Five Questions (Story)

At Future Industries, security is key. A company that specializes in controversial technology cannot afford to treat security with anything less than the upmost concern. Competitors could try to steal their secrets. Disgruntled activists might try and sabotage production. As well as the infinite number of other potentially disastrous things that could happen. Energy sources stolen to create bombs, computer programs repurposed as viruses, and genetic experiments being released into the general population. (Who could forget the fluorescent tigers that were still able to stalk human prey, despite glowing in the dark? The citizens of Topeka surely never will.)

That is why, in his self-perceived wisdom, the director of Future Industries developed his “Infallible Plan to Protect Our Integrity.”

It was quite simple. Anyone who entered the building was asked five questions. Usually who, what, when, where, why…those kind of things. But in order to prevent rehearsed answers it was never clearly specified what questions to ask. Only that there had to be five of them.

As a security guard at Future Industries, Hank took his job very seriously. He might not have been a valued researcher or powerful executive, but he knew he was vital to the operation of the international technology conglomerate. He took pride in that.

Hank diligently gave the five-question test to everyone who walked by his station. Neither terrorist nor activist, saboteur nor salesman, had gotten by Hank. But even the model employee was still just a man and prone to the occasional lapse in judgment.

A strikingly beautiful woman strode through the sliding doors of the office building. Her shoes clicked and clacked as she walked through the lobby. When she approached the security desk, she favored Hank with a beaming smile.

“Now hold on there, mam.” He said in a voice that he thought sounded charming. “I need to ask you some questions before you proceed.”

“Do you really?” she pleaded. She looked worried and flustered. Hank felt a sliver of sympathy break through the protocol and lodge in his heart. “I’m very busy today, and running a bit late. If I don’t get up there now, the director might refuse to see me. It’s very important that I do.”

Hank knew the director. He was a shrewd man with a short attention span. The woman was right, if she missed her appointed meeting time the director would likely move on to something else and simply wave her away.

“Alright,” he said as he preemptively stamped an entry pass. Despite all the modern technology, few security advancements could beat the good old-fashioned seal of approval. “What’s your name?” He asked.

“Veronica Colder,”

“How old are you,” Hank asked.

“A lady never tells,” she replied with mock offense.

Hank smiled and moved on. “What’s your favorite color.”

“Blue,” she replied.

“Do you like dining out?”

“Of course.”

“Would you consider going out to dinner with a plain-old security guard?” Hank grinned.

She grinned back. “Ask me tomorrow,” she replied with a smile.

“Ok. Up you go then.” Hank said, slightly rebuffed but still hopeful. “But don’t get used to such easy questions. And don’t tell anyone.” He winked at her, and she smiled in return before moving past the desk and boarding the elevator.

Two hours later Hank greeted his fellow security guard. Poor Chuck had to work the night shift. Hank knew how stressful-yet-boring the overnight security shift could be, as he had held if for years before being promoted to his current position. But he had done his time, and earned the right to go home at five o’clock.

It didn’t occur to Hank that the woman had not returned, and why should it? What went on in the upper levels of the building was none of his business. Besides, there was a cold beer, a football game, and a comfortable bed waiting for him. Whatever happened was Chuck’s problem, and he was sure the young man could handle it.

When Hank arrived at work the next morning he found Chuck still at his post, but slumped over on the keyboard. He was dead. Hank paled, as if he had died himself, but was trained to deal with situations like these. He just never thought he would actually have to.

Hank moved Chuck’s body aside as carefully and respectfully as he could. There was no blood. It looked like he had suffocated. Hank reached below the desk and put on the gas mask stored there before looking at the security terminal.

Blinking lights showed there were alarms tripped on all levels, including the director’s top floor office, but someone had silenced the sirens and disabled the emergency communication protocol. Long lists of experiments that had been destroyed, and others that were missing, as well as bio-signs alerts for most of the overnight employees were scrolling across another screen faster than Hank could register them. Hank’s fingers were gliding across the keyboard, trying to access camera footage or any other useful information, when he noticed a small card, like a greeting card, with a blue ribbon on top. It was placed right where a frantic security guard would see it.

His instinct told him not to look. To cast the little piece of paper aside for fear it would explode, or shock him, or something as soon as he touched it. But curiosity overwhelmed his fear.

Thank you for your assistance. The note in loopy handwriting. I’m afraid we won’t be able to have that dinner, but I want you to know without you, this would not have been possible.

P.S. There are fires on several levels, and the air is poison.

Once again Hank paled. Guiltily, his first thoughts were not of the horrible things that could be done with the stolen experiments, or the poor souls who probably died defending them.

Hank wondered how bad this would look on his resume when he applied for a new job.