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Theseus arrived at Asterion House early. On approaching reception he was instructed to report to the Minotaur.
“But you’ll never find him,” Persephone said.
“Then why bother?” asked Theseus, not unreasonably.
“Because that’s the way things are done round here.”
Theseus stood in the foyer, thinking of white edifices and gleaming spires, idealism and hope. There were four lift shafts, their indicators showing different levels but all leading to the same heights. The building towered upwards from inside, culminating in a vanishing point that only hinted at an end. High up on one of the walls there was a relief of Daedalus, the architect. Persephone hadn’t said where he might start looking for the Minotaur but she had given him a bundle of files to deliver to various departments on the way and so this was as good a place to start as –
Persephone was waving a laminated badge at him.
“Your visitor’s badge. Until you register and get your employee ID.”
“And when will that be?” Theseus asked, clipping the badge to his shirt.
“Oh, sometime between now and then,” she said evasively, before answering the ringing phone. “The Minotaur will take care of that.”
“And where will I find the Minotaur?” but Persephone was busy with another visitor and one of the elevators had arrived.
The elevator was air-conditioned and large. On one side there was a panel with two columns of seven buttons apiece. The walls were mirrored so that Theseus and the buttons reflected onto reflections that multiplied an uncountable number of times. He considered that there must be a limit to the number of reflections but couldn’t fathom how this limit might be calculated, then half-remembered he’d read somewhere that the number 14 was synonymous with infinity. None of the buttons were labelled.
Theseus looked at himself in one of the mirrors, straightened his tie and considered his reflection refracting into itself so that there were two of him, then four, then eight, then sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, one-hundred and twenty-eight… Christ, there was no end: thousands – maybe millions – of figures like him; desperate young men and women in lifts, reaching further and further back and in one – or more – of those reflections, all variations were possible and then the lift juddered and the doors opened up.
The first file was for Shipping. Theseus pressed a button at random. As the doors slid shut a woman wearing dark overalls and carrying a bucket hurried to get in but it was too late and the last thing Theseus saw before the doors closed was her frustrated face as his hands hovered ineffectually over the panel while water from the bucket sloshed across the foyer floor.
The elevator rose and hummed. It took its time and Theseus couldn’t be sure if it was travelling at speed and the tower was that high or the lift that slow. But eventually it halted and the doors opened up onto a floor lit by a bright fluorescence. The floor was a huge industrious expanse. It was divided into large offices – themselves split up by smaller cubicles – only the walls and partitions were made of glass. Oh, how he could be part of all this! Because of the glass walls he could see what was going on inside: shirted and suited people working over desks, sat at monitors, standing in corners with heads lowered in conversation. And here too there was duplication – on some of the walls and partitions there were mirrors – and it occurred to him, briefly, that maybe the whole wasn’t as large as the sum. He stopped the first person he saw and asked them if he was on Shipping. The man shook his head and nodded upwards.
“How far?” Theseus asked. “I’m new here and don’t know where anything is.”
“I’ll help you,” the man said and ushered him back into the lift. He reached inside and pressed one of the higher buttons.
“How do you know which buttons are for which floors?”
He smiled. “We just do.”
“That doesn’t help much.”
“It’s how things are done round here.”
“Can you at least tell me where I might find the Minotaur?”
“Oh him,” the man said as the mechanism rumbled into life. “You’ll never find him.”
On the other side of the corridor another lift had arrived. The woman in dark overalls glared at Theseus as she stepped out, just as his own doors closed.
Shipping was much like the floor he had left and Theseus had no reason to think that the other floors were any different either. They were all the same, these modern buildings: efficient, brutally designed. The file was marked ‘Endymion’. He poked his head into the closest office – it took some moments to make out the fine outline that demarcated the door within the glass; the window cleaners must make their fortune here, he thought – and asked around.
“Endymion?” said a young man in rolled-up shirt sleeves and wearing an earpiece-and-microphone device. He muttered a few words into the headset then pointed to a haggard, elderly-type in the room adjacent. “But you’re new, aren’t you?” he said, gesturing at Theseus’s visitor’s badge. “You’ll not know the way.”
“I think I can manage.”
But when he tried it, he found that although the offices were next to one another it wasn’t a simple matter of moving one along. He walked straight into a glass wall, leaving a smear.
