I walk through these bleak, gray-infested corridors, with naught but the monotonous tapping of fingers slowly deteriorating keyboards, degrading one keystroke at a time. Whitewashed walls and ceilings, the typical carpet not good enough for hotel floors, but not yet tattered enough to be thrown into a trash can; it all just screams for release. Rushing through these halls desperate to escape, yet the winding labyrinth only serves as a brilliant façade designed to offer the promise of something more. Fresh air does not, in fact, lie just outside of the doorways, there are only more halls and doorways. There are no gardens nor fountains nor chirping birds. What I see… All that envelopes me… An ingenious cage of my own specification and design. I imagine my captor watching from a room filled with many monitors, policing the noir scene with a smug grin, satisfaction as he watches the skin beneath my eyes slowly sag lower and lower, jowls forming, creases from a furrowed brow defining my features. But the room is not somewhere inside the building, but rather, somewhere inside my head, tucked away in a seemingly infallible fortress, an office with no doors yet no roof. Yet he sits there, controlling the scene as it unfolds, making the walls tint an off-white, dimming the fluorescent lights, photoshopping a splash of melancholy and austerity to every surface.
Onward I move, briskly passing the rows and columns of cubicles, all the little ones and zeros like myself sitting there, churning out their workflow with a ravenous anti-glimmer in their eyes. The antithesis of wanderlust, these Boolean, sedentary lab rats crave another number, another report, another contract to anchor them carefully to their seats. They are the definition of success, but even I catch grammatical errors as I nearly sweep a stack of papers onto the floor in my haste. I turn sharply one corner after another, my shoulder brushing past doorframes and windows through which one may either see the Trojan horse or the city of Troy.
Finally, my destiny in sight, two more doorways and I am home captive… But as I nearly blast open my second to last doorway, I come face to face with a one, slightly smaller than me, perhaps he is a 0.82. Startled by the near-collision, his head thrusts upwards, my neck craning low to identify the obstacle. The one stares up at me, and for a moment, the entire universe shudders to a halt. His identification system scans its many lines of code until, at last, it can be seen in his eyes that there is a positive identity match. Then, the gears stop grinding and a fluidity comes about his furrow lines, the mathematics deconstruct until he looks at me and recognizes me. I am no longer simply an identifiable entity, I am known.
Deep in his eyes, down into the depths of his sea of knowledge and experiences, there is something almost humanlike. I daresay, something similar to myself lies in those cavernous pupils. The golden hazel halo, faded by years upon years of gazing at a screen, shines one candela brighter. Perhaps only 0.82, for consistency’s sake. But there is also something more, something undefinable, unidentifiable by the one’s standards.
Beneath the cavern, between the halo and deep space beyond, there is an ember. Faintly, it glows. It is there, but only just, as if it is only his source of surviving, yet life is no longer defined. Memories swim in the nebulous darkness and ember-glow. He once was not too different from myself, I imagine. forty, perhaps fifty years earlier, he too longed to breathe and jump and have hope that one more doorway would lead to a creation garden rather than a cubicle farm.
He once held a wooden sword at a worthy adversary, as thin air often does make for a prime war scene. His chest puffed out, eyes wide, mouth agape as he screams guttural roars and hurls insults and battle cries, he swings his sword with utter surety, threatening to lop off the head of the dragon, thrust the iron deep into the chest of the lion, rent asunder the great belly of the serpent. Bloodlust and expedition once beckoned him; broken bones were of no concern nor hindrance. He once stood on the precipice overlooking his kingdom.
He once looked upon the kingdom and became dumbstruck by a fair maiden. Her flowing, chestnut locks whipped in the east wind, overtaking his cynosure. Becoming his cynosure. He once offered deeds of strength and great courage, gifts of high value and no small degree of consideration. He once offered his very self, his heart on his sleeve and chest to bear, stepping out upon the longest, thinnest limb, all for the sake of her hand. He once had a romance as passionate and scandalous as the meeting of the sea and the sky upon the horizon at sunset. And he was once the sea and she was once the sky, and they made the stars. Perhaps his every dream came true, and he offered himself up for her once more in order to offer stability and a relatively worry-free life. Perhaps he traded his wooden sword for a wooden measuring stick, and his valor was calculated in numbers instead of heads rolling on the floor.
He once believed in the impossible, throwing paper airplanes across the room and imagining himself in the cockpit. He once was destined for greatness, if not fame. The hair atop his head would prickle at the discussion of distant places and the limelights that shone there. Now, his loyalty to the Machine can be seen in his matted tonsure and his faithful, trembling fingers.
He comes back to himself and I to myself, the tire swings and boyish dreams fading back into the oblivion, reentering the buried cosmos, and the mechanical shifting of his eyes averts them from my sympathetic gaze back to the task at hand.
He shuffles past me, and I look upon the Final Door, my means of Escape, my Free. Nearly knocking the placard off the wall next to my final door, I feel my shoulders relax, my fingers steady and arms swing freely. I unzip my trousers to complete the initiation into the outside world.
Man, I really had to piss.
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