"Overtime Shift" Chapter 1 By Thomas Stewart
I sat up in my bed. I looked over to see the clock reading 2:45 A.M. Grumbling, I began stumbling out of bed.
Why do they have to have my ass in this early? I wondered as I almost fell trying to make it to the door. I groped the light switch on and grabbed my gear.
Somehow, maybe out of some gut instinct or something, I just knew it was gonna be a long shift tonight. God, if only I'd have known how long...
Wrestling my half-asleep ass into my meta-suit, I made my way out of my bed chamber and into the den of my unit. I didn't bother turning on the light of the den as I went straight for the stove. I had about ten minutes before having to gun it down to the hub reporting for duty so I put on a fresh pot of coffee. The stuff was standard Monolith brew, therefore I knew it was gonna taste like absolute shit, but it was that or nothing, having no time to try running to any of the cafes in the west wing. At least it had enough of a kick to it.
Five minutes later and I'd downed half the pot with one of the scones I'd somehow managed to hold onto-- scones have always been my favorite snack, and I've been known to go through almost half a batch in the span of a few minutes. After that, I took a deep breath and headed out of my unit and down the tunnel down to the main hub.
I guess the first thing I should say felt "off" was the fact that the corridor was quiet. On any other day, these corridors would sound like a train station or a public intersection, alive with chatter and footsteps and other noise. Not here, though, not now. No, the only sounds other than my footsteps was the buzz of fluorescent lighting. Then again, like I said, it was earlier than usual, so I chalked it up to everyone else being fortunate enough to enjoy their usual extra hour of fuckin' sleep and kept on going.
The buzzing lasted all the way to the main hub where, again, uncharacteristically, no one was there. Not even the headmaster, who prided himself on his "punctuality", was nowhere to be seen. I stood there for a moment and checked my phone again, making sure I had the date and time correct for the "special overtime shift" he and one or two of the other gorillas in the holding area told me about. Sure enough, I had it right: 3:00 sharp in the main hub.
I glanced around one last time before turning around. I was just about to cross the threshold back into the hallway when the headmaster's voice shouted at me from across the hall. "Where're you going, Weiss?" I froze, cringing a bit.
Damn, just when I thought I'd get some fuckin' sleep tonight...
I turned around to see him standing in the opening of the other side of the hub. "Glad to see you up and moving. So much for that whole "Like hell I'm gonna be up that early" speech, huh?" I said nothing while he just stared at me with that snarky ass grin he'd always regarded me with since I first came onto the site. It's no joke to say that sometimes I'd have wet dreams of smashing this fucker's face into the pavement while he wore this exact face. Happy thoughts, right?
"Look, I'm here, what am I here for?"
"You mean besides the fat bonus?" I rolled my eyes. How easy it would've been to act out aforementioned fantasies right now.
I didn't, obviously, but seriously, I was close.
I looked around the room and asked, "So who else did you "convince" to get out of bed at the most inhuman hour, or was this just your way of punking me?"
He pointed up, chuckling, and replied, "The others are where I need them to be. You, however, I need here."
"You sure ask a lot of questions for someone who's worked here for better than five years now."
"Okay, well forgive me that in five years, I've never been randomly asked to roll out of bed almost two hours before I was supposed to report for work anyway, with no explanation given as to why."
"In any case," he said dismissively, shooting me a small glare, "You've been selected for a special assignment." I frowned. "What, don't you just feel special?"
"Special assignment?" I asked stupidly. "What's that supposed to me--"
"Just..." He held up his hand, silencing me. "Follow me and everything will be explained, capisce?" He turned around then and began walking down the hall. For a second, I stood still. My stomach was already feeling queasy for some reason because of this. What was this "special assignment"?
I was once again about to turn around and head back myself in the direction I came from when I heard the jackass clear his throat obnoxiously loud. Once again, so fucking close to getting out of this. I hurried to catch up with him down the hallway.
This hallway, unlike the one I'd come from, the housing and storage hall, didn't have fluorescent lighting, surprising enough. I'd always found it funny in a way how we employees would have better lighting in our passage than the higher ups. Who was I to ask questions, though? Apparently nobody, according to headmaster fuckface. No, instead all we had to light our path were these tiny gas lamps that hung about three or four feet apart from each other and whose light was, at best, comparable to a kid's toy flashlight.
