The fire changed his life. If it had not occurred Eddie Basil No.13 would still be sitting in his cube watching the government sponsored lesson, “How to Concentrate On and Obey Instructions”. For some unknown reason the video screen, which covered the entire wall of his cubicle, began emitting blue and yellow sparks.
“Interesting,” he thought as he gave two tugs on his marijuana cigarette. Dark smoke was already curling around the sides of the screen but Eddie nonchalantly crossed his legs and leaned back in his chair. Orange flames licked hungrily at the wall but since fire was rarely seen Eddie was not prepared to take action. “Looks almost real,” he mumbled slowly to himself. When the flames reached the cabinet beside the screen, he became concerned. The heat and acrid smell of burning plastics made him step backwards but in his mind it still was not an emergency.
Sluggishly he withdrew a packet from his pocket and inhaled a delicate white powder. His heart beat faster, his pulse grew stronger. Glancing at a cabinet in the path of the advancing flames, he had the sudden impulse to dash through the flames and pull out the brown bundles of government issued drugs. He grabbed one of drawer handles but the hot metal burned his fingers and he jerked away. The searing pain jarred him and he thought of his own safety for once. Blinded by the choking dark smoke, he stumbled out of his cubicle. He fumbled for the button which released the door leading to the hallway. He pushed it and fell outside. Smoke filled the room behind him and he could hear screams as others became trapped by the voracious flames.
The flames danced eerily as one wall caved in and another wall toppled. The adjoining rooms were beginning to glow. Sirens screamed in the distance and he wondered how long it would take for the fire machines to get there. As the flames spread, Eddie crawled along the floor, hoping to escape. He pitched himself forward into the crisp night and lay on the lawn gasping for air just as the first engines rolled up.
The robot firemen methodically began cordoning off the area. When that task was finished they sprayed foam on the surrounding buildings but let his section burn. The fire became a raging inferno and turned blue-white in intensity. The firemen waited until the entire section collapsed inward. They sprayed the adjacent buildings once more. Then they backed away from the fire and climbed back on the fire engine. With all aboard, the fire engines left with red lights flashing and siren blaring.
Out of sight, out of mind, the fire engine was barely gone when a new sound caught his attention. Eddie retreated into darkness but still where he could see the excitement. In a short time heavy-footed robot troops marched into view. Efficiently they began pushing the remaining rubble into a large pile. The debris was still smoldering when the leader gave a command. Immediately their lasers blasted the remainder into nothingness.
“It is done,” the leader intoned as he faced the curious onlookers. “All the Eddie Basils, No. 1-15, are finished. Tomorrow the construction crews will be here to rebuild. We will see that everything goes orderly and before tomorrow night the next fifteen on the residential waiting list will be installed in the new compartments.”
(To be continued)
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