Daniel woke in complete darkness. He heard the soft breathing of three other people in the room--and also a calm, soothing, persistent voice. What was it saying, and where did it come from? Daniel closed his eyes to hone his ears.
“...working here at Byblos. We have the broadest market for all our products and services. No one says “No” to Byblos. We are the company that serves the customer. You won’t find our level of accommodation anywhere else. You love working here at Byblos Byblos exists because YOU matter most. We have the broadest market and the greatest number of products and services for your every need...”
Daniel shuddered and rolled over in his bed, trying to shut out the insidious voice. He could still hear it in his head. He concluded that there must be speakers within the very mattress, spreading the subliminal conditioning through the whole workforce. Is this how they ensured employee loyalty? Daniel closed his eyes and fought to remember the Bible verses he had memorized over the course of his life. EVen now he could feel the words escaping his brain. He would have to see if the Byblos library included a Bible, even if it was just for the pretense of tolerance.
“Our Father, who is in heaven,” Daniel prayed, “blessed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven...”
His next conscious thought occurred upon waking to gentle sunlight streaming through the skylights, and the smell of fresh-brewed coffee. Daniel sat up and stretched. A projected digital clock informed him that it was seven o’clock in the morning. He looked over at his friends and recalled the events of the previous day. Daniel wondered if he would ever get used to their new names.
The trickle he heard faded to a slight gurgle. Daniel sat up. His friends were still asleep. A message icon flashed on the wall in Daniel’s line of sight. When he reached for it, he felt nothing but thin air against his fingertips, but the projected image responded to his motion.
“You have 2:30 hours of sleep remaining,” the notification reminded him.
Daniel instinctively looked around. What kind of system monitored how much rest an employee took? A new notification popped up every quarter-hour that Daniel spent away from his pillow. If he lay down again, the notifications stopped. At “1:30 hours remaining,” Daniel finally decided that it was a good time to wake his friends. He stood and fumbled around the walls for the light switch. Another message informed him that he did not have the override protocols to control the light himself outside the designated hours.
Daniel shook his head; what little light came through the skylights would have to suffice.
“All right, guys!” he called, “Rise and shine!”
“G’way!” Aaron--(No, Daniel thought, Alex now) groaned.
Harry (“Sean” was going to take some getting used to) at least had the decency to roll over and blink owlishly.
“Why is it still dark?” The one-formerly-known-as-Mike mumbled.
Daniel sighed, “Apparently they have a strict policy about curfew and light-switch protocols.”
The dark-haired young man shook his head as he sat up. “I always thought curfew referred to what time you turned out the lights, not how long you kept them off.”
“So why the sudden rush to get up?” Alex wanted to know, swatting at the insistent message as he arose and joined Martin (aka Mike) and Daniel.
“Remember our days as roommates in college?” Daniel reminded him.
Sean was the last to join. “Oh yeah,” he said, “the VR Dorms of American University, where we all met. You’re getting nostalgic, Da--Ben?” He blinked in confusion as something prevented him from referring to his friend by the name he’d always known, replacing it with the name bestowed by the company.
Daniel bobbed his head, “You might say that.”
Alex snorted, “We were only virtual roommates then. We weren’t even in the same part of the country,” he noted.
“But I think the habit we formed of meeting together for prayer and Bible reading before classes began was a good one,” Daniel countered.
Finally, all four friends gathered in the meager glow of the skylight. There was a window off to the side, but some artificial mechanism kept it blacked out. Daniel looked at each of them.
“It’s too dark to read any Scriptures,” he acknowledged, “even if we had any. I’ll see about getting us some tab-files to use after today. For now, let’s just pray for wisdom and guidance--”
“And protection!” Alex added, noting the electronic security measures throughout the room.
Daniel nodded, “and protection as we serve God by serving Byblos today.”
“In here, gentlemen,” A voice called, no longer the digitized omnipresent summons, but a more localized source.
Alex, Sean, and Martin all glanced to Daniel. Though the walls were transparent, none of them could see the speaker apparently standing inside the room. They entered the darkened room. At the center stood a lifelike HD3D projection of a tall man in casual white slacks and a blue polo.
“Welcome, Team Blue!” he said with a smile, “My name is Tony, and I’ll be your guide through the orientation process. Take a seat--” On cue, blue contoured stools emerged on hydraulics through the floor, “and let’s begin!”
Sean nudged Daniel as they followed Tony’s instruction. “Teams? Is there going to be some kind of competition?”
