пятница, 19 апреля 2013 г.


Chapter XII

The Day Everything Was Perfect

Matrix entered after Arone had waved him to come in with a smile no less tentative than his steps. He halted halfway into the main room shifting from foot to foot.
"Please," said Arone showing him in with a nervous gesture. He moved towards the aquarium sofa, and as he sat down, a school of fish came to life inside it making him jump up with a start. Arone smiled and began to explain, but Matrix pulled himself together.

"I know, I've seen those. I just didn't expect. Today is a stressful day."

Arone invited him to sit down again, and as he felt that the rigid-looking material was actually quite soft and pleasant to sit on, she noticed a slight nod of appreciation from him. She joined him on the sofa and tried to smile off the embarrassment. 

She wondered why they both felt uncomfortable: the uneasiness on her side was quite understandable - Matrix was one of Ford's employees after all and she had a lot to hide, but his behavior was inexplicably strange. She now remembered meeting him a couple of times at forums she had attended together with Microsoft, and he had seemed quite an outgoing guy to her. She supposed he was on edge because of the press-conference. 

After a moment of awkward silence she said: "I'm sorry, I'm not sure you can talk to Microsoft today. He's been resting in the oxygen room since yesterday and I wouldn't like to disturb him."

"I hoped to see him." He fumbled with a black silicon box in his hands. 

"Has something happened?"

He studied her, apparently deciding whether she was trustworthy enough to reveal the information, and showed her a ring.

"Wow, beautiful!" she exclaimed snatching the ring from him. Then, realizing it hadn't been a very polite gesture, hurried to apologize.

"I'm sorry, it's just so"

"No, no, it's ok. I don't mind."

"Serendibite, is it?"

"You grok jewellery?"

"I've worked with the gem on several projects. First I thought it was hideous, but it grew on me. The polish is quite messy, though, on this one...oh, and it's cracked."

She raised the ring and held it up to have a better look at it.

"Yeah," said Matrix. "That's why I need Mike."

"What happened?" 

"Just some... technical difficulties."

Arone waited for him to continue but he didn't, so she gave him the ring back and stood up.

"Well, I'm very sorry I can't help you, maybe if you could"


Arone and Matrix turned their heads as on cue to see Microsoft standing in the opening, his hair dishevelled, eyes wide and Sakura on his heels.

"What are you doing here?"

"I... well, uh...hey." Matrix stood up to shake his hand, his eyes trailing towards Sakura.

"This is Sakura Takano, our couple counselor, Matrix Eroglou - my colleague and best friend." Microsoft slapped Matrix on the shoulder in a friendly gesture. Sakura gave him her charming smile and shook Matrix's hand.They both looked like they have just come back from a holiday, not a painful memories restoration session.

"Mike, are you sure you" began Arone gingerly, but Microsoft interrupted her in a rather glib manner. 

"I've never felt better, don't worry!" He brushed his lips against her furrowed forehead and asked her to see Miss Takano out. 

"So," said Microsoft after the women disappeared behind the opening and he made himself comfortable on the sofa beside Matrix. "You? Here?"

"Yes, I"

"Oh, that's what it's about!" said Microsoft noticing the ring in Matrix's hands. "I've just seen it in the broadcast on the Old Hundred. Adrian messed up?"

"Well, you know him, he tries really hard, sometimes too much." Mat gave out a nervous laugh.

"I see." Microsoft took the ring, examined it with wry smiles, rolling eyes and random scoffs and head shakes. 

"Can you fix it in the next hour?" 

"I can certainly try. You going back now?"

"Actually, I was thinking I could stay. I'd rather deliver the ring back myself, don't want to teleport it."

"I don't have this kind of equipment on me, Mat. If I do it here it'll take more than an hour, but at work it's a matter of minutes. I'll go with you."



"But I thought"

"I'm fine!" Microsoft smiled at Matrix, who was staring at him with confusion and an incipient fear in his eyes. "Really, stop looking at me like I'm a handicap. It was a stupid headache. You're like Arone - she got so scared she called a psychiatrist, can you imagine? I got knackered trying to convince Takano I was okay, I thought I'd never get rid of her! Look, I've been at home for almost 24 hours, thank you very much, but that's enough holidays for me."

"Well, so much the better," said Matrix, still a little wary.

"Good, give me a sec."

