Corporate Man is called in to investigate reports of vile, unethical business practices at Great American Business Company. What he finds there just might destroy him (except we all know the ending to The Tragic Death of Corporate Man so it should be fairly obvious that it can't really destroy him, though it can come close).
Enslaved by the Bonus Whores is an all new Corporate Man Adventure Serial. Chapters will post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The Tragic Death of Corporate Man
a hero for capitalism;
champion of the working class
by Tom Landaluce
Betty Bots, Sharky, and the Big Squeeze.
The stairwell glowed blue like the numbers on a digital cash register display. There were no guard rails and the steps were backless platforms which added to the company’s unease. The most disconcerting aspect of the endless stair was its positioning in large shaft. It did not hug the outer wall of the chamber or curl tightly against itself. Instead, the steps hovered at least two feet away from the exterior walls and left a five foot void running down the center.
The trip was slow going. Fair Wage was winded after the first couple of flights and frequent rests were necessary. The journey seemed to last for hours; days if someone had bothered to ask Fair Wage. It was even suggested that the staircase ran all the way to the top of the building.
“The stairs are moving,” Business Woman said.
She was standing a few flights below with her arm held over the drop, touching the exterior wall.
“Well, it’s stopped now, but when you were all climbing it felt like the wall was moving up. This suggests that the stairs are probably going down.”
“You’re joking,” said Supply.
“Oh god. How many more flights do we have to go?” Fair Wage gasped.
“I don’t know,” Business Woman said, “but I suggest that the majority of us stand still while Fair Wage and Senior Executive continue the climb.”
“Wait, what?” said Fair Wage.
“Yeah, what’s that going to accomplish?” asked Senior Executive.
“Maybe nothing but, in the business world, procedures are often put in place in order to screw the majority. So when most or all of us move, we all get screwed. If only a couple of people move…”
After a long pause Corporate Man said, “That actually makes sense in a ridiculous sort of way.”
He nodded and both Senior Executive and Fair Wage continued the climb.
“Why Fair Wage?” asked Demand. “Shouldn’t we give him a break?”
“Well, in all likelihood, the stairs will move against us as soon as the majority resumes the climb. This way Fair Wage won’t have to mount so many steps.”
A few minutes later Senior Executive called down, “Hey, we found it. There’s a landing up here with a door. It’s only about ten or eleven flights above you.”
The party made their way up to the door. The stairs remained stationary so long as Fair Wage and Senior Executive stood on the landing.
When they were all gathered in front of the door Corporate Man said, “I don’t know what we can expect on the other side, but if these stairs are any indication the environment will not be friendly. Be prepared and stick together.”
He reached for the handle and opened the door.
Visitors. She never got the chance to receive visitors here on the thirteenth floor. She was, after all, at desk two and desk two was positioned to receive clients entering from the staircase. Visitors were extremely rare on the thirteenth floor and no one ever came up the stairs. Why bother when there was a very comfortable, highly functional, elevator on the opposite side of the building? Yet here they were, sweaty and out breath. Seven of them.
She reviewed her list of welcoming parameters, she had never needed to employ her meet and greet protocols, and said, “Good morning, and welcome to the offices of Incorporated Business Corporation Incorporated. Section thirteen here at the
. I am Betty.
How may I assist?” Jacob
“Water,” Fair Wage said, his voice raspy as he stumbled toward the water cooler.
“Please help yourself,” Betty said as she straightened the sleeve of her periwinkle blouse. “It is listed among the top requests of potential visitors.”
“Hi Betty, my name is
Perhaps you could explain to me what this
place is exactly. What do you do here.” Corporate Man.
“Oh my, that’s rather simple Mr.
is an office and I am a receptionist
and my duties state that I am to warmly receive you and ask you to wait until
they are ready for you.” Corporate Man.
“Who are they? And when will they be ready for us?” Corporate Man asked.
“They are the people you are here to see and they will see you after you have waited the appropriate amount of time.”
“This is asinine,” Business Woman said.
“Oh no,” said Betty, “Forgive me, but I must correct you. This is Corporate America. This is how it works.”
“Can I slap her?” Business Woman said, her hands on her hips, her head slightly titled as she cast an impatient glare at
“Since that worked so well with the CEO at Waldos…” Corporate Man muttered. He looked back at the receptionist. “Betty, we’re investors. We represent a conglomerate of interested parties and national organizations. We are not to be kept waiting.”
Business Woman rolled her eyes. Senior Executive allowed a blast of breath to derisively escape his nostrils.
Betty nodded and said, “This assertion is congruent in fact as well as in inclination. Please advise your colleague that he may wish to forgo the offerings of the water cooler for the bottles of sparkling water that await you in Conference Room A. Coffee and tea are also available as well as an assortment of pastry items. You may go in now and please… have a lovely day.”
Senior Executive approached Corporate Man as they filed past the reception desk and, in a hushed tone, said, “What was that?”
“What? You didn’t think they called me Corporate Man for nothing did you?”
The offices of the thirteenth floor were warm and inviting, with rich woods, deep earth-tone colors, and green leafy plants in stout clay pots. Employees milled about abundant water coolers while stainless steel refreshment carts, laden with pastries and other snacks, were wheeled from office to office by smiling attendants.
“Something is not right,” Corporate Man said, eyeing their surroundings with suspicion.
“What’s wrong?” asked Senior Executive.
“Look around you. For an office of IBC Inc. there sure is a lot of fat. A lot of excess.”
“This is the central office,” said Business Woman.
“Yes, but these are still basic subordinates. At least as far as I can tell. Not executives. And what are they doing here?”
“Working. Obviously,” said Senior Executive.
