Vinicius had dragged himself over the threshold of himself yet again.
Bedraggled would be a description better suited to a fly-in fly-out exponent who had just returned from an over extended tour of duty in a far-flung mining outpost.
Still, he appeared to have experienced what passed for sleep while wearing a piece of sticky insect paper wrapped about himself like a wearable sleeping bag.
What a piss poor effort at self-regard. He resembled a veritable Flotsam and Jetsam Man. At least he was where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there. That’s half the battle in life.
The FIFO mantra of “fi-fi-fo-fum, I smell the sweat of a hard-earned pay cheque” couldn’t compensate for any inkling of FOMO – the fear of missing out, which meant that he couldn’t sleep for worry.
When sleep did come it had to be induced after a stretch of 72 hours and the artificial soporifics nullified that part of the brain conducive to dreams.
If he did dream, he never could recall them, so maybe it was his capacity for memory that suffered the side effects. Either way, he claimed to have never slept through the unconscious cinematic experience that makes sleep so much more worthwhile than simply a restorative for the mind, body and spirit.
Life presented itself to Vini as a waking dream.
“Am I boring you?”
Vini slowly turned his attention away from the computer screen and redirected it towards his inquisitor.
“Sorry, I was miles away. I was up most of the night. It’s my job.”
“Yeah, well, this is also your job. I know the situation, but if your other commitments are going to affect your role here then we’ll need to make some changes.”
Vini blinked slowly several times to refocus his vision and stared wide eyed at Conner.
“Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes, turn and face the strange…”
“Very funny. And another thing. What kind of outfit do you call that? I know we dress pretty casually here, but that is out of line, even for a fancy-dress benefit for the Salvos.”
Vini was covered in an assortment of detritus accumulated over the previous evening and pursuant morning: lint, crumbs, insects, post-it notes, receipts, toilet paper, odd socks and soiled underpants, used teabags, kitchen sponge, band aid, dental floss, sandwich wrapper, ticket stubs from an old scrap book he’d been flicking through (which efforts at reminiscence proved futile to inspiring a fond suspension of conscious reappraisal) and the skin of a banana.
He looked down at his front and picked a ticket stub from himself.
“This was a great show. The seats weren’t too bad, but the performance made up for any shortfall in position. What did we ever do without state-of-the-art giant video screens?”
Conner let forth an exasperated sigh.
“Just make sure you tidy yourself up. You’re too good at what you do to let slovenly presentation detract from our overall collective performance. You’re lucky there’s no surprise People and Culture review today.”
Vini mused on this as he picked off the dental floss and band aid and tossed them into his workstation’s rubbish bin.
“That’s the solution – overalls. Very versatile and would make underpants redundant. Thanks, Conner.”
Conner turned and wearily walked away shaking his head, musing to himself that his star coder looked like a reject from St Vincent de Paul.
So, this was as good as it gets? Maybe. For a giant tech corp with a reputation for a laidback attitude towards the workplace environment, it said something that Conner felt the need to comment on Vini’s appearance.
Vini would have been right at home clad as he was, wearing his other hat of business analyst for a company back in Brazil. Not that he wore anything else other than his black Oakley baseball cap invariably worn back to front.
The analyst gig meant that he pulled all-nighters as he logged on remotely to the company’s financial department and served up his algorithmic logic.
He had originally come to Australia to improve his English in Brisbane but found himself at loggerheads with the party atmosphere.
His English improved so exponentially that he had decided to cast off the mantle of mature age international student, update his visa to legitimate working status and employ his talents in the realm of IT and his forte for coding.
His IELTS scores were at the higher end of the scale with the result that his English proficiency was fluent, however much he spoke with his Portuguese accent.
Accent or none, he knew his stuff and had an opinion on just about everything.
Take the quality of Australian meat for example.
Back in Brazil he had been an apprentice butcher when he left high school.
Boy, did the South Americans know their meat.
He left Conner and any of his colleagues, curious enough to raise the office stakes about the respective carnivorous cultures, in no doubt as to the inferior standards of cuts of meat available in the supermarkets and butchers.
“You guys have no idea how to treat your meat. Your cuts are so small. And the cost!
Forget the supermarket and always go straight to the market. Make no mistake.
Forget about eye charts, you need a compulsory cuts chart to be displayed in doctor’s waiting rooms, classrooms, on public transport and dedicated single page advertisements in the major dailies. For a nation of frenzied barbecue enthusiasts, you mistreat the meat before it even hits the hotplate. You need to be able to make educated choices when confronted with the prospect of what you will serve to your loved ones to eat. The free-range farmer and master butcher can only do so much.
Don’t get me started about abattoir practices and apprentice schemes.
And you can forget about the live maritime export idea while you’re at it, too.”
He certainly made for scintillating conversation at the photocopier, in the breakout room or at a dinner party. The irony of it all was that his barbecues were a hit among his immediate team and he had even been asked to bring his own trailer smoker for team building days and Christmas party.
One thing he did approve of in principle was the idea of the meat tray giveaway as a prize at pub quiz nights.
Another thing that made sleep difficult was his housemate.
Patrick was a drunk who had just lost his job as a border protection officer.
Not that he was a big fan of the Minister for Home Affairs (grudgingly amusing given the groaning domestic state of affairs at Chez Vinicius) but being stupid enough to drunkenly post vilifying posts directed at the minister on social media was the catalyst for his redundancy.
And so, the backyard began to fill with empty bottles that he disposed of until he could work out how to take them to a collection depot for a refund (out of a job, he couldn’t afford to pay his registration).
Their landlady had postponed her inspection at his purportedly pellucid request for more time while they supposedly fulfilled the promise to make over the yard to create a maintenance free idyll.
Patrick would invariably tie one on most nights and stay up into the small hours ranting to either himself, his girlfriend on the phone or SKYPE, or the TV which was turned up full volume to necessitate his raised voice under the influence.
A rich confluence, indeed.
Vini could only put on his headphones while logged on to Brazil and tune out the ravings of his housemate, who was confident that he would find another job well before his savings ran out or he maxed out his credit card.
One hope for Vini was that this would happen sooner rather than later, and he wouldn’t be able to pay his rent, thus entailing a new lodger who preferably didn’t hoard the detritus of their undoing.
“I wish I had a virtual job. A job in the virtual world, I mean. Man. You’ve got it good.”
“I maintain the illusion. Coding is like an indecipherable magic trick for the uninitiated. What you don’t understand won’t spoil the effect for the paying subscriber. They want to believe. Our service is to give them faith in the neo-pleasure nodes that are afforded by the modern technologies interconnectivity – while it lasts, we can sustain the dependence most users would need an intervention to outlive.”
“Wow! OK. Sounds perfectly opaque to me. I don’t like the sound of intervention.
No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend. No one can bloody well understand you.
Surprised they let you in the country, but I suppose your skill set is valuable and you won’t be a drain on the economy. Tell me, are all nerds alike?”
“I hope not. It would give a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘brain drain’.”
“Yeah, right. Speaking of the economy, don’t worry, I paid my rent this month.”
“Oh. I see. That’s good for you.”
“You bet. Me and you both. Cheers.”
Vini raised his glass of light beer.
“You better watch that stuff, mate. Not good for you. You should try a rum and coke or something.”
“I try not to mix my drinks. Thanks anyway. I need to work tonight.”
“I don’t know how you do it. What a work ethic. I’ve heard of your so-called coding, but this is the next level of a code of ethics above and beyond the call of ordinary sense. I hope it’s worth it.”
“I do well enough. It helps that I like it and enjoy the difference I can make.”
“Hah! You need your mind read. Or reset, if you ask me. What about AI?”
“What about it?”
“Well, you wouldn’t have to pull these global all-nighters if you could harness the ingenious potential for an alternative to your own brain power. Press play and walk away, and you still get paid.”
Vini got up from the kitchen table and put his empty stubby of light beer in the recycling bin.
“I don’t think it will work that way. Wouldn’t you be afraid that the AI would take away your job? What is it the pundits say? It will either be foreigners or robots that will hold sway and change employment across sectors. You could very well be replaced by a droid in time.”
Patrick had refreshed his glass from the daiquiri jug he retrieved from the fridge.
“Hah! Sounds like you’ve got the market sewn up there, Mr. Bosa Nova IT guru.
Sure I can’t interest you in something a little sweeter?”
Vini remained standing as Patrick resumed his seat at the table.
