The Day of the Statko Effect
The conference ended in a long debate on the ethics of teleportation, the term whose popularity spiked in a matter of hours the following day, as did ZP's ratings accompanied by poignant Rawotzki's quotes. The debate transitioned into infinite threads, both written and vocal, that captivated social lounges.
Ford was quiet and brief, exploding at a slightest irritant and turning the office into an enclosure of tiptoeing jittery lemmings and surreptitious whispers. Matrix seemed to be the only one who could speak to Ford without turning a hair. However, he got sulkier with every conversation which often turned into arguments ending up in Ford thumping away in strides and Matrix bumping his back against a wall, his eyes shut tight. Icon kept bugging him to tell her what was going on, but he would wave her off with a surprising persistency characteristic only of Icon herself.
"Soft Mat's gone rigid," joked IR Herschel.
The team was taken to the next level; the training started. It was a wearisome chain of lab experiments with whoever was free serving as a guinea pig. The first day the ones to be in tubes with chips and pieces stuck to their temples were Microsoft and Stallone Rivers. Rivers was standing quietly in her tube like it was something she did every day, while Microsoft felt like a total simpleton since he didn't understand a thing of what was going on.
IR and Augustine teamed up with Wireless Fitzgerald and were constantly enthusing over endless strings of numbers and letters scrolling to and fro around them, then mind-typing frantically. Microsoft was truly amazed as it was the first time he saw mind-typing 'in action'. The commercial for that new frenzy depicted an Apollo-looking tall macho clicking his fingers and causing several SC's of beautiful girls around him to light up with an instant message. The girls flocked around him and started kissing him all over the place. The commercial ended in the man's salacious voice saying, "It's like you're reading my mind". IR was far from a macho-type guy, let alone Augustine, and a tiny WiFi was hardly an image of a sexy girl, still the words buzzed inside Microsoft's head every time they clicked their fingers sending each other formulas, pictures and other jibber-jabber beyond Microsoft's comprehension. He realized he was bored to death.
He yawned and turned his head to Matrix who sat in the corner of the training room, leaned to one side, tapping nervously on one knee, his other hand tracing his upper lip as if trying to wipe away an invisible crumb. Microsoft had been meaning to speak to him since their brief meeting at his house, but the training sessions started as an avalanche after the conference, and he got swept in them along with the other members of the team. Besides his resurrected memories and the anticipation of the meeting with Rawotzki had thrown him off his stride a little.
Now, though, sitting in a tube like some sort of an embryo and boring himself out of his mind, the sight of Mat started rubbing Microsoft the wrong way, especially the looks he would give Microsoft at times - the looks a mother would give her child who is about to get an extremely painful injection. Mat had been a good friend to him all those five years of oblivion, it would be a pity if anything Microsoft wanted to do to Ford somehow affected Matrix.
"...Mike!" rang inside his head and he jumped up banging his nape against the tube wall.
"Are you mad?" he yelled back to IR. "I can hear you without the SC."
"It's not an SC, it's a different type of connection, and no, you didn't hear me the first two times I called you," said IR.
Microsoft mechanically grasped his right wrist: he'd completely forgotten that they'd had him take off the SC before entering the tube. The wrist felt strange without it. IR pursed his lips that gave his disheveled look a touch of juvie.
"Oh, sorry." Microsoft caught another anxious glance from Matrix and felt a little queasy.
"Is something wrong?"
"No," said IR. "I just wanted to say that we're going to try out something in a minute, so get ready, it may be a little... weird."
"No kidding! Weirder than a half-naked grown-up man sitting in a tube for hours doing nothing?"
But IR wasn't listening anymore, he had got absorbed in a new portion of figures and letters.
"Okay, guys, lean back and try to relax," rang in Microsoft's head.
He tried to relax and failed, then shivered, although he wasn't cold. Rivers was sitting propped against the tube wall, her eyes closed. Mike did the same, still sick with anticipation. Nothing happened for solid 10 seconds. Then there was something like a tidal wave that covered him and for a moment he thought he'd forgotten how to breathe. He was still in the room, still in the tube, but it was as if he was doing several things at once: sitting quietly, yelling at IR, asking Matrix what was wrong with him, making fun of Rivers, banging against the walls in panic and lying on the sofa in his apartment sulking at the whole world. Then the sensation (or rather the perception) ceased.
"Wow, what was that?" he exclaimed.
"You, my friend, have just experienced the Statko effect," said Augustine with a proud clap of his hands. There were a few things that made him happy, causing people to admire his work was one of the few.
"What effect?" Microsoft asked.
