The Thirteenth Story

Chapter One

Infinity Inc.
383 Memoriam Ln.
Atlanta, GA

The large contemporary sign was like a sculpture of metal poetry, gleaming against a background of granite. I say sign, but really, the address marker and entry of Infinity Incorporated is more of a simple message: We are important, and we are here."

In the old days, parking one's car in such a large city had been a problem- chaotic at best, dangerous at worst. Now, however, I parked my 2010 Lily FX easily, driving down into a ramp on the outskirts of the lot. After I had grabbed my briefcase and purse and slid the door shut, I walked away, locking the car with my key chain and watched as the platform lowered, taking my vehicle safely into a vault.

The parking system these days is kind of like the old system of renting skates at an ice rink, only most people don't take the substitute transportation . After the obesity epidemic, most people were more than happy to walk. I'm one of them, but not in high heels, a fashion trend that still hasn't lost style, no matter how horrible it is.

So, I hopped onto the trolley when it came, the ice-skate-for-a-shoe, arriving minutes later to the landscaped entrance of my work building.

I stepped off onto the paved walkway, my black-heeled shoes clicking professionally. Lavender and forget-me-nots and marigolds mixed together for a spicy, sweet fragrances I passed, and hanging baskets of alyssum shook white petals free into the wind like rice at a wedding.

Okay. Deep Breath.

Work.

Before I even stepped through the motion-sensored, automatic doors, my hand was rummaging through my purse. At the check-in booth, I presented my identification card.

Elizabeth Sanders, DOB 05/02/01, Blood Type AB, Code 80271331... the card said, showing a photograph of a woman with honey brown hair, gray eyes, and larger than perfect nose. Me. I'll say I'm beautiful, but everyone has those things about their appearance they would change if they could. My nose is it.

I did not know the man at the booth, but he smiled as politely as I did, taking my card and hastily swiping it over the scanner. When a pleasant, high pitched note rang from the computer, he nodded and returned the card. As I stashed the plastic rectangle back into my purse, my eyes scanned the lobby. I didn't really see anyone I knew. Then again, I liked being early, and the people I normally work with ...well...don't. I suppose that's why they don't always like me. Morning bird gets the worm- or in my case...the promotion.

Ever since I graduated, I've been in communications. In college, it was an internship at a rtadio station or working with the theater group. Now, it's Infinity Inc., one of the leading companies in technology and media products. My job isn't that difficult. I work with demographics and research, pitching ideas for advertisements an occasionally, when I impress the bosses enough, leading the projects. I passed one such ad on my way to the elevator. "Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and...customer service?" There was a background image of two photos- one each of a person using a telephone. Of course, one looked distraught. "Switch to the Z-Axis 8 phone. Infinity Inc: for timeless perfection."

The elevator door opened as I neared it, dinging softly and releasing a few people. When I stepped in, someone else followed- a man that I had seen just with that week. He had dark, wide eyes, and equally dark brown hair.

"Morning," I said, pushing the button for the twelfth floor.

"Good morning," he replied in kind, with a taciturn, deep voice, and as the door slid shut, he didn't push any buttons. I stared him up and down, from his polished black shoes to the sleek, silk tie of his simple suit. He was handsome. "Twelfth floor also?"

"Yes," he said, giving a small smile as if it were painful.

"Are you a new employee?" I questioned further.

"Yes." Again, a simple answer. Some scathing comments ran through my head.

"I'm Elizabeth Sanders," I replied instead, offering my hand. He shook it firmly and nodded with that same reserved smile in place. He didn't offer his name. So, I asked. "And you are...?"

"Daniel."

I wanted to sigh loudly in exasperation. What in the world was this man, this Daniel, doing in a communications corporation if he couldn't even properly introduce himself?

Then, I heard him sigh.

"My apologies," he said, brown eyes ...honest? "My words always come out better in writing. I'm Daniel McAlastor, the new public relations literary assistant."

Huh. That made sense. He communicated on paper best. His job used to belong to a rather ostentatious Oxford graduate. I was Direct Assistant of Public Relations, so this new fellow would be working with me.

"You didn't graduate from Oxford, did you?" I asked

This time, his smile was puzzled, but bemused. "Yale, actually." We rode in comfortable silence the rest of the way up. When the door to the elevator opened with a ding, I clicked onto the tiles of the twelfth floor, a quieter story than the first had been, and parted ways with my new colleague.

"Good Morning, Sravya," I chimed to the secretary, who was typing something at her computer.

"Good morning, Elizabeth," she beamed back. On the twelfth floor, I make it a habit to be on a first-name basis with everyone. "Remember, you have a meeting with PR 2 at one o'clock."

"Oh, right," I nodded. "Presenting ideas for the Z-cubed player." I went past her neat lobby desk, a few doors down to my own work table. A few years ago, cubicles and separate offices went out of style, especially in the upper floors. Replacing them were wide work desks for a community feel, and if needed, sleek partitions that raised electronically from the floor.

