CHAPTER TWO: THE COMPOUND
Thought Chip Record: Agent Emmett Anders
09/06/30 :: 8:53 AM
This place is a factory of surveillance, suspicion and eyes on everything. We’re the elite. Supposed to be the best of the best. And right now everything is mass panic, chaos, people tripping in the dark and dead phone lines.
Emergency power kicks in and I sigh relief when the AC gets blowing again. When you’re this far underground, air conditioning means breathing, not just comfortable temperatures. The lights are a dull green. I can remember a time, twenty years ago or so, when the E-lights were red. Like the damaged bridge of the starship Enterprise. Ridiculous. Now I’m thinking of this guy, Chambers, Mick, he was going through a tough divorce and hadn’t had a good turn with a lady in well over a year. Hard luck case all around. Started drinking. Got thrown out of strip clubs for getting too physical with the girls. Physical meaning molesty, not beating on them or anything. Anyway, he got heavy into pornography, weirder and weirder stuff as he got desensitized, and started watching it and jerking it at work instead of running the tech for surveillance like he should have been. Not as good of internal security back then to keep that kind of crap out, plus, we all know our way around a computer, of course we’re gonna figure out how to get video of a guy masturbating off of a fourth story hotel room balcony onto some girls sunbathing down below, or girls doing stuff to barnyard animals, or shit with amputees just sitting there with no limbs, just a lump of sex organs and an open mouth. Yeah, weird stuff, the guy was desperate, hungry. Anyway, he crashed the entire network one day, caught us a bad virus that meant red lights, reserve power only. The feeling of a Klingon battle cruiser coming back around to finish you off. The lights made everyone panic more than anything. That’s when we switched to green backup lights. They line the perimeter of the ceiling so you have a dim sense of the dimensions of the room. I put my sights on one bulb like the Eastern star in that Jesus story and start walking.
Somebody shouts, “Who was it this time? If your porn is going to bring down the system at least get enough for the whole class to share.”
There’s a few laughs. Nobody knows what just went down.
A few blocks down and I hear a guy saying, “Is it White? He’s back! Oh my God, it’s White, isn’t it?”
Superstitious bull shit peddler.
There was a time, when I was a much younger man, when working in a cubicle was a symbol of frustration, utilitarianism, or disgrace. Sometimes it still burns true, but then, they didn’t have my cubicle. There aren’t any acoustic blocking walls with that weird fuzzy cloth or the cheap desk. No annoying receptionist down the way or phones ringing off the hook from Des Moines with some loser looking for someone to complain at. It’s wall to wall tech. On the right it’s nothing but a stack of thirteen inch television screens, six high and eight wide, for monitoring different footage simultaneously. On the left, all sorts of lights and dials, buttons, equalizers, and plug-in jacks for all sorts of devices meant for designing, combining or editing sound and video. And at the back wall there’s the terminal, my main desk, and the biggest, most advanced computer yet devised by man. A fifty-two inch flat screen monitor, multiple keyboards, multiple hard drives, and enough memory to run the whole country in the event of system-wide failure. I could create, edit, and distribute an entire feature film from scratch without ever picking my ass up from my leather chair.
And we all have one of these rigs. Every watcher, an entire compound of us, there’s gotta be more digital memory and computing speed in this bunker than there’s ever been in the whole history of America combined. I mean, there’s more tech in a cellular phone than there was in the whole Houston command center in ‘69, and they put a man on the moon. Allegedly, anyway. Now look at us, enough processing capacity to build a moon if we wanted to.
I pass row after row of cubicle, each identical to the one before it, the one after it. Same rig. Same chair. Same man running the equipment, a thousand Wizards of Oz, pulling levers behind their curtains. The Great and Powerful. Wizards in gray jumpsuits, the standard uniform.
It’s a warehouse full of G.I. Joe lookalikes. Crew-cuts. Square jaws. We’re All-American ball players turned Captain America parachuting over Saigon or fighting Ruskies or Japs or Hajis. Whatever foreign foot soldier was in vogue during our individual forays into combat, espionage and surveillance. We’re all the same man. Different backgrounds, maybe, different names, even generations, but we’re the same. Patriotic Americans. Boots clicking. Yes sir. No sir. Charlie. Echo. Roger.
And now we’re here. It’s a warehouse full of G.I. Joe lookalikes, if G.I. Joe came in different models like a Barbie doll. Barbie. Skipper. Waitress. Flight attendant. Old Joe. Young Joe. Black Joe. White Joe. Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines.
One fish. Two fish. Red fish. Jew fish.
It’s all the same. Maybe they select us for our athletic builds or our Marlboro Man features. There’s an illusion of equality in sameness. I can recall reading how Martin Luther King, Jr. told his constituents to be less black. To blend in, to get accepted, to work more, church more, drink less, smoke less, and dull down the screwing. Be white if you want to succeed. Make ‘em forget you’re black.
It’s like all the serialized black sitcoms to ever curry any favor. They all portray some kind of a Suburban family with so-called white family values.
Mr. Huxtable. Uncle Phil. Carl Winslow.
There’s a comfort in sameness. Makes us look equal and somehow that makes us more American. Gotta wonder if Jefferson imagined “all men created equal” to mean standardized living. And here I am, at work with a room full of G.I. Joe dolls. And I’m one of ‘em.
I reach the elevator and hit the down arrow. Another example of how the old cubicle days have changed, I’d wager. In the old days, your boss would be on the top floor, as high as possible, to assert his dominance. But when you work underground up means down and down means up, so I hit the down button and wait for the bell. Doors slide open and I step in, pressing the button for 28, the bottom floor. Rubbing elbows with hell, if you ask me. Still, it’s not like Boss Man is much different from the rest of us. I reckon we’re all toiling in the Underworld. To an older, more primitive culture, this is all it took to be demons, imps or Hades.