*** Conrad ***
The Company Termination Order appears on his display and Conrad jots down the names in his notebook as quickly as he can. He’s seen CTOs before but never one with this many names. Twenty, maybe thirty names. Names Conrad has no recognition of until the point of his pencil snaps as he writes: “Conrad White.” The fingers of his left hand stumble over the keypad and his green status light begins to blink, about to flash yellow, alerting a Surveyor. Conrad takes a deep breath and reads slowly, “Conrad White, Sector ///-/, High Overlord Companion.”
Terror wells up in Conrad’s mind and he attacks his keypad with both hands, turning his status light solidly green. Conrad knew an unfortunate worker was usually listed on a CTO with his job description. But Conrad worked in the Company’s Data Transcription section. What his exact job title was even he wasn’t sure since the Company moved workers around and changed job duties so often it was impossible to keep track. And Conrad realized it didn’t matter because he, like thousands and thousands of others were simply workers, working for The Company, how the Company chose to describe the menial jobs they did, was of no consequence. But this CTO listed Conrad’s extra duty as High Overlord Companion and that was very unusual. In fact, being the High Overlord’s Companion was something that was barely spoken of, much less written about in an official Company transmission.
Questions raced through his mind as documents flashed by unnoticed on the display. Why terminate him? If he had committed any offense, there would be a record of the charge, and surely one of the mysterious people from the notebook drops and the extra rations would have warned him. But he’d received no warning. Not that there were anything he could have done about it if he had. But a CTO? He couldn’t understand it.
Conrad knew from the messages he intercepted every day that the decision to put a worker on a termination order required a meeting of the Company Regional Council before the council could advise the High Overlord, who would then issue the order. The Company was nothing if not extremely bureaucratic in its decision making. Conrad knew that the council’s next monthly meeting wasn’t for another week and even then it would takes a week or two more after that before the recommendation would be presented to the High Overlord.
Conrad glances around quickly and pulls out his notebook. There was no date on the CTO. The Regional Council would have dated it. He would have recorded that in his notebook. His alarm increases as he realizes that the CTO must have come, not through the regular channels, but from the High Overlord herself. Conrad hides the notebook again. He imagines he has only minutes before the Overseers, Surveyors, and Guardians receive the message across the alert system and they come for him.
Surely, of all people at the factory, Conrad was safe. As the High Overlord’s recreational companion, the things he had done for her should have purchased him safety. She seemed satisfied with her pet. He hadn’t noticed any change in her behavior at last week’s session. She still screamed and wailed with lurid delight at the disgusting things he did to her. If she had been thinking of terminating him, Conrad would have noticed. Besides, letting him know that she wielded that kind of power over him would have heightened her pleasure. But what then? He scans the rows of workstations, careful to move only his eyes and is startled when a Surveyor’s face looms beside him. It wasn’t a face Conrad recognized, not one of the usual Surveyors.
The Surveyor smiles, revealing yellow, uneven teeth. “The High Overlord will see you now. Don’t keep her waiting.” Then he leans to Conrad’s ear and whispers, “Use the maintenance lift.” The Surveyor places his hand on Conrad’s arm, a rectangular ID card is hidden in his palm. “Take this. Go quickly.”
Conrad’s face is placid as he walks the corridors to the High Overlord’s suite, but beneath the surface, his mind is a whir. The CTO and his name on it lurches up in his thoughts like dangerous rocks in an angry surf. If the High Overlord had put Conrad’s name on the list, he’s sure to find out during their session. She may even be planning to reveal it to his face to satisfy her sadistic whims. Conrad’s face is a blank mask over his thoughts as an Overseer scans the chip in his palm. Conrad steels himself for the scanner to alarm and for the Overseer to level a weapon at his chest, but he’s waved through the checkpoint and quickly disappears around the corner. He feels the ID card in his pocket and wonders why the Surveyor would give it to him. Who was he? Conrad suspects he has something to do with the notebook drops and extra rations, but there’s no way to be sure. The one thing he is sure of is that by going to the High Overlord’s chambers by the maintenance lift, he’ll avoid a number of checkpoints. Conrad slips the ID card into the reader outside the maintenance lift and steps inside the steel box. The door slides shut and Conrad feels the lift propelling him up the many floors to the High Overlord’s suite.
Now, Conrad stands outside the High Overlord’s suite. Behind him, at the other end of the angling, featureless hallway with its security scanners and seamless walls, and far below, lies the featureless gray of the factory, while in front of him, the doors to the High Overlord’s suite are gleaming polished steel. Conrad angles to see his reflection as he runs his fingers through his hair. Above both doors a placard shouts, “Vanity is Idolatry. Idolatry is Vanity.” Fitting for the High Overlord, Conrad knows. There are no mirrors in her chambers. The doors slide open and Conrad proceeds down the hallway to the checkpoint outside the Great room. He places his palm on the scanner and the display reads, “Please join the High Overlord in her chambers.” He palms the angular pill from his pocket, takes a deep breath, and strides into the polished granite room, certain that he is being watched. He crosses to the bedroom door and opens it with a flourish, tossing the pill into his mouth and grinding it to bitter powder with his teeth.
Conrad steps into the garish, red room and the High Overlord stirs in her recline on her bed. Her white hair hangs limp against her pale skin. The mottled flesh of her arms and the rolls of fat draping her back and side are pressed smooth against the polished granite of the headboard. She presses a button on a device at her side and the security monitor beside her bed goes dark. She clutches a red, silk sheet to her chest and smiles at Conrad contemptuously. She feigns modesty as she says, “It’s good to see you, Conrad,” then lets the red silk fall. Conrad forces a smile. Her body is a mass of overfed flesh, barely resembling a woman’s at all. She’s always had access to any food she wanted, types and varieties that Conrad can only vaguely remember. All her life she’s been able to feed on what she wanted, when she wanted, and there’s never been anyone to tell her to stop. The skin on her arm waggles as she pats the mattress beside her. “Take off those clothes and get over here. You’re late.” Conrad does as he’s commanded, slides into the bed and begins. The High Overlord rolls onto her stomach and moans in anticipation. A knot tightens in Conrad’s stomach.
Conrad has outlasted by many years, every one of the High Overlord’s companions for two reasons; his ability to cast himself out of himself, to vanish into a fog of emotionless nothing; and the small blue pills he discovers at intervals in his extra rations. The pills are the only way Conrad can perform the things the High Overlord demands of him, without an ounce of willingness. Not many men could, or for very long. Conrad was different.
He thinks of the factory, his workstation, the monotony of the typing from the display screen as the chemicals in the pill begin to have their bitter effect. He tries to ignore the building warm pressure between his legs. He knows it from rote memory. Pleasurable at first, and in any other setting, Conrad might welcome the sense of slow uncoiling and increasing hardness the chemicals coursing through his veins caused. But in this setting, the levy-breaking surge of blood, the building of pressure with each thundering heartbeat brought self-contempt. And yet a quivering release of pressure.