Chapter Two: Jumping off the Job Ladder

“Alex.” The Administrator met my eyes, and I flinched. She was a gray woman, not just of hair, but of countenance. Her entire appearance, from the starched legs of her pantsuit to her straight shoulders to her bloodless lips, was like marble; but her eyes were only nearly gray. They were the icy, bleached blue of a January sky, threatening to snow, and her pupils were chips of flint, tiny flecks that suggested she could see past my flesh into my soul, and loathed what she found there.

It was more than enough to intimidate a civilian like myself. To complete the statuesque illusion, her angular body stood a full six feet and one inch.

          I looked away, but she continued to stare down on me. “Your resume is impressive,” she said. “Perhaps too impressive.”

          I shrank. I knew I’d been sent here because of my failures. Only an absolutely desperate case would be sent to the top. There were only two possible ways for this meeting to end. Reassignment, or termination. I crossed my fingers for reassignment.

          She took a seat at the polished black table. It stood on metal legs with black rollers at the bottom. I sat down across from her, though unprompted. The room itself was of polished black substance, glass and metal, with narrow seams along the wall panels. Any of them might be one-way glass, but I couldn’t be sure.

          Her Biometric activated a screen on the tabletop, and she scrolled through my job history. She was in the highest echelon; there was nothing she couldn’t see.

          “You’ve been… an Educator. Content Writer. Food Service Worker. Maintenance Technician. Food Lab Tech. It was the Head of the Food Labs that referred you to me.” And her gaze was back.

          I gave a barely perceptible nod. I could feel the sweat beading up on my forehead. Her eyes were too piercing. If only she would look away.

          “That’s a lot of jobs. You know, people here are taught to specialize early precisely to avoid these types of scenarios.” She pronounced “scenario” in a posh way, long on the a.

          “I’m not lazy,” I stressed. “I did my best in every job. I tried. Really, I tried. I wasn’t detractive. I was just…”

          Reassigned.

          “They just weren’t a good fit,” I finished lamely.

          “Five jobs and no good fit.”

          She was going to kill me.

          I probably deserved it. A failed educator, failed content writer, failed food server, failed maintenance technician, failed lab tech. At this rate I’d never be any use to the Settlement at all.

          “Please,” I begged. “Just give me another chance. I want to work for the Settlement. I’m loyal. I care about the future of humanity; I do.”

          The Administrator looked away from me for a moment (blessedly), seeming to give it some thought. Finally, she said, “Indeed. I’ve seen your type before. You’re a good person. Everything on your profile is clean—well.” Her pale lips turned upwards slightly, though nothing changed in her eyes. “Nobody’s perfect. But you’re as clean as humanly possible. You’re right. You just need to find the right fit.”

          I was stunned, but relief washed over me. I was right. Thank Earth.

          “You’re bored. That’s all.” Her voice took on a patronizing, friendly tone, though still nothing in her face changed. “You have to move on. You want a new assignment. You can’t do just one thing, can you?”

          In the food labs, I’d spent 10 hours per day painting food-growth cultures on to hosting plates. These cultures would later become all manner of colorful facsimiles – hot dogs, cupcakes, salads. It was brainless, but it was last-ditch work for a person who’d been reassigned from four other jobs. Still, I’d thought maybe I could be happy with the chance to work with organic materials. I’d wanted to see the cultures grow; maybe I’d even get to see the cells divide—maybe even into plant and leaf-like materials.

          Instead it was that—just that. Standing at an assembly line, using a paintbrush of clear solution on the plates as they glided by. Nothing ever, ever changed. Day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute, bending, brushing, bending, brushing. It was awful, and when it started to break my mind and my back, I had complained.

          “Complained” was a kind word for what I’d done, as in fact I’d cried like a baby. Wept in front of the plant manager during inspection; begged him to let me go. Because of that moment, I now knew that I was a weak person at heart. At the time, I hadn’t cared if there were no jobs left for me. I’d hated it so much there that I’d felt I’d rather die than stay another day.

          And so, I found out what happens when you jump off the bottom of the job ladder—you get sent to see an Administrator.

          Everyone else seemed to manage a normal job somehow. She was right, there was something wrong with me.

My first job had been an Educator, my dream career. As a child, I’d always envied the Educators, since they seemed so self-possessed. They had all the knowledge and all the answers, and the freedom to move about from place to place in just the way that children didn’t.

I’d loved the job, but after I confessed scandalous thoughts to a guidance counselor, I’d been reassigned. The full details, of course, are too embarrassing to discuss, but the long and short of it was that working with children had made me feel… estrogenic. Motherly. There was no shame in it, of course, since it was confessed and dealt with promptly, but anyone with an estrogenic temperament is forbidden from working with children, and so I was promptly reassigned.

          “I have an idea,” said the Administrator. “Why don’t I assign you to work for DYNTEC?”

          I was stunned again. “Dyntec,” I echoed. Really? DYNTEC was a different dream, the dream of every more adventurous kid in the Settlement.

          “You’ll have new assignments there all the time,” she said. “I challenge you to get bored in DYNTEC. It’ll keep you on your toes.” Without warning, her lips moved upwards, almost imperceptibly. “Dismissed.”

          And the meeting ended far more quickly than it had begun. I stood up, my head spinning. I started to back awkwardly out of the room.

          “Ah, wait,” said the Administrator. “I haven’t told you where to go, have I? Their locations aren’t listed in the Index like other facilities. Go to room 200 of this building on level 12. Cam will meet you there. You won’t have to tell him that I sent you.”

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