Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Orange Alert

Note: I wrote the following short story back in 2003. I haven't managed to sell it yet, so I figured I'd just inflict it on you, my faithful readers. Enjoy!
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The clock radio snapped on at 6:15, yanking Ben Griswold into reluctant consciousness. A woman's chipper voice droned on cheerfully about the news of the day. "...of Homeland Security has upgraded the threat level from yellow to orange. This means there is a high risk of terrorist attack..."

Ben slapped the clock silent and climbed out of bed. His stomach knotted as he considered the day ahead. It was Monday, which meant he and Mike were supposed to give their weekly update on the network upgrade. Just the thought of that unctuous, ass-kissing bastard this early in the morning was enough to make him taste bile.

Ben and Mike both reported to David "Dutch" Schulz, an obese man who chain-smoked, drank heavily, and occasionally ate an entire bucket of chicken for lunch. After his last heart attack, Dutch had announced that he would be retiring at the end of the year. He had then called Ben and Mike into his office and told them, "Look sharp, boys. One of you is going to have to take my place when I'm gone."

That had been a month ago, and since then Ben and Mike had struggled to one-up each other at every opportunity. When something went well, they both raced to take the credit. And when the inevitable shit hit the fan, neither could shift the blame fast enough.

Ben wanted that promotion, and had decided he would do whatever it took to get it, which is why he was up so early on a Monday morning. He was going to stop and pick up some Krispy Kremes on the way to work.

Dutch loved donuts.

* * *

"It's banana nut bread," Mike was saying, holding aloft the saran-wrapped plate. "My wife baked it fresh last night."

Dutch sat at the head of the table, or rather propped his considerable ass on the edge of his chair at the head of the table. His belly pressed against the table edge, and his hands were folded atop it. It wasn't eight yet, but his sleeves were already rolled up and his tie was loosened. Poor Dutch could break a sweat waiting for the elevator.

"That's nice, Mike," Dutch said. "Tell Molly I said thanks."

"Will do, Mr. Schulz," Mike said. He set the plate on the table and took his seat.

Dutch looked up at Ben, and his enormous face split into a gluttonous grin. "Ooh, donuts! Set those down right there!"

Ben ignored Mike's dirty look as he handed the box of donuts to his boss. Dutch tore the lid off and shoved an entire donut into his mouth.

Score one for the Griswold boy, Ben thought as he slid into his chair. He met Mike's angry glare and responded with a quick flash of his finger and thumb. "Loser," he mouthed.

"Okay, boys," Dutch said around a mouthful of pastry. "Where do we stand on the upgrade?"

"We're just about finished, sir," Ben said, beating Mike to the punch. "We were having a little trouble configuring the new DHCP settings, but I figured out how to..."

"Actually," Mike interrupted, "I was looking over Ben's settings and I'm a little concerned about the security of the..."

"The security?" Ben interrupted back. "Name one thing wrong with our security! I'm the one that got the firewall up and running, remember?"

"That's what concerns me," Mike said. "I think you're rushing things just so you can meet your deadline..."

"Our deadline! And I'm not rushing things! That firewall will protect our network from any hacker or any virus that..."

"I'd still feel more comfortable if I could check it myself," Mike said. "After all, I think results are far more important than just making deadlines. Right, Mr. Schulz?"

Dutch nodded and licked the glazed sugar from his fingers. "Better to have it right than have it quick."

"But it is right," Ben said desperately, hearing a defensive edge in his voice. He took a deep breath and said, "If you want to check it, Mike, feel free. But I stand by my work."

"Nobody's criticizing your work, Ben," Dutch said. "But better safe than sorry."

"Exactly!" Mike said with a triumphant grin. "Don't worry, Mr. Schulz. I'll make sure everything is running."

Flustered and frustrated, Ben clenched and unclenched his fists. His mind raced desperately for a way to upstage Mike and recapture the lead, but he couldn't think of anything other than his fervent desire to beat that smirk off of Mike's face with a chair. Just as he was about to give up and regroup for the next meeting, he was struck with inspiration.

"That's a good idea, Mike," Ben said amiably. Mike narrowed his eyes, justifiably suspicious. "Why don't we schedule a meeting to go over it together? How about this afternoon?"

