It was probably a Wednesday. Such things always happen on Wednesdays.
Maybe it was Friday.
At first, there was no clear sign of any danger. The usual noises of machinery working under severe strain, the stirring tanks, the skimmers, the autoclaves.
Tingo stood at his workstation, pretty much by himself. Folks were outside, enjoying their breads and the looming change of seasons. Everybody expected the fall to hit them, and rather sooner than later. Tingo didn’t need any bread. He didn’t eat bread. He didn’t enjoy seasons or being outside, he just wanted to get done with his adjustments.
It was usually the inbetween season when he felt like this, when the winter wouldn’t stop, yet the spring showed no improvement. His hands felt old. He’d rather be home, sleeping in a warm bed, next to his wife, and his kids.
He didn’t have kids.
He didn’t have a wife.
He’d have this, though:
A ringing sound, which was the delivery doorbell, followed by frantic knocking.
When Tingo opened the small looking back door, he found a panting, gasping courier with an ominous red package in his hands, held up for Tingo to take. The courier shook the package. “Take! It’s unstable! I’m late!”
“Shouldn’t you rather not shake it then?” said Tingo and pondered whether he should take the package or not. Or call Raymond, his supervisor.
“It’s sensitive to temporal vibrations, not seismic ones. Take!”
Tingo carefully took.
“Are there women around?” the courier asked.
“I’m alone. Everyone’s outside.”
“Including the women?”
“Including the women.”
The courier nodded. He exhaled deeply, pressed his lips together and, with one last look at Tingo, turned around and left. Something red, a transporter, was parked behind the fence in front of the factory.
Tingo put the red box on the red worktable, which seemed like an unneccessary coincidence, and called his supervisor.
“Ray, we got a package. Unstable, it seems. Heck knows what’s in it.”
“On my way. Can you assess it?”
“Not without opening it.”
“Leave it. Almost there.”
Raymond didn’t sound concerned. But when he came over, he was inside his safe, air-filled suit, with his newly exchanged filters. Tingo wasn’t though. He had a suit, sure. In his locker. He hadn’t had his filters changed in weeks. He kept them in the storage, because, well. He just wanted things get done and go back home to no one.
“It’s fine,” Ray said calmly, noticing Tingo’s concerned look. “There’s no sign of chemical, biological or mechanical activity. It’s in stasis.”
“How would you know?”
“Should we open it?” Ray said, looking at the package.
“I don’t know. Should we?”
“Who’s it from?”
“I don’t know, Ray.”
“Didn’t you sign a paper? No forms?”
“No forms, Ray. No paper or signage.”
“It must be the shipment from Strandos.”
Tingo glanced at the box. “It looks violent.”
“It’s just a package, Ting.”
“I don’t know, Ray. It’s a red package. Doesn’t this usually mean something?”
“Alright. Go get your suit. We’ll open it.”
Tingo went down to storage. He passed a window from where he could see a small gathering of workers outside. They looked like they always looked. Sun shone onto the glass and Tingo had to squeeze his eyes. Their shadows were lively. Yet short and precise. Like some animal, favored and formed by evolution. It must have been not later than 10 pm.
He found his locker. No suit. Someone had cleaned his tools, though. All disinfected and properly placed on their assigned hooks. But no suit.
Tingo searched the area.
He returned to the upper level, to his workstation, to the red table and to Raymond, but there was no Raymond. Raymond had left.
“Ray?” Tingo yelled. “Raymond?”
He searched around his workstation, near Raymond’s office, near the machines Raymond usually inspects and near the empty waste barrels.
There he was.
Flat on the ground, with his suit on and a peaceful expression on his face. At least that’s what it looked liked. He didn’t move. He looked alright. But he wasn’t.
Tingo considered panicking.
“Ray? Come on…”
He tried to move him, he shook him, like the courier shook that damn red package. One of his eyelids slid open. Tingo screamed at Ray. But there was no more Ray inside of Ray.
Should he go outside? Should he warn the others? Get help? Would something escape outside? Did something escape outside? What was inside?
He walked back towards the window. There was Gibston. “Hey! Gibston! Hey, man!” Tingo yelled at the glass, he signaled, he knocked. Gibston didn’t hear. He didn’t see. The reflection of the sun must have been fierce. Their bread-eating and cheering must have been loud.
That’s enough, Tingo decided. He went to the door. He’d open it, just slightly, to yell outside. Even if something escaped that way, it wouldn’t be much, would it? Would that be okay?