Augustine opened his mouth to explain, but was interrupted by WiFi.
"Statko effect is an artificially induced state of mind wherein a person exercises every possible option of behavior at a given point in time. Discovered and developed by Everest Statko in 2053."
"Great as the mount itself," said Augustine and an article with that same headline popped up to his right forcing apart the stripes of code.
"Yes," continued Wireless. "But while his experiments were limited to the subconsciousness of a given person, ours has a multidimensional objective approach."
"That is, an objective list of all your potential life choices, so to say," finished Augustine.
"Incredible," said Rivers who'd just woken from the shock of the new sensation. "So, it means we had the same set of options, Mike and me?"
"Not exactly." Augustine stood up and began pacing like a college professor, raving in the opportunity to teach the inferior minds. "See, though the program is objective, working through the fifth dimension, it can't but take into account your personal knowledge and abilities. For example, if a child would want to know how chocolate's made, Statko effect wouldn't trigger in its mind a choice of signing an employment contract with a chocolate factory, because the child wouldn't know there is such an option, but in a multidimensional system that is an option since a child is potentially capable of writing his name of a piece of paper and working at a chocolate factory. This is the brilliance of it - the complete array of options."
"Yeah, it's way hi-fi, for sure, I mean I felt pristine, but what good does it do us?" said Microsoft.
Augustine stared at him, a mixture of shock, disbelief, contempt and annoyance in his face. Microsoft almost regretted he'd even asked.
"What good does it do? Are you serious?"
"Augustine." IR put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'm sorry to disappoint you but not everyone is a genius like you. Let me explain."
He got up moving his eyes from Matrix to Microsoft and back, getting more and more excited with every word. "This is actually genius. Mat, you have to listen, this is actually brilliant. Augustine came up with this during the conference. So, you all know Zeno's paradoxes stating that the space and time regarded as space are infinitely divisible, that's what we applied for Diod Medina. The program regards him as a 'motionless arrow', in other words, it virtually divides every half of the the space and time in half on and on, infinitely moving to the point where he...you know...is supposed to eventually split up."
"Now you're talking like WiFi, get to the point." Wireless looked up at the sound of her name but didn't seem to get what Microsoft said.
"Anyway," IR continued. "What if we could induce multidimensional Statko effect for every individual atom of his body and rule out the options where any part of his organism is damaged, then we could 'unfreeze' him and reintegrate without any damage whatsoever! Just a simple decision-making, only we do it for him, so to say, and presto! - he's out."
IR illustrated his last words with a clap and grinned at everyone as if awaiting applause, but none followed.
"I'm not sure I know what you're talking about," said Microsoft. Stallone looked equally confused, so Herschel turned his pleading look to Matrix in the hope he'd understood. Matrix put his hand from his mouth to his knee, sighed and shook his head.
"I'm not sure it's possible."
IR looked devastated, as did Augustine, even Wireless perked up a notch or two.
"Matrix, you have to see the formulae, it's not as complicated as it may sound, we've done all the calculation--" Wireless broke off, because Matrix kept shaking his head.
"Don't you think I've considered this?" he said sweeping his eyes over the room. "I've spent hours and hours thinking about what we can do. And yes, I saw your calculation, and I was impressed. It was indeed our only hope and I thought we'd found it. I've spent last night figuring out if it may work, but it doesn't." He stopped Augustine from speaking with a raised hand. "It doesn't, Augustine, there is no way we can make Diod do anything, because there's no interaction, no feedback, and you know it. Even if we have a perfect software to do this, it'll be inapplicable. We can measure, we can analyze, we can watch, but we can't change the outcome at this or any instant of time in the future. I know it's hard to accept, but be reasonable. If we meddle in, it can be fatal."
IR sat back down, and Augustine hid his eyes under his ginormous eyebrows. Wireless sank back into her codes, the air displays surrounding her made her fade and look like a projection. Microsoft decided to break the icy silence that had seized the room.
"So, what do you suggest we do?"
"We do what we're doing, but we'll take it a step further. If we can't go into the future, and our hands are tied in the present, we go into the past."
"So, time travel, ha?" Augustine appeared from under his eyebrows, steaming. "This is possible, right? Do you understand the principle of multidimensionality? We'll have to put a person into a reality without time or space where he'll be experiencing every minute of his life, including his future, in all the possible options all at once, and make him follow a very specific route, making sure we don't mess up the subsequent events."
"Don't teach me the string theory, Augustine. I've been in the secret service, I know exactly what it's like and what we're up against."
"Do you really?"
