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Lance Goes To Work

I hadn’t set an alarm, so when I woke up on Monday, I was already late for work. I checked the clock. 10:36 AM. Perfect.

I got up with all the unhurry I could muster, which means I lolled around in the bed for a few minutes longer and realized that for the first time, I was going to go to work today, and when I got back, the bed would actually be made. Not by me, of course, but it was a definite improvement.

It was the latest in a series of life upgrades, or what the masses call “laziness”. I didn’t want to drive anymore, so I got someone to do it for me. I didn’t want to take care of a cat anymore, so I got someone to do it for me. I didn’t want to own a house, or any of my old shit, or clean up after myself. I think you see where this is going.

I’d already lifehacked about fifty percent of the agony and frustration out of my life. Now it was time to deal with the other fifty percent.

I took a long hot shower, and by the time I got out it was 11:02.

I broke out the razor and shaved every centimeter of my scarred melon. The scars made it a little difficult, especially the knotted spiderweb scar at the top and right side of my head, where my skull had performed like Atlas and held up the roof of my car with a truck driving over it. I got everything pretty much squared away, and rummaged through my backpack, retrieving one of the three pairs of boxers I’d packed for myself. This was the extent of Lance’s former wardrobe that I’d be wearing today.

I opened up the closet where I had hung three smoking hot suits. I dressed slowly in the mirror, watching as I disguised myself as a respectable human being. I shrugged into the heavy tweed coat, pulled out the fur-lined leather gloves I’d tucked in the pocket, put those on. Snugged the skullcap down on my head and over my ears, and then took a moment to admire the effect in the mirror.

Old Lance was gone. Not a trace of him remained. The gaunt figure with the too-angular and scarred face did not look like him, with the exception of my blue eyes. But amidst the starkness of my face, even they had a different cast. With the black, uncompromising suit and jacket, I’d instantly elevated myself from just some neckbeard software developer in a hoodie to what appeared to my eyes to be a scarred ex-convict mafioso, who probably owned a nightclub. I looked formidable, and the urge to take a few selfies was too much to resist.

By the time I was done fellating myself, it was 11:22. I figured I was going to be fashionably late enough, and I was certainly dressed to kill. It was time to go to work.

Terrence had the car waiting, although I knew he had parked it and sat at the curb for hours. His thoughts buzzed with irritation over it, but to his credit they largely dispersed when he saw me and his broad, welcoming smile was waiting for me. I knew that he liked me, or at the least seemed to find me interesting enough to be likable.

But I am not a complete dick, and I actually know how people really feel, so it leaves me with no excuse. Once I was inside the car, I pressed the intercom button. “Choicepoint Systems, Terrence. It’s in Maple—”

“I can find it, Mr. Thorn. Do not worry.”

“Hey, Terrence…”

“Yes, Mr. Thorn?”

“How long were you waiting outside for me?”

“I pulled up at the hotel at six a.m., Mr. Thorn.”

“Okay, that’s…wow, really?. I know you work a longer shift than the rest of the drivers, because of my special arrangement with Ramesh. But let us not be ridiculous. I will never be so much as alive at six a.m.”

“What time would you prefer I pick you up in the morning, Mr. Thorn?”

“Um,” I hadn’t really thought about it. “No earlier than nine a.m.”

“I see, sir…” The divider was up, but his mind was still on the other side of it. He immediately started thinking about all of the extra things he could do in the morning instead, like sleep in, spend time with his wife and his kids, even drive them to school if he wanted. “Thank you for telling me, Mr. Thorn.”

“No problem, Terrence. Maybe just, from now on, wait for me at nine a.m. instead. If I need you to come earlier, I can always call you. I’ll give you my cell later, in case you need to call me, too.”

“Thank you, Mr. Thorn,” he said, but inside he was amused. I could feel the vibe. I was acting nothing like the typical executive he’d shuttled around in the past. But I could tell he found it refreshing. Even though he was not sure of all the rules now, it was at least entertaining to him, seeing what I’d do or say next.

Even though Terrence didn’t share his limo gossip with anyone, he still craved it.

While I enjoyed the coffee that Terrence had brewed, still hot in the carafe, and the bleak winter cityscape streamed by my window, my other hand flipped through my phone and checked out the he.ro site. Soon as I hit the site, I was already logged in. I’d never visited the site on my phone before, but somehow it knew, or rather Spider knew, that this phone belonged to me, and simply authenticated me. It occurred to me then that I’d never been asked to choose a password. Damn. This was someone I could respect. Someone who had their power dialed in, and wasn’t trying to sell their story on television or become a social media celebrity.

My profile was bare. I hadn’t uploaded photos or an avatar, had no badges or achievements, and no friends. I did, however, have several friend requests, which I found weird and spammy so I ignored them. I looked at the badges and achievements, and I could not help but chuckle. They were all based around comic themes. There were achievements and an accompanying badge for forming a super team, fighting crime, getting away with crimes, executing evil plots (for villains), foiling evil plots (for heroes), creating your costume, and so many more. Heroes and villains could also participate in Challenges. There were public challenges (for all), hero challenges, villain challenges, and you could even issue personal challenges. In return, you got a bunch of points added to your rating, and badges for the challenges you completed. Of course, the amount of points also had something to do with your title on the site.

