Friday, 20 December 2013


It was too hot in the office.  The modern trend for open-plan had seized the minds of Facilities two years ago and they’d removed interior walls and partitions so that every desk was part of a ‘pod’ of four or six desks, and there was little privacy.  The sightlines across the office were nearly perfect, except for the pillars needed for structural soundness, and there were rumours that memos existed from the Facilities team asking that they could be knocked down, or at least punched through to improve sight through the office.  Alex had no idea who it was that needed to be able to see directly from one end of the floor to the other, but presumably they now could.  Around the edges, and on occasion in isolated cubes in the middle of the floor, were meeting rooms, to restore some of the privacy and noise-reduction that getting rid of the walls and partitions had obliterated, so naturally enough they were near-permanently booked with people trying to escape from their neighbours, the smell of food bought in from outside or brought in from home, or just attempting to hear themselves think for long enough to file a report.  Each meeting room had a thermostat, and playing with the thermostats caused the air-conditioning to break.  Facilities would send three or four threatening emails per quarter telling people not to touch the thermostats because the open-plan nature of the office meant that cooling one small part down adversely affected the rest of the office, but no-one heeded them.  And so eight times a year the air-conditioning broke down for up to three weeks a time.  Now was one of those times.
Alex tapped a key on the keyboard of his computer and the cursor on the screen moved sluggishly to the right, depositing a letter behind it.  The computer was overheating, and the software was playing up as the machine struggled to provide enough CPU cycles for things as mundane as typing.  Alex waited a second, and then pressed the next key, knowing that swearing at the machine would only make him hotter and more annoyed, and have no noticeable effect on it at all.  Unless it chose to crash.
The phone on his desk rang suddenly, buzzing like a bluebottle freshly trapped in a jam jar.  On the left-hand side of the phone unit was a collection of tiny rectangular LED lights arranged like a ladder.  The third from the top illuminated, a soft blue glow that persisted instead of flashing in time with the buzzing.  Alex frowned momentarily and then ignored it, as per protocol.  He pressed another key on the keyboard and waited for the letter to appear on the screen, during which time the phone stopped ringing.  He laid his finger on top of the next key and tried not to sigh.
His phone rang again, and this time he picked the received up immediately and listened.  A voice on the other end, made fuzzy and tinny by some kind of vocoder device recited a string of six digits, which he dutifully repeated back and then hung up.  Then he locked the computer, wondering if the machine would overheat when the screensaver kicked in and lose his report in the ensuing crash, and stood up.
“I’m going for lunch,” he said to the other person on his four man pod, a young man sat diagonally opposite him who’d been there for three weeks and looked like he’d been out of university for no longer.
“Right,” said the man.  Alex hadn’t bothered to learn his name as people rotated in and out of the desks so often that he assumed that unless they’d been there for three months that they were just passing through. 
“If my phone rings, don’t answer it,” he said.  He thought it should have gone without saying, but he’d already been hauled up twice before the Approbations Committee to explain why an unauthorised person was using his phone when he was away from his desk.
“Right,” said the young man.  He looked away, and Alex wondered if he was sweating from the heat of the office or because Alex was talking to him.
“I mean it,” said Alex.  “If you answer my phone again I’m handing you over to the Committee.  You can answer their questions.”
“What committee?”

Alex opened his mouth and then closed it again.  “You probably don’t want to find out,” he said.  “I know I didn’t.”

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