It was already hot from the sun as the women fell out with their gear at Camp Carnegie; they spent the morning getting fitted with their new dark gray cadet uniforms. Now they would be introduced to their barracks, their new home for the next six weeks. When the six weeks was up, they would hopefully be official bureaucrats. And they would now meet First Sergeant Conklin, which no one was looking forward to.
Morgan Proctor was only 21 years of age when she joined the Bureaucracy; much to her mother's antagonism, she got her bachelor's degree in business management from Syracuse and went straight into bureaucrat training in the Mountains outside of Pittsburgh at Camp Carnegie. Her mother had insisted that she join her sister in getting a medical degree, but she had other ideas. The 'Stubborn Leo Girl' lived up to the nickname that her father had given her years before. And now she found herself in bureaucrat training. There was a quick panic as the girls tried their best to fall into rank in front of the red brick barracks; the burly First Sergeant looked them over like a butcher would look at meat to be cut.
First Sergeant Conklin was intimidating; a thick tough Irish woman, she had a large crack in her left eyeglass lens. She was famous for staring at a trainee with that broken lens, like some mad cyclops of myth. At her heels was an immaculately-dressed tough young drill corporal with sandy hair that stayed with her like a well-trained attack dog.
"Any time this year," she bellowed to the girls, "any time this year." The trainees took what little they learned and used their arms to get the proper distance between them. "Pathetic, absolutely pathetic. This is the best that they could send me? You girls look like you just fell off a farm truck on Mars. I hope like hell you studied your smart books on the way over here. Corporal Sanborn, do you think any of these rejects took the time to study their books?"
"I would doubt it, First Sergeant. You'd be lucky if any one of them could read Galactic Standard."
Conklin continued. "When you girls are done fidgeting like a bunch of scouts, I'll get started. My name is First Sergeant Renee Conklin; you will address me as either First Sergeant, or ma'am - it makes no difference to me. I will tell you this; you can ask anyone on this street - I am the craziest woman you will ever meet. Anyone here that thinks they can challenge me, just step up here and we'll sort things out, right here and now."
Morgan thought about how ridiculous that comment was; like someone would just jump up and challenge her to a fist fight. She and the others were more interested in getting settled into their barracks.
Soon the girls were in their proper formation. The marauding sergeant glanced at the girls' name badges. She finally spoke again. "Trainee Chu," she barked, "what is the First Bureaucratic Order?"
The young tiny Korean girl spoke up loudly. "First Sergeant - the first order is, 'flippancy is a stern taskmaster.'"
"Out-damn standing! We have a young businesswoman in our midst. Maybe there is some hope for you losers after all, but I would doubt it." She made her way down the line. "Proctor...sounds like something you'd make coffee with. Percolator - what is the Third Bureaucratic Order?"
Morgan nervously cleared her throat. "First Sergeant, the Third..."
Conklin broke in. "Sound off, damn it! I can't hear you."
"The Third Bureaucratic order is, 'the job isn't over until the paperwork is finished.'"
"Out-standing! Work on that shyness problem, Percolator."
Morgan then caught the attention of Sanborn. The officious woman straightened her collar, and was rough in the way she did it. "Sloppy, Proctor - check your uniform. I can see that you're going to be my main Problem Child for the cycle."
The stocky cadre finally stopped in front of a frightened, skinny girl from Georgia. "Good God...who kept you from the dinner table?" She glanced at her name badge. "Chastain - what is the Second Bureaucratic Order?"
The girl peered through thick glasses, which accentuated the size of her large dark eyeballs; her eyes darted around nervously. She got a lump in her throat.
"Oh, for the love of God, don't tell me that you don't know." She turned to the tall black girl next to her. "You - Jolly Green Giant - Mayhew...the Second Order."
"Ma'am - 'failure is not an option.'"
"Outstanding. Listen up people...none of you will make it through this program unless you study your materials. I'm going to tell you that you need to know what is in your smart books - study them religiously, day and night. None of you are going to achieve perfection...but you should chase after it nonetheless. Tonight we start your first class in supply chain management and logistics - after you scrub down the billets. And I want these billets good-to-go and squared...away. If any of you are afraid of hard work, I'm going to cure that in a hurry." She turned back to the Georgia girl. "I'm going to be keeping a close eye on you, Chastain - from now on you're going to be my 'House Mouse'. Proctor, she's going to be your charge from now on when I'm not around; every time she screws up, you're going to be doing extra duty."
