November 26, 2006
Institutional Collapse (42126)
The second machine finished processing the cards and spit out a single card into the output hopper. After moving the diagnostics cards over to the third machine and started it running, Reynolds retrieved the output card and plodded over to the terminal, where the card was scanned in to be interpreted by the computer. By now, Reynolds was familiar with the look of a successful test run, having seen the cards three times a day for more than a year, but the procedure was mandatory. After the computer verified the output, the card was tagged, logged, and filed away for God knows what purpose. Reynolds worked in a trance: Pick up card, curse assignment. Walk across the room, curse his recruiter. Tag it and bag it, curse his old man. Reynolds was well into cursing his university advisor, his younger brother, and the bus driver who had yelled at him that one morning of second grade when he’d forgotten his lunch and wanted to go back for it, when the third and final machine did something it had never done before: it caught fire.
Reynolds was quick to react. Until you’re in a situation such as this, you may not know if you’ll really hold up to the strain. Reynolds calmly and cooly walked over to the fire extinguisher mounted on the wall, removed it, and began reading the instructions. He had gotten through the English and Spanish versions, and was grappling with his high school French when the fire alarm went off. Lights started flashing and sirens started wailing, but Lieutenant Reynolds’ calm demeanor was unspoiled. He finished reading the instructions on the extinguisher and carefully stepped over to the smoking machine and emptied the contents of the extinguisher into it.
He answered the phone, which had been buzzing since the alarm was triggered, and reported on his situation. A few moments later, the alarm was switched off at the central control panel, and Reynolds relaxed in the silence. He composed himself as he picked up the phone to report to his superior officer, but he couldn’t hide the smile that crept onto his face as he informed the General that his daily session of purgatory was now down to forty minutes a day.