Giving way to a wave of unbearable frustration I went over to where Martin was sitting and shook him violently by the shoulder, “For God’s sake Martin we’ve got to repair the star-drive module! I can’t do it on my own, you know I can’t…”
“Sure Pete,” Martin replied without ever taking his eyes of the TV screen, “I’m with you man…” The game-show host on the program he was watching made some smart-ass crack and Martin chortled appreciatively, unconsciously reaching out a hand for the can of Dutch Gold lager he had on the carpet next to the dilapidated-looking armchair he was sitting on. His clumsily groping fingers tipped the can over, spilling a sizeable proportion of the rank smelling beer onto the long-suffering carpet before he managed to rescue it and bring it to his lips, still never taking his eyes of the television. I looked away, disgusted and sickened.
“What about you Damien?” I asked, switching my attention to the tall, slimly built, somewhat quizzical-looking guy with shoulder-length dark hair sitting in the armchair to the left of me. “You’ll give me a hand won’t you?” Damien was sitting in full lotus with a worn-looking copy of Madam Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine in his lap, which he was studying with great seriousness. “I’ve been thinking about what we’re trying to accomplish,” he replied, with a certain annoying air of superiority, “and I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer we seek is in the ancient esoteric teachings. Without the correct understanding, our attempts are doomed to failure. ” I didn’t want to pursue the matter, I knew that once Damien started up he was quite capable of carrying on bullshitting for hours. I didn’t want to hear for the umpteenth time about the hypothetical White Gold which powered the Ark of the Covenant, the lost scientific knowledge of the Dogon tribe of Lower Egypt, the schemings of the Illuminati, or the Aryan race’s age-old conflict with the Sumerians or any crap like that. From innumerable past conversations with Damien over the last few weeks, I considered him a lost cause.
I turned instead to Jim who was sprawled out on the sofa next to me. “Has everyone gone completely mad around here?” I demanded, “We’ve got to get to work immediately, we can’t afford to waste any more time.” Jim looked up with an infuriatingly bland expression from the racing page of his newspaper, “Look Peter just take a chill-pill will you? What’s the hurry? It’s all under control. I’m going to get cracking working out the sequence that will reactivate the core just as soon as I pick out a few horses. A few bob would come in handy enough right now wouldn’t it?” He got back to his task, a look of complete absorption taking over his face as he studied the page. I knew damn well I wasn’t getting anywhere – Jim’s pretence that he actually gave a damn was laughably transparent.
At this stage I was starting to feel dizzy and physically sick. Waves of unreality were sweeping over me – I just couldn’t believe what was happening. I turned to Catherine who sat on the far side of the room reading a magazine. “Cathy,” I implored, “You speak to them…” Cathy looked profoundly uninterested. She was somehow managing to paint her nails, smoke a Dunhill Light, leaf through ‘Marie Claire’ magazine and look bored all at the same time. “Well I’ve got a hair-appointment at three o’clock. And anyway, to be perfectly honest I don’t know if I really have time for all of this stupid business any more. It looks like no one else is going to say this so I will – I think we’ve all got a bit fed up with the whole idea of rebuilding that pile of junk in the garden and you’re the only one who doesn’t seem to get just how stupid it all is. You might as well face it Pete – no one gives a damn any more. We’ve all moved on and so should you…”
Eyes met surreptitiously across the room and I realized that what Cathy said was true. I was the only one to whom the project actually meant anything any more. I felt cold inside, my hands were clammy and felt in some odd way too big for me and no longer functional. As they hung pointlessly by my sides I got the distinct impression that they didn’t belong to me at all. They were alien hands, funny rubbery floppy things. I felt as if I had giant hand-shaped gloves on. This sensation got worse again – it progressed until the whole of my arms felt strange, right up to my shoulders. My arms now felt like a seal’s flippers, ridiculously useless and several sizes too big. And numb as well, as if they had been repeatedly injected with novocaine. I tried to move them but they were too heavy.
