How do you not see a four hundred-pound ogre? thought Antioch as he watched the small woman land on the floor. The files she'd been holding had flown from her hands and were now raining down in a haphazard mess while she glared at him like he'd just struck her. It’s not like I'm a skinny human.
"Antioch Wight!" Anise shouted. For such a small woman, she had a large voice.
"I'm sorry," said Antioch. Bending over, careful not to rip the seams in his suit jacket, Antioch began picking up papers and trying to put them back in order.
"Sorry? Sorry is what you'll be if I'm late getting these files to Mr. Wolfe. I spent all morning compiling these and Mr. Wolfe is meeting with the client in less than half an hour. It'll take me that long just to put them back together. What were you doing blocking the hall?"
Antioch sighed. He hadn't been blocking the hall, rather he'd been on his way back to his desk from the morning meeting. It wasn't his fault if the cubicle walls were so close. This is the problem with working in a human office, he thought. There is just never enough room.
"Sorry," he said again, reaching for more papers.
"Sorry," mimicked Anise, though her voice fell short of the same deep pitch as Antioch's. Continuing to mumble, Anise pushed herself to her feet. Dusting herself off, the woman's eyes opened wide as she felt a long tear in the side of her skirt. "No, oh no no no."
Antioch watched the woman pull at her skirt as though to magically seal the tear. As she turned in circles trying to see the damage from different angles, Antioch was reminded of a dog trying to catch its tail.
"What are you smiling at?" shouted the woman.
"I... uh...," began Antioch. People were starting to come out of their cubicles to see what the fuss was about. Antioch's skin, normally a pale olive green, began to take on brighter shades as he noticed the people staring at him. His pulse quickened and his heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest. He hated being the center of attention and now this woman was making him one. "Here," he said, holding out his pile of paper.
Anise's eyes were wide and the first few tears had already left a mascara streak down her cheek.
"You...you think this is funny?" Anise accused him.
"No, I...," Antioch began, though his defense was cut short by a loud sob.
"You knock me over, destroy my work, and now you're laughing at me? What's wrong with you?"
What's wrong with me? Antioch thought. I was heading to my desk, minding my own business, and you ran into me. It's not my fault if you weren't paying attention to where you were going. Am I responsible for your lack of attention?
"I... I stayed late to finish this. I got up e... early to get ready. It was... was going...to...be...perfect." Anise's breath hitched and tear began sliding down her cheek freely. "I... I was going to be on...on TV."
That's right. The commercial shoot is today, Antioch thought. Most of the senior staff and some of the administration of Wolfe Accounting were supposed to be in the new commercial. Mr. Wolfe, the company owner, had sent out an inter-company memo asking some of the non-humans to be in the shoot as well, showing how diverse the company was. As the only ogre working for the company, he thought he should have been invited, but apparently the commercial director thought differently. Antioch's long ears dropped as he watched the young woman cry. She must have been asked to be in it, he thought.
"I'm so sorry, Anise," Antioch said, taking a step toward the little woman.
"No!" Anise yelled, startling Antioch. Her eyes shifted from puppy dog sad to murderous rage so quickly that Antioch froze in place. "It's all your fault. Just stay away from me." Clutching the files to her chest, Anise pushed pass Antioch and began running toward the ladies' room, the sounds of sobbing trailing behind her.
Antioch watched the woman turn the corner before looking around the office. People were standing at their desks and staring over their cubicle walls at him, some scowling, some just curious about the commotion. Antioch's shoulders drooped under the attention. Turning, he slunk toward his own cubicle, away from the accusing stares of his co-workers.
