The Last Inspector (an unedited excerpt from book one).

Chapter One

“Ee! Where are you hiding, you lump of annoying inefficiency?!”.

The piercing shriek of Supervisor Spinaarl sent shivers through the entire office staff. Few of the Ee could achieve the frequency, pitch and sheer volume she was capable of when angered…and once again, the focused source of her wrath was the lowliest of her office stewards, known by all as only, “Ee”.

Ee cowered in a cleansing bowl in the productivity center’s restoration room. His three eye stalks were retracted nearly fully into his torsoid body mass and an equal number of withdrawn and tightly coiled tentacles showed only their nervously fidgeting, trifurcated tip ends. Trying as hard as was possible to sink more deeply into his rinsing bowl, Ee clung to the faint hope that he might escape the searching eye stalks of his supervisor. This was, however, unlikely to happen as the fear causing Ee’s body to shiver oscillated his rinse bowl and sent resonate vibrations through the floor of the restoration room and even faintly out into the adjacent productivity center itself.

Discovery was inevitable and the thought of it sent Ee even further into depression as he accepted that it was his fate to suffer once more the humiliation of a public rebuke before his work siblings. Sighing softly through his dorsal spiracle, Ee shook the stress mucus from his body and extended his six tentacles so as to lift himself from the rinsing bowl and then lower himself to the floor. It was no sooner than his mobility pad touched the gravel textured tile, that one of Supervisor Spinaarl’s fully extended eyes appeared with no warning above the stall door.

“Ee! I knew I would find you cowering in here! Where is your post-cycle efficiency report!?”

With a shudder, Ee stammeringly answered, “As y-y–you know , S-s-supervisor S-s-Spinaarl, I have not completed it. My bodily f-f-functions needed cleansing and I…”

“ENOUGH! You have spent nearly a cycle away from your production station and failed to complete your assigned tasks–as well as failing to provide your efficiency report! You leave me no choice but to perform a first order disciplinary action. Report to the supervisor’s review platform immediately!”

Shrinking his body down as far as possible and dropping his tentacles limply to the floor, Ee pleaded with bowed down eye stalks, “Please Supervisor Spinaarl…I pledge to be more efficient and productive—please just let me return to my work station to correct my many errors and make amends. I have my n-n-nearly c–c-completed w-w-work report right…”.

Supervisor Spinaarl’s body rose even higher as her tentacles stood fully erect. Waving frantically, her six eyes leaned menacingly forward on their long stalks to stare directly into the eyes of Ee…

“I truly abhor the day you were made my problem and though I have toiled to make you an accountable and productive worker and citizen you continue to be a mar on my own efficiency record. I would not consider for another single moment letting you compound your errors by making even more new ones. You have smeared the reputation of my office and this center long enough–report immediately to me in the productivity center!”.

Supervisor Spinaarl spun about and undulated off—her tentacles erect and twitching and her eyes straining atop agitated stalks. Stress mucus stained the gravel beneath her pad and the pungent scent of her anger was unmistakably thick in the air. Orange patterns strobed over her skin—a sure sign that her rage was unfeigned and unabated.

Ee spit the hidden personal workpad out from within the stomach mouth where he had hidden it and sighed again in resignation. He had been inspired with a method to increase productivity for the entire center. Not just this center but for all of the planet’s productivity centers…but he knew that Supervisor Spinaarl would never allow him the time to make the personal notations he needed to work out the details. So he had slithered quickly to the restoration room and slunk into the stall to enter the values while they were fresh in his mind. In doing so, he had forgotten to send his completed work assignments in–as well as forgetting that his per-cycle efficiency report was due. Now, with judgment at hand, the full weight of his errors rested heavily upon him. With every appendage drooping, Ee slunk his way towards the inevitable humiliation that awaited him at the supervisor’s review platform.

Productivity Center One was a voluminous, open circular floor, domed by metal-lattice framed glass. Tens of thousands of workers sat at individual stations resembling large, white ceramic bowls. Embedded inside the walls of these bowls were the electric switches, flickering screens and mechanical interfaces needed by workers to view, process and submit work assignments. Pulsing lights signaled various agreements and consensus between networked groups of workers and mirrored those playing over the skin of those so linked—their chromatophores strobing together with the shared joy of co-solving a problem or cooperatively accomplishing a task. The constant whoosh and thunk of message cylinders flying through their tubes made the audible image of a giant, living machine.

Ee silently envied those workers. It was rarely, if at all, that he got to work with others in a shared task instead of being relegated to mere fact checking or make work. It wasn’t that Ee was not intelligent or even up to the task. On any given day he could effectively complete any assignment given to him rapidly and with great efficiency. The problem was that Ee—unlike the others of his species—was easily distracted. His biggest distractions were, in fact, his own thoughts. His mind swarmed with ideas, possibilities and concepts rather than being constantly focused on the task at hand.

