I did appreciate the fact that the place had tea, but to be honest, it was a bit weak. Generic. I could somehow taste the cheap whiteness of the disposable cup, and the synthetic whitener left an odd, almost soapy taste in the back of my throat. Still, it was tea.

I slouched on the padded chair, staring idly off into the rain. It streamed down the window, down the side of the ship, and into the ocean, leaving trails of rust.

The windows on the front and back of the ship were blocked, so as not to obscure the vision of the mysterious unseen pilot. The windows on the sides, however, were open. Not that there was much of a view. Rain and dark prevented me from seeing anything other than the vague outlines of islands.

I reached the bottom of the cup, and cursed myself for disposing of the tea bag. If I had kept it, more hot water would be free. I asked my pockets for permission to have another cup.

Grudgingly, one of the pockets on my coat allowed me to purchase more tea. I carefully selected rooibos. No more caffeine for me tonight. I tried the Irish Cream whitener this time, rather than the French Vanilla I had selected earlier.

I sat back down in my seat. It was still marginally warmer than the others. The tea tasted a bit off like the first cup had, but was at least less generic. I lay back and closed my eyes, sipping and trying to drift off.

* * *

When I awoke, my cup (now empty) was being clutched loosely in my right hand, and my left arm was spread across my chest, almost theatrically.

Something was different.

After a confused moment, I realized that everything was grey. The color had disappeared from every surface, and all of the patterns and writing were gone. The safety signs were blank.

It seemed there was some colour to be found. Little dots, scattered around the ship. One was on my coat. I looked down.

My coat had gone as grey as everything else, except for the logo on the sleeve and collar. It glared the same bright orange that it always had … except maybe a little more vibrant.

I got to my feet, and approached a vending machine. On each product contained within was a corporate logo, bright and proud. Everything else was blank - even the rest of the packages.

Having nothing else to do, I decided to try an experiment.

I fished in my pockets for coins, and after emptying everything, I found $1.25. I fed the coins into the slot, and reached out to order a bag of artificially flavoured corn or potato slabs. I then realised that the prices were gone from the labels, as were the numbers on the dial.

After some trial and error, I managed to get a rather scrawny bag with a Hawaii Brand Potato Chips logo on it. I reached in, grabbed the bag, and opened it.

Something immediately felt wrong. I contemplated for a moment just what it was that had disturbed me, and realised that the contents of the bag had no smell. They were just as grey and ashen as nearly everything else. I experimentally popped one into my mouth.

There was a hint of monosodium glutamate flavour, but that soon passed, and I began to feel like I was chewing on a pencil eraser. I finished the bag and licked the tasteless powder off my fingers.

* * *

As one peels back the layers of reality, one by one, things become more bland. Detail blurs. Colours mute. Writing disappears. The corporate symbol, however, seems to stick around longer than almost anything else. It clings on.

Something about the logo is powerful. Resonant. Sticky.

* * *

Out on money and patience, I climbed the staircase and found myself on the upper deck. Rain poured down and soaked my hair. My fingers went numb. I climbed up onto one of the platforms filled with lifejackets and rafts, and stared upwards into the grey sky. The clouds began to part, and a faceless full moon devoid of craters showed its face.

I sighed. If the corporate symbol was going to be the only thing of power, than I would find power in it. I tried another experiment.

I started to sing softly to myself.

“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions – all on a sesame seed bun.”

As the words left my lips, I felt a thrill of power. Warmth returned to my fingertips, and rainbow-coloured sparks rode my breath.

“A diamond is forever!” I shouted. A sense of strength flowed through my limbs.

* * *

A man in an orange jumpsuit sits in a metal chair, his wrists cuffed to the sides. On his face is a blindfold and what looks like a pair of silver headphones. His head is shaven.

He sits, exhausted, depleted, muttering to himself.

Another man stands before him. He has a clipboard.

“Next time, we send you further down,” he says. “Right near the bottom. Even we don’t know what’s down there. Try and hang in there, okay? And stay observant.”

“Die.” says the prisoner.

“Here,” the clipbaord man says. He withdraws a syringe from one of his pockets and empties it into the prisoner’s arm. The prisoner growls and struggles, but then goes limp.

Somewhere, deep down, something stirs. It looks up. It watches, and waits.

* * *

Many people sit around a table in a dimly lit room. Above them, an old-fashioned fan lies dormant. One of them gets up to grab a now-finished pot of coffee, and pours everyone a cup.

“I don’t think he’s going to last much longer,” says a cleanshaven black man in a faint british accent. He is taller than anyone else at the table, and he holds himself like a leader.

“He will last as long as we want him to,” says a blond, almost anemic-looking woman sitting on the opposite chair.

“We can’t monitor him when he’s at the bottom,” the leader replies. “We aren’t even sure we’ll be able to bring him up again.”

A third man - short, white, and balding - raises his hand. The leader gestures to him.

“Perhaps we should send someone down with him?”