Morgan burned her angry eyes at Chastain.
"Eyes forward! I didn't give you hoodlums permission to socialize. Now fall out and get your barracks squared away. Double-time it. The corporal will ensure that you get everything right."
While the girls got settled into their bunks and got their gear stowed into their storage lockers, Drill Corporal Sanborn went in to each room to teach the women how to properly make their beds. As Morgan stowed away her things, she placed a small leather case on the shelf inside.
"What is in that?" asked Sanborn.
"It's a rosary that my father got me from Mars; I'm not that religious, but it's made from Black Martian Onyx." She opened up the case and held it up for Sanborn to see. "It is a religious item; I'm aware of the regulations permitting such items."
Sanborn studied it from afar. "Someone must really love you." With that, she walked away.
Morgan was both puzzled and saddened by the comment; she wondered if the corporal felt like she'd never known love in her life. She put the case back inside and closed her locker.
Later, after a long afternoon of cleaning the barracks and classes, the girls of Delta Company found themselves waiting in line outside of the chow hall in the South Refectory. Tall Mayhew took an opportunity to rib Morgan as she absorbed herself in her bureaucratic smart book; the book contained nearly everything they were required to know for graduation. "You're really into that thing, aren't you? You act like you want to be Bureaucrat General someday."
"I plan to."
"I plan to. You'll hear of me someday."
"Listen to this," Mayhew told her friends, "she's going to be Bureaucrat General someday." Several of them chuckled.
Morgan looked up from her book. "Why get into something without getting into it all the way? I plan to go as high as I can go in this organization."
Corporal Sanborn quickly marched up, in watchdog mode. "Quit chattering...eyes forward. You should be studying your book like this trainee here." Sanborn grabbed Proctor by the arm like a child, and pulled her away from the others. "Come here - I want to speak to you."
"Secure that crap about becoming Bureaucrat General; it'll never happen. You'll be lucky if you don't wash out as a TDP."
"Corporal? Did I offend you in some way?"
"Eyes forward! Don't look me in the eye. Now I've heard about your fancy background. You'll be dropped from here, and your rich Mommy and Daddy will get you into medical school so you can charge a fortune for a procedure. But you won't make it here - just keep that in mind. You don't have what it takes to be a bureaucrat. Now get your butt back in the chow line."
Filled with rage, she buried her nose back in her smart book.
Mayhew leaned over and whispered in her ear. "Don't let miss dogface get to you; this whole thing is nothing but a stinking head-game, and don't you forget that. And remember what NCO means - 'no chance outside'."
As the events of the butt-chewing died away, a noise drifted across the parade ground. A company of male trainees came jogging by on an exercise run, smartly barking out cadence.
"Punch that clock at a quarter till five,
Got a pile of paperwork a mile high.
Pick it all up and shuffle the pile,
Get it all stamped in the proper file, singin' hey all the way, hey every day..."
Morgan Proctor just stood there mesmerized. Mayhew waved her hand in front of her face. "She's stunned, guys." She gently closed Morgan's jaw with her finger. "I think she's just spotted something that caught her attention."
Chu jumped into the conversation. "Must have been that dark-haired number in the front."
Mayhew chuckled. "I'll bet she's already named the children - "
"Jack, Edward and little Nina," mumbled Morgan, still staring blankly.
"She does have it bad," Mayhew continued. She turned to see the corporal standing in front of her.
"Are you girls going to get in here and eat? And you, Percolator...get your goat-smelling butt in here and eat, or I'll find something else for you to do. I've got lots of papers that need filing down at battalion headquarters, if you'd rather not have dinner."
"Percolator, you've ended up on my radar screen in a big way..."
Morgan ignored her and got into the food line.
When Morgan finally went to bed, she was out like a light. She didn't remember waking up, but was now acutely aware of her surroundings. She was in a building on an island off the coast of California. And she now had an arch enemy of the Bureaucracy cornered in front of her. "Denominos," she whispered coolly, "we meet at last."
The mutated little green man spun around in surprise. He was horrible to look at; his head was swollen in proportion to his small body. His eyes were a hideous red color. "Morgan Proctor the bureaucrat; how in the devil did you get in here?"
"You've got a sloppy staff, you stunted tax cheat. And it's all about those small details, isn't it? It's the little foxes that eat the vines."
