пятница, 20 сентября 2013 г.




Dying is one of those things that 
can’t be fixed. Not by talking about it, 
not with all the brain surge in the world. 
Scott Westerfeld, Extras

There was no music. People on the roof danced in a mad chaos, some of them moved in frenzy jerks, some of them writhed against each other, some jumped up and down, some stomped. It wasn't anything extraordinary to watch for Microsoft, he was used to see free clubbing on roofs. Quite a recent trend, it'd caught on very quickly. It was ingenious, Microsoft thought, to come to a party of people dancing in silence, hearing their own music in their heads. 
They could listen to the music offered by the club, as soon as they stepped into the radius a playlist would appear on their SCs; they could listen to music of their choice or just go to guest playlists and tune in to any person who was there in the club. If you wanted to talk you would just switch the music off or turn the volume down and talk quietly without having to shout over the heavy beats slamming out of the speakers. 
He lay on a couch in Ranke Park. The indigenous population of the Art Quarter called it Cranky Park, and quite rightfully so. Everything there was different from what a person was used to; trees grew sideways, some of them hovering in the air, virga fountains where water evaporated hardly reaching the ground hung upside down, sculptures moved around, beds and couches of different shapes and colors served as benches. 
Those people on the roof, Microsoft thought, gazing wistfully at the dancing crowd, looked cranky too. What a desperate desire for companionship and what an utter loneliness it was to be there! In a different life Microsoft would probably go up there, tap on the shoulder of a pretty girl, ask her name, tune in with her and dance all night long. But after the trial had been over, after Ford had been imprisoned and Microsoft resigned from Ford Industries, after Celestro had finally been shipped away, Microsoft's life proved to be rid of fun once and for all. Loneliness was the single companion he was comforted by. He would go out into crowds just to be alone. 
He turned on his back and watched the sky grow dark. Hoverlanterns whooshed towards him and drifted over his head like bees over a flower. He waved them away and closed his eyes. People ran around, screaming code words at each other. Real-life gamers, he guessed. 
Someone put a hand on his shoulder and Microsoft opened his eyes with a start half-expecting to see a skinny teenager with flickering i-contacts who had mistaken Microsoft for a game character, but instead there was Rafael. Microsoft made a feeble attempt to smile, but he knew he was oozing annoyance, and couldn't help it.
"Still ain't feelin' in need of a friend?" said Rafael. He pushed Microsoft's legs of the couch and plopped down beside him. Microsoft sat up reluctantly, but didn't answer.
"De Ritz tells me you've been comin' here every day since that slug got shipped off."
Still silence.
"Dunno 'bout you, but I'm glad it's all over."
"Nothing is over," snapped Microsoft. "Nothing will ever be over."
"B-limey! I was starting to think you took a vow of silence. But lo, he speaks!"
"What did you come here for, Raf?" Microsoft turned to Rafael with his whole body. 
"To see you, of course, old bugger. Why else?"
"Well, I think you've accomplished your mission brilliantly. Could you leave me alone now, please?" 
The nonchalant expression left Rafael's face at once as if he'd chucked away an annoying mask. Worry curved his small forehead.
"First thing you did when your memories came back was come see my decrepit ass," said Rafael. "You need me. You may huff'n'puff all you want, but I can see right through this spiteful hermit act of yours, my boy. And we'll talk, even if I have to tether you to my ankle."
Microsoft felt a prick of pain in his heart when Rafael called him 'my boy'. For a moment he was torn between two equally overpowering desires, to run away or to bury his face in Rafael's leather jacket and scream his heart out. For fear of breaking down and doing either of those, Microsoft sat still, motionless.
Rafael took Microsoft's lack of reaction as the green light to start speaking. "I know the world seems a bloody apocalypse for you right now. Lie is the deadliest weapon ever invented by a man. One person betrayed you and now all people must seem like a blur of lies for ya--"
"One person?" Microsoft let out a bitter scoff.
"How long haven't you spoken to your lady?"
"Since I was released. The sight of her makes me sick."
"Are you perfect?" said Rafael. "All this world's a picture of imperfection. Global scandal, they say. Buy ya know what? There's nothin' global, just ambitions of a conceited bastard of a son who thought he was better that his own shit. The world that comes apart cuz of one whiny kid is a messed up world, I'm tellin' ya."
"It may burn for all I care."
 "Aw, spare me that look. Are you so bloody innocent? If I was the judge, I'd shove your sorry ass behind bars in no time, just for sulking. Think what you have done. Your lady, she wouldn't have done nothin' if you hadn't been so bloody blinded by the foolish revenge of yours. If you just for a moment had thought of her and not yourself!"
Microsoft's mouth dropped open. He'd braced himself for being comforted, pitied and assured, but he wasn't ready for a blunt accusal. 
"You're saying it's all my fault?"
"I'm sayin' if you crap your pants, get used to the smell. We all shit our beds from time to time, son, but we all still come to sleep in them, ain't we?"