Opening my briefcase, I grabbed a small chip and inserted it into its slot on the smooth, man made desk. Then I pressed my index finger on the sensor, uttered the first phrase to come to mind (lavender), and pressed a button on the rising keyboard to open the connection.

"Coffee, mocha latte, Z 8027383." The monitor for my computer had fully risen from the surface of the desk, a mechanical stroke of genius from about 2017- actually designed by a former employee of Infinity Inc. Just about every computer owned by the company folded neatly out of its desk, and since all were part of the same server, it just took one's finger print, voice pattern, and portable chip insert to log in to a personal account.

"Elizabeth, here is your coffee." Akbar. He was a young intern, paid to act as semi-secretary and...well...servant. He ran the coffee-room and managed inventory, but he was a nice boy.

"Thank you, Akbar," I said. "Did you-"

"Put whip cream and Chile powder in it, just the way you like it? Yes, you weirdo," he interrupted.

"Oh go check files before I cuff you, you impertinent little..."

"Just remember who gets your order right every time," Akbar said, and walked away with a smile. Nice boy. Well, nice enough, and I had a pretty good feeling that he would rise up the ladder soon enough at Infinity as well.

The mocha latte was good- spicy, sweet, and warm- just what I needed before such a work day.

I spent the morning sipping my drink and organizing my notes from the previous Public Relations, Committee Two meeting. We were designing a new commercial for TV, advertising our Z-cubed Music Player, a hardware and software combination similar to our Z-axis phone- the device I had used to order my coffee. It was our improvement on the old IndigoFang (tm) device, only ours attached to the wall with sensors for voice command, searching through a database of options and a library of media to play through speakers or a TV.

Later, after my lunch of a gyro sandwich and ice coffee from downtown, the meeting began.

There were fourteen seats, all with a briefing sheet and a glass of cold water on the table before them. Two were occupied when I walked in.

"Afternoon, Elizabeth," Elizabeth said from the right-hand side of the chairman's seat. I sat in the chair opposite her at the glass-topped table.

"Good afternoon, indeed," I replied with a smile, despite the fact that I've never really liked her. Suck-up. The boss was late, and the only other person in the room sat at the very end. "Hello, Steven," I greeted, always polite. He was the person who always seemed to have something negative to say about the project at hand.

"Hello Elizabeth," Steven said. His pinstripe suit matched his gray eyes and faded blonde hair. "Have you heard that the new literary assistant will be working with us today?"

"No," I said, interested as I sorted my papers out on the desk. "In fact, I officially met him only today."

"I'm sure he'll do better than old Mortimer ever did," Steven said. "What kind of a name is Mortimer, anyway?"

"French, Steven, old French and I think it even carried over to England in..."

I tuned out their squabbling ("Still Water is right, that guy was the most stagnant dude in the business ...") and looked over my ideas. Really, there were only two successful methods to increasing sales using TV commercials: humorous (Hatchet® did that with their cologne ads in the early 00's) or inspiring (anything relaxing, really- a lot of tech companies have taken to this method or clean advertisement). I was going with the humorous route, since so many technological companies have nearly overdone 'reaching out to people.'

"Ah, you must be Daniel," Steven said, and I turned up from my work. A few other seats around the meeting table had been taken, and the man I had met earlier in the elevator was kindly taking a one a few down from me.

"Yes, sir," Daniel said. He held up a smooth conversation with a few of the others as they inquired.

"So where are you from?" I sipped some of my water, knowing that Michael, Team Leader of Public Relations, aka Chairman Brown, would be coming in soon.

"I held a job after college in the New England area, and here I am today." I was early, as usual. Michael was late, as usual.

"And what did you major in?" they asked. Another two people came in, and a few minutes later, one other. We wouldn't fill up all the seats- we rarely did. Which left just one person to come in. The boss.

"Daniel, have you looked at the briefing sheet?" I asked the new guy. He nodded, and it surprised me.

"Mr. Brown gave me a copy when he gave me the job so I would be prepared," Daniel answered my mental question. Then he cleared his throat, looking behind me. I caught the drift. Swiveling within my chair, I saw the tall man that was Michael take a seat at the end of the table, to the right of me, the left of Kyra. Our chairman was in his early forties, but he wore his age well and I would say he could probably pass as somewhere in his mid thirties to anyone who didn't know his maturity.

"Hello everyone in Public Relations Committee Number Two," Michael said with a wide smile. "I trust that if you haven't met Daniel before today, you will have now. Last time we met...let's see..." he scanned the briefing sheet. "Yes, last time we discussed budgetary issues and what companies to combine with for filming and digital work. Of course, they're the same people as usual, with just one tweak in regards to music. Today, I think it's best if we discuss ideas for the script of the commercial. So. Who wants to start it off?"

