First of all, if you ever call me 'grandpa' again, I'll pop your eyeballs out of your skull and feed them to my cat. And second, I haven't told this story to anyone in years, so I might forget a few details.
My name is Todd Anderson. When I was, oh, about twenty six years old, I applied for a job at Heisenberg Laboratories Inc. I had no friends, an apartment that smelled like a sewer, and had taken the bus to get to the tall, white tower that looked like a black (or, rather, white) sheep among the shorter, grey buildings that surrounded it.
I had applied for jobs all over the city, but not even McDonalds had bothered to read my application. I had thought it was because of the way I looked, or perhaps the fact that I had dropped out of high school, but now that I think back on it, it was more like some unseen force had lead me to this mysterious place, where, once I stepped inside, my life would change forever.
It was a cool, summer day, but inside Heisenberg Laboratories the air conditioner seemed to be on full blast, and I found myself wishing I had a winter coat. I looked around what appeared to be some kind of waiting room, already re-thinking my decision to come. The walls were the same blinding white as the outside, and the carpet beneath my feet was a strange blood-red. The glass front door was nearly invisible amongst the huge floor-to-ceiling windows that surrounded it. The ceiling itself seemed built for giants. On the left side of me were small folding chairs that looked about as comfortable as a porcupine's back. On the right, a picture of an old man. In front of me, a small desk. Behind that desk, a girl.
I straightened the dark blue tie around my neck and walked towards the desk, wishing I had spent a little more time combing my blond hair that morning. She had short light brown hair and a pair of glasses on her freckled face. Not the Hollywood version of pretty, but pretty enough for me to realize immediately she was out of my league. She had yet to notice me, and was typing away at her computer at breakneck speed.
I stood there for a moment or two before clearing my throat. She looked up at me, startled, and accidentally knocked the coffee cup next to her on to her lap.
"Ahh that’s hot-!" She jumped out of her seat, coffee spilling onto the floor and soaking into her jeans.
"Oh my god I'm so sorry!" I moved forward in an attempt to help but she put up her hand.
"It’s alright. I've got it." She opened a drawer in her desk, snatching a handful of napkins and hopelessly trying to lessen the embarrassing stain on her pants. "What do you want?"
Her voice, bitter and annoyed, stung. I swallowed. Way to go. A voice sneered in my head. This how you always introduce yourself? "Um... I'm here for the... well I saw the ad in the paper and..." I trailed off, unsure of how to finish. Never mind. I thought of saying. Wrong address. I'll leave you alone forever now.
"The job?" She raised an eyebrow. After a moment of hesitation, I nodded. She opened another drawer and handed me a slip of paper. "Elevators over there." She gestured behind me and got back to cleaning the mess that had been partially my fault. I thought of apologizing again, and decided it would be better if I could avoid ever speaking to or being in the same room with her again.
The elevator that I had somehow managed to miss earlier was next to the picture of the old man. I looked at the paper in my hand. Room 124, 13th floor. I tried not to see the irony in those numbers. I pushed the 'up' button and waited. For a few unbearable minutes, I stood there, staring at the elevator’s silver doors while the girl I didn't even know the name of cleaned her desk to the left of me. Finally, they opened with a soft 'ding' and I stepped inside.
Smooth jazz played as I waited for the elevator to reach my floor. The seconds felt like hours, and I began to feel pretty sure that the jazz was just the same note being played over and over on the saxophone. Finally, another ding. The doors slid open to a seemingly endless hallway. I walked in an eerie silence, passing door after door.
Then, there it was. The numbers 124 gleamed in gold lettering on the door. Above them, the words The Boss shone in larger print. I sighed and knocked.
"Come on in!" A muffled voice called from behind the door. I did as I was told and walked into a room that felt more like a small apartment.
The carpet was still red, but it was now matched by the walls. The room was lit only by a lamp and the sunlight flooding in through the window behind the large wooden desk at the far end of the room. An old man with white hair sat behind the desk, a wide grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye. For a crazy moment, I thought of saying hello Santa, where’s your beard?
