That night I pace backwards and forwards in the room, thoughts running one hundred miles per hour as I try to process the information I have been giving.
Having arranged a meeting place with Riles earlier in the afternoon, I’m now waiting to make sure Rose is deep asleep before I leave, just in case.
Telcorp’s mission is top secret and underground. If people were to learn of the plans, I’ve been told, the whole thing would come crashing down.
Riles explained to me earlier that the government have decided to fun their research and plans. What they are, I’m yet to find out. This is what the meeting is for.
The digital clock changes from 11:59 to 12 and I grab my jacket off from the bed, pulling it on as I make my way quietly down the hall. I was told not to dress in anything eye catching as that’s the last thing we want so I’m dressed in one of the lazier outfits Danielle bought to dress me in.
I stop outside Rose’s room and take a quick peek inside to see her curled into a ball, head under her blanket. When I got home from work earlier she looked a lot better after her stay with Tayla. I’m not totally sure what they got up to, but whatever it was it seemed to give her a new light behind her eyes.
I’ll never understand women.
The air is chilly and I clutch my jacket tighter around me. As soon as I jump in the car I turn on the heater, sighing in relief as it begins to warm the car. I turn it on, praying it doesn’t wake Rose and quickly back out of the garage.
The meeting is located in one of the outer parts of the city. Usually it would take maybe twenty minutes to get there but the roads are clear, with only the occasional car making an appearance.
I manage to make the trip in ten minutes.
When I pull into the darkened parking lot, I look around trying to find where I’m meant to go. Riles only instructed to park here, that he would collect me when I arrive. There’s two other cars parked in different areas and none I recognize. Of course a man like Riles would probably own more than one car and I highly doubt when he knocks of work that he’d drive around in his business car.
I step out of the car and peer around me, rubbing my hands to keep them war. Eventually, a person steps out of one of the two cars and walks towards me.
“Jonathan Charles?” the man asks in a deep voice as he nears me. When he’s near enough to see, I’m briefly taken aback.
You would rarely expect such a deep voice to belong to a man like this.
The man that stands before me looks to be old, maybe in his fifty’s, going off of his eyes. His hair is dark and slick with gel, pulling the hair away from his round face the holds such stiffness. I briefly wonder if he’s had botox, a treatment not many can afford anymore due to the drop of customers.
He’s slightly shorter than me and pudgy around the middle, a symbol of hearty meals each day. Staring into his dark eyes, I’m briefly reminded of a snake and I soon shove the thought from my mind.
“I am Jonathan,” I confirm. “Who are you?”
“My name is Gordon,” he tells me and gestures back the way he came. “Please, come with me.”
I follow behind him, peering into the darkness as I struggle to see where we might be going. The only thing connected to the parking lot is a rundown brick building and I hardly doubt that any sort of government workings would take place in such a place.
“The building is a façade,” Gordon tells me coldly, as if sensing my thoughts. “It used to be a restaurant but after to many visits from health and safety it was shut down. It’s close to the sewerage system for this part of town so not many people are interested in fixing it up. It’s the rats, you see.”
“And you hold your meetings in there?” I ask in disbelief.
“No,” I see him smile wryly out the corner of his eyes. “We hold them under there.”
Many questions surface to mind, but I clamp my mouth shut and quicken my face. Gordon laughs and hurries along too.
As we get closer to the building, I start to notice different things about it.
For one, the roof has caved in, probably allowing many birds to take roost. I can see the outline of three dumpsters against the wall, one of them tipped over. I’m too far away to know for sure, but I swear I can see something moving inside it.
“This place is disgusting,” I say blandly and Gordon nods in agreement.
“Down below is much better, don’t worry.”
We walk past the dumpsters to a rotten wooden door that leads inside. After looking around, Gordon gestures for me to go inside and after a deep breath, I do.
Inside is dark and dank, smelling of animal faeces and mould. When Gordon comes in behind me, he pulls out a torch and flicks it on.
There’s nothing much to see. I’m guessing we’re standing in what used to be the kitchen due to the rusted benches that a bolted into the floor. A lot of glass glistens on the ground and the occasional piece of cutlery.
Gordon grabs me by my elbow and pulls me towards the back of the building.