"There is a training process, and it's risk-free. With enough practice and right algorithms the target will be able to do exactly what we need."
"The target! Listen to yourself, it's not the federal army here." Augustine started pacing again, but now alarmed and angry.
"I'm sorry for my wording, but I know what I'm talking about."
"Do you? Do you?"
"Stop it!" IR jumped to his feet and went between Matrix and Augustine.
"What are you even arguing about? It doesn't matter if it's possible or not. The point is, it's illegal! We've ruled it out, Matrix, you said so yourself."
"Calm down, IR, I know the law implications of this."
"So, what are you saying? We're coming back to where we started? Time travelling right into jail? Or worse - exile?"
"This is not my decision!" Matrix was yelling now. "Do you think I want this? We're all on edge, but you have to understand - this is our only option. We do this or let the boy die! I've tried to argue my case, I've really tried. But as much as I may say about the whole legal side of it, this is the truth - we take the risk or the boy dies!"
"He has a point," Stallone said. She had got out of the tube and was sitting on a hoverchair next to Wireless.
"So, correct me if I'm wrong," began Microsoft. "If we do this 'time travel' as you've put it, and anyone finds out, we're all going to jail?"
"Most likely, but--" Mat put an emphasis on the last word and glanced around the room again to make sure he had everyone's attention. "The Old Hundred is willing to take the risk. You all know he'll be the first to go down if it all shutters, but it's a secret operation, and we have an official theory thanks to you." He pointed at Augustine with an open palm.
"However, it's your choice to stay on the team or walk away. That's why Ford wants to talk to everyone of us personally. If you don't feel like you can be in on it, the team will be reassembled to include those who are willing."
Everybody was silent for another painful minute before Matrix decided to call it a day and give his colleagues time to mull things over.
"Anyway, let's sleep on it, tomorrow is a new day and we'll talk about it when we're rested. After we've all gone through the interview and made a decision, those who've stayed will stick to the crisis plan - we'll continue training in multidimensional reality. We'll find one of us who's been the closest to the crime scene on that day, go on with decision-making practice, and make everything else ready."
Augustine threw his hands in the air and left the room. IR followed him without a word. Microsoft wanted to go too, but Matrix stopped him by the arm.
"Mike, how's your...are you okay?.." He asked the question but it sounded wrong, as if it wasn't what he meant to say at all. Microsoft turned to him, grabbed his shoulder and squeezed it lightly.
"Mat, don't worry, I'm in. I won't leave you alone in this." He meant it as an encouragement and hoped to trigger at least a feeble smile on the darkened face of his friend, but Matrix got even more sullen.
"Yeah, thank you, it means a great deal to me."
"I'm in, too," said Stallone.
"Yeah, appreciate it," said Matrix in the same dull tone of despondency and went back to his chair. He sat down and sank his head into his hands rubbing the forehead with the tips of his fingers.
Microsoft thought that maybe he could talk to Matrix right then and there, but he checked the time putting his SC back on - it was late already and he had to be on his way to Rawotzki soon. He had to put off the friendly banter once again. He pulled his climate-control shirt over his head, bid his goodbye, leaving Matrix and Stallone alone in the room.
There was Wireless of course, but she might as well have not been there. She was so absorbed in her work (obviously, working on the new plan) that she ran one of the air displays right through Stallone's head. Stallone jerked back as a glowing table of figures slid through her face and froze behind her head expanding double size at the movement of WiFi's hand. Stallone walked towards Matrix waving the displays aside. They closed back in after she passed, wrapping Wireless up in a flickering and shimmering membrane of colorful symbols, numbers and objects. When Stallone was close enough to touch Matrix, she reached out her hand precariously, but pulled it back changing her mind. He hadn't seen or heard her coming, so he startled when looking up.
"I'm sorry I scared you," she said.
"No, it's fine." He looked at her in confusion.
"I...I know you must be tired, but...but would you care for a...for a cup of...something?"
He raised his eyebrows processing what she'd said and when it dawned on him that she was asking him out, he opened him mouth, but no sound would come out. He cleared his throat.
She made a few clumsy incomprehensible movements as though deciding whether to sit or stand or jump or clap. She was sure it looked like she was experiencing the Statko effect all over again. Stallone clenched and unclenched her fists and breathed out: "Good".
"Let's...um...let's go then." He got up. Another 'good' under her breath.
They left the training room, and as soon as the wall filled in the opening, WiFi said out loud, "Hey, Mat, there's a tiny snag, though...Mat?" She raised her head and looked around surprised to find no one in the room. "How does that happen all the time?" she muttered and turned back to her codes.