“Are they? They seem to be milling around an awful lot. But I meant, why here? In the floor accessible only by secret stairs?” Corporate Man shook his head and then bit one of his knuckles as he tried to concentrate.
“Conference Room A,” said Franklin Buck. “We’re here.”
They went inside.
In the center of the room was a mammoth table with eight black leather folders situated atop its glossy surface. True to Betty’s claim, there was bottled water, coffee, tea, and pastries. Everyone made a small plate of snacks and chose a beverage before sitting at the table.
“Okay this bizarre,” said Business Woman.
“This is good,” said Franklin Buck, holding up a small, cream filled cake.
“Are we supposed to assume that these folders are for us?” asked Demand, his fingers brushing across the black leather.
“Let’s find out,” said
He opened a folder.
“Good. You’re all here,” a man said as he walked into the room. He wore a short-sleeved white shirt with a red tie. “We’ve got a lot of material to cover and very little time for action.”
He smiled and his mouth gleamed white.
“And who might you be?” asked Business Woman.
“I’m Jack. I run all the meetings in Conference Room A.”
“Why are we here?” asked Senior Executive.
“For a meeting,” said Jack.
“What kind of meeting?” asked Senior Executive.
“Probably a very long one,” said Jack.
Senior Executive pushed his chair away from the table but Corporate Man signaled him to hold his position. Then Corporate Man asked, “What are we going to cover in today’s meeting?”
“Good question,” said Jack. He held up the black folder and said, “We’re going over the contents of this folder.”
Both Business Woman and Senior Executive muttered curse words and let their heads loll. Corporate Man opened the folder and read aloud, “Budgetary Matters. Combating rising costs in our industry.”
“That’s right,” said Jack. “Now let’s get started. Who’d like to read the first page?”
Senior Executive and Business Woman slumped and groaned. No one else volunteered so Corporate Man continued reading, “Rising costs are a normal occurrence in the economy. There is little one can do to lower these increases but there are ways to cope. One. Cut down on spending. Two. Find ways to increase your income. Three. Invest in a higher yielding instrument. Four. Control wages. Five. Minimize liquid assets…” Corporate Man trailed off, shook his head, and then skimmed over the remaining list reading only the last entry aloud.
“Great,” said Jack. “Everyone, please turn the page and we’ll jump right in to number one. Cutting down on spending.”
Everyone turned the page.
“Who wants to read this page?” asked Jack.
Business Woman raised her hand and smirked. Jack nodded toward her. She made some mumbling humming noises and then read the last word on the page aloud and clearly.
“Super,” said Jack. “Now, let’s implement some of these techniques.”
“What’s going on?” asked Franklin Buck.
“Yeah. Did I miss something?” Fair Wage said.
“Ah, there you are, Betty,” said Jack as Betty walked into the room. She held a ledger in one hand. “Betty will go over the measures with which we will cut down on spending. Betty?”
“Thank you,” Betty said, smoothing the sleeve of her lavender blouse. “Refreshment expenditures are the largest area of unnecessary expense. If you note subsection E of paragraph nine under article one, you will see that we’ve managed to turn this loss into revenue. Hence forth all refreshments and snack food items will carry a nominal fee. I’ve taken the liberty of noting everything each of us in this room has partaken of and drafted invoices. The cost may be deducted from your paycheck or simply be paid up front.”
“Thank you Betty. Please send a memo to the rest of the staff and distribute bills accordingly,” said Jack.
Betty passed out invoices and then left the room.
“Wait,” said Franklin Buck. “So… are we employed here now? And seven bucks for a coffee? This is crap coffee not an extra large, triple shot, caramel latte.”
Corporate Man gestured to
that the Dollar Man should calm down.
“But I can’t afford this,” Franklin Buck said.
“Jack,” said Corporate Man, ignoring
Franklin. “As it is mandated by government regulations
that employees shall be provided prescheduled breaks, I suggest we observe such
a break at this time and continue when we return.”
“Oh. Break time already? Take five, people,” said Jack. Then he slumped forward in his chair as if he were catching a little cat nap.
Corporate Man led the group out of the conference room and said in a loud voice, “Alright. Let’s go find the break room.” Then, in low voice, his lips barely moving, his attention on the hallway in front of them, he said, “We’re in serious trouble here.”
“I know,” said Business Woman. “Inflation. Do you have a plan.”
“Wait. What’s going on?” asked Franklin Buck.
“Quiet, Dollar Man,” Senior Executive hissed. “We can’t let him know we’re on to–”
“Are you looking for the break room?” Betty asked.
“Oh. Um, yeah,” said
“Right this way,” said Better, smoothing the sleeve of her pink blouse.
Reluctantly, they followed.
Franklin Buck squinted his eyes as he walked. Then he rubbed his chin, scratched the back of his head, and looked quite puzzled. Finally he asked, “Weren’t you wearing a different color blouse earlier?”
Corporate Man’s eyes went wide and he glared back at
Franklin. Both Business Woman and Senior Executive
“What?” said Franklin Buck.
“No. It’s the same one I’ve been wearing all day,” said Betty.
“Uh uh. No. The other was blue, or purple or something,” Franklin Buck said.
“It’s inappropriate to notice a female coworker’s attire,” said
“But I wasn’t–”
“Noticing anything about our female coworker’s attire,” Senior Executive said. He moved in close to
Franklin and whispered,
“What do you notice about all the employees in this office?”
“My god. They’re all the same,” he hissed. Every employee strolling about the office of the thirteenth floor was either a Betty or a Jack. The only difference was a slight hue-shift in their business apparel.
“Keep your mouth shut,” Senior Executive said, low, hushed, and angry.
