четверг, 10 января 2013 г.


Chapter IV

The Day Microsoft Lost It.

Microsoft opened his eyes - the room was dark and silent. He looked up at the weak sheen of the ceiling clock and realized he'd managed to get only two hours of sleep. The events of the previous day felt like a bad dream, but his buzzing head told him it wasn't. He knew he couldn't fall asleep again once he was awake and cursed internally the evaluation program and whoever had invented it. 

Arone slept peacefully beside him and he wondered what exactly he was going to tell her or what he was allowed to. He stroked her curly ginger hair, which was spread all over the pillow - she didn't stir, as he knew she wouldn't until the pillow buzzed her awake. He sat up, his arms resting lifelessly over his legs, and stared in front of him for some time, adjusting his eyes to the darkness. The 17 hours of the previous day spun and twirled in his head until they finally shattered into a pile of shredded stained glass of memories. He got up and went into the oxygen room, where he hoped to concentrate and remember the ginormous amount of information that had been stuffed into his head the day before. 

The floor of the oxygen room was warm and soft, he lay down, took a deep breath, and after a minute's hesitation he clapped on the nature app that instantly transformed the room into an emerald green garden. A cool soft wind whooshed through the emerging trees and grass. Even knowing it wasn't real, Microsoft started to calm down and remember the previous day.

He could still hear WiFi muttering on and on about the structure of the interair tunnels, leakages and  reintegration process, while IR  complemented her harangue
now and then by the latest news and updates in the world of science and technology. As Icon had supposed, Rawotzki suspended the launch of their teleporting line allegedly "to support an old friend and teacher in his technological quagmire" expressing his "sincere regrets about such an unfortunate event", he trusted “Evos Ford had everything under control" and  would "prove once again" that teleporting was the best way to travel. 

As feared, the Social Lounges were flooded with skepticism, some questioned both Ford's and Rawotzki's abilities to deliver a secure teleportation service and urged to stick to hovercars and supersonics, some accused Ford of killing the boy and keeping it from the public. 

The petitioners started collecting likes, and as they got to the dangerous number of 100 million (which is 50 % of the quorum in less than 12 hours), Icon was sent away to prepare everything for the inevitable publicly provoked press-conference. The situation grew more and more intense with every nanosecond. 

When both WiFi and IR were done, Augustine Reynolds started his lecture on the construction of receivers and transmitters, followed by Matrix and his beloved superstring theory, at which point Microsoft felt like he was in school again. Gradually losing his focus, he zoned out somewhere between Okolloh's safety protocol and Schrödinger's legal implications of the mission, but was snapped out of his slumber, as Matrix declared they were going to work on the site after a couple of days.

"I thought it was all programming and stuff.
" Microsoft straightened up. "Why do we have to go there? And, if I may ask, where exactly is "there"?"

"It is a bit more complicated than that, Microsoft," said Matrix, ready to explain, but WiFi cut in.

"It all has to do with the receivers. Reprogramming the tunnel from the office is too dangerous, we have to see the hypothetical options of reintergration, embedded in the receivers, and determine whether any of them matches the subject with the smallest margin, create a backup for the patterns, possibly a double teleportation pattern to enter the alternative parallel route and meet the subject half way."

"Parallel...Do what?" Microsoft blinked.

"We go in," said Augustine with a bored sigh.

"Well," WiFi went on, "It depends on the location of the subject, because if he is between dimensions, we have to know the properties of his current state, whereas if he is in the fifth dimension, he may be already reintegrated and we have to select the pattern that's been used, check the matching level, find inconsistencies, eliminate them, obtain the original pattern, reprogram...."

"Okay, okay, whatever you say, strange woman with a moving mouth,"
said Microsoft. "If it's not me who's going in, it's fine by me. He started doodling with his finger on the table screen.
A heavy electrified silence filled the room, something that started happening way too often. Microsoft looked up and didn't like the expression on the faces of his teammates. "Microsoft," Matrix said a little too calmly, "any of us can go in. We have yet to determine who."
Microsoft's mouth dropped open. "Determine how?" Silence again. "Why am I the only person who doesn't know a thing about all that? How is it you all know everything?" 

