His bitterness is a surprise, Ami concludes with understandable resignation. He’s undoubtedly one of the Good Guys, already warmed to because at no point has any action suggested he’s seeing her as anything other than equal. An increasing conviction emerges that cheap gags or easy answers don’t exist in his repertoire: once you’ve had it with the opposite sex, there’s no need to worry about their rituals to begin a relationship. He stares instead of at her across the World, moving outside glass of the coffee bar, oddly obsessed with people passing to and from the City, before turning with clear confusion.
‘Something’s wrong here, tell me this isn’t just jet-lag.’
‘What are you seeing?’
‘Watch this guy outside, the one with the umbrella and the black backpack. I’m convinced he’s been past the window at least three times…’
As eyes follow the well dressed, middle aged man, something truly amazing transpires: as soon as city trader moves out of range of the glass window, he inexplicably vanishes. Literally blinking out of existence, the same individual returns to his point of origin, appearing again on the other side of the road before commencing an identical journey. With mounting horror, Ami grasps that this background might look like a busy London street, but the people trapped within it are simply recordings, looped to give an appearance of a busy rush hour scene.
The horror isn’t restricted to outside either: turning to look at the coffee bar, patrons are acting as if they were characters in a video game: same movements, repeated conversations, all looped to give the impression of normality. Staring at Chris, he’s doing his best not to look frightened but this is currently beyond collective comprehension. If an enemy was going to try and intercept them on the way to the Royal Courts of Justice, this is an incredibly complex and horribly expensive bait and snare. It makes no sense, when you could bundle them both into a van. This is something to do with the car, her sleepless night, his plane trip and the ozone…
She can taste that smell everywhere, which is beginning to inhibit breathing.
They’re in real trouble: brain is running too fast, anxiety now gnawing at the edges of consciousness. The coffee’s done nothing to help, and Ami needs to be moving, not sitting. Chambers anticipates her and is already standing, motioning her to do the same, but as they do the entire World shudders, throwing him into her body. They cling onto each other for a moment before the entire coffee bar appears to rotate completely on its axis: tables end up above them a joint grips tighten, pulling them closer not simply for protection.
The nightmare does not affect anyone else, however, their recorded lives continuing unabated: the morning rituals on a loop, oblivious to nightmare scenario playing out for Chambers and Bishop. Neither are now capable of movement, frozen in a moment of time that has been taken out of their hands: for a second both think the exact, same thought, before consciousnesses shut down.
I don’t want to die like this.
The suitability of one match is
even more fortunate
than was first considered.