Three brilliant students. The world’s best supercomputer. What could go wrong?
With Oliver finally vanquished, it’s time to tie up loose ends.
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Chapter Twenty-Three: Laurence, Laurence and Humphrey
She disconnected and fell back with a heavy sigh.
She blinked once, heavily, and opened the connection exception log. Deliberately, she deleted the last IP address from the list, to ban all access to the Mosverse, and then removed each of the Guest accounts one by one, locking them out. Then, she recreated her own account with full admin privileges, and finally let the tension roll of off her shoulders in a long shiver. She logged out.
It was done.
The sound of Charles’ clearing his throat snapped her back to reality. He stood in the doorway, his eyes wide and forehead red from where it had hit the door.
“Thank you,” she rose and gave him a peck on the cheek, “I’ll explain soon, but I have to go first.”
Without giving him the time to react, she walked straight out of the room, and up to the ground floor. She immediately booked a cab on her phone, and she jumped into the black leather seats at the back when it arrived a few minutes later.
Paris flew past the window, but she barely saw it. Her body felt oddly disconnected – she was vaguely aware of the shaking of her fingers and the remnants of tension and adrenaline – but her mind was in a cloud, light and tired. Pressing her forehead against the windowpane, she fought to keep her eyes open.
It’s not over yet. Don’t make any mistakes. Stay focused.
The car dropped her off at the hospital and she went straight to Szymon’s room. She blew a sigh of relief when she saw that he was still there. The protection had worked for him too.
Since no one else was in his room, she sat down next to him and took his immobile hand in hers.
“I did it.” Simple words. She still couldn’t believe them herself.
“I did it,” she repeated, with a rush of relief, “I know you’re in there, and I want you to know that we got him. All thanks to you, Szy.”
She stared at his quivering hand, held up tight against his chest, and waited, hoping for a shape she could recognize. The twitching slowly intensified, then dwindled. Nothing but erratic movement. She wasn’t sure what she had been hoping for.
“I used anti-quarks against him,” she continued, “They cancelled out his black hole. And I found him, thanks to your IP idea.”
His hand still didn’t move. It didn’t matter. He was in there, and she knew it. She told him the full story this time, explaining Floriane’s VR contacts and her mad rush to l’ENS. Every five minutes, she paused in her recounting to walk out and make sure the nurses saw her.
It took half an hour before she was done. “I killed him,” she finished, and shuddered. Not at the violence, but at the finality of it.
“And now, I need to make sure I spend at least another hour here before I go to that apartment, so that I can’t be associated with any of it. I’m building up an alibi.”
She knew that if he could, he would tell her how proud he was. She snuggled up to him, and ended up staying an hour and a half, only leaving when Szymon’s mother entered the room and threw her the darkest look she had ever seen.
She ordered another cab, this time headed for an address she had never been to before: Oliver’s.
She exited one crossroad before her destination, and cautiously walked along the apartment buildings bordering La Seine. Her destination was easy enough to find – two police cars were parked near the entrance, lights flashing. She took out her tobacco pack, rolled a cigarette, and looked up at the building’s facade.
I should have known, she thought. It was so in line with Oliver’s personality. Of course he would choose to stay in Paris – he needed to be close to Mark, and it probably gave him a better connection speed to the Mosverse as well. And being Oliver, of course he would have chosen one of the nicest places in town, with a view on the river.
His choice of location had to be among the priciest in the city. The old stone building was barely two blocks away from the Assemblée Nationale, France’s Parliament.
She took one last drag on her cigarette, crushed it, and walked straight to the grandiose entrance, complete with carved cherubs. She took the marble steps slowly, one by one, until she reached the third floor and was met with a door barred with yellow crime-scene tape and a police officer standing guard.
“Sorry miss, you can’t enter,” he said as she walked up.
“Why not? This is my office!”
He gave a grimace of confusion, and she jumped on the opportunity to look in through the open door. In the middle of the room was Oliver’s body, surrounded by two more police officers.
“Oliver!” she gasped, forcing anguish into her voice, “What happened to him?”
She frantically grabbed the officer’s sleeve. “Is he alright? What’s wrong? Let me in!”
Before he could protest, she pushed past him, ducked under the yellow tape and ran into the room. In the center lay Oliver’s limp body, covered in a heavy splatter of blood. She had taken her time before sending in the anti-quark to cancel the black hole, and nothing was left of his head but a broken stump where his neck ended. One of the policeman looked like he was about to throw up.
In the back of the room, a face turned as she entered and instantly drained white.
