Not the faintest sound of any kind could be heard
I walked into the open-plan office upstairs and heard the girls mournfully talking about how the newly upgraded printer was no good. I asked whether the printer was slow, or had poor print quality. They didn’t like its song, which was mechanical and annoying. The old printer had made a noise that was repetitive but musical, so they used to sing along when it did a large run of flow charts. One of them started humming the old printer song to me. Gradually the others joined in until there were about five of them with their chins in the air as they conducted themselves with nods and raised eyebrows.
I paused for a moment watching them and then turned away and go down the hall. The sound of their lament faded into the hum that surrounds the data rooms. It sounds like tiny machinery or insects. There was no-one in the corridor with me so I opened my mouth and tried to reproduce their final notes over the unsettling vibrations from the printers I was walking past, and noises came from my lips for a couple of seconds until my voice cracked into silence.
I frowned and kept going onward to the cafeteria, passing the taped-up areas where a group in grey overalls were ripping out the scuffed white interior walls and glue-gunning in new, cream-coloured replacement walls to form small internal half-glassed offices for an incoming cohort of middle management. Thirty metres further down the corridor, a different group in green were tearing out the new cream walls and putting low-rise dividers, sofas and easy chairs into place. These waves of corporate reorganisation slowly ripple through the building’s fabric and people, weeks after their rationales have themselves been ripped out, conflicting with each other. We’re used to considering our roles, locations and even buildings as provisional and reconfigurable, though the interference between the waves occasionally throws up a highly coveted area that is ignored and doesn’t change for years at a time.
I walked on and the sound of dry-wall being ripped out faded; dizzily looking down at my feet pointing the way, flapping up and down as they appear in front of me in turn. Passing through the centre of the building, my berry chirrupped a handshake with the thicker carpet marking the executive territories. On the right, the middle of the five glass-walled boardrooms has been converted to house a work of art, two wooden barn doors with peep-holes at eye-level. It’s considered impolite to look through the peep-holes—Higgs did but he was re-deployed elsewhere a week later—so I cut my eyes away as I passed. Quietly I make the printer noise again.
I arrive at the cafeteria, and wheel right as if on rails towards the machine in the alcove. I wave my mobile at it and a measured geyser of tea is hosed into a cup, which I take to a table on the window side and sat down, not looking out of the window.
I am being punished for the Martinson situation last year, I think. Or they’re challenging me. In any case, I must treat it as a challenge and rise to meet it, because there isn’t another department for a hundred blocks in all directions. I expect lots of battles with the carriers tomorrow—had them all called and made a speech which they did not understand. They promise good behaviour. The installers have been testing the new 7D printers for the last week. Their noise might be annoying but we’ll use them to render models of the historic buildings and façades we’ll form on site for the departmental history project. The department controls the present, but needs a stronger grip on the past, as a hedge against an uncertain future.
The surface of the tea reflects the light from the overhead strips. The face in the tea wobbles, it has no recognisable features. It’s a silhouette with edges trembling like a cartoon, dark gleams on the flat surface. The face in the tea shows no sign that I’m making the printer noise again, now so quietly that it’s only a breath.
By Rod, 14 June, 2006; direct link.