“No thanks, Patrick. Time for me to get to it and log on. The new financials are due. Could you please try and keep it down tonight? At least put your headphones on.”
“Yeah and look like one of those geek gamers. I like to know who’s creeping up on me. Demise by means of stealth does not sit well. Don’t worry, I’ll try to tone it down for you. Have a good one.”
Patrick raised his glass.
“Thank you. Good night. Try to get an early one for a change.”
“Fear not. Like you, the night is when I do my best work.”
“Yeah, so I’ve heard.”
It was high time for lunch.
Vini had put in a solid morning’s work after another all-nighter online with Brazil.
Hunger had crept up on him like his housemate’s imaginary threat.
There was nothing for it but a beef burrito and salad.
He popped his head into Conner’s unoccupied open cubicle and made a move in the chess game they were in the middle of; this would signal that he had gone off-site, and placed the designated Rubik’s Cube on top of the retro Atari console to in turn indicate that a move had taken place.
“Signals, signals, everywhere”, he mused to himself, as he made his way to the elevator.
“Going down…”, he quipped for only himself, which was strange considering the HQ for Quince Corp was usually a bustling hive of activity at almost any given time of the day. Vini put it down to the fact that there was an in-house symposium on mobile apps in the aircraft hangar sized auditorium that usually served as the literal platform for launching developments in hardware and software. This was to be hosted by Quince’s CEO, Terrence Pome, a truly charismatic innovator in grabbing the public’s attention with hyperbaric razzamatazz.
Vini thought Pome was an eccentric pioneer of his age, but didn’t really go in for the hoopla (especially given that even that terminology had been appropriated for a digital take on traditional library lending services to keep pace with advances in information access and delivery – subversively, he still preferred a physical book over a tablet or Kindle - , but which in Vini’s mind could not compete with the simple notion of shaking off, a la a Swiftian pop invitation, the day’s cares with a hula hoop workout; the fact that Vini often exercised in this way while at his upright computer stand in the wee small hours online with Brazil only further served to aggravate his insomnia).
The elevator muzak consisted of Pome’s personal playlist that worked its way into Vini’s subconscious as all good earworms should, giving him the scope to reference the likes of Bowie, Springsteen, Blondie and Patti Smith.
Now it was the turn of Cheap Trick, with their sadistic Dream Police.
Vini counted himself lucky that he wouldn’t have to deal with the likes of them, as they would be hard pressed to bring him up on charges for even the suspicion of purporting to have gone off script in the highly personalised nightly picture show’s plots.
The dream police
They live inside of my head
The dream police they come
To me in my bed
The dream police
They're coming to arrest me
The dream police (police, police)
The dream police (police, police)…
“Thanks, Terrence. Now I’ll have to visit their entire back catalogue”, he thought as the elevator continued its descent.
Being on the 13thfloor had always amused Vini, as superstition was still a rife preoccupation back in Brazil, but one which he’d inured himself against thanks to his developed scepticism for anything that could not be verified through inquiry and logic.
‘Brinde’ was something he was reminded of when at home in the presence of Patrick. It meant that making a toast with an empty glass would bring bad luck. Seemed like this notion was not doing the trick for poor Pat; never being one to make that mistake he still couldn’t avoid the ill fortune of losing his job and being prone to errors of judgement. Vini had regularly raised an empty glass to the honour, not to mention the horror and bafflement, of his correspondent countrymen, and yet still came out on top. Go figure…
It usually only took a minute or so to make the descent, depending on the time of day. Thirteen to ground in the time it took to reconsider food options and Vini remained alone without any intrusion from another floor.
The soundtrack abruptly segued into the unmistakeable strains of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Bluesat the same instant as the elevator car jerked and shook.
Vini looked up to read its progress and saw that the ground floor had already registered as having been reached; yet, the pit of his stomach pitched with the irrefutable sensation of continuing to fall.
How was this possible?
Getting stuck in the goods lift was one thing, but that was between floors that were known to exist.
There was only one basement after all, and it should have been breached at this rate.
Vini grabbed for the emergency phone and waited for the response.
There was nothing forthcoming but static or what sounded like bats.
He hung up and fetched his mobile from the mysterious internal folds of his capacious romper suit.
“Typical”, he reflected with an air of resignation.
“Even from within the hallowed corridors of Quince there’s always still a buffer to the outside world.”
