Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Interview

Jack's main lab was even more impressive than he had described it in the email. The ceiling was more than four stories high, though the sheer dimension of the room made it impossible to tell. The room was at least half a mile wide, and maybe twice as deep, and every inch of it was covered in workbenches, tools, shelves, or massive, inexplicable inventions. The powerful canister lights supplemented standard grocery-store fluorescent lighting, along with smaller lights on the workbenches of every shape and size, from typical desklamps, to floor lamps, and on one a blue-green lava lamp, which illuminated blueprints for some kind of odd gun.
The walls were solid white, or had been when they started out, at least. Now, they were pockmarked with the burnt remnants of explosions, along with a disturbing amount of what appeared to be skid marks. Some of the skid marks had even made it onto the ceiling. The only mark on the walls that she could possibly interpret as deliberate was a bright red line, perfectly straight, which ran at about head height around all four walls. The floor was mostly cement, though in places there were the remnants of a tile floor, which had for the most part been blown to pieces. Crash shut the sturdy metal door behind them as they stepped in.
“Welcome to crazy.”
“It's... big.”
“No kidding. Let me introduce you to Jack.” He motioned to a lone figure who stood atop scaffolding in the corner to their left, lost in a shower of welding sparks. “Here, helmet.” He handed one to her, a red one labeled with the rather unnerving logo “Human, Try to miss.” It might have been slightly more comforting were there not a skid mark across the top. She put it on with some trepidation.
The man on the scaffolding didn't seem to hear them as they approached. As they drew closer, Amy could see it was because of the big, black headphones he wore. For a moment, she thought that he must be wearing them to protect his hearing, but then she spotted the cord, leading down to the mp3 player in his pocket. She smiled, and folded her wings in a little tighter to get through a narrow space between two workbenches.
“Hey, Jack!” Crash shouted upwards, cupping his hands around his mouth. “Jack! Hey! Toasterface!” There was no response, owing partly to the sound of the welder, and partly to the headphones. “Yo!” Crash gave the scaffolding a stiff kick with his steel-toed boot, shaking the whole apparatus all the way to the top two stories overhead. That the man noticed, and turned rapidly, forgetting to turn off the welder as he pulled off his headphones with his free hand.
“Hey, quit it!” He yelled down, gesturing with the welding torch in one gloved fist. Amy stared. A shining metal mask covered almost almost half his face, from near the top of his forehead until halfway down his nose. Parallel red slits ran across the surface, not unlike those on a toaster. They glowed with an eerie light as he scowled at them. The rest of him was slightly more normal. His light brown hair was short enough that it naturally spiked up, and his goatee seemed well maintained. He wore a black t shirt, along with baggy cargo pants, and seemed more a college student than a famous inventor. His gloves, though, were the same shining metal of his mask, coming up his arms almost to his elbow in an odd, scaled fashion. “I'm trying to concentrate here!”
“Hey, toasterhead, you forgot your appointment!”
“What appointment?” He looked confused for a moment, then he spotted her. “Oh!” he looked embarrassed, almost, then waved with the welding torch. “Uh, sorry. I'll be down in a second.” He flipped off the torch and tossed it aside carelessly, making his way across the high scaffolding with practiced ease. He practically slid down the stepladder at the end, and brushing his gloved hands off lightly as he walked up to them, he offered one to her with a businesslike smile. “Jack Free. You're Amy?”
“Amy Casting.” She smiled, and shook his hand warmly. “You said in your email that you wanted to interview me for the position of...”
“You have wings.” He seemed almost incredulous.
“Um, yes.” She flexed them back and forth a little, careful not to knock anything over. “I did mention that in my application.”