Right now, mine was “Baby Villain” which irked me.

We hit a bump, and I looked up, and we were almost there, pulling into the parking lot of the employer that had stolen my youth, my vigor, and leeched any trace of faith in the goodness of humanity from my soul.

We arrived around lunch time, which was perfect, because it meant that there were smokers standing outside to watch my grand entrance, not to mention a steady flood of people leaving and returning to the building, depending on their lunch schedule. Thinking about lunch also made me hungry, but I decided I’d treat myself to a nice dinner after I’d paid everyone a little visit.

I pressed the intercom. “Terrence, do me a favor.”

“What is that, Mr. Thorn?”

“Don’t smile when you get out. Look as serious as possible. You know, like you’re a real badass.”

The intercom wasn’t open at first, but I heard muffled laughter from the front. It must have been fairly loud to leak through the divider. “I will do my best, Mr. Thorn.” I could actually hear the grin in his voice, even though I could also feel his amusement and excitement bubbling in his head.

I grinned along with him from the back seat. Anyone who also gets excited about taking part in my dorky roleplay is okay by me.

I still replay our approach in my head, years later. The square and soulless building, which I knew was filled with cubicles and overworked software developers. Software developers being harassed constantly by busybody managers who interrupted us by calling frequent meetings in which they asked us why we couldn’t manage our time better and get things done faster. And then gave us more stuff to do, of course. And because their deadlines were so unrealistic, we could not do all of it. Which then prompted more emergency meetings. Followed by more new work.

The modern Sisyphus is the software developer, who will never finish working on a single goddamned thing. We can’t, because the definition of what “done” looks like keeps changing. This definition is usually defined in meetings in which the moon is sold to the client by people who have no idea how to get to the moon, but they tell the client it will take a couple days and a few thousand dollars. The company gets the dollars, we get to figure out how to compress months of work into three days.

If we somehow (through a miracle bestowed by the gods Taurine, Caffeine, and B-vitamins) manage to pull it off in three days, they start selling more three-day moon packages to everyone else.

Perhaps you can get an idea of how this environment affects people after awhile.

Collect any large group of people in one place, doing the same thing day after day, and the vibe changes from an individual vibe, to a collective one. We all respond to it, and we don’t even know it most of the time. It’s why you act a certain way at work, different than the way you act at home. The vibe is different. It’s a good way of enforcing conformity, as we adaptive humans are subconsciously taught the rules in social situations. The more sensitive of us become good communicators and listeners. The less apt ones, like old Lance, miss all the obvious cues and trample all over everyone’s expectations, and every second thing we do is a faux pas. The irony was that now I was all too aware of the vibe, far more than I had ever been before, and certainly more than anyone I was going to find in this building—and yet I realized I no longer had to play by the rules of the vibe. My test walking through the mall had taught me that.

By becoming actively aware of the vibe, I was now capable of ignoring it. You still see little glimmers of it from time to time, and normal people still break from the herd. The guy who decides he’s had enough, and wants to fuck it all and walks out of his job on the spot. Right there is a guy who broke free from the vibe’s influence, from the hive mind, just long enough to recognize who the fuck he is and what the fuck he really wants.

And that’s living, man. That’s what I’d realized. I couldn’t be a worker bee anymore. I couldn’t sink into the vibe along with everyone else anymore, pretending I don’t notice it, just to collect a paycheck, and deal with unreasonable people all day long.

This was the last piece of the life of old Lance that needed to go, and it needed to go in style.

And if you haven’t noticed already, the new Lance was all about style.

Terrence opened the door for me and I stepped out slowly, and then swept my eyes upwards, and gave everyone watching a look. I took my unhurried time, marking each person in turn, and recognizing almost every one of them. Not a one of them recognized me. None of them held my gaze, and I looked at each one until they looked away. As I glanced to my left, staring down Jen Conway, I could see Terrence standing beside me like a stern brick wall, and I had to bite down on a smug smile. Stern, grim, and unsettling. That’s what we were going for here, and dammit if we didn’t pull it off.

Old Lance would have totally fucked that up.

“I’ll be a couple hours,” I said to Terrence as I began walking to the door.

“Of course, Mr…uh, sir,” he said, as I mentally nudged him away from mentioning my name in earshot of the smokers. “I will have the car waiting.”

We walked through the smell of smoke on our way to the door as the baffled smokers shivered in the cold like outcasts. Mike Simkins, QA; Aran Anderson, programmer; and Macy Smith, who did something in sales. I scanned them for any trace of recognition at close range and still found none, although Aran had this tickling sense of familiarity that was driving him crazy. Aran’s desk was right next to mine, and if he didn’t recognize me, I didn’t think anyone would.

Terrence beat me to the door and opened it on my behalf.

