Working For A Living

Ethan glanced over to one of the master inbox piles, but it was still empty.  “I can’t believe business is so slow right now,” he said, tapping his pen against his desk in frustration.

“Well, but isn’t that a good thing?” Benny asked.  “I mean, if we’re not processing any new clients, it means no one is dying… so… if we’re slow, it means people are still alive.”

Morris rolled his eyes.  “No, Benny, it’s not a good thing.  It means we’re just going to get swamped later.  All people die.  It’s inevitable.  You should know,” he added, as he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his desk drawer.

“Hey, low blow!” Ethan said, stepping between his two cubicle mates.  “C’mon, Morris, the guy’s only been here for, like, a week.  Surely it took you some time to adjust to being dead?”

Morris simply grunted.  “I’m going on a smoke break while we’re still slow.  You wanna come?” he asked, shaking the battered cigarette box in hand.

“Yeah, alright,” Ethan said, with a casual shrug of his shoulders.  “Why not?  Benny, what about you?”

“I… don’t smoke,” he said, shaking his head.

“And why not?” Morris asked, stepping in front of Benny’s chair.  “It’s not bad for you anymore.  You’re already dead, remember?  There’s only one way out of this place, so you might as well enjoy it.  Not like performance affects your karma, anyway.”

Ethan placed a firm arm on Morris’s arm.  “He doesn’t have to smoke if he doesn’t want to.”

Morris wrenched his arm out of Ethan’s grip.  Without saying another word, he walked away, his dress shoes clacking against the thin carpet squares.  Ethan gave Benny a quick apologetic smile before following out the side door.


“D’you hear that Trevor’s already back?”  Morris took a long, hard draw from his cigarette.

“No kidding?  He was only gone for, what, seven years?”

“Six, actually.  Lethal animal bite, or so I heard.”

Ethan let out a low whistle.  “Man, what are the odds?”

“Well, he went to Australia, so… pretty good, actually.”

“…Oh.”  Ethan had no further response, and the two of them stood in an awkward silence for several minutes.  “Wonder how much of his karma he’ll get back for leaving so soon?”

Morris shook his head.  “Not much.  The quality of life rating is too high for him to get anything more than a third, I’d guess.  Australia’s not cheap, either.”

“Yeah, last I looked, it was 30k just to get anything on the coast.  And that’s without modifiers for health or family.  You’d be looking at 75k for a guaranteed 80 year, middle class living.  Ridiculous.”

“No, what’s ridiculous is that they still issue us karma in the tens, when nothing costs less than ten thousand.  They may as well cut off three zeros, and pay us in decimals.  Makes the math simpler.  None of this ridiculous thousands bull.”

Ethan shrugged.  “I like it.  It makes buying your next life feel… more meaningful, I guess.  Good things should have big price tags, you know?”

“Ridiculous,” Morris said.  “It’s all just a mind game to keep us in line.  The inflation just keeps getting worse, and no one complains.  What do you care, anyway?  You always buy cheap.”

“Don’t start.”  Ethan dropped his cigarette to the cement, and ground it with his foot.  “Life is meant to be lived.  The less time I have to spend in the office, the better.”

“You say that, and then you’re back here every 20 or 30 years like clockwork.  If you’d stop buying lives in war zones, you might actually enjoy your time out there.”

“Hey, at least I get to spend time out there.  You’re still wasting your time saving up for a high class European life.  I’m leaving in two weeks.  How many more months will you need to work before you can afford to leave?  All so you can afford your ridiculous frills.  Is it really worth it?”

“Yes.”  Morris smashed his cigarette butt into the nearby ashtray for emphasis.

“You say that, but I hardly believe that 350,000 is a reasonable price for life.  You don’t need all of those fancy things, you know.  You spend all of this time in the office earning karma, and life is literally passing you by.  I think you’d be surprised how enjoyable life can be, even without all of the perks and privileges you hold so dear.”

Morris waved a dismissive hand as he turned to leave.  “Remember that the next time you’re half-starved and dying from a perfectly curable disease.”

“Charming.  Have fun slaving away in a cubical for an easy life that you’ll never find the time to enjoy!” Ethan said, yelling after him.  He couldn’t help but shake his head.  Finding the right balance between work and life was always a complicated issue.  That was true in any existence.

Neil Siemers grew up in Derby, Kansas, a comparatively small town south of Wichita. He moved to Lawrence to attend the University of Kansas, and hasn't left since. Neil likes to pretend that he is a big shot full time writer, although it's probably closer to a hobby. Either way, it's funded by a full-time job in the insurance industry, where he happily works as a cog in the machine for The Man so that bills can be paid.

 

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