Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
The cold felt exhilarating to Tom as he took his place in the director’s lobby. Every breath seemed to fill him with new life, but he knew it was only borrowed time. He would soon depart this world. Perhaps for the better.
He glanced over his shoulder at the receptionist who had politely, but with a noticeable disgust in her tone, pointed him to the comfy sofa. She looked blessed with eternal youth, her face a pristine pale shade that obviously made very little contact with the outside heat. It was one of the perks that came with the job, but even the coolness she was allowed to work and live in did not stop aging. That privilege was exclusively reserved for the real high and mighty, the corporate leaders of the world.
“Sir?” the receptionist said, this time the disgust in her voice clearer. “He’s ready for you.”
Tom nodded, then made his way to the large vault doors on the other side of the space. They opened for him, spilling some of the vapor contained inside. Freezing cold grasped him as he entered the office. It suddenly felt as if he would never die, as if his body would forever be contained. Tom did not like the feeling.
“Mister Bloom,” came the voice Tom recognized only from corporate memos. It was filled with ice. The sharp kind. “Thank you for coming.”
Frederick Berg, the big man in the flesh, firmly shook Tom’s hand. Everything about the man felt stiff, dead. Frost lay thick on his eyebrows and lashes, his lips were purple and his face glowing blue. He was a man who refused to die.
“So glad you could make it, so glad!” Mister Berg added. “Please have a seat.”
Tom did not budge. “I think I’ll stand, thank you.”
“As you please.” The corporate monster’s voice never faltered as he sat down himself in a seat resembling an icy throne. “Now, Mister Bloom, I am eternally hard-pressed for time, and thus I would like to make this short. It has come to my attention that the labor strike is working out negatively for both parties involved. Your men cannot provide for their families any longer, and my clients are growing impatient. It is time we did something about that. Mister Bloom, please name your price.”
Tom was boiling on the inside. His price was too high for a man as cold as this. Both parties knew that. The only question was who would prove to have the longest breath.
“My price is simple,” Tom said. “Alter the working conditions for all men out in the streets. Offer them the same systems you benefit from, so that all may lead long, healthy lives.”
Mister Berg smiled. “You know I cannot offer you that, Tom. But I can offer you something else. Stop this madness and I will grant you and your family eternal life. Freezing systems everywhere you go. You will never have a care in the world again.”
It was too much for Tom. With a strength he drew from a place he did not know himself, he grasped Berg’s desk and deftly threw it aside.
“You think I am so easily corrupted!” he shouted. “Men and women out there whither and die before they even see forty! And why? Because your damned corporation destroyed the world, destroyed the ways in which common people lead their lives. You have a responsibility towards the children. Our children! We will not give up, not if it costs every single one of us our lives. And what will you have then?”
Mister Berg’s calm was almost superhuman. Most likely his heart was too frozen for any emotion. His voice was serene. “It is simply not possible. It will destroy the corporation. And what will you have then, to repeat your question? Think about that.”
The chair that was meant for Tom crashed into the large office window with a mighty crash, shattering the glass into little pieces. Sunlight and heat poured in. Scorching sunlight and blistering heat, wave after wave. Tom was used to the harshness, to the pain. Mister Berg was not. He gasped, he panicked, he screamed in agony as the same sores that Tom had worn for years appeared on his sensitive, smelting skin.
Tom towered over the businessman as he wriggled on the floor like a helpless child.
“Help…me!” he gurgled.
“Help?” Tom replied. “Tell me, Mister Berg, what did you do when tens of thousands of mothers and fathers begged you on their knees for that you are in need of now? How does it feel to be in their place? No, help will not come from me. I cannot help you. But perhaps you can help yourself. Think about that.”
And with that, he headed out. Headed for change, not for his own ending life, but that of his children.