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The Perfect Job
James grinned to himself as the 'Next' indicator flashed his number. Another test of his abilities to unnerve and annoy. As much practice as he'd had, he considered himself to be something of an expert in both areas. Those skills had provided him with a free ride here on Haskin's Planet. A deadbeat's paradise.
Oh, that hadn't been the intent of the recruiting incentives. Most of these outer planets had trouble finding colonists, and Haskin's Planet had the double-whammy of being an agricultural world. Not too many people were willing to give up 500 holovid channels and insta-serve T-bone steaks for the hardships of rural life. Why, they actually used broadcast video here, and there were places you had to walk as much as a mile to get somewhere. Even worse, the climate control systems were only Class 3, so the temperature could range as much as 20 degrees during the year.
So, why had a bright lad like James volunteered for such a hell hole? Because of the incentive plan. The ruling council of Haskin's Planet set up a special fund to pay all expenses for anyone who was willing to colonize. Not just skilled technicians, like most of the other worlds. Anyone. Old, young, singles, and whole families. And they promised you the perfect job.
That was the golden loophole. Signing the contract had obligated him to spend the rest of his life on the planet. In return, however, the Colonist's Fund was required to pay all of his living expenses until they could provide him with a job suited to his skills and personality. And if James just happened to fail all the skills tests, had a 'trick' knee that kept him from performing physical labor, and had too abrasive a personality to deal with people, why they were still obligated to support him.
He sauntered over towards the indicated office, smug with almost two years of success in this monthly ritual. They'd tried just about every ploy. Fancy titles, easy desk work, even higher pay and special privileges. More recently, they'd appealed to his non-existent sense of duty, and finally tried shaming him. The last girl had been in tears when he turned in yet another totally failed skills test. If he hadn't been sure it was yet another ploy, he'd almost have felt sorry for her.
No pretty girl this time. A rough-looking older man was sitting behind the desk, looking over a data screen. James', no doubt. A soon as James entered the room, the door slid shut behind him and locked with an audible thunk. This was new. Inwardly, he felt a tinge of apprehension. Intimidation. He'd been expecting this. And he was prepared for it.
"So, I guess they're scraping the bottom of the Civil Service barrel these days?" James made a point to turn up the sarcasm as he spoke. Best defense was always a good offense. He glanced around, and realized there was no place for him to sit. "Don't even rate a full set of furniture?"
Surprisingly, the man simply shrugged and smiled pleasantly. "Sorry. I don't use this office much. I'm only called in for special cases. Such as yours." He looked at the screen once more, and then nodded to himself. "Such a consistent score on the evaluation tests. I'd have thought you could guess the correct answers after the first year."
James grinned, not even trying to feign confusion. "Wouldn't want to ruin a perfect average. After all, a zero score is proof I'm good for nothing." He chuckled at his own pun.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that." The man tapped on the keyboard. "Yes, I do think I have the perfect position for you. No skills required, assigned servants, limited work schedule, and a Class 2 credit rating. And if you don't like it, just tell your supervisor to send you back! No questions asked. With full pay for the entire two-month trial period."
Class 2! James' eyes widened. That was up there with the highest technical labor rates! The Fund council must really be desperate. James was probably a bad example to have around. Not that he was really interested in a full-time job. But this was too good to pass up. He could accept, and quit after a day or two. And they would still have to pay him the full two months! Grinning, he nodded. "As long as the conditions are as presented, I accept."
The man looked pleased. "I figured you would. Shake?" This was the formal seal on Haskin's World. No paperwork. Just your word and a handshake. Suckers.
James took the offered hand, already thinking of ways to spend the money. The old guy had a strong grip. Which he didn't release. James waited a moment, and then raised an eyebrow. "Sorry, fella. You ain't my type." He couldn't pull free of the vise-like hold. "OK. So, are you waiting for me to yell 'Uncle'? My parents were both only children, so I doubt that is possible."
Silence. The man was glassy-eyed, almost in a trance. Oh, great. The old bastard was having some kind of seizure. James used his free hand to try prying open the thick fingers. Six fingers. His stomach clenched and he jerked his head up to look back into the staring eyes. The irises were midnight blue, not black. A Circean Mage! One of the flesh-molding mutants from the outworlds. Fear renewed his strength, and he yanked free of the iron grip.
The action seemed to bring the old man out of his trance, and he smiled as he watched James back towards the door. "What? No snide remarks? No insults? Don't worry. Everything is just as I promised. And I've even fixed that trick knee of yours." There was no mirth in the chuckle which followed.
"What have you done to me, warlock?" James shook his hand, still numb from the pressure. "Your kind are outlawed, even on this backwater planet! I'll report you to the council!"
"Report me?" The Mage laughed. "And just who do you think I work for?" Leaning back in the chair, the man shook his head. "Two years of no contributions, leeching off the good will of Haskin's Planet. What have I done to you? Found the perfect job, as promised. After reviewing your test scores, and reading the personality profiles, I came up with just the thing."
James realized that his left hand losing feeling now. A low moan escaped his lips as he watched his fingers fusing into hard, dark lumps. And his clothes were getting tight. Spinning, he beat at the door with his rapidly-forming hooves, but it was already too late. He screamed in frustration, feeling fur sprout and bones shift under shredding fabric.
"What have I done to you?" The Mage watched the transformation progress quickly now. "Considering your personality, there was only one fitting job. You're going to be a smart ass."
The Perfect Job copyright 1997 by Bob Stein.
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