пятница, 22 марта 2013 г.

DISINTEGRATION

Chapter X

The Night of Revelations

Microsoft looked around - white walls in the dim light felt foreign and distant, a dark monster with shining eyes lurked in the corner. Microsoft was afraid to move. He was struggling to remember what had happened before he blacked out, but myriads of images, people, words swarmed in his head without making any sense. The monster moved, the shining eyes blinked off, and it started to morph into the shape of a woman.
"Am I dead?" Microsoft wheezed out.
"You are certainly not, Mr. Stevenson." Sakura clicked something on her air display and the surroundings started to lighten up slowly. Microsoft squinted and realized he was in his Oxygen room. He sat up with a jerk, but collapsed again, powerlessly spreading his legs on the floor.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, panting. 

Sakura swept the display back into her SC and moved closer to Microsoft.
"Stop it," she said, watching his pointless attempts to get up. "You've over-relaxed  these things happen when you use your earplugs too much."
"What are you doing here?"
"Arone called me, she said you needed my help."
"What, I'm a psycho now?"
"Do you think you are?"
He turned his eyes to the wall. "Obviously my partner does. And she's wrong, I don't need your help."
"Microsoft, you are starting to remember things and it's very easy for you to mix dreams with reality, your ideas with what really happened."
"I told you I don't need a shrink, I'm fine." 
"Name a flower.
"What?"
"Name a flower," she said adding insistance to her tone of voice like a drop of amaretto to a cup of coffee.
"I don't have to name anything, it's my home, I don't want you here, I'll be fine by myself!"
"Flower, Mr. Stevenson." 
"For Chrysler's sake, Poinsettia! Can you leave me alone now?"
Microsoft flinched - shouting made the aching stronger. But Sakura didn't move.
"Why?" Her tone was leveled.
Microsoft felt the tender buzz of a memory.
"The orchard...in Rawotzki's house." He scoffed. "So? You know what happened because Arone told you."
"Did she tell you?"
"Of course she did, how else would I know?"
"When did she tell you?"
"I don't know...it was...it was when..."
Sakura's face was calm, expectant. He struggled to remember when Arone mentioned the orchard and the flowers, but couldn't, however the orchard stood vividly in his mind, waving red and cream petals at him.
"She didn't..." he said, astonished at his own words.
"I can help you, I want to help you. Please, let me."
Microsoft sighed and scrambled his aching body up to his elbows, wincing with every movement, then dragged himself backwards.
"Whatever..." He finally propped himself up against the wall, and sighed again with relief.
Sakura made herself comfortable beside him. "Let's start with what you know for sure. Tell me why you came to the city.
"I was in and out of foster families, the last one sent me here to study design. You know all that, why should I--"
"It's not for me, it's for you. Please go on. Do you remember how you met Arone?"
Microsoft smiled. "Oh, yes I do. When I was in my last year she transferred to our college and as soon as we met she offered to do the graduation project together. She was amazing... Full of life, full of ideas. We were designing those air-huds for i-contacts, you know, the heads-up displays like on cars and stuff. Her panorama view was ingenious  I'm telling you, I'd never met anyone like her. I couldn't spend an hour without talking to her."

