Friday 21st August 1992, 2.23pm
'Computers are great' Grant thought to himself as he looked at the machine on the desk in front of him. They were, too. Computers did what they were told. They didn't have to think about it, they didn't wait a bit and do it later. They just did what they were programmed to do. And if they didn't, it was because he had done something wrong. Missed off some vital piece of code in whatever program he had written, mistyped a command, whatever. When they were acting up, they could be fixed. If he ever got bored of them - which he didn’t of course - they could be switched off.
In short, computers were easier to get on with than people. For him, at least. Watching people, as he so often did, he had realised that they actually seemed to prefer the company of other people. That was something he had never understood. It wasn’t that he didn’t like people, he did. He loved people. People were great, the problem was that as much as he tried, he couldn’t relate to them. Occasionally he met someone that he liked and got on well with, but more often than not, something went wrong. He liked people, but he felt safer with computers.
That was why he had been so nervous when he started his job. He had been excited too, it sounded like a lot of fun, but then he saw the room where he would be working and straight away thought about turning around and leaving. But John, the man showing him around, had been nice, and he seemed so eager to help him out that Grant would have felt bad if he just left.
Monday 17th August 1992, 8.45am
"Here it is," John told him, sweeping his arm around the room expressively. Everyone looked up from whatever they were doing as they heard him and watched Grant curiously. It was like being back at school, and he had never liked school. He could tell that they were weighing him up, wondering about him. As soon as they got the opportunity, they would be talking to him. So many eyes on him at once made him nervous. He followed John’s arm as it swept the room, counting the people as he did. Too many to count so quickly, but more than 15, definitely. He smiled nervously and held up a hand in greeting, then dropped both his arm and gaze, fixing his eyes firmly on the floor in front of him.
John stepped forwards into the room, and Grant followed him. Around him, the other people were beginning to lose interest and getting on with whatever they had been doing before. The noise level in the room raised significantly as they began talking, some shouting loudly across the room to each other. On a desk by the window, a telephone started ringing. Grant ignored it all and followed John to a desk. He smiled when he saw the computer already switched on and waiting for him.
"This is it," John told him, "You know what to do, so I’ll just quickly show you..." He stopped when he realised that Grant was no longer listening to him, he had sat down at the computer, opened several programs and was typing quickly. "Well, they told me you wouldn’t need to much help. You seem to be okay here. Anything you want to know, or..?"
"No," Grant told him, barely taking his eyes of the computer screen for a second. John hovered behind him for a moment, in case he said anything else, but it seemed that Grant had forgotten he was even there. John shrugged, shared a glance with one or two curious faces around the room, and then left.
For a while, Grant had found himself lost in the seductive glow of the computer monitor, unable to tear his eyes away for even a moment, as his fingers typed furiously on the keyboard. He loved everything about it, he always had. The challenge of being faster than everyone else that had driven him to fill up the high score boards of almost every video game in the city with his name. Among Toronto’s video game junkies, he was legendary. Now it was time to make a name for himself at this too. The clatter of the keys as his fingers hit them so quickly that he could barely make out the individual sounds, the knowledge that he was in complete control. It was a wonderful feeling, one he couldn’t get from anything else. Sometimes he wondered how he would have coped if he had been born a little earlier, before computers existed. But he never thought about it for very long, it made him nervous.
It was almost three hours later when Grant finally brought himself out of the self imposed trance, rubbed his eyes, stretched and looked around the room. He looked at the people. They were all busily, and noisily, getting on with their jobs. The desk closest to him was occupied by a pretty girl. She smiled at him, he smiled back, but he couldn’t say anything because she was on the telephone. People didn’t usually like that.
"Hey there. Jansky, is it?" A loud male voice came from behind him. He stood up and spun around to find himself looking at a tall man in his thirties, with dark brown hair, an expensive suit and too much aftershave. He stuck out his hand to shake. Grant looked at it for a moment, wondering what to do, then took hold, shook quickly and dropped his hand back to his side.
