The man could not help the guard. This perfectly normal string of English words sprang into Gaston’s mind as he approached the figure clad in a typical combination of black vinyl and reflective material. There were halogens far above which glanced light off the guard’s chest. The doors to Gaston’s right were closed, deadbolts no doubt tunnelled deep into the ground. It was 5.39 p.m. and the office was closed.
“Misterrr… Savinelli,” Gaston said, reading the embroidered badge stitched onto the guard’s chest. Savinelli did not move.
Just over the guard hung a carefully positioned lamp, its purpose not to illuminate the man in the uniform but to shine a light onto the ground several feet in front of him. Gaston tried to step around the yellow circle on the tarmac, but simple automaton magic kept the spotlamp focused on his feet.
“Look, err—all I need is a W72-BR for my wife, so you think I could creep in and grab one?” Gaston’s Brooklyn accent was rounded a little by softly-inflected vowels.
The guard could not help the man. This time, Gaston’s mind played back a range of scenarios based on this sentence. Mr. Savinelli might gesture behind him and the spotlamp might flicker off; they might then enjoy a beer in the building’s foyer before Gaston picked out his W72-BR and drove home; or Savinelli may crack the barrel of his revolver across Gaston’s cheekbone, leaving a stripe of bluish bruising; he might be dragged across the courtyard and out into the street by Mr. Savinelli, his face blushed with red and black, his jacket torn and his flesh cold against the slipwalk.
But none of these things happened. In a monotone the guard said: “The housing office is closed.” The lamp above his right shoulder angled itself to shine against Gaston’s chest and he felt the prickle of goose flesh against the inside of his clothing.
Look, Gaston said to himself. He was able to formulate perfect sentences only in solitude, paragraphs of meaning transparent and yet multi-layered; whereas in front of a black, reflective sculpture like Savinelli his vocal cords became paralysed with anxiety. “Look,” he said. “She’s ill—my wife—and we need to move up to quarters with health facilities. And, you know, they have some in our building down on Fifth. It isn’t a problem. I work for the Ministry of Emissions, and I…I just need a W72-BR.”
The guard didn’t say anything, the spotlamp squeaked a little, and Gaston took a step backwards. He looked up at the halogen lights overhead, small strips from this distance but measuring ten by three feet per unit when constructed in the Ministry’s basement.
In poorly illuminated creases and folds the guard was trapped. Gaston thought he could make it. He buried his right foot into the faux marble floor and sprung, spindly and imprecise, towards the housing office doors.
One step. He knew that deadbolts and hydraulic locks vacuum-sealed the doors.
Two steps. But if he could not force them open—
Four steps. –his wife and he…
Six steps. Nearly there, and the spotlamp was turning.
Ten steps. He reached the doors and collapsed breathless against their bronzed handles. The lamp struggled to focus on the glass like a lost searchlight. Savinelli had not moved. Digging a hand into his pocket Gaston extracted a plastic, lenticular card and swiped it across the base of the handle.
<Ministry of Emissions, Robidoux, Gaston>
The tinny voice jumped out of the speaker and seemed to float in the spotlamp’s light for a moment before the doors clicked, whooshed a waterfall through their hydraulic joints, and pivoted open against the man’s weight. He darted in, panting and panicking, perspiring against the goosebumps on his arms, thought Gaston.
The guard could not help the man. Collapsing against the inside of the office doors, Gaston twisted his head and caught a diagonal glimpse of the housing office lobby. Against the glass and steel front of the building a spotlamp roved, illuminating guards—or maybe Synthetics—who were entering the foyer cloaked in a winter darkness. The halogens, still and silent high above, cast strange glows on to their dark uniforms.
He breathed in the sulphurous air and was assailed—suddenly, as all endings must assail us—by a spiralling vertigo which fractured then tore his sentences in two. He crumpled to the floor as the guards reached the Housing Office. The guards could not help the man. [ends]