Matrix opened his mouth to answer, but Microsoft stopped him. "And my last but not least question, people, what is such a lamebrain like me doing here at all?"

"You were selected." It was Icon. Everybody looked back. She stood at the entrance, her face wore the usual annoyed expression.

"Nor I or everyone else," she continued, "understands why right now, but you're on the team, deal with it.” With that Icon marched into the room. 

After 16 hours of the powwow Matrix finally called it a day, and with all the exhaustion Microsoft  could hardly remember how he had gotten home.

As oxygen kept on lifting off the nagging ache in his bones and his thoughts started to gradually take a comprehensible shape, Mike drifted away. He had hardly closed his eyes as the door bell jolted him out of his sweet drowsiness. He opened his eyes and saw his partner waving at him frantically in the porthole, her doll-eyes wide with astonishment. 

"Please, don't ask me anything," he muttered, getting up and opened the door.

"What's the matter? Are you sick? What happened?" Arone burst into the room and put her wrist to Microsoft's forehead. Her StayConnected beeped at the touch. "Essie's going mad!"

Once the little device told her something, there was no persuading Arone. Like 99% of the world, she trusted her personal wrist-band more than her own judgement. The little electronic thing held everything inside, from DNA sample to world news, the whole vertual reality was squeezed into a tiny bracelet invented by StayConnected Corp. The devices went from StayCo to SC, then Ford contracted it to "essie" in one of his interviews and the name caught on. Arone regarded it as a guru that could answer all her questions.

Microsoft took her hand off his forehead. "Nothing, nothing is the matter. My health condition is only 4% lower than usual, nothing to worry about." He tried to get passed her, but Arone stopped him by the shoulder.

"You call this nothing?" She pointed at the oxygen room.

"I always use it in the morning. It's just I was so tired yesterday I could hardly sleep, so I went there a little earlier."

"I don't mean that, I mean the nature app. Since when do you use it?"

"I was in the mood. Please, I have to go to the bathroom." Microsoft gently pushed Arone aside, but she followed him into the bathroom.

"Wasn't it you, mister, who told me the nature app is the worst mind harassment ever invented?" she said, almost instinctively setting the water temperature on the wall screen that had popped up as soon as they entered.

"I just tried it to prove the point," said Microsoft. "I've only become more prickly anyway. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to take a shower."

Arone frowned, doubt written all over her thin and perfectly black eyebrows, but she left the bathroom. A morning shower was sacred.


During breakfast, as Microsoft had feared, she picked up where she had left off.


That's bad, he thought at once.

Her fingers performed a swift wiggling gesture over the table, as if she were getting ready to type. "We've been partners for 7 years, you can't just fob me off, I know you. I know there is something you're not telling me." 

Microsoft sighed and faced her. "Look, Arone, I just have a lot of things on my mind right now. I'm gonna work a lot, doing overtime...quite often."

"Are you designing something new?"

"I can't tell you much."

"Why? You always ask my advice, what is different now? Is it about this boy who's stuck in--"

"Arone...please, let's stop right here." Arone looked at him with her huge fluorescent eyes and her eyelashes fluttered anxiously.

"Alright. I'll stop. We have to get ready anyway."

"Get ready for what?"

"You've got to be kidding me!" Her hands fell to her sides. "Did you forget we had a couple therapy this morning?"

Shit! he thought but didn't say. Instead he tried to explain. "I'm sorry, it's been a crazy time, and I really have a lot of work. Do you think we might...put it off?" He regretted his words even as he was still saying them, because his partner gasped so deeply he feared she would collapse from an excessive oxygen intake.

"This therapy is one of the few intimate things we can do together, and you wanna bail on me? Is our sex life at least a bit important to you?"

"Of course it is! Damn it, Arone! I just think we could talk about sex without any third parties present, maybe in the evening, maybe even before sex."

Arone crossed her arms on her chest.

"After sex?" he suggested.

"She's a therapist," Arone said. "She knows what we need!"

"Well, I think I know what I need better than her, and I bet you do too."

"How can we talk about it without a therapist? Who does that anyway? Look, if you don't want any intimacy anymore, just tell me, and we--"

"That's exactly what I want - intimacy! I want to be with you, to look you in the eyes and tell you what I like, what I need and listen to you without being eavesdropped by some stranger!"

