Monday, October 31, 2005

Chapter 5

Chapter 5
     When U received the message that he could return to work at the station he felt both relieved and anxious.  It was two weeks after his meeting with Mr. Hughes.  He had spent most of his jobless days brooding over the integrity of the System.  Whenever a genuine doubt would stab its way into his consciousness, U would quickly look at his PDA to see if there would be a punishment for his doubt.  But, every time he looked the time of day was all that would glare back up at him.  Imagining himself back at work, watching the movements of the new supervisor, became U’s new obsession.  He was still leery of Mr. Hughes’ story, but the possibility drove him into almost constant contemplation on the topic.  But when he actually read the message on his screen, ordering him to return to work, he’s obsession took on a fearful preoccupation.  Enemies
     Walking into his office U scanned the room from signs of the unordinary.  Having been gone for two weeks meant almost everything felt a little off to U, but nothing was foreign.  U kept his old schedule of arriving before anyone else in the compound and leaving after them.  He hoped that these extra hours would give him a better chance of coming into contact with the new supervisor, but it was another week before he even heard mention of him.
     U. was uneasy, not because of what he had been told of the new supervisor, but of what he had not been told.  Going back to work at the station had brought U. through several states of mind; from a gnawing anxiousness to an ignorant peace which could only last a few moments.  The office felt unsettlingly the same, considering that here U had killed a man with visceral brutality.  Had this place been as he had idealized it in his lofty thoughts, then he would have felt the need to remove his shoes for fear of desecrating hallowed ground.  As it was however, the sterile, poorly lit room seemed to U to suggest a once sacred relic which had been denounced as a fraud and all those who were healed by its ethereal qualities had reverted to their previous states and completely forgot about the relic as a sacred object.  This emotion began to subside in U as he gave himself over to work.  A new fleeting thrill filled him, to discover the truth, or lies, of Hughes.  It seemed to U that the only way he would ever be allowed close enough to the supervisor to really ascertain the truth would be to return to his previous work ethic.  And so U poured himself into his job.  
     It was two weeks after he had returned to work before U caught any sight of the new supervisor, and when the time did come he hardly knew what to do.  U had been arriving early to work as he had done before the murder, now, however, no one was ever seen by U as he walked down the long hallways of the station.  The walk would often give U time to wonder when or how he might meet the new supervisor that day.  This thought was upon U’s mind as he entered his office early on morning.  He had left his apartment a few moments earlier than usual on this particular morning and this brought him to the door of his office and to a sight which only confounded the preoccupations of is mind.  Seated at his desk, with his back to U, was a man in a deep gray suit.  The man turned around as he heard U approaching.  He was young, not any older than thirty five, or six.  Face, clean cut, very well kept over all, in fact.  The man’s body seemed to freeze as he beheld U.
     “Well, good morning, you must be U.  I’m the new supervisor for this quadrant.” the man slowly turned back around to the computer which he had been facing.  U could just make out the supervisors hands as they worked feverishly at a PDA.  The computer screen on U’s desk shuttered and then turned black.  
     “I’ve just been going over your work.  I liked to arrive before the programmers so that I don’t have to disturb them…unless of course something is wrong.  I have to say that your work here is very impressive  By the way my name is Dr. Hardenbrook.”  The doctor quickly put his PDA away, stood, and moved towards the still silent U.  
     “I hope you find everything in order,” said U as he shook hands with the new supervisor.  The other man’s palm felt damp and yet it gripped U’s hand firmly.  He began to regret having offered his hand in the first place, only there didn’t seem to be a way around it.  
     “Oh, yes!  In fact I think I’m about finished here.  It expedites my job so much when you workers keep such ordered records.  It was wonderful meeting you Mr. U.  Have a great and…uh, keep up that great work.”  And with those short, quickly executed sentences the supervisor was gone.  U was left staring at his office and his now turned off computer.  His mind was filled with the dark possibilities of the supervisor.  At the end of his five second revelry U turned quickly to try to catch the sight of Dr. Hardenbrok.  The supervisor was walking uncomfortably into the eveloping hallway and soon was covered in the darkness only to be seen in flashes from the dancing picture frames which would light up an arm, or his coat, or his face, but never the totality of him.  Mr.  Hughes’ words came flooding back to U.  He allowed the door to swoosh shut, watching it all the while.  And then he walked over to his computer, staring at it as if to take it all into his consciousness, to search for something wrong.  Turning the computer on U listened intently at the room itself, as if to ascertain if something in the very substance of the room had been altered by the new supervisor.  
