I hear Commander Green’s disembodied voice crackling over the loud speaker. I look ahead at the rows of prison cells on either side of me. One by one, the occupants of the cells shuffle to the doors like a phalanx of soldiers being rallied by an ancient battle horn. Their ghoulish jeers and satanic wails begin as a raucous and unhinged acapella of human white noise that eventually merges and syncs into a hymn of an unholy choir. Building up to an eardrum shattering crescendo of one just word. Sung over and over.
Only the sweetest word in the entire English language.
“FREEDOM. FREEDOM. FREEEEEEEEDOM.”
Shivs once hidden in clothes and walls and orifices clatter against steel composite bars like strange mallets across a bunch of dysphonic xylophones; an ominous cacophony that provides the percussion to this bizarre, chaotic opera. But Madame Butterfly this ain’t. To be fair, I only ever signed on for a duet; not to conduct an entire orchestra. Too much responsibility.
“Crrrrr-ckkkk-crrrrr… I order you to stop, Doctor Yellow. That is a direct command. Do not, I repeat, do not press that button.”
I look down at the button. Lit from beneath, it has a menacing red glow that seems to spill like poison gas over the command counter. Like a magnet, it draws my left hand above it. Almost daring me to press it. It’s forbidding and alluring, all at once.
I’m torn. To press or not to press.
How the hell did it come to this?
Only 24 hours ago, I was 30 or so nautical miles from the shore on a pitch black ocean. In fact, it's so dark that there is no visible horizon. Just a whirling, roaring, merging, chaotic all absorbing pit of pitch blackness. Stray beams of moonlight hits the water and shatters across the choppy surface. Gleaming, for an instant, like the bottom of a fountain in a suburban shopping centre full of cheap coins.
I remember galloping across the open ocean with the Melbourne Cup of horse power equivalents or something on a massive state-of-the-art speedboat. I remember glancing down at my watch - a cracked silver omega that I found on a tram from flinders street and never had the time or inclination to handover. Damn. Seaspray has somehow gotten beneath the face and it's misted over with condensation. The light thingy's still working but I can barely see my own reflection. It's a dim, fuzzy edged blur.
I wonder what my dad would make of me now.
If I try hard enough, I can almost picture him in his hey-day. He was always a short arse, like his dad and his dad before him. With thinning red hair and a wide solar panel, with a freckled, pasty complexion that couldn't handle the Australian sun. He'd be smacking his thin lips in confusion, his massive head tilted to the side with the air of a startled pigeon. He never was quite sure of what was going on. And he had this hunched posture from long days bent over a shop counter. A Kosher butcher by trade, he always wanted me to be a doctor. And by wanted, I mean pleaded. After all, he gave me brochures from Melbourne School of Medicine every birthday. Without fail.
Gee, thanks dad.
"Medicine's a wonderful career, boychik. Study hard and you'll get there one day. You'd make us so proud." I mean, sure, that's the substance of what he would say to me. But, he'd splutter it while chain smoking and schvitzing over mutilated sheep carcasses with the tone of a parent that already thinks you're an irredeemable delinquent at all of 9 years old. A tone that never changed.
The day after his 60th birthday, after a lifetime of trying to push med on me like 'roids by that swole sparky on the curl machine at Fitness First, he had a fall in the shop. They put him straight into hospital, where the good ole docs ran a battery of tests on him. With each new day, came new horrors. He couldn’t see, then he didn’t really want to eat, then he couldn’t move. They diagnosed him a little while later with motor neuron disease. Leaving him paralysed in his own body. Trapped beneath a spider web of fluid lines and breathing tubes. Prodded and poked to within an inch of his life. And wallowing in a pool of his own liquid shit. By the end, he didn't believe in anything anymore.
Not in the Star of David. Not in Zion. Not in G-d. Not even the medical profession.
It would have been ironic if it was so goddamn sad. Thinking back, I wonder if he could have ever imagined his 35 year old boychick riding a slick panther of a jetboat into the heart of a raging sea? Would he be proud of me? If he saw me all fresh and clean? Freezing my lily white arse off in a flimsy set of navy cotton surgical scrubs? With a swanky gold clanger of a stethoscope, with rubber ear bits and everything hanging around my neck?
Somehow, I doubt it...
Without being consciously aware of it, I find myself at the prow of the boat. I’m being smothered by the reckless winds and turning tides. I close my eyes and brace myself as salty winds whip through my sparse ginger hair and underneath my jacket. Chilling me almost to the bone. I feel the spray roll down my cheeks like salty, graceful tears. Jesus, I haven’t actually cried in years. To be honest, this is as close as I will probably ever get.
Up ahead on the horizon, I think I see something. Could it be? Like a mirage, it disappears from sight again. I wipe the salt from my eyes and blink furiously, trying to spy it again.
When they reopen, it’s there again. It’s everything and nothing like I thought it would be. The stories made it sound like it was this mystery, this high tech Alcatraz. All I can see is some sort of artificial island made of mountains of massive cement cubes from the 1970s. Seals or Sea lions (pfft, as if I know the difference!) dot the cement cubes like tiny blowflies. They slip into the water, the ocean foam parting around them as they submerge. Foam rising behind them like translucent insect wings opening.
Damn! A blinding white light hits my eye. I turn away for a second, covering my eyes with a hand. As the pain in my eyes subsides, I cautiously part my fingers and look ahead once more.
Out of nowhere, I see a massive green pyramid gleams atop the cubes. It’s surreal, like the Louvre or one of those weird glass buildings you see when you arrive at Changi Airport in Singapore. Then, as quickly as it appears, it disappears. I rub my eyes. The pyramid, no illusion now, sparkles like a cut emerald on an engagement ring of cement. Mesmerising and terrifying and unholy, all at once.
And we are heading straight for it.
Less than a hundred metres from the cubes, the captain, a leathery old git with all the chutzpah and reckless abandonment of an 80 year old skydiver, smashes the throttle to max. Grimacing, I close my eyes and monkey grip the guard rails. 50 metres… 25 metres… 15 metres… 5 metres… We’re mere seconds from impact. Startled, I brace for the seemingly inevitable and --
It never arrives.
Instead, we veer into a narrow inlet between two cubes. All of a sudden, things become eerily silent. The captain kills the engine and we proceed to glide along what must be some sort of tunnel inside the stack of cubes.
Suddenly, the overhead lights flicker on. We are floating inside an enormous cement cavern. The halogens above irradiate the water below a toxic shade of green. Light ricochets up off the water to make the warped cement walls glisten like opals. And then I see it.
Cruising in the radioactive slurry alongside our boat is a 9 foot tiger shark. Breathe, I tell myself. Just breathe. I have always been deathly afraid of sharks. It didn’t help that my brother and I watched Jaws high as Vietnamese fighter kites back in middle school. I shudder as its lazy eyes roll back in its skull like an orgasming King Brown about to strike a feral rabbit. Cripes. I wish it would just sod off. And it does. Thank g-d. With a few lazy strokes of its tail, it glides lazily beneath the boat and heads back through the darkness back towards the open ocean.