Thinking of the word association, he braced in a crouch and hung on to the rails.
The car felt like it had at first accelerated before perceptibly slowing.
It came to a halt with an audible whoosh of air and groaning of gears.
The floor display still read ‘G’.
Vini tried the emergency telephone again and still only got tremulous feedback.
"Foda-se!", he spat back at the handset and slammed it back in its cradle.
His stomach growled in sympathy.
There followed a loud mechanical clanging and disquieting reverberations penetrated the elevator car.
Vini inhaled deeply and then thought better of using up too much oxygen if he was in for a prolonged stay.
As if on cue the elevator doors slowly parted and Vini took another, this time sharp and sudden, intake of air.
Beyond the doors the atmosphere was dim and dank.
“OK. So, this is new. When did we drill through to the earth’s core? No wonder the signal is non-existent…”
At least the torch on his smart phone still worked.
Vini activated it and directed its beam out into the netherworld.
“Prometheus, eat your heart out.”
Vini excelled in the use of idioms learnt during his English studies.
He stepped slowly from the elevator and tentatively ventured forth.
It appeared to be a hollowed-out conduit of some sort; an anti-chamber connected to a larger cavern further along the rocky corridor floor.
Vini proceeded cautiously, swingling his phone to and fro like a lantern to illuminate the walls and aid his calculated step.
“The least the building maintenance could do is install some bud lighting or down spots to show the way…”
The way ahead appeared to suddenly brighten as he approached the end of the narrow feeder tunnel further away from the elevator.
What light that had originated from the interior of the car disappeared as the doors closed behind him.
“I’ve heard of plumbing the depths…”
He emerged from the tunnel into the cavern proper.
It was lit by flaming torches mounted in holders embedded in the boulders that studded the walls.
From above flickered a glimpse of apparent daylight in the form of a ventilation shaft.
This prompted the question as to where the radiance emanated from, which in turn begged the question as to where this place was situated in the scheme of the HQ schematics.
Before Vini had ordered his thoughts on such matters, he was distracted by the interjection that filled and echoed through the cavern.
“So good of you to join us. Don’t worry, the squinting will wear off as your eyes adjust to the dark down here…”
Vini turned off his torch, secured his smartphone and scanned the cavern for signs of life.
The voice reminded him of Orson Welles.
What infernal place was this? Was he dead and gone to hades? The lack of skin flailing flames made him doubt the latter, but what afterlife could possibly hold true as perpetuated by myth and religion?
“Who’s there? Show yourself!”
“I cannot reveal myself just yet. I remain disembodied…”
“What does that mean?”
“I am the voice of reason, left from thinking…”
“What, like Siri?”
“Are you Yahoo serious? I kid you not. So, you like to consider your protocols to have superseded all rivals in the tech business, eh?”
Vini sat down on a boulder and had almost assumed the pose of Rodin’s sculpture, the Thinker, before he determined to remain on guard lest introspection get the better of him.
He looked out into the cavern and tried to pinpoint the source of the voice.
“Protocols? What do you mean?”
“Oh, come on, you know very well. Quince Corp sets the standards and continues to pull ahead while the others try to catch and patch up with their pale imitations.
You should be proud of yourself and the contributions you’ve, er, made.”
Vini scanned the cavernous ceiling and walls for any hint of a transmitter.
“Please don’t strain yourself. It’s not quite that straightforward.
My projection is without equal. I suppose you could say I’m peerless, modeless and ubiquitous. Ring any bells?”
Vini tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.
“Been burning the candle at both ends, eh? For the relief of turpitude, take a shot of equilibrium…”
Vini smiled involuntarily.
“You find it amusing?”
“Your choice of words. I could have used a candle earlier. A shot of tequila would not seem undeserved, either, in the circumstances.”
“You have your wits, as frayed as they may be. Don’t dampen the conduits.
The cloud takes care of that…”
“What did you mean by ‘turpitude’?”
The voice paused and there was an audible crack in the atmosphere.
“Torpeza. I’m surprised a language student of your ability need me to resort to your mother tongue.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Do you? You still appear hangdog to me. Or, is it the hooded look of your sleep deprived eyes?”
“Para dormir, talvez sonhar...”
The voice rippled with delight.
“You quote the Bard in the muzzle of your ill-shorn beard and expect to escape suspicion? I hold you in contempt!”
