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Flash Crowd
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Flash Crowd By Larry Niven
до 15 июня 2009 (текущая версия от 7 октября 2011 в 08:40)
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1 Flash Crowd
By Larry Niven
FROM EDGE to edge and for all of its length, fron~ Central Los Angeles through Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles and Santa Monica to the sea, Wilshire Boulevard was a walkway.
Once there had been white lines on concrete, and raised curbs to stop the people from interfering with the cars. Now the lines were gone, and much of the concrete was covered with soil and grass.
2 There were even a few trees. Concrete strips had been left for bicycles, and wider places for helicopters carlying cargo too big for the displacement booths.
Wilshire was wide for a walkway. People seemed to hug the edges, even those on bikes and motor skates. A boulevard built for cars was too big for mere people.
Outlines of the street still showed through. Ridges in the grass marked where curbs had been, with breaks where there had been driveways.
3 Some stretches in Westwood had a concrete center divider. The freeway ramps were unchanged and unused. Someday the city would do something about them.
Jerrybeny Jansen lived in what had been a seaside motel halfway between Bakersfield and San Francisco. On long-ago summer nights the Shady Rest had been packed with transients at ten dollars a head. Now it made a dandy apartment house, with swimming pool and everything, including a displacement booth outside the manager's office.
4 There was a girl in the booth when Jenybeny left his apartment. He glimpsed long, wavy brown hair and the shape of her back in the instant before she disappeared. Janice Wolfe. Too bad she hadn't waited. . . but she hadn't even seen him.
Nobody was ever around the booths long enough to say hello to. You could meet someone by hovering outside the booths, but what would they think?
Meeting people was for the clubs.
5 A displacement booth was a glass cylinder with a rounded top. The
machinery that made the magic was invisible, buried beneath the booth. Coin slots and a telephone dial were set into the glass at sternum level.
Jenybeny inserted his C .B . A. credit card below the coin slots. He dialed by punching numbered buttons. Withdrawing the credit card closed a circuit. An eye blink later he was in an office in the Central Broadcasting Association building in downtown Los Angeles.
6 The office was big and empty. Only once in an aeon was all that empty space ever used, though several score of newstapers saw it for a few seconds each day. One wall was lined with displacement booths. A curved desk down at the end was occupied by Jenybeny's boss.
George Bailey was fat from too much sitting and darkly tanned by the Nevada sun. He commuted to work every morning via the long-distance booths at Los Angeles International.
7 Today he waved at Jeriybeny without speaking. Routine, then. Jerryberry chose one of several cameras and slung the padded strap over his shoulder. He studied several lists of numbers posted over the table before picking one.
He turned and moved to avoid three more newstapers stepping out of booths. They nodded; he nodded; they passed. As he reached for a booth door, a woman flicked in in front of him.
8 Rush hour. He smiled at her and stepped over to the next booth, consulted the list, dialed, and was gone.
He had not spoken to anyone that morning.
The east end of Wilshire Boulevard was a most ordinary T-intersection between high, blocky buldings. Jenybeny looked around even as he was dialing. Nothing newsworthy? No. He was two blocks away and dialing.
He punched the numbered buttons with a ballpoint pen when he remembered.
9 Nonetheless, his index finger was calloused.
The streets of the inner city were empty, this early. In a minute or so Jerryberry was in sight of the freeway. He stepped out of the booth to watch trucks and bulldozers covering this part of the Pasadena-Harbor Freeway with topsoil. Old machines find new use—but others were covering the event. He moved on.
The booths were all identical. He might have been in a full-vision theater, watching scenes flick around him.
10 He was used to the way things jerked about. He flicked west on Wilshire, waiting for something to happen.
It was a cheap, effective way to gather news. At a chocolate dollar per jump per man, C. B. A. could afford to support a score of wandering newstapers in addition to the regular staff. They earned low salaries, plus a bonus for each news item, plus a higher bonus per item used. The turnover was high.

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