The door creaked as Karen crept into the room. This, she later reasoned, likely accounted for the permanent door-half-open-half-closed situation that permeated the collective consciousness of the room — a climate of paranoia (due naturally to the un-nature of the room, or rather the work done within) that necessitated both that no one not supposed to be there would be able to see into the cloister and that those with appropriate clearance could slip silently in and out without attracting unwanted attention. A pointed inquiry to the pseudonymous “Bing” proved useless in confirming this suspicion, unlike other such inquiries she had conducted in the past.
First impressions. A den, potentially a gentlemen’s club with a homoerotic undercurrent, testosterone dripping from every chair and from the array of computers at the far end of the room, all running Linux, all identically unique. No wonder they needed more women.
Second impressions. Sitting down now, taking in the room. Comfortable chair; padded like a sofa for relaxation but with a posture button that straightens you out like Liberty Ministry never could. A small hologram embedded in the armrest steals her attention for a moment, but she is jolted back into surreality with a warning from her computer. Literally, a warning; “You probably don’t want to touch that,” a simulcrum of Stephen Hawking monotones (crude humour, but effective), “Prototype healing hologram; emphasis on the prototype, not so much on the healing.”
Karen makes a mental note to experience distress at this sentient development later — she doesn’t have time for culture shock right now — and begins familiarising herself with a range of new applications on the computer. The term ‘manhandling’ comes to mind, but she brushes it aside. Until she’s formally introduced — Introduced, is she crazy? – to her new computer she’s determined to proceed as normality insists.
One application in particular catches her eye: Black hole creation and global thermostat control. Her attempts to access this folder are restricted however by a long, drawn out legalistic process — endless lists of definitions and loopholes created specifically to ensure that no matter how you used the program you were sure to be breaking the law somehow. The process was strangely hypnotizing, and she was soon entranced, completely oblivious to the room around her.
“I understand the Executives were impressed by your work with the blind, then?” The voice belonged to a grotesque man, unwashed and with a belt three notches too small that was holding his pants up for the same reason a comrade might hurl himself on top of a grenade — not because it is good for him, but because it is good for everyone else. A badge — intermittently lost between fat-flaps — identified him as the director of the Health and Wellness division. It was possible, she mused, that badge had belonged to an unfortunate predecessor the man had eaten in a bizarre promotion ritual.
“…and of course, we’ve decided to cancel completely the media promotion of homeopathy. Too embarrassing if any that bollocks is ever traced to us. ‘Not even bad science’ they’re calling it, would you believe?”
Karen hadn’t been paying attention — apparently oblivious to her apathy, the fat man had begun some kind of briefing. She snapped back to reality — “Naturally we’re recommending all funding for homeopathic studies be cut too; ironic, really, because if you ask me (nobody does) it’ll just bolster more conspiratorial thinking.”
Salvation came, ironically, from the Religion and Blasphemy department. It turned out that this was Bing’s domaine du contrôle, and he was more than happy to whisk Karen away from the rambling explosion of flesh and into a second even more inconspicuous office (it must have been, she reasoned, as she didn’t realise it was there until she was already in it). Bing handed her a piece of paper with an incomplete equation scrawled across the top to hide the still visible letterhead of the John Birch Society — Christians + Science = ?
“I’m particularly proud of that piece,” – a pause for the rehearsed description — “a psychoanalytic breakdown of the artificial mental walls constructed by Christians in relation to the post-Korea mythology of the scientist as everyman.”
“No, not really. As they say in the vernacular, I’m bullshitting you. It’s a fine takedown of Christian wackaloonery, though.” Karen had to agree.
Bing led her to the far end of the room, where two slightly taller and lankier men sat engaged in heated discussion, an academic Tweedledum and Tweedledee. A tower of disposable coffee cups bore testament to the bullish nature of both parties; as it transpired, they had encountered an editorial problem in deciding what news to feature and were at some pains hashing out a series of pros and cons — each dealing exclusively, of course, with the pros of their own piece and the cons of the other.
“Look here,” started the one Karen had decided to label Tweedledum, “this story can’t wait forever. It’s pure gold this — I mean, how often do you get gun advocates positioning a certifiable nutjob as their poster boy?”
Tweedledee seemed unfazed. “All the time,” he contested, “besides, if you don’t keep up with current news, you’ll bore people. The public wants freshness, they want something new–”
“And how new exactly is a medieval forgery of an ancient relic? I mean, honestly, who cares if they’ve made a documentary out of it? If that’s the real face of Jesus, my arse is a divine pogo stick; not to mention the credulous print reporting we’ve already had to deal with. Why not break from tradition — send out information about something different for a change?”
Tweedledee turned to Karen, “Well then, you’re the new blood.” He had an accent that was unfamiliar to her (even more unfamiliar than those she encountered everyday — the normalization of the novel, she reflected), “What do you think we should run with?”
“Well, I really couldn’t–”
A squeal from a darkened corner of the room interrupted her train of thought and shook her back into the reality of the situation: What the hell was that? She stared in the direction of the diversion, and her eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light to reveal what appeared to be a small child dissecting a pigeon. A muted scream caught at the back of her throat, audible despite her laryngeal protests.
“Ah, yes,” Bing was unperturbed, “that’s our Jack. Poor boy worked in the biological inerrancy department up until last week when a particularly insidious bit of Creationist cretinism sent him deranged. He’s wild now — wanders in and out of the crawl space like some demented Gordan Freeman — but I honestly haven’t the heart to kick him onto the street.” Pigeon entrails now smeared the walls, giving the impression of a Jackson Pollock painting gone horribly right. “Plus, of course, he deals with our vermin problem.”
Attention now turned back to Karen. “I trust this won’t be a problem? After all,” he brushed his jacket aside, revealing a hunting knife and (somewhat puzzlingly) season tickets for the North Korean ballet company, “you’re free to leave at any time.”
Karen strengthened her resolve — “No, no. I’m more than happy to be here.” A little perplexed of course, though she’d never voice that thought.
“Good,” Bing asserted as he led her down a corridor she could have sworn materialised out of nothing, “then you’re hired.” They emerged into a large warehouse, still somehow inexplicably in the confines of the building she had first entered (though she swore to herself it couldn’t be so); shadowy figures darted to and fro giving orders to strange elf like creatures who would take dictation and then curiously cram themselves rather than the memo into pneumatic tubes to be shot off across the warehouse.
“Welcome,” Bing announced, “to the room that makes the media.”
Articles linked to in this Skeptics’ Circle (in order of appearance):
Scott Lilienfeld: Real Self-Help (The Skepbitch)
Holomedicine and applemagic (Cubik’s Rube)
Skeptical Apps (Effort Sisyphus)
Large Hadron Collider Reaches 7.0 TeV Collisions (The Skeptical Teacher)
Climategate Ends With a Fizzle (The Skeptical Teacher)
Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association (Stuff and Nonsense)
A Charitable Skeptic (The Skepbitch)
Prayer, Miracles, and Damned Statistics (The Skeptical Teacher)
Not even bad science (Pro-science)
My God! If science ever gets into the hands of the Christians… (Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes)
Ah…you might want to pick a different poster-boy there, champ. (Divisible By Pi)
Not the Real Face of Jesus (Aardvarchaeology)
mX: Where journalism goes to die. (Divisible By Pi)
O’Leary – Argh, my brain! You’ve melted my brain! (Homologous Legs)