Greg tried to keep track of the maze of halls as a guard led him to the supervisor’s office. He searched the endless off-white walls for any tell-tale imperfection each time his escort made a turn. The hallway was almost as narrow as his guard was broad. The short burly man needed to turn his body to let other workers walk by. The first time it happened, the guard needed to flatten himself against one wall to let a woman push a cart past them. Greg’s bony body was unobtrusive enough that he only needed to lean toward the wall. Greg caught sight of the guard’s tattoo as he tried to press himself into the wall. A black skull with the number 42 on its forehead in white decorated the guard’s thick neck.
After the first time, Greg noticed tattoos on every person they passed. A guard he found unreasonably attractive sported a jeweled crown tattooed the back of her hand. The number 47 showed on one of the bigger jewels. The more tattoos with numbers he saw, the more he wondered if there was some sort of ranking system.
“Can you find your way back?” The guard asked at the same moment Greg noticed he stopped walking. It was the only other thing the guard had said to him that morning. The first being: “Follow me.” Greg nodded even though he didn’t feel comfortable about it. He tried to keep track but kept getting distracted by tattoos. The guard nodded at Greg, then the door next to him, then he turned around and headed down the hall. A frosted glass pane on the door told him the supervisor’s name was Mundo. No title, no surname, just Mundo. He took a deep breath and tapped the door with his knuckle.
“Enter,” a man’s voice called out from the other side. Greg twisted the knob and walked into a forest. The office was almost as big as some RVs. Several tall pine trees dotted the lush green grass that served as a carpet. An old, wrinkled man with a full head of long silver hair smiled at Greg and stood from behind his desk. The desk itself appeared to be carved into the side of a wide tree trunk. The dark-suited man walked around the trunk and reached Greg with an outstretched hand.
“Greg! I’m glad you made it,” he said as they traded handshakes. “Welcome to the Area,” he said. “…Janitorial division,” he added with a chuckle. “Have a seat.” Greg did not notice any other chairs in the room. Before he could wonder where he was supposed to sit Mundo pointed at a spot in front of his desk. Thin green vines sprouted out of the grass and entangled themselves into the vague shape of a chair. As he watched, Greg realized this was just the tip of the iceberg; it was only his first day. He sat in the vine chair while Mundo rounded the desk to sit in his own version.
“I like to handle orientations personally,” Mundo said. “We don’t hire all that often, which is a good thing. It means I have time to do it. So, let’s get started,” he said with a firm clap of his hands. “You’ve got all the clearance you need to do your job, so let’s start by dispelling all the rumors you’ve likely heard.” Greg’s stomach dropped.
“D-dispel?” he asked. He did not necessarily expect to see any aliens on his first day, but he put a lot of work and time into getting this far. He began to worry that there were no aliens there. Mundo nodded at his question.
“The civilian world is convinced we’re hiding alien lifeforms and technology,” Mundo said with a slight grin. “Unfortunately, as far as we can tell, aliens do not exist.” Greg came close to quitting then and there, but Mundo kept talking. “However,” his grin grew into a broad smile. “What does exist are alternate universes.” Greg immediately stiffened his back and pushed thoughts of quitting out of his mind.
“Really?” Greg asked. Mundo nodded.
“Your duties will require you to travel to different universes.” A kernel of fear started growing in Greg’s stomach.
“Why?” he asked. He pursued the job because he wanted to know what else was out there. Greg had his mind set on aliens because he never considered other universes. He was happy there was more out there, but he accepted a custodial position. “I mean.. I’m not a soldier or anything,” he added. Mundo chuckled.
“I know. The Area has 54 bases in 54 different universes. Most of the time you’ll be here at the main base, Area-1. From time to time you’ll be put on shifts in one of the other bases.”