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100

The most vexing is that I don't want to sleep at all: it was too lucky day probably.

I return to the restaurant. Some guests have left, some new ones have arrived, an American crowd still laughs at their jokes.

I need a walk.

I leave 'Three Piglets', hesitate for a moment: should I stop the cab?

then decide to walk. I eventually leave the central streets and approach Russian blocks. In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting places in virtuality, the place where one can just chat.

About anything at all.

I see long rows of buildings, small squares and parks between them, either crowded or empty. I study intricate plates. Some of them are obvious, others are deliberately vague.

'Anecdotes'

'Talks about nothing'

'Sexual adventures'

'Strange place'

'Oats growing!'

'Books'

'Martial arts'

People come here to discuss the certain topics, this is the echo of pre-virtual age. More serious clubs are located further, where one can get an advice on technical questions, to argue about software or even buy pirated programs cheap. All that is of a little interest for me.

I enter the little park with the plate 'Anecdotes' on the gates. This place is always crowded, noisy and messy. This park looks very much like 'People's culture park' of the 60's. The little orchestra is playing in the corner, obviously not a real one, the people are sitting on the benches drinking beer and chatting. I sit a little aside.

The guy dressed in jeans and snow white shirt climbs on the small wooden stage. He's absolutely featureless. The audience glances at him lazily.

Once Shtirlitz have left his house starts the guy.

{ A side note. Shtirlitz is the main character of very popular Russian 13 episode 1972 TV series about the Soviet spy in Nazi headquarters. The story takes place in February-April 1945. Shtirlitz investigates the attempts of the separate talks held between Allen Dalles and high-ranked Nazis. This series was a real hit then (and still is!), and, as it always happens with something much loved (or hated) in Russia, it gave rise to an enormous amount of anecdotes, mostly hilariously stupid or one-liners based on 'game of words' } The girl nearby whistles loudly and throws a beer bottle at the guy. I understand her perfectly: 90% of all anecdotes told here is an ancient junk. This club is most loved by the newbies in virtuality who don't yet realize the little fact that there's nothing new under the sky. One have to spend not more than half an hour here to believe: Cain killed Abel only for the latter's love to tell the old { 'long bearded' } anecdotes

Despite the whistles and shouts the guy finishes telling his anecdote and runs from the stage looking around in a primed way. Lonely applause can be heard: geez, who could imagine I look around for the bar, it's in the far corner of the park. The girl gives me a bottle of beer without a word.

Thanks.. I make a sip. The ice cold 'Heineken' raises my spirits instantly.

One more guy ascends the stage, this time much more individual looking one, reminding me the Baltic type. His face looks roguish and I prick up my ears. The guy glances at the small booth in the corner of the stage askance.

Gentlemen! he shouts. Hm, he's really Baltic unless it was my subconsciousness that made me hear the accent. 'Lithocomp' company is honored to offer you the lowest prices for the following

A-haaa no questions.

I look at the booth too: the moderator's hiding place. Every club has the person who watches the talks to correspond to the declared topic. The question is though: is moderator on duty now or will react later?

He's here.

The booth's door opens and the sturdy man emerges from inside lazily, holding the pretty sinister looking device in his hands. The Baltic guy notices him and starts chattering really fast: hard drives: 'Quantum Lighting', 'Western Digital'

Not on topic! the moderator says lazily but with suppressed rage and shoulders his weapon. The audience goes quiet enjoying the show.

The barrel recoils and the brightly shining red cross-like object flies towards the merchant with a shrilling whistle. The Baltic tries to duck but no use: moderators never miss. The fiery cross or 'plus' as it's usually called, sticks to the merchant's shirt: three such 'pluses' in total and he'll be banned from 'Anecdotes' club forever.

The crowd laughs approvingly.

Hey, maybe it was the way the anecdote was supposed to begin, huh? shouts somebody out from the audience. The moderator shakes his finger to him with a warning, then aims at the Baltic again. The guy quits his attempts to scrape the shiny plus off his shirt, jumps down from the stage and flees.