     Why had he been so nervous?  A feeling of panic griped U and he began to search through his computer to see if he could find if anything had been tampered with.  But even if Dr. Hardenbrok had done something, changed something, or whatever, U wondered to himself, what good would my workstation have done?  What could I possibly have that a supervisor does not have access too?  But then, why would he be afraid of me seeing his work?  Maybe he was just unnerved by my abrupt entrance.  All these possibilities went coupled with a thousand counter thoughts in U, but no resolution presented itself.  U was again struck with the fact that all these seemingly irrational doubts were allowed to go unjudged by the system; his PDA was silent.  
     As U began his work for the day every keystroke seemed to distract him.  “Was that button always there?  Was that title on this page yesterday?”  U thought to himself.  Everything appeared foreign but nothing was tangibly altered on his computer.  When his break came instead of remaining in his office like he usually did, U pulled on his deep gray coat, locked his computer with a code and walked down the hallway towards Miss. Gram’s office.  U’s break came at 10.25 and lasted until 10.40 at which time U had to be at his computer typing or else suffer a dock in pay at the equivalent of one hour’s work.  In addition, visiting with other employees during your personal break with likewise result in the loss of one hour’s pay.  With a full understanding of this U quickly moved across the long hallway to his coworker’s office.  A tension rested upon his chest and when he breathed, a sound between a quiet grunt and deep sigh came from his mouth or nose.  Miss. Gram had been given an office along a short corridor that ran across the main hallway.   When U turned the corner onto the corridor he hesitated for a moment, looking around for the supervisor, who had left U’s office hours ago.  U was surprised to find Miss. Gram’s office door open.  As he approached he could make out his coworker as she sat facing her computer.  Gram’s feet were pulled back underneath her chair and she leant forward as if she was lost in the flow of characters that went across her screen.  This most not have been to far from the truth because U was able to get inside her office before her trance was broke and she turned to notice him.  A tuft of dark auburn hair was tucked behind her left ear and as her head came to a halt in front of U.  
     “Mr. U…” a deep, anxious exhalation left Miss. Gram’s mouth, “why are you here?”  
“It’s my break period,” U said simply, and then realizing the insufficiency of his he added, “I needed to talk to you about something.” After he finished, U watched as Miss. Gram’s face drew a perplexed look.   Regretting having used such suspicious language, U searched himself for a believable excuse: “It’s about the new supervisor…did stop by here?”
“Mr. Hardenbrok? Yes, I think he was here this morning.  When I come in today I noticed my computer had been accessed.  I assumed it was the supervisor since he is the only other person with the ability to that.  Why do you ask U?  Are you feeling ok?”  Her eyes had been darting around the floor while she was speaking, as if she was looking for her words which had been scattered to the ground.  When she finished, Gram looked up at U again.  He wondered himself why she would ask him if he was feeling ok.  What if she was worried that he might kill the new supervisor?  
“Oh, well I just wanted to see if I could catch him…I had to talk to him about some of the work I’m doing.  You said he did access your computer, I think he might have had some difficulty when he accessed mine.  Was there anything odd on your system this morning? Anything out of place?”
“No…at least not that I can remember. What happened to your computer U?” But U was lost in thought.  A few moments latter he awoke and answered Gram.
“I don’t know.  Maybe nothing.”
“Nothing? It sure sounds like it must have been something for you to come here during your break.”
“Well, when I came into my office this morning he was there.  Maybe I startled him or something but he looked very surprised to see me, scared even.”
“So he wasn’t expecting to see you.  Look Mr. U, if this isn’t important I do have work I should be doing…” She turned back to her computer.
