пятница, 31 мая 2013 г.

DISINTEGRATION

Chapter XVI

The Day Matrix Lied

The day of the rescue drew closer. The official theory of using Statko effect on the micro-level  had been announced, and the date had been set. Ford had a tet-a-tet with Mz. Penrose Stewart arranged on the central news and personally asked Alkatraz Dahl to be the guest anchor, which was a brilliant Icon's idea to display integrity and trustworthiness to the world. 
During the dialogue Ford explained the method of rescue and answered all the questions with such a great confidence that Penrose hugged him at the end of the interview. In the subsequent article and video report Alkatraz sounded skeptical but even he admitted that Ford 'seemed to know what he was doing'.
The irony of the phrase didn't escape Matrix Eroglou. Since the dinner in DigiDiner he had been avoiding everyone. He locked himself up in his office and didn't come out even to announce the schedules for the interviews with Ford. He sent Icon a message to give him the new list of team members after the interviews were over and ignored her insistant flickers. She considered it a challenge and was determined to find out what was going on with Matrix. 

At work two things were waiting for Microsoft: a non-shut-upable Adrian and a message from Mat. While trying to zone out Adrian's chatter, he clicked on the message which read: "You're the most likely candidate for the front line position in the rescue mission. I don't think we can do it without you." 

Something turned over inside Microsoft and fluttered its wings, but he couldn't understand if it was joy or anxiety. For one, the message meant he was about to become the key figure of the mission, and all the information he needed was literally served to him on a silver platter. On the other hand, he message felt void as if there was something missing between the two sentences. 
"Hey, man, so will you tell her?" Adrian punched him in the shoulder.
"Aw! Tell who what?"
"Spectrum, of course, who else? Have you been listening to me at all?" 
Adrian gave Microsoft a poignant stare and stretched his arms sideways, waiting for Microsoft's answer.
"Look, Ad, I gotta run, I have a meeting with the Old Hundred."
"Right, you're all hoity-toity now. Forgive your humble servant, Sire, for disturbing your repose." Adrian bowed.
"Man, come on. I really don't have time right now, but I'll do what you ask. Later, okay?"
Adrian waved him off and went to his cubicle. Microsoft headed towards the stairs.  He didn't have time for the sulking Adrian.
When he got to the hundred's floor, he met Augustine Reynolds and Kern Schrödinger in the waiting room who watched something on their i-contacts. Gear welcomed Microsoft with a radiant smile.
"You're early."
"Am I?" Microsoft checked the time and was genuinely surprised that he was indeed half an hour early.
"You know, you have a memo app on your essie." Pointed at his SC band.
"I know, I just thought I could--"
"Dog it?"
"Yeah, that too." Microsoft smiled at her on his way to the waiting room.
"What are you doing here so early," asked Augustine without looking at him.
"I'm not asking you, so what do you care?"
"I'm waiting for IR," said Augustine.
"I'm next in line," said Kern.
"I'm just..." Microsoft and sat down on the sofa beside Kern, leaned back and closed his eyes., "dogging it." 
He went through the plan again in his head: Get the information transmitter at the Doodads': check. Get the schedule: check. Arrange another meeting with Rawotzki: check. Get involved in the time-travelling process: needs confirmation. Talk to Mat: needs to be done. 
He thought about Matrix and his recent behavior. Something wasn't right, but everything seemed to go according to plan. Maybe his talk with Ford will clear things for him? What was Mat so afraid of or worried about? It can't be just the legal issue of the mission - even Kern didn't bother (and he would be the first to yammer). There was definitely something he didn't know and he intended to find it out.
"Why is it still called dark matter anyway? It was discovered over a hundred years ago!"
This was Augustine talking about something he was watching on his i-contacts, Microsoft guessed. He realized Augustine had been talking for a while already, overreacting as usual over things that escaped his own logic. He talked as if his life depended on that, moving his enormous eyebrows and scoffing every minute.
"Well, I believe it's a matter of habit," said Schrödinger. The macro rubbed his sweaty right palm with the small round fingernails of his left hand.
"If it was up to me, I'd rename it."
"And call it Reynold's matter?" said Microsoft.
"So, you think giving the crucial elements of the universe inappropriate names is funny?" Augustine leaned towards Microsoft over Kern. "There is nothing dark about the matter, it's like saying Milky Way is sky fog. The so-called "dark matter" is just alternative particles, different from the standard set of particles we've known about for centuries. Logically, the particles should be called alternoms."
"Well, I think it's all part of the preservation policy." Kern pushed Augustine off himself. "People try to keep things as they were, to preserve history. Take for example the Last Name Act. Did you know people used to give a child the last name of the father? It didn't matter if the mother's genealogy tree was bigger or more valuable to the world's heritage - it just had to be the father."
"That's absurd," said Augustine. "Passing this act was perfectly reasonable and essential. Genealogical lines are historically important, it also facilitates the process of learning the family history and eliminates the risk of any prominent last names dying out."
"I don't know." Schrödinger dried his palms on his jacket. "I've got my mother's name, but I personally think it would be great if I could give my last name to my son."
"Well, all you have to do is find a wife with a less prominent name than yours," said Microsoft who was getting irritated by the whole pointless chatter.
"What's your father's name?" Schrödinger fixed his honest and curious eyes on him. Microsoft went cold inside.
"I don't know," he said. "I never knew him."
"I'm sorry. I'm sure your father is a good man."
"And how do you know that?"
"Look at you? You're a decent person, a talented designer, a good friend."
"All because I've been raised in good families. My father didn't have anything to do with it."
"Actually," said Augustine, "the genetic influence of our biological parents is often underestimated. Our modern culture is focused on the presumption that we make ourselves who we are, but essentially, genes are inescapable."
"I said, I'm not like my father!" Microsoft jumped to his feet. After a moment of awkward silence the opening to Ford's office dispersed and a blonde man with a grim face came out of it. It took Microsoft a second to realize it was IR. He felt his heart sink, because IR looked like he'd just been hit by an anvil. 
"What did he tell you?" asked Augustine getting up, and Microsoft realized he hadn't even asked Augustine what he'd decided and what Ford had told him.
"I'm in," said IR.
"Are you serious? This is madness."
"Madness is to step away now. Are you coming?" IR greeted Mike and Kern with a nod and headed for the vacuum tubes followed by Augustine who was telling him something in a low voice and gesturing fervently. 
"Did Augustine say 'no'?" asked Microsoft. 
"Not exactly." Kern smiled at him. "He's still thinking, but he'll come round. What won't one do for a friend, right?"
"Why is he so furious then?"
"You know him. He just likes to contradict." 
Kern got up and tapped Microsoft on the shoulder.
"Don't worry, it's all gonna be fine." 
Kern didn't spend much time in the office, and when he came out he winked at Microsoft  as encouragement. Microsoft got up, and the ground seemed to kilt a little. After he went in through the opening, Ford's voice hammered him down to the floor.
"Mr. Stevenson, please come in... Mr.Stevenson?.. Can you hear me?"
"Yes! Yes, of course." As if awakened, Microsoft hurried to the huge table and sat into a hoverchair that felt strange and uncomfortable. 
"How do you feel? I hear you weren't well."
"I had a headache but I'm fine now, thank you."
"Good. I'm happy for you. You should know, Microsoft, that I value you work very highly, you are the best designer we've ever had and the evaluation program proved it selecting you to be on the team and then to take part in this important mission, to save a person's life."
"Is this confirmed already?"
"It was just now. How do you feel about that?"
"It's all been very unexpected, sir. But I'm happy to be a part of something big."
"And I am certainly happy to hear that. Am I to understand that you will join us and agree to fulfill the assignment?" Ford beamed with satisfaction, and it cost Microsoft a lot of effort to keep a composed face.
"Before I say yes, I would like to know how safe it is."
"Absolutely. Although, Mr. Eroglou could explain all the ins and outs of the operation much better than I can ever do."
"Mr. Eroglou seems a little unwilling to talk to anyone lately."
"Is he?"
Microsoft bit his tongue. Ford's face was perfectly still, but Microsoft could hear in the way he said those two words that Matrix was in trouble. 
"He's working a lot," said Microsoft, trying to keep his voice steady. Facing Ford now, he didn't think about the mission, for Celestro and Arone. All that was on his mind was one question: How could you choose work over your son?
"The amount of work is, indeed, impressive, and you would do well not to disturb him. But the procedure is quite safe, you don't have to worry about it." Ford looked away.
"What am I to worry about?" Microsoft tapped his fingers on the table. Ford took a deep tired breath and started speaking in a calm solid voice.
"Diod Medina is the brightest student in his class. Before the unfortunate event he was going to take up social service courses. He wants to become a doctor. His mother, Penrose, told me that she was pregnant with his sister when he was 12 and she had a miscarriage. After that he wouldn't leave his mother's room, would tuck her in at night. Diod Medina is 14 now. He's hardly lived and is about to die."
"Why are you telling me all this?"
"Because I want you to see how important you are." Ford glided around the table and towards Microsoft, who folded his arms on his chest. "Do you realize that you," Ford pointed at him with an open palm, "you will save the life of a young boy and the lives of his future children?"
"Are children so important to you, Mr. Ford?"
"Of course, they are. Every child is important." Now it was Microsoft's turn to look away.
"More important than your job?" 
"What are you driving at?" Ford slid back a little, watching Microsoft.
"You just don't look much of a concerned father to me. But those were truly beautiful words you said. I bet it isn't the first time you've said them."
Ford pursed his lips, leaned forward and looked Microsoft directly in the eyes, sending chills down Microsoft's spine.
"Whatever I say, however many times I say it - the fact remains: we save a life or we perform an ethical euthanasia and step away to see a child perish. I'm sorry to say this, Mr. Stevenson, but right now you can become one of the two, a savior or a murderer.  Which one would you rather be?"
"What if the government learned about the time-traveling?" Microsoft bit his tongue a second time. That wasn't something he'd been planning to ask. "I mean, we'll all go to prison, or worse." Ford didn't stir a hair.
"I understand your concerns, but the only people who know about it are on the team."
Microsoft thought he'd heard Ford wrong, he tilted his head doubtfully.
"Yes, that's right, Microsoft, none is out. Not one. You are the only one who hasn't decided yet and you are the key to the mission. I'm asking you on behalf of the grieving mother to save the boy."
"Augustine Reynolds is still considering."
"He'll talk to Mr. Herschel and he'll stay. But right now it's you who has to make a choice, to make me proud."
Incongruous feelings were fighting inside Microsoft, Statko effect all over again. What Ford was saying was certainly true, but it still felt like manipulation. He wanted to leave the team so much in the beginning. Now, he surprised himself. He wanted to be that heroic person, to take part in the mission because it was important, not because he needed information. He considered if he could ask what Matrix had argued with Ford about, but he chose not to. Mat had enough problems on his hands without Microsoft prying around. Microsoft nodded to Ford and left the office.