Wheee, crush 'im! the crowd instigates the moderator but he's in the kind mood today, he flings the plus-thrower behind his back and retires into the portable toilet-looking booth.

'Lithocomp' says the girl nearby thoughtfully. I should check their prices, it's time to change the HD

Well, at least some success was achieved by the merchant after all. Another humor thirsty one ascends the stage.

Once, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. { yet another mega popular anecdote characters, taken NOT from Disney movies though, but from Russian animated series produced in70's, FAR cooler one than Disney's IMHO } I start feeling myself bored to death.

Just why Shtirlitz and Pooh anecdotes are so popular in virtuality?! Is it some weird kind of psychologic aberration?

Thanks for the beer, I say to the girl and walk out of the park.

My mood can't be called lousy, but it's odd. I toil myself along the clubs' buildings. Through the barred windows of the Martial Arts club I can see the fragile built Eastern looking guy demonstrating some complicated moves. In the open air type cinema called 'Movies' the imposing man gestures energetically standing before the screen. I peek inside and hear:

Cheap stuff! This movie is a disgusting cheap stuff!

Boring-boring-boring, Ladies and Gentlemen

Alexandrians are probably right: we have turned the virtual world into the parody of the real one, but parodies are never better than the original, their goal is different: to mock it, to show its awkwardness and stupidity.

But we can't change the world, and this parody makes no sense. It's not a dash forward but just a step aside.

Vika

Yes Lenia?

Stop me a cab

Okay.

Maybe it's worthy to ride around the city, or to go to an entertainment center.

The Deep-Transit's cab stops by me, I open the door and get inside. The driver is of some absolutely new type, never seen before: the bearded man in ripped T-shirt and tattoos on his shoulders. Does he imitate Punk or something?

The car will arrive shortly, informs Windows-Home.

Now I realize that the driver haven't even told the traditional greeting; that we're moving already even if I haven't told the address.

It's only one road from here, says the driver and turns to me with a smirk. He has a scar on his cheek and decayed teeth. It's not a program obviously, it's a real person.

Stop the car.

That's against the rules, the driver grins steering carelessly.

{ The whole scene hints to another Russian hit movie called "The Diamond Hand", released in 1968. It's a great comedy about a modest aged Soviet engineer who went to the sea cruise abroad for the first time and was confused (and misplaced) with a jewelry smugglers' courier. } Uh-oh.

Vika, exit! I command.

No answer.

Your little program doesn't hear you, informs the driver, Stay put, okie? It'll be the best.

I never heard about virtual abductions before.

Who are you?

The Beard just smiles.

Of course there is a way out: unavailable to the ordinary Deeptown citizen: to exit the Deep by myself and to break the connection.

The question is though: isn't it exactly what they expect from me? Revealing myself as the diver, and to break the connection while I'm in the 'car', the transportation program which is probably capable of tracing the telephone line?

Geez, just why did I connect from the main address today, now it's an amateur's task to determine my personality!

What do you want?

The driver ignores me, but watches nevertheless, examining me with curiosity of the hunter who managed to shoot the firebird.

Okay, you have asked for this, I say trying not to panic and take the revolver out.

Six bullets six different viruses. It's a weak weapon but I rely on the variety of loads, maybe the kidnapper's protection won't stand it.

Three bullets just go through him without 'seeing' the target. Good antivirus, prevented the detection of its computer. One bullet flattens and falls on the floor: the virus is killed. Other two shells don't fire at all: viruses are neutralized right in the barrel.

That's all.

I hit the driver with the revolver's handle, also the weak virus that knocks out the simple programs like Deep-Transit well, but now there's no effect of course.

Don't flutter, advises the driver watching how I pull the door locks. Everything is sealed completely and I submit myself. At any rate, no information is unnecessary.

We move on, and again I try to contact Vika without any success. My voice communication channel is blocked.

Abyss-abyss, I'm not yours

The car's interior is on the helmet's screens. Wow, drawn great: this is well recognizable sporty 'Lancia'.

I laid my hands on the keyboard, typed in several commands, pressed Enter.

