“The New Hire” is a story inspired by the ridiculous things we’ve all had to do just to make ends mete. When you are desperate, how far is too far?
College is tough. Living on your own, fighting back debt collectors, struggling just to put microwave noodles on the table. So, when Global Dynamics called me back, of course I accepted the position.
“You applied for a janitorial job, but we actually need someone in the Heuristic Analytics department,” said the HR representative on the phone. His voice was low and flat. “Can you handle that?”
I shrugged off the condescending edge and replied, “Yes, that sounds perfect.”
“Be here tomorrow at eight. Doctor Gonzalez will explain your duties.”
We disconnected and I danced with glee. Heuristic Analytics – whatever that is, it’s gotta pay better than donating sperm and blood plasma twice a week, right? I slept fitfully that night, simultaneously excited and terrified at the prospect of starting a new job.
But when I arrived at the Global Dynamics headquarters, the excitement ebbed. The building was tall, windowless, shadowy. It seemed to suck up the light of the burgeoning sun. A small army of security guards manned the entrance. The entrance hall was otherwise empty and I felt the weight of the guards’ stares as I approached the metal detector. One of the guards said, “Present your ID badge.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t have one. I’m newly hired.” At his glaring silence, I stumbled on, flashing my driver’s license: “Er, I was hired to work for Doctor Gonzalez. In the Heuristic Analytics department.”
“Wait here,” the guard demanded. He stomped off beyond my range of hearing and took out a walkie-talkie. The strident smell of disinfectant burned my nostrils as I stood fidgeting beneath the wilting gaze of the other guards. The entry hall was sterile and blank, the floor a disconcerting mirrored ceramic; I felt as if a dozen more people stared at me.
When he finally returned, he said, “All right, come through.”
I walked through the metal detector, hoping my fillings wouldn’t set it off. A mirrored elevator greeted me at the end of the hall.
“Doctor Gonzalez will meet you on the thirteenth floor,” said the guard.
Legs suddenly weak, I entered the elevator’s maw. The door snapped closed behind me. I pressed the button for the thirteenth floor, then leaned back against the cool steel wall. The elevator jerked and wobbled, jostling my empty stomach. The sound of straining gears was loud in the tiny space. Suddenly I spotted a camera in the corner. It was trained upon me like an unblinking eye.
Finally – finally – the elevator stopped. I lunged out, nearly smacking into a man in a lab coat.
“Jacob Kahananui?” he snapped.
“Yes, sir, that’s me.”
“You’re late.” Without another word, he turned and started down the hall. I had to gallop to keep up with him.
I glanced at my wristwatch. 7:46. A jolt of irritation went through me, but I stayed quiet and followed the presumed Doctor Gonzalez. “Er, where are we going, sir?”
Without looking at me, he said, “I’m showing you to your duty station, Kahananui.”
He led me down a winding hall. Fluorescent lights buzzed above us like flies. My nose burned from the odor of disinfectant. The smell became sharper as we delved into the depths of Global Dynamics until it was like a knife. My eyes watered. Memories of emergency rooms came unbidden to my mind.
“Uh, Doctor Gonzalez? I’ve been meaning to ask, what exactly does Global Dynamics do? I mean, I’ve never heard of this company until I saw the ‘help wanted’ ad in the paper.”
Gonzalez turned to face me, his eyes like blazing coals. “We make the world a safer place.”
We had arrived at a heavy black door. It possessed neither hinges nor handles. But a shiny retina scanner glared at us. Gonzalez submitted to the scanner’s intrusion, then spoke aloud, “Samuel Gonzalez.”
A light like a red web panned across his eyeball. Then, with an affirmative chime, the door slid open.
The room was small, the air thick with the heat of computers. Gonzalez snapped my photo, scanned my eyes, took my fingerprints, and even drew a vial of blood.
“Uh, what’s the blood for?”
He gave me a mirthless, fanged grin. “Nothing, hopefully.”
Again he rushed me through a dark corridor. It seemed we were winding into the center of the Earth. Sweat beaded on my brow. What was the pay again? Was it really that much more than selling plasma?
“Here we are,” he said. We arrived at another vault. Gonzalez repeated the intrusive ritual, then said, “Your turn.”
I wiped the sweat away and approached the retina scanner. I blinked when the light passed over my eye, but still I said, “J-Jacob Kahananui.”
Another affirmative chime.
The door slid open.
The room within was dark, illuminated only by the red and blue blink of computers. A low mechanical hum issued from the center of the room. Gonzalez led me to the room’s pulsing heart.
“Here is your duty station. It is imperative that you follow my instruction.”
He indicated a gigantic computer-like idol taller than me. Heat rolled off of it. Dials, oscilloscopes, and cathodes cramped the surface. Glass vacuum tubes sparkled in the dim luminance. Light flickered across the computer, little glass spheres of blue and red, interspersed with rusty switches.
“The lights indicate the flow of data,” Gonzalez said. “Your purpose is to ensure that the computer is always operational. Monitor the lights. Understand?”
“Every night you are to remove the magnetic tapes from the computer and give them to me directly. Do not give them to anyone else.”
“…okay. Yes, sir.”
“If the flow of the lights stops, reset the server.” He pointed at a button on one side of the monolithic computer. “Ensure that the computer never gets too hot. Keep the fans running at all times and periodically check the temperature.” He settled a piercing gaze on me. “But the most important part of your obligations in this room is the red phone.” I followed his eyes upwards to the crown of the computer.
“It will never ring. But if it does…answer it. State your name and designation. Then follow the instructions without deviation. That phone will only ring in the event of a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack on a big enough scale to disrupt global telecommunications. Do you understand?”
Then, wordless, he left me standing in the guts of the computer.
That first week was horrible. Trembling, I checked and double checked and triple checked the computer. I noted everything. I carried the magnetic tapes to Gonzalez as if they were fragile treasures. I wilted in the computer’s hellish heat, and kowtowed before the retina scanners. I lost my sense of smell. I adapted to the dark and became a cave-dwelling creature.
But eventually I realized that this job was easy. Too easy. I snuck my homework into the room, masturbated, played games on my phone.
Weeks passed like this. Then one day as I slept peacefully on the floor…I heard something that jolted me awake: a harsh, high ringing.
The red phone.
The computer was dark. Without the light, I struggled to find the phone. My hand hovered above it. I tried to steady myself with a deep breath, but my lungs didn’t work.
The phone screamed.
“Jacob Kahananui, Heuristic Analytics, awaiting your instruction.”
Silence on the other end. Then…
“…Uh, is Shawna there?”
“Shawna. She gave me her number. Is she there?”
“She gave you the WRONG number!” I said. “How on Earth did she get this number?” But the hapless male on the other end had already hung up. I took it as a sign: selling pieces of my body was better than this. I turned in my resignation. I think Gonzalez was glad to see me go.