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.

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