It worked.

deep Enter I'm in the car again. The driver looks back at me cautiously. I spin the revolver in my hand thoughtfully: it's loaded again, and the pocket is weighed down by a grenade.

The parcel was received? asks the driver.

Now it's my turn to play the game of silence.

I wonder how?

You know my friend, if I run out of ammo, it's the definite order to refill my supplies. Smugness of a petty hacker is in my voice. Quite plausible legend: the fact that my computer have loaded the new portion of viruses into my revolver doesn't reveal the diver in me.

The driver thinks for a while.

Let's delay shooting a little, okay?

I shrug indefinitely. The Beard says soothingly:

We've arrived.

The car really stops by the unfamiliar building: the gray cube without windows, with the only door, very wide like in the garage and heavily armored as if in warning it'll be tough to enter uninvited. Usually these buildings hide either banal consumer goods warehouses or luxury apartments inside.

Let's go? suggests the driver.

I keep silence.

The Beard hits accelerator without a word and the car jumps directly to the door. In a moment before the impact the door flies open letting us in.

It's really a warehouse.

Lots of shelves along the walls, boxes with colorful labels of famous manufacturers. Tons of good merchandise. This place is either an office of the big dealer or the thieves' hiding, which seems to be more likely.

The doors are unblocked already, now the car's function is performed by the walls of this building. I still have no connection to Vika.

So? I ask getting out of 'Lancia', What the hell do you want?

The driver looks past me. It's stupid, but I turn around.

The man without face stands in the corner of the warehouse.

A black cloak length to the floor, a silver clip in the form of the rose on his chest, curling hair of some odd ash color but pretty natural looking but instead of his face a gray haze like condensed fog. Such tricks are forbidden in the city but one can do that at home, but what for? If one wants not to be recognizable, it's possible to pick the standard face from Windows-Home set: it's the hell of those there, while the missing face with such unusual dress is just stupid. But looks impressive nevertheless.

Semen, leave us, says Man Without Face.

The driver nods, turns around and leaves somewhere into the shelves labyrinth. His steps fade slowly and I note that the echo is excellent here, maybe to make it impossible to move around unnoticed.

You are the diver, says Man Without Face.

Oh sure. Today's tradition: somebody tries to catch me again, for the third time already. God loves the Trinity

Maybe. And you're Bill Gates possibly. I reply.

Even if he smiles, I can't see it for sure.

Possibly.

Yeah right. The owner of Microsoft in pursue of divers along the Net. Firstly, he makes money by more traditional means, secondly he doesn't speak Russian himself. But who knows how perfect interpreter programs might be? Emotionless tones is the tradeoff of serial made and cheap ones.

Let's not play the fool, I say. You decided that I'm the diver? And dragged me here for interrogation. I'm afraid you'll be disappointed.

This morning two hackers, one of those being the obvious diver, stole the file with the technology of the new pharmaceutical product from Al-Kabar. Man Without Face is patient and strict, I have no idea how much did they promise to pay you for that, but luckily Mr Friedrich Urman had informed the diver that the real price would be a hundred thousand. Some psychological assumptions follow: like the one that the diver will get rid of the hot file immediately. Like he'll demand exactly a hundred grands from the buyer. Like he'll transfer the money to the very secure account.

No, that can't be real professionals are working in banks. Nobody could trace me.

Let's assume also that two hackers divide the amount equally. And now it becomes really interesting, my friend. Money transfers happen every second in Deeptown, but the transfer of exactly 50 000 from one private party to another The account numbers stay secret, but the place where the payment took place is much more easily determined. Do you follow my thought?

That's it. Very simple.

I was traced from the very 'Three Piglets'. Roman had left instantly, while I decided to walk a little.

To find an adventure for my stupid ass.

Why the hell did I share equally with him?!

Very interesting story. How does it relate to me I wonder?

Even if my interlocutor has no face I know for sure he's smiling.

One has to lose with honor, Mr Diver.

I haven't lost yet, but he doesn't know that.

Sure, impossibility of being caught is what makes divers what they are. says Man Without Face, What are the program obstacles for you? All you need to do is just to concentrate and off you are, back home to disconnect manually.

