Being an Italic
A goodnatured spoof
Harold sat on the parkbench, trying not to hear the strains of 'Aqualung' that kept threatening to crowd into his brain. Yes, his nose WAS a little runny, but that hardly qualified as 'Snots were running down his nose', he told himself. He stared down at the paper in his lap, and absently dabbed at his nose with his hankie.
Another day of jobsearching. Horrible stuff, that. He had been unemployed for nearly a year now, and had finally crossed that threshhold into desperation, where he'd be satisfied to sling patties at the local burger joint if it would at least pay a part of his rent. Amazing, he reflected, just how long one can survive on no income. Longer than one can survive with no food, doubtless, though the two were of course intenuably related. No money = No food. Unless the soggy bar pretzels from Dominic's qualified as food.
He opened the paper to the Classifieds section, scanning pessimistically through the various positions, until one headline caught his eye. 'Typist Needed', the heading exclaimed. 'No experience necessary, just bring a healthy sense of humour, and an excellent work ethic.' Well, sense of humour was, of course, the key to Harold's survival this far and work ethic... well surely he could fudge that bit. He wrote down the address and folded the paper as neatly as he could (nasty business when the wind grabs hold and wants to have its way). Dabbing at his nose, and humming 'Aqualung' under his breath, he headed home.
The next morning he showered and shaved and rummaged through his closet for something suitable to wear. Finally picking out the suit that he had worn to the interview for his last job, he dressed hurriedly and surveyed himself in a mirror. 'Pretty natty, Harold', he told his reflection proudly. Royal blue was certainly his colour, he thought to himself, and running his fingers through his hair, he grabbed the address and headed out.
When he arrived at the address, he blinked in disbelief. The Beeb?? He rechecked the address he had copied, and glanced at the address etched in the door. Surely there must be some mistake? He shrugged to himself and walked in.
The lobby receptionist watched him walk in, looking as disinterested in his presence as she possibly could while actually still looking at him.
'Er, hello, I'm here -'
she said briskly.
' - for the typist -'
'42nd floor, sir.'
Harold blinked at her for a moment, gave another shrug and walked to the elevator bank. Checking his reflection in the gleaming doors, he pushed the up button and waited. He tried to shake off the feeling of the receptionist's eyes boring into the back of his head, and felt a huge rush of relief when the elevator 'dinged' and the doors hissed open.
He stepped into the elevator and reached for the button panel. He might have known. No button indicating the 42nd floor. Right there was the 41st floor button. Just below the 43rd floor button. He looked at the receptionist through the closing doors, but she was busy staring at a plant. The doors closed, and Harold stared at the panel. '42nd Floor' a robotic voice announced cheerily. 'Have a nice day.' By now Harold was in no position to expect any less so he clasped his hands in front of him and waited for the car to arrive at its floor. The doors hissed open, and he stepped out of the car.
He scanned the room quickly, a veritable hive of activity, people rushing to and fro, shuffling papers back and forth, peering at computer monitors intently. He spotted what looked like a receptionist's desk, and approached.
he began, and trailed off. The receptionist looked at him blankly.
'Can I help you?'
he asked, gazing at Harold expectantly.
'Er... yes, then. I'm here about the typist's position?'
The receptionist nodded and jerked his head towards a group of chairs.
'Just wait over there. An Italics will be with you straightaway.'
Indeed, Harold had no less than grazed the seat of the chair with his trousers before a man (presumably an Italics, judging by the strange list with which he stood) was standing in front of him, looking down. Harold stood abruptly, and stammered out an introduction.
'Come into my office, Harold.'
Harold followed the man, feeling slightly more relieved that events were playing out a little more normally and walked into his office. He handed the man his resume, and took a seat.
'Yes, very well, then. I am one of the Italics here at the h2g2 branch of the BBCi. You'd like to come on as a typist for us?'
'Er, yes, sir, Mr. -'
'Er, Italics. Yes, I'd enjoy that very much. I have tremendous respect for the Beeb, er BBC, and would be quite honoured to work here.'
The Italics scanned his resume quickly, and nodded.
'Alright then, can you start today?'
Harold stared for a moment. He had hoped to get online and play some of his RPG... what was he thinking? He needed this job, and to get on at the Beeb was a great thing.
'Yes, immediately, sir, uh, Italics.'
The Italics took him on a quick tour of the offices, explained his job duties (duty, really) and showed him to his desk. Harold sat down, and stared at the already overflowing 'Inbox' apprehensively.
the Italics said, as he was walking away, listing slightly to port.
'It's a lovely shade of goo - er, blue.'
