By Yannick Hill

An epic novel about identity in the internet age

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Inside Versailles #2: Room 27

Room 27 is a plane crash on repeat. A faithful reconstruction of a Boeing 767 cabin and cockpit, complete with full crew and passengers, all professional actors on Casey’s payroll. They might go for months without hearing from his people and then suddenly it’s every day for a fortnight.

Sometimes Casey takes on the role of drunken captain, but mostly he is a member of the public, taking his seat like everyone else at the beginning of the flight, asking for a glass of iced water before takeoff. He looks out of the window at the landscape beyond the edge of the runway, high-resolution footage of a real airport somewhere in America, played back in Cinerama outside the plane.

Casey actually loves to fly, has since he was a kid. He loves takeoff, he loves landing, he loves everything about it. Airplane food. He’s a sucker for airplane food. These days he has a personal chef prepare him his heart’s desire at 35,000 feet in the network jet, but in the old days he would take anything that was put in front of him and devour every morsel. Something about traveling great distances. Gets him hungry as ten bears put together.

But Room 27 is a simulated plane crash, designed to feel just like the real thing. Sometimes the actors don’t come back a second time because they find it too upsetting. The reason for the crash varies from one performance to the next. Human error. Mechanical error. Weather. Sabotage. Whatever the variable, the plane will end up crashing to the earth, killing everyone onboard.

A violent death. Things start going wrong about an hour into the flight. A member of the cabin crew or captain will make an announcement over the public address system, the tone pitched somewhere between innocuous and pragmatic. Casey likes to act out at this point. Sometimes he will play the hero, gently reassuring those around him that there is nothing to worry about, he’s a frequent flier and it’s just a little turbulence. Other times he’ll go the other way and lose his shit completely, demanding the cabin crew give them more information, removing his seatbelt with a flourish and getting to his feet in the aisle, generally making a dangerous nuisance of himself. When Casey gets like this the actors have been instructed to treat him as a genuine threat, restrain and handcuff him if necessary for the remainder of the simulation.

Casey likes the cuffs. Even under these make-believe conditions they seem to have a sobering effect. But it’s more than that. He’s dreamt up some of his best new features for the website while apprehended like this, sitting near the back of the plane next to the actor playing the air marshal (Florian, a regular player, he loves his job), the plane continuing to lose altitude. Something about being taken prisoner amongst the chaos, the inevitability of the crash, the appalling shudder of the cabin walls and the screams of his fellow passengers ­– it really gets Casey’s creative juices flowing.

The crash itself. This simulator is designed to take everyone on board to the very brink of feeling like they are going to die. When Casey is playing the captain – a rare treat – it’s the way the landscape fills the cockpit windows that really captures his imagination: no sky, only land, everything down there growing bigger and then bigger still, as though God himself were zooming in. 

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