“Though robotic workers have not become a cost effective solution, and therefore remain ineffective when combating rising costs, a dedicated development strategy will ensure that preprogrammed office workers will one day become an affordable business tool, requiring no bathroom breaks, sick days, vacation time, food, or water with simple regimen of routine maintenance checks to ensure a long lasting career,” Betty said.
“Shit. Here it comes,” said
“Additional benefits to cost cutting measures include the ability to serve as our own security staff,” Betty continued. She raised her hands and spread her fingers. The knuckles popped, snapping away from each other, doubling the length of each digit, and creating a menacing, mechanical hand. Her finger tips split and thin blades flicked out. When she next spoke her voice echoed over the public address system.
“All units converge. Alert code: Price gouge! Alert code: Price gouge!”
The thirteenth floor of the
was unique in that it had
multiple levels yet still comprised only one unit of floor designation. Corporate Man and his friendly little Jacob Center
were currently experiencing great financial trouble on level C. Two levels above them, on level A, was an
office. In that office was a person
neither Betty nor Jack. A person of
flesh and blood and vast economic knowledge and disdain.
This person was Professor Inflation.
He sat at a console overflowing with buttons, toggles, levels, slides, roller balls, monitors, blinking things, numerical readouts, various printer feeds, and small speakers.
He was grinning.
And he was wearing his cape.
Triggering fiscal death traps always seemed more appropriate when wearing a cape.
A swarm of sharpened Betty’s had separated the
Union. Supply was with Fair Wage and Franklin
Buck. The old man was holding up well,
and kept most of the gouging attackers at bay.
Franklin Buck was practically useless; Supply expected to see a wet spot
appear across the crotch of his pants at any moment.
She didn’t know where she was leading them or why they were following her. All she knew was that she needed to find Demand. Neither of them functioned well without the other.
A Betty and two Jacks burst out of an office door on their left.
Buck shrieked and man-slapped one of the Jacks which did little to deter the
robot. Supply grabbed the Betty unit’s
wrists, charged toward the other Jack and impaled it on the Betty’s bladed
fingers. She head butted the other Jack,
which hurt just as much as she thought it might, but her positioning had left
her with no other available maneuver.
The Jack stumbled backward and Fair Wage permanently dismantled it.
“Work a second job! Sell your belongings! Go back to school! You won’t stop inflation!” the Betty screamed. She fell silent when Franklin Buck stepped forward and head butted her. A look of pride and accomplishment flashed across his face and for a moment he seemed confident and manly. Then one of his eyelids twitched and a blank expression set in just before his knees buckled and he crumpled to the floor.
to the nearest water cooler and doused him until he came around. One of the Jack heads lying nearby said,
“Have to… Charge you zzbt that.”
“Where am I,” Franklin Buck asked as almost all victims of sudden unconsciousness do when they awaken. His eyes lolled around and he said, “How much do you think I’m worth?”
“On your feet,” said Supply.
“Where are we going? Not another business trip, I hope,” Franklin Buck said sputtering. A massive flesh egg continued to grow on his forehead.
“We need to find Demand and the others,” she said and urged them forward. Without Demand she was almost powerless. Together they were an imposing economic force.
Robotic employee parts covered the hallway floors. Corporate Man and Senior Executive had gone through the swarm of Jacks and Bettys like weed-whackers through ornamental grass.
“It’s him. I know it’s him,” said
He dislodged the arms of a Jack unit then kicked it in the face,
snapping its head around one hundred and eighty degrees. “Professor Inflation.” Corporate
“Is your PDA getting a signal in here?” Senior Executive asked.
Corporate Man lifted the small electronic device from his jacket pocket and pressed some buttons.
“Good. Let me see it,” Senior Executive said, taking the PDA from
“What are you doing?”
“I’m moving all my investments and the bulk of my savings accounts into precious metals and other commodities that still post gains during inflationary periods. If we are going up against Professor Inflation, I need to make sure my portfolio is strong.”
Demand staggered through the endless corridors of the thirteenth floor office. A Betty had raked her sharpened digits across his shoulder, gouging parallel wounds in his purple suit. Blood blackened the fabric as it seeped through the fibers. His mauve tie was cinched around his leg, closing a Jack-inflicted puncture in the side of his thigh.
He felt small. Smaller then when they’d entered the
. Small enough that his tailored clothes were
hanging loose. His breathing was labored
and his fingers felt cold. Jacob Center
And he stumbled onward.
Business Woman held the head of a Jack unit in her hands, her fingers frantically adjusting the wires, pulling apart circuitry, and making a deliberate mess of the electronics inside the housing. The head clicked and a whirring sound buzzed from somewhere within.
Then it yelped like an injured robot dog.
She adjusted more parts and the yelping ceased.
“Jack?” she said. “Are you operational?”
“Negative,” said the Jack head. Its lips did not move. “I seem to have sustained negative body damage and cannot access my facial expressions matrix.”
“But you are able to answer my questions?”
“Are you willing to answer all my questions? Truthfully? Disclosing even guarded company secrets?”
“All that I have access to,” said Jack.
“Good,” said Business Woman. Use the competition’s assets against them. Her favorite gambit. “Jack. Are you able to locate my business associates?”
“Lead me to them. And then I want you to lead us out of this place.”
“Can do,” said Jack.
“Are you able to shut down all the remaining Betty and Jack units?” asked Business Woman.
“Negative. All units operate via master/slave circuits and must be disconnected individually or through the master control.”
“Great,” muttered Business Woman. “Alright. Let’s find the others. Take me to
“I can feel him. He’s on the other side of this wall,” Supply said.
“Who? Corporate Man?” Franklin Buck asked. The knot on his forehead was the size of a plum and would be a similar shade in a day or two. If any of them lasted that long.