Tony grinned, “Our first question comes from Sean! Yes, Sean, it is a competition, but a friendly one. All incoming employees have been grouped into teams. The more you learn about the history of Byblos and its practices and policies, the better you’ll score. What’s a little intra-office rivalry to get things rolling?” Tony winked. “Any other questions before we get started? Benedict? Alexander? Martin? No? Great! Take a look at your tablets now. I’ve unlocked them for you.”
The four panes lit up to reveal several icons on a blue background.
“Please select an area to begin,” Tony invited them.
Daniel selected the icon labeled, “Objective.” Triumphant theme music blared as a theatrical voice-over informed them that: “Byblos is more than just a brand. The product or service is only as good as the people behind it. That’s right, Blue Team, the fate of the company rests in your hands. Learn your role, complete the tasks, challenge hard, and WIN BIG!”
Sharing a glance with his friends, Martin selected the “GamePlay” icon.
Scenes of happy employees participating in interactive learning environments underscored a voice-over that explained, “There are many ways to earn points for your team during the week. Games and videos provide hands-on entertainment while allowing you to acquire different skills for point values and gain the answers to the Weekend Category Challenge. Wear your team’s colors anyplace--even cosmetic applications--and your team earns more points. Earn bonus points for fashion statements. Follow the assigned nutritional plan, and earn more points! Chance your team’s points at the Casino and be prepared to WIN BIG!”
Alex began to nod, “That sounds easy enough.”
“Yeah, if your goal is to become a company sycophant!” Sean muttered. He selected the “Rules” application. The first message to appear read: “Automatic handicap: Blue Team denies GamePlay participation; restricted to Modified Extracurricular Study, Reduced Point Values, and Weekend Category Challenge only. Automatic handicap: Blue Team denies NutriGain participation; exempt from dietary bonus.” The presentation proceeded with a thinly-veiled attempt to make something obviously over-regulated and confining into something warm and fuzzy.
“To ensure that your team is not disqualified, all members must meet or exceed the daily point allotments as established by the Personnel Director. Contestants must participate in every area of the GamePlay unless handicaps and exemptions are authorized by the Personnel Director. Team members detected ignoring the rules, functioning beyond the parameters of the tasks given, or attempting to tamper with the materials and equipment involved will be automatically disqualified. By order of President King, the winning team will receive Executive Status. May the Best Team Win!”
Tony returned as the presentation ended. “Each of your tablets has been equipped with a messaging system programmed with your daily schedule of tasks to perform, in order to earn the allotted number of points. You will receive tasks according to your proximity to the station where the task can be completed, so don’t go anywhere you’re not supposed to be,” he cautioned ominously, yet with a cheery wink and a grin. “The nature of your tasks have been individually tailored according to past experience and potential role within the company. Of course,” He amended, “the outcome of the competition appointments will be ultimately decided by President King himself, but as long as you are carrying the lead and out-performing everyone else, he shouldn’t be too hard to please, am I right?” The projection let out a chuckle. “All right, gentlemen, head on out to the tram waiting to take you to the Activity Center, where you can receive your starting tasks and scope out the competition. I’m on your tablets for any questions or tips you might need; just select the icon to interact with me. See you soon!”
The room darkened once more, and the four friends entered the Blue tram that began skimming its way to the inevitable contest.
“Whew!” Alex huffed, “I thought keeping things simple was going to make it easier on us, but after all those rules and exemptions, it looks like we just made things harder on ourselves!”
“Yeah,” Martin slumped in his seat, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, Prince.” He used Daniel's nickname to avoid the strange speech-block that prevented them from referring to him by his given name.
Daniel shook his head; he struggled with regret over deciding what seemed the noble and good thing to do--but then again, God had led him to make those requests, and surely God was not setting them up for abject failure! “We didn’t ask for those things because it would make us better than others, or give us an edge in any sort of comparison because we would be more holy.” He spoke as much to his own heart as to his friends. “We did it because God said it was the right thing to do, didn’t we?”
Alex shrugged, “I guess; but if we fail--”
“If we fail, we fail to the glory of God.” As he spoke the words of faith, Daniel’s mission with his friends coalesced in his mind. “If we succeed, it is also for His glory. We need to keep that as our focus, not how we rank or what roles we end up filling.”
Sean sighed as the tram pulled into the gigantic stadium that would be the main Activity Center for the week.
“May the best team win,” he echoed blandly.>>>>>>>>>>>