Theatre of Hades - Ooze from the Confetti Factory

Confetti by the Metric Ton
Confetti by the Metric Ton

An Introduction to the HADES theatre

Ooze from the Confetti Factory


“I've called you all off the factory floor for a reason everyone,” began Avery Williams, the CEO of Already Confetti. In the five years I've been proud to be managing this country, we've moved from 57th in the confetti business to 15th. I couldn't have done it without you. So I want each and everyone of you to think a way we can improve business over the next quarter.”

The room was silent. Then an obligatory, “Paying attention to the little details!” Then the list of platitudes came out.

“Trying make each day a better one than the last!”

“Always try to add more value to the product!”

“Remember we still have a long way to number one!”

After the four anonymous explanations the employees were dispersed to their roles in the factory. Only the assistant managers remained.

“You never get any meaningful suggestions from the employee meetings you know.” John Bolson, the senior assistant told Avery.

“Oh I know,” Avery responded, “Look, these are unskilled factory jobs. If my workers actually cared about the product they'd feel I was stealing their labor. Their minds and skills would be active—they might organize. As long as I make their work seem like a useless gesture for a paycheck the more docile they are. And docile employees do what they're told.”

“That's the logic?” Bolson exclaimed. “I would never have guessed.”

“Yes, well. That's why I'm running this company. I called you in here because we just have a huge order. This factory may not have the capacity to fill it.”

“Most contracted orders are late.” Jessica Lamb chimed in. “I have the numbers. The average is 17% late and 22% over budget.”

“I can always count on you for numbers Jessica,” Avery responded. “This is our chance to move up in the business. We can make enough to start buying up other companies. I've brought in an engineering consultant, Franz Lars, and a marketing consultant and organizational psychologist Karen Whitmore.”

“I've done a number of studies on what makes for the most pleasing confetti. It should be a rather simple matter of updating your product to the current situation and cutting costs.”

“And it's just as important to tweak the employee and the purchaser, as the product. I'll be helping there.” Karen explained

“What do you think we could do for our workplace, Karen?”

“This is always a tricky subject, that's kind of why I like it. So you send employees through this useless ritual like the one you performed and you get apathy, which is great. When employees perceive that they are being turned into cogs, which of course they are, boredom results, but then so does a feeling of camaraderie. That bond keeps people from perceiving all the other things you can do to increase productivity will keeping them herded.

“Human beings are superior to computers in that they can spot mistakes. But that's also a liability, because that means they can see your mistakes. You want them in a state of controlled boredom.”

“What would you suggest?”

“I would increase your lunch hour five minutes and invest in a juke box. Human consciousness can only process so much information at once. You want them to only think enough to make quality confetti. A great way to do that is to fill it with catchy music. They may get annoyed that a song won't leave their head, rather than their working conditions.”

“Excellent suggestions, Karen.” Avery responded. I'm sure you have many others.

“Of course.”

“Well, get on the factory floor and observe the workers.”

“I'm just poor, meek little Karen, who just wants to make your work day a more pleasant experience. In my spare time I'm a bored housewife.” Karen responded. Her voice seemed to raise an octave with half the volume. She was a high priestess of obsequiousness.

“Your thoughts Mr. Lars?”

“Confetti is a bit different than it used to be. The focus used to be on bright, solid strips. Nowadays people wanted their product quicker and more versatile. You can't focus on your basic rainbow colors. Now the process is more to make a custom color and three or four compliments. This is a hard departure from previous practice, but the clients demand it.”

“Is there going to be a big capital investment in new equipment?”

“No, inks are easily mixed. Studies show that generally the biggest impediment to the newest confetti styles are the central engineers. They generally need to be made to feel incompetent until a younger replacement can be found.”

“But our company has grown leaps and bounds in the past five years. He's been a big part of that success and he knows it.” Avery responded.

“It is incredibly simple to make someone feel incompetent. You just need to give them tasks that can't be done but pretend you're giving them plenty of time to work on them. Just pile on the tasks that can't be done over a period of time and someone will give in.”

