Containment Breach

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It is obvious when I see the people in the train station outside of the Bio Lab, what day it is. It is the end-of-the-quarter audit day for the lower level engineering groups to present their progress. You can look at them and read their faces to determine whether they are ready or not.

As always, the Level Ones and Level Twos who are not ready, see my green Level Four badge and look away. They look away so I cannot see their frowns. I always smile and offer a “good morning” or a “good luck” to the ones I recognize who do not look away.

I understand the pressure they are under; they need to do well at the audit. There are very promising graduates and first year Level Ones applying for the positions they now have at Level One and Level Two. This reinforces the most important fact, lower levels must show tangible results or lose their positions.

At thirty-five, I am somewhat ancient to the Level Ones and Level Twos. For a Level Four, I am one of the youngest scientists in the group. I keep my light brown hair a little longer and my mustache trimmed tight, as is consistent with a younger look. This is just in case I ever meet the woman of my dreams.

I, of course, would not begin to know the first thing to say to the woman of my dreams if I did meet her. Being the “lab rat,” as I was called in college, has its downsides. Being alone and not knowing what to say to a member of the opposite sex are the biggest ones. I have not met too many who would begin to understand me or what I do.

Opening the door to the Level Four Labs always makes me smile as I truly feel at home. As I enter my office, I look through the glass wall separating it from the experiment chamber and the orb centered in the room.

Inside the orb are the lives I have created and have grown to love. The true torture, I know I love my creation. It is a part of me now, how do I destroy a part of myself? I am not sure, deep down inside, the choice of killing them to save myself is a choice I will ever make.

As I turn to my desk, my heart, my mind, my lungs freeze. Someone has been here; the files I had left on my desk are missing. A minute seems like an eternity. Everything slowly starts to begin to move as my mind begins to grasp thought again. I sit down and force thoughts into my brain. What did they find? What did they look at? They had to have seen it; that is obvious. Quickly, I try to put together what I will do now.

A quick familiar knock comes from my door. It is Jan, my secretary.

“Good morning, Walt.”

As usual, she continues without stopping. “I picked up the Solar Radiation Effect Results file from your desk. I took some time to organize the papers on your desk too.” Jan’s expression changes as she stops abruptly.

“Is something wrong? You don’t look so good this morning. You look like you’ve seen a ghost or something. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, I just feel a little under the weather. You know, I haven’t been sleep...”

As usual, Jan cuts me off. “Well, I hope you feel better. By the way, Dr. Smith wants to see you when you can.” Turning, and with a lower tone, she adds, “I think he is having that internal heat problem again, although he just won’t say so.”

The great thing about Jan is everyone thinks because she talks a lot, she does not see or listen, but it is just the opposite.

“I’ll try to call him later,” I say weakly.

“Okay. Well, if there isn’t anything else?” Jan finishes as she closes the door behind her.

Relief sweeps over me. It was Jan that had been here, or at least it seemed like it was her. It doesn’t matter as I look at the orb in the chamber across the room. I have put an end to the seesaw feelings I am having.

Entering the chamber, I feel a little different, somewhat relaxed. I know I will not destroy them and have peace, because I will not have peace. I will have unending regret because of it. I will not end their lives just possibly to save mine. I can, and I have to handle this, without the feelings of terror.

From behind me comes a stern comment. “You know you can’t do this, you have to stop now.” I turn to see Jack standing at the intercom on my desk. He is looking at me through the glass and pointing to the time. I give him a puzzled look and he responds by crossing his arms and tapping his foot.

“What’s up, Jack?” I say as I come out of the chamber and quickly close the door behind me.

“What do you mean, ‘what’s up’? We have the meeting this morning, or did you forget we have been called for?”

I instantly remember the meeting with our Group Leader and the G 4 Unit Director.

“Steve is waiting, and I am sure he will do his ‘David impression.’ We need to prepare. Being prepared is the most important thing and having everything documented for me even if I won’t read it,” Jack says comically.

“Stop it, Jack, mimicking Steve mimicking David is not very funny,” I say, giving him a slight smile.

“I am just preparing for him to slip and say it to David’s face, that’s all. I swear.”

Jack knows Steve will again berate David about his constant comments on being prepared, and being prepared is not what David does.

It is important to Steve to always be seen as perfectly prepared and the best at what he does. Steve’s ego is bigger than anyone’s I know. He sees himself as taking David’s place soon, much sooner than David would like. Some of us here, although we are all classified Level Four, are not working towards the same goals. Steve does try to hide that he does not care as much about advancing life forms as he does his own career. He just does not hide it well.