Microsoft got up and left Matrix alone in the main room. Arone had been waiting for him to come out, and as he did, she opened her mouth to say something, but he just went past her without payng her any attention. He took a swift shower, changed, brushed his hair and headed for the main room, but Arone met him mid-way again. This time she didn't let him pass, and he had to look at her. His eyes didn't tell her anything, all she could read was annoyance and exhaustion.

"Are you angry with me?" she asked.

"No," he said, and before she could say anything else he kissed her on the lips. It was a long and passionate kiss that made Arone a little dizzy. He unhitched himself from her and walked towards the main room. He moved away so fast that a whiff of air brushed against her hair, taking the sweetness of his sudden affection with it. She followed him with her eyes and felt a pang of apprehension - he had a plan and didn't intend on telling her. He was angry.

Microsoft refused to teleport, so the two men went to the office in his LandHover. After a 10-minute silent journey the blue car maneuvered into the office garage.

"Is something wrong?" asked Microsoft, getting out of the car.

"What?" Matrix looked at him without really seeing him.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, sure."

Matrix wasn't his usual self and Microsoft knew better than to attribute it to the conference paranoia, but he didn't say anything else, figuring it was safer just to watch and analyze. At the tubes Microsoft turned to the stairs, he told Matrix to give him 5 minutes with the ring. Matrix nodded silently and vacuumed up to the conference floor.
Microsoft's working place was the usual mess, only now it was illuminated by numerous requests that were flashing vigorously on the margin panel of his table. He scrolled through them with a sigh: ads, more ads, car gadgets, hubs... "Man, people, I've been away for less than a day," he muttered to himself.

"Hey, champ! Did you skip the stairs marathon and teleported? I could swear you weren't here a minute ago!"

"Hey, Ad," said Microsoft standing up to greet his friend. Ad gave him a bear hug.

"Are you alright? I heard you got sick or something."

"Nah, just stress leave."

"Wow, I never took you for a drama queen."

"Give me a break." Microsoft nudged Adrian in the abs, who immediately put up his hands in a kung-fu-like defensive position, inhaling deeply as if before the biggest battle of his life.

"Bring it on, mortal," he whispered. Microsoft waved him away.

"Cut it, Ad, I'm really busy. I promised to fix this ring in five minutes."

"Oh." Adrian dropped his hands and slumped his shoulders at the sight of the familiar ring. "That's why you're here."

"Ad, this wasn't a bad job, it just fell down and cracked." The attempt to cheer Ad up didn't work. He miserably watched Microsoft put the ring into a laser adjustment box, scan through the measurements on the ring projection that popped up over the table, locate the inconsistencies, adjust the figures, click "impairment fix", and a perfectly elegant, polished and impeccably proportional ring slid out of the box.

"I'm a total schlub," said Adrian almost mournfully.

"No, you're not, you just have to practice more. Look, I've an idea, my assignment panel is clogged up, why don't you take the load off me today?"

"I'm not sure I-"

"Ad." Microsoft stood up and put his hand on Adrian's shoulder. "Don't lowball yourself on your abilities, just leave me the hubs, all the rest you can take."

Adrian's face lit up.

"Thanks, champ, this is really cool of you."

"Any time." Microsoft put the ring in its silicon box, then scribbled some figures on a slip of paper, folded it and put into his pocket. "Later," he shouted to Adrian heading out.

"Eh, Mike?"


"Could you... there is... on your team there is this girl, Spectrum..."


"Could you... tell her I said hi?"

"Sure." Microsoft turned away, and his eyebrows shot up.

"Man, people," he muttered, "Have I been away for that long?"

"Where have you been?!" Icon almost screamed when Matrix appeared from the tube.

"Hey, easy, Mike's here and the ring will be fixed in a minute."

"You left two hours ago!"

"I got held up."

"Held up? Are you aware there is a life-critical press conference on?"

"Look, if you have a problem with the way I do things, do it yourself next time!" Martix marched to his spot passed a bewildered Icon.

"What is wrong with you?" She followed him with her eyes.

"Nothing!.. Nothing is wrong."

Matrix's essie buzzed and he checked a message from Mike: "I'm taking the ring to the o.h. Check the signal." Matrix looked at the network of emerald green communication lines - the signal was steady and clear, everything was perfect, as it had always been with Microsoft. Matrix rubbed his forehead until it turned red, closed his eyes for a moment, then took a deep breath, looked up and announced: "Ford's essie is on, all ready in 7."

