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An engineer dissatisfied with his life, a colossus in the aerospace industry and a mysterious supranational organization, linked by a potentially devastating weapon. The only certainty is that nothing is as it seems.
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The alarm clock was set at 7.00 am, like every other morning, after all. However, this time too it was anticipated by the voice of the child, who called him from the cradle next to the bed, reminding him that a new week had begun. By absent-mindedly following a script that presented itself infinitely equal, as if that routine had a memory, Max took the baby in his arms, smiled at his sleepy gaze and laid him next to his mother, before going to the bathroom.
He turned on the phone, distractedly read some news, gave a quick glance at the mails, and then went to the sink. Once again, he saw those tired hazel eyes in the mirror, smoothed his shaggy beard, ran a hand through his hair, as if to make sure they were still there, took a deep breath and undressed.
Even the hot shower was nothing but a part of the automatism that governed those last months of his life, the roar of water accompanied his thoughts, far from that cabin, kidnapped by a subtle, cold, inexorable anguish. Addicted to that feeling of impotence, like a tiger for too long in a cage, he huffed deeply, staring at the wall, while with his hand looked for the bathrobe next to the radiator. Dried himself, he got dressed and went back to the bedroom. In the dark he took the chronograph and the ring on the bedside table and put them on, kissed his wife, stroked the baby, took his bag and left.
He pulled the car in front of the bar, took the wallet from the passenger seat and headed inside. In that gray and dull place, a couple of patrons were eating breakfast in silence.
“ The usual, Marlboro and a scratch card.”
The clerk handed him the packet and a ticket and took the coins, never looking at him, while he was intent on starting the terminals that would soon be stormed by a host of retirees looking for a way to spend the day, maybe playing some instant lottery ticket, hoping to see old age with different colors, with some joy and some extra safety. Max put the note on the counter, began scratching the playing space with a coin, gave himself a few moments to curse, then threw it out.
He left the bar, unwillingly opened the packet, took a cigarette and lit it, leaning on the trunk of the willow that grew idle beside the sidewalk and, like every morning, stared at the silhouette of his car. He liked it, he had made many sacrifices to buy it, obviously second-hand, it was his pride, one of the few in truth, but the self-gratification immediately left room for anxiety, when he systematically began to think about how many installments he still had to pay, and how much part of his salary took flight every month. It was a bad time, but every day he said that it would be better, that he would pay off all the debts and that he could afford the beach house that his wife longed for. After all, he had to do it, he had to make the woman who had a life beside him happy, he had to give his son what he could not have, he would find the way.
He got back into the car; put his wallet on the passenger seat, when he heard a loud, thick roar. He did not need to look to know what it was, he perfectly recognized the rattle of those horses, the mutter of the four-cylinder that had given him a couple of years of emotions. He quickly retraced the curves of the coast, remembered the feeling of freedom that pervaded every fiber of his being when he lowered the visor, closing out a world to be crossed from fold to fold. He remembered the work necessary for the house, the preparations for the wedding, the painful choice and finally the rental van that came to load his bike. He relived everything in those few moments during which the centaur passed by, disappearing over the curve that led out of the city. Maybe one day, he thought, he would be back in the saddle, in the meantime, he had to hurry, and he had a card to stamp.
He parked at the usual place, walked a couple of hundred meters up to the turnstiles, where flocks of alienated employees stood, stopped with the watch in their hands waiting for the siren to sound. Like every morning, he ignored their looks, ignored the siren, took out the badge and crawled it. He crossed a forest of pipes, gauges and chimneys, slipped into a shed and followed the pedestrian path, absently listening to the chat and insults of the workers of the previous shift. He saw the machines parts stored in the storage area, stopped for weeks, perhaps months, shimmering under the rays of a pale sun that began to reveal itself from the windows of the workshop.
He remembered how much he had admired those places when he was a child, when during the “open days” his father showed them to him. He remembered the charm of the rough fuselages that crossed the sheds, the admiration for his father's splendid office, which had had a brilliant career in that factory. He remembered when he had promised himself that he would make it too; he would have his own office and have a happy and fulfilling life. He found himself mulling over how the perspective from which he now saw it had changed, about how those brilliant images in the eyes of a child full of expectations were now faded and opaque in the reality he was experiencing. He did not have his own office, he did a job he hated with people of whom, with some peace of mind, he had very little esteem.
After a few minutes, he arrived at the office building, climbed the two ramps and reached his station. His desk was at the back of the office, at the shoulder with three others. He put the bag down and turned on the computer, then walked to the center of the room, where a colleague from another company had already worked for half an hour, all the others were coming soon.
Max put a hand on Mark's shoulder, he had known him since college, a boy with olive skin, tall, dark hair and perpetually stressed. He was now a slave to that job that did not gratify him for so long, too much time, but whose reassuring routine he could not do without.
“ Coffee?” “Of course, let's go.” They walked towards the vending machines and chatted about this and that, sipping that horrible coffee and talking about family life, work to be completed, health and programs for the immediate future. They stood for a few minutes, respecting that daily ritual that prepared them to face the rest of the day, to then direct each one to their own position. The others began to populate the office.
One at a time, the other members of Max's team arrived. He had known those people for a while, and they all formed a good team. Paky was a smart boy, he worked and at the same time, he was finishing college. He cultivated his dream of becoming a famous singer. He too soon realized that this job could not be the purpose of his life. He arrived at his desk, next to Max's, blue mirror glasses, a backpack on his shoulder and his inseparable bag with tobacco and cell phone on his side. Rob, who followed him, was the youngest. He was a fitness fan and an incurable single, he was good at his job, even if he had a little too often elsewhere. Martin, who had materialized at his desk while Max was entertaining himself with Mark, was the eldest of the group, a little more robust and unkempt, often locked in his world, he did not have a great variety of topics of conversation, but he was one on which one could always count. Finally John, a cute boy, fairly shy, but extremely precise at work.