"Tell me something, Weiss," prompted the headmaster, "How good are you at finding something?" I looked at him, frowning.
"How do you mean?"
"I mean exactly what I said: how good are you at searching for something?"
'I-I mean... I wouldn't exactly call myself Sherlock Holmes, but I'd say that I'm--"
"Nevermind," he groaned, sighing. "A simple question, Weiss, all I needed was a "Yeah, I'm good at it" or a "No, I'd lose my head if it weren't attached'." I don't think he could see it, but I turned and glared at him. I looked ahead down the hallway. I don't know if it was the lack of lighting or if the hallway really was just that long, but I seriously thought I had been and was going to continue to walk down this hallway, with this asshole, for eternity.
Finally, thankfully, we did stop in front of a room with about a thousand of these aquarium looking tanks. Inside of each one were these weird, disgusting looking amoeba type things. They floated in this weird, bubbling blue stuff. The whole thing, you can imagine, looked a lot like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.
"What the hell is all this?" I asked.
"Our latest pet project." he said in an obviously dismissive tone. I was about to make the mistake of pressing for more information, only to think better of it immediately. "Your 'mission', if you will," he winked at me and added, "is to find that one," he pointed to the far end of the room, "and bring it back."
I followed his finger to see the only tank in the room that was empty. "Think you can handle that, Weiss?"
"You mean like a retrieval? Standard procedure?"
"Not exactly." I frowned.
"What do you mean?"
"Again with the questions, Jesus..."
"Okay, fine, just tell me this, do I have to bring it back dead or alive?" His eyes went big, like I'd just asked him to jump off the roof of the facility with me.
"Alive, obviously! Christ, no wonder you're part of the cleaner crew. The only way gorillas like you could get work in this place, right?"
Suppress the urge to break his fuckin' face...
He turned then toward the last tank, the empty one, and said, “You think you can handle that without screwing us?”
“Sure.” I said stoutly. He turned back toward me and pushed past me toward the front of the lab. He reached into the desk and started rifling through papers. He pulled out one and flipped it over. “Here’s a diagram of the specimen and a detailed list of all its capabilities, hazards, and whatnot.”
He thrust it in my chest while brushing past me again out of the room. I followed behind him, looking over the document. The organism itself was drawn to look pretty much like the rest of the critters I saw in the tanks: weird amoebas with wriggling tendrils.
I flipped it over to where it mentioned the “hazards” the headmaster talked about. My eyes immediately went to searching for where it listed any kind of real bad shit this thing could potentially bust outn on me-- and boy did I not have to wait long.
“Can infest and multiply inside a host?!” I almost shouted. I ran to get in front of him, a look of shock plastered all over my face. His face however remained snidley bemused.
“What, too scary for ya, Weiss?”
“Scary, hell! You’re sending me out against the real life fucker from The Thing, and you’re talking about “too scary”?”
“Well if you’re not up to it, then--”
“Alright, alright, look, I’m game, just tell me one thing.” He rolled his eyes. “Do you know if this thing’s come in contact with anybody already?” He snickered.
“Again, no wonder you’re on security, Weiss. How do you think this “real life fucker” got out?” He chuckled as he turned away and left, leaving me standing in the middle of the hallway alone. I looked back at the diagram.
Great, so I wouldn’t even know what this thing is AND it’s already nested itself in some poor bastard. AND I don’t even know who.
Yeah… DEFINITELY worth the O.T. pay…
I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit. Nothing about this was funny, obviously, but in a morbid sense, maybe it was. Had to find some way to enjoy myself while I played the world’s dumbest game of “Where’s Waldo”.
Folding the paper up, I walked back down the hallway toward the mess hall. I checked my watch: 3:05 A.M. From a few of the branching corridors, I could hear footsteps trampling down and milling in. Steel Jockeys-- Monolith’s self-appointed nickname for the industrial and machinery workers-- always comin’ in hot for their fill of the early bird pickin’s of the gray slop and milk they call “Breakfast of Champions”.