Hello Mr. Guest, she thought wryly. He was still here apparently, a young man with thick black hair talking to a policeman. He clearly hadn’t expected her to show up, and she noticed him begin to shake. She forced herself to ignore him.
Although the policemen protested, it only took a few fake tears to convince them to let her stay. She explained that she worked with Oliver, and quickly defused any suspicions by showing them the electronic receipts from her cab rides showing that she had been on the other side of town when it happened.
She stayed there until the coroner arrived to remove the body. They covered Oliver in a bright orange sheet, put him on a gurney and rolled him out of the apartment, leaving only a rusted red stain soaked into the floorboards. With one last, warning look to the Guest who was still cowering in the corner, she walked back outside.
Once home, she immediately plugged into the Mosverse and flew to Oliver’s office. The police were still there, marking out evidence in plastic bags. As discretely as she could, she went to each of the tablets and opened and closed a dozen tiny black holes into each of them, damaging them beyond repair. Their screens went black, so noiselessly that not a single officer noticed.
Good, she thought, Now there’s only one loose end left to tie up.
She pulled Oliver’s phone out of her pocket and couldn’t help a smile. She was getting good at this. It had been even easier to steal than she had expected, and she hadn’t even had to kiss a girl to do it.
She tried to unlock it, but it asked for Oliver’s fingerprint. Annoyed but unsurprised, she plugged it into her tablet and spent a full six hours hacking away at it until she was finally able to break through and copy the entire phone’s contents.
She began by looking through his call record, and built a quick analysis of the top ten incoming phone calls in the last month. It didn’t take her long to find what she was looking for: the Guests. In Oliver’s phone, they were called Minions, from Minion 1 to Minion 5.
She rose, made herself a cup of coffee, and sat back down. This was going to be a long night.
She used the Guests’ phone numbers to find their names, and then ran a thorough internet and social media search to build quick profiles of each. They were all young, ages between 18 and 20, all British exchange students studying at la Sorbonne. Going through their very first exchanges with Oliver, she discovered that he had described the job as ‘VR experiment through mini-cameras’. The students had had no idea what the Mosverse actually was.
More importantly, he had been paying them 5,000 euros a month for their work. If they had figured it out, they probably didn’t care. 5,000 euros was an incredible amount of money for a student.
She immediately logged back into the Mosverse and tracked them down one by one. Using the same black hole technique, she destroyed their phones and tablets without them even realizing. Finally, she shut down her tablet.
Done for now.
Resting her elbows on the kitchen table, she began to absent-mindedly roll a cigarette. Waves of emotion lapped at the fringes of her mind, and the image of Oliver’s imploding face popped up again and again. She pushed it all away with a shake of her head.
Numb, she thought, Empty.
For the first time that day, she closed her eyes and smoked in silence, trying her best to clear her mind.
She was free.
“Hugo,” she barely whispered the name, but when he turned around and saw her, he flinched away as if she had hit him.
“Come with me,” she turned around without looking back, knowing he would follow. He did.
The first of the Guests she had found was Hugo. He was short, shorter than her, and his round paunch made him waddle as he hurried behind her. She stopped in a side street just outside La Sorbonne, and gave a quick look around to make sure they were alone before facing him.
“You know who I am?” He nodded fearfully. He was trembling like a leaf, and for a moment she wondered if he wasn’t going to wet himself. She bit back a smile, and reminded herself that this man had been one of her unknown jailors. Her face hardened.
“Good. You know what I did to Oliver Reynolds?”
He nodded again.
“And to your phone and tablet?”
His eyes blew wide as he suddenly connected the dots.
“I’m glad we’re clear. Now, I think you and I won’t have any problems as long as you follow one very simple instruction. You must never, ever, mention a word of this to anyone. The VR, Oliver, me – you know nothing about it. Do you understand?” She cuffed him sharply on the side of the head, “Stop nodding. Tell me you understand.”
“I understand,” he croaked.
“Good. If the police ask, you were helping Oliver trade stocks. That’s it. From now on, assume that I’m watching you. If I need to, I’ll deal with you like I did with him. You aren’t safe anywhere. Understood?”
“Yes ma’am.” His lower lip quivered and tears welled up in his eyes.
He scampered away in a panic, a frightened fat cat. Mathilde leaned back against the wall and blew out a long sigh.
One down, four to go.
She took out her phone and ordered a cab.
It took two days to track them all down. They were obviously talking to each other, because the last two promised to never mention anything before she had even said a word. Not that it mattered. She would keep tabs on them through the Mosverse over the next six months as a precaution, but she was confident that she had scared them enough.
