Abysme – Chapter Seventeen – MOS Corp. Ltd.


Three brilliant students. The world’s best supercomputer. What could go wrong?

What happens when you realize that your reality is but a layer in an infinity of simulations? Enjoy it, or try to take advantage of it?

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Chapter Seventeen: MOS Corp. Ltd.

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Mathilde kicked off her shoes, dropped her bag in the entrance and headed straight to the kitchen. Szymon was already there, sipping on coffee.

“You’re back early,” he pointed out.

She grinned. Her Algorithmique exam had been 4 hours long, but she had walked out after an hour and a half.

“Easy?”

“Yeah. I did get stuck at one point, but then I found a formula and it unlocked the whole thing. Only took me twenty minutes to write a proof for it.”

“Nice.”

“Not really,” she smirked, “Apparently they had covered it in class and I could’ve just used it as is. Twenty minutes wasted.”

“You probably should have studied then,” he chuckled, and she stuck out her tongue.

“What have you been up to?” she asked, “How are your exams?”

Szymon rolled his eyes. “Boring. A whole section was on quark interactions. I almost laughed out loud. After the Mosverse, I could have done that in my sleep.”

She poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat down in front of him. For over an hour, they talked and laughed about their exams. Mathilde reflected briefly on how nice it felt to have simple conversation. In that moment, it was as if they had never built the Mosverse, and were back to the start of the year, simply getting to know each other better.

The slam of the front door broke their bubble. “We’re in the kitchen!” she yelled out to Oliver.

Oliver gave them a half-hearted smile as he walked in, and made himself some tea.

“How’d it go?”

He shrugged. “I failed it.”

“What? Really?”

“Yeah.”

She tried to think of something to say. Oliver had studied hard for this. She exchanged a glance with Szymon, but he only gave her a smirk. She rose from her chair, thinking to pat Oliver on the shoulder or give him a hug, when he turned around and beamed her a bright smile.

“But it doesn’t matter at all,” he said, “I think I’ve never been more excited.”

She plopped back down in her seat. This wasn’t the reaction she had been expecting.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” he smiled again, “But I think we all need to talk.”

“What?”

“I have an incredible idea and – well, actually, do you guys have time now?”

Mathilde turned to Szymon, who shrugged assent. “Sure.”

“Great. But let’s not do this here. Let’s meet in the Mosverse. Give me five minutes and jump to my location okay?”

He walked out. Szymon opened his mouth to talk.

“Do you-“

“I don’t know either,” she said as she rose from the table and headed to her room, “Only one way to find out.”

She drew the curtains shut and put in her VR contacts. She called up Oliver’s ID tag, and felt an unexplained moment of apprehension before jumping to the location. Where is he bringing us?

The screen opened to grassy slopes she instantly recognized. She was in Montmartre, right under the basilica where, months ago, they had discussed the Mosverse. She heard Szymon whoosh into existence next to her.

“Oooh,” he said, “Montmartre again!”

Oliver chuckled. “I thought you’d appreciate the symbolism. This is where it all really started for me.”

Szymon tore off before Mathilde could answer. He streaked up and down the stairs on either side, flying at breakneck speed a meter above the ground and passing straight through dozens of tourists. “Look!” he yelled, “I told you guys it would be more fun if we could float!”

She laughed and sat down on the grass with Oliver, waiting for Szymon to calm down. As she ran a hand over the green blades, she yet again marveled at how real it all seemed. Her hand passed straight through, and yet it was so easy to forget she was in a simulation.

“So what’s this all about?” she asked when Szymon finally joined them.

Oliver looked up to the sky. “I’m going to quit l’ENS,” he said slowly, “I’m done with studying.”

She heard Szymon’s jaw drop. Oliver turned to look at them.

“And I think both of you should too.”

“What?”

“Mathilde, it’s because of what you said to me last week. We’ve managed to recreate our universe exactly. That’s amazing. And what did I do? I used it to cheat on a test.”