"We've had her for years, she's not a stranger. How come you never complained before?"

"I always complained, you just don't want to listen."

"I do want to listen, but you come home, you read, you go to bed early, because the relaxer is 'another stupid piece of technology that destroys our immune system and you need your 7 hours of sleep'! What can I do?"

"I'll use it, I promise, I'll use it, I'll reduce my night sleep to 4 hours and we'll have our 3 hours of intimacy. Please." He came closer and hugged her. "Let's skip the therapy today, let's spend more time together, tonight. Please."

"Our time together starts in ten minutes." Arone's tension vibrated through Microsoft, and he suddenly felt stupid hugging her. "So, whatever it is you want to say," she went on, "you can say tonight, but now let's go, if you care for me like you say you do."

Microsoft lifted his arms, and Arone turned on her heels and went to get dressed. He slumped heavily into a chair and made an effort to concentrate on the talk he was having in 10 minutes, but he couldn't. His mind buzzed with questions: What was his part in the project? Rescue team was a logical and expected thing, so why was the information qualified? Why the non-disclosure commitment program? What if he fails and says something he's not supposed to? The punishment for unauthorized disclosure was the worst thing he could imagine. How would he live without Arone in some strange place with strange people, remembering nothing of his previous life? He shuddered at the thought that someone could take his memory away. There was definitely something he didn't know, but then, he hardly knew anything anyway.

He shook his head as if trying to get rid of the nasty nagging at the back of his mind, but it only made his headache worse. He got up and headed for his room. There he switched on his SC, slid the dial on and in a few seconds heard Matrix's weary greeting in his head.
"Hey, Mat," he
said, trying to pull on his pants as fast as possible. "I just wanted to say I have a couple's therapy today, so, I'm gonna be late for the meeting."

"Oh, man, I completely blanked it, you're not supposed to have them while you're on the project." Matrix sounded tired, and
Microsoft wondered if his friend had slept at all.

"Honestly, Mat, I tried to talk Arone out of it, but she doesn't want to listen, and I don't want to act suspicious, because it's kind of against the law to deprive employees of family support programs."

"Well, suddenly you're a law expert?" Matrix laughed. "It is illegal unless you're on the non-disclosure. You can't undergo any psychological treatment or be subject to any psychological influence."

"What do I tell my partner? She started asking questions about my work."

"That's unacceptable; you have to tell her not to discuss it with other people, even close friends. You're allowed to say you're on non-disclosure, it's an internal project so it shouldn't be surprising."

"But cutting the family support is not a usual thing."

"Okay, I guess it's my fault, we should have discussed it, but you know we had a lot of stuff to talk about yesterday. I'll figure it out, go this one time, don't agree to any hypnosis or brain-related procedures, and should they ask any questions, tell them you have a temporal StayConnected brain chip."

"I didn't even know there was such a thing."

Arone called from the hall to hurry up.

"Mat, I gotta go. Thank you anyway, I'll get to work as soon as I can."

"Stay cool. Nothing bad has happened yet." Matrix clicked off.

"Love the 'yet' part of it," mumbled Microsoft.

Arone was already in the garage waiting for him. Mike ran up to her with an apologetic expression on his face.
"You know we're late, right?" she snapped and looked at him reproachfully.

"I do, let's take my car."

"I'm sorry?" All Arone's anger was swooped off her by a new powerful feeling of pure amazement.

"I just want us to go together," Microsoft said with a shrug.

He stoked her cheek lightly with the back of his hand, she frowned, and whatever anger that was left in her melted away.

"It is serious, isn't it? Whatever it is you're doing at work?" Her voice turned soft, the tone he loved so much. He smiled and wondered whether he loved her because she was shrewd or in spite of it. She took her purse out of the car and walked silently towards his. He set Arone's car in stalker mode, and it slid gently towards his and halted right behind it. They got into his LandHover, and Microsoft started the engine.

"What are you doing?" Arone asked carefully, with a shade of alarm in her voice.
"Starting the car." Microsoft kept calm, enjoying the noise of the running engine, however imperceptible it was.

"Are you going to drive?" The last word came out with a high pitch, but
Microsoft didn't stir a hair.

"Well, it's a car, so I'm driving it."

