It was after eleven before Melly, a perky blonde from HR, showed me to my cubicle. I had just spent two mind-numbing hours watching corporate-produced videos about company policy and procedures. Typical employee-orientation torture. I’d had no chance to sneak out and look around earlier because the only exit from the orientation room opened right into Perky Melly’s office.
Melly smiled brightly as she wished me luck and welcomed me again to the McPherson Communications Corporation team. Her smile never faltered as I mumbled my thanks.
I leaned back in my chair and watched her trip down the hallway, her stride as determinedly perky as her personality. No mistaking her, no sir. She was quick, efficient—alive.
I pushed aside the stack of forms Perky Melly had left on my desk as I pulled out my cell phone. Time to get to work.
I thumbed in the standard message: “I’m in.”
Seconds later a reply from Carl blipped in: “Good. Do it today. Backlog of contacts.”
I slipped the phone back into my suit-jacket pocket without replying. VUdU Representatives always tried to make contact as quickly as possible. Carl knew that.
It would only be a matter of hours (maybe a day) before HR, possibly Perky Melly herself, at McPherson finally got around to checking me out thoroughly. They would find out that not only the name I had given, but my references and work history were also bullshit. So what? I had a real orientation appointment in the morning.
I stood up and glanced around. Typical rat’s maze of cubicle-hell. The only sounds were the tap, tap of computer keys and the somnolent murmurs of my “co-workers” speaking with McPherson customers.
The work station right next to mine was occupied by an obese fellow with close cropped hair, the shoulder seams of his white dress shirt strained to bursting by his globed shoulders. I wasn’t interested in him, nor in the young, attractive brunette across from him. The people I was looking for were well out of sniffing distance of the regular office workers.
Perky Melly had already shown me where the restrooms were, so when I stepped out of my cubicle I went in the opposite direction. If the regular workers were being shepherded in one direction, then my objective most likely lay the other way.
I went looking for darkened corridors and dim interior offices. If the corporate suits were especially paranoid, I might eventually have to hunt down in the basement or even lower.
If anyone questioned me, I had the perfect excuse as the new employee who lost his way searching for the lavatory.
I got lucky on the third corridor. I spotted a guy pushing a portable refrigerated cart. The man was in full bio-hazard gear, white coveralls, black, elbow-length gloves, white hood with mask, high top booties, cattle prod, the works.
I knew exactly what was in that stainless steel compartment the guy rolled so gingerly down the hall. Lunch. Jackpot.
I tailed him at a distance, ready to pop into the nearest unlocked office if he spotted me.
Crappy soft-rock spilling from hidden speakers did not mask the hum of the air-filtration system. I had to be getting close.
Mr. Haz-Mat pushed the cart through a swinging door. Insulating rubber strips on the top and bottom of the door swooshed as the doors swung open and shut. Better and better. No locks. Looks like corporate was technically playing by rules.
I gave the Haz Mat guy a little time to continue his errand. From there all I really had to do was follow my nose. No air filtration, odor neutralizing agents, funk spray, incense, potpourri, nor scented candles in the world can fully mask the smell of rotting flesh.
For someone with a genetically-altered sniffer like mine, finding the dead is easy. The baby-makers charged with repopulating the earth figured that once they had enough “regular” clones in the pipeline, they might as well produce a few enhanced models while their work still lacked rigorous oversight. And voila! Here I am.
Seventy years ago, Ebola A2 wiped out millions. Pandemic, coupled with the sterilium world governments had secretly pumped into the water supply to stem over-population, nearly decimated the human species.
Eventually, Earth was left with mostly only two kinds of people—the very violent and the very rich. It only took four weeks.
Extended inconvenience and eventual starvation is an excellent motivator. We needed more people, fast.
What? You think the Suits in Washington, New York and Beijing could grow crops or even take out their own trash? Could they fuel or fly their private jets themselves? Could a street thug?
Once a loose kind of almost-a-government was established, survivors were rounded up and gratefully rehomed in balanced, easily managed and monitored communities. The fecund were shipped off to posh baby farms and encouraged to breed, but it was not enough.
Cloning technology exploded (eventually producing yours truly). But babies, even cloned and genetically enhanced ones, need time to grow and learn before becoming productive worker-bees. The rich and powerful were in real danger of damaging their manicures or even developing calluses from something other than golf clubs or sailboat rigging.
Eventually, it became clear, saving human civilization hung on finding a way to exploit the one resource we had in over-abundance—dead people.