Arriving at his designated workspace, Antioch carefully eased himself down into his office chair. Even though his seat was supposed to be reinforced and able to take his weight easily, this was the third chair that the company had given him in the last two years. The first one had died quickly, the second had lasted much longer. Antioch had hopes that this one would last him a few years as well, though he doubted it. The company purchased supplies and assets as cheaply as possible, and this chair was no exception. The slight jar of the chair coming to a stop told Antioch that he could now go begin his morning routine. Reaching out he pressed the power button of the computer with one manicured claw. After a short revving and a ding from the system, the company logo glowed to life on the screen, prompting Antioch to input his password. At least the company spent some good money on the keyboard, Antioch thought. The keyboard would have been over-sized for any human, but for him it worked just fine. The metallic keys were strong enough to keep his claws from puncturing them any time he hit a key.
A few keystrokes later, and Antioch pulled open the audit spreadsheet he'd been working on. The tension in his shoulders eased and he let out a short, calming breath. Antioch liked numbers. There was something about working with them that made his universe centered. To him, there was never any doubt. Numbers didn't lie, they didn't disguise themselves as something else or try to trick you into believing they could be other than what they were. A one was always a one, and that would never change. Bent over the key board, so close that the tip of his stringy beard brushed the edge of his desk, Antioch's fingers danced across the keyboard with lines of code left in their wake. The sounds of the office dimmed into the background as he concentrated on the spreadsheet, the universe narrowing down to nothing more than the task in front of him. One final tap of a key and Antioch was done.
Leaning back, Antioch reviewed the numbers in front of him, confirming that the calculations were correctly entered and the numbers flowed from one spreadsheet page to another. A press of the save icon and Antioch closed the sheet. Looking at the time, he was surprised to see that a couple of hours had passed since he'd begun. Sitting back, ignoring the unhappy squeaks of his chair, Antioch stretched his long arms, smiling at a job well done. There was something deeply satisfying about taking pages of numbers, siphoning out the irrelevant ones, and creating a schedule with perfectly aligned columns that all fed into a single number answering the question of profitability.
The rumbling in Antioch's stomach told him it was time to take a break for lunch. Standing, Antioch wound his way through the cubicle maze to the break room, stopping in the doorway. Sitting at a table across the room, Anise was staring out the window, bouncing a fork above her salad. Antioch turned to leave, lunch forgotten in his desire not to be yelled at.
"I can see you, Mr. Wight," Anise said.
Antioch turned his head and realized that he could see his own reflection in the lightly tinted windows.
"I'll, um, I'll just go," he said.
"No, come on in." Her voice tinged with a combination of resignation and determination, like a child giving in to eating his vegetables before getting dessert.
Antioch hesitated a moment, then took a step into the break room.
"Look, I, uh, I'm...," Antioch began, but stopped when Anise raised her hand.
"I'm gonna stop you there," Anise said.
Turning in her seat to face him, Antioch could see her jaw set and expression determined.
"I don't really like you," Anise started. "And it's not because you're an ogre. I really couldn't care less about what species you are. Ogre, troll, gnome, halfling or human, none of it matters to me. I just don't like you personally. You're big, brutish, and slovenly."
Antioch looked down at himself. His had spent an hour the previous night ironing and starching his shirt, and work a Jackson Pollock inspired tie to seem more fun at the office. His suit pants were a little too long and bunched at the ankles, but it was hard trying to find off-the-rack suits when just your pant leg was enough material to make a full pair of slacks for a normal human. He ordered most of his suits custom fit online, then generally took them to a tailor to get refitted. There was never enough room in the jackets though. No one ever seemed to take the size of his shoulder seriously when he measured five feet from shoulder to shoulder. He always seemed to rip out the seams in the back. With the number of suit jackets he destroyed in a year, Antioch had seriously begun to consider spending a few thousand on bespoke suits. He might save more money in the end.
"You mumble too much and you have no social skills."
Antioch started to frown. He had come into the break room looking for lunch, not a personal attack. He'd already tried apologizing to this woman, and was willing to do so again, but enough was enough already.
"The only positive thing I can say for you is that your work is competent and submitted timely."
Competent? Antioch thought. My work is perfect. None of the junior accountants here can keep up with me, and you know it.
