Sunday, 11 May 2008


"Welcome back, Sandy!" said Ron, his voice full of what he thought was cheerful bonhomie. Sandy, who looked as cheerful as a hen caught in the rain, thought it sounded like Ron was eating a mouthful of cake. "The reports from the motivational program are extremely encouraging. We're sure that you're going to be a dedicated and committed employee again!"

Sandy nodded carefully. His mother's funeral had been held during the motivational program and he hadn't dared attend for fear of being considered insufficiently committed to the company. He smiled insincerely, sure that Ron wouldn't spot a nuance like that, and turned toward the cubicle farm where he worked.

"Ah no," said Ron cheerfully, waddling towards him. His thighs rubbed together as he walked, and the shiny polyester suit trousers that he wore crackled with built-up static. "You've been promoted as a result of the two final psychological tests. You have an office now! This way."

Sandy had flinched at the mention of the tests, and rubbed unconsciously at the burns on his arm, but he followed Ron's pointing finger along a nylon-carpetted corridor towards the junior executives offices. Ron waddled along behind him, in a kind of pimp-roll made necessary by his bulk.
"Just in here," said Ron, and Sandy pushed open a melanine-veneer door into a small office with an outside window. There was a flat-pack desk already assembled, an anti-ergonomic chair, a filing cabinet with a couple of long scratches down one side, and a swiss-cheese plant. On the window-sill was an abacus. Sandy glanced at it twice, wondering why it looked odd, but couldn't see anything out of the ordinary.

"Now," said Ron, pulling up a chair from behind the swiss-cheese plant, "these offices are for people who are showing potential. You're going to be watched, young Sandy, and closely for a while too. You've done very well on that course, but we need to be sure that it's not just because of the course. We don't want to see any signs of you slacking off now. But if you push on, if you give 235.82% or better to the company, then I can guarantee you sight of the fast-track scheme within a year. And that's not small eggs."

Sandy walked around the desk, and sat down on the anti-ergonomic chair, wondering where the precise-sounding figure of 235.82% came from. "That's about a 19-hour day, isn't it?" he said. His voice trembled slightly. "With a little less than half an hour for lunch?"

"Good man, Sandy, I knew you'd show immediately enthusiasm!" said Ron, slapping his thighs with a hand that looked as though it were made from plasticine. "And the better news is that because we anticipated this from you, we've arranged for you to live a little closer to the office."

"But I live with my girl--" started Sandy, but Ron cut him off, holding his hand in the air.

"No girlfriend, Sandy. I'm sorry, but although she ignored the cease-and-desist letters from the lawyers, she changed her mind after she received the child-pornography pictures with you in."

Sandy's face dropped, and his skin went ghostly pale and clammy.

"She's not going to the police, as we persuaded her that we could rehabilitate you," said Ron, still sounding eerily cheerful, "but she did burn most of your stuff. And the flat down. So we've found you a little place just over the road, you can see it from it your window. And we've got you an all-hours security pass too, so you can be in the office whenever you feel you need to be."

"What can I say?" said Sandy, his voice trembling a little more.

"There's nothing for you to say," said Ron. "Nothing at all. Now you get on, there's a good company-man."

Ron stood up and left, and the chair he'd been sat on slowly uncompressed, the metal making pinking noises as it tried to straighten. Sandy picked the abacus up from the window-sill, and looked at it, while he tried to sort out what the company had done to his life now.

Finally he focused on what was odd about the abacus. Instead of beads it had tiny human skulls.

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