Big Bang, Inc.
by Mathew Allan Garcia
When it rains, the office feels like it’s submerged in water.
The walls groan and the windows, five inches thick and blacked out because the view is bad for employee morale, hum with the windstorms outside. The windows vibrate, like they are under extreme pressure and they might, at any moment, collapse and drown us all. I haven’t seen daylight in two years.
The room we’re standing in has walls made of stainless steel, and the wind coming out of the vent above us is as cold as a hooker’s smile. Can’t tell if it’s smoke or fog, but it smells like cotton candy. There’s a single light bulb dangling from the center of the room and the light reflected off the walls makes my head hurt and my eyes tear up.
Sida’s eyebrows are raised, but she’s got a little smirk playing across her face like this is child’s play.
She’s wearing a nice billowy orange sundress with yellow flowers on it and open-toed high-heel shoes. Purple painted toenails. Her hair’s done up in a bun held in place with a jade pin, and her almond-shaped eyes are an unnaturally bright shade of blue. Like what I imagine the sky once looked like. Her legs are long and toned, bicyclists’ legs. She’s got a nice rack and ass for an Asian chick.
It’s easy for me to believe she’s not real.
“So what’s it going to be David?” Sida asks again. No urgency, no irritation. Again with the eyebrows. Like it’s a perfectly easy question to answer.
Like choosing the vehicle for Earth’s destruction is cake.
Donny comes to mind first when Monica hands me the pink slip.
“Big Bang, Inc.,” she says, and doesn’t even turn around to look at me when she says it.
Monica’s an old-school Latina. Today, her bangs are curled up so stiff they look like they’re backing away from her face, trying to appear bigger than they are in order to repel predators. Her red lipstick is hastily smeared on so it stains her teeth, and the dye job she’s done this past weekend has dribbled down her neck. Her tattooed eyebrows are raised in a state of permanent petulance.
“Make it quick,” she says. This time she swivels around in her chair.
She’s about thirty pounds overweight and her low-cut blouse tells me most of it’s in her breasts. Every couple of months the Big Boss comes by and hunches over her desk because he thinks I can’t see him pinch her nipples and cup her breasts. Each time I swear the squeal in her chair screams: promotion time, promotion time!
At this rate, she’ll be his boss in no time.
“Sure,” I say. “How many months behind are they, anyway?”
Big Bang, Inc. is on the third floor, at the end of the hall, and looks deserted for all I can tell. Thought they were evicted awhile back. I go up sometimes to take a dump in the bathroom, which is always empty. It’s even devoid of EYES because Big Bang never requested they be installed and Emcor staff isn’t supposed to be up there anyway. The only sound I hear is the occasional thrum of the AC switching on, or the swoosh of the water running through the pipes. The ringing in my ears. It’s creepy, but it’s clean and the bathroom on Emcor’s floor always smells of canned fruit medley and peppermint, like someone’s just upchucked.
Frankly, I’m surprised Big Bang’s lasted this long. Nowadays, businesses are split into two industries: production of EYES, and solar SmartPanels used to harness the little sunlight that peaks through the clouds every now and then.
Then there’s companies like the one I work for, which leases offices and factories for said businesses. Big Bang, rumored to be working on a completely new source of raw power, didn’t fit in any of those criteria.
“Emcor pays you to do,” Monica says, tapping a pencil on her desk, “not to think. They pay me to think.”
I nod, roll my eyes before I can stop myself.
“Listen, fuckface,” she whispers, “don’t make me shit-can you like Donny. Donny’s probably working as a suicide bomber for the military right about now, so I’d watch it.”
Unfortunately, Monica’s whisper is a person’s normal voice, except screechier, and half the staff is looking over at us, or has begun typing faster.
“Got it, Monica,” I say. “I’ll be back in no time.”
Donny Green, the man on the scene.
I remember that, what Donny called himself, and it makes me crack a smile on my way out. Donny was fresh at Emcor when I started. I wore a tie on my first day, a bright red striped one. When Donny saw me in the lunch room, he waved me over, grinning.
