The lobby was a buzz of activity. Large floodlights had been set up outside, casting harsh shadows and exaggerated silhouettes. I was a wreck. One pant leg torn, mostly wet. My shirt was spattered with bits of office grime, kicked up from the soaked carpet during my struggle.
The stairwell door had barely closed when a swarm of helmeted agents surrounded me. They were quite professional. No loud commands, just a thorough pat-down and quick examination of my pupils. Passing, I was handed to an agent with a medical symbol stitched to his arm.
A heated blanket was wrapped around my shoulders. Waves of warmth reminding me of my favorite reading nook at home.
Stumbling queues of co-workers were being loaded into unmarked buses and vans. The windows were darkened and there were no license plates visible. I suppose the Agency had some way of deprogramming them. Hopefully, at any rate.
Making my way through the loading lines, I saw a familiar face. Barnes!
He was sitting on the step of an ambulance, wrapped in a blanket and talking to an Agent. I’d better not interrupt. Their faces had the somber tones of someone dealing with unpleasant news. I knew that look. Best to be avoided.
Backing up, I looked around for an obvious path to the sidewalk. Barriers were everywhere, sandbagged and locked in place. These people certainly understood crowd control. More help arrived, men leaping down from the back of a large truck, wearing black windbreakers with neon-green “Agency” lettering.
Something bumped my shoulder. I spun around, thinking that a Copyoid had broken free and was winding up for another assault. It was an Agent, guiding someone with his hands behind his back, firmly cuffed. Oh my, it was Hart, the megalomaniac CEO. Alive after all, beating the odds.
His designer suit was torn and bloody. I didn’t want to be seen. I faded into the bustle of the background while they guided him to an unmarked car, blue lights flashing. His face was stone-cold, not moving a muscle as they pushed his head down to avoid the door frame.
The car sped off, raising small clouds of dust. Where on earth where they taking him? I suppose it didn’t matter. I was too tired and decaffeinated to care.
No rest for the lowly worker bee.
Nightfall was coming, and street lights were switching on. I looked across the boulevard, at shuttered boutiques and closed coffee shops. Damn. Not a hot cup to be had. I pulled out my pockets, looking for change. Not a cent. Looks like its time to hoof it.
Discarding the blanket, I walked off into the shadows. The Agency bustle faded behind me, flashing lights probing sullen clouds.
I walked at a brisk pace, partly to dry off, and to turn things over in my mind. Exercise is inspiration, someone once said. Not that I got much of it, mind you. My breath was a bit ragged when I spied a small shop. Was it open? Light spilled out to the sidewalk, raising my hopes that it was.
A flower shop. The window sign had that old-time feel that came from an age when people actually brushed letters with paint. The letters were even guilded in gold leaf, for heavens sake. I pushed open the door, inhaling the delicate scent of flowers.
A small counter, worn with use. The register looked like it had been made in the early 1900’s, each digit hand-painted on metallic staves. The last sale was “$1.50” prefixed with an elaborate currency symbol. How lovely.
I rang the antique bell next to the register. An older woman parted the curtained arch behind the counter and took a seat on the stool behind the register.
“I say, do you have any coffee?”
She nodded affirmatively. Sliding off the stool, she pushed past the beaded strands towards the back room.
I sat down on the small wooden bench near the counter. Closing my eyes, smelling the rose-scented air. I wondered if she was hiring. Straightening my tie, I waited for my future boss to bring me coffee.
I sincerely hoped she didn’t have a copier back there.
Another day at the dusty loading dock. Forklifts whined and rubber wheels squeaked on the burnished concrete floor, bearing gifts of shrink-wrapped electronics and miscellaneous parts. Gregg was tired. More than usual, having been on a double shift for most of the week. Just one more load to stash and he could clock out.
Expertly forking a large crate, Gregg shifted from reverse to forward gear. Piece of cake, take this final load to shelf 7 corridor G, and then its beer o’clock with a chaser of sports viewed from a comfy recliner.
Oh no. Trouble. Gregg had clipped the corner of the shelving, gouging the metal and plunging the crate to the ground. Idling the motor, he hopped off to view the damage. Maybe he could just re-crate it and nobody would be the wiser.
Whipping out his flashlight, Gregg played the beam over cracked boards, resting on a deep dent in the metal. Damn. I’ll have to report this. Below the fresh scar was a model number in bolded sans-serif type.
It read – “DocuMax 4000”.
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