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101

The cab rushes past me as if my raised hand doesn't mean anything anymore in Deeptown. I jerk after the car, wave my hand again

Useless. This is war.

How did Dibenko manage to cut me from Deeptown's transportation system? Possibly he has a share there too?

Well, but I don't need Deep-Transit anymore, do I?

An already familiar feeling when the city around falls flat turning into a scheme. I soar above it, drag myself through the distance, through foreign computers towards my house

And I hit the wall.

I can see the house, a highrise inhabited by things but I can't get inside. Something have changed in the space itself.

I make myself real, not inside the building itself, on the sidewalk by it.

The house is burning.

It's not a fire but a fantastic illumination. The walls are changing the color and brightness, each grain shines like a diamond. The whole house is like a ridiculous squarish diamond under the floodlight ray.

And there are people, many people: uniforms of the city's security service, "Labyrinth"'s and Al-Kabar's guards The ring of cordon around the house, snipers with carbines, machine-gunners behind transparent shields, the gunners with jet knapsacks floating in the air. I emerged inside the ring, and hundred of barrels aims at me instantly.

The spiders have made a deal and have spread their web together.

Leonid! Raise your hands and come closer! the voice booms above the street. A group of people can be seen behind the ring of guards, in the rainbow flashes of illumination: Urman, Willy, Man Without Face, commissar Jordan Reid.

Wow.

What an honor for me! Where can a poor diver go? All official and unofficial rulers of the deep have gathered by his house!

Leonid, come closer, slowly! repeats Reid. His voice echoes along the street.

At least they are trying to keep an impression of their actions being lawful: the operation is carried out by the police. I walk under the aiming barrels, under the scrutiny of hundreds of computers, every step of mine is measured and estimated, every byte of data is under invisible control

The guards in front of me give way letting me in. Guillermo looks aside. Urman who in fact is just Urman's secretary smirks mockingly. Dibenko, in his mask again, is indifferent.

I address to Reid ignoring them all:

What's going on?

You're charged with unlawful penetration into secured information space, in using weapons which caused a serious material damage, in hiding the information that is vitally important for Deeptown, raps Jordan out, You're detained for examining the circumstances.

And what is my house charged with? I ask, but it's impossible to confuse Reid:

The search for the evidence is being carried out.

I turn around to the burning building. Search? Hell no! Conservation. Freezing. Overflowing of comm channels with data. Will Unfortunate be able to deflect the attack or even his powers won't be enough here?

I surrender, I say, I admit all charges. I request this to be stopped.

Jordan shakes his head, with a slight sympathy in his look but with determination.

Don't try to hide in reality, he warns, We requested Interpol for your physical arrest.

The dread rolls over me extinguishing the will, taking all strength away. Who knows, maybe there, back in reality, gloomy commandos in black fabric masks already stand behind my back?

A real prison, a real trial this isn't an excitement of virtual fights. It's a rotten hay mattress, a skilly which recipe haven't changed since Stalin's times, bars on the window and escort guards not blemished with an intellect.

Or my dear native police haven't yet learn to work fast despite it's desperate wish to exchange the Russian citizen for a dozen of obsolete portable radio communicators?

Abyss-abyss and to run

I look at drawn faces, at the armed guards. There's no borders for the miracle hunters. They've dived into the deep from all corners of the world in order to tear off, to rip out a piece of mystery, wherever could it be brought into our world from.

And frenzy takes me over.

Jordan I give you exactly ten seconds I whisper, To all of you. Ten seconds to get your asses out of here.

Collect yourself, Leonid! this is Reid.

Gunslinger, let's find a compromise this is Willy.

Your strength has its limits too Man Without Face.

Oh my God, they fear me! Me! Alone against them all, primed, with an ancient computer behind and an empty hands!

Why?

I don't know how you still hold out, starts Dibenko, but

Five seconds, I say.

And the guards start shooting, either without an order or I just have missed it.

The fire and pain.

Everything that was invented for years of the deep's existence, everything well tested and most secret everything for my honor

I stand in the middle of the fire and see the dread on the faces around me, and even in the gray fog of Man Without Face the dread

Why am I still here, remaining in virtuality instead of taking the helmet off before the gray display of the killed machine?

I pull myself towards the guards, not with hands, just with a gaze their bodies crumple like fabric puppets under the heel, fall apart in ashes, drain of steam, freeze, collapse into points, dissolve in the air, as if my gaze reflects all nastiness that pours my way.

Five seconds given for my enemies pass and the street is empty, just my house still burns and those who had set fire to it stand near.

It's in the deep only where you're God, says Man Without Face. He doesn't threaten me, just reminds.

Oh really? I pad closer to them, Reid, now IRS computers will learn that you had misappropriated a couple of millions Urman! All Al-Kabar's data is in free access! Willy! "Labyrinth" is dead! Levels are deleted, maps are lost, monsters have fled! Dima! Your fingerprints belong to a serial killer!

I give them a couple of seconds to conceive that and add:

One minute and it will be so!

I don't know if it's possible, I don't know the limit of my powers, I even don't know where they came from.

But they believe me.

What do you want, diver? shouts Urman. Reid shoulders him aside and roars:

Your conditions!

Did I guess right about his taxes?

You'll stop the hunt.

The miracle is before them. But they have what to lose.

Urman and Guillermo look at each other, Al-Kabar's director nods.

We cancel our charges Jordan, says Willy, It's not necessary to engage Interpol.

He nods to me very slightly. So it was just a threat?

Lies. Lies everywhere.

With a corner of my eyes I can see people approaching us along the street, the ordinary citizens of Deeptown. Now, as the cordon is gone, they can satiate their curiosity.

Let them watch.

Jordan grabs Dibenko's shoulder and shakes him slightly:

Did you hear that? The operation is over! That's it! Turn your systems off!

So it was Dmitry who froze the building? Police had not enough guts for that?

Man Without Face shoves commissar aside, he looks at me only. He's the only one who doesn't care about my threats. Not because he doesn't believe in them and not because he's ready to compete with an American juridical system, totally run through with computer technologies.

He's not ready to refuse the miracle. We're compatriots after all, the highest idea had screwed up our brains alike, even if in different directions. A whisper comes from the foggy mask:

You're betraying the entire world

I'm rehabilitating it.

You don't want to share, diver. You've got your reward and betrayed us. Ah well. Don't forget to take the Medal you'll have something to justify yourself with.

I remember the warehouse, the boxes with soft, the table where the Medal of Complete Licence was left.

I reach through the distance that is no more, and the heavy medal lies into my hand. I examine it for a second: the white background and the rainbow colored sphere, the cobweb of the Net surrounded by innocence and purity.

This is yours, I say and throw the Medal to Man Without Face. The medal touches the black fabric of the cloak and sticks to it. Nice I haven't earned that. And you you created the deep, and stop repeating that you couldn't do it. You could. By yourself. Thank you. But don't think that we all owe you anything. This world will live, will fall and learn to stand up after that. It'll never force to talk anybody who wants to stay silent, and will never shut the mouth of the ones who want to talk. And probably it'll become better

I turn around and walk towards my house.

Dibenko haven't yet turned off the programs that froze the building in the diamond crust. But I ain't gonna ask him for anything. I pull the door and enter the staircase that shines as Aladdin's Cave of Wonders. It's just that illumination dims behind my back, fades completely. I rip the foreign program, gaining step after step from it.

I ascend, just two and a half hundred steps to go up.

Rustles and noises can be heard behind each door, my drawn little world livens up as I pass by. Fragments of music and muffled talks, rattle of shattering glass and rhythmical hammer hits, slaps of bare feet against the floor and squeal of a drill can be heard from behind my back.

I can't even remember now, when and what was I programming surrounding myself with nonexistent neighbors. Weirdo am I. Just as anybody is

I know that I can remove all freezing at once, with one effort, but I don't do that. Let the way up will be slow, step by step, sweeping the false sparkle from the walls, waking up the life in empty apartments. I'll never enter this house again.

Baby's whimpering and the buzz of a broken faucet, dog's barking and goblets' ringing. I have nothing to memorize and nothing to be sad about. These were my crutches but I've learned to walk on my own.

The last bend of the stairs, for a moment I stop by my door made of diamond grains. My tiny face is in every one of them, one of the numerous faces I was putting on in the deep.

I breathe at the door the diamonds dim, darken turning into icicles, melting and flowing down in water droplets. Cry for me abyss, I have nothing to cry for.

I enter and instantly see that nothing have changed inside, Dibenko's program had no power here.

Unfortunate and Vika stand by the window, looking outside.

I approach and Vika silently takes my hand into her, and we look at Deeptown, three of us.

The street is swarming with people, a dense solid crowd, Deep-Transit's cabs stay a bit further along the sides of the street and people still keep coming in order to freeze, looking up at the house.

And only right under the window the people give place, there's a ring of emptiness surrounding Man Without Face. He also looks up as if being able to see us. I even want to believe that he can.

He's not evil at all, I say to Unfortunate, He's only impatient.

I don't accuse anyone, agrees Unfortunate.

Then leave, I ask, It's high time for that.

He looks at me for some time, the one who came into the deep as Unfortunate, as if trying to see my real face, to understand what I might feel now.

Are you hurt? he asks in the end.

No. Just upset, but this is different.

I feared that you'll be hurt: I broke your dream, didn't I?

Which one?

You dreamed that virtuality will change the world, will make it cleaner, will give power and kindness to the people. You tolerated what angered you, smiled to what annoyed you

Unfortunate stretches his hand, puts it on top of my and Vika's joined palms.

You believed in the moment one single moment that would redeem all sins and mistakes. I killed this faith.

It's even funny for me to listen to these words. Does he really think so?

Did I really think so?

It's not the deep, Unfortunate, I say, Not this deep.

He nods.

Do you remember the mirror labyrinth, Leonid?

Sure I do

The deep gave you millions of mirrors diver, the magic mirrors. One can see himself, one can see the world any of its corners. One can draw the world and it'll become alive, reflected in the mirror. This is a wonderful gift. But mirrors are too obedient diver, obedient and deceitful. The mask put on once becomes the face. The vice turns into finesse, the snobbery into elite stuff, the spite into sincerity. The journey into the mirror world isn't an easy stroll, it's too easy to get lost.

I know

That's only why I'm talking to you because you know. I would like to be your friend too, Leonid.

He smiles sadly, then adds:

But it would be a very strange friendship

Alien and Russian brothers forever? inquires Vika sarcastically. { A mock of the Stalin's times song: "Stalin and Mao watch upon us [] Russian and Chinese brothers forever." } So Unfortunate didn't convince her, not at all. For her he's still a human, a cunning hacker taking everyone in

I'm mirthless but I say:

I'm not asking who you are. Believe it or not, but I don't care An alien from the stars or from another dimension, or the machine mind. But you know much more then we do anyway. Tell me, what will happen?

It depends in what mirror you are looking, diver.

Then I'll choose, Unfortunate, and I'll be very picky. Now leave.

He removes his hand from ours.

For a second nothing happens, then the wall behind hid back starts bending, curling up into a funnel.

Unfortunate makes a step back, into the shiny tunnel leading towards unknown, towards the blue sun and orange bands flying beneath it, into his world. His body shivers and blurs, cascades of colorful sparks streaming from his skin. For a moment it seems to me that I can see see the one who visited our world.

But most likely, I just want to give the miracle a name too much.

Remember us I say to escaping flashes of light, Remember us as we are

The house begins to shake, the walls become transparent, then pale green, then brick ones, then made of paper. The ceiling crawls up and bends in a dome, the floor turns into the mirror, the light in the window passes all spectrum colors and burns our silhouettes on the paper wall. The apartment turns into a huge hall as if all directions were stretched by an order.

The tunnel narrows slowly, but there's still time to jump after Unfortunate and to see where he came from, to tear the mask from the miracle.

Lenia, what is this? shouts Vika.

The data, I answer. The wind begins to blow through the apartment, a room pomegranate in a flowerpot blossoms, a pile of CDs on the shelf starts playing all songs simultaneously. He copies the data, brings everything he learned with himself.

Half transparent shadows rush past us. Alex with the carbine at ready runs by, then a monstrous spider rushes by, stepping with its paws, that imaginary family which we rescued in "Labyrinth" goes down the tunnel too. A huge tree flies away, rotating as a propeller, a hobbit with a scared muzzle minces out, a flying Man Without Face's guard with a fire breathing jet knapsack stalks out in huge jumps.

Then me and Vika walk in. Hand in hand.

Remember us, I repeat, Remember

The tunnel narrows more like a cameras's aperture. At the last moment the flying slippers of Computer Wiz squeeze into it, flapping their wings.

Then the room returns to normal.

I don't believe that he's an alien anyway, says Vika, in unsure voice but stubbornly, If he's a good hacker, then he could

She silences when I hug her shoulders.

Please Vika, don't, I ask, He have left, haven't he? Forever. It's not necessary to argue now, we can just believe.

There's a noise in the street, an exchange of opinions. Have they seen at least anything of what we did? It doesn't matter. The new legend was born in the deep.

He have left, but we stay, says Vika, and there's a hunt after you.

I nod, slowly releasing her, step to the window and look down. Man Without Face is still motionless.

Leonid the diver must leave too. I agree.

Will you miss your house? asks Vika. How great it is when it's not necessary to explain anything.

A little like I'd miss a kiddie's three-wheeler.

I return to her and hug again, her lips find mine.

And this is something that will never leave from now on.

Abyss I call silently.

The house shakes again when the rental server in distant Minsk receives the command. Magnetic head slides along the disk surface deleting.

One turn and the first floor with the scandalous pensioner disappears. Another turn and the sixth floor with the quiet graphomaniac is gone, another and the tenth floor with vinyl collector is no more.

My computer livens up and the apartment walls fade. I don't look at the table, but I know well that the drawn Vika on the display smiles to me for the last time. Programs don't feel sad when we delete them, people do but I have no choice. If you get lost in the mirror labyrinth break the mirrors, reach for the light

A crowd bursts into shouts when my house dissolves in the air. Poor Jordan will have to prove that it wasn't his fault.

We fly above Deeptown in a hug, looking into each other's eyes.

Great whispers Vika.

I have no idea myself how I do it

You have no idea how you're kissing? she asks in surprise.

No, never will I understand a woman's logic.

By the connection of the Ukranian and Baltic blocks, near a supermarket, I find a quiet spot between phone booths and a fountain. This is where we come out from. Not at once though.

You're erasing all your traces? inquires Vika.

I nod in silence.

Do you hope they'll not find you?

I'll try. Maybe they'll be able to figure the city out but even this isn't likely. It would be better if they won't know even this.

What about trusting me?

St. Petersburg, I say. I want so much to hear that we're compatriots, but Vika frowns.

Piter Lenia, wait here, okay?

I wait. She runs into the supermarket while I reach the Minsk server again, checking for any trace that might have left, then move along all spare addresses, even along those never used and kill them scratching all data from everywhere mercilessly from strimmers and magnetooptics, Bernulli's storage and optical disks. The last one to be cleaned is my ISP's disk. That's it. Now I never entered the deep.

Vika returns.

Got into a long waiting line, can you imagine? she laughs.

An urgent shopping?

One thing.

She waves a farsightedly folded plane ticket before my face, I just can see where is she about to fly.

Are you free in the morning?

Don't you fear to fly?

What can I do, it'd be too long by all other means Will you meet me?

What flight?

Wait for me by the information booth at ten in the morning.

A little game of independency I can reach the cash register in the supermarket right now and find out who and from where have just bought the ticket to St. Petersburg.

But of course I won't do that.

How will I recognize you?

Vika shrugs her shoulders.

We'll see. How about you?

I'll hold a red rose in my teeth, I inform gloomily.

I can understand Vika perfectly. One thing is to fall in love in the virtual world, while to meet in reality is an absolutely different case. It's too scary to talk about yourself. I don't know whether I would have guts to offer to meet first.

Then see you at ten by the info booth, decides Vika, Let's try not to be confused?

Okay.

I'll leave now, alright? she half asks, half informs, I yet have to gather my stuff

It's cold here already, I warn.

Here too

Vika becomes half transparent and crumbles in a whirl of sparks. Beautiful is her exit from the deep.

My time is up too.

I wink to a passer-by who stopped watching Vika's exit and disappear from virtuality.

The screens were dark. Completely.

I took the helmet off.

The golden background of Windows-Home was glowing on the display, Vika is gone.

Enough of loving the drawn people.

We'll exit the Internet manually

I opened the terminal window and stared at the blinking line dumbly.

No dialtone!

I'd better pay my phone bills in time.

I picked up the phone anyway and listened to the silence. Then I checked the logs: the phone was disconnected three hours ago, by the end of the working day, according to the habits of phone switchboard workers.

So you were right, Mr Urman's virtual secretary It's really possible to enter the deep without any technical devices.

I pulled the suit off and lagged myself to the bed.


| Labyrinth of reflections | c