”
    Arthur didn’t move.
    “He’s afraid!”
    “What is it with you, son?!” Kay screamed.
    “Yes, daddy.” Arthur grabbed the plastic box with the processor from Kay’s hands and ran to the airlock.
    “And do stop shaking, we have bought the aThan!” Kay shouted after him.
    Is this the accident promised by Curtis? How very humane. A momentary explosion… but how can an interphaser blow the whole ship up?
    What are you up to, Curtis Van Curtis?
    Arthur ran through the airlock and opened the hatch to the engines bay…
    …and the generator power dropped to zero on a panel. The alarm/Alarms sounded in unison with a low explosion.
    Kay was thrown onto the control panel. Something was breaking nearby and Kay heard (a hissing sound ?) as the air was running/escaping out into the space.
    “Son of a bitch” Kay thought without any spite while raising his head. Blood was coming out from the wound on his forehead. His liver started aching – last regards from the bulrathi. His ears got stuffed up…
    Then he saw Arthur or what was left of him – some bloody pieces of clothing and something else. Kay didn’t want to look closer. Curtis senior chose a quick death for his son.
    For him, he chose a realistic one.
    ‘I’m a pilot; I don’t believe in aThan, I must struggle…’
    Kay started towards the airlock on his faltering legs. Gravitation still remained. He had to make an attempt, a futile attempt to get in the spacesuit…
    He didn’t expect what he saw, not even from Curtis. The airlock was torn apart and space could be seen through the ragged hole. He saw the streamlined body of the cargo hold drifting slowly away across the blackness that was stitched with the starts (parts ?). Blue sparks danced across the engines console…
    ‘Damned son of a bitch…’ thought Kay helplessly feeling his eyes starting to bulge out. Then bloody haze veiled the world around him.

