The Zuse Room (part 1)
The daylight was beginning to fade. Shadows, thrown by weak light filtering through grime encrusted windows, grew longer as the sun fell. He liked the place when it was like that. It was as if the colour and tone of the air changed ever so slowly, gently drifting through hues of blue and yellow and green until, eventually, it settled upon brown. The warehouse had reminded him of a cathedral when he had first seen it. Magnificent Victorian vaulted ceilings with the windows so high up that an old pole-vaulters pole was needed to open and close them. It seemed such a wonderful building at the time; the perfect hiding place to see out his days and work in solitude.
Now he wasn’t so sure. The place was too big to be secure. Far too many entrances and exits to lock and cover. It was ideal if you wanted to get out in hurry, but a problem when you wanted to try and stop someone from getting in. He’d already been around the perimeter twice; checking every bolt and door, making sure the windows were closed tight. Even the basement, with its once roaring furnace had been checked. But he knew if they wanted to, they would find a way in. They were professionals after all.
They would find him; of that much he was sure. He had assumed that another post-war immigrant to London’s East End would become invisible, unseen and unable to be traced. Or so he had thought. The Britisher had promised he would be safe here, that no one would be able to find him. He had believed him, most likely because he so desperately wanted to. Hidden in the forgotten, impoverished part of the city, the capital of the old enemy, that had seemed the most perfect place to hide. Who would think of looking for him here? Not for much longer though, no, not now, not after what had happened. They were coming for him. It wouldn’t be long before they were here.
Of course he had always known it would come to this. You would have had to be blind to the events of the summer and autumn to not realise what was happening. First Solidarity in Poland then the Hungarian reforms, he could see which way the wind was blowing. It had just been a matter of time anyway. Ever since old Gorby had abandoned the Brezhnev doctrine a few years back, it was always going to end like this. Revolution was in the air and he could smell it, loud and clear, just like the old days, just like ‘twenty-nine.
Tomas had called a few days earlier to warn him something was wrong. The phone call had been short and terse. Tomas was worried and that was not a good thing because his situation was the most secure of all of them. He was stateside and no one should be able to touch him there. But someone was prying and asking questions and that had unnerved Tomas, so much so that he had disappeared two days later. Now that was something to really worry about.
He wasn’t scared though, not one bit. Living through the war had eradicated such feelings from his life. When you had seen and experienced the things he had, fear didn’t matter anymore. Survival had become everything in those days and fear had become a liability; it was as simple as that. Not that he was scared of dying mind you. The war had also seen to that. For him the war had been his death and after those dark days were over he was born again, restarting on borrowed time. This year was year forty-four of his second life so far. Being borrowed time meant it didn’t matter when it ended, every day was an extra blessing from God and he knew he’d be meeting him soon enough.
Tomas had complicated matters though. Knowing something was wrong and that he would have to go underground, Tomas had sent him a small package trussed up in brown vinegar paper and tied with string. It was no bigger than a box of chocolates. Judging by the postmark it had been sent from the East Coast of America over a week ago, which was a far old distance from where his friend should have been. He hadn’t opened it because he already knew what would be inside. But he had to find somewhere to hide it, somewhere safe, somewhere they wouldn’t think to look. Tomas had entrusted much to him. He wasn’t a fool mind you; the warehouse was a good place to hide something so small.
It wasn’t the biggest of buildings; he hadn’t needed all that much room for him and his machines. It had once been a small thriving city brewery until the economic slump of the ‘30’s and you could still, on a typical musty and damp London day, smell the faint pungent aroma of fermenting hops and sugars rising up through the floor boards. He kind of liked that, it reminded him a little of home in a strange way.
The question was where to hide it? The ground floor was divided up onto two main sections. The rear half was the real business end of the building. This was where he had worked for so many happy years with his precious machines. Even in the fading gloom of late afternoon the rear hall radiated with light bounced from one metal surface to another. He walked through it, as always, in a slight daze, absentmindedly his hands stroked the cold metal of the machines he passed, as tenderly as a father to a son.
The Britisher had supplied the earliest ones, those at the front of the room, to be worked as payment for his refuge. Not that he had minded. The work was not hard for a man of his intellect and experience. The work also had the added benefit of providing him with some new and very useful contacts, people who had been more than prepared to discreetly pay for his desirable skills. And with that money he had been able to fund his own research, to pay for the materials needed to build the newer machines in the secret back room of the building.
Few people had ever been allowed this far back into the depths of the building. The handful that had made it this far, including Tomas, had been proudly introduced with a sweep of his arm to the ‘Zuse Room’. Only Tomas had understood the name and had laughed with him at it. The others had assumed it was named after the Greek god and one or two had, hearing it pronounced by his heavily accented English, assumed it was an old sluice room used when the place had been a brewery. Tomas had laughed at that as well when he had told him, the stupidity of some foreigners. They had both shaken their heads with mirth at that one.
The Zuse Room was the crowning glory of his life’s work. Stepping into it now made him smile with pleasure. The air about him hummed with gentle noise; the smooth whirring-switch-click of the cassettes making their turns, the muted beeps and burps of the processors, the steady rumble of the generator and the gentle purr of the machines themselves feeding on the electrical charges needed to generate minute strands of ultraviolet light. The light pulsed about the room through glass cathode tubes attached to burnished bronze parts of the machine, turning the whole space a bluish-mauve colour.
In that one futuristic space he had proven his hero and mentor’s theories correct. It was the crowning achievement of his life and the one thing, he believed, that continued to justify his existence when so many of his peers had perished in the war. Without his work he was nothing, it was that simple. He shook his head. This was the wrong place to hide something. When they came they would hunt for the package and they would destroy whatever was in their way. The room was too precious to be torn apart. The door softly clicked and clunked locked as he left the room. Perhaps they wouldn’t find the room, he thought to himself, perhaps they would leave it well alone. Perhaps his work would be safe if he didn’t give them a reason to go near it. He nodded his head in agreement, best to find somewhere else to hide it.
The question was where? The machine room was not an option; there was no where suitable to hide Tomas’ little box. He walked back through to the front half of the building, wishing that in all the years he had lived here he’d had the foresight to create such a secret little hiding place. The obverse end of the former brewery served as his cover. The Britisher had insisted on him having one. It made sense, he had argued, after all who knew quite who would come poking their noses around. He had been right of course. The cover had served him well. The Britisher had even given him the choice of what it would be and the money needed to start his little business up. He had chosen to be just like his papa and his papa before him; a trader of undefined goods and miscellaneous things.
The front of the warehouse had thus served as his storage area and shop. Even though he was older now he still dabbled from time to time and so the ground floor was covered in bric-a-brac and assorted household items. Old wooden wardrobes and dressing tables fought for space with run down tumble dryers and washing machines. Mouldy novels perched precariously atop mountainous piles of battered boxes, threatening to fall at any moment. A thick talcum powder dust lay everywhere. Every movement he made sent a cloud of dust billowing into the air, sending his lungs into racking coughing fits. Not a good thing, he thought, it’d be obvious what he had moved and where he had hidden.
Then inspiration struck. He saw it standing in the far corner of the room, looming out of the gloom, a giant amidst the stacks of bric-a-brac. He smiled and allowed himself a little chuckle. How ironic. Who would think to look there? All he needed now was a needle, thread and some very sharp scissors. He shuffled off towards a flight of stairs at the front of the warehouse that led up to the mezzanine level above where he lived. As he did so he whistled to himself a tuneless tune that gently rocked and reverberated in the still silent air and meandered off slowly around the echoing room.