“Excellent. You all attend to your duties gentleman and woman. We're going to wail away at the competition.” Avery instructed. Everyone but John Bolson went to the factory floor. “You have something to say John?”

“I don't trust these new consultants.”

“There credentials are impeccable.”

“I don't like the way they look at humans as machines.”

“Well, they are aren't they? Our employees? Trained to do a rote task all day with the bare minimum of thought so they can get wages to buy their needs?”

“Yes. I agree that's the situation. It's the way factory work is. But these consultants don't just look at our employees as wage drones. They look at them like toys.”

“Well, if anything goes terribly wrong we can fire everyone and go back to the old ways.”

“I suppose.”

“Your factory is holy inadequate,” Karen explained to Avery, flipping her pen around in her hand and consistently clicking it as though she used it incessantly to find errors.

“What makes you say that?” Avery asked. “It can't be that bad,” he said in defense. Even with Karen's diminutive stature she was intimidating because she spoke every word as if it were absolute truth.

“Your lunch hall is the room for greatest improvement. Remember, this is when your employees think they are on break from the job. You know otherwise. They might not be operating on the machines, but they're still on the job. Your lunch room doesn't take this into account. I've drawn up a list of suggestions.”

“Fire away.”

“First I would suggest a specific smoking area. A spot that is specifically removed from non-smokers so that the non-smokers don't deal with cigarette smoke at all.”

“Not bad.”

“The purpose of course is to create a smoking clique that is apart from the population. This will make it harder for your workers to organize. I would also recommend a jukebox, a large screen tv, and a gambling table of some sort.”

“Gambling table. For poker?”

“Black jack would serve your purposes better. In a poker game everyone plays against each other. In black jack they play against the house.”

“So you want me to turn my lunch hall into a gambling arena. Why?”

“It's simple. In black jack the house has the advantage. It's a guaranteed money maker. You must also understand that the compulsive gambler will become indebted to the house. He will thus begin surrendering possessions to you. A person who believes they are in debt by their own mistakes pays more reliably than one who thinks the debt is predatory.”

“So the juke box.”

“I have a contact with a quite professional company. They offer 100 song, 200 song, and 500 song juke boxes, each song demonstrated to have only the most modest of pleasure responses. With a lunch hour crammed with the blandest music one can imagine, your workers will never be truly inspired, only pacified.”

“I'll go with the 500 song jukebox.”

“Lastly, there's the television, which should be for sports.”

“That would definitely go over well.”

“Of course the sports should always be pre-screened for games where the home team always wins.”

“Wouldn't that get boring after a while?”

“People watch boring sports games. The purpose is to create, in the mind of the viewer, a sense of inevitable victory over competitors, even when the victory is pre-scripted and hollow.”

“What else would you suggest?”

“I've also taken a look at the factory floor, and there is a contact of mine I think you should consult. Emily Sanders.”

“And what does she do?”

“A combination of digital photography and painting. Every employee in your factory is responsible for some aspect of confetti. They see the raw materials, they see the finished project. What they don't see is how important their role is in making the product. Emily should be perfectly capable of creating before and after photos.”

“But the workers already see their portions. They know their input, their duty, and what the result is.”

“Well of course they can see that. What they can't see is how terrible the product would be if they neglected their duties. They know they have to do their duties so they can get paid, so they don't know what a completely neglected job would look like.”

“So Emily knows the business well enough to make the before and after photos.”

“No, she's an accomplished graphic designer—she doesn't have time for engineering. She can just imagine what a degradation of product would look like. She's quite skilled. No one will know the difference.”

“Excellent. You have the proposed changes to the factory on schematics? I'll talk to my accountant about purchasing.”

“Don't worry. By this time tomorrow you'll be able to see the changes.”

“So, Shawn,” Avery began, “How are you getting along with our engineering consultant Mr. Lars?”

“If I may be frank sir, he's a terrible engineer. I don't know why you're consulting him. He's not going to improve anything.”

“What makes you say that?”

