Sandra spent the rest of the morning setting up her workstation. Before she knew it, it was time for her lunch break.
She went to the break room on her floor, where she prepared a cup of soup that she brought from home. From her experience, she knew that the man-made food served in the WDA cafeteria was lackluster, and didn’t expect the Headquarters to be much better, so she always brought her own lunch.
The break room was a mid-sized room with several tables in the center, and a couple foodmakers on the side of the room. Sandra wished the technology existed to automatically manufacture foods beyond simple snacks. She stopped at the foodmaker and used it to make a pack of cookies before sitting down at one of the tables to eat. Though the food from the foodmakers typically tasted good, she couldn’t help but be concerned about the fact that the machines were still experimental.
As she sipped her soup, she heard the door slide open and saw a somewhat tall, pale man walk in. This man had somewhat long, reddish hair, which looked like it hadn’t been combed, but rather, hastily adjusted with his hands. He wore a red metallic shirt and long brown pants. He looked rather cheerful, and had brown eyes. However, when Sandra looked into them, something about them didn’t seem right.
“Are you Sandra Anderson?” he said, “you match her description, though you are much more attractive in person.”
Another one, Sandra thought.
“Relax,” the man said, “I simply meant it as a compliment. I would never engage in the sort of behavior you’re suggesting while on the job. I just need to discuss something with you.”
“What?” Sandra exclaimed, wondering how this guy knew what she was thinking.
“Sorry, I’ve always been good at reading people,” the man said, “Anyway, I’m working on the aliens case. You may call me ‘Float’.”
“Float?” Sandra puzzled, “That’s an odd name.”
“It’s my code name,” Float explained.
“But why choose ‘Float’ as your code name?” Sandra asked.
Float smiled, and then quickly changed the subject.
“I just want to talk with you sometime,” he said, “you see, we haven’t yet had an agent witness the dome going up, so you might have some useful information for us.”
“Surely there have been witnesses,” Sandra said.
“And I’ve personally interviewed many of them,” Float said, “But never someone with the experience of a trained WDA agent. You might have seen something to offer that the others missed.”
“Well,” Sandra said, “I would love to be working on this particular project.”
“Sorry, miss,” Float said, “we don’t really need the extra help. Ark makes that very clear.”
“I seriously am confused here,” Sandra said, “these aliens and their domes are obviously the greatest threat to the world there is. Surely more than four people are needed for that!”
“You’d be surprised,” Float said.
“Why are there only four people on the team?” Sandra asked, directly.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that,” Float said, “it’s kind of a long story and there’s a lot of classified information involved.”
Sandra was even more confused.
“But if you don’t want my help,” she said, “why were you saying I might have useful information?”
“You’re just a witness,” Float explained, “I was going to ask if you could come down to our action room, Room 400, and answer a few questions for our team before a recorder.”
“Alright,” Sandra sighed, “I’ll come down after I finish my lunch.”
She figured that at least she could meet this Agent Ark, and try to convince him to let her join the team.
“Not today,” Float said, “I’ve got to set some things up down there first. Stop by tomorrow morning, and we’ll talk some more. Ark will clear it with your boss.”
“Alright,” Sandra said.
“Great!” Float said, “See you later.”
“You never answered my question from earlier,” Sandra said, “why is your code name ‘Float’?”
Float smiled at Sandra once again, and ignored the question. He got up and walked over to the foodmaker, pressed a few buttons on it, and a glob of soft, melted chocolate came out of the machine. He looked frustrated when he saw it.
“No,” he complained, “I meant a chocolate bar!”
The foodmaker created a chocolate bar, which Float took.
“Damn prototypes,” Float complained, as he left.
Sandra finished her lunch, and returned to the action room. She sat down, and started doing some work. While she was working, Roger turned to French.
“Hey, French,” he said, “I saw Agent Float was wandering around on this floor. I wonder what someone on the alien assignment would be doing up here.”
“Agent Float was here?” French said, “That is unusual. Agents like him, and Ark usually don’t come beyond the 4th floor except when they have to meet with Director Caldwell.”