“You don’t gotta wear that shit, man,” Donny said. He was a tall guy, and wore his hair slicked back with too much gel. Just outside the lunch room, EYES crawled on the doorway. Their legs scrabbled on the glass as they turned their cameras toward us. Groups made them nervous.
The lunch room was, back then, one of the last places they weren’t allowed to go. Their mics, however, could sometimes pick up conversations if you weren’t careful.
“Fuckin’ spiders can’t hear you if you sit in this back corner against the glass, though,” Donny told me on my second day, when he could tell I didn’t want to talk. “Sometimes they can’t see you either. The glass reflects too much light from the hallway. If they got that red light instead of the green, it means they are refocusing, trying to get a clear image.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Militesh told me.”
Millitesh was the IT guy who wrote code for Emcor’s software, monitored online traffic, and served as the security officer in charge of overseeing EYE surveillance. He made a habit of harassing new staff with rules and regulations they didn’t have time to learn yet. He seemed like a giant prick to me.
“Why?” I asked.
“I caught him watching porn on his computer,” Donny said, “ he owes me.”
After work, Donny and I would go up to the surface sometimes. The streets were in shambles, the roads impassable in certain places, covered in ash and gutted where storms took greedy handfuls of pavement. In the broken alleyways and doorways to abandoned shops I saw shadows move. In the dilapidated homes I saw flames of candlelight extinguished as we neared.
On one trip, Donny took me to see a movie.
“What was that?” I asked, startled by movement coming from one of the homes. The shadows crowded me, the flashlight barely guided our way.
“Relax,” Donny said, “I gotta show you something.”
“Hey Donny, people don’t live up here anymore…do they?” I asked.
But Donny didn’t answer, just kept walking.
He knew of a theater down the block from Emcor that still had working projectors. A contact of his at his first assignment supplied him with battery cells a few times a month.
“Got people who owe me all over the place, David.” Donny said.
“Does it have to do with how you got fired?” I asked.
Getting canned was a big deal. Work assignments were controlled by The Employment Embassy (TEE). Every citizen got three assignments in a lifetime. Really two, because thirds were never heard from again. TEE would view EYE data, and would filter through the scraps and assign another, lower paying job based on observable skill sets. After two terminations, the types of job assignments given were usually highly dangerous, and classified. Government shit no one ever heard about.
The day Donny was assigned his third job assignment was the last day I saw him. Thirds get a bad rap. Trust me: it’ll be cake, Donny told me, as he was escorted out of Emcor’s offices. He was carrying a small cardboard box full of his things. As he passed my cube, he handed me something small that he hid in the palm of his hand. He slapped it into my hand and gave me a toothy grin.
It was a note.
“I had no idea Big Bang was leasing this much space,” I say.
Sida’s the secretary at Big Bang and as she walks me through the halls, all I’m thinking is how cold the office is. Businesses nowadays conserve as much power as possible, and heating is usually a no-brainer when it comes to conserving power.
But even without them, with all the people crammed into a little office, Emcor heats up pretty nicely by noon. Here, in Big Bang’s offices, it was as cold as a dead Eskimo. As Sida led me through a small corridor, each office I peered into was empty, with only a cheap plastic desk and a recliner. No computers, and cobwebs everywhere.
“Oh, I can assure you, we were,” Sida says pleasantly. She walks in her heels like she’s been wearing them all her life, and her hips sway like a pendulum that’s got me mesmerized, so I don’t say another word on the subject.
“Where are we going?” I ask, when I remember my assignment is to hand her the slip. It’s still in my hand. Faintly, I hear the thrum of the AC switching on and I think, About time we get some warm air in here.
“I need to show you something,” Sida says.
Oh shit, David, Donny would have said. I’ve seen porn that starts like this!
We pass a corridor with wall-to-wall blackened windows. The sound coming from just beyond them makes me think of the abandoned theater, Krieger’s theater, and the way it groaned whenever the wind picked up.
“Anyone work here?” I ask.
“Yes,” Sida says.
“Coulda fooled me,” I say, getting a little irritated.
