This story is by Maria Andino and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Dave Hill faced the glass doors labeled “PROCUREMENT” as the doors slid open with a whisper. The room was cold and stark with gray metal desks and chairs arranged in rows. Floor to ceiling windows looked out over the Inventory and Containment department. A warm amber glow played against the walls of the room. He hated that glow and the monotony it represented. I N C was an endless line of bodies; strip, sterilize and prep for assignment. The bodies maintained the company and the company was life.
A slender man in a gray suit stood facing the windows. Dave cleared his throat, and the man turned around. His dull brown hair, unmarked face, and muddy brown eyes, created a forgettable person, which made him very successful at his job.
Eyeing Dave he spoke, “I’m Carreau. First day on the job?” Carreau lowered his head, and there was slight hum. “I’m shadowing you for your first ten acquisitions. I don’t work with newbies but we’re short on procurements. The Old Man wants everyone’s numbers up. Coming from I N C you know what’s happened.”
Dave nodded “Yes, targets are getting harder to acquire.Though their numbers are the highest they’ve ever been.”
Carreau sat down, motioning for Dave to sit. Carreau considered Dave through half lidded eyes, “Okay Hill, tell me what you know about Procurement, skip the BS spread by other procurers.”
Dave swallowed hard “Umm, It’s the best assignment in the company. Unlimited resources and minimal supervision as long as you meet your numbers. Any BS yet?”
Carreau picked up the file folder on the desk. “No, but you missed one major item. Never care about your target. You need to walk a fine line between friend and procurer. You got me? Also, if you get too eager you will lose the target. Those bastards can smell desperation. Don’t be that guy Hill. Desperate.”
Dave inhaled sharply “Understood, cordial not convivial, direct not desperate.”
Carreau stood, handing him the file. “An interesting first assignment; study it in-depth, tomorrow you start your new job. And Hill, Don’t go celebrating. You’re not part of Procurement until you’ve bagged your first bonafide target.”
Dave nodded, “Yes, sir.” Carreau walked out. Dave opened the file and began reading. After four hours he noticed the shift change down in I N C and left the office. Twenty minutes later he sat in the dive bar near his apartment. Working on his fifth double Dave sat with his friend Buzz from I N C.
“You got to meet the MAN? What was he like? He has the highest numbers of all of the procurers…Almost as high as the Old Man.”Buzz said lifting his glass.
“Whoa, that’s the liquor talking, Carreau could NEVER get close to the Old Man’s numbers.” Dave slurred resting his glass on the bar.
Buzz straightened up on his stool “Not what I heard, he always comes back over quota. His quota was six and he came back with a lucky thirteen. All bonafides.”
Dave grabbed Buzz playfully by scruff “I know he’s the procurer to admire, but the Old Man is STILL number one in targets acquired.”
Buzz squirmed as Dave’s grip morphed from playful to painful. “Hey lighten up, I’m not talking shit about the Old Man. Just saying Carreau is one big badass.”
“The Old Man approved my transfer. I owe him my …well…my everything. I thought I was stuck in I N C.” Dave said releasing Buzz’s neck.
“I N C isn’t the worst. You could be working maintenance. The ultimate shit job.” Buzz said stretching his neck.
“True, but those folks didn’t appreciate the Old Man. They’re where they belong, in the shit.” Dave took his last swallow, paid his tab, leaving Buzz with a quick goodbye. He swayed down the block to his small apartment, and looked up at the sky, missing the home he never knew. Like everyone else at the company he adapted to living here.
His stomach lurched on the elevator ride to his floor. Carreau was right, but the damage was done. Three fumbling tries opened the door.
Staggering in he almost stepped on a plain manila envelope. Steadying himself on the kitchen counter he bent down grabbing it. It had the Old Man’s ornate seal, he struggled to open it, inside was a sheet of heavy linen paper. Written in thick letters was a single paragraph. Dave read it several times, his stomach heaving and head spinning. The instructions shocked him. He leaned against the counter giving his brain and stomach time to adjust. As he placed the missive on the counter, it was consumed by green flames. The seal remained. Shambling to the bedroom, he flopped on his bed. He spent a fitful night, the instructions bouncing around in his head.
Morning came too soon, groaning Dave woke. His mouth felt like he spent the night sucking a grimy monkey’s nutsack. He rolled out of bed; shit, showered and shaved in record time. “Too much to drink and dreaming the Old Man wrote me a letter.” Dave mumbled as he dressed.
But there on the kitchen counter sat the seal, it wasn’t a drunken hallucination. He picked it up, put it in his pocket and headed to work.
As he rounded the corner Carreau stood in front of the office. “Shit” Dave muttered.
Carreau glanced at his watch “No need to get sweaty. You’re on time, a good procurer arrives on time, though a great one is always early.”
Dave knew his sweat stains were due to the letter not the brisk walk. “I have an approach to acquire the target and two of his associates.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, let’s get this assignment before you try for add-ons. We’re driving, it’s not nearby.” Carreau said walking to the sleek black car at the end of the block.
Carreau’s silence made the trip longer. They parked near a small plaza. Getting out, they walked to a bench facing a fountain. When they sat Dave spoke “I heard you’ve been at this almost as long as the company been’s around.”
“Yes, we started out with those of us who survived the trip. There were no departments, everyone did what was needed. I worked from maintenance to procurement. I enjoyed I N C the most. I liked the sameness, acquisitions don’t interest me. But if the Old Man says go procure, you go procure.” Carreau said in a wistful tone.
“Guys look up to you. My buddy Buzz, might admire you more than the Old Man. Dave’s voice began to get strident. “And that’s wrong. You stopped doing your job. Why didn’t you just retire? Instead you turned into to what the Old Man can’t abide, a traitor. You think you can do whatever the fuck you want! I won’t let you destroy everything.” Dave’s eyes were red. He felt the seal burning in his pocket.
Carreau looked at Dave with sadness, now understanding why he was recalled “He sent you to deal with me, he trusts you. He trusted me once. Are you sure you’re doing the right thing? We were needed once but now not so much. They’re growing past our control. It’s time to let go of the reins.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing. You’ve turned into a monster. You took his trust and perverted it. You want to kill everything we’ve created. We came to this piddly rock to save ourselves and manage these idiots. They’ve evolved just a hair above picking nits off each other. You broke THE rule, the one you chided me with. You care about them!” Dave shouted as he stood up and took the seal from his pocket.
Carreau smiled “You’ll see, when I’m gone the numbers won’t improve. Do you think I’m the only one? Many of us want to end this bullshit. The targets are getting smarter, more aware. They’ve opened the back of the clock. They can see the gears. Soon they’ll figure out what makes the clock tick and then dismantle it. It will happen in a blink for us but they’ll be dealing with our imposed mythology for a few more centuries. In time they won’t need us, and we’ll be forced to deal with them as equals. To paraphrase one of their own we’re no longer magic, they are starting to spot the tech.”
Dave snapped “It will never happen, I’m cutting you out like a tumor. I wanted to learn from you. Now you make me sick. This ends today.” Dave tapped Carreau’s forehead with the seal. Carreau disappeared with a puff of acrid green smoke.
The air began to hum, it was the Old Man and Dave smiled. He walked over to Carreau’s car and drove back to the company. As he parked in front of the office, Dave hummed a happy tune knowing he destroyed the monster who wanted to bring down the company.