Again, the waves of unreality came on, stronger and more insistent than ever. They had me just about buried at this stage. I really did feel as if I were underwater, at the bottom of the sea perhaps. Talking was a supreme effort – the weight of the atmosphere above me was so oppressive that I couldn’t seem to open my mouth. I just stared from one person to another, wondering if perhaps this was all some sort of dream. And all the time the pressure I felt kept increasing and increasing; it was like a giant leaning down on me. It reached what felt like breaking point and something ‘gave’ with a peculiar cracking / popping sound in my neck. I wondered in a vague, abstracted sort of a way if this meant something bad had happened to me but I couldn’t really tell. Looking at everyone else I got the feeling that no one could hear it apart from me. Following this weirdly private, but distinctly disturbing, internal event the sense of crushing pressure abruptly eased up, I promptly came back to myself and felt more or less normal again.
“What about Andrea? What does she think?” I finally managed to blurt out, after a period of time that could have been – for all I knew – only a brief few seconds or something a lot longer. Andrea had gone off to her yoga class half an hour ago. Cathy exhaled smoke from her Dunhill, holding her hands in the air with fingers apart so that her nails could dry, the cigarette precariously held between the second and third fingers of her left hand, “Andrea thinks you should go and get some help from a psychiatrist. She thinks you’ve got mental health problems, she thinks that you have become unwell, obsessive – delusional even. She thinks you might need medication…”
Everyone looked at me. I could see in the furtive, embarrassed glances they gave each other that they all thought the same. They just wanted me to leave them alone, to stop bothering them. They were hoping I would go away and leave them in peace. I thought about making one last appeal to their evidently addled senses, trying to get them to remember how it used to be, how important it had been, only a few weeks ago. Something in the blankness of their eyes stopped me. It was like a brick wall. I got to my feet and rushed out of the room. No one tried to stop me, no one said anything.
I was about to leave the house when I thought of Adam. Out of everyone I felt that he was the person I could least imagine giving me the cold shoulder. Adam wasn’t like that, he wasn’t a gobshyte. I caught myself there and wondered – since when had my friends, my trusted companions, become gobshytes? What was happening to us all? Adam was upstairs in his bedroom. I ran up the stairs, paused momentarily to rap on the door to announce my presence, and then let myself in without bothering to wait for a reply. Adam was there sitting at his computer next to his bed, playing ‘World of Warcraft’.
“Hi Pete,” he said with characteristic good-natured mildness, turning around briefly to give me a smile, “how’s it going?” I sat down on his unmade bed, watching him play for a while. He appeared to be in the middle of something, frantic activity evident on his 22 inch flat-screen. “I don’t know what’s going on anymore Adam, I really don’t know what the fuck is happening. No one will talk to me, they keep fobbing me off. That cow Cathy as good as told me that I was an embarrassment. She practically told me I was a nut-job, a head-the-ball. No one wants to talk about repairing the module.”
Adam was silent for a while, caught up in what he was doing. Eventually he spoke, “I know what you mean Pete. They’ve lost interest. They just don’t care any more you see. When it comes right down to it they’ve all got their own agendas to follow and they don’t care about anything else. You can’t blame them for being shallow though – I think they’re frightened. I think we’re all frightened, and we all respond in our different ways. As a group, we seem to be disintegrating…” He broke off, then cursed softly, “Fuck it. I’m dead!”
“Well will you give me a hand Adam?” I asked, somewhat plaintively. “After all, you are the technological and scientific genius around here.” “Well I would,” he replied, smiling apologetically, “but I’m half-way through a raid. We’re taking out the top boss and it’s not going well…”
I sat there on his bed a while, watching him play without really following what was going on. After ten minutes or so I shook myself out of the state of torpor I was falling into and got up. I told Adam that I’d see him later, and left him to it. He said goodbye, in a preoccupied sort of a way, as I left the room.
The energy had gone out of me at this stage, I felt deflated and bemused. I wasn’t even upset any more, just kind of blank and at a loss. I walked absently down the stairs and quietly let myself out of the front door. I didn’t know where I was going to go, I didn’t have any plan – I just knew I had to get out…