He squinted his eyes. "Ah, the first Bureaucratic Order: flippancy is a stern taskmaster. they taught you well, Miss Morgan. But there will be no audit of my affairs this day."
"Oh, really? I beg to differ. This place is now crawling with Internal Security Bureau agents like cockroaches in a cheap diner. It's time to open those books, you evil Cretin."
"I don't think so," Denominos told her. He reached for a laser-type weapon which was attached to a power box. "I would rather die than be audited by the Bureaucracy; and I don't plan on dying anytime soon."
Before he could squeeze the trigger, the lights went out in the room they were standing in.
"What? What's happening?"
Morgan grabbed the device out of his hands. "Bad little children shouldn't play with dangerous toys, Denominos. Seeing as you had a terribly inefficient staff, if you had any at all, your electric bill has been unpaid for quite some time. It looks like the chickens have come back to roost."
"Ah, but I have a flashlight." He tried to turn it on, but it wouldn't work. He swore.
"You haven't been checking the batteries...flippancy is indeed a stern taskmaster."
"Curse you," he spat, "and your wicked efficiency."
"Get ready to open those books, buster - we'll bring in some lights to read with."
Denominos looked down at the floor. "Really, I should hate you and your efficiency...but deep down inside I know you're right."
Men and women in suits began filing into the chamber with briefcases and battery-powered lights. They handed Morgan a piece of paperwork, which she held up in her hands. "You have been defeated by me. I need for you to fill this form out. Specify on it how well I defeated you; have you been utterly defeated by me? Have you been barely defeated by me? Would you be defeated by me again?"
Denominos reproachfully accepted the paperwork. He pulled out a pen, but was unable to get it to work.
"Hah, it figures; you don't even have ink in your pen. Nehru once taught us that the highest type of efficiency is that which can utilize existing material to the best advantage. You don't even have a working ball point pen."
The little green man looked up into her eyes. "What is all that prattle? What does that all mean?" He suddenly got an angry look on his face and said, "Get up!!"
Morgan Proctor was suddenly aware of a loud slamming noise around her and a shouting.
"Get up," the voice said, "get up, get up, get the hell up. Get up! Get...up!!"
Her eyes opened to a brightly lit room. "What?" she asked in a groggy voice. "What's going on?"
Her buddy Mayhew shoved her shoulder. "Come on, Proctor - it's 0430. Get moving before Conklin gets back in here and knocks you out of bed."
"Oh, nuts! It can't be."
"It is...deal with it. Let me guess - you were deep in the middle of a dream...probably something to do with being a bureaucrat..."
Morgan covered her head with a pillow. "You know me too well."
Sanborn came into the room and kicked around a trash can. "You're moving too slow! You're moving too slow! Percolator - get your goat-smelling butt out of bed!"
As the days went on, the girls often found themselves in trouble; they very quickly figured out that this was just part of a military training regimen; there was no way that they were going to avoid it. Nearly every day they were sent over to do paperwork at battalion headquarters after a violation; and it was typically Sanborn that would catch them doing the wrong thing.
"I am sick of this," announced Mayhew. "The whole reason we're here is because of that little skinny Georgia girl Chastain. I have a good mind to give her a blanket party."
"You'll do no such thing," responded Morgan, "you know she's trying her hardest. She just doesn't have...what it takes. That's all."
"If I have to sort paperwork down here one more time..."
Morgan put her work aside. "Mayhew, the whole reason you're not doing well with it is because you're not doing it right. May I?"
A surprised Mayhew let Morgan begin to do her work. "You really like this, don't you? Unless you've forgotten, it is supposed to be a punishment...not a privilege."
"Well, I'm good at it...I guess you can say I like it a bit."
An excited Chu came walking up. "Hey, guess what - I found an electronic newspaper with news from New New York."
Mayhew leaned over. "Let's see..." Starving for news from the outside world, the girls watched the moving images on the synthetic paper.
Chu began giving a narration of the day's events. "Well, there's an article about some delivery ship that's gone missing; they think the crew might have been killed by a swarm of space bees."
"Go on," said Mayhew.
"And, there is this article about some young alien woman that has become employee of the year over at Applied Cryogenics. She just un-froze her 100th person."
"And you say she's an alien?" asked Mayhew. "Where is she from?"