Michael did his job well. He's polite, jovial even, but directs things in a smooth, organized fashion. Very professional.

"I would," I said, clearing my throat and standing, making myself noticed. Always. "As you all have probably seen, our rivals in this business choose from a limited number of ways to appeal to consumers."

"If you're talking about the standard 'funny' or 'touching' methods, it is because they work," Steven said.

"I am aware of that," I acquiesced. "But my point is that one of them is a little overdone, and when it specifically is overdone, it makes it less heeded. I say we approach this commercial with a humorous take."

"I agree," Kyra interjected. "Because while entertaining, this method still touches a base with viewers."

"Well, what's your script idea, then, Kyra?"

"I...uh..." Kyra stumbled, looking down at her papers.

"Actually," I intoned, "I was thinking Daniel could help us with this part the most."

Daniel looked both surprised and ready for the pressure, like someone turning on the shower but tensing momentarily as the spray of water hits them. "Well, I've never been much of a funny guy, but that's not to say I can't borrow jokes from time to time. I was thinking something along the lines of Oscar Wilde wit mixed with old Dane Cook's outlandishness."

It impressed us, but Michael asked the next question. "Like what?"

Looking down at his opened notepad, neat writing scribbled in the lines, Daniel stood as I was to speak. "Infinity is a corporation about embracing time- becoming a part of it, and yet not. Holding traditions, values, and interests that have long been important to our consumers, but constantly changing and flowing as time goes on, to make better, more efficient products. Have the commercial reflect on this, on how some things, like music, both change, and don't. Theme it around an old 00's garage-based rock band, then flash forward to the future, maybe with one of the members of that same rock band the suburban parent of a newer music upstart- say some of that Lif-o Metal or Smooth hip-hop, using newer technology, and a backdrop of modern music. "Some things change," could be the line. "Others don't." Like I said, I'm no class clown, but perhaps we could call one in to work on the details."

And then he sat down. For a new employee to withstand the pressure and jump right onto the wavelength of a project at the new company... We were all impressed, to say the least. I shared a look with Michael and saw with a small amount of satisfaction that Steven was silent. The others in the room were all nodding their heads, as if chewing some new, delectable food. The man directly on my other side, Rumsey, was nearly chuckling. He was a class-clown, and I think he liked Daniel's idea.

The rest of the meeting we spent discussing the details. What would the characters be, who would hold auditions and when, what would the exact words be. Daniel pitched in every now and then, but for the most part, Rumsey steered the dialog, with me interjecting words of wisdom, Steven injecting mostly problems that could arise, and Kyra quoting Michael in way of supporting me. I think. Suck-ups are weird like that.

"You did well today," I told Daniel when the meeting was over and most of the others had left.

"Thank you," he answered cleanly, finishing his glass of water. The man was slightly puzzling, though I couldn't put a finger on exactly why.

"Your welcome," I nodded, ten ding to my own notes and stuffing them inside my briefcase. "I'll see you tomorrow." With the meeting done, it was really the end of the work day. I left the room, ready to head to the first floor and then home, but someone called me back.

"Elizabeth." It was Michael. "I want you to deliver this information to Mr. Rahl on the thirteenth story. Fill him in with any details he wants to know about the commercial and take..." He searched the room. There was only one other. "...Daniel... Take Daniel with you."

"Yes sir," I replied, meeting eyes with the literary assistant. This was a job I had done in the past. Michael likes to leave secretaries to their secretary duties and didn't always trust interns enough to relay the proper info to the upper level workers. So, he chose different people from the meting in question, usually it was Kyra, to play messenger. Kyra had left early, for some reason, and I pondered briefly whether she actually had a life outside of work.

"Do you want to take the stairs or the elevator?" Daniel asked me outside the room. His dark eyes suggested stairs. It's not that far.

"Take a look at my footwear," I said. "Elevator for me." He sighed, softly, but said nothing as I stepped towards the metal and tile threshold of the elevator. He followed me into it. "How chivalrous of you to accompany me. Thank you."

It was a playful comment, but in a world where everyone was looking out for themselves, it was nice to have some company, even if it was just an elevator ride to the same destination as the other person.

Daniel grunted with a nod. Somehow, it was...modest, rather than...primitive. I don't think he really knew what to say. So, I smiled, and waited for the door to ding open.

We stepped out into the floor above our own; the thirteenth. It was just as nice as the one below, with differences in color to help distinguish them apart- otherwise, all the floors would look exactly alike and it would be a hassle to direct all the lost people. Potted ferns were at the threshold just as on all the floors, but their pots were a stony white (on the twelfth floor the pots were a shiny cobalt). Other things were distinctly different: a white lobby desk, a cream banner on the dark walls, and sandy-hued blinds at the windows. I smiled to think that my dress, a khaki-colored, collared number, matched the design of the thirteenth story.