Microsoft stopped for a moment cherishing the memories. For a moment he felt relaxed and quiet, as if Sakura was not there at all.
"What happened after you graduated?"
"Well, she was noticed by the teachers and recommended, she got the position in this huge design company where she's working now. I couldn't get any designer job here because of the quorum, so I was offered a couple of jobs in the south, but I didn't want to be far away from her, so I was in and out of jobs for a while, then freelanced. We started living together, I worked mostly from home. Then one day--" Microsoft stopped mid-sentence, frowned, and his face darkened.
"What happened one day?" 
"I...I think I got a position at Ford's. Arone came home and said she had a job offer from ... no... it wasn't from Ford, or was it?"
"Is it a pleasant memory?"
"No, I don't think so."
"But you told me once that working for Ford was the best thing that had ever happened to you. Was it?"
"Yes, yes, it still is..."
"So, it's a different memory then, it must have happened earlier. Try to remember what Arone told you when she came home."
"She said she had a job offer... Oh, no..." Microsoft buried his face in his hands. "A job offer from Rawotzki."
Microsoft started trembling, shaking his head. These new memories couldn't be a part of his life.
"No, no," he mumbled into his palms. "It can't be true... it can't..."
"Microsoft, look at me." Sakura touched the back of his hands lightly, but he didn't stop muttering and shaking his head. Sakura waited for a little while before she started speaking.
"Microsoft, you can't run from your past, the memories are coming back and you can't stop them. But it's already behind you, you have a new life now and your past won't take it from you. They are just memories."
"Where is it coming from? What happened to me?"
"I'll explain everything to you, but first--"
Sakura didn't finish the sentence, because she was banged against the wall and pinned to it with huge force, Microsoft's hand clasped on her neck.
"You will explain everything now," he hissed into her ear. "What game are you playing? What was done to me?"
"Let me go," she whispered.
"No!" He pushed her harder. "Tell me what's going on!"
"Let me go, and I'll tell you." She was calm and composed as she always was when he got angry. It worked as usual. Microsoft let go of her and leaned away, embarrassed and a little confused.
"It's called psychogenic amnesia," Sakura said, coughing. "Sometimes stress can affect our brain so much, that the most painful episodes from our life get erased from our memory. The disorder may last from several hours to several years."
"I don't understand." Microsoft took his place at the wall again. "There weren't many stressful episodes in my life. Not that strong."
"You may not remember them. The one Arone told you about, for example."
"It doesn't make any sense... why didn't she tell me everything?"
"It might have confused you. She mentioned some facts, but you have to remember everything yourself. Do you want to know what you forgot?"
"I think I do."
"Then tell me about this offer to work for Rawotzki."
Microsoft thought for a moment and started talking.
"I remember...Arone came home excited, she said Celestro Rawotzki, who was working as Ford's assistant at the time,  was going to launch his own business and had offered a huge project of office design. Then...then Rawotzki sent a car for us, we met in a private restau-bar outside the city. He was very...enthusiastic...he had seen our graduation project presentation and wanted to buy the patent from the college..."
"What did you talk about?"
"I...I'm not sure." Microsoft closed his eyes and frowned, rearranging the new memories in his head. He could hear calm music, several voices around. There was Rawotzki, gesturing excitingly as he was explaining his vision of the new business. "Work, mostly," he said finally. "He told us a lot about the new projects he had in mind. He wanted me to help Arone off the books. I agreed because the money was good and the challenge was too irresistible... He wanted us to design everything from scratch."
"Did you feel good about it?"
"I...did," Microsoft said after a moment of hesitation. "I can remember I did...we've become... friends. I can't believe these are my memories. We were actually friends!"
Microsoft turned to Sakura with a puzzled look. She smiled.
"What happened next?"
Microsoft strained to put together his evasive thoughts.
"I'm not sure... It's all blurry... we were meeting in some strange distant places... discussing projects... There was this house... a big one... with displays on the walls."
"The Rawotzki's mansion?"
"Yes, yes, right! We met there... we were writing messages on paper... it was fun."
"Was there any particular day that was different?"
"There might be one... it was late and he flicked me and said he wanted to talk to me. There was something important he had to say. Then a car picked me up and dropped me off at the mansion."
"Were you alone?"
"I think so... the concierge left and we were alone. Rawotzki showed me some papers..."
"What was in them?"
"I... no, it can't be true..." Microsoft started shaking his head again. "This makes absolutely no sense."
"What was in the papers, Microsoft?"
He didn't speak for a moment, just sat there, mouthing curses and squeezing his eyes shut, as memories were arranging themselves in comprehensible images in his head. When he finally started talking, his voice sounded desolate and tired. 
"It was the waiver of parental rights... signed by Ford... f-f-fuck..."
"Are you sure that's what you saw in the papers?" said Sakura, shock written all over her face.
"Yes... absolutely. It said he waived any parental rights to me whatsoever and was never to search for me, contact or take any part in my life financially or emotionally."
"How did Mr. Rawotzki get hold of the papers?" 
"I remember he told me something... um, he said... I don't know, I think he said they were defragmenting the database, rearranging documents, because he'd wanted independence from Ford's empire, some files had got mixed up and somehow Ford's personal documents had landed in his... Rawotzki started to check the information, talked to some people about it and found out that when my mom had got pregnant, Ford was just starting to climb up at the international market. They weren't even living together nor had he ever intended to... Then my mom had decided she wanted to have the baby and... she'd died giving birth to me... the doctors had ran a DNA test and traced it to Ford, but he'd said he hadn't wanted any clogs on his feet... the company was too important, so, he gave me up... Just like that."
Microsoft paused and took a deep breath to stop the emotions tapping on the back of his eyes, roiling in his throat, pricking at his fingertips. The memories came back in an avalanche. Sakura shifted uneasily.
"I am sorry, Mike," she said under her breath.
"We had a plan," he said suddenly.
"A plan? To do what?" 

Microsoft became very still and a new memory clouded his face, but as he opened his mouth to answer, his SC flickered. 
"The conference's started." He synchronized his SC with the wall display.
"I am not sure it is a good idea to watch it now..." said Sakura slowly and insistently  but Microsoft wasn't listening, because there, on the huge white wall opposite them, appeared the man whom he'd hated for so many years without knowing it. 

Ford sat in a silicon hoverchair before a bunch of journalists, about 20 of them, who represented Top Mass Media Ten - the most prestigious web-news companies - armed to the teeth with SCs, hovercameras, IVs, voice intensifying skin patches stuck to their Adam's apples, and relaxers. Ford seemed a little nervous, though he was concealing it as well as he could. Behind him stood Mallory Okolloh, head of security - a rock of composure and strength. 

