Friday, 5 April 2019

P Squared, chapter 7

(Assume that every episode from here on in carries a content warning for something, but FWIW, content warning for bloody and unprovoked violence, mutilated corpses and academic politics.)
P had been expecting the rest of the campus to be ancient and dilapidated like the Abbey; it’s just as cluttered, certainly, but the clutter is artificial, the result of dozens of examples of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century architecture all squeezed into a limited, once-open space, one after another, built crashing into one another, overlapping in places, until less than twenty per cent of the campus is now open to the air.


It’s the first time P has been out of the Abbey since their delivery. Pubs, their companion on this errand, wears, like P, the white armband of truce. Pubs is more withdrawn than P has seen them, clutching their armalite in white-knuckled hands, document bag high across their shoulder. P walks behind Publications across miles of fluorescent-lit lino tiles, with paralysing poison heavy in the fingertips of their gloves and a fully loaded micro-SMG heavy on their thigh. They are still wondering whether or not they should use these things on their colleague, running through ways to minimise blood-spatter, avoid surveillance.

P finds theirself falling back. It’s a long way to Business and Econ and P investigates charred noticeboards and bullet-riddled staff boards, notes the occasional staff photo crossed out with magic marker or gaffer tape. It’s not like they’re going to get lost. Publications, now about five yards ahead, turns a corner; P sees on their mind’s screen Pubs’s dot collide with another one. They stop, round the corner carefully. A tall, thin man with his back to P is holding Pubs at gunpoint.

He says, “Changes to regulations need to be approved by University Senate.”

“So what?” says Pubs, seeing P but making no visible move to alert the man to their presence. “So you ambush me? For a couple of fixed typos?”

His voice is soft, emphatic. “The language was technical. If it is changed without approval, I face —“

P slashes the back of his neck with needle-sharp fingertips, steps back as he falls over, perfectly straight like a toppled domino and thuds on the floor, still holding the gun perpendicular to himself, staring at the ceiling with unfocussed eyes, open mouth. His moustache twitches. A little stream of drool runs out of the side of his mouth.

“Ak,” he says. “Ak. Uk. Uk,” he says.

“Where did you go to?” says Pubs.

“I wasn’t out of range,” says P. “Isn’t he in our department?”

“Rice? Yeah.”

“Uk,” says Rice.

“I fixed the grammar in some sentences in his regulations so they made sense.” Pubs is nonchalant. “He reckoned that wasn’t on. Decided I was trying to put his job at risk. It was unprofessional of him. He’d tried to schedule that meeting for weeks.”

P nods. “The poison wears off after about an hour. We should put him somewhere he won’t get trodden on, then. Or rolled. Or eaten. I had an alert about the Athletic Union being about.”

“Leave him here. I hope he gets fried.”

“Uk,” says Rice.

P looks down at him, looks at Pubs. “He can hear all this.”

“Uk. Uk. Uk,” says Rice.

“I don’t care.” Pubs bends over the paralysed man, says to him: “See? I don’t care.” They look up at P. “He was weak. He should have just headshotted me.”

“But there are regulations about this, aren’t there? He’s part of the Office. We’re bound by regulations to put him in a cupboard or something. Out of risk, anyway.”

“We’re leaving him here. Understood?”

P looks down at Rice, his ridiculous upward-pointing gun, looks at Pubs. “Understood.” P shrugs. It’s not their problem.

Business and Econ are five zones away now. In the open area between the Student Union Building and the car park, five administrators have been lynched, their burnt-alive corpses hanging from the five lamp posts that stand in a row along the taxi rank, decorated with placards that describe who they were and why they were burnt, and offering obscene fates to others of their kind who travel to the Western side of campus.

Pubs walks up to one of them, reads the placard. “Huh. Finance. Probably deserved it,” says Pubs.
The charred bodies swing in the wind. P feels a sick feeling in their stomach. “Hang on,” they say.

“What?”

P reorganises their settings, minimises disgust response, prioritises fight over flight. They harden theirself. They’re fine. It’s just charred meat. Everything’s editable.

“I’m fine now,” they say. “Let’s go.”

The Business and Economics zone is one of the newer buildings, and one of the richer ones, separated from the rest of the campus sprawl on all sides, granted its own car park. Its bright red fascia is beginning to turn pink at the edges, but unlike many of the buildings on the campus, it hasn’t suffered from hostile fire to any great extent.

“They’re one of the hardest colleges to audit,” says Pubs. “They’re good at defending themselves. Usually, we never get past the doors.”

“Engagement.”


“What?”

“Not an audit. Engagement.”

“Huh. Yeah. Engagement.”

“You’ve done one of these before?”

“No. I’m still here, aren’t I?”

P nods. White armbands prominently displayed, weapons holstered or slung, the Publications Assistant and P wait at the doors. A voice asks for their names, their origins.

“Quality Office,” says Pubs. “We’re serving notice papers. We need to see the administrator.”

“Keep to the arrowed corridors. Deviation will be met with lethal force.”

