Glass House

My world is weirder than your world.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Answering Phones 2: The Saga Begins

I got this job about a year and a half ago. I'd been doing some odd contract gigs over the Internet (eLance used to be good for that sort of thing), but it was irregular work and it had mostly dried up by then. I saw the Linux support thing on and threw in my resume, since it said it was telecommute-friendly. It's a small company, too, so fewer rules. I prefer small companies as long as the checks come in on time.

They like my resume and check my references. Unusual step before the first interview. Kaydia, the boss's assistant (she kicks too much ass to be properly called a secretary) calls me up and says Mr. Brooks would like me to come in.

"That's great," I say. "I'd be happy to talk to him over the phone, but I'm afraid it's a little tough for me to get out of the house. I've got, ah, some health issues."

"Oh. Are you confined to a wheelchair? We've got ramps--"

"No, no. I was..." I have to think through my list of standard excuses. This one's delicate, because it's full-time work with benefits. If I go too far over the top (severe allergies, cancer, stuck in an iron lung) they might decide I'm not worth the cost to their health plan.

"I was in an accident," I say, and try to sound upbeat but embarrassed. "Several years back. There was a fire, and... And I got burned pretty badly over most of my skin."

"I'm so sorry!" she says. But God help me, she says it businesslike. Like she's checking a 'Severe skin trauma' box on a form in front of her. "So you don't like people to see you?"

"Yeah. Not so much that I don't like it -- but it's a little hard for others to see me." I pause for effect. "Of course if Mr. Brooks insists, I can still come in, but--"

"Oh, he will. We don't hire anybody here until we've met them," Kaydia says, totally unphased. I pick up on that we. "But we're equal opportunity here, Mr. _____. If you're qualified, you won't need to worry. And you certainly won't need to see us often. How's next Tuesday at 10 AM?"

"Uh, fine," I say. I'm too startled to say no as I should. She says she'll e-mail me directions, and that dress is business casual. Then we're done.

I give myself a good ten minutes to sit stunned, swearing at myself for being an idiot. Then I stand up, carefully push my chair under the desk (it's also invisible, so I have to be careful where I put it) and pace the center of the basement floor. That's where I do all my planning.

I could just say "Screw it," of course. Call them back and say "Sorry, I can't bring myself to do it" -- or even "Sorry, I'm invisible, and you wouldn't see me even if I showed up." I've actually pulled that before, when I'm annoyed and want people to think I'm insane so they'll leave me alone. But no. This really does sound like a good job -- and I've always been a little too stubborn to give up.

So I need to show up at the interview. Which means I'll need a surrogate to do the showing. I've pulled that trick before, when I've had to sign leases or open bank accounts. If Jon's in a good state of time, he usually fills in as me. Nick's done it in a pinch, but he's mischievous; I can't trust him for anything serious. In this case, neither of them will work. Whoever shows up will have to sound like me, since I'll surely be talking to these people on the phone a lot -- and since I was so damn clever about the burns, he'll have to look like Freddy Krueger, too.

I go upstairs and talk to Jenna. She's Jon's wife, and as far as we know her only power is being extraordinarily cool and reasonable in the face of all weirdness. She hears me out, and then tells me she's proud of me for going after a steady job.

"Yeah, thanks. I'm not twelve, you know." It's gratifying to hear her say it anyway, but I've got my pride. "So what am I going to do? I can probably fake the voice, but I don't know anybody who's that good at makeup."

"What about Alyx?" she says.

"Alyx? She's no good at-- Oh." Why hadn't I thought of Alyx? I hadn't seen her in a year -- or if I had, she didn't want to be recognized -- but she's the obvious choice. And she owed me a favor, for saving her ass from the Siren. (That's a longer story than this one.)

She'd gotten tired of our Friday circle well before that, and she was never quite on our social wavelength outside of that. And she's changed her phone number a couple times, though I'm pretty sure that wasn't to avoid us. But Jenna had her e-mail address, and sent her a note on my behalf. Jenna keeps in touch with everybody somehow. (Maybe that's her power.)

Alyx meets me Tuesday morning at about 8 AM to prepare. She knocks at the back basement door, and when I answer it she doesn't look around like most people do. She's in her default body: blonde pageboy hair, not quite five-and-a-half feet, more cute than sexy. It's an eerily familiar look, like somebody I've seen in a movie or on TV, but I can't for the life of me figure out who.

She bends down to let Aubrey lick her face, and sets down a duffel bag she's carrying. "I'm getting up early for you, James," she says, with a very weak smile. "If you don't get this stupid job I'm going to kick your ass."

"Find it and you can kick it," I say. "So how you been?"

I fix coffee while she sits on the visible loveseat, and we catch up for a little while. She's got a cliché job now, working for a private investigator. I give her some lighthearted crap about that, and she tells me I could be doing the same. "You'd be better at it than me," she points out. "It's not always exciting -- ninety percent of it's just tailing philandering husbands -- but you'd make a shitload of money. Instead you want me to help you be a stay-at-home geek."

I look at her seriously. She can't meet my eyes, of course, but she seems to try. "Believe me, I've thought about it. PI, PD, CIA, the whole alphabet. It's not my thing. Being a geek means I'm not paid to judge people I don't know."

"No, you and your friends do that for fun," she says. I've got nothing to say to that -- it's a valid point. Also, it's too damn early in the morning. She looks guilty for a half-second or so, then says, "So what do you need?"

"Well, he's me, so he's got to be tall and handsome," I say. "My voice, of course. And -- oh yeah -- he's got skin grafts over half his body from third-degree burns."


"Hey, I was thinking quick! I wanted to sound like a monster so they wouldn't want me to come in. But apparently monsters don't qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act."

"Jenna didn't say anything about burns."

"Sorry. Can you do it?"

"I've never tried," she says.

By now you've figured this out: Alyx is a shapeshifter. She doesn't do animals, dwarfs, or giants, but in the range of normal humans she can look like anyone she wants. I don't know how she does it, and it'd be rude to pry too much. She's never needled me about being invisible, either. We like each other okay -- I think she likes me better than most of the rest of the circle -- but we've never really been attracted to each other. On my side it's not her talent (which is pretty damn hot, at face value); it's her personality. She's blunt and abrasive, and never really opens up. I've never asked, but I have a pretty strong theory that she's originally a man.

She does the body without burns first. She takes her clothes off -- again, this ought to be a turn-on, but it's 8 AM and she's Alyx -- and grows eight inches, erasing her breasts and squaring off her curves. It's a fascinating process to watch, and I'm curiously pleased that she doesn't feel self-conscious about doing it in front of me. Perhaps it's just because it's so easy to imagine I'm not in the room. There's a moment of distraction when Aubrey jumps up on the loveseat and runs off with her panties in his teeth, but I catch him with the usual 'Bad dog!' and bring them back with some embarrassment. Alyx just shrugs.

"Do you have long hair?" she asks me.

"Yes. Just past my shoulders. Not that it matters -- do whatever you think works." The question takes me by surprise; most women I'm friends with already know this, because sooner or later they get curious and just have to touch my hair, my face, anything on my upper body. Men never do this, just women. Alyx never has. Score another point for my theory.

(Holy crap, it's getting late. The story's coming out longer than I expected, and I've got some other business to attend to. You'll forgive me if I finish this tomorrow, I hope. If anyone's even reading this yet.)


At December 10, 2004 at 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm reading it, "James." I believe you're off to an outstanding start.. Keep it up!



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