by Valentin D. Ivanov
“Stop it! You don’t know how they feed the computers around here!” Shouted the tallest lady.
A few minutes ago a smiling young man led us into the office. He was courtesy itself but nothing could hide the fact that the man hated us. Nobody likes us unless they are forced to, by their job description.
Somebody had forgotten to feed the computer at the reception. It was sobbing quietly on the corner of the desk. The three other women who had arrived for the job interview before me looked at the pale green ceiling. Undoubtedly they were wondering if the situation was a set up, testing maternity instincts and what the best course of action was. I was asking myself the same questions, but I also knew that the employers never appreciate indecisiveness so I just went to the poor creature and took a milk bottle from my bag.
“Don’t touch it!” the same lady shouted again. Dark suit, silver frame glasses and a tight bun of hair on the top of her head. “You can kill it!”
“We should ask someone from the company,” said the second woman, the youngest of us all.
“This is for mobile phones,” I showed them the label and poured some liquid into the computer’s feeding tube.
“It is not good for the digestion to give it so much at once,” the third lady remarked, a plain creature of uncertain age and vague hints of gender. She was my main competitor, I decided.
The computer belched. She was right, of course. I was furious at making the mistake, for letting her state the obvious and most of all, for getting upset. At least I wasn’t giving her self-confidence points by showing how I felt.
“They shouldn’t have left it hungry in the first place,” I said. “Three days with no food, and it will start munching on the central processor.”
The computer drained the bottle in five minutes, in teaspoon portions. And then the door opened.
* * *
The man who came in wore white trousers and a blue jacket with the company logo. We stood up.
“Hello, ladies! I am Stephen Johns, from Personnel. How are you doing today? I apologize for making you wait.”
We all answered something polite and he led us to a conference room with stylish flower paintings. O’Keeffe originals, no less.
“Admiring the art, Mrs. Robertson?”
I was tempted to correct him that it is Miss Robertson, but he might have misunderstood it.
“I like her.”
Mr. Johns nodded and invited us to sit around the table.
“You have all been through the preliminary interview with the hiring agency, so I am not going to ask you the usual questions. Our company needs a reliable person that can perform well under pressure. Aptitude for team work is crucial. We may hire one or two of you, or may be even all of you. Or we may keep the position open.”
He gave us a quick look.
“Mrs. Stapleton, could you please tell us what gets under your skin?”
So this was the name of the plain woman. She didn’t waver.
“I am always involved in the things I do.”
“It is not for you to judge.”
She was steaming quietly. Johns ignored her and turned to the bun and glasses.
“Mrs. Grazziani, what is your strategy to cope with the stress?”
“I face the source and remove it.”
“And if the source can’t be removed? Assume the source is your boss.”
“The source is never the person itself, it is something in the relation and I will change that.”
“How are you going to make your boss give up smoking in the office lounge?”
Mrs. Grazziani considered the question for a moment.
“Smoking is forbidden in the maternity yards. I am sure this never happens in a company like this…”
“And if it does, what would you do?”
“I will talk to him.”
“And not with somebody from Personnel? You will hesitate to rat on your boss?”
She was at loss what to say for a moment.
“I would blow the whistle on him, yes. This would be my second action.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Grazziani, we won’t need your services.” Johns stood up. We were about to follow his example but he waved at us. “The rest of you, sit down. We haven’t finished yet.”
Mrs. Grazziani left the room without a word. I didn’t look at her, instead I watched my two competitors. The younger one, whose name we hadn’t heard, followed the unlucky job-seeker with horror. Mrs. Stapleton was looking at me without blinking.
“Mrs. Trenton,” he asked the girl, “what is the most significant responsibility you have failed to meet during your career?”
“I have never failed to meet my responsibilities.”
“Nobody is perfect, Mrs. Trenton. Think harder.”
“Really, sir! I was the first in my maternity class, I got excellent recommendations from the company where I had my Summer internship.”
I see; she was straight out of college.
“Then why they didn’t hire you, Mrs. Trenton? You must have failed them somehow. Can’t you think how?”
“Actually, I didn’t even apply for a job with them. They are a big company but their most advanced production line is refrigerators. My genetic modificability improved by three grades over the last year. It is much higher than what is needed for making picnic coolers. I prefer more challenging work with better prospects.“
So Mrs. Trenton, not Mrs. Stapleton, was my main competitor.
Johns turned to me. Suddenly I felt hungry and I recalled with regret the milk I fed to the front desk computer.
“Mrs. Robertson, name the greatest risk you have taken on the job?”
* * *
Five years ago when I applied for my first maternity position at a big biotech company, they would have never cross-interrogated us like this little bastard was doing today. The technology became so demanding since then, it was nearly impossible to find surrogate mothers that were able to carry to term hundreds of processors every week. Growth accelerators could speed the turnout but they could not stop your psyche from wearing out after four births per month. The companies had either to retire you with a huge pension or to face unsympathetic courts ready to side with the former employee. The manufacture of simple bioware could always be carried over to the Third world but only a few percent of the women there had undergone genetic testing and people with modificability grade as high as mine were rare. One in hundreds of thousands. The only defense the biotech companies had left was putting the applicants trough the harshest tests possible. And so they did.
* * *
“Two years ago, when I was working for a microprocessor company in California…
„Ah, the infamous Valley of the Thousand Mothers,“ Johns cut me of. „We have all heard of it. Go on now, tell me what heroic thing you did.“
It took all of my strength to relax my fists.
„I refused to abort a potentially defective batch of processors. It was an experimental series and I am under non-disclosure agreement, but I can say that the pregnancy was successful.”
He must have known this from my dossier, of course. The bastard wanted to hear me saying it.
“Why did you take the chance?”
“Because they are my children.”
“Mrs Robertson, it is my pleasure to offer you the position. Congratulations!”
* * *
This is how I started working for MS. I was lucky that they had an opening just now, that the aggressive hiring policy of the defence contractors had run the job market dry of high-grade mothers, that twenty years ago Will Portales gave in to the pressure from his parents and went to medical school. I was lucky for countless other reasons.
But luck is not everything. I knew they wanted women who would do everything for their babies. Even if the newborn are nothing more than advanced bioware for parallel computing.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Valentin D. Ivanov
Valentin D. Ivanov was born in Bulgaria in 1967. He received an M.S. in Physics with specialization in Astronomy from the University of Sofia in1992, a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Arizona in 2001, and he has been working for the European Southern Observatory ever since. Valentin has a broad area of research interests — from extrasolar planets to obscured Milky Way clusters and active galaxies. He is married, with three children. Valentin began to write science fiction and fantasy in high school. He has published in his native country a collection of fantasy stories based on Bulgarian folklore, written in collaboration with Kiril Dobrev. His personal home-page can be found at http://www.sc.eso.org/~vivanov/ and his blog (written in both Bulgarian and English) at http://valio98.blog.bg/ He writes short story reviews for http://sffportal.net/
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