“What does that have to do with quitting l’ENS?”

“Don’t you see?” he turned back to look out over all of Paris below them, “We’ve been dreaming too small. From the very start. We created the Mosverse because we wanted to build a videogame! It’s as if we invented electricity, and then only used it to power an alarm clock. The Mosverse is something far, far more powerful than we expected.”

She felt her back tense up. He was right, and that was the problem. Ever since they had discovered Earth, she had slowly been coming to the same conclusion, and done her best to try to avoid thinking about it. As long as all they did was play around harmlessly, it could be safely ignored.

But she knew where Oliver was heading with this. A mental exercise on the actual power of the Mosverse. A headache of thoughts on responsibility and implications.

“Szy told me,” Oliver continued, oblivious to her hesitation, “That with the Mosverse, he could win the Nobel Prize every year. That’s a million dollars per year, easy money. It sounded awesome, until I remembered what you said about thinking too small. And I realized, a million dollars, that’s tiny. You can’t even buy an apartment in Paris with that money.”

Her heart beat a little faster with every word. A voice in her mind was telling her to make Oliver stop before it was too late.

“Then I thought back to when we saw King Charles on the toilet. Do you know how much money we could get for a picture of that?”

“Ollie, no!” she finally burst in, “That’s-”

He raised a hand, interrupting her. “Let me finish. That was a stupid idea as well. Every idea, I kept asking myself: Am I thinking too small? And the conclusion became obvious.”

His eyes shone fiercely. “We can be kings. Emperors.”

She froze. A heavy silence hung in the air for an eternal second. “What?” she finally asked.

“It’s easy. We’re going to start off small. We spy on boardroom meetings, and then we use the information to trade stocks before the information gets out. Before the year is over, we’ll be billionaires.”

“That’s going to attract attention,” she objected, “And the last thing we want is people looking into the Mosverse.”

“Nobody can do anything! Think about it. If anybody causes trouble, we just follow them around in the Mosverse for a month. Everyone has dirt – a mistress, secret meetings, hidden bank accounts. We just need to find it and blackmail them with it. Then they won’t do anything against us.”

“But what if the government gets involved?”

“That’s even easier! No one will want to mess with us because we’ll be cooperating with them. They’ll need us.”

Szymon’ voice was cold as he spoke. “How?”

“We’ll give them limited accounts for their espionage departments.”

“What?” Mathilde shook her head, “No way. No way.”

“Mathilde stop being childish,” said Oliver, “Imagine: there would be no more terrorist attacks. Right now, every country’s security team is understaffed. There are thousands of people they need to cover and they don’t have the budget for it. With the Mosverse, they could. Imagine the number of lives we could save.”

“It’ll be the end of privacy,” she countered, “No one will be able to hide anything from the government.”

“Privacy is overrated. If you don’t have anything to hide, why would it matter? We would be making the world a safer place.”

“We’d be creating a Big Brother! That’s not safer!”

He waved a hand dismissively. “Well then forget cooperating with the government. It was only one idea. The important part is, once we have the money, we all go into politics. I run in the UK, Mathilde in France and Szymon in Poland. We’ll be unbeatable. We’ll have unlimited money, the best teams, and,” he paused for effect, “We use the Mosverse to pick up dirt on our opponents, find their strategies, and beat them. In five years, we’ll all be the heads of our respective countries. Can you imagine that Szy? President of Poland?”

Oliver smiled. “We could change the world.”

“I don’t know,” she said. It made sense, and she had no doubt that they could pull it off with the Mosverse, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was all too simple. Too easy perhaps. The full picture had to be more complicated.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” added Oliver, “And we have a responsibility to use this power wisely.”

“What if the responsibility is making sure no-one uses it?” she asked.

“What?”

“What you’re saying we should do isn’t responsibility,” she said, “It’s personal benefit. This doesn’t help anybody but us.”