"Er...yeah, that’s me. Jansky." He confirmed, glancing behind him to the computer screen as he spoke, "Grant."
The man smiled, "Good to meet you, I’m Michael. So, looks like this is the first time you’ve even looked around since you arrived. You’ve just been sitting there, typing away. I was wondering what you were doing."
Grant frowned, "Oh, just... You know," He pointed at the computer and moved his hand around vaguely, sneaking a glance to confirm that he was still making money. Still wining the game, "Just my job..." The man nodded and didn’t move. Grant looked at him, glanced around the room nervously and smiled.
"You’re not a big talker, are you?" the man asked.
Grant, unsure how to respond, shrugged. "Well, I talked to Mr Simpson earlier, and, and the woman at reception, I asked her where I had to go. And I walked here through the park, and talked to the pigeons. They were very nice. I gave them some bread." He shrugged, "Well, lots of bread, really. I had a sandwich, but they were hungrier than me." He smiled, his gaze firmly fixed on the floor, "but apart from that, no. Not really."
Michael looked puzzled, "Well, good to meet you Grant," he said, "welcome to the company, I heard you’re good at what you do, so..." He turned around and took one step before stopping and turning his head back to look at Grant, "If you start to regret giving your sandwich away, there’s a great deli just down the street and around the corner. We order food from there every day. You just have to tell Laura what you want."
"It’s okay, thanks though." Grant told him, "I’ve got some chocolate too. Pigeons don’t like that, so I kept it for myself." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a Hershey’s bar. Michael noticed for the first time that his pockets were bulging, probably with more chocolate. "You want some?" Grant asked.
Michael looked at the chocolate, looked at Grant and shook his head, "That’s okay," he told him, "Never really liked milk chocolate,"
Grant grinned "No problem," he said, and rummaged through his pockets again, "I’ve got..." he pulled out a few more bars and looked at each one. All milk. He rummaged further and eventually extracted a bittersweet, "I’ve got bittersweet too. You can have that."
Michael hesitated and shrugged, "Sure, doesn’t look like you’re about to run out any time soon." He accepted the chocolate and went back to his desk.
Grant looked at the milk chocolate bars he had pulled out of his pockets and suddenly felt hungry, so he ripped one open and took a bite as he sat down and carried on with the job.
Friday 21st August 1992, 2.25pm
The computer sitting on his desk made a bleeping sound that brought him out of his thoughts and back into his office. He looked at the screen, it was the alarm he had set. $6,000,000. He had known he would reach his target soon, although it had happened quicker than he had expected. He hadn’t expected to be there to see it. But he was, and now he had to fight the temptation to set himself a new target. He still had time. Maybe, if he did well, he could make another half a million by the end of the day. But no. $6,000,000 was what he had decided, and so $6,000,000 it was. And maybe a few extra dollars too, but he wouldn’t know about them, so it wouldn’t matter.
He sat down in front of the computer and ran his fingers lovingly over the top of the keyboard. Goodbyes were difficult, he had already known that. But somehow this goodbye was worse than he had imagined.
Monday 17th August 1992, 3.57pm
The work he was doing was different from playing computer games in the arcade, it used completely different skills. The games, they were almost completely intuitive, it had reached the point where he barely had to think about what he was doing. There was no challenge any more. Sometimes he even found the games boring. Doing the same thing over and over again, just trying to do it that little bit faster than last time, trying to grab that extra point, shoot that extra alien. This was different though. It was a different skill. But at the same time, it was exactly the same. Trying to move as quickly as possible, trying to predict what would happen next and make a move before it did. It was exhilarating, and completely addictive. Just what he had hoped it would be. All except for one thing. The people.
People in the arcades were different. They respected a fellow gamer’s game. No one would distract another person while they were playing. Even if the game was taking a long time. Well, maybe that wasn’t true, but no one would distract him, they knew better. After he was finished, he would be happy to talk. People wanted to know how he had done what he did, how he defeated the level 10 boss, or what trick he had used to pick up those extra points or the extra life that proved so vital in the end. But not while he was playing. Never while he was playing. The conversation was limited to between and after games, and although he was happy to talk about other things, it tended mostly to be limited to the one subject. Not here though. Here it was different.
