Aphelion Issue 294, Volume 28
May 2024
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by Matthew Harrison

Tanya liked working in HR -- except for the blood. Would there be any this morning? she wondered, looking down at her dress; dismissals often got messy. But the Department Head beside her, balding and bumptious, didn't seem the violent type.

There was a knock on the door, and Tanya's heart quickened. An older man in a rumpled suit came in, and on seeing her, his face turned suddenly pale. That's recognition! Tanya groaned to herself.

Nonetheless, she tried to look positive as the Head rolled out his, "Good to see you, Malcolm!" and went through the rigmarole of "valued contribution," "unfortunate circumstances," and "downsizing". Then he wound up, indicated the bundle of papers in front of him, and asked Malcolm to sign. Someone would fetch his kit, and if he had any questions, he could ask Tanya. With a handshake and a, "Nice working with you," the Head walked out.

Malcolm was left looking limp and helpless.

Well, at least there was no blood, Tanya thought. "Now," she said, trying to strike a professional-but-sympathetic note, "the package is quite generous, actually. We tried our best for you!" She flashed him a smile.

Malcolm had recovered enough to whisper, "Thank you." He fumbled with the papers. "What -- what am I to do with these?"

"That's easy, you just have to sign!" Tanya took him through the various terms -- the salary in lieu of notice (commuted for conduct), the lifetime mindshare pledge (no bad thoughts about the company), the conditionality of any future employment. . . .

Malcolm asked about the conditionality.

"It means, you need our permission if you want to apply for another job," Tanya said brightly.

Malcolm supposed that the terms were all standard. Tanya assured him that they were, and he signed.

So far so good, but then he surprised her. Pushing the papers aside, he said pleadingly, "You know, I've been with this company for so many years, it's like family to me. I'd really like to continue being involved somehow. It doesn't matter where, I'd be happy to take a cut in salary, fit in lower down. . . ."

He looked sincere -- a kindly man, wisps of fair hair around a balding head, but too soft to be working in this company. Tanya wanted to help him, though. What did her notes say? She read aloud, "‘. . . function to be wound up and salt ploughed into the carpet. . . .' No, sorry," she smiled apologetically, "that's Dave in Communications, we haven't got to him yet!" She riffled through her papers. "Ah yes, here we are: ‘Malcolm Carter -- to be released with immediate effect, not to be reemployed.' I'm afraid that does sound rather final."

Malcolm's lip trembled. "You're -- you're sure there's nothing you can do?"

Tanya was sure, but just to console him she said she would have a word with Harriet, the HR president. That was quite a promise, to tackle Harriet. But Tanya would do anything to help her clients!

There was a knock on the door, and a minion brought in a big plastic bag which he dumped on the table. Out spilled photo frames, porn magazines, and other personal effects. Malcolm clutched at them sheepishly.

"Well, I'll leave you to it," Tanya said. She gave him her best professional smile. "Look on the bright side -- at least you weren't terminated!"


It was tough working in HR, Tanya reflected. "The clients aren't always appreciative," she said to Mary in the HR pantry later that morning.

"Appreciative?" Mary exclaimed. "Heavens, some of them aren't even alive!"

Tanya, making herself a cappuccino, agreed that the dead were ungrateful, but at least they didn't complain.

After lunch, Tanya remembered her promise. She went over to the HR president's office.

Harriet's steel-rimmed glasses were focused on Candy Crush, so Tanya had to wait. Then the HR president had texts to answer, calls to return. Tanya made herself comfortable and caught up with messages on her mobile. Eventually, Harriet was finished.

"It's Malcolm. . ." Tanya began.

"The answer is, No," Harriet said firmly. "I hope you didn't give him ideas."

Tanya assured her that she hadn't. "I know we can't do anything formal for him," she said, "but there are certain external roles, of course, unpaid."

Seeing Harriet's face, she hurriedly explained that she was thinking of the sandwich boards. And the flyers -- someone had to distribute them.

"No!" Harriet shouted, rising from her chair. "That would set a precedent. You give way once, you'll have an uprising."

Tanya really couldn't see Malcolm leading an uprising, but you didn't argue with Harriet.

Gradually, Harriett's harangue became a sort of scolding mumble, and then it faded altogether.

"Well, we'll terminate him," Tanya said conciliatorily. There was no response from behind the big desk. "It's just that Malcolm loves the company, and he'd do anything to make a contribution, however small."

Harriet harrumphed, but Tanya saw her chance, and pleaded and begged with her boss until the steel-rimmed glasses relented.

"Just the cocktail," was Harriet's final word. "And just one batch."


The cocktail reception was to welcome that month's group of new recruits. Some current employees had been rounded up to meet the new hires, Tanya directing them into the reception area like so many sheep. Then she went round and round the room, introducing new to old and old to new, while side-stepping questions about the company. What a challenge her job was! She enjoyed it. And Admin had agreed to handle the actual termination process. No more spots on the dress!

One of the new recruits, a young man, had been so bold as to buttonhole Harriet. Fortunately, Tanya spotted this, and hurried over.

". . . I heard you have annual leave in this company," the young man was saying.

Tanya led him swiftly away. "Ted here will tell you about our benefits," she said, introducing him to a middle-aged colleague. "Don't mention the clawback!" she hissed to Ted on parting. It was so hard keeping things in balance!

Tanya went swiftly back to Harriet to soothe her boss's feelings. "No, I don't think we should terminate the young man," she said in answer to the raised eyebrow. "The carpet's new -- remember? It would make such a mess!"

Just then one of Admin's waiters came round with the canapés. Tanya took one -- a little piece of meat on a finger of bread -- and bit into it. "Mm, delicious!" she said to Harriet. "Do try."

Harriet graciously accepted. She chewed and swallowed. "Not bad. I suppose that was Malcolm?"

"Just that batch," Tanya said. Another waiter approached them, bearing a tray. "These are beef," she said, pointing.

Harriet smiled. And that, Tanya thought to herself, already made it a good day!


© 2016 Matthew Harrison

Bio: Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely his writing has veered from non-fiction to literary and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published numerous SF short stories and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets as there is no space for these in Hong Kong. His website is www.matthewharrison.hk

E-mail: Matthew Harrison

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