Harold watched him walk away, no less confused than he had been earlier. Ah well.
He picked up the first batch of typing to be done, alarmed at the revisions indicated. He set it on his keyboard and began typing away furiously. The one benefit to all that time spent online was that it had vastly improved his typing skills. Miss Markham, his grade 12 typing teacher, might be horrified at his technique, but at least it worked.
The day passed over quickly, and before long, his inbox was finally empty. He picked up the papers he had printed out and took them over to the filing cabinet and began filing them away.
Harold straightened immediately, the sultry voice cutting straight through his thoughts.
he offered weakly.
'Yes, quite new. Just started today. I'm Harold.'
He thrust a fistful of papers at her, which she just stared at. He withdrew them sheepishly.
'Charmed. I'm Penny.'
She opened a drawer and pulled out a file.
she said, and walked away. Harold stammered at her back uselessly for a moment and ran his hands through his hair. Penny, he mused. He set his paperwork on top of the cabinet and resumed filing.
A sudden gust of wind blew in through the window, and Harold shrieked as it picked up the pile of work and shoved it unceremoniously behind the cabinet. He heard it hit the floor, and let out a dismayed sigh. He looked around the office, unsure of what to do, but it had quite rapidly cleared out. He tugged at the cabinet, pulling it away from the wall. He picked up the papers, and started to stand when it caught his eye. A door way, only about 3 feet high, set into the wall. A brilliantly blue doorway. Harold stood hunched over for a moment, simply staring at it, not knowing exactly what to think. Exactly how much stranger could this day get, he wondered, and immediately regretted the thought. Mustering up all his courage, he put his hand on the knob, and turned.
The door swung open easily, and Harold stuck his head inside. It appeared to be a tunnel, just barely large enough to accomodate a man whose entire diet for the last year had been bar pretzels and stout. Knowing that it was the completely wrong thing to do, he crawled in, and the door slammed shut behind him. At once, the downward sloping tunnel went completely dark, which was a relief, judging by the alabaster and orange swirls he had noticed adorning the walls. He gave a resigned sigh, and began to descend. The tunnel grew colder, damper, and the floor was covered in a rather distasteful muck, which he tried to ignore. Just as he began to decide to go back, he heard a sudden rushing of wind, and was sucked the rest of the way into the tunnel until...
'You filled that typist position, today, then?'
she asked. She? Who was she?
a voice replied. Disembodied voice? No, not disembodied. Close embodied was more like it. The voice seemed to fill Harold's head.
'Some sad soul named... Harvey, was it? No... Not Harvey. Something to that effect though. He was wearing a goo suit, so I figured he couldn't be too bad.'
The woman nodded distractedly.
'OK then, moving on. What about this bit regarding the Non-English language postings?'
'I've been in the h2g2 Announcements forum all day trying to make it clear. Of course, there's more than a fair amount of unhappiness about it, which is to be expected. I'd be alarmed if there WASN'T some dissention over it, but the decision's been made. They've all agreed to the Terms and Conditions. I imagine it will sort itself out eventually. We'll be able to come to some sort of understanding.'
'Not much of a way to return from a holiday, eh?'
Just as the Italics was replying, the whooshing sound filled Harold's head again, and the next thing he knew he was in the middle of the park, unceremoniously dumped next to the very bench he had been sitting on the day before. He staggered to his feet, and rubbed his head ruefully.
'This is unbelievable!'
he exclaimed, and promptly headed off to Dominic's to forget about it.
The next morning, as he made his way to his desk, he spotted Penny, who was staring rather intently across the room at the Italics. He walked up to her and tapped her on the shoulder. She simply gave him a cool glance, and resumed her observation.
'You'll never believe what I found yesterday.'
Harold said breathlessly.
'Hand it over to a scientist, then!'
'No, really, you'll like this, I'm sure of it.'
He led her off to the bank of filing cabinets (which had been set aright again during the night.)
'I was in an Italics' head!'
Harold announced. Penny just blinked at him.
'No, I was... I WAS an Italics! Behind this cabinet, there's this... this portal! And.. I went through it! And... the next thing I knew... I was an Italics!'
She furrowed her brow at him.
'Behind this cabinet?'
she asked, indicating the cabinet in question. Harold moved the cabinet away from the wall again and pointed at the blue door triumphantly. Penny's face lit up.
'I want to try it!'
she said, her voice betraying her excitement.
'Not now, no that would be horrible timing. Meet me back here tonight, at around six-ish. Everyone should be gone by then.'