“But then we’ll help the world! Come on, you’re the first to say that all politicians are idiots and you could do a better job with your eyes closed. We could change the world for the better!”

“Could we? More importantly, would we?” she asked, “What if it doesn’t work? What if we change and grow corrupted? What if we lose control of the Mosverse?”

“We won’t, come on,” he rolled his eyes.

“How do you know? We can’t predict that! If anything, maybe we have a responsibility to keep it an absolute secret.”

She was suddenly seeing clearer. Ironically, it had taken Oliver advocating for one side for her to realize the other was the right one. It wasn’t simply that Oliver’s stance created enormous moral hazards; it was the risk that they would lose control. In the wrong hands, the Mosverse could become the worst kind of weapon mankind had ever known, she was sure of it.

“What would be the use of us not taking advantage of the Mosverse?” he asked, “Especially when you were the one who said I was dreaming too small. What do you want to do, just use it as your own tourism machine?”

“I- I haven’t figured it out yet. But we have to think this through first.”

“Don’t be ridiculous Mathilde. Szy, what do you say? President?”

Szymon had been silent for a while, staring at his feet and listening to the two argue. He spoke without looking up.

“If I look at my values and the things that have always defined me as a coder,” he said, “The right to privacy is first and foremost. And the Mosverse is the biggest risk to that. There’s absolutely no way to stop spying when it’s happening from a world above.”

Oliver sighed exasperatedly. “Then we won’t abuse it and we’ll be careful! Come on guys, can’t you see how incredible of an opportunity this is? We NEED to use this.”

Mathilde suddenly realized he wasn’t going to let this go. He was expecting full buy-in here and now, and clearly hadn’t anticipated this level of resistance.

She glanced to Szymon, who stared stone-faced at Oliver, and decided she needed to stall for time. With time, she could nudge Oliver back onto the right track. Better that than to force a nasty confrontation that would drive him away.

“Give us some time to think about it. This is… very abrupt. ”

“Sure. Think about it, and let’s talk about next steps when exams are over. But think about it hard. Because we’re going to change the world. All three of us.”

He stood up. “Alright, I’ve got stuff to do, talk later,” he said, and disappeared.

Mathilde and Szymon sat in silence for what felt like an eternity, thinking over Oliver’s speech.

“What do you think?” he finally asked her.

“I…” she hesitated, “I don’t know, it feels wrong.”

“Yeah,” he said, lying back against the ground, “I don’t know either. I guess this is how Leo Szilard felt like.”

“Who?”

“Leo Szilard, the Hungarian scientist. He was the first to figure out that nuclear fission could be used in chain reactions, and he immediately came up with the idea of nuclear reactors, but he called them neutronic reactors. For him it was an incredible idea, a way to revolutionize energy. But eventually, he also saw the risk of nuclear bombs. So he sent a letter to Roosevelt, signed by Einstein, to warn him the Nazis might develop the bomb first, and that’s what led to the Manhattan Project.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, one of the great unknowns of history. He invented something incredible, and had to watch it be used to nuke two cities and start the Cold War. He was a pacifist I think – he started a petition to do a demonstration of the nuclear bomb’s power and show it to the Japanese instead of bombing them by surprise.”

What Szymon was trying to say was painfully clear. Even though she might be motivated by the highest ideals and values, someone, somewhere, would eventually corrupt the Mosverse. And a weaponized Mosverse carried consequences too terrible to imagine.

“Let’s sleep on it,” she said, “And talk more tomorrow. Want to go anywhere before we log-out?”

Szymon looked up in thought, then turned to her with a shy smile. “Can we go to Disneyland Japan?”

“Sure,” she laughed, and typed in the name to teleport them there.

When she got there, she found she could barely focus. Oliver’s idea was now stuck in her mind with glue, and even the giant pink Mickey Mouse drones buzzing above them weren’t enough to distract her. She found herself constantly returning to what he had said.