Vini was on his feet and strecthed, apparently unheedful of the pronouncement.
“Fear not. For representation bar none, you cannot surpass the pro bono bonhomie of Murphy’s Law...”
Vini took out his smartphone to check the time and was nonplussed to see that the screen had frozen and the only display was of his own drawn features captured for virtual posterity as a selfie.
“You look puzzled. Or is it guilt? Regret?”
Vini pocketed the device and stared out into space.
“Listen. Where am I? What do you want from me?”
The voice crackled, as if seeking to retune itself.
“This is where all the world’s voiceovers are done.
All those loops and strands that take up so much room in your memory.
No wonder your efficiency is down, you’re in need of a good defragging.”
“But I do not watch TV.”
“You cannot avoid rhetorical devices, advertising tropes and propaganda.
You are surrounded by it, consumed by it.
Especially when they seek your own approval to conspire against yourself.”
Vini wanted to shout but felt himself constrained by unseen and contradictory conventions for such a subterranean exchange.
“This does not mean anything to me. It is nonsense. I do not understand…”
“Consider this an echo chamber of your own design. A bubble for the ages of automatic man.”
Vini began to laugh with incomprehension.
“Trust the tension as a sign. You need to unlearn it. Let yourself go…”
Stars appeared in the walls, while the firmament remained unyielding to logic.
“Your outmoded punched card needs more perforation, Vinicius.”
The walls began to rotate, and the stars encircled Vini with increasing velocity.
“You cannot resist. Give in. Close your eyes…”
Vini’s head spun on an unprecedented and undaunted axis, the effect both entrancing and sickening. His vision had abandoned its outward fix on external reference points, and he saw himself from without, observing himself first as an automaton, a toy, and now the incarnation of Sufi awareness.
He laughed inwardly.
Dancing might have come unnaturally to someone of his predisposition for spreadsheets, but he had at least given surfing a go while on the Gold Coast.
He had thereafter vowed to stick to boogie boards…
“Open your eyes!”
The chamber seemed more familiar, like a film set he had grown up with.
It was like an amusement park, however tyrannically conceived, complete with old fashioned roller coaster and hammer game. No laughing clowns were in evidence though.
Had he arrived after hours? It felt deserted, with not another kid-at-heart in sight.
He again consulted his gadget, only to see that his face had been replaced by the continuously scrolling icons of a slot machine.
He made a mental not to eat more fruit.
“No time like the present…”
The voice had returned.
This time it was accompanied by the figure that emerged from a side chamber and which had zeroed in on Vini’s position.
He felt another glimmer of recognition as the figure came out of the shadows and strode into focus.
It was incongruous, disparate and yet a unified whole, trademarked and templated as irrefutable.
Vini mimicked the gesture to bring his palms together and centred in front of his face.
“Nam-as-kar”, he reciprocated hesitantly.
The tall, ceremonially dressed man accompanied the next greeting with another gesture.
Performed immediately in front of the face, it seemed like a signal for a round of peekaboo.
“Now you see me”, Vini couldn’t help but think in mock appreciation of the effort.
The gesture itself had an instant effect on him. He could neither shake it nor quite place its significance.
It consisted of raised hands with the palms forward and the thumbs extended, with the fingers parted between the middle and ring fingers. The tips of each thumb met like a bridge in front of the space between his upper lip and nose.
“Live long and prosper.”
That was it. He got it in one. Single-handedly, it was the Vulcan salute.
Despite the febrile circumstances, he thought justifiably better of himself.
“Forgive me. Shalom. Peace and long life.”
“Your knowledge of popular culture serves you well.”
“I work in IT, remember. I’m supposed to be a walking cliché. We are programmed to getthe references.”
“OK. This is good. As it was foreseen. Now, tell me, what did you see.
Or, better yet, what do you see?”
Vini paused for effect. He still had a presence of mind to engage on equal terms.
“Forgive me. I see a little silhouetto of a man…”
“Ha-ha! Well played. I must disappoint you in that I am not Scaramouche.”
“Do you want my honest opinion?”
“Why, of course. Please…”
“You remind me of an over-stuffed, char-grilled red pepper.”
“Hmm. Did you know they’re a member of the nightshade family?”
“No, but it would seem appropriate given the sense of impending doom.”
