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The Cult

<!-- @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } -->By Victoria Lease, May 10, 2005.

It always seemed so innocuous: Teatime, between three and four in the afternoon. The entire company would go out for a spot of tea, coffee, latte, mocha, or other such brewed drink. The ritual seemed to function as a miniature company mixer as well, an opportunity to get to know the various personalities that make Perpetual work, five or ten minutes at a time. Even if I wasn't the type of person to drink heavily-caffeinated beverages, the outings were a great way to acquaint myself with everyone, and the cafe that we visited so regularly had such adorable pastries.

"How cute," I thought! Every studio has their traditions, customs handed down from generation to generation. As traditions go, this was certainly one of the better. Afternoon teatime, how elegant, how refined, how... lovely!

Let me warn you, dear reader: nothing could be further from the mark. Beneath the surface, beyond the smiles, friendly chatter, and tasty drinks, something much more sinister lurks... but I get ahead of myself. Let us start at the beginning.

It was a busy day. Demo deadlines are always like that. Sure, we all know in advance what's expected, and we all know when it's expected. Things come up, priorities shift. It wouldn't be a milestone if some of the price weren't paid in sleep.

On this busy morning, I'd arrived at my usual early time, hoping to get a few things done before the rest of the people arrived to complicate matters. I'd slept fitfully the previous night, managing about two hours of actual sleep spread across six hours of effort. I was a little tired, but determined to not let that get in my way. I had many things to do that day, and "nap at work" was not one of them. Unfortunately, determination enough didn't look likely to win the day, as I caught my attention waning and shifting, ephemeral as a puff of glitter.

Apparently, during one of my more focused moments, my friend and coworker John (hereafter known as "Charismatic Cult Leader") arrived. I have no idea how long he'd been standing at my desk with the knowing grin that he wore that morning, but he'd brought with him a gift.

"You look tired," he observed. Apparently my poor night's sleep was more visible than I'd hoped.

"Ya, I could have slept better. I have so much to do today, too..."

At that, he wordlessly produced a small can, his knowing grin growing into a full-blown smile. I looked up at him, "Energy drink? Are these things safe?"

"Of course! You look like you could use it, and, well, last night Cooper was strung out and let us expense some, so we bought the corner drugstore out." Mesmerism. He must have used his unholy powers on our producer to achieve his diabolical ends. I'm sure of it.

Still, I was awfully tired, I did have a lot to get done that day, and it couldn't hurt to try it just once. And the first one was free. In my sleep-deprived state, I somehow managed to miss all of the obvious danger signs. I accepted his offer.

The liquid was sweet, with a slight bitter aftertaste. It was also laced with a rather alarming quantity of caffeine. From the first tiny sip, I could tell that this was a drink engineered for buzz. Not long after imbibing, I could feel my heart quickening, time around me slowing, my senses becoming acutely aware of details I'd otherwise miss in my sleep-deprived stupor. Best of all, my attention focused to a narrow, laser-like beam, capable of destroying any problem that might come between me and my goal of complete mastery over the universe. I was only a third the way into the drink.

The next few hours seemed to last an entire day. I finished up the tasks that I'd hoped to finish that day, then found and crushed a couple of random bugs. When I looked up at the clock, it was almost lunchtime. A couple of coworkers were staring. Apparently, I'd been a bit vocal, and had had several conversations with myself that morning. Still, I was only two-thirds the way in.

Lunch called, a ravening hunger built up over the evening spent not-sleeping, and over the morning spent vibrating in my seat. I shotgunned the rest of the drink, knowing it would be flat by the time I returned. Charismatic Cult Leader led a small group of us out into the city in search of good food. Oh, and we found it. The culinary state of San Francisco is another topic, though, so I'll just leave it at that. Very, very tasty.

Was the sun always that bright? It seemed as if, aided by the lenses of my eyes, the light may very well bore a hole through the back of my skull. Lost in this important consideration, I nearly wandered into traffic. The Charismatic Cult Leader tends to his flock, it would seem, as he took my sleeve and gently aimed me in the correct direction.

Over the rest of the day, the effects slowly waned. I managed to get a bit more work done, but by the time lunch had ended, the narrow, laser-like beam of my attention had scattered into some sort of sparkly light show, constantly distracting me as I found my focus continually changing direction. I spent some time considering a variety of things: the Diet Mountain Dew bottles on Victor's desk. The grand mocha frappucino that one of our technical artists, another John, so adores. The lattes that Christine drinks when she's stressed. The case of energy drink next to the Charismatic Cult Leader's desk. The bitter, bitter tea that everyone guzzles during our dim sum outings... the daily tea and coffee runs... I'd finally come to understand the true, sinister nature of our daily outings. The entire company was a cult of caffeine, and my friend was the ringleader!

The next week, during the middle of the day, I overheard a conversation.

"Here, I brought you this."

"Energy drink? I've never tried this before."

"You'll like it, I'm sure, and the first one's free."

It would seem Eri would be the next to join our cult.

Reposted byantifuchs antifuchs

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