Caleb stepped out of the elevator on the third floor of the TeciGem tower in downtown New Orleans and waved his corporate ID card at the guard drowsing at the desk. The guard nodded lazily and pressed a button to unlock the dual sliding doors that stood, blank and dully reflective, fifteen feet from the elevator. They slid apart with a soft hiss, revealing a long room filled with an assortment of drab gray cubicles, glass-walled test chambers, and long white work tables, all illuminated by the sickly bluish-white glow of light panels in the ceiling. At a glance Caleb counted seventeen men and women, all dressed in a bland assortment of khaki pants and wrinkled t-shirts, going about their business with the dull repetition of so many worker ants tending an egg chamber.
Thank God I don’t work in engineering, Caleb thought. If the stale air didn’t kill me I might just die of boredom.
He stalked into the room, through the maze of low cubical walls, towards the glassed-in office at the back left corner of the large room. A willowy young woman bumped into him as she backed out of a cubical, still babbling to the occupant about something to do with proxy servers and transcontinental connectivity issues, concepts that Caleb understood from his fieldwork but considered so tedious that he never dug into the details himself. She glanced up at him, flinched, and hurried away.
He arrived at the door and knocked on the metal frame with his large, scarred knuckles. Through the white slats of the vertical blinds he saw Simon jump in his seat at the noise. The tech spin his swivel chair and, recognizing Caleb, waved him in and turned back to the workbench.
“Back to scare more of my interns, eh?” Simon asked as Caleb pushed through the door.
“Not my fault they’re a bunch of rabbits.”
“You could try smiling now and then,” Simon said.
He set a screwdriver down on the workbench and stood, stretching his back and swiveling his neck with a pop and crackle that made Caleb wince. The head of field technology for TeciGem was the single most competent engineer that Caleb had ever met, but he was so physically frail that Caleb wondered that the man had not accidentally killed himself yet. Painfully thin, with a head of thinning blond hair that was not so much a combover as an accidental rat nest covering a balding head so pale that he had once complained of getting a sunburn walking from his car to the building, Simon Joyner looked as if he was in his late fifties, but was actually at least fifteen years younger than he appeared.
“I do smile,” Caleb said, flashing Simon a toothsome grin, “and they all just run away.”
“Little wonder. You look like you’re going to bite someone’s head off. What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Have you made any progress on that computer I dropped off last night?”