Max realized that the succession of months spent behind a monitor always performing the same tasks had conditioned everyone's lives a little. They had been sent to that establishment to do the dirty work, to put the patches on all the design flaws that came out after the entry into service of that damned aircraft. The employees of that company could have done that job on their own, if only someone had bothered to work. He loaded the models, checked the progress on the spreadsheet, and began checking the drawings. The morning passed quickly, the supervisors would be seen only after lunchtime.
“ Do you realize? They spent two hours talking about salaries, sports and various crap, and they earn more than us!” Suddenly broke off Paky, winking at the squad of idlers who had occupied the central office space, resting on the pillars or comfortably seated, their backs to the monitors.
“ By now you should be used to them, if they worked, there would be no room for us.” Max replied absently.
Paky nodded with malice.
Deep inside, Max too hated those people. During the week, they limited themselves to reading and sorting mails, including a coffee, a debate and a cigarette, while on weekends they worked overtime, between croissants and films, to inflate their salaries by inventing non-existent urgencies. He hated their leaders, who could not get back on indolent employees, unloaded their pent-up indignation by constantly prodding those of outside companies with all kinds of bullshit.
When the lunch break arrived, they set off towards the cafeteria, crossing a sunny internal avenue, swarming with workers and means of service. They stood in line with the others and silently filled the trays and went to sit down. Even the meal was consumed in silence, between a mouthful and a look at the phone. On the way back, they exchanged the usual opinions about the weather, about their colleagues, they spoke about plans for the weekend and found themselves at the coffee vending machines. They won the respective stations again, where they spent another couple of hours, before the siren sanctioned their freedom for that day.
Max stopped on the way to run some errands, then he went home. Time to change, went up to his father-in-law’s apartment, entered, and saw his son in the arms of his grandmother. The baby saw him and his eyes lit up, he began to shake his arms, inviting his father to pick him up. It was the first beautiful thing of that day almost at its end for Max.
His wife would be back in an hour, so she had some time to spend with the baby. They played, smiled, hugged each other for a while, then Max left the child in his little room to play, went into the living room and let himself fall on the sofa, turning on the TV.
“Love I'm home.”
Max looked up and saw his wife enter. She was a beautiful woman, her dark hair with coppery reflections fell on her shoulders, the identification card was still pinned on her white blouse, the tight-fitting jeans bandaged her tonic legs and the essential heeled shoes emphasized her femininity even more. She put the bag on the cupboard in the hall, left the car keys with their teddy bear on the shelf and dropped onto the couch next to him, kissing him. The child came from a great career, running towards his mother who held him, as if she had not seen him for days, although only a few hours had passed.
The phone rang.
“ Love, sorry, it's work, I must answer.” She said.
“ Ok, ok.” He replied with annoyance, picking up the baby.
Twenty minutes passed before the call ended.
“ Why do not you leave it when you come home?” Max asked.
“ You know I cannot, I must be available.”
She went to change, then she went into the kitchen and started making dinner. She told him about her day, her commitments, her patients, some gossip.
He listened absently, nodding occasionally.
“ And you? What's up?” She asked.
“ What do you want me to tell, the usual things, work.”
“ Is it possible that there is nothing to tell? I never know anything about what you do, nothing about your colleagues, don’t you talk to them?”
“ What do you expect to hear? I told you dozens of times; I'm in a technical office, we're eight hours in front of the monitor, what do you think happens?”
“ You're just a world apart ... ah, anyways, have you seen photos of Magda? She’s just returned from Cuba; did you see how beautiful it is?”
Again, he nodded absently. Even if he had never weighed it down, he knew that even his wife would have liked, at least once, to take a vacation in the wonderful places that her colleagues visited. He knew he could not be satisfied and, every time, he felt himself dying inside.
They ate quickly, and then she picked up the baby and took him to the bedroom, leaving him grappling with the dishes and the trash.
When Max had finished, he walked towards the entrance, locked the door and took the corridor. He stopped in the study, lit by a faint blue light, took a chair and sat in front of the aquarium, contemplating it. He had been trying to make it enjoyable for two years, he had managed to get a decent tank from a friend who owed him a favor, slowly set it up, bought at the markets and exchanged with other fans, and when he looked at it he said it was gorgeous. In reality, it was simply all he had managed to afford.
He got up and went to the bedroom, where he found his wife asleep with the baby in his arms; he took him and laid him in its cradle, then went to bed, disconnected the phone and turned off the light.
The next day began like every other day, alarm clock, shower, cigarettes, entry into the factory. As he walked casually along the path he knew by heart, Max caught a glimpse of strangers coming and going in a shed that he remembered to be in disuse, whose entrance was guarded by two internal security officers.
Intrigued by this unusual flow of people, he decided to deviate, bypassing the office building, in order to get to the shed on the opposite side of the entrance, where he knew there was a service door. Unlike what he expected, he found it closed, so headed to the outdoor premises of the cooling systems. He found the inspection entrance, slipped inside and in the dim light reached the door that led into the shed. He did not open it, but he leaned on it carefully and looked through the slits of the metal door. The computer cage, placed in the corner opposite to its position, next to the main entrance, was illuminated, and yet those devices should have been turned off for months now.
Next to the computers he managed to catch a glimpse of two technicians in the red and gray uniforms of the information systems department, who did what he thought was a standard routine check.
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