Having sent the message to Matrix, Microsoft checked the conference status - about 10 minutes till Ford's appearance.

He cursed under his breath and, throwing a rueful look in the direction of the stairs, stepped into the tube. Hardly a breath later, he tumbled out of the tube on the hundredth floor. He fell on all four, gulping for air.

"Doesn't look like all that stair sprinting makes you any fitter," he heard a familiar jingling voice. He turned to his right to find Gear standing beside him in a stunning white bodysuit showing off her perfect shapes, her hand outstretched. He took it, and she helped him get up.

"I honestly thought it would get easier the second time," he said.

"Third time's a charm?" She gave him an encouraging smile.

"I hope so. Gear, right?"

"I see you still can read, which means you're just fine." 

Microsoft looked at the grey letters crawling across her chest on the right, the ticker showed her name, her position, time of the day and the temperature of the room.

"What do you think?" She pointed at the ticker. "Look, the material is fiber optic, you can even connect it to the SC and watch stuff on any part of my body."

"Amazing." Microsoft shook off the images of 'stuff' broadcast on 'different parts of her body'. "Is Mr. Ford in?" 

"Ah, no, he's gone to the green room already."

"Right. The conference is on the 90th?"


"Sorry, I would talk more...I would definitely like to talk more about this great suit of yours, but I gotta run."


Gear gave him another dazzling smile.

"It's really, really nice," he shouted with his thumbs up before disappearing behind the opening to the staircase.

He had reached the green room a couple of minutes before Ford was on. The old man stood in the middle of the room with people hustling and fussing around him, checking his grey suit, the equipment - "perfecting the image", as they called it. Microsoft stopped at the entrance as if there was a transparent wall that didn't let him in. Ford turned his head and looked at Microsoft, who was standing there like a lost kid.

"Mr. Stevenson," said Ford with a nervous irritation. "What do you want?" 

"I have your ring." Microsoft walked hastily towards Ford and took the box out of his pocket. 

"Like it's not enough people in here," mumbled Ford in exasperation. "Don't you know you work for a teleporting company where you don't have to deliver things personally?"

"I...yes, of course, I just wondered if we could...if I could"

"How about you could do you job right the first time? You've almost ruined my morning session. Enjoy your day, boy, because if this thing doesn't work," Ford put the ring on, "it may be your last here."

Microsoft straightened up and stepped back without a word, his abashed expression changing to stone-faced. 

"What else can I do for you?" barked Ford.

"I'm sorry, I was just leaving."

He turned on his heels ready to go when the opening from the conference room dispersed and in came Celestro Rawotzki with his crew.

"Mr. Ford." He nodded to Evos Ford who ignored him completely and proceeded to the conference room. Celestro followed him with his eyes, loosened his scarf a little and turned to the exit where he faced Microsoft. The corners of Celestro's mouth went up as on cue, but the eyes didn't follow the friendly smile. Microsoft scoffed, thinking how ridiculous the smile tugs made someone look at an unexpected moment. Celestro halted, let go of the scarf, ran his hand along the rim of his jacket as if trying to smooth it out and before he could turn his eyes away Microsoft stretched out his hand towards him.
"I'm Microsoft Stevenson, I work here." 

Celestro nodded, shook hands with Microsoft, still smiling unnaturally, but his eyes indicated a slight surprise as Microsoft let go of his hand. 

Celestro went out of the green room refraining from looking back, his right hand squeezed into a fist. He could hardly wait getting to the portal and home, he could feel the little ball of paper literally burning the inside of his palm. When he was finally alone in his house, he opened his hand to find a note rolled into a nubble. He unfolded it - there were two rows of numbers, but it took him less than a couple of seconds to understand it. Microsoft sent him one single word: "Chat". 

Celestro leaned back, the hoverchair catching him mid-way to the floor, and took a deep breath. 

"Perfect," he said out loud and threw the paper into a cremating trash basket, where the note puffed, turned to ashes and was sucked into the bottom. Celestro rubbed his SC earring, which lit up at his touch. "Causse," he said. "Arrange everything for out honored guest...Yes, I mean exactly who you think I mean. Dredge up the archives, my friend, we'll go with the standard procedure. I'd like the guest in the mansion tomorrow. Thank you."

