By Hans Friedrich
Many people would jump at the chance to use a brand-new piece of technology. When I was first offered the position of “Chief Product Debugger” at Roboshrub Inc. I initially declined. The company was situated many miles from the closest town, behind a grove of dead-looking pine trees. It was weathered and worn, and looked as if it had sat unused for a hundred years; even the job title itself had a dreary ring to it. It looked nothing like the ad, which showed a 19th century steel mill surrounded by smiling workers. The ad had come, unsolicited, to my doorstep. I would not have followed up on it, but the starting salary was at least six digits. It was just too good of an offer to pass up. But this was nothing like the ad. The walls were rotting, the machinery was covered in cobwebs, and silence hung in the air. It was a tomb.
It was like walking through an old tomb.
Following the map on one of the crumbling walls, I eventually made it to the waiting room. One of the ceiling lights had a slightly orange glow to it, which made me uneasy. I always hate it when I'm looking at a bunch of ceiling lights and one is a bit off. After about fifteen minutes, I met with the manager. Before that moment, I did not believe that it was possible to concentrate so much aqua-velva in one place. I found out later that the “manager” was actually the President of Roboshrub Incorporated, so it's probably a good thing I didn't make a joke about the bad cologne. In truth, it was he who made the bad puns. “Name's Roboshrub. Michael Roboshrub the Fifth. Don't ever forget that, I'm the Fifth. Guess what my Great Grandfather's name was. Go on, guess!”
“Go on! I dare you!”
Still, the economy was in a slump and I desperately wanted expensive food. You may not think pizza is all that expensive, but a couple slices each week really adds up. But it's worth it. The sensation of the pizza, of the smell as you hold it up to your face, the taste of the cheese and sauce as you bite into it; can such a thing be given a monetary value? My mind lost to the ravages of pizza withdrawal, or perhaps blinded by the high salary, I recklessly agreed to become Roboshrub Inc.'s new Chief Debugger. I received my first project that day: testing the company's new solar powered umbrella.
The umbrella had passed factory testing which involved being sprayed with water from a garden hose. My purpose was to test it under actual rain conditions. I watched the weather channel intently every day, but it was a dry month. The grass had turned a straw-like brown, and the leaves had been tricked into thinking it was already Autumn. I started browsing the Internet, looking for a new job. I was in the middle of updating my resume to include “Chief Product Debugger” when I head a familiar pattering on my air conditioner; it was raining!
Grabbing the device, I ran outside as fast as I could. I looked straight up and closed my eyes. Small pellets of rain softly battered my face. I heard two or three thunderclaps in the distance. The whole world was alive, with insects and birds chirping and the ground giving off it's ancient earthy smell. Remembering that my job (and six figure salary) depended on my ability to forgo this scene of unparalleled beauty, I sighed and pulled out the umbrella. It was unlike any umbrella I have seen before or since. The lining was a bluish fabric, softer than silk. The exterior, however, was covered in small rectangular solar cells. Each cell was identical, and they shimmered like the underside of a CD. As I held it up, the cells began to glow. Light streamed out of them, bathing me and the surrounding area in a prism. It began to unfurl, reaching out to protect me from the unrelenting downpour. Looking up I could see the cells through the umbrella's lining, which had become translucent. It's beautiful, I thought to myself. Then I heard another thunderclap and the world melted away.
The stench of antiseptics knocked me back into consciousness. The doctor who greeted me told me that I had been struck by not one, but two bolts of lightning. This caused the bone marrow in the right side of my body to instantly boil, fusing several ribs together and leaving a huge scar across my back. If my neighbor hadn't looked out her window when she did, well, it might have been too late. A police examination of the umbrella found that the solar cells were made out of a highly conductive metal. It was as if I had been walking around with a lightning rod.
As soon as I got out of the hospital, I went directly to Roboshrub Inc. to demand compensation for my pain and suffering. But it was gone. When I first went there for my interview, the whole building looked empty, devoid of life. Now, nothing remained. The dead pine grove had stretched beyond it's original position to encompass where Roboshrub Inc. had been. I scurried around for at least a half hour, looking for some sign that I didn't imagine the place. There was no trace of it. As I turned to leave, I thought I heard laughter coming from the trees. I've never answered an unsolicited ad since.
“Looooooooooser..... ha ha ha ha!”