Part one of three.
She was at the end of the room, at her workstation, working hard. Fingers flying over light, eyes tracing words. Garret could only see the back of her head, from here, but the little tricks of her neck gave away her focus.
Garret ducked back into his cubicle, suddenly nervous. He thought about all the things he would say, the things he’d been practicing saying at home for weeks. The words were a mess in his head, a tangled jumble of weakly firing neurons and nervous sweating.
His workstation beeped mindfully; reminders from his supervising director. Garret read them absently, a wilful distraction from the task at hand. Something about offworld shipments and cargo manifestos and electronic signatures. Garret forced himself to switch off the screen, and closely grip his shaking hands. He laughed, wistful. It seemed such a strange thing to be shaking about, but here he was. Like a school kid, unsure and skittish and forgetful.
As he walked down the narrow aisle between rows of cubicles, he felt green fluorescent light creep into the sides of his eyes. Out the window, saw the glowing lights of a city encased in thick, man-made fog. Heard barely a sound but for the nearly inaudible whirr of the building’s network. Did it have to be here? Wasn’t there somewhere else he could do this, somewhere where the air was less dry and the carpet a bit dirtier?
No. There wasn’t. It was likely that this was going to be a memory he’d want to supress later, anyway, so the homogeneity of it all was probably a good thing – a continuation of the wandering grey fog outside, slowly escaping a pockmarked atmosphere. Still, his heart was skipping beats, knotting his chest and billowing up through his throat. He grinned, and shut it down.
Laura span around, all glasses and lips and light freckles.
“Did you see this message from Tanner? About the cargo for the next Alpha jaunt?” Laura was serious. Full of seriousness. Garret’s grin felt far away, swallowed back up by his leaping stomach.
“Yeah. Yeah I saw it.”
“Someone’s going to have to go to New York. I don’t want to do it. I went there last month, couldn’t get the smell of fuel off my shoes for weeks.”
“I don’t mind it. Kind of exciting there, isn’t it? All that stuff leaving, only half of it coming back?” Garret shifted on his feet. What a fucking weird thing to say.
“What a fucking weird thing to say, Garret.”
“What are you doing here, Garret?”
Garret’s feet were becoming bound in grey carpet. His words escaped him into the frayed threads of the floor.
“Nothing, nothing, I was just –”
Laura stood sharply, and leant forward onto the top of her cubicle, close to Garret.
“Are you here to ask me out?”
Garret wished he was in New York, boarding a ship to Alpha, spiralling outward into deep, silent space, empty and cold and simple…
“If you are, I want you to know that I’m not entirely convinced by the idea.” She smiled.
Garret’s feet pulled free at the sight of Laura’s teeth, flashed with fervour. He breathed again, normal. He suddenly remembered how this worked. The memory settled around his frame like a cushion.
“Why not?” he pressed gently. Maybe not a memory to repress after all.
Laura’s workstation beeped, loud, incessant. Louder than Garret thought possible from the small screen, until he realised the beeping was coming from every workstation on the whole floor. The hive of workers were turning to each other, confused.
Laura sat down, pulled away from Garret’s cushion for the moment, and typed furiously at her touchpad. Garret joined her in her cubicle, his eyes wide at the screen.
It was a mess of colour, code sweeping through pixels. Laura smacked the screen, confused.
“Is this everywhere?”
It was. People were standing, talking in earnest. Garret thought about running back to his station, but knew there was no point. Whatever it was, it was working of its own volition, coursing through the walls and the air in tightly knotted bundles of digits.
Garret leant in close to Laura, felt a stray hair of hers flick past his neck. Tried to ignore it. He stared at the furious code, and tried to make some of it out. Read quickly, but thought only of hair.
“It looks like…” Garret started, “the firewall is – ”
And then, suddenly, it was gone. The screen died, and so did every other one on the floor with a vague pop, a sound only slightly more noticeable than the disappearance of the low hum of the network. The lights overhead dimmed and soon snapped off. With that, all the machines had died, and all that was left was the sound of humanity losing its cool in the natural light.
“Right.” Laura leaned back in her chair, casual. Garret’s eyes tried to adjust, and he could just make out the frames of her glasses glistening in some misplaced shaft of light. “That looked like a network attack. Are we in trouble here?”
Garret knew that it was a concern. The corporation’s network, assimilated like that, snapped into pieces under the weight of a prying hand. But there was nothing he could do, and nothing that he could think about for longer than the time it took to pluck a stray hair from his sleeve.
“They’ll get it back up soon,” Garret looked at the readout on his wrist, checked for any alerts from head office about the blackout. Nothing.
“I kind of hope they don’t. I get a little sick of all this,” Laura looked up in the darkness at Garret. “Moving things around like they mean something. Pushing money back and forth. Waiting for somebody to wake up.”
She yawned. Garret leaned back against the cubicle.
Laura eyed him in the dim light. “Guess so, now. Where you taking me?”
“I don’t know,” Garret thought. “Somewhere with dirtier carpet.”
Laura smirked. “Maybe somewhere without carpet at all.”
Garret nodded, and looked out of the streaked windows. He realised that the fog outside was, in fact, lighter than the darkened heart of the office.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright David Keen.