Men scream, squibs explode, tires squeal as the cars hurtle from just outside of frame, through the shot, to just on the other side of the frame again. The cars roll to their stops, the assailants hanging like tired dogs out of their windows, heavy impotent pistols dangling in their hands. The shot is called, the women and men in their dark suits scuttle across the street, either toward or away from some fragment of a trial. The second unit director slides out from behind the monitor and goes in search of a cup of coffee, tech crews rush out to touch up make-up, adjust lighting, sweep up accidental fragments of debris.
Beneath the street, Claude and Barnabus trundle through a maintenance tunnel. Claude walks along the top and the bottom, his long hairy hands looping through the dangling Detroit Edison wires. Barnabus lopes behind, knuckling down, his feet shuffling, his body swinging forward in little half-arcs: right knuckle, left knuckle, right knuckle, left.
Twisting backward through the tunnel, along the path Claude and Barnabus have traveled, passing rotting rat bodies and the aggregated sludge of the city, through turns, narrow spots, flooded dips in the tunnel. We come to an access left panel slightly ajar. On the far side of the panel we see thirty apes in mechanics coveralls fighting, playing, fencing with dented chrome exhaust pipes. They scream rude denunciations in French, in Senegalese, in Portuguese, in the clicking high pitched patois of bushmen who live in the peripheral villages around certain minor central African cities.
One of the Apes surrounds himself by a swooping, cawing mass of parrots, the tangerine, lime and azure feathers flickering in the greasy subterranean glow of old stuttering fluorescent lights. He brandishes two crooked chromed steel pipes, his ambulatory feet clutching at duct work in the ceiling, his body inverted over the cackling, barking mass, the pipes swinging, the birds blurting out obscene grunts and cries gathered from a thousand different open windows from across the city. It is November, but the birds still echo the subtle grunts and moans of late summer, the last time they could safely roam the Michigan sky.
"Give me More! Give me More!"
Past the playful brawl, a tableau like some extended splash page from an old Kirby comic book, the pipes intertwining, flattening the mass into an iconic fight, isostatic and intricately designed like a Celtic knot, we push further into a great and cavernous garage, deep beneath the Renaissance Center.
There is a giant suit of armor laid out on the floor piece by piece, the disassembled form speaking in the language of medieval armor familiar to any eleven year old boy— each plate alone on the floor implying its relationship to the plate next to it, curved and shining, intimating at the huge, articulated assemblage like the chitinous armor of an exotic insect— but the holistic sense is framed against a very alien body plan. There is no gorgette. There are no gauntlets, no knees. Great translucent dishes the size hubcaps rest on padded cradles of cheese cloth, and there are so many curved plates you can imagine too many arms, too many legs.
At one end of the long line of metal plates sits a man fast approaching the lower ends of middle age, squat and dark-skinned, stripped down to the waist, a huge and intricate ram's head tattooed in plain blue ink across his chest, each looping horn spiraling around a pierced nipple. His stubby, grease-blackened fingers dance over green circuit boards, pulling apart coiled rainbow ribbons socketed into the plastic. Next to his thigh is a tiny gas powered soldering iron balanced on two wire legs.
Beyond him are cars and the shadows of fighting apes, an office where another man pours over wrinkled manuals, an elevator.
Up the shaft, floor after floor after floor, seventy stories into Detroit's frigid, grimy air-space. Hundreds of feet in the air dogs bark and cower in an extended kennel. At the very edge of the mass of crates, the reek of urine weighing down the air, a black poodle rests his forehead against the glass of a window that looks out over the Detroit River. His short, quick breath fogs the glass. On the far side of the same floor, fans oscillating to clear the air, a thin man and a chicken argue over figures scratched on the back of several receipts.
A chimpanzee in khakis and a sweater knuckles down a corridor beyond the office. Slung across his chest is a satchel that gapes open, file folders swinging out and then flumping back against his chest as he lurches forward one knuckle at a time. He is approaching a spiral staircase.
At the top of the stairs, the carpet gray and well kept, the lights buzzing but quiet, there is a long corridor. Doors line the hall, non-descript paintings in pastels hang on the white drywall, inoffensive, vaguely impressionistic scatterings of light in muted pallets, the sort of corporate art hanging on the wall of any Holiday Inn lobby in any city in America.
Step through a door. The room is cool. Giant banks of servers hum, LEDs blink, glow, wink, fade away.
A glass door opens into a clean room where technicians wielding expensive stainless steel scalpels carefully operate on a pair of komodo dragons under heavy anesthesia, each lizard's face covered in a tiny plastic mask. One dragon's leg has been butterflyed, each layer of tissues exposed, pulled back, pinned to the table. The other has an incision in her chest where steady, latex enveloped hands insert thin glittering shards of silicon wafers.
At the window of the clean room, in the observation room, three crabs sit, two on the bottom, one straddling across the top. The topmost crab sways his heavier claw in the air slowly like a drunk fan waving his lighter at an extended performance of "Free Bird." The three titter, a high, fading tinkle like Shirley Temple trapped in a space shuttle's cargo hold, hysterical with oxygen deprivation.
Beyond the crabs are banks of computer terminals, most vacant, the occasional screen faced by a young drone in office casual, playing solitaire or studying complex arcing graphs that trace elliptic energy output models, the moisture differentials of hurricanes, the path of the terminator line across the face of Mars, ATP uptake in the cells of sea-squirts.
Pacing amongst the banks of terminals is a delicately thin Vietnamese man who scowls often and pauses at the outside window to watch, in the distance, as a film crew detonates German engineered cars while the camera rolls.
Past the Vietnamese man is a great tank. In that huge tank of water, lost in the murk, are a pair of optically perfect eyes. Looking out through the water one could almost make out the afternoon sun and the skyline of Windsor, Ontario.
From a speaker in the wall by the tank there comes a booming synthetic voice.
"Rob, is this the November?"
A dirty man, youngish, wearing his hat backwards— a janitor, maybe— sits on the floor by the speaker, his back against the glass.
"Yo," the young man says.
"Does the Thanks-to-Giving time approach? Is she the yearly of avian slaughters?"
The young man nods. "Yo."
There is an immense pause in the air, described by the static of the speaker, for it only hums when it is activated, and it is only activated when it is about to be used. The speaker hisses like rope pulled through sand.
The young man's head lolls to one side, his gaze falling to a distant corner of the room, his hat now angled up toward a strange new orientation, the lines of his chin, his eyes, the bill of his hat describing a tangle of possible directions like an antenna array developed through advanced evolutionary algorithms.
"What?" he says in a flat, almost subsonic voice.
"I miss the days when I could watch the Televisual Dramas on the friscalating chromataphors of my skin."
Rob vaguely nods, "Yeah, but the electrodes and shit made you, you know, crabby all the time."Hiss.
"Also," Rob lifts his head back into square with his shoulders, "Sometimes, you know, I feel like there's eyes in this place that ain't yours or anyone else's, right?" He looks dead on into the middle of everything, his eyes centered, lids drooping but only slightly, his pupils as clear as they have been in years. "I feel watched," he says.
The speaker clicks off, the hiss cut like a rope snapped. The eyes that float in the murk turn and gaze into the middle. And then, faintly, the murk asserts itself; or rather, the eyes, the form in the water, fades away and to the rear. The glass darkens, the sunlight fading. Coils of ink loop through the water like a child's accident.
Rob looks up over his shoulder, appraises the darkening, inked water, "Yeah, Lord A. Right on. Magic 8 Ball says 'Crawl back into bed and start again tomorrow.'"
Rob relaxes back into his slouch, staring blankly into the middle of everything.
"I fucking hate Wednesdays, dude."
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson