I recently published the post-professional thesis project of my good friend Martin Byrne, Feral Garage. This beautiful Ballardian architectural project is actually associated with a short story written by Martin as a parallel medium to describe the narrative of a building which, by a dysfunction of its technological system develops a feral condition that the narrator of this story experiences.
As I wrote in this previous post, the project that applies the conclusions of his research starts from the observation of IBM recent advertising for “a smarter planet”, full of sensors and interactivity. One understands easily how IBM can be economically interested to propose such a vision of the world and also how the various institutions can see in this program a new way to control a bit more society. Martin’s building is thus a garage and a server tower in Mid-Town Manhattan (in front of the Apple store from all places !), that dialogues with each other. Both have been designed for IBM and the server tower remains a pristine universe but the over-magnetic charge of the sensors in the garage building made the latter go back to a feral state, in which unexpected forms of life starts to develop. Humans are then invited to negotiate with their own fear to enter this building that developed its own form of uncontrol.
(He does not have a publisher so if somebody want to talk to him about that, I’d be happy to transmit the message !)
UNTITLED NARRATIVE # 002
by Martin Byrne
April is the cruelest month.
Sitting rigidly at the far end of the thick clear plastic conference table – enameled and embossed with desaturated flickering figures, charts, and graphs – nervous little Eli Warring was sweating under the weight of the expectations recently laid upon him. Only six weeks a freshman at the firm, he had yet to witness such a large and encompassing responsibility delegated to someone as unsullied as himself, regardless of the sufficiency of the intellect within. Wiping the moisture from his palms onto his Bergdorf-patterned knees, he tried not to look at the flexing, intelligent walls streaming with data like rivulets of pixilated water – wary that they may register some sense of the fear he was attempting so desperately to hide. The neuroses from which he had suffered since his hermetic childhood came rushing forward into his face, filling his eyes, ears, and nose with blood in sharp triangles of anxiety and heat. He thought vaguely of the cold white playroom of his youth that had been kept ordered and clean – a premeditated training ground for productive development. While the right side of his brain idly recalled the quiet clean uneventful space, the left rationally processed the instructions, requirements, and directions he was being spoon-fed by the various consultants. The blood slowly receded and he prayed that the disembodied heads on suspended plastic conferencing screens hadn’t noticed his mental deviance from the task at hand.
“Now, if you follow these numbers, it seems everything was going as expected,” exasperated, Sofie Powers exhaled roughly. She flicked her empty left hand out towards Eli – fingers gracefully poised like those of a dismissive dancer – sending a small chart skittering through the electronic ether of the table. It came to rest perfectly square in front of him, overlaying the other information he was supposed to be retaining. Sofie Powers was not pleased with the situation at hand and made it more than evident. With her thumb and forefinger she rubbed her forehead, eventually looking up towards Eli with an elongated sigh. He forced a serious grimace and nodded.
“We have the collective monitoring data from each separate system relayed to the central processing core. All of the systems report fluctuation within the expected parameters, yet somehow the whole thing still turned into this nightmare,” she continued, dropping her hand-held tablet brusquely onto the desk in a digital splash of connecting reference points and tabulated flow charts. The frameless plastic hit the table with a hollow sound and sent percentages, probabilities and complex algorithms flitting from screen to screen, alighting across the stern and severe visages of those physically present. The video-conferenced heads in turn became slightly obscured by the intrusion of graphs on their screens – ersatz veils coloring already detached minds. Strong blue and green hues reflected off of sharp cheekbones and well-exercised jaw lines. Eli worried his face reflected the putrid yellow-grey bile that was increasingly gathering in his quivering abdomen.
Turning to one of the suspended screens, Sofie asked pointedly, “Bill, when you were last in the labs, did it at all show signs of failure?” She leaned slightly to the left and tapped her finger upon her slight cheekbone, lost in some internal thought process, clearly not listening to the forthcoming response.
“No, ma’am. Not in the slightest. I was surveying the progress in Lab 607.A and it seemed under control and regimented as always. Their hourly reports also reflected zero inconsistencies. Everything was perfect.” Bill continued to rattle off the statistics of Lab 607.A’s perfection at length. Eli focused with difficulty and found himself surprisingly eager to wander through the condemned depths of this recently toxic site. It had been a mere month since the new research headquarters had opened at 59th and 5th to an almost ludicrously loud largesse, and it had met this wondrous opening with an equally grand and magnificent collapse. The fanfare had been showered on the triumph of a million brilliant minds that had come together in the harmony of scientific perfection; its future seemed as promising as the advertising campaigns had promised. This single edifice was to be the shining, shimmering beacon of the instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent world to come. It had been meticulously worked and re-worked, poured over for years by the scientists, analysts, engineers and information architects of the IBM Corporation. Humankind was on the verge of witnessing the bright and glittering daybreak of a terrifyingly intelligent planet. Little did IBM know, its masterpiece was about to fall headlong into the shadow that daybreak inevitably brings.
