Alastair Reynolds: Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds

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Alastair Reynolds Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds
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    Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds
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Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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This is an amazing collection of some of the best short fiction ever written in the SF genre, by an author acclaimed as ‘the mastersinger of space opera’ (THE TIMES). Alastair Reynolds has won the Sidewise Award and been nominated for The Hugo Awards for his short fiction. One of the most thought-provoking and accomplished short-fiction writers of our time, this collection is a delight for all SF readers.

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“Do you see the nest yet?” Voi said.

“Wait a second,” Clavain said, requesting a head-up display which boxed the nest. “That’s it. A nice fat thermal signature too. Nothing else for miles around—nothing inhabited, anyway.”

“Yes. I see it now.”

The Conjoiner nest lay a third of the way from the Wall’s edge, not far from the footslopes of Arsia Mons. The entire encampment was only a kilometre across, circled by a dyke which was piled high with regolith dust on one side. The area within the Great Wall was large enough to have an appreciable weather system: spanning enough Martian latitude for significant coriolis effects; enough longitude for diurnal warming and cooling to cause thermal currents.

He could see the nest much more clearly now; details leaping out of the haze.

Its external layout was crushingly familiar. Clavain’s side had been studying the nest from the vantage point of Deimos ever since the cease-fire. Phobos with its lower orbit would have been even better, of course—but there was no helping that, and perhaps the Phobos problem might actually prove useful in his negotiations with Galiana. She was somewhere in the nest, he knew: somewhere beneath the twenty varyinglysized domes emplaced within the rim, linked together by pressurised tunnels or merged at their boundaries like soap bubbles. The nest extended several tens of levels beneath the Martian surface; maybe deeper.

“How many people do you think are inside?” Voi said.

“Nine hundred or so,” said Clavain. “That’s an estimate based on my experiences as a prisoner, and the hundred or so who’ve died trying to escape since. The rest, I have to say, is pretty much guesswork.”

“Our estimates aren’t dissimilar. A thousand or less here, and perhaps another three or four spread across the system in smaller nests. I know your side thinks we have better intelligence than that, but it happens not to be the case.”

“Actually, I believe you.” The shuttle’s airframe was flexing around them, morphing to a low-altitude profile with wide, batlike wings.

“I was just hoping you might have some clue as to why Galiana keeps wasting valuable lives with escape attempts.”

Voi shrugged. “Maybe to her the lives aren’t anywhere near as valuable as you’d like to think.”

“Do you honestly think that?”

“I don’t think we can begin to guess the thinking of a true hive-mind society, Clavain. Even from a Demarchist standpoint.”

There was a chirp from the console; Galiana signalling them. Clavain opened the channel allocated for Coalition-Conjoiner diplomacy.

“Nevil Clavain?” he heard.

“Yes.” He tried to sound as calm as possible. “I’m with Sandra Voi. We’re ready to land as soon as you show us where.”

“OK,” Galiana said. “Vector your ship toward the westerly rim wall. And please, be careful.”

“Thank you. Any particular reason for the caution?”

“Just be quick about it, Nevil.”

They banked over the nest, shedding height until they were skimming only a few tens of meters above the weatherworn Martian surface. A wide rectangular door had opened in the concrete dyke, revealing a hangar bay aglow with yellow lights.

“That must be where Galiana launches her shuttles from,” Clavain whispered. “We always thought there must be some kind of opening on the west side of the rim, but we never had a good view of it before.”

“Which still doesn’t tell us why she does it,” Voi said.

The console chirped again—the link poor even though they were so close. “Nose up,” Galiana said. “You’re too low and slow. Get some altitude or the worms will lock onto you.”

“You’re telling me there are worms here?” Clavain said.

“I thought you were the worm expert, Nevil.”

He nosed the shuttle up, but fractionally too late. Ahead of them something coiled out of the ground with lightning speed, metallic jaws opening in its blunt, armoured head. He recognised the type immediately: Ouroborus class. Worms of this form still infested a hundred niches across the system. Not quite as smart as the type infesting Phobos, but still adequately dangerous.

“Shit,” Voi said, her veneer of Demarchist cool cracking for an instant.

“You said it,” Clavain answered.

The Ouroborus passed underneath and then there was a spine-jarring series of bumps as the jaws tore into the shuttle’s belly. Clavain felt the shuttle lurch down sickeningly; no longer a flying thing but an exercise in ballistics. The cool, minimalist turquoise interior shifted liquidly into an emergency configuration; damage readouts competing for attention with weapons status options. Their seats ballooned around them.

“Hold on,” he said. “We’re going down.”

Voi’s calm returned. “Do you think we can reach the rim in time?”

“Not a cat in hell’s chance.” He wrestled with the controls all the same, but it was no good. The ground was coming up fast and hard. “I wish Galiana had warned us a bit sooner…”

“I think she thought we already knew.”

They hit. It was harder than Clavain had been expecting, but the shuttle stayed in one piece and the seat cushioned him from the worst of the impact. They skidded for a few metres and then nosed up against a sandbank. Through the window Clavain saw the white worm racing toward them with undulating waves of its segmented robot body.

“I think we’re finished,” Voi said.

“Not quite,” Clavain said. “You’re not going to like this, but…” Biting his tongue he brought the shuttle’s hidden weapons online. An aiming scope plunged down from the ceiling; he brought his eyes to it and locked crosshairs onto the Ouroborus. Just like old times…

“Damn you,” Voi said. “This was meant to be an unarmed mission!”

“You’re welcome to lodge a formal complaint.”

Clavain fired, the hull shaking from the recoil. Through the side window they watched the white worm blow apart into stubby segments. The parts wriggled beneath the dust.

“Good shooting,” Voi said, almost grudgingly. “Is it dead?”

“For now,” Clavain said. “It’ll take several hours for the segments to fuse back into a functional worm.”

“Good,” Voi said, pushing herself out of her seat. “But there will be a formal complaint, take my word.”

“Maybe you’d rather the worm ate us?”

“I just hate duplicity, Clavain.”

He tried the radio again. “Galiana? We’re down—the ship’s history—but we’re both unharmed.”

“Thank God.” Old verbal mannerisms died hard, even among the Conjoined. “But you can’t stay where you are. There are more worms in the area. Do you think you can make it overland to the nest?”

“It’s only two hundred meters,” Voi said. “It shouldn’t be a problem.”

Two hundred meters, yes—but two hundred meters across treacherous, potholed ground riddled with enough soft depressions to hide a dozen worms. And then they would have to climb up the rim’s side to reach the entrance to the hangar bay; ten or fifteen meters above the soil.

“Let’s hope it isn’t,” Clavain said.

He unbuckled, feeling light-headed as he stood for the first time in Martian gravity. He had adapted entirely too well to the one-gee of the Deimos ring, constructed for the comfort of Earthside tacticians. He went to the emergency locker and found a mask which slivered eagerly across his face; another for Voi. They plugged in air-tanks and went to the shuttle’s door. This time when it sphinctered open there was a glistening membrane stretched across the doorway, a recently licensed item of Demarchist technology. Clavain pushed through the membrane and the stuff enveloped him with a wet, sucking sound. By the time he hit the dirt the membrane had hardened itself around his soles and had begun to contour itself with ribs and accordioned joints, even though it stayed transparent.

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