A tiny bit of sunshine poked out of an exposed red-brick wall in front of her desk. The office only had one window – a barrel-size porthole near the bathroom. In the mornings, it cast a spotlight at a monstera plant nearby. She was far from the bathroom, so the bit of light was a welcomed intruder even if it occasionally blinded her.
Her modern desk didn’t go with the overall aesthetics of the building – a 19th-century garment mill. The boss insisted on making a “state of the art, futuristic, best-in-class office,” but without the budget or keen eye for design. Every desk came from an Ikea knock-off wholesaler in China. The cheap metal legs felt cold to the touch, even in the summer or with the heat cranked up high. Even a space heater underneath didn’t do much to cool the minimalist and monochromatic furniture. The top of the desk, made of pressed wood, formed bubbles from even the smallest drop of water. Her desk had an unusually large, circular one that she covered with an extra mousepad.
“Don’t waste your time Emilia, this isn’t time for you to ponder your existence,” said a gaunt-looking white man with a ponytail. “I’m not paying you to dream; I’m paying you to make me a dream for our clients. That reminds me, here’s your nameplate. Can you please stop losing them, keep it in your desk this time.”
“I didn’t lose it, it was stolen,” she said under her breath.
“I don’t care; next time, it will cost you $100 out of your paycheck,” he said, sneering at her as he walked away.
Fuck you, Martin, and your fucking ponytail. She could only dream of saying that to him. Emilia didn’t move an inch for almost thirty minutes. She stared at the nameplate in disbelief, wondering why they would mess up her name again. Gregory Emily, what the fuck? Do I look like Gregory is my first name? Emilia Gregory, it’s not that hard.
An alert from her computer made her move. Her lethargy shocked away by the flashy message. She shuffled some papers and checked her notes, but the alert didn’t make much sense. Emilia’s round face would get red every time she felt even a bit of anxiety. Dimples around her chin creased as she involuntarily pouted at the situation.
Alert: Productivity Levels Dangerously Low, Please Rectify Immediately
Her computer didn’t make a sound, but in her mind, she played a loud bullhorn with every flash. Martin’s shiny black monkstrap shoes scuffed on the concrete floor as he hurried towards her desk. Her face, getting redder by the second, couldn’t hide her disgust at her dried-up cadaver of a boss. She looked everywhere for an answer to the question: “what should she be doing if she got this alert?” Before he could even reach the cluster of desks next to his office, Martin stopped, and his face turned paler than Emilia thought possible.
A short and stout man dressed like he just got out of bed entered the office through a door that never opened. Emilia thought the door was only a storage room or maybe a mechanical room. The monstera plant next to the bathroom swayed as if a strong gust of wind was coming out of that mystery room. The man closed the door behind him, and the alert stopped.
“Hello, are you Emilia?” the man said with a guttural voice that made her uncomfortable.
“Yes, I don’t know what the alert is about,” she didn’t think about it, the words just came out of her mouth like a sneeze.
“You don’t belong here, why are you here?” he said, looking at Martin, still frozen in place.
“I don’t know, where should I be?” she tried to soften her tone, but it still came out sarcastic.
He placed his hand on her desk and turned off the computer. Am I fired? What’s going on? Who is this guy? Her eyes darted from Martin to the man, while her coworkers remained hyper-focused on their computer screen.
Martin snapped and quickly darted to her desk. He stuttered and tapped on her desk repeatedly. She reacted by standing up, and both men concentrated on her.
“Sir, I’m sorry about her, she’s –“ the man interrupted him by slamming his fist on the desk.
“Martin shut the fuck up; she’s here because you are keeping her here. Our work is key; you know what’s going on out there! We’re getting shelled daily, and we don’t have time for petty office politics.”
Emilia stepped back, and the confusion made her sick. She frantically searched for the hole on the wall and peeked through it, but the light outside was too bright.
“Christopher, you wanted them to feel like nothing was happening; this is what that looks in real-time,” Martin’s sweat poured down his forehead.
“The algorithm identified her as out of the box, which means she could be made aware,” his voice was too low for Emilia to understand everything he said.
“We have enough people,” Martin’s reply was quick, dismissive, and sniggered at the mention of people.
“We never have enough people,” Christopher’s took out his communicator phone after a few taps, five men came out of the mystery door and took Martin.
