Jim's eyes opened to a room that was blushing faintly coral pink. The split-second of wild, nervous panic sped into his mind and suddenly dissipated. Almost every morning now, Jim surmised with remarkable clarity through the morning fog that enveloped his sluggish brain. He forced himself to sit up, bleary-eyed, in bed; to rub his eyes and yawn, peppermint-striped pajama-clad arms waving. Jim's feet swung over the edge of the bed, and he thudded unenthusiastically off to the bathroom in the rose-colored glow cast through the curtains by the morning sunlight. There was no more time to sleep in. He had to be at the Shelter by eight-thirty.
He located the shampoo without any trouble. Sometimes in these houses, the bottles were hidden in cabinets behind a pyramid of toilet paper, or underneath a stack of folded towels in the cabinet. You always spent ten minutes looking for the stuff so you could wash your hair, and ended up being stuck in traffic after leaving the house too late. He grabbed a towel - a rather comfy one, he thought - and ruffled it over his head as he stepped out of the shower. I'l have to find this place again sometime. He reached for his bag of toiletries, scrubbed his teeth forcefully with a beat-up red toothbrush, and spat. Both hands planted firmly on the countertop, he stared into the mirror and tried to explain to himself for the thousandth time that he couldn't go back to bed. The clock in the bathroom read 7:45, and it took at least half an hour to drive to Linton from where he was.
He flung his brown suitcase onto the bed, not bothering to make it up. He knew it would cost him in the long run - you'd have to pay extra if the workers did it for you. It'd only be five extra dollars on his tax reciept at the end of the year, and he was in a hurry. Check-out always took up more time than you thought. Or you could just learn to wake up earlier, an annoying voice inside his head that sounded suspiciously like his mother reminded him. He scowled.
He threw on a shirt and tie and ran into the kitchen to grab something to eat. What Jim really wanted was a bagel, preferably with cream cheese, but this particular house didn't seem to stock any. Dammit. Someone, he thought, should really make a motion to get that on the Bill of Required Household Items or something. He settled for toast instead, all the while internally cursing the workers that made up this place every day. While rummaging through the brown government-issued bread box, he noticed the "message" light blinking red on the computer. Kathie, maybe? But she never Another glance at his watch. He had to be gone in five minutes.
Suitcase in one hand and briefcase in the other, he strode up to the silver panel in the left-hand side of the hallway near the front door. A miniature silver keyboard slid with a click out of a slot toward the bottom. The rectangular monitor was already flashing "caselyjamesrobert", and there were three empty text boxes below that waiting to be satisfactorily written in. The ticker in the first box was flashing. Without even stopping to think, he tapped in his first numeric passcode, then the second. The third always took longer, since it had to be at least fifty characters long, but his fingers had the precise movements of one who has written the same thing countless times on countless days. Tap tap tap... Christ, he was late. Finally, he punched the "enter" key. The pixellated black and white hourglass icon appeared on the screen. It was rotating...rotating still. Jim's mouth twisted to the side in an impatient half-frown. Suddenly there came a beep. He snapped his head from his watch back up to the screen. LOGIN/PASS ERROR, the flickering letters read. Jim exhaled loudly. "Great. I'll just type it all over again." The textboxes came up blank again, and Jim gritted his teeth and tapped vehemently on the miniature keyboard, determined to just get the hell to work. Enter. Boom, done. He tapped his feet now to make up for the keyboard's clicking, restlessly stared at the ceiling, his watch, the floor, his watch again...
The computer rang with a calm ba-ding. RECORDS LOCKED, it read.
Jim pulled the car door shut with a bang behind him, feeling like a bulldozer had rolled by and crushed a huge obstacle in his path to dust. He was out of the house. One less thing to worry about. Great. He shifted in his seat, buckled up, switched on the radio, turned the key in the ignition, and backed out of the driveway.
All right. You can stop being stressed now. Just get in a good headspace. You're not going to that interview feeling like hell. Just calm...down. He turned up the Beatles on the radio, musing briefly over their longevity. A hundred years and they were still the most popular band in the world. Right. So what am I asking this guy again?