This happened so often that he found himself in a perpetual state of disciplinary review. His indiscretions today were not his first—or his worst—but they were the last that his supervisor would tolerate this production period. This also made it difficult for him to form effective bonds with his co-workers. His inability to maintain focus with others often hurt and insulted them, giving him the unenviable reputation of being disharmonious among his peers.

Daring to raise his eye stalks ever so slightly, Ee was crestfallen to see that the eyes of every employee were fixed on him. So great was the news of his current shame, not a single worker entered data–no doubt, yet another thing that he would be held accountable for as well.

At the end of the room, Supervisor Spinaarl sat upon her monitoring bowl—a metallic chrome throne twice the size of the other bowls in the room and tilted towards the workers in order to afford the supervisor the best view of the workforce. Before this bowl was a series of stepped platforms that rose up from the floor to a final platform just before her. This was the supervisor’s review platform and the stage for Ee’s dose of exceptional humiliation.

“Worker Ee, reporting as directed, Supervisor Spinaarl.” quietly voiced the cowed worker. The supervisor slowly rose—higher and higher—not just elevating her body but pressing herself upwards upon all of her tentacles. Witnessing the supervisor exercising her full authority and might in this matter caused Ee to tremble even more severely. Deep coruscating bands of purple and indigo washed across the supervisor’s form—indicating that she was most firmly decided on her course of action. There would be no reprieve from and no appeal of her verdict.

Supervisor Spinaarl’s eye stalks undulated in perfect rhythm to the colored bands of light that glided over her skin—her eyes minutely flicked back and forth to take in all of her audience. Many of the workers trembled and some had even withdrawn into themselves in fear and despair at the intimidating confidence of their supervisor.

“Ee…”. So melodic and deep was the pulse of the supervisor’s voice that for the briefest of moments he was enraptured by its beauty–but of course the words that followed his name were more than sufficient to utterly destroy that reverie and send him into the darkest pit of dread.

“How you have lived up to your namesake—that of this same world upon which we are placed for the work of redemption. Like our own world, Ee, you too are a rebellious wanderer with thoughts too high and lofty to allow you to remain in your proper place and as a consequence, you have once again abandoned your duty and station. No doubt this is why your birth name remains unembellished to this day.”

At this statement, several of the workers in the room swooned and collapsed flaccidly in their work bowls, unconscious. There was no other motion or sound in the room–so fixed were the eyes of all upon the majesty and terror that was now the supervisor. Ee’s vision flickered to red and towards black and it was only with the most colossal act of will that he was able to remain afoot—though he swayed back and forth dizzily. At this sight, some of the workers began to quietly whistle desperate prayers to the ancient world gods—a thing done far less often in present times and evidence of the overwhelming power of the supervisor’s presence and the magnitude of Ee’s coming judgment. Observing these reactions, a rapid ripple of satisfaction shot across the supervisor’s body and from her full, towering height she leaned forward and fully fixed her gaze on Ee alone.

She then continued, “Oh how I have tried to guide you—as if you had been my own brood alone with me in the wilderness. Yet constantly your heart has wandered away. You leave me no choice and I take no pleasure in remanding you now to the judgment seat of President Jural–may he find mercy in his wisdom to save you. All your assignments here are rescinded and your only task is to receive the discipline you so urgently need. Depart here now and go to receive the full measure of correction your several inactions require.”.

A short, shrill whine of despair roared from the collective spiracles of every worker in the room and the word, “Taskless!” was wept loudly by all. There was no greater shame for an Ee.

Not knowing how exactly he remained upright, the now unemployed Ee, nevertheless willed his body to move back down the platforms and from there proceeded towards the far entrance leading to the office of the president. Never before had he been sent there and his skin was a dark, featureless gray—perfectly matching the dark feeling in his soul.

Chapter Two

“Come in Ee. We must speak”.

The penetrating voice of President Jural shook Ee out of the stupor he had been descending into as he neared the office of the vice-president. With a final nervous convulsion, Ee continued forward and lifted his eyes high on their stalks in order to meet the gazes of the president. Jural had served for as long as Ee had been alive and was nearly twice the mass of most workers. His entire demeanor radiated relaxed confidence and alertness and gave no evidence of dislike or anger. Still, Ee shivered slightly again at the thought of the conversation about to transpire.

As if sensing his worry, President Jural flashed a warm glow of soft colored patterns across his body and gently trilled to Ee to be at peace. “Let me first extend the condolences on behalf of the entire Asylum regarding your recent unemployment, former worker Ee. I also wish to encourage you with the good news of a new position I have created just for you–in order that you might, over time, re-qualify yourself for permanent employment again. To this end, I have decided to continue your subsistence payments by debiting them from your currently due severance pay—which will now be withheld of course in order to provide for these payments. You will be retained as an entry level, class one intern during this time and be given a special assignment.”

