We were getting a bit worried about Jenny as we hadn’t heard from her for over a year.
She’s back – better not ask where she’s been – with a tale from that distant annexe to the ever-so-lovely PCH: Norman Shaw. Could be NS North, could be NS South – you decide. Probably best not to go there alone.
Jenny walked into Norman Shaw late (again). Her phone rang, distracted her and she ended up phone first in a stack of crates outside the office. The presence of crates couldn’t be good. She looked at the phone. No good can come of her boss being in this early.
‘Jenny. Good to see you.’
Her stomach sank Jack was putting his in-tray into a folder. His desk was suspiciously clear.
‘What’s going on?’
‘We have to move offices. I said you can pack up. No need for Admin help,’ he handed her a piece of paper ‘just ring that number when you’re done and they will move the crates.’
‘Why are we moving?’
‘I have been made a Minister in DEFRA.’
‘Way to bury the lead.’
‘Congratulations. We are moving to the Palace then?’
‘Well I am. You are moving to the staff office upstairs.’
‘I have to go – got a briefing.’ He fled. Coward. He must have known at the weekend. Jenny could have used a heads up. Although this would mean a drop in work, no PQs or EDMs and the hedgehog bypass campaign would be doomed now.
Jack hadn’t told her when she was moving. She sought out the Attendants who seemed to be having some sort of celebration. It couldn’t be anything to do with Jack moving buildings. She knocked on the open door and apologised for interrupting. They told her she was moving tomorrow morning and going to the large room on the second floor. Jenny went to get a coffee and slowly walked back with it. She did not like these new developments one bit. She had been to that office in search of a mega stapler and had just been met by hostile stares. Also it didn’t have an annunciator that meant no rolling news and no Neighbours.
It took most of the day and some of her evening to pack up the office as she took the opportunity for a clear out. When everything was in boxes she looked around the room, she’d miss it, mostly, apart from the noisy delivery bay under her window.
* * * * *
The next morning Jenny was in bright and early, before 10, to greet the day and settle into her new surroundings. After the hectic packing yesterday she was looking forward to a slow day skiving. Well taking it easier, seeing if she could get to know her new cellmates and readjusting to being a Minister’s researcher. She would try to get hold of the Constituency Office see what Jack had told them about his elevated status.
When she stepped into the office she received a shock. It wasn’t just quiet; it was deathly silent apart from the tap tap tap of typing. There were five people in there. They must have all fallen out with one another. Only that didn’t explain why no one looked away from their screens when she came in. Jenny decided that they were probably working to deadlines so she would quietly unpack and talk to them later. Her computer had magically appeared at the desk. Those PICT gremlins were good, although it hadn’t been networked to the printer.
Jenny looked up deciding who to ask for the printer name when she saw that they all had far shinier computers than her. They were even sleek silver rather than her clunky grey one. This triggered a suspicious memory at the back of her mind but she couldn’t quite reach it so dismissed it as unimportant. In the end Jenny approached the Researcher nearest to her. She said hi quietly a couple of times. She didn’t know her name or the name of anyone in here. She had seen a few at Library briefings but that was it, which was weird in itself. Jenny touched the girl on the shoulder; she calmly pushed out her chair and turned her head to face Jenny. Slow deliberate movements.
‘My name is Jenny and I will just be sitting there as my boss has been made a minister.’
She looked blank. Jenny thought she should get to the point. ‘What is the printer name please?’
The girl quickly looked it up and showed her. Jenny ran back to her desk for a pen and paper which she had not unpacked yet, only to find the woman had emailed her.
‘Thanks’ Jenny said across the room. She was sure she hadn’t said her surname.
Jenny got on with some work, quickly checked the news sites and Facebook. Her boss’s first. She had been the only one making any noise. This was creepy. She messaged Bob to tell him so. He said she was being paranoid. A phone rang and shattered the silence. It was answered courteously and professionally, the conversation was over in seconds. Every call for the rest of the morning was answered and dealt with in the same manner. Jenny did not like this. Not only were they showing her and the rest of the Researchers up, it felt spooky. Like they were robots. Jenny hated robots ever since they had chased her through the Palace. It couldn’t be them again, to check she grabbed a magnet and walked round the room pretending to see where the best phone reception was. She needn’t have bothered with the pretence as no one looked up. At this point she fled.
Jenny went to find her boss’s office and bumped into Jack Straw as she was walking through the Colonnade. Seeing him raised the worry she was feeling exponentially but she couldn’t make a connection. Why would he make her worry about the drone like people seemingly attached to their computers? Jenny had all these threads going round in her head but could not tie them together. It struck her that it could just be a prank. Make the new girl feel weird. She was sure they would all laugh about it when she got back. Only, she couldn’t get this image of Jack Straw and computers out of her mind. She shook her head as she walked through Westminster Hall.
Jenny had to go back, really hoping beyond hope the occupants would shout out surprise and go back to normal office pursuits like looking on w4mp and cramming all their work into the last hour. She went back quietly peering round the door and they were all still sat there. All of them. The only sign of movement were sandwiches and water bottles beside them. The sandwiches were in Tupperware.
