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You brace yourself against a cool and shiny wall, perhaps press your cheek on the wall. You catch your breath, but then you drop it again.
The accelerated customs and border process is no joke here, they grease you up with international clearing gel and then launch you down a chute, you hold your passport up, where it slaps against a thwack scanner. The chute then glows green and you are spun into the luggage carousel, conveniently landing beside your luggage, you are then dry-cleaned before being launched off the chute, with the perfect amount of force so that when you land your body is placed beside a duty-free shop counter, your arms already producing your credit card to the retail assistant in order to buy a 45 way plug adapter.
After you finally feel like you have caught your breath, you look around the terminal and decide on your next move:
> [[back to the Duty free shop]]
> [[look for the toilets]]
> [[stay where you are and gawp]] you like to stop
at the duty free shop
the shop is not rectilinear, nothing is rectilinear in the airport
the lord architect sent out a memo to the design team 'no right angles'
the aisles swoop around in crescents and parabolas, sine wave shelves of whiskey bottles on their side
all the price tags are the size of 3 charge cards, proudly displaying both the duty that is waived, and the security surchage that is exactly the same amount added back on
[[make an expositional phone call]]somehow your bladder seems to already know where the toilets are, so you follow your bladder
the toilets are a single open plan floor, at least a dozen stalls lining 3 of the walls, with a constellation of randomly placed freestanding sinks, dotted between them were vending machines for international gel
every single stall was seemingly occupied but you had yet to see a single person the entire time in the airport
you enter the stall and notice no lock, only a large poster on the door explaining that the doors lock automatically -when the integrated camera AIs see you have pulled your trousers down-. The next half of the poster advertises the company providing the technology, a smart geometric sans logo imposed over smiling children
you turn to the toilet but notice it is completely blocked with crap in the shape of triangles, you try another stall but they are all still locked, you peek under one and realise there is nothing there
[[ you climb over the stalls walls ]]
[[ you hold it in and hope a restaurant has integrated toilets ]]you start gawping, but feel like you couldn't surely do this very long, you'd get restless
but amidst the tall cavernous terminal ceiling, steel and glass struts sending structural loads into all and which ways, the gawping comes naturally, it begins to feel like the only way to exist in the place
[[gawp some more]]you climb up over the door, feeling the top edge of the door dig into your ribs as you spin across
you suddenly hear a whirring noise and the door unlocks, you lose you balance and land on the toilet, thankfully with your arse
[[number 1 and 2]] you come out feeling even fuller than before
[[stay where you are and gawp]]
[[back to the Duty free shop]] your bladder needs waking up but eventually you do the business, when you are done you pull your pants up and try and open the door, but nothing, the advert children just smile at you
you keep pulling your pants up and down in front of the camera in the home it triggers until it eventually unlocks, only to lock again immediately, it does this about 3 times and you wait, you finally pull up your pants again and it opens
[[ go to the sinks ]]There's no chance you do a #2 without doing a #1
[[number 1 and 2]]
the dehydrated food on the ekranoplan is still pretty dehydrated, you grip onto the conveniently placed consti-poles ™ but nothing comes
[[number 1]]a 12 part tutorial explaining various hand gestures to control the water taps, you immediately just start waving your hands randomly around the 3 sinks around you and wash with the intermittent splashes of water
[[ you leave | you hold it in and hope a restaurant has integrated toilets ]] [after 1 second]
good retail opportunities
[after 3 second]
ample grade AA11 office floorspace
[after 6 second]
[after 9 second]
welcome to the SEZ
[after 2 second]
Originally the Special Economic Zone
[after 4 second]
Then the Sustainable Economic Zone
[after 6 second]
Then the Special Ecological Zone
[after 8 second]
Then the Synergystic Ecological Zone
[after 10 second]
Then the Sheikh Bin Mansour Bin Aziz Events Zone
[after 12 second]
Then the Sweet Excitement Zone
[after 14 second]
Then the Social Equality Zone
[after 16 second]
Decades of near annual rebrands have made it almost impossible to spell SEZ out, so it remains more or less just SEZ, meaning whatever you want it to mean at any point in time
[after 18 second]
> [[head to the hotel]]
> [[look for the toilets]]
> [[stay where you are and gawp]] possible businesses, RAMfarm of high speed evolution and mutation of codeYou dial the number on your mobile phone
An advert plays out between the rings
Cutting edge design
World Class Performance
Premium toilet plungers
You were sent to this place to network
"Just have a rummage and see what you can find, 50 business cards pleasethankyou" your line-manager then hugged you, sniffing like mad. You are sure they are just doing this because they read it in a book, or thinks they read it in a book.
