A short story by Ryan Scott
Today marked Brocc’s fourteenth day at his dream job. Crossing from Crop CIR. to Beet ST., he couldn’t be happier. The enormous building that was now his workplace was visible from any point in the city, but from here the view was absolutely wonderful. At the end of the street stood Beet Co., the mega corporation that Brocc and so many others held so dear in their hearts. Glass glistened in the morning sunlight, people poured in for their shifts, and a fun, fulfilling day of work waited for him inside. The sight was, without a doubt, the best part of his day.
He still had trouble believing it. This company had brought joy and entertainment and endless smiles and interesting technology to Brocc’s childhood, and even now he felt he could lead a life worth enjoying thanks to everything Beet Co. did. And they had hired him! Brocc O’Li, the oddball at the end of the block that never played with the other kids growing up, had been accepted to work for the company most important to him. Now a proud employee of Beet Co., Brocc was determined to fill everyone’s lives with smiles, just as Beet Co. had done for him and, really, everyone.
A short walk through the parking lot led him past the Fruit Containment Chamber. Brocc had always thought it strange that there would be one in front of Beet Co. itself. The anti-fruit policy was strongly upheld, especially in the very city that housed Beet Co.’s main headquarters, so there was no way one of those would end up here. Despite his puzzlement, it did at least signify that he would soon reach the entrance, the thought of which excited Brocc to no end.
Brocc’s excitement for the day to come did not diminish one bit as he stepped through the automatic doors into the bustling interior. In fact, it even rose a fair deal. It seemed the Veggie Scouts were visiting today on a field trip; their sea of green caps covered most of the lobby. Brocc walked past them, making sure to give the excited youngsters a welcoming wave and smile. He had been in the same place before. This field trip had been a turning point in his life, and Brocc would be overjoyed to see these kids grow up to be like him, an employee of Beet Co. He remembered how amazing it was to learn that every toy he had owned and every little trinket and knickknack his parents had were all made in the same place: Beet Co. It was also the day he learned of the atrocities committed by PEAR Inc. They steal inventions from Beet Co.’s employees and pass them off as their own. What a despicable business practice.
Remembering this left him steaming, but Brocc’s mood was quickly cooled when he noticed how quiet it had become. Here it comes. It took all he had to refrain from joining in on the Scout Leaders’ little speech to the troop, which he remembered hearing so often.
“Everyone, let’s make sure to be nice and behaved, okay? Ms. Pepper will be our guide today, so I want everyone to treat her like you would treat us.”
The children gave an asynchronous, “Yes, Ms. Lery,” and followed the tour guide into the visitor’s sector. Brocc was sure they would have fun.
Just then the receptionist looked up from her computer and noticed Brocc standing by the front desk. “Good morning, Mr. O’Li.”
“Oh, good morning to you, too,” Brocc said, turning away from the Scouts. “May I check in?”
“Starting early again, today, are we?” She spun on her chair to face the rack of keys behind her. “Planning on staying late, too?”
Brocc gave a small chuckle. “I lost track of time yesterday, that’s all.”
The receptionist took his floor key from the rack and spun back, an eyebrow raised. “And the day before that?” She offered the key.
“Checking the clock would take me away from my work, you know?” Brocc took the key in his hand and held it tightly. He had learned on his third day not to lose track of it – the key gave him access to the upper floors where the designers worked, and without it he would be stuck waiting in the lobby for hours while a new one was made. That was a sad day.
“Just remember I can’t go home until everyone checks out, so don’t stay too late. Good luck today, Mr. O’Li,” she said with a smile.
Brocc smiled back, said, “Yes, you too,” and started towards the elevator. “I’ll keep it to an hour past my shift.” Maybe an hour and a half, he thought to himself.
The elevator ride was, unfortunately, uneventful. Brocc had come too late and the elevator filled before he could make it in. The occupants smiled and apologized, assuring him that the next would be in five minutes. Other workers came and went, but to other divisions on different elevators in different places. Brocc decided he would have to arrive ten minutes earlier tomorrow. The elevator came and he rode up in a lonely silence.
Brocc stepped off into the landing between the elevator and the design sector. He hadn’t seen the other sectors, but they were likely the same: a short, wide hall with a door just a few steps away from the elevator, with large window panes for walls at the left and right ends that overlooked the town. The sun was still rising, so it was nearly impossible to look out the leftmost window. Brocc didn’t have the time to dawdle anyway; he wanted to get to work as soon as he could.