"It isn't really clear on that; but she's got one eye in this picture. Her purple hair is pretty. And look at this - space hero Zapp Brannigan has just taken the Planet of the Centipedes...Morgan threw up her hands in frustration. "What has any of that got to do with any of us? We have a task at hand."
"Oh, I don't know," said Chu. "It's just fun to see something from the outside world. Probably none of this will make any difference to us anyway. You could just lighten up a bit."
"Ladies, I am first and foremost a bureaucrat; that's what I do. If you two want to screw around, I won't stop you. As for me, I've been given a task and I'm going to complete it."
Mayhew looked at Chu. "She really is serious about becoming Bureaucrat General."
That next afternoon the girls from Delta Company were taking a class on how to field strip an Agamemnon computer system, and re-assemble it. First Sergeant Conklin stood at the front of the class and held a wrist computer up for all to see.
"This is the Agamemnon 636A4 computer system. It will be on your wrist at all times, except when you shower. This will be your husband for the next six weeks, so you will give it a man's name and take good care of it."
A chuckle came from the group, which drew an evil look from Sanborn. "Secure that lip."
Conklin continued. "I call mine 'Edgar.' This machine will be of the utmost importance in all that you do here at Camp Carnegie; if you lose it, I am going to find the biggest oak tree in the county and hang you from it. If you damage it, I will give you something that will ruin your whole...day."
Conklin proceeded to explain the workings of the computer, and expound on how to break it down into its individual parts. Behind her on the wooden wall was a huge poster with a picture of one of the units disassembled.
Morgan had very little difficulty in breaking the machine apart, having had to work on her father's mining equipment on Mars. She then glanced over at Chastain, who was very quickly falling behind the others. And, as if that weren't enough, Sanborn took an interest in her and came up like a hungry shark. She addressed her gruffly.
"Trainee, is there some particular reason that you are always the cow's tail at everything?" After watching the skinny girl struggle, she then snatched the computer away from her. "Here - we haven't got all day."
When Sanborn was finished, she held up the computer. "There - this needs to be done in 11 seconds to get a go on your test." She then tried to turn it on, and it failed to come to life. She tried again, with the same result.
Morgan cleared her throat. "You assembled it wrong."
This drew an angry look from Sanborn. "What did you say?"
Morgan reached over and popped open a door on the bottom of the unit with her finger. "You were thinking of the old A3 unit; there is a difference. Look - this chip goes here, and this chip goes here. I helped my father fix these on Mars on his laser-borers one summer."
The computer purred to life. Sanborn squinted her eyes at Morgan as she handed back the computer unit to Chastain. "I thought I told you not to look me in the eye, trainee."
Morgan kept her voice low. "Look, Drill Corporal, I don't know what your problem is...I don't know whether you didn't get a red wagon in the third grade or what, but Chastain here is at least trying her best."
Sanborn's eyes got large, and then they squinted again. "Smart, I like; smart-ass, I don't. Just keep in mind that you haven't graduated yet, Miss Morgan." Sanborn left to chew on one of the other trainees, and Morgan went back to helping Chastain. As she watched the corporal walk away, she wondered whether she'd torpedoed herself with her mouth.
"Way to go," Mayhew told her. "You really have a way with people."
Early evening found the girls at the cinema watching a human resources film so old that it must have been made before the alien wars; even the Bureaucracy uniforms were horrendously out of date. The film itself covered a host of ridiculously boring topics having to do with office procedure. As the film played, the cadre were walking around the theater and threatening the women not to sleep.
"If I catch any of you asleep," Conklin told them, "I will punish the person next to them."
Chastain was understandably tired, but Morgan kept shoving an elbow into her arm.
On Saturday the girls got a bit of liberty; it felt good to finally get down to the Post Exchange and buy some needed items. Mayhew poked Morgan in the shoulder and pointed to a group of male trainees clowning around. "They must be easily amused," she told her.
A young Jamaican turned to address the girls. "Dis is some serious stuff here, mon. I happen to be a limbo champion back in Kingston."
Mayhew put her hands on her hips. "You're so chunky...there is no way that you can tell me that you actually limbo."
"Woman, I can limbo with the best of them. Hold up that broom and I'll show you."
Mayhew and Morgan chuckled as they held up the broom. Their friend Cortez turned on the appropriate music on her wrist-computer, and the young man went into his routine.
When it was over, Mayhew was duly impressed as she shook her head. "He can limbo..."