“Yes, Yes,” says Pubs. The door opens, and the corridors ahead of them light automatically, one by one, with echoing bangs. They follow the lights. The lights go out behind them.

“We’re not alone,” says P, observing a fluctuating number of imaginary lights around their head. “We’re being followed.”

“Don’t draw,” says Pubs. “They can’t shoot us. Today.”

“They can.”

“They won’t. Consequences. Everyone’s careful about this stuff.”

The lights bring them to a double door, in pine, bullet-proof glass in the windows. Pubs pushes the door, unslings their bag. Two middle-aged men in shirtsleeves and a woman in a business suit level rifles at her. Click. Clack, Click. Pubs slowly puts their hands up. P does the same.

“Papers,” says Pubs. “Papers. I’m pulling out papers.” They offer the open bag to the woman, who slings her gun, takes the bag, steps back behind the men, takes the papers out, reads the front page.

“Do we get to know who’s being audited?” she asks.

“Engaged. It’s an engagement,” says Pubs.

“Whatever you want to call it,” says the administrator. “When do we find out? Our staff are permitted to prepare.”

“They’ll probably have a week’s notice. It depends on the external assessors.”

 “That’s not good enough.”

Pubs shrugs.

“Staff in the College still have the option of offering aid?” says the administrator, keeping the papers and throwing the bag back past the barrier of men at Pubs’ feet.

“Yes. But in taking part in the exercise, they admit that any aid they offer causes them to be viable for engagement themselves.”

“Yes, yes,” says the woman. “Get out.”

Pubs crouches, picks up the bag without once taking their eyes off the armed men. P stands in an easy stance now, hands out from their sides, as if ready to draw. It comes about as naturally as anything comes to them. Pubs gestures behind P; both back out of the room. Only in the corridor do they turn and walk, the on-and-off wave of lights leading through to the exit.

“I thought you said we weren’t in any danger,” says P.

“No,” says Pubs. “I said they wouldn’t shoot us. At least, not if we didn’t give them an excuse.”

P does not reply to this.

One of the lynched finance admins has been cut down. Bits of him — or her, maybe, it’s hard to tell — are strewn across the lawn. Pubs ignores it; P makes every effort not to look, tries to turn the disgust settings down further, gets a little red flag telling her that their ability to function among others might suffer. They don’t turn it down further.

They want to get away from this place. They want to get away from this person they keep having to work with, who keeps looking at them in that way you look at your favourite meal just before you lift the knife and fork.

Rice is still lying where they left him, drool down his neck, leaving a wet patch on his shirt collar, eyes wildly staring, gun still comically pointed at the ceiling. P bends over him.

“Ak,” Rice says.

“We had better carry him back,” says P. “Here, give me a hand.”

“Leave him a sec. Is there any CCTV here?” says Pubs.

“No.”

“You recording?”

“Not right now, no.”

Pubs gently pushes P back, takes the gun out of Rice’s hand, cocks it, and shoots Rice in the face, twice.

By the time P reaches forward to stop them, it’s already done. Pubs ejects the shell, puts on the safety, stows the gun in their bag. “We’ll put it back in the stationery cupboard. No point in losing it.”
P looks down at the ruin of the man’s head, and the red pool, spreading quickly towards their boots, and steps back. “Was that necessary?”

“No,” says Pubs. “Course, he asked for it.” They step back from the body. Then they take a tissue out of their pocket, wipe the blood off their shoe, and toss it onto the body. “Come on. We haven’t got all day. Stuff to do.” Pubs walks off, doesn’t look back.

P flexes their fingers, feels the poison running along tiny tubes in their gloves, primed. They could drop Pubs here, right in the spreading pool of a man’s blood. P enters the stance, but then relaxes; something detonates in their head, and P realises that they cannot countenance harming the Publications Assistant. They fall into step with the younger person, scrolling through their settings.

They are trying to find evidence of tampering, more evidence, that is — they found that someone edited their memory yesterday; they do not know who but they have their suspicions. They search for a setting: a neural block, preventing them from doing it, a little tickbox they can uncheck. They can’t find anything. It comes from P’s gut, twists them up inside. P finds the younger nonbinary intensely attractive; but the thought of touching them makes P sweaty, sickened. They hates this person, want them dead; the thought of harming them makes P feel even worse. P runs a dozen profiles as they walk through the pallid light in these corridors.

Each assessment, one after the other, concludes that this nameless young person is a sociopath, which is of course not necessarily out of order in and of itself. Sociopathy is almost a prerequisite in Higher Education admin, but this is a sociopath in a bad way. This person is a danger to their colleagues and theirself. P projects a scenario where Pubs’ disregard for others — even their own colleagues — could result in the collapse of their place of work and the deaths of anyone near to them when it happens.

The Publications Assistant is, P decides, a disease.

But P has been instructed to keep them safe. P accompanies Pubs back to the Office, gun drawn, not once pointing it in their colleague’s direction, even as a test.

They don’t meet with any trouble. When they return to the office, the outer door is still just about on fire.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment moderation is back on because harassment and frankly this is why you can't have nice things.