Current Occupation: Security Engineer
Former Occupation: Shipping and Receiving Clerk, Chef, Dishwasher, Help Desk, Factory Line Worker, Administrative Assistant, Security Administrator, Grocery Bagger
Contact Information: Jason Preu studied English at the University of Kansas. He now lives, works, and worships avocados in Kansas City, KS with his wife and two children. His writing has most recently appeared in the 2010 issue of Kansas City Voices magazine.
You sit waiting.
You sit waiting for your turn.
You sit waiting for your turn to meet with your boss.
You sit waiting for your turn to meet with your boss knowing that you’re interviewing, up against five other internal candidates (from a pool of thousands, likely), for an available slot on One World, Inc.’s Infrastructure team.
You know it’s a rare availability.
You know it’s a long shot.
It’s almost 10:30. Your boss’s door remains closed. The business hums along. No one walks by.
Your palms begin to sweat, ever so slightly. You think about getting up for a cup of coffee but don’t want to miss that door opening. First impressions are everything and everything more. You rub your hands together as though to warm them. You are not cold.
10:31 A.M. The door to your boss’s office opens almost of its own accord. You hear a few shuffling papers, then your boss calls, “You out there, Nelson?” You stand, approach the open door and peek your head inside. “Yes, sir.” “Well, come on in then. Shut the door behind you.” You do as you’re told. (Maybe that’s why you’re here.)
You haven’t been in your boss’s office all that often. It’s disheveled but otherwise nondescript. No ornaments on the walls. A picture of a Yorkshire terrier next to one monitor. Paper, paper, paper. Frankly, it looks to you as though your boss could be picked up and replaced at any time and no one would be the wiser. Maybe they’d notice a picture of a different dog next to the monitor.
“So much for the paperless office,” you say, despite yourself.
“Yes, yes, sorry for the mess. Time enough for paperwork when we’re dead.”
“Uh, sure,” you say, not really understanding.
“You know why you’re here. I see you’re well-dressed. I suppose that means you’re interested.”
“To be honest, I don’t know much. I just thought it best…since it’s an interview and all…” You look down at your lap and make an altogether half-hearted gesture at your outfit. He knows you know you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing here. Your boss smiles – almost aggressively. He knows you know he knows. And he likes it that way.
“Sure. Look, Nelson, to be blunt, we’ve completely drained a couple of our guys. Top producers, so we’re taking a real hit while they’re out.”
“I’ve not noticed any increased calls to the Service Desk,” you reply. Your boss takes his time to respond, folding his hands and placing them atop a stack of papers on his desk. He looks over your head, then down at his hands. You pay attention to his eyes when he looks back up. Tired, dark half-circles.
“Not yet, you won’t. The rest of the team can handle the increased load – but not indefinitely. We’re looking to move on this position ASAP. Next few days. We need to get the role filled and there are some preliminaries to handle before one can do the actual work.”
“That is a concern, but one that’s already been handled. In that respect, you and the other candidates have been given an all-clear by HR and Legal.”
“My credit is good. No criminal history.” Your boss offers an oddly-placed smile and an almost sympathetic tone.
“Little more to it than that. Family history, ties…any obligations outside of work. Demanding job we’re offering and we can’t afford to place someone who can’t give one hundred and ten percent.”
“Lots of travel? Dealing with government data?”
“No, no. Not this role. This one requires the ability to deliver on full power all the time.”
You don’t have a lot to say to that. You are happy with your work but don’t really relish the thought of having to be available and ready for anything 24/7.
You look again at the bland, taupe walls – so blank that after a while they seem to breathe – and you wonder if this is what you have in store: work, blank walls, work. In many ways, this is what you signed on for. Everyone here has. Four walls and a door to close. The great life.
“So what do you need from me? You have have any questions for me…should I ask you some questions?”
“Doesn’t matter a whole helluva lot.” Your boss leans in toward you. “I really just schedule these interviews so that I have a clean, uninterrupted chance to look you right in the eyes.” And look in your eyes he does. He does so with a sinister sadness so serene you feel slightly dislocated. A power and a misunderstanding pass between the two of you.