Jack is the opposite. He is about family first and success second. His work is good and well documented. He writes everything down at least once and sometimes more. This keeps him behind but useful in group studies and group meetings like this meeting, with our G 4. Jack never goes into a meeting without two notepads. This meeting could take ten minutes or two hours to meet. Jack will spend the same amount of time detailing his notations and rewriting them. Although I will sometimes take notes, I will rely on a copy from Jack for any further action.

We meet Steve and Marcie in the hall outside the conference room. Marcie is new, having come over from another Level Four to our Level Four. Some here are still a little conscious of what they will still say in front of her. I like her. Her work is adequate, even good at times; it is just in this environment, making a change is not viewed as good. Most here will not take chances at all until they have seen a significant amount of good results from someone new.

“Hi, Steve, Marcie. How are you two doing today?” I ask of them with a smile.

Jack jumps in with his own greeting. “Are you two together now and does your wife know about this, Steve?”

Marcie smiles slightly as she looks over at me, still not sure just how to take this. It could be she is looking at me to see how I am taking it. Many people have been putting us together because we are both single and close in age. It seems to be the obsession of office politics and gossip to pair off the singles, as if this would be good for them.

Steve is not bothered by this one bit. “It’s not my wife I worry about Jack; it’s your wife who gets upset when I date other women.”

We all laugh and head inside the room. We wait for David, our Group Leader, and the G 4. David’s behavior is truly not a mystery for Steve to have to point out. We all know he is holding on just to add to his already earned pension.

He has one year and three months to go until he reaches the highest level for retirement, of which, we are continually reminded. He dreams of vacations and no responsibilities and for what I am doing, this is the best type of boss to have. David really does not want great success or great failure at this time in his career. I believe he may never have wanted either.

The G 4’s rotate, although our group knows them all, and today should be Terry. Terry is a “get in and get out” type of guy. Like David, he never really wants to get into the details, just wants to get by. He is, of course, one of my favorites, although I do try to hide this. They make the perfect management team for me, both always thinking of ways to keep the profile low and just wanting to do their time. The door opens, and David walks in to greet us.

“Today we are in for a surprise!” David says, trying to seem he truly means it. It is obvious though something is wrong. Terry comes in with him, as I had guessed, but the door is left open.

“Good morning, group!” Terry says, but he too does not seem to be himself. I notice, but I know not to show any concern because of it.

While I keep an eye on the door, I smile and greet them, but I think, why is the door still open? I begin to feel it; a searching thought is out there. Now Jack catches on that this is not is not typical for them and bluntly asks the wrong question.

“You guys okay? You look a little nervous or something?” he asks.

Someone is behind the one-way glass in the room next to us. Whoever it is, was right behind them, and cut in next door to watch. The hairs on the back of my neck go up and I know this is not good. This is the source of the thought I felt.

Jack has also caught on as Terry and David try to cover up their concern.

“I am not sure I understand what you are talking about, Jack,” Terry replies in a noticeably nervous tone.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, haven’t been myself over the last couple of years,” Jack says, smiling and nodding to everyone.

A muffled laugh now comes from one to another as we attempt to seem at ease.

“So who wants to hear about my big weekend?” Jack starts, but he is cut off by David.

“So Steve, where are you at with your latest implosion test? You stated last month we would have some new results by now, I recall.”

Now everyone is looking around at each other and no one is hiding their puzzled looks. We all know it is not typical for David to actually start our meeting. We are stunned by this as an uncomfortable pause has fallen upon the room. I keep telling myself not to look at the mirror, actually forcing myself not to look at it. I need to focus on David’s actions and think to myself what David’s problem is.

Who is in there, what do they want, have they figured it out? Are they just trying to see how far I will go? Trying not to think of this is hell. I know I have nowhere to go. No place to hide my creation or me. I have to stop; I have to stop these thoughts and get back to reality, now!

I can’t believe this, even though Steve has started talking about the test, Marcie and Jack are looking at each other with an obvious “What is going on?” look. I am guessing either they will think I am too stupid to understand, or too smart to show it. I am rooting for them thinking I am too stupid.

Now, in walks a man I would say is in his mid-fifties, with jet-black hair and a very smooth smile. A smile that can either relax you or scare the crap out of you. Right now, I am not sure which way this will go.

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