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."
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."
"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.
"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."
"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.