Sunday, October 17, 2004

Chapter One - 2

"Here we are, my man."

The driver stomped a big-footed boot into the brakes and they squealed to a halt in the middle of the street. Larco paid him and stepped out of the taxi in front of the steps that led to the great darkened glass doors of the TAFT corporate headquarters building. The taxi horn tooted twice and the driver flashed him a peace sign as he squealed away.

Nothing was as it seemed in this world anymore, he thought. Like most people who had been here for a while, he had an uneasy sense that they had gone too far with the holo-projections on Mars. It was supposed to make everyone that had to live here for any length of time feel at home, but almost everyone got spooked before too long. It had an elusive falseness to it that soon began to eat away at your insides. Larco thought he was beginning to understand what a laboratory rat must feel like. But being surrounded by your dream vacation fantasy was preferable to living for years buried deep beneath the Martian surface in the bleak realworld underground colony that was Barsoom City.

He pushed his wrap up just enough to see realworld and it was as the taxi driver had said. Miles of grey concrete tunnel, broken only by the gaping mouths of inset doorways; the shiny silvery snakes of electrical conduits and the cold blue artificial lighting overhead. And of course the endless black bumps of the VR projectors disappearing in long neat rows into the featureless distance in either direction. He was alone on the street except for the few TAFT company vehicles pulled up on the sidewalk aways up the road. Those were the ones you passed with care when you drove here - they didn't give if you drove into them.

A hollow roaring seeped into his head as he pulled the wrap away from one ear and let the low rumbling din of the great underground city replace the wrap's carefully treated ambience.

Don't see any creepy-crawlys out today.

He felt relieved about that as he slipped his wrap back on, admitting to himself that this place was a whole lot more agreeable with the VR projectors running. He was aware that most people wouldn't be able to do what he had just done.

Thank god for being born a poor Russian boy, Larco thought. He laughed shakily to himself.

They do look like assholes.

TAFT projected a custom VR display from the the facade of the building that housed their headquarters. It was a period piece 1930's Mediterranean-style hotel, and it blended perfectly with the old Portuguese cityscape. The outdoor patio bar was filled with a sophisticated crowd, sipping seriously on tall drinks and blowing clouds of smoke as they waved French cigarettes and chatted under the inevitable Cinzano and Perrier umbrellas. The street beside it had its usual complement of beggar children, grubby little hands outstretched, furiously demanding money from the well-heeled patrons who ignored them for the most part; the waiters sometimes taking runs at them to keep them at bay. A black 1937 Mercedes-Benz coupe, complete with German consular plates and Swastika pennants flying on both front fenders, squatted on the street outside.

Larco took little notice of the scene as he walked straight through the front door of the Mercedes, out the other side and dragged his tired body up the steps to the front door of the building. Somehow, he felt like the ghost here, the one that wasn't real. The projections were taking over and wouldn't need real people anymore. They seemed to be enjoying life on Mars. If we could just teach them to work, the rest of us could all go home.

He pressed his hand up against the security reader on one of the opaque, featureless glass doors and in a moment its great hinges swung it silently outward and open.

A grey uniformed guard met him inside the door, and held him by the arm as he did a picture scan of Larco. Matching him successfully to his own security wrap files, he led him towards the reception area, still holding him by the arm.

The lobby of the building was impressive. Polished Martian black marble flooring and walls, unique in all the solar system, disappearing upwards into a complex honeycomb of yellow and chrome coloured glass grids that reflected an even, comfortable light from some unseen source above it. The paintings, wall hangings, and plants were obviously projections that could be changed whenever desired. Van Gogh dominated the walls, but the plants scattered around the room were a shameful mix of artificially colored tulips and what looked like unripened lemon trees. Larco smiled to himself. Even with access to all the world's greatest digital galleries and conservatories, some bumbling fool could still make a mess of it all.

"She'll take you from here," the guard said pointing the way. He didn't like miners. They were trouble, and he'd had plenty of experience with that kind of trouble since he'd been on Mars.

Larco approached the woman seated behind the white swept-back counter located in the middle of the great lobby, the steel of his work boots ringing as he made his way across the marble floor. The TAFT single T logo was emblazoned across the front of the counter like a headless crucifix.

"I'm here to see Mr. Ernst Schiller, he said. His voice sounded close and sibilant, the room reverberation filtered out this close to the reception area. "I've an appointment. Larco Bengolin's the name."

"Yes, of course, Mr. Bengolin." The woman smoothed her skirt over her long legs as she stood and smiled. "You're to hurry right up to his office."

He could feel his guard come down as he smiled back at her, then felt like an idiot for allowing himself to be so easily manipulated. He hadn't seen a woman this pretty for a long time.

"Walter," she called to the guard, "will you take Mr. Bengolin up to security, please. The air around her rich voice was dry and intoxicating. "Mr. Schiller's office."

She gave him another wide smile but Larco had decided not to respond.

The guard's eyes narrowed in disapproval as he spun about and pointed Larco towards the elevator.

"This way." He looked Larco up and down. "Mr. Schiller doesn't get many visitors. Especially ones that look like you."

They emerged on the 7th floor, the guard leading Larco down a blue carpeted hallway that led to a set of large double glass doors engraved with the same TAFT insignia he had seen downstairs. The guard pulled at one of the shiny yellow T brass handles and motioned Larco into the busy offices of TAFT security.

They passed through a large open room full of men and women at work. Most sat at the long rows of desks, faces intent on display screens. Some stood bent over in small group huddles, speaking earnestly amongst themselves, glancing sideways at the newcomers. A few leaned against the far wall and stared out the windows into the cold Martian afternoon, clutching coffee cups and smoking cigarettes.

Larco allowed himself to dream just for a moment as he passed through the room and into the corridor beyond. Perhaps this would be a way out of the lonely drudgery of field work. And especially his present assignment: the cold, dangerous work of the ice mines. He longed for a clean, bright office and the companionship of others he could be himself with. Whatever they wanted him to do, he was determined to impress them with his abilities.

Larco knocked on the half open door the guard had led him to.

1 Comments:

Blogger Travis said...

Keeps getting better and better.

October 19, 2004 at 11:05 AM  

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