"It's this way," I told Daniel, looking him over as I walked past the lobby desk. He was suited for...well...anywhere. A professional, traditional black suit- slacks and blazer tailored well and white dress shirt crisp beneath it.

I led the way around a corner, coming into an area where the floor partitions were raised, forming a somewhat wall around the worktable of an older man. Papers were scattered around the long desk as he quickly typed away at a keyboard.

"Mr. Rahl," I said, and the man looked up. Older than Michael. Gray hairs wisped at his temples and forehead, but he had not yet balded any.

"Yes?" he intoned, ready to type further but holding out for manners' sake.

"I'm Elizabeth Sanders and this is Daniel McAlastor, to give you information on the PR 2 meeting."

"Michael Brown sent you, "he said, taking his fingers from the keyboard and reaching out for the papers I held.

I let Daniel speak, and Mr. Rahl had a few questions for me, the obviously more familiar Infinity Inc. employee.

"Thank you," he said at last. "Tell Michael the same, and that my secretary will call his."

"Yes sir," I acknowledged, and Daniel and I left the partitioned area. We were silent for a while, until we reached the lobby.

"Oscar Wilde wit, huh?" I questioned.

Daniel grinned. "You should read his stuff sometime."

"What makes you think I haven't?" I quipped. We stepped into the elevator and I pushed the button with a number twelve on it.

"You care too much about how you look."

The doors to the elevator slid shut, and I stared quietly at my blurry metal reflection.

"What makes you say that?" I asked, looking directly at him. Coffee brown played with topaz, gold, and even flecks of moss green within his eyes.

"The make-up, mostly," Daniel answered, surprisingly gentle. "Perfect hair, dangerous heels, expensive nail jobs. Oscar Wilde wrote a story about a man named Dorian Grey who essentially bargained his soul to remain beautiful forever. After reading that, it's hard to invest too heavily in beauty.

"And you think that I invest too heavily in beauty?"

"I don't mean to be rude," he said, eyes f acing the door instead of my face, "but its a resource you already have."

In other words, yes, I pay too much attention to how I look. Although...the way he said it sounded like...I didn't need to.

Then he looked at me. I felt at once very annoyed an d yet...a bit flattered.

We reached the twelfth floor and stepped out. "My thanks," I muttered, so low I hoped he didn't hear. If he did, he had incredible tact for the writer that he was.

"I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah," I answered, watching him walk off ahead of me, out past the lobby desk, scanning his identification card and leaving through the automatic doors. I did the same, slowly, after him. Lavender, marigold, and alyssum surrounded me as I walked out, waiting for my car to come up from the vault. After my card signs out, showing I'm leaving, my car moves along in the underground holdings, transported to the front of the lot, at the doors.

I saw my Lily and clicked across the pavement in my high heels, watching the sleek, silver car rise up to ground level. Grabbing my key chain, I unlocked it, opened the front door, and hopped in with my briefcase and purse.

Traffic was tight, as usual. A big city in a growing world was always packed. And that was Atlanta. It always had been big. Now just...bigger. I wondered when it would grow stagnant, as all cities do at some point. New York did- it just...stopped growing, too packed already. The surrounding areas of New York City just filled to bursting.

I didn't live too far from work, but it still took a bout a half hour to get home because of the traffic. It was more than a relief to reach my city flat, a semi-tall building of about six stories. The outside was decorated something from the 00's, which was surprisingly still in style. Global warming still scared people, and so buildings were sleek, contemporary, and most definitely efficient. A good thing, too- I paid a lot of money for it.

After parking my car for the second time that day, I walked toward the stone and metal building, wide windows gleaming with inside and outside lights on all levels. "Evening Morris," I said to the lobby man, the son of the owner. He was an older teenager, and rather silent, but he did his job well, I thought.

"Hi," he replied. If he wasn't such a tan boy, I would have said he were blushing. "Something came for you..."

"Oh really?" I said, and Morris lifted a pottery case with a single crimson carnation in it. "Ahhh... That has to be from Valerie."

"And here is your mail," he added, handing me a stack of assorted envelopes. I asked the boy to send up the vase when he could or, otherwise, I would be down to grab it. On the way towards the elevator, I sniffed the scarlet petals. Spicy, sweet- Valerie knew they were my favorite.

When I had unlocked the door to my flat, I entered with a sigh. Home. Kicking off my high heels and dumping my armload of envelopes onto the kitchen counter, I went into my bathroom. After washing my face and changing into lounge wear, I flopped down at the dining room table with a biscuit from the fridge in hand, half of it already down my throat.

Just as I closed my eyes to savor my new comforts, however, there was a knock at the door. Morris.

I opened the door, thanked him, and set the vase on my kitchen counter, by the fruit bowl. The carnation made a pretty picture next to the apples and clementines.

"Thanks, Val," I slurred through my bite of a biscuit. Valerie had been my best friend since I started college, and without her, I'm not sure I would know how to breath through my hectic work life.

