By Christopher Fowler
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How do they keep everything so clean down here? ’ Tony snaps his gum and blows a bubble. ‘Suction system removes all the dust. Howard’s the only janitor for the whole building. ’ ‘The hippy bloke? ’ As the workmen watch, the lights go out all the way along the corridor. ‘Shit. ’ Ray looks up nervously. They descend and try the switches, but nothing happens. They flick on torches, illuminating a path. ‘I don’t understand. The system is brand new. ’ asks Tony. ’ They stop before a tall steel box, the door of which is raised.
Some have been cannibalised. They’re missing legs and eyes. Ben presses his face against the cool glass. ’ ‘Oh come on, Meera. ’ ‘If it can kill a bunch of birds, what’s it doing to our brains? ’ ‘Yeah, that’s me. But equipment’s more complicated now. You’re living in a world where a pen comes with pages of instructions in a dozen languages. Even your after-shave has a web site. ’ Meera looks around to make sure the CCTV cameras can’t see them, then removes a panel from the wall. Inside, thousands of tiny red insects scurry over the cables.
There’s even a burbling fountain surrounded by grey pebbles and Japanese plants. Fierce little spots of light pinpoint the workstations like static prison searchlights. It’s elegant but weirdly oppressive. Touches of humanity exist in the way staff have decorated their booths; a photo pinned here, a small vase of flowers there. The workstations still look like hutches. The semi-private supervisor offices line the open centre, underlit glass boxes that are uncomfortably reminiscent of cages for battery hens.
Breathe by Christopher Fowler