воскресенье, 18 ноября 2012 г.


Chapter II

The Afternoon When Microsoft Didn't Smile

When the tube door slid open, Microsoft almost collapsed on the floor. He staggered into the hall and grabbed the opposite wall. "That was quick," he thought, panting, and kneeled down to let the building nausea pass.

"Are you ok?" he heard a soft female voice.

"I'll be fine, I just need a moment." 
A hand patted him lightly on the shoulder. He tried to determine how it had felt spinning up the tube and couldn't. The journey was so quick he hardly felt anything; now, though, sitting on the floor, he could feel a whole lot - his heart climbing cautiously up to take its place, his lungs stretching for air and his head buzzing a little.

"You look like it's your first time," the same woman's voice said, and there was a smile in it.

"It is," he answered and looked up to see who was speaking to him. The woman looked smart in her indigo suit, her hair neatly tied up in a knot. Her big glossy lips got Microsoft's attention at once, besides, she didn't have any digits on her face - no sensor lashes, or stretch-skin, or those annoying lip-tugs that had got so popular among the receptionists and secretaries. The little under-skin devices tugged the corners of the lips automatically into a smile if they detected eye-contact. The woman badge said she was Mr. Ford's secretary. "Not very high-tech for someone who works with one of the biggest Techs in the world," flashed through Microsoft's head. The unfamiliar feeling of discomfort creeped up his stomach. He wished his jeans were less blue and his sweater wasn't comfi-climatic, but rather slick and smart. Maybe he needed a haircut too, his black dishevelled locks made themselves too comfortable over his eyes.

"I have an appointment with the Old..I mean, Mr. Ford," he said, scrambling to his feet.

"Oh, you're the guy who always climbs the stairs to work, right?"

"Yes...eh...Mike...Stevenson." He stretched out his hand which she shook eagerly.

"I'm Gear, obviously," she said pointing at her badge. "I admire you so much. It's hard to go against the flow nowadays, but you do it in an amazing way. "

"I guess. I have to run." Microsoft blushed and hurried towards Ford's office and away from the embarrassment. Had Arone seen him, she'd slap him so hard he'd be on the way to the Unified Moon States now. He entered the office to find at least a dozen of people sitting around the table with Ford at the head, in complete and utter silence.

"Ah, Mr. Stevenson, at last. You're 2 minutes late, we already started to worry you wouldn't come at all," said Ford.

"I'm sorry." Microsoft said. He spotted Matrix rightaway. A geeky-looking man who stared bluntly at the table. Microsoft hurried to take a place between him and a miniature young woman, wearing an outfit that looked like scrubs. Matrix and him had been friends from the first day Microsoft started working at Ford Industries, so it was a relief to see him there. Matrix's eyes were flickering, and he was paying no attention to his friend. 
"I-contacts, as usual," Microsoft thought and shook his head with a slight annoyance.  Mat could never put his work away.

"Well, since everyone is here, let's get the ball rolling, as my great-granddad used to say," Ford thundered through silence. All eyes turned to him except for Mat, who kept on scanning data on his i-contacts.

"You are all aware of the predicament our company is in, it calls for discreet and immediate measures," Ford went on, "Here, in this room, we have representatives of each department, and not just any representatives, but the best ones, chosen by the evaluation program. Computers don't lie, ladies and gentlemen, so I trust nobody will argue, and we just take this for granted - you are the best at what you do. Mr. Matrix Eroglou is in charge of the search, he is now eliminating the last tunnels where the subject couldn't have been landed. Mr. Eroglou, would you be so kind as to update us on the current situation."

The flickering stopped and Matrix looked up.

"Yes. Well...okay." He tapped on the surface screen, and the table lit up revealing a map of the country covered with a grit of colorful lines, marked by black dots. It looked like several overlapping subway maps.

"You all know that we have developed a five-level network of field tunnels, inhouse and instreet ones are yellow and green respectively," said Matrix. "I've hidden them to get a better view of the levels we are interested in, as we only consider the levels that are incomplete. The incity level was completed a month ago, so the blue lines are eliminated as well." 
He wiped off another web of tiny intermingled lines, and now only red and grey tunnels were left. "So, on the intercity level, which is red, we have the southern area with 4 underdeveloped tunnels, two of them don't have the link to the leakage yet, so we have two other intercity tunnels as possible locations. On the interstate level, which is grey, as you can see, the tunnels are in construction, so instead of black we have white dots marking the RT units, which are receivers a.k.a. transmitters."
Matrix gave Microsoft a swift look while explaining the abbreviation. There was a hardly audible scoff, and Microsoft couldn't place where it was coming from. He appreciated Matrix trying to keep him up to the level of the others, but the situation was getting more and more uncomfortable.
"So, here," Matrix went on, "Our options would be the southern web, because there is only one transit link between interstate and intercity and it's not connected to the northern web yet. In the south we have about 25 tunnels developed enough to receive a signal, and since the link was unlocked at the time of teleportation, because the work on the tunnels was in progress, the southern tunnels are what we are going for. It was the area with the strongest field signal at the time, the hypothesis is our guy is somewhere in those 25 tunnels, though we can't exclude the 2 intercities. So, if my thinking is correct..."