“No. Demand. He’s there,” she said, pointing to the wall.
“How do we get there? The doors on that side lead to a small office, a janitor’s closet, and a stairwell,” said Fair Wage.
“Let’s take the stairs. The hallway dead ends back there,” she said, gesturing toward the wall where she’d felt Demand. “Maybe if we go up we can drop back down.”
“Straight ahead, then left,” said the Jack head. “This reunites you with two associates. Sensors indicate that one will then remain.”
“Wait. One? What you mean? There should be four more,” Business Woman said, shaking the robotic head as she ran.
“All other vital signs have terminated. Motion sensors, respiratory patterns, heartbeats. All negative,” said the Jack head.
Business Woman said nothing, but quickened her pace. When she turned left she immediately leapt back, startled by Corporate Man and Senior Executive. Both were crouched at the corner, positioned in economically feasible martial arts postures, ready to pounce.
“Jesus you two! Give a girl a heart attack.”
“Sorry. We heard someone coming and prepared for the worst,” said
“We’ve lost three,” said Business Woman.
“Don’t know. I rigged up this Jack unit and three life signs just blinked out.”
“Oh god,” said Senior Executive, shaking his head.
Corporate Man put a hand on each of their shoulders and said, “We’ll mourn later. Right now we have to focus. Keep our goals in sight and take action. Can we use that thing to locate the other survivor?”
Demand could barely stand upright. He’d fought off two more waves of Betty/Jacks and suffered a dozen shallow cuts as well as something much deeper between the ribs on his left side. He lumbered down the hallway, hand clasped dangerously close to his heart. Blood seeped between his fingers.
He opened the door to an office and sat at a desk. A weary sigh escaped his lips. He hoped his lung wasn’t punctured. He was sure he’d know it if his lung were punctured.
A Jack unit appeared in the doorway. Its eyes went wide, its mouth opened, and it emitted a sound something like a modem scream crossed with a dentist drill.
Demand didn’t get up. So what if they got to him now or in a few minutes? He couldn’t last much longer. Let it end. But when two more Jacks and four Bettys crowded the doorway Demand sighed, pushed away from the desk, and stood ready.
The screaming Jack unit lifted its hand and pointed a sharpened finger toward Demand. Behind it, two of the Betty units exploded in a mess of circuits, wires, and mechanical limbs. Demand had just enough time to flinch and furrow his brow before another Betty and two Jacks met similar fates.
Corporate Man dropped into the room from a vague upward direction, his necktie trailing behind him. Business Woman and Senior Executive charged through the door and dismantled the remaining robots.
Demand smiled. Then he slumped over the desk, bleeding, and lost consciousness.
The walls were white with a horizontal stripe of deep blue, the width of a yard stick, set at eye level. The light seemed dim. Almost like twilight. Framed photographs of colorful fish schooling around coral reefs hung at measured intervals within the wall’s blue line.
There was something ominous about the seemingly cheerful pictures and after a moment, Franklin Buck saw it. The background in all the photos was the deep, open ocean. Barely visible in the gloom was an ocean predator. A barracuda or stingray. Most were sharks, lurking at the edges of visible space, ready to attack the unprepared.
“I don’t like this floor,” said Franklin Buck. “We should go back.”
“You prefer the killer robots then?” asked Fair Wage.
“No, but we should get out of here anyway.”
“We will,” said Supply. “As soon as we find another staircase.”
“He’s coming around,” said Business Woman. “Demand? We’ve got the bleeding stopped. Do you think you can walk?”
“Supply. Where’s Supply?”
Business Woman looked at the others. Both Senior Executive and Corporate Man cringed.
“Uh. Demand, old friend. I don’t know how to tell you this, but… she’s gone,” said
“Gone where?” Demand asked.
“No honey,” said Business Woman. “She gone. She’s dead.”
Demand looked puzzled and pointed to the ceiling. “She’s up there.”
“I know. I know,” said Business Woman, embracing him. “She’s gone to Jesus.”
“No,” said Demand. “She’s right above us. I can feel her.”
Business Woman pushed away. “What?”
“Yeah. Now she’s over that way,” he said, pointing to a different section of the ceiling.
Business Woman grabbed the Jack head and yelled, “I thought you said they were dead.”
“Not at all,” said Jack. “I merely stated that I could no longer read their vital signs. Passage to an upper level would account for that. They’d no longer be within my scanning range.”
“You piece of shit,” Business Woman said, raising the Jack head, ready to smash it against the floor.
“Jack. How go we get up to next
“Easy. Take the stairs.”
“Will you lead us to the stairs?”
“Down here!” Fair Wage called out. He was standing near an open door in the blue-lined hallway. Inside was a stairwell illuminated by a harsh amber light which stabbed out into the cool, twilight tones of the corridor. “Oh crap. I hear something.”
Fair Wage jumped back and closed the stairway door. Supply rushed forward yelling, “No. It’s him. It’s him.”
She pulled the door open and went to the edge of the landing.
“Supply? Is that you?” Demand said.
“Yes. I’m here,” she said. Corporate Man and Senior Executive brought Demand up to the landing where Supply hugged him to her chest. Instead of wincing at the pressure to his injuries, he stood taller. He seemed strengthened. His wounds stopped bleeding. Supply gasped for breath when they parted.
“Where are we?” asked Senior Executive.
“We’re still on the thirteenth floor,” said Supply, still trying to catch her breath. “A secondary level though.”
“Any hostiles?” Corporate Man asked.
“None so far,” she said and slumped against Senior Executive.
“Just some creepy photographs,” said Franklin Buck.