Normally I wouldn’t complain. Any time away from my desk in an EYE-free environment would sound like a little slice of heaven. In my cube, the EYES monitor everything. They catch me zoning out. They catch me picking my nose mid-sentence through a job. They monitor the number of milliseconds I spend with my eyes closed when I blink. The number of requests I perform per day. They catch me striking a conversation while I am on the clock, each syllable coming out of my mouth run through their endless lines of code to come to one conclusion: It is not work related. I am wasting Emcor resources. Then Monica is notified.
Emcor pays you to do, not to think. They pay me to think.
Yeah, this is a little slice of heaven compared to that, but the silence of Big Bang’s offices is starting to get to me.
There’s hints of employees, sure. The swoosh of water in the pipes, the AC, papers shuffled atop of desks like someone had a hell of a day and didn’t have a second to clean it up. There are bulletin boards hung on walls with things like, “Congrats, Martha! Employee of the Month” scribbled hastily on them, and call center statistics. Shit like that.
But if you took a second to take it all in, you’d see that half of it was outdated, like it was written a year ago and was never touched again. Half the desks are covered in dust blankets, papers and all.
What the hell? I think.
“What?” Sida asks, stopping and turning around.
I realize I said it out loud.
“I said what the hell is this?” I ask.
Sida smiles, “David, I told you I have to show you some—”
“Listen,” I say, “I’ve had enough of this. Take the eviction notice. I’m heading back.”
“We’re here,” Sida says.
I realize we’re standing in front of a behemoth-sized door. It looks like it’ll take an army to move it an inch, but Sida flips a lid on a control panel on the side, presses a few buttons and the door slides open like it was on a track made of butter. The steel door doesn’t make a sound as it opens.
The light from inside makes me drop the eviction notice. It’s that bright.
I think of the light from the projectors at Krieger’s Theater. Remember the time Donny was fucking around and pointed that sucker full blast on me. Made me blind for a good thirty seconds. It’s funny how our eyes get used to living in a world of darkness and fluorescent lighting. The brightness made me realize that the projector was old technology. Back when they had resources to burn, and no regard for how to burn them.
I think of Donny’s whispers from the film room of Krieger’s theater. Turn it on and get down here, asshole, I hissed at him.
Sit down and enjoy the show, he whispered back.
Sometime afterwards, when the movies were over or we ran out of battery juice, we went out exploring the dilapidated homes. They smelled of old copper pennies and decay. Like the way I imagine bone dust would smell. I didn’t much like it, but Donny said some people had found paper money and coins buried in backyards, or hidden in bunkers underneath the floorboards. Funny how the mind blocks out certain things it doesn’t want to remember.
We didn’t find money.
We found something else.
It’s a brightness that I haven’t seen since I was a kid, when the storms were less frequent. By the time I turned six, most rivers were polluted, and the few times the sunlight peeked through the clouds, it was promptly covered up by the giant SmartPanels.
“Come with me,” Sida says, and walks into the room.
It’s a tin box of a room, with all four walls made of steel and a single bulb hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room, nearly fifty feet above us. For a second I don’t know what’s causing the intense brightness until I notice that it’s coming from the reflections of light against the walls, which I notice are not perfectly flat, but built in odd, asymmetrical angles. The light moves down the room, becoming more intense as it flows down.
A faint smell of cotton candy tickles my nose and there’s a faintly pink-hued fog coming from the vent just above the light bulb. It all makes me think one thing:
We’re not in Emcor’s office building anymore.
Sida stops in front of another set of steel doors, turns, and smiles. Motions with one arm towards a computer monitor built into the wall in front of the double doors.
“After you,” she says. “It awaits you, after all.”
I walk towards the monitor and my square-toed dress shoes make hollow ping-ping noises on the floor. Curiosity pulls me. I can’t help it.
“What is this, Sida?” I ask. The voice that comes out of my mouth sounds thin, hollow. It’s the scared voice of a kid who’s being told that we gotta stay underground now. The surface ain’t safe anymore.
“If I may say, without sounding too cliché,” Sida says, pointing to the monitor and giggling like she’s about to get off a good one, “your destiny awaits.”
