Phillip Reeve: Mortal Engines

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Phillip Reeve Mortal Engines
  • Название:
    Mortal Engines
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Scholastic
  • Жанр:
    Фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2001
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    0-439-97943-9
  • Рейтинг книги:
    4 / 5
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Mortal Engines: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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London is hunting. The great Traction City lumbers after a small town, eager to strip its prey of all assets and move on. Resources on the Great Hunting Ground that once was Europe are so limited that mobile cities must consume one another to survive, a practice known as Municipal Darwinism. Tom, an apprentice in the Guild of Historians, saves his hero, Head Historian Thaddeus Valentine, from a murder attempt by the mysterious Hester Shaw — only to find himself thrown from the city and stranded with Hester in the Out Country. As they struggle to follow the tracks of the city, the sinister plans of London’s leaders begin to unfold…

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Mortal Engines

by Phillip Reeve

PART ONE

1. THE HUNTING GROUND

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.

In happier times, London would never have bothered with such feeble prey. The great Traction City had once spent its days hunting far bigger towns than this, ranging north as far as the edges of the Ice Waste and south to the shores of the Mediterranean. But lately prey of any kind had started to grow scarce, and some of the larger cities had begun to look hungrily at London. For ten years now it had been hiding from them, skulking in a damp, mountainous, western district which the Guild of Historians said had once been the island of Britain. For ten years it had eaten nothing but tiny farming towns and static settlements in those wet hills. Now, at last, the Lord Mayor had decided that the time was right to take his city back over the land-bridge into the Great Hunting Ground.

It was barely halfway across when the look-outs on the high watch-towers spied the mining town, gnawing at the salt-flats twenty miles ahead. To the people of London it seemed like a sign from the gods, and even the Lord Mayor (who didn’t believe in gods or signs) thought it was a good beginning to the journey east, and issued the order to give chase.

The mining town saw the danger and turned tail, but already the huge caterpillar tracks under London were starting to roll faster and faster. Soon the city was lumbering in hot pursuit, a moving mountain of metal which rose in seven tiers like the layers of a wedding cake, the lower levels wreathed in engine-smoke, the villas of the rich gleaming white on the higher decks, and above it all the cross on top of St Paul’s Cathedral glinting gold, two thousand feet above the ruined earth.


* * *

Tom was cleaning the exhibits in the London Museum’s Natural History section when it started. He felt the telltale tremor in the metal floor, and looked up to find the model whales and dolphins that hung from the gallery roof swinging on their cables with soft creaking sounds.

He wasn’t alarmed. He had lived in London for all of his fifteen years, and he was used to its movements. He knew that the city was changing course and putting on speed. A prickle of excitement ran through him, the ancient thrill of the hunt that all Londoners shared. There must be prey in sight! Dropping his brushes and dusters he pressed his hand to the wall, sensing the vibrations that came rippling up from the huge engine-rooms down in the Gut. Yes, there it was—the deep throb of the auxiliary motors cutting in, boom, boom, boom, like a big drum beating inside his bones.

The door at the far end of the gallery slammed open and Chudleigh Pomeroy came storming in, his toupee askew and his round face red with indignation. “What in the name of Quirke…?” he blustered, gawping at the gyrating whales, and the stuffed birds jigging and twitching in their cases as if they were shaking off their long captivity and getting ready to take wing again. “Apprentice Natsworthy! What’s going on here?”

“It’s a chase, sir,” said Tom, wondering how the Deputy Head of the Guild of Historians had managed to live aboard London for so long and still not recognize its heartbeat. “It must be something good,” he explained. “They’ve brought all the auxiliaries on line. That hasn’t happened for ages. Maybe London’s luck has turned!”

“Pah!” snorted Pomeroy, wincing as the glass in the display cases started to whine and shiver in sympathy with the beat of the engines. Above his head the biggest of the models—a thing called a blue whale that had become extinct thousands of years ago—was jerking back and forth on its hawsers like a plank-swing. “That’s as may be, Natsworthy,” he said. “I just wish the Guild of Engineers would fit some decent shock-absorbers in this building. Some of these specimens are very delicate. It won’t do. It won’t do at all.” He tugged a spotted handkerchief out of the folds of his long black robes and dabbed his face with it.