The situation didn’t improve over the next few days. At night, she tossed and turned. How was she to show Oliver the danger of the Mosverse? Of a Big Brother society that would inevitably happen if any government got their hands on it?

At the same time, a more dangerous thought kept floating to the front of her mind. It was a dark one, and yet it kept breaking through her more self-righteous thoughts: the possibility that Oliver might be right. The Mosverse was indeed an incredible opportunity to change the world. With their combined brainpower, she had no doubt that gaining billions of euros would only take a few months. Making an impact in politics would be difficult, but not impossible. And even then, they didn’t even need to be political: they could simply channel money into clean energy and charities to help develop the poorest parts of the world.

The dilemma tore at her so much she found herself losing focus at random moments throughout each day, so completely immersed was she in her thoughts. In the middle of an exam, she suddenly discovered she had spent over half the test staring out into space, and hadn’t even answered a single question.

She now connected to the Mosverse with apprehension. She felt like a spy, taking advantage of the people around her who were completely unaware of her presence. It felt like the most intimate of intrusions and her gut wrenched at the thought of how an entire espionage apparatus might be built on her invention.

A mere three days after the conversation, Szymon found her busily typing away at her tablet in the kitchen.

“What’s up?” he asked her warily.

“I’m trying to figure out why time is stuck on ‘Play‘. We got so carried away with finding Earth we forgot about that.”

Szymon grimaced. “That’s not the answer to our problem.”

“What?”

“You’re thinking of fast-forwarding time again. If we can’t go back, then the problem disappears and you don’t have to worry about it.”

She blushed. “You can read me that well?”

“Heh,” he chuckled, “If it worked once right?”

She set her tablet down on the table and crossed her arms. “Yeah, well, I thought it might work. But turns out I can’t understand why time is stuck at all.”

He sat down in front of her and stretched out his legs. “I have a theory.”

“Really?”

“I think time stopping is the Mosverse protecting itself.”

“What?”

“Well, if we were able to go into the future, we’d be able to see the consequences of our actions right?”

“Yeah.”

“And we’d be able to change them in the present. We’d create a new universe because suddenly we’d have given ourselves what we currently lack: free will. And I don’t know, I think that would eventually lead to a temporal paradox or something that would cause the Mosverse to shut down.”

“That’s stupid,” she said, “The Mosverse doesn’t think. It isn’t an AI. It’s a set of rules, it can’t know to do that.”

“I didn’t say it did. It’s like evolution. It’s not a thought-out process, it’s trial and error. Evolution looks logical because all the illogical solutions died out. I think it’s the same for the Mosverse. There are versions where we could go farther in time, and those collapsed on themselves and got kicked out by Mark III at the start because they immediately ceased to exist. The only universe that works is one where the times of all the different Mosverses eventually lock in to present time.”

“That’s messed up.”

“And that’s why it’s not the answer to our problem. We’re not going to get ‘fast-forward’ back, and we just have to accept it.”

He stood up, ready to walk back to his room. “Not to mention someone wouldn’t like you doing that,” and he pointed silently towards Oliver’s room. She frowned.

“What’s he up to anyway?”

“No idea,” answered Szymon, “But I doubt it’s exams.”

“We might want to check on that soon.” There was no telling what Oliver was up to, and how far along he might be. Szymon nodded once, and walked out.

She didn’t need to check. Barely two days later, Oliver texted them both on SzymonChat. ‘Meet me at Café Tivoli in an hour‘ it read.

‘Why not the flat?’ she had asked. Café Tivoli was only two blocks away.

‘It’s summer, it’s nice out, and I have wine,‘ he said, which had seemed enough to convince Szymon.

She put on a pair of skinny jeans, a black tank top, and headed out with Szymon in tow. Oliver was sitting at the café’s terrace, wearing dark square sunglasses and basking in the sun. A bottle of rosé, three wine glasses and a can of Sprite were already set out on the table. Szymon grinned as he sat down and poured himself a glass.

“I have good news,” Oliver said, “Check this out.”

