Comrade Ogilvy could hardly get out of his chair after lunch.
Maybe it was the food. The Chicken Kiev he’d eaten was weighing him down like a boulder in his stomach.
He hadn’t slept much the night before, either. The group had been ordered to arrive at the Palace at 6 a.m. so that they could have full reign of the museum before the visitors arrived. He was a night owl, and his excitement for the next day’s events had kept him awake even later than usual. After an early start, a long game of laser tag, and what must have been hours of touring the Palace, Comrade Ogilvy began to nod off whenever he stood still.
The others looked just as tired. Most of them were unaccustomed to spending so much time on their feet. Terrence was beginning to limp. Maximus was complaining of blisters. Angela, eyeing Ms. Yue’s stiletto heels, asked, “How are your feet not bleeding right now?”
Ms. Yue only offered a faint laugh in response.
She took them through a door that required a keycard, onto another hamster tube-like glass walkway. Through the windows, Comrade Ogilvy could see their destination ahead: the Big Box.
“What about the other towers?” Scout asked. “What’s in them?” The group hadn’t visited Towers 6 through 8.
“It’s all boring stuff,” Ms. Yue said. “More offices, storage, dorms, things like that.”
“Some employees choose to live at the Palace,” Ms. Yue said.
Comrade Ogilvy considered tossing a barb about how IG didn’t pay its workers enough to afford housing, but he kept it to himself. He had signed away his right to speak openly somewhere in that thick stack of waivers, and the First Amendment never seemed to apply to corporations.
He knew the company would not hesitate to throw him out, even at this stage of the process.
It happened to another LPer, a fairly popular one who went by the name the Righteously Indignant Gamer. He had broken the silence IG demanded by mentioning his grand opportunity during a livestream. One week later, he released a vlog titled “CUCKED BY HIVE???” in which he read a brief notice from IG informing him that, on second thought, the project did not require his services, and he should cease and desist further discussion of the upcoming game or else face legal consequences.
Soon after, a GoFundMe for legal fees sprouted up in the Righteously Indignant Gamer’s defense. Within eight days, it reached $8,057 in contributions. On the ninth day, it was canceled, with no explanation beyond a tweet that read, “I have decided to withdraw my request for funding.”
The LPer’s YouTube channel remained up and his production schedule resumed without interruption, but “CUCKED BY HIVE???” disappeared, and he made no further reference to it. Comments on his videos were suspended. Emails sent to him asking about the incident were not answered.
He probably hadn’t read the contract he’d signed. But Comrade Ogilvy had. He’d taken careful notice of the non-disclosure agreement and the binding arbitration clause. IG’s contract demanded absolute silence under the threat of termination and a steep fine. Plus, IG had partners in other industries–telecommunications, marketing, even the military–and could easily count on these partners to kill a YouTube channel or sever a sponsorship deal or hurt an LPer’s livelihood in any number of ways.
And if he complained, the law would not help him. The binding arbitration clause meant that he would never be able to sue in a court of law. Instead, he would have to bring his case before an arbitrator–one no doubt owned, at least in part, by IG.
It was alarming, yes, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary. Many companies require their workers to sign similar contracts. So the restrictions annoyed Comrade Ogilvy, but they did not shock him. He had signed a similar contract years ago when he worked as an administrative assistant for a progressive non-profit; they fired him for taking a day off to go to his grandfather’s funeral, then sent him a legal notice when he complained about it on Facebook.
He had been through this before.
He knew what he was getting into.
So he kept most of his complaints to himself and did not mention the player who was supposed to be the ninth member of their party.
The eight LPers were hobbling by the time they reached the end of the walkway. Fluffinator was the only one who didn’t seem ready to collapse. The dog sniffed at the portal to the Big Box, darted back a few feet, then slowly approached again, nose to the floor.
Comrade Ogilvy looked out the window again. Walkways radiated from the enormous cement cube to the eight towers of the Palace like arteries. Their windows were made of mirrored glass; he could not see the traffic that passed within them, and no one outside could see him.
He began to feel lightheaded.
“We’re almost in,” Ms. Yue said. She swiped a key card, punched a code into a panel and peered into a retina scanner.
The door opened. Comrade Ogilvy could see that it was at least a foot thick.
“Looks like a bank vault,” Dave-O said.
She brought them through a pale corridor with black security camera orbs dotting the ceiling like beads in a necklace, through a doorway requiring a handprint scan, then past a gate guarded by a man in a black uniform. Comrade Ogilvy saw that the man’s holster bore neither pepper spray nor a taser, but a real gun.
They came to a waiting room with padded chairs and a single sliding door in one wall. The eight sank into their seats without needing to be told.
“This elevator’s really fast,” Ms. Yue said, “so don’t be surprised if you get a little dizzy. There’s a barf bag in there if you need it. Unfortunately you can only go one at a time. Security regulations. Who wants to go first?”
Rico and Terrence raised their hands.
“Terrence,” Ms. Yue said.
The veteran rose from his seat and wobbled to the elevator door, but he still managed a sleepy grin.
“I’m sending Space Marine over,” Ms. Yue said into her headset.
The doors opened. She ushered him in and whispered something in his ear.
The doors closed.
“Are we going up or down?” Scout asked.
“It’s a secret,” Ms. Yue answered with a coquettish smile.
Fredi hummed the theme that played at the beginning of Metroid.
They were right in the center of the Big Box without a particularly long distance to the top or the bottom. Yet the elevator seemed to take ages to reach its destination and return. Comrade Ogilvy nodded off. When he awoke, Rico was gone. So was Fredi. Ms. Yue was saying something to Angela.
“One at a time doesn’t just apply to people. It means dogs, too.”
“That’s bonkers,” Angela said.
“That’s the rules,” Ms. Yue replied. “So Fluffinator’s got to go by herself. Don’t worry! She’ll be fine.”
“What if she pees?”
“We have custodians. It’ll be okay.”
Angela sleepily hugged the corgi, who licked her face and whimpered. “If you hurt my dog, I will totally murder everyone at this company and burn the entire Palace to the ground,” she said. The weariness in her voice made it difficult to tell whether or not she was kidding.
Ms. Yue ignored the threat and sent the dog into the elevator.
“I think it’s going underground,” Maximus whispered loud enough to be overheard by everyone in the room. “Way underground.”
Comrade Ogilvy fumbled with his cell phone. He wanted to send one last text to his parents before he went, but the walls of the Big Box must have been too thick for the signal to penetrate. The text was saved as a draft.
He closed his eyes. When he opened them, he saw his cell phone on the floor and realized he had fallen asleep. Angela was gone, following her dog, and Scout had disappeared, too. Now it was just him, Dave-O and Maximus.
“Who’s going next?” Ms. Yue asked.
Comrade Ogilvy staggered to his feet. The floor seemed to rock beneath him as though he were standing on the deck of a ship at sea.
“There’s coffee waiting for you down there,” Ms. Yue said. “It’ll perk you right up. Promise.”
She took him by the arm, into the elevator, saying into her headset, “I’m sending Comrade Ogilvy next.” He couldn’t help but laugh. He’d played under that name for years, but it was still strange hearing it spoken out loud, in real life, particularly from the mouth of a beautiful professional woman.
Before she left him in the elevator, Ms. Yue gave him a hug and whispered in his ear:
“See you in the Hive, soldier.”