tilly with the others: part 23

This time, Tilly only played solitaire for about five minutes before she started receiving orders. Pizza Tela had just circulated flyers with coupons in them, so most of the calls could be dealt with quickly. Tilly just had to click the button for whichever special the caller wanted, try and upsell them on drinks and sides, and then go through the standard payment script prompts as they appeared on her screen.

After the initial flurry of calls, things settled down again. Tilly switched from solitaire to mah-jongg. The incoming call indicator flashed.

This time, the order was for a large Hawaiian with hot peppers. Tilly listened frantically to the background noise, but the call just proceeded like any other order. The caller gave their payment and contact information, and just rang off.

Tilly opened her spreadsheet and wrote down the details from the call anyhow. Maybe the Others were trying to tell her... were trying to tell her that they wouldn't be trying to tell her anything anymore. She saved the spreadsheet and sighed. That would be a relief.

The incoming call signal flashed again.

Tilly clicked the answer button and gave the Pizza Tela greeting. The caller wanted a medium Hawaiian with hot peppers.

Tilly swallowed and tried to act like this wasn't out of the ordinary at all. She ran through the standard scripts for the upsells. When she got to the payment part, the caller — it sounded like a young man — asked her to hold on a minute while he asked his girlfriend to get his wallet for his credit card number.

The young man yelled a woman's name, something like Marlene, maybe Darlene or Charlene, and asked for them to bring him his wallet.

And then there were two other voices. Tilly couldn't peg an age or a sex to them. They could be women, or they could be young boys. When they spoke, the background noise of the main call seemed to disappear for a moment, and their voices were clear and sharp, far too clear to be overheard if the young man was still holding on to the telephone, or if he had set it down.

It felt like the two voices were speaking directly into her head, taking over her hearing.

"We shouldn't have just barged in like that," said the first voice. "Into your habitation. We shouldn't have talked to your descendant either. We apologise."

"From now on, we'll respect your boundaries. Promise," said the second voice.

"But you have a problem," the first voice continued. "There's a... hostility living on the same floor as you in your building."

"Goddamn it, Arlene," the young man shouted, almost directly into the phone. "Just read me the goddamn credit card number. I can remember the expiry date. I can't remember the actual number."

"We need you to listen and report back to us," said the first voice. "Could you do that?"

"Got it!" said the young man. "5555.... you still there, lady?"

"Yes, let me repeat that back to you," said Tilly. "That was 5, 5, 5, 5?"

The young man gave the rest of his credit card information, and Tilly finished the call on autopilot, grateful that she'd done phone work for Marcus's business back when.

There was another call ready immediately after this one, and another, and another. It was end of shift before Tilly had a chance to update the notes in her spreadsheet. Most of the calls were for the coupons. Some of them were for other kinds of pizza.

No-one else ordered a Hawaiian with hot peppers, and none of the other calls had seemed strange. All right, there was the man who ordered the meat-lovers with extra sausage. He couldn't answer any of her questions without adding, "Extra sausage, get it?" Tilly had wanted to answer, "All right, you're insecure, I understand, now did you want wings with that?" but stuck to the script.

Just before she logged off, her manager, Rainia, called and chatted with her. She apologised for the number of calls Tilly had had to take, but said it was busy for all of the order takers and couldn't be helped. She praised Tilly for how she handled the call from the meat lover.

Tilly thanked her for the feedback, Rainia rang off, and Tilly logged out with a sigh. She realised her throat was dry. No wonder — she had been too busy to even take a sip of water. She gulped down the water in her glass, poured another glass from the pitcher, and updated her spreadsheet.

The last thing she did before she shut the computer down was send an e-mail to Emily. She simply said she didn't know what the door in the sky was, and not to worry about it unless Emily saw it again.

Tilly drank another glass of water as the computer powered down. She felt hot and uncomfortable, and it wasn't until she got up that she realised she was still wearing her tinfoil hat. She took it off and crumpled it into a ball so it could join its comrades in the recycling bin.

She stared at the darkened computer screen. Things were going to get busier now.