"Evening." The man gestured to a chair on the opposite side of his desk. "Sit down." I sat. The man, which I had now recognized to be the man in the picture in the lobby, interlocked his fingers and leaned back in his chair. "What brings you to my office this fine day?"
"I'm... I'm here about the job offer."
He stared at me for a while, as if analyzing me. "What exactly drove you to accept a job in a place like this?"
I opened my mouth to speak, and then closed it.
He smiled. "No idea, huh? Maybe it was just the first ad you saw and you took a chance. Or, your parents said you had to do something with your life. No, I've got it. You're here because you're looking for an exciting career in science, is that it?"
I got the sense he was laughing at me. A little offended, I answered "no, I just came here for a job."
He rubbed his chin. "I see." The old man paused, as if deep in thought. "Son, I'm going to take another guess at something, and if I'm wrong, you just let me know. Your parents never really cared. Maybe they were busy with work or you had another sibling who was just about perfect. You grew up alone. Never had many friends or a real relationship with someone. Maybe you went to jail a few times, but the point is you live in a shit house and can't seem to get a job anywhere else." He leaned forward, his eyes staring straight into mine. "Am I right?"
I didn't answer. I knew he was probably just guessing from my appearance, but he seemed to get almost every detail right. It was creepy as hell. "The ad didn't say what the job was." I managed to say.
He looked at me, amused. "You see, Mr..."
"Anderson." I said automatically. "Todd Anderson."
"Mr. Anderson." He nodded. "As you can probably tell, I'm not exactly getting any younger." He swiveled his chair around to look out the window, a frown deepening on his face. "I'm old. I've been old for a long time now. I won't be around forever, Mr. Anderson, and I can't just leave this company to rot. I need a successor. But not just anyone will do."
"Wait what are you-"
He cut me off. "You may not know it, Todd Anderson, but you're a lot more special then you think." He wasn't looking at me, but I could still picture his intense blue eyes in my head.
I blinked. It felt like I was in a dream, that in a few moments my alarm would sound and I would wake up to find myself late for the real appointment at Heisenberg Laboratories Inc. It was all a dream. An extremely vivid dream, but still a dream.
"...How special?" I asked when I couldn't think of anything else.
"Very." He turned to face me. "I need a successor, Mr. Anderson." He repeated, sending a shiver down my spine. "Tag, you're it." He grinned again, and I felt like fainting.
"I-I can't." I stuttered, wanting to flee, but, like a bird caught in the eyes of a cobra, I was trapped.
The walls were now not only the color of blood but soaked in the stuff, the metallic smell filling my nostrils, choking me. The very air seemed filled with unnatural power, and there was no escape. Something very wrong was happening in that room and every instinct told me to get out, get out. But I couldn't, no matter how badly I wanted to. My fate had been chosen for me.
"Yes, you can. You have to. For the good of mankind you have to."
I swallowed. "...And if I do?"
"Then, Mr. Anderson, you will become one of the most powerful men in the world." The man coughed, suddenly looking weary and ready to drop at any moment. "You will be responsible for anything that happens either in this laboratory or out of it. You will have to make hard decisions, and keep secrets anyone else would blurt out in public. You will see a lot of terrible and wonderful things in your time here, and you can never retire."
He stood up and extended his hand for me to shake it. Still feeling like I was in a dream, I took his hand. He had what my dad would have called an ox-like grip, and he was still staring at me with those bright blue eyes. "You have 24 hours to think it over. Let’s hope I don't kick the bucket before then." He smiled, but I sensed not only a kind of urgency behind that smile, but desperation. He was running out of time, and I was his last hope.
I can't remember my trip home, but I do remember standing in my apartment for hours, my thoughts whirling like a hurricane. Eventually, I suppose I decided that the old man (who I had yet to learn the name of) was crazy and went to bed.
The next thing I remember is waking up at precisely 3:15 am, snatching for the phone on my bedside table, and calling a number I didn't know. "I'll do it." I said into the phone, breathing heavily.
There was a soft click, indicating that the other person had hung up, but somehow I knew they had gotten the message. The next day, I would start training for my career at Heisenberg Laboratories Inc.