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Posthumous Organizational Operations
"Everett, the lowly intern, enters the lion’s den. It’s been a long night, and even though sunlight is peeking through the automated, tinted windows, Everett wants nothing more than to collapse on a cloud for a few moments of peace before the day begins again."
He snorted, and in the process of doing so, tripped over the threshold of his cubicle, landing painfully on his knees. His Files went flying.
“Influenza,” Everett swore. “Influenza, motorbike crashes, and heart disease.”
Kore, a fellow intern in a long, pristine white chiton, frowned at him over the wall.
“Did you say something?” she asked suspiciously.
Everett said, “No.” They had been pretty colorful curses, after all.
He pushed the swivel chair as far away as it would go in the little eight-by-eight space, then got down on his hands and knees.
Everett had been an intern for the customary five centuries—well, almost. His term’s end was up this coming Wednesday, three days from now. Then he’d face the Secretarial Office’s examinations, and they’d make him a full-time hand. He was so excited!
Except now he’d just mixed up six separate files of people all recently deceased and long overdue for a Transfer. And if his superiors found out about that, then HE would be the one needing a Transfer.
The lowly intern reached under his desk and groped blindly for the papers. His hands swept aside the monitor cords and hardwire plugs. Everett withdrew, swearing at a paper cut, but then reached with the other hand and pulled out the missing, mussed files.
Crossly, Everett dumped the entire mess over his keyboard. Whoever had written these Files of Lives had terrible handwriting. Half the files were about some poor family of three who’d died in a house fire. Everett shuddered, and then scolded himself—one would think, having been in the business so long, he would have achieved control over these urges.
Everett picked up a sheet at random. Helena Dellamar—freak drowning accident. He frowned, but gently placed it in its file. The dead deserved just as much respect as the living. The next document belonged to the file of Marcus Bradford. He’d died of lung cancer at age fifty-six. A closer look revealed him to have passed in the hospital, surrounded by his grandchildren. The lucky sap.
He picked up another sheet. Venu Saxena. Something was slightly off about this one… Everett searched the document for a giving detail. The sheet itself was yellowed with age, and Everett knew it wasn’t one of his—this was (sad though it may seem) the first time he’d ever actually brought Files of Lives into his cubicle. Besides, it didn’t match any of the names on the manila files.
Finally, Everett saw the detail he’d been looking for, and it shocked him to the core.
Venu Saxena, resident of Nag Param, in India, should have died over sixty years ago.
Everett’s first instinct was to go yell at HR for their lapse in Transfer services. But even as he reached for his whitetooth, something stopped him.
There was no way, conceivable or not, that Human Resources would be able to take care of this quickly enough. This man, who obviously hadn’t been retrieved by a Field Agent, was over one hundred and fifty years old.
Legal Services would take twice as long as HR, and there was no doubt in his mind that they would be the last people Everett would go to (although this was only a matter of timing, not because he actually had anything against the department).
Their Security branch was pretty much hired meat-sacks and the occasional techie.
And the IT department would try to—try to beam the man up, for all Everett knew! Not a good idea, especially after the Elvis fiasco. He had been in the middle of that one, and it hadn’t been pretty. There was only one solution that Everett could think of.
He would have to take care of this himself.
Premeditated rule-bending was not something Everett was accustomed to. There was so much to think about! First, he had to bribe Kore with the promise of doughnuts and coffee for the next three days, so that she would cover however many shifts this took him.
Then, he had to find the rest of Venu Saxena’s File of Life. Where he lived, how he was being taken care of, and who watched over him and his livelihood, it all became a confusing muddle of factors in a potentially disastrous equation.
Getting past Security and into the Files of Lives was simple, of course. He just brought his original Files with him, and hid Mr. Saxena’s paper somewhere in the middle. He took the key ring from his infinite pocket, and after replacing the newer ones, strode like an intern with a purpose—upon reflection, a dangerous thing to be—to the “S” section of the filing cabinets.
“S-A-P,” Everett muttered, “S-A-R, S-A-S, S-A-T… let’s see, S-A-X. Aha!” He whipped out a single key on the ring, and plunged it into the lock. With a rather victorious-sounding click, the cabinet drawer rolled out morosely.
He plucked out the file marked Saxena, Venu. Sure enough, it was short a couple of pages, marked ‘pre-Transfer,’ and was very old and very yellow.
Walking back past security like he owned the place, Everett decided next to call in an old debt.
“Hello, Juan?” he said into the whitetooth. It took a moment for the message to get through.
“Hey, amigo. Don’t tell me you called just to say hello,” a man’s voice said. “I’m in the middle of a Retrieval, here.”
“Alas, no,” Everett said. “I’m calling in a favor.”
“Something in your voice tells me to say no, old friend,” Juan decided in his heavy Latin-American accent. “I’ll be regretting this, yes?”
Everett rolled his eyes. “Without me, you’d still be stuck at that crazy séance lady’s house. You owe me, hombre.”
Juan snorted. “Don’t you quote Spanish at me, little Anglo-Saxon man. But sí, I will help you.”
Everett grinned a sharklike grin. “All right, here’s what I need…”
The Posthumous Organizational Operations offices were proud of their technological advancements. They had their thermonuclear gadgets and they had their biosolar gizmos. However, all Everett needed from Juan was his Tracker GPS, his universal translator, and his Earthly Visa. They materialized on Everett’s desk precisely seventeen minutes later. Apparently Juan had much more faith in the IT department than he did.
Everett surreptitiously typed his name, weight, and preferred beverage into the visa. He peeked over the top of his cubicle, but no one seemed to care about the doings of the lowly intern. Everett then replaced his whitetooth with the universal translator and keyed Venu Saxena’s village into the Tracker GPS. The coordinates triangulated on the screen, and Everett felt a little buzzing in his gut.
