Chapter 5 – Felix

February 5th, 2010 § 0 comments

For most of his life, starting as far back as he could remember, Felix Clay had a feeling that something was wrong. Usually he felt like something was wrong with him but it was very easy for him to turn it around and feel that something was wrong with the world. Things didn’t fit right, one with the other. It was like the bones of the universe were in need of a chiropractic adjustment.

As a child he naturally assumed an orbit at the outer edge of any group, neither despised nor accepted. He would form a close friendship with one member of the group, sometimes another edge dweller, sometimes someone close to the center. This was his in, his anchor.

These were his feelings. People meeting him for the first time saw a quiet, relaxed, intelligent man, serious enough to make good money, kind enough not to go very far in business. Felix was tall, very thin, with big joints. He had a friendly face, the color of old tenement brick, brown eyes and full, semicircular eyebrows. When he smiled his eyes creased. He kept his hair short and dressed well if conventionally, owning a few good suits–italian hemp, linen, in shades of grey and artichoke, with white egyptian cotton shirts and narrow, somber ties. He moved gently and gracefully through the world. He appeared to be a father of young children, a little league coach, someone who attended school meetings, belonged to the museum society, read quality best sellers. And in fact he and Veronica had season’s tickets to the local BroadwayInc Theatre, and belonged to the Rockland branch of the City Library. His voice was rich, considered, analytical, if a little shrill when upset. He did not get others’ backs up. If he raised no hackles neither did he raise goosebumps. Felix rode the currents and eddies of his time like a leaf on water.

In college he developed an inner direction, which absorbed most of his attention. Books fascinated him; he read the Romantics, he read the Beats, he read everything and anything that made him feel like he was somewhere else. His graduate thesis was on Spenser and Whitehead: Process and Reality in the Bower of Adonis. That was when he met his wife, Veronica. That was when everything changed and he started to feel at home in the world.

Felix sat alone, at a BioWatch Work Station, in a dark room located on an unlit spur of the Intellatrawl Office Corridor, in a forty story office building, erected on an artificial hill, sixty k north of Manhattan and four east of the Hudson River. The building was shaped like a hive, with a papery composite facade. Inside, each company had its own corridor, with side shoots, which spiraled up from the ground floor to the top, at a gentle grade. Elevators bisected the corridors, but an employee could, and often did, walk from the bottom to the top of the building, passing only his company’s offices. The building was cooled by means of nano fans and porous ceramic walls and ceilings, so that hot air was circulated out, and cool underground air, in.

Felix was a Remote Virtual Supervisor for Intellatrawl. Intellatrawl was an internet salvage company. Programs trawled the net for abandoned code, material out of copyright, expired patents, resalable content, rare ads, anything they could recover, own and sell. Turn around was important, but they kept huge inventories of junk that customers could search and buy. Felix supervised a thousand human search analysts, processors, traders and pricers.

He monitored the programs that monitored them and if necessary sent one of his three holographic aliases to have a virtual meeting. Since he himself was subject to random alias visitations, he knew how terrifying it was to have a slightly scratchy, dim puppet of light strut about and berate you and try to make you feel worthless and stupid, so you’ll work harder or not make mistakes. But he still had an alias just like that. He had worn mean looking black shoes for the sampling. Then there was the gentle caring guy, for personal crises. The third was an affable, congratulatory hand shaker, for promotions and first days on the job. Mostly though he sent out written warnings, resolved conflicts, reported scofflaws, fired shirkers.

Somewhere someone was his supervisor. He had seen the alias many times; most recently when Veronica went on Mental Health Leave and the gentle good guy popped in to reassure him that the entire Intellatrawl family was 100% behind them.

A BioWatch Work Station, which was standard Intellatrawl equipment, measures and monitors a continuous stream of information: breathing, oxygen levels, blood pressure, eye movement, posture, chair pressure, electromagnetic field activity, expression and demeanor.

Did they spend too much time watching an unauthorized crawl? Did they stay too long at lunch or take too frequent bathroom breaks? There were secret, back channel communications. Conspiracies to defraud Intellatrawl. Artificial employees, dupes and cutouts indistinguishable from the real thing, who revealed themselves through anomalous fluctuations only a human might notice. Felix monitored all of this on a forty-inch screen set in a console, his ergonomic chair bolted to the floor.