Because there was no scoreboard to fill up, and so no top spot to aim for and defend, he challenged himself. How much money could he make in an hour? And then could he make more in the next hour? Or could he make the same amount in less time? After all, what was the point of a computer game if no one was keeping score? And what was this job if it wasn’t another kind of computer game? Every dollar another point to raise his score. But when someone was in the middle of a computer game, you aren’t supposed to tap them on the shoulder and ask them if they want coffee. He could be in the middle of a complicated move, trying to make those extra few thousand points before the end of the hour, and someone would do something, or say something, and he would lose his concentration. And worse, he would lose his high score.
"Coffee?" said a woman’s voice behind him. He barely registered it. He was busy. He hadn’t realised she was talking to him. "Grant, isn't it?" A hand touched his shoulder lightly, he tensed, hit the wrong key and spun around. She smiled like it was funny that she startled him. "Sorry. I’m getting coffee. You want some?"
He would have been angry, but she was pretty, and she probably hadn't meant to scare him. "Can I have hot chocolate?" he asked.
"Hot chocolate? Sure." She smiled and turned to leave.
"With three packets of powder," Grant shouted after her. Then he turned back to the computer screen. Behind him, someone was talking on the telephone. She had been talking all along, but he had tuned it out to the point where he barely noticed. Now though, it was annoying. She had the sort of voice that would cut through anyone's concentration. Noise didn't normally bother him. In the arcades it was always noisy. He even found it comforting to have the background hum of voices and bleeping machines. But he had never before encountered a voice like this. High pitched and far louder than was necessary, and somehow, not being able to hear the other half of the conversation made it worse. Grant sighed loudly and ran his fingers through his hair. This game was a lot harder than he had realised. He might even lose.
Irritated, more with himself than the distractions, he switched on his autopilot program that he had written that morning, and opened a bar of chocolate.
Friday 21st August 1992, 2.25pm
He closed the door of his office so that it would take longer for people to notice he was gone. Anyone walking past would just assume he wanted his privacy. And if anyone knocked on the door, it was hit and miss whether he would answer anyway. Someone told him he had had knocked on the door three times and been ignored. He didn't mean to, he just sometimes got caught up in what he was doing. And when he didn't answer, people probably went away, or he would have had a lot more surprise visits than he did.
Unless someone wanted to ask him to do something, it was unlikely anyone would notice he was gone for quite a while. Unless someone popped in to have a chat, which did happen sometimes. Actually, he really wanted to know how long it would take for them to notice. It was interesting. The longer it took, the better he had done. He was tempted to hang around to see, but that wouldn't work. If he stayed there, he wouldn't be gone. People would see him, and it would be difficult for people to realise he wasn't there when he was. Unless...
He looked around quickly to make sure no one was watching, opened the door to his office again, and slipped back inside. He closed the door behind him and, heart pounding, looked around. Hiding places. Where could he sit comfortably for a few hours without being noticed? Somewhere where no one would see him, where they wouldn't even think of looking. Preferably somewhere where he could see the computer screen and keep an eye on what his program was doing without him. But there was nowhere. A desk, a grimy window and an electrical socket. A few empty shelves, an old, dusty folder that someone had left there years ago and forgotten about, his computer, of course. His plant, with the post-it on the pot telling someone to look after it. And nothing else. There were no good hiding places in this room. He mentally kicked himself for not thinking of this earlier. He could have asked for another room, he would probably have been given one. Even if it had meant swapping with someone. These people seemed to really want him there. But it was too late now. Nowhere to hide, he had no choice but to go.
Well, it was probably for the best. When they did find he was gone, they would probably look for him. And they might have found him. Or someone might have seen him when he tried to leave. That would ruin the whole plan. He sighed and opened the door again, closed it behind him and walked away without looking back.