“He keeps telling me to mix incompatible inks. He insists that today's client needs new colors, and he's probably right, but he doesn't know the chemistry of producing the colors he demands.”

“Are you saying certain colors just aren't possible? A computer printer can easily print any color of the rainbow.”

“Yes, but we're printing bulk paper, not a few glossy pages.”

“Well we're going to have to try something new. I'm about ready to bid on an entirely new line.”

“What's the gross?”

“$10 million.”

“You're not serious. We can't handle that kind of input. Look, I've been engineering efficiencies in our process for twelve years. That's five times what these machines can do.”

“Which is why we need an engineering consultant. Is he really suggesting impossible colors, or does he know more about the latest inks than you do?”

“He... might know. I... haven't gone to engineering school in a while.”

“Well, listen to his suggestions. I'm going to need some hard numbers for Jessica on this new proposal. Mr. Larz feels the engineering changes to meet the new demand are completely doable.”

“But sir! Running the machines hard enough to produce that load...”

“No more can'ts from you Shawn. I have faith in you and Lars.

* * *

The day at Already Confetti started out like just about any day since the new changes. The factory machines had increased their output sevenfold, Shawn Hayes, the engineer, still couldn't quite figure out how that was possible. Nor could he quite articulate what had happened to the rest of the employees in the factory. He could only note the physical changes in the staff. They had turned paler. Their voices were flatter. They seemed to have lost an inch of height from consistently slouching. But the most unsettling factor was they never seemed to blink.

Shawn typically ate alone, not really caring to interact much with people during work hours. This had especially been the case when the lunch arrangement had changed. The food served was not to his liking, the music had no passion, the conversation was terrible, the new TV should nothing but sports reruns, and he considered the black jack table shameless.

This day Shawn was called in to try to fix the juke box.

“What seems to be the problem?” Shawn asked when summoned.

“The music isn't playing right,” a female employee informed him. “It's playing the words out of order.”

Shawn give the music a bit of a listen.

The share of and you and me

The year of heartbreak, when you loved me...

It was drivel, but it was drivel out of order. It was a most unusual problem. If any computer memory was failing, it wouldn't leave the music intact but put the words out of order. An electrical or PA problem wouldn't cause that either.

“Here,” Shawn said, grabbing one side of the jukebox. “Help me move this thing forward.” Shawn and another employee grunted to move it forward. The object was mysteriously heavy. It didn't contain more information than could fit on a basic hand held music device. After being moved, drips of a sticky red substance could be seen running down the back and across the wires. The ooze rolled down the machine like melted candle wax. There was a great deal stuck to both the wires of the PA and the electrical outlet.

Much as the idea of getting a new PA system was a hassle, it was nothing compared to having to rewire the factory. All the music equipment was unplugged and Shawn unscrewed the outlets to see if this new red ooze had made its way into the electrical system. It had. Shawn made the decision to go off to the circuit breaker and cut power to the lunch room. Unnervingly, the circuits he had to cut also contained that ooze. He opened up the breakers to segregate the ooze from the rest of the factory's electricity.

Then he went back to the juke box. It was playing without electrical power. It started to do more than just play lyrics out of order. It was repeating chorus lines dozens of times, along with deleting words and lines from verses. It must have had a strange circuitry disorder. It was true as always that you can't really fix electronics, but Shawn decided to try to open the thing. He looked about for the machines screws and seams. It didn't look like the screws had been placed so as to allow for it to open, but the seams became increasingly clotted with the new ooze which seemed to lubricate the shell into falling apart.

Inside the machine the motherboard was horizontal and bowed downward like a bowl. A puddle of the ooze lay in the shallow depression. The puddle seemed to expand and contract, expand and contract, each expansion seeming a bit bigger than the last. Eventually some of the ooze would drip down off the motherboard. The strange thing about the puddle was that it wasn't coming from some tube connected to the motherboard. The puddle seemed to be growing of its own accord.

