The crew moved swiftly from one section of the park to the next, their faces increasingly grim. The manta rays spread flat like leathery carpets, the snakes roping above them in a bloated tangle. Colorful fish lay on their sides, mouths gaping, scales shifting like crystals in the slowly rising sun.
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Word quickly spread of the catastrophe, and television news helicopters soon circled above. As the leader of the rescue crew turned to declare the end of their efforts, a loud croak bellowed from the northwest corner of the park. The crew ran toward the sound, which now repeated, like a foghorn, over and over.
It was coming from the marine-themed jungle gym, one of the few structures that had survived the flood, thanks to its distance from the shark and dolphin tanks. As the crew approached, they saw a gray mass swaying atop the slide, partially blocking the sun. The rescuers shielded their eyes for a better view, and soon its form grew clearer.
It was a one-eyed sea lion with a patch on its left eye. At the sight of the rescue team, the sea lion barked again and clapped its hands. It balanced a ball on its nose, then put its weight on its front flippers and lifted its tail up behind its head. Without thinking, the rescue crew laughed and clapped. Then the sea lion jumped onto its belly and sailed down the slide, landing on its stomach, flappers out to its side and a smile on its face.
Open Thread | Slate Star Codex
The crew rushed to hug the sea lion, to applaud its survival skills, to hail the new mascot of Palo Alto. The sea lion showed them hope amid this sea of destruction. One of the newscasters named it Fred. A few months later, when the ground had finally dried and the bitter memories of the lost aquarium had faded for all but lawyers and insurance companies, the lot was purchased by a young internet company called Anahata. The founder of the company demanded that Fred be included as part of the property deal.
Fred did as he pleased and, in doing so, impressed everyone with his stubborn refusal to change his ways. When Fred died of old age a few years later, all the employees gathered to pay their respects.
Fred, he said, had proven that it was fine to have one eye and waddle if you were better than anyone else at doing those things. No one understood the metaphor, but all the employees committed it to memory as important career advice. The commemorative aquarium was soon filled with brightly colored fish and crustaceans, as well as a giant squid the founder flew back from a remote island in the Pacific. The squid wowed the crowd with its undulating arms, which extended almost the full length of the tank, and its chomping mouth, which tore apart most of the fish the moment they were dropped in the water.
To interview at Anahata was a privilege. And the next, nearly inevitable step — to be rejected from Anahata — was a great honor. To be accepted, of course, required passing an even higher bar. One by one, the gobsmacked Rejects filed past the Hopefuls sitting in the lobby, as unsure of their steps as they now were of their qualifications.
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Arsyen Aimo surveyed his surroundings. Sitting on the very edge of the first couch was a young man, hair uncombed, T-shirt wrinkled, emitting a faint odor of sweat.
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Crumbs of breakfast cereal cast a pebbled road across his chest. His knees bounced lightly up and down, and he rocked as he sat, lips moving silently as though he were counting to himself. On the second couch was another man, this one in his mid-thirties and wearing a suit, his cologne the essence of a crisp morning in the mountains. His back was against the sofa, one ankle thrown across the opposite knee, an arm thrown over the cushion as if he were there to watch Sunday football. He kept checking his watch, darting glances both anxious and dismissive at the female receptionists.
Arsyen immediately recognized their types. The first was an engineer, the second a salesman. And there was no reason for Arsyen to think any more of either of them — or the other fifteen iterations also waiting in the lobby — as he had seen enough of both during his time in the Valley to identify their species by smell alone. Arsyen had other things on his mind; he was there to conquer his job interview.
For he was Arsyen, Prince of Pyrrhia. Or rather, a former prince who due to unfortunate circumstances had been reduced to working as a janitor in Silicon Valley. Or, as he preferred to refer to it, a sanitation engineer. Not that he liked cleaning. He hated it. But like most everything he undertook in life, Arsyen excelled at janitorial work — he was so good, in fact, that he usually finished his work in half the time of other janitors. Previous employers had occasionally misinterpreted his skill as laziness and accused him of not having logged sufficient time with the mop.
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But Arsyen knew that a truly exceptional company would see it differently. Anahata was that company, and this was no ordinary janitorial job. If all went according to plan, in a few decades, Arsyen would save enough money to raise an army and reverse the unfortunate circumstances that had driven him from his country. His future, and the future of his adoring minions, depended on the outcome of this interview. A recruiter entered the room, and the crowd of hopefuls looked his way.
His casual good looks and affable demeanor struck Arsyen as an effective ambassador for a company whose public image was one of approachable superiority. Prince Arsyen, Arsyen silently corrected him. The cheerful but simple lobby area had not prepared him for this. The recruiter stopped — a seemingly well-rehearsed pause of ten seconds — to let Arsyen take it all in. The building was a light-filled air hangar with expansive skylights and shoulder-height cubicles of varying geometric configurations. One could see across the entire building in a glance.
Colorful beanbags were sprinkled here and there, and sleep capsules lined the walls, emitting the faint lullaby of snoring engineers. He simply nodded and then motioned for Arsyen to follow.
Palm trees swayed to an invisible breeze, casting the image of an island paradise in the expansive windows of each structure. Legs and sand suddenly joined to palm trees in the reflections, and Arsyen turned, scanning the lawn for their origin. After a few seconds, he found them: a group of tanned girls in their early twenties playing volleyball on a sand court. Arsyen studied their long limbs and sun-bleached ponytails. They leaped across the sand like lip-glossed gazelles. I love America , he thought to himself. Amid the palm and water reflections on the windows, Arsyen could spot a face here and there, male onlookers with cheeks pressed up against the glass.
They entered a new building, similar to the previous one, and Arsyen was ushered into a small, white room. It looked like a normal office, except all the walls were made of glass — a familiar layout in Silicon Valley. For most employees, these spaces were a symbol of transparency and openness. For sanitation engineers like Arsyen, they were just an invitation for dirty fingerprints.
The recruiter sat Arsyen at a table in the center of the room. At your interview? He placed his hands on his hips and raised his chin as his father, the king, used to do. It was inescapable in the Valley — on buses and billboards, hats and T-shirts. Valley people spoke of code like it was an act of progress, on par with a social movement.
Over the years, as he mopped and scrubbed in the background, Arsyen had overheard more than a few hallway conversations in which scrawny men talked about using their code to change the world. But knowing how to recognize code and knowing how to code were two very different things. Surely there was no way he could be expected to perform such a task. Arsyen grunted. It was in moments like this that he particularly missed his home country of Pyrrhia. There he would have had any number of servants who could have learned computer programming on his behalf. Perhaps this was the right moment to inform the recruiter of his royal lineage.
But such a direct declaration struck Arsyen as rather crass — royalty was to be recognized, not announced. Instead, he sketched a crude outline of a pointy crown across the length of the page.