She tried to go back to see Szymon, but his room was empty. Andrzej confirmed by phone that he was safely home, in Gdansk, and that she was free to visit any time. She wasn’t sure if the invitation was genuine, but she knew she would be going there anyway. Soon.
A few days later, she had coffee with Charles. Not wanting to explain what exactly had happened with Mark, she told him that Oliver had plugged a virus into the quantum computer, and that she had simply deactivated it. He wasn’t convinced, and clearly had many questions, but was nice enough to drop it and move the conversation somewhere else.
“I don’t know if I’ll be coming back to l’ENS next year,” she said.
She played with her spoon, dipping it in and out of the porcelain coffee cup and pondering her answer. The small bubble that had been her life had popped. L’ENS was a protected sphere, safe and warm. It was nothing like the raw reality of the Mosverse.
She couldn’t imagine going back to that.
“I want to do something more. Something bigger.”
“Do you have any plans? I know a few start-ups if you’re interested, I can recommend you to them.”
“No, nothing like that. I don’t know yet. I’ll come up with something.”
“Well, whatever you do, I’m sure you’ll do great. You’re gifted Mathilde,” he paused, “Don’t waste that potential.”
In another time and another place, that compliment would have meant the world to her. Instead, she simply gave him a quick smile and returned to sipping her coffee.
When they finally paid the bill and got up to leave, Charles grinned – his signature move. “Do you want to go someplace else?”
She hesitated. It was tempting, an offer to let everything wash away in the comfort of his arms.
“No, no thanks Charles,” she smiled apologetically, “I like us more like this.”
His face froze, suddenly thoughtful. She could tell that he was reconsidering her in that moment. Gone was the awe-struck and rebellious girl that had first showed up in his classroom. In was a new Mathilde.
The corner of his mouth rose in a shrug.
“Sure,” he said, and gave her a peck on the cheek, “Just let me know if you change your mind.” He flashed her another cocky grin, and walked away.
She didn’t watch him go, and turned to face the summer sky instead, dotted with puffy clouds. She had thought long and hard about this decision, but cutting Charles from her life was one thing she knew she wouldn’t regret. She needed more. Wanted more. With a smile, she walked away in the opposite direction.
The next day, she left Paris for her mother’s home. For the first time in a long while, she actually found herself looking forward to returning to Britanny. Her mother welcomed her with open arms, and the little apartment quickly became a cocoon of warmth and tenderness that she refused to leave for a full week. Between amazing food and the comfort of doing nothing, she finally felt at peace. The only annoyance was her mother’s persistent questions on how Szymon and Oliver were doing. She dodged them every time.
What am I going to tell her? she smirked, I let one become a vegetable, and killed the other?
Eventually, she began to go out more, for long walks along the beach, and crêpes and sweets in the fortified port of Concarneau. Her heart tugged every time she saw the ‘Poop of Happiness’ displayed in bakery windows, but it was a bittersweet feeling now, tinged with the rosy glow of beautiful memories.
The police only called her once, but didn’t ask her to come in. She gave them Charles’ contact, sent them her two cab receipts, and told them which nurses they could talk to at the hospital to confirm her alibi.
She was pretty certain she had covered her tracks well, but just in case, she set up spider-trackers to scour the Web for any news around the investigation. The only articles that were written described it as a supernatural ‘fait-divers’, a random news item, and seemed to agree that the cause of death was an unknown and impossible event that could only be compared to spontaneous combustion. No arrests were made.
A month into her stay however, a phone call broke the peaceful serenity she had found.
“Hi, is this Mathilde?” asked the voice on the other end in a flawless British accent.
“Yes…?” she ventured cautiously.
“Hi Mathilde, I’m happy I’ve managed to track you down. My name is Phil Laurence, Solicitor at Law with Laurence, Laurence and Humphrey, operating in the British Virgin Islands. Is this a good time for a quick chat?”
She ran her hand along Laurence’s opulent mahogany desk, sat down and dropped her backpack beside her on thick cream-colored carpet. Crossing her hands over her knees, she looked up at Phil Laurence as he shuffled through a sheaf of papers.
He was thin and gaunt with a cleanly shaven head that shone like an egg. Impeccably dressed in a black suit with a pink tie, he wore a pair of half-moon reading glasses perched on an arched nose.
She looked around his office, trying not to seem too impressed. It was even more ornately decorated than the glass and marble lobby below. The walls had paintings of famous barristers and large bookcases filled with leather-bound volumes, the oldest of which were locked in glass airtight cubes.
“Thanks for meeting me here Mathilde,” said Laurence as he pulled out a sheet of paper and set it aside, “Did you land in London this morning?”