He believes he is spilling his soul.
You believe he is stealing yours.
You inhale audibly, smelling sweat and toner.
He slowly closes his eyes and says, “Thanks for your time, Nelson. You’ll hear from me soon. You may go now.”
You stand up, dazed and strangely enthused about the prospects ahead. After an interview like this, you’re sure to land the job. However daunting the work, however bland the walls, you now feel unable to fail and ready to take it all on. You walk back to your workstation, put on some headphones, and get back to work.
Your boss was right. A few days passes before he finds you in the hall and asks you to follow him to his office. He closes the door behind you then takes a seat himself. “The job is yours, Nelson.” You knew it.
“What’s the offer?”
“Do you have anything in writing for me?”
“The job is yours, Nelson.”
“How long do I have to respond?” You aren’t used to playing hardball with superiors. It feels kinda nice. “I just want to look over the offer and –”
“And what, Nelson? Discuss it with you wife? Family?” Odd.
“No, I don’t really have any family. I just –”
“The job. Is yours.”
“And what is the offer?” This is getting ridiculous. Do they plan to laterally transition you? Hell no. Not for that kind of shift in workload.
“Go back to your desk, Nelson. Clean it out. Be back here at midnight. Your new shift starts then. Orientation will take roughly thirty minutes. Then you’re part of Infrastructure.”
“And the offer?” You try to be as insistent as possible without overstepping. “What if I refuse?”
“Oh, hell, Nelson, you can’t refuse. Haven’t you figured that out by now?” And like that, the conversation is over. You have a new job. Starting tonight. Midnight.
You return to One World’s building at around 11:45 that night. Enough time to pause outside and light up a cigarette for a few choice drags. The cigarette tastes good but isn’t nearly as satisfying nor calming as you’d hoped. You can’t recall ever being here at night and its somewhat unsettling. Blue-white glow from halogen ghost send shadows skittering into impossible angles. Just inside the front doors, illuminated by dull fluorescents, behind a massive, black desk and hidden by a row of video monitors sits a crusty, old security guard. You squash your cigarette to death against the concrete wall and scan your TrakBadge™ across the door to get inside the building.
The security guard stirs to life like leaves rustled by wind. He looks older than dirt. Hell, he looks like he just climbed out from under six feet of dirt.
“Evening,” he croaks, “scan your badge, please.”
He gazes at the monitors, mesmerized. He chews his gums and does not look your way. You scan your badge across the thin plastic reader on the desktop. You wait. The old man turns his head slowly toward you, tendons in his neck straining with this Herculean effort. What looks at you isn’t so much a life nearing end, but a death being born. The guard’s eyes are cataracted and what teeth remain in his mouth are blackened and broken.
“Nelson!” he spits, full of spirit and venom.
“Yes, that’s right. Infrastructure. Night shift.”
“That’s what this goddamned screen tells me,” he coughs.
His body rattles. He reaches over and uses a bony, middle finger to press a tiny, red button which opens the gate. “Need to take elevator 6 to B3.”
You walk through the gate and say “Good night,” over your shoulder to the old man.
“Goodbye,” he rasps.
You laugh to yourself. That’s right, old-timer. You’ll be lucky to make it more than a few more nights.
You hop onto elevator 6 and push the B3 button. The doors seal closed before your eyes and you feel the pulleys engage. Down you go. You figured Infrastructure would be in a different part of the building – no one ever sees them – but being in the basement is somewhat surprising. The elevator car stops but the doors don’t open. You hear some buzzing and whirring then the car violently shifts toward the right, throwing you off balance and into the wall. The elevator moves sideways. Stops. Buzzes and whirrs. Then down once again. Finally, the doors open to complete darkness.
Small red, green, yellow, blue lights slowly begin to populate your field of vision – lights from the servers. Luminescent dust motes forever suspended in air. You step off the elevator and into a darkened hall. The elevator bay is the only break in a wall that runs behind you. A wall of glass stands before you protecting the data center and all those glowing, blipping, blinking lights.
Left or right?
You decide left.