At the end of the day the team gathered for the final briefing. Matrix wasn't there. He had instructed IR to put him through without video.
"I'd like to thank you all...," his tired voice said. "I didn't expect that everyone would stay, so I'm grateful. Wireless, I sent you the algorithm with my comments, I hope they will be satisfying. Microsoft Stevenson is selected to perform the rescue mission. Icon McKelly will fill you in further." 
There was a second of silence and a click.
"He's out," said IR and turned to everyone, surprise and anger dancing in his eyes.
Icon looked confused probably for the first time in her life. She didn't say anything even when Stallone Rivers left the room right after the announcement, bumping into a hoverchair on her way out. Only Microsoft smiled to himself. 
Everyone looked at Icon expecting her to explain what was going on when the SCs started buzzing and flickering one by one. Mat had sent everyone a schedule and personal instructions. Icon blinked away the message and coughed.
"Well, ...er, it seems we have our schedules. All of you must have received the list of your responsibilities. Right, so... Let's get some rest and we'll discuss the steps first thing in the morning."
WiFi was reading her message from Mat, chewing on her lower lip. Then she whispered something to IR, he linked his SC to hers and frowned.
"Is something wrong?" Icon came closer to them.
"No...nothing is wrong." Before Icon could have a look at his SC, IR beckoned to Augustine and the three of them left. Icon followed them with her eyes and seemed to forget anyone else was in the room. After a while she started, as if from a sudden noise, and told the rest of the team to go and get ready. She only stopped Mallory Okolloh and whispered something in his ear. He looked in a confused way, but nodded and followed everyone out.

