I am behind! Holidays, I swear.
Prompt: A business meeting goes horribly wrong
Character: A burglar
Gerald jerked awake. The chiming of his email calendar mixed into the confused images of the bizarre dream. Something about a giraffe and a space alien, maybe there was some Japanese monster. It was already fading away into that vague mist that dreams come from. He could not shake the feeling that this was a dream he had had before.
Wait. Outlook calendar. Oh holy hell, he was at work. He was sleeping at work! He glanced around quickly, had anyone seen him? The steady drone of papers being shuffled and phones ringing continued on like normal. His face burning, hands tingling, and stomach roiling with adrenaline burn he tried to act natural as one of the barely college age interns scurried by on yet another “important” task made up by one of the higher ups to keeps her looking busy. He could never remember her name, or even if she was the same as last week.
“Jesus, Gerald, if you are over there, turn off that damned beeping!”
“Oh, sorry,” Gerald said meekly. “I was somewhere else I guess.” He clicked on the flashing box on his screen. He did not remember having a meeting today. He cautiously opened the appointment.
Final Planning Meeting – Nibiru Project
The title was a double blow and Gerald felt ice water fill his gut. Nibiru, wasn’t that from his dream? He struggled to remember what the name meant. He had a vague idea that it was some nut ball end of the world thing, but he did not know any details.
“I mean home, home, as in Nibiru.” Was that from the dream? Who had said it, that strange guy from the party? He wished he could remember, but he had bigger things to worry about, he had no idea what project this was or what his role in it was supposed to be. He was also already late. His hands were shaking so badly he could hardly control the mouse to look up the conference room. He also noticed the names attached to the notice. All the upper management and senior account managers were included. Briefly, he wondered if the nausea he felt rising in his gut could get him a reprieve, claim to have a bug, or food poisoning, but he knew that was hopeless. No one would believe him, he never got sick.
There was nothing to do, he grabbed a pen and a blank pad of paper and stood stiffly. It felt like he was walking to the gallows, not a business meeting. The hall stretched out forever in front of him, the generic grey carpet and tan walls looked like any other office in Middle America. He could hear his coworkers chattering away like nothing was wrong as he made his way to room N1615U. Gerald was not even sure where that was. Most of the rooms had names like Chameleon or Dalmatian. He scanned the little square nameplates next to each door, most of the conference rooms were along this hallway, but he was not seeing the name from the meeting notice.
Since when had this hallway been so long? It felt like he had been walking for at least 5 minutes and still the corridor stretched out before him. He could not hear any sounds from the closed rooms to either side of him too, only the faint humming of the overhead lights as he put one foot in front of the other, his heart beating wildly in his chest. He needed to find that conference room.
“Peacock…Lawyer….Giraffe…” Gerald read the names of the rooms. He had never heard of any of these, and he had started working at Premier Advertising three years ago. His head started to throb in time with his heartbeat and the hallway started to feel narrow and confined. He staggered and let his back come to rest against a door labeled Hippopotamus. Maybe he was having a heart attack, or even a stroke. He placed one hand on his clammy brow. This was insanity. He would just have to go back to his desk and ask Herschel to take him to the ER. The floor spun up to greet him and he found himself panting, head down, kneeling on the grey carpet. Maybe he would just call Herschel from a phone in one of these rooms. They could just send the EMTs to him in here. He would lie down on one of the giant cool tables in the peaceful dark room. They would take him to the hospital and he would tell them that Simon had drugged his beer and he did not know what it was.
Where had that thought come from? Who was Simon and why would he put drugs in Gerald’s beer? Probably a stroke, not a heart attack then. He heaved himself to his feet and staggered to the door across the hall. The handle felt almost cold under his sweating hand as it snicked open, letting the sound of voices drift out to him.
“Good of you to join us, Gerald.” The voice belonged to the senior account manager over his entire department. David was not a man to be crossed and here Gerald was, staggering in late to a meeting he knew nothing about, drenched in sweat and convinced he was having a stroke. He glanced at the name of the room. N1615U. A part of his brain suddenly supplied him with a tidbit of trivia he did not want. In his not hyperaware panicked state, he saw that the name of the room looked like NIBIRU.
“Sorry, sir,” Gerald stammered, sheepishly making his way into the now quiet room. He was acutely aware of his appearance and the fact that he had dropped his pen and paper out in the hall. It did not even occur to him to ask one of the dozen or so people sitting around the table to call for an ambulance. Somehow having a massive stroke seemed puny in the light of the assembled group.
“To recap,” David sounded as dry as ever. “We will not be able to give the client the presentation this afternoon since all of the files have been taken.”
“All of them?” Gerald was shocked to hear his own voice; he did not even know what this project was much less if there were any files to steal.
“Yes, all of them.” This was from Shelley, the IT manager. “They did not just break in to the highly confidential files; they actually removed any trace of them from the system. It is as if they never even existed.”
“How did you let this happen?” Gerald did not recognize the man speaking, but his silver hair and red power tie spoke of someone in a position of power.
“I cannot say,” Shelley was trying not to look scared, but she was failing. He almost felt bad for her, but after she came to his desk and pulled his cell phone charger out of the USB port in his computer and threw it away last month, he had little room for pity. He was not going to bring down the system with a phone charger connected to his computer. He still had not figured out how she even knew, he had plugged it in less than a minute before she appeared. “There is also no trace from the hacker. The files were confidential and stored on a computer not tied to the network. It was backed up manually every Friday evening at 7pm and the tapes kept in a locked cabinet in my office.”
“So we have the backups at least? So we can show the client something?” Another manager Gerald had never seen before.
“I wish that was the case,” Shelley said coldly. “The entire cabinet has been removed from my office as of this morning.”