I bade farewell to Barbara, left the isolation booth, and began making my way to the surface. I was filled with purpose and steady resolve, eager to tackle my mission. The oblique connection to the God of Toast made the fish in the sky all the more intriguing. More than anything, I wanted to be out of the Complex and facing the challenges I knew lay ahead.
Unfortunately, I was 16 floors underground, and the elevator system of the Complex did not lend itself to directness. Most of the elevators only ran between two floors, and the different elevators were sometimes several minutes walk from one another. So if, for example, I wanted to get from floor 16 to floor 15 (which I did), I would need to go to the 15-16 elevator in the southwest corner of floor 16. Then, to get to floor 14, I would have to use the 14-15 elevator in the northwest corner of floor 15. And so on and so forth. There were some other idiosyncrasies as well. For example, on floor 13, in addition to the 12-13 and 13-14 elevators, there was an elevator that went directly to floor 19 with no stops in between. We called it the 13-19 express. And there were all sorts of these idiosyncrasies. Navigating the Complex was a skill that took years to master.
In any event, I was on my way to the surface, decidedly not as the crow flies. It was therefore not terribly surprising that in the forced roundaboutness I should run into Carver. It was on floor 7. He emerged from a side hallway as I was passing it and fell into step beside me almost as if he had expected me to be there.
“Andrew,” he said in greeting.
“Carver,” I replied.
“On your way to 6?”
We walked on in silence until we got to the 6-7 elevator.
“Going up?” Carver asked, before pressing the only button available. Elevator jokes were common in the Complex. I smiled politely, as one did.
After a few seconds, the elevator chimed and the doors slid open. Carver gestured for me to enter, so I did; he followed. When the doors slid shut, he said, “So, on your way up and out to deal with those fish?”
“Nah,” I replied, “I figured I’d just wander around here for a while, then maybe go get some sandwiches.”
Carver bristled but said nothing. This was how it was between Carver and me. The elevator came to a smooth stop and the doors slid open. Carver stalked out. At that moment, I remembered Barbara’s advice. Following it wouldn’t hurt anything. Vacating the elevator, I called out Carver’s name.
He stopped and turned back to me. I caught up to where he was standing. “Listen,” I said in a conciliatory tone, “I’m sorry about that wisecrack back there. I’m a little stressed is all. Of course I’m on my way to deal with the fish, and I won’t let you down.”
Carver was visibly surprised and pleased at my apology. “Golden frogs fashion straw mats upon which to dry their garden lanterns,” he said.
I blinked. This was not what I had expected to hear. In fact, it wasn’t even close. Carver seemed to be waiting for a response, though. I decided to play along. “Throat massage is a new and exciting industry offering many opportunities for the enterprising truffle pig,” I said.
Carver seemed satisfied. Clapping me on the shoulder, he said, “Knock ’em dead, kid.”
“Those fish won’t know what hit ’em,” I replied.
Carver walked away. After a few moments, so did I. In a different direction.