Tom has ulcerative colitis. Tom is also lactose intolerant. In five minutes Tom is going to sneak away from his cubicle and ravenously consume a cheese danish that he had hidden on top of the refrigerator in the break room. He has been told not to consume dairy for several reasons, but he cannot help but indulge this one guilty pleasure. Tom doesn’t know that I’m sitting in the security office each day as he ducks behind the fridge to force a pastry into his mouth. He certainly doesn’t know that I’m watching. He definitely isn’t aware that my job is so boring and his life is so predictable that I know he’ll be running to the bathroom in about 45 minutes. He’ll be in there for 10 minutes.
There are 327 cameras positioned across three floors here at the Madison Office Complex. Each room has multiple cameras that record to a couple of media storage towers in the basement. My job is to handle any security issues as they come up. However, ever person that works I this office is about as dangerous as a box of stuffed animals. In seven years of working here, the most I’ve had to do is show out an employee’s abusive husband. For his little jealous stunt, she was fired. I don’t agree with it, but they don’t pay me to approve.
In seven years of monitoring the most boring building in the city, I had to learn how to make my own fun. Management requires that I do a visual inspection of all the exits twice a shift. During this time I often stop to talk to one or two individuals for a brief period of time. Other than that, the only information I have about the drones I tend to comes from observation and eavesdropping. When I am not making sure the doors remain locked and the employees aren’t doing anything dastardly enough to warrant my attention, I sit in the office and make up stories about what each individual is doing.
Franklin is an office manager that isn’t my direct superior. His boss, who happens to be my boss, asked that I install two cameras in his office. Everything Franklin does is recorded to the media storage system in the basement. I used to leave his feed up on one of the screens, but after the first couple of days I realized that there’s no real schedule to his compulsive masturbation and pornography consumption. Seriously, the guy probably pulls it at least six times in an eight-hour shift. He tried to shake my hand once. I did so to be polite and all, but soaked my hand in disinfectant directly after.
Franklin and Tom are the only two individuals that do anything remotely abnormal in the office complex. Seriously, with the exception of Fatty the Danish Slayer and Fappy the Clown, no one on the video feed does anything abnormal. In fact, for quite some time, everything has been too normal. I’m not supposed to access the video feeds that are saved to storage, but I have access. Around the time that I noticed the abnormality of those two, I noticed the almost mechanical nature of the others. I’ve been reviewing the security footage in my downtime. If I take any two days of footage and run them side by side on the same screen, the only variation between the two would be the actions of Tom and Franklin.
I don’t know why it has become so unsettling. For years, I’ve considered the workers to be little more than drones that exist to deny insurance claims and feast on the hope of others as it is destroyed in the name of profit. I guess the idea that something could actually be wrong with them wasn’t something I was ready for. It’s easy to sit in my office and look down on the people I am tasked with protecting. I quite literally look down at the security monitors for eight hours a day. It is this perspective that allows me to find these things disturbing. It allows me to see the synergy and synchronicity. In short, the workers operate less as independent units and more like a hive.
It took me a while to notice.
A good example would be Bradley.
Bradley works the mail room. He pushes his little cart around to pick up and drop off packages. To the untrained eye, his routine would seem sporadic. Having watched him every day for several years now, I can tell you that the man is precise down to the second. That in and of itself wouldn’t be disturbing. Maybe he is just punctual and cares about his job, right? Fine. Whatever. The thing is, often times he will turn a corner and extend his hand to receive a package that he could not have possibly seen from an individual that couldn’t have seen him coming. Everything is so precise. Everything moves like clockwork. No group of humans has every been as efficient as this office.
Another thing that strikes me as beyond odd is that with the exception of the two outliers, no one in the office drinks coffee. Seriously, I’ve gone through the trash to confirm it. No one drinks coffee. No one drinks soda. No one consumes energy drinks. If they drink anything at all, it is water from the cooler. Moreover, the way they drink it is just plain odd. Each individual will move toward the water cooler in an orderly fashion and fill their cup only to return to their cubicle. There is no idle chit-chat. There is no gossip. The individuals I stop to talk to are polite, but I can tell that they are only making conversation to avoid suspicion. If left to their own devices, they would work an entire shift without saying a word that wasn’t required for business operations. No one is that dedicated to their job. You cannot convince me that more than two hundred employees in one building would share that trait.
