In honor of the Ides of March and the launch into spring, the prompt for March’s flash fiction contest at SFFWorld was “the shift.” We were given plenty of leeway in interpreting that theme, but I decided to go the literal route. The incredibly literal route, with the story of one man’s shift at work. Only his job is equal parts James Bond and Marvel Comics, with a liberal dose of Austin Powers thrown in. Not just another day at the office.
He stared down glumly at his time card. “Why are we still using time clocks?”
His friend shrugged. “How should I know?” A long line of men snaked out behind them.
“All this technology,” he said as he punched his card, “but Payroll can’t move out of the 19th century?”
“R&D gets the big bucks. Gotta make up for it somewhere.”
“I suppose. Just doesn’t seem like it gets your shift off on the right foot, you know?”
“Like you don’t have enough to worry about in a day. Beers after work?”
“Sure.” He gave an absent-minded wave as his friend headed off. Around him, everyone was scurrying to their posts, identical yellow jumpsuits dashing about. He did the same: up a flight of stairs, through two mammoth automated pressure locks, down a fireman’s pole whose presence and inefficiency consistently baffled him, and finally through a code-secured door whose code changed hourly via a complex logarithmic sequence.
With that, 037StrokeZ sat down at this console in Auxiliary Menacing Light and Sound Junction 00129 and began his shift.
There was a new hire sitting next to him. 037StrokeZ could tell by the way he moved restlessly in his seat, his visored head moving back and forth to take in the myriad dials and readouts before him. He glanced over expectantly, but 037StrokeZ kept his gaze focused on the large monitor displaying a spinning, stylized letter A pinching a globe between its legs, the same logo they all had emblazoned on their chests. As the clock ticked over to precisely 9:00, the logo faded, replaced by the image of a bald, goateed man with furrowed eyebrows like two caterpillars.
“This shall be a great day for our cause!” His voice boomed out from a set of speakers set high on the wall, and echoed through other speakers throughout the complex. “For today, we shall once again clash with the forces of those who would oppose us. Only this time, we shall triumph! We, the Anonymous Covert Ranks Of Nameless Yellow Men!”
“Wait, our acronym is actually ACRONYM?” The rookie had barely finished the question before the floor beneath his chair opened up and he fell into a red glow far below. Two wisps of smoke twined upward as the portal irised shut.
“Go now, my minions!” the looming head continued. “Go forth and fulfill your destiny! And my glory!”
“Hail Von Sinister!” he said with just the required amount of enthusiasm as the spinning logo returned. He heard a few distant screams as some of his co-workers failed to muster the proper tone of respect and admiration, but the portal beneath his chair didn’t so much as twitch. He typed in a code on the keyboard, turned a key on the console, sat back, and waited.
Of course the assault came while he ate lunch. The claxons blared to life as he took his first bite of the BLT Maggie always made for him on Tuesdays. “Bacon Lettuce Tuesday,” she called it in her perky, chirpy voice. And she could make a mean BLT.
From the monitors, it was clear that ACRONYM’s initial attack had been repulsed, and RIGHT had pursued Von Sinister’s forces all the way back to their volcano base. Yellow figures flashed across the screen, some turning and firing bright blasts of energy, others running full-bore for the base’s secret entrances. Not far behind them came row upon row of tightly regimented ranks of sky blue armor, a white clenched fist stenciled onto their chests. Overhead, yellow hover jets danced with blue attack choppers, their missiles leaving puffy white arcs in their wake. ACRONYM was fighting bravely, but it was only a matter of time before RIGHT would enter the base.
With a sigh, 037StrokeZ set down his sandwich and got to work.
He first engaged the blood-red filter on the lights in the main hall, for the proper sense of foreboding when the RIGHT forces arrived. He engaged a deep, driving thrum, just quiet enough to be barely audible, but persistent enough to be felt in the chests of the invading soldiers. He thought about strobes, but decided they needed a proper build-up.
Von Sinister’s voice shrieked from the speakers, exhorting his troops, threatening his enemies. His voice got a little shrill when he was excited, so 037StrokeZ took the treble down a notch and added a menacing echo. He smiled when he noticed a few RIGHT soldiers stop and stare up at the ceiling in panic at the sound.
More troops flooded into the base. He really ramped up the claxons now, pairing a high-pitched keening wail with a low droning sound. Subtlety flew out the window as he cranked the strobes to full strength, turning the battle on his monitors into a puppet show, jerky yellow shapes, stuttering blue ones. The speakers had fallen silent, and more ACRONYM troops retreated than fought.
He heard blasts being exchanged down the hall, too close for his liking. Beneath his feet, pushing its way through the basso rumble he’d engaged, he felt a much larger vibration: the escape rocket launching up the cone of the volcano. Von Sinister had given up.
He threw every control on the console to its maximum and darted for the escape hatch. He slid down a dark tube for what felt like eternity, to be deposited into a chaotic mass of ACRONYM and RIGHT soldiers. He jostled and shoved his way through the throng to the only place he knew he’d be safe. A squad of RIGHT followed in pursuit, firing after him as he zigzagged through the smoke and flashing light. Sound pounded in his ears, and the shots edged closer as he furiously pumped his legs, his salvation now visible before him.
He stopped and faced the oncoming troops, their weapons raised and trained on him.
“Sorry,” 037StrokeZ said as he punched his time card with a satisfying thunk. “I’m off the clock.”