“Never violate The Rule of Blood.”
That is what my mentor said to me on my first day of work, and I didn’t ask why. I forgot about it, to tell the truth. It wasn’t until four months later that I understood what he meant, and everything begins here, with Aiden Schell.
Aiden Schell was introduced to me as the Star Researcher for The Trusted Authority, holding the title, undefeated for over twelve years.
Now, ‘Star Researcher’ is an unofficial job title, like ‘King of Pop’. It didn’t have any perks associated with it beyond the smirking pseudo-respect\envy of one’s peers. Aiden was simply the best at what he did – investigate ridiculous stories.
Researching articles for The Trusted Authority was difficult, not because it was intellectually and physically demanding, but it’s psychologically arduous to investigate information for articles that were so… out there, you know? I mean, checking the facts on a story of a possessed flounder that haunted a fish market in Port Huron, Michigan, telling the customers to, “Eat more chicken?” Knowing this was what was ahead of you made getting out of bed in the morning hard. Most people moved up or moved on, but not Aiden. He was stuck. He had made a fatal mistake about the job. He violated The Rule of Blood.
The Rule of Blood goes back to vampire lore, and it says that if a vampire bites you, you can survive if he does not get the last drop of blood, but if he does drain you of blood, you are doomed to be one of the undead for all eternity. I know because I researched the article last year; Vampires in the Subway. That was mine. I researched the… uhm, facts.
The job of Research Analyst is a savvy conspirator, and it will suck up all it is given and still leave the unsatisfying expectation that more should be sacrificed. It will do this with little display, indeed, with no acknowledgement at all. By doing more, you set the bar higher and you’ve raised the expectation of what you will deliver each week along with it. If you deliver less the next time, it appears that you’re slacking off. You’re losing your edge. You’re not dedicated.
Aiden excelled at his work, though none of us knew what was happening with him outside of the office – not that we really cared or could have done anything, even if we did. His faltering marriage crumbled, just as he was turning forty. It was a messy divorce; his wife left him and she moved in with his best friend.
With all social life tied to his wife and friends who supported her pursuit of new happiness, he had no social life left outside of the office. All that was left was his job, and with nothing else, he threw himself into his work, heart and soul, dedicated to researching alien abductions, cattle mutilations, and potatoes that resembled celebrity’s heads for The Trusted Authority. He gave the last drop, hoping desperately that it would pay off and make his life matter. Desperate to feel satisfied, to not feel so empty and alone, he gave the last drop.
One might think that out-performing yourself and others would get you ahead, but hard work alone does not get you recognized within the modern corporate infrastructure. You must schmooze. You must network. You must be a friend to those in authoritative positions. You must be liked, and Aiden simply did not have the people skills or desire to accomplish this.
I don’t think it hit him all at once, but it began to dawn on him about a year ago and he knew what he had done. He knew that he had forsaken anything that resembled a life for his work, and his work was pointless. It was then that Aiden became visibly despondent.
His complexion was pasty and unhealthy from spending day after day in front of a computer, rarely going outside. His eyes were sunken and had dark rings. He shaved irregularly and his clothes were wrinkled and unkempt. He smelled.
Day after day and most weekends, he huddled in his cubicle, just like a vampire who must return to his coffin. I don’t know what he was doing. I do know, as we all did, he wasn’t working on his assignments.
After several meetings with management failed to stimulate him, the cycle started to terminate his employment. In the corporate environment at the James Trust Media Group, terminating an unproductive employee is almost as difficult as killing a vampire. It takes the efforts of several managers at different levels, coordination of multiple departments, and reams of documented evidence. Once decided that an employee on the staff was going to be fired, it was at least six months before evidence could be accumulated, entered into the employee’s file, parsed, agreed upon by management and sent to the legal department, sent back for corrections, sent back to the legal department with corrections, given approval, and reviewed by three supervisors, before the person actually gets fired. In that six-month cycle, a person was truly damned, because the juggernaut of employee termination was set in motion and would stop for no man. Aiden was a lost soul without hope of redemption, but that didn’t seem to faze him.
One Thursday, Aiden wasn’t in his cubicle. He didn’t show up on Friday, either. Monday came and he still wasn’t at work. He wasn’t there the rest of the week or the week after that.
No one knew exactly what happened to Aiden Schell. No one knew, but we had a good idea. Down deep, we all believed Aiden had offed himself. Finding his body hanging by the neck in a closet or washed up on a shore somewhere was only a matter of time, but no one looked very hard. Even the police didn’t do much. No grieving wife. No family, children, or friends pushing them. Discovering Aiden’s fate was put on the back burner and the back of everyone’s minds, and after a simple memorial ceremony without a body, life continued without him.
I remind myself of poor, lost, consumed and beaten Aiden at times like this. This is the danger I face every day. You never have as much time left as you think you do. No one does.
My name is Bobby Bokes. I’m thirty-three years old. No kids and never been married. I am the current Star Researcher for The Trusted Authority bi-weekly tabloid, so, please, give me the smirking respect I have earned.
“Up to” a year.
That is how long I had to live. That’s how long I could survive before I succumbed to the aggressive brain cancer I was sporting in my skull. It could be less; it could be a lot less. They weren’t sure about that part. I’m told it is an inoperable tumor, and it would eventually be terminal.
Terminal. Of course, the doctor meant fatal, lethal, and incurable, but to me, the word didn’t sound like what he meant; it didn’t sound deadly or final. It reminded me of being at work. My terminal, my computer terminal to be precise, wasn’t an ending at all. It was the beginning – the beginning of every single day.
I discussed my options with the doctor. This was a short discussion, considering there weren’t any options.
