Stress rises in my body. A tense, gripping heat. Clutching at my chest as anxiety digs in. I knew today wouldn’t be pleasant. I was right. Maybe that’s why I felt so switched off, last night. Mental aversion to today.

I’m in the office. A small space, barely big enough to hold the desks, within. Screens on the desks glow with a steady, uncaring light. The rattle of keyboards is all that signifies life is present. That, and occasional half-comment, involuntary responses to the messages arriving on our terminals.

It’s a small team, for a tightly focussed company. Bare brick walls surround us, a feature of the repurposed warehouse, one that now homes a dozen such enterprises as ours.

New equipment, the terminals, contrasts with the ageing cabinets that hold stacks of print outs, kept and consigned to the record of history. Hurried handwriting scrawled across seemingly innumerable sheets, bound together and boxed, fills the spaces that the print-outs don’t. A new carpet dampens the sound in the room, as does some of the newer equipment we’ve installed. But it is juxtaposed against fading, flaking paint, and tattered, rough piping overhead. Part deliberate aesthetic, part wear and tear. I’ve worked in the stark, lifeless, modern floor-plates of the financial world; I can’t pretend I don’t prefer this. The heater hums, warding off a cold draft that finds its way through an ill-fitting window. A manual blind hangs halfway across the ancient glass, keeping away the searing glare of a low, bright, winter sun.

Outside, in what remains of the view, brown brick is about all I can see. Roofs and upper-floors making up runs of residential habs, hunched together in the encroaching presence of the financial world nearby and overhead. It only takes two streets before this last vestige of the old world gives over entirely to the towers of the city. The rough brick and dense corners are quickly replaced by sheets of glass, reaching high into the clean air above these polluted streets. Temples of steel and fluorescent lights, filling the skyline with bold lines and their modern aesthetic. Built in tribute to the most powerful gods of them all: money and greed.

Those towers are out of sight from where I sit. I’m glad about that. I don’t want to be reminded of my former life.

The morning has been spent in a hurried, methodical blur of output. Big meeting this afternoon. All the company’s leaders are in. I’m manning it from the office, keeping the record on my data slate, keeping the comms line open for the virtual attendees. What I don’t like, is the stress of making sure I’ve thought of everything before the meeting starts. Making sure I watch out for crossfire in the meeting, and trying to anticipate where the attacks will come from – when I might be the target.

Which isn’t to say that any of that will happen. But I’m from that all-consuming financial world, previously. There, petty, vicious point-scoring is a simple fact of life. You learn to expect it instinctively, and especially in meetings. So maybe I’m worked up for no reason. But on days when I’m in this kind of mood, I know the best thing to do is put the pedal to the floor, grip the wheel, and drive the stress. Boost output, get as far ahead of the curve as possible.

Caf keeps me going. I keep the mug filled and refilled. Documents come together. Files are updated and actioned. Sometimes I’m rattling on the keyboard, matching accounts on the terminal, sometimes I’m slapping small paper notes on the desk, using a thick marker pen to make urgent notes to myself. It’s not modern, but it works.

By early afternoon, I’m as ready as I’ll get, and I take a break from the spinning world around me. A stack of materials is ready, a portable terminal prepared, and my data slate up to date. I heat rations and consume them in a mindless hurry, not truly able to let the pressure off of myself.

And then I’m into the meeting. No relaxing for the next five hours, needing to stay alert, on top of the conversation and its many, inevitable, turns and asides. Tomorrow I’ll check, clean up, and double check my record before I distribute it over the network to the attendees.

When I leave the meeting and the office, it is dark. A discontented sky threatens rain. I check the comm. A friend cancelled on me, not able to meet tonight, so there goes the attempt to be sociable. I’m brain dead, I don’t mind. I head home. Need to let the stress seep out of me. Need to rest the tired eyes and numb mind. Need to sleep.

I’m worried about Onyx, I got a message from her, too. It didn’t read right.


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