On the way to Matrix's office Augustine didn't stop talking for a minute until IR finally told him to shut up. WiFi had a hard time keeping up with the two.

"I will if you tell me why," said Augustine.
"You didn't say no yourself, did you?" IR didn't slow his pace to avoid looking Augustine in the eyes.
"I didn't say 'yes' either." Augustine scurried beside him, his face working out solutions to the conundrum.
"Well, I don't know how you feel, but I'm not ready to become a killer. It's our fault that Diod is in there, so I don't care what I'll have to do to save him. I need you, Augustine." IR stopped short. "Please... just sign in and let's get on with it."
"It's a crime."
"It's more of a crime if we don't sign in. Maybe, Okolloh can step aside, or Icon, but think what will happen if we do. Mat won't pull it off alone, he needs us. Besides, the algorithm's a mess, you heard what WiFi said. I'm planning to buzz Mat's essie dead until he opens his damn hermit's cell and lets us talk to him. Are you with me?"

Augustine stepped back and leaned against the wall, his eyebrows hanging ominously over his face. IR came up to him and put his hand on his shoulder, but Augustine just shook his head.
"Whatever..." IR and walked on, grabbing WiFi by the arm only to hear Augustine marching hastily behind him a minute later. He halted and turned around. Augustine came up to him and hugged him so hard that IR had to tap him on the back to let him go. 
"If we get busted," said Augustine. "Do you think they'll let us retain memories of us being friends?"
"I don't think so," said IR. "We'll probably be sent to different places too, far away from each other."
"I've signed in."
"Aren't you afraid to lose your memory anymore?"
"I'd rather not remember with you, than remember without you."
IR hugged Augustine again, and WiFi gave out a sad sigh. She wanted to understand what they felt and what it all meant for them, but all she could think of was the algorithm and the inconsistencies that Matrix seemed to be ignoring completely. At that moment footsteps resounded against the walls. Everyone turned towards the sound. Mat appeared from around the corner and stopped dead, seeing the three members of his team in the hall.
"Mat! We were just heading for your office." IR ran up to him, but Mat waved his hand to say no. 
"It's late already, I have to go."
"Mat, you can't run away like this," IR stood in his way. "The operation starts tomorrow and I don't understand half of your algorithm. Tell him, Wi!" 
"Um, yes," said WiFi. "I can't say I'm an expert in time-traveling formulae, but I ran it in demo and the program couldn't finish the task because a piece of equation was missing." WiFi drew randoms geometrical figures in the air with her fingers to illustrate a point. Geometry had always seemed to her very convincing. 
"I'm not saying your calculations aren't correct," said IR. "I just want to understand how it works, because I'll be at the controls tomorrow with you, and I just think it's risky if we aren't fully aware of the processes."
Matrix at everyone. Augustine nodded to show he agreed with WiFi and IR. 
"Okay, listen to me now," said Mat and raised his hand, though nobody but him was speaking. "Tell me, IR, have you ever done anything like this before?"
"Have you?" said IR.
"Yes, I have."
"Maybe you have at a larger scale," said Augustine, raising his voice with every phrase. "With a bunch of qualified people to help you, a huge team to analyze the facts, another huge team to check the equations, and an elephantine amount of time to prepare. We had but a couple of days and the algorithm doesn't work. Shouldn't you be worried? Shouldn't we all just sit down and--"
"Enough!" roared Matrix and it seemed that it was the sound wave from his voice that pushed Augustine behind IR's back. "I know what I'm doing! You're right, Augustine, we had 2 days to figure it out and believe it or not I did. Exactly that is why you need to trust me right now. Your job is to ensure the Statko effect works and Microsoft takes one specific route, because he won't have much time or many chances to choose. He has to go exactly as planned, and then everything will be put into place. Can you do that? Tell me, can you make sure this one thing goes right?"
"Yes, we can." IR looked away.
"Then do, and leave everything else to me. I have to go through everything again today and I really don't have time to teach classes. You need explanation, you'll get the lecture after we're done. Now go home and be here on time tomorrow!"
He went passed them, and no one said anything else, just looked at each other. WiFi wasn't sure what that meant, but she supposed she was allowed to be scared.

пятница, 24 мая 2013 г.

DISINTEGRATION

Chapter XV

The Night Everybody Talked (part 2)

