Oil prices have plunged into negative territory. The used car index has cratered. Governments are issuing a universal basic income to its citizens.
Society as we know it is a house of cards built upon smoke and mirrors. There’s a very dangerous reason the Powers That Be don’t want people to see the truth.
But it’s already too late.
Several miles beneath a desert that was currently radiating more heat than the planet’s ozone knew what to do with, an office worker who specialized in Existential Minutiae Mitigation was tapping away at his terminal keyboard, finalizing a report on a recent Blue Alert.
In the cubicle adjacent, another office drone stared at a green-glowing terminal monitor as blocky text scrolled by. “Oil just went negative,” Packard said. “Dude, oil has never gone negative. They’re literally paying people to take the oil.”
“Mmh.” Wilson kept tapping at his keyboard. Blue Alert reports didn’t write themselves.
“Look, I’m telling you--” Packard’s eyes were fixed on his terminal as he stabbed a finger at the screen, “--this is gonna be the big one. At the rate things are escalating, we’ll have a Red Alert by end of week.”
Packard turned to face Wilson. He leaned forward, resting elbows on the cubicle desk, bulky shoulders stretching a poorly-fitted white short-sleeved dress shirt. He peered over the cubicle partition at Wilson, obviously enthusiastic about the developing crisis. “You know the last time we had a Red Alert?”
Wilson didn’t answer and Packard wasn’t waiting.
“Three-point-five years ago. The D.C. incident. It took eighteen months to finish cleaning up that mess.”
Wilson nodded absently. “I remember.”
Packard leaned back in his too-small desk chair. “Hell, the fellas on Twenty-Nine are still mopping up the residuals from that one.”
A moment passed and Wilson filled it with typing. He didn’t mind gossiping about current affairs--well, listening to Packard gossip about current affairs--but it wasn’t every day that Wilson was assigned a Blue Alert. Since he had handled it with textbook precision, it was critical to log the details carefully. There was a reason Blue Alerts were considered career makers.
Wilson resisted the urge to sigh. He looked over the partition at a grinning Packard.
“When the Red Alert does come, who do you think’ll get it?”
Wilson chewed the inside of his cheek. That was interesting.
There were a total of three alerts in the Department of Human Asset Management. Each alert corresponded with a different color which corresponded with a different level of existential panic and subsequent crisis.
Yellow was as mild as it was frequent. It was accompanied by a comparatively gentle beeping--soft tones that were separated by stretches of silence nearly five times longer than the alert tone itself.
Wilson knew this because he had timed it. It was the nature of his work to discover random details like that. Wilson also had plenty of opportunities to track the timing since, again, the Yellow Alert was set off frequently. Most recently, an office worker who coordinated ad buys in Titusville, Florida wondered if there was really any point to a job that processed paperwork for something that didn’t actually exist. The ad buy paperwork had nothing to do with the advertisement or even how the advertisement was scheduled, but merely the purchasing of the time and the ephemeral digital space that the ad would eventually exist in.
That is, if you could say that ads in Titusville, Florida are even capable of existing.
If advertisements in Titusville, Florida don’t actually exist (whatever that means), what definitive meaning could a person possibly find in the transaction of the invisible, non-tangible time that nonexistent ads are supposed to exist within?
From there, the office worker in Titusville almost realized that money had no value, societal structures were carefully fabricated lies to keep the human assets distracted, and time itself was a construct designed to imbue artificial meaning into that ad buy paperwork because if it’s not processed now then it’ll be too late and then how will Paige Smith of 6233 Forest Wood Lane ever know that this new smartphone is so much better at opening Facebook than the one she bought four months ago?
It is a well-established fact that the snowball effect of a Yellow Alert could be catastrophic for the Department of Human Asset Management.
Fortunately, the Titusville alert was swiftly mitigated when Wilson’s colleague in the adjacent cubicle had the coordinator’s manager initiate a Performance Evaluation process which promptly derailed the coordinator from any potential existential enlightenment by forcing her to quantify and justify the value of her work in buying non-existent time for an advertisement someone else created to convince people to buy things they don’t need.
Yellow Alerts were about as boilerplate as things got for Wilson.
Blue Alerts, on the other hand, were another matter. The last one was three days prior and, as you would expect, it had escalated from a Yellow Alert.