He landed sorely on his bottom, and a thick, light brown cloud of dust rose up around him, staining his white laboratory coat.
“I suppose I should have done that standing,” Everett sighed, getting up and slapping the dust from his clothes. He squinted from the sunlight—this was the real deal, not that artificial stuff at the Offices. The air was moving with an honest-to-goodness breeze, something Everett hadn’t experienced since he’d been before he’d been hired as an intern. But already he was standing still too long.
Everett checked the Tracker GPS. He pressed a few buttons, and the screen zoomed in on his location again. The directive arrow was pointing south-south-east.
Nag Param was a tiny little village that, apparently, time forgot. This grew more evident as Everett approached on the under-traveled dirt road. Juan’s visa shielded his from the naked eye, so Everett was careful to stay out of the way.
Little, dark-skinned boys wearing only loose pants ran to and from huts on either side of the road, shouting and laughing. Women in dull but cared-for saris and sandals sat in the shade of a mangrove tree on a hill far away enough from the noise of the children, but close enough to keep an eye on them. Everett imagined they were gossiping heavily, although what about, he couldn’t say.
Invisible thanks to Juan’s visa, Everett followed the flashing arrow on the Tracker GPS. It led him to a small hut on the far edge of the village, a tiny structure made of sun-dried mud and woven sticks. It was, Everett noticed, far enough away from the center of the village to avoid all the squabble of daily life. A rocking chair gently rocked back and forth in the shadows. A square window was open, half-obscured by a dull red curtain.
Everett strode forward, and carefully climbed through the window, taking pains to ensure he wouldn’t brush the curtain on accident. It wouldn’t do for any visitors to think the place was haunted.
But, sure enough, there the old man was, sitting upright on a small cot and reading a newspaper all in Hindi.
He was a tiny man, even shorter than Everett. His skin was extraordinarily wrinkled, and looked as delicate as tissue paper. But Mr. Saxena’s eyes were sharp and awake, and glinted with awareness from beneath his heavy, straggly white eyebrows. Everett fixed his universal translator nervously.
“Um, hello, Sir, my name is—”
“Why did you climb in my window? Could you not use the door? Are you American? No? English? What are you doing in my home?”
Everett gulped. “My name is Everett, and we seem to have had a bit of a mishap. You see, I work for the Posthumous Organizational Operations offices—”
“The Poo Offices?” Mr. Saxena inquired innocently. How did a century-and-a-half-old man pull off ‘innocently’? Everett frowned. Because he hadn’t heard THAT one before…
“No, sir, the P.O.O. offices. We seem to have had a bit of a mishap—we weren’t aware that you hadn’t, erm, died yet.” Everett blinked. How on earth did Field Agents do it?
“Well of course I haven’t died yet, you young fool! I’ve been waiting for nearly one hundred and fifty years! I have great-great-grandchildren by now. Who are you? Hermes, perhaps?”
Everett fought the urge to roll his eyes. “No, sir, Hermes works in the Field Agents’ department. Has for nearly three thousand years. He mostly runs a desk job now.”
Mr. Saxena pulled at his remarkable earlobe thoughtfully. His eyes never left Everett’s face.
“Well,” he said finally, and Everett could hear him speaking in his native language beneath the gentle hum of his translator, “If you’re going to help me die, let’s get it over with, shall we? Nag Param could do with a bit of good gossip.”
Everett blinked again. “Just… just like that, sir? No… begging or pleading or anything?”
Mr. Saxena frowned. “Young man, I am FAR too old to throw a tantrum. Kindly escort me to the nearest… Poo office, please.”
“It’s CALLED… oh, never mind,” Everett muttered irritably. He took the visa out from the infinite pocket on his lab coat. “Here, hold this.”
Mr. Saxena swung his legs over the side of the cot with surprising spryness. Joints creaking deafeningly, he stood, reaching out with one hand to take the visa Everett was holding out. His fingers touched the plastic casing, and Everett hit the return button on his Tracker GPS.
His feet hit the terra-cotta floor with a thud, and Everett grasped Mr. Saxena’s forearms to keep him from falling over.
“All right, sir?” he asked, giving the Ancient a once-over.
“Quite, quite,” Mr. Saxena gasped, for the first time appearing as old and ragged as he truly was. “Where are we?”
Everett looked around, paling. “Well, technically we’re at the lobby for the Center for Human Resources. But there appears to be a large number of Security personnel bearing down on us, so if you would…”
Everett stepped forward, extending his hands to the sky—well, ceiling. The three thugs continued forward menacingly.
“It’s all right! It’s all right! I’m an intern, I work with the Offices!” Everett yelped. “Here, my ID.”
He all but thrust it at the nearest guard, who plucked it from his hand with surprising dexterity. He examined it critically for a long moment, and Everett feared he was suffering a heart attack. Then the guard nodded slowly, although his face continued to contort menacingly.
Mr. Saxena limped forward, and the lowly intern gaped as he seemed to stride with head held high.
“Young man. Mr.… let’s see, Happols? Mr. Happols. According to this excellent young gentleman here, I should have died half a century ago. I believe your standards are a bit lax, but I am here, am I not? Very well, take me to your leader, as they say. I’m quite ready for a change in venue. I expect that both you and young Everett here will be promoted for your initiative. Come, come, time’s wasting…”
Mr. Saxena leaned heavily on the flustered security guard’s arm perhaps a bit more than was precisely necessary. He looked back, and when the security guard wasn’t looking, gave Everett a wink.
Everett smiled sheepishly, then slapped his forehead the moment the old man’s back was turned. He was so getting fired for this. He fished his whitetooth out of his infinite pocket.
“Kore? Yes, this is Everett… yeah, I’m going to owe you some more doughnuts today.”