Dinner that night was a simple, single affair: steamed broccoli with chicken and tomatoes, all over some wheat pasta an d marinara sauce. After that, I read for some time, and then, thankfully, went to bed. My white sheets, patterned with a silhouette of perennial flowers and dark comforter felt blissful around my work-tired body, as it did every night.


The next morning, I woke up a little later than usual, skipping my breakfast to make it to work on time. Dressed in a black blazer and a pair of matching pants with a green shirt beneath, I walked into Infinity Inc. a little rushed. When I reached my office area, I opened my Z-axis connection immediately.

"Z 8027383- coffee mocha latte, plus bagel and cream cheese," I ordered, and knew it would key Akbar in that I was running a little late. He was a perceptive fellow. Opening and booting up my computer, I took my notes out from the previous day and began a Write document. The day after a meeting was a day to organize notes and research further for the next meeting, on top of all of my other daily work: talking to agents, broadcasting channels, anyone, really, who mattered. Some days I met with representatives of other companies interested in some way in Infinity. Luckily, this wasn't one of those days.

"Have fun," Akbar said keenly, his green eyes sympathetic as he handed me a thick paper cup full of my coffee and a similar plate. There were a few pieces of cheese beside the bagel and I could smell the Chile powder in my drink. "You need some protein ," he explained. "Enjoy."

"My thanks," I said, and thought for a second how I would show the gratitude. Chocolate, I concluded, and went on with my business.

I didn't have peace for long. Without even finishing my makeshift breakfast, Sravya sent me a connection.

"Mr. Rahl on the thirteenth floor wants you to take up the notes from yesterday's meeting."

"But I haven't entered them into the computer yet, and I went over them with him yesterday," my dry voice whined.

"Well, he wants them as soon as possible," she answered, ending the connection. I knew what she meant. Hurry.

I ignored my earlier progress on the project in the Write document on my computer and pushed the button to reveal the scanner. I placed the first sheet of notes on top of the glass pane to scan while recalling Sravya.

"Does he want them tangibly or virtually?" I asked, putting in the second sheet and watching the computer read it.

"He said he wants you to deliver them," she specified, not helping much.

"Fine."

Five or ten minutes went by, and when I sipped my coffee again it was a disgusting room temperature. Gathering up my purse, I took the copied and reprinted notes with me as I walked toward the elevator.

"Mr. Rahl," I said a few minutes later on the thirteenth floor. I was breathing a little heavily after walking so fast down the hall. It was going to be a very busy day. "The notes?"

"Yes, yes," the man said, reaching for them. "If you would, send an electronic copy to me as well so I can..."

"I already emailed it to you," I said, gaining a perk of his eyebrow.

"All right then..." Mr. Rahl said. "I'll let you get back to your other work, then. Thank you."

"Your welcome, Mr. Rahl."

And I left – back through the cream-bannered hallways to the elevator doorway banked in ferns. My mind was rushing back to my office desk a floor below as I stepped inside. Someone else had just stepped out, and I could still smell her fruity perfume. I numbly pushed the plastic number 12, looking up as I thought. I had not yet seen Daniel that day, but I needed to speak with him and Rumsey each on what the background music for the commercial would be, and specifically, what sections of them.

I was so wrapped up in thinking about what I had to say to my two colleagues that it took me a while to notice how abnormally long the elevator ride was becoming. Taking my gaze from the ceiling, my manicured finger pushed the button with a twelve on it again. And again. I felt like I was moving, but elevators had not taken that long in...decades. Had I honestly been in there for longer than a minute? Two? I didn't know, but the more time passed, the harder it became to rationalize, the harder it became to fight the urge to panic.

Maybe the system, electronically, or something, is going slow. For some reason. There's gotta be a good reason for this... Besides, you could just... I did. I pushed the button on the panel of options to open up the Z-Axis connection. "Z 027383 to maintenance," I said clearly and loudly. Usually, someone replied right away. They didn't. "This elevator is having some trouble, taking it's sweet time getting where it needs to. Can you hear me? I said ... Oh forget it..."

I pulled out my mobile phone- a ZIP version, from my own company. A nice tune played as I opened to the screen and button pad and dialed Sravya's number. I hated manual dialing. It took too much time. Ring... Ring... Ring... Grumbling, I pulled the phone from my ear, ready to dial again, but just then, I heard that familiar mechanical sound of the elevator doors beginning to open. Exhaling loudly, I closed my eyes and shrugged my shoulders, thankful to step back onto my own floor...

I opened my eyes. Then blinked. And blinked again.

Or not. Not on my own floor. Not on ...any floor...of any building ... Not anywhere I had ever been before.

I was standing in the lift, facing out through the metal doors ...into what looked like a greenhouse. The only thing I could think was... What in the hell did Akbar put in my coffee?