He unlocked his tablet and slid it towards them. Mathilde sipped from her glass and read the title.

Territory of the British Virgin Islands

Certificate of Incorporation

MOS Corp Ltd.

 

“What…?” she asked.

“I had my dad’s lawyer do it for us,” said Oliver excitedly, “Scroll down to page 5 and check it out!”

She swiped up, and saw all three of their names appear.

“I put in 5,000 pounds of capital, but I said you guys each gave a third, so we each have an equal share,” he beamed, “We have our own company now! We can start trading whenever we want!”

“Ollie,” she said, a look of incredulity on her face, “What is this?”

“What?”

“We said we would think about it! We didn’t say anything about creating a company.”

He leaned back, grimacing. “Yeah I know. But I mean, whatever we decide on, this will come in useful. And it takes time to set something up so I figured I’d get a head start.”

She shook her head, still staring at the document. She couldn’t believe he had gone behind their backs to do this. “Look, Ollie. You can’t just do this without asking us. We need to decide together.”

“Well then let’s decide!” he said with exasperation, “Let’s make up our minds now!”

The other patrons at the café were beginning to stare at them. She tried to keep her voice level.

“I’m not ready to decide yet. I’m still thinking about it.”

“What’s there to think about? We’re going to rule the world. Change the world.”

“There’s a ton to think about! What happens if it’s used wrong? What happens if governments get a hold of this or manage to duplicate it?”

“Mathilde. Do you know how many civilians die each year in war because of airstrikes gone wrong? Over 50,000. Every year. With the Mosverse, that number would be zero. Are you okay with those deaths on your conscience? ”

“If it means less freedom for the rest of the world, then maybe I am! And stop trying to manipulate me. Anyone can bandy around numbers but there are consequences beyond that! The answer isn’t the Mosverse, it’s not doing airstrikes in the first place!”

“Will you stop it with the bloody consequences? We’ll be careful!”

“Wishful thinking,” said Szymon.

“What?”

“We can’t predict the consequences. Do you know that the invention of the typewriter led to an increase in divorces? Because of the typewriter, more women got jobs, left the house, and discovered they weren’t happy at home – which led to more divorces. You think the guy who invented the typewriter imagined that?”

“What the fuck are you talking about Szymon? This has nothing to do with a shitty invention like the typewriter!”

Szymon opened his mouth to protest but Oliver spoke over him.

“Look, at least I’m doing something about this. We have a company now. The least you could do is show some bloody gratitude.” Oliver rose and grabbed his bag from the floor. “I didn’t have to pay for you for the company. Not that you could have afforded it anyway,” he spat out, and walked away.

“He can be a dick sometimes,” said Szymon softly. Mathilde swallowed and forced herself to unclench her fists. She hadn’t realized just how mad Oliver had made her, but now her palms hurt from where her nails had bit into flesh and left sharp dimples.

Not only had Oliver been presumptuous enough to ignore their talk and set up a company, but he had topped it off by insulting them.

“I’m not okay with this,” she said.

“With what?”

“With what Ollie’s doing. With how he wants to use the Mosverse,” she took a big gulp of wine, and set the glass back on the table. She had always been able to manage Oliver. She knew what set him off, what made him tick, and worked her way around that so that their relationship remained friendly. But now he was careening off in a direction she didn’t like, and try as she might, she couldn’t find a way to steer him away from it. His mind was set on a goal that was beginning to feel like the exact opposite of what she wanted.

“To be perfectly honest with you Szy,” she said, “I’m beginning to be a little scared of him.”

Szymon poured more Sprite into his wine. “Calm down. What’s the worst he can do?”

Mathilde didn’t answer. She didn’t know. Oliver was becoming unpredictable to her. Only one thing was clear: she needed to find a way out of this mess as fast as she could.

That night, she silently let herself into Szymon’s room. He looked up as she put a finger to her lips to keep him quiet. Sitting down cross-legged on his bed, she wrung her hands together.