There was a loud clanging slam as a steel panel fell from the wall, swung against the down stairwell, and sealed it shut. A chorus of similar sounds echoed throughout the floor.
“That can’t be good,” said Franklin Buck.
Corporate Man gathered everyone together, advised them all to stay close to avoid getting separated, and moved them down the hallway through the dim, bluish light.
They’d walked for what felt like hours and though the immediate danger seemed a distant memory, somehow the atmosphere of the place had grown more ominous. They searched various offices, a couple cleaning closets, a break room, and some bathrooms, but found nothing.
Fair Wage was getting tired. His aged body was under much strain. When they found themselves in another break room he marched to the water cooler and said, “I don’t care what they charge me, I need water.”
He filled a small cup and drank deep.
“Oh god. It’s salty.”
The water cooler gurgled and sputtered then started to shake.
“Everyone get back,” said Business Woman, herding them to the far side of the break room.
The water cooler burst, spouting up like a geyser, boiling against the ceiling, and drenching the room. Similar explosions could be heard throughout the floor.
fled the break room, but found the hallway equally discomforting. Water streamed from huge metal grates in the
ceiling. A deep, meaty slapping sound
pounded against the grates and the entire floor shuddered. Then the bolts securing the grates to the
ceiling gave way and the whole thing crashed to the floor, pinned beneath the
bulk of a large, agitated shark.
“Oh shit,” said Business Woman.
“Is that a Great White?” asked Franklin Buck as the shark flopped and writhed in the six inches of water that had accumulated on the on the hallway floor.
“No,” said Fair Wage as he and the rest of the
Union ran in a
general “away” direction. “That’s a grey
Another loud snap and thunderous clang brought down a second ceiling grate and an even larger shark.
“That one’s a Great White,” Fair Wage said.
The water was nearly a foot deep and the grey reef shark behind them skittered and floundered over the carpeted floor, making some progress in the
“Through here,” said
He opened the door to a small office. They raced in, ran to a door on the far side
of the room, charged through it, and found themselves in a large, open space
with a tall ceiling. Corporate Man.
“What’s this? A conference room?” asked Senior Executive.
“I think it’s a convention hall,” said Business Woman.
By this point the water was almost to their knees. Progress across the convention room floor was hindered by the necessary exaggeration of their steps and the weak, almost limp form of Supply who was dangling on the shoulders of Senior Executive and
A chorus of snapping supports and falling metal grates sounded throughout the grand hall, dropping dozens of sharks in the ever deepening water. Makos and bullsharks and hammerheads and tigers and white-tips slapped hard into the shallows all around them. The big fish seemed dazed after the long fall, but quickly regained their predatory focus and cut through the water in stuttering, wriggling spurts. Some of the smaller sharks were almost fully submerged with only their upper back and dorsal fins jutting above the surface.
The sharks made darting runs at the splashing, frantic humans but arched away from the thrashing, stomping legs and feet when they were within a few yards.
A door to the
rear exploded from its hinges as the Great White crashed into the conference
hall amongst splinters of inexpensive hollow core paneling. The water was
thigh-deep now and three quarters of the massive shark was beneath the surface. Sheets of water sheered up and over its sleek
back as it barreled toward them.
“Move! Move! Move!” Business Woman cried out.
The Great White slammed into a circling blue shark, knocking the smaller fish out of the water. It flailed helplessly through the air then splashed down with a frantic slap. The Great White snapped at an approaching reef shark and then careened toward a hammerhead and bit down on the unwary fish’s tail. Blood spurt from the hammerhead’s thrashing body and the water became a boiling froth of scarlet and panic.
“Blood in the water!” Franklin Buck screamed. He tried to quicken his pace but the water was up to his waist and he couldn’t move any faster. “Swim for it!”
He dove forward, kicking and stroking the water; fervent and mad. Most of the sharks were busy feasting on chunks of the destroyed hammerhead, but the sudden thrashing from Franklin Buck drew their attention. Corporate Man and Business Woman yelled for
to calm himself; to stop.
He didn’t hear them.
A mako shark cruised through the water, its movements agitated and quick. Hungry. It sped toward Franklin Buick and snapped. The bite was exploratory and tentative but on the mark, ripping away a large swath of green jacket fabric and scratching a line of shallow cuts in
He screamed and flailed. The fish circled around for another run and then shot through the water toward The Dollar Man.
Fair Wage dove between the shark and his colleague, patting the water and humming a low warbling sound. The shark flinched and lurched toward Fair Wage. The old man pivoted and chopped at the water as the fish went streaking by, his hand clipping the shark’s sensitive nose.
“Get everyone to the door,” Fair Wage said.
“What about you?” asked Senior Executive.
“I can handle whatever Professor Inflation sends our way,” he said pulling a hank of his wet silvery hair from his forehead and then elbowing an aggressive bull shark.
The water in the conference hall was chest deep when the team arrived at the large metal door. They pried it open. The water level on the other side was higher and gushed out, nearly washing them back into open water.
“Hurry! Close the door!” Franklin Buck shouted as they fought their way into the little room.
“Fair Wage is still out there,” said Business Woman.
“He’s as good as–” but Franklin Buck did not finish. His eyes widened with terror as the great white shark barreled toward the door, cutting through the water like a u-boat. Riding on top was a man in a brown suit. When the big fish was a few feet from the entrance Fair Wage reached down and poked the shark in the eye. The fish jerked to side, angling away and back out into the conference room. Fair Wage leapt from its back and in through the door.
Corporate Man and Senior Executive muscled the door closed.
Professor Inflation stood in front of a full length mirror admiring the way his cape fluttered when he twirled. A tinkling chime sounded from the desk computer and a pleasant voice intoned, “The
has escaped the sharks.”