“Yes,” Sandra added, “I met him. He actually wanted to talk with me.”
“What?” Roger said, “Did he actually want you to help with the project?”
“In a way,” Sandra explained, “I saw the dome go up over Chicago, and they wanted to interview me about it, tomorrow.”
“I’m a bit jealous,” French said
“Not many agents get to see the inside of their action room,” Roger explained, “Agent Ark doesn’t like visitors.”
“So,” Sandra said, “who is this Agent Ark, anyway?”
“Nobody knows too much about him,” Roger said, “just that he’s in charge of the alien assignment.”
“Maybe there’s something on his personnel file,” Sandra said.
“We’ve tried,” French said, “it’s classified.”
Agent King walked up to them, while they were talking.
“What’s going here,” he asked sternly.
“French and I were just telling Sandra about Agent Ark,” Roger said, “or what little we know about him.”
“Naturally,” King said, “he only goes by the code name ‘Ark’. Even his real name is classified top secret, and, as we are not working on any of his projects, we do not have the need to know.”
“Yeah,” French said, “even the agents on his team never refer to him by his real name. If they do know, they’re pretty good at keeping it secret.”
“Well,” King said, “we cannot confirm or deny that, but it is none of our business. Ark’s affairs have nothing to do with the B-31 project, so we should not worry too much about it.”
“Of course,” Roger said, “Sandra was just curious. Being that she’s new here, we figured we should share with her what we know about this place.”
“Well,” King said, “I can understand that, but if possible, could you focus on material that is related to her job here?”
“Yes, sir,” Roger said.
With that, King walked away, and Roger and French proceeded to share with Sandra what they learned so far about the B-31 virus. Sandra began to work on re-creating her program, but before they got very far into the project, the day ended, and Sandra prepared to head home.
She packed what she needed, and left the action room. On the way out, she heard her desk phone buzz, but ignored it as she was already past her shift.
She proceeded into the elevator, and instructed it to go down to the lobby. On the 10th floor, a man wearing a hat, a long coat and dark sunglasses walked into the elevator. He was also wearing a rather distinctive blue scarf. As the scarf covered the lower half of his face, Sandra could see very little about him. As he walked in, he stared directly at Sandra while holding his sunglasses.
“May I help you?” Sandra asked.
“Sorry,” the man said.
He quickly turned around, and looked the other way, saying “6th floor” to the elevator. Sandra could still tell there was something odd about this man. The elevator stopped again at the 6th floor, and the man got out. Sandra decided not to let it bother her.
Then, the elevator stopped again at the 5th floor, and an enforcer treaded in, gun drawn. Sandra looked at the state-of-the-art law enforcement droid, with its domed head, and guns sticking out of the sides of its cylindrical body.
“Stop, criminal,” the enforcer stated, blocking the door.
“Excuse me?” Sandra said, “I’m no criminal.”
“Surrender or be fired upon,” the enforcer stressed.
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
So, a cliffhanger. Kind of appropriate, considering one of my recent reflections. Yes, in Cromm, I do love my cliffhangers, but don’t worry, I do intend to post chapter four. However, in the later chapters, the cliffhangers get much more common and even more serious. As I wrote Cromm, I thought of the TV show 24, and how each episode ended on a big moment or cliffhanger. I tried to write Cromm keeping that in mind. It was that, plus the anyone can die feeling (which I also reflected on) that make 24 so addictive and exciting.
So, agent Float’s character is also one of my favorites in Cromm. I wanted somebody who’s a friendly, fun guy, but at the same time, a very serious character. I wanted to make a character who seems very much like an ordinary guy, even seeming like a bit of a goofball at times, but when the chips are down, he is one reliable guy.
And then there’s the foodmakers, definitely inspired by the Star Trek replicators, but at the same time, I wanted them to be something a bit different. The future of Cromm is not a utopia like Star Trek’s future. The idea that somebody can get all the food they want for free is a bit utopian. I made the foodmakers limited in their capabilities, hard to acquire, and an unreliable experimental prototype, which makes them a bit more of a fit for the darker, less utopian future I wanted.