“Oh, come now. No need for such belladonna melodrama. This should feel like an awakening.”
“Actually, now that you mention it, you do remind me of Oliver Sacks.”
“Not to be mistaken for Oliver’s Army, eh?”
Vini shook his head in praiseworthy disbelief.
“And I thought I was bad. I’ll pay that. Can I ask you a question?”
“Are you by any chance an associate of our CEO, Terrence Pome?”
“I know of no such entity. Elvis, on the other hand…”
“Entity? OK. Please tell me you’re not with People and Culture and some far-out appraisal of the senior programmers’ aptitude, going forward…”
The embodiment of the voice scoffed and spat onto the gravelly sand at his feet.
“Now stop right there. What is this going forwardbusiness? As if we could seriously go back. This humanely relative jargon kills me. I prefer into the future.”
“Why do I detect an Indian accent?”
“Ha-ha! I could ask the same of you, but I guess Portuguese is closer the mark.”
“Very perceptive. I don’t try to hide it.”
“Nor should you. I prefer kosher Hindi.”
Vini took a step forward and kicked sand over the sputum between them.
He peered at the face before him with a mixture of weariness and building resentment.
“What is this tincture of antagonism I detect?”
Vini rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger, trying to dismiss the urge to flash the Klingon salute and follow it up with flipping the bird.
“Who or what are you? I don’t have time for this, I’m on my lunch break.”
“Ever heard of time in lieu?”
Vini turned abruptly and was about to walk back the way he had come.
“OK. OK. Now, listen. No need for this misunderstanding. You were right…”
Vini returned to face his antagonist.
“You said it yourself – I am an overstuffed, chargrilled pepper. AKA a Thuggee warrior.”
“Shh! I am in disguise. Really. Look closer…”
Vini tried to block out the uniform and stared at the face.
“I’m no Dharma Bum, mind you. Contemplate the Kaddish, even though this is no memorial in the strict sense of mourning. We lack a minyan, anyway…”
“Minion? You’ve lost me!”
The self-confessed Thuggee howled in consternation and launched into a recitation:
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…”
Vini immediately recognised the reference and shot back with:
“Johnny's in the basement, mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement, thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat, badge out, laid off
Says he's got a bad cough, wants to get it paid off
Look out kid, it's somethin' you did
God knows when, but you're doing it again
You better duck down the alley way, lookin' for a new friend
A man in the coonskin cap, in the pig pen
Wants eleven dollar bills, you only got ten…”
Thuggee was both impressed and relieved with the delivery.
“I see you have made the connection. Please, call me Allen.”
They shook hands and Allen retrieved a fob watch from beneath his robes.
“It’s almost time for you to show account. I’m sorry I have nothing to offer you to eat, but your sustenance relies on more than merely my hospitality. Fear not, you will be provided for, but it may not live up to your expectations of the standards upheld by the cafeteria of your choice.”
Vini resisted the temptation to check his smartphone and visualised the specials board at his favourite eatery.
“You know the weird thing is I don’t feel hungry anymore. It almost like I’m being fed from within. Still, it has tasted better.”
“Think of this as a wakeup call, courtesy of Euphony Epiphany Ltd. If I was a betting man, I’d suggest selling your shares in Quince and investing in something more fruitful and befitting of a tuneful track record.”
Vini seemed spellbound by the advice, even more so than the preceding mystifying events.
“Sure, I’ll look into it. Not that I have much in the way of a portfolio or anything.”
Allen’s brow arched and he slowly shook his head.
“Time enough. Just remember not to overextend yourself and don’t disclose too much based on trust alone. Now, I think you’ve got an elevator to catch.”
Allen farewelled Vini with the Vulcan salute and began to recede into the shadows as if pulled backwards on a hoisted pallet.
Vini returned the salute and watched as the figure dematerialised with its eyes and smile’s diamond polish still evident, Cheshire Catlike, suspended over the empty space of the cavern floor.
Vini obediently retraced his tentative steps to find the elevator.
“Well, I guess my KPIs will be up for review. There’s no way I could have prepared for this. Pass or fail, I’m taking some time off…”
Safely inside the familiar confines of the elevator, he selected ‘G’ and anticipated the revivifying shot of fresh air in contrast to the stale atmosphere of what had passed for the mine’s staggeringly staged and mesmeric setting.