Professor Inflation didn’t seem to notice the voice and continued to appreciate his image in the mirror, cocking his head first this way then that, puffing out his chest, arching his back slightly, and flexing his butt muscles. Then he sauntered over to the computer, his attention lingering on the mirror a moment longer, even as he walked away.
“Looks like it’s almost time,” he said, pulling up a video display with a few nimble keystrokes. On the screen Corporate Man and the rest of the
Union were nearly neck deep in the
water of the little room.
“Hmm… It’s interesting, but it lacks drama now that the sharks are no longer a factor. Run market scenario number six and alert me when the fun starts.”
He trotted back to the mirror and whirled his cape across his body and up in front of his face. Then he snapped it to his side like a matador. He curled his lip into a snarl.
No. Too much.
He tried a sly grin.
He added a slow wink.
“The water’s stopped,” said Demand.
“Great. So we’re trapped. Up to our necks in water. With sharks just outside,” said Franklin Buck.
Business Woman leaned toward Supply and said, “How are your doing?”
“Better. It always takes it out of one of us when were have to transfer power like that.”
There was a deep ka-chunk sound and everybody froze, their breaths held.
The water started draining from the room.
“Oh thank god,” said Franklin Buck.
“No. This can’t be good,” said
In moments the room was empty. Only a film of water remained. It coated everything neck-high and lower.
“Well, I don’t care,” said Franklin Buck. “It’s huge relief.”
The metal door groaned as if in answer to his statement. The wall creaked under the tremendous pressure from the ever increasing volumes of water out in the conference hall. A hinge buckled and fine spray erupted from a small gap.
“Are you kidding me?” said Business Woman.
Something large thudded against the door. Another gap opened along the seam and more water hissed into the room.
Then it hit again.
“It’s the Great White,” said Fair Wage.
“We gotta get outta here,” Franklin Buck yelled, almost shrieking.
“Calm down,” said
“Easy for you to say with that special necktie you got.”
“Think, people,” said
“How can we fight inflation? Senior Executive and I have moved all our
assets into safer commodities investments.
We’ve got–” Corporate Man.
The shark hit the door again, bending in the upper corner. Water gushed into the room and a flash of triangular teeth snapped repeatedly on the other side.
“I know a way,” said Supply. She looked a Demand. “Do you think you’re strong enough?”
“I have to be,” he said.
Supply grabbed Demand’s hands and said, “Business Woman. You look after him, okay? Don’t let him wash away in this mess.”
There was a sound, like computerized jingle-bells echoing across the voids of space. And Supply started growing. Seven feet. Then fifteen feet tall. As she grew, Demand shriveled and shrank. Four feet, two feet, then six inches short. Business Woman snatched him out of the air before he fell.
Supply’s back pressed against the ceiling. She grunted and strained. Her legs crushed Union members against the side walls.
The shark’s head burst through the doorway. Its teeth gnashed against Senior Executive’s shoulders, ripping the fabric of his suit jacket, but finding no purchase.
Supply yelled and elbowed the ceiling until it cracked. She hit it again and a large section broke free leaving a gaping hole. She pulled herself up through the opening. Corporate Man joined her, dropping down from somewhere; necktie cape flapping over his shoulder.
“Quick. Let’s get everyone up here!” he shouted.
Supply reached down and pulled up Business Woman, then Senior Executive.
“Hurry. Hurry! That thing’s almost through,” Franklin Buck cried out.
One of the Great White’s pectoral fins stabbed around the mangled metal door. The huge fish writhed and twisted and it tried to swim through the opening; its mouth of razors snapping and biting.
Supply lifted Franklin Buck through the hole and reached down for Fair Wage. The door gave way dumping the shark into the small space and right on top of their elderly companion. The room became a blender of thrashing, biting, frothing chaos. Flailing arms clawed desperately beneath the overpowering bulk of the huge fish. The shark’s tail whipped back and forth through the water as it gnashed greedily.
Then the water turned red.
“No!” Corporate Man screamed, leaping into the room. Supply caught him by the necktie and pulled him back up as more sharks poured in from the conference room.
They fed in a primal frenzy.
The sounds of water churning and hulking fish slapping against each other as they slammed against the office walls went on for long horrible minutes. A bloody foam lay on the surface of the water and continued to rise, filling the room, subsiding once it reached the ceiling.
stood around the hole in the floor, gaping at the pool of recent violence;
shocked and unmoving.
No one spoke.
A dark form burst up through the water and launched into the room. It slapped against the floor and rolled onto its back, gasping and flailing, breaths only coming in hoarse gasps.
“Oh my god,” Business Woman called out. “He’s alive!”
They rushed to Fair Wage’s side and examined him for bites and other wounds. His hands bled, scraped raw on sharkskin, and his forehead had a split over his left eyebrow where he’d been slammed against something unyielding during the initial collision.
“How… How?” asked Senior Executive.
Fair Wage smiled. “I don’t fear inflation. It barely affects me.”
“But… all that blood,” Supply said.
Fair Wage opened his hand revealing a crystal clear debit card. He said, “It’s a diamond card. My purchasing power is quite formidable and that shark’s belly was quite soft.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Professor Inflation said, his voice booming and theatrical, “as I devalue each and every one of you.”
If little is known about the thirteenth floor of the
then it can be said that next to nothing is known about the third level of the
thirteenth floor. Only one person has
ever managed to leave the third level of the thirteenth floor alive, but no one
would dare ask him about it. Jacob
He wears a cape after all.
The only evidence of its existence is an expense report, hidden in some dusty file cabinet deep in the bowels of the building that reads like a numerical typo. Why on earth did the third level of the thirteenth floor cost so much to build?
