Monday, 23 June 2008

Quality Assurance

"Sandy!" Ron was stood in the door of Sandy's office, shouting cheerfully. His face was red, and he was sweating even in the cool of the office's air-conditioning. "Good news, my boy. The review board have been very pleased with your work in the last three months, you're showing real signs of dedication to our cause. They've recommended that we turn the water and heating on in your little flat."

Sandy tried to smile, but his face seemed to just crease like an aborted piece of origami. He looked tired and dishevelled, and had been sitting behind his desk for the last 35 hours, working on a brief that argued that Oxfam's presence in third-world countries was on a par with that of Nestle. The abacus, with its beads made from tiny human skulls, rattled gently in front of him where he'd been using it just before Ron had turned up.

"Hot water?" he said slowly. "Strong!"

Ron's eyes glazed over slightly as he thought about what else he had to say. "There was something else..." he muttered, half to himself. "Something you could help out with. Oh, that's it! We're employing your mother, so we thought you'd be the ideal person to show her round the company and get her acquainted with the way we work."

"My mother's dead," said Sandy coldly. He found that he could only deal with this by suppressing all emotion when he had to talk about her. "You had her killed to incentivise me. I didn't dare go to her funeral for fear of what else you'd do."

"Well that's the thing," said Ron, looking embarrassed. "Our HR department was looking at their five-year plan of people they'll be surplussing, and the Director pointed out that whenever you see psychics on television, the dead always seem to know a lot more than the living. Being on the other side gives you a far better view of the world. So they've surplussed the entire QA team, and replaced them with a semi-famous psychic, and he's channelling your mother to do the QA job. It's a far more efficient use of resources."

"But what if the psychic channels the wrong person? Or what if my mother doesn't spot a QA issue?" said Sandy. He massaged his temples, feeling a pressure headache starting to build. His eyeballs felt hot and seemed to be popping out of his face.

"Well, that's why we picked your mother," said Ron, shifting his bulk awkwardly. His thighs rubbed together, and little sparks of static electricity crackled in the air. "If there's a problem with her work, we can punish you. You were the person she was begging to be allowed to see before she died, you see, so we're pretty certain she wouldn't want to see you taking the fall for her mistakes..."

Sandy picked the abacus up silently, and started rattling the skulls on their wires from one side to another, apparently calculating. Ron watched him for a few moments, apprehension written clearly across his face, and when nothing else seemed to be happening, relaxed slightly.
"I'll fetch the psychic then," he said. "I think you'll like him, his name's Moloch and he's got a real way with people. Only this morning he was telling me that there's a great shock in store for me in the near future, and that that will take me somewhere that very few people get to go." He shuffled out of Sandy's office, his shoes rubbing on the nylon carpetting.

"Idiot," said Sandy softly, almost under his breath. "We can all see that coming." There was a loud bang and a sudden, high-pitched cry from half-way along the corridor. "The build-up of static was going to get you sooner or later, Ron, all it needed was someone to leave something that could earth it for you lying around where you wouldn't see it until too late." The abacus clicked and rattled ominously. "And very few people get to go to the intensive care burns ward." Finally the rattle of the abacus died away, and Sandy put it back down on the desk.

"Now let's bring on this psychic and see if he's really met my mother."

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