They had heard of a zone that was outside everything, laws, treaties, memorandums of understanding.
Yet it was also integrated with everything, half an hour by ekranoplan from 85% of the world's population, businesses and ports and hubs and all manner of global coitus.
The name was [[SEZ]]You come across a circle of a few people having a conversation, they are all leaning back while being completely engaged at the same time.
'Did you ever breathe in and out, and then breathe in, THEN out?'
The orchestra of agreement plays.
One of them smacks their lips after downing a shot of international whiskey: 'yes I did that while on the riviera, and then right after that, I sort of sucked air in and then breathed out... and then breathed out again.
A parliamentary discord plays out.
'You breathed out twice, impossible'
The claimant leaned back in defiance, 'not that day by the sea, the hot fucking sea'
'Surely it was just one breath out with a pause in the middle'
'No, I'd know if I """PAUSED IN THE MIDDLE"""' they rolled their eyes out of their skull's dimensions.
Another one chimes in from about 2 octaves above everyone else.
'WHY DOnt you do it now then, surely it wasn't just a one off'
'It was a one off I'm afraid'
'Why is that? Sounds very conveeeeineient' they spun on their chair.
The alleged double breather slowly put the whiskey glass down and stood up and said, 'IT WAS BECAUSE OF THE SEA, THE HOT FUCKING SEA, WHAT PART OF SEA THAT IS FUCKING HOT DO YOU NOT GET A PART OF'
Half a second passes and they all seamlessly start joyfully talking about another topic, you walk away, you hear some loose phrases ringing out, 'terricloth futures' 'high velocity mergers and acquisitions' 'the burgeoning death market'.You wake up in the night with a dull headache, you look through your hotel room for some medicine or something, you only end up finding something, and its no use, you hurl it out your window and refuse to acknowledge how big or small the object was before throwing it into the dock waters.
[[call room service]]
[[go to the supermarket]]The front door, covered in handles
one for each body height
Open up, see the lobby
Parallel shelves for your shoes, coats, nuclear footballs
Move forward into the lobby, the carpets are mismatched and overlapping and underlapping
The room is large, 20m wide, elliptical, but the ceiling is low, only a head’s height above your head
The ceiling is a grid of drab grey acoustic tiles, sliced by flourescent lamps, punctuated by soft yellow lamps with red shades
You feel the different thicknesses of the carpets under your socks
Coarse, straggy, epilient, lumpy
Sit down for a while, the lobby behind you is a corridor of shelves ending at the door you came in through
You hover your hand over an uncarpeted batch by your hips, you hover it because you feel the hair on your skin ripple, you bring you ear onto the ground and hear the rubbing and buzzing of some sort of infrastructural conduit.
Stand up, instinctively duck slightly because of the low ceilings
The walls are covered in scratched and dull uniform wooden panels, curving in a large oval around you towards a door in front of you. The walls have sparsely unevenly spaces shelved, holding a few books, none of them facing the right way.
Get up and going to the wall, see a book.
You pick up a book and turn it around to see the front, you realise you are looking at the back, and turn it around again, but then realise that this is the back, you turn it around and finally open the book, from the very beginning, are annotated pictures of flowers arranged in tasteful swiss grids, alternating with white squares with crisp captions, But the captions are not names, they are numbers, the annotations on the flowers themselves are not text, they are small pictograms depicting humanoids inserting the flowers into various parts of their body.
The book makes your heart beat faster, but not because of what you are seeing, simply by holding the book, you quickly put it back on the shelf and take a few deep breaths.
