Ann walked briskly towards the back entrance of the Chifley Tower, the building where she has been working for the past two weeks. Thankfully, her fellow car-poolers didn’t work with her. They were spread throughout the forty-two story building. None of them worked on the top floor, which was where her office, Charb Intellectual, was located. Despite being over an hour late, the door was still locked, meaning she was the first to arrive. As far as she knew, she was the only one to ever arrive.
She entered her password and unlocked the frosted glass double-doors of the main entrance. Despite her crap morning, the view of the city and harbor beyond that greeted her, like every morning over the past two weeks, brightened her mood.
When she first saw the view, and the office, she knew this place wasn’t the typical company, or her job that of an average receptionist. Her previous placements had the standard drab offices, surrounded by cubicles and faux plants. But this place nowhere near ‘standard’ or ‘drab. Besides the panoramic view, the floors of the reception area had a deep red, desert-like hue, but with a marble smoothness. In the far right corner was a large boomerang-shaped, two-tiered, black glass desk with flecks of red that matched the floor. The amount of floor space used by the desk was bigger than her kitchen and dining room. It was almost an office onto itself, with a small fridge and microwave. The computer monitor and keyboard were built right into the glass desk top. Security flat-screen monitors lined the top tier of the desk. The first time she had sat behind it, she thought she was piloting the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Kitty-corner across from her desk, to the left as you walk in through the frosted doors, was the waiting area, with soft leather seats and sofas, as well as some chairs that were sturdier. All were top-of-the-line, all were comfortable, and all had yet to see any real use. Beside the waiting area, was a glass door that matched her desk with a ‘man’ and ‘woman’ symbol on the door. To the right of her desk, in the middle of the massive wall of windows, was a glass table with a Keurig-like coffee maker and assorted coffees, a purified hot and cold water dispenser, a selection of tea bags, and a plate of fresh snacks. At the other end of the windows, along the same wall as the bathroom door, was similar black glass door. It had more of a mixture of red in it, and a simple name plate on it, ‘Management’. Scattered around the luxurious reception area were some large potted, living plants.
Ann rounded her desk and started her daily routine. She checked the security log, all clear. She started up her computer, checked for any new emails, directed any important emails to specific inboxes, and deleted or blocked any emails deemed as spam. She headed over to the coffee maker with her Sydney FC mug, put in a cup, placed her mug underneath, and started it up.
After finishing her business in the bathroom stall, she inspected her blouse in the mirror. The coffee stain stood out like water on a dusty sidewalk. She removed her blazer, then her blouse, and put her blazer back on. She buttoned the top-most buttons. She looked at her new look. A little bit of a plunging neck line, but for once, she was glad her breasts weren’t as big as she had wished they were back in high school.
She left the bathroom, walked over to the ‘Management’ door, and opened it. Considering the lavishness of the reception area, the office was nice, but plain. It had the same deep-red, desert-like hue on the floor, but the desk was an old and wooden, perhaps an antique. At least the wood was a darker grain, so it didn’t stand out too much. The shelves on the left were full of books that would probably require a degree from MIT to read.
She walked back to the coffee maker, took her full mug of coffee, and returned to her desk. She put her hands-free telephone headset on and tapped the button on the earpiece of her right ear.
She waited for the audio cue then said, “You have reached Charb Intellectual. Today is December 14th. If you know the extension of the person you wish to reach, please enter it now. If you would like to leave a message in the general voice mail box, please press ‘1’. If you wish to speak to our receptionist, please press ‘2’. Thank you, and have a nice day.” She pressed the earpiece button again and sat back in her chair. Despite being an hour late, she had already caught up on all her regular work.
In the two weeks since she was hired, she had received twenty-two phones calls. Twenty of them were wrong numbers. The other two were directed to offices in Mumbai and Kanata. She had seven visitors, all with confidential files to be given to Management. They were given to her, and she left them in the ‘Management’ office. The next day, the files were gone. She has never met ‘Management’. Her only contact with them was via memos and emails.
For her, it was the perfect job. She liked the quiet, working at her own pace, and most importantly, no boss trying to make nice with the help, or getting too friendly. The pay was standard, but the view was worth it. But recently, she had begun to question what this place actually did. She never had a vivid imagination like her brother Melville. She was sure he would have come up with something wild and crazy, especially about the guy that hired her.
She met the only representative of this company, probably their Human Resources agent, at the placement agency. He was a slight, well-dressed gentleman, a little boney for her tastes, yet he had an odd glow of vitality to him. At first, she thought he was wearing make-up. When he talked to her, he sounded a little too precise and mechanical. Still, he was polite and friendly enough. She figured he had done this so many times that he had heard all the same answers to the same questions. For whatever reason, he liked what he saw and she got the job.
