“Right, well, here’s the bunkers.” Lizard grasped a spiral knob and turned, pushing the heavy door in front of him.
On first view, The Bunkers pretty much met my expectations.The space put me in mind of a barn, with high, unfinished ceilings and a “hayloft,” (minus hay) accessed by ladder. Narrow bunk beds lined the west wall, three high and five across. A few held occupants, while other boys rested on mats on the floor, seemingly oblivious to the loud music from emanating from speakers scattered among the rafters. I saw more mats rolled and stacked in large, plywood bins by the windows. The Bunkers – a place to sleep.
But stepping through the door, I saw a lot more. The room extended out, wrapping back around the entryway, opening into a space the size of a small gymnasium. A low but sturdy stage filled the back corner, with what looked like good sound equipment. Two boys practiced guitar and drum to the overhead dance-trance. In the rest of the space, maybe twenty kids lounged around, not interacting with each other at all. Instead, they all looked down, typing intently on various devices. Most had phones, but a few used notebooks and tablets. On the south wall, something projected what looked like a #timeless Twitter feed. I stood for a moment, reading.
@muleheadedpig2 @cethreepeeohno are you IN for Thursday? #Timeless
@nastydumplingang check out @tricksntraces at #GaddyFarwell’s http://bit.ly/hHHyyw #follow
@wipsmartwarriorr that bitch can MOVE #timeless #trixntraces http://bit.ly/asREWd
@cethreepeeohno @muleheadedpig2 IN? it’s gonna be EPIC! #timeless #rockthistown
“You could stand there and read it all day, but it still won’t make any sense” joked Lizard. “This is spillover from the ‘social media hub.'” He used his fingers to make the quotes. “You can tell how long someone’s been here by what they get to work with. We just got those two ipads in, so of course Rails and Stan have them.” He seemed irritated. “They call this work – they should get off their butts and come down to ground zero sometimes.”
I couldn’t tell if Lizard felt resentful or playful, which made me uneasy. Several people took my picture before anyone had even said hello, and suddenly my stunned and glowing face appeared beside Lizard’s scowl, huge on the wall. I turned away, and almost bumped directly into a girl about my own size, her wide smile so close my head jerked back instinctively.
“You’re pretty. You’re my new friend,” she cried with disconcerting certainty and abandon.
“Um, hi, you’re pretty, too,” I managed to respond. Lizard pushed his hand between us, nudging the girl back a few steps.
“Chia, I think Adelaide needs you in the kitchen.”
Chia shook her head as though to clear it, looking troubled, then smiled her bright smile again.
“Okay! I better go. See you later!”
She skipped off like a six year old, though her ample body confirmed her clearly closer to woman than childhood.
“Don’t mind her,” Lizard assured me. “She’s not all there, you know?”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing. Chia an’ Ruby, they’re Adelaide’s, they shouldn’t even be here, but it’s Adelaide’s kitchen that feeds us. Whatever those girls ran from, it made Chia…sorta checked out. Not all there. Or maybe she was always like that. She’s harmless, but she can’t be hanging’ out alone here with the dogs. Just be nice to her, okay?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to be mean!”
I peeked through a doorway to a smaller room. Here I found a strange cubicle farm, like an office or a call centre. People sat at computer desks partitioned by flimsy, carpet-covered pressboard, many speaking into headsets. The difference was, these kids seemed to be playing computer games – I could see avatars battling and merchants buying goods. They were all so engrossed that only one weasel-faced guy even noticed my intrusion. That one did a double-take, then scuttled quickly toward me, not unlike a fast little rat. I found myself instinctively backing out into more open space.
“Well look who we have here!”
Weasel-boy slid up beside me, in my personal bubble. He stood only a few inches taller than me, with angular features, a big nose, and glasses that perched a little incongruently above his nose, like a disguise. I could tell the V-shaped smile he bestowed on me was the same one he gave free to anyone. I wondered what his real smile looked like. Lizard stepped in on my other side protectively.
“Mouse, meet Static, he does internet stuff. Static, Mouse. Trix’s newest find.”
“Oh, I know lots about Missy Mouse already.” Static’s self-assurance grated on me – the type that seemed to leech its power from others. His effectiveness made him even less endearing.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked, edgy.
“Ah, Mouse, that’s for me to know, and you to find out…when it comes out!” Static smiled again, obsequious.
Across the room, a boy called, “Static, can you help me shut this asshole down? You wouldn’t believe what shit he’s spewing.”
“Hey, language!” shouted Lizard. I realized he’d really meant it about the swearing. The boy ducked his head. “Sorry, Lizard!”
“Duty calls,” sang Static. As he moved away, he called to the room at large, “There’s Trix’s new little toy Mouse, boys, don’t let the moment pass you by!”
Suddenly eight people blocked my path, eight phones right in my face. Lizard brushed them all aside with a heavy sweep of his arm.
“Back off. There’s time enough, she just got here. Static,” he called out, “you’re an asshole.”
“Better the asshole than King Shit,” sang Static, without looking up.
