Tara Isabel Zambrano

During the day we work in labs and at night we sleep on bunk beds in our cubes. Breakfast, lunch and supper are brought into conference rooms. Each of us is given a different specification to work on and we aren't allowed to discuss. There are cameras everywhere. We cannot leave this office until Project X is complete. Our families have received a shitload of money and all of us have signed a waiver.

Ken, my boss, works the hardest. I see him hunched over circuit boards in lab, switching power sources, watching waveforms on oscilloscope. He rarely eats. Sometimes I think he isn't real. Karen, on the other hand, is always in motion, setting up meetings, resolving issues with higher management. Her office has windows. I often stop by and look out. The world on the other side does not seem to care about Project X or us.

Gary sits next to me and gets up every hour for a smoke break. He talks to his wife while working on layout or studying schematics. I know it's her because he says, I love you, bye, before disconnecting. Then he kicks at the processor and mouths, Piece of shit! At night he sings lullabies to himself. I fall asleep listening to his gruff humming, wondering how much time has passed in this godforsaken place.

Every day I go through a new segment of code, line by line, and fix bugs. In between, I have revelations. The words come together and form sand on a beach or create a mountain. I imagine swimming far away from them. Or rock-climbing until I slip and fall—and the words revert to lines of code, a language whose purpose eludes me.

After 10:00 pm, Karen comes to collect data from our desktops. I can recognize her silhouette, her high-heel clicks and sighs as she enters information in her handheld while I pretend to be asleep. She has administrative privileges. One day, I want to be in her position, able to control some number of things, able to say what I like.

I talk to my family via Skype or WhatsApp. My parents are always smiling, drinking wine, wearing expensive clothes. Sometimes when they don't answer, I feel I don't exist anymore. In the bathroom mirror, I'm often startled to notice myself, a woman who has a pointed nose, high cheekbones and light bouncing off her curves. Those nights I touch myself. The air above me illuminates like sections of code I've been working on. It seems beautiful and wrong all at once. A few times, I feel as if Gary is watching. I'm worried, some day he might come over and do things I won't be able to resist. He might say, I love you. I wouldn't know what to say back—even though it's against what we signed and our cubes are fingerprint-protected.

Our days look the same, feel the same. I think I'm getting used to all the quiet here, the fluorescent lights, the bright monitors displaying color-coded AC/DC signals. Maybe this is what death will be like—endless toil. The circuit board inside you rattling loose, a million lines of software in every cell pushing boundaries you've set for yourself, like this cube, this office, this body, this world. Another Project X in the works. Except with more grace, innovation.

Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas. She's had stories in Juked, Gargoyle, matchbook, SmokeLong Quarterly and others.

Read her postcard.

Detail of illustration on main page courtesy of Godino.

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