I decided to start there for two reasons. The first is, despite what I just said about the food, I was hungry as hell and, like the coffee, it still gets the job done, more or less. Can’t go on a manhunt on an empty stomach, right? The second, though, is that I figured maybe one of these idiots might actually have some sort of lead. Maybe one or two of them had seen something or heard about one or two of their coworkers seeming “off” a bit lately.
I entered the mess hall and started scanning the room, looking for the supervisor. About five, ten seconds later, I found him, standing around at the front end of the line, watching the chain gang of the Steel Jockeys file into the meal line to collect their breakfast. I have to say real quick that, looking back, this always amused me in a fucked up sort of way; just how much our lives as Monolith employees compared to those of prisoners in the state penitentiaries.
The security team was like this too, a supervisor watching over us while we ate, like any of us were just seconds away from shanking one of our coworkers or something. Well… okay, that might be somewhat likely with the Steel Jockeys-- those guys were kind of like marine-level crayon munchers, if you catch my drift. Anyway, I walked up to the supervisor, who didn’t seem much like he was actually watching them at all, but more like he was staring at the wall behind them.
“Morning there, sir.” I greeted in my most relaxed voice possible. His eyes just sort of fell onto me. Even looking me dead in my eyes, I could tell he wasn’t actually aware of my presence. He had bags under his eyes that looked to be big enough to serve as my dresser drawer back in my unit. I cleared my throat and began again.
“So listen, I’ve been told one or two of your team have been acting a little…” I passed a glance back at the procession, “Strange lately.” I turned back to him and asked, “Has anyone said anything to you about it?”
His dead eyes followed my example of looking to the line into the kitchen and he shook his head limply. My eyes narrowed at him. “You sure?” He nodded and turned his attention back toward the line. I knew any further conversation with this washed up goat was pointless, so I switched gears and hopped to the back of the line.
The line of workers were chatty as usual, though maybe a bit more hushed than usual. I say “maybe” as I’ve seldom been awake during this time. Once or twice, I’d be up with the chickens, but for the most part, I’d still be asleep at this hour.
I went through the line, getting a couple confused stares from the kitchen staff as I collected my tray, but otherwise going largely unnoticed by the others. I sat down at a table with about two or three others and decided to ask one of them, see if maybe they’d speak up. Supervisor’s don’t always catch everything, right?
“Hey so, I’ve heard rumors about one or two of the others have been acting kinda crazy lately. What’s the chances any of you have heard anything about it?” They looked at each other for a moment before looking back at me, cocking their eyebrows.
“Crazy, huh?” One of them asked. “How you mean?”
“Well, you know, not all there.” They looked at each other again.
“And just who’re you hearin’ this from?” asked another.
“I didn’t catch any names.”
“Hey, and aren’t you one of them security folks?” asked the first. I nodded.
“What the hell’re you doin’ up this early?” asked the last one.
“The headmaster wanted me to investigate strange behaviors in the facility, and I thought I’d start with you guys.”
“The headmaster? The hell’s he doin’ sniffin’ us out for?”
“Look, I don’t know. Shit, if it weren’t for his commands, I wouldn’t even be here. I’d be in bed still, like you said.”
“Well as far as anyone “acting crazy”, no, we haven’t seen or heard nothin’ about it.” And with that, they went back to finishing their food. I just sat and picked at mine until the buzzer rang, signaling the beginning of the shift for the Steel Jockeys.
About two minutes later and the cafeteria was cleared out, leaving me sitting alone, pondering where and/or who to try next. Eventually, my fellow “gorillas”, using the headmaster’s own slang, began filing into the cafeteria. Instead of approaching anyone here, I decided to let a few of my buddies join the table I was at.
“Wiess-meister, what the hell’re you doing here this early?” shouted Craig. I rolled my eyes. He just had to always be a loudmouth.
“Headmaster’s pegged me his errand boy today.” He barked his obnoxiously loud cackle before sitting down across from me along with Holton and Vankowski.
“So what is it?” asked Vankowski.
“The errand, what’s up?”
“He got you spying on the maintenence crew?” joked Craig.
