Surrounded, I weighed my options as the elevator ascended to the top floor.
My mental list consisted of 1) I’ve been rumbled, 2) My coffee is getting cold — damn it all.
Perhaps I should cut back on the caffeine. Not that it would help right now, flanked by the stammering remnants of what used to be tolerable co-workers. I replayed my conversation with Barnes, when we had completed our plan.
“Don’t look at the green light, whatever you do. That’s where the signal is hiding. Most people imprinted in five flashes, some less.”
I had asked Barnes how he found out about all of this.
“You don’t get to be as old as I am without some tricks up your sleeve.”, He pointed to an old switchboard mounted next to the filing cabinet.
“That there is hooked into the phone system, specifically to the top brass so I know what is brewing up there.”
Brewing. Coffee. Snap out of it, blast it!
The elevator doors slid open, and I was marched into the CEO’s office. His desk was huge, wooden, and topped with executive toys, like the decision maker that wound up and dropped a small weight, guillotine style into either bin marked “Yes” and “No”.
I had the impression that was how he made most of his decisions.
Mr. Hart wasn’t the worst CEO, but he wasn’t the best. He managed by fear, intimidation and cruel humor. Being summoned to his office meant you were either going to be yelled at, fired, or both.
He spun around in his tall-backed chair, facing away from the darkening sky, building lights winked in the distance as the sun began to set.
“You are a tricky one, aren’t you.”
I took this as a cue to say something, anything. Beg for my life? Was it that serious? No time to take chances.
“I was just trying to fix something.”, it sounded ridiculous the moment it left my mouth. A small echo mocked me, off of the expensive marble floor.
The CEO smiled. He had me dead to rights. This was just the preamble before I was pushed off the roof, or something equally morbid. My mind was racing, eyes darting about the room. Could I grab that award and knock him in the head? My hands were tied behind my back with improvised zip-ties, chafing my wrists.
“Its time to see the light, as it were.”, He pushed a button on his desk and the doors opened. A portable copy machine was rolled in, and positioned in front of me.
“I won’t look, you can’t make me!”, I struggled to sound brave, but my voice cracked at the end.
The CEO gestured, and the Copyoids on either side pushed my head down on the scanner glass. I could hear the humming, electrics powered and ready. A sharp note of ozone tickled my nostrils.
This was it then, I was to join my Copyoid brothers and sisters. I screwed my eyes shut, clenching my teeth. I imagined a Mayan temple sacrifice, with green lights probing the sky.
Time crawled to a snails pace. A finger hovering over the green < Start > button, when the doors burst open behind me.
“Stop where you are, you bloody bastards!”, Barnes bellowed at the top of his lungs.
Clouds spewed forth from both extinguishers in his hands, like a force of nature. He was wearing one of those telemarketer headsets, with the mic pushed up to the headband.
The switchboard. Oh thank heavens.
Copyoids scattered and ran, while Barnes pushed forward. Putting down one of the extinguishers, he clipped my bonds and set me free.
I staggered forward, pushing the copier out of my way. Extinguisher fumes made it difficult to see. I dropped down on all fours, crawling towards the exit.
Barnes must’ve reached the CEO, because I heard him bellow, “This is the last time, Hart!”
Two loud pops and a muffled shout. Was that a gun being fired? I increased the pace of my crab-like movements, sliding over the smooth marble floor. Please, by all the coffee gods, let me get out of here in one piece.
I’d almost made it to the double doors when the sprinklers switched on. Triggered by all the blinding chemicals floating in the air. Raining water, drops pattered on my back and wet my pant legs as I slid the remaining distance to the exit.
I grasped the brass handle with both hands, and pulled. The door heaved open reluctantly, and I slid through. The foyer was dark and damp. Sprinklers above sprayed ceaselessly on to the designer carpet below.
I had to get out of here. I felt in my pocket, for the scrap of paper that Barnes had given me. Good. Now I only had to find a phone.
(To be continued…)
Next – Part Six