  9. #49
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    For the third time during this day Kay went to sleep. Curtis Van Curtis assured that recreational premises of aThan weren’t equipped with surveillance systems. Nevertheless Kay sprawled on the floor and had been giving thanks for his salvation to the One Will for half an hour. Then he was explaining for several minutes to dozing off Arthur that what had happened was a valuable lesson of life. Only then he allowed himself and Arthur to sleep their fill.
    It was morning according to clocks but the windows were shielded by a force field. Kay searched for a switch without success and went to the bathroom. He scraped off his bristle with a one-off razor and took a shower. Then he drove Arthur to wash.
    They were served a breakfast: two sausages with mashed potatoes, a salad, a couple of toasts, jam in tiny cans and coffee. They ate in silence – the comedy had finished and the work began.
    “There’s something wrong…” said Arhtur while finishing his coffee. Kay looked at him strictly and Arthur went silent.
    At the aThan’s store that was two levels below their recreation room, they bought normal clothing. Smiling placidly Kay permitted his ‘son’ to buy expensive jeans and shoes but when business got down to shirts, socks and underwear he inclined him to choose the cheapest ones. Kay was choosing his suit for nearly half an hour. He wasn’t satisfied with the price, the cut, the fabric, the planet where it had been manufactured…
    “It’s cold outside and raining. It is autumn.” noted the assistant that had seen worse sorts of characters.
    Kay gave up and bought Arthur a good jacket. For himself he chose a dark raincoat and a cap of local fashion. Then he smiled ingratiatingly:
    “I sometimes smoke trab…”
    “Are you a registered drug consumer?”
    “Of course!” mister Ovald was exasperated.
    “Then you have a twenty percent discount… Do you prefer green or black sorts?”
    “Green.” Kay decided.
    Arthur frowned.
    “Well, and the weapons, of course…” Kay started towards the showcase he had taken fancy to right from the start.
    “Please choose only within the yellow sector.” warned the attendant. “Red is for imperial servicemen and professional bodyguards only.”
    Kay froze, having had already taken an aim to the ‘Bumblebee’ he grew accustomed to. He completely forgot about this detail.
    The yellow sector included low energy weapons that were only suitable for self-defense against street ruffians and not much else. There were about ten modifications of stunners that were differing essentially by design only, needle pistols that were unable to pierce through any armor, gravity batons, ultrasonic shock grenades…
    Arthur and Kay exchanged glances. Their mission was near failure. A professional could use any weapon but grew accustomed to two or three of his favorite models.
    “I’m sorry, can you tell me which sector does the ‘Convoy’ belong to?” inquired Kay carefully.
    ‘Convoy’ was a low energy laser pistol. Its shot caused only a painful but shallow burn that could stop an enemy. The fact that this pistol had a substantial energy reserve and a high rate of fire was delicately ignored by the law. In automatic fire mode a series of laser impulses could burn a man through in two seconds.
    “The ‘Convoy’?” the girl looked in the list. “The yellow sector.”
    They bought two ‘Convoys’, additional magazines, several shock-grenades, a needle pistol for Arthur, and a gravity baton for Kay. For some reason, the attendant wasn’t surprised at this unexpected warlike behavior.
    Near the exit to the city they were caught up with the young thanatologist.
    “Wouldn’t you renew your aThan?”
    “Not yet, our finance…” Kay lifted his hands.
    “You will get your documents and the facts about the planet from a security officer.” the creature said coldly leaving them alone. “The languages on the planet are: Standard, Russian, German, and Korean. The aThan company wishes you good luck and good health.”
    They took their documents and thin grey leaflets with the description of the planet. The guards opened the armor plated doors and Kay with Arthur entered a long dark corridor leading from the underground office of the company onto the surface. The dull sun could be seen somewhere ahead.
    “I think I understood what’s been wrong” suddenly said Arhtur. “The breakfast should have consisted of local food. Unless…”
    “Unless what?”
    “Unless it was dangerous.”
    “Look in the leaflet.” Kay took out his “Convoy” shifted the safety switch to the automatic fire mode. “I know nearly nothing of Incedius.”
    “I know” Arthur stopped. “You should have asked me… daddy. There is a civil war going on here for three months already. And they’ve been using biological weapons.”
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  10. #50
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    The tunnel ended up on a flat stone plain. A landing pad for flyers was empty and a low decorative fence was stuck over with wet leaves. An opened door to the flight-control cabin was swinging in the wind silently back and forth. It was drizzling even though a pale yellow sun which was giving nearly no warmth at all was seen over the horizon. Straight rows of cottages were seen in the distance. They looked bad… deserted.
    “What a wonderful morning.” Kay said to the rain holding the ‘Convoy’ by his hip. “Why didn’t these bastards warn us?”
    “You didn’t ask?” Arthur pulled the hood of his jacket and put his hands in the pockets. “They were offended that we didn’t renew the aThan having so much money. They gave us leaflets with information… gave us breakfast. Well, would it have changed anything? We can return even now and renew our contracts. They count on it.”
    “We don’t need it, do we…” Kay breathed out noisily. “It looks quiet. Read the last section to me.”
    “Right now, daddy.” replied Arthur fooling around. “Planetology, economics, politics, culture… here it is... the current situation.”
    “Give me a brief summary.”
    “The conflict between two population groups of Velikorossia… it occupies this whole continent. One side stands for the forced return of Azure islands also known as Jeng Shi which was occupied seventeen years ago by the Sagun principality. The other side stands for continuing of peaceful negotiations on the territorial problem. The former are supported by Kaiserland, the latter naturally get support from Sagun. The war is going on the whole territory… A month ago both sides started resorting to doom virus and bio-terminator. The estimated number of victims is about four millions. The forecast on outcome is unclear. Imperial authorities maintain neutrality. Currently skirmishes are going on for control over Kitezh… it’s the capital.
    “My congratulations, Arthur” Kay took a map from his leaflet and unfolded it. “We’re very close, it’s thirty kilometers to the city.”
    “And the imperial spaceport?”
    “It’s located symmetrically to us in relation to Kitezh.”
    “Aha…”
    They exchanged glances and Kay felt sympathy to Curtis junior for a moment. The boy turned out to be a better client than many of his former ones. Many adult men would have cursed at everything and demanded guarantees of safety.
    “Well, how are we going to go, straight or circling around?”
    “God only knows…” Kay looked around again. “Kitezh is somewhere there… how far would it be if we circle around?”
    “Ninety four kilometers” answered Arthur after a second.
    “Mathematician… Say a hundred. And half of it would be off the roads.” Kay put the pistol into the pocket of his raincoat and raised his head. The air smelled only with rain and damp foliage… but then doom-virus had to have no smell.
    “Nevertheless it’s safer to circle around the city.” Arthur began.
    “Of course, it is three days of walking at least. There’s no food. Are you vaccinated against doom-virus?”
    “Sure.”
    “I’ve been vaccinated too” Kay took a pause “but not in this body.”
    Arthur shrugged his shoulders – it’s your problems, then he asked:
    “So shall we circle around?”
    “Depends… Get down!”
    Curtis junior dropped down so quickly as if he’d been pushed under his knees. Kay dropped on one knee over him grabbed his pistol and froze.
    Arthur was lying still for a minute then he turned his muddy face and looked at Kay in perplexity.
    “I think I saw something” said Kay without lowering his pistol.
    “You, idiot…” shouted Arthur with his voice rising to a shrill.
    “No, I’m not mistaken.” said Kay with relief. And a fan of violet flashes from the ‘Convoy’ passed over the back of Curtis junior that made him duck to dirt again. For the next several moments they were half rolling and half creeping on all fours and the bullets were smacking in the puddles behind them. At last Kay ducked Arthur in a concrete ditch of a gutter that was encircling the landing pad then Kay jumped after him and started to laugh.
    “What is it with you?” asked Arthur rising on his elbows. He was lying in muddy ditch water, wet to the bone and shivering with cold. A crazy bodyguard on top of all this was too much.
    Still laughing, Kay switched his pistol to fire in single shots and explained:
    “It was clear as day that there had been an ambush. I thought that if we just stand there for a little they would break and try to get closer. They’ve lost the element of surprise now.”
    “I thought you killed them all.”
    “No, I didn’t kill anyone. A couple of burns that’s all.”
    Kay took off his cap and put it on Arthur’s head then crept a couple of meters further along the ditch. Then he turned to Arthur and made a strange gesture – he threw his hand upwards and quickly lowered it back.
    Arthur understood it in his own way. He turned over on his belly stood on his fours and looked out of the ditch for a moment.
    There were splashes of bullets again. At this moment Kay leaped up giving Arthur a momentary spiteful glance. His pistol spat fire twice and someone screamed through the shots. Before their opponents could shift their aim Kay disappeared back in the concrete ditch and crept to Arthur.
    “What are you doing kid?”
    “But you…”
    “I asked you to put the cap onto the barrel or onto your hand and lift it. Remember, I will never ask you to risk your life. You’ve got me for such things, understand?”
    “I will.” promised Arthur breathing heavily.
    Kay drew the cap over his eyes and turned away. Still Arthur could see him through a neat bullet hole with parched edges.
    Shooting stopped.
    “Hey!” shouted Kay folding his palms around his mouth. “Who’s your leader?”
    There was a single shot then there was a reply.
    “I am. What do you want?”
    “How about a temporary truce? Let’s talk.”
    “What damn truce are you talking about? Raise your hands and come out. I’ve got thirty men over here.”
    “And do you want to get half of them killed?”
    “What do you propose?” the man replied. He was calmer this time.
    “I will get up and make ten steps forward. There won’t be any weapon in my hands. Come to me and let’s have a talk.”
    “Get up!”
    “Do I have your word that I won’t be shot at?”
    “All right” a reply followed after a short pause.
    Kay searched through his pocket and produced a shock grenade in a small metallic case and handed it to Arthur.
    “Do you know how to use it?”
    “Yes”
    “If I get shot, put it on your forehead and activate. You don’t understand? You won’t be able either to kill yourself with the ‘Convoy’ or get out of this mess without me.”
    “Okay.” Arthur took the grenade.
    “My regards to your father.” Kay rose up.
    He stood for a second expecting a shot. Then he shrugged his shoulders and made several steps forward. A figure appeared in the door of the flight-control cabin. They met in the middle, Kay and a man of medium height in a light armor. They looked at each other critically.
    “Who are you?”
    “Traders from Endoria. I was flying with my son… our ship blew up.”
    “Where were you going to?”
    “To Cailis.”
    “Bad luck.”
    “Indeed.”
    The man was feeling uncomfortable. Kay carried himself too freely and too friendly.
    “What do you think of local problems?”
    “Couldn’t care less, to be honest.” Kay answered in Russian.
    “Are you russian?” the man inquired.
    “A very little.”
    “Will you go with us?”
    “We need to get to the spaceport. We don’t fight.”
    “I saw it how you didn’t fight… All right, give up your weapons, documents and money and get lost.”
    “You will have nothing with aThan cards and you cannot falsify imperial documents.”
    “We have a war here, haggler. And if your piece of junk blew itself up nearby then go and blame your fate. Give up your weapons.”
    “We’re not going to make it through without it. Take one pistol and one stunner.”
    “Are you going to haggle with me here?” the armored man was dumbfounded.
    “You have twenty two, maybe twenty three men” Kay began “only two have armor, including you. Your weapons are hunting rifles with ordinary and fragmentation bullets, a couple of shotguns, and three stunners that didn’t even fire. No ammo?”
    The bandit leader was silent.
    “I made burned the hands of three of your guys; one other has a burn on his belly. Another one won’t be able to see with his right eye, I’m afraid. And listen now, I didn’t shoot to kill. I was just cooling them down a little. The whole band of yours will be able to get us, granted, but only half of them, no more, would live to see it.”
    The man unclenched his fist. A short tube could be a one-shot pistol… could be not.
    “If you’re that tough tell me what are you going to do with a bullet in your belly?”
    “I will spit it to your face and tell you that the Russians never kill each other.”
    “Are you hoping for the aThan?”
    “My immortality has expired. But my son still has it. He’ll get back and revenge.”
    The man looked at the ditch. It was very close and he was in full view. He clenched his fist again hiding the pistol.
    “How do you propose to do it?”
    “It’s easy. Take the stunner from the holster. Take it yourself; I don’t need any bullets in my back. There is a pistol in the pocket of the raincoat. There is also cash, not much but I’m sure you will find uses for it. I’ll return to my son. When you all leave so that we could see it we will run away from here.
    The man chuckled, took the pistol and money and quickly put it under the breastplate of his armor.
    “You’re lucky you’re Russian. You’re not lying to me, are you?”
    “Check it for yourself.” Kay was the politeness itself.
    “Do you speak our tongue?”
    “I speak badly but I do understand” answered Kay with a slight hesitation.
    “Get back to your ditch.”
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  11. #51
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    They remained in the ditch for another half an hour waiting for rustles and whistling to cease and seeing as small groups of men started falling back to the cottages.
    “How did you managed to persuade them?” asked Arthur while turning over on his back. He didn’t pay attention to water anymore. It seemed warm to him probably.
    “A little bit of flattery, a little bit of threats, showing off, a bribe and a pinch of nationalism.”
    “What?”
    “Well, there’s a drop of Russian blood in me. I played on it… “the Russians don’t kill the Russians.”
    “Is it true?”
    “It’s nonsense. Quite the contrary, it’s in their tradition. But it flatters and helps to save one’s face. I’ve been repeating this phrase for at least twenty times by changing only nationality. It works usually… if your opponent needs an excuse to back away. You see, nationalism is always just an excuse. And it could be used in both ways: ‘we are peaceful’ or ‘we are courageous’, ‘we’re hard-working’ or ‘we’re lazy’. You can shrug off anything to national or race traits and get away with it.
    “That’s amusing.” decided Arthur after thinking it over.
    “Yes it is… Give me your gun; you will go with the stunner. Cover our rear.”
    Kay rose and started walking away from the settlement. Arthur followed him looking about. They weren’t shot at.

