The Moment of TruthThe day at the psy-center was tedious and incredibly long. With all the recent events on her mind, Sakura found it hard to concentrate on the clients. She tried to convince herself that Celestro wasn't lying to her (again!), but the nagging feeling of apprehension kept eating away at her nerves. The more so since her brother didn't answer any of her flickers.
She decided to be off early and pay him another visit to have 'the talk', as he called it. She didn't like the idea of being all psychiatric with him, but he had left her no choice.
The last session of the day finished, and she walked along the hallways with a friendly smile nodding 'good-byes' to everyone, and headed out of the building to her car. She had hardly stepped onto the parking platform when someone caught her by the shoulder. She whirled around to see who was so impudent and saw Arone in such a state of distress and despair that she felt an urge to hug her and cradle her in her arms.
"Goodness, Arone, what is the matter?"
"Can we talk?"
Arone's eyes were red and her cheeks were swollen, but dry, though her trembling voice and shivering body betrayed her tearless crying.
"Shall we--" started Sakura beckoning towards the center, but Arone shook her head.
"Can we go somewhere less... psychic?"
"Sure. Let's, um... get into my car."
Sakura's car looked small but was comfortable and quite spacious inside. When they got in, she pushed the seats back to make some more room.
"Okay," said Sakura facing her distressed patient. "Tell me what happened."
"I went to see my... I went to see Micro, because he wasn't available on the essie."
"Good. Did you manage to talk in quiet?"
"I wasn't allowed to see him. Then, I was leaving and there was this man, a colleague of his, he told me that... he told me..."
"You know what they're planning, don't you? Him and Celestro?" The question caught Sakura off guard and she hardly had time to hide her astonishment.
"Why would I know anything?"
"Because you do, and it's not fair that you're not telling me, since it concerns my family. When I talked to you last night... Please, Sakura, I need you to tell me. I feel the ground slipping from under my feet."
"This man you met, did he know something about Microsoft?" said Sakura regaining her cool and deliberately ignoring Arone's plead.
"What was it?"
Arone didn't seem to have the strength to argue or stand her ground, so she sighed and the events of the day just poured out of her along with the surfaced tears. When the story was over, Sakura pushed the seats forward and started the car.
"Where are we going?" Sakura's sudden abruptness might have frightened her.
"To pay a visit to Mr.Rawotzki."
"I don't think we can go there just like that. I know him, he won't be willing to see me, not now when he's covering for Micro."
"I'm sure he will see us."
Sakura looked at Arone with a mixture of pain and determination in her eyes.
"Because he's my brother."
Celestro hoped the bath would help him relax, but it actually made things worse: his skin sensitive with anxiety prickled at the touch of hot water. The bath tub might as well have been an overdried haystack. He tossed and turned, and finally got out.
As soon as he touched the floor, hundreds little pores opened up under him and the airflow from beneath dried him up. He put soft white sweat pants on and teleported to his bedroom.
The room was completely empty, and the lustrous white walls made it look like a brand new laboratory. He stopped in the middle of it and fell backwards. A long ottoman caught him a couple of inches before he hit the floor. With a wave of his hand Celestro unfolded a display above him. He scrolled down the news threads and closed the tab. A red notification to his right got his attention. He blinked twice and the notification opened. It said "Access denied".
"No way, Mr. Matrix bloody Eroglou," he muttered, opening new tabs of figures and symbols. "No way your ass is smarter than mine."
He mind-typed some more symbols, moved the code lines around, opened several programs, but the notification kept popping up, until, finally, a street surveillance video appeared instead of it.
"Ha!" Celestro sat up, moving the display with him. "Who's your hacker, baby?"
He examined the outside of Ford Industries from different camera angles and different points, then looked through them again quicker.
There were no inside cameras. Celestro put his hands behind his head in a helpless gesture. He clicked on the interior displays several times trying to switch them on, but they were still black. They kept blinking at his touch until the familiar notification popped up. This time it said: "Access denied. But nice try."
Celestro scrunched his face in disgust. "Dratting hilarious!"
He threw himself back onto the bed again and rubbed his eyes with one hand.
"You should be alright there, Mikie," he said under his breath. "Everything should be just fine."
His buzzing SC startled him. Causse was giving him notice that someone wanted to see him urgently. Celestro got up, snapped his fingers and one of the walls transformed itself into a wardrobe. He put on a sleeveless crispy shirt of metallic green and black harem pants. On an important day he couldn't look casual.
