The Bottleneck Years
by H.E. Taylor
|Chapter 21||Table of Contents||Chapter 23|
Vancouver, November 20, 2055
Apparently being in ConSec means never having to wait for a plane. Carman walked me through a gate and out onto the tarmac. No body scanners, no sniffer bots, no security check of any sort as far as I could see. There were all of five people on the plane. Nobody spoke until we were in the air and then sparingly.
I really did not know what to expect. Why would Carman drag me all the way to Vancouver? What was going through his mind? What did he mean by “a body that shouldn’t exist”? These were the questions bothering me. I lost myself gazing out the window at barren peaks and decimated forests. The flight went quickly.
A small black car drove out beside the plane to pick us up. I never saw the driver, if there was one. The front of the car was opaque, hidden behind tinted glass. Carman and I got in the back. The doors closed and we were off. Carman didn’t speak. I didn’t speak. The air might have been oppressive, but I was glad to be back on the ground. I just wanted to find out what was going on.
I stared out the windows when they were light. Mysteriously they would darken from time to time. We came to a street blocked by police and emergency services personnel. The windows darkened again and after sitting motionless for 30 seconds or so, the car moved ahead slowly. Then we ran into another roadblock.
“We have to walk from here,” said Carman, opening the door.
I was greeted by a team in disposable paper hazmat suits. They looked silly, but they weren’t laughing. They walked us about 500 meters to a house beside a large white plastic dome. It was one of those inflatable things that had been hardened by a chemical process. Attached to a trailer in the street beside the dome, two large liquid nitrogen tanks sat venting steady and quiet clouds into the air.
We were greeted by another layer of security, this time in isolation spacesuits.
“We have to strip and change to enter the dome,” said Carman.
I smiled at him. “You’re joking, right?”
“No. In the trailer.”
We entered through a scanning system built into a short hallway and were met by an armed guard sitting in an alcove behind a counter. He was short and burly, one of those dead-eyed characters who watch you like they’re constantly reevaluating the ten best ways to kill you.
“Good day, Mr. De Vries,” said the guard.
The guard looked at me and said, “He’s got three macro and he’s covered with microbugs.”
“That is to be expected,” said Carman.
The guard held a folded-flat paper package out to me. “You’ll have to strip and put these on.” He indicated a door just down the hall. “In there.”
I turned and looked at Carman. “Is this really necessary?”
“Humour me,” he said without a smile.
The guard put another package on the counter for Carman. I opened the door and stepped inside. The room was larger than it seemed it should be, about 2.5 meters square. Protruding pipes emerged from the base of one wall, went up, wrapped over the ceiling and dropped down to enter the opposite wall just above the floor. A square of differently coloured tiles surrounded a drain in the centre.
Part of the paper package was a bag to hold my clothes. I proceeded to undress.
I started to slip on the paper pants and a voice spoke from a speaker overhead. “Your underwear too, Mr. Fontaine.”
I stopped, chuckling to myself. I might have known.
When I was butt naked, the voice said, “Please stand on the square.”
A light above the pipe assembly shone directly down on the differently coloured square.
“Now close your eyes and raise your arms. Keep your eyes closed. You will feel a slight tingling. It is not dangerous, as long as you keep your eyes closed.”
I felt a slight burning sensation on my skin and there was a funny smell.
“You can open your eyes and get dressed now, Mr. Fontaine.”
I needed dusting. I was covered with a fine white ash from head to foot. The powder wafted through the air as I dressed.
Carman was waiting outside in his own paper suit. I held my bag of clothes out to the guard and he said, “You can put them in #17, there.” He indicated a small bank of lockers.
By the time I did that, Carman was waiting for me at the next door. A nearly featureless hall led to a second closed door. As soon as I stepped inside, there was a beep and a different overhead voice said, “Navel and left eye.”
Carman took a short wand-like device from a shelf just inside the door and waved it over my face.
“Got it,” said the voice.
“Pull up your top,” said Carman.
He waved the device over my belly and the voice said, “Clean.”
The second door made a loud click.
“What a pain in the butt,” I said to Carman.
He laughed. “You should try doing it every morning when you go to work for twenty years.”
I stared at him in stark disbelief.
He opened the second door and we stepped into what looked for all intents and purposes like an open office area. Half a dozen people sat at workstations, some in virtual immersion systems, manipulating entities only they could see.
At the far end of the office, a floor to ceiling display of me stepping out of the shower with Olivia behind me played.
“You hear me, Carman? I don’t care if you are watching. I haven’t done anything wrong and I refuse to be intimidated!”
The display looped back and again I stepped out of the shower.
“You hear me …”
For a second, Carman looked furious. His eyes lit up and he accessed a virtual keyboard. In a moment he had killed the wall display. Seeing Carman’s expert use of such technology was daunting. When he turned to me, his face was once again expressionless.
“Sorry about that,” he said.
I didn’t know what to say, so I kept my mouth shut.
At the far end of the office, through a pair of glass doors, I could see white plastic which I took to be the dome. The doors were set up like a low pressure airlock.
Carman paused with his hand on the glass door. “We keep it under negative pressure.”
We stepped into the dome and stood on a small wooden deck looking down at a rundown old garage. Police emergency tape and old electrical cable littered the yard. Heavily insulated pipes ran through the wall from the nitrogen tanks toward the garage. New looking electrical and optical cables ran from the trailer to the garage. A couple of guys stood just outside the garage drinking something steaming hot.
It was a little anti-climactic, a little surreal. The guys nodded to Carman and stared at me as we passed. The far end of the garage was crudely covered by plastic nailed under 2x4s.
Inside was a workstation, a ring of lights and a barrier, beyond which I could see something on the floor. I stepped closer. It was a body. I took a deep breath and stood staring. Was it Matt? There was something wrong with the head.
A woman sitting at the workstation said to Carman, “You timed that well. The convergence is just a couple of minutes away.”
I looked closer and noticed the hair was moving. The skull was becoming more substantial. While I stood rooted in mute horror, the brain, skull and hair reassembled itself. Flesh grew into recognizable features. It was Henry.
For a while, nothing seemed to happen. The body didn’t breath. Then I became aware the features of the face were becoming less distinct. It was like it was melting. While I watched in stunned silence, the body turned into a puddle of amorphous goo.
Suddenly, I had had enough. I turned and stumbled outside, gasping.
Carman followed. “Do you recognize him?”
“I don’t know. My brother just called him Henry. They met on FabNet and went into business.”
“And you don’t know his last name?”
“No. Don’t you?”
Carman didn’t answer that. I turned to look at him and he was staring blindly into the distance, his eyes sparkling with lens light.
“What are you going to do?”
My question seemed to jar him and he answered as though he were swatting away a bothersome fly.
“Freeze it, Mr. Fontaine. Freeze it and atomize it,” he said. “Turn it back into simple elements.”
“Can I go now?”
“I don’t suppose I have to tell you not to talk about this, to anyone.”
I gave him a grim look and shook my head.
“Say it for the record.”
Always the little reminders that we are under surveillance, I thought. “No, I won’t talk about it. Who would believe me anyway?”
Carman gave me an odd little smile. “Oh, you might be surprised. You might be surprised.”
At the end of the trailer, I noticed one of those gigwatt army field lasers which was, I supposed, for the atomize part.
I walked back toward the trailer and Carman called out, “I’ll have someone take you to the station.”
Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor
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Last modified January 8, 2012
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