“Really? You have the clearance to take us literally anywhere in the known universe and you bring us here?”
I failed to keep the disdain out of my voice as I stared around at the familiar desk pods of Providence, folding both sets of arms in a huff. Seeing as I happened to be impersonating Durga at the time, nobody gave it so much as a second glance.
We hadn’t come through to Helpdesk, at least. Security’s base of operations had all the bustle of Floor T with none of the cramped quarters. The desks here sat back from one of the long walls where square screens lined the entire facade. No polished Marketing gimmicks here; just charts, numbers, and text displays updating in real time. They seemed to have new ones every time I managed to sneak in.
My eyesight was already sharp enough to make out the messages from a distance, and I found myself reading lines such as ‘Seismic activity in East Asia’, ‘Week-on-week global atheism growth’, ‘Void instability heatmap’, and ’Days since the last supernatural incident in Maine, USA: 14’. One of the screens appeared to stream a live feed of the contents of the kitchen fridge, if I wasn’t mistaken, with the current temperature and the words ‘Evacuation alarm will sound if heated above 5.2 degrees Celcius’ overlaid in large white text. It was unclear if what was shown on screen was supposed to be food, but it did appear to be moving.
Once you moved away from the screens, however, the layout followed the standard workspace format. Telltale signs of encroaching Themisification dotted the place here and there, such as the clearly-labelled signs hanging from the ceiling indicating the department’s respective subsections. Data analysts sat closest to the screens, diplomats at the opposite end of the floor near Shitface’s office. A sizeable contingent of bored-looking warrior gods made up the largest portion of the Security roster and took up the middle two-thirds where the ceiling, carpet and furniture appeared suspiciously singed.
Almost no one was at their desk, and the atmosphere of the floor appeared to be approaching mosh pit levels of frenetic activity.
Keep your voice down, said Shitface, carving a path through the chaos. You might sound like her, but you’re certainly not acting like it.
Am I not? I can vouch for the fact she didn’t want to be here either. No one’s paying attention to me anyway.
They weren’t. The moment Apollo had stepped in through the travel stations, the room had imploded with what must have been close to the entire department’s staff body stampeding towards him, clamouring for attention. Watching the approaching tsunami put the crowd control aspect of Durga’s job into better context, though I wasn’t about to give away my true identity by attempting to deal with it. Shitface was on his own.
I wasn’t needed in any case. Apollo moved through the converging mob like a dance, every step putting him exactly where he needed to be to deal with the tide. His eyes were in permanent interrogation mode as he spoke a few words to one person without breaking stride, immediately moving on to the next; answering questions, shutting down arguments and granting approvals before his staff even had a chance to ask. Impressed, I stared as those at the head of the crowd began to turn away back to their desks as quickly as they’d come, satisfied with whatever response their boss was providing them. The staggering efficiency of it all far surpassed anything I’d ever be able to achieve even if Providence rolled over and died, taking its field of roadblocks with it. More than that, I recognised it for what it was: the spectacle of a god fulfilling the whims of a crowd of supplicants. That the petitioners were fellow gods and the wishes troublesome administrative tasks was almost immaterial.
Barely a minute later, the path had cleared enough for me to catch up to where Shitface was waiting uninterrupted on the other side of the dispersing throng as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
To answer your question, he said, turning and setting off down the main thoroughfare, it’s a stopover. Right now, I can guarantee us a window where we can adjust Providence’s accessibility designations without running into trouble. The further I look, the less reliable that window gets. So we’re doing it now.
What was all that back there? I asked, ducking around a stray computer monitor someone had left floating in the middle of the walkway for some reason. Do they need you to do their jobs for them?
I could feel the exasperation directed my way in response. Daily briefings. A lot of it boils down to reassuring people their portfolio areas won’t fall apart in the next twenty-four hours.
You mean it’s always like this? I snorted in response. Overreacting much?
Don’t mock things you know nothing about, he said.
Not enough seers to go round, he’d mentioned earlier. No kidding.