Brocc moved to the door and loosened his grip on the key. It left a mark where he had held it. Sticking the key into the lock, Brocc made a mental note to fashion a pocket onto the front of his coat for easier carrying. He shouldn’t lose it that way, too. The door slid open and laid out before him what Brocc imagined to be a typical-looking office place. Cubicles obscured much of his sight, but Brocc could see workers walking from place to place, carrying blueprints or prototypes of their latest designs, wanting to show off their work.
He hadn’t made it much more than a couple steps before being greeted by one such worker. “Mornin’, Brocc,” said a familiar, smiling face. “I heard about your latest design. Good stuff.”
“Good morning.” The design the man was talking about must have been the pencil eraser. “It’s coming along smoothly. I was going to begin assembly today.”
“That’s good, good. I just finished my recent work, myself. Take a look.” The man held up a propeller-looking object, a proud look on his face.
Brocc stared at it for a few moments. “What does it do?”
The co-worker straightened up and proudly proclaimed, “It’s a ruler. See these?” He gestured to the propellers. They had markings and numbers on them, Brocc noticed for the first time. “Check this out.” He pressed a button and the five propellers came together into a square. “12 inches by 12 inches. You can measure left, right, up, down, and diagonal. Amazing, isn’t it?”
It truly was amazing. “Very good, I must say. I haven’t seen anything like it before.” Brocc was amazed with its design. He could already imagine all the things that could be measured with it. “And it’s headed to review? Good luck.”
The inventor nodded. “Thanks, Brocc. With what I’ve heard today I’m liking my odds. Good luck with your work, too.” He smiled and waved, a gesture which Brocc returned, then headed in the other direction, perhaps to find another like Brocc who had yet to lay their eyes on his work.
While continuing his walk to his own cubicle, Brocc thought about that ruler. Its design was very interesting. Brocc hadn’t seen too many of his co-workers’ inventions or designs in his short time at Beet Co., but every time he did he felt that he needed to step up his own work. Perhaps at least his current work would be up to par; it was the design the one who hired him liked most, and it could be that Brocc owed his new job to it. The idea was that it was a machine similar to a pencil sharpener, but with the difference that an eraser is inserted to “sharpen” it into a pencil shape for easier handling. The end product was what Brocc was calling a “pencil eraser” for the time being. Since the start of his employment he had been working on several new additions to the design, namely the option to create a pen-shaped eraser or to bore a hole into the bottom of the product for use as a pencil topper. Brocc thought that second one especially was absolutely ingenious. It brought a smile to his face knowing that the prototype’s parts would be arriving by lunch so that he could finally begin assembling the machine. Once it was built and working, he would have to show it off around the office like everyone else.
“Oh, I forgot to ask for his name,” Brocc muttered to himself. The one with the ruler contraption had looked familiar, but Brocc only now realized he didn’t have a name to attach to the co-worker’s face. It also came to mind that he didn’t even know the receptionist’s name, and he saw her at the beginning and end of every day. Brocc added another mental note to the list, this time to try to slip in the question when he could. It would be too awkward to ask outright after two weeks of morning greetings.
Brocc’s thoughts were interrupted by a familiar voice to his right. “Brocc, perfect timing. Since you’re headed there anyway, can you remind Amara to check her mail?” The speaker smiled. “Usually I would do it, but I’m a bit held up with my work at the moment.”
Brocc smiled in turn. “I’ll tell her as soon as I see her.”
“Thanks, Brocc. I knew I could count on you.” The co-worker turned back to their work and Brocc resumed his journey.
He wasn’t sure who Amara was, but the name had some familiarity to it. If he had been told he was going in that direction, then it must be someone near his cubicle. Indeed, upon arriving, he saw someone in the cubicle next to his own.
It took a few moments, but Brocc was able to recognize the person as Amara. Just to be sure, he called out, “Amara?”
The seated woman reacted and turned in her chair to face him. “Yes?”
Brocc breathed a short sigh of relief at his correct guess and relayed the other co-worker’s message.
“Oh, that’s right! I need to watch for my review date coming up.” She smiled. “Thanks for telling me.”
Brocc gave a smile as well. “No problem at all. Good luck with that review of yours.”
“You, too, when you’re ready with yours. Hey, while you’re here, do you want to see what I’ve been making?” Even if he wanted to refuse, Amara was already pulling out her machine. But Brocc wasn’t one to turn down a chance to see what was going on in the minds of his co-workers. It was always an interesting and fun experience to be given these impromptu presentations.