"Hermes Conrad is the name, and limbo is my game."
The girls applauded. "Do you think we'll ever see him again?" asked Cortez.
Morgan chuckled. "He won't make it three weeks into the program; if he somehow sneaks by, he'll end up stuck in some cruddy little company for the rest of his life." She suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. "It's him..."
Mayhew could tell what she was looking at. "Well, go over there and talk with him."
She looked at Mayhew's face in a panic. "Oh God - I can't."
"Why? Go over there and bump into him, accidentally. That's your man - go over there and get him."
She felt more awkward than she'd ever felt in her life. Morgan Proctor could do so many things, and do many of those well, but she felt paralyzed as she watched him walk by. She did notice his nametag as he was leaving.
Mayhew nudged her in the shoulder. "Girl, you've gotta do something about that yellow streak of yours..."
"I am not yellow...I just couldn't do it."
"Like I said...yellow. I would have had him home and cooked him a meal by now."
As the days rolled by, the first of the girls began dropping out of the program; the typical excuse was carpal tunnel syndrome from all the computer work they were doing. This would earn them a TDP, or Trainee Discharge Program release from the school. Bony little Chastain hung with it, in spite of being picked on terribly by the cadre; she was labeled with the harsh nickname of "House Mouse" by the sergeants, who loved to taunt her. Typically, Drill Corporal Sanborn would begin the taunting, and the others would join in like members of a gang. They would often bellow out something like, 'House Mouse - what's the time?' She would respond in a loud voice, 'Ma'am, at the beep it will be 1730 hours. BEEP!' Another of their cruel games was to have her run all the way around the company as a 'satellite,' beeping as she went. Still, Chastain had incredibly thick skin, and endured the punishment without complaint.
Morgan, Cortez and Mayhew helped her by quizzing her in the chow line and on their free time; slowly but surely they helped to build her knowledge and confidence up.
All of this was an interesting experience for Morgan, being thrown in with women from all over in one small barracks. In the evenings they would chat as they shined their boots for the next day.
"Mayhew," Morgan asked, "what do you plan to do after this is over with?"
"Hopefully go back to Oklahoma, if I can get posted there." She prided herself on how shiny she could get her boots, and Morgan became an expert at shining up the brass on their uniforms; they helped the other girls with this. "How about you, Morgan? Are you really serious about becoming Bureaucrat General? That's quite a lofty goal. That's a little like becoming a queen or something."
"I believe in putting a hundred percent into what you do. General Patton once said many years before the alien-pocalypse that if you do your full duty, the rest will take care of itself."
The girls thought insightfully about this. "You're a real trooper," Mayhew told her, "I think you want to be right up near the throne in that big square building."
Chu folded her uniform and joined in the conversation. "I once heard that there was some old guy that went completely mad just trying to find the washroom in that building. Do you think it's true?" This made all of them laugh. What made them laugh harder was what Mayhew said next.
"I'm going over to the Post Exchange; does anyone want anything?"
Morgan chuckled. "At this hour? You're pulling our leg." She looked at her eyes. "You're serious, aren't you? You'll be booted out of the program if they catch you."
Mayhew gave her that evil grin, and quietly opened the window. She was like a solid oak tree of a person; nothing really got to her or made her nervous. "I'll get you a candy bar."
Morgan looked at the other girls as she left. "By God, she wasn't kidding."
In the heat of the afternoon sun, on a typical muggy Pennsylvania summer day, Morgan Proctor quickly assembled her team for what would be their first audit; all of their business training would come down to this. She pointed up at the expensive sign outside the red brick building as she spoke to them. All of them were dressed in their gray fatigue uniforms, and they were ready for their first alpha strike on a business. Morgan would lead them, and they were going in fangs-out.
Morgan led the group in to the building, and the receptionist immediately began to protest. “Who are you people? You just can’t come barging in here like the Bureaucracy or something…”
Morgan showed the woman her identification, and she quickly went silent. “Sit down, back away from the computer screen, and keep your hand away from the phone. This will all be over shortly.” She then began dispatching orders to the others. She attached a small device to the woman’s phone called a “buzzer,” effectively rendering it useless.
“Bashkim – get to the IT guy and make sure he doesn’t dump anything. Yeong, you and I are going for the CEO. The rest of you – get everything. I don’t want to see a piece of paper left on the floor when we’re done.”
