Where will we be two millennia from now? Will we be looking at the world through our own eyes or staring into the minds of others?
-A sequel to The Visitor-
It was hard to be a regulator, let alone an interceptor, without thinking about Max Beatus. My mind wandered to him as I went down the staircase of decaying concrete, flaking chrome-nanosteel railings.
He had been a prophet in a way. His work had allowed mankind the opportunity to bridge the gap between conscious and subconscious thought, allowing the leap to be made between one person’s consciousness and another’s. That was why we were there, in those grime-streaked corridors.
I reached the sign on the wall, a cracked micro-glaze square which had once been illuminated with the floor number. A black figure 26 remained, burnt onto the polished surface from the moment the fuses blew. That would have been centuries ago. It was an overwhelming thought.
Scratch marks remained where the figure 1 had been filed off. My predecessors did that when they took over the building. The first hundred floors were warped, walls bulging inwards so that they almost touched in places. We had no use for them, so we etched them out.
Level 26 was like any other, except that a cold sense of fear pinched my spine whenever I reached it on the descent. A dozen steps below I would find Level 25. I was terrified.
I was late that day, so I decided to run and get it over with as fast as possible. The steps sped past under my feet, walls streaking past in a grey and brown blur. Then the world suddenly opened up on my left where the perpendicular arm of the tower, a skyscraper jutting out at a right angle, had been torn away.
Wind, muddy fog and the vast expanse of the city stretched away at my side. It was a yawning cavity of shattered nanosteel and crumbled concrete which beckoned me out towards the thousand-foot drop on the other side.
It wasn’t until I reached Level 21 that I realised I was bending double, having almost crawled the last four flights of stairs. My supervisor, Axil, was waiting for me at the door to our work quarters.
“You’re late, Rex.” she said, furrowing her brows as I wheezed and leaned against the wall to catch my breath.
I nodded and pushed past her. There was no sense in hanging around to explain myself if I was already late. She would just have to understand.
Our office had once been a series of apartments. You could see the faded floor where beds had stood, exposed pipes and wiring in the gutted walls of the kitchen areas. Four walls surrounding the central apartment had been knocked in, ragged holes through which men and women in black overalls passed, ducking out of instinct.
“Another day at the office.” I said, walking over to my station.
“This is going to be my last one.” Axil said, following me.
“Is that right?”
I had reached one of the ten large micro-glaze tanks arranged in the centre of the room. A turquoise liquid filled the tank, sluggish ripples spreading across its surface. Gently, I cut through a tiny wave with one finger.
“I’m killing myself after work today.”
Her words knocked me back a pace, but I forced myself to wait the appropriate amount of time, as prescribed by division policy, before responding. I could still feel Axil’s glare burning through the back of my head. It was the wrong day to have arrived late.
“Nothing to do with me, I hope?”
“No, just early retirement.”
With fingers steadied by practice, I unsealed my overalls until I was standing naked on the bare concrete floor. Nine other pale-skinned figures hung suspended in the tanks around me.
I hopped up onto the edge of my container and lay back, letting the cold liquid prickle over my body. Once fully submerged, I risked taking a breath. It was like drinking in a mouthful of fire. Everything from my throat to my lungs screamed in agony, but I could breathe.
My mind began to relax as the atom-sized machines chemically imprinted on the water molecules began to interact with my nervous system. They spread like an agonising tickle up my spinal column, clamping sub-atomic pincers into my brain stem.
Max Beatus’ implant had been simpler, painless if you believed the historians. But this was far more comprehensive. The last thing I felt before my mind went under was envy.
Why should Axil get to retire before me? I’ll jump off Level 25 as soon as my shift ends. That’ll show her.