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Monday, August 7, 2023
I was sitting at a desk in the office, watching my email inbox accumulate unread messages. It was really more of a table than a desk. It had no drawers and people ate at it; it had six chairs, too. I clicked on an email, stared at it for a while, and then clicked the back button. A few days before, I had reduced my trackpad’s sensitivity as far as it could go. Each click was now laborious. I dragged my finger from corner to corner of the trackpad and the mouse creeped upwards a few pixels.
I thought about how I was feeling. I came up with “ennui.” I wasn’t really sure what it meant or if I could feel it (does one feel ennui?), but it felt like the right word. I rolled it over in my head. “Ennui,” I thought. “Ennn-wahhhh.” I paused, doubting my pronunciation. “En-wee?” I thought. I curled my lips and mouthed it silently: “En-wah.” The man sitting to the left across from me glanced in my direction. I swallowed guiltily and took a sip of water.
Some time had passed. The first page of my inbox had filled up. I looked out the window. The co-working space was on the 26th floor in a sky scraper in the middle of downtown. Beyond the table, beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows, half the city stretched out before me. In the shimmering haze of the midday sun, it looked unreal. Above the distant foothills, cumulus clouds piled up and drifted towards the city. As the afternoon wore on, they grew more and more numerous and came closer and closer to the co-working space. They looked like a herd of sheep in a lazy simile.
When the spaceship thwipped into existence outside the window at 2:37, I thought at first that it was another cloud. But it was definitely a spaceship, the flying saucer kind, only slightly bigger than I had expected. No one else seemed to notice; there was some sort of popcorn bar/dried flower bouquet social event going on in the micro-kitchen. A thin red laser sliced a hole in the window, which sent the circular cut-out gliding down to the street. There was a distant crash.
Through the hole in the window, a gust of wind blew. A conical energy beam followed the gust. The man to my left across from me noticed the gust, but not the beam. He shrugged on his sweater. The beam focused on me and I floated into the spaceship like a Far Side dairy cow, only I was going in horizontally because the ship was at eye level. Like everything else that day, the beam was slow. I thought about my mouse, inching towards the back button. I wondered if they had a sensitivity setting on the beam. I had time to grab a couple snacks that I had left out by my computer for later—a six-pack of Ritz Peanut Butter Crackers and a Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart. I wasn’t sure how long it would take.
I had watched the Congressional hearings, so I wasn’t scared, but when I was almost at the window, I decided to scream. “Ahh! Help! I’m being abducted!” I yelled. No one heard me. The beam, it seemed, was noise-cancelling. I was impressed.
I landed in what appeared to be the bridge. There were various controls and knobs and wheels and such all over. A folding table had been set up with two chairs, apparently for my interrogation or brainwashing or probe. There were no straps on the chairs or table, so I was more confident that I wouldn’t be hurt. “Unless their mind control renders restraints unnecessary…” I thought. A melon-sized space snail floated in a yellow tank on top of a pedestal to my right. Standing in front of me was an alien, about four feet tall, green, big eyes, classic pointy chin, two probe-y fingers on each hand, cute shorts and a ray gun clipped casually to its belt. It looked at me blankly, as if it hadn’t done this before and was surprised that the whole thing had worked so far.
“Hey,” I said. I hate silence.
It stared.
“¿Inglés?” I asked.
“Si, claro. Hablamos todos los idiomas del universo.”
“Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.”
“English is fine,” it said.
“Okay,” I replied. “I have a one-on-one with my manager at three.”
“No problem. We have just a few questions about Agile Methodology,” it said, gesturing to the chairs. We sat.
“Okay, shoot,” I said.
Before I could blink, the alien drew its ray gun and aimed it at my chest. I shouted in protest and explained that it was a figure of speech, an idiom. The alien re-clipped the gun in its belt and jotted down some notes into a small notebook. The way it held the pen with its two alien fingers and no thumb made me uncomfortable. I ran my thumb over the Ritz crackers package in my pocket, thankful for my thumbs and my snacks.
As promised, it asked me some questions about Agile and Scrum. I explained all about stand-ups and “no blockers” and Jira tickets and how we sprint for two weeks and then sprint again and again and moving quickly to respond to feedback and delivering minimally viable products and deploying once a week and half planning and quarter planning and sprint planning and grooming the backlog and retro and how we assign numbers to units of work but make sure to avoid assigning the bad numbers like four, six or seven. Throughout our conversation, it took notes and asked follow-up questions. At times, it made low, guttural noises in the direction of the space snail. I think the space snail was in charge. I think it was laughing at me.
At some point, I ate my snacks. I offered the alien and the snail each a Ritz. The snail refused. The alien stuck the cracker in its ear. I didn’t share my Pop-Tart. My mouth turned dry and I wished I had also grabbed my water bottle. I wanted to ask for a drink, but I wasn’t sure if they would have filtered water on the space ship.
At last, the alien thanked me for my time and said to hold still while they beamed me back.
“Wait,” I cried. “Won’t you erase my memory first?”
The alien turned to the snail and groaned.
“Please?” I asked. “You could do the whole day. The whole week! The year! I don’t mind. I really don’t.”
But, alas, I was already trapped in the energy beam, floating back to my table, all my memory mercilessly intact. The beam back was a lot faster. I slammed into my chair and it slid backwards several inches with a squeak. The man to my left across from me looked over with a flicker of annoyance. Never mind the flying saucer behind him. Never mind the perfectly circular hole in the window through which the wind still gusted.
It was 3:04. I was late! In a rush, I used keyboard shortcuts to navigate to my 1-1 meeting. I had no time for my mouse.
“Hi, sorry I’m late, alien abduction,” I explained.
My manager nodded frame by frame. The connection was bad. I wondered if he had heard me. He began: “So, we need to talk. Your story point metrics have been down for the last three sprints. What’s going on?”