Note: If you’re new to the story please read the Prologue here!
In another time zone, half-way across the world, Carlos Hayek had been flicking his stress-ball up in the air when that little, daunting light came on. He hadn’t noticed it first, not only was his attention on the little ball, but he was extremely tired and not much usually ever happened in that room. Although, he knew his job was important. He knew it was a matter of national security. Even if he wasn’t allowed to ask questions about it.
He was content not to ask questions too. He got paid pretty well not to. He had enough money to live in the city and send money back to his distant family in Mexico, and New York City certainly wasn’t the cheapest city to live in. He probably would have been happy even if the work wasn’t moral. He was that sort of person. He didn’t know if it was or not, but he couldn’t promise the thought hadn’t crossed his mind once or twice.
The room he was in was modern. It was windowless, with lights bright enough to simulate day even if it was just past two in the morning. There were a mixture of mostly warm light colours of earthy tones on the walls, yet with sharp lines. There were sounds playing through speakers to simulate the outside world; birds, wind, running water, leaves rustling, sometimes it changed too, depending on the time of year. Although it was a huge contrast to what was outside, as the building itself faced East River with the bottom of Roosevelt Island could just be seen. As soon as Hayek stepped outside he was greeted with the sounds of beeping horns from the traffic, distant sirens, chatter from passing walkers and traffic lights. The room was specifically designed to be both warm and inviting, yet stimulating. They wanted those employed inside the walls to be alert yet comfortable.
It was well equipped, with a coffee machine—although it was currently out of order and Hayek and his other colleagues who did the other shifts had been emailing and emailing to get it fixed—there was fridge full of different drinks; water, cola, lemonade, orange juice to name a few, that was stocked daily—of course, alcohol was categorically forbidden—cookies and other assortment of candies were always stocked in the fridge too, there was also a wooden fruit bowl on top of it, stocked with apples, bananas, oranges and pears, to encourage workers to stay healthy. As well as foods and drinks, there was a modern desk with a modern touch-sensitive light probably only for decoration, a basic computer, functional for only his role and a simple black chair.
On the wall in front of him there was a large board with one hundred and ninety-three various LED lights, all next to a corresponding label. When one of those lights started to flash, the computer would pick up on it and display the category it corresponds to. It was a simple system, there wasn’t any need to over-complicated it. It, and the room in general, had one function; report which label or labels were flashing.
Other than the fridge, the desk, the fruit bowl and the wall with LEDS, the room was considered bare. There was no TV, radio, not even a telephone, no electronics were allowed inside the room. No magazines, newspapers, books, or writing equipment were even allowed. Hayek and his colleagues who worked solely within the room were only allowed to bring in a limited amount of items in with them; their clothes on their backs, reading glasses and medication. Other items were seen as a distraction from the important role they had. Even windows were seen as a distraction; the possibility of seeing a bird, a butterfly, a leaf, even a cloud was too much. The items inside the room were of course a distraction, but when they designed the room, they knew it was impossible to remove all distractions, especially if you wanted to keep your employees happy. So, it was designed to limit the risks of distractions and this was their best effort to not only keep the employee happy and effectively disseminate their important role. The only reason why Hayek had been allowed a take-away coffee cup was because he had pressured his boss into it after the automatic coffee machine had decided to give up on life—probably from the overuse—and his ball he was currently throwing up in the air was deemed as a stress reliever and was unfortunately allowed. Of course, his boss was reluctant to allow both, the ball more so, and Hayek clearly demonstrated the reason why his boss was reluctant.
Hayek had a personal competition with himself, to see how high he could get the ball. At first, he wanted to see how small the ball would look before the forces of gravity—which Hayek wouldn’t admit, he never understood—would hurl it back, sometimes smacking him in the face. He then tested how high the ball could go by lining it up with certain points in the room, how high up the LED board could he get it—without touching the board of course, he did that once, the ball smacked the board nearly knocking out the LED light for a label he couldn’t even pronounce, he got threatened with being fired—how high up past the curving lines to his left could he get it. He also tested both hands, he was left-handed, and wanted to know if he could get the ball as high with his right.
Before his variety of vertical-ball competitions, he had another competition to see how much pressure he could assert on the ball before it broke. He tried with his right hand first to test his right-handed strength. But the competition was short-lived when he accidentally got too confident and did the hand strength test with his left hand and split it, which was why he changed to the vertical challenge, he had of course sewn it up when he got home that day.