The room was quite small, decorated green and white, but Microsoft knew that behind those green-lit walls were hundreds of employees answering calls, coordinating lights, managing the order of questions, ready to prompt Ford. Icon must be somewhere close coordinating online posts, Mat would be there too, probably redirecting Ford's SC to different experts depending on the question. 

Microsoft tried to spot Ford's SC - no earplugs, no bracelets, he would definitely not agree to an underskin patch... where could it be? Then he saw a ring with a square black gem. That must be it. Ford was fumbling with the ring in an effort either to adjust it to his finger or to hide his agitation. Microsoft hoped for the latter, he desired with all his being to see Ford Industries collapse before Ford's eyes, he wished Evos Ford would be condemned, sentenced and executed by the crowd.
However, a couple of minutes later Ford was answering questions in a free and confident manner, he had let the ring go and was giving very precise and clear information as to the rescue team, the deadlines, the progress of the operation. It seemed the room was under his control: the journalists would wait for their SCs to turn green, which meant their cue to ask a question. They would hear Ford out and sit down satisfied. 

At one point, Microsoft noticed one particular short man in the background who didn't look too happy. He was fidgeting, tapping his small fingers on the SC in an impatient expectation of the green light. His small black eyes were restless, but very determined. He was watching the journalists, watching Ford, Mallory and even the spy-screens on the walls. It was hard to say whether he was upset, angry, or just nervous. His thermo-regulating jacket was hanging loosely off the skinny shoulders, unbuttoned, the pants were also a couple of sizes too big

As soon as the SC gave him the green light, he bolted to his feet ready for action. By contrast to his appearance, his voice was distinct, loud and deep, he was very direct and bold, choosing his words carefully but dauntingly.
"Alcatraz Dahl, 'FreeVoice Channel'. I am sure I am not the only one who is having doubts about the future of teleportation in view of the recent events. The social space is questioning the security of teleporting because, on the one hand, it is obviously possible to forge licences and, on the other hand, there is no anti-theft system preventing hapless hackers from being hurt. My question is, Mr. Ford, do we need another monster in the world with enough danger in it? After all, it is your teleportation network that has taken a young man hostage, and if anything goes wrong, you will be labelled a murderer.  Can't we all live happily without the transport that is killing people?" 
Alcatraz hung the question in the air and tilted his head a little, his cheeks pink and his eyes sparkling. 
"Mr. Dahl," said Ford, whose face betrayed no emotions. "I appreciate you farsightedness, and I, too, think that we could live happily without many things, but the Earth is a big ball that moves under people's feet. If you stop - you will roll back until you finally fall off the ball, because other people around you are still going forward. That's how progress works - simple physics. Teleportation is an obvious next step forward in the industry of public transport. The world is moving fast: we don't drive - we hover, there are supersonics instead of trains. If you know your history, Mr. Dahl, you'll remember that many people died trying to fly - but now flying is as secure as ever."
"So, the boy in the tunnel is a sacrifice for the common good?" Alcatraz tilted his head to the other side, watching Ford closely. 
Microsoft liked the guy already, he too tilted his head waiting for Ford to react. Ford, however, went on as if he hadn't noticed any sarcasm in the question.
"Tell me, Mr. Dahl, if someone gets killed with a kitchen knife, do you blame the knife-maker?" Alcatraz didn't answer, so Ford continued. "People who make kitchen knives have only good in mind, there is a certain purpose to the knife, and why should they take the blow if someone uses it as a weapon? It says on every receiver/trasmitter unit "Do not use without a licence certified by Ford Industries". It's a warning that should not be taken lightly, but we all learn from our mistakes. I can assure you we will do our best to save the boy, but let it be a lesson to us all. Thank you, Mr. Dahl."
Alcatraz opened his mouth to say something else, but his SC turned red and he had to sit down. He started tapping on the SC again, clearly without any intention to accept defeat.

A woman in her forties stood up to ask the next question.
"You do have children, Mr. Ford, don't you?" the woman said. Alcatraz raised his eyes and stared at her smiling. He must have recognized a prospective accomplice in his crusade to challenge Ford. 
"Indeed," said Ford
"Would you learn the lesson if it was your son there?"
 
Microsoft stiffened at the words, as did Ford. 
"I didn't catch your name."
"I didn't give you my name," said the woman, making Alcatraz's smile broader. "Nor did you answer my question."
Ford looked around the room briefly, evaluating the situation. Everyone was quiet, expectant, watching this little play-off with vivid interest. Ford opted for passive defense. 
"I don't have a son and never had.

Microsoft didn't take his eyes off the screen. 
"But if it was one of my daughters," Ford went on. "I certainly would learn the lesson, and I certainly wouldn't justify her. What the boy did was a criminal offence, we shouldn't forget that."
"How can I." The woman gave Ford a bitter smile. "I'm his mother."

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