December 1

The Last ____________ on Earth (Part 8)


To make a good first impression, Vicky wore a freshly ironed white blazer with matching slacks.  From past experience she’d leared to err on the side of formality, knowing she could relax her dress code later once she got a better idea about the new office.

The current situation wasn’t encouraging.  She actually had to check her notes to make sure she was in the right place.  Vicky had written down “Martens” as the Supervisor Contact.  The address listed “1226” as the building number.

The last digit was hanging upside down above the building’s entrance.  But she was on the even side of the street, with 1228 next door, so this had to be it.

Even though half the entryway had collapsed.  Even though the interior lobby was completely dark.

Well, not completely.  A faint light bobbed in the distant interior, like a firefly in a cave.  It buzzed closer.

Soon, a woman’s shape became visible behind the bobbing light.  She was wearing a yellow hardhat and construction-worker overalls.

“Ms. Martens?”  Vicky extended a hand to greet her Supervisor Contact.

Martens lowered the flashlight so it wouldn’t shine in her face, then accepted the handshake.  “I thought I’d meet you at the door.  It’s a bit tricky getting through.”

By way of illustration, Martens swept her flashlight around the area.  Several large holes appeared in the floor.  The rail from a collapsed spiral staircase curled along the ground like a giant metal snake.

“Lead the way,” Vicky said.  As she followed close, she wished she hadn’t worn dress heels.  In the dim light, she noticed smudges of ash on the right sleeve of her blazer.  Before she reached the other side of the lobby, her white outfit would be covered in soot.

“What did you do before this?” her supervisor asked as they walked.

“Oh, they just had me sit and answer the phone.  It never rang.”

“Before that?”

“The library, preparing overdue notices.  Nobody brought their books back, though.”

They reached the edge of the lobby, and Martens pulled open a door beneath an unlit “Exit” sign.  “No elevator, obviously.   But it’s only one flight down.”

Vicky leaned close to the wall as she navigated the stairs — irritated that she added fresh smudges to her blazer.

With many more smudges to come, Vicky realized once she reached the downstairs office and understood the kind of work she’d be expected to do.

Courtesy of a noisy power generator, the lighting was bright in the basement work area.  It almost seemed like a long-lost summer day, except the room was too cold.

“The machine’s pretty simple to use.”  Her supervisor flipped a switch, and a new growl sounded to compete with the generator.  “You’ll want to pin your hair back.”

As Vicky used both hands to arrange her long hair into a simple braid, she examined the machine’s levers and buttons.  “What’s it for?”

Ms. Martens stood silent for a moment before responding.  “My workers never asked me that before.  They just did as they were told.”

“But…”  Vicky looked at the well-lit factory, the series of silent, unmanned machines stretching out beyond the one she was now expected to operate.  “What’s the point?”

Her supervisor leaned back, took a slow breath, then exhaled loudly.  “I guess you want your life to have meaning,” she said in the tone typically reserved for difficult employees.  “I guess you want your actions to have a profound effect on the local community.  On the U.S. economy.  Maybe on the future of our planet.”

“No,” Vicky said.  “I was just wondering.”

“Well, cut these parts the right way, and they’ll fit into something else.  That enough for you?”

Vicky nodded.  She’d wanted so badly to make a good first impression, but every assignment was like this now.  Every Supervisor Contact seemed impossible to please.  They acted like it was her fault that so many people hadn’t shown up for work after the apocalypse.

It wasn’t easy being The Last Temporary Employee on Earth.