Jenny needed reinforcements and she needed them fast. She messaged Dave. He suggested that she test them. See their reactions. Start with dropping something and see if anyone looks. The thing was they scared her. She was not sure she wanted to make them angry. She regrouped in the Library. Jenny was comforted by the sounds of activity as she looked to see what the local press made of Jack becoming a Minister. A meeting request popped through. She was to meet the civil servant looking after Jack’s diary as they would split the week. Jenny wrote down on her to do list cancel non appropriate appointments. Relinquish chairmanship of APPGs, his name off EDMs and amendments. She would have to hand over some of these campaigns elsewhere. She put down a note to talk to Jack. All this filled the time till 5.30. She went back reluctantly to the office to change her shoes and get her coat. The drones now had tea.
* * * * *
The next day she was determined to test them. She said a loud and cheery hello. Was ignored. Wrote this down. After an hour of silence she dropped a folder, nothing, and kicked the metal bin, nothing. The next hour she turned on the news on her computer to full volume. All eyes still focused on the screens. Just before lunch she called her mum and walked round the office talking to her for 15 minutes. Nothing. Jenny realised she was bursting for the loo. None of them had gone. She almost jumped out of her skin when one of them, furthest from her got up and walked to the printer. Silently a piece of paper emerged. A silent printer is also worth noting. He filed the piece of paper straight away and then went back to his seat. Come on, Jenny thought, this is beyond strange. She ran to the loo. Dave had said the next step was to think about what was different in this room and she was trying but it was hard to distinguish from the general freakiness. Rather than go back to the room she went to see the Attendants.
‘So what’s up with my room?’ she asked.
‘Which is that again?’
‘Nothing.’ The Attendant said far too quickly. ‘Never had any issues, they are good staff.’ Jenny chose to ignore the implications here.
‘They are definitely very quiet.’ Jenny agreed. She ran through what was different about the room apart from the creepy staff. ‘Where did they get those shiny new computers?’
Another Attendant jumped in at this point. ‘They are a special trial, supposed to increase productivity.’
Jenny did not like the sound of this one bit. ‘Any other offices got them?’
‘Any idea where they came from?’ Jenny asked.
‘PICT.’ That wasn’t what Jenny had meant but said ‘Thanks for your help.’ It was always good to remain on the right side of Attendants.
Jenny went to Dave’s office and convinced him to help her investigate. They had some food and went back at 8pm. The drones were still there typing away at the desk. Jenny and Dave decided to come back in an hour. They came back at 9.30pm and the drones gone. The office retained the creepy vibe.
‘Right one of us should look and the other observe.’ Dave said.
‘In case one of us gets sucked in?’
Dave volunteered Jenny to be the one to look at the computers.
‘Well for one thing they are ACME computers.’
‘Seriously?’ Dave asked.
Jenny nodded and kept looking – they had no obvious ID that marked them as parliamentary property which was odd. Everything that was too slow to get out of the way was normally marked including a water bottle left on Jenny’s desk. She looked where all the wires were going and came across an odd red one. She looked at her computer in comparison.
‘Look no red cable.’ She said.
A knock on the door made them both jump. It was Bob looking very unhappy. ‘Dave told me you were doing something crazy.’
They caught him up and Bob agreed it was odd.
‘Where does the red cable go?’ He asked. They traced them all to a floor box in the middle of the room.
‘What is it if it isn’t the computers? We could be wrecking £1000’s of tax payer’s money.’
Jenny showed him a video she had secretly taken of the drones working productively.
‘They must be stopped at all costs. They even make me look bad.’ It was true and he was the hardest working of anyone they knew. Bob pulled the cables out of the backs of the computers and they tied them in a nice bow, and tucked them in the floor box.
* * * * *
The next morning and the office was full of noise and bewildered faces. They were all on the phone to PICT apart from the guy in the corner. He looked bemused but came over to Jenny hand outstretched.
‘My name is Geoff. Just moved in?’
‘Yes.’ Jenny smiled
Very soon a team of PICT engineers were in the office looking over the machines carefully. One of them was looking oddly at her. Jenny heard a murmured it’s her, that one. She shrank back in her chair. They were stumped the cables and connections that should be there were, and, yet these shiny computers were not working. Eventually one of them asked were all the shiny things came from.
Jenny was amused as the hubbub in the office grew and the professionalism melted away. She went on a coffee run with Geoff and the printer name girl, Lucy, who had no recollection of meeting her. They took their time getting back to the room.
Jenny’s phone was ringing and as she answered it she unlocked her computer. There was an angry reminder flashing. She had missed the appointment with the civil servant. It was Central Lobby on the phone there was a school group in Central Lobby waiting to meet Jack. She had forgotten both and had no reasonable excuse. Jenny said to Geoff who was stood by her desk…
‘What the hell am I going to tell my Boss?’
‘Jenny’ – May 2012