    Somewhat three hours later they got to a good concrete road and followed it while it matched their direction. By that moment the rain had washed off all the dirt from them and much of their inspiration from victory.
    “It’s total wasteland no further than thirty kilometers from the capital.” Kay was cursing quietly “And they’re fighting over the right to fight for some islands! Did you see them on the map, Arthur?”
    “No.”
    Kay turned around and shook his head.
    “We need rest. But not here. Go forth Arthur, Graal awaits thee… What have you got there, by the way?”
    “A half-credit penny.” Arthur answered gloomily.
    After another hour of plodding through sown but not harvested fields (a local thorny cereal seemed unaffected by rain and soaked ground) they tumbled upon a house fenced by metallic chain link. The building had nearly no windows, it was low and gray, and seemed uninhabitable.
    “The everyday work of a farmer.” said Kay while looking at the building. “It must be a pigpen or a barn. Do you like bacon?”
    “What’s so funny?”
    “I am working, Arthur, let’s go.”
    They crept under a bent fence onto the territory and found the entrance – the rolling metal doors.”
    “Knock-knock!” Kay said loudly while rolling the door to the side. A beam flashed from the darkness inside.
    They jumped to either sides of the door. No more shots followed. Kay waved his hand slightly to the right and back. Arthur took off his cap obediently, put it on the barrel and moved it in front of the opening. As the next shot had inflamed the poor headdress Kay slipped into the darkness.
    Arthur didn’t have to wait for long. A series of impulses illuminated the shed with violet flashes. Then Kay shouted:
    “Come in, Sir Arthur, for everything is in order. The wrong has been righted. The strength has served the right.”
    “Hey, you do know about Arthur and the Round table!”
    “I should not argue with you.” answered Kay as he dragged the body out of the shed by the legs. The smell of burned flesh made Arthur to turn away.
    “At least we have solved our problem with food.” Kay said as he stooped by the door.
    “I won’t” Arthur replied quickly.
    “There is a bag near the wall, you fool. Ransack it while I…” Kay continued his work. The dead man was old and his long grey hair dragged in the mud clotting into black icicles.”
    Arthur was opening the tin-cans when Kay returned.
    “It’s only food and a couple of beer cans here.” he announced.
    “The deceased wanted to survive but we wanted the same.” resumed Kay. “It’s not a bad place, isn’t it?”
    The shed turned out to be a farmer’s garage. By the walls there stood heavy and bulky machines and there was a grey cube of a recharging device in the corner. Kay examined it and shook his head, climbed into one machine then into another one…
    “Will you eat, Kay?”
    “Certainly.”
    They ate canned meat and drank a bottle of beer. Then Kay built a fire out of wooden panels which he had mercilessly torn out from the walls. Meanwhile Arthur fixed a metal grating of unknown origin by the fire and hanged his wet clothing on it. Kay followed his example.
    “What he was shooting with?” asked Arthur looking into the fire.
    “A laser rifle. He was a rich farmer … by local standards.”
    “I hope he had the aThan.” Curtis junior said seriously.
    Kay laughed quietly but didn’t say anything. They were sitting for some time slowly getting warm. Rain was tapping on the closed door and under the ceiling hung a blue-gray cloud of smoke.
    “Arthur…”
    “What is it, Kay?”
    “I’m going to ask you one question… no, not now.”
    “Why not, go ahead.”
    “No, you’re going to lie and I want to know the truth.”
    “One doesn’t really need the whole truth.”
    “You’re too clever… We’ll spend the night here. There’s no point in roaming in the dark.”
    Arthur didn’t understood but chose not to say anything. Kay put on his clothing that was still damp, climbed into the nearest harvester and started examining the control panel. Arthur looked at him from the floor, in the light of fire his indistinct figure was flickering and grotesquely distorted by the cockpit glass.
    “Splendid.” said Kay with satisfaction. “That’s why the old man didn’t use fire…”
    “Listen, dad…”
    “What?”
    “Why do you hate children? I know you had a hard time in your childhood but that’s not the reason.”
    Kay sat on the cockpit floor with his legs dangling in the air.
    “Truth for truth, frankly?”
    “As it was with the silicoid. Come on.”
    “I’ve never been a child. I have always been forty years old, Arthur. It’s very hard not remembering yourself being a careless boy. To try to be like your age-mates, to envy them… Too good a childhood turns a kid into an adult quicker than a bad one.”
    “Did you have a good childhood?”
    “My father was a senator on Shedar the second. I did have a very good childhood indeed. I turned seven on the evacuation day … and I wasn’t a child anymore. I saw as assault capsules were landing on the sandbanks… only at the port our last base was still holding the sky. My father remained on the planet with guerilla groups. They had believed still that the Empire would come to help. They were probably alive when Emperor Gray had ordered to scorch the planets. I’m not saying he was wrong. An assault would have taken far more lives than there were guerillas on the occupied planet… the planet that wasn’t amongst the most obedient ones in the Empire to begin with. Altos harbored us and we survived. They didn’t leave us our surnames, I stopped being Kay Lacitis. We became the children of the Empire. But I couldn’t become a kid again and everybody felt that. Such children are adored by their parents but they have no friends. I tried, Arthur, I tried hard. The housemaster of our block “G” was a very good man, a person of many sides, the author of many TV-series for kids that were broadcast over the networks on Altos, not a sadist or pervert unlike many who like such jobs very much. He sincerely believed that children should be guarded against the adults. He always talked about friendship and kindness… but he couldn’t understand why his tight-knit pupils disliked little Kay. For him, I remained a touching kid with a thin neck …”
    Arthur smiled inadvertently.
    “… and sad eyes. My classmates saw that I was different and defended against me as they could. When I understood that I couldn’t turn back into a child I became adult. One night… it doesn’t matter. I tagged along with a traveling circus. It was one of those places too, but they treated me almost humanly. I mopped the floors, sold tickets, assisted to the clowns. For a year I was the living target for Redgar Red the man-gun…”
    “Did you kill him too?”
    “What? No, Arthur, Redgar has taught me everything: how to shoot, how to throw knives, how not to close your eyes when you’re getting shot at. Then he said that the circus for me was just a staging post and made me work with Diana, his girlfriend. She was a trapeze artist. I liked it until she fell and got her neck broken. I’ve been passed from artist to artist and worked a little bit with everyone. Our clowns Yacek and Narek gave me more than a dozen psychologists could do. Still they had never tried to drag me into their big double bed even though they were as gay as clear is a day. I know how animals look when preparing to attack and how to defend from a psy-mutated tiger. I should be grateful to Jassan for that. He was the only Mrshhan among us. He also taught me to have a knack for wines…”
    Kay went silent.
    “You hate children because you had no childhood yourself.” Arthur said without mercy. “You envy them. You think that the child’s envy to adults is stronger even than women’s envy to men. You constantly consider yourself being hated.”
    “Yes.”
    “Then you ask.”
    “Is it difficult to try to be an adult while remaining a child?”
    “Of course it is, Kay.”
    “Let’s sleep now, Arthur Van Curtis.” Kay jumped down. “Get in the cockpit and close the door. I turned the heating on and there is a broad seat inside.”
    “And you?”
    “I’ll look for another tractor. Good night.”
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  12. #52
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    5