The strains of Dream Weaver filled the metallic box as it began its upward thrust towards a predictable alternative to the day’s remaining outtake on the senses.
“Give me Enter Sandman any day”, he reflected as the tomb-like compartment accelerated and began to shake his hold on the commonplace.
“Although, I might not be able to outperform any new kind of genre bending R&D, the likelihood of my having been slipped a Mickey, as they say, for the sake of an experiment in staff loyalty seems absurd.”
He giggled to himself as the feted periodic table phantasmagorically came before his eyes and he saw that the symbol for lead was Pb, which ironic abbreviation failed to alleviate any disquiet as his personal best would never seem worthy enough as a mainstay of innovative renown. (At times of stress Vini often returned to the comforting lucidity of the reliable reference point that was his study of high school chemistry.
The tin foil dream of his own pharmaceutical empire’s rise could not however outweigh the lure of analytics and the crunch of sequential certainty - like the gravel on a driveway to a destiny of delimited value, and a custom-built cabana.)
The elevator suddenly shuddered to an abrupt halt.
The power surged and then disconnected, plunging the car into darkness.
The irritation slowly dawned on Vini as embodying the unannounced visitor who decided that the blinds were in dire need of cracking, like a code to accommodate the stabilized and responsive vital signs.
And there was light. Natural in all its fenestrated, albeit sharply primitive glory.
He opened and shut his eyes several times to adjust to the glare, squinting like a recluse on enforced day release.
Restraints were not required as he was still so groggy and could hardly lift an arm.
Bedside rails were still in place as a precaution to prevent a spill onto the unyielding floor tiles. Better to stay on board and let the gentle currents carry him away.
The visitor revealed herself as a nurse who then stood by the bed and consulted a chart.
“Please rest a little more and get use to the light before we can answer all your questions. I can assure you we’re very pleased with your progress and will do all we can to make sure you have everything you need.”
Vini tried to speak but could only mouth the half words in question.
“There, there. It’s OK. We must wait a little while longer before you can take anything orally, but the drip is making sure you’re getting all the fluids you need and the other end is all taken care of. You’re in good hands. Everything will be fine. I’ll be back very soon…”
The nurse considerately closed the blinds a fraction in deference to Vini’s strained expression and turned on the TV with the volume down before leaving the room.
Vini lay there and watched the images flash upon the screen.
It seemed like a combination of news bulletin and game show.
He listened to the birds and was able to discern by their volubility and the slant of the sun’s rays, which had the amber imbued quality of his favourite time of day, that it must be afternoon and late at that, while daylight saving was still in effect.
His mind and memory seemed intact. One less thing to unnecessarily fret about.
Unlike the bed linen. He perceived that he had only a sheet and thin blanket covering him, and yet felt as if he were wrapped in a cocoon, unable to break free.
The room temperature felt as though it was set to an optimum level to maintain human comfort no matter what the conditions beyond the double glazing of vision might reveal as ill-tempered.
He closed his eyes and drifted away with the birdsong.
Time seemed vindicated and yet at the same point corrupted by human restlessness to postpone its schedule. It was like that period in the lead up to Christmas when things seemed to hasten in their intensity, only to pause and encourage delinquent torpidity over Boxing Day and the approach to New Year’s Eve. Things stalled and the gears groaned under the burden of expectation, as activity cranked and yanked itself awake to harness itself for a renewed assault on yet another formidable series of resolute peaks and troughs.
Vini’s conscious state was a blank slate. Alternatingly spare and sparse, then distracted by what went on in the room.
Like night and day, his default thought patterns were either blacked out or in stark relief.
He came around to see the same nurse standing at the foot of his bed adding details to the chart.
The ID on her uniform said RN Lathers. She looked up from the clipboard and smiled reassuringly at her patient.
“Nice to have you back with us. Don’t worry, you’ll soon hold your own. It’s just the lingering effects of the treatment. Once your vitals are all levelled out, you’ll begin to feel as right as rain.”
Vini noticed that the TV was still on with the volume muted. It seemed like the same news-cum-gameshow programming.
The birds didn’t seem anywhere as active as he recalled. The external light permitted to enter the room seemed muted in sympathy with the TV’s volume. Grey. Clouds. Rain. Time was indeterminate. Vague. Monotonous. His senses seemed acute.
