“Attention all Hilbert Hotel guests and employees. We request your presence at Conference Room #2. Please head there at your earliest convenience.”
A most curious summon tears me away from the morning newspaper. I have lived many long years at the Hilbert, you see. And yet this is my first time hearing such an announcement.
I’m confused at first – the request seems to clash with the thoughtful design of the establishment. A corridor connects anything, with shared spaces like gyms, conference rooms, cafeterias, and information desks repeating at a frequent pace. You were never far from where you needed to be.
Now they are calling everyone all at once in a specific room. What would that look like in an infinite hotel? I had to witness this for myself.
Thankfully, I reside in room #19205. Pretty close to the destination when you think about it. Much closer than the average guest. But with so many people headed there, I still have reason to hurry.
I neatly fold my newspaper and head to the wardrobe. The announcement never mentioned what kind of event would happen. Not wanting to overthink things, I settle on the usual; a casual dress shirt and jeans combination would do.
Another unusual event greets me as soon as I leave my room. Never before had I seen the corridor bustling with this much activity. No matter where I look, my gaze meets someone headed towards the front of the building.
The sight is unsettling. I would usually see an impossibly thin line in the horizon, where floor and ceiling intercept. Now that familiar scenery has been taken away from me. Brushing off this unease, I turn to the right and start walking, joining the masses.
There is a long way ahead, and the road will be bereft of landmarks of interest. Truthfully, it only takes me a few dozen meters from the starting line to start wishing for headphones. I quickly find myself lost in thought.
As a kid, the hotel’s scale used to terrify me. Peeking at the horizon was all it took to send my mind racing. If there were infinitely many people in this building, for example, were there other people here identical to me? Was there an infinite number of them? And what if I woke up in the middle of the corridor? Could I ever find my way back? These questions gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach, but I couldn’t stop them from pouring in one after the next. It was at that point that I’d go hunting for some distraction. Perhaps a game or book to keep the thoughts away.
The hotel had not shrunk, but these moments disappeared with time. You could say my world’s shrunk instead, reduced to the handful of places I visit. The daily routine tends to make you forget these kinds of questions.
As long-forgotten feelings stir up within me, I cannot help but notice that our walking speed has slowed down. Far up in the distance, I can also hear faint, rhythmic voices. How curious.
Our current speed frustrates me. We’re still thousands of rooms away from our destination. I try for a few minutes to keep up the pace, brushing aside people along the way. But eventually, the people ahead form a solid wall, forcing me to follow the mold.
At least we’re making progress, slow as it may be. The voices ahead gradually get clearer. This, at least, gives me something to keep my mind occupied.
“Turn back. Turn back.”
Did something happen further up? I got on my tiptoes but couldn’t see anything noteworthy.
“Turn back! Turn back!”
The voices are rapidly getting closer. Much more so, in fact, than our current rate of progress. They were getting pretty loud now – my ears were starting to ring.
Then, suddenly, the people ahead of me turn around. They all wear the same worried expression on their face. And then, only a few seconds later, they start chanting too.
They’re so loud. It takes all I have not to yell at them to shut up. But I might as well turn around and see what --
I see the problem.
Infinitely many people are behind us, pushing us to progress. But they’re not just behind us either. I’m stuck on both sides, unable to clear my way back.
Left with no other option, I join the chorus. The people in front of me turn around, but we remain stuck in place.
Great. Not only am I trapped in an ocean of people, but I did not even get to see our destination.
Thoughtful design, my ass! Why didn’t they make this corridor wider? This wouldn’t be a problem if we just had more space to move!