Song: “Lose Yourself” by Eminem
What do you want out of life? Why do you wake up in the morning?
For me, it’s been one thing. One thing that has consumed my thoughts for the past seven years. And it was sitting inside a vault in the most prestigious building in New York City.
“Welcome to Tiberius Towers,” I said to three men in suits as they stepped up to the metal detector. “All electronics, coins, and metal objects in the tray on the left please.”
I stepped back as they removed their Rolexes, wallets, and phones then waved them along. All of them went through without a beep, but I held my hand up to the third one.
“Spread your arms, please, sir,” I told him. “Random check. Routine.”
He spread his arms, but released an annoyed sigh as he did. I patted him briefly from his underarms down to his thighs, then stepped back and waved him along.
“Like I’d have anything anyone would want,” he chuckled to his colleagues as they retrieved their belongings.
If only you knew, sir, I thought to myself.
I turned to the security guard standing at the adjacent metal detector and nodded at him. “Going on break. Be back in ten.”
He nodded back at me. Then I turned and walked straight past the receptionist desk and the line of chrome elevator doors and to the entrance of a stairwell. I walked downstairs to the basement then ducked into the janitor’s closet where I slipped out of my security guard uniform and into a black three-piece suit. I looked into the mirror sitting on the shelf and straightened my navy blue tie and adjusted my silver cuff links. I would be among only thirteen black “employees” in this building, a spec of chocolate in a sea of vanilla associates. But this outfit would make sure I didn’t stand out too much. Besides, it wasn’t just about the look, it was about the way you carried the look. And that was my specialty.
My phone vibrated and I saw a text from Six. I ignored it then screwed the silencer onto the barrel of my Beretta. Then I grabbed the magazine from my security guard belt and ran my fingers on the letters engraved on it: DETERMINATION. This was the sweetest benefit of infiltrating this company–they had literally given me ammunition to take them down with. I loaded the magazine into my gun, aimed at my thigh, then took a deep breath. I fired one shot and the feeling burst into my leg. The determination leaked through my system like adrenaline and I shook my head quickly, like I’d just taken a shot of vodka. My body shivered as the feeling rolled over my insides like electricity and I clapped my hands together as I stood.
I stepped out of the stairwell and headed back to those chrome elevators just as one of them opened then sauntered inside with two other men in gray suits.
I know what you’re probably thinking. I’m some kind of jewel thief at best or professional con artist at worst trying to get rich off a multibillion dollar corporation. But you’re wrong. Tiberius Towers is much more than a simple corporation. They’ve built an empire from harvesting and monopolizing feelings. For the past hundred years they’ve managed to buy and monopolize the production of four specific feelings, limiting their manufacture to this very building I’m standing in. So passion, ambition, and determination could only be found here and nowhere else. Their goal was to eventually have a patent on every feeling that existed so they could profit off of all of us. And at the very top, in the penthouse of Mr. Tiberius himself, was the most valued feeling of them all—the one I was going after right now.
The elevator doors opened on the 12th floor and the two guys with me stepped out. I kept going to the twentieth floor and folded my hands in front of me as I watched the numbers light up. The building was set up with three sets of elevators on opposing sides that required a different level of security clearance to access. The first set only went up to the 20th floor. The second to the 40th and the third to the Penthouse on the 60th. This was to keep any associates from lower levels from accessing higher levels they had no business accessing. But those sorts of security measurements weren’t gonna be enough to stop me.
The doors opened on the 20th floor and I was met by a wall of pure bronze with a silver door in the center. I stepped up to the door and glanced down at the black machine where the door handle would have been. I pulled out the keycard I’d swiped from the man at the metal detector and inserted it.
“Welcome, Fred Hamilton,” a digital voice greeted me.
There was a beep, the door clicked open, and I walked in.
The floor was filled from end to end with sleek glass desks where men and women were sitting, standing, swiping through tablets, and yapping away into headsets. Few of them noticed each other, let alone the African-American man who had just walked in. Without missing a beat, I had my phone to my ear and marched straight down an aisle between desks, eyes fixed on the bronze wall on the opposite end.