Shawn turned around and turned back to the factory workers. He seemed to have their own expression: fear, curiosity, befuddlement, horror—whatever it was, the weak posture and pale skin he'd been seeing in them for months had gone. Their muscles seemed tighter, ready to spring into some sort of action, though none of them really had any idea what action would be required.

A great deal of chatter erupted amongst the workers watching Shawn and the machine.

“I think it's evil. The fluid's moving in and out, like a demon heart.”

“This isn't a horror movie. Someone must have rigged it up inside.”

“But what is this substance anyway?”

“Well they can make all those fancy iPods and iPads, don't you think that they can unmake electronics?”

“That's impossible. If they could why wouldn't we recycle our old computers and phones? This is the devil's work I tell you.”

“Would you all be quiet!” Shawn commanded, wanted to examine this new problem in silence. “Get me a rag or a roll of paper towels.”

Someone produced a roll within a few minutes. Shawn placed the towel into the mess to see if it would absorb and it seemed not to and it seemed heavy enough that it might break the paper towel if too much was lifted at once. So he went through two dozen strips of paper towel until he cleaned the well the ooze seemed to have come from. But even as it seemed to expand upward from the depression in the motherboard Shawn couldn't find the source.

“I think it's safe to say we ought to haul this out to the trash.” Shawn finally concluded. Within half an hour it was being hauled out in a van while everyone returned to work. But after all duties had been attended to, the workers returned for a debate on the ooze, with some insisting a natural and others a supernatural cause. An agreement could not be reached. The factory's black jack dealer, having long made a living on people's false convictions, let the conflicting parties wager.

Shawn had come for some rather grim news for his boss. He had yet to identify the source of the ooze, but it had made it into the production line. He stood outside the door, terrified to knock. Ever since first working with Lars he'd been afraid of mentioning even the slightest problem to his boss. Lars' methods had increased production seven times over. It needed tinkering with from time to time, but Shawn was too afraid to mess too much with the system for fear he might get fired for a younger counterpart. Now he had to say something. But he hesitated, especially since he heard yelling inside his bosses' office.

“You have to do something Karen!” Avery yelled in desperation. “Look I don't know what happened but there was an incident with the jukebox. It stopped working and had some kind of red ooze inside.”

“Sounds like a prank. When did this happen?”

“A few days ago, but it's reached my workforce like a storm! Everyone's talking about it. They aren't listening to bland music or old football. They're doing research and thinking.”

“Calm down. This shouldn't require more than simple troubleshooting. You have any idea what the ooze might have been?”

“No.”

“Ok, look, when you consulted me I set up a system designed to keep people from thinking. You're not in my line of thinking so you don't understand that that is simply the best way to keep your employees in line. But you are still in a pretty safe position if the employees are consumed by questions that don't cover the basics. You know, 'Why am I here?', 'Why are you the boss?', 'Why do we need hierarchy?', etc. Just send the red stuff off to a chemical lab to have it analyzed. They'll find out what it is and then go back to their old habits, and since the machine is still under warranty we can send you a new one free of charge—provided we can see no one's tampered with it...”

“The employees got scared, chucked it in a van and ran off with it.”

“Oh, I'm sorry. The warranty doesn't cover employee theft I'm afraid. We can, however, offer a free consultation if the work environment gets too out of hand.”

“Thank you.” Avery concluded, hanging up the phone. His sudden change of heart gave Shawn the courage to enter.

“Shawn.”

“Sir, about the red ooze...”

“It's being sent off to be chemically analyzed ASAP. No need to worry about the jukebox whatsoever.”

“I'm not worried about the jukebox. That ooze had made it into the assembly line.”

“What? How did you let that happen?”

“I don't know where it came from or how it could have moved.”

“There must be a saboteur.”

“I don't earnestly think so sir.”

“What makes you say so?”

“The ooze is appearing in a particular part of the process, something Lars concocted. The stream-freeze ink method.”

“What's that?”

“Well, we had to make high volume confetti in colors not possible before. The steam freeze method is hitting the product with high power steam and liquid nitrogen at the same time. The ooze is coming from the liquid nitrogen pipe. No one could get inside that but the distributor. I think you ought to call Lars.”