“I think he was doing something”
“Of course he was,” Said Miss. Gram as she started typing, “he was doing his job, which is what should you be doing.”
“I don’t think he was doing his job.  At least, not his official job.  He was doing something he didn’t want me to see.  After I came in he quickly packed up and left, but not before he closed down the computer.”  U had to raise his voice to compete with the rising sounds of Miss. Gram’s typing.  He reached over to her shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
“Will you listen to me,” he implored, “I think this Mr. Hardenbrok is up to something”
“I can’t talk right now U, I’ve already received several warning buzzes to return to work.  I suggest you listen to your own warnings and go back to your office yourself.”
“My PDA is not buzzing Miss. Gram.  It has not buzzed once, in two months.”  And with that dramatic declaration, U walked out of the office, down the corridor, through the hallway and back into his own workspace, the whole time day dreaming about the affect his exit had on Miss. Gram.  In general, he felt quite pleased with himself.  He sat down in his office chair and sat staring at his screen, not contemplating what he saw, but what he had done.  As U was about to return to work he saw a red flashing light emitting from his hip where his PDA set.  
“Mr. U.  Please contact me immediately concerning your recent conversation with a Miss. Gram.  Do not speak to anyone else regarding the actions of Mr. Hardenbrok until we have spoken. Mr. Hughes.” Thus read the PDA.  U clicked the confirm button and felt a feeling of panic creep over him.  What was I thinking, he thought, she knows I’m after the supervisor now.  And why was she so calm?  Does she know what he’s doing?  Maybe she’s with him.  How did she know that there was something wrong with my computer?  All I ever said was he had trouble accessing my system.
U reached back down to his PDA and sent a message to Mr. Hughes:
“I’m sorry I told Miss. Gram too much, but you must listen to me.  The new supervisor is doing something.  I don’t know why yet, but I believe he is sneaking onto my computer.  I only talked to Miss. Gram because I thought he might be doing the same thing to her.  I found out that not only is he using her workstation, I believe that she knows it and may be helping him! Please tell me what I can do! If I’m right the Gram will tell Mr. Hughes and he will try to stop me some how! U.” As U mentally dictated the message his own words began to settle in upon him and he paused for a moment to look up and see if anyone was around.  After being assured of his safety U sent the message.  His heart was beating heavily and images of Gram whispering to Mr. Hughes filled his mind.  A thirty-second eternity passed before his PDA again flashed with text.
“Do not worry.  We expected as much.  Please return to work and act normal. If you see Miss. Gram again do not mention anything about your earlier visit.  More instructions will follow. End.  Mr. Hughes.”
It was not until long after U had gone home that he again received any communication.  He had been given plenty of time to worry about what he had done, and wonder what Hughes had meant by saying that they “expected as much”.  Luckily for U he did not see Miss. Gram again that day but the possibility of running into her the next day plagued him.  
“Mr. U, I am sorry that made you wait so long before this communication.  Due to the earlier events of today I was compelled to meet with the other associates and discuss our next plan of action.  I was able to convince the others that you can be trusted.  Despite the fact that you possibly divulged your suspicions of the supervisor, the association has decided that you will be a welcome addition.  I regret that I was unable to tell you about the association before, but until I knew whether or not you could take orders and be trusted I could not reveal the extent of our operation.  I hope you will not hold my caution against me.  A lot was at risk. Mr. Hughes.” U read the message and was immediately filled with excitement.
“I don’t really understand.  How many more of us are there?  And what about Mr. Hardenbrok?  If Miss. Gram tells him about me won’t there be trouble?  If my life is in danger please tell me. U.”
“I already told you not to worry Mr. U.  The situation is under control.  Even if Miss. Gram tells the supervisor, he can do nothing to you now.  You are safe.  But we must see you in person.  Tomorrow, instead of proceeding to work, you will take your shuttle to the Hydrogen 3 mines 60.13 meters south of Minerva.  You will be gone for the whole day so plan accordingly.  There will be no need to notify the Station, we will see to that. End. Mr. Hughes.”

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