The Company Man.

A short story from the cubicle.  

Steve felt a shiver run up his spine as he returned to his cubicle. He’d been away for too long. He didn’t know the extent of his infractions but he was sure that he was in hot water. He logged in. Red numbers flashed – 15 seconds. He’d been gone for 15 seconds longer than allowed. The numbers disappeared and were replaced by a new message. His urine output had been inadequate for justifying the break he’d taken. The message indicated that based on urine output and estimated bladder capacity, the system determined that he could have remained at his desk for another four hours. The urinals were marvelous developments for productivity management that could simultaneously scan the worker’s bladder and measure urine output. This number was based on normal fluid intake which was kindly provided by the hydration-matic tube installed in his cubicle. They knew what went in and they knew what should come out. Steve heard a click which he guessed signaled an end to his fluids for the remainder of his shift. He was pretty sure that he had a urinary tract infection and a slight fever but he didn’t dare confirm this with the WorkDay Health and Wellness kiosk; the temperature-taking apparatus had malfunctioned and ruptured someone’s bowel a week ago. A bead of sweat flowed down his forehead and into his eye.

A gentle vibration in his ear notified him that a call was inbound.  An implant deep in his ear tracked his whereabouts in the building and also acted as the primary means of communication for his job. Before he could respond, the call dropped. He began to shiver and before long his teeth chattered loudly. He felt like he had to go again. His abdomen cramped up and he doubled over meagerly looking for a position of relief. His ear lit up again. “Hello thank you for calling WorkDay Occupational Healthcare Solutions where we promise to keep your staff on the job and out of bed or their sick time is on us”. A tone signaled another dropped call. Two in a row. Although no fault of his own, dropped calls were considered missed opportunities for customer engagement. Too many and you’d be disciplined. Previously he’d had a run of bad luck with a streak of five dropped calls in a row, and he was told by his supervisor to answer better. Steve didn’t dare ask for clarification instead he just bowed his head and signed his improvement agreement. There was a rumor circulating that an aging phone system was to blame for the dropped calls. The CEO had held a teleconference beamed from the company jet during which he ensured them that the phone system was the best one around. His message was heard intermittently because it turns out that the beaming hardware is a little old too.

Steve had to go, as his body ignored his mind’s pleas for peace. The cramps worsened and it felt like his bladder had worked itself into a knot. He couldn’t take another break. Two break abuses in a row would put him at risk for the dreaded Performance Booster Seat. Pam Steele had been subjected to this modified seating situation after a bout of food poisoning had sent her to the bathroom numerous times and her forceful and inaccurate eruptions had made waste amounts tough to quantify. The seat required the employee to sit on a suction-powered device which allowed the waste-producing areas to fit comfortably within a rubber ring that limited smell and mess. Pam had been overhead yelling something about her guts being sucked out and was terminated later that day for her poor attitude.

Steve bolted from his cubicle. Once again, he stood over the urinal that would decide his fate. The urge to go was intense, yet all he produced was a single drop that plopped into the water like dew off a leaf. Several more drops of moisture slid from his forehead and joined the one in the bowl. He still had to go but nothing would come out. His body was killing him right now. He shook and began cussing. Bert Stubblegust was in the adjacent stall, safely taking a break when he overheard what he later described as the chattering of a peeing lunatic. “I heard the guy cussing a lot but I didn’t hear any water running.”

He was getting nowhere. The pain wouldn’t subside and his attempts to soothe it only produced sweat and more bladder spasms. He went to the sink and splashed cold water onto his face. The sound of running water enraged the leviathan and he clutched his abdomen as he fell to the ground.

In Bert’s account to the supervision team, he noted that he could see the peeing lunatic clearly wasting company time writhing on the floor. Bert was well-liked because he had good productivity on the job and on breaks too. Floor grime had mixed with sweat, giving Steve’s face a coat of filth that added to his already-disheveled appearance.  He bounced from cube to cube, bracing himself on each one as he passed. He rounded the corner to his own cell of productivity. A maintenance worker snugged the floor seal in place for the Productivity Booster Seat. The rubber ring seat looked worn and dirty. Steve’s bladder kicked again just as his stomach attempted to heave his breakfast out of his mouth. Clyde tightened the last floor bolt and stood up with a groan. “Hey kid, shit you look terrible. Drop ‘em and hop on so I can fire up the vacuum.” The multiple sensations of discomfort disoriented Steve and he struggled to make sense of things. Clyde crossed his arms and sighed loudly: “I can get your supervisor and we can end this right now or you can be a good company man and take a seat?” Steve did as directed.

Suddenly, the pain in his urinary system took a back seat to the fear now occupying his mind. The ring was cold and sticky. Clyde mumbled to himself as Steve settled onto the sick contraption of efficiency. “Keep your ass right there, I’m going to go kick on the vac. If you make a sudden move, it’ll rip your pecker right off” Clyde said, staring over a thick finger which he pointed directly at Steve’s face.

Clyde walked away but kept his eyes fixed to Steve’s. Sweat made the seat even grosser. Steve thought about adjusting his position but remembered Clyde’s warning and decided against it. He gripped the outer rim and tried to prepare for the worst. He felt the air stir around the seat before he heard what sounded like a balloon deflating through a small opening.  The sound and sensations baffled him only briefly before the seal was complete and the force pulling him from below added a new wave of confusion. He didn’t want to do this anymore. He needed the job, but at this rate, he figured he’d go somewhere else for less pay and less manual restraint. What was already an intense tug turned into something worse altogether as he heard a roar from below and the pull threatened to collapse him at the waist and suck him into the bowels of the building.  Concern grew into panic as he struggled to free himself. Clyde rounded the cubicle opening: “Easy there, buddy, this goes smoother if you just relax and let the process take its course.” Steve felt dull. He struggled to line up the thoughts needed to make sense of this. The pain from below occupied all of his consciousness at this point. Clyde was in his face, looking him over like a cat studying a dying mouse. Clyde’s mouth was moving yet his voice drifted to Steve from a distance and he appeared further away than he should have.  Steve felt like a hand being withdrawn from a glove as he moved further and further from his rooted perspective on the rubber ring. He could see his hands, but they were off in the distance. They were attached to arms that seemed to belong to someone else. He saw the ceiling now. He was pulled down like water through a funnel as his body remained upright at this desk, but whatever Steve was seemed to circle the drain of oblivion. He was surrounded by darkness, with only a small portion of the ceiling remaining to be seen. The trip to the end grew darker and what he could see of the ceiling grew smaller until all that remained was nothing at all.

Neal Pushercark stood by Clyde, starting at Steve.  Neal slapped Clyde on the back, “Seems we’re working out the kinks with this thing.”  Clyde’s chest expanded with pride and he grinned widely. The Soul Vac was his finest invention and while its initial implementation had been a little messy, the 2.0 version had the extraction process dialed in. Clyde turned to Neil, “Yeah but this simple ass is staring at the ceiling right now… not much work where he’s looking,” he said through a smirk.  As if on cue, Steve lowered his head from the recumbent position and stared blankly at the screen.

Steve began to speak. He quoted the intro script without an issue and although the caller was inaudible to the two onlookers, Steve’s flawless rebuttal indicated a refusal.  They stood silently as Steve parried every silent remark with perfect responses that culminated in his smoothest sale ever. He completed the sale in the system and seamlessly answered the next call and began an elegant flow of salesmanship all over again.