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock.)
The masterpiece consisted of forty stories of intelligent opaque glass – a crystalline research and development facility so advanced the entirety of its interior was held to the unprecedented clean room laboratory standards. In order to achieve the ideal interior lab environment, each floor had been outfitted with an entry decontamination chamber that served as the transition between the public parking deck and the lab spaces themselves. The building’s immense mechanical service core was isolated from the laboratories within the parking deck to ensure the perfect and unadulterated operation of the rest of the facility. The heart serving – but not influencing – the brain. But the true soul of the building came from its instrumentation – the devices that would count the sheep of the dormant machine. In a glorious symphony of input and output relays generated by an unfathomable amount of sensors, the building was able to read every minute action of each system and occupant to a degree never previously possible. A faint blue wave swept over instruments, faucets, tensed shoulder blades, and nimble fingers reading and calculating radiated heat, wasted chemicals, and completed tasks. The entirety of this information was registered, parsed, and analyzed in a database so immense it could only be contained in a massive server farm far below the surface – data as the frigid foundation of the future. IBM had intended this facility to be the symbolic head in the quest for complete knowledge in every possible sense, and its digestion of the world into mere data was the lynchpin of it all. No stone left unturned. No shadow left unlit.
Looking into the heart of light, the silence,
And yet, the utter desolation it had wrought upon itself had been so complete and complex, the EPA had no choice but to immediately render the entire block a Superfund site and delay its demolition until the responsible party had undertaken a full retrospective evaluation. From the brief reports that were successfully uploaded prior to and during failure, advanced analysts were able to witness the internal intelligence of the design operating its absolute highest capacity. It was here, at the height of its success and at the absolute optimum levels of operation, that its inevitable failure made itself known. While the IBM Advanced Research Facility was functioning at its highest possible capacity, it was also unwittingly creating its most perfect disaster. Those exact functions that kept the clean rooms clean, the data feeds efficient, the water pure, were simultaneously creating a serious of environments that should have never come into being. The loop was closed, the system was as internalized as it could possibly have been. And yet it seemed, from preliminary reports, that those systems there were employed to keep the place alive were exactly the systems that caused its untimely death. How this was at all possible, was still in question. Enter, stage right, the International Business Machine Corporation and its lowly and voluntary servant, one Eli Warring – who sat chewing his soft nails and bouncing his knobby knees in apprehension of documenting the disaster that lay before him in its manifestly glorious ruin.
Breeding lilacs out of dead land,
“Alright, thank you, Bill. Your point has been made. Now, Eli, are you clear on the full extent of your responsibilities? I believe the preliminary staging report was given to you yesterday. Is that correct?” Ms. Powers interjected, startling both Bill and Eli alike.
“Yes, yes ma’am. After I received it, I promptly re-ordered my action item list to correspond with the minutes the report described.” Eli shifted slightly in his chair, automatically running through the list he had memorized out of fear.
“Good. Now, it’s a simple task, albeit lengthy, that only requires you follow the directions given. Is that clear?”
Son of man, You cannot say, or guess,
for you only know, a heap of broken images,
“Unfortunately, the EPA has limited our access to the site, so you’ll have to do this all in one shot, start to finish. You’ll be allowed entrance at six o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“Alright, thank you everybody. We’ll meet again in two days when Eli returns.”
I was neither living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
The southern portion of the massive edifice seemed too heavy for the ground, sinking slightly here and there, crushing itself under its own gargantuan mass. Concrete splinters projected out at angles, some appearing to be downspouts from which streams of water intermittently poured. Over-hanging ledges were saturated in thick heavy vines, dangling in putrid clumps. Large fissures gaped from mangled corners, awaiting the arrival of some nesting bird or a drifting piece of debris to lodge itself amongst the crumbling concrete and exposed rebar. Small strange metal trusses grew out of the concrete like the spines of a manic cactus, mostly crusted over at their sharp tips, all leaden in a vile-looking green covering. Several large, vaguely rectangular masses of concrete pulled themselves considerable distances from the southern and eastern facades, not one less than four stories tall. Rusted I-beams pierced the lumpy surface at random, disturbing the brown streams of water that trickled down to splash wildly onto the sidewalk below. The whole place resembled some kind of deranged hanging garden. An overwhelming sense of dread began form like a distant thundercloud in the dark corners of Eli’s mind.
