They walk down the cold hallway of the basement past the wine cellar, past the brewery chamber to where it ends in a dead, grey surface. His father manipulates an obscure, rocky protrusion on the right and a panel slides open. Beneath it is a steel plate arranged in a number of concentric rings that end in a key slot. Kuhn sifts through his pockets, after a few moments of clinking keys produces the right one and slides the glinting object into the aperture. There’s a hiss, the wall pops back a few centimeters and slides away to the left.
– Stay right behind me.
For once Kato considers doing what his father tells him to the best way to go, a strange, slightly euphoric feeling. The neons in the room come on as soon as their motion is detected. Pale green floor and ceiling, massive confusing digital control panels to the left but only a few blinking, graphed screens making out that there is anything to be controlled. Kato’s father, in the room’s unflattering light, is a tall wraith. Kato’s stomach makes a violent plea for independence, which he squelches with much mental effort. His left hand twitches slightly at the side of his body, making him feel old beyond his years.
The room opens to the right in a big L-Shape. There are narrow, oblong windows set up high on the front-end of the L of the room letting in the dark of night. The left wall, facing back in the direction they came from accommodates a tripartite, huge, smooth steel chest with a complicated set of metal conduits, blue tubes and machinery filling out between its top and the ceiling. The wide, high center of the lower part of the L looks what Kato imagines an emergency room to look like: a leather-padded table and a lot of medical apparati. One is certainly a CPR with those gleaming pads that make the defunct circuitry go back into action. Kato knows from too many doctor series. He finds watching other people in distress very relaxing.
The far wall, the lowest portion of the L, is too complicatedly instrumented for the young man to form a concept of what all is arrayed there but on the extreme right there are three shapes that closely resemble astronaut apparel. Kato searches his mind for something to say that will ridicule the entire set-up and let him appear above and beyond whatever impression his father wishes to make upon him.
– So this is where we keep the skeletons, yes?
– Kato… it’s this cynicism of yours that will get you nowhere. But if you don’t want to see that, you don’t want to see it. This room here…
Kuhn slowly turns in place as though he were taking in one of the world’s grand vistas. Stops and directs a hard stare at his son who is propped against one of the panels non-chalantly, joggling one of his flipper-like feet.
– This room…? I’m all ears and eyes.
– Let me put this differently. You are eighteen now, Kato, a young man with many options and… Well, you do have talent. It is in your blood, my blood, the Kuhn genes. Of course. But you mess up much too often. You need to get it together and justify your talent, is what I’m saying here Kato. By the time you are 28, ten years from now, I want you to be able to take over the family business. I want you to be able to run it, Kato and not run it into the ground or be an embarrassment to the house of Kuhn. Do you understand?
Kato very slightly inclines his head in lieu of a “yes”.
– Now I know our relationship has perhaps not been on the best of terms. There is so much work to be done for our business to run well and you are… perhaps overmatched by the confusions of youth. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. This is not about you and me, this is about our family and its standing in the world. Do you follow?
Another minute nod. The Mandrill is telling him to remain low-key.
– So this here… is our insurance policy. Come, see for yourself.
The father gets up from the padded table and walks to the right most of the three vertical steel caskets. The room’s minacious light circularly catches in his heirloom wristwatch’s platinum dial: one generation standing on the shoulders of the next, all the way to the bottom of time. Kato saunters over to his father’s side, exaggeratedly slow. There’s a closed rectangular aperture with a brushed-steel latch just above the youth’s eye-level.
– Slide it back Kato. Have a close look. It might do you some good to finally know the stakes.
He does. The steely sarcophagus is filled with a transparent gel, enclosing many minute stationary bubbles of air or another gas. A contraption to cross vast oceans of time. Inside it is a naked figure, an out-sized embryo. One pure moment of horror. Kato’s lungs come to a full stop, the large hand on his own wristwatch advances three clicks then his alveoli recommence the old trade, CO2 for oxygen et al. There he is: for the first time, for no time, suspended like a Jurassic mosquito trapped in amber.
– Yes, it is you Kato, your copy. This is what I mean when I tell you not to mess up. I’m giving you ten years. By then you will have…
But his father’s voice is already, like the rest of reality, fading to black. Kato’s head has begun dropping towards the center of the earth.
When he next regains consciousness he is in his room, in his pajama, sprawled out along his sweeping settee. Dazed rather than sleep drunken. The memory of his copy floating in aseptic gel makes his bones feel like inner lengths of zero Kelvin. He doubts he will have the stomach, come daylight, to find out if it was a REM sequence or not.