Back in the Lab by MajelB
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Category: General
Genres: Angst, Drama, Humor
Rated: Pre-Teen
Warnings: None
Series: One Hour Photo
Summary: Photochick is back in her lab and learns more than she ever really wanted to know.

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4:30 pm- Closing, tonight. Bored already. Oh, so very bored. Why is it that we could be so busy all day, and then, the second I walk in the door, business drops dead?

4:32 pm- Still bored.

4:35 pm- Still bored.

4:40 pm- God, I still have six more hours of this?!

4:45 pm- Man, I am so hungry!

4:50 pm- Screw OSHA. Bring on the Oreos! No food in the lab, my ass.

4:51 pm- Oh, yeah... sweet cream-and-chocolaty-goodness. Drool...

4:52 pm- Ah, shit. Goddammit! Slow as ever-loving hell, and just when I've shoveled three Oreos in my mouth, a couple of people saunter nonchalantly up to my counter.

"Shun uva vish..." I mumble, as I try to finish chewing without choking. I'm sure my face is beet red. The two guys at the counter look amused, anyway. So glad I can entertain...

As I walk over to the computer, I swallow hard and, thank God, everything but the black cookie remnants in my teeth go down without further drama. The tall guy with gray hair- make that familiar tall guy with gray hair- is about to bust out laughing at me. Cutie... Cutie with glasses? Is grinning like an idiot.

4:54 pm- "What can I do for you this afternoon, guys?" I ask, as gracefully as I can, between sucking Oreo out of the crevices in my teeth.

Gray-haired-interplanetary-explorer-guy (just remembered my little field trip of the imagination from last week) pulls a roll of generic 35mm, 400 speed film out of his pocket and sets it on the counter, then stuffs his hands back into his pockets.

"How much to get these back tonight?" he asks. Right down to business.

"Singles or doubles?" I inquire. There's a pesky little crumb still stuck in my back molar...

The two men glance at each other and shrug.

"Uh... singles are fine, I guess. Can't even remember what's on it, anyway." Cutie with the glasses replies. The other guy throws him a look.

"Daniel?" he questions, accusingly. Ah, finally. A name to go with the cuteness...

Daniel takes a defensive stance. "Don't worry, Jack. They're probably just from Sam's birthday party."

Jack seems to relax and turns back to me, raising an eyebrow.

Oh, right. He asked me a question.

"Um... for 24 exposures, it'll be $6.99, plus tax."

"Okay. Somebody'll be by to pick 'em up in about an hour and a half. Put it under 'O'Neill," says Jack. I smile.

"Sure," I say. "No problem." And as they leave, I grab the camera and take it back to the lab.

"Hey!" I hear from a few feet away. I lift my head over the wall dividing the lab and the service desk to find Jack trying to get my attention, a sideways smile on his face. "Two 'L's!" he shouts. Right.

5:00 pm- What good are Oreos without milk? It's really handy having the cooler only a few feet away. Sometimes, I really love my job.

5:05 pm- Why is it that some people just go out of their way to make others miserable? Huh? I mean, is it really so hard to say 'I would like,' or 'could you please?' instead of 'I want'? That really peeves me. On the up side, rude customers tend to be a little clueless, and therefore, don't own real cameras. This one, for example, handed me a Kodak HQ one-time use camera. Those things are so cool...

5:06 pm- I love Kodak OTUC's. They're so easy to take apart. Insert screwdriver here, push, tug, wiggle there, and the film chamber opens. Voila! And out comes a nice, tidy, regular roll of 35 mm film. Then, a stunning three-point shot to deposit the empty camera shell into the recycling bin... The crowd goes wild!

5:07 pm- I am so pathetically sad.

5:08 pm- I want my fifteen minute break. I want a one way ticket to Spain. I want a silver '99 BMW Z3. Oh, yeah... that's the stuff...

5:10 pm- Okay, tearing myself away from a Runner's World article to run Jack and Daniel's film. Why am I, the goddess of all couch potatoes, reading Runner's World? Very simple. It was already here, and I'm too lazy to walk across the store to get another magazine. He-he-he...

5:12 pm- Here I am a-running more film, running more film, running more film. Here I am a-running more film. Earl-y in the mor-ning.

5:18 pm- Hey, what do ya know? A customer! Three rolls of 25 exposure, 400 speed APS film. Something to do! Oh, happy day!

5:23 pm- Okay, the APS rolls are going through the film processor, the O'Neill negatives are cut, and the prints are coming down.

Excellent.

Everything is going according to my evil plan...

Oh, my kingdom for a viable evil plan resulting in world domination...

Nah. Having too much fun developing pictures to become a dictator.

5:24 pm- Oh! Well, lookie here... the O'Neill pictures are done. Here's me tapping them into a neat and tidy stack... hmm... wait... is that a speck on one of the prints? Why, yes it is. I'd better inspect them all to make sure it's just an isolated occurrence.