Tuesday 18th August 1992, 1.22pm
How could anyone expect him to work like this? It was chaos. People moving things around, talking when he needed quiet, being quiet when he wanted sound. Things mysteriously appeared on his desk, he didn't know what they were, he didn't need them. And then they disappeared a few hours later, just when he was getting used to them. Well, he couldn't do it. Not any more. He got up, keeping his head down and trying not to make eye contact with anyone in the room, and went to find someone who could sort out the problem.
Wednesday 19th April 1992, 8.02 am
"That was quick," Grant said as he followed John to his new room. He had gone to John to complain about the distractions, hoping he would tell everyone to shut up, leave his desk alone, not talk to him and preferably disconnect their telephones. But it turned out they needed telephones, and they needed to be noisy. Sometimes, apparently, they even needed to use his desk. It wasn't fair. He didn't do any of the annoying things. He didn't see why he had to put up with them from everyone else. But he was the new guy. John was right, it was probably too early to start telling everyone what to do. And anyway, John's solution had been much better. His own room. Somewhere where he didn't have to worry about the other people. He could let them in one at a time when he wanted to talk to them. And when he didn't, he could shut the door. And John had found somewhere so quickly. Things were looking up. Maybe he could do this job after all.
"This office has been empty for a few years," John told him, "all I did was get someone to move your computer and telephone in, clear out most of the clutter and there it is." He opened a door and stepped inside. It wasn't big, but it was a lot bigger than the space he had been given before. Bigger than his desk. And his desk hadn't even been private anyway. Apart from the computer, there was a large window, an electrical socket and a set of dusty, empty shelves. And best of all, there was a door. It was perfect.
On the desk, next to the computer, someone had left a plant in a pot. It was a straggly, weedy looking thing, yellowy green coloured and not at all healthy. Most likely it had been there since the last person to use the room had moved out. John thought the plant itself might actually have died and its pot been taken over by some kind of weed. He decided not to mention this, as Grant seemed quite taken with it.
Grant sat down and immediately switched on the computer. The light shining in through the window was a little bright, so he closed the blinds. Then, looking at his plant, he reconsidered and opened them a little. He smiled.
"Everything okay then?" John asked.
Grant turned around, surprised. He had forgotten anyone was there. "This is great!" he said, "I've even got my own plant."
John nodded, "Okay, well get settled in, then get back to work."
Grant beamed, he looked around his office, reached into his pocket and extracted a Hershey's bar, which he offered to John.
John shook his head, "No thanks. I don't like chocolate."
Grant looked at him oddly and opened the bar to eat for himself. "You don’t? Michael doesn’t like milk chocolate, you don’t like chocolate... I don’t understand that." He opened all the computer programs he would need, "I suppose everyone’s got something they don’t like," he said, starting to check up on what had happened in his absence, "I don't not like people, though" he explained through a mouthful, "but they don't... They... I can't work near them."
"It's okay Grant," John told him, "You've been doing great so far, how good are you going to be when you feel more comfortable?"
Grant shrugged, "I don't know, maybe a bit better, I hope. That way, maybe I can beat my high score from yesterday."
"Highscore?" asked John.
"You know, how much money I make, that's my score. It's more fun that way. Hey, er... you don't think the traders will be mad, do you? I mean, they might think I don't like them. I do like them, I just don't like all of them together all the time, you know?" He looked down and noticed crumbs on his shirt. He brushed then off with his hand onto the floor, some landing on John's shoes.
John tapped the crumb-covered shoes on the ground to clear them and nodded, "I know exactly what you mean," he told him. Then he turned and walked out, leaving Grant alone.
Grant sighed in contentment, stood up and closed the door, and then got to work.
Friday 21st August 1992, 2.30pm
He was being sneaky. It was exciting, like the time at school when he had been trying to fit in with the cool kids and he’d decided to skip a class then impress them by talking about it later. That hadn’t gone so well in the end, but at the time it had been fun. He had snuck through the corridor, past classrooms full of kids, praying not to be seen. His heart had been beating so loudly he was sure someone would hear it and notice him. But they hadn’t. And this time they wouldn’t either.