Before that, his competition was to see if he could get the ball to rotate in the air and land in his hand with a certain colour facing upwards. His little stress-ball had six sides; two were red, two were blue and the last two were yellow. It was old and faded as he’d had it since before he could remember. He had a small fascination with the yellow colour as it wasn’t that far off the yellow that was on the lamp shade; a dull yellow or daffodil.
Before he was allowed his stress-ball, he had made the most of the contents of the room, being amused by the touch-sensitive daffodil-coloured lamp, seeing how quick the lamp’s reactions were, counting the ceramic diamond shapes on the body. He amused himself with the label off the bottles in the fridge, the chocolate bars—it was in that room he realised Reece’s had an apostrophe in it, he’d never even cared to notice before—even the half-peeling sticker on the bottom of the fruit bowl. He amused himself with the light in the little fridge, the strange dent on the fridge’s left side, and the small kink in the seal it had, which he was very pleased with himself the day he fixed it.
And of course, he amused himself with the LED board. He counted the LEDs, almost always counting one hundred and ninety-three. He counted the labels he recognised, then counted the labels he didn’t. He attempted to find patterns in it, or inspecting the LEDs and wondering if the damn board even worked.
He noticed the red flickering LED when he stopped his little competition to take a drink of his coffee. Unbeknown to himself it had been flickering for a whole two minutes before he noticed. When he did, he nearly coughed it back into the cup. He sat, with the take-away paper cup to his lips, staring at the red blinking light for a few seconds trying to work out whether he had finally cracked, the room making him go mad, or if that little red light really was blinking. After what felt like years getting paid a small fortune to amuse himself in the strange room, he almost forgot what he was actually in there for.
But then he remembered the procedure. He bolted upright, his stress-ball that was originally on his lap where it was resting and momentarily forgotten was catapulted up onto the desk and knocked the lamp, making it wobble. He had also slammed the paper cup on the desk, the contents having sloshed over the desk and trickled over it, and now dripped onto the floor.
Deputy Secretary-General Editha Kalumuna
“Your Excellency…” said the voice on the other end of the phone. It sounded nervous and slightly hesitant.
The Deputy Secretary-General Kalumuna had been fast asleep only moments ago before the phone rang, she rolled over in bed to answer it as quickly as possible before it disturbed her husband. She wasn’t necessarily expecting a phone call, but it wasn’t out of the usual to receive a call this early in the morning, considering her position. But, when the phone rang, she was expecting a different voice on the other end, one from her boss, not the one she heard. She knew the voice of course. She dreaded hearing that voice.
“Hayek?” Kalumuna asked, nervous of the answer.
“Yes, your Excellency,” Hayek said. “I’m sorry, but… a light has come on.”
Kalumuna suddenly sat bolt upright, very awake. “A light?”
“Who?” she asked.
“United Kingdom, ma’am.”
“Why in the hell are you telling me?” she snapped before she realised what she was doing.
“I… err…” Hayek wavered. “I cannot get hold of the Secretary General, ma’am.”
Kalumuna frowned slightly, a wave of different emotions went through her. She’d admit that annoyance was her first emotion, the fact the Secretary General wasn’t answering his phone and she had to be the second in line to take it, then worry that something had happened to him, considering what this phone call represented, then finally guilt when she remembered where the Secretary General was; he was on holiday.
The Secretary General was half-way into his annual holiday to Hawaii, he went every year to the same spot. Kalumuna never understood his interest in going every year, she preferred to try new places or visit her hometown, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to visit relatives. But the Secretary General, although his ancestors were Ghanaian decent, he had been born and grew up in Boston, USA and was a typical American who liked his usual holiday spots. It wasn’t his only holiday spot either, he was also frequent to Fiji, Thailand and St Andrews, Scotland for the golfing.
It was, however, unusual that the Secretary General wasn’t answering his phone. He always had his phone on him, in case of an emergency. It didn’t happen often, of course, ringing him and disturbing him for an emergency. Normally Kalumuna could deal with it herself. But then, this was a particular type of emergency. She just hoped the Secretary General was busy and missed the call, it was about nine in the evening in Hawaii.
“Sorry, Hayek,” Kalumuna said, and sighed. “I’ll deal with it. Keep an eye on that board. Call me if anything changes.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Hayek said almost military-like, making her wonder for a moment if he had been drafted at some point in his past, but couldn’t remember, and then hung up on her.
Without hesitation—and ignoring her husband’s half-awake questions—she got out of bed, slipped on her night robe and rushed into her home office to make some very important calls.
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