Emily kicked John awake, gently. He looked out the window over silver water under a high, cold sun. High pressure, clear skies from a sinking air mass.
He bathed in the men's bathroom. A search of the janitorial supply closet uncovered a men's toiletries bag and small personal shrine on the shelves inside. It must have been the janitor's. There was a tiny statue of the Virgin Mary and a rosary in an empty fruit cup. The janitor's workplace devotion to the Blessed Mother must have paid off, because he had definitely picked the right day to skip work. There was a wallet sized photo of a family, a picture of a smiling man and his wife and children in front of their small home. The house was very small, made of wood and tin, set against mountains and jungle. The man and his young wife were smiling, the children were happy and vital - thin, tanned, and smiling with white teeth. John looked at the picture for a long time, then carefully placed it in his wallet. It must be some kind of good luck.
Back in the cube area, The Arm had been hard at work. It was still working. The cubes had been sorted by color - the stack of red cubes occupied most of the room. The green stack was big. The blue stack was about the size of a TV set. The cubes stuck together - with the feeling of a slight magnetism. John tried clicking a red cube up against the steel storage shelves. Nothing. However it worked, the affinity was for cubes and cubes alone.
John moved to put the blue cubes on a utility shelf. When the block of blue cubes pushed past the big stack of reds, a section of the red stack collapsed. John waved the blues again. Another fan of loose cubes spilled out of the red stack. The blue cubes repelled the red. John found that he could herd clusters of red cubes across the floor by chasing them with a blue cube. Quick experimentation revealed that cubes stick to cubes of like colors, so - red stuck to red, blue stuck to blue. Reds and blues would stick to greens, but not to each other. He could put a red cube between two blues and watch it bounce back and forth.
It was a really cool trick.
That and $50 will buy him a breakfast sandwich at the food court.
John stacks as many red cubes as he can move onto the hand truck and wheels it next to the cargo elevator. Time for breakfast, then put the cubes in storage.
Things were very quiet at the food court. People were eating in silence, or just speaking a few, furtive words. Their shirts were winkled. Some still wore a jacket and tie, others were down to eating in an undershirt. For the women, the popular floral print office dress was starting to look wilted. The silk blouses worn under suit jackets were dull and limp. John takes a look at the sandwich stand menu. The breakfast sandwiches were going for sixty dollars now. There were security guards posted on either side of the stand. Sixty dollars it is.
The ATM kicked outthe money, and the moment it hit his hand, John knows something is wrong. The feeling is off - too slick. The money has the look of play money, monochromatic and flat. The artwork was different, photocopied onto the bill. The President was replaced with the bank logo. On the back, the Great Seal now featured the bank tower, surrounded by copperplate waves. The wiseass graphic designer had gone through the trouble of keeping the All Seeing Eye, though. It glared out from the top of the skyscraper.
The tables were full. John ate alone, looking out over the water.
The storage area was still above water. It was on one of the service floors under the "ground floor." The storage area was a long gallery of poured concrete halls, lined with individual rooms configured out of steel security fencing that ran from the floor to the ceiling, each accessible by metal sliding doors that were painted eggshell white and secured with heavy padlocks. The space was lit with evenly spaced fluorescent lights that were activated by motion sensors. The lights would turn on and off as John walked past. He moved into the cages in a weak pool of diffuse white light. The Firedrake office's cage was in the far corner of the storage grid. The other spaces were filled with seemingly identical assortments of equipment boxes, plastic wrapped furniture, and office supplies. John rolled in his first load of cubes and dumped them in the back of the Firedrake cage. The space was small. It held a single palette of flattened retail packaging.
The packaging would unfold into white cardboard boxes that read "CUBE!" with a picture of 100 red cubes, 10 green cubes, and 1 blue cube on the front. John popped one open and eyeballed it. It was like a jumbo cereal box, about volumetrically correct for one hundred and eleven cubes. A handy size, for whoever would possibly want one hundred and eleven cubes that seemingly served no use.
There was no way in hell that all the cubes were going to fit in this cage. There just wasn't enough room. John tossed the empty box back onto the pallet. What the fuck was he supposed to do with all those cubes?
A better question might be how he was going to get home, or at least off this tower.
The next cage over was nearly full. There were some filing cabinets, dead copiers, and several pallet loads of blank office paper in 10 ream boxes. Each box had a sample piece of paper glued to the front. White, Off White, Cream, Gray, and Green. At the very back of the cage were several boxes of green paper. It was a familiar shade. John pulled out one of the twenties from his wallet, held it against the sample. Match. Check out in the hall - yes, this was the bank's storage area.
