The waiting room must have been 100°, and it was only the middle of springtime. It didn’t bode well for the summer fires. There was a clean little stand with hot coffee, and hot tea. Inconvenient, but fiscally responsible, he thought. Who could afford to give away water these days? So showy. He dabbed his high forehead with a handkerchief. The large white door opened and a young man stepped through. He was dressed too trendy to be working at this outfit. An intern, perhaps. That’s good; interns cost less.

“Syd Peebles?” the young man asked.

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Ms. Tommin will see you now. Please follow me.”

Beyond the white door, inside the facility proper, the air conditioning did its job exceptionally well. It felt as if he were on a stroll with a light breeze, and he was reinvigorated. Smart again, he thought. Why waste money cooling a waiting room? Keep the insiders comfortable. He grunted satisfied approval to himself as he was led through a labyrinth of hallways that he quickly became lost in. The intersections were all at odd angles, non-perpendicular, and he lost track of how many lefts and rights he’d taken. The young man didn’t say anything, but he kept pressing a hand to his ear, apparently consulting an earpiece. Yes, an intern, Syd decided. Probably lost, himself.

Occasionally they passed an open office door, and invariably the occupants did not look up. Heads buried, locked into the tasks at hand. Hard at work, no question about it. Once, they passed a large viewing window overlooking an enormous laboratory, though he couldn’t locate the lab’s entrance. It was absolutely packed with workers and complex, unidentifiable machinery. It reminded Syd of his military days, but an inverse reflection. Here the humans seemed to be the officers with the autos making up the bulk of the force.

They took another turn and at last the young man led Syd through another white door. No—the same white door. This was the same waiting room. “What the hell—”

He put up his hand. “I’m sorry, Mr. Peebles. After reviewing your biometrics and neurographs from your brief tour, Ms. Tommin has decided we won’t have use for your particular talents.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but closed it in silence. Screw it. He mumbled a thanks-for-your-time and trudged back into the heat. They’d seen right through him, all right. He marveled. Very efficient, yes.

This will be the first outfit to go. And not a minute too soon.

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