“And here is the break room.” Mr. Lenich turned the corner and I followed close behind. I found that my supervisor took another left, entering into a fairly large room. The doorway was large, twice the size of the average doorway; the flooring and paint on the walls were the same as in the hallway and every other room I had been in thus far - large black tiling and eggshell white paint. The room had several tables and chairs scattered about, most with workers enjoying their lunch breaks. I was taken aback by the amount of vending machines covering the break room’s back wall: one water dispenser, a machine for an assortment of both regular and diet sodas, two for all sorts of chip varieties, one for several different types of candies, and finally one vending machine for a dozen brands of salty snacks and goods.
I could hear multiple different workers begin to whisper as soon as we stepped into the break room but was unable to comprehend more than a few words: the new girl, professional, only twenty-two, Laine, proud.
Although I couldn’t, Mr. Lenich seemed to be able to understand every word the workers were saying. “I believe your reputation precedes you, Miss Nichol.”
“I have no idea what you mean by that, sir.”
“Oh, come on, Miss Nichol. Mr. Lenich put a hand on my shoulder, pulling me closer despite my discomfort. “You shouldn’t have to be modest when you’re with your people, your fellow gamers! Everyone here looked up to your father and now we all look up to you, myself included.”
“Please don’t bring up my father, sir.” It was all that I could think of saying. It had already been seven years since my father had passed, but I still didn’t like to talk about the event, still refused to accept the fact that my best friend was forever gone. I chose to ignore the fact that I would never again see my closest companion, never again have a conversation with him.
I wiped a tear from my eye and smiled at my new coworkers sitting in front of me. Mr. Lenich was right; this wasn’t high school where I would be bullied for being a female gamer. This wasn’t college where I was ridiculed for being the only girl pursuing an education and career in programming. This was my job - Byte’s Incorporated - where I could embrace my online persona. This was a safe place for me where everyone respected my reputation. Here, I could finally be myself without any repercussions - a professional, award-winning female gamer, the proven best in my state. In June, I was competing against forty-nine others, one from each state other than my own, to decide who is the best in the country.
“If you don’t mind, Miss Nichol, our next stop on the tour is right over here.” Mr. Lenich smiled and turned towards the doorway, motioning me into the hallway.
“Okay.” I waved goodbye to my coworkers in the break room before stepping out into the hallway. I followed Mr. Lenich down the hallway. After a few seconds of walking, Mr. Lenich unlocked a door on the left titled “Chief Executive Officer, Founder Laine Landborn”. I couldn’t believe it; was Mr. Lenich really going to show me the company’s CEO and founder’s office? Was I really about to meet my idol, the man second only to my late father, Laine Landborn?
“This is the office of the main boss, Mr. Laine Landborn. Unfortunately, we aren’t allowed to actually go inside right now as he’s not here at the moment...”
“...so you’ll have to wait until later to meet him. Normally, employees don’t get to meet the CEO on their first day, but Mr. Landborn always makes it a point to personally know his company’s line of beta-testers.”
“Personally?” I looked up at Mr. Lenich with a hopeful face. I then looked into the CEO’S office. Mr. Landborn’s desk was surprisingly clean and tidy - in one corner was a flower pot holding a bouquet of several crimson red tiger lilies, and on the opposite end of the desk was a stack of multiple brightly coloured folders and white binders. There was a window directly behind his desk, covered in transparent black curtains with a bookcase on either side. The left bookcase held all different kinds of video games and small consoles, the right bookcase holding several different black binders and books. In front of Landborn’s desk was a thin dark red carpet - as red as blood - with two stationary black cushioned chairs facing the desk.
“And now to our last stop on the great Byte tour.” Mr. Lenich gently moved me back a couple steps and shut the door, locking it back and moving to the door directly across the hallway from the CEO’s office, this door titled “Beta-Testing Room 1". “This will be where you’ll work during your time here with us. Now, fun fact: this was the room where Laine Landborn himself worked during his first two years of this company’s life, and no one else has worked in this room in the fifteen years since. You’ll be the first.”