“I took the Eurostar actually,” she answered politely, “I like the train more.”
“It does have the advantage of arriving straight in the heart of London,” he chuckled, “And you found our office without any problem?”
How could I have missed it? she wondered. Laurence, Laurence and Humphrey had their offices on the 88th floor of the Crown, London’s tallest skyscraper.
“Anyway,” he continued, “Thanks for coming in. Now, as I explained to you over the phone, this has to do with the ownership of MOS Corp.”
She had been confused at first. Eventually, she had realized that Oliver hadn’t modified the original agreement. She, Oliver and Szymon all held an equal third of MOS Corp. Oliver had likely assumed he’d change it at a later date; and with Mathilde locked in the flat and Szymon in a vegetative state, it really didn’t matter if he only owned a third.
“Now what you may not know is that I have been the Reynolds’ attorney for the past three decades. So when Mr. Oliver Reynolds came to pass,” he shook his head sadly, “I was the one tasked with executing his will. Or rather, the situation in the absence of one.”
Mathilde nodded silently. Laurence had remained evasive over the phone, and she wasn’t exactly sure where this was headed.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” he asked suddenly, moving his glasses to the tip of his nose to study her, “What exactly were you doing in MOS Corp?”
“Finance,” she improvised, “We traded stocks.”
“Ah,” he nodded, “That explains it. Well, back to the subject matter. In the absence of a will, Mr. Reynolds’ holdings passed on to next of kin. Now in this particular case, that means his mother and father.”
He carefully chose a piece of paper and set it out in front of him.
“However, both of them instructed me to tell you that they would rather his holdings remain with his friends. They are quite well off already, you see, and I fear the loss of Oliver is a lot to handle. As of such, Oliver’s shares in MOS Corp are to be handed over to you and Mr. Kr – K-” he struggled with the name.
“Szymon,” she helpfully supplied.
“Well, yes. Unfortunately, I’ve also tried to reach out to Szymon and was informed he was in a difficult and unresponsive medical state that was unlikely to change any time soon.”
“Quite the tragedy surrounds you apparently,” he cocked an eyebrow as he observed her, and Mathilde tried her best not to squirm uncomfortably.
“That being the case,” he continued with perfect professionalism, “I have advised Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds to bestow their share of MOS Corp onto you, solely, to which they readily agreed, provided you covered the donation tax.”
“That is very kind of them,” she said, trying to hide her surprise.
“Well, they have repeatedly told me how highly Oliver spoke of his friends, and of you in particular,” he pushed his glasses down on his nose again, “Now, Mathilde, do you currently have legal representation that I could liaise with to organize this handover?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Ah,” he tsk-ed, “Well, not to be too direct here, but I strongly recommend you get some. And please don’t think it unbecoming of me if I suggest that Laurence, Laurence and Humphrey would be more than happy to assist you if you so choose. This kind of ownership transfer is going to require a rather large amount of paperwork.”
“What was this about the donation tax?” she felt distinctly uncomfortable here with Oliver’s lawyer. Did he suspect anything? Was this a trap?
“20% of the value of Oliver’s share, determined based on assets held, both liquid and illiquid. So the British state will claim roughly 34 million pounds in tax.”
“WHAT?” She ran the numbers in her head. If 34 million represented 20% of a third of the value of MOS Corp, then her company was worth… “MOS Corp is worth 510 million pounds?” she asked incredulously.
Laurence shifted back in polite surprise, and re-adjusted his glasses to look at the paper in front of him.
“512 million and then some,” he said slowly, “All of it in cash and stock investments. This comes as a surprise to you?”
“I, I-” she stammered, “I took care of the algorithms, Oliver was in charge of the finances. I knew we were doing well, I just had no idea that it was this well.”
“Yes, quite an impressive feat,” he concurred, seemingly satisfied with her explanation, “Should you choose to use Laurence, Laurence and Humphrey as your solicitors, we could move that amount from the company accounts to take care of the donation tax, and get to work making sure you maintain full control. Szymon’s disability for example, should result in a transfer of his voting rights to you – we can help you take care of that.”
Mathilde could barely move, let alone talk.
She now owned a company worth half a billion pounds.
Oliver had been incredibly active in Paris apparently. No wonder he was able to afford paying the Guests so well – 5,000 euros was pocket change to him.
“First off, I’ll ask you to look at these documents,” he said, sliding a sheaf of papers across the desk, “And then let’s get to work?”
Unable to open her mouth, she took the file and nodded.
~ End of Chapter 23 ~
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