“Please, sir,” asked Tom, “could I run down to the observation platforms and watch the chase, just for half an hour? It’s been years since there was a really good one…”

Pomeroy looked shocked. “Certainly not, Apprentice! Look at all the dust that this wretched chase is shaking down! All the exhibits will have to be cleaned again and checked for damage.”

“Oh, but that’s not fair!” cried Tom. “I’ve just dusted this whole gallery!”

He knew at once that he had made a mistake. Old Chudleigh Pomeroy wasn’t bad as Guildsmen went, but he didn’t like being answered back by a mere Third Class Apprentice. He drew himself up to his full height (which was only slightly more than his full width) and frowned so sternly that his Guild-mark almost vanished between his bushy eyebrows. “Life isn’t fair, Natsworthy,” he boomed. “Any more cheek from you and you’ll be on Gut-duty as soon as this chase is over!”

Of all the horrible chores a Third Class Apprentice had to perform, Gut-duty was the one Tom hated most. He quickly shut up, staring meekly down at the beautifully buffed toes of the Chief Curator’s boots.

“You were told to work in this department until seven o’clock, and you will work until seven o’clock,” Pomeroy went on. “Meanwhile, I shall consult the other curators about this dreadful, dreadful shaking…”

He hurried off, still muttering. Tom watched him go, then picked up his gear and went miserably back to work. Usually he didn’t mind cleaning, especially not in this gallery, with its amiable, moth-eaten animals and the blue whale smiling its big blue smile. If he grew bored, he simply took refuge in a daydream, in which he was a hero who rescued beautiful girls from air-pirates, saved London from the Anti-Traction League and lived happily ever after. But how could he daydream, with the rest of the city enjoying the first proper chase for ages?

He waited for twenty minutes, but Chudleigh Pomeroy did not return. There was nobody else about. It was a Wednesday, which meant the Museum was closed to the public, and most of the senior Guildsmen and First and Second Class Apprentices would be having the day off. What harm could it do if he slipped outside for ten minutes, just to see what was happening? He hid his bag of cleaning stuff behind a handy yak and hurried through the shadows of dancing dolphins to the door.

Out in the corridor all the argon lamps were dancing too, spilling their light up the metal walls. Two black-robed Guildsmen hurried past, and Tom heard the reedy voice of old Dr Arkengarth whine, “Vibrations! Vibrations! It’s playing merry hell with my 35th Century ceramics…” He waited until they had vanished around a bend in the corridor, then slipped quickly out and down the nearest stairway. He cut through the 21st Century gallery, past the big plastic statues of Pluto and Mickey, animal-headed gods of lost America. He ran across the main hall and down galleries full of things that had somehow survived through all the millennia since the Ancients destroyed themselves in that terrible flurry of orbit-to-earth atomics and tailored-virus bombs called the Sixty Minute War. Two minutes later he slipped out through a side entrance into the noise and bustle of the Tottenham Court Road.

The London Museum stood at the very hub of Tier Two, in a busy district called Bloomsbury, and the underbelly of Tier One hung like a rusty sky a few feet above the rooftops. Tom didn’t worry about being spotted as he pushed his way along the dark, crowded street towards the public Goggle-screen outside the Tottenham Court Road elevator station. Joining the crowd in front of it he had his first glimpse of the distant prey; a watery, blue-grey blur captured by cameras down on Tier Six. “The town is called Salthook,” boomed the voice of the announcer. “A mining platform of nine hundred inhabitants. She is currently moving at eighty miles per hour, heading due east, but the Guild of Navigators predicts London will catch her before sundown. There are sure to be many more towns awaiting us beyond the land-bridge; clear proof of just how wise our beloved Lord Mayor was when he decided to bring London east again…”

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