Mike sighed. "I'll be out of the office this afternoon. My daughter has a soccer game." He glanced anxiously toward Dutch, who was on his sixth donut and showed no sign of slowing down. "Um, you remember I cleared that with you, Mr. Schulz?"

"Right, soccer game," Dutch said. "I remember now."

"Oh, that's too bad," Ben said. "Still, I guess family's got to come first, right? Much more important than work."

"We can go over it tomorrow," Mike said through gritted teeth.

"Whenever's convenient for you," Ben replied. "Oh, and while you're out, maybe I should double check your server backups. After all, I'd hate for the company to lose critical data while you were off with your family."

"Good idea, Ben," Dutch said. "Better safe than sorry."

For several seconds, the room was silent except for the sound of Dutch chewing noisily on yet another donut. Mike and Ben stared viciously at one another, each trying through sheer force of will to make the other's head explode.

But behind his poker face, Ben was elated. His heart was pounding with excitement and sheer joy at his masterful handling of the situation. No question about it. He had really shown Mike up this morning. Mike and his pathetic banana bread...

* * *

The fluorescent lights flickered and went out, drowning the entire floor in darkness. Blue lights in the ceiling began to flash intermittently, and the fire alarms hiccupped at the sudden loss of power.

The air conditioner was dead, and Ben's ears rang in the abrupt, stuffy silence. A scream came from somewhere down the hall, cut short by the startling burst of gunfire. More screams and angry shouts, and the sound of frantic footsteps echoed down the hallway.

"What the hell is going on?" Ben asked, startled by how loud his voice sounded.

Mike shushed him angrily. "Terrorists," he whispered.

"Terrorists?" Ben shook his head. "That's stupid. Why would terrorists..."

"Didn't you hear the news?" Mike whispered. "We're at Orange Alert."

"Oh crap," Dutch moaned, pressing his hand to his chest. "I'm going to have another heart attack."

"Don't worry, sir," Mike whispered, standing up. "I'll take care of it."

Ben snorted. "Oh, right. And just what are you..."

Mike shushed him again and moved silently to stand beside the door. Ben was about to comment once again on how stupid this whole thing was when he saw a flicker of light in the hallway. The light danced upon the carpet and the wall, bouncing in time with the approaching footsteps.

A bearded man in loose-fitting fatigues stalked down the hall, clutching an enormous rifle. Strapped to the barrel with duct tape was a yellow, underwater flashlight. Ben felt his throat tighten and he had to bite his lip to keep from screaming. Behind him, he could hear Dutch's labored breathing, even over his own pounding heart.

The soldier stopped at the doorway and shined his light into the meeting room. When he caught Dutch in his bright beam, he shouted something in a foreign tongue and took aim.

Mike leaped from the shadows and grabbed the rifle. The man barely had time to shriek in surprise before Mike smashed him in the face with the butt of his gun. The terrorist fell to the floor with a heavy thud. Mike pressed the barrel of the rifle to the man's head and finished him off with one shot.

"Oh crap," Dutch whispered. "Oh crap oh crap oh crap..."

"It's going to be okay, sir," Mike said in a voice brimming with confidence. He slipped his tie from around his neck and tied it like a bandana around his head. Then he slapped a new clip into the rifle, and slid back the bolt with a metallic snick. "I'll teach these bastards they can't mess with the good ol' U.S. of A."

And with that, Mike bolted off into the darkness. A few minutes later, Ben heard machine gun fire and angry, guttural shouts that turned into dying screams. And above it all, he could hear Mike shouting, "Yeah, you like that? You want some? How about you? Take that, you terrorist bastards!"

Ben took shelter with Dutch under the table, waiting for the end of the threat. He crouched on the floor with his panting, sweating boss and imagined Mike, bloodcaked and grimy, unleashing death on wave after wave of terrorists.

And he sighed. Great, he thought. How in the hell am I ever going to top that?

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Orange Alert © 2005 by Chris Irby

4 comments:

mr. schprock said...

That is a great, great story! Loved it!

John said...

Yeah, but how am I ever going to top it?

boidy said...

and so we wait, to see just how he doest top it. Ben won the donut round, Mike won the terrorist round, whatever is next? There WILL be more, wont there?

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