Afraid to step out, to step forward, to move much at all, I leaned a bit forward to take in the sight. Sure enough, I could spot the high glass panes that were the mark of a conservatory, tall, leafy trees with flowers or fruit, and botanical organisms of all kinds, some I recognized, others I did not, planted at or slightly above ground level. "No," I muttered. "No, no, no, no, no..." I didn't even know what I was 'no'ing about, but I shook my head and shrunk further back into the elevator. Whatever was happening, it wasn't good. It was a bad dream about me missing important work, dozing off or visiting some garden, or hyped up on drugs, or probably all three. "NO! I DON'T want to be here!" I yelled, pushing the button 'twelve' over and over again. "Come on, come on, come on!"

The fragrances of a dozen plants was swimming in my head, and I forced myself to breathe. Deeply. Slowly. Over and over and over and over again. What was I doing? Why is this happening? Well...I was coming from the thirteenth floor, after running a ridiculous errand to Mr. Rahl, on my way back to the twelfth. I was in a hurry, pushed the button, thought about some more work, and BAM! I ended up...like this...whatever this is...

Then, with my blood beating hard in my veins, it hit me. Wait. I was on the thirteenth story. Well, technically, I think, I still am on the thirteenth story... but this sure as hell doesn't look like the thirteenth story. As crazy as it is, maybe if I...

My well-manicured finger pushed, not the twelfth button, but the thirteenth button. Slowly, I heard that sound, the mechanical one, of doors closing. And sure enough, the sight of all those plants in the well-lit conservatory was blocked by the somehow comforting barrier of metal doors to the lift. I leaned back against the wall, staring fixedly ahead and breathing...just...breathing. I didn't know what the hell had happened, but one thing was for certain.

Next time, I was taking the stairs.

Not long after they had closed, the doors dinged open again, revealing...the thirteenth story. I blinked, taking in the white pots, cream banner, and bright lobby desk. Then, slowly and carefully, resisting the urge to run in my dangerous heels (as Daniel had put it so well the other day), I made my way left, to the stairwell. It was a nice-looking thing, surprisingly open, bright, and clean. But at that moment, I did not care. I wanted as much distance put between that elevator and myself as possible.

When I reached the plateau that opened into the twelfth story, my story, I double-checked to make sure it was mine. There was Sravya, typing away at her desk and talking on the Z-axis phone. There were the cobalt blue pots of ferns, the midnight tiles, slightly prismatic, and I even saw Akbar leaving the coffee area.

With my mind still whirling over what had happened, I made a decision. I would not tell anyone about what had happened. I would however ask a few questions.

"Elizabeth! You're back so soon from Mr. Rahl's office," Sravya exclaimed when she had finished with her call.

"I tried to keep it short and sweet," I said. "You know me. Did you get my call?"

Her brownish-tan face looked genuinely puzzled. "What call?"

"Oh, well, I called you as soon as I was done to..." Quick...uh... "...See if you had any other messages for me or errands while I was on the thirteenth floor. Just to...save time, you know."

"Ah," she smiled, understanding, as usual. "Well, no, no more errands on the thirteenth, but Daniel was looking for you. From what I saw, he just took the elevator up and would have met you there, but you came down the stairs instead, so...I don't know."

"Oh." Huh. "Well...I'm going to go back to work, and if you see him.." Then she jerked her head to the area behind me. I turned, looking back at the stairwell, to see Daniel emerging, looking a little flustered.

"I was looking for you," he said bluntly.

"So I heard," I replied, and pursed my lips as he only looked more bristled from my words. "Come with me and we'll talk, because I had some things to speak with you about as well."

We walked briskly back to my work desk, where I rescanned my index finger to deactivate the barrier screen saver. "What did you need to see me about?" I asked him.

"You first," he replied, although I think it was more manners- he really looked like he wanted to speak.

"No, you," I insisted. "Mine will take longer, honestly."

"Fine," Daniel gave in, but didn't look too happy about what he was going to say. "My computer isn't working."

I stared nearly open-mouthed at him After showing up in some entirely unintended place through an elevator, running an errand I really did not want to do... "That is what you wanted to tell me?" This was what he had gone to the thirteenth floor to tell me. "Why didn't you just use another one, or-"

"Call maintenance?" he finished for me. "I did try- both. The line just wouldn't go through to maintenance and when i tried to enter myself into another computer, it looked like it was scanning, but even after ten minutes I wasn't logged in."

In the old days, they had a saying that when one made an intelligent thought or idea, it was like a light bulb switching on, shedding light on the situation. Of course, the saying changed a bit when we, as a society, moved on to compact fluorescents and LED's, but in a way, it was still the same concept.

That moment was my light bulb switching on.

"About what time did you call maintenance?" I questioned.

"I don't know!" he said. "It doesn't matter- I just need to get into a computer so that I can finish today's work." I led the way back down the hall, making my way towards his work table, inactive computer flipped open and ready to be summoned for work.