“I’ve got two other offers on the table,” I said to my imaginary friend on the other line. “So you can take it or leave it. I don’t have a problem with–”
My eyes caught something to my left that nearly froze me in my spot. A dark-skinned woman in a black pantsuit was sitting at a desk with her phone cradled between her ear and her shoulder as she shuffled through a set of papers in front of her. She was rattling off numbers to whoever she was talking to and didn’t notice me as I approached. But I did and my heart skipped a beat when I recognized her–my ex girlfriend.
What was she doing here? When did she start working for Tiberius? Then again, given how cutthroat she was, she would fit right at home in an environment like this. But if she recognized me, this entire mission was over.
“…moving ahead with the deal,” I kept saying. “Wait. What does that mean?” I kept my face turned in the opposite direction as I walked past her desk and held my breath as I increased my distance. Then the unthinkable happened–my phone vibrated. It was Six again! I cancelled the call with a swiftness and kept it moving without even glancing in my ex’s direction. I made it to the bronze wall, inserted the key card to exit then stepped into the elevator. I waited for the doors to shut me in before I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
Had she heard my phone? And what was she doing here?
I need someone who can keep up with me, her voice echoed in my mind as I remembered the breakup.
Get it together, Three, I told myself, refocusing on the mission. What do you want?
Break into the Penthouse. Crack the safe. Get the magazine. If I pulled this off, it could be the end of Tiberius for good. No other agent had been able to infiltrate this company before. Eight had blown her cover, Seven had gotten distracted, and One hadn’t taken out Tiberius when she’d gotten the chance. But here I was, just a couple floors away from pulling off what no one else had done. I’d get promoted to Top Agent for sure for this. Not to mention, the reign of Tiberius would be over and free feelings would be available for everyone.
I made sure my phone was on silent before the elevator doors opened on the 40th floor. This time there was a silver wall and instead of a keycard machine there was a black circular speaker in the center of the gold door.
I cleared my throat, leaned in, and said in a flawless Argentinian accent, “Mateo Castagnino.”
“Welcome Mr. Castagnino,” the voice greeted me.
The door clicked open and I entered the floor. This one was sectioned into giant glass rooms where men and women were giving presentations to stone-faced audiences. I marched through, avoiding all eye contact with anyone in the rooms I passed. Just ten more seconds and I’d be at the elevators and on my way up. But of course, something always has to go wrong.
“Jamal!” someone shouted.
I kept it moving without breaking stride.
My hands moved with liquid fluidity as I switched a magazine of rejection into my gun.
“Jamal, I need those reports ASAP!”
I made it to the speaker on the silver wall, threw my voice again to say the name and the door opened.
“Jamal, when are you gonna–”
I turned and grabbed the back of the man’s neck and fired a rejection into his stomach in one swift motion. His eyes went wide as he stared at me and mouthed, “You’re not Jamal…”
He went limp in my arms as the rejection leaked through his system and I dragged him off the floor and shut the door behind us.
Crap. This wasn’t good.
I dropped him then rushed to the elevators. The doors opened a few seconds later and I was climbing again. He had seen my face and this would come back to bite me. I had three minutes tops before I’d have the whole building after me.
The elevator opened on the 60th floor to a wall of pure gold and I ran up to the diamond encrusted door in the center. I positioned my face directly in front of the facial recognition scanner and twisted a dial on my watch. With a flicker of blue light, my face was now identical to Rolan Tiberius. The scanner scanned me and I was greeted with, “Welcome, Mr. Tiberius.”
I had sixty seconds before the hologram would shut off.
I rushed inside and wasted no time. I ran past the floor to ceiling windows and starburst chandelier in the living room, over the snow white carpet and past the brick fireplace in the bedroom, then past the panoramic view of the skyline and straight to the safe in the corner of the office.
I stared at the face scanner on the door of the safe and after another greeting, there was a click and the door opened. I held my breath as I reached in and grabbed the gold-plated magazine inside. Engraved in giant letters across it was one word: SUCCESS.
This was it. I’d done it. I opened the magazine to check the feelings inside and my heart sank at what I saw.
It was empty.
Original artwork by Alyssa Pfingst