The rest of the morning was usually uneventful. Ann redirected a few emails, did a few house-keeping chores, and received a parcel from the UPS guy. The only change was the UPS guy. Usually it was a cute, geeky guy that kept comparing her to some blonde actress from the TV show “Heroes”. When she looked up who he was talking about, she didn’t mind the comparison, except that the actress played a stripper at first, and had serious identity issues. But today, the geeky guy was replaced by some lug who seemed more interested in the office than his job, or the fact that she wasn’t wearing a blouse. The geeky guy would have appreciated her being blouse-free.
Around noon, she took her aluminum water bottle out of her fridge, walked over to the glass table, and filled it up with cold water. She picked up one of the snacks, a muffin, and bit into it enough to hold it while she grabbed another muffin. Every morning since she started, there had always been snacks. At first, there were donuts, but more recently, they had been home-baked cookies and muffins. She had no clue who made them, or brought them in, but she wished she could thank them.
She sat back down in her chair and turned up the local top-40 radio station for its 80’s request lunch hour. She turned and looked out at the city. The clear blue sky made everything seem so pure and simple. She watched little blotches of color, kids in bright football jerseys, playing a game, running around in the park. She remembered when she was one of those little blotches.
Back in high school, she lived for football. Her parents had told her she was born to run fast, which made her a natural for center forward. Plus, she didn’t take crap from anyone. When she wasn’t playing in the girl’s leagues, she played on the boy’s teams. Unfortunately, that was where things went downhill.
She started hanging out with one boy, Derrick. He was cute, in a rugged, mean way. He told her all the things that girls want to hear at that age. He only wanted one thing in return. Wanting to keep him, she gave it to him. He wanted more, she gave him more. She would have done anything for him. To her, it was love, it was forever.
Forever lasted about three months, to the year-end party. In hindsight, it could have ended much worse. If she hadn’t been as fierce, if she had drank a little more, maybe Derrick and his teammates would have had their way with her. Instead of being emotionally scarred for life, she had her heart, and legs broken. Derrick broke her heart. The jump from the second-story window broke her legs, and ended her football career.
The fifteen years or so since then had been filled with a parade of crappy boyfriends, crappy jobs, the crappy divorce of her parents, and a yearning for something better. No amount of exercise, attractiveness, or night school studying business management had made a difference. Having a younger brother, with his perfect little life, complete with a perfect little wife, and two adorable little kids, had not helped.
She used booze to forget her problems, but that only made things worse. When she hit what she thought was rock-bottom, she saw others who had fallen much further. As crappy as everything was, it could have been a lot worse.
She would never tell her brother, but he helped her come around, especially his kids. Even his wife got her onto the night school thing. In time, she began to see things in a more positive light. Although she didn’t always get along with them, she had a family who loved and supported her. She was healthy, physically active, and could still turn guy’s heads at the gym. Although she couldn’t play professionally, her football skills are still top-notch. Now, with this bizarre, easy job with the great view, maybe things would start to turn around for her.
The phone rang, startling her out of her thoughts. She answered the phone. “Good afternoon, Charb Intellectual, this is Ann. How may I direct your call?”
“Could I speak to the owner please.” A voice asked.
Ann paused. This was new. “I’m sorry, he’s out of the office at the moment. Can I take a–“
The voice hung up.
Ann hung up her phone. She sat motionless, processing the call in her mind. Although she had received only two calls actually related to the company, no one had ever asked for the owner. She didn’t even know the owner’s name!
Outside the frosted double doors, an alarm went off, followed by the shadows of people walking by. She walked over the doors and opened them. The alarm was deafening. The regular lighting of the hallways was out, replaced by emergency flood lights. Workers from other companies on the floor flowed by in a quiet, constant rush, heading towards the stairwell at the end of the hall.
Ann spotted a familiar face among them, a woman she sometimes chatted with in the elevator. “Hey, What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. The power went out, then the fire alarms went off. Everyone was told to evacuate the top ten floors.”
Ann nodded as she closed the door. She started back to her desk when she paused and looked up. The power was still on in the office. The fire alarms built into the office ceiling were silent.
The phone rang again. Ann pressed the button on the headset. “Good afternoon, Charb–.” She began automatically.
“This is your chance to leave.” the same voice from before ordered, cutting off her greeting. “Go and you won’t be hurt.”
“Who are you?” Ann asked as she started to walk again towards her desk.
