The official file on Henry Teasdale listed him as a bilateral post-angular conflict dispersement expert. It noted that his mother Rose had attempted to visit Mexico approximately one month before Henry was born, but had been detained at the gap and administered level four psychiatric repatriation. It listed Henry’s preferred food (potato salad with beets and mackerel), his most frequently used coital position and location (spooning from behind on the lower third of his bed, nineteen out of a total fifty one events), and his lifetime mean morning alarm (07:42). It also specified that following his release from the hospital in which he was born and passed his natal exams, he had no medical record whatsoever.
And it was this particularly rare attribute, hardly noticed by Henry himself, which singled him out for an especially unpleasant fate.
“Imagine a new world,” Henry wrote, “a world of tranquility and diversion, where family is all and your family has everything.” Henry grimmaced at the line, but just as he was about to delete it and start over yet again, an inter-office memo from Marion reminded him in flashing pink and green in the corner of his screen that the water park package copy was due before lunch. As the memo also reminded all of Henry’s co-workers, he shortly received several new memos reassuring him that they knew he could do it and warning him not to let the morning doldrums compromise the team. The more he tried to concentrate on his work, the more memos flashed into view, and they grew ever more frantic the longer Henry put off acknowledging them. Henry closed his eyes, exhaled a solid ten seconds, and quickly spewed out the remaining copy in a manic flow he was sure would be nonsense. As he read it minutes later, he was pleased to find it was exactly the sort of nonsense that was expected of him. Errorless, thickly perfumed, and terrible.
“I’m done!” he bellowed from his cubicle as another flurry of memos imposed themselves on his screen. The flashing stopped. It was time for lunch.
Henry went to get his lunch, as he did most days, at the food pits. Broad plexiglass circles level with the pavement were clustered at the nexus of several minimalls near Henry’s, each attended by a thin tube which transported order slips and money down to the staff. They could be seen milling about their business, assembling sandwiches, scraping grills, filling out customer consumption history forms, then shooting the order back up through the tube. Henry preferred burritos; while he’d tried other, less tube-like orders in the past for the sake of variety, he’d found that anything substantially diverging from a cylindrical shape suffered in transit.
He was halfway through the tortilla and extruded cheese when he heard a faint alarm that seemed to grow exponentially louder, buzzing by his head as though issued by a bee. He had the sudden sensation that he was peeing uncontrollably, rapidly followed by no sensation at all. Then the sun went out.
When Henry came to he found himself in an office, a much nicer office than his own. He was seated in a fairly comfortable high-backed chair, and the subtle scent of the orchids on the basic desk in front of him was delightful. Also on the desk were several folios, a pen, a stylish lamp, and the remains of Henry’s burrito, carefully re-wrapped. There were no windows, there were no desk drawers or other pieces of furniture, and, with a sudden start of panic that reached deep into Henry’s bowels, he noticed that there was no handle, apparently, on the only door.
Henry thumbed the papers on the desk into a messy pile and began reading. Several pages consisted of his official file. Though taken separately the pieces of information would’ve seemed innocuous, given over with ease for the asking, together they were a writhing horror. The precision of facts, the utter completeness; himself, in more detail and with an honesty he likely couldn’t muster even without an audience, compiled and available. Henry started folding the pages of his official file one by one and slid them into the pockets of his khaki pants. After seven sheets the file mercifully stopped, leaving only one: it was titled Acknowledgement, and listed Henry’s name and ID number. There was nothing else but a blank line.
Henry looked at the blank line nervously. He eyed his leftover burrito, then the door. He turned in the chair, not sure what he was looking for, finally resting on the blank line again. He had wanted to see what time it was, he realized. He turned in the chair again, finding no clocks of any kind. He contemplated taking the pages of his official file back out of his pocket and reading them over a second time. Instead, he unwrapped and ate what was left of the burrito. He wondered what would happen if he ate the sheet reading Acknowledgement, too.
It seemed to Henry that several hours had passed since he’d awoken, but so far he hadn’t devised any way to be able to tell. His ever-deepening sense of dread kept him well distracted from any practical matters, which is also why Henry ended up peeing on the carpet in the corner furthest from the door. He spent a while yelling, most of which consisted of demands to be let out and queries as to where he was and why. Just as he was starting to seriously talk himself into sleeping a while, there was indistinct noise on the other side of the door, and a man who looked a lot like Henry himself entered.
“Hello Henry,” he said, extending his hand. Henry shook it, cursing himself the moment he heard the door click shut. I should’ve made a run for it. “We’ve been experiencing some abnormally sized waiting times tonight. I’ve been asked to recognize your patience.” And what would you have done once you’d gotten out of the door, then? You know damn well you’d've just stood there or done something stupid. Henry didn’t listen to the man and didn’t notice he wasn’t listening, either.
“I have a lot of new recruits to brief here, so let’s get to it, hmm? Now uh, pursuant to your choice, made of your own free will, to read and consider an advertisement for slack de-wrinkler this day, Wednesday November the sixteenth at approximately oh-eight hundred hours, you are hereby recruited into the defense forces’ reduced leisure program for infrastructure.”
Henry’s eyes widened into tea saucers. He was listening now.
“Given your prior consent to said recruitment by SADFAG performance, you have been assigned a start date of–”
The man frowned and pulled a small notepad from his shirt pocket, flipping through the pages until he’d nearly reached the end.
“Uh, let’s see here. Henry Teasdale, ah. Tonight.”
“I didn’t know what I was doing! It was only for a couple of seconds!” Henry’s flood of panic threatened to rise over his nose and mouth as he sputtered and yelled, choking on his own spit.
“Yes, yes. You did the SADFAG, you’ve been assigned. Don’t make a fuss, now.”
“It was all because of that idiot! Did you record that idiot in the colors who tried to talk to me?! I was good, I didn’t say a word!”
“Mr. Teasdale, the forces are not concerned with the petty details of your private relationships and daily goings-on. You have been selected by way of your SADFAG performance, produced and carried out of your own free will. As I was saying, you will start tonight. You may, at your option, sign the acknowledgement form that was presented to you upon your admittance to this facility.”
The man surveyed the desk, frowning.
“I am sure you were given an acknowledgement form and a copy of your official file. Did you do something with these papers?”
Henry took the folded sheets of his official file out of his pocket and handed them over to the man.
“I’m not seeing the acknowledgement form here, Mr. Teasdale. I highly suggest that you sign and release this form to me as a gesture of goodwill. Long-term studies show that recruits who acknowledge have significantly better results than those who refuse.”
“I ate it,” Henry whispered.
“I ate the form.”
“Duly noted.” There was no trace of surprise in the man’s voice. “Your briefing is complete. Someone will be along shortly to accompany you to your barracks.” As the man turned to the opening door to leave, Henry took a daring step towards him, and another two back when the man shot him an icy stare.
“Could you– if you could give me another form I’d sign it. I’d sign it right now!”
The man was silent.
“Can you at least tell me how long my sentence is?” He sounded tiny, made of nothing.
“Mr. Teasdale, you have not been sentenced. Your recruitment, as is standard, has no specific end date.”
The door clicked shut. Henry sank to the floor, his eyes clenched shut.