Backstage
rating: +12+x

The man walks through a bare hallway. He holds a briefcase in one hand and a coffee in the other. He stops in front of the door, takes a deep breath, and enters. A room filled with cubicles unfurls before him. The sound of pens on paper, the clicking of keyboards, and a silent murmur washes over him.

He smiles.

He makes his way through the room, to a door with a small plaque on it that reads, “William Cranford, Head of Accounting”.

The room behind the door is in contrast with the one it opens into. Large bookshelves line the walls and a dark wooden desk dominates the center of the room. William closes the door behind him and sets his notebook and coffee on the desk before sitting down and starting up the computer.

The nigh-prehistoric machine roars into life and slowly begins to boot up. The man finishes his coffee and begins opening up file after file. Numbers dance across the screen.

William sighs in satisfaction. This is his place. The center of his power. Here he is above all. Security clearances and censored data mean nothing to him. He sees the new plans for a small Site in Siberia, the repairs for a destroyed wing. Words can deceive in a thousand ways but numbers can only ever be true or false.

He begins his morning routine. He opens his notebook and the credit card details of the employees of the Site. The notebook is filled with seemingly random words, phrases, and numbers. But to him, each one sets into motion a cascade of memory.

Oskar Leichtmann. 29. Research Assistant. Looking at his withdrawals it seems he has relapsed in his amphetamine use. Shame.

Hannah Saulkalne. 46. Researcher. Has begun visiting some rather unique clubs during her husband's business trip to Norway.

Viago Silvester. 25. Researcher. Has recently begun to purchase sleeping medicine. Some sort of opiate judging by the cost.

William frowns. Viago, Viago… Ah yes. The one they brought in from Europe a year back. Why does he suddenly need help falling asleep?

He opens one of the drawers and removes the bottom. A thin, black laptop rests there. A gentle push of a button and it turns on in seconds. He opens Viago's file. If IT told the truth there will be no record of anyone accessing it. The security clearance is low, but the absence of information can speak volumes.

Viago was transferred to another Site briefly it seems. The file claims he checked in regularly while there. Will looks over his credit card history again.

Ah. There it is. Apparently, he had been shopping in the city closest to his current Site almost daily. Quite a long trip for some groceries.

Now to find out what little Viago had been assigned to in that month, that keeps him from sleeping. William sends a short email. Within 20 minutes a man from Logistics enters his room and takes a stack of folders handed to him. A small slip of paper is hidden in one of them.

***

The young woman pushes a cart through offices and between cubicles. Folders are handed out and pleasantries exchanged. The occasional package finds its owner. A few pens are replaced. Stacks of blank forms are refilled and new sheets of paper placed on desks. Some smile at her, but their eyes slip away from her in moments. Nobody really sees the everyday things.

Nobody notices as Viago Silvester leaves his office for lunch. And nobody sees a young woman with a cart slip in the office.

She’s quick.

Her eyes run across the room, taking in all details. She flips open a journal on the table before placing it back in the same position. She looks at the bookshelves lining the walls. The top of one of the books is bent slightly. She pulls it out and finds a small notebook, nestled in the carved out pages.

Every page of it is carefully photographed before being placed back in its place. A small device finds itself hiding in the lamp on the table, a sensitive microphone waiting for the slightest sound. The woman leaves as silently as she had arrived.

And not a single soul sees.

***
Viago mumbles to himself in his office and a maintenance worker listens in a break room. His colleagues pay no mind to their headphone-wearing friend.

With each word, the mind of the researcher crystallizes before him, new facets revealing themselves, as Viago mumbles more and more frantically. Something inside is broken. His mind is like a shattered mirror. Sharp, beautiful but irreversibly damaged.

He won't stop. There isn't enough left of him to stop.

The worker slips a small piece of paper to a passing man while returning to his work.

Wheels within wheels.

***

William looks at the items before him. The pictures, the brief transcript, and the man's file.

He sighs. Poor Viago. He calls for a janitor to empty his paper basket.

Another paper slip.

This time- the last one.

***
Viago returns to his office, sits down, and takes a deep breath. Then it begins anew. Whenever his mind becomes free of distractions everything comes flooding back. Even with his eyes open the images feel crystal clear in his mind. Every second of it replayed again and again.

He begins grabbing the folders on his desk and rushing through them, words flowing independently between his lips, as his mind goes in two different directions. After a few minutes, he stops. You can’t beat the classics.

He opens his laptop and begins working through the safeguards. He doesn’t need to be careful. The monitoring on this system is non-existent, since it is assumed the ones who have access to it are loyal and sane.

Somewhere in the facility acid begins draining from a chamber. Now he has no other options.

Tick, tock.

Viago walks through the hallway. His face is neutral, but his eyes glow feverishly, a mild reflection of his burning mind.

Why did they lie?

It should've worked. It shouldn't be like this. He was supposed to forget. To return to work in blissful ignorance.

Why why-why-why does he still hear her? Why do her eyes still look back at him when he closes his? Why do they scream for something he couldn't give?

It burns him, consumes him.

The alarm begins screaming when Viago’s halfway to his destination. He doesn’t think about his actions. A single thought, a single image radiates through every single corner of his mind. He quickens his pace. She’s getting louder.

He has to.

He has to.

She should have something, if not freedom then at least release.

A janitor is sweeping the hallway floor, not bothered by the sirens. Viago casts his eyes downwards.

He doesn't see the janitor stepping in front of him. He doesn't see the flash of steel. He doesn't have time to react before being shoved against the wall.

The blade is sharp, the attacker experienced and precise. Viago's heart begins pumping blood into his chest cavity. He tries to struggle and scream, but a hand covers his mouth and the world starts to lose focus.

Two other men in jumpsuits exit from a nearby door. They roll out a black tarp on the floor and Viago is placed upon it. Within seconds he is wrapped in it and picked up.

Only a janitor remains, sweeping up the dust and humming a song nobody remembers.

***
Viago had never checked in according to the database. No cameras had recorded him, and his colleagues didn't remember seeing him.

A breach caused by a fatal flaw in the automated systems programming was contained with acceptable casualties.

The world kept on turning.

Another act is over. The technical crew rests.

Until the curtain parts again.

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