She leaned over and pecked Harold excitedly on the cheek. She walked away quickly, leaving Harold to wonder how he'd make it through the day.
Luckily, his inbox was once again flowing, and letting himself get caught up in his work, the day passed rather quickly. He slowed himself towards the end, and as 5:00 came and went, the Italics patted him on the shoulder.
'Go on home, Harvey... er, Harold, it will wait until tomorrow.'
Harold nodded agreeably and watched as the Italics stepped into the elevator. '1st Floor, Have a Wonderful Day', the elevator chirped. As the doors shut, and the elevator began to descend, Harold rushed over to filing cabinets, trying to focus on putting his papers away. Penny showed up some time later, her cheeks flush.
Harold pulled the cabinet away once more, and Penny excitedly opened the door.
'The dropoff in the park is a little bumpy. Meet me back here when you're done.'
Penny nodded hurriedly and Harold watched the door slam behind her. He paced about the office nervously, trying not to watch the clock. After what seemed to be an eternity, the elevator doors chimed, and Penny stepped out. She rushed across the office at Harold and threw her arms around him.
'Oh my God, this is HUGE,'
'We could sell admission!'
'You think people would... pay to be an Italics for a few minutes??'
Harold asked, incredulous.
Penny said eagerly.
'Think of all the policy changes they could try to enact. It could be wonderful. We'll put an ad in the paper! We'll be partners.'
she said in a conspiratorial whisper, and Harold was convinced.
It was far easier to arrange than Harold could have anticipated and within days, there were loads of people lined up in the office waiting their turn to be an Italics.
'Is it true?'
one of them asked excitedly,
'Can I really be an Italics??'
Harold nodded warmly and continued on, smiling as he listened to the people plotting on how best to use the opportunity.
'Foreign language postings!'
'The use of our own pictures!'
Another shouted excitedly. The room was abuzz.
Each night, Harold and Penny raked through their earnings.
'Do you think what we're doing is right?'
Harold asked one night.
'I mean, they may be Italics, but they ARE people, no?'
Penny shrugged the question off.
'What harm could it possibly do?'
She gave him a sultry glance, and Harold promptly dropped the subject.
After a few weeks of making quite a bit of money (and a large amount of confusion about the office at the sudden rash of extreme policy changes) Harold stood in the office, surveying the still large throng of customers who had come to be an Italics. Many of them were repeat customers, addicted to the power of being able to make changes to the policy as they saw fit. Others were there to change back some of the policy changes, since many of them were self-serving, and did the rest of the group no good. Harold shrugged and planned his next holiday in his head.
Suddenly, the elevator chimed, and Harold looked up, alarmed. Out strode a very angry looking Italics. He pulled someone out of the queue and demanded an explanation.
'You get to be an Italics!'
the clueless User said happily.
'You can enforce policy changes at will!'
The Italics spotted Harold and marched up to him.
he said in a less than friendly snarl.
'Uh, well sir.. there's this portal. It leads into your head.'
The Italics stepped back, disbelieving.
'Sir, I'm not so sure - '
'It's MY head! Now show me!'
Harold started to protest again, but closed his mouth and led the Italics to the door. Penny looked at Harold, alarmed. He shrugged at her and watched as the Italics opened the door.
The Italics crept uneasily down the tunnel, his temper still flaring. All at once, the whooshing sound filled his ears and -
'Non-English! Copyrights! Pictures! Links! Moderation! Zaphodistas! Non-English! Censorship! URLs! Foreign Languages! Moderation! Terms and Conditions! Pre-Beeb! Unfair! House Rules!'
The same sounds echoed agonizingly through his head, and just as he thought he might go mad, he found himself sitting next to a park bench.
'I need a drink.'
he said faintly, and wandered off to the nearest pub.
The next day, Harold walked to the office, his dread growing step by step. As the elevator doors opened, he debated about turning around and leaving. Instead, he stood dumbfounded, at the sight of an empty office. No rushing, no peering, no typing. Silence. Penny was standing at his desk, shaking her head sadly at him. He rushed over to her.
'What's going on?'
He asked, his voice thick with alarm.
'The Users all made sweeping policy changes, but didn't extend them to the other BBC sites. The Beeb has had suits filed against it left and right, not taking due care, defamation, discrimination, you name it. They've... they've decided to shut down h2g2!'
Harold staggered backwards in disbelief. A few minor policy changes? A few seemingly harmless accomodations had led... to this? He sank to the floor. What had he done? He watched speechlessly, numbly, as workers came in and began moving furniture out to be used on different floors. He reached out with one hand, shrieking noiselessly.