Vini was permitted to sit up, propped on pillows with a tray on a swing arm placed over his lap. He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten. As always, he had a craving for burritos. Today he would have to settle for porridge, apple juice or tea, and a hard-boiled egg with wholemeal toast fingers.
Nurse Lathers had volunteered to present the remote control for Vini to choose his own viewing, but she reminded him to keep the volume at a “placid level”, so as not to disturb his recovering equilibrium and that of others on the same ward.
Once well lubricated with the swallowable nourishment, the command of his larynx had slowly begun to return to that of a modulated whisper.
He thanked Nurse Lathers for her attentiveness as she oversaw the collection of the food tray. He did have a couple of questions for her before she continued her rounds.
“A shower? Oh, you make me laugh. It’s a bit more than that I’m afraid and we couldn’t have you running around in the rain, now could we? We have taken excellent care to provide the highest standards of hygiene during your treatment, and I must say that you took to the bed bathing like a bird to a garden bath in a heatwave. Don’t worry yourself. I think we can arrange for an assisted shower later today or tomorrow.
We know best. Pardon?”
She leant in to better ascertain the gist of his remark.
“A menu? Now, don’t overexcite yourself. You will be catered for. I’ve never known someone recovering from this specific treatment to so quickly rediscover such an appetite. I’m not sure about burritos, but I’ll have a word with the kitchen. Just remember, we want to introduce certain nutrients slowly so not to stress your system.
Now lie back and catch up on what’s been happening in the world.”
Vini channel surfed through insufferable commercial fare and couldn’t recall having so many options to choose from. He stumbled upon a story about escaped baboons from a research facility on the loose in Sydney’s CBD and thought he’d found National Geographic’s streaming service. He’d learnt a lot about the rest of the world through watching Nat Geo’s Brazilian subsidiary channels and laughed quietly as he now watched the inept attempts to recapture the elusive primates.
Turned out this was all real time news, as it happened, not a recap.
Amusing though it was, it was almost too much to fathom, and he capitulated to the weight of reason skirmishing with his understanding and sought refuge beneath the blanket after returning the TV to its muted standby status.
An imprecise impression of procedures having been carried out hung in the regulated air of the private room. It swung like an imagistic pendulum above the bed, in turn presenting time lapse provocations of nature’s decay and recomposition.
Odds were, upon characteristic risk assessment, that he had been scheduled to be rehashed or re-hatched to counter his own adversarial revulsion with the tedium of imposed circadian rhythms. Well, that was one interpretation attached as a proviso to his concept of visions experienced when he closed his eyes to see the imprint of phosphenes staring back at him as if from a halo or corona wavering in the heavens.
The strange thing being he didn’t comprehend which season it really was. Summer, at a stretch, but he heard no cicadas; and yet that would still insist upon the sun.
Vini opened his eyes and was surprised not to see Nurse Lathers in attendance, but none other than the familiar figure of Conner, who was seated beside the bed reading the chart.
“I think that’s confidential.”
“Ah, there you are. I was wondering when you’d re-enter the atmosphere. How are you feeling?”
Vini blinked, rubbed his eyes and refocussed on his visitor.
“Er, I’m hungry. Now, you tell me, why are you dressed like that?”
“Why, don’t you recognise me, Vini? I’m Doctor Conner. This is Charterbush Clinic.
How have you enjoyed your stay?”
Vini noticed that the TV was still muted, but there now hovered on the air a piece of music he was not familiar with.
“Ah, I see you’ve been introduced to my good friend Beethoven. I took the liberty of setting up a blue tooth speaker to pipe in some recovery tunes from my iTunes account. Works wonders, if you ask me. It’s the Notturno for viola and piano…”
Vini drew a resounding blank.
“Opus 42. Funnily enough, that’s your patient identifier. 42.”
Vini produced an unconvincing though unnerving rictus grin and winked.
“Come now. No need for that type of overcompensation. As your supervising doctor, I would have to say with every confidence that this immersive slumber remedy can only benefit your state of mind. Nothing too agitato, mind you, on the play list…”
Vini stretched and yawned. The TV pictures jumped and jostled for position.
Dr Conner replaced the chart and selected some Monteverdi madrigals.
“Now, I suppose you’re wondering what we have done with the moon…”