Now we get to see why they wanted ENO out at AREA 51
He ushered me smartly through the swing door with the round window in it and I found myself in the middle of a level arc of new looking terrazzo flooring. Ahead of me was a fairly long set of broad, shallow steps leading down to a fully equipped laboratory bench with all the services; compressed air, vacuum, oxygen, methane, nitrogen, CO2, liquid air, electricity, computer consoles with embedded flat screens, one at each end, USB style LAN links, fibre optic superwide broadband links and a central lectern with a 'heads-up' invisible autocue and interactive white board controls that probably included some for satellite up and down links, for all I knew.. The white board a few feet behind this bench covered the entire rear wall of the theatre. The bench itself was twenty metres long and there was space to spare for 'demonstration' and other equipment beyond each end of it. The usual high tech lighting racks and PA speakers nestled discreetly in their own craters in the acoustically sculpted ceiling and walls.
This was not the half of it. There were two wide aisles to the sides of the blocks of seats in the auditorium and a broad looking, level, transverse aisle about half way down; and they were ALL packed, as was the level to either side of where Karl and I were standing. It was standing room only. There had to be a thousand People in here, only eight hundred of whom could sit in the upholstered fold-down chairs with the fold-up tables in front of them, each single one covered in iPhones, iPads, tablets and even powerful looking laptops that were unfeasibly slim and had screens so bright and sharp that I could clearly see some of them running footage of me in The Village, or the Gleissner robot walking in the desert outside the lecture hall. Others showed incomprehensible coloured diagrams in incredible detail with enormously slick animation.
It was like my 1971 seminar on organo-chlorine pesticide metabolites that I had, finally, and after much delay while the Government Gas Chromatograph was being calibrated, demonstrated the presence of DDT metabolites in the body fat of edible Lake MacIlwaine fish. ("Fresh Island 'lapia!", anyone?") Every seat was taken and as soon as Dr Young and I had appeared at the top of the stairs silence descended and the LED glow of high tech devices was extinguished, rectangle by rectangle.
Doors opened to each side of the lab bench and Drs Mentz, Rankin and Carrington trooped in. Mentz wound up behind the lectern with Trank on one side and Quaternity on the other.
"Mr Secretary of Defence, distinguished Professors, Doctors, ladies and gentlemen," Dr Mentz managed to say, without forgetting any of it or stumbling over any honorifics, "Thank you very much indeed for being here today...." I noticed he said 'being here' not coming here. Were they all here all the time? Or were they, each and every one, somewhere else? Was this a virtual teleconferencing session with a huge number of People, or was it actually going on in a real lecture theatre, somewhere in real Real Life, and only I was here virtually? My head ached. "...I know you are all waiting to hear from our guest, so without any further ado, let me introduce the Life Professor of Cyberphysiology from Harvard..." (I'd never heard either of the title or the discipline) "...the world renowned Nobel Prize winner.... " (When was all this? I didn't remember any of it from any news feed I had EVER seen.) "...Professor Doctor Henry Markram!"
There was an absolutely shattering round of applause. People were drumming their feet, clapping, whistling, cheering... the crowd was going mad. Mentz made a horizontal arm gesture and they slowly simmered down. After they had fallen silent, Henry Markram walked in. As soon as he was behind the lectern, Mentz having stood down to his right next to Quaternity, Markram said to the assembled crowd in his distinctive cultured South African accent;
"Before I start, I'd like you to see how far we've come on the 'Gleissner Freedom' project, as some of you are calling this; so before I tell you about 'Big Brain' and how we got to where we are today, allow me to introduce..." (Pause for imaginary drum roll to give the large double doors on Quaternity's side of the hall time to open) "Martin Carter's Gleissner..." At this point I walked in from the left side of the lecture theatre. At least, I think it was me.... it was hard to tell through the small holes in the face of the ice hockey mask but I was carrying a familiar looking fire axe! "... and 'Good Dog!' "
I was still trailing the red cable and, reeling that in as it came, an apparition entered the hall behind me. It looked like a cross between an armadillo on a squat, powerful looking set of six jointed legs, a gigantic metal and plastic ant.... and an explosion in a microwave dish factory!
The applause was as deafening as for Markram's own entrance. I, the real me at the top of the lecture hall steps, let out a prolonged groan and sank slowly to my knees at the edge of the top step, which was right in front of me. I noticed that the stair treads were carpeted in that durable, cleanable synthetic fibre that all the good cinemas use; but that it seemed to have had cigarette holes burned into it. I felt one. The edge was ragged and hard and the bottom was slightly rough like charred, melted plastic. "Noooooh..." I moaned. This had to be one long, sick joke.