Celestro stretched out, put his hands on his nape, and a wry, this time natural smile curved his perfect lips.

среда, 3 апреля 2013 г.


Chapter XI

The Morning Celestro was Admired

Although everyone was looking at the boy's mother, Mallory Okolloh could feel all eyes on him: Mat, Icon, Stallone, prompting experts - all were burning the walls from the other side with their astonished glances, he was sure, even Ford seemed to eye Okolloh reproachfully through the back of his head. The huge man shifted uneasily - the mother and the son must have different last names, they must have, because the other option would be - she had thimblerigged him to slip in unspotted. The mother had obviously been waiting for the right moment to go public, because the conference was the first time she'd stepped into the light. 

After a moment of stupor the team noticed Ford circling the gem on his ring, Icon's SC buzzed and she beckoned IR, who started feverishly scrolling through files on the air display, then she signaled Matrix to put her through.

"The boy's name is Diod Medina. Recognize the mother, the name is..." Icon searched for IR with her eyes, he raised a finger without looking up and in a second threw a piece of data to her. "...Penrose Stewart," she read off her display.

"I'm so sorry, it took me a second to recognize you." Ford kept circling the gem. Icon's SC buzzed frantically.

"His essie's off!" she shouted.

Mat scanned the displays with frantic eyes. "Can't be, I'm still linked to it."

"I wouldn't hope you knew me, Mr. Ford," the woman said.
"Then there is something wrong with it! Rivers, we need to change the schedule. Penrose Stewart, Penrose Stewart...," Icon kept saying, articulating every letter.

"Mz. Rose Stewart, is it?" said Ford. Icon buried her face in her hands.

"It's Penrose, actually, like the mathematician." The woman squeezed her hands together and straightened up.

"You have to forgive an old man, I've become sentimental and remember flowers now rather than science," said Ford.

"44, no partner, Senior Manager at a delivery company GetsDone, delivers everything anywhere, from food to hovertrucks," pattered Icon and raised eyefuls of hope to the spy screen.

"I'm sure you do, Mr. Ford"

Ford let go of his ring. "Journalism is your second profession, Mz. Stewart?"

Icon sighed with relief.

"I can't just sit at home and do nothing, this is my part of investigation, and since my light's still green, am I allowed to ask another question?" A swift put-on smile touched Penrose's lips.

"You have every right to, Mz.Stewart." Ford replicated the smile on his own lips.

"Celestro Rawotzki agreed to move his section up," reported Rivers. "We can wrap up in 10."

Matrix lifted his thumb. "Putting you through."

Penrose squeezed her hands tighter. "Will you get my boy out alive?" This time her voice broke at the word "alive", and all her officialism evaporated, leaving a weary and scared mother before Ford.

"Diod is a strong young man," said Ford a little softer. "We'll do our best to get him out in one piece, I promise you."

Rivers watched a green flicker on her SC in stupor. "Rivers!" Matrix looked back to see what was wrong with the girl. "Rivers!" 

She raised her terrified eyes at him. "Speak!" he snapped.

"Wrapping up, Mr.Ford," Rivers stuttered. "Rawotzki's section moved up, starts in 10 minutes."

"I promise you to see to it personally that Diod gets back safe and sound." Ford addressed everyone in the room. "Now the first part of the morning section is over. The independent expert will be with you in 10 minutes. Thank you."

Ford strode out of the room of confused journalists, Mallory followed. 

When the team saw their CEO entering the backstage, everyone got up expecting an outbreak. Ford gave Mallory an impassive look - but Okolloh didn't need much to understand what to do, he left the room to make another check-up on the conference members. Then Ford diverted his fiery eyes to the team.

"When's the second part?" he asked.

"In four hours," whispered Rivers.

Ford turned on his heels and headed for the exit, but a few steps before the opening he halted and turned around. His heavy breath was the only sound audible in the room. He took the ring off his finger and dashed it against the floor. A sharp clink made everyone flinch.

"Fix the damn ring!" 

As the opening closed behind Ford, everyone startled as if there was a door he had just slammed. No one said a word, just got back to work silently. Spectrum picked up the ring and examined it - the gem was scratched and there was another crack inside of it. She put the ring on Matrix' hovertable. He took the little thing mechanically and slipped it into his pocket.

