Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Terminal Eternal

Robert Moses hadn't eaten a thing since breakfast and anxiously anticipated the Chinese buffet as he slid into the patent leather booth. The owners of the 'Golden Light' knew Robert by name. Every Wednesday for the past two years they had greeted him with the same crooked smiles. The bus boys at the restaurant would stare at his expanding belly while trying to surmise how many plates they would have to clear.

Recently turned forty-one, Moses lived a solitary life. Time passes quickly for all men, but for Robert the steady march towards old age was particularly acute. The past ten years had congealed into one uniform slice of life. It was a decade devoid of significance; his future prospects were growing slim.

He began every day with a large cup of instant coffee and pastry. He worked as an accountant at Dale and Pinkin, a medium sized corporation in the Midwest specializing in electronics. It was a nine to six job for which Robert earned $500 a week. He had never gone far in school, attending a two-year accounting program at a local Community College. He was satisfied however, having exhausted what little ambition he had. At work, he would keep to himself. His tasks were well practiced and completed with few errors.

At 6pm he'd return to his one bedroom condo in the 'Whole Village' Estates. Here his life had grown observably routine. He found comfort and immediate purpose in this. His rituals included take-out, Miller High Life and cable TV. Compared to many, he led a good life. Moses had all the premium stations. He had recently purchased a 36" projector TV and a top of the line JVC videocassette recorder. On Friday he'd order a pizza and watch the pornographic tapes which arrived once weekly by mail.

***

The friendly couple who owned Golden Light seldom wondered why Robert dined alone. They felt some sympathy for the man, even as he consumed plate after plate of low quality food. The restaurant was typically empty on Wednesdays, but on this night Robert noticed two men in the seated near the door speaking softly in a foreign language. They were unusually well dressed for a $7.99 all you can eat buffet and only nibbled at their food. “Snobs,” thought Robert.

Towards the end of the feast lethargy began to set in. Robert was accustomed to the drowsiness that accompanies eating considerable quantities of Chinese food, but this feeling was subtly different. He poured himself a cup of tea, quickly paid the bill and left, taking care not to make eye contact with the foreigners as he passed their table.

As Robert fumbled with the keys to his Honda he felt a pinch in the back of his neck. His thick, oily hands brushed away what he presumed to be a bug. He felt another pinch and this time turned around—the two well-dressed men startled Robert. He was unable to utter a word as his vision blurred and faded to black.

***

Robert awoke with a burlap sack over his head. He was stretched out in what must have been a van or truck. Every imperfection in the pavement translated instantly to the back of his skull. He tried to move but his arms and legs were neatly bound. Moses began to whimper.

It is hard to keep track of time is such situations. Robert was disoriented. It felt like days had passed when the van finally stopped. He was soaked in sweat and urine. He felt another pinch and again faded away.

***

He regained consciousness in a windowless white room illuminated by bright fluorescent lighting. He was situated on a doctor’s examination table covered in parchment. The sound of the paper broke the silence as he stood up. Moses examined himself in a mirror. He was clean—recently bathed—and smelled pleasantly of soap. His head and groin were freshly shaven.

Hope and horror weighed heavily on Robert’s psyche, conflicting emotions that fed a crippling anxiety. It took several minutes before he was able to summon the courage needed to walk to the door and greet his saviors. The door was locked; the effort had exhausted Robert.

***

The Efficiency Expert, Nikolai Burr was the first to enter the room. He greeted Robert with a reassuring smile and a gentle squeeze on the shoulder. Tall and thin with clear blue eyes and short-cropped blond hair, his good will served as a token reprieve for the last forty hours of misery.

The ease with which Nikolai navigated life was due in large part to his looks. His dress and appearance, rather than being a testament to vanity, were a means to this end. He dressed impeccably in expensive dark suits that highlighted his fair skin and healthy complexion. Only exceptional men and women were immune to his allure.

Born in Norway, he had moved to New York in 1977. Nikolai enthusiastically adopted his new home, installing himself amongst the City’s elite. In only eight years he found himself living in a large loft in the West Village, eating in the finest restaurants and mingling with the finest people.

A self made man, his success was a testament to his drive and his willingness to adapt. Nikolai was portrayed positively and regularly in the media. He was involved in several high profile relationships with exquisite women, but floundered when it came to a deeper commitment. As a lifelong existentialist, most found it difficult to understand or know him.