    They remained in the ditch for another half an hour waiting for rustles and whistling to cease and seeing as small groups of men started falling back to the cottages.
    Я думаю, ты имел в виду "watching small groups of men retreat..."
    "seing as" - это разговорное выражение, означающее "поскольку" или "потому что". И вообще, почему не "They stayed in the ditch for half an hour, until rustles and whistling stopped and small groups of men started to..."? Так и короче, и ближе к оригиналу.

  13. #53
    Завсегдатай Crocodile's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    I saw as assault capsules were landing on the sandbanks…
    Probably, the better way would be: "I saw the assault capsules landing on the sandbanks…"

    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    assisted to the clowns
    Maybe: "assisted the clowns"

    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    Redgar has taught me everything: how to shoot, how to throw knives, how not to close your eyes when you’re getting shot at
    Maybe: " Redgar has taught me everything: to shoot, to throw knives, not to close your eyes when you’re getting shot at"

    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    Our clowns Yacek and Narek gave me more than a dozen psychologists could do.
    Maybe: Our clowns Yacek and Narek gave me more than a dozen psychologists could give. (and "give" being optional)" I'm not really sure if that's important, or "do" could also do fine. Does anybody know?

  14. #54
    Завсегдатай Ramil's Avatar
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    Thanks guys, got it fixed.

    6

    When Arthur woke up Kay was already preparing breakfast. Furthermore he drove one harvester out of the row and parked it near the gate. Arthur looked skeptically at the clumsy machine – it had a drum tiller in front of it, four huge wheels and an automatic packer behind. There was no hull as such; all the parts were clearly visible. The cabin that protruded on its thin supports looked like everything but reliable.
    “I wouldn’t call this a good idea” noted Arthur while taking his ration.
    “There wasn’t anything better…” Kay looked critically at the wheels. “Speed is up to forty five kilometers per hour and this is in a harvesting mode. Its charge is nearly full. How was your sleep?”
    “Like at home.”
    “And I got cold. There must have been something wrong with the climate controller.”
    They finished their breakfast and threw the bag with the remaining cans into the cabin. Kay handed the laser rifle to Arthur, a nickel plated device with a cumbersome side magazine, and ordered:
    “Get in the cabin.”
    From the glass bubble Arthur watched as Kay opened the gates. He stood for a while and said in a loud voice:
    “Would you look at this beauty? The rain is over and the dew has fallen… The arrish will muck up I’m afraid, sonny!”
    “Kay, I asked you not to call me ‘sonny’!”
    “All right, sonnie.” Kay said while climbing into the cabin. “It’s time for some thrashing, right? Move over.”
    His eyes glistened with excitement. Arthur got out from the seat in perplexity and sat on the cabin floor. Kay put his hands on the levers.
    “Watch and learn. There’s no such thing as useless skill.”
    The harvester roared and rolled out of the hangar splashing the dirt around. Kay laughed. The thorny cereals were stretching up to the horizon.
    “The bread has been standing for too long, wouldn’t you say?”
    “This is not wheat, Kay.”
    “I know, Arthur,” Kay’s face had lost its foolish expression for a moment. “Fever, euphoria… then there will be hallucinations. It’s the doom-virus. Let’s go!”
    The tiller made a howling sound as it lowered to the ground. The harvester drove through the fence and rolled across the field. The packer started champing as it was throwing out the plastic packs with pressed grass behind them.
    “How much time do you have?” asked Arthur quietly.
    “About three hours. Then there will be a period of unmotivated aggression and then the heart stops. I will try to make it, kid.”
    They were going in silence for almost an hour. Arthur was looking through the window holding the rifle on his knees. Kay was singing frivolous songs. After a while Kay asked:
    “What did they want?”
    “Who?”
    “Those people… riding horses… wearing hats with blue stars on them…”
    “I didn’t see anyone…” answered Arthur averting his eyes.
    “Ah… If I call you Leshka then shoot. Okay?”
    “I promise I will.”
    Sometimes Arthur saw pillars of smoke in the distance… Sometimes Kay steered around something or in pursuit of something invisible. Arthur didn’t say anything.
    Then there was an attempt to stop them. A small bunch of armed men, probably the same that they had encountered near the exit, opened fire at the harvester.
    “A hailstorm.” noted Kay dryly. Arthur never understood whether he was joking or he didn’t perceive the reality already. The harvester veered and headed onto the crowd. Arthur half opened the door and began shooting the rifle – it had a remarkable rate of fire and a sizable magazine.
    “No foul weather will stop me from harvesting my last crops.” declared Kay when bullets started tapping against the cabin. The glass pretended to be bulletproof – it got covered with cracks but didn’t yield. Kay had finished his harvest to the end and then returned to its former course. The plastic bags were all used up and some monstrous cannibal stuffing of flesh mixed with grass was pouring out from behind the harvester.
    “It is very indicative that you don’t even get sick.” noted Kay while casting quick glances at Arthur. “Your daddy deserves killing but it’s impossible unfortunately.”
    Arthur didn’t understand.
    They scudded along the suburbs of Kitezh past a wooden church that was in flames, past houses that were ruined by artillery fire and past monuments that were carefully covered with protective casings. The monuments were numerous.
    “A nation that doesn’t remember its past is doomed.” Kay commented this fact. “Thus our nation is immortal.”
    When towers of the spaceport appeared ahead Kay asked in a dull voice:
    “Shall we fly over the river, what do you think?”
    “Let’s go.” agreed Arthur looking at the approaching highway. They crossed the highway and drove towards an iridescent force field barrier. A couple of combat vehicles of the imperial infantry idly rolled out of the gates and turned their turrets in their direction.
    “We’ll die together Leshka” said Kay squinting “things could turn out better, right?”
    Arthur took his stunner and carefully fired at Kay’s temple. Then he dragged the numb body from the seat and stopped the harvester. It was more difficult to find the controls for the tiller. The soldiers didn’t approach until Arthur had stopped it.
    Curtis junior jumped from the harvester and ran towards the guards. He was only twelve so they didn’t shoot.
    “Help my dad!” shouted Arthur. “Help, he has a doom-fever I had to stun him! Help, we’ll pay! We are from Endoria, the home planet of the Emperor! Help!”
    He cried too naturally and the lieutenant of the Imperial military had children too. The lieutenant nodded to his soldiers and two of them having lowered their visors headed towards the dented up with bullets and blood stained harvester.
    Send me a PM if you need me.