Prepare to die, and expect it sooner than later.
This is the fourth doctor I have seen that has said this same thing, more or less, so it’s really just a rerun for me. I’m going through the motions. I am dismayed. Sad. My world is in ruins. I had it all this down pat. It’s just a script of emotions for me to go through now.
Well thanks a bunch, Doc. Just send me the bill. No, I can’t pay cash. Yes, I am sure. Bye now. Yes, I’m going back to work now. Home? No, I have work to do. No, I don’t have anything better to do, and thanks for reminding me.
Forty-plus hours of my week were consumed in the James Trust Media Group office building; a nine-story, sarcophagus-like structure of concrete and steel. Inside and on each floor except the first, was a cubicle farm with harsh, fluorescent lighting and not many windows. There are lots of people, sitting in cubicles, working diligently at…whatever. The floor I work on was filled with the noise of a hundred people’s voices, and typing, and moving, and dying. It was the sound of something mechanical.
Each eight-foot-by-eight-foot, two-tone grey cubicle looks exactly alike. They usually had some business-oriented poster provided by the company. Maybe there were personal items; a picture of the wife and kids and maybe a plant. All had a chair and a two-drawer filing cabinet. All had the same desk orientation, with the shelves in the same place and at the same height. All were designed to give the occupant the impression of privacy.
“That’s a nice computer, Mr. Bokes.” Terrance, the skinny 20 year old placed the monitor carefully on my desk next to computer. “First the bigger 8×8 cube, now the new desktop computer with multiple monitors. All of your data and applications have been preloaded. Next thing ya know, I’ll be hooking you up in the corner office!”
I hated it when Terrance came by. I hated it even more when Terrance attempted to suck up. I resented his eternal optimism, never-ending chipper mood and complimentary demeanor; anyone that happy must be blissfully ignorant. I envied him.
“Is there something I need to sign?” I asked.
“Nope, everything is already in the system. We track everything you have by serial numbers.”
“Comforting,” I said, but the sarcasm that was lost on Terrance.
A shrill beep emanated from Terrance’s belt. Was it his two-way radio? Cell Phone? Other cell phone? Terrance fumbled with each of them until he found the culprit. We have a winner! It was the other cell phone. He checked the text message.
“Oh 911, I gotta go. I’ll be back later to finish this.” Terrance scurried away.
“But I need this hooked up to…” I protested, but Terrance had already rounded the corner and was out of sight.
I stood there, looking at the computer and picked up the cable dangling from the back end of the monitor. I looked at the connector. I already had one monitor, but had no idea how to connect a second one to the same machine.
“What are you doing?”
The accusing voice startled me. It was the Ted, peeking over the wall of the adjacent cubicle.
“If you try to hook it up yourself, it’ll delete all your files.”
“That’s not true!” I said, but I was less than sure.
“That’s what they told me. It’s something about static electricity. I wouldn’t risk it.”
I put the cable down and grabbed a notepad.
“I have a meeting to go to anyway,” I said, glaring at Ted who was still peering over the cube wall.
Only his nose and above showed over the wall, but I knew his was grinning. I started for the meeting room.
Mr. Snavely, the Research Manager, was winding up the third bullet point on his list when I entered the room. I’m late and am ignored as I awkwardly bumble to the back of the room and take a seat.
“So, in the future, to be more politically correct, our legal department has asked that we refer to space aliens in the dual-sex format of ‘he/she’ rather than ‘he’ OR ‘she,’ unless we clearly establish beforehand that the alien is male or female. Understood?”
Snavely peered over his glasses at the eight people in the room. He doesn’t acknowledge me yet. I was late, you see.
“Positively!” Shane chimed in.
Shane had started work at TMG only three weeks ago and he still had that, ‘I’m new and don’t know any better’ ambition. He had more to contribute.
“I’ve got to say that it’s great that TMG has a work environment that is so concerned with political correctness.” Shane absolutely beamed with ignorance. “It’s great. Really great.”
“OK, then…” Snavely was ready to move on but Shane interrupted.
“But what if they aren’t male or female? After all, they are aliens.”
Snavely wasn’t amused. Shane had not learned that, when Snavely asked if there were questions, no one was supposed to ask questions.
Shane jumped in his seat and raised his finger as if inspiration had just hit him. “They could have multiple sexes, and require like, 3 or 4 of them to mate.”
Shane’s somewhat glassy eyes went even glassier as he thought about this. “Wow. Imagine that! Four people of different sexes required to DO IT! Ha! What would birth control devices look like?”
Jennifer sat next to him. She knew better than to participate, even if she was amused. Instead, she gave Shane a disdainful look and refocused on the report in front of her as if it were the most interesting thing she had ever seen.
“I’ll address that with you offline, Shane.” Snavely cleared his throat and checked his notes.
“Moving on, our Star Reporter again this month is Mr. Bobby Bokes. Bobby once again cleared the most stories for publication than anyone else. Nothing said about his punctuation, mind you. Ha, ha. Congratulations, Bobby.”
Snavely started to clap and everyone joined in out of obligation. I looked up and forced a smile. I didn’t care about Star Reporter and hadn’t set out to get it. I certainly didn’t think I deserved it. After all I was just doing my job – following the task list and checking off the objectives. It wasn’t as if I had come up with a new way of doing things, revolutionized the research process, or contributed even a single meaningful sentence to the slag that passed for journalism around here, but I did try once, when I first started at TMG.
Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet
©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender
Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd. www.rubiks.com
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed the first part of this web-novel.
Check back Thursday, March 5 for the next episode, and feel free to comment below.