You feel the air come in through your nose and feel a thick but chilly stream, the smell of fresh cereal, if you close your eyes, you could be in a small field of wheat in early autumn, or a breakfast bar in a 3 star intercity hotel, or a violently bumped into wholewheat aisle in a supermarket. But when you close your eyes, you realise you see a multicoloured blurry outline scorched on your retina that moves around, you open your eyes and realise the outline is that of the door that the oval ends in.
You close your eyes and see the door again, as you get closer to the door the outline starts to resonate within the geometry of your head, the door is on a vertex between you and the door,
You keep your eyes closed and reach for the handle, feeling a magnetic tug on your hand as you grasp it cleanly and push.
Hello, room servish?
Ish, yes its only serv-ish
Yes how can I help you
I'm feeling a bit of a cold
Everyone here has a bit of a cold
(they hang up)
[[go to the supermarket]]You wander out of the hotel and cross the empty streets, squinting from the street lights and skyscraper under-lighting. You wander into the supermarket and go to the trolley station and tug pathetically on the handle, trying to pry it free of the snake of trolleys. After a few minutes someone comes:
"You need to look at the advert on the side before it unlocks"
[[look at the advert]]
[[just forget it]]You make eye contact with the advert board and it fades in gently, with a deliberate unabruptness, a slithering familiarity.
The faces all look familiar, uncanny, machine learned composites from your social media enjoying the product. A cup with a built in Nespresso machine.
They speak in the rhythms and linguistics of English but not the words, there's no narration. The sounds are very sibilant, they reach into the put of the back of your head, a loud whisper, you feel the warm vapourous breath of the advert's whisper dusting your neurons with the joy, pride and stength of having a cup with a built in Nespresso machine.
You feel ill, your insides being pulled down, it manages to overpower the joy of the whispering. You let go of the trolley and stumble out while still hearing the uncanny faces of your proxy friends enjoying their cup with a built in Nespresso.
Dizzy, you feel exhausted, you head back to the hotel and [[sleep solid.]] I slowly drift away from the trolleys and look for some medicine, but the shop goes in circles, and the circles never reveal medicine
Excuse, me where is the medicine?
Which medicine do you need?#
For a bit of a cold I have
Everyone here has a bit of a cold
They then got out their phone and hung up and left
[[give up and look for tea]]
You decide to just get some tea from the in supermarket cafe, you sit on the wobbly chair and rest your arms on the wobbly table and think wobbly thoughts
Wobbly thought 1: You wish you could dip your head in the docks and feel the cold refreshment, but then when you pull your head back out you are instantly dry and free of leptosperosis
Wobbly thought 2: What would happen if you threw a golf ball from the top of the skyscraper that sits above this supermarket, surely it would go into orbit if you had strong technique
Wobbly thought 3: How loud could you sniff your tea?
After half an hour of slight fever, you eventually stand back up and drag your feet back to your hotel, you fall back on your bed and [[sleep solid.]]
You go through the rotating doors, which leads to a transitional ante-chamber, which has sliding doors, this leads to a post-antechamber, which has rotating doors except the rotating doors also slide.
You finally arrive at the lobby.
It is cold, almost wet cold. Air conditioning is luxury, because as Harrison Ford says, "Ice is Civilisation", you think this and then notice an picture on the wall with Harrison Ford saying this exact thing.
The reception is about 100m away, at the other end of a carpeted cathedral of lounge. The 100s of sofas are arranged in right angles but random, spelling out cryptic glyphs in the mirrored ceilings above.
You finally see yourself, except it's not you, the angles of the vaulted mirror ceilings are off, it might be someone on the other side of the cathedral, or the wrong angle of you.
There is one person sitting on one of the glyphic sofas, you stare at them intently, unashamedly, the space almost demands this of you. They don't notice, they couldn't notice you staring if they wanted, there are too many mirrors and carpets and cold air, the acoustics are active, sentient, they grab sounds and smells and stares the moment they begin to consider existing.
The person sitting down is reading a magazine, the covers are perfectly flat, as if reinforced, as if it were a videogame. They turn to reach for their phone on the transparent granite side table and accidentally lose grip of the magazine, it sags and rips down the cover.