"Don't-- call me son!" Microsoft choked on his own words.
"I'll be callin' ya whatever I may see fit!" Rafael jumped to his feet to face Microsoft. "Don't tell me what I ought and oughtn't to do! Damn you, slugger, you think sittin' here feelin' miserable will make the world a better place? Well, guess what, it won't. Life'll always be shit. See those bastards there?" Rafael shot his hand up pointing at the dancing crowd on the roof. 
"They don't give a diddly-squat whether you're sulkin' here or jerkin' off, whether you live or die. This life's all you have, like it or not. But you know what? You fall, you wipe the shit off your face and you friggin' get up, you do, because when you've crapped all over your life and you drool in self-pity wishin' you'd drown in your own schmaltz, there are other people who're left with that crap of yours! Your girl, you sniveling urchin, is sure to be cuttin' her wrists open while you're twiddlin' your useless thumbs on a park couch."
While Rafael spoke, Microsoft went from being too cold to being too hot several times. The words seemed to nail him to the couch, so he couldn't move a muscle or utter a single sound. He'd never seen Rafael so furious before. When Rafael finally fell silent, catching his breath, Microsoft started shivering on the inside in a feverish fit, and after a moment of heavy silence realized he was expected to say something, but his mind refused to think straight.
"I...can't," was all he could squeeze out of himself.
"Are you some kinda cripple?" Rafael's look was unbearable, and Microsoft turned away. "Your pretty missis was betrayed and lied to seven shades to Sunday just like you were, whatever the world revolves around, bugger, I'm damn sure it's not you."
"Such a puny world it would be, then, if it were revolving around me." Microsoft heaved a breath, the shock losing its grip on him as Rafael soften up a little.
"There we go," said Rafael, his friendly tone finally restored, "I say, sarcasm is a sign of life in a stinky corpse. I knew you could still be salvaged, pup."
Microsoft shook his head, pressing away an uncertain smile.
"Anyway." Rafael sat back down on the couch. His tone of voice was now strangely different which made Microsoft's mind spring to attention. "Don't take no grouch against me, old bugger, I didn't mean to gun you down like this. I wouldn't even have come here if I hadn't been asked to. There's someone who wants a word with ya."
Microsoft's stomach tightened. It'd been almost two months since he last saw Arone. The moment he had been free to go, he had rented a room in a guest house in the Art Quarter and had lived there ever since. She hadn't tried to call him or look for him, which was so unlike her that there had been times when Microsoft was about to rush home and see if she was even alive. He had been dreading the moment of their meeting, because he was desperate to see her, but so full of bile that he was afraid he'd do or say something and lose her forever. His heart battered against his chest, but was it joy or fear?
Rafael fished a box out of his pocket and handed it to Microsoft. There was a pair of I-contacts inside. Was she too scared to come in person? Or too sick? Or worse, couldn't care less? 
"Put 'em on," said Rafael and stretched out against the back of the couch. Microsoft obeyed, and after a moment his SC connected with the i-contacts, and there was an incoming flick. Microsoft blinked to answer, not after a slight hesitation, and a clear image sprang before his eyes as if there was a real person standing in front of him. He felt a pang of disappointment and relief at the same time, that person wasn't Arone.
"Hey...Mat." Microsoft tried to remember Matrix's real name, but gave up. Matrix smiled. He seemed happy to see his friend.
"It's Tensorfield, Tensorfield Riemann, not that it matters much." Matrix had lost weight, dark half-moons under his eyes made him look even more rueful that he used to be, though his face brightened up slightly as he smiled.
"Sounds way swagger than Matrix Eroglou." Microsoft smiled back. "Pity you couldn't keep the name."
"Hell of a name to lose, I know," said Matrix. "How've you been, man? I followed the news feeds, it's quite a mess the Ford's made."
"Yeah, I hear the company's going to be taken over. I quit."
"I thought so. What about everyone else?"
"Pretty much scattered. When I was resigning, only Icon and Mallory were still there. The rest of the team left, but I haven't talked to anyone lately."
Matrix looked a little disappointed.
"Well, I guess it's been crazy time for you."
"Still is. How're you getting by?"
"Keeping my head down for a while. It's a hard world to hide in, but I have a way. While the big guns are busy clearing up the debris of ZP and Ford Industries, the path is relatively free. I'll be fine."
Matrix fell silent, and Microsoft frowned. Something unspoken was trying to break out of Matrix like a bird out of a snare.
"You know it wasn't your fault, don't you?" Matrix asked.
"Nor was it yours," said Microsoft and added after a pause, "I was meaning to see his mother, Diod's mother. I wanted to...apologize, I don't know. I couldn't bring myself to it."
"Nothing you'll say will make it up to her. She has her own life to struggle with, and you have yours."
"I know, I just...I guess I wanted to get it off my chest." 
Matrix gave Microsoft a sympathetic look, but there was something else behind it. The death of Diod Medina wasn't the thing Matrix wanted to get off his chest.
