Today is a big day for me. My first comprehensive MoreCorp report card will be delivered by my MidCorp representative, Ampersandrew Max. We’ve never met. He’s electronically communicative about administrative details — sending reminders not to commit crimes and to submit times — but a very elusive guy. I’ve even wondered if he is invented, a fabrication designed to make me feel cared for, this stranger known only by his avatar.
The sense that Ampersandrew Max is a fake is encouraged by the avatar, as he uses the same god-in-leather-and-space-goggles image from the vid Colored Pills as my not-boss Ampersand Matrix (who is named after the fictional character). So it’s weird, leaving the impression that I’m managed by a handsome star who multiplies yet never appears in TLDR. Until today. All the Ampersands will be here and I’m worried that I won’t be able to tell them apart when we meet.
Perhaps distracted by this, heading through unfamiliar Clubhouse territory I mistakenly open a wrong door. No Ampersands. But KitKat and Chase are sexting, projecting snaps on giant screens, sitting at a big pink heart table, red room, lights dimmed! I gasp. KitKat yowls and tries to hide her lewd selfie while Chase hops around.
Behind Chase’s bobbing head I glimpse the image, lithe and busty KitKat lying naked on a bed covered in a blanket of live kittens. The opposite wall boasts what looks like a masked man in black tektites with a noose around his neck, like a snuff-vid snap. Real weird, but I don’t scrutinize, slamming the door, repeating, “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” as they shout the alphabet at me like maniacs. ”OMG! WTF!”
My meeting’s around the corner it turns out. I hide in a giant banana hammock by the confer-klatch to wait, just in case the maniacs are after me. When my pod-mate Apple exits, I hop out of the fruit furniture and hurry in to the room, exchanging thumbs-ups with him as we pass at the door.
Once inside, it's clear my concern about the Ampersands was unwarranted. It’s possible to tell the two apart, sort of. What I mean is that I recognize my not-boss — balding, egg face, sleepy blue eyes, baby cheeks rosy, such a disappointment compared to his avatar — and the rep says nothing, so no worries.
Still, they’re eerily similar. Ampersand and Ampersandrew stand simultaneously, both wearing double-denim like old-timey felons, not triple-post-mod managers. Then they motion for me to sit opposite them at a long table on a tall stool in the strangely plain room, uniformly frosti-plasti-glass.
“Ellipsis….” The SKI Team Lead says my name slowly. He lets it hang, just long enough for all the disasters of previous chapters to flash before my eyes.
How was I fux? Let me count the ways. Failed interview with a Spampire, flunked Assessment X, angered Big Daddy Cane’s little girl, which I still don’t get. Is there more? Yes. Conjuring Forest Gods on Greenween … and walking in on that sexting scene was not the first time the pissy pussy KitKat has snarled at me. It’s going to be bad.
“Awesome.” The not-boss interrupts my reverie. “You’re doing great, Ellipsis! Just first rate!”
“I am?” That’s not what he said last we met.
“Yep. You’re a team player. Always on it numbers-wise, mega metrics, mucho more-more. Two peeps price of one, plus super fun. My critique’s just be more critical.”
“It is?” That’s a stupid thing to say but stops my jaw from dropping. Did I misunderstand?
Ampersand continues. “Yeah, speak up, say what you think. Trust you. Trust me. Shine your light on the team. We can’t say we’d give you a job and this isn’t one and I’m not your boss. But hey, what I would say if I was, which I’m not, is that you rock. Not dictating, just saying. Keep it up.”
“Ok. Great! Thanks. Umm…”
“Ok great,” the Ampersands agree. “So unless you have any q’s.”
“No,” I reply, for once providing the right answer. “No questions.”
“Perfect,” the managers say simultaneously. It seems like they’re programmed to work in tandem, standing together to indicate the end of review. With both of them in blue and tuned like that, it’s hard to be sure they’re human.
“Yup.” The Ampersands wave then sit back down, instructing, “Send the next one.”