When the two went into the main work area, they were quickly confronted by the gray-haired CEO of the business.
“What is the meaning of all this?”
Morgan produced an electronic piece of paperwork and handed it to the man.
“Mr. Wells – this is a lightning audit by The Bureaucracy; no information moves anywhere for the time that we are here. We have reason to believe that a 367/8 was committed by this business within the last two weeks…and my girls will find it very quickly.”
“The devil you say…”
“Yes, the devil I say…”
A skinny young bureaucrat thrust up her hand from behind a computer screen and shouted, “Tally-ho!”
“And I believe they just found it.” She then spotted a young man moving toward the rear entrance of the building out of the corner of her eye. “Oh no you don’t…no you don’t!”
She left the CEO behind and began running after the man. As he spotted her, he began to move faster. Before he could make it to the door, he was tackled by the athletic bureaucrat. He squirmed in Morgan’s grasp, but she wouldn’t let him go; it was like trying to hold a squirming hog on a farm. She then heard a loud voice from across the room.
The offices and all of the employees began to fade and disappear before her eyes until all that could be seen were gray walls. The running man in her hands turned into a myriad of green numbers and vanished. First Sergeant Conklin, still tapping on her hand computer, walked over to Morgan, who was still sprawled out across the floor of the holo-room.
“Percolator….if you wanted to try out hand-to-hand combat so bad, why didn’t you join the DOOP navy?” The other trainees chuckled. "I know you've been dying to get your hands on a man, but shmeesh..."
She fumbled for the words to try and explain her actions. “He was…running away…”
“I know – I programmed him myself. Maybe I should have made him bigger and stronger. So you tackled him? You didn’t think to alert the ISB agents in back of the building? What if he had a stunner pistol…or worse…”
“Go get your team into formation outside the room – I’ll be right with you for the after-action.”
Morgan rounded up her platoon and got them into formation outside of the training room.
Conklin spoke with Corporal Sanborn. “What do you think of this Proctor?”
“She’s nothing but a damned show-off and a spoiled rich girl.”
Conklin gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “Oh, I know all that. But that took real spunk – I’ve never seen a trainee do that.” She chuckled. “I don’t want to compliment her, for fear that her head will blow up like a balloon. But there’s just something about her – she could go far in this business. She's just crazy enough to succeed as a bureaucrat.”
The corporal scowled. “She’s going home on an air-bus…I’ll make that my mission…”
Morgan was only two weeks away from graduating, and things were going quite well for her; it was only a matter of time until she reached her goal of becoming a bureaucrat. On one rainy afternoon, as she attended a classroom session on organizational behavior, Drill Corporal Sanborn came in to pull her out of the class.
"You need to come with me," she told Morgan, "Conklin wants to speak with you."
"Why? What for?"
"Just come with me."
"Is it my mother? She's not in very good health..."
"I don't know - I was just told to bring you to Conklin."
Sanborn stood outside the door as Morgan went into Conklin's office. "Ma'am - Trainee Proctor reporting as ordered."
Conklin looked up from some paperwork. "At ease, Proctor."
"Ma'am, you wanted to see me?"
Conklin looked at her with that hideous crack in her eyeglass lens. "Proctor, you do realize that concealing a criminal offence is an honors violation, don't you?"
Morgan's eyes darted around. "Uh, ma'am, I'm not following. I was completely thorough and straightforward in all of my paperwork when I joined."
"I don't know how you concealed this, but it just came back to us. If you'd been arrested for dream powder, how in the world did you expect to keep that hidden?"
"I'm going to prepare the paperwork to send you home; there is no way possible that we can keep you enrolled in the program now."
"First Sergeant Conklin, I have never been in trouble with the law..."
"That's what this document is telling me...why would it be wrong?"
"I have never done anything illegal..."
"Look - this is a 347/C form that says that you were arrested with dream powder on a trip back from Venus...are you lying to me now? You should have just reported this - it would have been taken into consideration."
Morgan's whole body was filled with rage. She knew that her only recourse to whatever this was had to be a bureaucratic solution. "Ma'am, I'm going to move for an article 54 session."
"What? Morgan, you can't fight this - you can't fight City Hall, and you can't fight the Bureaucracy."
"Yes, but I do have the right to an article 54 hearing. If I lose, I'll just pack my things and go home. But I can assure you beyond a shadow of a doubt - I have never been in trouble with the law in my life. Someone did this to me, and I'm going to find out who did."
