Hoodie pulled low, he slouches in his chair, fingers flying over the keyboard like appendages to fantastical AI constructs. It’s the last day before year-end. Maintain awareness at all times, is his fleeting thought to himself as his digits tingle in the cold. He can see his breath.
“Crap-opolous!” comes the asthmatic roar from the far, front entrance to The Floor.
“Here!” he bellows back, fingers pausing. The same-old mechanical insult, with the same-old mal-pronunciation of his name. Boss will never tire of his pathetic little jokes, his so-called biting wit. He bites down on his ire. Not long now…
A mechanical swoosh precedes Boss’s wheelchair, so he knows he has thirty-five well-timed seconds to switch screens, cover his tracks, and continue with his data-mining.
“Crap-opolous!” intones the hydraulic-sounding windpipe mouthpiece lodged in Boss’s throat. “Management is very satisfied with your week’s surveillance-tracking. Very. Satisfied. Indeed”.
“Cheers”, is his only reply, without even looking up. His fingertips still whisper a sweet conversation of their own that have no need of Boss’s response. Boss blinks for a few beats. But with no further reaction from his protégé, Boss finishes laconically, some droplets of phlegm rattling in his throat’s blow-hole:
“Aha. Hum. Well then. I suppose that’s yet another Operator Bonus for you!” Boss reverses his wheelchair and swooshes away.
He scooches lower against the cold, seeking residual warmth from his spindly chair, shrugs deeper into his hoodie, and switches back to the previous screen. Seven years of misery he’s endured in this unheated barn of Cyber-Security Gate-keeping. Seven years and the asshole still refuses to say his name properly. No Merry-merry nothing; not the slightest interest in him or his personal life. Maybe because he doesn’t go out and get liquored-up with the in-crowd every Friday night. Maybe because he doesn’t join their lips-‘n-snouts Bar-B-Q’s. Or because he won’t cringe, or kowtow, or butt-kiss. Even though he did relent just the once, when he took the asshole some fresh fruit and a fancy box of Belgian chocolates. That was in the hospital, after the drunken Friday-night-accident, which later necessitated the wheelchair and electro-larynx. But Boss still cannot dredge up the decency to call him by his given name. Nikolas, asshole, Nikolas. Like Christmas. Like Good ol’ Saint Nick.
He flicks between screens again. The data mining churns on without him. But the Cyber-security jumpers he’s created allow for quite a different outcome. His other screen briefly reveals seventy-nine-hundred-thousand dollars discreetly topping up inside his numbered Greek bank account in nondescript, untraceable sums. Operator Bonus, indeed.
He smiles. It turns his features very sweet and youthful, despite the white skiff in his hair. The frost in his forelock. He hums a few bars of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Happy, happy Christmas Nikolas! he thinks to himself. Let Nothing You Dismay. His imagination traces the scent of blood oranges laced with cloves and in the dank air. His icy lips lick the honeyed possibility of fine Retsina. He hears the birds in Cyprus, and they are all singing.