— I was in an office. Can you believe that, Bert? Sometimes, when I sit alone upstairs in the Palladium, sometimes I think about back then, and I’m overwhelmed by the irony. I see myself, in a past moment in time, a younger myself, and everything seems the same. A desk, an ergonomic chair, an intercom, surrounded by walls painted in eggshell white, the colour of bureaucracy. More than twenty years have passed, and yet time looks at me from behind all the reflections, and makes jokes at me, in languages I barely understand but in tones I can feel shattering my bones.
I was in an office, eager to show my skills, to show my technical prowess, the degree of control and coordination I could manage despite the young age. And I just sat and stared at the holoscreen, I remember I had never seen it so… inert. I was ahead of many colleagues because I practically could read the code behind the interface — oh yes, believe me — and at the time there I was, sitting and staring at the only two words appearing on that screen: CONNECTION LOST. I couldn’t even hear what my section chief was shouting, coming and going from an office to another in a frenzy of — how could I call it? — incomprehension. Connection Lost sounded like the writing of an ancient, foreign bard, biding farewell to the populace. I kept staring at those two words, almost as if I wanted to annihilate them with my mind, digging beneath them to make them fall into the pit of meaninglessness.
And again, irony struck back, because for the following eleven days, everyone was falling exactly into that same pit. Everything felt… still. Still and distant. People seemed to develop an aura of unfriendliness and mistrust, suspicion and caution. Those were the eleven days when Connection Lost was king, and its name was also its meaning, and the meaning an acute, surgical description of the whole world outside everybody’s windows. Connection Lost: where had it gone? Its name was also a sort of epitaph for everyone to read: on our entscreens, holoscreens, streetpanels, comdevs. But of course you remember that too, Bert. You were around. I never asked you where you were when it happened, when King Connection Lost the First came, saw and conquered, when all the e-ads about ‘interconnectedness’ ‘virtual shawareness’ and ‘commimplication’ crumbled down all at once, not even leaving a faint echo of their original vacuousness and vapidity…
— If I told you where I was, I’m sure your ramblings about irony would keep on with renewed strength…
— Oh no, I’m aware that time’s of the essence and you need my authorisation to access that facility at… [reads] Bunyan. But try me.
— All right, but you sign that first.
Munro hints at a smile. Then signs without reading any of the request’s specifics. Implicit trust, as often between them. Then he stands and puts the folded sheet in Bert’s hands as he accompanies him outside the office.
Bert puts the authorised request in the inside pocket of his jacket. Munro gives him a final look of expectancy.
— All right. At the time I was fifteen, and I was visiting the Historic Library in Northwest Arslan.
Now Munro is really smiling.
— The irony, my man, the irony!
Bert is already at the end of the corridor, calling the executive lift.