"You want a favor, don't you?" Microsoft knew he was right by the way Matrix's face changed.
"It's okay, it's just..."
"I'll do it, Mat. Whatever it is."
Matrix raised his eyebrows in surprise. Rafael could only hear Microsoft talking without seeing the projection of Matrix, but even he leaned forward to see if it was really Microsoft who had just proclaimed himself ready for action. 
"When I ran, there was no way for me to get in touch with anyone. I was lucky enough to have connections in the Art Quarter. That's how I found Rafael and sent him the i-contacts. Could you find Stallone and give her these i-contacts you're wearing now? It's the only way to get in touch with me."
"Stallone?" Microsoft sounded almost rudely dumbfounded even to himself. He didn't know what he expected to hear, maybe, that Matrix would ask him to find connections to get him out of the country, get access to his files at work, lend money or anything else along those lines, but even on the run, in constant danger, lacking sleep and most likely shelter and food, it seemed Stallone Rivers was all Mat wanted.
"You said you would do--"
"Yes, of course." Microsoft hurried to make up for his reaction. "I'll find her."
"Could you tell her I'm so sorry. Tell her, whatever pain she feels I wish I could bear it for her, and...and if she ever can forgive me...if she can ever stand looking at me again, she can use the i-contacts. I'll be waiting for her. However long it takes."
Microsoft didn't know what to say. There was a man before him who was so desperate to fix things, to get together with the love of his life, but the terrible circumstances would probably never allow it. And there was him, sitting like a pouting child over a broken toy, proud, weak and most of all stupid.  He had all the chances of mending his love life and threw the chances away. Rafael was right. As always
"I just wish it wasn't too late," said Matrix and the words sounded to Microsoft as though he said them himself.
"I'll do it, I'll find her, don't worry."
"Thank you. Live long and prosper, I guess." Matrix raised his hand forming a 'V' sign between his fingers.
"Good luck, Mat, and take care." The next moment the night came rushing into Microsoft's eyes as the i-contacts flickered off. He took them out and put gently into the box. Rafael opened his mouth to say something, but Microsoft was already up on his feet. 
"Raf, you've the most amazing decrepit ass there is, and I'd still come see it, even if it started crumbling to dust." He punching the old man in the shoulder.
"Well, you know damn well where your ass got to be right now," said Rafael with a playful grumble.
"And I intend to take it there." Microsoft hurried along the crooked path of multicolored gravel towards the exit of the park.

All it took was a touch of his SC, but that simple movement suddenly seemed so hard and complicated that Microsoft stared at the glowing square of the lock like it was a particularly difficult mathematical problem. What would he say? How should he behave? How should he stand? Where to put his hands? Jumping into an abyss would be easier now, he felt. He leaned on the door, closed his eyes and took a deep breath for a hundredth time, and accidentally touched the lock. He almost fell tumbling over himself into the apartment. 
There was no light inside. Was she gone?
He closed the opening with a wave of his hand and tiptoed to the main room. It was dark there too, only the sofa dimly glowed blue. He sat down on it and watched the fish come to life under him.  When he had seen Stallone lit up with joy as she had heard about Matrix, when she'd smiled at Microsoft like he was the Messiah, it had given him so much confidence, so much assurance that he'd see the same things at home. He expected the same happiness, forgiveness, acceptance. He was now in his apartment, and none of those were in the air. Nothing felt right. 
As soon as he stepped inside, he knew it was going to be different. Arone wasn't Stallone Rivers, she wasn't anyone but Arone Stevenson, a woman who had betrayed him once, but still a woman he didn't deserve a single hair of. 
Determination rose in him and he made as if to stand up, but light went on, and he squinted with a start. When he opened his eyes, adjusting to the light, his heart went still. Arone stood at the opening in her blue gauzy night gown, looking mortified. 
They both didn't move and kept staring at each other for what seemed to be an eternity. Slowly her face changed, softened up, her lips trembled and the always so annoying but oh-so-dear and familiar eyelashes fluttered like wings of a disturbed butterfly.
He ached to run to her and hug her, but his legs felt heavy. She made a cautious step forward and her gown heaved as she breathed in, the next moment she was caving in like a shot animal. Microsoft raced towards her and caught her inches away from the floor. He pulled her up to her feet, and their eyes met. 
"I hate you," she said. 
Her tone was impassive. She sounded like she would drop dead the next moment, and Microsoft's head started spinning. But she didn't drop dead, she slid her arms around him and clutched the back of his jacket. Then she began to cry, her sobs muffled against his chest. 
He held her tighter. She was saying something, but with her face pressed against him and the short breaths shaking her body, he could hardly make out a word. He knew one thing, though, she didn't hate him, she loved him even more than he could ever imagine. His chest tightened.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I'm so sorry."
She clung to him as Stallone had been clinging to the box with the i-contacts. For the first time in months he felt safe and full of hope. For the first time in months he didn't want to ever be alone again.

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