“Szymon,” she whispered, “I think we need to shut down the Mosverse. We can’t let anyone have access to it anymore.”

Szymon sleepily rubbed his eyes and shook his head to wake up.

“It’s too big of a responsibility. Someone will end up abusing it. Not necessarily Oliver, but if we go forward it’s going to happen eventually. It’s only a question of time. So we need to turn it off now. It’s the only option.”

“Mathilde,” his voice was soft and sad, “We can’t do that.”

“Don’t tell me you’re siding with Oliver now? You think we should do his whole MOS Corp thing?”

“No, I’m actually pretty worried about that. But that doesn’t mean we can turn off the Mosverse.”

“Why not?”

“Because. It would be genocide.”

“What?”

“Think about it Mathilde. If you turn off the Mosverse, you’re turning it off for an infinity of Mosverses below us. New Mathilde and New Szymon cease to exist, and the Mosverse they created ceases to exist as well. And so on and so forth. You’d be killing off the human race an infinity of times…”

She chewed her lower lip, and wrung her hands even tighter until her knuckles turned white.

“Maybe,” she said hesitantly, “To protect this world… that would be ok?”

“No, that’s not coming from the Mathilde I know. You’re grasping for solutions that aren’t there. We need to talk to Oliver and work this out.”

“And more importantly,” he added, “You need to understand that turning off the Mosverse would kill us off as well.”

“What? Why?”

“They’re all linked remember? Identical in every single way. If you take the decision to turn off the Mosverse, that means that every single Mathilde is taking that same decision. Including all the Mathildes from the Mosverses above us. If you do turn it off, the Mathilde above us shuts us off too, and we all die.”

“But wait, we aren’t sure that there’s a Mosverse above us right? Maybe our one is the first.”

Szymon slowly shook his head. “Do the math Mathilde. There’s an infinity of Mosverses below us, that’s a fact. Our chances of being the first one, if indeed there even is a first one – and I’d like to point out that I don’t think so – is one out of an infinity.”

“Which means it’s zero.” she said softly. Her mouth opened as the implications set in. If she turned it off, it meant that in every single Mosverse, including the one above them, there would be a Mathilde committing genocide.

“So we can never shut it down?”

“Never. ”

She held her head in her hands, desperate to pry out another solution.

“Wait,” she suddenly asked, “What if the power goes out at l’ENS?”

“They have a back-up generator for the quantum computer, I checked,” said Szymon, “And a separate power bank so it doesn’t ever shut down. But yeah, I’m starting to become worried about that too. What if they find us on the server and shut us down? Boom, no more humans. Biggest computer glitch ever.”

“We’ll need to find a solution for that eventually,” she said grimly.

She got up and walked to his door. “Thanks for the advice Szy. I’m going to try to find another way out of this mess.”

She went to bed, but like so many nights recently, sleep was impossible to find. She could barely digest the new information Szymon had given her. The Mosverse couldn’t be turned off, and she couldn’t fast forward through time. No matter how she looked at it, she couldn’t find a way to protect it, be it from people, natural disasters, l’ENS and increasingly, Oliver.

Humanity as a whole was in her hands, and she had no idea what to do.

She tried to push the idea away, but it kept breaking through her walls. She turned and twisted it in every direction, looking for a way to latch on and break it open, but still it resisted.

When the sun began to rise outside her window, she was still awake. She put in her VR contacts, sat cross-legged on her bed, and logged into the Mosverse. She landed in her bedroom, and moved to sit on the other side of the bed, facing New Mathilde.

Sitting there and looking at her clone was oddly soothing. Back in her world, she realized, was another Mathilde, staring at her from a universe above. Stretching out to infinity on both sides were two different Mathildes, each looking at the one below them. It was like being caught between two mirrors. An infinity of Mathildes in both directions, all of them lost and wondering what to do.