What was in there?
Professor Inflation lobbed something toward Corporate Man and then ducked behind a column. There were columns everywhere. The entire floor was one gigantic space with hundreds of floor-to-ceiling columns throughout. Long fluorescent bulbs, placed like grid work, illuminated the space with a sickly glow.
“Price Bomb!” yelled Corporate Man as he leapt aside.
The object struck the ground with a metallic clunk, fastened to the floor like a magnet, and exploded soundlessly, sucking all the noise from the air.
Senior Executive held up his portfolio, shielding the
from the Devalue-Void created by the blast.
Wind whipped around him, threatening to drag him forward into the
financial sink but he held his ground and the Price Bomb fizzled out.
“Welcome to my lair,” Professor Inflation said from somewhere. His voice echoed throughout the open space disembodied and threatening. “And to your economic ruin.”
The professor dashed out from behind a pillar, reached up, slapped two silver discs on Supply’s knees, and dashed back behind another column. From the discs came a high pitched breet and a flashing blue light. Then sound, like a bug zapper, crackled as a high voltage charge buckled Supply’s legs and brought the towering woman to the floor.
She moaned and writhed.
Business Woman rushed forward to assist as Corporate Man tried to gather his team together amidst the confusion. But it was too late. Professor Inflation was out of the shadows again, attacking. He grabbed Franklin Buck, pinning the newest member of the
arm behind his back and jabbing a large needle under his chin, up into his
“We are not having a stand off,” Professor Inflation said, pulling Franklin Buck in tight like a human shield. “I will suck the value from this man with my liquidating needle. I merely pause for dramatic effect and to tell you that I have a plethora of wonderful implements with which I will dismantle all of you. As for this gentleman–”
But Professor Inflation didn’t finish. His hand remained motionless on the plunger of the hypodermic needle as a diamond card pressed against his Adam’s apple.
Fair Wage rose up behind the Professor and said, “I’m immune to your tricks Inflation.”
Professor Inflation smiled, “ That may be, but I doubt your friends can claim protection against… RISING COSTS.”
There was a shudder throughout the floor and a pneumatic hiss steamed from all the columns in the room. Then the floor moved, rising slowly towards the ceiling.
“And so the financial pinch will crush you all,” Professor Inflation intoned, gesturing in triumph with his velvety gloved hands.
Fair Wage snorted dismissively. “That old bit. Won’t work Professor. You’ll have to come up with something better than that.”
Professor Inflation’s smile widened. Then he feigned a look of puzzlement and said, “Oh dear me! You wouldn’t, perchance, mean something like… this?”
He clapped twice with pink gloved hands and the lights went out. A surge of panic coursed through the dark. The Union Members called out to each other but everyone was speaking at the same time.
“I’ve lost him,” shouted Fair Wage.
“Quiet everyone! Center on my voice,” said
“And move to my position.
Business Woman? How’s Supply
“Can she hold the crush of this fiscal death trap?”
“I’m trying,” said Supply, “but the force is too great.”
“Where’s Inflation?” said Senior Executive.
“If I’m north and you’re south, he’s to the west of us,” said Corporate Man, holding the greed gun in his hand.
“Interesting,” came Professor Inflation’s voice. “I’m not quite sure how you did that. Doesn’t matter. Useless. I had no intention of killing you in the dark anyway.”
A bright light strobed, leaving freeze-frame images of the Union members imprinted on the successive blackness. In the flickering of images the caped form of Professor Inflation rushed in from the concealment of the columns and surrounding dark. The attack came in the space of three strobes. On the first flash he was on the periphery. On the second he was in amongst them. The third flash revealed the decommissioning punch, or chop, or kick.
By the fourth strobe, he was gone.
One by one the Union members fell to Inflation. Fair Wage was not taken directly, but toppled under the limp form of Senior Executive after the Professor had hurled him toward the old man in the ragged brown suit.
Corporate Man used the Greed-Gun to locate Professor Inflation’s position. He turned to face his flamboyant attacker, dodged the first punch and swung a retaliatory blow, but when the light flashed on, his fist swept through empty space. Inflation had Corporate Man in a submission hold before the light went out again.
“Down with the
Union. Down with
Corporate Man,” said Professor Inflation.
He jabbed a knuckle into Corporate Man’s temple. Corporate Man crumpled to the floor.
Professor Inflation chuckled, low and maniacal, then said, “And now all that’s left is you…
Professor Inflation circled, his flickering image jittering in a wide arc. Franklin Buck instinctively backed away, fearing that every flash of light would reveal a charging adversary. The floor and ceiling were still converging but it was doubtful that he’d survive long enough for it to be a real concern.
“Pathetic,” said Professor Inflation. “Your father never backed away. Not once. You’re not worthy to wear his tacky green suit.”
Franklin Buck stopped, his shoulders slumping slightly with shame. Then, slowly, he raised his fists up in front of his face.
“Oh, that’s rich,” Professor Inflation said. “Priceless even. You’re ‘the dollar man.’ That might have meant something a long time ago. When the dollar had more value. Maybe if you were the One Hundred Dollar Man, or even the Ten Dollar Man, I might hesitate, might not do what I’m about to do. But the Dollar Man?”
Professor Inflation moved with a slow deliberateness, making sure his actions could be seen in the strobing light. He pressed a large button on his wrist gauntlet. Marquee lights surged up and down the piping of the Professor’s pink suit and cape.
“Wow! What a show huh? You can see me now can’t you, Dollar Boy. Are you ready? You ready for what’s coming?”
Professor Inflation cocked his head and said, “Really? Even with…” he gestured to the limp forms of the other Union members strewn about them.