Before he could give an energetic nod, the presentation had already begun. “Here it is!” Amara jumped from her chair and held out a small metal cube for Brocc to see. “This is only a scale model for tech demos, but it works!” She turned and swiped a paper from her deck and held it up high. “Watch closely.” She lowered her arm to be level with the other and wrinkled the paper a bit with her hand before pausing, a slightly annoyed expression on her face. Her eyes darted a few times between the cube that rested in one hand and the paper that was in the other. After a few moments her eyes gleamed, and she brought the paper closer and took it in her mouth. With a quick jerk of her neck, the page was – rather crudely – reduced to only a fraction of its size. Amara resumed her previous stance with an accomplished look on her face. “So! Watch closely.” She took the scrap and fed it into the contraption through a small slit on the front. The sound of buzzing machinery filled the air. With a few seconds gone by, Amara spun the box around so that the back faced the viewer, where a slit similar to the front could be seen. Out of that small hole came an even smaller scrap of paper. No, Brocc realized, it was the same scrap of paper, only folded.
Amara noticed Brocc’s look of amazement and gave a short, triumphant laugh. “That’s right! This machine is a paper folder. This model is set to four folds, but the finished product will range from one to eight!”
Eight settings! Brocc was astonished. His invention only had half that. “That’s great! You’ll get the green light for sure.”
Amara’s face was beaming. “I know.” She plopped back into her chair and sighed. “Presenting sure leaves me thirsty. Hey, Brocc. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, can you refill my water for me?” She held out a thermos. “I’ll be busy going through my mail, and I need to prepare for my review anyway.”
He at least knew where the water fountain was. Brocc took the thermos with another smile. “I’ll have it back soon.” It was the least he could do in return for having the opportunity to be shown such a revolutionary invention.
“Thanks,” Amara said, smiling. “And I’ll be working.”
The water fountain was in the opposite direction that Amara would be going in if it so happened that her review was today, so it made sense for her to ask Brocc to refill the thermos for her. Brocc made his way to the water fountain, which was operable in the way one would expect any other water fountain to be, and completed his task. Brocc returned the thermos to Amara and, after a short exchange of smiles and thank yous and you’re welcomes, began to finally walk into his own cubicle.
There was one thing that had been bothering him since taking up Amara’s request, though. It wasn’t Amara herself, nor was it her paper folding machine. It wasn’t the thermos, and it wasn’t the water fountain. No, during the walk there and back Brocc had seen something odd. Something out of place. Now on the threshold of his workspace, Brocc was stopped again. However, this time he was not stopped by a co-worker’s tech demo or request. Brocc was stopped by a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right.
On the way to the water fountain, Brocc had passed by a group of three co-workers talking together. Each of them wore anxious, troubled expressions. This was the same situation a couple minutes later when Brocc walked back. Even from where he stood now he could see those same expressions. Something must be bothering them, Brocc deducted, and he wasn’t going to leave it that way.
So it was that Brocc approached the three with a question: “Is something the matter?”
The group seemed startled by his sudden appearance. They looked at each other frantically for a few moments before the one to the right answered. “Not anymore, now that you’re here.” The other two nodded. “Could you run these papers to room 91 for us?” He held up a large document. “It’s for an important meeting later, but we’re strapped for time doing other preparations. It would be a big help.”
Brocc couldn’t say no to that. “I can do that for you.” Brocc took the papers and smiled. “Consider it done.”
It only took a few steps for him to realize that he had no clue where room 91 was. Brocc turned back to the brooding group and, with a smile, kindly asked for directions. Now that he had a destination in mind and a direction, Brocc set off to deliver the document.
The trip was quiet, mostly because the halls leading to room 91 were empty. It was during this walk that Brocc came to a startling realization.
That group of three co-workers hadn’t smiled back.
Under normal circumstances, someone might call him crazy for being hung up on a seemingly inconsequential detail like that. Maybe they hadn’t felt like smiling, that someone might say. But it was that exact point that stuck out to Brocc. In all his fourteen days working at Beet Co., not once had he seen someone not return a smile. There must really be something wrong if not even one of them had smiled. What’s more is that they hadn’t even smiled when Brocc came back to ask for directions after accepting the task that they said was bothering them. The more he thought about it the more certain he became: something besides the document’s delivery was bothering them, and they had hid that from him. That wouldn’t do. Brocc resolved to help them with whatever else it was that needed to be done for their meeting when he got back. For now, it was the document that needed attending to.
By now Brocc had reached room 91. The door was open and it was dark inside, but enough light came through from the windows behind him that it was easy enough to make out the long table in the center of the room. There didn’t seem to be anyone inside to take the document or any certain place to drop it off, so Brocc left it on the table and exited the room. It was time to find out what was really wrong with those co-workers.
Or so it would have been, if Brocc could find them. When he returned to where the three had been before, they were no longer there. He didn’t know their names, and they didn’t look familiar, either. After looking for a while, Brocc concluded that he wouldn’t be able to find them. His conclusion hadn’t helped to alleviate the feeling that something was wrong. Maybe work would distract him.
