Thursday, February 03, 2005

The day war was declared, a rain of telephones fell clattering to the cobblestones from the skies above Novy Petrograd. Some of them had half melted in the heat of re-entry; others pinged and ticked, cooling rapidly in the postdawn chill. An inquisitive pigeon hopped close, head cocked to one side; it pecked at the shiny case of one such device, then fluttered away in alarm when it beeped. A tinny voice spoke: 'Hello? Will you entertain us?'
The Festival had come to Rochard's World.

A skinny street urchin was one of the first victims of the assault on the economic integrity of the New Republic's youngest colony world. Rudi - nobody knew his patronymic, or indeed his father - spotted one of the phones lying in the gutter of a filthy alleyway as he went about his daily work, a malodorous sack wrapped around his skinny shoulders like a soldier's bedroll. The telephone lay on the chipped stones, gleaming like polished gunmetal: he glanced around furtively before picking it up, in case the gentleman who must have dropped it was still nearby. When it chirped he nearly dropped it out of fear: a machine! Machines were upper-class and forbidden, guarded by the grim faces and gray uniforms of authority. Nevertheless, if he brought it home to Uncle Schmuel, there might be good eating: better than he could buy with the proceeds of the day's sackful of dog turds for the tannery. He turned it over in his hands, wondering how to shut it up, and a tinny voice spoke: 'Hello? Will you entertain us?'

Rudi nearly dropped the phone and ran, but curiosity held him back for a moment: 'Why?'

'Entertain us and we will give you anything you want.'

by Charles Stross
Orbit Books

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