Author : Rick Tobin

The short walk from the trees near the campus to the administration building winded him. The air was too thin for Linet. Once inside the conference room, Linet pushed the tall paperwork pile forward on the bare meeting table. He turned in his steel-backed chair to address the clicking of high heels on granite from the hallway. He gazed at Constance Hurley, a twenty-something dish-water blonde wearing a simple gray sweater and black slacks. She glared back through her horned-rim glasses. The thin, tawny-skinned senior sat upright, facing the human resources supervisor.

“You must be the one o’clock. You’re early. This just isn’t done. One o’clock means just that. I don’t particularly care for your type interrupting my lunch hour.” She huffed about, circling around the table to sit opposite the candidate.

“Is this how you always work with intruders, Miss Hurley?”

“When I said ‘type’, I meant manipulators. You think this early stuff is supposed to impress me? And when you land a job you never show on time, but you leave early. Huh?” She pointed her right index finger at him. She pushed aside the pen near the stack of forms and began scanning them. “You oldies should be rounded up and gassed.”

“Really?” Linet replied, pointing back at the mountain of documents. “Is all of this necessary?” Linet stared at her perusal of his work.

“Listen, buster, you either want to be here or you don’t. I wouldn’t have figured you for a candidate.” She looked him up and down. “Not like that. And you can’t be serious about these answers.”

“Like what?”

“Well, to be blunt, your age. And look at that bald head and those hideous clothes. Who dressed you, a funeral director? You didn’t answer the questions about ethnicity. If only you were Inuit. I still have a slot for one.”

Linet leaned back, smiling, revealing his lack of teeth. “It stated clearly those answers were voluntary. Do you mind if I ask your age and your dress size?”

Constance bellowed in shock. “How dare you? I could have you disqualified. But you’re a relic, no doubt. What could you possibly know about high tech? With my luck you’re an illegal. I need these I-9 forms completed. Are you an illegal alien?”

“Would that matter? Do I have to complete them all?”

“In triplicate. And I warn you, one lie…one falsehood, canard or exaggeration and you’ll be taken from your cubicle to the parking lot and terminated. Is that clear?”

“Wonderful. You are perfect.” He opened his jacket and extracted a gold cigarette case and a matching gold lighter. Even as his antagonist rose to protest he lighted the pencil-thin tube and blew a perfect circle of neon blue smoke around her.

“You can’t do that in here. I’ll have you arrested…I’ll” But that was the last word from Miss Hurley. The blue halo burst open like a burgeoning oyster shell and then wrapped tightly around her until she and the smoke disappeared in a black flash.

A buzzing sound rose at the side of Linet’s head. “Good, and keep her caged,” he commanded. “She’ll be perfect for our torture squads. We’ve worn out the teams we built from our last visit here during their Inquisition. I’m sure our enemies will agree to anything after an hour with her kind, and the other HR beasts we’ve captured. Keep the crew away from them on the flight home. Remember our leader’s motto, “An hour with a bureaucrat is a dreadful torture.”

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