Something was wrong. Something was definitely wrong but he couldn’t figure out what. By the time the lunch break started, Brocc hadn’t accomplished much. He was going crazy trying to figure out what was going on with those people. There was one thing he was certain of: he had to find them. Instead of heading to the lunch room with the rest of his co-workers, Brocc had another place in mind. The only lead he had on those three was that document. They mentioned a meeting, so Brocc reasoned he could catch them setting up just before it started. With that idea, Brocc made his way to room 91.
Just as before, the walk was quiet, and the door was open. Unfortunately, the light was still off, and the document where he had left it – they must not have come by. Brocc sighed and began to walk away. But another thought came to mind. Brocc froze. Another possibility. Maybe the group wasn’t worried about something other than the document, but about the document itself. That seemed plausible.
He knew it wasn’t his business and he knew it could get him in trouble, but for the sake of helping his co-workers with their issue, Brocc went back into the room and picked up the document. He flipped through, trying to find some sort of clue, but most of the content went over Brocc’s head. Of everything he saw, there was only one thing he understood, and that one thing stood out more than anything.
It was on the final page, under subsection 333.7. A PEAR Inc. logo. Brocc was overcome with panic. What did this mean? Documentation signed by PEAR Inc.? Brocc had grown up hearing only rumors of them. It, too, was a technology company. Beet Co.’s main competitor – and enemy. Supposedly they existed solely to take down Beet Co., the very company that had influenced Brocc’s life so much. To find one of PEAR Inc.’s documents here was unthinkable. The only way such papers could have made their way into Beet Co.’s headquarters was if… Brocc didn’t even want to think it.
The door closed behind him. Brocc jumped, nearly dropping the papers, and slowly turned to see who was there. Ten of his co-workers surrounded him, blocking the only exit. The one in the center – the same one that had tasked him with delivering the document – spoke. “Hello. What could you be doing here? Is that the paper I entrusted you with? Why, you look white as a sheet. Surely you didn’t see something you shouldn’t have?” The – no, there was no denying it at this point – spies began to walk forward, closing in on Brocc.
Brocc’s mind was racing with questions he didn’t have the state of mind to ask. He fumbled his words around feebly, trying to say something, anything to smooth the situation over. But nothing came out. All he could do was inch back bit by bit in a futile attempt to stay away from his soon-to-be captors.
“It’s alright. We’ll take care of you, if you only join us in our recon on Beet Co.,” the one that must have been the leader said.
Brocc, who was by now nearly on top of the table, found his voice. “No! I work for Beet Co.! This job is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I won’t turn on it just like that!”
It was at this moment one member of the group spun his back to Brocc and gave the leader of the group a shove. The maverick produced a badge from his coat and showed it off to everyone in the room. “You’re under arrest, PEAR spies,” he yelled in a voice that commanded authority. “Come with me, quietly.”
Several of the spies’ expressions, which had been stoic a moment ago, instantly dropped into shock and fear. “A Peeler!” the leader cried. “Everyone, split!” With that command the ten left the room faster than Brocc thought humanly possible, falling over each other and causing a commotion.
The Peeler spoke into his coat then looked at Brocc. “You’re safe now. We have this under control. Continue your work and pretend this never happened.” He held his hand out. Brocc understood and handed the document to him. The man then ran from the room in pursuit of the spies, leaving the mystified Brocc O’Li alone in the empty room.
Spies! In Beet Co.! That PEAR Inc. played dirty, and Brocc didn’t like it one bit. It was just like he had heard so many years ago in his days as a Veggie Scout. And a Peeler! Every major corporation needed security and Beet Co. wasn’t an exception. He had always heard that the Peelers worked from the shadows, keeping their exploits unseen and unheard, so to see one up close was unthinkable. Knowing that they were on the case made Brocc feel better. He no longer had that nagging feeling now that he knew the group was just a bunch of spies up to no good. Beet Co. just wanted to make everyone’s lives interesting, entertaining, fun, meaningful. Brocc couldn’t fathom why someone would want to get in the way of the exemplar of society. Someone like that didn’t deserve his sympathy, and that went ten fold for PEAR Inc. It wouldn’t bother Brocc one bit to see those spies behind bars.
Lunch was over, the problem was solved, and Brocc’s head was clear. Brocc began his walk back to his cubicle, his mind at ease. It was midday now and everyone was returning to work. The office in its current state reminded him of the Veggie Scouts that morning. I wonder how their trip went, he thought absentmindedly to himself. Upon arriving to his workspace, Brocc found a package with his name on it. Inside were various bits and pieces of machinery and plastic. It would seem today’s excitement was not over yet.