Her coworkers, still hyper-focused on work, all said: “bye Martin.”
Emilia hyperventilated closed her eyes and wished she was back home with her dog. It dawned on her, that was the first time she remembered her dog. That’s the first time she remembered having a home. Christopher pulled her away from the wall and gave her a receiver that emitted a low whistle sound.
“Emilia, things are going to come back to you fast,” Christopher talked to Emilia more like a therapist than a boss. For the first time, Emilia felt the wall shake after a mortar shell hit the side of the building. “This place will hold, so don’t worry. We have a chance to save a lot of people. Everyone here is working to find the words that will end this assault. People like you and I are considered out-of-the-box thinkers. We aren’t smarter than anyone here, but we are prone to become self-aware. So, the algorithm kicks us out of the workforce to solve other problems.”
“What kind of problems?” Emilia responded immediately and without hesitation.
“If you want to jump right in, one of our problems is Martin,” he paused for a long second before saying the name.
“He can’t continue as a manager.”
“He won’t, but what should we do? In this time of war and chaos, measures need to be taken.”
Emilia fought the urge to scream. Her dog, gone, her house, gone, her husband, gone, her family, gone. She couldn’t cry, even though she wanted to, and her gut told her to walk away.
“Let him go, take him outside, let him figure it out on his own. I don’t care,” she surprised herself with the response, it came out so naturally. Once she said it, her mind struggled to understand why she thought that way.
The wall shook again, with more intensity this time. Pieces of the red-brick wall broke off, letting the smoky light into the pristine-looking office. Emilia remembered the utterance, the event that led to mirror entities take over society. She remembered, killing her entity, with the same dirty blond hair and the same cut running down her left arm. By then, she also had to kill all the other entities that took over her house. She just couldn’t remember how they arrived and why the news called it “the utterance.”
“Do you understand what we’re working on?” his phone made a beeping noise, startling him, but he remained stoic.
“The sounds, we’re looking for the sound that opened up that dimension. I get it, they’re all looking for words that would fit, and we are looking at other sounds?”
“How do we know we’re not the mirror entities?”
“I guess we don’t, but they wouldn’t be trying to turn this building into dust if we were one of them,” he didn’t care to continue the conversation, he used his device to open the mystery door and left.
Emilia wanted to stop him, but she felt paralyzed by the fear of knowing what’s outside. Before she could react, someone opened the mystery door and shoved Martin back inside the office. Disheveled and crying, he froze in front of Emilia, expecting a punishment. The walls shook again, and more dust billowed from the cracks on the wall.
“Wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense,” she ignored Martin and went to that porthole window near the bathroom. “This isn’t a building at all, it’s a ship?”
She dreaded to look outside the window, but she pushed herself to look. On the horizon, she could see dozens of rectangular ships floating above the city skyline. Cannons mounted on the buildings fired shots at the vessels, but they didn’t even dent.
The office façade started to crumble, and Martin stopped being Martin. He didn’t walk, he made the ground move causing Emilia to lose her balance and fall. The floor moved her towards Martin before she could get up. She looked up at the office and couldn’t recognize it anymore. The figure kept the gaunt look but shed the human skin.
“This is, disappointing,” she couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from, but she knew it wasn’t from his mouthless face.
“The feeling is mutual,” she tried to get up and run, but the ground kept her in the same spot.
She tasted metal in her mouth, and blood gurgled out of her throat. Shit, this is the way I go? Abducted by aliens and discarded as a failed experiment.
She felt the ground give out and began to freefall under the shadow of the oppressively large rectangle ship. The wind blew away her hairpins, leaving behind a tide of blonde hair floating towards death. She could barely see, the lens in her glasses pressed against her eye hurt so much. As a million thoughts and memories played out in her head, she heard an intruder’s voice tell her something.
“Emilia, you were the only human to become self-aware. In the past thousand years, you’re the first sentient being to do so,” the voice, similar to that of the so-called “Christopher,” had a soothing effect on Emilia. She knew it was artificial, the comfort didn’t seem natural to her. Nonetheless, she enjoyed the brief moment of clarity and calmness her captors gave her as a parting gift. Right before she hit the ledge of a high-rise apartment complex, she closed her eyes and pictured the ray of sunshine that woke her up, daydreaming it would do the same again.