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    During rare minutes when another dose of viral phage had lowered the toxin level in his blood and senses were returning to him Kay was thinking in the sterile cleanness of his empty ward. His delirium ended; his consciousness was clear albeit sluggish. At this point he could only recover or die if viral phage that was administered in huge doses would have mutated and confused his flesh for virus. Soft manipulator paws washed him, changed his bedclothes, injected drugs and turbid liquid nutrients.
    When a woman wearing a green medical suit entered the ward with a raised visor he understood that he had survived.
    “My name is Isabelle.” she said as she was sitting on the bed.
    “A beautiful name.” noted Kay moving his disobedient tongue with difficulty. “You’re a blond angel.”
    “What is the name of your wife?”
    “Karin.”
    “A pretty nice name too.” the woman nodded. “I am your doctor. Are there any gaps in your memory?”
    There was ice in the blue eyes of this woman. There were a long life and a long service for the Emperor. In some way, she was a doctor indeed, a surgeon that cuts off unnecessary cells of social organism.
    “No… I think not… I can lose my memory, miss?”
    “We’ll see.”
    And they had seen. Kay told her about his childhood, about Uncle Raul that had left him a small inheritance, about the Endorian climate, about him evading taxes time after time, about his meeting with Karin and about Arthur’s birth.
    “He’s a good boy… he didn’t desert his father… Is he all right, miss?”
    “The Emperor doesn’t leave his subjects in distress.” informed Isabelle with dignity. “How did your ship perish?”
    “We started from Endoria in the evening of the thirteenth, on the sixth decade of eastern winds…”
    “… interphasers don’t usually play pranks, but …”
    “… Arthur was torn to pieces, Lord! One wouldn’t want to see things like that again.”
    Isabelle’s face remained straight. She had seen things much worse than a boy torn to pieces.
    “…the aThan did work, after all. I didn’t believe it would till the end, to be honest…”
    “…we found this shed and there were a dead old man and some tractors in it…”
    Isabelle put her palm on Kay’s throat and said without any emotion:
    “It is not good to lie to the servants of the Emperor… We want the truth, the whole truth… Kay. Your life is still too fragile… and you’re lying.”
    “Miss…” Kay was wheezing, “He fired at us, what could I do? God, they are all nuts here…”
    Isabelle wiped her hands on the bed sheet and smiled:
    “It’s better now. The Emperor doesn’t get concerned about deaths of insurgents and bandits, but he likes sincerity.”
    Kay started nodding hastily.
    “You wiggled out of troubles pretty slick, Kay Ovald. The whole harvester is covered with blood from wheels to roof, as if it had gone through a slaughterhouse.”
    “Miss, I couldn’t think coherently when I was driving it. There were attempts to stop us… I didn’t hurt Emperor’s people, miss, did I?”
    “You were lucky you didn’t.” Isabelle replied coolly. “You are a very lucky person. A mere merchant… and such prowess … People that go beyond their profession always stir my curiosity. Your business is commerce, not military deeds.”
    “We, the Ovalds have always been serving Emperor Gray hand and foot!” said Kay raising his voice. “My grandfather Arthur whom I named my son after fought in the Feud War…”
    “Drop it, Kay. I’ve heard enough about your grandfather’s deeds from the boy. They don’t concern you. Have a rest.”
    At the door Isabelle added:
    “We will report to Endoria about your lucky escape. Shall I tell something to your wife?”
    “Tell her that I love her… and tell her not to worry.”
    “The latter could be a bit premature.”
    The door had closed and Kay lowered his head on a pillow. He could only hope that the old sly fox Curtis had envisaged everything. That he was smarter than this old woman from the Imperial Security Service.

    Sitting in her office which was furnished plainly as it was proper for an Imperial serviceman Isabelle Kahl was preparing the weekly report. She took pleasure in a routine job that according to tradition was unloaded onto the Deputy Regional Commander. There were simple figures about civilian casualties, expenses of the Service and numbers of recruited agents. But there was so much work, so many lives and even more deaths behind them.
    There was so much power!
    A message from Endoria came only by the evening. Isabelle browsed through the official information, watched the video that was shot by an agent in the Ovald’s house. Karin Ovald, a tall thin woman broke into tears after seeing Kay’s peaked and half-mad face on the photograph. But she quickly put herself together and pressed on the agent with questions: “How to get in touch?”, “Why didn’t they pass information earlier?”, “We’re not the last people on Endoria!”, “Will the Service pay for a flight to Incedius?”
    “What a gaunt bitch” concluded Isabelle as she stopped the record. This trader had no taste whatsoever. There is more to a woman than a beautiful face. It is clear now at least whom his son had inherited his features from. “Arthur Ovald. Surveillance.” she commanded.
    The screen came to life again but Arthur wasn’t in the small room.
    “Search.”
    Arthur Ovald was in the shower. Isabelle was eyeing the boy closely leaning her head sideward. A handsome whelp. His father was not bad too but he was ruder and simpler…
    Meanwhile the boy sat on the bottom of the shower and started doing things teenagers sometimes do which shower had always been a perfect cover for.
    Kahl felt as she started to get excited. Work had been leaving her little time for sex.
    Isabelle turned on the screening and took a dildo from the bottom drawer. Still looking at the screen she put her legs onto the desk…
    Arthur had been taking shower long enough so that Isabelle Kahl could get all the emotions she desired. She brushed herself up, turned on the automatic secretary and said:
    “The Ovalds family. Cancel the red mode. The yellow mode for a week. Field supervision… Luis Nomachi. Video surveillance… video surveillance remains on me.
    She liked the recent sensation. The things she had to do with the Service Director Kurt brought little satisfaction.
    Send me a PM if you need me.

  16. #56
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    On the next day Arthur Ovald was permitted to visit his father. Kay in reclining posture was eating oat gruel. Its taste was just wonderful compared to warm mineral water which they had allowed him to drink the day before.
    “Dad?”
    Kay silently handed the plate to a nurse, a red haired girl with a slim figure. He and Arthur looked at each other.
    “I’m glad you didn’t put your grandfather’s name into disgrace.” said Kay.
    Arthur smiled.
    “You look far better, dad.”
    “No wonder here.”
    Arthur squinted at the nurse and said:
    “They got in touch with mom… we were talking. I told her that there was no need for her to come. You’re going to be discharged in three days and we’ll fly home, right?”