"How could you say that someone would do this to you? How?"
"I don't know, but I've never broken the law in my life."
"You do have the option of an article 54 session - it is your right. Until then, you are officially on a holdover status. Dismissed."
Morgan's eyes burned into Sanborn's as she walked past her. She then found a restroom down the hall, walked into a stall and closed the door. She cried for nearly 15 minutes until she composed herself.
The next day, Mayhew checked in on Morgan as she busily scrubbed down the barracks. “You okay baby sister?”
“Oh, I’m fine. How does my floor look?”
Mayhew didn’t know what to say. “Morgan, you’re gonna get through this. I don’t know how, but you’re going to get through this.”
“It’s not like it’s the end of the world…I’ll just apply to med school and go from there. It’s not like I’ll be digging through trash cans or anything like that. I’ll get over this place.” She blew a tuft of hair out of her eyes. "Mama was right - this was a stupid idea to come here."
“You just hang in there, baby girl.”
Two nights later, Drill Corporal Sanborn received a message on her wrist-thingee from Conklin: Proctor's hearing is scheduled for tomorrow at 1100 - I need to see you first thing in the morning reference some missing paperwork.
Sanborn went into Conklin’s office and started up her desk computer. It was quiet, and the room was dark except for a desk lamp. When the holographic paperwork floated up in front of her, Sanborn's eyes got large with shock - everything had been changed. There wasn't going to be an article 54 hearing...and Morgan wasn't going to be sent home. Conklin's closet door swung open with a squeak, and Sanborn jumped at the noise.
"You didn't expect to see me here tonight, did you?" Conklin stepped out of her darkened closet. "I'm glad you came when you did - it was cramped in there."
Sanborn didn't know what to do...she just sat there with her mouth open.
"All I had to do was leave a block of cheese...and the mouse is here."
Sanborn nervously cleared her throat.
Conklin continued. "You know, Morgan Proctor is a lot of things to a lot of people; she's an anal-retentive coronet, a child of privilege, and a pain to everyone around her. Hell, I don't even really like her. But she's one thing that apparently you aren't - she's honest about who she is."
"Shh - I'm not done yet. I've been wondering for quite some time why my office light was on so late at night. That was really a clever bit of hacking, if I say so myself. Darn near worked - that 347/C looked authentic enough for the background checks. And it was perfect timing the way it came back with a red flag so late into the training cycle. It was the perfect crime. But I did some extra digging into this trainee's past - she's never been arrested for anything. Hell, she's never even jaywalked."
"Ma'am, let me explain..."
"I don't want to hear it. Go back to your housing unit and pack your things; I'll be in touch with you in the morning. Now get out of my office."
Stephanie Sanborn left without a word.
Late that next morning Conklin paid a visit to Morgan, who again was busy scrubbing floors in the barracks. She opened her foot locker and pulled a textbook out. "I can see you've still been studying."
Morgan stopped scrubbing and let out a breath of air. "You know me too well. I've got to at least think there's a chance at winning my case."
"That's good, because you really stink at cleaning floors; you'll never make it as a janitor. On the other hand, you'll probably make a good businesswoman...if you still want to." She put the book back.
"You need to get cleaned up, if you're going to make your afternoon classes; I don't want you loping in there with Bon-Ami all over your hands."
"Uh...I don't follow you. I'm still on holdover status. What about my hearing?"
"There won't be a hearing."
"But Drill Corporal Sanborn said..."
"Miss Sanborn is no longer with us. And there won't be a hearing. And I need you to get cleaned up for your classes - unless you have a problem with that..."
Morgan stood up and brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. "No ma'am...no problem."
"Well, get moving - I don't want you to be late." Conklin couldn't help but to crack a slight smile.
"And leave the floor cleaning to someone who knows how."
"Yes ma'am." Morgan still had a stern look on her face.
"Proctor, that was a joke - you were supposed to chuckle at that. Work on getting a sense of humor someday..."
When graduation day arrived, Delta Company marched over across the parade grounds to the auditorium proudly in their Class A uniforms. Marching right there with them was bony Chastain, with a smile ear-to-ear. Before they entered the building, Morgan took a minute out to straighten out Chastain's collar. "Darn it, girl...we can't take you anywhere. Can't leave you anywhere either. There - now you're good-to-go." Chastain thanked her.