Some blur immediately appears from behind the sofa and swaps the magazine out of the person's hands with a replica, the person gets their phone and looks back at their magazine, oblivious that it has been replaced.
[[accept what happened]]
[[perform a response to what happened]]
[[go to reception]] You tilt towards a nearby table and rip the magazine intently, looking around for a blur. You suddenly feel two hands grip you at the sides of your head. You are then slowly pushed into the floor, face down, as if being arrested. The magazine is swapped with so much speed and finesse you barely feel a vibration in your hands. By the time you stand back up there is no-one there.
[[go to reception]] You show up at the reception, a 50 foot long black marble slab with gold leafing. Only one terminal in the middle with a receptionist, head down looking at their terminal, hair hanging over their face in a shiny black wall with gold leafing.
You want to get their attention.
[[clear your throat]]
[[approach the desk]]
[[stay there]]You sleep and have dreams. But the dreams are sponsored.
The repetition and rhythm of images and sounds in the SEZ are stringed to ensure they show up in your dreams. Your uncanny friend proxies are there again, enjoying their nespressos.
The cups whirr and bubble and suckle, a suckle so metallic and solid you feel your own nipples tense.
Well, at least you are only dreaming you think.
[[stay in slumber]]You wake up, feeling very heavy. You realise the bed has tilted forwards a few degrees. Your heart rate goes up, you have flashbacks to the luggage carousel and to Wallace and Gromit. You jump out of the bed to avoid any possible charming automated morning routine.
You then go to the kettle to boil some water, except its not a kettle, it's a cup with a built in nespresso machine, you can't find the coffee. Beside the cup is a triple laminated card:
1) [[Nespresso capsules for your cup are available at your nearest corridor rest station]]
2) For a free nespresso capsule pick up a feedback form at reception and fill it in, you'll get a voucher
3) Please use the spring water in the minibar for making your nespresso, any use of tap water will be charged as this clogs up the mechanismDouble-click this passage to edit it.You stumble into the corridor, you wonder why they call them rest stations, then you look out down the corridor. The corridor's beige lined walls and carpets vanish into a single point, the point shimmers from the heat haze.
You move but it's not really moving. The corridor is the thing that moves past you, you close your eyes because it's a straight line and you can hear the hums of the smart hotel door locks either side to keep you straight.
You eventually hear the purr of a vending machine and open your eyes to the velour drenched rest station. Everything is curved and wooden and everything is covered with the images of smiling farmers and don't worry about them. The curved sofas are burgundy but shimmer blue and are fundamentally black.
You perch on the end of a sofa and reach for the vending machine console, but your hand misses the dial because the sofa suddenly crumples under you with a smooth zipping noise.
You wait 1 minute or so for the sofa to settle, pause, then reach for the console again.
It softens even more, until your head is almost between your knees.
You get up and just stand by the console and look through the window of the machine at the array of capsules available, there are about 100 flavours but you only look at the first two.
[[Arctic Tropical Roast|the machine says]]
[[Israeli Arabica|the machine says]]
You realise you don't have any money.
[[say curse word]]
[[say worse word]]You say something abstractly offensive
[[go to the reception and get a free coupon]]
[[go back from where you came]]Double-click this passage to edit it.This is as far as you can get for now, interactive stories take ages...This is as far as you can get for now, interactive stories take ages...You clear your throat and immediately see the receptionists head twitch up slightly.
'Please lean' comes out through the receptionists wall of hair, like a detached dentist telling you to open your mouth.
[[you lean forward]]
[[you lean sideways]]You approach the desk and look down and see a subtle curve in the marble about the shape of an arm, so you quickly lean your arm into the groove. Hoping to impress the receptionist with your intuitiveness.
They look up and the hair smoothly rolls of their round face, revealing a subdued confident approachable smile. 'Lean your whole body'
You look down and see a leg groove on the front of the desk, you lean your thigh into it and suddenly feel incredibly relaxed and about to order a drink.
'I'd like a cherry brandy please' you chuckle.
