The deafening pace of keyboard strokes is almost hypnotic at Pathogen Industries. The office compound is teeming with tiny cubicle compartments awash with frantic laborers gravely working triple overtime to meet the deadline for their next software release. Each of them know that the top brass at Pathogen have a habit of imposing impossible deadlines that clearly chooses profits over people. They also know that any employee working less than double overtime will be swiftly removed.
The smell of stress soils the worn clothes of the besieged workers. I’m all too familiar with the scent. Working at Pathogen as just-another-programmer for over three years, I’ve come to know exactly what to expect. With my ass glued to my chair, head hanging well below the grayish walls of my cubicle, I have been purposely avoiding my supervisor all day. He’ll soon be checking up on me to evaluate my progress, or in this case, lack thereof. Luckily, I somehow managed to make it through this week relatively unscathed. But even on a late Friday afternoon, I could feel the pressure mounting as I got closer and closer to the inescapable five o’clock finish line.
With only a half-hour left to go, the inevitable floated over to my cubicle. Arms crossed with pompous authority, chest filled entirely with hot air, he proceeded to interrogate me. I stared at him blankly as he joyfully began to berate me. I drowned out his arrogant voice with memories of a reoccurring fantasy of mine. In this recent one, I finally pop his helium-filled head using a very sharp stab to the neck with a very blunt pencil. I continued to stare at him blankly, unable to mutter a single word in my own defense. My silence stated the painfully obvious.
Verbal abuse is often a motivating tactic on downtrodden programmers at Pathogen. Supervisors constantly remind programmers about how easy it is to replace us with more-qualified immigrant workers willing to work for less pay and without complaint. After five minutes of verbal torture, he slapped me with a reprimand and demanded that I write him a report explaining why I was behind on work and how I planning to make up for lost time.
Someone once said that “the bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.” For the last hour of my work week, I spent my time contributing to that notion rather than working productively. I printed out my report with five minutes to go and headed straight for the local network printer.
The cubicle floor plan can be confusing inside the Pathogen compound. Navigating through the maze of cramped, monotone hallways and sharp ninety-degree turns is frustrating without some helpful reminders. My trip to the local network printer is a mindless one: left out the cubicle, take the second hallway to right, follow the hallway past the emergency exit and stay to the left – you can’t miss it.
Near the emergency exit, I caught a glimpse of the local network printer. Standing there was a repairman wearing blue coveralls talking to the hot girl that works in the Communications Department. I’ve never actually spoken to the hot girl, nor do I even know her first name, but young attractive women do not go unnoticed in an industry whose workforce is predominantly male. Somehow, without even knowing her, something appeared different about her. She had an uncanny resemblance to the Hollyweird actress Angelina Jolie. But not the sophisticated Angelina from the video game-to-movie rendition of “Tomb Raider,” but the more bad-ass Angelina from the grand theft auto movie, “Gone in 60 Seconds.”
Angelina noticed me approaching and walked towards my direction. My heart skipped a beat with every step she took towards me. Stopping less than three feet on front of me, my heart grinds to a screeching halt as I stood face-to-face with Angelina. She slowly began to open her sensuous, full-body lips, revealing her harmonic pseudo-British/American accent.
“The printer is broken,” she says, gesturing toward the repairman behind her. “He thinks it’s going to take awhile.” I stared at her blankly as she waited for me to respond. Naturally, I wanted to say a line to her that would be so buttery smooth that Angelina would instantly fall head-over-heels from my charm. I would then proceed to grab her by the hips, give her a long kiss (with tongue) and slowly dip her backward by the waist.
Naturally, that did not happen. Instead, I stood there with a blank face, lips locked in fear of saying something stupid.
I quickly looked past her and caught another quick glimpse of the repairman while trying to avoid the discomfort of eye contact with Angelina. Something seemed unusual about him as well. He wasn’t the regular repairman of Southeast Asian descent (like many of the new employees at Pathogen). This particular person’s skin complexion was darker – much like an Arab. With his back facing me, the repairman bended down towards the printer revealing the contents of his back hip-side pocket. Inside, I caught sight of a shiny metal object that looked much like the handle of a pistol.
Staring blankly in a frozen state of inaction, my heart began to beat again in very slow, powerful pulses. With each beat, the blood in my veins gained more and more momentum, while everything within sight of my peripheral vision started to move in very slow motion.
As time began to stand still, I rationalized the options in my head. I could scan for weapons, although finding anything more lethal than a sharp metal ruler is doubtful. I could call for security, but it might already be too late. Besides, what would Angelina think? I could lunge towards the Arab, bravely saving Angelina in the process. But let’s be realistic, I don’t have the balls to do that.
Angelina noticed my eyes fixated at the man’s pocket. With a turn of her head, blonde dreads gracefully sweeping from left to right, she finally caught sight of what I looking at. It took her a single moment to figure out what was going on. She immediately began to scream as if she was auditioning for a bit-part in a b-movie horror flick. Time, which managed to stand still up until that moment, began to move again in fast-forward, making up for lost moments slowed down by adrenaline.