“I, uh, rather thought you were kidding.” He stared a moment longer before finally bringing himself back to the subject at hand. “But, uh, ok. Interview.” He turned quickly and strode to one of the workbenches, sifting through the papers carelessly before finally pulling out a clipboard with about seven sticky notes of all different colors adhered to it's surface. He pulled a blue one off, muttering, “Not kidding about the wings... Ok!” He did his best impression of a good businessman, and slid a rolling stool in her direction before taking a seat atop a wooden stool. “Crash, you can go.”
“Righto, bossman.” Crash gave a mock salute, and marched off towards the door.
Amy watched him go, then smiled nervously at the inventor. “I have some experience with secretarial work, and I...”
“Um, right.” Jack examined her, then the clipboard again. “Uh, first question. Do you, uh...” he brought the clipboard closer to his face, and tilted it. “Um, like... rock music.”
She looked a little incredulous, but smiled. “I can stand it, at least.”
“That can't be what it says...” he tilted the clipboard the other way. “Um, can you use a...” He gave up, shaking his head. “Let's just improvise.” He tossed the clipboard over his shoulder, where it landed in one of the lamps. “So, uh, you can do secretary stuff? Like, organize and crap?”
“Yes sir, Mr. Free.” She nodded.
“Call me Jack.” He grabbed a new piece of paper and the stub of a pencil and began scribbling, with the paper on his leg. “Organize stuff... check. Um, ok, can you use a computer?”
“I can use most of the basic programs.”
“Mathematical background?”
She paused for a moment, thinking back. The most advanced math class she'd done had been introduction to statistics, and that she'd almost failed. “Um... Well, I'd consider it sufficient, but...”
“Nevermind.” He scribbled something. “Basic algebra and stuff?”
“Yes sir, Mr. Free.”
“Jack.” He looked up at the ceiling, trying to remember something. “Um, how are you for heights?”
She resisted a laugh. “I'm good with heights.”
“Good.” He scribbled something for a moment before it finally hit him. “Oh, right, like wings and stuff! Duh. Nevermind.”
“Yes sir, Mr...”
“Jack, for the last time!” He turned and grabbed the clipboard out of the lamp where it had come to rest. “Um...” he thought for a moment longer as he examined the cryptic sticky notes. “I think this one says something about hate.”
“May I see?” She took the clipboard from his hands. “No, that one says heights.”
“Oh, yeah!” he attempted to snap, but it didn't work with the gloves. “And that one is... uh, fences.”
“Oh.” He looked slightly embarrassed. “Well, I guess if you can read it, I'd better hire you.” He coughed. “So, uh. 9-5, Monday through Friday?”
“Sure thing.” She pulled out her little blue notebook, and wrote that down. “Um, do you have the paperwork for me to fill out?”
“Uh... somewhere.” He looked at the mess of papers on the workbench, then shrugged. “I can get new ones. Tomorrow or something.”
“And the wage?”
He clearly hadn't considered this, and stood thinking for a full moment before he finally spoke. “Um, what do people normally get paid for stuff like this?” He stood a moment longer in thought, leaning against the messy desk. “Um, what if we start at uh, 50 dollars an hour? Is that reasonable or something?”
“...Very!” said Amy in shock. “That's much more than I would've expected, sir.”
“Is it?” he looked frustrated. “Money annoys me. I don't like thinking about it.” He waved a hand. “So if that works, that works. When can you start?”
“I could start today if you needed me, sir.”
“Ok!” he shrugged. “Today!”
“Um, Ok.” She fidgeted nervously with the clipboard. “What do you need me to do?”
“Um...” he stood for a moment, trying to remember. “I guess... start organizing. I guess you could start here... and if you need a file cabinet or anything, there's one... uh, over there. Make Crash move it.” He considered this. “Unless I blew that one up. But there's an unexploded one around here somewhere, I'm sure. You'll find it.”
“Yes sir.”
“Just call me Jack.” He moved off towards the scaffolding again, pushing the headphones up over his ears again.
“Alright then.” She smiled after him. “Jack.”


Danda said...

This might be one of my favorites of your recent stories. It's funny throughout, and the characters really come across.

Also, I wish I could get paid 50 bucks an hour. Lucky her.

Dysiode said...

I have to wonder how Jack can work on all the small parts that must be in his inventions if he can't read his own hand writing while someone who just met him can.

I also had no idea The Lab was so huge o_o!