The receptionist reaches under the desk and immediately brings one out in a short black marble cup and a crack of a naughty, childish smile flashes over the receptionist's face.
[[pick up the drink]]You gaze at the receptionists wall of hair hanging over their face, you slowly start to make out your own reflection. A reflection sliced into 1000s of lines, you see in the reflection another visitor queuing up behind you, fidgeting and posturing.
[[approach the desk]]You lean forward slightly, in a hesitant bow, you feel your shirt come untucked at the back and feel the cold lobby air lick the tail of your spine.
'Lean on the marble' says the receptionist, in a much warmer tone
[[approach the desk]] You lean sideways and feel a tenseness in your neck from sitting in the ekranoplan seat at an angle so you could get a good look at the sun setting over the Abdul Aziz Bin Aziz Bin Abdullah Economic Prosperity Lake.
'Lean on the marble' says the receptionist, in a quizzical tone.
[[approach the desk]]'Welcome to the SEZ Hotel, I'm Zahra', the receptionist makes it sound as if they have never said it before.
'What does SEZ stand for today?' you take another sip of the cherry brandy, it tastes like the lobby smelt.
Zahra narrows their eyes and smiles, 'I haven't checked the days email, I'm sure SEZ stands for something wonderfully profitable'
You put the cup down and the receptionist picks the cup up as if it was their own, they take a sip and put it back down.
'Can I have your passpad please?' the receptionist wipes a bit of red liqueur off their chin.
You hand over your passpad and in one smooth motion Zahra takes the pad from your hand, scans it and returns it.
'Okay, your room is 6fcee4, your passpad should unlock the door, do you need help to bring your bags up?'
You straighten your lean slightly and relish in the grandeur. 'Sure thank you'
Zahra immediately gets up and slides over the desk to your side, making a pleasant watery swoosh over the marble.
They go to the visitor behind you and holds up their finger gracefully 'Sorry but I'll just be 2 minutes'. The visitor immediately untenses and goes to sit on a sofa.
Zahra picks up the bags and heads to the elevator.
[[go to the elevator]]
'It's very quiet here' you quip to Zahra as you head up in the turbolift.
Zahra tilts their head and says 'it looks quiet, but we're 80% full, everything around here looks empty but it's full'
'Oh right, strange, strange'
Zahra looks down and grins, 'did you like that brandy?'
'Yeah I've been craving some the whole flight, it's so smooth I'd probably get a hangover before I've even realised I'm drunk'
'I can have some sent up to you if you'd like'
The turbo lift slows down and you both feel a moment of weightlessness.
'Sure, maybe we can share it?' you say in a deliberately casual mumble.
The door opens and you start walking down the corridor, 4 gold lines vanishing into a black marble infinity.
Zahra doesn't reply, maybe they didn't hear the mumble?
'Here's the room, can I show you how to use the passpad?'
You hand it over, maybe they are just giving you a chance to pretend they didn't hear.
Zahra hands back the passpad but you didn't pay attention
'Well, enjoy your stay, let me know if you need any brandy' they start gliding back to the turbolift
[[try and open the door yourself with the passpad]]
[[call Zahra back]]you see nothing but a flat black expanse on the door, no handles or signs anywhere, you rub the passpad up against the door, trying to find some kind of contactless activation but nothing happens
you then try and slide it like a credit card on the edges but nothing still happens
Zahra appears behind you and says
[[you need to lean]]You call Zahra 'sorry can you show me how to do this again?'
Zahra glides back with a gentle eye roll
[[you need to lean]]
Zahra puts the passpad in your pocket and pushes you against the door at an angle, where it then opens slowly with a hiss
'Thanks, sorry it must be the jetlag'
'You really do need that brandy huh' Zahra starts to walk away chuckling.
You wonder whether that connection was genuine, if they just know how to make everyone feel like a friend on the inside, whether Zahra's seeming allusion to subversion was deliberate and calibrated to my manner.
You wonder whether it matters if it's deliberate, to choose to get along with someone regardless is the same thing as getting along with them regardless.
[[you lean into your room]]
You enter your room and immediately collapse onto the mattress-floor
[after 2 second]
[after 5 second]