I don’t see where we’re going at first, but then the torch lands on a door, partly buried behind an old table.
Gordon reaches it first and pulls on it. It opens with ease and I realise that the table has deliberately been nailed to it to protect it from view. Gordon sees my impressed grin and smiles himself.
“When the last of us leaves we have a peace off clothe that we hang over it. We put in a lot of work to secure the grounds within an accessible facility.”
He gestures for me to move forward and I brush pass him, stepping into the darkness. When Gordon steps inside and closes the door, suddenly the room comes alight.
“An elevator?” I ask and Gordon grins.
I don’t know how they managed to do it, but an elevator has been built into what must have been an older cellar. It’s bright and clean, definitely a new model. When I expect the different buttons to press, I grow excited.
Telcorp. A year ago one genius re-watched Willy Wonka, a very old movie, and wanted to bring the elevator to light. Of course this one can’t fly, but it has the ability to move either way sideways as well as up and down.
Gordon brushes me aside to press the arrow pointing down. I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. I have never experienced an elevator moving sideways. The only buildings that are as such compatible for any elevator of the kind would be the Royal palace and the parliament houses. It costs a fortune to buy one let alone install them.
“When was this installed?” I ask Gordon as the elevator glides downwards with ease.
“One night a few months back. Before that it took years to dig out the underground.”
At his words, the elevator stops and slowly, it’s doors open. Stepping outside, I feel my jaw drop.
Everything is white and pristine. The ground, walls and ceiling are lined with white tiles, probably ones that Telcorp designed. They keep themselves clean by absorbing the dirt and stains before returning to a solid format.
I can’t see the end of the hallway as it extends beyond my eyesight, but as we start walking forwards, I notice doors of steel.
“What are in those?” I ask.
“Nothing yet,” he shrugs. “We’re still conducting plans and research. As soon as we have enough information and the perfect plan, the experiments will begin.”
I don’t know why, but my skin crawls at his words. I shrug them off and continue my walk eagerly.
Eventually we reach the end of the hallway and we can turn either right or left. On the left is yet another hallway with more doors, but on the right, a door awaits.
Gordon pushes forward and opens it.
Inside I’m surprised to see a styled and well-furnished conference room. It could be one of the meeting rooms in Telcorp, only it reeks of even more wealth.
The table shines and glistens, its edges perfectly cut. The chairs surrounding it are made of the finest leather with two armrests, one side with a cup holder so the hot drinks don’t damage the table.
A brilliant chandelier lights the room with millions of gas controlled flames, flickering lightly at the breeze from the air conditioner that hums in the corner.
People mill around, some seated and talking amongst themselves while others are gathered around the coffee and desert maker that lines another wall. Another invention from Telcorp. Simply press the buttons and not only is your mug filled with the beverage of your choosing, but treats and delicacies of your choosing are also presented.
No one looks up at our entry, to focussed on whatever they’re doing. After he invites me to a coffee, Gordon joins a group of people.
I make my way around the table to one of the machines and key in the digits of a double shot cappuccino, a favourite of mine and Danielle’s when we have a hard time keeping our eyes open.
As I look over the list of treats, Riles walks up to me, smiling broadly.
“Glad you could make it, Charles,” he says and claps my shoulder. I quickly steady my cup so my drink doesn’t spill.
“I do admit I would love to be sleeping right now,” I tell him and muster a yawn. Quickly, I take a sip of the drink. Thankfully you are allowed to control the heat and I welcome it’s perfect warmth. Not to hot, but not too cold.
“We all would be,” Riles laughs. “That’s why your hours at work are cut.”
I nod with a smile. Riles mentioned the hour cut yesterday. I greatly accepted as it would allow me to get home just before Rose gets home from school. Of course the hour cut comes at a cost, one that I’m told could kill me if I don’t agree.
Riles glances at his watch and claps his hands together, getting the attention of everyone in the room.
“Time to get started people!”
Those that aren’t seated shuffle towards the table and take a seat. I find myself a seat next to Gordon and offer him one of the macaroons I had selected. He smiles in thanks.
Some people, like me, have no papers before us and I start to panic realising maybe I should have bought a notebook. I lean over to ask Gordon whether there’s one on hand, but just as I do, one drops in front of me. I look up to see Riles smiling down at me.