"Do you know each other?" asked Celestro, raising one eyebrow in his usual nonchalant manner.
"Better than you think," said Microsoft. "But then, I don't know. You tell me."
"I'm Mr.Stevenson's couple counselor," said Sakura, resuming her self-controlled posture in a second.
Rawotzki craned his head to meet the look of his consierge. "Gantier, was I expecting Miss Takano today?"
"I believe you were, sir." Causse's face showed nothing, but his usual cold officialism.
"You should have reminded me."
"My fault, sir. It will not happen again."
"You may go. Miss Takano," Rawotzki ran his fingers along the rim of his jacket as it glowed more intensely, "I apologize again, could we reschedule--"
"It would be most inappropriate, my week's very busy."
"Right then, could you please wait in my office. Gantier!" 
The concierge stopped half-way in the opening and turned around. "Please show Miss Takano into my office," Rawotzki said. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Certainly, sir."
Microsoft was watching everyone with curiosity. Even the burning on his neck that now turned into a numb throbbing pain didn't bother him. The dialogue sounded perfectly normal, yet a certain underlying tension was almost palpable in the air. When both the concierge and Sakura were gone, he looked at Celestro expectantly.
"I apologize," said Celestro. "I totally gapped out on the appointment."
"You take bachelor pre-couple counseling courses?"
"No, she's our client. ZP's working on a project to update the software of the psy-center she works in. It's been difficult to squeeze the meeting into our schedules in light of the recent events, then I also got your message, and everything got mixed up."
"Haven't heard of the project in the news-feeds."
"It's not public yet, we're negotiating some details." Celestro touched his earring SC and blinked, obviously mind-typing something on his eye-display.
"I hope all's well, she didn't look too happy. Do you have all your business meetings at home, Lester?"
"There are a couple of snags," said Celestro absent-mindedly. "And Miss Takano is quite fervent about updating the center. It's a bit annoying, really. We've hardly started, but I already can't wait till the project's over." Celestro did look rather bored than nervous, so Microsoft chose to believe him. Sakura Takano was the least thing on his mind at the moment.
"So, I guess, I have to go now." Microsoft moved to get up, but Celestro blinked the sheen out of his eyes and put his hand up to stop him.
"I still have some time. Miss Takano can surely wait. Maybe that will make her less eager to schedule personal meetings with me whenever she sees fit. What's that deal you were talking about?"
"I want Ford destroyed, humiliated and broken." Microsoft felt a little color in his cheeks as he spoke. "And I want you to help me."
Celestro's eyes lit up with excitement. He leaned forward.
"We're back to where we started, then?"
"No, we start from scratch. No strings attached."
"If you want strictly come business, you'll get strictly come business. But what's in it for me?"
"First, you owe me."
"Fair enough. Though I have a tendency to let my remorse go once I said I'm sorry."
"Second," Microsoft crossed his legs, as he leaned back on the sofa. "If Ford's off the picture, you'll be the only international tycoon, which will allow you to build a High Tech empire that will prove invincible."
Rawotzki activate the surface menu on the table and scrolled down a list of whiskeys. "Tempting. Drink?"
"No, thanks," said Microsoft, took the documents off the table, ran his thumb along the top ridge shrinking them till they fitted in his palm and put them into his pocket.
"So." Rawotzki took a glass of deep jasper liquid on rocks off a silver hovertray that had slidout of the built-in bar. "What'd you have in mind, partner?"
"Ford's going to break the law trying to save the boy."
"Why am I not surprised? Let me guess, the reintegration scheme didn't worked out, so they've opted for time-traveling?"
"That's right. I'll have more than enough information to expose him, I just need the right technology to get it stored. After the boy's out, I'll have all the evidence and I'll witness against Ford in the International Court of Integrity."
"Aiming high, are we? You're a brave man to go for private investigation. If you pull it off to the end, it'll be very hard to prove you're not an accomplice."
"Not if I have the data stored from the very beginning of the process and come out at the right moment. Anyway, the other option is to let the boy die."
"That would definitely ruin Ford Industries forever." 
Microsoft stared at him in stupor. Rawotzki tilted his head, his glass half-way to his lips.
"Are you seriously thinking about killing the boy?" he asked.
"Sweet Page and Brin, Lester, what are you talking about? Of course, not! I can't let the boy die - that's what I meant. I want only one person to get hurt in the process. "
"Well, I don't know what I'd do if my father had done to me what yours did to you. Luckily, he died early enough."
The words jarred Microsoft on the inside, he hated Ford, of course, but he didn't think he could ever talk about his death with such nonchalance. He turned his head thoughtfully towards the hearth and as he did, he cried out with pain.
"What's wrong?" Celestro almost dropped the glass of whiskey from surprise.
"How long have I been here?" Microsoft rubbed his tattoo patch.
"Eh...about half an hour or so?"
"Damn you, Rafael! Just wait till I get you. Jeez!" Microsoft covered the patch with his hand, but that hurt even more.
"Let me take it off." Rawotzki put his glass on the table, got up and bent over Mike who leaned back. Pain crawled up to his temples, his muscles tensed, and his skin felt like it was scorching. Rawotzki examined the patch.
"Ouch, it looks really bad."
"Just take it off, will you?" said Microsoft through his teeth. Rawotzki turned back, fished an ice cube out of his glass, then turned back, hooked a corner of the patch with his nail and tore it off in a split of a second.
Microsoft gave out a suppressed grunt and curved his back.
"Wait," said Rawotzki, pushing him down with one hand and running the ice cube up and down his neck with the other. Microsoft breathed out with relief, and relaxed a little closing his eyes. When he opened them again, Celestro was still holding ice against the sore spot, suppressing a grin.
"What? What's there?"
Celestro blinked and the opposite wall turned into a mirror. He stepped away to let Microsoft come closer and take a look. On the right side of his neck inside a crimson ellipse he saw a glowing blue boner. 
"It seems, Rafael gave you another nickname," said Celestro.
"I'm gonna kill him. I am gonna kill him."
"Make sure you leave no fingerprints, we can't have you in jail now, we got things to do." Celestro wiped his wet hand against his pants and got up. 
"The hoverblimp's downstairs waiting for you. Go by 'Doodads' tomorrow morning, they'll plant a data magnet into your essie, it'll copy any information in a five-feet radius."
"I'll let you know if anything comes up."
Mike was heading for the opening when he heard Celestro say, "It's always a pleasure to work with you."
Microsoft turned around to see his new partner in business in the middle of the room with a soft and genuine smile, his suit unbuttoned again, his hand outstretched for a shake. The urge to step back and shake the hand pulled at Microsoft's stomach, but he turned around and left, feeling like a parent who'd just spanked his child and now was trying to convince himself that it had been the right thing to do.

Stallone struggled to keep calm, but it would have been less shocking to be hit by a lightning, than hear Matrix's confession. It was clear by the expression of Mat's face that he regretted having told her everything. She wanted to say something to make Matrix feel better, something that would miraculously solve all his problems, but no words came to mind and her throat went dry.
"Stallone, I appreciate that you've heard me out," he said. "And I understand there is nothing you can do. There is nothing anyone can do. It's the balance of nature. We may have learned how to influence the weather, or travel in time and space, but there are laws nothing can override. You can't eradicate something without replacing it, or call something back without giving something away in return. Natural catastrophes, wars, climate changes, even international political conflicts - all are nature's way to keep the balance. There is no way around it."
"But of course there is!" The solution was now so obvious to her. "You have to refuse. You said that no one can be forced to do anything."
"That didn't apply to me. I can't refuse."
"Why not?"
"I owe Ford."
"You can't owe him that much."
Matrix sighed, sat forward and folded his hands, looking Stallone directly in the eyes.
"I do. He saved my life."
"So? Do you have to pay for it till you die?"
"He saved my life, but he didn't give it back to me. I'm bound with him."
"I don't understand."
"It doesn't matter, I just can't. And besides, it's either Mike or the boy. Mike has to die to save Diod Medina. That's my alternative right now: kill a teenager or kill my friend."
Stallone didn't know what to say. They kept silent for several minutes.
"Here it is again," said Matrix, looking at a black hoverblimp that whooshed past DigiDiner. 
"Mat--" Stallone's voice was trembling.
"Don't. Let's just go." He switched off the jammer dome and stood up. Stallone gasped as the weight lifted off her, she suddenly felt she was about to be lifted off the ground with it. "Promise no one else will ever know what I've just told you," said Matrix before they left. 
"I would never--"
"Good, let's go. Please."