The door didn’t budge. Something held it shut. Tingo tried to remember if there were technical precautions, mechanisms that locked the place down in case of emergencies. What would detect these emergencies? Hidden sensor arrays in the walls? Sniffing devices near their workstations?
The door was stuck shut. Everyone was outside, where autumn would happen soon, eating bread, being hit by particles of light.
Tingo was alone.
He sat down at his workstation, put the red box in his lap, and waited.
Probably the shipment from Strandos.
He touched it, ran his fingers along its lines, ragged, uneven lines, not smooth or buttery at all. Everyone was outside. Including the women.
The phone at his workstation rang. He looked at it and the phone kept ringing. Was it the company? The bank? It was never the company. Or the bank.
He stared at the phone and closed his eyes. The phone kept ringing. You won, he thought, and picked up.
It was Tingo’s wife. “Honey… have you been working all through your shift again…? You’re awfully late…”
“I know. I’m coming home. Dont wait up.” Tingo hung up. What the shit was this. He had no wife.
He stared nowhere.
There was a crack in the wall that he knew was there, but now seemed to have spread across the wall. He wanted to go examine it, follow the crack, trace its path. But he changed his mind. He knew it would spread faster when he looked.
He had to find a suit. He had to open the package. He didn’t know if he would find a suit. He knew this, though: If something would escape, it’d be too late anyway.
On the way back to the lockers, he passed the window and looked at the folks outside. They basked in sunshine, eating bread. How much fucking bread did they have out there?
Tingo stood in front of Gibston’s locker. Maybe he had a suit in there. It wasn’t locked. All of the other ones were locked. Tingo hesitated for a moment, then opened it fully and looked at its insides. Things were well-organized, clean, disinfected. All the tools were placed on hooks, some where even still wrapped up. The packaging itself was wrapped up. All new.
He closed the door.
Those tools, those wrappings… stuff from a place he didn’t work in. These are tools you use in a time of crisis. A time, that only comes when you undo something.
If Tingo was to open the package, he had to take Ray's suit. Even it it was breached. It was his best chance.
When Tingo passed the window, he looked outside, ready to witness the solidarity, the cohesive spirit and the buttery slices. Deep friendship, reflected in grease and wheat.
They were all dead. They lay there, flat on the ground. Motionless and very dead, just like Ray.
Sun shone in their open mouthes. No more bread.
Tingo turned around. He closed his eyes.
Did something spread outside? Through the crack in the wall? Why the heck was he still alive?
Now, Tingo was extremely alone.
Even the machines had stopped working, the centrifuge, the brimskimmers and the swod-ex, all retired in silence. There was nothing to hear. But Tingo wanted to hear.
He listened some more. And some more. And even more. Then he opened his eyes and stood in his bedroom.
Clouds of dust speckled the afternoon light. The whole bedroom was basking in deep orange, almost reddish in tint. And there was Ray. Still in his useless suit, spread out flat on the bed like it was some kind of factory floor.
“Ray…” Tingo crawled onto the bed, cautiously drawing closer. “Raymond… can you hear me?”
He crawled up next to him. That’s not right. Tingo didn’t do any of this. Not now, not last shift and not ever. He turned around, to the empty side of the bed, where stray molecules were standing by. Nothing was really moving. Just the occasional particle that floated off into the light. Rays of sunshine warmed the bed, where it was getting crowded. There were already two on the bed. Three, if you count the child. Its small suit took up a little more space than what was available between Ray’s suit and Tingo, forcing Tingo to hold onto the edge of the bed. But Tingo didn’t mind. He carefully leaned over, looked into the little suit, looked at Merna, his five year old. He leaned over the child, trying to inspect Ray’s suit. It looked alright. Airtight and safe. His wife was inside, breathing slow and deep, like sleepers breathe.
Tingo sighed. They were both here. The package was here. Red and unopened, right there on the night stand.
„Is it alright?“ someone whispered, “can I take?”
“Yes,” Tingo said. „Yes. Take.”
„I see the women are around,“ the courier said.
„Seems that way,“ Tingo said.
The courier stepped up, smiled at the sleeping wife and kid and carefully took the package.
“I think it’s stable now,“ Tingo said. He looked at it. One last time. It was still red. Maybe more than before. He noticed a little crack on one of its sides.
The courier nodded. He slowly and silently exited and Tingo finally went to sleep.