But this time it was different. He was allowed to leave his office. As far as anyone knew, all he was doing was getting a drink, or going to the toilet, or looking for someone, or even just having a quick walk around. No one had any reason to ask what he was doing, no one had any reason to suspect anything. Well, except for the guilty expression he could sense on his face. He tried to rearrange his features into something resembling nonchalance, but he could tell that it wasn’t working. Typical. He was going to give himself away. He had every right to be there, and someone was still going to know he shouldn’t be.
He froze as someone appeared from around the corner. It was one of the people he knew from the trading floor. He had never spoken to him before, but he was fairly sure his name was Robert. He was a tall, brown haired man in his thirties. Grant didn’t know what his job was, but it seemed to involve talking loudly into the telephone and being in a bad mood. But then, so did everyone’s job. If he was Robert, and Grant was fairly sure he was, he was the one Michael had mentioned. The one he didn't like. And Michael was nice. That meant Grant didn’t like this guy either.
He kept his head down and speeded up, trying not to be noticed as he passed him. It didn’t work.
"Hey Grant, right?"
Grant stopped and looked up for a moment. The man didn’t look mean. But that didn’t mean anything any more. John hadn’t looked mean either, and he hadn’t acted mean. "Yeah," Grant smiled nervously and hoped he wouldn’t have to explain what he was doing.
"So, how’s the office?" the man asked, "I heard you couldn’t stand working with the rest of us. I wish I’d thought of that. If I’d said that three years ago, you think I’d have been given my own office?"
"I don’t know. Maybe." Grant shrugged and looked at the floor, "But if you had, then there might not have been an office for me, so I’m kinda glad you didn’t. John, er... he said there was only one spare office, and he didn’t know why no one was using it... maybe when someone leaves, if you ask then... Someone could leave any time." He hesitated, then decided it would be fun to drop a hint, "Someone might even leave today."
"Its okay, Grant," the man patted him on the arm, "I don’t want an office,"
"Oh. Well then... well then why did you say you did?" Grant asked. People always did things like that, it was annoying. But this man was mean, he reminded himself. Maybe that was why.
For a moment, he looked like he was going to explain, then he shrugged and looked at his watch, "Doesn’t matter," he said, "I’ve got to get back. I’ll see you, okay?" Then he hurried off. Grant watched him go, turned back in the direction he was walking and headed to the elevator, his heart beating even faster than before. Not for the first time, he thought about going and telling someone that he was quitting, but he really didn’t want to have to explain. If he did, they might talk him into staying, and he really didn’t want that.
Wednesday 19th April 1992, 4.37pm
Someone was knocking on the door.
"Come in!" shouted Grant without looking up. His fingers danced expertly across the keyboard, as he hit his target for the hour twenty minutes early. The door opened and he turned around to see Michael.
"Hey Grant," he said, "So this is where you’ve been hiding. I did wonder."
"I wasn’t hiding!" Grant told him, "This is my new room. Look, I’ve even got a plant." He pointed at the yellowy collection of stalks and leaves in a pot on his desk.
"Okay, not hiding. I was just wondering where you were.
"Oh, well I was here. This is my new room. You like it?"
Michael nodded, "Yeah, its great. Aren’t you going to get bored up here by yourself though?"
"Bored?" Grant grinned, "No."
"Okay, well..." Michael nodded and looked around the room again, "I just wondered where you were, so I’d better go now I know. Bye, Grant."
Grant nodded in agreement, his attention already focused back on the computer screen. He heard the door open again as Michael left, and turned around quickly, "Hey, er... you will come and visit me, right?" he asked, "I mean, I know I wanted to get away from everyone, but not all the time. Like, if you want to come and see me here, then that’s okay. I, I mean, that’d be good. As long as you don’t bring everyone else all at once, I mean." He paused to glance around, "I don’t think they’d fit, though. So you’d better not try."