I do as told, sending in Zen, waiting outside the door for his assessment. We exchange thumbs-ups and I run to the back of the parking lot for a celebratory smoke, feeling gleeful and like I’d kind of love to boast. But there it seems my fellow Metropolitans are despondent. Wolf, Haiti, and Pit are leaning in close, stooped around Pug who speaks in hushed tones. Somewhat reluctantly, I ask what’s going on with them. “Why so grim, my friends?”
“I did it! I quit.” Pug’s whispering loudly, sounding excited. He’s a small and handsome man with long dark curls and a pale chiseled face, previously very posi but lately complaining a lot about Silicon. He dreams of directing great vids and is not feeling this, the LoveSport, MoreCorp, everything we were all so excited about in Metropolis just six months ago. I never believed he’d leave, yet here he is declaring, “X-country roads take me home!”
“So, you’re going?” I widen my eyes at Wolf. He shrugs back as I ask Pug for details. “What’d they say? MidCorp? MoreCorp? Whoever you told.”
“I went straight to the source, MoreCorp!” Pug shakes his black curls and lights a cig angrily. “Fux those fux. I told Eclair what’s what. I told her this sux! And what’s with people disappearing? That’s just not right.”
Are people disappearing? That is not totally shocking; I know few colleagues enough to register extraordinary renditions, and am numbed by the thrill of my report card. What’s shocking is that he talked. No one talks. Considering this, pleasure in my score is definitely diminished. Now I know why everyone’s grim. One MidCorp contractor complaining to MoreCorp could mean no one gets a chance to win. Entire waves have drowned. We could go down.
Still, Pug concludes confidently. “Eclair’s going to talk to MoreCorp and MidCorp and Metrix and Spam. There will be changes.”
“Who says that shit?!” Haiti’s angry, increasingly agitated. She towers over Pug, her dark face glowering in his, smoldering. “Who says that kind of crazy shit to a corporation that hates us? We just got our scoresheets! The Lovesport could start any day!”
“Chill,” Pug replies. “Wouldn’t surprise me if they do nothing. Or they could slash you. That’s why I’m leaving. I don’t hang around for the big reveal. Magix. Ta-da!”
“Who disappeared,” Wolf asks. “How do you know about it?”
“I don’t wanna say too much.” Pug shrugs, black eyes gleaming like he’d love to talk all day. “But I can tell you these guys are creepy. And I heard of hate mail from CARE, yanked certifications. Better not to disclose. Maybe just rumors anyway.”
“Boohoo,” Pit taunts viciously, perhaps just upset to lose his best friend. “Why’d you cry then? If you’re into non-disclosure. Keeping it cryptic n’ shit.”
Pug says nothing. We smoke silently. I contemplate Chase and KitKat across a pink heart table, wonder if they’re disappearing people and dismiss the possibility. They’re obviously not into touching and kidnapping requires contact. Right?
Next I consider Pug’s departure. Every player who falls is a kind of win, no denying. When someone quits I’m relieved. And proud. Because perseverance. There’s a beauty to that … although there’s real chic in destruction. Even if I don’t want to go, the rebellious quality of this escape is appreciated. It’s stylish to dash an opportunity, even admirable, and certainly understandable. Often at home by the creek, peering into the forest, MoreCorp seems silly and sinister to me, and I think fux those fux just like Pug.
Finally I break the silence, saying, “Well, we’ll miss you.” But it’s not true. We won’t really miss Pug though we do like him. We’re all self-involved and out for self. Even Wolf and I compete when we try to keep it sweet. The Lovesport should just be about work yet we act like our lives depend on MoreCorp, which they don’t, as Pug is demonstrating. Or do they? What is he saying?
“Yeah, it’s a bummer you’re leaving,” Haiti adds, regaining her usual composure. “But you shouldn’t have talked. That was dumb.”
“Forget it.” Pug advises. “Nothing’ll happen. You’re fine.”
Haiti rolls her eyes. Wolf smirks. Pit growls. I bite my tongue. No one replies but we all disagree. We finish our smokes and walk back to the Clubhouse in a row, close, not like friends exactly, more like a group going through something, players in a maybe-dangerous game. Pug is wrong. Something will happen. Things always do. Stay tuned.