“You got five minutes.” The voice said before hanging up.
Ann got behind her desk and looked at the time on her computer. It was 1:40pm.
A different ring tone startled her. It wasn’t an in-coming call, it was an inter-office call. She pressed the button on her headset. “Hello?”
“Ms. Bricken, you should leave with the others.” a cold, familiar voice suggested. It belonged to the man who hired her.
“Is this the HR guy? Are you the owner?” Ann asked, feeling as if she was on a merry-go-round that was going too fast.
“Who I am is not important. Your safety is. Please leave–“
His words were cut off by explosive gunfire from the hallway.
Ann jerked, staring at the frosted glass doors. “Oh god, this isn’t a fire drill, is it.” She whispered.
“No.” the cold voice replied, with a genuine tone of sympathy. “It appears the authorities have surprised them. They are escalating their time table. You will not make it out alive.” The call abruptly ended.
Ann looked around, unaware she was shaking. The night of that year-end party was the most frightening thing she has ever faced. Whatever was happening now may be the second, and potentially, the last most frightening thing she would ever face.
Shadows appeared outside the frosted glass doors.
The Management door opened and the Human Resources agent strode out.
“Where the hell? Where? How did?” Ann stammered.
“I will explain once we have escaped.” The Human Resources agent replied before pointing to the frosted glass doors. “Stall them.”
Another person rushed out of the Management door. Ann stared at him, trying to comprehend what she was seeing. He was a short, stocky, but a powerful creature wearing torn and faded blue jeans. His chest and back were covered in short, black fur, save for a horizontal white stripe across his chest and over each shoulder. His arms below the shoulder stripes were huge, and metallic. He had great shoulder and neck muscles, supporting the large head and snout of a Tasmanian devil.
“He isn’t human!” Ann muttered under her breath.
As the Human Resources agent rounded her desk, his suit and human appearance shimmered and shut off, replaced by a slim, angular, dark blue, skeletal robot. “Neither am I. Now if you will excuse me.” He put his hand on her shoulder and forced her to duck behind the desk.
The frosted glass doors shattered, sending fragments everywhere.
Two men burst through, automatic rifles drawn and ready.
The Tasmanian devil man/ creature stepped between the two men and the desk. From both of his metal forearms, a large, foot-long, double-edged blade snapped out, like jack knives. He grabbed hold of them, like short swords, and slashed both gunmen, one across his face, the other across his chest.
“Trouble!” yelled another gunman from the hallway.
“You betta believe it, mate!” the creature snarled.
Automatic weapons fire exploded into the room, followed by the screams of the gunmen and roars from the creature. Soon, blood was splattered all around the doorway.
Ann covered her head, not believing any of this, hoping she just fell asleep at her desk. But when an explosion from the hallway shook the building, she knew this was real. She glanced up at the robot standing over her. While his one hand kept her crouched down, the other hand hovered over the keyboard, its fingers moving like cobalt blue blurs. On the screen, files were uploaded to a remote mainframe. When the robot’s fingers stopped, they closed into a fist and smashed through keyboard. The monitors froze as a clock began to countdown.
“Time to go Ms. Bricken.” The robot said as he helped her up.
“What the hell is going on!” Ann screamed, wanting to pull away from the robot.
The robot gently grabbed her by both shoulders. “Please Ms. Bricken, let us save you.”
Ann, startled by the sincerity and kindness in the robot’s voice, nodded.
“Jack.” The robot yelled. “Time to go.”
The creature, Jack, rammed his blade through one of the gunmen, lifted him up, and tossed him towards more men coming up the stairwell. “C’mon Snap! We got guests comin’! Be rude ta leave.”
Snap, the robot, guided Ann towards the Management door. “This office, and much of this floor, will soon be soon devoid of life, yourself included.”
Jack sighed. “Fine.” His blades flipped back into his forearms and he rushed to join Snap and Ann.
Ann stared at Jack, blood splattered across his chest and arms.
“Better theirs than yours, I reckon.” Jack commented.
Snap led Ann into Management’s office. Jack followed and closed the door. He walked up to them and placed his hand on Snap’s shoulder.
“Hang on, Sheila.” Jack said, smirking, “The first time made me chunder!”
Before the sound of Jack’s words could travel from Ann’s inner ear to her brain, beams of light stretched out from the center of Snap’s torso, encompassing them all. When the beams of light vanished, so had they.
Tales from the Infinatum: The Job Copyrighted © 2013 Mark James MacKinnon.
Any use of these characters, without permission, is strictly prohibited. Any similarities to individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental.