Marley waited outside the elevator doors. He watched the readout change from “Rooftop–57” to “Executive Suite–50”. He pushed the button. When the elevator arrived he could go straight to 50. But he thought better and selected 49. Entering the Executive Suite from the fire-stairs could be safer.
Marley felt a slight sensation of vertigo as the lift descended. Advertisements for holidays on Epicurus played on the ceiling screen: “Save credits. Buy a packaged deal! If you purchase in the next 24 hours you’ll receive a cocktail voucher worth 100 elon, plus free use of the sauna and massage facilities for 3 days.” On the screen, an overweight man was lying on his belly wrapped in a towel, oiled by a Nunchian female. The screen changed to a woman at a bar surrounded by four men in bowties and breeches, each offering her a different drink.
The elevator stopped at 54: the gym. A slim woman in leggings stood next to Marley and smiled. She looked at his arm and noticed that he was holding another arm.
“I work in the cybernetics section,” Marley half-stammered.
“So do I,” she giggled, “Except I work in the legs department.”
Marley got out on level 49 and shyly said goodbye.
She waved politely.
He almost tripped on a small MTBin cleaning bot as it scurried on its wheels and zipped around a corner. The bot was full to the brim and dropped scraps as it shot by. A whirring red light on its side indicated its destination was the Waste Management Facility.
Marley darted after it. He bumped into a lady wearing a black-and-white apron and wheeling a trolley. The trolley teetered over, spilling a load of muffins, tea and processed cheese snacks.
His original plan had been to follow the MTBin to the cleaning quarters. Perhaps there he could find cleaning equipment and pretend to be a janitor. The appearance of the tea lady gave him another idea.
He helped her collect the muffins and pocketed some of the cheese snacks. She was angry. She would have to travel all the way back to -2, the kitchen, to bake more muffins.
“I’m awfully sorry.” He reached out. “I’ll wheel this back to the kitchen. You need a break.”
“Don’t we all. But Incipien Rooney is expecting these.”
I thought his labs were down in the basement.”
“Those are his rat labs. Today he’s in the greenhouse.”
“I’ll make sure Rooney gets fresh muffins.”
“Are you qualified?” She pointed at her ID badge.
“As a tea lady? Oh that? I left it on my trolley. Don’t worry, just lend me your apron and the job’s as good as done.”
She cautiously took off the apron, folded it and handed it to him. “I’ll return to the kitchen in half an hour. Tell Ginger I’m taking my break now.”
Marley ushered her away.
Safely disguised, he made his way to the stairwell, determined to reach floor 50.
Near the rubbish chute Marley found the stairs. Crumbs of muffin rolled off the trolley. The cleaning bot scurried alongside, frantically sucking them up. He opened the stairwell and was about to enter when saw the fine print. A sign next to the door-handle read, “Use stairs only in emergency. Improper use triggers alarm.” So much for that plan. Anyway, how was he going to wheel a trolley up the steps? Being a tea lady really required more foresight.
As he approached the lifts a shrill voice crackled. “Esmerelda, are you at the greenhouse?”
He couldn’t work out where the voice was coming from until the pouch in the apron vibrated.
He retrieved a small device from the pouch. From a two inch square screen he discerned two eyes crowding a very straight and long nose. Marley instinctively ducked to avoid being spotted, and to avoid the nose.
“The delivery is on its way,” Marley said in a high-pitched voice emanating from the top of his throat. He was careful not to look into the camera.
“Where are you?”
“I’m having a makeup moment.”
“Incipien Rooney is expecting you. You know what he’s like when he’s hungry.”
“Yeah, he eats his mice.”
He sat down and chewed on a muffin. Then he remembered that he wasn’t a tea lady, but Chuck Marley, chaser of the Antlers of Amplitude. He got to his feet and pushed the wobbling trolley into the lift.