When he entered the poinsettia room, as he called it, he was half-expecting to see Microsoft sitting miserably on the white sofa and telling him he'd changed his mind. Instead there was a man who looked far from miserable. The guest reminded Celestro of a wolverine ready to strike.
"Rafael!" Celestro lifted his arms in greeting. "I must say, I couldn't even imagine you would ever want to see me unless you wanted to kill me. Though your look does tell me I'd better keep the distance."
Celestro leaned back against the wall opposite Rafael, who jumped up and in two strides approached Celestro and glared up at him with fiery eyes. Celestro only raised an eyebrow. After a few moments of intense silence and stares, Rafael spoke.
"You, repulsive stinkin' anusfull of slugshit!" He poked Celestro's bare chest with his finger.
"I guess, it's not a good thing you're touching me, then." Celestro made an attempt to go past his guest, but Rafael pinned him to the wall with his elbow.
"What did you get the poor fella into?" he growled.
"Is there a shiv somewhere you wanna shank me with or can we sit down and you'll tell me why the gatecrash?" Celestro pushed Rafael off himself and marched towards the sofa. He sat on the edge of it, rubbing his hands as anger was building inside him. Rafael still stood at the wall looking so disgusted as if Celestro was literally what he'd just called him.
"If I thought you're even a tidbit worth it, I'd cut out your puke-bubble of a heart right now! Mark my words, slimy devil, you won't get away with it, you won't." Rafael spat on the floor, which made Celestro flinch, and he reminded himself to thank Causse for his prudence to get self-absorbing floor coating. After another moment of heavy silence Celestro let out an impatient and annoyed breath.
"Look," he said in a tired voice, his hand over his eyes. "If you have any more of those graphic adjectives to picture my abominable self, be my guest, take if off your chest. But be quick about it and fuck off."
"Like I'd ever come to your putrid den on my own volition," snapped Rafael. "I'm here because the old bugger asked me to deliver a message."
Celestro went rigid.
"What message?" He struggled to keep his voice steady.
"He wants you to stop whatever dirty tricks you've been plannin' to pull." Rafael approached Celestro and leaned over him as he spoke.
"He said that?"
"He might of used a different wordin', but I reckon you know exactly what it is you have to do, skunk."
"I do," said Celestro. "I have to ask my concierge to show you out and--"
He stood, towering over Rafael, but the little man didn't stir a hair.Distant shouting was heard from behind the wall. Celestro looked back towards the opening where a second later appeared Sakura, her face red with fury. Causse Gantier ran in after her.
"I should really remove you from the digiguard guest list. And perhaps get some better security," said Celestro. "You gotta stop doing it, walking in on my visitors like--that."
He went pale, because Arone step from behind Causse's back and came up to Sakura, her arms crossed on her chest. It seemed the time stood still for a moment. Rafael was the first to speak. He stomped passed Celestro towards Arone, his hand outstretched.
"You're Mikie's girl, innit?" Arone took the hand mechanically, but jerked it back almost instantly.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I'm Rafael, friend of your pot and pan."
"Of my who?"
"Your old man. He showed me your vids, but I gotta say, lass, you're even more stunnin' face to face!"
"Okay, I think now's the right moment for you to leave." Celestro took Rafael by the shoulders and pushed him towards the opening past Arone. As their eyes met, Celestro gave her a wry smile, and she slapped him across the face. He cried out surprised, rather than hurt.
"How could you not tell me she's your sister?" she squeaked.
"You told her?" Celestro gave Sakura a bewildered look.
"It can't go on like this anymore, brother. We all need to talk things through, for everyone's good," said Sakura. The sound of her voice had its usual demulcent effect on all who were present.
Celestro opened his mouth to retort, but his SC flickered. With a mysterious smile he threw the display on the white wall. Everybody turned to the display where the news flash showed Ford Industries. Celestro's face lit up in triumph, Sakura gasped and Rafael caught Arone, who was about to faint.
WiFi was the first to notice that something went wrong. She switched off the air pressure in the tube and Microsoft collapsed. Everyone ran up to the tube and when it opened they pulled the motionless body out. Augustine and IR stared at Matrix - a silent question in their eyes, but before Matrix could say anything, Microsoft gasped and came round.
"What the..." he whispered gaping at everyone.