“I will. Now get back to making confetti.”

“But sir!”

“What?”

“We don't know if the ooze is safe to run through the machines.”

“Then find out!” Avery screamed “we can't afford to be off schedule in our deliveries over this.”

“Yes sir.” Shawn left.

Avery dialed Lars office.

“Lars?”

“Yes?”

“Avery from Already Confetti. There's been a, uh, problem with your system.”

“When was it set up again?”

“Seven months ago.”

“Ok. You should know it's no longer under warranty. But I'll do what I can to help out my old friend and customer.”

“Have you heard any reports of a red ooze appearing in your systems?”

“No.”

“Well, this red mystery substance, it's leeching into the system and altering our product.”

“I've never heard of a problem like this before. Have you pinpointed the source?”

“My engineer tells me its coming from the... liquid nitrogen pipes for steam freezing.”

“What? That's impossible! Are you joking with me? I mean the system's not under warranty anymore. I can't fix it, no matter what story you make up.”

“I'm not joking. That's where my engineer said the problem was.”

“So this ooze is soluble with liquid nitrogen and doesn't freeze?”

“I guess.”

“I think I ought to see this myself. A substance like that might be worth quite a bit.”

By the time Lars made it to the factory the red ooze had found its way into just about every part of the industrial process: the transformation of wood pulp to paper, the chemical softening, the dying process, the shredding, and the co-mingling. This had of course brought production to a halt. The ooze had yet to identified chemically but one odd fact about it remained: it was dissolved by carbon. It bleached newsprint and books, so the factory was running on its lowest setting with charcoal dust being added during each phase. The charcoal seemed to eliminate the ooze at one stage only to have it return in the next. But with enough charcoal added to the mix, the ooze would be eliminated at that stage. People wondered if production could continue if enough additive were involved.

Lars went to look at the system, “I've never seen anything like this before. You made the 10 million order didn't you?”

“Yes sir. We most certainly did. But we'll fall behind again if we have to replace all our equipment. Hell there's no telling if the new equipment might get infected.”

“You've sent the ooze off to a chemical laboratory?”

“Yes.”

“I come to offer you a contract.”

“Contract?”

“Well, whatever this substance is, it might be worth a fortune. We've already filed for a patent. If you want an extended legal battle over rights I'm sure my firm is prepared to do so...”

“I'll let my CFO look over your terms. So listen, what do we do? You're more familiar than anyone else about the system you modified.”

“Well you've been using this new charcoal system have you not? Does it produce a similar product?”

“We're having quality assurance testing that right now.”

“Lead the way Avery.”

Avery went down a long metal hallway to a set of double iron doors.

“Boss?” one of the workers looked up from a microscope being used to examine the confetti.

“Can we get rid of the ooze?” Avery asked.

“There's still microscopic droplets,” the scientist replied, “and all our experience is that this stuff reproduces.”

“Well then, who are your clients?” Lars asked

“That $10 million gross deal was with the American Party Supply Institute.”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Lars looked on in disgust. “You run this confetti factory, but have no idea where it goes?”

“Avery!” Shawn shouted out, exasperated. “Why didn't you tell me Lars was here? Didn't you think I should have known?”

“Well, you've been on the ground dealing with this ooze. Lars needed filling in. In any case, you're here now. So back to the APSI order. Confetti is a party supply is it not? Is it not unreasonable to assume they needed my product?”

“You are quite naive. Do you have a chief accountant of some kind? He ought to be able to fill you in.”

“Yes, I imagine she will. I think Ms. Lamb's in her office. I'll call her on my cell phone.” Avery dialed the number

“Yes? Mr. Williams?” Jessica replied.

“The 10 million gross account, the American Party Supply Institute, is that a real company?”

“Well of course not Mr. Williams.”

“But we do sell to real companies don't we?”

“Of course not. We got out of that game some time ago.”

