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Faint but clear reverberation of a singing bowl, carried across a foggy valley as first light breaks through the clouds.


As some unseen adept strikes the bowl again, I slowly rise to consciousness. It's dim in here, but there's a sharp glow in the corner. I stretch, blink my eyes.


Fake, tinny sound of an audio recording - singing_bowl_2.mp3 - played by an antique electronic device. The screen's cracked, but it still lights up - that's the glow. I get out of bed and turn off the alarm. Stretch, blink. Time for the good cup.

The soothing alarm clock, the good cup - these are my only indulgences.

I boil water, grind beans, pour, wait. Inhale as the aroma takes over the stale, plastic scent that usually pervades the cube I sleep in.

That gentle awakening and this indulgent cup of coffee are the only two concessions I'm willing to make to the notion of enjoying the present moment. If I die tomorrow, well, at least I enjoyed a couple of luxuries while I was here.

But I'm mostly focused on the future. By and large, my current reality is not particularly rewarding.

In thirteen minutes, the real alarm will sound. The blaring, just-loud-enough-to-hurt-your-ears alarm that's wired into every room in the building. The one that goes off six days a week at 6am. The one that makes my tinny little digital singing bowl a luxury by comparison.

Once that alarm sounds, I'll have twenty minutes to shower, get suited up, and make my way to the platform with the rest of the data entry resources. I'll ride a crowded tram to the Sheets office, file in to my cubicle. From cube to cube it's only a half hour trip.

And then I'll do what I do, all day, until another alarm blares. Reverse the process to get home, then repeat the process tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

What I do is, I enter data. Or rather, I ensure the accuracy and expedience of the knowledge accumulation and organizational practices of our valued customers.

Sounds pretty important when you put it like that - and they do put it like that. But I basically type shit into a box.

If I type too slow, or make mistakes, I get reprimanded. That used to happen a lot, but I've gotten pretty good. The trick is to numb your entire body except your pupils and your fingers. Then the data just flows through you and into the keyboard, and you don't have to think about where you are or what you're doing.

And there's coffee at work, for what it's worth. I'll have my second cup as soon as I arrive, and pour a few more throughout the day. But it's trash. Back in the day I used to spend $5 a cup on single origin, locally roasted peaberry. The stuff they serve at work probably costs ten cents a gallon.

Hence, the good cup. An indulgence.

Seven minutes till the alarm sounds and I have to get moving. But for the moment I'm still. Inhale the aroma, savor the first sip. Eyes closed, I can almost see across that foggy valley. Can almost hear the sound of nature coming to life, the rustle of a nearby stream ...

The clomp of boots in the hall.

Okay, that's ... not normal. None of the other resources are up, much less moving around, until the alarm sounds. And we don't wear boots, we wear cheap sneakers that match our jumpsuits. So fucking tacky.

The boots are getting louder. I take another sip of coffee but the magic spell is broken. It's hot and bitter, the hallway is noisy, the boots are getting closer. Then they stop.

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