"You're alive," said Matrix with a strange note in his voice that made Augustine exchange looks with IR. "How do you feel?"
Microsoft felt his legs and arms, muttering, "Something's wrong." As on cue, an annoying beeping signal came from nowhere. WiFi jumped to her feet and unfolded her display.
"He's unfrozen, and in the process of teleporting." She scanned the code lines, and with every symbol her face darkened. "I don't understand... I can't recognize the algorithm."
Matrix pulled her display closer to himself to have a look and shook his head.
"It's not mine, I've no idea where it came from." He shook WiFi by the shoulders. "Why is the algorithm messed up?"
"Wow, steady!" whispered Microsoft. Everyone turned to find him on one knee halfway to stand up.
"Are you alright?" asked IR examining his eyes. "Your pupils are dilated."
Microsoft felt shaky, and just for a second everything spun around him and got back in place. He shook his head and unconsciously started rubbing the inside of his arm that was itching. When he heard Matrix say his name, it sounded foreign and distant. Then it dawned on him.
"Mat, that memory blocker," he said fighting the overwhelming grogginess and licking his dry lips, "Does it work on any body part?"
"Pretty much," said Matrix still staring at him in disbelief. "The nape's better, though, because it works faster... Why, did you fail to put it in?"
"It doesn't matter now. What happened to the boy?" Microsoft turned to WiFi and struggled to focus his eyes, as the room was growing blurry.
"We don't know yet, we have to--" started WiFi.
"Stop the process! Stop it!" He snatched Matrix by the collar.
"What? Why? We can't, it's done." Matrix turned towards the screen where it said "Operation completed".
"He was gonna kill him! Kill him and make me forget!" yelled Microsoft. "I'm an idiot!"
He jerked his SC off and threw it to IR. "There's something inside, check it!"
Getting on his feet, Microsoft felt the world spin around again, and the dizziness intensified. He twirled around on the spot, frantically searching for something. When his eyes focused on one of the aquariums, he pushed WiFi and IR aside, took the glass cylinder off the hovertable and smashed it against the floor making everyone gasp. The water spread out carrying small pieces of glass all over the place. Microsoft took a shard and stabbed himself in the arm.
"Are you insane?!" Matrix threw himself forward at Microsoft. "What are you doing?"
Microsoft held the blood-stained glass shred up to guard him off, and Matrix skidded to a halt.
"There's no time!" Microsoft cut his arm open, howling through his teeth, and stuck his fingers under his skin. The transparent wafer slipped down Microsoft's shaking palm and into the puddle of blood and water. It dissolved having hardly touched the floor.
Microsoft leaned back against the table, blood trickling down his arm and fingers, but the dizziness was gone. The pain had cleared up his mind.
"Why do you have a memory blocker in your arm?" asked Augustine, and he sounded more curious than appalled. But Microsoft didn't have time to answer, because the next moment Ford stormed into the room. He came to a sudden halt, taken aback by the scene that opened before his eyes, and stared blankly at Microsoft. Then his glare moved to Matrix who started as if waking up from a bad dream and shifted uneasily.
"Mr.Ford," said Matrix, but Ford stopped him with a gesture. By the stiffness in Ford's every muscle and harshness of his breath Microsoft knew immediately that he'd read the letter, which meant he knew everything, including, Microsoft suddenly realized, that Matrix hadn't kept Ford's order a secret and was now in big trouble.
Matrix stole a swift sideways look at Microsoft, which wasn't angry, but rather desperate and apprehensive. Microsoft cursed himself internally for being so self-absorbed that he hadn't thought of the consequences his death-bed confession to Ford would have for Matrix.
"Has the boy teleported?" Ford asked.
"Yes, but-- there seems to be a complication." Matrix's voice wavered, he looked terrified.
"I can see that," said Ford.
"We don't know for sure--" went on Matrix.
"So, go and find out." Ford put an emphasis on the word 'go', and when no one moved he jerked his thumb towards the exit. "I said leave us!"
"Not you," he added when Microsoft was about to follow everyone out. A few moments passed before Microsoft was alone with the biggest fear of his life.
Ford fiddled with his SC and seemed to have lost interest in the bleeding man who stood silently before him, but after a while a pledget dropped out of the SC onto Fords hand. He reached the pledget to Microsoft.
"We'd better take care of that before we talk." He said nodding at the bleeding arm. "I don't want you to black out before I tell you why you're not my son."