Stephen had not returned; he had gone for lunch at his usual time, but he was late to come back. Stephen was never late to come back.
I looked up from my computer screen and saw Stephen's empty desk across the row; I wondered where he could be.
After a few minutes I looked again and was startled to see two men in dark blue overalls standing at his desk, quietly discussing where to place the equipment they carried.
The older of the two motioned to the other to set his thick, brownish tablet on Stephen's desk.
Placing it delicately down, the younger turned a knob set into the top of the rectangular slab and it began to make a humming-clicking noise continuously as they went about their work.
The older man set down his black case on the floor to open it up. Inside, the case held a blue-coloured device with a numbered meter on the front of it and a wand connected by a long clear tube to the top of the coffin shaped instrument.
While he unravelled the tubing, his partner took out a glass cylinder of clear liquid from the pouch on his belt and held it out to for him to dip the wand's tip into.
I watched in stunned silence. At first I wanted to ask what they were up to, yet my curiosity took hold as they went about their task. I wanted too see what it was that they were going to do.
Once the wand was sufficiently dampened, the older workman took it from the bottle, which the younger carefully covered and placed back in its pouch, and waved the silvery rod around in the air where Stephen sat.
After only a few passes, he looked at the meter and quietly told the readings to the younger man, who wrote them down in a notepad. He then put the device away in its case, and just before he shut it closed, I was able to read the label inside the case's lining: "Particle Distributor".
What kind of work were these guys doing?
The particle distributor safely back in its case, they returned their attention to the noisy brown tablet. The older workman told the younger to shut it off, which he did with a turn of the knob, and then clicked a side latch to open the tablet's faceplate off like a lid. I could not see what was inside but they both took notes on their findings and then closed it up again.
Their tasks apparently complete, they gathered their equipment and turned to leave.
Sensing it would be my last chance, I made to speak up and ask what they had been doing, but before I said a word, the older workman turned to meet my gaze and his completely black eyes burned out at me with rage. My words were lost with sudden fright and he turned slowly to leave with his partner.
Once they had disappeared around the hall corner, I turned to Will at his desk next to mine.
"Did you see that?!" I asked in astonishment.
Will did not look away from his screen, "See what?"
I pointed back at Stephen's empty desk, "Those two guys at Stephen's desk, they were..."
As I spoke I looked over to Stephen's desk and stopped in mid-sentence when I saw Stephen sitting with his back to me, working quietly at his computer.
"Hey," I said, a bit stunned. "When did you get back?"
Stephen turned slowly from his screen and his eyes were as pitch black as the workman's had been.
"What do you mean?" He replied in a hollow voice. "I've been here the whole time. Haven't I, Will?"
I looked shakily from Stephen's dead eyes to Will, fearing what I would see.
His eyes shone black as well.
"Yes," Will spoke in the same hollow tone, "The whole time."
I stood up quickly and looked over the cubicle walls to see dozens of teams of workmen, all carrying their kits; all stopping to look straight at me.
And the darkness of their eyes washed over me in a silent shout.
Yes, we had all been here, the whole time.