    The old sly fox Van Curtis. He outsmarted the Service and I really have got a house on Endoria and a wife named Karin…

    “We will have to go, son. Someone at our spaceport needs a good scandal. We’ll shake everything out them… for the ship and for all this trouble.
    The red-haired nurse smiled as she was turning away. This big guy was very overconfident. The spaceport technical services had become very skilled in such scandals.
    Then again, this Endorian is very stubborn and lucky. Perhaps he would be able to squeeze some amount out of them … in a couple of years.
    “Arthur, bring me a normal sandwich…” whispered Kay Ovald behind her back. Here he is too. As soon as patients get the ability to move they immediately start dreaming of breaking the rules…

    …Luis Nomachi was a man of deceptive appearance. He was plump as a donut and very cheerful. He seemed to be glad at anything that happened. His ability to promote his career caused a few raised eyebrows among his colleagues. Luis was regarded as a stool pigeon; there were talks about some high-ranked patrons. But this was not the case. Luis simply could accept any rules of the game. Such as him survived on the occupied planets, persisted resignations of their superiors, and went higher and higher, slowly but steadily. Their growth had been limited by the lifespan before but it was their time now, it was their opportunity. They could adapt to everything, sustain victories and losses, they were growing on the body of the Human Empire like a thorny weed. One couldn’t even call them immoral. They just corresponded too well to the current moment.
    Nomachi had some uncomplicated task this time – controlling of two Endorians who were presently under a yellow mode – the father and son who made it from the regional aThan office to the spaceport. A lucky miss! Kahl did some initial checking and shuffled the case to him. Some passive surveillance, data checking – what could be easier?
    But why Isabelle Kahl took personal interest in the Endorians? Why had she kept them in the red mode until she could talk to Ovald senior and query information from their home planet? Nomachi lacked Isabelle’s beastly intuition and seventy years of experience. But he trusted someone else’s experience and had persistence that was sooner peculiar to a door-spring rather than a man.
    He was crouching at the computer terminal and constantly chewing crackers from the package and opening one file after another from the “Endorians case”. There were a report of the outer perimeter guard lieutenant, a medical report, interrogation transcripts of the boy, a record of conversation between Isabelle and Kay, a report from the Service on Endoria. The average information authenticity evaluation is eighty six percent. Great! The golden middle… not too little and not too much to raise suspicions. They were lying about something, of course. Just like any other honest man would do.
    But Isabelle Kahl didn’t entertain doubts about them.
    Luis got back to the operative information. Here are the photographs of Kay and Arthur… Stop! They don’t look alike all that much. Karin Ovald cuckolded her husband? Possible… Luis queried the file with Karin’s brief description. The portrait… Well if she was boy’s mother and Kay was his father… Luis ran physiognomic analysis.
    Firty two percent. Arthur could be a son of them both, he could be born from another man, or he could be adopted. Then again it was an average result. Well, let’s try it differently: what is the probability that Arthur is Karin’s son… what is the probability that Arthur is Kay’s son…?
    Twenty percent. Six percent.
    Nice. The program found something wrong. The boy that had been the son of Karin and Kay could be neither Kay’s son nor Karin’s son. How extraordinary…
    The program could glitch. Karin could cheat on her husband. The adoption bureau could have used the same equipment when it was selecting a baby and pick up a suitable child for their couple and not for Karin or Kay separately. It was totally unnecessary to begin the investigation…
    But the spring man couldn’t stop halfway. There were checks on Endoria, there were local checks. What was left out? aThan? An everlasting eyesore of the all-seeing Service. An everlasting shame. They were using aThan on a common basis and sometimes after some mutually successful exchange of fire they were resurrected side by side with their killers. Curtis Van Curtis’s Empire was a state within a state. It was very humiliating to know that all secrets of the Service could be downloaded from memory of a deceased and generously resurrected executive. In spite of Curtis’s assurances he had been giving to the Emperor himself, in spite of its outward friendliness, in spite of its reduced rates aThan continued to keep its secrets…
    But even the strongest armor had its weak spots.
    Luis made an inquiry for reactivation of the agent that had been recruited from amongst aThan employees. He sent it without motivation, hoping that it would be rejected. He didn’t want to waste time on this case… but he simply couldn’t stand falling back.
    His inquiry passed.
    “So be it.” said Nomachi to the computer terminal. “Let’s scan you all the way through in due order. You don’t pay taxes for nothing, do you…?”

    …Kay was exercising. The body didn’t weaken much; apparently his muscles were stimulated artificially during his illness. Kay was concerned more about possible surveillance so he had to restrain himself. The fact that the gym of the small hospital was perfectly equipped added to his vexation a lot.
    Having finished with yet another weight machine Kay looked for Arthur who was sitting on some framework that resembled a torturer’s workplace. His arms were fixed on some hydraulic springs.
    “Go, go, go.” encouraged mister Ovald his son “wet your shirt while we’re paying this lot of money anyway.”
    “Uh-huh” promised Arthur as he was slowly raising his arms.
    Kay went to sauna and lied down on the bench feeling as his sweat was drying up. It was against the rules but it was so relaxing. Then he perspired again and waited until this sweat would dry up too.
    Arthur came and settled on the lower bench. After a while he said:
    “Mom must be worrying. When are we flying home?”
    This was a key phrase. Arthur was afraid of something, or just hurried to get to that Graal of his.
    “In three days there will be a flight to Ilion. We’ll be a stone's throw away from there.”
    “And the flight to Epsilon Volantis flies off tomorrow evening. We can fly it… I counted…It’s going to be faster.”
    “We should count money too, son” said Kay in a tutorial manner. “You know what situation we’re in. It will take some time to extract the cash from the skinflints in our spaceport… I’m going to the swimming pool and you stay and sweat duly.”

    Sixty kilometers away from the Imperial spaceport, not far away from the aThan compound, Luis Nomachi was speaking to its agent.
    “Are you sure our meeting is safe?”
    “The screen is secure.” said Luis with contempt.
    “You don’t know what our security systems are capable of…”
    “Yet you know of ours!”
    Golden haired creature if indeterminable sex made its angel-like face and said in a whining tone:
    “Such extensive demands… I’m ready to serve the Emperor, but…”
    “You have some ‘buts’ for the Emperor?” inquired Luis “I haven’t heard of such things yet.”
    The creature went silent.
    “I don’t give a damn about your problems. I’m sure that you fuck with every other man and woman in that hell-hole of yours. And I’m even surer that the video where you mash the genitals of a bulrathi would just fascinate them.”
    “L-listen, you have to u-understand me as one man understands another…”
    Luis burst into good-humored laughter.
    “What a droll little fellow you are. You should have been born a reusable stretching condom – you would have been in the place you belong to.”
    “My sexual life has only just begun forming into something stable…” said the thanatologist with a broken voice.
    “Form away, and remember the more information you dig up on the Ovalds the longer period you be left alone for. My regards to your lovers.”
    Luis walked to his flyer. He wasn’t afraid to turn his back on this sort of people. It was great that the majority of people find interracial sex unacceptable. This makes the minority very useful for the Service…
    As he was getting into the cockpit he thought also that should interracial contacts ever get legalized they would need to indispose the people towards something else: masochism, homosexuality or kisses in the lips. These would be nothing more but details.
    One cannot afford to lose so convenient a stratum of informants.
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  17. #57
    Завсегдатай Ramil's Avatar
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    A six hundred and fifty foot liner looked small on the concrete plain of landing field. Thick glass was nearly soundproof. Vehicles that were scurrying from buildings to the liner and back looked like toys of some rich kid.
    “Such as Arthur Curtis, for example” thought Kay. But there was no former dislike towards the boy in his mind. He did get him out after all. Whatever were his reasons – he got him out of this mess.
    Another group of passengers walked past them. The wealthiest citizens of Velikorossiya preferred emigration to another planet rather than to Kaiserland or Sagun. Certainly, as it had always been the case, the wealthiest ones were they who had begun the war. There were women in rich furs, men in suits which looked modest until one gets close, children that were well-fed and well dressed. Many of them had dogs on the leashes, and one ugly dark skinned girl carried a cat.
    “I miss mom.” said Arthur.
    “Don’t whine, son.” replied Kay calmly.
    “I miss her very much!”
    Kay crouched and looked into Arthur’s eyes. The boy clearly was on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
    Why? Did he yearn to be with his virtual mother? Or that other real one whom Kay had never seen?
    “Brace yourself, kid…” Kay passed his hand across Arthur’s face. His palm was wet. “Hey, what’s the matter with you?”
    Arthur remained silent.
    Curtis Van Curtis won its position with not only luck, an iron ass, and his ability to get on the right side of people. He also had very good instincts similar to those of a good woman Isabelle from the local Service division. Arthur could have inherited these instincts as well.
    “Let’s see what we can do, son.” Kay took Arthur by hand and they went to a ticket window.
    “There are available accommodations.” promptly reported a girl in the old-fashioned glasses “Suites, first class, business class…”
    The small display showed the price. Kay scratched his head.
    “Hmm, how about the second class...?”
    “There are no second class accommodations on the ships that fly over such distances.” the ticket agent’s face became stern. Then she looked at Arthur’s imploring face and relaxed a bit. “Are you pressed for money, mister?”
    “Yes… you see, we need to get to Endoria, but our ship… I’m a pilot myself. I am a trader myself… was…”
    “Let’s see what we can do for you…” girl’s fingers fluttered over the keyboard… “What is your boy’s age?”