I shot him a “really dude?” look and said, “No, not particularly.” Admittedly, that did actually spur the idea though to check the maintenence crew next if no one from my group knew anything. Makes sense that if this thing was to latch itself onto anyone first, it’d be the fuckers that are the most secluded bunch; always working in the tunnel passages and the only other ones other than the lab rats themselves with direct authorization codes into the labs to begin with.
“No, he’s just wanting me to check for anyone acting suspicious lately.”
“Wow, he gets you to look for “suspicious people”. Define the word “ironic” for me again, Holt?” Craig laughed while I smirked, flipping him both barrels.
“What’s got him spurred like that?” asked Vankowski. I shrugged my shoulders. These guys were brothers to me, and I didn’t like lying to anyone in general-- even less when it was just for the headmaster’s behalf-- but I wasn’t sure of the shitshow I’d be in if I spilled all the beans here, plus, I wasn’t looking to incite a facility-wide panic.
“Typical,” Craig chimed, “Wakes your ass up at the most inhuman hour of the night for an assignment he gives you no details for.” He barked another laugh at this and this time, I couldn’t resist a snicker myself. Even with what I did know that I wasn’t telling them, he still wasn’t wrong here. That’s a good friend for you: knows when you’re in it waist deep, even with little or no real context at all and doesn’t press too hard for details.
Vankowski wasn’t quite as receptive of this. He didn’t say anything, but I could tell from the alarmed look he had plastered on his face at me for about the next five or six minutes straight, he wanted to, bad. “Well, at least the payout’ll be worth it, right, bud?” asked Holton.
I gave him the same look I gave Craig a second ago and he snickered. “Nevermind.”
“Dude, I don’t know why you even agreed to this, I mean, hell, if you were just looking to clock some extra time in, I could’ve let you cover for me.” He gave me a hard clap on the back. I chuckled. “I bet Vankowski would’ve been willing to donate some time, too, I mean look at him.”
He pointed both hands at Vankowski, who strangely hadn’t up to that point, diverted his alarmed gaze from me once, nor had his face at all shifted in any visible way. I’m pretty sure he hadn’t even blinked the whole time, either. “Man’s so tired he’s got the thousand-yard stare.”
I looked back at Vankowski, almost feeling like I was falling into a deep, dark hole just from looking directly into his eyes. I frowned.
Ironic, isn’t it? I mention how I was the one unwilling to share everything, yet now, here was Francis Vankowski, staring daggers at me at the table like he’d both seen God and understood the secrets of life or some shit. As such, though I wanted to ask, I thought better of it and kept my mouth shut.
This little staring match lasted another minute or so before I realized there was only going to be another couple minutes left of breakfast before we, too, had to disperse for the day and redirected my attention back to Craig and Holton. “Well, in any case, is there any chance any of you dumbasses have seen or heard anything around the place here?”
“Nothin’ on my end.” Holton answered almost immediately. “Craig?” He shook his head and he turned to Vankowski. “Vankowski?”
Still, he didn’t move. His eyes wouldn’t leave me. He was a statue and it was in that moment that I realized his body wasn’t even moving either, not even to breathe. Me and the other two exchanged a worried look amongst ourselves before turning back to Vankowski.
“Yo, earth to Vankowski.” piped Craig, waving his hand in front of his face. “Anyone home in there?”
Craig leaned in close to his face, squinting as he got closer. “Vankowski, you good, man, you’re starting to--”
Before he could get another word out, Vankowski collapsed face first into his food tray. The three of us all leaned back like he was about to explode or something before Craig leaned forward again to shake him. “Vankowski, hey man, you good?”
He didn’t move. His body was a brick. Me and Holton went to turn him over and when we did, the both of us just about lost our stomachs.
His eyes looked like two bricks of coal embedded in their sockets and a small, steady stream of this black, tar looking discharge ran down the sides of his mouth. That was when Holton started doing CPR on him while myself and Craig ran to get the supervisor and/or medical staff. The supervisor, hearing my jibbered out version of events, came and saw Vankowski for himself and almost vomited himself.
Immediately, an evac order was called to clear the mess hall. Medical staff flooded in about two or three minutes later, followed with a hazmat crew. Everyone present was then escorted to the quarantine, where each and every one of us were poked and prodded thoroughly with all manner of needles and/or other instruments in various places (I’m not going into specifics-- use your imagination), until eventually clearing us to leave about two and a half hours later.