Franklin and Tom started eating lunch together last week. Whereas the rest of the employees eat in their cubicles, the two outliers eventually found each other. From the comfort of my office, I watched as the two of them discussed something they were trying to keep quiet. Each would pull a hand to their face when talking to obscure their mouth and muffle their voice. The cameras in the break room don’t record audio. Only the cameras in Franklin’s office and in the supply closet offer me that level of access. Most of the security monitors aren’t even capable of sound. In order to listen to the audio feeds, I have to log into the system with my laptop. I have to be careful about that though. Any idiot with Google and physical access to a network and clear usage logs, but there is a security camera in my office. I’m not supposed to know about it, but I found it in the video feeds when I logged in on my laptop to listen to the supply closet once.
The outliers are either about to start spending some quality time together or they are onto whatever the fuck is going on in this office. I want to approach them, but I’m afraid to reveal what I know. To the wrong person all of this would sound crazy. I’m aware enough to know that this could all be the result of prolonged isolation and the lack of meaningful social interaction manifesting as paranoia and delusion. Believe me, I would be relieved if that were the case. I’m a lot more willing to accept my own mental instability than accept that there may be something sinister going on here. I need to sleep more, but it has been something I haven’t been able to do for weeks now. I suppose I’ll sleep when I am dead.
Franklin’s office is on the third floor. Tom works a cubicle on the first floor. They shouldn’t even know each other. Each floor has its own break room. That they would choose to meet on the first floor indicates a need to break from some sort of protocol. I had to find a way to interact with them without revealing myself. If I was right, maybe I could work something out, but if I was wrong I’d come off as crazy. Trust me, you don’t want to see the reaction people have when they think the man assigned to protect them has lost his marbles. I was hired after my predecessor attacked one of the agents in the office pool. They made me watch footage of his outburst during my training. I can only imagine what was going through his head.
I opted to go with a Post-it note. It was simple and effective. As everyone filed out of the building at the end of business I left a note on each of their monitors. They read,
“They never use the supply closet. There’s a bug in the break room.”
The worst case scenario there was that they would call me to investigate it and I’d have to pretend to look for a culprit. Sure enough, the two of them met in the supply closet during their lunch break. I recorded their conversation:
Franklin: Thanks I got your note.
Tom: My note? I got a note from you.
Franklin: Forget about it. We’re already in here. So did you get the test results?
Tom: Yeah, nada. I had my guy run every test he could. There is nothing in the water but water.
Tom: Now what?
Franklin: I don’t know. I’m pretty sure there’s a camera in my office. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had one near your cubicle. I’m not supposed to know this, but corporate has more than three hundred pinhole cameras set up in this building.
Tom: Shit. Do you think they know?
Franklin: There’s no way to know for sure. The best we can do is act normal for now.
Tom: Right. Well, let’s get some lunch.
After that, they proceeded to the break room. It confirmed my suspicions, but it didn’t engender any level of trust that I could think of. Tom and Franklin had no reason to have that conversation in the office. It was too convenient. I should have seen it sooner. Tom and Franklin weren’t onto any grand conspiracy. They were likely part of it. I should have seen it sooner. Even their erratic behavior followed a pattern if I zoomed out enough. There was some slight variation on when Tom would sneak off for his danish, but it was always between 2:10 and 2:15 in the afternoon. Franklin would pleasure himself as often as six times a day, but I went back to review the footage. He always did it at the same times give or take five minutes in either direction. Their behavior wasn’t random, it was operating on a variable scale. They were part of the machine.
I cannot begin to tell you how fucked I am if I lose this job. It’s $40,000 a year to sit in an office and watch idiots work. I do a few walkabouts and check the doors, but nothing ever happens here. Even if there is something strange going on, it isn’t worth losing my job. Seriously, I wouldn’t care if aliens were using medical insurance to conquer humanity. If they continued paying me and didn’t require me to drink whatever Kool-aid everyone else seems to be drinking, I’d collect my paychecks and remain silent.
I got this job solely on the basis of nepotism. My boss is a fraternity brother. Even with that connection, I had to remind him about the time I helped him hide his gay porn stash before the cops raided the house to look for drugs. I’m not qualified for much else and I have a criminal record. No one wants to hire a former security guard with a shit degree and three DUIs. I’ve maintained the status quo for seven years. I don’t know why it has become so goddamned important to understand the abnormalities of this building as of late. The more that I try to understand it, the more I realize I am way out of my depth.
After my little attempt to reach out to Tom and Franklin, other employees have started showing some weird behavior. Janet in accounting has made it a point to start flirting with me during my afternoon walkabout. Honestly, I’d think it was cute if not for the fact that there is no light in her eyes. It is like having a conversation with a robot that it pretending it wants to fuck me. She’s attractive enough, I guess, but there is something inherently unappealing about a woman with no soul pretending to be an awkward girl with the precision and skill of a surgeon. Everything is too perfect. At this point, I am sure that they are onto me. All I can do at this point is do my job until such time as they do something to indicate that I should either run for my life or start getting used to the idea of flipping burgers.
