“D’you feel that?”
He hardly glanced up from the ocean of papers scattered across the desk, and the look I did manage to get was a foul mix of irritation and noncomprehension.
“It’s still going. You really aren’t noticing that?”
Pause. Glance. “...Nope.”
I set my booted feet up onto the desk with a thump, little bits of detritus showering down onto lily-white papers. “Well, then I suppose that we’ll just have to chalk that up to the difference between you and me.”
His scribbling stopped for a moment, paused in that delicate space between setup and punchline.
“you know, because you’re old.”
“Get out of my office, Scott.” There it was. You could always tell when you were really getting to John by the brittle edge his tone developed. Once I had even seen him yell at one of his employees, though it’s hard not to yell when the mayor gets denied access to your building because the desk guy didn’t believe that “it was seriously the mayor, man.”
Yeah, I’m fairly certain that Jerry got fired for that one. Either that or the time he lit the break room on fire. “Who knew you couldn’t put the fork in the microwave with the food?”
Everybody but you, Jerry. Everybody but you.
I work for a security company. We have a number of buildings that we look after, and mine is the biggest one on our contract. That means that on my painfully lengthy, dull shifts, I sit in John’s office and pretend to be busy while I watch the cameras pan left to right to left again. Among other things, I can now list on my resume that I have perfected the art of seeming busy as well as the lost and underappreciated ability to scoot around the office on the rolling chair so efficiently that I can spend a shift never standing up. John says that this makes me lazy. I say that it makes me a pioneer.
My shifts start mid-afternoon, four PM, and run until six in the morning. For those of you counting at home, that’s fourteen hours through the dead of night in the single largest building in the city, all alone. Scary? You’re damn right it’s scary. The halls and ballrooms of this place are lit with a cheerful, rosy glow every day, and every night their lack of windows and low electrical budget turns them into inky abysses the likes of which nightmares are skittish about visiting. The generators like to kick on when you walk by them, and it’s pretty common for the building’s engineers to play jokes on the night guy. Depending on who’s feeling mischievous, you might have a little electronic screaming toy hiding in the tunnels underneath the stairs, or you might have a life sized human effigy hanging in the murk just waiting for you to discover it. Imagine my surprise at checking my camera screen and having the engineer’s face leering back at me in full 1080p. Actually, no, don’t imagine that.
Back in the current moment, John is standing up and gesturing at the surveillance television in that frustrated, uncomprehending way that only crotchety old men have ever really mastered. He’s fiddling with the mouse now, tracing the pointer across one camera and then the next and so on, apparently not finding whatever it is he’s looking for. John has something of a love/hate relationship with technology in our office, minus the love part. It took me several months of work before he would allow me to calibrate the cameras, and after that it was another few weeks before he let me hook up the computer to the wide-screen TV across the room. Now we can watch thirteen screens at one time, instead of cycling through all twenty or so cameras one by one. We kid about it all the time. He says that I’m a meddling little bastard and I remind him that King Tut would have called him pops.
Sometimes people ask me how I still have a job here; What they don’t realize is that I’m the only one who knows how to operate the cameras properly. Just recently, Old Man Jenkins here was looking at the data feed. The recorded data streams out behind the current time marker, and you can click on it to view a snapshot from whatever time you select. It runs back about four minutes before the data gets recorded into the computer’s hard drive forever. And yes, we keep those video files, so don’t go getting any cheeky ideas.
Anyways, my boss is looking at these strings of data as they inch across the display, and he asks me what happens if I click in front of the current time marker-If I select data in the future. And just because it’s funny, I tell him to go ahead and try it.
So after the four hours of maintenance that followed, I stuck a note to the desk:
Under no circumstances should anyone select data ahead of the time marker.
I felt a little bit bad about that one. John isn’t a bad guy, even if we are at each other’s throats on a pretty regular basis. I apologized, and he gave me this big grandfatherly smile and said that if I ever did that again, he’d fire me so fast that I wouldn’t realize it for a week. I decided to avoid informing him that this made no sense, instead opting to put his stapler into a jello mold for him to find the next morning. Heartwarming.
By now, John is hobbling out of the office. Like most days, I fully expect it when he pokes his head back in the door to make sure there’s no ‘funny business’ going on. I’m not sure if he expects me to smuggle a pound of cocaine in here some day or what, but for a guy so adamant about the no funny business rule, he sure doesn’t check for his stapler often. I imagine it’s a nice permanent strawberry red color by now, judging by the fact that it’s still in the engineers’ fridge. Either way, when he checks on me, I’m just starting to organize the desk into a workable shape. There are papers spread halfway across the floor, and-
I decide to give him my attention. I can tell that he’s had a long day. “Mhm?”
“The uh…” He gets this befuddled, almost concerned look on his face before he continues. “Don’t go playing with the cameras anymore, okay? I don’t know what you did to them last night but now they have a virus on them or something.”
I didn’t do anything with the cameras last night.
“Sure thing, John. You have a good night.” He gives me an arthritic wave and limps down the hall. I can hear the door clang shut when he leaves. It has a slight rasp as the weather strip on the bottom scrapes against the metal frame. Four o’clock, and I’m king of the castle until morning.
The most likely possibility here is that John accidentally changed something and didn’t realize it. Once, he set the cameras all to freeze frame, and it was hours into my shift before it dawned on me that I was watching pictures. I felt just a bit silly.
The majority of the shift passes uneventfully. I check the boiler rooms, where the heat washes over me heavy and smelling of oil. The ballrooms and the exhibit halls are clear, if a little bit ominous, and once or twice I can feel eyes on me just like every night. The offices are just as motionless as they should be when I check on them.
I end up back at the security desk, playing with the cameras. And this time, something catches my eye: where usually the ‘future data’ that has yet to be recorded is represented as a black stripe, now it’s white like the documented stuff trailing out the other side. Curious.
I am not good at following rules. I’d like to state that right now. When I see this glitch, my first instinct is to click it and see what might happen. Common sense speaks up just in time, though, and prevents me from doing anything too rash. And then I decide screw it, I want to know.
I click on data fifty seconds ahead.
The computer chugs angrily, slowly, like a ship cracking through ice. As I’m about to give it a hard shutdown-the screens change. one at a time. I watch myself walk out of the office, wave at the camera pointing at the office door and window, step back inside. as the file continues to play, a series of rats skitter in front of my form. And when I get up to go wave at the camera-nothing like a little wish fulfilment-who else would come bounding along than a furry little set of plague-carriers? That’s… Different. I watch the rodents scamper off down the hall and make a mental note to call the exterminator again.
So now I’m back at the desk.
I don’t know exactly what to do from here. I got curious and clicked ahead by a full fifteen minutes, and the camera pointing towards the office is a little different now. The door, a flimsy office-issue thing, Is broken off of the hinges. The window is shattered out. There is a spreading pool of blood from just outside the shot.
Back here in the current time, I’m frozen. I can’t stop staring at the screen.There is a knock on the door.