There was this lady in our office who always felt that the IT equipment was out to get her. Obviously we knew that she just sucked at using it. She wasn’t one of the guys who picked up the mouse and tried to tap it against the monitor, she just had that uncanny knack of clicking on things without even noticing that she’d done so, and then expected the helpdesk gang to be able to figure out what arcane set of commands she’d given her now weeping computer. We never expected that she’d be literally correct.
It had been a weird few months, filled with corporate takeover, endless updates and migration of both data and physical assets to a new location. The offices seemed fine, if a little too clean and shiny to those of us who had grown used to the grey tint that everything had taken on in the old place. Still, fresh start and all that. We’d spent much of a week crawling about, making sure all the right cables were in place, laying the ethernet properly. All according to the new spec supplied by management. That was the only time the place seemed especially strange. The building was laid out in a pentagon, with offices and meeting rooms around the outside and a larger conference centre in the dead middle of the lot. Made it a real pain in the arse to lay cable all around that conference room rather than just going straight through it. Still, needs must when the devil drives (a few of us were a tiny bit cynical about the takeover). Anyway, we go it all laid in – really nice quality cabling actually, all supplied by the new bosses. Heavy, high grade stuff. We threaded that building really well.
Folks moved into the offices just a couple of days after we finished, and immediately got down to the important business of insisting we’d placed the filing cabinets full of their junk in the wrong offices, exploring the new array of complimentary coffees and teas and angling half-dead plants to whatever sliver of daylight they could achieve in the new layout. That last may have been the first properly strange thing we did notice: they grew really well. It didn’t matter where the plant was, or even if it was near a window – the damn things sprouted like we were drenching them in BabyBio every night. Keeping them trimmed became a preoccupation for the building manager, though he didn’t go so far as demanding people actually got rid of them. That would have been as bad as making us all swap our own mugs for some awful corporate logo thing in an eye-bleeding shade of purple. So – odd, but not that strange.
Anyone who stayed beyond normal working hours – in at eight, out by six was the plan – reported that they thought they were being haunted or something. After everyone else had left they’d have this sense of rising anxiety that crashed over them and past them only to strike them again a half hour later, like a wave rolling round the building. Only the truly devoted workaholics (or human resources sociopaths) managed to get past that, though even the HR people said they found it unsettling. I just took it as an excellent additional reason not to work beyond our hours.
Then came the meteor shower. It had been heavily foreshadowed in the international press. Earth got a bunch of showers every year, but this was a special one that our orbit only wandered into every few thousand years. Even better, it wasn’t one of those you’d have to stay up until three in the morning in the Orkneys to watch. This was big and bright enough to be visible in daylight. Rather brilliantly, the new owners were excited about it too, and had arranged for everyone to meet up in the conference centre at the heart of the pentagon to watch it after lunch. Again, weird, but the three-line whip made it an inevitability that we could just shrug off. So we gathered in the rather nice chairs that no one saw in the rest of the building. They’d been arranged like the petals of a flower, so we were all facing the middle of the room. There was a proper big “ooh” when the false ceiling slid out of the way to reveal it was fully glass-roofed atrium and we were going to get a cracking view of the meteor shower. When it started it was just the odd bright shape flaring across the sky, but soon it was like being in the middle of a rainbow on fire – countless scraps of rock immolated by our atmosphere. It was kind of hypnotic, and each streak of light had a feeling associated with it, a constant rush of excitement and energy – you could almost hear them whooshing past. The excitement rose, and kept rising until the meteor show began to fade and the ceiling panels slid back into place. We went back to our offices, somewhat mindblown, but grateful for the interlude.
I felt a lightness I hadn’t felt for, well, ever. It was rather euphoric but I put it down to a combination of the very comfortable chairs, the light show and a little too much complimentary coffee. I struggled to sit down and get back to work, so instead I got tinkering with an old project to scan in a bunch of old documents for archiving which would eventually let us shred about a hundred reams of paperwork. It was while I argued with the damned twain drivers that I first became aware that something was wrong. I’d gone into a little room where they’d dumped all the paperwork, along with the huge photocopier-scanning machine and was tapping away as usual, when my laptop snapped shut, narrowly missing my fingertips. Odd. I pried it back open, thinking the hinge had broken or something when it did it again, closing so tight on my left ring and index fingers that I shouted out loud. Couldn’t get the damn thing off. That’s when I noticed the power cable snaking around my lower leg. I jerked backwards out of its way but failed to spot the RJ45 cable that had crawled up out between the carpet tiles and stretched out behind my knees. I went down hard, the laptop smacking me in the face as my fingers finally came loose, minus the last joint of my ring finger. The laptop flipped half-open on my chest, the bloody finger segment lying in the middle of the keyboard. I began to reach for it, still confused, when the keys started popping up like fangs. I wriggled backwards, over the cables and bumped into the door. That’s when the photocopier lunged at me. It was one of those massive things the size of a sofa and it reared up, printer trays and doors flapping open at me. I just scrambled to my feet and got through the door as it slammed into the other side, safety glass punching straight out of the frame.
In shock, I kept staggering back till I bumped into the wall. Then I took stock of my surroundings, and how much screaming there was. Down the corridor to my left a guy in shirtsleeves lay motionless in a pool of water underneath a water cooler which battered him repeatedly with its water bottle. To my right a tangle of wires held a man and woman in a web that stretched between the walls, while a pack of desk telephones tossed their handsets viciously at their faces. I figured the water cooler side was my best bet and I set off at a run, evading a jet of water from the cooler that punched a hole in the wall behind me. As I ran, ceiling and floor tiles popped up and fell everywhere as the cabling concealed under and over them came to life and lashed at me. The way ahead was completely blocked by a pair of women fighting another one of the giant photocopiers. I jerked to a halt as it coughed out a choking cloud of multicoloured laser printer toner into their faces, and followed up their sudden blindness by grabbing one with its flip up lid and battering them against the glass. I’d reached one of the doors that led into the atrium, and yanked it open. No cables in here… it was empty of people, and the chairs that had held us while we watched the meteors earlier were still laid out, and the ceiling had opened again. The meteor shower continued, and I noticed the distinct pentagram formed by the panes of glass, and how it was reflected in the layout of the chairs. It seemed like the meteors were coming straight down now, their light and power being directly absorbed by the pentagram above. I could feel it again, that thrumming euphoria, despite having just had a photocopier try to kill me.
Blood started seeping under the door I’d come in, and it was soon joined by a veritable flood that came under the other doors around the edge of the atrium. I got up on a chair as the blood flowed into the middle of the room, drawn into lines around the pentagram. There was only one way to go: up. I scaled the wall clumsily, feet slipping on frames and hints of railing until I was directly under the glass, feeling every seeming impact of the meteors in my bones. I hung three storeys over the bloody floor, which had filled up implausibly – the chairs were consumed by the crimson mass. Surely that was more blood than could possibly have been contained in the bodies of my colleagues. The windows in the roof, thank god, had regular catches and I awkwardly lunged out and pulled one open, then scrambled up and through, certain that the glass would shatter beneath me and I’d fall into that deepening pool of blood below.
I made it out onto the roof as the fusillade of meteoric light and sound continued. The sky was on fire, and so was the city. Everywhere I looked, fires were erupting, smoke obscured the meteor shower and the sound of sirens and screaming filled the streets. In the burning sky a vast figure loomed into the atmosphere, its outline starkly aflame… I guess I hadn’t escaped after all.