A Day Late and a World Short #3

#2: Skip Mobley & Inn Hiller

What does Skip Mobley do while he waits for the train? He wanders, he paces, he reads the ads, he wonders who the hell they’re supposed to inspire. He foots the stubbly yellow bumps that tell people they’re about to walk onto the tracks. He wonders who the hell they’re supposed to warn, since he’s never seen anybody jump. Never even seen anybody stumble. Do people even still do that? Seems like the cops here are more lethal than the trains.

He reads the train schedule, slides his finger along the dirty plastic until he reaches the 12:00 – 13:00 column for SUNDAY, and wouldn’t you know it, the train’s three minutes late already. If you were trying to jump in front of the damn train, you’d end up late for your own suicide.

Late for your own suicide. That’s a good one. Skip pulls a small notebook out of his pocket and scribbles it down, just below “Sociopaths Do It Intentionally.”

Seventy-eight seconds later, when the train finally comes, nobody jumps, of course; and then the doors open, some people leave, some people enter, and Skip manages to find a chair.

His knees, naked through the holes in his jeans, rub against the rough fabric of the seat in front of him. Really rather unsanitary—these fabric seats from the 70’s are supposed to be just riddled with staph—but, c’mon, it’s his knees. Nobody ever got knee staph.

Inn Hiller is soldering something while smoking a cigarette, which is really just a terrible idea for any number of reasons, but it does produce the interesting visual effect of two kinds of smoke with different densities intermingling, like vines growing on the naked air. So there’s that, at least.

He’s seated on an area of his porch that he’s built a retractable room around in case he ever needed an extra room on the porch. It’s delightful to sleep in during the rainy season. Rain can be soothing like that. Unless it gets windy and the walls start to flap. There’s a reason this part of the porch is an extra room.

Right now, he’s got three walls of the room down to afford him modest protection from the environment while he works on his project. Which, in this case, is a small circuit inside an Altoids tin that can turn off televisions from fifteen feet away, for when you find yourself in the sort of situation where you want to turn off a television for which you do not, for whatever reason, possess the remote.

Inn’s phone, sitting on the table nearby, chirps. “Doorbell!” it reads. Skip must be here. Inn cleans up the fragile parts and unplugs the hot parts and heads out of the extra room, onto the porch, through the studio, down the stairs, through the garden, and to the front gate, passing any number of housemates and cats along the way and saying hi when appropriate. Sure, he could have just buzzed Skip in, but that wouldn’t be very polite, now, would it?

He opens the various gates and lets Skip in. They say “Hey!” to each other in an exaggerated manner and hug. Inn inquires as to Skip’s general state of being, and Skip answers and reciprocates, and the small talk continues until they reach the studio.

The studio is a sprawling expanse of mismatched chairs, tables, and discarded industrial wire spools turned on their sides. Surfaces are variously scattered with oscilloscopes, circuitry, computers, film, and the like. In the corner sits a room with a door and a window. Its interior walls are completely covered in brass sheeting, the window a repurposed microwave door.

Inn leads Skip to an area that is mostly concerned with editing analog video footage. “I’ve got everything ready for editing,” he says. “I already took out all of the useless footage. It’s in the box—” he tilts his head towards a large filing cabinet—“if you decide you want hours of unchanging dark rooms or something. Anyway, here.” He hands Skip a thumb drive. “Shall we watch?”

Skip tosses the thumb drive in his hand a few times. Hard to believe that video storage was so light these days. Then again, the actual film this was developed from would have weighed several pounds, especially if you included the junk from the box. “Yeah, let’s go,” he says. They head into the room with the brass sheeting.

The shelves inside the room are stacked with storage devices, a number of laptops and CB radios, speakers and iPods and batteries, really everything a geek might need after the apocalypse happens. This is because the room is a faraday cage—a room that can neither accept nor emit electromagnetic radiation. Inn built it so that he would have a room where he could work with potentially dangerous data, in the event that somebody might be watching. A paranoid thought, yes, but it was a good precaution in case he ever got involved in something that you’d need a room like that for. Plus, it was a fun thing to build.

The items that stock the shelves, though, were placed there in a fit of rather intense paranoia by some of the other residents. These residents would be people who adhere to the theory that somebody, somewhere is planning to attack Silicon Valley with a massive electromagnetic pulse, which would effectively destroy around 50% of the American tech sector and kind of ruin things for a lot of people. So when they heard that Inn was building a large, electromagnetic pulse-proof room, they decided to fill it with computers, broadcasting radios, and party supplies.

It takes all kinds.

Seated inside the faraday cage, Skip watches Inn unroll a screen from a hook fastened to the ceiling, walk to the other end of the room, push some buttons and play with some cords attached to an LCD projector, smack the LCD projector, curse in several languages (French, English, Japanese, and at least two others that Skip can’t place), adjust the cords again, unplug everything and then plug it in again, and before he knows it, there’s a movie ready to be watched on the screen. Inn pushes a button somewhere that apparently means ‘play,’ and then he sits down, and now they’re both watching a rough cut of Skip’s footage.

A room with cluttered shelves lining the walls. A small table in the middle. Sometimes three chairs, sometimes four. Lights on. Lights off. Etc. People in janitors’ uniforms requiring things from the shelves. Suddenly, a meeting. Two bulky men in suits enter and stare at things, then sit down. A small woman enters. The door closes, the door opens. A man enters. He looks around the room, catches the eyes of the men in suits, and they all nod. He looks at the camera. His eyes are of two different colors.

He sits down across from the small woman and produces a laptop. It is black, with strange white markings. He opens it and pays attention to its screen for a moment; then he speaks.

The conversation…

“Where’s the audio?” Skip asks.

“There wasn’t any.”

“I’m quite certain there was. There should have been, at any rate.”

Inn looks around warily and bolts from the room. A few minutes later, he returns, a sheepish look on his face.

“Yeah yeah, I know how this goes. You say ‘Are you high?!’ and I do my best impression of the Duke, and you say ‘What do I even pay you for?’ and I say ‘You don’t pay me!’ and we have a good laugh. Come back tomorrow, OK?”

After a second, he says slyly, “While we’re here, wanna watch something else?”

“This didn’t work the last three times and it’s not going to work this time. We are not watching The Room.”

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