Microsoft had lost the train of thought somewhere betwee 'so' and 'here'. He sat there and wondered what in the hell he was doing on the team. He couldn't imagine his designer skill could be of any help in the search, and he had no idea of anything that went beyond making teleportals look classy. 
He looked around. The tiny woman on his left was clearly Wireless Fitzgerald - WiFi. A Lab genius who clearly had to be on the team. Then there was Spectrum Faraday from technical support, as scary as she was smart.
Two best friends, Augustine Reynolds from the engineering department, IR Herschel from the Research and Update made the communication between the two departments impeccable and highly efficient: it was mostly thanks to them that Ford was the first to start developing the teleportation network. Again, the evaluation program chose them for a very good reason.

"I've checked with the weather service, they promised to make the shift in the schedule, so the rainy week is planned 10 days earlier, and we would have sun when we set off," said IR.

"Perfect," said Eroglou. "So let's take a closer look at the 25 tunnels."

Microsoft looked on his right, he didn't know who the tall blonde guy was, but he liked him right away, because he was a macro – a new-fangled term for ‘fat’, coined by the United Political Correctness Organization. 
The UIPO referred it to those few people who, being predisposed to gaining extra weight, didn't want to genetically modify their bodies. Mike looked at the man's badge, which said 'Kern Schrödinger, Licensing and Law', and he couldn't help thinking that Kern's legal skills might be of good service to him soon, because a couple more pounds would get him over the limit, and he would be forced to do the surgery by law. 
Beside Schrödinger there was a big dark-skinned man, all suited up and neat - the head of security and healthcare called Mallory Okolloh. Mike had seen him a couple of times during monthly security checks. Finally, the beautiful woman with curly hair, Stallone Rivers, who was hanging on every Matrix Eroglou's word. She was also the eyes and ears of the office, Head of the Monitoring and Coordinating Crew
Next to her sat her red-haired cousin, Icon McKelly, the greatest PR manager Microsoft had ever seen. She could talk anyone into anything. As she herself liked to say, she could make a chicken cook its legs and eat them. 
That group would make the best rescue team imaginable, and Matrix Eroglou was the perfect leader - young, bright and wise, and also very kind. Matrix's software genius and gentleness got him his 'Soft Mat' nickname. "What am I doing here?" Microsoft asked himself again, staring at Matrix without listening, but the next phrase Matrix uttered snapped him out of his thoughts.

"...and we will have to teleport from here to here."

"We'll have to teleport?!" he shouted. Everyone looked at him, eyebrows raised.

"I'm sorry, Mr.Stevenson, is there a problem?" Ford said, and Mike could feel Ford's anger filling the room, but he didn't have a chance to answer as a familiar female voice asked permission to speak.

"Does it have to be now, Gear?" Ford's tone was clear that it didn't.

"It is urgent, sir," Gear said calmly.

Ford sighed in exasperation, and Gear's projection appeared glowing green over his desk.

"Mr. Ford, we have a visitor who wants to speak to you immediately."

"Who thinks he's so important?" Ford barked.

"Mr. Celestro Rawotzki."

There was a gasp of surprise in the room.

"Of course he does," mumbled Ford. "Put me through in a minute, I'll get my eye-screens."

"Eh, sir?..he is here."

"What do you mean, he is here?"

"He came here to see you personally."

An awkward pause followed. Augustine and IR exchanged looks. Icon narrowed her eyes. Mallory stood up, ready for whatever was coming.

"Ladies and gentlemen." Ford turned to everyone. "I think our meeting is adjourned for now. Mr. Eroglou, please take everyone to the training room and finish the briefing, if you will."

 Matrix nodded, wiped the map off the display, and everyone streamed out of the office in silence. Microsoft followed last.

"Gear, ask Mr. Rawotzki in, please," he heard Ford say as the doors slid closed behind him.

In the hall he ran into the brilliant mind himself. Rawotzki was a tall, fit man in his 30s, which you could hardly tell, as he was literally emitting genetic modifications. He was trimmed from head to toe. Microsoft met his eyes passing by, and Rawotzki smiled as on cue. 

Mike didn't smile. He couldn't afford lip-tugs. Or bear them.

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