I look into the metallic reflection of myself in the elevator door. I see it every day. Or just about, since sometimes work keeps me on base for days on end. Smooth polished steel. You can see your reflection in it, with the bright white glow of the single light above me. In front of me, the door and the two buttons. Up. Down. This one only leads to two spots. To my left, a side of the elevator. To my right, Doctor MacCarrick.
He was one of the new guys, but somehow, he’d just gotten a research assistantship working with Oh-Three-Five. A nasty little bugger, from the file I read. I had fifty bucks saying he didn't last the week. Sort of sick, I know, but we bet on odd things down here.
I give my cheeks a soft slap to get some color in them and wake myself up, then notice MacCarrick staring at me in the reflection in the metal.
"Nothing, Dr. Iceberg."
"Just Ice," I said. I kept hoping it would catch on, but it never did. He didn't get a chance to respond before the elevator door opens, and we were herded out by the security staff on hand. I was motioned out into a short hall, nodding briefly to MacCarrick as he went in the opposite direction. I regretted it, but it was already too late.
The trip down seemed longer that usual, but it might have just been the company. Don't get close to people you've got money on. Never ends well.
We already passed clearance up top side, so a lot of the hustle and bustle down here was just for show. In spite of that, I knew full well that the security cameras were hidden, watching, and checking us. Facial structure scans, retinal analysis, or anything that seemed off. One thing wrong, and a security team would be in the room in seconds to deal with things. I've seen it happen. Not to me, thankfully, but still. They're efficient. Very, very efficient. And the Insurgency had yet to master plastic surgery, it seemed.
As I walked forward, I eyed the rather nice desk reception desk. I wasn't sure who it was actually there for, since we didn't take visitors, but I assumed that all sites had one. Tradition, maybe? Or a leftover from another time. Sitting behind it, typing away at her keyboard, was Break.
Her codename never made sense to me. I just don’t see it. Breaking intruders upon the rocks? Breaking fingers? I dunno. But then, you have other people whose callsigns didn't make sense either. Djoric? What was up with that? Or Bright? Whatever. Not like it mattered. What did matter, though, was…
"Hello there, Break." I put on my charming smile. Set my briefcase down. Lean onto her desk.
She sighs before responding, eyes not straying from her computer. "Hello, Dr. Iceberg."
"And how are you today, lovely?"
"Good. Must you do this?"
"Do what, Breaky?" I use my pet name for her. She loves that.
"Don’t call me that."
"Oh, come on. I know you love it." She loved it. "I was wondering if you might be doing anything this week. Like, say, Friday?"
“Oh really, now," I started. "Then maybe we cou—"
"No," she said. "I was answering your next question first. No, I'm not going out with you. I'm going to be washing my hair from now until eternity, Berg."
Ugh. I hated it when she called me Berg.
She turned her face from the screen at last, looking up at me with a blank expression that I knew belied her true affections.
"Go to work."
"Okay, okay, fine, fine… Maybe next week, then." My smiled slipped from charming to nervous, and I picked up my suitcase and headed down the administrative hallway toward the east wing.
I wasn't sure if she knew she was in ear shot when I heard her mumbled "Not likely." But I knew this all too well. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if I may be as bad with women as Clef. Then I just tell myself that even I’m not that bad. I hope. I wonder if maybe the issue lay with her, but I decided that she'd warm up to me sooner or later.
My office was placed fairly deep in the bedrock. Well, less that and more they gave me one back here. Considering how much time I'm stuck back here from week to week, it was no wonder I thought of it as home more so than the apartment at the nearby living facilities. The nice thing is that I'm still in walking distance to the break room, and since it's Monday, a break seems like a good way to get things started.
I head out down the shocking clean hallways. I'm always surprised by how nicely kept they are, especially since I never see a cleaning crew. They must be here at odd hours. Maybe a secret fleets of Roombas.
