Near the end of a long day of site evaluation, the archaeologist discovered the door. He wasn’t surprised when it started talking; he’d often said that just as surely as primitive civilizations surrounded their cities with walls, “more advanced” peoples surrounded themselves with machines that talked. His old fingers fumbled briefly with the familiar switches on his computer before he managed to activate it and it began translating:
. . . Besides, it wasn’t as if being a bureauer was something Martin had ever wanted.
“Questions are for philosophers; we do our job,” Brodwich had said, even before Martin had a chance to ask what his new job was supposed to be. He assumed it was a good job. Any job was good compared to the hungry life of the street folker that he’d just left.
And he didn’t want to complain, especially not to Brodwich, his immediate Better. Yet Martin had been at his job here in his office every day for the last three weeks, and until Brodwich had shown up that afternoon, he hadn’t had anyone to talk to but the door. He still hadn’t been given anything to do.
And now Brodwich was leaving. Obviously pleased with the aptness of the bureauers’ age-old motto as an exit line, he pivoted his lumbering bulk around on his heel and stepped smartly to the door. Unfortunately, since this was the door of a young and extremely low-level bureauer like Martin 37037-927-8048, and probably a little defective, like everything else in the city, it was much slower to react than the doors to which Brodwich was normally accustomed. For long silent seconds, he was left anticlimactically staring into its mirrored upper surface at his own reflection. After a moment, he reached a hand to his head, as if he would adjust one of its tattooed strands of hair. Finally the door opened itself for him and he was gone.
Alone again in his tiny, windowless office, Martin went over and sat down carefully in the noisy swivel chair behind the desk. One of the chair’s legs was always falling off, and fixing it had been about the only work Martin had found for himself since becoming a bureauer, a person with a job, part of the government instead of the governed.
It occurred to him that he didn’t even know what “philosophers” were. He wondered if even Brodwich knew. Maybe “philosophers”only existed as a word in another one of those unexplained formulas that bureauers seemed to haul out whenever they deigned to comment on why there weren’t enough fare-well coupons for the food units again this month, or why the bureauer policers went out of their way to crush rubble homes with their tanks, or why, for that matter, the construction of rubble homes was forbidden, when there weren’t nearly enough inhabitable rooms in the city. And far too many unsheltered folkers.
Feet up on the scarred desktop, leaning back recklessly in his ancient chair and blowing tunelessly into the pocket instrue he always carried, Martin was still pondering “philosophers” a good while later, when the door clicked itself open and announced, “quit-time,” in the warm and motherly voice that Martin found so disconcerting. Amazed that for once some work time had passed quickly, he rose and started toward the door, no longer afraid that it might click shut before he got to it and lock him in the office overnight. It was only three steps from his desk, and he was almost there when he heard thunder.
He went back and grabbed the unfamiliar brown cloak of the bureauer rankenfile from the nail behind the desk. Since he hadn’t shaved his head or his body, it was the only thing that set him apart from the folkers when he made his way home through the crowded roads in the evening. He was always forgetting it. The thin cloak had little value as weather protection; it was mostly a badge of office. To most bureauers, that made it far more than just clothing; to Martin, that simply made it hard to remember. Possibly the only bureauer ever who hadn’t been born and raised for that position, he had been brought up with a folker’s regard for the practical.
He threw the cloak around his shoulders with a self-mocking flourish, and as he did, he happened to tilt his head upward. There was a hole in the ceiling. A hole that hadn’t been there before. Taking a position directly underneath it, he looked up, but could see nothing but the dim daylight on the other side. Something crunched under the tread of his cloth-bound sandals, and he bent down to discover tiny pieces from the ceiling tile amidst a film of sawdust.
The door made its announcement a second time. Slightly less patiently too, he imagined. The problem of the hole would have to wait. Thunder boomed again, as he stepped out of the office into the twilight of the hall. It sounded closer this time and made him wish for the thick folker cloak that old Moohna had stitched together for him out of salvaged odds and ends. His eyes, as yet unaccustomed to the comparative darkness of the corridor, took several seconds to register the huge purple mound coming into focus against the background of the buckling hardwood floor. The thing possessed an enforced stillness, like a photograph, a suspended millisecond of motion. Though frightened, and excited by a complex blend of emotion, Martin wasn’t actually surprised by the bloated purplish face, or the livid tongue vomited from the dead mouth. Around the throat, a finely made sash cut deeply into the fatty flesh; it might have been trying to redefine a neck that had been buried long before under the successive strata of fat that marked Brodwich’s various promotions up the bureauer hierarchy to the rank of Big Eater.
Behind Martin, an explosion split the silence. He wheeled around. Even as he realized the explosion was merely the office door automatically clicking itself shut, he found himself staring into the eyes of Brodwich’s killer.
A naked woman was responsible for Martin
becoming a bureauer. Totally naked, no shoes or anything . . .