At the weed matted overhang that marked the entrance to the parking garage, Eli disappeared slowly into shadow with a prolonged and shaky exhale. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a thin grey wisp of smoke drift lazily past his taught face. He held his breath and inched forwards one slow step at a time. He gulped down a quick breath that made him cringe and he spat heavily onto the ground to rid the sweet unfamiliar taste of rot and unfiltered air from his lungs. His eyes slowly adjusted to the dim blue light emanating from damaged sensors that hung immense in their overgrown frames. The pale blue sensor light mixed unevenly with the hazy moss-colored fumes that wafted about his shoulders, unevenly streaming from large grates in the ground that lay between him and the main entrance of the laboratory. A strange and unexpected sense of longing crept over him to feel the heat and warmth the exhaust might offer.
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
He shook this thought from his head as quickly as it had entered. The backpack he had been given when leaving the office that morning felt heavy about his shoulders; he slipped his thumbs under the straps and readjusted it onto his already perspiring back. Walking forward into the dim misty light, he passed through a series of sensor gates meant to register the entry, speed, make, model, and condition of every car that traversed under their unwavering gaze. Eli felt a strange pang of excitement, as if he was exploring the tomb of some long lost civilization, secrets and mysteries behind every corner, under every rock, between every crevice. For the first time since he had been assigned his duties, he smiled.
By the time he had reached the center of the immensely tall central atrium, his head had tilted all the way back to stare at the dense equipment that was arranged almost haphazardly in the air above his head. “Wow,” he said out loud to the creeping plants and misty ether. Though he had known better, the concrete seemed solid from the exterior – from here, it proved only to be a rather thin shell. The ramping square spiral parking deck wound its way up and around a central core of colossal machines, some whirring, others hanging idly from substantial steel cables. Variously sized pipes and fat wires criss-crossed between machines, down through chases in the concrete and upwards into vapor. Through the haze Eli could also make out a winding catwalk that disappeared behind a mysteriously blank metal surface only to emerge again at the level of the concourse above, where a gate sagged on broken metal hinges. A perverse to dash off to explore this bizarre cadre of environments overwhelmed him so strongly that he could not resist darting off through the pathetic undergrowth towards the wide-open ramp of the first concourse.
As he trotted up the sloping metal grating that formed the parking deck, he became aware of the weight and sound of his own footsteps for the first time – sharp clangs rang out with every step he took. Never had he sensed the significance of his own presence in a place, nor had the potential of his own body felt so immediate and overwhelming.
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
A voice pierced his senses, coming in short bursts from the wireless earbud he had planted in his ear before setting off.
“Eli, its Paige. We just received an update from the EPA. They’re going to spray down the site with that containment spray they’ve been using. Ms. Powers says that you’ll have to cut out Sections D, K, and P, and to double-time it on the rest. You’ve got to be out by midnight Wednesday instead of 6am Thursday. Got it?”
“Yes, I understand. Does she know how difficult that – ”
“We’ll keep you updated. Thanks.”
With a slight click Eli found himself alone again. More or less. He was leaning on a warm concrete column that rose lazily into the steam above his head. Eli had only gone up a single ramp, most likely no higher than fifteen feet off the ground. Directly in front of his vacant gaze was the still shimmering glass façade of the laboratory tower.
“What is that noise?”
Without warning, the salty tinge of human sweat and metallic blood crept into his senses; his childish urge to go exploring vanished instantly. He imagined the decaying corpse of some poor soul that had become trapped within the vines – a maintenance man, perhaps, that had succumbed to the sly and deadly will formed from the life of the weeds and the strength of the machines. The storm cloud of dread grew in his mind as the environment slowly turned on him. No longer did it promise the joy of discovery, rather it held in vicious shadows unknown threats and treacherously sharp edges. The clouds of steam seemed to follow and lick about the corners of his mouth attempting to infiltrate his lungs as he moved through the undergrowth of errant weeds and lurid vines that seemed to beset him from all sides. Diseased spores grew in great uneven, ragged clumps around the sharp angular concrete walls of the parking deck, threatening to get loose and become lodged within his throat. Eli looked frantically about and felt the ramps being choked by a torrent of plant-life that was nearly luminescent in its rancidness. The building was being devoured from within by a flurry of tumor-like growths and foul mechanic byproducts. And here he stood, alone in the middle of it all.