    …Luis fiddled over a disk. The thanatologist didn’t disappoint him even though he was scum. It was Kay Ovald’s three-day memory record! Whatever garbage it contained the mere fact that it existed was a sensation. Here it was – the morals of aThan. Here it was – the price of immortality.
    He inserted the disk into a computer and started picking a video decoder. Damn aThan used its own computers, programs and encodings…

    … “And so, considering the boys’ age, the lack of luggage, the underload of the flight, and your change to the ship of our company on Volantis… the discount will be… fifty two percent!” the ticket agent shrugged her soldiers as if she was surprised at the result too.
    “Dad…” whispered Arthur.
    “Make up your mind, the boarding ends in fifteen minutes.”
    “Well, we can’t afford to let this opportunity slip!” Kay gave up. “We’ll fly it.”
    He pushed their documents under the transparent screen of the ticket window and put his credit card on the interface panel.
    “Do you accept aThan cards?”
    “Sure…”

    … Lord, the kid got smeared up, thought Luis as he watched the bloody chunks on the cockpit walls. Then the picture blurred in red – the eyes of Ovald senior burst out.
    Nomachi took a cracker package from the drawer and tore the plastic. He did well and the excess pounds be damned.
    “Rewind for two days.” he asked the machine and its well trained service program understood the command.
    The screen showed a barefanged face of a bulrathi and Luis chocked over a cracker.
    “Cuzuar buul-rathi, kh, haa! Kh, haa, buul!” said the voice of Kay Ovald.
    “Hazr, khomo!” the bulrathi replied in falsetto.
    Bits of a cracker were falling on the keyboard from Luis’s gaping mouth.

    A small van stopped under the liner’s bottom. Remaining passengers were disappearing in the boarding tube.
    The guard was listening nervously to the hum of the warming up generators as he passed the detector over Kay’s documents. The indicator lit with yellow. Passive supervision? Well, this doesn’t forbid leaving the planet. The boy that was following him was under supervision too… are they all out of their minds in the ops?
    The guard patted the boarding tube as it was pulled in the hull – for luck and hurried to a bus that was beeping with impatience. It was dangerous to remain near a ship that was launching on its gravity drives.