This entire time, one question played on repeat: what the hell was that, and what has it done to my buddy? My first answer was “maybe it was somethin’ he ate”. Like I said, the food was absolute shit, and though I’ve never personally been back behind the kitchen to see for myself, I’ve always had a feeling the health inspector would’ve had a field day if HE decided to pay a visit back there.
It wasn’t a strong theory, but it was the best I had and the best I’d come up with at that moment because I frankly was still too focused on the objective of finding the missing critter. Plus, it hit me only a minute or two later that I actually happened to know that one of the kitchen staff, Verner, I think his name was-- keep in mind, different departments here don’t usually get much of a chance to fraternize or get to know one another-- also worked on the maintenance crew. An almost perfect coincidence, right?
Well, “coincidence” or not, it managed to line up well with my plan to lean on the maintenance crew, so I made my way down to the tunnel ways where they move throughout the facility. Only about 15 minutes in, I ran into the supervisor for the maintenance crew. “Excuse me,” I called out to him.
He turned around and frowned. “The hell? Who’re you?”
“Name’s Weiss. The headmaster’s sent me to investigate the maintenance crew.” I won’t lie here, I kind of anticipated his reaction to this, almost to a T. He stared in confusion for about another minute or two before throwing his head back, belly laughing.
“You serious?” he asked. I didn’t answer, keeping my face as stone cold as possible. “That pompous sombitch wants to go pokin’ his bird-beak nose down here? Christ on a crutch.” He shook his head and asked if I’d been told why. Like earlier, I feigned ignorance.
“So he, in all his “divine wisdom”, decided to con a gorilla into bein’ his little personal snoopy-pants, and doesn’t tell you a single thing? I mean, I know he’s secretive as fuck, but come o--”
I cut him off, “Look man, I don’t exactly relish being his “Personal snoopy-pants”, either, okay? Personally, I’d have liked the usual extra hour or two of sleep, but he’s paying good for it, so…” I moved my hands back and forth. He cocked his eyebrows at me for a moment, moving his eyes up and down, examining me, before chuckling.
“Yep, sounds ‘bout right.” he said, “Wave enough bananas in front of a monkey’s face and he’ll do anything, won’t he?”
“Sure, and keep the fuckin’ rats down where it’s dark and smells the most like shit, am I right?” I waved my hands around to encompass the corridor. His demeanor changed almost instantly, dropping his laid back smile and shifting into an ice cold glare, looking at me almost the same way a vietnam vet would after asking him to describe his time in the field.
In case it hasn’t caught on, around here, we have our own nicknames for the different departments. The mechanics and/or assembly line workers were the Steel Jockeys. The eggheads in the Chem labs were the Lab Rats. Then there’s the Gorillas like me, the security team, and finally, there’s the Sewer rats on the maintenance crew. Thing was, with all the others, the people within that department understood their nicknames to be a joke, or at least a playfully backhanded compliment. Not the Sewer rats, though.
I could fill a book with stories of dipshits in the facility who were stupid enough to call one of ‘em that to their faces, and promptly ended up in traction for the next three weeks to a month. He raised his finger to my face, pointing directly between my eyes, and said in a gravelly voice, “You best watch your damn mouth, son.”
My hands clenched. My teeth bared. I knew how to fight, obviously. While I was pretty sure I could take him, what the hell would it solve? I was there to investigate a possible contagion, not start shit. If I was gonna get any results, I had to switch gears real quick.
I put up my hands, bowing my head. “Alright, alright, you win, chief. Just, if you can tell me where I can find Verner, and I’ll be on my way.” He narrowed his eyes at me. My body began shaking from the tension. From the guy’s stare, I could tell that it was taking everything in him to not just jump me right then and there.
Finally, he nodded and sighed, waving for me to follow. “Map’s over here, uh…”
“Weiss.” I finished. I followed him over to a giant map that was framed against the wall with two dim electric lamps besetting it on either side. He leaned forward and squinted.
“Alright, you said you were looking for Verner, right?”