The alert tone buzzed and blue light flashed overhead. An algorithm sent the ticket to Wilson’s terminal and he immediately got to work. No one much cared about Yellow Alerts, but the time-to-close on Blue Alerts could make or break careers in the Department of Human Asset Management. This was Wilson’s opportunity to show leadership his true value.
It had been a pastor of a non-denominational congregation in Lubbock, Texas. The non-denominational part was already a complication. Traditional religions made Wilson’s job easy with their overreaching rituals and rules and general do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do-or-burn-in-Hell mandates designed to keep simple people from misbehaving. Non-denominational churches were infamous for eschewing large swaths of this fanaticism, thereby opening the door to those problematic bigger questions about existence.
The Yellow Alert went off when the pastor in Lubbock, Texas couldn’t square a local mass shooting with a “loving God” who had called the pastor to service. The mass shooting (Blue Alert #04987, nighttime event) had killed six members of the pastor’s congregation.
These six members were all pillars of the church’s financial infrastructure.
Again, the Yellow Alert could have been an easy fix. Tax breaks, bailout money, even a well-placed lottery ticket could have mitigated the questioning of the pastor’s faith.
Unfortunately, none of those things happened fast enough.
What does happen fast is the spread of an existential crisis of faith.
Soon, nearly 90-percent of the congregation was starting to see their religion for the house-of-cards that it was. That was when Wilson was assigned the ticket.
This was the whole point of the Department of Human Asset Management and Existential Mitigation.
This was Wilson’s moment.
And he motherfucking nailed it.
Simple solutions were always the most elegant. Wilson orchestrated a $6 million anonymous donation to the church. The amount was so absurd, the pastor--and subsequently his congregation--were left with no other options: God works in mysterious ways, always looking out for his flock.
Never mind the mass shooting.
Never mind the deaths.
Never mind the house-of-cards or the smoke and mirrors--Lubbock, Texas was getting a brand new, ostentatious white-and-gold-trimmed church building.
With a final tap to his keyboard, Wilson submitted his report on Blue Alert #05332. It was a job well done and residual reporting had confirmed that Lubbock, Texas was currently free from any active existential crises.
Packard whooped, startling Wilson.
“Holy shit, dude!” Packard cried, too loud for the muted cubicle farm.
Wilson glanced over the partition and confirmed that Packard was practically buzzing.
“Used car prices just cratered,” he said.
Wilson glanced up at the bank of alarm lights. Yellow, blue, and red were all dormant. The used car market was hugely problematic. If the used cars are too cheap, people don’t buy new cars and new car production can’t scale back fast enough to assure people that everything is perfectly normal, nothing to see here.
“Dude, it’s not just the used car index. People aren’t buying anything--“
That other house-of-cards, Capitalism.
A high-pitched whirring alarm sounded and a flashing red light bathed Wilson and Packard’s cubicles. The two colleagues looked at each other. So much for end of week.
Terminals across the Department of Human Asset Management began chiming with new information as the office began buzzing with the news.
Packard read the details on his screen and cursed again. “The government is supposed to be on our side!”
Wilson read the news that had set off the Red Alert. Legislation was just passed that established a universal basic income.
Packard was furious. “People are literally getting paid to do nothing!”
Idle minds make fertile grounds for existential questions.
People were yelling at each other in the office, racing down hallways. Panic escalated.
This was not a drill.
Wilson scanned the mounting chaos around him. Based on the growing confusion, he could tell that the Red Alert ticket had not been assigned yet.
This could be the big one--the very crisis that the Department of Human Asset Management was created to mitigate.
After Earth Mark I had fallen, the Powers That Be needed to ensure that the population of Earth Mark II never questioned the reality of their existence.
It was too dangerous.
The former Earth was a forgotten memory--a desolate red reminder suspended in the void of space, one hundred and twenty million miles away from Earth Mark II.
It was no mystery that the Red Alerts were named after the Red Planet.
Amid the high-pitched whirring alarm, the flashing light painting the chaos of the the office a crimson red, Wilson heard a soft beeping notification from his terminal.
The ticket had been assigned.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Krumbine is a professional video editor, digital artist, and creative wizard currently quarantined in Kissimmee, Florida. When not producing content for the likes of Visit Orlando, Orlando Sentinel, or AAA National, Jordan is probably yelling at a stubbornly defective Macbook keyboard, tracking creative projects in Trello, and animating quirky videos with LEGO and other various toys.