I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Fearing the supernatural combination of weed and machine would consume him; Eli had dashed off without a thought as to where he was going. He now found himself several concourses further up the ramp and entirely embedded within the threatening structure. He had felt the overwhelming claustrophobia brought on by the fear-induced illusion that everything was reaching out from him – grasping at his throat, clawing at his face, breathing on his neck. Serotonin and adrenaline soaked into the folds of his brain from his brief run and with the aid of these chemicals, he eventually calmed down. With a few rapid blinks, his curiosity and will to explore bloomed again.
‘This place is crazy. What is wrong with me?’ he thought. He shook his head a few times and swung his backpack around to take out his remote sensing equipment. Perhaps that would provide an answer. He fumbled with the switches until a beep let him know that it was running. Pellets of color showed on the screen, much the way a childhood toy of his had done, each dot tracing the wire frame of everything around him. A complete three-dimensional scan of the building was being compiled in pixels, one at a time. As he stared intensely at the small screen, he could make out nothing that he couldn’t see with his naked eye. Perhaps a mechanism within the grey water tanks that he didn’t recognize, but not much else. No sign of anyone. No rotting corpse, nothing to fear. Stumped, Eli pushed a series of buttons until he thought the device had been turned off. With a slight heave, he slung the backpack on and decided that he should get to work on the water tank logs. He would have to venture out onto a derelict catwalk but perhaps from there he could get a better vantage point.
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.
Walking over to the small gate, Eli looked out towards the grey water tanks that floated almost weightlessly in the thick humid air. Intrigued by their foamy contents, he pushed the gate aside and took a few short steps onto the metal grille. Just as he did so, the grating dropped ever so slightly. His hands shot out to the railings and he bent his knees bracing for an impact that never came. Opening only one eye, he saw that the catwalk had only shifted under his small frame. ‘I must be crazy,’ he thought to himself. ‘This is not me. I would never do something like this. This damn thing is going to fall and I’m going to die. What is this place doing to me? Am I talking to myself now, too?’ Eli found he had become of two minds since he had started out. One sent him sprawling out like a child thrown into an unknown, utterly mysterious, and completely dangerous environment, while the other tried to protect him from that environment by over-loading his brain with fear. ‘This is ridiculous,’ he thought. ‘Just go grab the water table logs and get off this damn thing.’
While I was fishing in the dull canal
Eli took two more small steps and immediately heard a loud cracking sound. Whipping his head left and right, he saw a vine that had wrapped itself around the railing of the catwalk breaking in sinewy threads. Some unknown instinct spun him on his heel and sent him leaping back towards the gate not five feet away. The force of his push tore through the few remaining threads of vine and sent a section of the catwalk crashing down through the closest water tank in a spray of vile yellow shards of glass. It plummeted further down, catching the cables of an air handler, tearing them loose from their mountings. The air handler swung violently across the void and crashed into the parking deck, rending a hole in the metal decking and blocking the rest of the way down. Eli had managed to catch the lower rung of access ladder, and had hung there watching. With a huge groan and wild thrashing of his legs, he managed to roll back onto the decking where he had started. He could do nothing but lay there, breathing in short bursts and staring wild-eyed at the ceiling of the next deck. A huge wave of exhaustion over took him while he lay on the deck, enticing him to close his eyes for a moment. The adrenaline that had propelled him off the catwalk fled from his fingertips and left him feeling nothing but empty. He blinked slowly, and felt the world darken around him.
The nymphs are departed.
Eli’s body twitched in tension as he awoke. Startled that he had dozed off, his nerves began to relay more information than they had ever known. He was being chewed raw by this inhospitable place, and his consciousness came to him in waves. It was no longer the anxiety he had felt in what seemed like a distant past, but rather an acute awareness of the present. Like a deer standing in a smoldering sylvan glen, he moved to crouch amongst concrete pillars, ready at a moments notice to fly into action. Sharpened, he discovered instincts he had not known existed; perhaps the days spent in board meetings haggling over the most pedantic of legal contracts had hinted at a persistence of will that now seemed almost preternatural. And when it mattered most, it had bloomed in full.