At the mention of special assignments, Ee groaned inside of himself. Senior management excelled at creating horrific punishments and always identified them as “special assignments”. He noted President Jural staring now intently at him and so labored to present a posture of gratitude. In fact, he was grateful. Even punishment at least provided a state and purpose far preferable to being cast into the biomass reclamation tanks.

“Thank you President Jural. I would have no purpose could I not assist the Asylum and I am most grateful to be offered a new position. How will I serve?

Shifting his tentacles into a slightly more relaxed posture and blinking slowly in satisfaction, Jural continued: “You are to be given a special position Ee. As you certainly know, it is not uncommon for minor problems and even violations to occur as the result of employee actions and of course at such times our more than able supervisors deal with such things and mete out corrective directives to the employees involved. But such tasks heavily tax the time of our extremely busy management staff, leaving them sometimes unable to thoroughly detail every nuance of the problems with which they have dealt. Your new task will allow you to lessen that burden even as it re-educates you in proper work ethics.”.

Jural paused a moment and then—scratching his dorsal surface with two tentacles pads—he continued once more:

“Your new position will carry the title, ‘inspector’ and you are to be the inspector intern, Ee. For the duration of your severance package payout you will apply yourself to the tasks which your supervisor directs you. While doing so, you will seek to provide a detailed account to me explaining in the most fastidious fashion her methods and her procedures. In short, you must demonstrate an understanding of ‘what went wrong’ and to be able to articulate clearly exactly what the nature of the problem was while also illustrating how the supervisor’s solution resolved it correctly. Once it is evident to both your supervisor and myself that you understand how to recognize what is right and wrong and how to respond properly, you will be given the chance to re-test to enter the normal work force. If you are unable to do this, then you will of course be required to put your affairs in proper order and surrender yourself to the Asylum’s biomass reclamation facility. Do you understand and agree to these terms, Ee? If so, state so clearly for the record now.”

Ee had already apprehended that this offer was of the nature of one that he “could not refuse” and quickly assented.

“It would be my honor, President Jural—I of course accept the position and terms and acknowledge my full understanding of them and I thank the Asylum for its generous consideration and patience!”

Jural settled back—though he kept one eye fixed firmly on Ee—and then stated, “On behalf of the Asylum then, I accept your acknowledgment of these terms intern Ee and hereby assign the title ‘inspector’ to you so long as you are required to serve in that capacity. Welcome back to the Ee Asylum again, worker!”

All six of Ee’s eyes blinked together as one in automatic response to his puzzlement and he wondered if his reassignment to his new task miraculously came with no further punishment. Before he could lose himself in this rising feeling of hope, President Jural hummed for his attention;

“There is of course, the matter of your previous work failures which must be addressed by a commensurate punishment. As you are currently re-employed, I do not wish to interfere with your duties unnecessarily. So I grant you the coming lightshift off from work—without pay, of course.

Your housing contract was understandably canceled with your work termination so I regret that you currently have no residence in which to safely reside this darkshift. Also, the harm done to the Asylum’s image by your earlier negligent behavior is, I think, best remedied by your spending the next lightshift in the transition center where you will perform no work activities and remain publicly visible during the entire shift. This should allow you time to contemplate your past mistakes and choose to self-learn further from them.

Ee sighed deeply and felt a wave of shame and despair wash over himself—but then, he thought of the biomass reclamation center and considered that he did prefer time in the center, even a humiliating time. His spirit lifted just slightly.

“I will not fail to report President Jural and all will be as you have said. Thank you for my employment and your wisdom.”.

President Jural blinked all of his eyes rapidly and then trilled a note of delight. “Excellent then young Ee! It pleases me to see you rejoin our harmonious and redeeming workforce! I also grant you permission to remain in the transition center through this coming cycle’s darkshift. You may rest in one of the rinsing bowls in its adjacent restoration area as your needs require and I’ll have new housing arranged for you during the shift tomorrow. Never let it be said that we in the Asylum wish anyone to be homeless!”

Ee contemplated the prospects of spending the remaining work period idly in the waiting area as employees passed back and forth in full view. No doubt his reputation would soar within the Asylum, he thought, sardonically.