Microsoft maneuvered out of the dim Art Quarter and dashed home at full speed, the tattoo was still glowing blue on his neck like a neon sign. He whizzed between cars changing lanes and levels ignoring the warning red spots blinking on the radar. The magnetic cushion security system around the car was pushing other cars away and they tumbled aside like chubby babies. 
"A three-day permanent," muttered Mike to himself. "Damn you, Rafael."
He wanted to be mad at Rafael, but couldn't help thinking he deserved it. Rafael was indeed like a father to him, and he was using the old man again. 
When Microsoft got to his garage, he hesitated to get out of the LandHover. Arone didn't sleep, he was sure of it. He was also sure that she would want to talk. Somehow he'd managed to avoid her, but he was out of excuses, and his passion spells didn't fool her any more. 
"Brace yourself, for Chrystler's sake," he said to himself. "You'll come up with something." He stepped out heavily, came up to a shopping portal, chose a black scarf on the menu and put his SC to the payment scanner. In a minute a tight silicon package popped out of the portal and fell into a basket under it. Mike took the scarf out, through the package back into the portal and swung the scarf around his neck.

"How dare you!" yelled Rawotzki marching into his office where Sakura was waiting for him, settled comfortably in a hovering egg chair. "You could've ruined everything. What right do you have bursting like that into my house?"
"The right to do so as your sister," said Sakura very quietly which irritated Celestro even more.
"Being raised in one family doesn't make us blood relatives."
"Oh, now when you don't need me any more we've suddenly become strangers?"
"What do you want?"
"Answer me, have I been such a bad sister to you that you used me like this? I whined my parents into adopting you when the foster period was over, I helped you to enter the most prestigious university in the country, I came to your aid each time you called for me. Do you think Dad went to talk to Ford about your internship on his own initiative? Did all that mean nothing to you?"
"Should I bow down and kiss your feet? Is that your point?" Celestro stood with his back to Sakura and meddled with the wall, turning the illumination on and off.
"No, my point is, I may not be your blood and bone, but I am your sister and I love you no matter what. I will always love you even if everyone else hates you. But I'm hurt because you lied to me."
Celestro turned around, sank into another egg chair and put his feet on the table.
"I lied to you?" he said, still avoiding her eyes.
"You told me you'd messed up, did you not? You told me Microsoft had seen you and Arone and you'd had to fix things because he was your friend and she was the love of your life, right? Come on, brother, did you think I'd have a session with Mike and the truth wouldn't come out?"
"I didn't think anything, I was just fixing things."
"What things? Lester..." Sakura floated closer to him and took his face in her hands to make him look at her. "You got Mike to see you and her...on purpose. Please, don't lie to me any more. All I want to know is why."
He put his palms over her hands and slid out of her grip onto her shoulder. She stroked his hair gently.
"Lester, why?"
"I hoped...he'd leave her and she'd stay with me," he murmured into her silk bolero. 
"And she didn't?"
"She said she'd die without him. She begged me to fix things, and I did. She never loved me. She never will."
"Lester..."
"Yes?"
"What does it have to do with Ford and the mysterious plan you and Microsoft have?" 
He tensed, freeing himself from under her arms and pushing his chair away from her a little.
"I'm sorry, but I can't tell you."
"So, when you told me you had to get his memory back to help her let things go, you were lying again?"
"No, I wasn't."
"But it's not the only reason you've unblocked him?"
"It is the main reason."
"No, it's not." Sakura sounded hurt. "Have you ever told me anything that was true?"
"You are the only person I have in this world. If I lose you, nothing will have sense any more. That is true."
She closed her eyes and shook her head at him. Celestro got out of the chair and came up to her. 
"Sis, I know what I'm doing. Please, trust me and everything will be fine." He hugged her, burying his nose in her neck. "Don't turn your back on me, please. It'll kill me, if you do."

There was no light. Microsoft slinked through the hall and peeped into the room. No one seemed to be there. He entered the room and began undressing hastily in the dim white light of the bedside table. He started to take off the scarf, but then changed his mind and put it back on.
"You're home," he heard a familiar voice and spun around. She had entered the room like a ghost. 
"Yeah." He rushed to gather his clothes from the floor. 
"How was your day?"
"Long. I'm really tired, so--"
"No!" She hit the wall with her fist, and he dropped his clothes. "You may be angry with me because I kept some things from you, but it's not a reason enough to avoid me."
"I'm not avoiding you." Microsoft bend over to collect his clothes again. 
"You've been sleeping in the living-room all since the session. You're not even looking at me! Micro, look at me!"
He raised his eyes at her and tossed the clothes on the floor.
"Do you really wanna fight now?"
"Just tell me what I've done?"
"You want me to tell you what you've done? You've been lying to me, keeping things from me and now you're standing here like nothing happened."
"I'm sorry I did this, but I didn't want to confuse you, or mess up with your brain."
"And how is that working out for you?"
She blinked and her eyelashes fluttered nervously. He kicked the clothes under the bed and headed for the opening.
"Don't run away from me!" She grabbed him by the scarf. The scarf slipped off his neck and she froze, because the blue neon light glowed brightly through the dim-lit room. 
"What's this?" she asked and forced him to turn around by the shoulder. "For the love of God, Mike, what is this?"
"It's nothing." He snatched his scarf from her and put it back around his neck.
"Have you been to Rafael's? You have, haven't you. You went to Lester, didn't you? Why did you go to Lester?"
"None of your business."
"It is my business as much as yours!"
"Would you give up the project on his mansion if I told you?"
She opened her mouth but no sound came out.
"I thought as much."
"Mike, why did you go there?"
"Who are you worried about, exactly? Me getting stressed out or him getting his ass kicked?"
"What?" She opened her eyes so wide that her eyelashes brushed her eyebrows.
"Calm down, he's fine. As much as I wanted to beat the shit out of him, I didn't. Maybe you should worry why Sakura Takano would kick her way into his house and yell at him."
"Sakura? What are you talking about?"
"When we were speaking she marched in like she lived there, and she didn't look too pleased. They told me they had some business deal on updating the psy-center, but I don't buy it. And I don't care either."
He turned on his heels and went towards the living-room, followed by Arone.
"Mike, stop. Please stop, we have to talk."
"No, we don't." He locked the opening behind him leaving Arone outside the room. 
He threw himself on the sofa, face down, and stared at the fish for half an hour. Sleep wouldn't come, he turned on his back and tried staring at the dark ceiling. But the blue light reflected on the ceiling conjured up very unpleasant associations. Loneliness overcame him like never before: his father had rejected him for money, Arone felt too guilty to understand him, he himself felt too proud to tell Rawotzki he had actually missed him as a friend, he couldn't tell Mat anything, and if he talked to Rafael about all that, the man would probably tell him to suck it up. 
"I guess, I do have to suck it up," he whispered and turned around on his stomach. The fish were playing tag and he started counting them until, half an hour later, he fell asleep.

среда, 22 мая 2013 г.

DISINTEGRATION

Chapter XIV
The Night Everybody Talked

On her way home, Arone gave Mike two flickers which he didn't take. She sighed as she drove by a TR platform, onto which a moment later Matrix and Stallone teleported. They headed for 'DigiDiner' and the minute they entered it, Microsoft passed the restaurant in his hovercar ignoring his flickering SC.

He didn't go to Rawotzki's mansion, but flew around the office buildings and headed for the opposite side of the city - the Art Quarter. He passed some kooky buildings that seemed to grow out of the ground or hang upside down in the air. He drove smoothly through off-kilter streets, writhing and zigzagging among the weird buildings and monuments, fountains and art oases. 
He finally pulled over at a skin-art parlor in the shape of a tiny fortress with a huge dragon sticking his enormous head out through its gate and breathing fire. Mike parked his car at one of the magnet poles on the ground and entered into the dragon's mouth, a pleasantly warm wave of virtual fire swallowing him. 
Inside, the parlor looked like a dragon's stomach (at least, as the artists imagined it would look). Red walls striped with huge ribs joined over Mikes head in a glowing white solar plexus that sent soft lambent light in all directions. Every rib was an exit to a client room. In the middle there were tables with a few people who drank and ate quietly to a low beat of music that seemed to come from everywhere. The dragon's tail accomodated the counter. An old but very handsome man was on a bar hover chair in front of the counter. As he saw Mike entering, he widened his eyes and started applauding.
"Burn me whole and eat me ashes! Old bugger, I thought you were dead!" The man jumped off his hoverchair and shook Microsoft's outstretched hand, punching his shoulder with the other.
"Happy to see you again, Rafael," said Microsoft.
"Hey, Rembrandt," someone shouted to Rafael across the room. "Client in Rib 10."
"I can't. Give it to De Riz when he's done," Rafael shouted back and turned to Microsoft, examining him from head to foot. "I should be killin' you right now, you know that, bugger? Five bloody years - not even a flick! You lost your memory or what?"
Microsoft scoffed in spite of himself.
"It's complicated."
"It's better be, 'cuz you're gonna have to keep me bloody entertained while I drink my Inferno."
He waved a hoverchair over for Microsoft and scrolled the surface menu on the counter. Two red cocktails popped up out in front of them. Microsoft took a glass and the drink burst into flames for a second, then the flames subsided and turned into a thick glowing red lava that was icy cold and spicy.
"They call you Rembrandt now?" said Microsoft trying to change the topic.
"They call me all kinds of names. In fact, I could give you one. Which d'you like best - damn self-centered bludger or Adam Henry's bloody shitheel?"
"I'm fine with my own name, thank you very much, Raf."
"O'right, then. After all, I'm just a pestilent ol' fart, I wouldn't call on meself, if I was you!"
"Well, you didn't seem to look for me too hard either, for that matter."
"I ain't no girl, bugger. You didn't want to come visit, I damn sure ain't gonna go chasing you 'bout the city."
"It's not exactly that I didn't want to see you--"
"Spare my stomach muscles."
Mike couldn't help smiling. Rafael's favorite phrase stirred memories of the old days, though it was hard to understand at that point if Rafael meant 'don't make me laugh' or 'one more word and I'll be sick all over you'. The old man's wrinkled face was soft and magnetic, emitting kindness, which was why people found it hard to take offence of the inventive names he liked to give them.
"Anyway," he went on. "I never even knew you last name, or your essie UIN. All I knew is that you hung out with that piece of scum Rawotzki. When he showed his soddin' face here he asked me 'bout you, ya know. 'You seen him?' he asked me. 'Like hell,' I said. 'But right now I can see right through you, you slippery son of a bum,' I told him. 'And if you ever step your filthy foot into my parlour again, I'll take my laser and burn your promiscuous little danglings off!' I told him. He legged it like a shot wild boar, I'm tellin' ya." He chuckled and Mike smiled, realizing that he had missed Rafael more than he thought he had.
"When was it?" Microsoft asked.
"I guess 'bout a month after I last saw ya."
"Look, I'm really sorry I have disappeared for so long, but it wasn't my fault. There were circumstances."
"Nah-h, keep you long fancy words for your sweet lady. I'm pissed off, that's true, but I ain't your daddy, innit?"
"I wish you were..."
"Come again?"
"Nevermind. Look, I hate to ask you, but I need a favor."
Rafael frowned and looked away, draining his glass in one go.
"Did nothin' change? Tell me, did nothin' change at all?" Rafael studied the bottom of his empty glass.
"Everything changed."
"Why're you goin' to that gadget-stuffed eel then? That's what you want from me, innit? That's a favour you ask after what he did?"
Microsoft hated the thought of facing Rawotzki, but with everything he remembered now, there was no other option. Rawotzki was the only one he could talk to about Ford.
"It's the first time in five years I swear, I really have to see him--"
"My effin' goodness, boy, have life taught you nothin'?" Rafael put his glass on the counter with a loud bang. "He's still the same slug who banged your wife! Remember the last time you were here kissin' the cups, tipplin' your wits away? I'd told you what he was before and I told you that night - he's a sneaky-leaky little bastard."
"I don't trust him either." Microsoft was calm and sincere. "It's business now, I'm not going to see him as my friend, I need him and it's just business."
Rafael didn't look convinced; he spat on the floor, watched the white spot being absorbed into the surface, and got up.
"Just business, you say, eh? Fine, old bugger, that's your life. I've no right to try and save you from your own naffness."
Microsoft sighed inaudibly with relief.
"I owe you," he said.
"Oh, you owe me so much o'ready, I should of put you in irons, get a steel whip and have you haulin' rocks off my plantation."
"If you had a plantation." Microsoft grinned at him.
"Don't you worry, I'll come up with some hard labour for ya." Rafael grinned back and led Microsoft into Rib 7. It had been a long time since Microsoft had a tattoo, and he only had it to have an excuse to visit the parlor. This time the patch Rafael put on the right side of his neck was different.
"You updated technology?" he asked.
"You may say so." Rafael finished patching and took a step aside. "If you aren't back in 20 minutes, take it off yourself or it'll burn through."
"What will it be?" 
"I'll let you be surprised."
"Too many surprises this week for my taste...aw!" Microsoft winced groping the grained surface of the tattoo patch. "No anesthesia, are you kidding?"
Rafael smirked, opening the back exit.
"I'm still mad at ya, you little wheedler. Off you pop."
Microsoft rolled his eyes and went through the opening into a tunnel, rubbing the patch that started to burn harder. At the end of the tunnel stood a black car that looked like a little model of a submarine with no windows. This was a new type of cars called a hoverblimp. Hoverblimps were very convenient in the city because of the small size and they were best for long journeys due to the good wind shape. They were also perfect if you wanted to blend in. The side of it slid open, and Microsoft got in.