One of the low on whom assurance sits
Small ragged slivers of sunlight cut through the damp darkness around where he crouched, suggesting that a significant amount of time had passed since he had entered. If the sun was this low in the sky, he would not have much time to finish his work and find a way out before his deadline came. Nonetheless, Eli felt satisfied to simply sit in this broken environment and take it in. Closing his eyes, Eli sighed and listened to water dripping in slow echoing bursts from the lumpy concrete walls; it washed in streams down columns into low basins where it found its way down the interior stairwells. Moss grew in lazy soft clumps on the northern edges of inverted speed bumps; effectively depressions in the ground where massive puddles were collecting – antediluvian beasts swimming therein, he was certain. It struck him as odd that as he ascended higher and higher into the parking deck he still felt deep within a cavern. Glancing upwards to gauge how much farther the roof was, he noticed that as it rose higher the concrete that encased the stairwells and columns eventually seemed to carve itself off the steel structure beneath. It was as if gravity were pulling the concrete downwards to leave rusting steel beams and columns to rise up like a corpse shedding its threadbare skin.
And walked among the lowest of the dead
“Eli! Its Paige, what’s going on? Where are your reports? Ms. Powers is losing it over here. We’ve been trying to contact you for hours!” Eli jumped in surprise and whipped his head about looking for his assailant, only to remember the earbud in his left ear.
“I – what? Oh, well I’ve hit a few snags here and there. This place is stranger than we thought.” He stuttered and tried to fabricate some excuse.
“I don’t care how strange it is, Ms. Powers is flipping out on me because of you! So, get yourself together and start responding to us and submitting your reports!” A hard burst of static pummeled his ear and let him know that Paige had slammed down her receiver. He was left standing exasperated and confused.
In a feeble attempt to keep up with the charge he had been given a lifetime ago, Eli swung his torn backpack from his shoulder and rummaged around for the small remote sensing equipment he had yet to fully figure out. Pressing the small red power switch, he aimed what he thought was the sensor head towards the concrete stairwells, slowly panning into the central void of the parking structure. The equipment let off satisfied beeps and blips, as it traced the outlines of the massive machinery that kept the adjacent laboratory functioning at its highest capacity. Still whirring, air condensers flitted across the minute screen in pintilized abstractions, replete with the lumps of moss and vines that had grown around the humidity and moisture from the waste heat recovery vents. The water tanks that hung heavily from their steel mountings on concrete platforms above swirled with their foul contents, algae registering in vile yellow masses on his equipment. Above and to Eli’s left, hung rotten HEPA filters like a barbarian display of defeated enemies’ corpses, lined in rows showing their various states of degradation. Eli could only guess that they had been hung in such a manner to dried by the hot air and scraped clean at a later date. Evidently the maintenance crew had not reached that stage by the time they were forced to leave.
He recorded for a few minutes more, trying to capture the complex absurdity of the place, but the smell began to make his eyes water. Clicking the remote sensing equipment off, he clumsily stuffed it back into his bag. Looking over the edge, he stared down the long staggered hole in the decking full of machinery until it began to affect his sense of balance. Nervous little Eli Warring pulled himself upright using the inner rail of the concourse, wiped at his mouth, and decided to move on.
To Carthage then I came
Getting to the top of the ninth concourse, Eli stopped. A large blue van lay on its side, a mangled heap of shattered glass and creepers blocking the path upwards. Small pieces of circuitry were scattered across the decking, and Eli could only guess that it had been some type of electronics delivery gone horribly awry. Stepping closer to the wreckage, he noticed dark chunks of rubber from the tires in the decking. The van had been going up the ramp. He thought to himself that it must have been going at an incredible speed and taken the corner too sharply, sending it crashing through the sensor gates that lined the parking deck every three feet. There was such a mass of electronics, torn sheet metal, mangled white sensor gates, vines, and concrete rubble from the adjacent column, that he could not see a way through. Sparks shot out over the van from where it had torn through the fat wire couplings that lead into the decontamination chamber.
Burning burning burning burning
With his thumbs tucked into the straps of his backpack, Eli stared at the chamber. The entire time he had been in the building, he had not once dared to go inside. Somehow, even though the support structure and parking deck had at first seemed antagonistic to his presence, the lab had emanated a far stronger feeling that he did not belong inside. Its façade was a constant through each level of the parking deck, almost a background by which he could gain a sense of direction, but never a space that could be occupied. It seemed as if it had never been designed for human habitation, but rather for the hyper-intelligent computers to play out their mathematical equations in search of something beyond the capacity for humans to understand. Now, faced with a sharp sparking heap of metal in front of him and the shorn decking below, he had little choice.
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Eli burst through the doors out onto the roof of the tower, scattering the rocks of a neutered Zen garden. The air tore at his lungs as he raced across the gravel-strewn landscape, throwing bits of dirt and tired brown grass in wide arcs as he went. He slammed bodily into the chest high parapet of the roof, the wind leaving his lungs in great gasps. The edge flexed in minute response to his small frame against its fragile and tormented joints, thick chunks of caulk and unintelligible shards of machinery falling away down the once mobile glass façade of the building. Leaning his upper body dangerously far over the edge, his eyes traced the outlines of circuitry embedded deep within the crystalline confines of the glass panels.