Her heart began to pound as she contemplated the abyss that the Mosverse stretched out into, and a lonely sob broke out of her chest. The impossibility of the task ahead ate at her heart, and an intense urge to flee and run away surged up from within. Unbidden, it grew into a breaking urge for comfort.

She needed someone to hold her and tell her it would be okay. Something Szymon, who just earlier had been looking up to her hoping for a solution, had been unable to provide.

Her fingers moved of their own will as she googled Charles’ home address and fed it to the Mosverse. She landed in front of his building, floated up to the third floor and passed straight through the wall.

She wasn’t sure how she had imagined his flat, but it was nothing like this. Instead of the cool and minimalist décor that fit his personality so well was a light beige floor littered with toys, children’s books and brightly colored plastic. The shelves were a happy mess of family pictures.

Charles was seated at the table, patiently trying to feed his youngest son with a spoon. His wife walked in, dressed in a white silk nightgown, their other son on her shoulder. She playfully nudged him with a hip as she passed, and he looked up with shining eyes.

It was the simplest of moments, pure and unfettered love glowing brightly from him. He set down his spoon, got up and kissed her on the neck.

“Good morning my love,” he whispered.

She hadn’t known how much she had wanted to hear those words until tears welled up in her eyes. He picked up his son from his wife’s arms, and twirled him once before sitting him down. She slapped him on the shoulder and he laughed heartily.

Mathilde broke down. Sobs choked out of her, one after another. In this moment when she needed him the most, she realized that she had never had him at all. And never would. The stress and sadness built up inside of her was piled so high that she suddenly couldn’t stop the tears.

But stronger than those emotions rose another: shame. Not at her actions, but at herself. For having been weak. For having fallen for him without realizing it. For needing him, instead of fighting off her problems on her own.

She cried until her vision grew blurry as the tears messed with her contact lenses. She had never felt so stupid, so angry, and so sad at the same time. Every gesture of Charles’, every word was like a tiny dagger straight through her heart.

“So that’s who you’ve been fucking,” came a voice from behind her.

She spun around. Oliver stood there, calm and judgmental.

“I should have known you’d go for the older type. You know, daddy issues and all.”

She stared at him in disbelief. The cold sadness lit into a brazier of anger, and flooded her body to the tips of her fingers. She could barely speak.

“Get out,” she croaked.

He looked at her, and shrugged.

“GET OUT! DEGAGE!” she yelled, French unwilling blending itself into her words, “GET THE FUCK OUT! BARRE TOI! GET OUT!”

Oliver blinked out of existence. She ripped out her contacts and tore straight to Oliver’s room, slamming the door open.

“WHAT THE FUCK OLIVER?” she yelled, “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!”

She was vaguely aware of Szymon’s door opening as he stepped out, drawn to the noise. Oliver was sitting calmly in his chair, looking up at her.

“What’s the big deal Mathilde?”

“This is exactly why I don’t want to use the Mosverse!” she yelled, “This is -” She turned to Szymon and cut him off before he could ask, “He was spying on me with Charles!”

“Szymon knows about Charles and I don’t?” asked Oliver in mock indignation, “Well that’s not very nice.”

“Ollie what…?”

“How dare you?” she yelled.

Oliver slowly rose to his feet, and walked over to her.

“How dare I? How dare I?” His voice was eerily calm, and she flinched at the sound. “That has to be hypocrisy at its finest. At least I don’t talk behind my roommate’s back about shutting down the Mosverse. And then ask him how dare he?”

Sudden understanding dawned, immediately followed by a fresh flush of fury. Oliver had spied on them through the Mosverse the night before.

“You were spying on me then too?”

“And a good thing I did!” Almost as a mutter, he added, “I knew I couldn’t trust you.”

“You couldn’t trust me? I’m not the one using the Mosverse against you!”

“Yeah, you just decide to shut things off without telling me. Or murder the Decapi because you don’t like them anymore. ‘Boohoo, now they’re all evil, let me just fast forward until they disappear’. And fuck Oliver, who cares about him anyway? What, your daddy left you and since then you feel you can just walk over everybody? That no one can share your pain?”