Riles takes his seat at the head of the table, all eyes focused on him. He shuffles the papers before him and then looks around with a smile.
“Firstly, I would like us all to give a welcome to our new member, Jonathan Charles.”
I wave as people turn to me, some muttering hello, others clapping lightly.
"Jonathan has been told of the dangers of even knowing the name of this group. I have given him my trust."
"Has he been told what will happen if he turns on us?" a grey haird man asks, raising his hand slightly. I open my mouth to respond but Riles beats me to it.
"He knows and he understands," Riles nods seriously. "He knows the consequences."
Everyone nods, clearly impressed. Some even smile at me.
"Let me explain for Jonathan how this works," Riles says and takes a sip of his hot beverage. "Firstly, we're currently working on a plan that will help us control society. We have a range of different ideas, but we are yet to settle on one. We're waiting for the one that sounds right. Obviously we can't implement a plan that will harm those involved."
"How did you get funding for a project you haven't even decided on?"
Some of the men laugh and others nod in agreement. Obviously I'm asking the right kind of question.
It's while I'm looking around everyone that I realise that there are no women in the room. This partly bothers me, but I decide to ask about it later.
"The government is growing desperate," one of the men explain before Riles can. "They're funding us to just come up with an idea. They just need some sort of help."
"What are the plans?" I ask curiously.
"Like I said," Riles explains. "No plan has been implemented, but we have ideas."
"May I see them?"
A few of the men glance at each other anxiously, but Riles tosses me a folder across the table.
I flip open the first page and take a glance. The page lists different parts of the books, each what I'm guessing to be different ideas, the only problem is they're just alotted numbers.
"Would someone like to give me an idea of what these are?" I love nervously.
Marshal takes the task yet again.
"We've had a wide range of ideas. The main ones revolve bringing in new laws in regards to stricter punishments for crimes."
"Death penalty?" I ask and he shakes his head.
"Some include torture."
"That won't change anyone,"I shake my head. "We have to impact peoples hearts. Is the long term goal to stop all fights and arguments?"
All the men nod and I rest my chin in my hands thoughtfully.
"We want something that will make everyone feel equal and be more compassionate to others," a guy with dark hair tells me and my frown deepens.
"Obviously though," Riles adds, "Not everyone can be equal. We still have the Royal family and governments."
"And different levels in the workplace," I add. "So at the moment we're trying to come up with ideas?"
"Yes and we need one quickly. We still have to run tests and with the attacks getting more and more frequent we really don't have the time to lose."
"What are the guidelines for different ideas?"
"It can't be damaging to people. Well," Riles pauses, "except for those who are terrorists. People who do wrong can be punished. It's the general public we can't hurt.”
“So anything goes?” I ask and when Riles nods I jot it down.
“Basically we gather here once a week with new ideas. Well, it used to be once a week. I’m thinking maybe we need to make it more frequent due to the rise of the attacks.”
Everyone nods, including me.
“What about every second day of the week?” a scrawny guy across from me asks. He looks a bit like one of the geniuses Telcorp funds. On closer inspection, I realise he is.
“Thomas?” I ask and he gives me a toothy grin.
“I wondered when you’d recognize me. Everyone here is a member or worker of Telcorp in some way.”
I rub the back of my neck.
“This really is more than just a company, am I right?”
Again a few men chuckle.
“Telcorp has been the leading research group for politics for a few years near now. I was a part of the original group that decided on the dividing everyone.” He looks over at Marshal. “So was he.”
“It must be hard to have seen your plan fail,” I say without thinking and I see Riles eyes harden before he looks away, frown in place. “Sorry.”
“No, you’re right. We underestimated the selfishness of some people and the lack of contentment they seemed to have held.”
“It’s quite frustrating,” Thomas sighs. I nod in agreement.
“Now,” Riles claps his hands together. “Let’s get on with it then. Do we have any new ideas?”
A few men shuffle the pages in front of them and I settle back against my chair. I have a feeling I’ll be here for a while.
By the time I make it home, it’s only two hours until I have to wake up for work. I debate just pulling an all-nighter as they usually leave me more refreshed, but quickly decide against it. I’ve been instructed by Riles to rest well so I can start planning with a clear mind.