Shitface’s office sat behind a second wall of screens at the far end of the hall, this one showing a selection of news feeds from around the world. Pope Grace I was on at least six of them being translated into various languages, and most of the others were repeating footage of the previous day’s devastation. Several people were standing nearby typing frantic notes into various devices. They too descended upon the manager when they saw him arrive, and once again he sent them off with a few sharp words.
“Hurry up,” he finished, scanning his access card across the door, which opened with a small click. “We don’t have all day.”
I stepped in, and broke into a laugh at the sight that greeted me. Apollo’s office was every bit a mess as my old apartment, just classier. The designer desk – which, from the layers of detritus piled on top of it, hadn’t been touched in a while – was missing a chair and shoved into a corner, and most of the sides of the room were lined with high-end shelves and safes. All were covered in miscellaneous odds and ends showing their age by depth, like tree rings. At the bottom of one of the piles I thought I even spied one of Providence’s old task request tomes.
“Don’t touch that,” he said, and I withdrew my hand from where it had been reaching for the nearest curiosity, a palm-sized cylindrical object that might have been a lightsaber or some kind of advanced grenade. “Don’t touch anything. We’re here to do a job.”
“Yes, boss,” I replied, mimicking Durga’s amiable tones, and resisted the urge to slip the object into a pocket as soon as his head was turned. As satisfying as it would be, even I had to admit now wasn’t the time to risk unexpected consequences backfiring on me when it counted most.
A projector on the ceiling whirred to life as he brushed past and the door closed behind us. The hairs on my skin stood on end as his arm missed mine by millimetres, and I rubbed them flat with one of my other available palms.
Apollo glanced towards the image projected on the sole uncluttered wall and it changed from a sunrise into a silver-on-white rendering of Providence’s corporate logo surrounded by unimaginative icons with overly-technical names. I watched as one of them highlighted and expanded, displaying an interface at least ten years out of date.
“Ooh, fancy. When does the rest of the business get the hands-free version?”
“When they can ensure it won’t be exploited for personal gain,” he said, not missing a beat. The interface changed to a column of form fields, which began filling themselves out faster than I could follow. “Handing out R&D’s prototypes to the wider office is a good way to ensure management gets scared off completing anything useful ever again. That’s if the system doesn’t get destroyed in the process.” Completed, the form window closed, only to be replaced with a second, longer questionnaire. “If you begin tying people’s souls to key processes, you need to make sure they can be trusted.”
“They sure put a lot of misplaced faith in you, then,” I noted.
Shitface didn’t respond. The second form window emitted a happy beeping noise and disappeared, revealing a dashboard much like some of the ones on the first wall of screens outside. For the several seconds it remained visible, I made out a number of timestamps overlaying a pinned map of the world under the heading ‘Active Loci’. A green dot bearing a countdown timer sat over Hungary, with another in Bolivia, and a numerous smattering of black dots I gathered were the demotion facilities, judging by the fact one matched the coordinates Mayari and I had visited in the Sahara. Off to the side in the middle of uninterrupted ocean sat another dot, just one, in red.
“What’s the red dot?” I asked immediately.
The dashboard window closed, and the projector winked off with a snick. “We should get going.”
“Okay,” I said with a shrug, “but I’m going to keep inquiring about the red dot. You knew I was going to see it and ask questions; as far as I’m concerned, you’ve brought this on yourself. So, the big project’s going down in Bolivia, then?”
“We need to complete our other job first,” he answered, and reached past me to the door. “And I’d appreciate it if we could make it out of the office without the entire department suspecting both of us of foul play.”
“Foul play? Why, I’m aghast. I’m a mere employee following orders. The responsibility’s all on you.”
He looked skywards. “It’s at times like this I wish I could pray to a higher authority. And then I remember we’re it, and suspect we’re all doomed.”
“Oh,” I remarked, grinning. “So you do understand the quintessential Helpdesk experience. Who knew?”
“Not you, obviously.” He opened the door. “Now move it before I kick you out.”