The plate that hung over the entrance to the place read SECURITY CONTROL, but she had always called it the guard room.
When she inherited the position, the place had been a disaster. The previous controller was a slob. The cleaning personnel did not have entrance clearance, so any mess made remained until it moldered into disgusting trash. There had been drifts of empty take-out food boxes in each of the room’s four corners, and piles of empty sauce packets and used plastic utensils covered every surface. It took her three shifts to discover the cot, buried under a mountain of dirty clothing. Apparently, her predecessor had often received his mail at work, which must have been fun for the delivery people. Descending into the facility’s bottommost sub-basement took ten full minutes by express elevator and required two full body scans.
The place was pristine now. When the food stains would not scrub out of the desk, she ordered a new one and the company responded quickly. The old desk was a heavy oaken number that might have been worth a fair amount on the antique market. She wondered what happened to it, whether someone restored it and got its actual value, or if the company discarded it in an office supply graveyard. The new desk was a monolithic piece of transparent plastic. It glowed pale blue when she sat at it, inbuilt proximity sensors recognizing her biological signature. She kept the old leather chair. A tacky bead cover, the kind that long-haul truckers used, had protected it from the filth. It was a comfortable seat, and she enjoyed passing the hours of her shifts in it.
The cot also did not require a replacement, and it looked unused. She often napped on it, where she would read from old paperbacks and fall asleep with them open on her chest. The company allowed up to three fifteen-minute rest breaks per twelve-hour shift, and she always took them. Sometimes the swiveling whine of the in-room surveillance camera woke her, but she had mostly become accustomed to it.
The room got colder once she cleared all the trash, so she ordered a little space heater. The blank bunker walls of the place radiated a chill, so she also ordered a layer of insulating paint. The company did it on a weekend, and when she arrived the following Monday, there was not even a whiff of chemicals in the air, only clean, grey walls. She kicked herself for not specifying a color, but like the drone of the camera the drabness was simply one more thing to get used to, just another part of the job.
And what a job it was! Twelve-hour shifts, five days a week, deep in the bowels of one of the largest medical research centers in the world. Her responsibilities consisted of showing up on time and making sure the recording equipment was functioning. That was it. If anything unusual ever appeared on any of her two dozen monitors she was to immediately call her supervisors, then double check that the incident was being recorded. When the company first explained the job, she had imagined paying close attention to a whole bank of screens, vigilantly watching for any discrepancies in regular activity. The reality had been the opposite: of the twenty-four camera panels, only one turned on, and it was connected to the camera just outside the guard room. It displayed a short hallway that ended in a massive vault door. The elevator doors that led to the surface sat against the north wall, and opposite these was an opening that led to a meager kitchenette and toilet.
“Are you sure this is right? Shouldn’t I see more than that?” she asked her supervisor over the telephone the first night.
“Monitor one is showing a clear picture?” asked a tired voice.
“Then that’s all you need to concern yourself with. If you see anything unusual, call me immediately.”
If that was the job, she thought, she could just leave the door to the guard room open and watch the scene from the comfort of the cot. But she did not complain. The money was good for how little effort was involved. And besides, she was getting paid to read her books and that was fine by her.
That was, at least, until the night of the incident.
2015.03.05 – 2023.09.29