After the speeches, the graduation continued with a time-honored tradition in the Bureaucracy. As each woman's name was called out, they would step up to Conklin and be handed their rubber stamp. Conklin would then let them stamp their own paperwork, signifying completion of the program, and they would keep the stamp. They were now officially a bureaucrat at that point.
All Chastain could do was smile as she stamped her paperwork. She then held up her stamp in triumph.
Morgan savored that first official stamp; it was a moment that would be with her for the rest of her days. She could now call herself a bureaucrat. No one had any doubt that she would have her stamp; the only question was how far up the ladder she would go. There were many things that she could have done, many of which were more lucrative, but this was truly a path that she'd chosen by herself.
After commencement came the actual paperwork part of the whole thing - everyone cued up on a line to receive their orders. Chu received orders to report to the Far East Office in Shanghai, which she was very happy about. Mayhew got posted to a firm in downtown Oklahoma City, which put her close to her family. Chastain was being sent to the Birmingham office, which meant that she could be fairly close to her family. And Morgan was being sent to the main office in New New York, to that big cube-shaped building that the girls used to chatter about. The one where that crazy old man got lost...or so they say.
Mayhew looked at her. "You really are going up close to the throne...you go girl." Mayhew then spotted a familiar face in the crowd. "Hey, isn't that Mr. Man? What's his name..."
"Garrick Andonov," Morgan said.
"Well, go over there." She could see that Morgan was hesitant. "Girl, get your butt over there and get hooked up with him. He may be going your way - find out. Don't die not knowing."
She gulped. "You're right...I can't die not knowing." Morgan slowly made her way through the crush of people.
"Oh, hello." He introduced himself properly. "You're from Delta Company, aren't you?"
"Yes. My name is Morgan Proctor."
"I noticed you..."
Morgan gulped. "You did?"
"Yes - did you get an invitation? I didn't want to forget anyone that wanted to come."
"Yes...to the wedding. I know it's coming up quickly..."
Morgan's eyes glazed over; her voice came out like cool peppermint. "Congratulations...you must be a very lucky man."
"Thanks! Nice meeting you. Let me know if you want to come by."
"Sure - I'll do that."
Morgan was lost; she didn't know what to do. She felt like the floor had been dropped from beneath her. Mayhew came up from behind to talk with her. "I'm so sorry, kid - I made you walk right into that. I had no idea. I know you had the kids named."
Morgan felt like a tire that had lost all of its air. "And they were going to be such beautiful children."
"Except for the oldest boy," Mayhew said jokingly, "he would have had buck teeth."
Morgan managed a quivering half-smile. "Well, I've still got my paperwork...and my stamp."
Mayhew gave her a playful swipe with a fist to the chin. "Call me, kid. Will you? I want to know how things go up in New New York in the palace."
By afternoon, Morgan Proctor walked out with her bags to catch an air taxi that she'd called. She took one more look back at the brick barracks building where First Sergeant Conklin was already tearing into the newest bunch of recruits; she smiled as the sergeant went into her diatribe.
"Holy crap," Conklin yelled, "this has got to be the most worthless bunch of losers they've ever sent me. How do they expect me to turn these girls into businesswomen? Where did you get these people? You girls look like you just fell off a farm truck on Mars."
The cab pulled up and the door slid open. Morgan climbed inside. The driver, obviously a Martian who hadn't been on Earth long, asked her in broken English if she needed to go directly to the Bureaucracy Building. She told him 'yes, please'...in Martian; "Appa...ka-cheela."
As the taxi leapt into the air and left Camp Carnegie behind, she figured that she'd be over Philly in about an hour and 45 minutes. A bullet train would have been quicker, but she didn't mind the extra time. Sometimes she'd have stomach trouble with a flight like this, but today she was feeling fine. She'd proven her mother wrong, and become a bureaucrat - and it was her decision to make.
The bit of Martian she'd said opened a dialogue with the driver. "You speak Martian, eh? Grow up there, eh?"
"Partly...Olympica City; Tharsis...the whole Gordii Fossae area, really. I have friends there."
"You go hunting for sandtiger, no?"
"We did...we never bagged one, though."
As she bantered with the driver, she became acutely aware that he hadn't bathed in several days. He also hadn't shaved in a while. Instead of being repulsed, she found herself strangely attracted to this man. Why do I find this fellow so interesting? she thought. He's such a damned dirty boy...