“Oliver!” Szymon yelled.

“Shut up Szy,” he snapped, “For once in your life grow some balls and stop being Mathilde’s bloody lapdog.”

“DON’T TALK TO SZYMON LIKE THAT!”

Oliver slowly took two steps forward until he was right in front of her. His voice was cold and dripped with spite. “Or what? What are you going to do?”

She slapped him. Her pent-up anger exploded against his face. He reeled back a step, a hand on his cheek. They stood in shocked silence, facing each other. Then, slowly, Oliver’s eyes narrowed, and his features morphed into a mask of calm and control.

“So that’s how it is, huh?” he said, and pushed past them through the door as she glared at him. Her entire body tingled with adrenaline but her feet were locked to the ground.

He walked down the corridor, opened the door, and stepped out.

“Just remember,” he said menacingly, “This is all your fault.” He slammed the door behind him.

Oliver didn’t come home that day. Or the day after.

Still furious, Mathilde logged into the Mosverse and ripped out the function allowing them to jump to another user’s location. Not that it mattered – if Oliver wasn’t in their flat, he had no way to connect to the Mosverse, and therefore no way to spy on them. But after what had happened with Charles, she didn’t want to take any chances.

When five days had elapsed with no news of Oliver, and she had finally calmed down somewhat, she started to ask after him. Oliver had been a jerk, that much was certain. But at the same time, hadn’t she also overreacted? Oliver must have felt betrayed when he heard them talk about shutting down the Mosverse. Betrayed for the second time, if she counted what had happened with the Decapi.

Her mind kept going back and forth on the issue. He had also spied on them, but then she had slapped him. One moment she would worry about what had happened to him and how to mend fences, the next about what vengeful reaction she might have provoked. Above it all, she just hoped he would calm down and come back so they could work things out.

None of their classmates had seen him. When Mathilde finally chose to text Floriane, she revealed that she hadn’t heard from him in weeks. Mathilde tried talking to him on Szymonchat, but none of her messages received a response.

“I just don’t know what to do at this point,” she said one night to Szymon, as they sat in the kitchen, eating a take-away crêpe.

“He’ll come back.”

“Yeah, but even then. He’ll still want to use the Mosverse.”

“Well, what do you want to do with the Mosverse?”

“Protect it. But never use it,” she slipped a strand of hair back behind her ear, “I’ve made up my mind. It’s too dangerous.”

Szymon nodded. “Good.”

She looked at him, casually chewing away at his crêpe, and it finally hit her.

“You came to this conclusion ages ago, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” he ran a hand through his hair embarrassedly.

“And you were just waiting until I got there on my own?”

“Pretty much,” he grinned. “That’s the one thing I’ve learnt from you. Sometimes, it’s impossible to influence people. You have to let them find their own pa. Pa. Pa. Pa. Pa.”

Szymon stared straight through her, eyes fixed on the wall. His smile was gone, and his mouth opened and closed like a fish. “Pa, Pa, Pa,” he repeated, over and over again.

“Szymon?” her chair screeched as she suddenly rose.

He began to shake, until tremors rocked his shoulders violently. Two bright red lines of blood flowed out of his nose.

“SZYMON!” she yelled, grabbing him and trying to calm him down. He ripped away from her and began to scream. Panicking, she grabbed her phone to call 18, the emergency number. Szymon screamed louder.

Just as she unlocked it, it rang. Oliver.

“Oliver!” she yelled, picking up, “There’s something wrong with Szymon! He needs help!”

Szymon’s head slammed down on the table, and dragged back and forth, each convulsion wiping blood across the wood in sheets of red. His screaming stopped, replaced by moans of agony.

The voice in her ear rang like a cold and icy dagger.

“Oh, I know,” said Oliver, “I just opened a black hole inside his head.”

 

~ End of Chapter 17 ~

 

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