“Thank you, Terrence,” I said, and passed into the radius, the crushing walls of the corporate vibe.

It was like a wave of depression had fallen over me. It was like an oil of desperation rising to the top of a stew of bubbling discontent, all bound together with an artificial flavoring: the pretense that everyone liked each other.

I’m belaboring it, I know, but I really hated this place. I was seeing it again, afresh, for a second time, with my mind’s eye wide open. I knew the second I was inside I could never again stomach being within this oppressive feeling for eight to sixteen hours a day, five to seven days a week.

Terrence had left me, so I walked alone up to the front desk, where Lana was sitting. She had been staring at me as I came in, but was now pretending to be eagerly engaged in typing an email to no one. Then, she pretended to just notice me, and glanced up to give me a radiant smile from painted lavender lips. “Hello, welcome to Choicepoint Systems. How may I help you?”

Ahh, Lana. She was always out of my league. Pert, petite, and perfect. Mixed asian and caucasian, with an adorable bob haircut, eyeliner used to emphasize her exotic eyes, and a tight body with a fondness for snug-fitting clothing. Right now she was wearing a white open collar button up sleeveless shirt, her lithe curves pressing against the fabric. Her legs in her skirt were crossed, and with her glasses she reminded me of a hot librarian stereotype. Digging around in her mind, I was surprised to discover the lenses were just glass. She wore them because she thought she’d be taken more seriously. She was our receptionist, and had moved out of being an intern to transitioning here full-time after college. She had always ignored my existence, outside of a greeting when I came in (which she did for everyone) and sometimes when I left at the end of the day.

But I was in her head, and she had actually been actually sizing me up! She liked the suit, and the limo outside, which clearly suggested I was wealthy. Perhaps a billionaire who could, in her wildest dreams, fall madly in love with her and ask her to come away with him to his Argentinian villa, on his own private island. Her opinion on the scars was that they were interesting, and rather than being a turn off, more of a turn on. I was honestly surprised. She did not have the courage to ask me out, because she actually thought that I was out of her league! But she still had a small hope that I might ask her out anyway.

I started to have sinful thoughts.

All of that passed through her mind in the span of about a second, but that’s the problem with reading people’s thoughts. When you’re honestly affected by what is going on inside someone’s head, you can be as flustered as if they’d said it out loud.

“Oh, uh…hi! I w-w-wa…” And then I closed my mouth. I was starting to stutter. Dammit, Lance! Pull yourself together! You had the perfect entrance!

And fuck me if my stuttering idiocy wasn’t revising her opinion of me on the fly. I could feel it slipping away from me. It took me a moment, but I found what I thought was the perfect thing to say.

“I am so sorry,” I said, and the blush on my face was no act. “It was the accident,” I said, and pointed to the scars on my face. “Can’t control myself sometimes.”

“Oh,” she said, and any of her negative thoughts about me were washed away by a wave of sympathy, as if I were a puppy. “I didn’t realize…”

And now she was feeling guilty and uncomfortable, and the vibe started to change. She wasn’t looking at me so much as an interesting, and somewhat hot dude, but rather as a poor accident victim.

I realized it was time to cheat. Old Lance and New Lance shared the same verbal ineptitude with women, and New Lance had even added a stutter. I felt the vein beginning to throb in my temple as I gave her the lightest mental touch I could, and I smiled and shook my head, and edited out her discomfort, plucking the feeling right out of her head. “It’s okay,” I said. “I’m still getting used to it, too. Can we start again?” Then I started getting a little more direct with her brain.

She blushed, and smiled back, “Sure,” she said, and the dimples in her cheeks as she smiled were adorable. Then her chest began to rise and fall quickly as she felt a rise in her body temperature, and a thrill of arousal following on its heels. Her smile fell into an open-mouthed, gentle pant as she just looked at me and wished we were both somewhere else right now.

I know, I’m an asshole. Somehow I’ll live with myself.

“You want to do something later?” I asked, and even though I had the upper hand I still flushed a bit more at my boldness.

She licked her dry lips, and nodded, and at this point without any of my involvement started getting even more excited at the idea. She wiggled a bit in her seat, and I knew why, and her increasingly steamy thoughts were really starting to get to me. I wasn’t even sure I needed to be here right now.

But Terrence had taken the limo, which made it a bit easier to stay on course. “Great,” I said. “You get off of work at five, right?”

She grinned, and stood up, leaning towards me across the desk. “Are you taking me out for dinner?”

“Yes,” I said, leaning over towards her and dropping my voice to an intimate whisper. “Anywhere you want. I just have some business to take care of first.”

“Mmm,” she purred. “I’ll be waiting.”

I had to leave, and I withdrew from her mind, because her thoughts were pretty intense, hot and romantic all rolled into one. Much as I enjoyed them, I had been getting lost in them.

“Good,” I said, “I’m looking forward to it.” I flashed her one more smile, and felt a little pang of regret, before I limped past her desk and into cubicle city.

Now that I had dinner and a date lined up for later, I couldn’t wait to get started. It was time to check in with my boss.

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