August arrives at his office with the stained windows one minute late. The chastising shock delivered at his desk is painful but unsurprising. His co-worker, Alexander, walks past, whistling at Judas.
Black watch, Alexander says. You must have been slow on the train, too.
Don’t joke, August replies.
Who’s laughing, Alexander asks. You’ve got a lens, boy. A real friend in you. A watchdog. Hope it doesn’t trip the leash.
Alexander presses a pile of paper to the desk. Malcontents, he says, grinning. Absolutely dreadful anarchists. Retirement paperwork. Clause differentials. There’s more clean-up here than there is with the bucket men. August shivers. The rain slaps the stained windows, unable to pierce generations of grime.
Mr. Conheart is looking for you, Alexander points to the office. He reaches up and touches the hovering camera. A stinger emerges and jabs his hand once, and with a yelp Alexander backs off. Nasty thing, isn’t it, Alexander says, cradling his hand. Little beast.
I don’t know if it can hear you.
Oh, I doubt the black watch misses a trick.
It’s just because they caught me pissing in an alleyway.
That’s why you were late? Had to take a piss?
I’d had a lot of coffee. Sleeping is hard. The reformation center is two blocks away. I can hear the…voices.
Alexander nods. He’s never been near a reformation center, but everyone knows that the voices are the worst part. Human beings don’t sound like that.
A buzzer goes off next to August’s desk and a howling voice emerges like an ogre from a cave. AUGUST, DISCIPLINESHIP RECEIVED. AUGUST, COMMUNICATION FROM CONTROLLER CONHEART. AUGUST, WORK PAPERS 1101B THROUGH 1208B DUE AT END OF DAY OR FURTHER DISCIPLINE. August and Alexander both flinch at the harsh, grating voice. Like the reformation center, human voices are heard less and less.
Guess I better see Conheart, August says. He rises, and Judas rises with him, observing. Alexander nods, heading back to his desk. Out of the corner of his eye, August sees Alexander make the forbidden gesture for luck. Lucky that Judas is watching me, not him, August thinks. The buzzer begins screaming again and he leaves his office, desperate to be away from that voice.