"Icon, I'll need a fill-in in two hours," he said. Icon nodded. 

After Ford's remark about his inexistent son Microsoft blinked the display off and was just staring at the white wall. 

"You were right," he said after several minutes of silence. "It wasn't a good idea."

Sakura needed him to get back on track. She had a hunch that Celestro hadn't told her everything. As a phychiatrist she was used to trust a hunch. She was set on getting as much from Microsoft as she could. "You said you had a plan.

"We had a plan, yes."

"Did it have anything to do with Evos Ford?"

"I don't wanna talk about Ford."

"Alright, let's not talk about him. Were you able to execute the plan?"

"We were going to, but then something happened."


"You know what!" 

She nodded in agreement. "I do, but I'd like to hear your version."

He let out an irritated sigh, but made an effort to remember. "I was waiting for Arone, she was supposed to be coming home soon and was running late. I think he flickered me... no, he couldn't, we never actually talked on the SC. How come we never used virtual communication?" Microsoft stared at the floor.

"How did you communicate?" 

Microsoft raised his eyebrows and bit on his lips.

"I think we always used paper... yes, through the mail portal in the kitchen, he would send me a message, and every time he would leave me a different address to send my reply to. Weird..."

"Were you working for Ford at the time?.. I'm sorry, but it's relevant."

"Yeah... Lester had told me how to get the job..."

Sakura smiled to herself, but Microsoft didn't even notice how he changed Rawotzki into a friendly Lester so quickly. He told her about their meetings and how helpful Celestro had always been. He also told her how he'd enjoyed their correspondence and how they'd used ciphers to encode messages, and he had felt like a special agent. 

"Weren't you overcautious?" Sakura asked.

"Just having fun. No one tracks paper these days, and if they had it'd have taken ages to decipher and then to understand the meaning of the message. He used a Russian doll principle, you know, code in a code." Microsoft got excited with every piece of memories that came back to him, telling Sakura almost proudly about their system of communication. She was amazed how elaborate it was: a message was encoded into a sentence using the less frequent letters of the alphabet, then encoded again using a code word and then again following an algorithm only they knew.

"That night, did he send you a message?"

"I got a package with a letter inside. He wanted to see me."

"To talk about what?"

"Doesn't matter." Microsoft pulled his knees up to his chest and hugged them. "I got to his house, from the back as usual. There was this guy, Causse, he let me in and told me to go to the orchard."

"Causse told you to go to the orchard?" Sakura's astonishment must have been too manifested, because Microsoft looked at her with curiosity, and she hurried to compose herself.

"I mean, Causse must be the concierge, and he let you in?"

"Yes, he... he told me Rawotzki was working in his garden as usual... I went up and... son of a..." Microsoft fell silent, and flashed his eyes across the room, jerking his head nervously.

"Who was there, in the orchard?"

Microsoft looked at her dumbfounded, all his body showing how stupid he thought her question was.

"Microsoft, I need you to tell me what you saw in the orchard." 

"I saw my friend betraying me."

"That's what you felt, betrayed by a friend?"

"I was angry."

"With whom?"

"With myself. For being such a fool to have trusted him."

"Wasn't he the one who told you about your father? Tried to help?" 

Microsoft didn't answer to that. 

"Why do you blame him? Arone was there too." 

"She was, yes, but--"

"Before you came to Mr. Rawotzki's, had she told you where she would be?"

"I thought she was at work."

"So, she lied to you, didn't she?"

"She did... Why are you doing this?"

"I just want you to tell me about your true feelings, true memories of your feelings. Do you blame Celestro Rawotzki for what happened?"

"I don't know."

"Did he try to contact you? Make amends?"

"I'm not sure--"

"Is it possible he did but you didn't know about it?"

"I think... Do you mean Arone--?"

He paused and stared somewhere past Sakura, she turned her head to the object of his interest and saw Arone peeping through the porthole and smiling guiltily. He watched her wave to him and mouth 'hello' and looked away. She waited for a while for him to look up again, but he didn't. Sakura shook her head at Arone almost imperceptibly, she nodded to show she'd understood and disappeared from the porthole. Sakura didn't talk for full 15 minutes after that, neither did Microsoft. Then, at last, he spoke.

"At least she owned up to it."
"For all I remember, she blurted out the truth during one of your fights." Sakura kept eye contact, she owned him.