When he had first entered the laboratory, he only felt a mild confusion at its still immaculate interior. None of the vile environments had penetrated the logic of the glass-encrusted tower, and it left Eli with only a vague sense of reality. But as he pressed on, a creeping sensation that he was being watched began to grow steadily in his mind. He felt a cold breath on his neck as he poked about, always looking over his shoulder at the presence that could not be identified. Nearly imperceptible whirring sounds floated through the abandoned conference rooms and frosty offices. Every floor felt the same – quiet, barren, cold and lifeless. He could not be sure, but the glass dividers that were embedded with two-dimensional circuitry seemed to flex and pulse as he had neared each one. He had reached out to touch one to be sure, only to be greeted with a mild static shock and an incredibly cold surface. After passing through a few floors via the fire stairs, the pulsing seemed to grow more intense and the whirring sounds grew louder, eventually being accompanied by the clicking on of compressors and release valves. Eli could only guess that the building was reading his presence and attempting to factor him into its algorithms. The walls sent out indistinct waves of hostility to such a degree that Eli eventually became certain it was trying to delete him from the equation. The terror he would come to feel in the labs was far greater than he had felt in the parking garage.
Even here on the roof he could feel the oppressive weight of the data streams that informed the movement of the structure, overwhelmed by their potential power over his body. Inside, he knew that if he had taken one wrong step he would be consumed by the flexing corners and crushed into the information stream that whirled through every crevice in streaks of bright blue electricity. While he knew his only refuge was to return into the carcass of the deranged support systems, he was not sure he’d be able to handle the six-story descent through the emergency stairwell. It had remained as barren and lifeless as the laboratories had, threatening to clean the life from him in an attempt to maintain its perfectly balanced internal atmosphere. He turned and pushed himself from the edge of the parapet and steeled his nerves for the flight through that inhospitable and entirely inhuman expanse. Clenching his jaw, he forced himself to remember that the adjacent structure would provide him a shelter from this onslaught of efficiency.
After the frosty silence in the gardens
One foot first, and then the next, Eli began trotting towards the doors from which he had come, eventually breaking into a dead run. The seven data receiving antennae loomed over him like cruel trees covered in tumors. He imagined them sending sweeps of white electrical surges in hard lassos towards his feet, ready to bind and hold him here, measured, accounted for, and assimilated into the logic of the hyper-intelligent laboratory. The doors neared as Eli breathed in short bursts through his mouth. Hands outstretched, he hit the cold steel fire door and yanked it open with all his strength, squinting tightly as he entered and made for the emergency stairs. The brilliantly white hermetic floor seemed to mock him with his own disheveled reflection as he darted across the elevator lobby. Reaching the double door he had left ajar in his ascent, Eli slipped on his torn trousers and went tumbling through the door and down the first flight of stairs; it was as if the building had sensed his apprehension and made him pay for his disrespect. The metallic taste of blood filled his mouth as he tumbled headlong down, thumping his wrist on the handrail and landing heavily upon his left leg. Too terrified to nurse his wounds, Eli pulled himself up as quickly as he could and stumbled down the next flight taking as many stairs as he could in leaps. His glance only left his feet to make note of the floor he was passing – 39, 38, 37 and on down to the 34th floor. Nearly missing the door handle, he exploded into the lobby as he heard the faint sound of compressors and gas valves click open. The building was still reading him, noting every movement and drop of sweat that fell from his ruddy face.
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
Forcing himself from the floor, Eli ran towards the jammed door of the decontamination chamber that would lead towards the melting solace of the support tower beyond. He could almost smell the sweetness of decaying vines beckoning him through as he pushed through small boxes and hanging, damaged sensor gates. Just as Eli emerged through the large gate of the decontamination chamber onto the upper-most deck of the parking structure, he heard them.
The three helicopters whirred noisily overhead, casting sweeps of wind and dust at Eli, pushing him sideways along the width of the decking until he collided wetly with the decaying concrete parapet. Its warmth and crumbling grasp comforted him momentarily as he shielded his eyes and attempted to look up. With his left arm stretched across his face, Eli waved frantically with his right, trying to gain the attention of any one of the pilots sent here to douse the structure in a cold chemical death. Focusing on the helicopters above, Eli tottered about the top deck of the parking structure avoiding limp vines and sticky moss where he could manage. He kicked a few pieces over the side and moved towards an external ledge at the periphery of the deck.
