The Tower: The Banker

At ten I have a meeting scheduled with my brother, Luis. He's an analyst for a branch of the military that doesn't hire analysts, which I assume means that he is an analyst, but works for some other branch of the government. Perhaps he's a spy. I don't know, and I am too polite to ask. He is coming to see me to discuss some details of our father's estate. At eleven we are going to have breakfast with his fiance, at which he is going to tell me that they are finally engaged. I already know this, because he told me on the phone last week, too drunk to keep his secret. I am pleased, though, because mother is secretly annoyed at having a bastard grandchild, but her sense of fair play towards her children means that she can only complain to me, not to him.

The meeting is businesslike, as it must be - I am seeing him in work hours, as a client - and when it is over I walk him back to the lifts. A workman is standing there, puzzling over some wires inside the panel where the call buttons are.

"Lo siento," he says, "Someone has broken it." He smiles apologetically, and shrugs.

So we start walking down the stairs, which are out on the side of the building but enclosed in glass. Luis starts to tell me about Jordi's first day at nursery school. Apparently Luis and Cristina haven't taught Jordi how to sit cross-legged, because when his teacher told them all to sit down for a story, he had stuck his legs straight out in front of him, crossed at the knee.

"...and so she tells him again to..." Luis trails off, frowning. He is staring out of the windows, and I follow his gaze. I don't take the stairs much, so it takes me a little while to relate the buildings I am seeing from this angle to the buildings I see every day on my walk into work. There is the Rovello Jewelry building, those are the flats over the supermarket, there's the underground station. I can even see the newspaper stand guy, although it's much darker than I would have expected.

"Bit overcast," I remark. "Looked as though it was going to turn out quite nice this morning."

Luis doesn't hear me. We get to the landing between the third and second floors, and he walks over to the window and looks up, then down. I follow his gaze. It's odd. There are people gathered around outside the station now. It looks as though they're looking up at us. In fact, one or two of them are pointing. Almost directly at us, certainly at the building. It's getting darker.

"What's going on?" I ask.

Luis, still frowning, looks up, and I look up too. There are no clouds - well, a few wispy ones further up, and a couple of criss-crossing vapour trails forming a noughts-and-crosses board in the sky. Then, something - something I can't quite make out, just a brighter patch in the sky. No, more than one. Three bright patches, and then a space, and then three more bright patches, and all of a sudden with a shout: "Fuck!", Luis grabs my arm painfully hard. He pulls, and when I look round, he is moving me towards the down stairs, and he isn't frowning any more. He's terrified.


"What is it?"

"RUN!" Louder, and he begins to rush down the steps as quickly as he can, almost yanking my arm out of its sockets. I have to grab hold of the bannister to keep myself from being pulled over as we leap down steps three, four, five at a time. Luis lands awkwardly on the side of his right foot as he hits the second floor landing, and he stumbles forwards, pulling me after him. I manage to keep my feet (thanks to the bannister) but he tumbles into the door, and there is a painful-sounding thwack as his head hits it.

"Keep moving!" He yells, and pushes himself back onto his feet. I take him by the arm, but he shakes me off. He spots the fire alarm switch, and instead of pressing the glass he punches it with a half-open fist. I guess he hasn't used one before, or maybe it's the adrenalin, because the force of his blow punches the whole thing through the partition wall it is mounted on, and into the second floor store room. It works, though, still dangling from its wire, because the alarm above our heads goes off, deafeningly loud and close. We continue running down, and as we reach the half-way landing, I can see that the sky outside has become much darker - but not just the sky, everything. It's as though I'm wearing photo-sensitive sunglasses - the whole town is slowly beginning to fade out. No, that's not quite true. There is a circle of brickwork on the building opposite which is still oddly bright, as though a light were shining on it from everywhere.

We get to the first floor landing before anyone has a chance to beat us there, but as we go down the final two flights of stairs towards the ground I can see (first) that the area around us is almost totally black now, and (second) that there are people lining up to get out of the side entrance. For a moment I am relieved that I will not have to search my pockets for my pass to unlock the door, but then I realise that they were probably unlocked when the fire alarm went off. We hit the floor, and get into the queue of people making their way out. Luis pushes forwards impatiently, while I politely let Elena from finance go ahead of me and then get into the queue.

"Come on!" Luis yells, and someone (I don't see who) tells him to calm down, and that everything will be OK. Luis ignores this, and pushes through the door at the same time as one of the security guards, who pushes him away. "Come on!" he yells to me. Christine gets to the door, and then I am through, and suddenly I'm as terrified as Luis is, because there is almost nothing around us. The building is still lit, and I can see everyone and everything perfectly, but there is something wrong with the light, it's harsh and white, not the gentle light of the sun. The others mill around close to the entrance, but Luis is running towards the gap between this building and the next, and beyond that I can see almost nothing, as though the city were blacked out in the middle of the night. I run after Luis, and I can see a border on the ground, a border between the light and the dark, and that is where Luis is heading, with me right behind him, and from behind me I can now hear other people starting to yell as well. Almost at the border, Luis breaks stride for a second, turning to me to wave me on, and that moment of concern, of selflessness, is punished.

I run faster, and I too am almost at the border as Luis passes through it, but his pause was just too long, and finally the black shadow, bubble, whatever, becomes a black wall and I run into it at full tilt, smashing my right arm and shoulder against the rubbery, hard surface which has neatly separated Luis's right hand, and his right leg, and some of his pelvis and torso, from the rest of him. I step back, shocked, and see them flop onto the ground, blood and other unrecognisable fluids seeping out of them. There are screams behind me and as I turn I see that we are in a huge spherical black chamber. There are groups of lights around the top of the chamber, groups of three lights with a space in between each group, that are illuminating the side of the Neuvo Munde Banko Tower.


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