He had his own illegal crawls; a porn crawl at the bottom of the screen, business news on the right side and baseball futures gambling on the left. The futures gambling he controlled by means of plausible blinks. The plausible blinks were not foolproof of course; anyone analyzing blinks per minute would detect pattern clusters which correlate with futures gambling, but he was confident that the other supervisors would tolerate his minor indiscretions because he himself overlooked them in the human resources under his purview. It was the only way.

Felix also had his drinks timed out pretty well. The trick was to drink enough to prevent dehydration without overfilling the bladder. If he could make it to lunch without taking a piss he would have that much more time to eat, provided he started his sandwich on the bathroom line and continued to eat at the urinal. Sloppy sandwiches were a bad idea but extruded meat and mayo worked great, as did sausage sticks and raw vegetables.

So he spent his day sucking on ice chips, eyes never leaving the monitor, head covered in a transparent cap of CellPack, speaking every time the program completed a scan of the data, “Reanalyze quadrant 2,” or “Scan 120, done, no incident.” Butt pressure, blinks, palm sweat, voice range, piss breaks. Some days he felt murderous. Some days murdered.

Veronica was his great topic, object of his thoughts, subject of his daydreams, confidant, ancient opponent. The scans passed, the neon green winked and rolled up his face and across the cells of the cap. Data trance set in. All that was odious in a day was reduced to a spectre, driven off by her.

After so many years the surface of their marriage was as dented and grimy as anyone else’s. A sort of smog had settled over his feelings but he knew what lay beneath the toxic grey layers and that his first love was still there and true. It was the only thing in the world that meant anything at all. Of things and places he had his share and expected more but they gave him no pleasure. There were the embryos in Cryovac, but until one took to her womb and grew it would still be like money down.

The porncrawl at the bottom of the screen failed to arouse him. He had no control over the content. He had requested real looking naked women walking around and heterosexual, uh, ordinary situations, which he thought might be regular men and women fucking, no silicon jobs, maybe some cunt hair, or hair under the arm, people like him. It started out that way too. But over time it mutated, becoming perverse. Now it was men fucking goats and playing with their shit. He tried, everyday, to delete it but it would not go.

Men took turns sucking off the biggest cock he’d ever seen.

He blinked a twenty-dollar bet that Ralph Roister would hit three home runs in the next 32 innings.

Sick as she was she was still beautiful to him. Though he missed the luster of her hair he could still take a bunch in his hand and breathe in the scent through the pores of his skin. Her eyes could still upset the sky, with stabs of green and blue. Her serious, wary expression still broke with delight. Every inch of her body still bewitched him.

The only time he felt in sync with anything was with her. Colors were more real, sounds less discordant. Their words and feelings see sawed. They made the same compromises. He had always felt that Aristophanes had it right in the Symposium. Love reunites the divided sphere of the soul, and when they met he had become complete.

And yet and yet and yet, he could not stop thinking, turning it over. What happened? He replayed the consultations with Intellatrawl Doctor Tarlton. He tried to piece together arguments that raged over nothing at three in the morning, sitting in the chair by the bed watching her sleep, black and white movies playing on the tv.

He climbed up on her and she was eager to please–eager–but also seemed to be suffering his touch, the way she flinched a little, and it ended often with his orgasm and her tears. Sex became like draining the pipes.

He could not hate Veronica, he could only hate himself, or what their life had become, or the building, or the chair. Yet he had to maintain optimism. It was the only way, to pretend to be optimistic that Dr. Tarlton would find some cure. Veronica hated Tarlton and so did he, but what else did they have? Fantasies of moving to Alaska? But they had been there. Neither of them had the first idea of how to survive for real. Their packs had been loaded for them and they had a mountain guide who shot their meat and kept them alive. They couldn’t even keep a cactus alive at home, or a gold fish.

Sometimes they appeared to him like naked corpses stretched out on slabs in the morgue, under bright lights, bloated, skin the color of oxidized beef. Spit, like frogspawn in the mouth and ants covering his legs. He took no pleasure in eating or drinking or fucking without her.

His gorge grew restive. Hunger twitched and growled within. The end of the day was close now. Nothing had happened. Events worth noting were rare on the job. He blinked another bet. Brindsdale’s average will drop twelve more points before his slump ends. Checked the business crawl. Monozone Continues To Climb Mz 75 +2 1/2….It was the time of day he reached his most baleful thought, that his ancestors had been slaves, and he was an overseer.

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