“Not easy, eh?” said the young man, who had come out of his office. His hair was oiled back and he looked smug. “You’ll have to follow the corridor,” and he pointed the way. “I’d hurry up too,” Endymion tends to take a long nap after lunch and it’s a quarter to twelve now.”
“It won’t take me that long to walk round,” said Theseus, but the young man gave him a sceptical look and so he started to make his way along the corridor.
It took some time right enough. The corridor parallined Endymion’s office and then branched off and away, making left and right turns, perpendicular and plane, taking Theseus the most inefficient way around some offices and in-between others. In one small branch of the corridor, tantalisingly close to Endymion, the woman in dark overalls was visible on the other side of the glass, wiping it down with a cloth and squeegee – how had she gotten there before him? Theseus knocked on the wall to get her attention but the glass was thick and it only came out as a soft and muffled thwump. She was focussing intently on a smeary spot and couldn’t see him anyway. On her coveralls was a name embroidered in white – Ariadne. He waved at her until she looked up.
I’m sorry, he mimed, through the glass, and then raised his hands up, palms outwards, before pushing them together. About the elevator.
She frowned and he mimed the doors closing again until she understood. It’s OK, she mouthed. Don’t worry about it, and she smiled. Close up – Theseus thought – she was quite pretty; all sunned skin and dark curls. The overalls suited her. He pressed on but, and it was almost twelve when he reached Endymion’s office. He knocked on the door but the sound was just as muffled as before so he let himself in. Endymion was already dozing and Theseus had to clear his throat several times before he looked up.
“I’ve got this for you,” Theseus said.
Endymion harrumphed. “Put it on the desk.”
“It needs a signature.”
Endymion looked up again and then at his watch as if to suggest he didn’t have time for anything. He took the invoice from Theseus and scribbled across it. The next file was for Accounts. He asked for directions but was shown the door. Actually, he was shown a different door to the one he had come through and this one led straight back to the office with the young man in it.
“I suppose that’s meant to be amusing?”
“It’s not meant to be,” the young man said. “But it is. Anyway, the Muses work out of a different branch. Look, no hard feelings. The door only opens from Endymion’s side – see?”
And it was so, the door being flush with the wall on their side; it opened toward them and there was no handle on their side. Looking back, Theseus could see that Endymion was already fast asleep.
“You won’t last long in this place if you can’t make your way. What’s your name?”
“Theseus,” said Theseus.
“‘I’m Jason. Winner of the Golden Employee award six months running,” and he pointed to a series of plaques pinned to the walls. “You said it’s your first day?”
“I didn’t, but it is. I’ve got to deliver these files.”
“What have we here? Λογαριασμοί, Συντήρηση, Αρχεία…”
“What’s all that?”
“Oh, those are the names we use for the different departments. You pick them up.”
“I hate jargon,” said Theseus, gloomily.
“Get used to it,” said Jason. “Or not. How it is round here. They’re giving you the run-around alright. Happens with all the new ones, not that they last.”
“I’m to see the Minotaur too.”
“Yes, everyone does but they never do. I wouldn’t worry about it. Just get those files delivered. That Λογαριασμοί one is particularly time sensitive.
“But how do even I find all these places – nothing is signposted. And who is the Minotaur anyway?”
“Not my problem, friend. But the Minotaur is Human Resources.”
“I need to get my papers in order. I need my employee ID.”
“Yes, you do. But you won’t find him – no-one can ever find the Minotaur.”
“But if no-one can find the Minotaur, how come everyone else is working here? How come you work here?”
“Oh, we’re long before the Minotaur’s time. Our problem is that we can’t leave because we haven’t any ID to get back in with. We’re as stuck on the inside as you are on the out. I envy you, to be honest. You might not have a job but that means you don’t have to worry about losing it either.”
Theseus mumbled something about small comforts.
“Look, it’s been nice meeting you but I’ve got a conference call with the Titans in five and I need to drill down. You can let yourself out, yeah?”
Outside the office, Ariadne was buffing at a mirrored surface with a wash leather.
“I couldn’t help but overhear,” she said. “He’s right. You won’t last long in this place if you don’t know where you’re going. What’s your name?”
“Theseus,” said Theseus.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Ariadne. The window cleaner, if you hadn’t worked it out. First day?”
Theseus nodded, miserably.
“Cheer up, kid. Look, you want a clue to get around? Just remember that there’s only one route – that’s the key – so you can’t really get lost. Keep at it. It only takes time.”