***

“Hello Mr. Moses, my name is Nikolai Burr. You may be wondering what is happening to you and if you will live. Let me be the first to assure you—I have no intention of inflicting harm, any more so than is necessary. In fact your health is of great importance to me.”

The fresh stink of feces emanating from Robert’s gown did not faze Nikolai as he knelt before the man.

“Through a process of trial and error, we have found recruits acclimate more quickly when they are fully aware of the changes that are about to take place.”

Robert stared blankly.

“Have you ever had a cavity filled?”

Robert nodded unable and unwilling to communicate verbally.

“Well then, as you know, a good dentist will explain a procedure even before it has begun. I will do the same. We will begin with a brief tour of our facilities.”

Nikolai signaled to a camera in the corner of the room. Robert’s two captors entered, this time with a wheelchair.

“We are going to give you a drug which will allow you to witness and understand our business; it will prevent your fear from intruding. It will take a few moments for the substance to take affect during which time I will have my men clean you up.”

***

The facility had been erected during the heyday of wartime manufacturing and prosperity. Like much of Newark, the warehouse had fallen into disrepair long before Nikolai had arrived. Created to store munitions, the building was only two stories tall yet concealed seemingly endless subsurface levels.

Burr Fitness Products Incorporated had become profitable for the first time in 1984. The fitness craze that was sweeping the country was a stroke of good fortune for Nikolai. The business was never meant to be a success; it had been formed as a front for the remarkable operation occurring below ground—and perhaps to indulge the founder’s love of fitness, and cycling in particular.

Above ground, stationary bicycles, rowing machines, treadmills and other equipment was purchased in bulk and distributed nationally; below large quantities of electricity were being generated and sold to New York’s Chinatown. Nikolai had grown rich though power.

***

“Mr. Moses. I take it you’re relaxed and ready to begin the tour.” Nikolai prided himself on his business. “Shall we?” Nikolai gestured to the doors at the end of the hallway.

Robert was truly at peace. Whatever they had given him, had made his troubles, tangible as they were, fade away. He decided Nikolai wasn’t so unpleasant after all.

The hallway opened up into a large rectangular room. One could detect the powerful HVAC system that circulated fresh air. Nevertheless, the odor of men, sweat, and other bodily fluids was quite powerful. A low beat pulsed in the background. The lighting was dim; it took a minute for Robert’s eyes to adjust.

Before him, spaced evenly across the floor, two hundred men pedaled languidly on stationary cycles. Their feet fixed, seemingly permanently, to the machines.

“Robert. As you can see the floor is composed of metal grating.” Robert looked down and could faintly detect a similar scene below him. “The ceiling houses a series of sprinklers of my own design. Once daily, 12,000 gallons of water rains down on my men. We find that the cleansing helps with morale.”

Speaking for the first time, Robert asked, “When do the men leave their cycles?”

“Never. If you look across the room you will see that, at any given time 16% of our generators are sleeping. We have found that four hours of rest is adequate.” It was adequate only since he had begun circulating amphetamines through their systems. “Granted, the men are more productive if allowed to sleep in beds. Unfortunately, the costs associated with moving and storing them far outweighs any gains in output.”

Nikolai paused, “you may have noticed we shaved your groin.” Robert reached down and felt the smooth skin. “Before you begin, we will attach a catheter to your femoral artery. All your needs will be served through this input.”

***

On average, a unit became cash flow positive after only 34 days of pedaling and generated $1100 worth of power on a monthly basis. Nikolai would experiment with the men working in tandem within his warehouse. The entire operation was controlled through one central terminal, located in Nikolai’s damp office deep within the facility. He constantly tweaked their diet and the types and dosage of drugs he was administering. In the past two years he had increased productivity by 44%, while incurring no significant decline in life span.

The greatest improvement was experienced after linking the men to a feedback based reward system. From the start Nikolai had emphasized that the men must be made content, it was critical for output. Nikolai invested a significant sum in the human resources division. Recruiting the right subject was paramount.

And Robert Moses was a success. He pedaled willingly and spent his days in a state of comfort and intermittent euphoria. The low beat set the pace for his feet and his heart. He had no need to think and little to reflect upon. He adjusted well to the routine.

3 Comments:

Blogger skateboardingmom said...

What next? Are you leaving us hanging, or will you continue the story???

5:55 PM  
Blogger Marissa Beck said...

Terminal Eternal

6:11 PM  
Blogger J.L. said...

I really enjoy reading your short stories, D.C. - they're fluid and well written.

Any developments regarding our friend Vladimir Krestovich?

3:44 AM  

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