You start to walk, floating lights on your right keeping you in a somewhat straight line down the narrow hallway. As your eyes begin to adjust to the dark you venture another look into the data center and see row after row beyond row behind row of server racks filled with servers. A living field of floating lights. How much must it cost to cool the air in there?
You keep walking and far ahead you make out the faint glow of a fluorescent light. Some time later you arrive at a small break room, more or less a little hole cut right into the wall. There’s a table, two chairs, a key on a chain and a piece of paper. No sink. No fridge. No coffee.
You sit down on one of the hard, plastic chairs and pick up the piece of paper. It reads:
Please take the key to the end of the hallway and use it to open the door.
Follow the signs to the UPS area.
Go to UPS bay 142 and use the key to open the door.
Further instructions await within.
No welcome, no nothing.
You put the key around your neck and get back to walking. And walking. And more walking. You do finally come to the end of the hallway where a single, white door marked DATA CENTER ACCESS stands before you. Your key fits perfectly and you open the door to a blast of uncomfortably cold air.
“Holy shit!” you say, rubbing your hands together. “Igloo…”
You don’t see any signs on the wall but then you look down and see painted on the floor different colored words and lines. A red line overlaid with the the words “Uninterrupted Power Supplies” leads you away from the door and into the belly of this cold beast.
At some point (you’re pretty much lost) your line stops at a metal handle attached to the floor. You lift the handle to reveal a dimly-lit spiral staircase. The top of the handled door reads UPS BAYS. You head down, feet clicking and clacking on the stairs. You see no other members of your team.
At the bottom of the stairs you see rows and rows of what look like lockers, slightly wider than average, running down the side of the walls in front of and behind you. Each locker is marked with a small plastic placard emblazoned with a number. Below each placard is a keyhole. Locker number 22 is in front of you. Behind you is number 3,561. Fueled by the promise of “further instructions” you wander through the rows until you find number 142. Your key fits. No surprise.
You turn the key and open the locker door.
The interior of the locker runs some distance back and along each side are square black boxes, stacked atop each other. UPS. Those must be the batteries. Not like any UPS you’ve seen before. But, no surprise that One World uses some heavy tech to fuel its operations. At the very back of the locker sits a large reclining, leather chair similar to what you’d find at your dentist. Upon the chair, another piece of paper. You look around for a bit. No monitors. No interfaces or peripherals at all. You pick up the paper and read:
You worry. Skeptical. But damn if curiosity doesn’t win out.
Every time curiosity wins out.
The chair’s armrests extend up and over your wrists, pinning them in place. The bottom of the leg rest extends down, out and flips up, grabbing your legs before you even realize you’re being restrained. You thrash about now, grunting, trying to break the grips, when something flips over the top of your head. Your breathing increases five-fold. You see nothing. You feel your hot exhales being directed back toward your cheeks, forehead. You feel a thick, flat something slowly snake its way across your chest. Your breath smells sweet and sounds as though it’s coming from a place outside of you. The strap across your chest begins to tighten. You hear a slight beeping from above that grows louder, closer. Your hands are clinched to immovable fists. Your mind beings to drift, remembering a time your next door neighbor, older, a jerk, trapped you inside of an old refrigerator his parents had in their garage. Smell of stale beer and sulphur. The beeping draws nearer. You hear a whirr and the cover over your head begins to vibrate. You feel an isolated vortex of air open next to your ear. The whirring stops and your left periphery begins to glow ever-so-slightly. Light coming in. Something jams into your ear-hole filling your head with explosive pain as your lungs fill the air with screams. You remember nothing now. Nothing but pain. You feel two more sharp stings – one in each arm – and then feel something crawling under your forearms’ skin. Two, four, six more crawlers. They stop crawling at your shoulders. You cry, yell, beg, whimper. Sharp pains in your legs and the crawlers making their way to your groin. Your head vibrates again. Stops. A jab into your right ear. Pain. White. You hear a machine voice say, “Power connect successful.” You pass out. You come to. You feel your mouth wrapped around a large, plastic tube. You try to stop breathing. You hear a beep and feel a blast of air into your lungs. You fall asleep. You wake up. Nothing’s change. You fall asleep. You wake up. Nothing’s changed.