Alastair Reynolds: On the Steel Breeze

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Alastair Reynolds On the Steel Breeze
  • Название:
    On the Steel Breeze
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Gollancz
  • Жанр:
    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2013
  • Город:
    London
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    978-0-575-09048-4
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    5 / 5
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On the Steel Breeze: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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It is a thousand years in the future. Mankind is making its way out into the universe on massive generation ships. On the Steel Breeze Blue Remembered Earth The central character, Chiku, is totally new, although she is closely related to characters in the first book. The action involves a 220-year expedition to an extrasolar planet aboard a caravan of huge iceteroid ‘holoships’, the tension between human and artificial intelligence… and, of course, elephants. Lots of elephants.

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Alastair Reynolds

ON THE STEEL BREEZE

For Louise Kleba, who started it all.

‘A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.’

— W.B. Yeats (lines from ‘Byzantium’.)

PROLOGUE

To begin with there was one of us, and now – if the news from Crucible is to be believed – there may soon be one of us again.

Lately I have been spending more time down at the shore, watching the arrival and departure of the sailing ships. I like the sound of their wind-whipped rigging, the quick and nimble business of the sailors, the lubbers and the merfolk, united in their fearlessness and strange ways of speaking. I watch the seagulls spoiling for scraps, and listen to their squabblesome cries. Sometimes I even flatter myself that I might be on the cusp of understanding them. Very occasionally, they share the sky with a dirigible or some other flying thing.

For a long time, though, it was difficult to return to this place. It is not that I have ever felt uncomfortable in Lisbon, even after the changes. True, there were hardships. But the city has endured worse, and doubtless, given enough time, it will endure worse again. I have many friends here, and, through the classes that I have organised, the children and adults I have helped with the learning of Portuguese, a surprising number of people have come to rely on me.

No, the city itself was not the problem and I cannot say that it has been unkind to me. But there were parts of it that for long years I felt obliged to avoid, tainted as they were by unpleasant association. The Baixa and the Santa Justa elevator, the long-established café at the top of the elevator, the tower at Belém, the Monument to the Discoveries. Not because bad things happened at all these places, but because they were the points where settled lives took sudden and unexpected turns, and (it must be said) not always for the better. But without these turns, I do not suppose I would be here now, with a mouth and a voice. Looking back on the chain of events that brought me to Lisbon, I can say with some conviction that nothing is ever entirely for good or ill. The city would concur, I think. I have strode its wide thoroughfares, enjoyed the benevolent shade of its grand imperial buildings. But before the city could be relaid out like this, it had first to be consumed in one terrible morning of water and fire. On another day, my sister ended the world so that the world could keep living.

I finger the charm that she gave me that morning. It is a simple wooden thing, worn around my neck on an equally simple strand of leather. Someone might look at this charm and think nothing of it, and in a sense they would be right in their assessment. It has little value and certainly no power. I am not a believer in such things, even though there is more superstition in the world than when I was a girl. People have begun to think of gods and ghosts again, although I am not one of them. But it cannot be denied that there is a small quiet miracle in the mere fact of the charm’s continued existence. It has come through an astonishing amount of time, tunnelling its way through history and into my care. It was my great-grandmother’s once, and that is far enough back for most people. But I suppose the charm would have seemed inscrutably old even to my great-grandmother, and just as old to her great-grandmother, whoever that woman was. There must have been so many times when the charm was almost lost, almost destroyed, but it slipped through those moments of crisis and somehow found its way into the present, a blessing from history.

I have been fortunate as well. By rights, I should not be standing here at all. I should have died, centuries ago, in deep space. In one sense, that is exactly what happened to me. I wagered myself against time and distance and lost the wager. Of course, I remember very little of what it was like to be me before the accident. What I remember now, or think I remember, is mostly what I was told by my sister. She spoke of a meeting under a candelabra tree, of the drawing of coloured lots, of the selecting of individual fates. Our lives decided. She was jealous of me, then. She thought my fate offered more glory than her own.

She was right, in her way, but the things that happened to us made a mockery of our plans and ambitions. Chiku Green did get to stand on Crucible and breathe the alien airs of another world. Chiku Red did reach that tiny drifting spacecraft, and she did learn something of its contents. Chiku Yellow did get to stay behind, where (it was hoped) she would stay out of harm’s way, leading a life of quiet unadventurousness.

So it was, for a time. As I have said, people did not as a rule believe in ghosts in those enlightened days. But there are ghosts and there are ghosts. If it had not been for a particular haunting, Chiku Yellow would never have come to the interest of the merfolk, and if she had not snared their attention, my eventual part in this chain of events would be, to say the least, greatly diminished.

So I am not sorry about the ghost. Sorry about everything else, yes. But I am glad that the phantom came to worry my sister out of her happy complacency. She had a good life, back then, if only she had known it.

But then so did everyone else.

CHAPTER ONE

She was on her way to the Santa Justa elevator when she saw the ghost again.

It was down in the Baixa, not far from the river. A street juggler had gathered onlookers, a party of tourists canopied under coloured umbrellas. When a gap opened in the group the ghost was with them, reaching out to Chiku. The ghost wore black clothes and a black hat with a wide brim. The ghost kept saying something, her expression becoming steadily more tormented. Then the tourists closed in again. The juggler did some more tricks and then made the mistake of asking for money. Disgruntled by this development, the party began to disperse. Chiku waited a moment but the ghost was gone.

Riding the iron elevator, she wondered what she was going to do about the apparitions. They were becoming more frequent. She knew the ghost could do her no harm, but that was not the same thing as accepting its presence.

‘You look troubled,’ a voice said. ‘Why would you look troubled on such a lovely afternoon?’

The speaker was one of three merfolk jammed in next to her near the elevator’s doors. They had squeezed in at the last moment, offending her with their briny smell and the hard edges of their mobility exos. She had wondered where they were going. It was said that merfolk disliked confined spaces, and heights, and being too far from the sea.

‘I’m sorry?’

‘I shouldn’t have spoken.’

‘No, you shouldn’t.’

‘But it is a lovely afternoon, isn’t it? We like rain. We admire the reflectivity of wet surfaces. The particular way the sun splinters and refracts. The glossiness of things that were formerly matte. The heaviness of the sky.’

‘I’m not interested in joining you. Go and recruit someone else.’

‘Oh, we’re not recruiting. That’s not something we need to do any more. Are you going to the café?’

‘What café?’

‘The one at the top.’

Chiku had indeed been on her way to the café but the question had blindsided her. How did the merperson know her habits? Not everyone in the elevator would be going to the café, nor even a majority of them. They might stop there on their way back from the Carmo Convent, but the café was seldom the point of their elevation up from the Rua do Ouro.

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