Um-hm. Thanks for the tip. It'll be the moment of connection being closed when I'll be traced

In 24 hours, when the safety timer snaps into action on my computer,

I shout, your perfect idea will crumble and you'll be sorry of your stupidity! I'm an honest guy, I pay the taxes! I'll stir up all the Deeptown police!

Maybe, but unlikely, says Man Without Face, Well, if we are convinced that you're the honest hacker, the great amount of sarcasm is in his last words, then we'll have no grudges against you.

You'll be caught! I threaten him, And then excommunication forever!

Excommunication is the most dreadful threat for any Deeptown citizen: it's too hard to live without virtuality if one visited it even just once.

I don't think it'll happen.

The man without face throws his cloak open with an experienced stripper gesture. There's a rainbow disk on the inside: a swirling glowing spiral surrounded by blue.

Oh my. He's from the police himself. At least commissar if he has a rainbow badge.

Oh great, go ahead I say in a cheerless voice, I knew that all cops are ass holes, but not to this extent..

Just listen to me for the start.

What else is left for me to do? I shout, What?!

I pull out the revolver and thrust all six bullets into the door. Six ricochets. The boxes with software on the shelves start to blow up and burn. The sprinkles on the ceiling come to life with a hissing sound and viruses get terminated in a second.

Stop being hysterical, says Man Without Face, it seems to me that there's a slight

doubt in his voice. I throw my revolver at him, it comes through and falls down under the wall.

Do you want me to calm you down?

His voice is ice cold and doesn't promise anything good.

I sit down on the floor, squeeze my head with hands and whisper:

Assholes Fucking assholes..

We don't care about your pranks in the Deep, diver. The theft is bad, but it was high time for Urman to get knocked on the nose.

I'm whining quietly, rocking from side to side.

Man Without Face ignores my performance.

The crime always existed, it exists now and will exist. I'm not Jesus and I don't pretend to complete innocence myself. I have my own goals.

And I have my little legal business! What do you want?

That's better. Mr Diver, have you heard about the Lost Point? Or about the Invisible Boss?

What I was expecting the least were the ancient fables.

'Point' is the old term for the terminal network user?

Yes, the user of Fidonet this one existed some time ago.

Maybe I've heard about that Is it about the guy who was killed by electric shock being in virtuality? And his consciousness somehow stayed alive in the Net?

Yes. The youth with a pale face and burned clothes who asks everybody whom he meets to report to the 13th Moscow hub that the point 666 was lost And about the Invisible Boss?

Give me the chair, I rise from the cold concrete floor.

Follow me.

We go to the right, behind the shelf with Mac software. Illiquid stuff, only a few people now use these computers. There were humans and Neanderthals, then IBM and Apple. Stub evolution branches aren't viable. The small table piled with papers is behind the shelves, two chairs by it. We sit down.

Invisible Boss is the tale of the same times. says Man Without Face. Boss was the higher step in Fidonet hierarchy. It was boss to whom those who wanted to become points and join to virtuality addressed their requests to There was no virtuality back then though The legend told that sometimes the newbies managed to find a very good boss for themselves, who provided the network access at any time, high transfer rate, connection to any club those were called echo-conferences at that time.

I nod automatically.

And everything was fine usually, looks like Man Without Face haven't noticed my negligence, until one of the points found out that the phone number that he used to communicate with his boss doesn't exist, and the boss himself was not seen or heard about by anybody. After that Invisible Boss used to send the letter to all his point saying, "Why do you pursue me?" and disappear.

Undoubtedly rich the folklore was, I agree. I also remember about the crazy moderator, and the echo-conference called 'Die here!'

I started with Fidonet as well, says Man Without Face.

I stay silent.

Mr Diver, unlike Urman I'm not trying to ascertain your personality. But you know what the funniest thing is? We both need you for the same purpose.

To capture the Lost Point?

Man Without Face laughs softly.

This is just a fable that was born in the junction of times when Internet and Fidonet turned into the united virtuality. Very few people remember them now. Just five years have passed, and look how much was forgotten.