The NWO–UN created and tasked an entire agency, the Workforce Restoration Department with one purpose—raising the dead.
Doctor Frankenstein wanna-bes crawled from their hidey holes and set about finding a solution. And they did. Reanimated or Reinvigorated Workers, also known as RDs, the recently dead, were shambling around laboratories within a month.
Luckily, I suppose, during the pandemic autopsies and embalming disappeared. The sick were abandoned where they fell. No one was sticking around to burn bodies. If could run, you ran—usually right into another cluster of the dead or dying or, if you were really unlucky, a roving gang of killers.
Also, as luck would have it, the pandemic peaked in late November. The Workforce Restoration Department sent team after team into the coldest reaches of Alaska, Canada, Siberia, Mongolia and the Icelandic regions. They found lots more survivors, crazies and isolated tribes, but also lots and lots of nicely frozen dead people.
Rumor has it that the first reanimations were gruesome—as disturbing as any Twentieth Century horror movie with newly animated RDs screaming, confused and in pain. Researchers often kept loaded shotguns handy for whenever a reanimation went particularly awry.
A new crop of neuro-genesis drugs solved the worst of the reanimation problems. Heavy sedation while a dead body is being rebooted, helps bring them back slowly and reduces the confusion and pain.
Now, they are everywhere. Oh, generally one does not see them in the course of a regular day. It’s not as if anyone wants a grey-skinned RD, reeking of decomp (which no amount of neuro-genesis can fully reverse or stop) handing a Hardy-Whop-Mac over the lunch counter. No, RDs are used in a more behind-the-scenes kind of way.
.An RD is not quite a tabula rasa after reanimation, but close enough. They retain the use of their primary language, but little else. Even memories seem to get left behind the veil of death. However almost all RDs can be quickly trained to work in monotonous, repetitive jobs, like assembly line and factory work—most manual labor, really, if it isn’t too complicated. They are put to other uses too. They make excellent file clerks, mail-sorters and customer service representatives. Again, companies do not generally have them in the front office. We have found that farm work in the blazing sun is too rigorous. Those RDs tend to “go ripe” really fast.
Nuero genesis, DNA and RNA rescriptors can only resist entrophy and decay for so long. Those brilliant minds who wrestled cell division over the Hayflick limit (the number of times a cell can divide) by manipulating tumor cells, still have not managed to triumph completely over senescence. We live much longer now, but we and even the reanimated age and die or…re-die, if that’s the case.
Except for the fact that that they stink, move a little slower than a live person, RDs really make ideal workers. They don’t need sleep or rest breaks and are happy munching down on putrid left-overs from the meat market. All of them talk in a flat, viscous monotone that sounds like their voice box and vocal cords are coated in green phlegm, but they will work 24/7 without complaint as long as the rotten meat wagon rolls through once or twice a day. RDs don’t have to be paid or given time off.
RDs are no longer officially dead, but also not exactly alive either. They have not been proven to have much self-awareness, unless they were exceptionally intelligent when alive. If told to do something they do it.
Seventy years on and RDs still exist in legal limbo. The courts have not decided if they are even human any more. Civil rights, hell, every kind of human right, took a backseat in the aftermath of the pandemic. Never think the Corporate Suits were not quick to exploit that.
The best the courts have been able to come up with is that RDs have the right to complain and have their complaints addressed by the entity currently using them for labor—a kind of modified Writ of Amparo. An RD has to file the complaint themselves though, no one, not a family member nor even an advocate can do it for them. If someone doesn’t like the fact that Great Aunt Harriet got herself reanimated and is now slowly putrifying while turning out I-whiz-gizmos in a factory in China, well there’s nothing they can do, except…
That’s where I come in.
Tiptoeing now, I moved slowly. I was close and couldn’t afford to get caught by the Haz-mat Lunch Lady. I reached for the nearest doorknob. Luck was still with me—unlocked and empty.
When a door opened down the corridor, I took note of which it was. I slipped into the empty office and watched through a sliver of open door as the cart-pusher trundled back the way he had come.
Pulling latex gloves and a filter mask out of my pants pocket, I put them on, then stepped back into the hallway. Time for contact.
They were just finishing up lunch, chewing placidly, blood dripping down their chins. I was glad for the gently whirring filtration mask over my nose and mouth.
I kept my back pressed against the door, eyeing the walls and ceiling, looking for cameras. Yeah, this RD workroom was heavily monitored. I wondered if Perky Melly or one of her equally bubbly cohorts was tasked with watching McPherson’s undead workers go through their daily chores, including feeding time.
