OS Nulla

July 27, 2015

By Jeffrey Anderson

The noise comes from a few cubicles over, a stuttering electronic sound, raveling out along the edge of hearing. After a moment she gets up and walks down to where it was. The desks are all empty. In one, as she passes, there might have been something on the monitor, already gone when she turns her head to look. She walks back to her own seat and leans back in the chair, waiting. Night in the windows behind her. Time passing, the clock adrift on the wall.

Hunger makes her leave her seat. Her hand trembles as she presses the security panel. Now she makes a fist against the door, opening it wide. In the corridor outside she finds what the electronic noise was signaling: since she came in this afternoon a metal structure has been put in place, its struts braced against the walls; the naked body of a woman is suspended from it, head down. The incisions and excisions are precise, made according to an unknown protocol. Below the spot where a rectangle of flesh has been removed from the back, she sees two moles, near a Medusa tattoo on the shoulder: all identical with her own.

Keeping her eyes on the floor, away from the figure’s face, she moves around it. The elevator lobby is on the other side, the giant AM logo on each set of doors. She brings her hands up and does a quick calming exercise, counting, stroking the backs of her fingers; it is interrupted by a sound from behind her, a low whistle of metal. Farther back, from the office where she was, the same electronic sound repeats, louder now. She opens the door to the stairwell and goes down quickly.

At the cafeteria doors she pauses and looks in, seeing no one. Inside, she lifts the lid of each item on the buffet. They’re all empty. In the kitchen she finds a roll on one of the counters, but when she picks it up it’s plastic. She walks back out along the chairs and tables, holding herself.

Over the drone of circulating air another sound begins: a soft drumming on the windows. She goes over to them, slipping behind the curtain and pulling it around her.

The cold of the outside seeps in. Rain is falling through the beams of the security lights; it runs in streaks down the glass. Her eyes pass over the debris in the street where the lights show it: bricks from the partially collapsed factory across the way, mixed with obsolete servers and electronics. Patches of decayed clothing mixed in. Farther back, above the rubble, she can make out the glow of other buildings like the one she is in, the lit squares of the infinite grid. Along the razor wire a small white shape is hanging; a sneaker, its mate lying farther back, out in the street. White Keds, like her own.

She shifts her weight, putting her palm against the window. Her breath forms on the glass, filled with the chemical light, then fades. At the border, in the interval. The rain comes up against the pane as if flung by a hand.

In the ground floor break room the food and soda machines are gone, black streaks on the linoleum where they were. The tables and chairs there lay overturned. The monitor has been tilted sideways, and instead of television it is showing an information sequence. It isn’t one she’s seen before. It is a series of diagrams, moving at a speed that makes them illegible. Equations and details erupt from a central figure, covering it for a fraction of a second, then collapsing back; gradually she sees what it is. A representation of the human skeleton, horizontal, the skull and pelvis parallel. As she watches, and the programs flare, the pelvis alters: its wings fold in, forming a dome like the top of a skull; the sacrum spreads and two ragged eye-holes open in it. The birth canal becomes an oversized mouth lined with teeth. Now the limbs change, the legs drawing up, the arms extending….

In the stairwell she feels faint and pauses with her hand on the railing. The hum of the servers comes from below. She has seen them: row after row in the darkness, spread under the building and out into the surrounding streets. She goes up the stairs slowly, resting at each bend. Close to her own floor she sees a change in the light above. She moves up carefully, craning her neck. The food and soda machines are wedged in the stairwell. There is no space to go around them. She leans backwards, slumping into the wall. Turning away, she opens the door to this floor’s lobby. The rows of elevators here are identical, the giant logo on the wall at the end, the letters AM with a swoosh. She hesitates, then presses the Up button. Doors open immediately next to her. The elevator goes past her floor, gathering speed, and she closes her eyes.

Upstairs it is still night. She steps over the threshold. It is an executive suite, where a wall mirror gives the illusion of depth. The spread of lights overhead repeated in its frames. Underneath, a floral arrangement set on a pedestal, stems waving in circulated air—above the grid, in a recess, far above ground. There is a whistle, and the sound of gears moving. The wall at the end of the room falls away; below, the incomprehensible lines of the City in darkness. The wooden fixtures alongside are now a series of metal arms. Lenses cluster in the spaces between them. In this interval, what was single and whole becomes multiple. My name is Legion, for we are many. The roar of air tugs her forward, toward the lights of office buildings, the infinite rows facing on nothing. Above the grid, inverted. Descending in a great space, head downward into the haze of blood, the blood haze, where the flesh blossomed.