"Oh, stop it, you know what I mean. Do you always do that?"

"Of course I do." The LandHover took off along with Arone's car, and the two of them glided out of the garage.

"Please don't tell me you uninstalled the autopilot." Arone's voice took on its usual reproachful tension.

"I didn't." He looked at her narrowed eyes and pursed lips and added, "Seriously, I didn't. I just like to feel the car."

"You could when there were roads, now in the air it's dangerous."

"I switch it on when I'm tired or drunk, or sick. Manual driving is still allowed, isn't it? Don't worry. I'm fine now, I want to drive."

"You hardly slept, you enjoyed the nature app, you agreed to use a relaxer and was sweet and loving to me the whole morning - sure you're fine!" 

He rolled his eyes and gave her an I-have-everything-under-control look.

"Oh, please, look at the road." She clicked on the Safety Air Wall button and set the security level at 80%. Microsoft snorted.

"You will hardly be able to move," he said. She didn't turn her head, just sat there looking in front of her, pouting.

"Okay." Microsoft glanced at the radar and as the dots in the outer hemicycle turned green, he darted up to the speed lane. The air wall pressed Arone to the back of her seat almost paralyzing her.

"Are you crazy, you skipped a lane!" she shrieked, but
Microsoft had already gotten too excited. He sped up and maneuvered between cars. In a minute they were already at the psy-center, landing onto the roof parking. Microsoft's face beamed with exhilaration. The very moment the car touched the roof, Arone pressed the door-opening button.
"I am never flying with you again." She stepped out of the car.

Microsoft sighed, grabbed his jumper and followed her.

The center looked its usual cold white self with smiling white-coated women, walking its green fuzzy floors; one of them ushered
Microsoft and Arone to their admittance room, all white with gentle yellow light glowing along the walls. Microsoft plunged into the couch that adjusted to his body shape instantly. He sighed, preparing for the usual ordeal of psychobabble. Arone was still angry and not speaking to him, so he thought he would break the ice a little just to speed up the process.

"What are you going to do at work today?" he asked casually.

"I'm definitely going to use my autopilot." Her words dripped sarcasm.

"Please, Arone."
Microsoft softened his voice and looked at her expectantly.

"Fine," she said after a pause. "The usual route: a couple of apartments need fresh flowers and new vista settings, then we are finishing the Rudolf Mall design, and then-” she paused. “There is this new project."

"Oh, what kind of project?"
Microsoft locked his hands together, trying to look interested.

"A mansion." She looked at him with obvious hesitatation to go on.

His interest became genuine. "Yes?"

"The owner wants a whole new interior design, because they are installing an inhouse teleporting system, he wants everything to fit in and be pretty."

"And who is that owner?"
Microsoft already guessed the answer. There was only one person in the city who could afford a full-house teleport.

"Um...Celestro Rawotzki..." Arone pursed her lips apologetically but didn't look at her partner.

"And when, if I may ask, you were going to tell me about this?"
Microsoft felt his anger rising and willfully pushed it down, otherwise he risked to be stuck in the psy-center for another hour.

"Well." Arone's fingers found the hem of her dress. "Actually, I was planning on telling you today, but you acted so weird this morning, I just thought you had too much on your mind."

"Who else is on the on-site team?"
Microsoft was careful not to raise his voice.

"Um...me, as...usual, today, just to assess the scope of work. Besides, I thought you would be okay with that, because-"

"You alone!?" He knew he had lost it but couldn't hold back any longer. "You are going to Rawotzki's house alone after what happened two days ago and with all the history you share?"

"Mike, we talked it over and over again, I think we are fine with what-"

"We were fine! We agreed that you were never going to see him again, and now you are the on-site personnel. You! How big is your stuff, a thousand? Three hundred permitted to work on site? Why YOU?"

"Mr. Stevenson," a calm female voice lulled the air in the room. Microsoft realized he had just crossed the line and was practically yelling at Arone. The yellow light started glowing more intensely. He exhaled slowly and apologized. The light dimmed a little.

"Mr. Stevenson," the soothing voice continued. "Tell us why you are so upset that Arone is going to Mr. Rawotzki’s alone."

Shit, he thought, now I'm definitely stuck here.

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