I pass by researchers, of course. There's a ton of us down here. Some, I know; others, I don't. The lucky ones have been here for a while. The unlucky ones? They're fifty dollars. Yeah, yeah. I'm sick. But the guy who runs the betting is the same guy who comes up with the cover stories for their families. Hah! He pockets ten percent, then tells them how a crane fell or a beam collapsed or something. They never hear about how someone was dissolved or unexisted or some shit. Its hard, though, coming up with excuses when there's no body. You gotta respect the man.
I head down the corridor past the Level One and Two offices. Shiny nameplates hanging on the doors with nice, generic names. The lucky kids who only know about the Safes or maybe a Euclid. Must be nice. Past that, I take a left past the minimum security wing. Some safe class skips. Dozens of guards, but they all know me. And they know if I made it in, that I'm cleared. No one pays me attention except the new guys, who stiffen when I walk by. They'll get over that, eventually. Or maybe they won't. The ones that don't live the longest.
And… break room. Finally. I pick up the scent of muffins, then the sound of her voice—in that order. She might have brought the muffins for everyone, if I was lucky, but chances were…
I rounded the corner, and there she sat. Agatha Rights. Doctor Agatha Rights, I had to remember. Five foot four, built to adore, knockout and snore. Damn. And she was eating the last muffin from a plate. Damnit. So, no treat. Maybe I can get something else.
"Well, well, well. Hello, Rights." Charming smile again. Let's roll.
She turns around and smiles. A happy grin, as usual. An oddity down here. Somehow, she managed to avoid the really horrible stuff. Likely to keep from causing a problem. I mean, not that’s she’s terrible at things, she’s just… motherly with the staff.
"Hey, Berg! Want a muffin?" I hated how fast that one seemed to be spreading.
"That isn't the last one?"
She looked at the muffin. Then the plate. Then me.
"No thanks. But make some cookies, and you know I'll take some." I smiled a bit more.
"Oh, fine." She placed the empty tray on the counter. She'd bring them in tomorrow.
"So… got any terrible paperwork buildup you need taken care of?" Might be nice to help her work through things. Give me a few nice hours before I had to drudge through my own.
"Oh, not right now, sweetie. I can handle some things. Besides, the administration has threatened to reassign me to one-thirty if they don't actually see me write a report on my own, for once. Puts a small damper on my plans."
"Ah, well. Too bad. Well, you know where my office is if you change your mind."
"Oh, trust me, I do…" She smiled. "And just out of curiosity, if I make cookies, what kind do you want?"
"Double chocolate chip. It's my favorite."
She grinned. "Good, mine too."
"See you later, sweetie pie."
She waved goodbye, and I headed to the coffee pot. I’d hate to see her go, but I’m still not entirely sure why she’s still a researcher here. I guess because people like her, or she would have been terminated a while ago. Maybe they keep a few people with tender hearts around to keep the rest of us sane. Maybe.
It’s a short walk back to my office, and I spend most of it drinking my coffee from a styrofoam cup. I got out my keycard, then noticed the nameplate on the door. Someone had covered up the 'Ice' in my name. I sighed, trying to wipe it off with my sleeve, but it didn't budge. I'd have to submit a work request, and when it wasn't vital… They'd get to it 'sooner or later.'
There was a large stack of files next to the door. Another round of paperwork to slough through. Everyday. Well, at least it was relatively safe down here. Unless my inbox had become anomalous.
It sat down at my computer, shaking the mouse to wake it up, then checking my email. Only two alerts, one last night, and one… Hell, fifteen minutes ago? I checked it, and felt a sudden creeping sensation lurching up my neck when I saw the number. 035. And the list of deceased included two Class-D's and…
The rush of elation at reading MacCarrick's name was immediately dampened by a sudden twisting in my gut. Fuck. The nod had been too much, I guessed… I sighed, closing my eyes for a moment, then turned and grabbed the top file off the stack, opening it and proceeding to enter the data.
Maybe Rights would bring the cookies tomorrow.