"That being said," Anise continued, "My personal feeling for you aside, I recognize that this morning was mostly my fault."
Wait, what? Mostly? If this is an apology, you've got to work on that, Antioch thought. Anise stood, picked up the remains of her lunch and dropped them in the garbage bin. Walking toward Antioch, she stopped close enough to him that he was beginning to feel vaguely uncomfortable. The fierce gaze she directed at him reminded Antioch of the way his mother used to stare him down when she knew he'd done something wrong, but wasn't sure what yet.
"I've decided not to report you to HR this time," Anise said. "But in the future, please stay out of the way." Anise stepped around the ogre and strode out of the break room and into the corporate maze.
What the hell? Scratching the back of his neck, Antioch was more than a little confused. Did he just get an apology? Was he threatened? Replaying Anise's lecture in his head, Antioch felt like a mouse in a maze trying to find the cheese at the end, only when it got to the end, the mouse found itself back at the beginning.
Antioch turned, lunch forgotten, and headed back to his cubicle. I don't think I'll ever understand humans, he thought. Sometimes, Antioch wished for a simpler life without the complications of multiple races trying to get along. He tried to imagine a world filled with nothing but ogres, but shuddered at the thought. Ogres, like most of the non-human races had been little better than cavemen before the colonist ships had landed. It had been humans who drove the technological revolution, the rise of machinery and modernization. Without them, ogres would still be walking around in loincloths, carrying clubs over their shoulders.
As Antioch came to his cubicle, he saw someone standing inside.
"Gary, what are you doing?" Antioch asked. Gary Johnson had been assigned the cubicle across the corridor from Antioch last year and had been the bane of his day ever since. Though Gary was nice enough, he was obsessed with ogres. His cubicle was filled with ogre memorabilia, pictures and action figures of ogres, most of them dressed or posed as mighty beasts of war. The screen saver on his computer showed a massive ogre waving a battleaxe and posing on a hill of human skulls. All this only seemed to accentuate Gary's oddness. Though he was barely over five feet tall, Gary did his best to look like he imagined ogres should. He kept his head shaved except for a topknot and tried to grow a thick beard. While the topknot looked fine, though Antioch imagined he spent hours each morning trying to make it look perfect, the beard grew in splotches that made him look more like he had a harry rash. To finish off the effect, Gary took wearing leather to extremes. While it wasn't against the dress code of Wolfe Accounting to wear leather, Antioch still couldn't figure out where the little man had gotten a leather suit jacket made.
"Hey, Antioch," Gary said. The smile Gary constantly wore nearly split his face in two when he turned. Antioch tried to be upset with the man, but Gary's constant optimism made being mad difficult, though his constant chatter gave Antioch a reason to try.
Stepping into the cubicle, forcing Gary to either step out or be sat on, Antioch dropped into his chair and felt one of the compression cylinders snap. Damn, he thought. After the day he'd had so far, the chair breaking was just icing on the cake. He tried adjusting the seat, hoping to get it to a comfortable position while Gary droned on in the background.
"So, what do you think?" Gary asked.
"The Club, man. You want to go to The Club?"
The Club? Antioch thought. Oh, yeah. Gary's newest bar. Gary had been asking Antioch to go for a while now, but Antioch had always turned him down. It was bad enough that Gary endorsed the ogre stereotype, but Antioch wasn't about to contribute to it.
"I don't think so, Gary. Not tonight." Antioch turned to his computer to continue working.
"Aww, common man. Ya just gotta come," Gary whined.
"No, not tonight." Antioch looked over his shoulder at Gary and his ears wilted. The expression on the little human's face was like a child's after being told its puppy had just died. Antioch struggled with the guilt for a moment, then added, "Maybe tomorrow night. I shouldn't be so busy then."
Gary's beamed at the ogre like he'd just won a lottery jackpot.
"Deal," he said. "And I'll buy the first couple of rounds." Gary turned and headed for his own cubicle, forestalling any chance that Antioch would change his mind.