An hour later, John was back down in the cage with a circular saw from the upper floors. He'd found a metal blade for cutting steel studs and chucked it in.
Cut wire fencing back near the wall. Make it neat, a clean incision. Pull out two big boxes. Load the blank green paper into CUBE! boxes and stack on the hand truck. Pull out two more boxes of paper. Put the empty boxes back in, hide behind the full boxes, replace the wire fencing.
You never know.
The roof was sunny but cold, bedded in a light layer of white gravel, a stiff wind curling over the lip of the building. John found a good windbreak behind the HVAC enclosure, the air exchangers for the building. There was a maintenance penthouse, with tools and window washing equipment - safety harnesses, the scaffold and lines. John found a pack of cigarettes inside a toolbox and put them in his pocket. It felt good to be outside, direct sun on his face. With the sea breeze, sun, and gravel, it felt like the beach.
The aluminum window washing scaffold was covered in a series of instructional decals and disclaimers. It showed a line art man falling off the scaffold with his sandwich, being electrocuted with comic book lightning bolts, being hung from the neck, entangled in the suspension ropes. DO NOT OPERATE THIS DEVICE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL OR PRESCRIPTION DRUGS. DO NOT OPERATE THIS DEVICE WITHOUT CORRECTLY SECURING INERTIAL BRAKE. DO NOT OPERATE THIS DEVICE CONTRARY TO ITS INTENDED FUNCTION. DO NOT OPERATE THIS DEVICE IF YOU HAVE AN UNEASY FEELING. DO NOT OPERATE THIS DEVICE IF YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEF SYSTEM CONDONES PHYSICAL RECKLESSNESS OR DISCOUNTS THE CURRENT CONSENSUS REALITY PHYSICS MODEL. DO NOT OPERATE THIS DEVICE.
The decals were very informative. The scaffold was relatively light, It was easy to set up. He could wash the windows anytime he felt like it. Maybe building management would give him a discount at the food court.
He broke a sweat hauling the boxes up to the roof, securing them behind the shelter of the air exchangers. Moving the pontoons by himself was impossible. He needed help. He would find someone to help him.
The list of candidates was a short one.
The setting sun was perfectly even with the windows. The orange light comes in square, perpendicular to the plumb line. It made the space warm, despite the exposed conduit and bare sheetrock.
Cigarette smoke hung in the light. She was there, looking out the windows.
"Hi." John said it from far away. She still gave a start, but played it cool.
"I have your book. I took it, sorry." John handed her The Count of Monte Cristo.
"I has a feeling it was you. It's not polite to stare, you know."
"I brought you some cigarettes. I don't know how old they are. They could be pretty stale."
"Smokes are going for one twenty a pack. Thanks."
"I'm Matilda." She shook his hand. John fought the urge to hold it too long, but the mammal warmth of it, in the soft sun, made him want to pause. It made him want to let his palm keep sliding, up the soft inner skin of her arm, up the sleeve of her shirt, sliding along triceps, across the underarch of her shoulder, back across trapezium to the nape of neck. Time to release, but she was holding too.
Matilda held on another moment, then let go.
The looked out at the water, together.
"Do you want to talk about it?" asked John.
"About this?" she pointed out over the sea with her cigarette. "I don't know. I haven't really talked to anyone, since it happened. Nobody will talk."
"Are you still working? They're still having me work."
"We have to keep working, or they won't pay us. How long can this last?" She turned.
John turned to look in return. They had moved closer to each other. This was conspiracy.
They were close enough that John could see the striation of colors in her eyes - coffee, agate, serpentine. It was close enough that the workings of the eye were visible - the wow and flutter of the pupil moving through different foci.
"I want to show you something. Will you come with me?" asked John.
"They are going to expect me back. Soon."
"We'll be fast."
They rode the elevator to the top floor. John lead Mattie to the roof, and in the last day's light, he showed her the catamaran's boxes, the diagram for the boat.
Matilda laid her hand on one of the pontoon boxes. "If you built this boat, you could sail away. You could escape."
"I can't get the pontoons up the ladder." said John.
Matilda smiled. It was the first time he had seen her smile.
"I can help you. You can push them up to me. How are you going to get the boat off the roof?" she asked.
"I've got an idea about that."
"If we built this boat, we could sail away. We could escape." Matilda was looking over the boxes with a cool eye.
"We could? I don't know how to sail."
"Yes, we could. I used to race. I could sail a bathtub."
Against the deepening sky, full with the rising air of clouds and the rising dew point, Matilda smiled again. So did John.
past Temporary: Wednesday
-:::- Temporary: Cubesday future
start Temporary: Monday