Alarmed by Angelina’s screams, the Arab man quickly pulled out his gun and disrobed from his work uniform, revealing his true identity: Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, the Egyptian-born Muslim listed as the fourth most wanted terrorist in George W. Bush’s America! Decked entirely in traditional Muslim attire, Abdullah grabbed Angelina, pointed his gun to her head, using her body as a shield.
Clearly, I missed my opportunity to act.
The loud and repetitive wailing of alarm bells began to ring out in my head as I slowly opened my eyes, illuminating a less exciting reality. It is believed that the human mind is at its most fragile state when unexpectedly broken out of a state of sub-consciousness. On this early morning, it was painfully obvious that I did not get enough rest the night before and my mind was clearly unhappy about being awake. While slowly shifting into a mild state of consciousness, I processed the automatic brain signal to turn off the alarm.
“It’s 5 in the morning?” I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing up so early?” But before I could even manage to finish the thought, I was immediately faced with the harsh reality of going to work on another dreadful Monday morning. Vague visions of the week before began to reappear in my stored memories. My supervisor cussed me out last week, so I had the intent of waking up and arriving at the Pathogen compound early everyday this week to catch up on overdue work.
I lied in my bed, frozen like a corpse in the darkness of my lonely bachelor apartment. The glow of the sun was breaking through the window shade, reminding me of my inescapable responsibility. My vision slowly aligned itself into focus revealing the messy clothes, dirty magazines and leftover take-out food scattered along floor of my apartment. Another soft glow of synthetic light shined from my computer monitor sitting across from my bed, revealing the truth to why I was so tired on this particular Monday morning.
The latest video game recreating the US “War on Terrorism” was just released with the other new video games promoted just before the Christmas holiday rush. On this particular weekend, when I wasn’t eating, shitting or surfing the Internet for pornography, I spent every other waking moment playing the new first-person shooter.
“I don’t want to go to work today,” I thought to myself. “I’d rather be playing video games.” I’d much rather relieve my stress using passive aggressive methods inside a simulated reality. Obviously, I wouldn’t want to actually hurt anyone in real life. But on the other hand, it would feel nice to tear the boss a new asshole with an AK47. At least with him out of the way, I might be able to manage my stress levels.
“What the hell am I rambling on about?” I asked myself while phasing back from unconsciousness. “How is it possible that I have to go to work now? Wasn’t I just at work?” Scattered visions of a semi-fictional setting from moments ago flickered in my head during a breath of clarity. I cursed under my breath, “For fuck sakes! Now I’m working in my dreams too.” There’s no escaping it.
Lying aimlessly in bed, staring blankly at the stucco pattern on my bare white ceiling, I toiled over my possible options. I could call in sick today. I do have enough sick days saved up, but then I would have to fake sick to the boss over the phone. I don’t handle confrontation too well. Even if I do call in sick, I would just have to do twice the amount of work the day after anyways.
Fuck it! I should just quit. Destroy the virus right from the source -- or would that rather be biting off the hand that feeds me? I got rent, bills and groceries to pay. I obviously need this job.
“Fuck me!” I cursed to myself in anguish. After letting all of the different voices in my head have their final say, my mind finally surrendered to the mental fatigue. Suffering from too many jabs to the head, my conscious mind could no longer fight. My eyes began to slowly close shut. In the darkness, my subconscious mind began to play again.
Dust starts to settle while clouds of smoke begin rise to the ceiling, revealing the Pathogen office in complete chaos. Flashes of lightning spark from severed electrical cords in the background, starting fires with unruly paper sheets flying in every direction. Strangely, the entire Pathogen compound was sterile and devoid of life, with the exception of three people trapped inside the eye of the storm. Lying on the ground next to the printer, both Angelina and I were hogtied with our mouths closed shut by duct tape. Abdullah paced around us while taunting me. His maniacal laughter reverberated in my head, getting louder and louder with every breath.
I rolled over and glanced towards Angelina. She was staring at me hopelessly. I wish I could do something to save us. But I don’t have a weapon, nor do I have any means to defend myself. For a few minutes, I struggled with the abrasive ropes tied around my wrists and ankles. After abandoning the futile attempt to break free, I felt the world shrink around me and fade to black.
In the dark confines of despair, I succumbed to the purest of emotions. Through the tears, I began to scream in helpless anguish, but no one can hear the silent cries from inside my head.
After having fun for a few more hours, my subconscious mind finally crashed. Upon impact, my conscious mind jolted into a state of complete alertness. The involuntary shock of reality surged through my nerves as I jumped out of a bed. Rudely awakened, my heart painfully pumped both blood and liquid adrenaline through my body.
Slammed face first into my waking life, I was beginning to think very clearly now.
“Oh, shit. I’m late for work.