"I never liked those things," said Rivers looking at a black hoverblimp that whizzed past DigiDiner. Matrix followed her gaze and shrugged.
"Quite convenient I'd say. You could fly almost on the jet level in a hovership like this."
They fell back into the awkward silence they'd been trying to break through for 20 minutes. 
The terrace of the diner was beautiful, as was their glass table. DigiDiner looked like it was made of thin air that glowed softly now and then with different colors like aurora borealis. Everything was transparent - the furniture, the dishes, the ceiling and the floor, and it seemed that people inside were suspended in the air. 
"Mat," Stallone said, taking her eyes off the glowing walls. "You haven't been yourself lately. Is something wrong?"
"No, I'm fine," he lied avoiding her stare.
"I understand if you don't want to talk about it, after all, I'm not your close friend or...anyone close, but...I'd like to be."
Matrix turned his head towards the road watching the cars hovering to and fro.
"I'm worried about you," she went on. "Whatever's going on in your life, I'm happy to be at least a minor distraction."
He finally met her eyes. He struggled to hold back, but burnt inside to talk to her, or maybe, talk to anyone, just to get a load off his chest. She put her hand over his, he winced as if with pain, but didn't take the hand away for a while. Several silent moments later he freed his hand from under her delicate fingers, unblocked his SC display, slid some menus here and there until he felt a little pressure on his ears.
"What did you do?" she asked.
"I've put up a jammer, a magnetic dome around us that keeps sounds inside. It might be a little hard on the ears."
"I didn't know you could--"
"You can't. It's just...let's say I made a few developments on my essie." He lifted one side of his mouth. 
"Ok, but why--" He clasped her hands in his, and she froze.
"I'm about to tell you something...that I mustn't. Or shouldn't." He released her and leaned back rubbing his forehead and running his fingers through his hair as if about to tear it out.
"You don't have to be alone in this, Matrix. You can trust me, you--"
"When I was away for 2 hours during the conference," he began talking, so abruptly that she startled. "I was supposed to go to Microsoft to get the ring fixed, but I spent less than 10 minutes there. Before that I’d talked to Ford."
"S-s-so?" There was nothing bad about talking to Ford, or suspicious for that matter. However, Stallone leaned closer.
"He called me halfway, told me to teleport. I didn't recognize the coordinates, it was some office, I think, I don't know. We were alone, talking about the rescue mission."
"Is he worried about time-traveling? That we all may go be exiled for this?"
"There's more to it than just meddling with the law. The whole process is dangerous. I tried to talk sense into him. I told him we don't have this kind of technology to calculate the exact steps in order to prevent any changes to the future. They used to call it a butterfly's effect - anything we change in the past may affect the future in ways that can be even more perilous than leaving the things alone as they are."
"Yes, I heard about the effect, but do you really think it will go wrong?"
"I don't think, I know. You see, time-traveling is not exactly what you can study in a book, there are much more things to know. When I worked for the secret service, I've been through...a lot. I also learned a lot. Do you remember the dimension crisis, when the Anti-timetravel Law was enforced?"
"Eh, kinda. To be honest, I slept through my history lessons."
"Well," Matrix said. "Before the crisis, time-travel was considered the greatest invention of all times. Everyone was crazy about the idea. There were numerous attempts, but none of them successful until a genius from the Far East traveled secretly in time and recorded his experiment in the hope to become the richest man on earth. He managed to travel 4.1 millennia back in time. But then there was this volcano eruption."
"The Castle Rock volcano? I remember that."
"Well, it seems you didn't sleep through all history lessons, did you?"
She smiled. "The eruption didn't happen that long ago."
"Anyway, the volcano eruption was the direct result of the changes the time-travelling scientist had made back then. He might have just moved a rock, and the changed chain of events caused the volcano to erupt thousands of years later. The UN panicked; they exiled the man, engaged in tremendous propaganda of anti-time-travel. Then they put their heads together at a secret meeting of sorts and came up with this idea to make time-travel the highest international offense, but they kept the technology to themselves and continued researching it."
"But how are we supposed to proceed without the technology?"
"Well, that's where Ford's idea comes into play. He wants me to break into the secret service system and get the program to investigate the chain of events."
"Can you do that?"
"Unfortunately, I can. And he knows it. But that's not the point, like we're not in a mess enough already... Even if I get the program, it will take months to analyze the chain of events for the journey to go as we want without affecting anyone else. It's been almost a week since the boy got stuck in the tunnels - an enormous amount of time to calculate all the possibilities."
"But we don't have months--"
"That's exactly what he told me. And now he wants me to do something which I definitely can't do."
He buried his face in his palm.
"What do you have to do, Mat?" she asked.