Here is no water but only rock
“Please…wait,” he mouthed in vain, both hands waving back and forth, like a marooned refugee of a sunken cruiser. The helicopters seemed not to notice him and waltzed with each other in the sky, looping about with the great diseased building at the center of their dance. Eli stopped waving and merely squinted up at the glinting machines that would not heed his call. He tilted his head slightly and stepped backwards until he felt the edge appear beneath his heel. Eli Warring had no choice at this point, the helicopters ignored him, his colleagues could not reach him, and remaining in the building would surely spell his demise.
A fleeting notion made Eli shake his head once, quickly and violently. With a furrowed brow, he stared across the parking deck towards the gaping hole in the center from which the life-giving machinery was suspended. Only one of the fans on the closest air handler was still functioning, catching itself every now an again on a loose vine that had crept its way into the path of the twirling blade. He considered for a moment that the growth in the support tower had been so thick that it reminded him of a jungle canopy, heavy and dripping, but dense. It had blocked the sun’s rays from infiltrating more than a few floors and had clearly shielded the rest of the machinery from the slight rain that had passed while he had been in the laboratory. The deck was wet, but perhaps the interior was still dry.
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
‘No,’ he thought to himself, ‘this is insane.’ Yet Eli had noticed small patches of undergrowth growing from the ramp that lead down into the cold and dark that housed the server towers. Perhaps out of fear, he had not even considered beginning there when he had arrived. The void that contained the fetid clunking machinery had been so much more enticing, practically pulling him through it in sheer wonder.
He thought of the trunk-like vines at the ground floor and considered it for a moment, still aware of the violent tearing sound the helicopters were making as they adjusted their positions to be sure they would cover every visible square inch.
But dry sterile thunder without rain
‘No! What I am thinking? I must be insane. I’d never make it…’ Eli berated himself and looked up at the helicopters waving twice more. Nothing. He glanced over his shoulder, causing him to briefly loose his balance. His hands lashed out and grasped a rusted shaft of protruding rebar. Breathing heavily, he watched small pieces of moss alight on the sharp wind that flew up the side of building. He considered he must have been at least two hundred feet off the ground. His body shook involuntarily.
After the agony in stony places
With a loud crack, Eli heard the helicopters gearing up to drop their payload. Small bay doors at the bottom of all three great shimmering bellies opened simultaneously. Without a thought, he found himself running in a dead sprint towards the gaping void not thirty feet in front of him. He made it across the deck in seconds and he leapt up onto the closest air handler, dodging the one operational fan and grasping the supporting column that cleared the top.
Standing fully upright, Eli Warring took a deep breath and hurled himself headlong into the waiting, rotting damp.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
Then spoke the thunder
Eli awoke with a start to find himself lying half under a thin white sheet in a cold featureless room. Sitting up, the thin mattress shifted slightly beneath him and he shook his head trying to remember how he had arrived here and where precisely here was. The room was lit by a single circular window of about two feet in diameter that let in a large swath of yellow-grey sunlight. Besides the bed, there was no furniture in the room – the green-grey walls seemed to drip in front of his eyes as they ran uninterrupted all around. As he stood up to walk towards the window, his senses swam from the blood rushing from his head causing him to speculate that he must have been laying down for quite some time. He rubbed his eyes with his palms and walked in the direction of the window. His vision cleared by the time his slow gait brought him to the frame of the window and he looked out on the familiar streetscape of Lexington Avenue far below. His tired eyes followed pedestrians going about their meager daily business until Eli realized he must be in a room at the new Mt. Sinai Psychological Hospital that he had watched rise for the past few months outside his office window. Forgetting the street, his head rang with confusion and alarm just as he heard a quick rapping at the door.
A thin, frail-looking young woman in a pale blue-grey knee-length coat appeared in the doorway, her neck craned low over a clear plastic tablet. “Excuse me, Mr. Sellers, but Dr. Geisel will see you now. He has the results of your evaluation. Please follow me.”
