Copyright © 1996-2003 Sarah Henderson.
Last updated 14 October 2003

short stories


She stared at the small withering tree dripping leaves onto the lino around its small plastic pot. It's dark green leaves were coated with a thin film of dust. The dirt in its pot was dry and parched. It rarely got watered these days. Only Canna herself watered it, although really it was the cleaner's job. It didn't even get much light these days, since Corridor light had to be permanently dimmed to conserve energy.

She supposed she was lucky to have the plant at all. Most offices had a token plastic plant outside their doors, many having colourful fabric flowers. They even served as landmarks in the kilometres of interconnecting white passageways, on the odd occasion when people actually wanted a face to face meeting.

"We're two doors past the huge red flowers in Sector 2, line 6," or, "turn right after the purple plant, then we're just after the sunflower." Phrases such as this were becoming much less common these days.

All the corridors had numbering systems, but it was still easy to get lost. Corridors had been in operation for nearly two years now, and as the government had predicted, it was far easier for all of the city's offices to be contained within one building, and for the people operating those offices to live there also. Corridors was that building. More than 8,000 separate businesses had offices in Corridors.

Canna entered her small office, stepped over to the blinds and opened them. It showed her a view of a beautiful beach with white sand and clear blue water. The sun burned above.

She flicked a small knob and the scene changed. It now showed her a stream flowing down over rocks, flanked on either side by rich green foliage, and towered over by majestic trees. There were other scenes available but this was her favourite. She turned up the volume and the sound of bubbling water and birdcalls filled the room. She knew people who found that the sounds distracted them, but she found them calming. Slowly the room filled with the aroma of the forest.

She pressed the button which would activate her computer, and while it whirred and hummed into life she made herself a cup of coffee.

"Good morning, Canna," came the cheery greeting from her computer.

"During the night, you received three requests for job placements. I have downloaded this information into your Applicants file. I am awaiting your command to compare this data with the Positions file."

Canna pressed the execute button, and the computer began whirring. While the computer was busy, she called up her address book screen, noting that her first on-line appointment was at 10.20am. That would give her forty-five minutes to write up her recommendation reports.

Interviews were generally held either over the phone for local people, or on-line by typing into computer. Because everyone had both a telephone and a networked computer, this was far easier than asking people to leave their homes and navigate the polluted streets to come to an interview. Face to face contact was made easier by the development of Corridors, because although they weren't easy to navigate, at least the air was breathable, and it was safe. But because most people had been brought up to avoid human contact unless absolutely necessary, even Corridors was rarely used for personal visits.

Canna sat in front of the now quiet computer and began to type out her reports. She had nearly finished the second and was about to have another drink of coffee, when suddenly the screen before her went black. The lights blinked out and the sounds of the forest abruptly ended.

Canna was left sitting in stunned silence and complete darkness. Not once in the two year history of Corridors had the energy supply ever failed. She waited in the darkness for the emergency generators to kick in and the emergency lights to come on. After a few minutes, when the lights still hadn't come on, Canna stood up and cautiously felt her way across the room to the door.

She stepped out into the darkened passageway and turned towards the exit, nearly tripping over her pot plant. She crossed the corridor and slid along the wall towards the babble of voices and the dim light near the elevators.

"It's blown up! The energy's gone." She heard one voice above all others.

"The elevators won't work. We're trapped!"

"Where are the stairs?"

"Over here. This way."

Canna gratefully joined the throng of people crowding down the tiny stairwell. Corridors was equipped with all the latest safety systems, but obviously the designers hadn't planned for a mass of people trying to leave the building with all eighteen elevators out of action. There was only one tiny stairwell and 8,000 people trying to get out of the building. The energy failure meant that the pumps bringing fresh air into Corridors would not work, and with the emergency systems not working, the air would only last a short while.

It took Canna more than half an hour of claustrophobic stumbling to descend the fourteen floors to the street level. Squinting as she emerged from the dark stairwell into the bright sunlight, she saw that there was a huge number of people gathered in a group near the entrance to Corridors. Shielding her eyes from the sun, she hurried over to join them.

The group was all talking about what had just happened. There were many people exchanging information about the incident, and many others, visibly upset, wondering what would happen to them now.

This was one of the few times in the past two years that these people had spoken face to face, and never in their lifetimes had they seen such a huge group in one place.

But in spite of the completely foreign situation, or perhaps because of it, community spirit arose. People were comforted and supported by each other, and as new people emerged from the stairwell, they were accepted into the group, informed of what the latest theory on the disaster was, and assured that it would be alright.

Canna was amazed at the warm feeling of the group. She had been brought up in a society where people avoided physical contact and face-to-face communication, and couldn't believe how much she had missed out on. To see the facial expressions of the person she was talking to added a whole new dimension to communication.

Suddenly a huge shout went up from the crowd. All heads were turned upwards. Canna gazed up as well, to see, one by one, all the floors of Corridors light up again.

The delight of the crowd was obvious, but people didn't hurry back into their homes and offices. They took their time, talking and chatting, getting to know their neighbours. People smiled and laughed and joked.

When Canna finally returned to her office, she knew that Corridors had irrevocably changed, but at the same time, she knew that the change was overwhelmingly for the better.

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