“Not taking into account that big deal our sale of confetti has gone up about 78%, and we don't sell to real companies? Who are we selling this stuff to?”

“As I handle our accounts I can't tell you.”

“What do you mean you can't tell me?”

“I file all the 787 forms. They include confidentiality clauses.”

“Confidentiality clauses for confetti?”

“Yes of course. Our customers don't want anyone to know that they're actually using confetti.”

“Isn't that the exact opposite of the purpose of confetti? You throw it into the air haphazardly?”

“Mr. Avery Williams this is quite unbelievable. I know you're not a numbers person and have let me handle client details, but are you really blind to your clients? Do you know what a 787 form is?”

“I always let you in charge of the numbers.”

“A 787 is an application for a temporary company to make a single purchase with its initial capital investment. It includes a confidentiality agreement from the supplier.”

“I know you can't name names, but then what kind of clients do we have?”

“Advertising agencies, political campaigns, understaffed newspapers, ghost-written blogs... anybody who needs truth faster than it can actually be produced.”

“Needs truth?”

“Confetti is stock phrases, cliches, talking points, ambiguous positions, press releases for events that never happen, that kind of thing.”

“So people paste together our confetti and false advertising comes out.”

“No, not false advertising. Fragmentary truth. Statements resembling truth that are good enough for the moment, for the teleprompter. You think in the information anyone that runs for high office can have knowledge and a position on everything? This day and age needs confetti more than ever. That's what's responsible for our growth.”

“Oh,” Avery slumped back and dropped the phone. “Lars, I'll need to see you in my office in a bit. I just... uh, need a little time.”

He walked off and Shawn picked up the phone.

“Mr. Williams? What's going on? Are you there?”

“It's me Jessica.”

“Shawn Aaron! You've been so busy we haven't had much time to talk.”

“I, uh, only heard Avery's half of the conversation. People paste together our confetti to make false advertising?”

“No, as I explained to Mr. Williams, we make fragmentary truth. Expedient truth. Truth that's good enough for the moment when no one really knows the truth. Does this shock you?”

“No. All the modifications to our products over the years...”

“They impressed our clients. This company wouldn't be what it is without you.”

“I... I didn't know I was doing what I was doing. But it all seems to make so much sense now. I'm an engineer. I keep a system together. I just didn't realize what was the system I was keeping together. Lies.”

“Not necessarily lies. Sometimes lies. More like statements made in an era moving too fast for true self examination.”

“You knew this all along and never said anything?”

“You and Avery performed so well in this business I thought you must have known. “

“I must confess I've grown weary of this business. I mean the factory engineering. Solving the problem with this ooze is novel. I don't know, maybe it'll be the challenge I've been looking for.”

“That's the spirit Shawn Aaron! Look I've got a desk full of numbers to crunch.”

“See you at the next staff meeting.”

Avery closed the door hard and locked the deadbolt. He was going to finish this business with Lars without any further interruption.

“This ooze is everywhere. It's made its way through the entire system. You set up the system, you must have seen it before.”

“No. I haven't.”

“How many of these systems have you set up?”

“Thirty, at least. My best guess is 31.”

“You must have seen this before.”

“No, I've never seen it before.”

“Well I can't produce my product in the system. The ooze multiplies, there seems to be no way to get rid of it. But at the end of my process the particles are only microscopic. It's confetti, and just has to be thrown everywhere, quickly. I'm asking for your advice. Do you think I can still move my product?”

“You really don't understand big business. Hell, your chief accountant has a better understanding than you. If you produce enough numbers you can pull a fast one on anybody. I can set you up with a nice university that will produce a study that shows objectively the inked confetti is superior. Then you move it as fast as you can until your system is fixed.”

“What if the product turns out to be horrible?”

“You don't ask what if's in this business. If you want to play with the big dogs you ought to get used to that fact. That's what your product is for—instantaneous appearance of thoughts you've never had.”

“We have got things down to having the ink be microscopic before its shipped. How much for that study?”

“Two million.”

Million? But that's almost all we made in net on that big order.”