“Really?” I smiled as I excitedly stepped into the beta-testing room, looking around with absolute wonder. It was unbelievable to think that I would be working in the same room that Byte’s CEO used to work in. Suddenly, my mind was overflowing with thoughts: was this the same couch that Landborn used to sit on? Did the consoles I saw in his office used to be in here? The room where I would now spend eight hours of my day was the same room where the Laine Landborn used to spend his time.
“Yes, really.” Mr. Lenich chuckled and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to quickly run to the bathroom. Get yourself settled in and I’ll be back in a few minutes to show you out.”
“Okay.” I watched Mr. Lenich walk down the hallway to the restrooms. I took a deep breath and sat down on the white couch. It was of modern style and both it and it’s small black pillows were extremely comfortable - once I sat down I never wanted to stand up again. I pulled off my white cushioned tennis shoes and brought my feet up onto the couch besides me, knocking down one of the pillows accidentally. I leaned over to prop it back up and discovered that behind the pillow hid a small splatter of mysterious red liquid, almost black with age - a discovery that made me freeze. My mind raced with possibilities. It’s probably just a drink Landborn spilled, or possibly makeup from his wife. Or maybe even... my paranoia made me sick and I quickly repositioned the pillow in its proper place. I stood up and looked at all the other pillows, wondering if the same stain laid secret behind them, too. I took a deep breath in preparation and picked up the other two pillows. Behind one, the one farthest from the first, was no stain. The cushion was perfectly clean and white. However, behind the second pillow, the pillow closest to the first, was a larger red stain, double the size of the first and also darkened with age. I gasped and quickly dropped both pillows onto the floor, backing away and tripping over my shoes. I gasped again and yelled out as I hit my head on the floor. It was soft carpet, but it felt as if there was hardwood or even concrete underneath. My hand shot up to the back of my head and I pushed my white hair out of my face while I fought against the vomit rising in my throat.
I rushed to my feet, the speed almost making me fall back down again. I shoved one shoe onto my foot and went to put on the other but stopped when I heard the door open. “Mr. Lenich?” I asked as I looked up, still holding onto the coffee table for support with my foot in the air, my shoe halfway on.
“So Jeremiah was the one that told you to work in here.” When I looked up at the door, Mr. Lenich wasn’t the man I saw standing in the doorway - it was the founder and chief executive officer of Byte’s Incorporated, Laine Landborn. “How many times now have I told him and everyone else to stay clear of this room? Five times now? About to become six?”
“I’m not supposed to be here?” I asked as I finished putting on my shoe. I looked up at Landborn and tried my best to stay calm. Half of me wanted to be excited - Laine Landborn was standing right in front of me! The other half of me, the sane half of me, wanted to run away, to get as far away from here as I possibly could. I had just found some very suspicious stains on the couch that used to belong to the very man now staring down at me, walking closer to me with every passing second. Before I knew it, I was looking up at Laine Landborn, and my heart was racing.
“What is your name, miss?”
“Hannah Nichol...” I replied reluctantly, not sure if I wanted this man to know my name at all. What other information could he find out about me? What would he do with that information?
“Well, Hannah Nichol,” Landborn talked as his gaze also shifted towards the couch. My pulse struck an all-time high as I watched his expression fall, his jaw tighten. “I believe I have something to show you.”
“Okay...” I swallowed hard and followed behind Landborn out into the hallway.
“One moment.” Once in the hall, Landborn pulled a set of keys out of his pocket and locked the door we had just walked out of. As Landborn began walking, Mr. Lenich turned the corner and froze once he saw Landborn. Landborn turned to Mr. Lenich and held out his hand, palm up. “Have another key made for this room again and you’re fired.”
Mr. Lenich swallowed hard and nodded, taking out his own set of keys. He removed one key from the ring and placed it in Landborn’s hand. “Yes, sir. It won’t happen again.”
“Now, Hannah,” Landborn smiled and resumed walking. “Right this way.”
I took one last look at Mr. Lenich and took a deep breath before following Landborn. For some reason, we only went across the hall... which was the office of Laine Landborn.
“Step inside, please.” Landborn said with a smile as he opened the door. I swallowed hard and stepped inside, my chest feeling as if it was about to explode. “This will only take a moment.” Landborn said as he closed the door behind us both, locking and shutting it tight.