“Guys, am I doing okay at this?” asked a tentative, quiet voice.
The last of the office doors had closed, the alarm had been turned on, and the first comment of the night came from the brand-new sprinkler head. It’d only been installed the day before, so it was kind of a newbie. And it was clearly worried about its performance.
“Dude,” said a fire extinguisher, “Don’t worry about it. When the alarm comes, you go off, that’s it.”
“I know, I know,” said the sprinkler, “I learned all that at the factory. But I’m kinda tense.”
Another sprinkler chimed in, “Son, if you’re a sprinkler you’re gonna be tense. You’ve got to be ready to go off on a moment’s notice. It’s how you’re built. You better get used to it.”
The new sprinkler didn’t nod – they can’t. But it got the message.
Silence, once again, dominated the office.
“Guys?” asked the Newbie again.
“Yeah, man?” said the extinguisher.
“What are you guys named?”
“I’m George,” said the extinguisher.
“Jonathan,” said the older sprinkler.
“Frederick,” said a smoke detector, happily.
Nobody else answered.
“I guess, well, I guess your kinda my family?” asked the newbie.
“Sure are,” said Jonathan.
“Just kick back and get used to it,” suggested George.
“You’ve got a lifetime to spend in this office,” said Frederick.
It was still all a bit scary to the newbie. A lifetime in one place.
“What’s your name?” asked Frederick.
“Don’t know,” said the Newbie, “I didn’t get one at the factory.”
“Well,” asked Frederick, kindly, “What would you like?”
“Uh, Ernie, maybe.” said the Newbie, tentatively.
“Ernie it is!” announced Frederick.
“Not so fast,” said Jonathan, “The kid probably doesn’t know a whole lot of names.”
“How do you learn more?” asked the Newbie.
“Well,” said Jonathan, sagely, “You can talk to us or you can just stay up a bit while the office people are doing their thing. You can find one you like and you can use their name.”
“Which one is Jonathan?” asked the Newbie – trying to remember everybody he’d seen that day.
“Oh,” said Jonathan, “My Jonathan left this office a long time ago. I’ve been here eight years.”
There was silence.
“Eight years?” asked the Newbie, disbelieving.
“Eight years,” said Jonathan.
“How do you not get bored?” asked the Newbie.
“First,” interjected George, “You learn not to ask that question. You’ve just got to learn to sit back and not think too much. Then, time can just flow by you.”
“Eight years.” said the Newbie.
Everyone was quiet for a while.
“When do we leave?” asked the Newbie.
“Another question not to ask,” said George, a warning tone in his voice.
“It’s okay,” said Jonathan, “We leave when we get used. We sprinklers, we’ve got a little smoke detector in our noses. When it goes, we go.”
“Oh,” said the Newbie, “And then what?”
“I don’t know,” said Jonathan.
“We come back to life,” said Frederick, confidently.
The Newbie ignored him. “Really?” he asked.
“I think so,” said Frederick, “I think we get resurrected.”
“In the same office?” asked the Newbie.
“No,” said Frederick, “I think we get to be someplace and something totally different. Maybe we get to be a smoke detector in a family home or a fire extinguisher in a restaurant kitchen.”
“What do you want to be when you get resurrected?” asked the Newbie.
“Me?” said Frederick, “I dream of coming back as a Halon system in some high-tech military hub or something. If there’s a fire, I could do more than detect it, I could just push it away.”
“Hah!” said George, “You’re stupid. You can’t be a Halon system. They’ve been banned.”
“Fine,” said Frederick, “I’ll be an Intergen or something. Either way, I want to be something funky and advanced. What do you want George?”
“Me,” said George, “You guy’s might not know it, but I’ve got a mean streak. I don’t believe in all this coming back stuff. I think if we screw up we end up right here, consumed by fire. But if we work, we blissfully expire and just kinda cease being. But if I did believe in this stuff, I’d guess that I’d love to come back as a fire extinguisher at a really rowdy bar. Then, when people are fighting, they can swing me around and bonk heads with me. It’d be awesome.”
“Really?” said the Newbie.
“Sure,” said George, “Beats sitting around day after day.”
“Frederick,” said the Newbie, “Could I come back as a Fireman’s Axe?”
“Or maybe a Fireman,” said George with a laugh.
“Seriously,” said the Newbie, “Could I?”
“I guess,” said Frederick, “Why?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said the Newbie, “I’m just thinking.”
“I know,” said Jonathan, “What I don’t want to be.”
“What’s that?” asked Frederick.
“I don’t want to be some fire extinguisher in a janitor’s closet that nobody ever opens. If you think this place is boring. Wowsers, that’d be a prison.”
Everybody got that.
The newbie couldn’t think of anything else to ask.
So he just stayed where he was. Thinking, contemplating, passing the time.
The others did the same.
And then, in the beginning of the new day, they heard a key turn in the door.
“Night guys.” said the Newbie.
“Good night,” said Frederick, Jonathan and George – in unison.
“Pick a name,” said Jonathan, reminding Newbie.
And with that, the office fire suppressant devices settled in for another quiet day.