“Hey, language,” called a few of the boys, laughing.
“What was that about people not messing with you here?” I felt all bristly.
“Static’s not people. He’s some pimped-out plug-in from the university that they flew in for the social media stuff. Don’t let him rile you, he’s drunk on power.” Lizard looked thoughtful. “But he knows hisstuff. All those kids you see, ain’t random. He tracks their every move on Facebook, Twitter, all the online time wasters. He’s got kids on schedule 24-7, buildin’ ‘friendships,’ playin’ games, stayin’ on toppa all the chatter to feed the website. It’s like a whole system he worked out, timing and stuff. It works, so what can I say?”
“I guess. It’s too bad he has to be so off-putting.”
Lizard put his hand on my shoulder with a smile. “Anyhow, you don’t have to deal with him much. He’s only here days, and you’ll be in practice, right?”
“That’s the idea, but I don’t really know what that’s about yet. I should probably go check out the equipment…”
“Yeah, not much more to see here. Kitchen, bathrooms, the Henhouse…sorry, Girl’s Bunks through the kitchen. I can’t take you in there. Girls can come here, but guys can’t go there. Bash explains why that’s fair but I never remember.” He grinned, mischievous. “No cameras in there, either. So unfair.”
Lizard pointed above the doors we’d come in, where a small, round camera perched. Then he pointed to the upper southwest corner of the room – another camera’s red light blinked. When I looked over at the south wall, I saw our grainy forms moving around the room for a split second before the Twitter feed returned.
“If you don’t know this, girl, best know. At Timeless, we live out loud. You never know what cameras are live. They’re all over the building, cycling live-feed to the website. Didn’t you see the sign? In the lobby? Video Surveillance at All Times, Be Warned?”
Of course I’d seen the sign, but I thought there might be a camera on the stage, maybe in the lounge.
“So what, there are cameras, literally, everywhere? Even in the bathrooms?”
Lizard laughed. “No, not in the bathrooms. Not everywhere. But most places. In here, the bunks are off-side, the cameras don’t catch ’em, no one’s watchin’ ya sleep at least. Anyhow, even where they are, it’s not all the time. Cameras cycle, it’s just whatever it catches, you know. Like life.”
We made our way back to the theatre by a new route, popping out behind a black curtain at the back of the stage. Trix and Traces music played on speakers from overhead. I peeked through the curtain to the stage proper. Centre stage, Trix and Trace themselves moved together, entwined in an intricate dance sequence. Their faces flat with concentration, their bodies interacting as machine parts, I sensed not passion but deliberate precision in their coming together.
I could understand why Ethan had seen their interweaving bodies as pornographic. The movements they did together gave off a similar loveless quality to porn. Personally, I felt something more akin to the satisfaction of watching clock gears turn than sexual titillation, but that kind of subtlety doesn’t pervade the masses. Many people would find these two bodies winding and swaying very hot, though they left me cold as steel forceps.
Trace bent, wound around Trix’s torso like a snake, one foot poised on Trix’s table-flat thigh, when something went wrong. Trix cried out with pain and almost dropped Trace from her precarious roost.
“No!” Trix shouted.
“Hey!” Trace yelled at the same time, leaping to the ground. She brushed herself off, a cat with dust on her fur.
“How do you expect me to lift you from there?” Trix shot out. “We’ve done this routine a thousand times. Pay attention anyway.” Trix sounded defensive in her offence. Trace responded, surprising mild.
“Well I need to trust you, so don’t drop me. Anyway, you’re right, we can do this in our sleep, let’s just leave it today. I have things to do.” Trace picked up a towel and jumped off the stage. Trix watched her go. Once Trace moved out of sight, Trix dropped her forehead into her hand. Her back shook a little, so lean her ribs cut through the light cloth of her tank top, rising and falling with controlled breaths. I marvelled that what I saw was actually her skeleton, what made her shape, right through the skin. Abruptly, Trix stood,leaped from the stage and strode to the lobby.
“We got a Mouse in the House, spy-spying from the corners,” whispered Lizard in my ear. I jumped, and he laughed so hard I thought he’d fall over. “No doubt why you’re here, huh? Watch out, keep that little heart in your pocket. She’s too tall for you.” Still laughing he wandered over to a couple of guys on the other side of the stage. I wondered if I’d been abandoned, but he beckoned me over.
“Mouse, you wanna know Moffat and Milo.” Two boys flashed me competitively-large smiles, exchanging a glance I had no trouble interpreting. I got the feeling I’d already been subject to speculation. I recognized both boys from Saturday’s practice. Moffat was the one Jamie had helped at the sound booth just before dinner. Lizard stepped between us and addressed the two seriously.
“Play nice, boys, thissis Trix’s new pet, not for you. We make her sound good and look good doin’ it. Thassit. No messin’ with her. Got it?”
“Yeah, Lizard, sure, sure. How’d you pull guard duty, anyway? You gonna give her a foot rub?” Even I got the Pulp Fiction reference.
“I mean it. Her good health’s on you. Do not break her.”