You suck in a deep, mangled breath, willing your heart to calm itself, blinking rapidly at the screen and trying to steel your nerves as it continues to vibrate.

 

You answer on the third one. “Hello?” you blurt into the receiver, feigning absent strength in your voice.

 

“Hello,” a male voice responds on the other end—one that obviously does not belong to Richard Zane. “Is this Miss Constance Myers?”

 

A sense of disappointment instantly fills you, and you hate that it does; the tension quickly seeping from your spine, making your shoulders slouch as you loosen the grip on your phone.

 

“Yes, this is her,” you say a bit more somberly.

 

“Good morning, ma’am. My name is Terry Gibbs,” he states. “I’m the head operator of Zanergy’s Local Relocation and Transportation sub-division. Mr. Zane has arranged for your immediate transfer to the San Francisco base. My team and I are more than happy to organize your move. However, because this is a last-minute scheduling, we don’t have nearly as much legroom with the time window as usual. The movers will be dispatching soon and anticipate an arrival time of 8:30 AM at your address. While I can’t make any promises, if you have a different preferred time, please let me know and we’ll do our best to work around that.”

 

Your eyes go wide all over again.

 

Holy crap, 8:30’s only a little over an hour away.

 

That’s way too soon.

 

Your first impulse is to tell him that, but you quickly realize that they’re probably hoping to beat at least some traffic. Their drive here would be the most certain way to do that. If they leave later in the day, chances are, the entire move will get delayed significantly.

 

Damn this transfer all over again.

 

“Eight-thirty’s fine,” you concur with an inaudible sigh, reluctantly getting out of bed, knowing that a time at ‘your own convenience’ would likely mean even more inconvenience down the line.

 

Mr. Gibbs and you exchange a few more words about logistics and other moving details as your head whips left and right, silently trying to figure out how in the hell you’re going to get packed in an hour while you assure him that it’s all you need.

 

“All right. I’ll contact you again shortly,” he concludes before hanging up.

 

You head to the living room, nervously setting the phone down in plain view as you regard the chaotic state around you.

 

It’s like a unicorn and his wasted frat brother barfed all over the place.

 

Twice.

 

Without a minute to spare, you swiftly clean up the remnants of last night’s partying from the coffee table, discarding empty bottles and impatiently gathering strewn board games in an attempt to tidy up a bit before you start assembling your belongings.

 

While the small window makes you nervous, packing itself should be fairly easy—considering you don’t have that much to bring. Most of the stuff here is Michaela’s.

 

First things first, though.

 

You start a pot of coffee, inhaling the delectable aroma of Adam’s gift as it brews. You take a careful sip, your eyes drifting closed in absolute bliss, humming in delight in spite of yourself.

 

Nothing should ever taste this good, you relish as you take another.

 

You drain the first cup before you even realize it, putting your new present to use far sooner than you thought you would. And, with the way this day is panning out, it’s probably going to end up extinct before it’s over.

 

Almost exactly an hour later, Gibbs calls again, informing you that the movers are outside. You all but erupt in a hysterical panic. Despite your relatively few possessions, you grossly overestimated your ability to pack quickly, still only half-way through getting your things together when you get off the phone with him.

 

Your skin buzzes with a strange rush of both excitement and anxiety and, before long, you’re running around like a chicken with its head axed, flinging this here and stuffing that there, completely giving up on folding or sorting anything like you’d initially been doing.

 

Miraculously, you manage to pull it off within the next ten minutes. On your way out, your eyes dart back to the coffee table, eyeing the mini clay pot from Adam’s gardening kit where you somehow managed to plant a single tulip bulb between rounds of donkey poker and Michaela’s ridiculous game last night. You deliberate whether or not you should take it. That doesn’t take long, knowing it’ll probably end up dead—or as drunk as you were—before it’s even had the chance to germinate if you leave it with cousin dearest.

 

You glance around one more time, praying you haven’t forgotten anything important. You’d hate to have to drive over two hours each way because you were forgetful.

 

With a final run-through, you check your watch for the umpteenth time. It’s just after eight and Michaela still isn’t back. You try her number but her phone is switched off, as it always is while she’s working. You write a quick note and stick it on the fridge. You wish you could at least say bye in person, but you guess this will have to do for now.

 

Punctually, Gibbs and his movers load all your stuff into a hauling truck that’s far too large for the quantity it’s going to be carrying. Seems like such a waste. Right next to it, a jet-black Escalade remains parked, its impossibly polished surface like a mirror in the sunlight. An elderly man suddenly emerges from it and walks toward you. He smiles, bowing formally.

“Miss Myers?” he inquires, detectable hints of a Germanic accent laced into his speech.

 

“Y-yes, that’s me,” you swallow, still trying to process and take everything in as you literally watch your life change in the blink of an eye.

 

“My name is Edgar,” he extends his hand politely. “Mr. Zane has provided a private car for you.” He gestures to the sleek SUV behind you. “I’ll be your personal driver.”

 

You return the smile despite your surprise at his introduction. “Nice to meet you, Edgar.”

 

You’d assumed you’d be riding with the haulers. You definitely didn’t expect to have another car sent just for you, as well.

 

In the minutes that follow, you can do little else but observe the immediate workings of your new predicament in something of a daze, like it’s happening to someone else. The whole thing feels like a bit of a dream. Not to mention, a spectacle.

 

All this grandiose for a temporary employee.

 

A college intern, no less.

 

Then again…this may very well just be the standard order of business at this company. A typical, everyday occurrence. Even your own brief encounter with its owner oozed of wealth and power. In excess. Of both. Chances are, money is the least of his problems.

 

The moving truck takes off, going ahead of Edgar and you. You promptly follow suit, making your way to your designated vehicle. He opens the back door courteously, revealing a very spacious, starkly matte but equally jet-black interior. You mount the Escalade with your heart in your mouth, still in disbelief that this is happening. With a million and one thoughts scattered through your brain simultaneously, you slide into the backseat…and go completely rigid when you realize it’s all leather.

 

Your lips instantly part, ready to say something, but you stop yourself just short of actually voicing anything, having to literally bite your tongue in order to do so, even as you feel anger bubble up inside you.

 

Christ…

 

You feel more and more conflicted with each interaction you have with this company. You don’t want to start your time at Zanergy off with complaints, especially before you even get to see the damn place, never mind actually work there. You know how much Earth Cap has riding on this. You already saw the look in Sam’s eyes yesterday.

 

Absolutely no room for fuck ups.

 

You hate feeling like you have to compromise yourself; your core values and beliefs, and a huge part of you feels like a sellout for it. You also feel like a part of you just literally died a little inside, the morbid sensation of cold, lifeless skin seeming to clutch at yours even through your clothes, almost bringing you to tears, making you want to hurl all over it.

 

You don’t know how you do it but you manage to stay seated for the entire two-hour trip, planted in the exact same spot. Thankfully, traffic isn’t nearly as grotesque as you anticipate and, consequently, the journey isn’t as long. Or maybe it just feels that way because you have to mentally check out in order to keep yourself from picking the very tempting option of jumping out of a tinted window.

 

“We’re finally here, ma’am,” Edgar announces as the engine dies down. You practically scramble out of the car the second he pulls up into a vast, largely vacant parking lot.

 

You look ahead, stunned, your eyes ballooning inside your skull, like they have to increase their physical capacity to take in the entirety of the monumental sight before them.

 

Edgar smiles. “Welcome to your new home.”

 

***

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