5:25 pm- Now, sad as this sounds, I've been giving some thought to those pictures I developed for Major Fraiser last week. And, I decided that, interesting as it would be if there really were aliens out to destroy the Earth, it has to be the stupidest thing I've ever thought up in my life. And these pictures... the ones I'm holding in my hand, are going to be average, normal pictures of people at a birthday party.

5:26 pm- Yeah, look. There. See? Perfectly normal people at a perfectly normal birthday party in a...

Gray, windowless, concrete room.

Granted, they dressed it up with streamers and balloons and gave Blondie- I'm assuming that's Sam- one of those cool little cardboard Burger King crowns, but still...

They just... work at NORAD or something. Lots of perfectly normal people work in Cheyenne Mountain...

Oh.

Well.

Hmm.

At least the sky is blue.

But the trees... while they look like happy little well-behaved pine trees... well, they're a lovely purple color instead of green. And no, it's not a problem with the machine... all the other colors are just fine.

Damn. So much for my healthy state of denial.

Flip, flip... okay, a couple of nice 'hiking amongst the purple evergreens' shots of Jack, Sam, and Cult Guy, obviously taken by Daniel, who is conspicuously absent from the frame. And... ooh. A close-up of Daniel's thumb. What a treat. Wait... something looks wrong. The next few prints... it's like someone accidentally hit the shutter button. Skewed shots of the ground... a couple of leg-shaped blurs...

They're running.

There's one of just sky and Jack's head in the corner. He's shouting. And there's something there... in another corner, high up and far away. A plane?

Well, this next print answers my question. It's a plane, alright... but not one like I've ever seen before. And it's shooting fireballs. And heading for...

A very large, very airborne pyramid. Like the ones in Egypt. Except... in the air. I think Daniel dropped the camera for this one. The images are all sideways.

Daniel's in the next shot. Well, half of his head is, anyway.

A couple more of blurry ground.

Then just a tidge of big stone ring, like in last week's roll, snapped off on accident.

And then, there's a serene picture of Daniel sitting on a sofa in a tidy living room, a bottle of beer in his hand. Followed by one of Sam and Cult Guy sitting around someone's kitchen table with Major Fraiser and Jack.

Guess they all made it okay.

Good.

Can't have them going off and dying when they have to keep saving the world.

There really are aliens. There have to be. And those were space ships. That pyramid thing was a space ship.

Shit. Who needs imagination. I wonder why no one else in the world knows about this. No, never mind. That's a no-brainer which can be summed up in one sentence: Beware stupid people in large groups. If the world knew about this... well, it would suck.

I sigh, and slip the pictures into their envelope, set it in the 'out' bin and try to forget about them. I wasn't supposed to see those pictures. That's why Jack was worried.

I glance back over at my Runner's World... No way I could get back into reading a stupid, trivial magazine, now... knowing what I suddenly know.

5:33 pm- Maybe it's all a mistake. Maybe there is someplace in the world, this world, where stone rings exist and where pyramids fly... somewhere in a remote jungle where cures for cancer are lying in isolation, far from human hands and laboratories. Further into to the wilderness than news cameras are willing to go. Maybe the world is safe and sound and there's nothing to worry about at all.

Maybe.

6:24 pm- Major Fraiser is coming into the store. She's heading over to my counter. Jack did say that somebody would be by to pick up the pictures. It's probably her.

Sure enough, the Major smiles and without a word, I hand her Jack's envelope. I can't meet her eyes, but I try to smile and be polite, and not let on that I know anything. It doesn't work.

"Uh, that's $8.03, total, Ma'am." I say, ringing up the pictures. She gives me a quizzical look as she hands me a ten dollar bill. Her eyes don't leave me as I put the money in my drawer and count her change. At the same time, she opens the envelope and sets the pictures on the counter.

I hand over her change and receipt and she starts sifting through the pictures. I don't move. She smiles a bit at the birthday pictures, then her mouth droops into a familiar frown. She carefully looks at each and every print, scrutinizing them. When she finishes, she slowly straightens the pile and slips them back into the envelope, sighing.

"Okay," she says. "I have to ask, this time. Did you see any of these pictures?" Her tone and her expression are dead serious. Intimidating. I straighten and look her in the eyes.

"Are you going to have to shoot me if I say yes?"

Her mouth opens just a little and her eyes widen. I don't think she was expecting that. I hold her gaze for a moment, before curling my lips into a small, sincere smile.

"Don't worry, Major. Confidentiality policy, remember?" I say in a soft, discreet voice, so only she and I can here. She closes her mouth and nods.

"Right," she says, hesitantly. She nods again, as though firming her decision to just drop the subject. "Thank you."

I smile again. "Anytime," I say. "I mean it. Come back anytime."

"I'll keep that in mind. Thank you." The Major says, and turns to leave the store.

And I head back to my lab, realizing that I'm privy to one of the best kept secrets in the world. I don't know much, but I know more than anyone else.

And, you know what? I find that the urge to run up to the nearest wandering soul, jump up and down, and shout 'I know something you don't know' is surprisingly easy to control. No one will hear it from me.
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