The Automatic Marlboro is a science-fiction novelette told in twelve parts, posted serially by me, your deadline-crunching host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the seventh installment.
Please be advised that I am off on holiday tomorrow, so the telling will be taking a one week hiatus since I can't expect Internet service where I'm going. Discussion can continue unfettered as my brother will be moderating blog comments on my behalf. (Thanks!)
Connected stories: Simon of Space, Life & Taxes, Tim, Destroyer of Worlds
And now, without further factual blather, the story continues:
THE AUTOMATIC MARLBORO - SECTION II
Professor Logos Cuthbertson lectures to his left on symmetry breaking cascades and to his right on Green-Kubo relations in the context of active number gauge implosions. Between pronouncements he briefly faces forward and lets his data-dancing eyes fall on us. "Marlboro Siemens," he says. "Pulse Debugger-Smith. Yes?"
"Marrowman is a monster," hisses Pulse. "She's officious, arrogant and politically hysterical."
"We might have a personality conflict on our hands, sir," I interpret.
Pulse crosses his arms. He says, "It would probably be best for everyone involved if she were put on immediate academic suspension, barbecued, poisoned, then fed to herself."
I kick him under the desk.
The professor takes a question from the left-hand audience -- some undergrad's shy squeak in his earpiece. The professor scowls, shakes his head, colourfully laments the shortcomings of youth, recasts the equations and then snaps his head to the right to assign a series of readings. He faces front to say, "Has the optimization programme yielded results, boys?"
"Yessir," I say quickly, throwing a pie chart into the air. "Significant savings."
The professor shakes his head curtly and scratches at his nose. "That's a poor way to shrink your staff allocation. Have you tried skewing the budget by inflating costs?"
Pulse gapes. "Is he saying we should be more wasteful so we don't qualify for a staff of three anymore?"
"I'm not sure that would be fair, sir."
"It's a perfectly academic solution, Siemens. Devastate your expenses and you'll be in a position to jettison the woman. Have your years in this institution taught you nothing about getting things done?"
"That's brilliant," says Pulse, standing up and gathering his jacket. "Problem solved."
I remain in my chair. "It just seems kind of mercenary, professor."
Professor Cuthbertson seems faintly amused. "This is a question of human resources not morality. Seldom do the two align, Siemens. You're Terran -- you should understand that better than most."
I drop my eyes. "Yeah I guess that's true."
I've worked all my life to achieve the indignity of being an immigrant. My parents were sterilized in exchange for the right to accompany me to here, to watch me prosper in a new and better society, to dote over grandchildren more genetically excellent than themselves. Voyeurs, they were meant to be, as I galloped into a glittering future among the select.
But for the most part the select are a bunch of sphincters...
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