Image courtesy of John Adams.
Jacob Kelly didn’t particularly like it when the car fell on him. Strictly speaking, nor did he hate it as he didn’t have the mental capacity to form opinions at the time. Though, had he any opinions, coherent thoughts, or indeed, a working circulatory system at the time, he would have begun to question the use of ‘lev’ in the designation ‘mag-lev’; it had become clear to him that the car did not levitate at all. Instead, as the two tonnes of metal and plastic crushed the life out of him, his only thoughts were of genuine concern as to how upset his wife would be about all the bloodstains on his suit. Some might have said that this was an odd reaction, but those people obviously hadn’t met his wife.
Indeed, after the accident people would often ask him what he thought about at that moment, while on the brink of death, but he wouldn’t tell them about his wife then. He would give them a puzzled look, as if he had just caught them smearing brake fluid onto their morning toast, and sometimes he would ask them what the hell they were talking about. It was a mystery to Jacob, and it remained so, because no one would ever explain it. After this failed line of conversation they would often hurry on and disappear around a corner. If there were no corners to conveniently disappear behind, then they would walk a bit harder until they found one.
On one particular day that honestly didn’t hold any significance at all, Jacob made it through to the evening without experiencing this at all.
“You still here?”
Jacob’s head shot up from where his eyes had spent the past three hours staring at his computer, not blinking. His eyes considered this acceptable working conditions for watching movies but preferred to stay closed as much as they could at the office. The husky, but feminine voice belonged to Caroline, the big boss’ secretary. She came permanently attached to a big, fake smile, aptly summing up everything Jacob hated about his job. He managed a nod, watching her intently.
“Well, be careful not to interrupt Mr. Carrow, he’s in a private meeting. Have a good night.”
“Thank you. Good evening.”
Jacob nodded again, watching her as she walked away from his block of desks and went to jab the elevator call button more times than necessary.
He was almost done. Just needed to reference the last quote, then the Annual Project Report for 2106 would be complete. This year had seen a great deal of progress in the new designs of the mag-lev cars. A breakthrough in the research department had increased the efficiency of the G-class onboard computers so that they didn’t reboot when lights changed from red to yellow. Unfortunately this meant he had a lot to sum up to prove to the executives of Crashno Corp. that these new models, researched, manufactured and tested on the premises, were safe to release.
There. Jacob selected ‘Save hard copy’ from the computer menu and waited for the hard disc to pop out of the disc drive. After putting the disc in a case, he flicked off the computer and turned away before his bloodshot eyes could register the gaunt and stubbled face reflected in it.
“Just need to deliver this then I can escape.”
He collected his jacket and bag, then scurried off to the executive office. As he got closer, he couldn’t help but listen to the voices from within as they grew in volume. He stood at the door fascinated.
“But the next shipment will be tomorrow?”
Jacob didn’t recognise the voice. He leaned closer to the door while he decided what to do about it. It sounded… wounded, as if the owner had suffered his childhood years in front of a barrage of laughter and pointed fingers, possibly because of freshly administered bruises, wet underwear or a combination of the two. Jacob checked his underwear out of habit.
He realised the polite thing to do would be to leave, after placing the disc in the slot by the door, but then he would be wondering what they talked about for the rest of the evening. The only other option was to listen, probably get caught and spend the rest of his working life providing manual oil changes for the labour bots in the testing labs. Despite this, Jacob stayed.
“Of course. The transports are all ready. I assume you’ll be paying per item.” His boss, Mr. Carrow, chuckled from the other side of the wooden barrier. “The god-would-damn aliens made the bots to be self-replicating so the sooner you pay the better. Shame the weapons aren’t though.”
Jacob flinched. “Self-replicating?”
The secretary never mentioned the purpose of the meeting, but it didn’t sound like regular business. This was a mag-lev research facility not a robot factory. And did he say weapons?
“I’ll pay the usual. Just you make sure they get to the planet with the others. Hopefully, this shipment will speed things up. I thought we had chosen the perfect patsies, but so far there have been no results. Perhaps they are too stupid.” The stranger chuckled like a rodent on laughing gas.
“Patience. Whether it comes tomorrow or next year it does not matter. Besides, there is one more element to throw into the mix.” Mr. Carrow’s voice operated in business mode now. Noting this, Jacob realised the voices grew louder. His nails dug into his palms.
Before he could determine if the pot plant behind him would provide sufficient camouflage, the door opened. He jerked. The two figures froze in the doorway, giving Jacob plenty of time to contemplate how messy his clothes would become giving those oil changes. Mr. Carrow’s greasy melon glared from atop his stocky frame. Then, he frowned. It held for a while, but like a cat pulled from its favourite cushion, the frown moved. Realising that this was his boss’ best attempt at a smile, Jacob returned the gesture.
“Ah, Mr. Kelly. I presume you have that report done for me?”
Jacob delivered the disc into his boss’ open palm, afraid to say anything in case it made his hole any deeper. The way his boss scanned the preview display on the disc’s casing without losing the smile, however small it may have been, gave Jacob hope that things might yet be okay.
“Excellent,” Mr. Carrow said, at last. “Now you go home and have a good evening.”
Jacob offered a confused smile and walked away while he still could.
What had his boss been talking about with that man? Jacob didn’t recognise the stranger as an employee of Crashno Corp. In fact, he felt sure that the company would never hire someone with more hair growing out of his nose than his head and who smelt like roasted garbage.
“And since when did we trade in anything but vehicles?”
Jacob felt more concerned by Mr. Carrow’s response when he thought about it. Employees had been fired for lesser infractions, and worse. Edgar Bellows. He had mysteriously disappeared after, at the last office party, he accidentally implied that Mrs. Carrow was an overweight sea cow. The next day the crash test dummy had screamed a lot louder than normal.
Yet, the fact that he had got off so easily made him more frightened than if he had been punished on the spot. There could be the hooded, heavy-footed figure of retribution lurking around any corner. He stopped to look carefully around the next turn of the corridor before continuing to his office. Nothing