|Part 1||HEA: Erosion Index||Part 3|
Copyright (c) 1998 Phaedrus; All rights reserved
The opinions of the characters in this story are not those of the author.
Everything according to plan, ^} mused, as he entered the field office.
The appointments here would not begin for another week. The preparations were still going on; the waiting room still needed chairs and carpeting, the artwork was still stacked in piles waiting to be hung. ^} had selected the artwork for this office himself, with his supervisor's approval--or, more precisely, with his supervisor's indifference. Most of the other offices were using the pastoral scenes so favored by human doctors and lawyers for their waiting areas. ^} had requisitioned some pieces of that nature, but only for the private areas--as a reminder of what the nacalites were striving for. For the public areas, he had chosen more abstract pieces--still not technological, but definitely more modern, more mentally challenging. The last thing humans would want to see here, ^} had reasoned, would be a pastoral scene; he hoped his selections would provide a much-needed distraction. Besides, if the humans hated them, there would shortly be no shortage of empty doctors' and lawyers' offices where replacements could be obtained...
[So, how did you enjoy "scratching it with the natives"?]
^} shimmered in surprise, then hurriedly drew himself into order. It was \\, his supervisor. He was up and about much earlier than usual; perhaps he had not yet found a reliable peroxide source on this planet.
[I am sorry, sir, but I do not understand your reference.]
[No? I was sure it was some of the humans' slang.]
[Oh... I believe the expression you're looking for is "roughing it", sir.]
[Whatever. How many of your lost goats have strayed?]
Not for the first time, ^} hated his job. [Five, sir. But I believe you will find that five forfeitures out of seventy-four high-risk cases is a much better success rate than--]
[Save it. As long as none of them drives a truck bomb into the office, that's all that really matters in the end.]
[But, sir, I believe that this success rate validates my theories on--]
[Whatever. Look, before you go, talk to the workers. None of them have a clue on which way up to hang those damn pictures of yours...]
And with that, \\ sped away.
^} stood still, and discarded the first ten thoughts to come into his mind. Then he started sorting out the artwork. He had two hours before his next round of visits began, and he could use a distraction himself right now...
^} had thought about delaying his visit to the human Paul Anthony Foster until the end of the day. Of all his human clients, this one worried him the most. But delaying the uncertain did not make it any more certain. Still, it was with no small amount of trepidation that he approached the cabin.
This time, he had no chance to collect himself at the door. The human was outside, laying in the grass, staring up into the sky.
"Hello, Mr. Foster," he called as he approached. He had chosen the "Hello" greeting carefully. Given the time of day and the pleasantness of the weather, "Good morning" would have been the more natural choice; but unfortunately, a nacalite using this greeting seemed to provoke a hostile response from humans--one of his clients had been so offended by the "Good morning" greeting that a forfeiture offense had resulted. These humans were sensitive to such small things...
"Hello, stranger," the human replied, with no trace of greeting in his voice. "So, how many of us have you killed so far today?"
Perhaps he may as well have started with "Good morning". "None, Mr. Foster, not even by your definition. Would you prefer it if I skipped the small talk and came straight to the point?"
"Please do." He kept looking straight up, never even glancing at ^}; and ^} was afraid to move any further forward, for fear that he would be perceived as violating the human's personal space.
"Very well, Mr. Foster. I presume that you have given some thought to the proposal I made last week?"
"That I have. I'm going to accept it. But I want you to know why."
"I would be very eager to know why, Mr. Foster."
"That's a damn shame, but I'll tell you anyway. I can't stop you from killing me. But I'm not going to hand you an excuse either. I'm not going to let you just wave your damn magic wand and walk away. I'm going to make you spend the next five years coming out here, and I'm going to make you kill me slowly, and I'm going to make sure you appreciate every fucking moment of it. And if you think for one damn moment that this 'program' of yours is anything more than a half-assed way to let you feel all warm and fuzzy inside while you're killing us all, then I'm going to give you five damn years to change your mind."
"Mr. Foster, I am very sorry that you feel that way. But I am happy that you have decided to take advantage of those five years, for whatever reason. I do hope that, in time, you find a more positive purpose. But if this is what you truly prefer to do, then that is your decision to make. I will do what I can for you, within the confines of the program."
"You mean you'll let me choose my fur color? How generous of you."
"If you wish to, certainly, within natural parameters. But that does lead to the other issue that we must discuss. Have you given thought to form choice?"
"Just for the record. 'Choice' means 'what would you like?' But what you really mean is 'okay, after I've stolen that from you, what would you hate the least?' Just wanted to clear that up."
"I assure you, Mr. Foster, that I have carefully recorded our conversations, and I will certainly note your opinion on the matter. If you would prefer not to make a choice, then a form will be assigned for you, but I would certainly encourage you to choose on your own."
"Timber wolf. Brown will be just fucking dandy."
^} concealed his surprise; he had assumed that this human would refuse the choice. Perhaps there was hope of reasoning with him after all. But the fact that the human continued to refuse to look at him was somewhat unnerving. Should he compliment the choice of form? No; that would seem insincere. Perhaps it would be best simply to attempt to exit the conversation gracefully, to leave on a positive note.
"That will be fine. Mr. Foster, you will not need to undergo stage one for several months, and I believe I can safely presume that you will not choose to undergo it early. But I will need to visit at least once a month to check on your welfare. Would the first Wednesday of each month be all right, or would you prefer a different day?"
"I believe I can work that into my busy social schedule."
"Thank you, Mr. Foster. Would you like me to leave a communicator, in case you need to reach me in the meantime?"
"I would like you to go the fuck away."
As ^} left, he couldn't suppress a blue tinge of pride. Not only had this difficult human decided to cooperate, but he had even made his form choice. Clearly, his techniques were successful... not perfect, sadly, but successful. Now, if his superiors would only take notice, realize the significance of his discoveries, and place him in a position to more fully take advantage of them...
He pondered this on the way to his next appointment.
|Part 1||HEA: Erosion Index||Part 3|