If you make it through the minefield, maybe you’ll find the entrance. Sometimes there are clues, in the remnants of the unlucky or clumsy. But the dogs take care of those soon enough.
The electronic eyes have seen you long before you get into the tunnel. Five hundred feet underground, if you make it past the razor wire and the auto-fire shotguns, you come to the entrance. A six-foot thick steel door, leading into a lead-lined bunker the size of a small town.
The guards watch through the peephole as you enter the combination. One mistake means painful death through a variety of means too gruesome to describe. Suffice it to say the guards do not lead exciting lives, and when they get a chance for action they like to make the most of it. But if you know the combination, and you make it past the guards, you pass through a series of six blast-doors, and there you find: the receptionist.
And then, if you’re on his calendar, and he’s having one of his good days, you just might get a meeting with Mr. Murphy.
His inner chamber is dark, with ceilings so high you can’t even see them. Mr. Murphy sits in a big black command chair, it’s towering two feet above his head. So you can’t even see him, from behind, but you sense his presence. You can feel the pure force of his will, directed at the bank of thirty monitors arrayed on the wall above him.
The immaculately clean flatscreens show all sorts of things – from the security feed immediately outside the door to hit chamber, to first-person-shooter point-of-views, in video-game green, of people or robots roaming the devastated streets of Hollywood, or the tunnels below it, to an aerial view of what was once the Hollywood Freeway, near the Gower exit. Ninety-nine screens are in constant motion. And yet, infallibly, the eye is drawn to one monitor, near the lower right of the wall. Here there is no video, only a montage of still photos, twenty-four hours a lightless day, seven days per incalculable underground week.
Every picture on this monitor is of a woman, dark-haired, olive-skinned, pretty, not beautiful, and yet there is something in her eyes, in her now-thirty-years-out-of-style clothes, something that could make a man fall in love with her, that could make her the Daisy to some latter-day Scorcese’s Gatsby. Only Nick Carraway is missing from the tableau. Nick Carraway is just now several miles away, self-soiled and unconscious on a military-surplus cot, with problems of his own.
But Gatsby is here. Because as we pan around the big chair, we see the man sitting in it, and we see his face. It’s disfigured, horrible. The left half is covered in some kind of stainless-steel mask, but even the exposed half is no picnic. The flesh seems to have been severely burnt, and scarred in other ways too numerous to count.
And yet. There is a lifeforce here that simply refuses to die. Because now he is watching that monitor in the lower right with as much intensity as man has ever put to screen. Because now the cracked, blasted lips part. Because how he speaks one word, just barely audible, even to the eye in the sky watching him from the ceiling.