Chapter Three

Having departed President Jural’s office, Ee slowly approached the transition center. Situated prominently by, but at some distance from, the individual work areas on the production center floor, the transition center still remained within easy viewing distance of them. The primary intent of its design and placement is to provide an area for injured, ill or temporarily idle employees to wait until they can be moved to an appropriate location or task that would begin to remedy their lack of occupation…but it also serves as the means to display those who constantly find themselves “taskless”. Time spent in the transition center by an individual establishes communal awareness of their “problem” status–and with the Ee, everything is a task to be solved communally. Work itself is considered the means of individual and even species redemption—hence, all Asylum employees are singularly devoted to it. It was Ee’s unenviable fortune to be the subject of management’s scrutiny due to his most recent work indiscretions and the only remedy for his situation was to demonstrate his usefulness and worth through a worthy demonstration of focused commitment. Undulating forward, Ee steeled himself to be greeted by the departing lightshift workers passing the transition center as they came off shift.

Feeling nervous, Ee fidgeted in discomfort as he drooped over one of the transition center’s few seats. Every instinct in him shrilled that he shrink as far down as possible–yet he found himself still able to contemplate his earlier ideas for improvements to the Asylum work flow. In no time at all, he was lost in deep thought and nigh on oblivious to the stares of every off-shift passerby. In a short period of time, thousands of workers queued by on the way to the necessary darkshift rest cycle until the productivity center was nearly empty.

A sudden splatting noise broke Ee from his reverie and as he looked towards the sound’s source, his gaze met that of Supervisor Spinaarl. Bright pulses flared across her body and even her eye-stalks throbbed visibly from a pulse that was clearly elevated.

“Greetings a-and a-a-apologies, s-s-Supervisor.” squeaked Ee, guiltily. The Supervisor’s eyes leaned forward, nearly making contact with Ee’s own and forcing him to sink down in his seat. She made a visible effort to compose herself and withdrew a tread. After a slight pause she shrilled out, “I will have all of my eyes on you worker–forget it not!”.

Before Ee could squeak an intimidated response, Supervisor Spinaarl whirled about and hurried towards the corporate exit.

“It’s going to be a long darkshift”, sighed a disheartened Ee.

As the lights of the center dimmed, Ee shifted about his seat and alone in the semi-darkness and stared out the ten-thousand empty stations contained under the transparent roof of the productivity center. It was rare for Ee, or any of the Ee, to be active during a darkshift as Ee biology is photosynthesis dependent. In darkness, the Ee find it difficult to perform complex mental tasks and generally feel fatigued and disoriented. Ee understood he would spend the evening alone and the only place to lie dormant without drying out would be in one of the cleansing bowls in the adjacent restoration room.

With a resigned splutter, he settled in for the night and in no time at all, his body and mind cycled down to a state of restoration.

While drifting off, Ee hoped not to be completely waterlogged when the light came.

Chapter Four

“What…?”. Ee, fought to open his eyes—or even just one of them–as he felt the first rays of light tickle over his epidermis. Still fuzzy, he finally managed to look about and remember where he was.

“Oh my–I guess the lightshift has already arrived! I should prepare myself to greet Supervisor Spinaarl before…”.

Ee’s thought trailed off as he realized that the flickering reddish light radiating above the productivity floor center bore no resemblance to the enervating rays of lightshift’s first glow. This light was just…wrong.

“I must activate the fire alarms!” thought the befuddled Ee. “Yet they should have gone off automatically–what in Paradise lost is this!?”. The entire center of the productivity floor glowed now with a pulsing and flickering reddish haze.

Ee’s body quaked in fear even as he stared in wonder at the productivity center remaining miraculously undamaged by the eerie flames. The realization also became clear to him at that moment that he shook not only from fear–but from cold.

Exhaling warm air from his internal lung, Ee watched a cloud of steam rise in the cold. “It is definitely frigid—but the environmental regulators should never have let the temperature drop this low!”.

Gathering all his nerve, Ee broke protocol and left the restoration room. The recklessness of his action made him heave some of the water he had absorbed during the darkshift out through his dorsal spiracle but the compulsion to understand the impossibility before his eyes made him surge over the boundary line so clearly marked on the floor. He now tread upon the productivity center proper and some would say he had compounded his crime by occupying it with no productive task assignment, Yet Ee felt certain this was an assignment compelled by circumstances that didn’t allow for it to be given by a higher authority—it required immediate action!

As he approached the flickering, reddish haze he could perceive clearly that nothing had combusted. Approaching more closely, the temperature dropped further and he felt the membranes of his body tightening in reaction. This was some of the bitterest cold he’d ever known. Frost even glistened on the floor under the center of the faux conflagration. Fearing to come any closer, Ee stopped and considered what lay before him. “This is an impossibility!” was his first thought. “Flames that bring cold and do no damage!? Such a thing has never been recorded in the history of our world!”.

Without warning, a sharp tingling danced over his skin and with a loud clap and the extinguishing of the flames, Ee ceased to be.

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