Collapsing onto the bed fully dressed, I curl around Danielle’s pillow, imagining it’s her. Sleepily, I whisper quietly,
“I’m going to fix things for you.”
And then I fall asleep.
Two hours later when my alarm blares at six am I groan, feeling sorry for myself. Sitting up with a sigh, I stretch my arms above my head. The first thing I decide to do is have a shower. Whenever I go to bed wearing my clothes (a rare occurrence) I have to shower. It’s a weird habit I got into as a teenager.
I wish away the sweat and grime from yesterdays work. After Riles left my office in the morning, I continued moving stuff into my office and switching things around. When I failed to move the desk myself, I had to request the help of Elaine. Even then it was a hard and sweaty journey for both of us.
I count myself lucky that my mind was too busy going over the information Riles had given me to pay attention to how flustered she looked.
“I’m sorry,” I tell Danielle in my mind as I drive off my hair. “I’m sorry I even considered another woman.”
I only wish I could have told her while she was alive.
When I emerge from the bathroom, towel around my waist, I spy Rose sitting on the bed. Just like Danielle, she has a gift of dressing in record time.
“Jeez Rose, I could have been naked.”
“You never come out of the bathroom, especially after mum left the curtains open that one time and you flashed the old lady across the street.”
I chuckle at the memories and make my way over to the cupboard. I had Elaine pick me up a new suit and I fully intend to wear it.
“What is it you what?” I ask her as I pull it from the cupboard, checking over it. “I know that face.”
I see Rose cross her arms out of the corner of my eyes.
“I want to know where you went last night.”
I think about denying I was gone, but I know she’s too smart to smart to buy into it.
“I had some work to do.”
“And you couldn’t do it in your office?” she pouts. “You promised just a day ago that you wouldn’t let work overrun your life anymore. Once you clock out, you clock out. You don’t do more work until you clock back in.”
Sighing, I turn to face her.
“Look, honey, I’m sorry but I had to.”
“No you don’t,” she jumps to her feet, hands balled in fury. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“I know that.”
“Then that means you want to do it. You want to give up everything for your stupid job with a stupid business.”
Tears prickle her eyes and she sniffs, whipping her nose angrily on her shirt.
“You promised me.”
With that, she darts from the room. I want to chase after her, but considering I’m clothed in nothing but a towel all I can do is run my fingers through my hair and debate what I should do.
The first thing I do is quickly pull on my new suit and my shoes. Usually I spend a while trying to style my hair the perfect way, but I quickly run my comb through it and make my way down the stairs, hoping Rose hasn’t left yet.
I sigh with relief when I see her sitting at the table, staring glumly at her cereal. When she hears me enter the kitchen she looks up briefly and quickly turns her red stained eyes away.
“Sweetheart,” I say quietly as I sit across from her. “I’m sorry I broke our promise.”
“It wasn’t our promise, dad. It was yours.”
“Mine,” I correct myself, talking slowly. “I’m sorry.”
Rose sniffs again and I continue.
“It wasn’t exactly my job that called me out so late at night.”
“Then what was it?” she demands, her red eyes glaring at me. “Are you meeting up with another woman?”
“Jeez Rose, where did you get that idea?”
She goes to say something, but shakes her head.
“Never mind. If it wasn’t work related, what was it?”
“That’s the thing,” I sigh. “I’m not allowed to tell you. I’m not allowed to tell anyone.”
“Yeah, right. You just choose to.”
“No you don’t understand. This, what I’m involved in, is a matter of life and death. If I go against the rules and they find out, they will kill me and they’ll also kill you.”
“Is it a sect?”
The idea makes me chuckle and I shake my head.
“No nothing like that. Rose, all I can tell you is its top secret and it involves the government. For your safety, I’m not going to say anything more about it. Even if you hate my guts, I still won’t. Your safety is everything to me.”
She wants to argue. I can see it clearly on her face, but instead she chooses to sigh.
“I don’t understand any of this.”
“I know, baby girl,” I tell her, using her old nickname as I do. “And I truly am sorry for all of this. Especially so soon to your..”
I let the sentence trail off, but Rose understands.
