Chapter 3 – Somewhere In The Jungle

Stevens follows Peterson along glass-lined corridors. As a regional executive he is unfamiliar with the layout of the corporation’s head office and as a consequence he loses his bearings very quickly. Whilst the building looks impressive from the outside, inside is mind-blowing and it somehow feels bigger than it should.
Peterson has said nothing since the meeting broke up, apart from, “Follow me.” They come to a large atrium in the centre of the building. It is airy, light and filled with tropical plants. Several trees reach up towards the skylights many floors above. Small birds flit from tree to bush and back again, tweeting and chirping noisily. Butterflies and moths whirl around in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colour. Stick insects and praying mantis creep along branches and up the vines that enmesh the trees. If one looks closely it is possible to spot small frogs and lizards. Those who are prepared to wait and test their observational skills may even see one of several chameleons that live in amongst the glistening verdure. It is truly impressive.
In the middle of all this is the central lift system. Glass, obviously, allowing passengers to marvel as they ascend or descend through the tree canopy. On every floor a suspended walkway reaches out to the elevators. These walkways are arranged so that they are hung from alternating sides around the four walls, thus leaving the height of three floors above and below each one. This permits anyone using them to stand amid the birds and butterflys and imagine, just for a moment, that they are deep within the forests of the Amazon, not a modern office block in central London.
Stevens has been trying to get a post within the head office ever since it was built, purely because of the atrium. At times he believed he would be happy to be a cleaner, or the guy who services the many vending machines, just to work in this building. Now, he is telling himself, now may very well be the day his dreams are realised. Peterson strides out in front along the balcony around the atrium. Stevens does his best to keep up. They reach the point where a suspended walkway arches out across to the central lift complex and Peterson peels off and heads out across to the elevators without even glancing down. Stevens hurries after, grasping the handrail as a wave of vertigo washes over him. He would love to stay, allowing the nausea to pass, so that he can fully appreciate the surroundings but Peterson already has the door to the lift open and is beckoning him inside.
The lift descends. Fronds brush against the glass as it passes through the canopy layers. Something catches Stevens eye. “Was…umm…was…?” he stammers. Peterson arches an eyebrow quizzically, inviting him to continue. “Was that a monkey?” he asks. Peterson merely nods and says nothing. “It was…it had…,” Stevens stammers, trying to articulate what he had seen and failing miserably. He resorts to pointing at Peterson’s neck. Peterson nods.
“These things are hard-wired into the spinal column. We had to try them out on something,” he says gruffly. “Would you want to be the first?”
“I guess not,” Stevens admits.
“Well I did but even I’m not mental enough to have someone wiring things into my neck without it being tested on something else first.”
Stevens has a thousand questions but Peterson turns away and stares out through the elevator glass, the conversation over for the time being. The lift reaches ground floor and keeps descending. The view of rain forest gives way to a lattice of metalwork and wiring, dimly lit by light spill from the elevator compartment. A few more seconds of descent and the lift slows to a halt, the door opening as it stops. Peterson steps past Stevens and out into a long corridor, dark but with strips of icy-blue LED lighting line the floor and ceiling at the edges providing enough light to navigate by. He says nothing, still, and Stevens follows behind obediently. The air is cold and a steady current blows through, chilling Stevens as he hurries after. A hum of machinery, perhaps air conditioning units, would make conversation tricky, not that Peterson seems inclined that way. They walk for a short distance before branching left at junction. There are doors, here and there, seemingly spaced at random along the walls. The doors are metal, windowless and bare save for a small security pad, a small red light glowing on each indicating indicating they are locked.
Peterson suddenly halts by one of the doors, checks that Stevens is still with him and that no-one else is present in the corridor, then presents what Stevens had presumed is a wedding ring to the security pad. The ring glows red and flickers in time with the now blinking light on the pad. After a couple of seconds both turn green and there is an audible clack as a lock releases. Peterson pushes the door open and nods to Stevens to follow.