“Yes well, if you send your new product out to disaster you'll ruin your company for sure.”

“Alright. A million.”

“Two million. You won't find a better offer.”

“I can't face my shareholders without some profit on that deal. 1.7 million.”

“Hmm...”

“1.8 million.”

“I suppose.”

“Do you have any idea what's going on, Lars?” Avery pleaded.

“Everything's fine. There's always a solution for these types of things.”

“What kind of solution do you expect here?”

“One will show up. Always does.”

“If we ship a ruined product?”

“That's why you'll have the study. Should hold up in court.”

“But no one will purchase anything from us again!”

“Declaring bankruptcy isn't as rough or shameful as it sounds.”

“Bankruptcy? This is my company and it's going to be ruined!”

“You shouldn't concern yourself to much. You did remember to give yourself a huge bonus for that $10 million deal didn't you?”

“Bonus? For the deal we're going to spend $1.8 million covering our asses on and barely make a profit?”

“An unfortunate consequence. But you secured that enormous offer, you ought to be paid well for it.”

“Enough to retire, huh Lars?”

“What? No, you're a CEO. You just move on to another industry. You have administrative experience. You can run any company that you want.”

“But a huge part of my success in this company came from my experience with this product.”

“Your next company doesn't need to know that.”

Avery's face bleached. This new ooze was a freak of nature. Lars was a bona fide monster. He could shrug off even the worst of consequences—provided that they happened to anyone but him.

“I can't believe I trusted you with my company.”

Lars stretched his arms high into the air and yawned at Avery as though he was spitting in his face. “Your mistake. Not mine.”

“Got out of here before I call the police.”

“Don't bother. I'm gone. You're not paying me to be here.” Lars nonchalantly walked out the door. He closed the door with little effort. But in the gulf of silence in Avery's office, it seemed to be slammed shut. Avery looked deep in the ebony of his desk before pressing a button on his intercom. “Shawn?”

“Yes. Boss?”

“Prepare our new product for shipment.”

“Avery I need to talk to you in your office. Alone. Now.”

“You disagree with this decision?”

“Vehemently.”

“If you must, you can come to my office. We'll settle our differences.”

Shawn walked into Avery's office without any of the hesitations of his previous visits.

“Sir, you can't sent out our product. We don't know what the ooze is. We don't know what it does. I don't know, maybe the factory machinery is finished, but if you send this shipment out it won't matter. The company will be ruined.”

“How am I supposed to face my shareholders? When they find out about the problems we've been having our stock price will plummet. The very capital we'd need for a maintenance will dry up.”

“You don't think people are going to find out about this? You think that ooze is just going to disappear? Machines can be replaced. A reputation can't. I've been proud of our product. Maybe fragmentary truth wasn't what I thought I was producing, but the world does seem to need it. I think Jessica was right. If a society is running too fast to truly think about what it's doing, something has to be done. Some sort of product is necessary to fill that gap. I still don't know how I feel about the product but we can't display this type of negligence.”

“Are you only capable of thinking like an engineer?” Avery asked, face downward.

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“You don't really know the purpose of a CEO. To you I'm just a boss that has expectations regarding your performance. But a CEO's job is to manipulate people. The CEO manipulates the employees to do the job he wants for the pay he's willing to give them. He manipulates managers to have them keep rank and file in line. He manipulates shareholders to be pleased with the company's performance. The CEO is supposed to be the one in control. To find out I'm just a cog in the system, making fragmentary truth... who cares if the product is good or bad? I exist...” the words became hollow in Avery's mouth “... to make profit. And I can't make profit without a product.”

“I'm putting my foot down. Don't ship this product.”

“There's nothing you can say or do to change my mind. If you can't solve the ooze problem I'm just going to have to talk to Lars.”

“The man who ruined everything in the first place?”

“He understands running a company. You don't.”

Shawn walked into Jessica Lamb's office with a dejected look on his face.

“Shawn Aaron!” Jessica exclaimed. “I've missed you.”

“Have you? Avery sent out our new product.”