“But I need to find the Minotaur as well. I have to get my papers in order and receive my employee ID.”
“Forget it, kid. No-one ever finds the Minotaur. You see him?” An elderly man – doubled up over a delivery cart – was approaching.
“Who’s that?” asked Theseus.
“One of your lot. Sisyphus. He was an intern, like you. Still is.”
“He won’t stop looking for the Minotaur. He thinks that if he doesn’t stop looking then he can’t be made to leave. Which isn’t true – we have security – but it’s useful to have him around because he doesn’t cost the company an obol,” and as Sisyphus trundled past with his trolley, Jason opened the door to his office and tossed a bundle of files on top.
“It must be possible, though. Otherwise, why would they even ask us to do it?”
“I do,” said Theseus, and he called for an elevator.
“Good luck kid,” said Ariadne, and went back to work.
Theseus took a systematic approach, visiting each floor in turn, skipping Shipping when he arrived there again. He followed the twists and turns of the corridors which took him all over the building, up and down, around and about. Everywhere there was industry, people engaged in the business of business – the Hekatonkheires in the basement were especially impressive – but no-one could (or was it that no-one would?) tell him where he could find the Minotaur. Occasionally, he would see Ariadne – on a stepladder or crouched down on the floor – and she would wave, but then shake her head too, laughing at him.
“Did you deliver all the files then?” Persephone asked.
“In the end,” said Theseus. “But I couldn’t find the Minotaur.”
“Nobody can,” she said sympathetically. “But thanks for your help. It’ll look good on your resume and we’ll make sure you get a reference. If there’s ever an opening, we’ll be in touch.”
“Are there ever any openings?”
“Not so much, no.”
“Can’t I come back? Not even after all the work I’ve done?”
“No, sorry. Not if you didn’t find the Minotaur.”
“But you told me – everyone’s told me – that no-one can, that it’s pointless even trying.”
“It’s true, yes.”
“And all this I’ve done for you…”
Theseus sat on the floor in the foyer – where he’d started out – defeated. He had begun to protest but Persephone had ignored him and the hulking one-eyed security guard had begun to take an interest so he gave it up. One of the lifts hummed its descent. A bell pinged, the doors slid open and Ariadne stepped out.
“Done for the day?”
“So it seems.”
“Did you find the Minotaur then?”
“I won’t say I told you so,” said Ariadne, “but no-one ever finds her.
“I thought the Minotaur was a man,” said Theseus. “Someone said, Jason?”
Ariadne rolled her eyes. “And how would he know? He’s never met her.”
“Have you?” said Theseus, hopesprung.
“Easy, kid. No-one has.” She lowered her voice. “She’s just a myth.”
“But I’m supposed to find her. To get my papers in order, my employee ID.”
“And why do you want that, eh?” said Ariadne. “Why do you want to work in a place like this – haven’t you seen it? It’s Hades with fluorescent lights.”
“Why wouldn’t I? Minos Inc. is one of the world’s biggest employers. I’m a hard worker, I’m qualified. I could make my fortune here.”
“Get a grip kid. For starters, no-one makes their fortune anymore if they even ever did. And there are other things worth reaching for besides money.”
“Sure, sure,” murmured Theseus. “But it helps.”
“Doesn’t it just,” Ariadne said, sloshing her bucket around.
Theseus played with his laminated visitor’s badge and looked up at the inside of the tower.
“All I want,” said Theseus, “is a job.”
“Look,” he started up, “Do you want have dinner with me some time?”
“You’re sweet,” Ariadne said, “but I’ve got a husband and he’s a violent drunk. The jealous type, you know? Best not to.”
She pulled at a thread hanging loose from Theseus’s shirt. Immediately, a seam opened up.
“You need some new clothes, kid. You’ll never find work in these old things.”
“It’s a vicious circle,” said Theseus. “I need a job to make enough money to afford new clothes.”
“Life’s a perpetual quest, isn’t it? If you want to get to b, you’ve to start from a; if you want x, first you’ve got to attain y.”
“Exactly. Do yourself a favour and look elsewhere for what you want. It’s no great tragedy if you don’t end up here. Go on, get out.”
Ariadne nipped off the thread and gave it to Theseus. She pushed him toward the exit, watched him hand his visitor’s badge into reception then dipped her sponge into the bucket. Seven more interns would be arriving the next day. There was a lot more work to be done.