Meetings, bloody meetings.
This is the regular Monday morning interdepartment exec meeting, which The Knob insists on having so all his department heads and their immediate subordinates know Whatís Happening. He holds it on Mondays to account for human reality: on Friday afternoons, half the execs are too pissed and the other half are having their end-of-week crisis.
The Knobís holding court at the end of the table opposite the PC projector screen. Iím sitting inconspicuously on one side. Fredís sitting next to me. Heís my boss; no further comment. Garyís next to Fred. Heís our department head, Fredís boss, and he postures as much as The Knob: Gary sits down before Fred before me. Iím comparing the maroon vinyl of my folders with the maroon of the imitation leather of the conference table. The table units are supposed to be hooked together, but the hooks donít work too well. Where Iím sitting, I have to be careful not to rip my trousers on a dangling hook.
Ron of Finance opens his litany of Where We Stand with his customary criticism of the poor bunny writing up the minutes for failing to record his every um and ah, then segues into his interminable drone sounding like a bunch of bees hovering over a field of daisies. Comparing folder colours is much more exciting than Ron as he finally winds down to be succeeded by the usual loud bickering between Roger, Keith and Alan over their big IT project. Their project isnít advancing any faster than mine, and itís anybody elseís fault.
Iím last in the scheduled speaking order, responsible for converting the Feinlein spatio-temporal equations into a practical matter transfer system. The Feinlein equations: div t equals curl c and so forth. The bugger factor is the x-tensor. It keeps confounding me, as it does the competitors and sundry university researchers around the world. Gary keeps me on it because he regards me as the terrier type whoíll get results if anyone can. Talking to Fred behind my back, he calls me Fido. Bastard.
Actually, he might be right. I lie awake at nights trying to figure it out. Lots of nights. If I ever do figure it out, my job with the Company will be designing matter transfer equipment. If not, Iíll have to find a job elsewhere. Real estate, say. Lately, Garyís been hinting that might be sooner rather than later, so Iíve been spending many of those sleepless nights figuring out new ways to say the answerís just around the corner.
Thatís why Iíve taken up the trombone. Stress relief. People in flats neighbouring mine complain about my constantly playing ďWhen The Saints Go Marching InĒ and nothing else, but hey, Iím only beginning. I play along with a CD and Iíve just about got the details into my head, but getting them into my trombone is proving troublesome. I picked that tune because I hear it in football season whenever St Kilda wins, which is often.
I hum ďThe SaintsĒ in my head as Roger, Keith and Alan shelve their arguing long enough for the talking corpse Marg to bore the meeting shitless with her project figuring. Itís overgrown arithmetic, not real maths. I fade out, letting ďThe SaintsĒ fade in. I think Iím just about getting that trombone twirl following the second line. I run it through my head again, then reach out for my trombone and play it through slowly on that.
I play it through again, faster, then once more up to speed. Itís about the coolest thing Iíve ever heard. Iím dying to play it along with the CD, so I load it into my PC and do so. I notice Iím playing along a little differently from the trombonist on the CD. I play along again. Iím cooler than the CD! Iím brilliant!
My mind takes over. Why is my rendition better than the CD? I go to my kitchenette for coffee, pushing aside papers on the Feinlein equations to make room. Suddenly, I have a flash of dark: the world disappears for a moment, then reappears with answers in place.
I forget the coffee as I make the associations. Music is a mathematical form. A spatio-temporal form, dragging the listenerís consciousness from one state to another through a chain of matrices. A chain, it strikes me now, remarkably similar to certain features of the x-tensor in the Feinlein equations Iíve been studying so hard. I grab a sheaf of papers on the x-tensor off the floor, then print out the score of ďThe SaintsĒ with my new part added. Remarkably similar!
Quickly, I transfer the pertinent points into the x-tensor. I see the x-tensor as describing the connection between all points of spacetime. I marvel. We exist everywhere at all times! What locates us at one point at one moment? I look again at my transcribed score of ďThe SaintsĒ. I interpret it as locating consciousness. Is consciousness the same as location in spacetime? Are all objects, electrons even, somehow ďconsciousĒ?
My own consciousness abruptly registers that Iím in my flat. But I was in The Knobís meeting just now. Where am I really? The clock says Iím still in the meeting, daydreaming, but it doesnít feel like a dream. I pinch myself and get a positive result, but that test is a hearsay thing. I need a better test. I put my trombone and its stand in the kitchenette, where it never is. If Iím really here and I somehow get back to the meeting, then Iíll find the trombone in the kitchenette when I get home. Thatíll be my proof that I really am here now.
Thatís if I didnít move the trombone last night and forget I did it.
I ignore that question and ponder how to get back to the meeting. Assuming Iím here now, itís because I was silently humming a particular line of ďThe SaintsĒ. What if I do it again? I indulge in some trial and error. Finally, I imagine my colourful folder as I hum, holding the whole tune and all its component parts including mine in my head at the same time. Good thing Iím used to matrix mathematics.
Iím back in the meeting. Debbieís babbling on in pseudo mathematical probability terms that even Gary might catch the gist of. Nobody seems to have missed me or noticed my sudden reappearance. Everyone is present whoís supposed to be. I look at faces like Keithís that I expect to see glazed while Debbie babbles. Theyíre not glazed now, but I often do see it, and I usually associate it with daydreaming. It occurs to me that maybe when we remember glazed faces later, it might be a sign that they actually were absent but our minds have smoothed it over. I begin scribbling out this possible ramification of the Feinlein equations. Does the x-tensor link all consciousness?
Debbie finishes and itís my turn to babble. Thinking about the lifetime of study ahead of me, I announce that I may have made an advance, but itís too early to evaluate it. Meantime, who at this table likes music? The response is meagre but correlates well with glazed expressions Iíve observed in recent meetings. Surprisingly to me, Garyís among the responders. I recommend they all listen carefully to ďThe SaintsĒ and snap my folder shut. Most of them arenít football followers, but I discern some partisanship among the rest as The Knob closes the meeting and we all stand up to leave.
ďRobert!Ē says Gary to me. ďI want a word with you.Ē
Fred takes this as a signal to go away.
ďWhere were you in this meeting?Ē says Gary after the rest of the conference room population has thinned out.
ďTwo seats to your left.Ē
ďDonít be an arse!Ē If thereís one thing Gary hates more than me, itís glibness. ďI distinctly remember a moment when you werenít here.Ē
I cock an eyebrow at him. ďDo you distinctly remember me getting up and walking out?Ē
A pause. A Frown of Thunder. A grunt. A glare meaning Iím Watching You, Fido. Gary departs without my having suggested that he consult a psychiatrist.
Instead, I glance at the ceiling. Thereís a cobweb hanging off the overhead PC projector. I smile as I realise I have my proof. My trombone will be in the kitchenette when I get home. I know it will.
And I think all future operators of my matter transfer system will need to be confirmed St Kilda supporters.
Copyright © 2010 Len Newland.
First published in our Infinitas Newsletter, March 2010.
This page last updated 9th March 2010.