Jim ran over his boss's assignment in his head as he turned onto Conrad from Teranishi Drive. God, he could almost hear that obnoxious, self-important voice.
"Casely?" There was Gibbard - or rather, Gibbard's comb-over, bobbing with long, marching strides over the wall of his cubicle. He'd appeared at the doorway and peeked around the flimsy, Post It-covered wall. That overly cheerful smile was wallpapered onto his round red face, and Jim glimpsed that day's typically hideous choice of tie. His perpetually jokey demeanor did little to boost morale at the offices of Canadian Life, but he was the editor of a hugely successful magazine with a hundred monkey-at-typewriter "journalists" at his command, so his good spirits were for the most part unsinkable.
"How ya doin', Casely?" he blared, barging into the cubicle. Jim raised his head from his desk, but before he had a chance to respond, Gibbard continued "Fabulous. Listen, we were talking this next story over at the meeting last night, and..." He dropped a sizeable sheaf of papers onto the desk. They landed with a formidable thud. "We decided you were the man for the job." Jim picked up the stack and began rifling through it. It consisted of photocopied newspaper clippings, press kit excerpts, and rally flyers, all for something called the CHO. "The Capitalist Housing Organization," Gibbard proclaimed, obviously thinking himself to be extremely well-informed. "Counteracting Act 294 from all those years back. Apparently they've got this whole privately owned complex out in Linton where they work and live and stuff - a sort of office building slash commune. They're headed up by some guy called...Jacques Bonneville?" The foreign syllables tumbled malformed from Gibbard's mouth as 'jack-wes bone-a-veel-a'. "Call this guy up. See if you can set up an interview."
Jim kept perusing the papers, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "I'll get right on it, sir," he heard himself mumble dutifully.
"Good man!" boomed Gibbard cheerfully, clapping the table twice with a hirsute, beefy hand. Jim's coffee - black, three sugars - wobbled and splashed in its cracked green mug. Jim's left hand shot out to steady the coffeecup and keep it from spilling, but by then his boss was already striding off to annoy Julia Marx in the cubicle next door.
A call to Bonneville's receptionist later, Jim had an hour of the co-ordinator's precious time booked for Thursday morning. Now, he was cruising on the expressway, if one could call doing a hundred kilometres per hour in a brown electric-powered Buick "cruising". The fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview, however, still made him smile. It was the one spot of tongue-in-cheek personality in what was otherwise the world's nerdiest car. He mentally ran over his notes again. Motives, he thought suddenly. We need to find out why they want to get rid of something that eliminates the problem of homelessness. Jim decided he could answer that one pretty well himself. Not having to spend ten minutes digitally locking every document attached to your name, that's a decent reason. Or not having to find a new empty house every night. He'd have to ask Bonneville to detail life in that place. People would want to know what it's like not to have to ship your kids off to a boarding school, or to live in the same place and let clutter build up endlessly in every nook and cranny of a static house. Jim could remember, faintly, what that was like. He had a few scattered memories of life at eight, when he and his little brother Evan slept in the same room under sloppily self-constructed model rocketships that dangled from the ceiling. He remembered discovering a fresh jumbo-sized purple crayon and taking it to the sky-blue living-room wall - and remembered being confined to his room for two days afterward with only Jake the golden retriever for company. Or falling out of that tree in his front yard and breaking his arm - yeah, those were the days. Of course, he thought, there aren't any trees left, because the government needed to build identical raised ranches for everyone in the friggin' country. Except, of course, in provincial parks, of which there were just enough to make sure that there was the bare amount of leaf-fresh oxygen released into the air to keep the population respirating properly. Air factories. He sighed. God, the trees. There were so many of them out in BC.
Jim found himself being hurled forward toward the steering wheel as the inflatable airpads busted out of the car's frame. He bounced right back in his seat, slightly nauseous from the sudden forward jerk but unharmed. The auto-brake had saved him from daydreaming right into the bumper of the Honda-Toyota ahead. Behind him, a line of drivers had their elbows leaning firmly on their horns.
So much for a good head space.