“I know. Money's coming in. No delinquent payments.”

“You have a tv in your office?”

“My computer ought to be able to pick up anything you want to show me.”

“I was worried about what you were talking about. Fragmentary truth. So I did a few hours of investigation. Listen to this. C-Span:

Freedom of religion is a commandment from God whose sanctity cannot be trampled upon. The murder of a child is murder. It does not matter if that child is elected or not. That child has a right to take up the call to office, and we must respect that right and put that child in office.

“Hmm... the product was faulty. I'll tell Avery I've got to get started with some creative accounting.”

“No. Jessica, you know I've always felt you understand how I feel.”

“Shawn Aaron.”

“I think I'm going to quit. I'm an engineer. I work on systems. I'm not ok with fragmentary truth. I think I'm going to investigate the ooze. How long do you think this company is going to last?”

“The confetti purchase system is complex enough that I can make sure it doesn't lead back to us. So it depends on if you can get the equipment fixed.”

“What if I don't want the equipment fixed?”

“Well... you either want to work here or you don't. To work here the equipment has to be fixed.”

“So that's it? I just go back to being a cog in the machine.”

“You'd prefer to be an ooze monger?”

“What about you? You're ok with just being a cog in the machine?”

“That's all anyone ever is. Look, I told you, our age is moving to fast for the truth. Society needs people that understand this.”

“You sound already decided. But then answer me this. What is it and where'd it come from?”

“Look, Shawn, I imagine I'm going to be extremely busy quite soon. But I'll help you with this problem. We're friends. Where did this stuff first start?”

“In the jukebox.”

“What was so special about the jukebox? What did it play?”

“I don't remember.”

“Really? It's been here for some time, and you don't remember a song or two?”

“I didn't really listen. It's just the kind of stuff you'd here on the radio.”

“What 'kind of stuff' that you'd hear on the radio?”

“Just... stuff.”

“Are you surprised that you can't remember a single song?”

“Yes.”

“I'm not.”

“And those sports games on the new TV's. Can you remember a single game?”

“No.”

“And the modifications you made to the confetti over the years. How well can you remember them?”

“Off the top of my head not that many. Though if I could take a look over my schematics and calculations I think I'd remember a lot more.”

“Yes... if you could look over some of the things you've written. You know why I'm top accountant here? My files can document every transaction this company has ever made, and I can retrieve that information readily.”

“But what if someone came in one night, and changed the numbers without you knowing.”

“The thought has kept me up at night. No one knows the numbers well enough to do it, but I fret about it.”

“But this ooze. I remember when it started, how it ruined the factory, how Avery put through the stupid order. I remember how it drips, how it sticks, what makes it breed, what keeps it in check.”

“Yes, you do. And I'm afraid, as an accountant, I can't really tell you anymore. Look, whatever it is, deal with it. Put your mind to it. Examine it as if it's a problem that can be solved. That's the only way to save the factory. I need you to keep your head clear. Avery's flipped a gasket. He couldn't have planned for the accident but he's had a fair hand at bringing down his own company. He... talked to a contact of Lars. Someone who works with a private equity firm. He thinks they can save the company. But those kinds of firms don't always have the incentive to save a company.

“Avery is turning to help from the very people that destroyed his company?”

“He's pretty convinced our company's new problem can be solved by businessmen. So he's hired the biggest players.”

“It's...” Shawn didn't know what combination of business and engineering might be necessary. “Entirely an engineering problem!”

“If that's how you feel then you're going to need your wits about you. These companies don't play nice. As the chief engineer they're going to look at you as the first problem to be solved. You'll need to be determined if you want the factory fixed.”

“Maybe I don't want the factory fixed. Maybe I disagree with its product.”

“I suppose that's up to you. All things considered, I'd prefer to have a job.”

“No. The ooze is a new challenge I'm up to. Maybe ooze flows out when the confetti machines have had enough... In any case, I shouldn't abandon what I've worked twelve years on. Maybe this company is going to fail. But I will find out what this ooze is if that's possible.”

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