“Well… Yeah. I’ve been thinking,” the Dollar Man said. “My name’s
Franklin. So why can’t
I be the One Hundred Dollar Man?”
“Because that’s absurd,” said Professor Inflation. “You can’t just suddenly declare that you have more value. And change you name.”
Franklin Buck shrugged.
Professor Inflation charged. A flicker image of the caped menace strobed through the dark, the marquee lights visible throughout the attack with the professor’s body disappearing into the black as the fluorescents blinked.
A snap kick flashed toward Franklin Buck’s head. The image frozen in light one moment, gone in the following black; marquee piping continuing to trace the maneuver. In the next burst of light Franklin Buck gripped Professor Inflation’s ankle, the kicking foot only four inches away from the Dollar Man’s face. There was no change in the next few after images. The two men remained locked in this stance for an eon of a heartbeat. Then
Franklin raised his
free hand, elbow brushing against the ceiling, and called out, “Feel the
crushing weight of ten thousand pennies!”
He hammered his fist across Professor Inflation’s chest, driving the doctor of malign economics to the ever rising floor. In the flickering light, Franklin Buck raised his hand again and said, “Fell the purchasing power of the One Hundred Dollar Man!”
The next hammering blow pounded the remaining wind from Professor Inflation’s lungs. A third knocked all conscious thought from his brain.
In the lobby of the
a man in a long trench coat
casually strolled toward one of the black corner columns of the building. He removed an object from his coat. It looked a lot like a credit card except
there was a rounded bump in the center. On
the bump was a decal that resembled an eyeball.
It had cost this trench coated man a great deal to acquire the iris pattern. He held it in front of the dark glass of the
black column. The man did not enjoy
standing in this position because it made the asymmetry of his arms very
noticeable. He was pleased when the
optical verification of the retinal scanner triggered and quickly lowered his
arm. Jacob Center
The trench coated man put the card away and held the hand of his larger arm over the hand print identification area of the glass. He’d also spent a fortune on the hand print graft.
There was a hiss and a door slid open in the black column. The man stepped inside. The elevator was smooth, metal, and clean with plush emerald carpeting. A slim vertical panel featured two quarter-sized buttons. Below them was a series of smaller, pencil eraser shaped metal nubs. The smaller buttons were inscribed with negative numbers. On the two larger buttons were the numbers 13 and 26.
Using his smaller arm the man fingered a sequence into keypad embedded in his wrist. He wanted to verify the funds transfer before committing.
It was all there.
He didn’t grin. Not really. The thing that happened on his face was more like a grimace of barely detectible pleasure. It was there for an instant and then it was gone again.
The man in the trench coat pressed the button marked 26.
Franklin Buck raced to Corporate Man’s side, hunching low in the ever constricting space. Fair Wage had regained his footing and was helping Senior Executive stand.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Franklin Buck said, slap-tapping Corporate Man’s face. “Inflation’s out cold so there’s no one to stop it.”
Corporate Man rolled onto his knees and pressed his fingers into his temples, eyes squinting.
“Report!” he called out.
“Demand is still secure and Supply has already shaken off the attack. Their size ratios are equalizing,” said Business Woman. “Fair Wage and Senior Executive seem viable.”
“I need an exit,” said
“It’s that way,” Fair Wage said, pointing off into the flickering darkness. “It’s quite far.”
“Then let’s move,” Corporate Man said.
lumbered off. Fair Wage and Corporate
Man each grabbed a corner of Professor Inflation’s cape and dragged the limp
It wasn’t long before they were forced to their hands and knees in the shrinking space.
“We’re not going to make it unless we lose the professor,” said Fair Wage, the floor pressing his back up against the ceiling. Corporate Man did not hesitate and released his grip on Professor Inflation’s cape.
“Where is it, Fair Wage?” Franklin Buck called out. He was well ahead of all the others. “I’m at the corner of the room and there’s no ex–”
The floor fell away beneath him and Franklin Buck tumbled away into the darkness. He screamed. The sound was deafening in the cramped space.
“What just happened?” Corporate Man yelled.
Franklin. He disappeared. Dropped through the floor,” said Business
“Into the sharks?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Wait. I hear him. He says it’s okay. We’re going in after him,” she said. Business Woman, Supply, and Demand rolled into the void in the floor. Senior Executive dropped in right behind them.
Corporate and Fair Wage were on their stomachs, army crawling, the floor still pressing upward, about to crush them into the ceiling. They felt pressure on their chests and on their backs, friction now hindering their movements.
Then they toppled into the shaft and landed on something soft and spongy.
“Did everyone make it?” Corporate Man asked.
“Yeah, I think we’re all accounted for,” said Senior Executive. “But where are we?”
A seam of light pierced the darkness as Fair Wage opened a door embedded in one of the walls. The
crept through opening, careful and cautious, and found themselves in a
“Good morning, and welcome to the offices of Incorporated Business Corporate Incorporated. Section Thirteen here at
. I’m Betty.
How may I assist?” Jacob
Most of the
held their breath.
Betty didn’t seem to notice the awkward pause, nor did she seem eager to sprout blades from her fingers and attack. Corporate Man finally took a breath and approached the desk.
“Well, Betty, we’re all finished here but they said we were needed upstairs. Would you advise us where to go next?”
Betty smiled and said, “I suggest you take the elevator.”
She gestured toward a set of doors opposite here desk. Corporate Man, expecting to see the entrance to a stairwell, was surprised by the elevator doors. He thanked Betty and pushed the button marked with the upward pointing arrow. The doors slid open and a man in a long trench coat flinched, his eyes flaring wide. His hand flashed inside his coat and he shoved an odd, square barreled gun against Corporate Man’s chest.