An Unusual Sound

Harold reclined in an overstuffed leather chair in the boardroom at Brown, Gowling, and Henderson. The incandescent lights were slightly dimmed, giving the dark-walled room a cavernous quality.

Don Brown pushed the papers across the vast mahogany table, "Everything's as we discussed. The only people who know are you and me."

"Excellent." Harold spoke into his cell phone, flipping through the contract. "Confirmed?" he asked. A moment later, the document was signed.

After Harold left for his mid-morning workout at the Suzuki Martial Arts Centre across the street, Don looked over the contract again. He still didn't like section 5, but shrugged it off.

Digital Nano Product's fabrication line was situated just outside town in the industrial park. A squat, standard high-tech-gray building, it sprawled over some 200 thousand square feet of manufacturing space. Two windows at reception invited the only source of natural light. Inside, bunny-suited workers handled silicon, gallium nitride, aluminum arsenides and a host of other deadly chemicals, using molecular beam epitaxy to manufacture single-crystal quartz substrate wafers. It was all well over Harold's head; as HVAC Engineer Class II, his job was to maintain the central heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Harold looked like an earth-bound astronaut as he laboriously crawled between the pipes leading from the central blower to the outside world. The building had a unique combination of overpressure and underpressure rooms for airflow. Overpressure rooms were fed with clean, filtered, conditioned air, sourced from the outside through a complicated series of pipes, electrostatic and chemical scrubbers, and humidifiers/dehumidifiers. The air was pushed through the manufacturing rooms, and forced out along with any deadly compounds, carcinogens, and other contaminants, into underpressure rooms where it was sucked up, then fed through another complicated series of pipes to more scrubbers and filters, before finally being released as clean air to the outside. A side effect of this, not lost on the PR people at Digital, was that the air was much cleaner going out of the plant than it was coming in.

During the last few months, Harold began to notice that the building sounded different. For as long as he could remember, which was all twelve years of the building's life, the sound had always been the same. But now the whooshing sound of the HVAC worried him; it seemed to be higher pitched. The automated airlock for the cafeteria seemed to be struggling against the negative pressure; more so than usual. At first he took care of the symptoms, oiling the motors and hinges on the doors, checking the seals, that kind of thing. But it persisted. When he tried to express his concerns about something not being right to his manager, Bob Sanders, they were summarily dismissed. "Harry, I'm really busy, so stop wasting my goddamn time with your paranoid delusions. The building sounds the same as ever.," was the usual reply, accompanied with a sneer. His coworkers varied in sympathy. Liam, the Irish mechanic, would say "Oh, I don't know, she don't sound so different to me." Mostly, however, they were less kind, "You're a useless tit, stop screwing around and get some work done." Harold resented the lot of them. He should have been HVAC Engineer Class IV or V by now, but they just didn't appreciate his talent. It wasn't his fault that he ran out of money during the last year of Engineering and now had to maintain systems that he should have been designing.

Reaching the end of the long corridor, he took a turn. A sign "CF-7. Authorized Personnel Only" greeted him. Harold swiped himself into the secure airlocked room. He then opened a small, rectangular maintenance hatch, number seven in the outgoing air processing chain. Inside was a half million dollar filter; a shiny, square, metal sheet, 20 centimetres on each side and almost two centimetres thick, with a sieve-like pattern of microscopic holes. The contaminated air was forced at high pressure through the rare-earth lined holes, catalyzed, and harmless gases came out the other side.

Harold removed the filter, with no discernible change to the building's sound. It came out surprisingly easily, weighing only a few hundred grams. The real one weighed over 20 kilograms, and provided far more resistance to airflow.

Just as he was putting the fake filter into a compartment in his suit, he was surprised by a click at the door.

"Harry?" It was Bob. Harold hated being called that, and Bob damn well knew it. Bob glanced at the open filter hatch, "Oh. I see." He pulled a gun out of his suit.

A cold sweat broke out on Harold's face — this was not the way it was supposed to go! But knowing that it was Bob who stole the filter caused his fear to be replaced with his long-suppressed feelings towards his superior. "You bastard!" he yelled at Bob. "Why?" he cried, "why have you done this?"

"Put the hatch back on, Harry," he motioned calmly with his gun, "nice and slow."

Harold complied.

"Now walk!"

As they turned the corner, Harold spun around and gave a precision kick, collapsing Bob like an imploding building. The gun clattered along the floor. Bob scrambled for it, but Harold was quicker. One more kick and Bob was out for the count. Harold gave Bob a parting gift of a vengeful boot to the ribs. "Fine manager you were, dumbass."

Digital's stock was at an all time high, right up until 3pm that afternoon. An hour before close, an anonymous seller started shorting the stock. The next morning, trading was halted pending news. The news was not good; over the last three months, Digital had been releasing deadly carcinogens into the atmosphere. The stock tanked, losing $17.51 to close at $13.22 — a price it hadn't seen for over a year.

Don Brown still didn't like section 5 of the contract, but now, after covering the shorts in the offshore account, he and Harold Walker were very rich men.