    …When Kay looked away from the dead bulrathi… how did he manage to kill it anyway…it was a mere touch… there was another shock in store for Luis.
    Everybody knew this man. Curtis Van Curtis. And he closely resembled… Kay Ovald’s son. No, Arthur Ovald resembled him, to be precise.
    “Give me the portrait of Arthur Van Curtis!” yelled Nomachi. The machine was fighting the unexpected task for about fifteen seconds and during this whole time Luis was dancing by the desk edgily.
    “The only available photograph has been taken at the age of five” the computer informed helpfully.
    A cherubic little boy was smiling to Luis from the screen.
    “Probable present appearance!” bellowed Luis.
    Now there was a seventeen years old fellow who was looking from the screen with his lips tightly shut.
    “And at twelve?”
    The display showed Arthur ‘Ovald’ nearly identical to the one whom Nomachi had seen that morning.
    “Ugh…” said Luis “Ugh!”
    “Too little data.” the computer protested.
    “Turn off, you scrap!” said Nomachi as he was running out from the office…. along the corridor… past the guards… through the waiting room…
    …Luis burst into Isabelle Kahl’s office. His shock was so great that he didn’t even stop to think it over.
    “Turn on the screen.” demanded Nomachi without greetings.
    Isabelle turned the screen and the personal recorder on and asked:
    “What made you so excited?”
    “We have…” said Nomachi as he was approaching the desk “we have Arthur Van Curtis in our hands!”
    “And who else?” asked Kahl without bothering to hide her contempt.
    “His bodyguard apparently. The man who had threshed a couple dozens rebels with a harvester.”
    Isabelle’s face turned white.
    “Did you detain them, Luis?”
    “I… no… I was in a hurry…” with horror Nomachi heard the intonations of that whining pervert the thanatologist in his voice.
    “Arthur and Kay Ovalds. Search.” Isabelle leaned towards the screen.
    “Working… working… Arthur Ovald…” delightedly informed the computer “left the planet onboard the ‘Volantis’ cruise liner ten minutes ago. Kay Ovald left the planet onboard the ‘Volantis’ cruise liner eleven minutes ago.”
    Luckily for Nomachi he managed to hold the suicidal question about how the same liner could take off at different times.
    “Give me the flight control…” Kahl demanded as she gave Luis a hating gaze. “I am Deputy Commander of Imperial Security Service planetary division Isabelle Kalh.” she blurted to a man that appeared on the screen. Her title had never appeared to her this long and unnecessary before. “I demand that liner Volantis be returned immediately. It’s a matter of extreme urgency, in the name of the Emperor.”
    She tore off the neck of her blouse and produced a personal badge on a chain, and then thrust it to the camera. With bulging eyes Luis looked at her bare breasts – they were covered with burns and small cuts. He couldn’t believe that Kahl was inclined towards masochism.
    “It’s too late.” reported the flight control officer, “The liner has just entered the hyperspace. What happened? Terrorists? A bomb?”
    Isabelle cut the connection off. She lowered onto a seat and asked wearily:
    “So, who was in our hands? And how did you know?”
    She cast a sidelong glance at her breast and wrapped the blouse up with annoyance. Luis understood that his chances on good career and the very life had just gone out the window.
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    Liners of the class which Volantis belonged to started smoothly. Arthur and Kay fixed themselves in the seats but it was nothing more than a tradition. There were about ten minutes of slight gravity changes – even the most sophisticated machines couldn’t compensate all the G-effects for a hull that big.
    Then something changed subtly. The floor became solid as the surface of a planet and the distant noise of the engines that was heard through the hull changed its tone.
    “We’ve entered the hyperspace” said Kay as he was unfastening his seat belts. “Well, what do you say?”
    Arthur raised his face – it was wet with tears. His whisper was barely audible but it resembled a silent cry:
    “I don’t want… I don’t want it… again…”
    Kay lowered on his knees beside him and asked:
    “Do you remember I wanted to ask you one question back on the planet? So, I’m asking it now.”
    Arthur nodded and went quiet.
    “How many times did you die, kid?”
    Curtis junior’s face wavered.
    “How many times?” relentlessly repeated Kay.
    “Seventy three times” Arthur’s eyes went dull. Kay shuddered.
    Seventy three jumps from the fragile bridge of life over the universal nothingness. The pain of failing consciousness, the cold breath of the eternity and the sharp jerk of neural grid that returns you back. It is death that is horrible, not resurrection. Nobody in the galaxy had undergone the aThan so many times. Nobody could afford such a squander. Nobody except Van Curtis and his son. The boy that had been dying all his life.
    “Oh my god” Kay felt dizziness. “Are you sixteen years old?”
    Arthur nodded.
    “For the first time you died …”
    “At twelve.”
    Curtis junior had been dying every month… even more frequently – every three weeks. What was the eternity of pain that had been promised to Kay for failure compared to Curtis’s son who lived by these sorrows voluntarily? They were his air, his food, his school… his life. This boy and death were on very close terms.
    This boy could never become a grown-up already.
    “You are the thirty seventh.” whispered Arthur “I was led by men, women, teenagers, a mrshhan, a ten years old girl. I know all of you, I’ve seen you all in hell. You’re all tough at first. There are seas of blood behind you and nobody can stand in your way and blah, blah… You are all tough… were.”
    “I will get you through.”
    “Everyone said that. They all had a carrot and a stick. I feel it already… when something breaks… as it does now. They know who we are.”
    “We got away, Arthur”
    “They’ll catch us.”
    “Why couldn’t you get there after all these times?”
    “I don’t know. It’s like I’m being held by… something.”
    “Graal is only given to worthy ones, remember?”
    Arthur smiled meekly and raised his head in a desperate attempt to hold his tears. Then he said:
    “There are no more worthy ones left, my faithful servant. And I am the last who has the right to touch the Grail. Forasmuch as I have sent ye all knowing that only I am immortal… wherefore I… I…”
    Kay gently enfolded Arthur in his arms. For the first time in his life he was embracing a child that was even more unfortunate than he. They met in space and time – two maimed souls – an adult who had never been a child and a child who could never become an adult.
    “I will get you through.” Kay repeated. “I’m not a servant of yours, Sir Arthur. I’m your step brother, my little king. You will see your Graal.”
    Arthur wept quietly. His body had gone limp on Kay’s chest. The liner was floating across the space – a steel container for thousands of sorrows.
    “What is it there on Graal?” asked Kay.
    “God…” whispered Arthur his face was still nestled in his bodyguard’s wet shirt.
    “What?!”
    “A god, Kay. A god from a machine.” Arthur’s fingers clenched on Kay’s shoulders and were shaking so Kay chose not to ask again.
    There was a buzzer from the door. Kay draggled for a second, then pushed Arthur aside, took a kerchief from his pocket and handed it to the boy. Then he opened the door.
    There was a little girl with short thick braids in embroidered dress.
    “Good afternoon, sir.” she made a clumsy curtsey. “We are your neighbors. I would like to ask whether your son wants to show me around the ship. It’s my first flight.”
    A blonde haired woman was looking out through the next door. She waved her hand to Kay and said:
    “Hi!”
    “Hi!” answered good-natured Mister Ovald. He turned away awkwardly and asked his son: “Would you like to show the young lady around the ship, Arthur?”
    “Yes, I would, father” answered his obedient son. “Good afternoon, my lady.”
    Send me a PM if you need me.

  19. #59
    Завсегдатай Ramil's Avatar
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    Isabelle Kahl was looking at Arthur Van Curtis’s portrait. The boy was smiling… secure in the depths of the computer and onboard the ship that was flying away through the hyperspace. There were so much money, betrayal and heroism behind his only one photograph… and it was so easy to take him alive.
    “I should have realized.” said Isabelle “He’s very much alike with Curtis senior.”
    “We still have man’s memory record.” Luis tried to comfort her “His staying at Curtis’s residence is something at least.”
    Kahl’s gaze didn’t require any further clarification. They had more than something… and now the Service on Volantis will get all the glory.
    Nomachi put everything at stake.
    “Nobody except us knows who the Ovalds are.” he said in the air. “We could demand their extradition from Volantis… or simply intercept them there.”
    “You’re speaking of treason.” noted Kahl in a level voice.
    “I’m speaking of completing the operation. We should take Curtis junior ourselves.”
    “Even the two of us is too much for such an operation.”
    “I have the aThan.” he said promptly.
    “So do I, I understand.” Isabelle was hesitating. “If someone knows that we risked Service’s interests for the sake of personal careers…”
    “But if we take Arthur…”
    “Who knows of the memory record?”
    “My informant at aThan and the person who made it. I doubt he watched the whole record through… only the last minutes.”
    “Is removal possible?”
    “Whom, people from aThan?” Luis was struck dumb. “They are all immortal!”
    “No, the record!”
    “Well, the gangs grow more and more impudent every day. They dare to attack even the Imperial Spaceport… I can think of no reason why they should leave the aThan compound alone.”
    “Good, it would be great if the bandits took two prisoners… and held them between life and death…”
    “Consider it done.”
    “Luis.” she embraced him almost tenderly and looked into his eyes, “If you go with me… till the end… we will rise higher than you have ever imagined. But if you try to take advantage of me… I would make it so that you were declared ‘a person with one life’.”
    Nomachi nodded. He believed that Isabelle could wring such a sentence from the Service Commander on Incedius Kurt Rokheim. Kurt was a noisy and talkative giant and was not burdened by either brilliance or stupidity. He loved it, when interrogating women, to extinguish cigars against their breasts.
    A mistress that permits doing this could get much.
    “We’ll take the best men. And the best non-men.” Isabelle continued “Call Akhar and T/San. I will call off Cadar and Marjan from the operation.”
    “Should we take non-humans?”
    “Luis, we should take anyone who doesn’t use aThan. Akhar, T/San… Cadar who is in debts up to his ears, Marjan who believes in her ancient god, do you understand? And another thing – find out who Kay Ovald is. You can check each and every citizen of the Empire but find out who he is.”
    Luis bolted from her office giving thanks to providence that he had renewed his aThan. Kahl looked after him. There must be a way to kill an immortal… must be or these industrious fools would take over the world.
    And Arthur Van Curtis will tell her about this way.
    “How it was so that I couldn’t see you through, boy?” said Kahl in a purring voice. “Deceived me… little brat.”
    Arthur Van Curtis was smiling at her from the screen.
    Send me a PM if you need me.

  20. #60
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    “I should have realized,” said Isabelle. “He looks very much _like _ Curtis senior.”
    Обрати внимание на пунктуацию при прямой речи.
    Только сейчас заметил, что ты регулярно повторяешь одну и ту же ошибку: ставишь точку перед выражениями типа "he said" после прямой речи.

    Нужно так (в AmE, по крайней мере):
    "This is direct discourse," he said.
    Или
    "This is direct discourse," he said, "so mind your commas."

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