Several miles beneath a desert that was currently radiating more heat than the planet's ozone knew what to do with, an office worker who specialized in Existential Minutiae Mitigation was tapping away at his terminal keyboard, finalizing a report on a recent Blue Alert.
In the cubicle adjacent, another office drone stared at a green-glowing terminal monitor as blocky text scrolled by. "Oil just went negative," Packard said. "Dude, oil has never gone negative. They're literally paying people to take the oil."
"Mmh." Wilson kept tapping at his keyboard. Blue Alert reports didn't write themselves.
"Look, I'm telling you—" Packard's eyes were fixed on his terminal as he stabbed a finger at the screen, "—this is gonna be the big one. At the rate things are escalating, we'll have a Red Alert by end of week."
Packard turned to face Wilson. He leaned forward, resting elbows on the cubicle desk, bulky shoulders stretching a poorly-fitted white short-sleeved dress shirt. He peered over the cubicle partition at Wilson, obviously enthusiastic about the developing crisis. "You know the last time we had a Red Alert?"
Wilson didn't answer and Packard wasn't waiting.
"Three-point-five years ago. The D.C. incident. It took eighteen months to finish cleaning up that mess."
Wilson nodded absently. "I remember."
Packard leaned back in his too-small desk chair. "Hell, the fellas on Twenty-Nine are still mopping up the residuals from that one."
A moment passed and Wilson filled it with typing. He didn't mind gossiping about current affairs—well, listening to Packard gossip about current affairs—but it wasn't every day that Wilson was assigned a Blue Alert. Since he had handled it with textbook precision, it was critical to log the details carefully. There was a reason Blue Alerts were considered career makers.
Wilson resisted the urge to sigh. He looked over the partition at a grinning Packard.
"When the Red Alert does come, who do you think'll get it?"
Wilson chewed the inside of his cheek. That was interesting.
There were a total of three alerts in the Department of Human Asset Management. Each alert corresponded with a different color which corresponded with a different level of existential panic and subsequent crisis.
Yellow was as mild as it was frequent. It was accompanied by a comparatively gentle beeping—soft tones that were separated by stretches of silence nearly five times longer than the alert tone itself.
Wilson knew this because he had timed it. It was the nature of his work to discover random details like that. Wilson also had plenty of opportunities to track the timing since, again, the Yellow Alert was set off frequently. Most recently, an office worker who coordinated ad buys in Titusville, Florida wondered if there was really any point to a job that processed paperwork for something that didn't actually exist. The ad buy paperwork had nothing to do with the advertisement or even how the advertisement was scheduled, but merely the purchasing of the time and the ephemeral digital space that the ad would eventually exist in.
That is, if you could say that ads in Titusville, Florida are even capable of existing.
If advertisements in Titusville, Florida don't actually exist (whatever that means), what definitive meaning could a person possibly find in the transaction of the invisible, non-tangible time that nonexistent ads are supposed to exist within?
From there, the office worker in Titusville almost realized that money had no value, societal structures were carefully fabricated lies to keep the human assets distracted, and time itself was a construct designed to imbue artificial meaning into that ad buy paperwork because if it's not processed now then it'll be too late and then how will Paige Smith of 6233 Forest Wood Lane ever know that this new smartphone is so much better at opening Facebook than the one she bought four months ago?
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Red Alert in the Department of Human Asset Management & Existential MitigationShort Story
Oil prices have plunged into negative territory. The used car index has cratered. Governments are issuing a universal basic income to its citizens. Society as we know it is a house of cards built upon smoke and mirrors. There's a very dangerous reas...