My friend, blood shaking my heart
Too bewildered to answer directly, Eli simply nodded and followed the young woman out of the room and down a wide corridor, lit at the far end by another circular porthole – the walls of stainless steel sheathing reflected the light down the hall in diminishing hues of yellow. The young woman tapped at the plastic tablet, upon which small charts flashed, shrank, altered, and calculated in ways Eli was unable to follow in his present state. Every few steps, he would close his eyes to regain some sense of what had happened. His mind raced thinking about his wife and young daughter, his recently deceased father and widowed mother, and his distraught brother on the west coast – surely they knew he was here? Perhaps they were close by. At this thought, he glanced about for a doorway towards what might be a waiting area, but none presented itself. Anxiety mounting, he leaned forward slightly on to the balls of his feet to ask the young woman where his family was. Just as he did so she turned sharply down a hallway to her left and opened a soft plastic door to a rather small office. Saying nothing, she stepped to the side and lifted her hand, palm up, gesturing Eli inside. A rather corpulent man is a light green-grey lab coat, presumably Dr. Geisel, was seated at an immaculately organized desk of the same material of the young woman’s tablet. He too was tapping and gesturing intently at the flickering desaturated images embedded in its surface. Eli sniffed the stale air, and the man looked up from his tasks.
“Ah, Eli, good to see you finally looking well.” Dr. Geisel said with a quick wrinkled smile and an outstretched hand.
“I – thank you. Doctor, I’m afraid I have no recollection of how I got here or what exactly is going on. If you could be so kind as to start at the beginning and continue slowly, I’d greatly appreciate it,” Eli replied after shaking Dr. Geisel’s hand and seating himself quickly in front of the desk, eager to be soothed by this medical professional. Somehow he wasn’t entirely sure something was amiss, yet his presence in this strange hermetic psychiatric hospital clearly suggested otherwise.
“Ah, that’s a shame, but not all that surprising.” Dr. Geisel rolled his head to the left and right, rubbing his meaty collarbone with his left hand. Eli shifted forwards in his chair.
“What’s a shame? Please, Doctor. What happened?” He felt a prickle at the back of his neck, and his throat tightened. Dr. Geisel sighed heavily.
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
“Mr. Sellers, you have been in a coma for quite some time. You were found lying on the subway platform at the 59th and 5th street N station. You were brought here after your wounds had healed, because after an MRI, we detected a sort of resonance patch in the hippocampus region of your brain. This ‘patch,’ as we’ve been calling it, has a similar patterning and thickness to others we’ve found in the surrounding six blocks.”
“Others? Other people? I – I’m sorry, I still don’t understand.”
“You are one of many cases turning up these days. We have discovered survivors – if you can all them that – intermittently for about a month now.”
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
“Survivors? Survivors of what?” Eli nearly burst screaming from the room, his knuckles white, gripping the arms of the chair.
“The first few were discovered after they unearthed a portion of diseased concrete that triggered an epileptic reaction in a passer-by, the first of you to make yourselves known. She was completely unaware that she had any relationship to this piece of debris – just imagine the vast amounts of latent information that may be lying dormant within the confines of the subconscious minds of the general populace. It’s really quite extraordinary that we can recover the information that we have. After we compiled the positronic brain imaging scans of only a handful of survivors, we can actually reconstruct the space without having a single trace of its construction. There are no remaining photographs or aerial imagery of the structure that we know of and, interestingly, there seems to be a collective amnesia about the entire incident. If it weren’t for people such as yourself, that building might as well have not existed at all…” Dr. Geisel trailed off in thought, his forefinger tapping an uneven rhythm on his left cheek. “If there weren’t so many of you, I’d venture a hypothesis that it in fact didn’t exist.”
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
“Doctor, please, what building? What are you talking about?” Eli’s brain fought itself in overlapping loops, preventing him from fully comprehending. He was visibly sweating now.
“You were formerly employed by IBM. They sent you into a condemned building to discover why it had become condemned. They lost contact with you about fourteen hours after you entered, and no one had seen you until you were identified on that platform. You disappeared.”
With some difficulty, Eli eased himself slowly, painfully back into his chair. Vacantly staring somewhere between his knee and the floor, he could not begin to parse the situation. A slight ringing in his left ear held him motionless – hearing it, he thought nothing but only listened.
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
“What these two contradictory images show,” Geisel was gesturing at his desk, “is that not only was the building deteriorating from the inside out, but those of you who had taken up some sort of residence in the space were keeping some kind of perverse maintenance alive. Evidence shows that on several occasions, ‘residents’ would destroy portions to recreate something to their own necessity or liking – a shelter here, a machine shop there, and in one case an accountant’s office. That last example was a bit of a blip; some poor soul couldn’t handle the psychic trauma as well as you and your peers, and in a way began to revert to his previous life. He used a mix of waste and dead animals to fashion his old office. In a fascinating way he wasn’t too far off. A shame nonetheless…”
“This is ridiculous. You’re lying. This is total nonsense.”
“I like nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells.”
Eli looked up. “Didn’t Dr. Seuss say that?” Dr. Geisel smiled wanly.
Hieronymo’s mad againe.