I had to be fast. I stepped up to the RD nearest me and pulled at his shirt sleeve. Even with gloves on I did not want to touch him. He turned, slowly glacially.
I resisted the urge to jump back. Jesus, this guy was close to ripe. McPherson was clearly keeping their RDs too long, feeding them neuro-genesis dope way past the recommended decomp point.
Depending on what they had died from, RDs’ rates of decomp varied. For example, an otherwise healthy person who expired because of blood loss from trauma, might be kept busily working as an RD for three to four years. Well, that’s if he or she was put on ice pretty quickly and shipped out fast enough. These days Hospitals are notoriously lax about checking their patients’ records for DNR (Do Not Reanimate) orders. Fresh bodies bring better cash.
This guy was going downhill fast. He squinted at me, his eyes red-rimmed and cloudy. “Yes? Can I help you?” His voice, thick with phlegm, was accompanied by a thick sucking sound from somewhere in his chest. His skin was mostly grey, but mottled with black and purple splotches around his mouth and down one side of his neck.
I withdrew a stack of business cards from the inner pocket of my suit jacket. “Sir, I’m a representative from VuDU, Voices for the Undead United. We’re an advocacy group for…people like you.”
He blinked. Once. Twice. “Yes? Can I help you?”
Ah, jeez. This guy was really gone. What was he still doing in here? It looked like the rest of the RDs were getting back to work at their Call Center work stations—basically just three rows of standing desks with computers and keyboards lined along the top. RD’s didn’t need to sit comfortably. In fact, they seemed happier if they could shuffle around a little as they worked.
“If you or any of your colleagues are…um…unhappy here and wish to file a complaint with your employer, you have the legal right to do so.” I cleared my throat. Damn. Was that an alarm sounding somewhere?
I had to get this done fast. I worked on contract. If I didn’t finish my VUdU spiel with at least one RD contact and hand out the cards, I wouldn’t get paid.
The RD began to turn away. I tugged at his shirtsleeve again. “Please, yes you can help me.”
That seemed to penetrate his decomposing brain cells. He paused and turned back. “Yes? Can I help you?”
“Yes,” I said, holding out one of the cards to him. “Call this number any time. Tell them you want help. They can get you out of here.” He did not reach to take it. I steeled myself and reached for his hand.
Oh, shit. I was pretty sure that was pounding footsteps out in the hall.
Just before the door burst open and the security team (all in Haz-Mat gear) descended, I managed to press a card into the RD’s hand. I threw the rest of the cards into the air just before they tackled me.
You have not had a bad day at work until you have been held face down on a floor strewn with the leftovers of an RD feeding frenzy. The stench may have seared my nose hairs, because of course, the first thing the security thugs did as soon as they had me down was rip the filtering mask from my face.
I was still picking rotted meat and sinew out of hair when I hit the street. At least the one RD with whom I had made contact was squinting at the card in his hand as security dragged me out of the work room. Legally, they are not supposed to prevent an undead person from calling for help. But it did not appear that McPhereson was playing by all the rules, something I planned to mention in my report. Still, if just one RD from McPhereson calls VUdU, I’ll get a bonus check.
I took the bus, but made sure the driver, though obviously bored and miserable, was good and alive before I boarded.
Once home, I plopped down on the couch and started flipping through the mail. Great. My cell phone bill had arrived. I was owed some credits. I ripped open the envelope and scanned the charges. Dammit!
Taking deep calming breaths in through my nose, I dialed the customer service number.
I pressed one. Pressed two. Sighed. Pressed seven. I knew none of my button pushing was going to get me what I wanted. I sighed again and waited for the inevitable, “please stay on the line” recording. I rubbed my left temple with one finger. I knew what was coming. After a few minutes, there it was—a deep, phlegm-strangled, toneless, dead voice asking, “Yes? Can I help you?”
People ask me why I do it. Why do I spend so much time and effort trying to get the RDs to call VUdU? Is it just to deprive the corporations of their legions of slave labor? Somewhat, but the real goal is to get the RDs to unionize and after that the goal is simple. If the undead become as much (or more) trouble to employ as regular humans, then companies will simply stop using them.
There are more than enough real, live people out of work now. We cannot keep competing with RDs for every job out there. It’s time to let the dead stay dead.
Plus, when I call customer service, I just want to talk to a real, live human. Is that too much to ask?