For all that they know, they are not omniscient. I can tell that they are trying to deconstruct me and find my weakness. After my passive rejection of Janet’s advances, it wasn’t very long before Bradley made an innuendo about my package indicating a desire to being intimately familiar with my genitalia. I pretended not to notice, but I can only imagine what they will try next. It isn’t that I would be opposed to dating someone from work. It is just the idea of sharing bodily fluids with some sort of weird pod person. I still don’t know what is going on, but what I do know is enough to ensure that I am not going to find myself aroused by the advances of anyone.
One of the many reasons that I have held this job for so long is because it has been comfortable. I like that I do not have to spend that much time dealing with people. I find social interaction to be awkward at best. The few conversations I initiate are out of some lingering sense of wanting to be part of the human condition. That being said, the increasing frequency with which the individuals that work here have begun trying to connect with me has become infuriating.
It is beyond frustrating to think that I only became worthy of attention when I noticed something wrong and decided to investigate it. Seven years of working here and I’d be willing to wager that the majority of the employees in this building didn’t know my first name until they sent out whatever psychic memo they used to communicate via the hive mind they operate under. They lack anything resembling individuality and thus I did not matter as an individual. It’s clear that they are not interacting with me as if I am a person. Each social interaction is carefully executed attempt to garner information and assess my mental state. They aren’t trying to be my friend. They’re antibodies.
I’m a malignant cell in the organism that is this office. The change in behavior is not a break from procedure but instead another protocol that has been put into place in the event of an individual like myself upsetting the natural order of things. I covered the camera in my office. I’m not supposed to know that it is there and covering it is certainly going to warrant investigation on their part, but frankly I’m losing my ability to give a shit. Each day is an ever present reminder that I’m only here to fill a position that has no purpose. This building doesn’t need a security guard. Even if it did, I’m not allowed to carry a gun. If some psycho were to come into the office and put round after round of ammunition through their bodies; my job would to phone the police. Seriously, I don’t even carry a stun gun.
It is one thing to know that I am being watched. It is another to know that they are patient enough to play a long game. For the past couple of days, I have been doing little things around the office to upset the order in which things seem to work so fluidly. Of course, this means I had to disable the security feeds. The cameras are still running. I can still watch the live feeds in my office, but the media storage server has been off for days. I got a call from corporate informing me that the media storage system was down and that I should increase my walkabouts. This played right into my hand. I cannot know if they made this change as a natural response or because they know what I’ve done. They’ll be sending an IT guy later in the week. I’ll deal with him when he shows up.
My first experiment was simple.
I went down into the mail room and used a pair of vice grips to bend one of the wheels on Bradley’s mail cart. As expected, it caused him to move with a bit of an impairment. This disrupted the office slightly at first, but before long everyone had adapted to the change in pace. When that failed, I took all the printer paper and dropped it down the trash chute. The following day there was some upset over the lack of an ability to print, but this was quickly remedied when they ordered a new batch. The only thing I was able to do that seemed to have any real effect was dumping a considerable portion of caffeine powder into the water cooler.
The caffeine really did the trick. The employees started to get up from their cubicle more often. After a while it became clear that they were going to the bathroom in succession to compensate for the introduction of a diuretic. They were more inclined to talk and their speech was slightly hastened. I took to adding roughly the same amount of caffeine to each jug placed on the stand. This went well for a couple of days until Gladys, one of the secretaries, had a heart attack. She was pronounced dead-on-arrival at the hospital. I should feel bad about taking out one of the drones, but I don’t. In fact, it was Gladys that gave me an idea worth pursuing.
Gladys’ absence created a small portion of chaos in the flow of work in the building. It occurred to me that I could offset whatever sinister thing was going on by taking out key points in their organization. Without Gladys, the other secretaries had to take on the extra load of calls. Following that line of thought, it became clear that there were four employees that I had to remove in order to completely disrupt the order of it all. As detestable as the drones are, I’d like to think that they can be saved. This was my chance to test that notion.
Janet in accounting handled payroll. Without her, employees wouldn’t be paid on time. Bradley in the mailroom handled the delivery of claim forms. Franklin was in charge of approving or denying difficult claims and James in human resources was in charge of hiring replacements for anyone I removed from the equation.
James was the first to go. It was simple enough. While he was in his office reviewing resumes for individuals that could replace Gladys, I changed my route on the walkabout to make several pin pricks in his brake line. It wasn’t enough that it would drain completely, but if he slammed on his brakes, it would have little effect. Two days later he died in a single vehicle accident when his car careened off of a hill at a sharp curve in the road. Without anyone to hire replacements, I set about removing other key figures in the office.
