Kyle decided he needed water. Cold water, the coldest available and he’d keep drinking until his head was half-frozen. It wouldn’t do much good but it might bring a little relief from the migraine – push the monster halfway back into its cage. Thinking this, Kyle rose from his seat.
Or at least he tried to rise. In practice, his shoelace was caught in the wheel of his office chair and he stumbled a little. He tried to free his foot, and would have managed it if he could have moved normally, but the headache made him clumsy. Instead of pulling his foot away from the chair he pulled the chair into the back of his knees. His knees folded. He made a grab at his desk as he went over. It didn’t help. Instead he managed to drag a dozen printouts and assorted clutter off onto the floor with him.
The building that Kyle, the machine, and now a mess of office supplies occupied, was on an open plan. It contained rows of short, grey, flimsy, three-sided cubicles positioned in a large open floor lit with harsh fluorescent light. Each cube contained a spinning wheel, an employee, and a computer. At the moment, the wheels took all of everyone’s attention. Lately the energy required to cast the spells had been higher and everyone was going home with migraines.
If anyone was doing more than waiting for their wheel to complain Kyle would have been amazed.
The reaction to his fall was additional evidence in that direction. Heads popped out of cubicles like prairie dogs surfacing. “Hey, bud. You OK?” A mage by the name of Simon asked from across their shared cubical wall. Simon looked worn, but not quite as beat to hell as Kyle felt.
“Uh, yeah, I just got tangled in my chair. Stumbled…” From his graceless position on the floor Kyle shrugged then twisted his foot around to free it from the chair and pulled himself unsteadily upward. The watchers over the cubicle walls all tracked his movements. “Uh, I’m OK now.” He waved. One by one they vanished. Somewhere a spinning wheel moaned. Kyle had a sharp moment of fear before he realized it wasn’t his own.
“My friend, you look like crap.” The last was spoken by one Ketan Patel. Kyle’s coworker and probably his best friend at the company.
“So you’re saying, laying on the floor under a desk chair makes my butt look big?”
“No, I am saying your face is grey, your eyes are dead, and it seems like you might pass out, or at the very least start drooling on yourself at any second.”
Kyle rubbed his temple, inside it the headache pulsed with the regularity of a clock. “Oh that kind of bad. I had to adjust the spinning wheel twenty-one times today. I think my head’s going to explode.” Kyle sat down on his desk. “If that stupid thing goes off one more time, I’m going to grab the fire extinguisher and beat it to a twisted hunk of scrap.”
Ketan winced in sympathy. “Twenty One?” His accent was slightly more British than Kyle associated with India. Kyle thought it was an upper class thing, but he’d never asked. “It shouldn’t need recast that many times. That’s too many.”
“I know! The spell is holding like a worn out post-it note and it takes twice as much energy as it should to adjust.”
Ketan sighed, “We must be over-licensed.”
“Everyone is having to adjust the spells way too often. I didn’t do it 21 times, that’s just bad luck, but I still cast too many adjustments today. We’re not the only ones. Just listen to this place.”
Kyle cocked his head to the side and realized what Ketan meant. The office was quiet as a tomb, no phones rang, no keyboards tapped, there wasn’t even the low chatter of employees gossiping about one another or planning weekends. No one had the energy left. “I suppose you’re right. It’s good, in a way, I’m motivated now. This weekend I’m getting up on the job boards and finding contract work. I’ve got to break out of this stupid grind and now I’ve got the motivation to do it.”
Ketan sniffed. Kyle didn’t blame him. He’d been working with Consolidated Magic and Materials now for two years and he’d never liked it. But he graduated from college in a crap market for magicians and this was the only thing he’d been able to come by. He complained too much and his coworkers seemed to have stopped taking him seriously. “But, no, really. I mean it this time. I’m working on my own spells you know. I can’t make progress feeling like this. I’ll start some contract work coming in and quit. Then, during the slack periods, I’ll have time to be really focused on research. I’ve nearly got some exciting stuff ready.”
“In that case, when you make it good I expect a job. Nothing fancy, you understand, but I should get to use the company jet. For now, I’m going to go home. Maybe I’ll rest my head in the freezer for a little while and when it stops ringing watch some movies. My folks have sent me new releases from home.”
“Singing and dancing?”
“You mock, but they have beautiful women in them. I could watch movies from home all day. The movies here are all explosions. They make my headache worse.” He paused and shook his head in false mourning then smiled seriously, “But really, go home and get some rest. You look like crap.”
Kyle smiled, “Yeah I suppose, ‘night.” After Ketan walked out of the cube Kyle looked at his watch. It was later than he’d thought. The company was on mandatory overtime, but he’d made his hours. He headed for the exit as well.