If the air in the corridor felt cold it is nothing to the chill of the room. Rack after rack of sleek black servers stand sentinel, stretching away to the back of the room, along which is aligned yet more servers. The lighting is even more subdued than the corridor, making the effect of the hundreds upon hundreds of status LEDs flickering on and off practically hypnotic. The noise is almost deafening: the constant hum of air conditioning and cooling fans, the rapid clicking of apparatus switching on and off upon demand, bleeps, squeaks, pips, a whole symphony of electronic noise and yet there appeared to be people moving amongst it all. Behind the door a number of white quilted jackets hang and Peterson grabs one and thrusts it at Stevens who puts it on, grateful even though it is clearly several sizes too large. Peterson removes another jacket from a peg and puts it on. It, of course, fits perfectly. Beside the coatrack is thin metal cabinet which appears to Stevens to be bland and strangely out of place in this room. It has no lights, no keypad, no screen or any indication of electronic gadgetry. It seems to be a dull, unremarkable grey cabinet with a small handle. Peterson turns the handle and opens the door. The interior is no less unremarkable; on hooks inside hang an array of ear defenders. He takes two pairs out, shuts the door and hands a set to Stevens before putting on his own. Protected from the cold and noise Peterson strides off down through the server banks, Stevens trotting obediently after. After a short distance they encounter another member of staff, bequilted and wearing ear defenders over a beanie style hat. He sports a small beard underneath his chin and a piercing on his upper lip that, to Stevens at least, looks like a a large silver pimple. Stevens, peering over Peterson’s shoulder in the narrow aisle, looks this man up and down and thinks that he looks as though he has just left school. And then he reflects that, in a way, he probably has. A graduate, straight out of university, perhaps. Maybe he didn’t last the course and dropped out. Or even didn’t bother with university full stop. Probably devised ‘apps’ in his bedroom or made a name for himself hacking into somewhere important. The lad has an electronic tablet plugged into one of the servers and his hand, clad in fingerless glove, skitters about the screen tapping, tapping, tapping. He doesn’t notice the two men approach, visibly startled as Peterson gently tugs on his sleeve to get the young man’s attention. There is a short conversation between them as each holds a muff away from their ear and take it turns to bellow at each other. The young man shows Peterson some of the data on his tablet to which the TV executive nods and pats the lad on the shoulder affectionately. Stevens removes his own ear defenders in an attempt to overhear the discussion but finds it impossible to follow because of the noise and by dint of fact that the two men seemed to be talking a completely alien language; technical jargon utterly lost on a lay man such as Stevens. He let his earmuff snap back into position and winced; the impact against his now cold ear more painful than he expected.
The lad receives another pat on the shoulder from Peterson and a thumbs up as the executive continues on his way. Stevens squeezes past the young man who shuffles slightly closer to the server bank to help but does not look round or acknowledge him in anyway. Ten paces further on Stevens looks back and catches the lad watching him go. A mask of disdain or contempt appears etched on his twenty-something face. Christ! Stevens thinks, cocky little fucker. I’ll nail his arse to the wall one day, the snotty little shite. A further ten paces brings them to the end of the room, lined with more servers humming, blinking, beeping. Peterson wheels sharply left, takes another five strides and then turns to his right, facing the end wall. Except that there is no wall or server but another security door. He goes through the ring routine again. This time it flashes orange and then settles on a vivid icy blue. The door opens itself and the men step through. Stevens feels a rush of air as the door swings itself closed behind them. Peterson slides his ear defenders off and Stevens does likewise; it is clear they will not require them in here. The temperature is much warmer and Stevens feels himself immediately sweating under the thick quilted coat. Peterson has already shed his and has hung it on a hook behind the door. Stevens probably would do the same if he could just tear his eyes away from what they behold. Peterson smirks, sweeps his arms wide in a theatrical gesture as if presenting the scene and says “Welcome to the monkey room.”


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