Friday, 22 March 2019

P Squared, chapter 1

(Today! The beginning of the resurrection of my sci-fi/horror/comedy, P Squared, never finished, and with some written chapters never seen. Did I say never finished? Well, that may change. Depends on what you think, innit. This first one I'm putting up gratis, while later chapters are going to go to my Patreon first, and appearing here a week later. You lucky people. And yes, the first part is part iv. Don't sweat it. I mean if it worked for George Lucas.)

part iv. clerical assistance

“They look like you a bit. Don’t you think?” It’s a man’s voice, the sort that sounds like it comes out of the side of someone’s mouth.

“Oh, get lost.” An androgynous voice this time. P, conscious, hearing but not seeing, not moving, wonders what the problem is. “Do you think they’re awake yet?”

“No way of telling, Pubs. It takes a few minutes for the unpacking to kick in.” A woman, Welsh accent. P begins to feel a warm, fluttery feeling under their ribcage. P has a slight itch under one of their knees, where their uniform has caught, uncomfortably. Their vision begins to resolve itself, a texture initially heavily pixillated and compressed, now gradually lightening, becoming sharper and clearer.

“I hope they wake up soon,” says the man’s voice. “I’ve got a shitload of photocopying.” He’s probably not much older than thirty, glasses. P thinks, that’s odd, and thinks it’s a long time since they’ve seen anyone wear glasses. Without context, the thought makes no sense to them, but they to cling to the thought. It’s one of their own; P dimly knows that thinking their own thoughts is important.

“No chance,” says the third voice, the oldest of the three people here. “Now be a bit professional for once, will you? I think they’re waking up.”

“How can you tell?” The third person, ‘Pubs’ evidently, indeterminate of gender, slim, angular and handsome, all clear, pale skin and almond-shaped eyes, glossy black lipstick and shining, clean-shaven scalp, is slightly taller than the man, and much taller than the older woman. P thinks, Do they look like me? They realise they don’t know what they look like right now. OK. Don’t panic. That’ll come.

They lean forward, peer into P’s eyes, touch P’s face. Their fingertips are warm, their nails just long enough to scratch ever so slightly; their eyes are dark, the light in them made from tiny squares. P is still not online yet.

P cannot really move. They can breathe freely; see, hear, taste the fuzz on their tongue, feel the itch on the back of their knee, but they’re waiting for the switch-on. P phases out of the conversation happening around them, becoming aware of the steady, heavy pressure on the sides of her head, a draft across their scalp and a faint whistling noise in their ears that begins to rise in tone, to become steadily more audible without strictly becoming louder. P forgets about the glasses. The whistle becomes the only thing they can think about, whining higher and higher and burrowing inside their head, like they can hear it inside their brain, and it’s the only thought they have, when it detonates.

A line of white sweeps across P’s mind, scouring it clean. P’s head bobs up and down. Their back arches. Their eyes lose their focus completely once more. Their hands flutter. Their mouth opens slightly. They breathe out once, make a little ah sound. And then everything makes sense. It’s like everything P needs to know is revolving around their head in the air, and they can read it whenever they want. It feels wonderful. P straightens, folds their hands in their lap, gazes levelly into the middle distance.

“There we go,” says the older woman. “Hello?”

P turns their head to the woman. “Yes,” says P. “I’m here from the Agency. You requested—” They stop the flow of data, zoom in. “Clerical support for an indefinite period. You are conducting a collegiate audit.”

“An Engagement,” says the woman. “We call them College Engagements now.”

“Engagements.” P nods, edits the job description in their head. “OK. I’m here for the College Engagement. Clerical Support.”

“Are you ready? Ready to get going, I mean? Set up?” The woman laughs, as if she’s said something funny.

“Ready. Yes, I’m ready” says P. “Do I have wifi/intranet?”

The woman walks over to a desk, logs into an ancient-looking desktop PC, checks her messages. “It’s just about set up. You just have to be hooked up with Admin. You can get your University Card from her too — We’ll take you after orientation.”

P stands up, smooths down their tightly creased black uniform trousers, straighten the lapels of their high-collared, tightly-buttoned jacket. “Thank you.”

“What do we call you?”

“You should refer to me as—” P pauses, thinking somehow that what they are about to say is somehow bad, struggling to remember why, scrolling through the data they have, trying to find something else, failing.

“Are you all right?” Pubs is curious rather than solicitous.

“I’m fine.” P pulls theirself together, tidies up the dataflow with a mental nudge. “You should refer to me as Assistant, or when that might cause confusion, Clerical Assistant or Temporary Clerical Assistant. We at the Agency recognise that, given that our clients include among their number several other departments of this academic institution, and that our flexibility of employment opportunities may sometimes cause conflicts of interest, it protects both you and us to avoid specificity in designation.” P thinks that they might have cared about that once. They are not sure why.

“Can’t we just call you ‘Temp?’” says Pubs.

“Assistant. ‘Temp’ as a term is demeaning.”

Pubs makes a face. “How do you figure that?” they say. The older woman shoots a dagger-glance at them, says, “I’m Rina Symons. The Deputy Registrar. I’ll be your line manager.” She offers her hand to P, who does not take it.

“Rina Symons,” repeats P without moving her head. “Yes. Do you have credentials, Rina?”

Rina takes the ID card that hangs on a strap around her neck and holds it up in front of P’s face. P scans the barcode, stops the data, compares. She says in that same level tone, “Yes.” She stands up. “I had better get to work.”

Rina walks over to her desk again, picks up a bunch of keys, crosses the room, opens wide a locker next to the filing cabinet, in which are rifles and pistols of various shapes and sizes, one rocket launcher, several boxes of ammunition, stun grenades, tasers, dart launchers, combat knives. She pats her thick wavy hair, which does not move, and motions P to come clearer.

“Orientation, then.”

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