“I’m sorry for overreacting.”
“It’s okay,” I reach across the table and pat her cheek gently. “We’re going to be okay.”
After breakfast I head off to work. Rose chooses to continue riding her bike to school every morning even after I offer her a lift. When Rose turned twelve Danielle got her started on riding her bike to and from school. I thought it was cruel, but after a few weeks of complaining Rose got the hang of it and she hasn’t stopped since.
Twenty minutes later I pull into the company’s parking lot. Like usual, I’m one of the first here besides the office girls and main workers. This is so we can get a head start before the phone calls start arriving during office hours.
I’m thankful that I don’t have to see Elaine when I arrive. In my tired state of mind, my thinking is distorted and foggy and I am determined to stop the spark that’s been brewing between us. Distracted thoughts won’t assist in the matter.
I work on designing the brochure for the new product, an ear piece that can be surgically implanted within the inner ear that can record the sounds of your surroundings as well as play music. Yesterday, between phone calls of course, I read through the papers and facts to get the knowledge I needed.
I work as fast as I can on the project, wishing I had brought a long some coffee. I glance at the clock to see its half past eight and after much debation, ring Elaine.
“Can you bring me in a double shot cappuccino?”
“Coming right up,” Elaine says lightly.
All morning I work on the project, interrupted only by the occasional call of a client. By the time the clock reaches twelve, I’ve managed to come up with two drafts for the brochure and sold two items to two customers.
My new knock off time is one pm. I wonder how I’m meant to explain this to my colleagues, but I decide not to worry about it. Our shift times are changing all the time. Plus, low as it may be, I can always pull the “I’m too depressed to work longer” card.
Anything that won’t leave people suspicious of my motives.
“Leaving so soon?” Elaine asks in surprise.
“My hours have been cut back at my request,” I shrug and she looks taken aback.
“But you always work over-time. In my four years of working here, you’ve never had a cut in hours.”
I feel my blood boiling, but I quickly remind myself it’s not her fault. I dug this hole.
“My wife just died,” I tell her calmly, looking over her head so I don’t have to meet her eyes, “and I have a grieving teenage daughter at home.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she stutters.
I nod and continue down the hall.
I get a few more surprised looks from my colleagues, including Clarence. None of them question my leaving.
I don’t like to think it, but death can be a real Get Out Of Jail Free card.
When I get home, the first thing I do is fix myself a cup of coffee. I don’t know how I’m going to work sleep into this new schedule, especially if I want to spend as much time with Rose. I’m sure I’ll figure it out gradually.
Sipping my coffee and munching on a sandwich I made, I get to work on my ideas. Going off of Riles response to the men’s ideas last night, each new idea is getting more ridiculous then the last.
Stuff like the Hunger Games and Battle Royale were suggested, but quickly cancelled out along with ideas of forcing people to open their homes to others.
“We have to change the hearts!” Riles ended up yelling, slamming his palms onto the table. “If we just give them rules, they’ll only want to break them. It’s happened all throughout history and it’ll only happen again.’
He’s right, of course. We are born wanting to rebel.
Thoughtfully, I scribble down a few sentences. We want to change the hearts and it can’t be done by force. We have to give them reason to on a personal level because we don’t care about others enough to change for them. We have to take away the will to rebel by giving them nothing to rebel.
I think about all the past events of society. Each time a new victory was achieved, another agenda would be pushed. A well-known one was the legalisation of gay marriage in every country. Within two months of it occurring, soon people were asking for the rights to marry their relatives and some even requested to marry three people.
The legalisation of incest relationships was never achieved, but after a few months of polygamy being legalised, it was soon banned because of the rise of domestic violence and murder cases.
I feel ideas scratching at the back of my mind, but I can’t see to bring it to light. I stare at the paper desperately, trying to think, but the thought never comes. Sighing, I shove aside the notebook and stand to my feet, yawning.
A glance at the clock reveals it to be two o’clock. That leaves me with two hours to sleep before Rose gets home.
I debate falling asleep in the bedroom, but instead make my way to the lounge room. I want to surprise Rose when she gets home.
I don’t even bother grabbing a pillow from the bed and instead stretch out on the couch, sighing happily at the feeling of ease spreading through my body.