On it, the cursor blinks. It’s thinking. Then words appear on the screen written in block letters:
ENGINE #3 START UP IS SUCCESSFUL.
LAST SUCCESSFUL RUN DATE…4.23.0001
ISNBH RESET START-UP REQUIRED.
DO YOU WISH TO PROCEED? Y/N
I read the words on the screen several times. Below the screen, on the keyboard, is a stack of blue business cards with neon green print. I take one and hold it up.
Big Bang, Inc.
222 N. Colorado St. Floor 3
City Of Industry, CA 90023
When I did not type in an answer on the screen, a loud popping noise came from the walls, all around me, like the crackling of an aluminum bag. A voice came from the walls.
“I…I don’t understand,” I say. I turn to Sida but she stares at me with the same doe face and smiles. “What is this?”
More popping. The speakers are old, and the wiring within them worn down, or maybe chewed by rodents.
“DO YOU WISH TO PROCEED WITH RESET?
“THIS IS THE ENGINE ROOM. SYSTEM ATMOSPHERIC READINGS HAVE INDICATED THAT EARTH’S ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE HAS REACHED ITS LIMIT. READINGS INDICATE .000199% SUSTAINABILITY. ESTIMATED TIME LEFT: 45 HOURS, 37 MINUTES, 24 SECONDS.”
Sweat is drenching through my shirt, but it’s even colder in this room than it was in the halls. I’m in a dream. Must be.
“What is this?” I repeat.
My head is beginning to hurt. A dull ache behind the eyes. I pass my fingers nervously through my hair, then crouch down against the steel wall. My eyes stare up towards the vent above, and I see that more pink fog is beginning to slip inside. The room’s cloudier than before, I’m sure of it. Sida, standing beside me, doesn’t skip a beat. She stands there, hands grasped behind her back, looking as calm as if we’re just listening to a good ol’ bit of gossip.
“David?” she asks, finally. “Are you all right?”
“No, I’m not all right. What the fuck is this? Why do you need me?”
“Engine start up was successful. We began monitoring your thoughts as you approached our offices, to get an idea of what type of reset you would suggest. We deciphered that you would go with a storm. Apparently they frightened you much as a child. It’s a very unoriginal reset, by the way,” Sida says, but it’s all gibberish to me.
“However, originality is hardly the point. It certainly is effective,” she adds.
Monitoring my—? Storming reset? What the fuck?
I glimpse her small, perfectly shaped teeth, and suddenly her perfection pisses me off.
“Reset? What’s the purpose of this?” I ask, but my eyes dart back towards the way we had come in—at least, the way I thought we had come in. There’s no door there now, or I can’t see it now that it’s closed and the uniform steel walls and cluster-fucking fog is hiding it.
Sida smiles and laughs a little, shaking her head. It’s not an unpleasant or mean smile.
The speakers pop to life again, and Sida remains silent.
“YOU ARE THE USER. THE ENGINE HAS STARTED SUCCESSFULLY. PART OF START UP INVOLVES SELECTING A POWER SOURCE. EARTH SUSTAINABILITY IS NEAR ZERO PERCENT.”
“The world is dying, David,” Sida says, in perfect sync to when the speakers stop, as if she knew the script, has played this game before. “Great men have stood where you stand now. Through Reset, you will have the role of guiding life back to where it needs to be. Where it needs to go. Every couple of centuries this world degenerates…to where we are today. And every couple of centuries, we must return it to its former glory. There has always been a Big Bang, Inc. to ensure life’s continuity. Our hopes have always been to select a user that will one day make the need for our services no longer necessary. Before Big Bang, we were IMA enGINE, Inc. Before then we were Raw Power, LTD.”
I breathe in deeply, “But what is Reset? And why me?”
“Eradicating the remaining population, of course. Beginning anew, with a single user and his or her mate. That much carbon waste blinking out of existence instantaneously, you can imagine how much Earth’s burden will lighten. The gears of time will be pulled back,” Sida says, and I could swear she’s tearing up.