Franklin was easy enough to get rid of. His anti-anxiety pills looked very similar to a type of off-brand Adderall. For those of you unfamiliar with the effects of amphetamine abuse, I’ll keep it short. He was already a compulsive masturbator. This made it to where all he did was jerk off and panic. His panic attacks triggered more masturbation which led him to take more amphetamines. The amphetamines made each orgasm more intense than the last, leading him to push harder and harder to continue with his pursuit of pleasure. With each iteration of his masturbatory habit it became harder and harder to maintain an erection. This led to more erratic behavior on his part in terms of how he would achieve orgasm. I was sure to mention auto-erotic asphyxiation to him in passing a couple of times over the course of that week. Within three days of that schedule, he had found himself in a position where he had to consider the unthinkable. They found him in his office with a silk tie around his neck and his penis still in his hand.
My physical access to the server room and a useless degree gave me just what I needed to get rid of Bradley and Janet. I sent a series of lurid emails back and forth between their accounts only to send them to the trash folder directly afterward. I was sure to spread this out over the course of a couple of weeks and each time I spoofed their network IP when sending new messages. Finally, I dosed Bradley with a sedative and prepared a noose. Janet received an email telling her to come down to sign for a package. When she entered and found Bradley she was too shocked to notice me behind the door. After her injection, I prepared a noose for her as well. A suicide note was printed on the third floor. A review of their email would later show they had been having an affair.
This disruption of the system had proven quite effective in disrupting the order of business. If there was a pattern to be found with the behavior of the drones, I couldn’t find it. For several glorious weeks I watched with pleasure as workplace efficiency dropped. The employees were a bit more sluggish. The new mail guy hadn’t learned everyone’s name and took longer to deliver packages. Likewise, the new woman in payroll hadn’t quite learned the system and there was a discrepancy of a day or two when it came to the deposit of payroll. This variation rippled outward. The lack of order translated to the lives of employees. I could only imagine the frustration that came from being late on a bill or having to wait to make a standard purchase. This utter destruction of routine led to frustration.
Franklin’s replacement didn’t share his issues. Within a week of his hiring, I was instructed to remove the cameras from his office. He was an ill-tempered man named Jordan. Jordan seemed to think that he could give me orders. Part of me wanted to remove him from the equation as I had with the others but his ill-temper and poor social skills actually comforted me. There was something about my somehow shittier job that made me feel better. The dysfunction of it all was comforting. Without anything resembling order, the hive-mind couldn’t function.
In giving me the freedom to move around they had unwittingly allowed me to strike a serious blow. I could still see traces of their influence. Some of the drones had already started to fall back into routine. After carefully analyzing their behavior, it became clear that I had approached the structure of the hive correctly, but not in the right areas. I had attacked the known distribution nodes, but I should have focused on the information hubs. The second floor call center was the heart of the business. If I could disrupt the call center, I would effectively render the hive of its ability to collect information. This was simple enough. I came in early several days in a row and stocked the break room with homemade chocolate chip cookies. If any of them had been constipated, the Ex-Lax chocolates in the cookies certainly fixed that.
The drones are starting to wake up. I hate that I have to remove the unruly ones. A cubicle monkey on the first floor flipped his shit today and started tossing papers in between screaming curses at fellow employees. As I was escorting him out of the building I whispered in his ear, “You’re free. Now get out there and enjoy life.”
He smiled. I don’t think he knows all that I’ve done for him, but he was aware that he had escaped the hive. It’s guys like him that keep me going anymore. As the disruptions and violence become more common in the office I can tell that I’ve really made a difference. Moreover, my swift and steady response has resulted in a pay raise and talk of a promotion. It may not be long before I’m in charge of an individual who has my current job. I cannot help but think that they are attempting to buy me off, but as I said before, as long as they don’t directly attack me or fire me, I’ll continue to do my job.
They fired me yesterday.
Several employees had reported me to human resources for having “erratic behavior” and being “generally creepy.” I know it was the last few drones who I hadn’t removed. I was at least able to talk the new director of human resources into giving me a letter of recommendation. As I have said before, I don’t think it is very likely for me to find another job like that. It burns me up inside that I put all that work into tearing down whatever terrible plot had been in place only to be turned out on the street.
They took my keys, but they didn’t change the locks. I have a spare set. It’s the weekend, no one is here. I’m leaving some presents for the drones. After that, my work here is done. If they find me at all, I’ll be hanging in the mail room. Until then, I think it’s time to catch up on some much needed sleep.