Nothing was forgotten, it's buried under newer information, but is still alive.

All the same diver, the essence doesn't change.

Well, but today the new legend was born.

Which one?

About Man Without Face.

My interlocutor shakes his head.

Hardly will it be so intriguing as the youth dressed in smoking clothes

We both laugh quietly.

So Mr Diver have you ever played in the 'Labyrinth of Death'?

Possibly.

Do you know that two divers cooperate with them?

I can assume that.

Even two? I was sure that 'Labyrinth' manages with only one rescuer..

I can give you their addresses either network or the real ones.

Wow!!!

One of them is Ukranian, the other one is Canadian. The first one lives

No, I say with some effort.

How interesting! I was sure that it's the common dream to determine the diver's personality! Including the divers themselves!

This dream is one of the worst and base crimes according to our code.

For the first time I admit that I'm diver. Hardly my interlocutor had any doubt about that though.

One problem have arose in "Labyrinth" and those two can't manage it Man Without Face bends across the table, takes a piece of paper and writes the short address. He does right that doesn't try to give me the business card, I'd never take a file from him. These are my coordinates. After you visit "Labyrinth", offer your service to the management and try to solve the problem, contact me. Ask for Man Without Face.

He doesn't want to make it clearer and as it seems he doesn't have even a little doubt that I'll rush to "Labyrinth" at once.

Why would I want to do that?

Man Without Face takes a small badge from the cloak pocket. It looks pretty like the police badge but its background is white and there's not a spiral in the center but a tiny sphere woven of the thinnest threads.

That's why.

The badge is on the table between us. I look at it but don't dare to touch.

What if it disappears?

When Lady Winter received the order from Cardinal Richelieu (SP???) saying "Whatever is done by this person was done for the benefit of France", it was a bit less cool.

The legendary Complete Licence Medal is before me: the right for just anything that's possible to do in the deep.

Friedrich Urman would open the door and escort me to the bridge personally if he saw this badge.

He probably would hire killers later though in order to settle the scores with me but in the deep he would be extremely polite.

I've never seen the Medal with my own eyes before. I know that Dmitry Dibenko received the same one in his time: for the creation of the deep itself.

One must accomplish something vitally important for all virtual space for any of his actions to be considered right from now on.

It will wait for you on this table, says Man Without Face, You'll get it in case of your success.

I nod silently.

Note that there'll be other aspirants, informs Man Without Face, We're looking for divers everywhere in the deep, and will find many, and will tell them the same I've told you.

What's there, in "Labyrinth"? I ask turning my gaze away from the Medal.

I have no idea. This is what worries me.

I allow myself to smirk, tell me that you don't know

Until now everything that was happening in virtuality had their analogies in the real world. Entertainment, business, science, communications

Interesting that he ranked entertainment first

Now something have changed. Good luck to you diver. You can go now.

Man Without Face nods in the direction of the door.

I'll leave by my own way.

You decided to reveal yourself?

Sure not.

At parting, I look in the foggy oval of his face.

Abyss-abyss, I'm not yours

I took off the helmet and stretched my hand to the modem hesitatingly, then pulled the phone wire from the jack.

The line is broke! informs Vika

I know, girl.

That's it, mysterious anonymous. It's that simple. Not a standard exit which is possible to trace but an instantly broken thread.

It's barbaric of course, but absolutely no data exchange between my computer and the one where the warehouse is modeled.

No dialtone, says Vika, Check the wiring.

Shut down.

Really?

Yes.

The blue background with the white falling figure fills the screen.

Now it's safe to turn off your computer, whispers Vika sleepily.

Good night to you, the most loyal of my friends I turned the power switch and turned off the modem. I need a quiet night, let all mail wait until the morning. It's already 3:30 am though the sky becomes lighter.

And I want to sleep so much! The head is aching of excess information.

I pulled off the virtual suit. Man, does it stink of sweat, it requires cleaning for a long time by now Then I plopped down on the sofa. Good that I didn't do the bed yesterday. How farsighted have I become

For three years already, I suppose.


| Labyrinth of reflections | c