"Try again," I commanded. He placed his index finger and said clearly:

"Work for me."

And it did. I looked at him the way a parent eyes a child after they had dragged them to some huge problem or phenomenon only to discover that it was all fine and dandy. Daniel looked at me the way that innocent child would- just a little red in the face from what I guessed was a mix of shame, anger, and confusion.

"I swear it wasn't working earlier," he professed.

"I believe you." I did. Forgetting the computer malfunction, as it began to boot up healthily, I pushed the Z-Axis connection button. "Say your code," I told him, and he did. " Call history for September 26, 2022," I added, even though I probably could have just said 'for today.' I was tired of communications errors. There was an affirmative note, and then the phone replied in a cool, female voice.

"On call has been made at Z-axis phone, code Z1208713, today at seven thirty-three to..."

I looked at him, suspicious, and he took my gaze the wrong way.

"That was for coffee this morning. I did call maintenance, and it was not more than a half hour ago!"

"I believe you," I repeated. "I called maintenance not long ago as well and could not get through."

"What for, and on what phone?"

"The elevator axis- the lift was going rather... slow..." I wouldn't say anymore.

"Well... I tried to tell Sravya about my problem, but she was knee-deep in her own work. I didn't think you would be offended if I... well, asked you about it."

A blush was creeping up his pale face, this time for a different reason, I was sure. Men have such a hard time expressing the simplest of emotions. I trust you, was what he was saying, and I am new here, so that means something.

"You did right," I sighed, rubbing my forehead and grimacing to feel that my skin was getting a little oily. "I'm just wondering why the phones weren't working, among other things. Just... continue your work for today, and I'll talk to you about my bits tomorrow."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." Oh, yes. And he looked more than happy to oblige me. A good self-absorbed worker.

Inhaling past the awkward lump in my throat, I watched him take a seat as I passed him, walking back to my own desk. There was a new cup of coffee on the surface of the table, right next to a small bowl of popcorn.

Akbar. He had probably seen me come in, rushed and...well, frightened, but he had likely assumed stress, not fear. A nice boy indeed. He knew my eating habits too well, and right then something warm and crunchy was just what I needed.

I left my office that night a little more than late. I t had been difficult to concentrate after the ... thirteenth story, so my large workload had gone by slowly, tediously.

"Hopefully tomorrow will run a little smoother," I said to Daniel as we each began to leave for the night, coincidentally at about the same time.

"Well, we have the follow-up PR meeting..." he trailed off, approaching the elevator as I began to traipse left, toward the stairs. "Are you not taking the lift?" Daniel looked me up and down as if I were a naked woman dancing out in an ice-white blizzard.

"No, no, I just trust the stairs," I said lamely.

"Do you trust eleven flights of stairs?" The man's eyes were lingering on my high heels. "At night?" In those? his gaze said.

"Yes." My voice was a little flaky.

"And did you trust them this morning?"

I was silent. He knew the answer. "I just didn't use them."

"And you will now?"

"Yes," I answered with defiance. Then I thought ab out how late it was already, on top of how my feet felt like they were being split in two from being worn for longer than usual. Did I really think that it wouldn't tax me some way or another to use the stairs? "No..." I began to amend. "No, I'll... I'll take the elevator.

Daniel still looked perplexed as I stepped past him, into the lift as it opened. Then he shuffled in after me, awkwardly, pushing the button for the ground level. Too slowly the doors slid shut, and my brain dragged the experience out for longer than it really was. Green leaves, bright red, orange, and purples flowers with yellow or white stamens were in my minds eye, and if Daniel couldn't hear my heart pounding as the lift lowered, he was deaf, and could still probably see that I was nervously flushed. The wild side of my brain was picturing high, bright conservatory windows and humid air. My breath hitched a little, and in the meanwhile, the logical side of my brain was trying to paint over the greenhouse picture, painting the front lobby of Infinity Inc.

I felt the elevator stop and braced myself, all muscles tensing in preparation.

And when the doors slid open, they relaxed, if somewhat in delay, to see the brightly lit lobby level of my corporation. "Ahh," I sighed as Daniel waited for me to step out first, unlike before. I think he was concerned I would fall over or snap at someone, or something. Naked lady in a snowstorm. Even though I was moving at a slower pace, I reached the lobby desk before him. I knew the secretary's name this time.

"Good night, Wyatt," I murmured, handing over my card.

"'Night Elizabeth," he said in reply, giving it back and taking up Daniel's. "See ya tomorrow, new guy."

"Daniel," the new guy corrected. Again, he was a little red in the face, putting a tired smile on mine. Shoulders stiff, he walked a little faster with me outside. We stood together in silence, waiting for our vehicles to come up. I heard Daniel inhale and wondered if he was smelling the lavender and marigolds from where he stood. Maybe he had been raised in the country. Or maybe he was just a city guy that wished sometimes that he was not.

My Lily FX came up from the vaults just a half minute before Daniel's vehicle. It was a ...Binghamton, smooth, black, and surprisingly fuel efficient.

"Take care, then," I said, pressing a button on my key chain to unlock the Lily.

"Good night," Daniel answered, and we each went into our cars. I fired the engine up, sinking my back into the plush fabric seat and pulled the vehicle out of the ramp, slowly, wary of his nearby. Sure enough, I had to brake to avoid collision. He waited on me, and I could picture him apathetically saying, Ladies first. Waving thanks, I drove out first, a silver mare ahead of the black stallion.

What a day. My thoughts returned to that morning when the lift had taken me...somewhere odd. I was quite sure that the Infinity Inc. building did not have a garden anywhere in the building, no matter how much landscaping and botanically-enhanced interior decorating it did. I had worked there for three years. If there were some conservatory of that proportion in my workplace, I would have learned of it much sooner. But I had seen it! A fully loaded and nurtured greenhouse! Granted, I had been far too...surprised to venture forward to attest to its existence, but I had seen it!

Entering my apartment building, my head was still spinning over what had happened, now that I actually had time to think about it. "Good night, Morris," I said, walking past him to head up the stairs, not elevator. It was only four flights of stairs, and I began to take off my shoes as I reached the first one. The carpet beneath my pantyhose-covered feet was delightful, despite the bacteria I knew was likely there.

"Don't you want your mail?" Morris said loudly from behind me.

"If you are willing to bring it up, then yes," I replied, already on the fifth step up, my voice echoing in the stairwell. "If not, hold it till tomorrow." His sneakered feet came up beside my nearly-bare ones, and he pressed a few envelopes into my hand. All bills. Lovely. And to top it off, yet one more person was looking at me as if I were ...a naked woman twirling about in the snow. "Thank you Morris," I said, continuing up the flight.

By the time I made it to my flat, my feet had long since worn their comfy welcome on the carpet of the stairwell and appreciated the cool tile of the hallway, especially the tile of my apartment. The lights automatically switched on when I unlocked and opened the door- a stroke of environmental genius that really took off in about 2011. "Yes." It was nice to be home. Again. But especially after such...a ...day.

I pushed a button, even though I really did not need to, and spoke clearly. "Play messages," I commanded the Axis phone. Not every home had one, since they had only been out for about five years, but since I worked with the company which produced them, it was practically required for me to own one.

One by one, four messages played. Two of them I relatively ignored as I pulled a sandwich out of the fridge. Heating the chicken breast and toasting the bread separate from the vegetables, my ears perked up as I heard Valerie's voice.

"Ohaiyo, baka!" I chuckled to myself. Good morning, crazy idiot! Was what she had said, only in Japanese. She worked as a foreign business advisor for prestigious companies looking to deal with Japan and a few other Asian countries. With the economic boom still abounding in that region of the world, Valerie's job was in high demand."...I'll be flying back home on Tuesday, that's October the fourth. Call me back if you'll be able to pick me up, and if not, just to talk! I love you, and I'll speak with you then. Bye!"

That gave me about a week. I bit into the heated sandwich, topped with slices of tomato, lettuce, and sweet onion sauce. Mulling over whether I would have time to pick her up or not, my chewing stopped abruptly as I heard the next message.

" This elevator is having some trouble, taking it's sweet time getting where it needs to. Can you hear me? I said ... Oh forget it..."

Oh my...no... I blinked, eyes wide. That had been what I had said into the Axis phone in the lift earlier, just before...just before I failed to get through to Sravya, and then... arrived at the greenhouse. My hands felt chilled. Screw this all to pus-spewing, blood-gutted hell.

I stood, no longer hungry, pacing around my beautiful kitchen. That had been a call to maintenance, a call to the division of my company that fixes things. How in the world had that message made it to my home phone?

Wiping the sweet sauce and tomato juice off of my lips, I closed my eyes, leaning back against the recycled counter top. Something very, very weird was happening to me. The first thought I had was that I was not going to fall asleep that night, or if I did, it would take a very long time. With my stomach in knots, I voiced my thoughts, even though no one could hear me- just the potted plants. "What is happening?" There was a potted palm near the sliding doors to my balcony, and the dark sky outside looked a little cool. I wanted it; maybe it could calm my unsteady breathing, my irregular heartbeat. "What am I going to do?"

I folded my arms, looking out at the city lights and up at the hazy atmosphere, stars twinkling like gems beneath murky water. Minutes went by, and it was warmer than I had wagered. Somehow, the heat on my feet was actually nice, although the rest of me was sweating from the still, dry air.

Swallowing, I formulated a plan. The plan would begin with sleep. Tomorrow, the rest would follow.


A/N: This was my story for NaNo this year, and no I have not edited it yet, so I WANT feedback. Anything constructive would be LOVELY!!! Thanks. Future chapters to be published within the week or so.