Michael shook his head, "Don’t worry, I won’t be bringing anyone. Erm..." he hesitated, "the reason I came up here was to say goodbye. I’m not going to be working here any more."
Until now, Grant’s attention had been divided between the computer and his friend, but the computer was temporarily forgotten as he stared at Michael, "How come?" he asked.
"I... I did something I shouldn’t have," he said, "I cheated. And someone found out. So I was given a choice, leave or fired. So I decided to leave."
"Yeah," Michael nodded, "I’m just going to walk out and not come back tomorrow. So, I won’t be able to visit you in your office. Sorry."
Grant frowned, "You can do that?" he asked, "Just leave?"
"Of course you can, it’s a job, not jail. Jail’s where I might have ended up if I decided to try and stay. And since I was asked to leave, yeah, I’d say it’s a safe bet I can." He sighed and turned around again, "I’ll see you, okay. Just not here."
Grant nodded, "Hey, wait! What did you do?" he asked, curiosity overriding his desire to keep working.
Michael frowned. "Did you ever hear anyone say ‘money is the root of all evil’?"
Grant stared at him, open mouthed, "Yeah, I did hear that!" he said, "lots of people say it, but I, I never knew it was real. I thought it was just one of those things people say. You know, the things that don’t mean anything? You mean money really is evil?" He glanced nervously back at his computer.
He shook his head, "No, Grant. But sometimes when people want money badly enough, well, we do things that we shouldn’t. I used what I knew to give me an unfair advantage. Then someone found out... It was stupid of me." He sighed, "It’s not the money that's evil, it’s the people trying to get more of it."
Grant looked at him, his eyes widening in horror, "But that’s what I do!" he said, "I try to get money! All the time! I pretend it’s just points, you know, like in a video game? But it’s not, it’s money! What should I do?"
Michael smiled, "It’s okay, Grant. You’ll be fine. Just, be careful, okay?" He looked at the door, "I’ve got to go, I’m not supposed to be here. I just wanted to say goodbye."
Grant watched him open the door and leave, then he turned back to the computer, and hoped that Michael had been right.
Friday 21st August 1992, 2.38pm
He walked past the place with the coffee and hot chocolate without pausing. He thought about stopping, having one last hot chocolate, or maybe even taking a few packets with him, but decided against it. Hanging around would only get him caught, and taking something with him that wasn't his felt a little too much like stealing. Even though he would have been allowed to drink it there, taking it with him seemed bad. It was a shame though, because the aroma of coffee and chocolate made his mouth water as he passed. Subconsciously, he patted his pockets to make sure he had chocolate with him, he would eat it once he was out and safe.
Thursday 20th August 1992, 11.17am
He had seen Michael again that night, just for a few minutes. Michael had told him who had found out what he had done, one of the traders, a man called Robert. He had told John about it, and John had asked him to leave. Grant sighed loudly and ran his fingers through his uncombed hair. It was so confusing! Michael had been nice, but John had been nice too. Michael had been his friend, but John had given him an office.
Michael had said that he was sorry, and he hadn't hurt anyone. As far as Grant could see, even though he did something wrong, he should have been able to give the money back, apologise and keep working. But he couldn't, because of John. And that meant that because of John, Grant didn't have any friends any more. And that wasn't fair, because it was like being at school, and when he was at school people had told him it would be better at work.
It was all too confusing. He hadn't really wanted the job anyway, but he thought it might be fun. But now it wasn't, could he leave? Well, yes, of course he could leave. Just like Michael had, only without someone telling him too. He didn't know whether you were supposed to do that though. His job was to make money, and if he wasn't there, he couldn't. So if he asked if he could leave, they might say no. And if he tried to quit, they might try to talk him out of it, and they might manage it. He always found if difficult to say no. That was how he ended up doing the job in the first place.
He shook himself out of his thoughts, looked back at the computer screen, sighed and tried to concentrate, but it wouldn't work.
