ONWARD MOVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES

My Dad had always said get the qualification. It was the letters that counted not the ability to do something. I’d thought that a cynical approach to life. Indeed when he said it, it was not necessarily true. I knew loads of people doing apprenticeships and jumping straight into jobs.

Of course there were lots of others doing courses that gave them a bunch of letters that said they had been on a course. It didn’t mean they could do the job any better than me. It didn’t mean they could do the job. It meant they’d been on a course.

That meant when things went pear shaped they could wave a bit of paper and lazy employers or admin types or, increasingly, effing algorithms, gave them a tick in the box. That meant people like me had ‘limited evidence of transferable core skills’, whatever that meant. We’d been doing it for fifteen years, better and faster than anyone else, but we got nothing. Or, if we were lucky according to the snotty auto generated text sent out by the World Beating Regeneration Alliance, we got some shitty job they couldn’t be arsed to programme a bot for yet.

I said “yes” to every question on the forms and so they gave me Health and Care Throughput Assurance, and more specifically made me a Loved One Onward Movement Operative.

The Distributive Handling Centre was as you’d expect, handling a lot of former Loved Ones, and let’s be honest, a lot of former Unloved Ones, but it wasn’t departmental policy to acknowledge that side of things. The Final Resting Place Assistance Operatives came every day to move the Loved Ones to the next stage of the process, and we didn’t get to see any of those who had been the generators of the love for the Loved Ones.

So generally it wasn’t possible to tell which was which in any case, except from the paperwork and which Assistance Operatives arrived to facilitate the onward passage. Loved Ones had the upmarket guys who fleeced the grieving for all they were worth but gave a shiny grim faced respect to proceedings. The Unloved got the low rent public service run by people who had the basic letters after their name and staffed mostly by those of us assigned in the current situation to whichever service needed live bodies. There was no difference between them as far as we were concerned except the shiny guys were a bit sniffier with us. Both came along, checked all the IDs with us and took the dearly or cheaply departed on to the next stage. There was not as much banter as you might think. They had heard or made all the jokes already and those of who were new to the game didn’t want to appear to be needy enough to be over familiar and keep trying.

Some of the public service guys who had been around before this was the only growth industry in town talked a bit about how things had changed. All of them, shiny and basic alike were contemptuous of the way their raw material was presented now. The problems with the Greens and plastics was a pain in the arse Wendy, one of the shinies said as were checking one of the wraps that had come through on the carousel.

Later I said this to Alice, one of the public service people and she sneered because it was Wendy who’d said it, but agreed that biodegradable starch wrappers weren’t as resilient and goodness knows what might leak if they tore on the automated transport belts.

We’d had a few snags and bad wraps and at the height of the last spike we’d run out of even those and had to resort to close weave double wrap cotton. The Assistance Operatives hadn’t liked that a bit and refused to take a couple until we’d sorted out some more wrap. The director had texted them to get the **** on with it, there was a queue and so we were working with whatever we had. We’d said a bit of a mess now and again was expected wasn’t it?

Alice was in again today and I told her my theory about it not being too much of a problem. She looked at me completely deadpan. A bit of a mess wasn’t the problem she said and ticked off another check sheet. What was the problem then I said. She stared at me as if I were dense.

‘How well are they doing their jobs upstairs?’ she said.

I didn’t twig what she meant so said nothing.

Her boss Steve came in at that point and asked if everything was all right. I said yes and Alice explained we had been talking about why there was a problem with non-plastic wraps and what might or might not be going right or wrong upstairs, He laughed. And as another client came through on the carousel he stopped laughing and said, ‘I think you might be about to find out mate.’

The paperwork said she was a fifty two year old woman who had succumbed seven days ago and had been diagnosed, examined, autopsied and neutered. She was ready for onward processing with standard distancing and treatment protocols to the safety treatment centre, formally known as the Crematorium. That should have required a double non-porous wrap, but due to a supply hiatus, authorisation had been given for a treated high density weave substitute to be used.

And there she was. Wrapped and ready to go. Or, apparently not.

The wrap was moving and suddenly the sheeting tore open and she sat up grinning. There was something wrong with her forehead and while Steve and Alice made for the door I stared trying to work out what was wrong. Apart from the fact a corpse had just torn itself out of a double layer of treated high density weave cotton sheeting. Alice grabbed my sleeve.

‘Move!’

I tumbled backwards to the door but death must have improved the 52 year old’s agility as she was up off the carousel and heading for me before I could move. Alice and Steve dragged me back and into the corridor. They disappeared left and I ran right. At the end of the corridor was another door with a combination lock. I messed up the numbers once before opening it. I heard Alice yell and turned to see the woman just feet from me. I threw open the door and dropped to the floor. The woman tripped over me and went headlong into the room. I grabbed the handle and slammed it tight shut, the lock snapping into place. The woman was up and pressing her face to the small square window in the door by the time Alice and Steve arrived.

Steve had a .357 magnum revolver in his hand, pointing at the woman’s head.

‘I don’t think that’s going to work with her Steve.’ Alice nodded at the woman and I realised what was odd, apart from a corpse walking around grinning with malevolent intent. The forehead gaped like an open envelope. The rapid autopsy and neutering had been poorly done and bits of brain matter were leaking from the trepan.

‘No, you’re probably right he said pointing the gun at the floor. Better get a doctor down and see what the hell is going on.’ He looked at me and raised the revolver. ‘And you had contact with her, so you need to get checked out.’ They backed away from me. ‘Two metres or else pal.’