“Let’s see.” He pointed to a section close to the far corner of the map and said, “I think I have him workin’ up ‘ere in Sector E6 today, workin’--
“Ventilation.” The word jumped from my mouth with no warning at all. Being honest, I half expected him to tell me I was wrong and that it was the plumbing or electrical system or something, but no.
“Well, lookee here,” he remarked, “Looks like this gorilla’s got a little rat in him after all, don’t he?” I clenched my jaws and he went back to examining the map. “Anyway, yeah, he’s workin’ the vents today. Go knock yourself out. I’d offer to give ya a map, but it looks like you know everything anyway, don’t ya?”
I didn’t give this motherfucker the satisfaction of an answer-- though in truth, yeah, a map would’ve been nice-- instead just nodding and making my way down the tunnel. I didn’t make it past my 20th step before I realized I’d never find where I was going without any kind of flashlight. This was my own fault, of course. I mean, me and the others often joked these assholes could “see in the dark” to move around this place-- hence their nickname; Sewer Rats.
I looked back, seeing the supervisor still standing there, glaring daggers at me. I think he was thinking the same thing, considering the ever so sly smirk I swear I saw part the corner of his mouth. Well, I had two options then, go back and grovel for a flashlight or continue on blind. Now, I can guess which one you picked, right? You’re probably thinking I flipped the son of a bitch off and ran off into the darkness, maybe developing some sort of sonar or some shit, maybe, right?
Well… No. No, that’s not what happened. I actually chose the latter. Look, sometimes in life, you have to swallow your pride down.
Surprisingly, the fat bastard was an equally good sport about it, in his own way at least. By this I mean that he didn’t gloat or take potshots, or anything like that. The most he did was widen his little grin a bit more while thrusting one of those tunnel flashlights in my chest. I put on my biggest poker grin, clenching my teeth to the point that they were grinding into each other, and nodded.
I went out again to find the guy. I found the end of the hallway splitting into a two-way cross. For a moment, I stopped and closed my eyes to try and remember where on the map I thought I’d seen the ventilation sector-- not an easy thing to do, considering I barely got a look at the damn thing in the first place. Eventually, I took a chance and went left. From there, I walked about another forty-something odd paces until coming up on a four-way intersection that branched off diagonally from each other.
Now I was stuck. Choosing left or right was one thing, but now, it was left, right, or either of the two in between. And better still-- I didn’t even remember seeing those, or anything like that on the map earlier.
I had to utilize the tried and true method of “eenie-meenie-minie-moe” to choose this time. It ended up landing on one of the in-between ones. This one ended at a left turn into this far more cramped as all hell tunnel junction whose walls that pressed both my front and back while I slid along. Good news, though, was that from up ahead, I could feel a steady current of cool air blowing down the junction.
At least I was on the right path.
The air grew chillier the further down I went. This tunnel led to another four-way intersection. The good news was this time, it was simply a matter of following the cool air current down through the tunnel on the right. The bad news, this tunnel had to have been the most claustrophobic of all the ones down here in the maintenance tunnels-- probably the entire facility.
To put it in a bit better perspective, the damn thing was not only bear hugging me while I shimmied my skinny ass through, but I also had to duck and slouch while I was doing so. And as if that weren’t bad enough, this wasn’t exactly a short tunnel, either. It felt like the other end was stretching further and further away from me the closer I tried to get to it.
It was also hard for me to even see the end of it, thanks to the fact that this was also the darkest tunnel as well, AND it was a pain in the ass for me to hold the flashlight while trying to push myself along the walls. I made it about halfway down when I stopped, hearing what sounded like something scuttling across the floor.
With my nerves already being shot all to hell from being pressed against the walls so damn much (I’ve always struggled with claustrophobia myself), my body seized up and I ended up dropping the flashlight. The light showed dimly on the bottom of the wall in front of me. There wasn’t anything in front of me, so I turned to look behind.
Behind me was not but a wall of black. I couldn’t see even an inch away from where I was standing. I craned my neck to try and listen again. I could still hear it, whatever it was. Its little scuttles raced across the floor, coming straight for me. For those next five seconds, my heartbeat almost synced up perfectly with every other pitter-patter across the floor...
TO BE CONTINUED...