Friday 21st August 1992, 2.40pm
He stepped inside the elevator and breathed a silent sigh of relief as the doors slid closed, shielding him from the outside. For a few moments, he was safe. He hadn't realised just how difficult this would be. He felt like he was doing something wrong, like at any second he could be caught and would get in trouble. Half of him thought it would just be easier if he turned around and went back to his office. He could just pop back there to hide for a while then try in an hour or so, or he could finish the day, then leave when everyone else did and just not come back, or he could even try another week and see if he changed his mind.
This half of him was incredibly convincing, and it even made him hesitate as his hand moved to push the button, but he thought about the distance that he had travelled from his office, and the distance left to the door. He was already more than half way there. Much more. The only obstacle now would be the woman at reception, but she hadn't spoken to him before, so there was no reason for her to start now, and the worst she could do was tell someone he had left, and by then it would be too late. If she tried to stop him, he decided, he would just ignore her.
His heart was beating louder than ever, and he felt vaguely dizzy as he reached forwards and pushed the button, sending the elevator down.
Friday 21st August 1992, 2.00pm
His mind was made up. It had been a difficult decision, but he thought that now he had decided, it would be easy. He didn’t want to have to quit, to actually go up to someone and tell them he was leaving. That would be too difficult. But if he got up and left, just walked out the door and didn’t come back, that way he would never have to explain. He drummed his fingers on the desk nervously and checked the time, then he called up his total, his high score. $5,860,063. He smiled. It was better than he had thought. All the stress of wondering what he should do was nothing compared to working in a room full of people. He had done much better since he got his office, despite everything. It was a good high score, but like any total, it could always be higher.
Smiling to himself, he started typing. A nice, round number. He would make $6,000,000. No one could complain about him leaving if he made them that much money before he went, surely.
He had written a program on his first day, he ran it when he had to leave for a few minutes, it was able to keep doing his job for him. It wasn’t as good as a human, but it was better than nothing. And after 20 minutes, it shut down itself, so there was no danger of it running forever and losing money. He would leave it running when he left, that way it might take a little longer for them to notice he was gone. He didn’t think they were keeping that close a check on him, but it was possible. He wanted to be sure. And if not, it would make them a few extra dollars that they wouldn’t have had without it. He played the game himself for a while though, he wanted to be sure that he would get close enough to his target that it would definitely hit it, and then, after a little while, he didn’t know how long, he stopped, stretched, picked up everything that he wanted to take with him and put it in his pockets.
Then he opened his program and stood up.
Friday 21st August 1992, 2.43pm
The woman at the reception desk looked across as the door to the lift opened, smiled at him and looked back at whatever it was she was doing before he was able to respond. He smiled anyway.
He looked across the lobby to the doors. He could see the street outside, just a few steps away. He glanced at the woman behind her desk, but she was typing and seemed to have forgotten all about him. There was no one else around. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward, then paused. Nothing happened, no one came up to him and asked what he was doing, nothing had changed.
In video games, this was always where something went wrong. The last few seconds when you thought you were safe. Just as you were about to go through the door and on to the next level, something unexpected happened and you were sent back to the start. But this was real life, Grant reminded himself. No one had designed this to stop him from leaving. No one even knew that he was leaving.
He took another step, then another and another. He reached the door, and holding his breath, pushed it open and stepped out, feeling the cool breeze on his face. The door closed behind him and he stopped. He was out. Up to this point, it would still have been easier to go back to his office and pretend nothing had happened. He now realised that that was why he had left his program running, not to do so would have made leaving seem so definite. He had left himself an opportunity to go back, but now he couldn’t. Now, going back would be a lot more difficult, it was easier to go forwards. He smiled and looked around, feeling as though he had finally managed to push away some great weight that had been slowly crushing him.
He looked around, wondering where to go. The sun was shining, people looked happy, and he wasn’t too far from his favourite park. Grinning to himself, he set off in the direction. When he got there, he would eat chocolate, talk to the pigeons, and then decide what to do next.