The hoverblimp dived into the garage beneath the mansion, and when Microsoft stepped out, his heart sank. The smells, the walls, the baffled noise of the street overwhelmed him with familiarity. The driver was intending to show him in, but
Microsoft waved him off, saying, "Thanks, cap, I know the way."
He walked up the dimly lit corridors resisting the urge to touch them. He used to love this place, he knew that now. It used to be the place where he would spend time with the only friend he'd ever had, the only friend he could tell everything to, who was eager to sacrifice everything for him... who betrayed him. Causse was waiting for him behind the opening. 
"Hello, old friend, long time no see," Microsoft said to the old concierge. 
"Mr. Stevenson." The concierge bowed his head. 
Microsoft followed Causse feeling like he had an audience with a king who was about to knight him. He desperately wanted to turn back, forget all about it and imagine he had never remembered anything, but then Ford’s face loomed, menacing and ugly, at the back of his head, like a face of an orc. He dismissed the memory and entered the main room leaving Causse behind the wall. 
Nothing had changed there either - same white walls, red flowers growing out of everything imaginable and the sofa... Microsoft tightened up when his eyes found the sofa and the man sitting on it who was looking at him intently, completely void of emotions. Rawotzki was dazzling as usual in a cinder unbuttoned suit, shirtless, showing off his dark-skinned torso with some intrinsic symbols tattooed across his abs. He was still; only his shifting bare feet gave away his agitation. Celestro was the first to speak; his voice sounded low and hasty.
"How've you been?"
"Fine. You?" said Microsoft.
"Pretty lonely." Pause. "I'm so sorry." 
Something in the tone of Celestro's voice and the way he had breathed the words out told Microsoft that he'd wanted to say that since the unfortunate night. 
"Microsoft, I'm glad you're here...finally."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I just thought you would never want to see me again. It's been five years of silence, I've almost reconciled with the idea of losing my friend forever."
"Are you kidding me?"
Celestro raised an eyebrow, and a shadow of doubt flashed through Microsoft's mind.
"You seriously want me to believe you didn't know why I haven't showed up till now?"
Celestro raised both eyebrows, now looking curiously at Microsoft without saying a word.
"I don't believe it." Microsoft slumped on the sofa beside Celestro.
"Mike, I don't know what you want me to say. I mean I understand I screwed up big time, I--"
"And you hiring Arone at the exact moment when it all comes back to me is just a coincidence?"
"Yeah, that. Look, I'm really sorry, but she's the best designer in the whole country. It was her who came up with the idea of flowers growing out of furniture. I thought after five years I could... there's no one better, really. Also I hoped I could...maybe, see you. We never talked properly after--"
"So, you're telling me you had no idea I didn't remember anything?"
"Didn't remember what?"
"Yeah, man, you screwed up so big that I lost my memory for five years. How about that?"
"Do you mean…Do you mean it was all in vain - me, feeling guilty, avoiding you? And you didn't even have a clue all these years?"
"Aw, don't turn the tables on me. Besides, Arone blabbed about your little adventure in the garden, so I still had a reason to hate you, don't worry."
"So, you're saying, now you do remember everything?"
"I do, but please don't think that I've come as a friend. " Microsoft rubbed the patch that started to burn harder.
"I see our good friend Rafael gave you a warm welcome." Rawotzki squinted at the patch.
"From what he tells me, your welcome wasn't warm when you showed up at his parlour. He'd also probably kill you if you called him your friend to his face."
"Yeah, we had a... conversation."
"And quite an eloquent one, I hear. "
"I remember, he didn't mind taking my money."
"I should of guessed you paid for his silence."
"He said he'd say nothing out of respect for you. I guess you are his friend, right? Have you paid him too? Because after an eloquent tirade about respect and ties of amity, he still took my very generous offer."
"Look, I don't have time for blabber, the patch's really burning. I've come to make you a deal. But first I'd like to see them."
"Them who?"
"The papers, Ford's rejection."
"Why--"
"Just give them to me, will you? I have a right to have them, don't you think?"
Celestro got up, fastened the only button on his jacket. The jacket glowed red like real cinder. Celestro touched his ear SC, and a projection of his office appeared around him. He walked towards the safe, put the finger to it and made some movements as if he was drawing a Chinese character. The safe opened. He took out two plates, closed the safe, and slid the plates along the projection wall to what looked like a portal. In a second, music started playing from the real portal near the hearth. Celestro switched the projection off and opened the portal. Mike didn't have to look twice to know that they were exactly the documents he had seen five years before. 
The plates felt cold and rough. They were also transparent, and the dark silver letters were embedded into each of them. Microsoft traced his fingers across them, mouthing the words: “I, Evos Mondeo Ford, first being duly sworn...I am the natural father of the minor child, Microsoft Stevenson... hereby relinquish care, custody and control...my relinquishment is irrevocable, voluntary and is given freely in a clear mind...give my consent should there be a person willing to adopt...I further waive my right to make any enquires, see or contact this child, or to financially or emotionally participate in his life and development..."
Microsoft turned the plate over - the letters weren't visible on the back, there was only a half-transparent 3d holographic image of an eagle against the backdrop of the national flag. Thin red fiber threads were running down the back of the document - it was definitely real. The other plate was a duplicate of his birth certificate and it had the same sprawling signature in governmental ink color incorporated inside. Microsoft knew the signature very well. The plates were painfully real. 
There was a long pause. Finally, Microsoft looked up, not because he wanted to say something, but because a new visitor had stormed into the room through the opening, about two seconds later followed by Causse Gantier wearing a panicking expression on his face
"You have a lot of explaining to do, br--" the visitor yelled, but froze seeing Microsoft.
"Mr. Stevenson?"
"Miss Takano." Microsoft put the plates on the table before him and leaned back on the sofa. "Well, it gets more and more coincidentally interesting."