“You will be a part of this, David, because…well, why not? We’ve selected all kinds of users. Great thinkers. Great leaders. All have led to the same fate. Our resources are not endless, David. There will come a time when Big Bang, Inc will no longer have the capability to restore Earth through Reset. Take this opportunity to make the world what you want it to be. Imagine this. Make us obsolete.”
I take a minute to take it all in.
“Are you my mate?” I ask.
“I am merely a hologram,” Sida says. “The one and only Big Bang, Inc employee.”
Honestly it doesn’t really surprise me. But…
“I shook your hand. You’re real,” I say.
“Mild electric shocks made to simulate touch,” Sida says. “Nothing more. We’ve picked someone very beautiful for you, David. So, will you complete the Reset?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Kill everyone? Shit…”
“You won’t be killing them, David. You’ll be freeing them.”
Donny and I didn’t find buried paper money. What we found was a bunker filled with people. Scared, cold, and out of food. Some were mutated from the fallout. Others dying. Hiding. Unable to re-enter our new society for fear of contamination. Outcasts.
They looked at us with fear, huddled in the corner like rats on a sinking boat, jousting for position on the only surface above water—as far away from us as possible.
“We gotta help them,” Donny said as soon as we left.
“Shit,” I said. But it was the only time I had seen Donny serious, his face vacant of that ol’ Donny smirk. “I don’t know, Donny. That’s not just an offense…Shit, we ain’t even supposed to be up here. Helping is a crime.”
“You fucking coward,” Donny told me.
Donny stole more battery packs, solar SmartPanels. Food, whenever he could. After that, up until the day he was canned, I hardly saw him. I knew he was helping them. On the day he was canned he handed me a note tucked into the palm of his hand when we shook and said our last goodbyes.
TAKE CARE OF THEM FOR ME, DAVID.
And I did. Without Donny, the surface seemed darker than I remembered. The shadows more crowded. The silence quieter. I took food from boardrooms, leftovers from meetings. Once or twice Monica almost caught me, but I continued doing it. For Donny.
But the fallout eventually claimed their lives, one by one. Their dead buried down below with them, too afraid of being seen to venture out into the streets.
When it rains, the office feels like it’s submerged in water. I haven’t seen daylight in two years. This is no way to live, I think.
“So, what’s it going to be David?” Sida asks again.
“Yes,” I say. “Yes, let’s do it.”
She motions towards the monitor.
“Then proceed,” Sida says, “David, son of Joshua.”
DO YOU WISH TO PROCEED? Y/N
“Was the Ice Age a Reset?” I ask.
“It was created here,” Sida replies, without hesitation, and with a hint of smugness. “I believe the user’s name was Michel. The dinosaurs were a nice touch.”
“Eden. The apple. The tree of knowledge of good and evil. The flood?” I ask.
“Adam and Eve. Noah picked the flood. I would think that was obvious,” Sida says. “So shall we begin anew with a flood?”
“No,” I say, and run my hand through my hair, which is now wet with the fog in the air. The fans circulate. I remember Monica’s place had burned a few years back, how she took two weeks off for the trauma. She was afraid of fires.
I hit the Y button.
A set of double doors slide open to a small room, completely furnished.
“Now, if you’d follow me into your room,” Sida says, walking in.
“Oh,” I say.
“Change your name. Sida means AIDS in Spanish,” I say.
“Fitting, don’t you think?” Sida laughs. “This will only take a moment. You’ll see. So shall we go with a flood?” she asks, beginning to walk back towards the doorway. She peers over her shoulder as she walks. She’s beautiful.
“No,” I say again, “let’s go out with something a little more original.”
Sida turns as the doors begin to close behind her. She raises her eyebrows to signify she is listening.
“Let’s go out with a fire.”
About the Author
Mathew Allan Garcia lives in Hesperia, California with his wife, his three dogs, and his bear-dog hybrid named Zansa. He serves as the managing editor at Pantheon Magazine, and writes a bi-weekly column entitled “Funeral Songs” at Parable Press. His work has been published at Shotgun Honey, Absinthe Revival, B O D Y Literature, among others. Sometimes, between it all, he has a chance to breathe.
“Big Bang, Inc.” © 2013 Mathew Allan Garcia