"What are you suggesting?"

"I'm not suggesting anything, just tell me what happened in the orchard."

"I came in, saw them at the back among those damn flowers."

"And then?"

"Lester turned back and looked at me, I hurried to get out, but he caught up with me, tried to stop me. He kept saying it was a mistake and he was sorry." 

"Where was Arone?"

"I don't know, must've stayed behind. Guess she was too embarrassed to see me."

"She didn't come after you?"

"No." Microsoft sounded as unblinking as was his stare. "She didn't come home soon either. And in the morning, I guess, I already didn't remember anything. It's all very strange... I wasn't surprised to learn I was working for Ford. Can it happen? Can one remember one thing about the same period of time and forget all the rest?"

"Our brain is an amazing little world playing tricks on itself," said Sakura. "There is no one to blame, Microsoft, what happened is a reaction of the organism."

"So, I should treat the betrayal as a reaction of his organism?"

"Have you never made a mistake, Microsoft?"

"I've never stolen somebody else's wife."

"Well, Arone's still with you, isn't she? Celestro Rawotzki hasn't bothered you all this time, he made a mistake, and he stepped aside to let you live your life, didn't he? Isn't that something a friend would do?"


"What would you do if you were him? What would you want?"

"I would want the earth to swallow me whole."

"Maybe that's exactly what he wanted - to disappear from your life and to hurt you no more."

Microsoft seemed to be digesting the thought slowly. After a while he said, "I need to speak with him."

So do I, thought Sakura.

Arone woke up with a start as if someone had shoved her. A bright beam of light was pushing against the darkness of the room through the porthole. She got off the bed and walked cautiously towards the oxygen room. She could see Sakura and Microsoft sitting on the floor and talking vividly, suddenly Mike saw her and froze. She couldn't understand whether he was upset or angry with her, or just unemotionally registered her presence. She waved at him timidly, and he looked down. She searched for Sakura's eyes for support, but she just shook her head. Disappointed, Arone walked away from the door thinking it best to leave them to finish the session. 

She went to the kitchen, ordered coffee that arrived almost instantly through the mail port, and switched on the TV menu on her SC. The press conference was the greatest buzz in the network, so she sat down at the table with her cup of coffee, clicked on the link, pulled the air display out and swung it to the opposite wall. 

Celestro Rawotzki was sitting rather comfortably in a chair with two of his men behind him. He wore a curious russet suit made of a luxurious material that gave off an enchanting dull luster; there was nothing under the jacket. A bisque scarf hung loosely around his neck and rested on his bare chest. Arone noticed with an appreciation of a designer that the scarf had a penrose tiling pattern delicately woven into it in thin grey threads. Celestro looked at ease and spoke leisurely.

"...you see. I am not here because I chose to, I am here because I was chosen to be, because people trusted my outside perspective as a fellow professional of Mr. Evos Ford, my mentor and my guru. 

"So, I'll be very honest with you. Mr. Ford mentioned that a knife maker couldn't be blamed for a crime committed by another person with that knife, and that is absolutely true. Every person is responsible for their own actions, but think about children. Children do all kinds of stupid things as every mother knows they would. She is surely not able to protect them from their inexperience, their mistakes or their lack of judgment, but she still does everything in her power to guard her child, to take care of it, because she has to serve her child and nurture it into a healthy and educated individual. It is her duty, as well as it is our duty as the leading service providers to serve people.

"Who are we but humble servants trying to make the world around us better? What right do we have to say that we are not responsible for what happens to our customers? I believe that if we can build something that sends people across the planet in a matter of femtoseconds, we are fully capable of providing absolute security for those who chose to trust us. I can assure you that's the truth and the guiding light of Zenith Perpetual. I learned that from Evos Ford, and I can only hope he hasn't forgotten his own lessons."

Arone was listening to Celestro with a quiet admiration when her SC buzzed; there was someone at the door. She wondered who could visit so early and clicked at the peephole cam. A tall man with dark hair and a smart look about his face stood outside the door. 

"Who is it?" she asked.

"Hi." The man smiled shyly into the cam. "I'm here to see Mike, my name is Matrix Eroglou. This is urgent." 

Arone put the trembling cup on the table, hesitated for a moment, took the cup again and drained it in three gulps. Then put the cup into the dish-washer and went to open the door, pulling frenziedly at the rim of her dress.