I looked up. Bob leaned over the wall that blocked my cubicle from his. The partition was flimsy and I worried that he was going to tumble on through. Bob wasn't a small man. This was only my second day at the company and I already felt like I was in way over my head, despite four years in college and a degree that apparently had nothing whatsoever to do with the real work in the world of Internet Technology despite what I'd been told.
"Do you need something, Bob?" I asked, pulling my hands back from the keyboard. My shoulders hurt.
Bob was shaking his head. "I thought I should warn you: the Emus are at it again."
"Emus," I repeated. I was going to have a hard time learning office lingo, so I might as well get right at it. I thought I could hear some shouts and sounds of distress from elsewhere in the huge cavernous office. The room was so large that I would have needed binoculars to find out the weather outside, which could only be seen through a three foot square of glass at the far wall.
"The Emus run the email system. Bad, bad decision on the part of the Head Wizard. Everyone knows that Emus have a . . . How shall I say it?" He leaned precariously forward, his voice dropping. "It's the ostrich problem. Emus feel like they have to prove themselves because so many people think they're just another ostrich. So Arcanus decided to bring them in and give them an important job."
"And?" I said. It seemed the only wise thing to say in the midst of this tale.
"People still call them ostriches."
"That would be annoying."
"I thought I ought to warn you," he said and looked off across the top of the cubicles. "It is one of the things not really covered in the company guide."
I suddenly suspected I ought to have read the book when they said I had the job and handed it over to me. It was still in the car. I'd gone off and had a drink or two instead, celebrating my good luck.
"They can't fly," Bob said. "But they're damned fast on their feet. You don't want to annoy them."
Bob disappeared back into his cubicle.
It had been an entertaining bit of a story and a welcome break from studying the computer system I was trying to work out. I needed to focus, though. I threw myself back into the work. But . . . .
I could hear odd sounds. The shouts had died down, but now I heard an odd scratching sound, like claws on the floor. They sure liked to play games here. I was probably going to enjoy it once I got settled in. Might make up for not seeing the world outside -- or maybe people just went crazy here with only that little window as a link to the rest of the world.
At least the money was good. I went back to work.
Something was standing at the back of my cubicle. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I slowly turned and stared at the huge bird who had twisted his head and glared at me.
"Emu," I said. It was the only word I could say.
"Well," it answered. "Smarter than most of these so-called higher primates."
It moved on, feet clicking on the floor.
Bob appeared over the top of the cubicle and grinned brightly. "Nicely done! You always want to stay on the right side of the Emus. They can screw with your email and that can get messy. Now if you can just stay on the good side of the anaconda in accounting and the hippo who runs HR --"
"A hippo runs Human Resources?" I asked. I had to ask something.
"Yeah, kind of ironic that one. Anyway, she's nice enough. And the anaconda -- well, just best not to have to deal directly with accounting. That's why you want the emus on your side so your emails go through."
"Right. Makes sense."
"Good to find someone who doesn't get all crazy, you know. You'll do fine here. Watch out, pronghorn package delivery!"
The pronghorn -- a damned fast animal -- flung his head and a package that had been attached to a horn flew off and landed on my desk. He was long gone before I looked back.
"That'll be the book for the new operating system they're putting in. Looks . . . Interesting." Bob leaned even closer to me. "If they ever get the gorillas and their friends to settle down and type, we're all out of jobs. So I hope you do well. Our only hope is to be better than the apes."
"The story of humanity," I replied.
He grunted (rather ape-like, I thought) and went back to work. I opened the package and started learning about the new Zootronics System. The cover said it all: So simple a dormouse could run it in his sleep.
Time to out perform the apes. I always did like a challenge.