Oscar paid little attention to the journey down to see Doctor Phoebus. He was too preoccupied with worrying about his parents. He replayed the exchange with Lady Amelia over and over in his head as the lift descended. She looked so serious, more and more so the more he imagined her saying the words “very tragic”. He was relieved when the lift bounced to a stop and the doors opened, presenting him with something new to look at to take his mind off things.
The corridor was quite different to those on the floors he had already visited. Here the bare bricks were painted a pale yellow, giving the underground level a cheery feel without being too in-your-face. At the end of the corridor, Daphne knocked on a door and opened it to reveal a small office-cum-laboratory. Oscar followed her over the threshold.
“Doctor Phoebus?” she called. There was no reply. “Doctor Phoebus!” she said a little louder. Was it Oscar’s imagination or did she sound a little exasperated? It was only the second time she’d called his name: she couldn’t start getting exasperated already.
This time, however, a man appeared from behind the desk. He stood up so suddenly that he made Oscar jump. Once he’d recovered himself, Oscar took in the man as he put down what he’d been holding and crossed the room to greet Daphne. Oscar looked at what he’d put on the desk: a short cable and a screwdriver. Oscar watched as the lightly-tanned, long-haired Doctor Phoebus gave Daphne a friendly hug, exchanged a few pleasantries with her then extended a hand to Oscar.
“And you must be Oscar,” Doctor Phoebus said with a smile. Oscar was surprised to hear an American twang in his accent as everything and everyone had been very English so far.
“Yes, Oscar Thornton,” Oscar said as he allowed his hand to be shaken.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you at last,” Doctor Phoebus said amicably. “Shall we get to work?”
Oscar followed Doctor Phoebus uncertainly over to the desk. Daphne hovered behind them, then said “I’ll be off then. See you later,” and walked out the door before either of the men had a chance to respond. Oscar blinked at the closed door for a couple of seconds, surprised at how rude she had been, then Doctor Phoebus interrupted his thoughts.
“Let me just finish putting this computer together, then I’ll be a much better host.” Doctor Phoebus muttered something about not having been given much warning of Oscar’s arrival as he got down on his hands and knees behind the desk, reached up for the screwdriver and took his computer apart ready to put in the cable he’d also set on the desk. Oscar didn’t know much about the insides of computers so he wasn’t sure what he was doing. He stood uncertainly next to the desk, watching because he thought he should, but not really paying attention. Again, he wasn’t sure where he was or why, and Doctor Phoebus seemed to know more about what was going on that he did.
The office was very tidy despite the rough-and-ready impression the bare bricks and flagged-stoned floor gave. Books were neatly stacked in colour-coordinated bookcases; two cups, a cafetière and a kettle had been set neatly in a row on top of a cabinet Oscar assumed held coffee, sugar and biscuits; the desk looked worked-at but not messy, with papers spread out next the computer monitor, keyboard and mouse. Most out of place was the work bench, which held some kind of science experiment. The apparatus had been set up to create a clear path-way along the middle of the desk, length-ways; with a mirror at one end, about the size of a computer screen, and an empty photo frame at the other. Along the side were some technical instruments and some everyday objects that would otherwise be out of place in this kind of office: a football, an iron and small Christmas tree, for example. The workbench wasn’t much larger than the average desk or dining table so Oscar didn’t think it could be a very serious experiment.
“Just something I’ve been working on in my spare time,” Doctor Phoebus confirmed when he had stood up again and found Oscar staring curiously at the experiment. “I thought I’d investigate how different objects are affected by the power of Friarr.” When he said ‘Friarr’, he did a very curious movement: he put his arms at his sides, elbows bent so that he hands were at shoulder height, stuck he hands out flat to the sides, palms down (as Delta had done on the bus the day before) and stuck one leg briefly out to the side in a small kick (like when someone’s foot pops when they are kissed in a film). He did this so matter-of-factly and as though it were part of the word itself that Oscar was quite taken aback. Doctor Phoebus didn’t seem to notice, though, and went to fill the kettle from a room leading off the office.