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Doc Paradise, Super-Villain and CEO of Paradise Labs, skimmed the latest complaint of favouritism in Paradise Lab’s Industrial Intelligence Department and raised an eyebrow at Agent ‘Marks, Jason Marks’. He had personally brought this complaint to Paradise’s attention. Given that the denizens of Industrial Intelligence (where agents of competitors sent to steal secrets from Paradise Labs were safely contained) usually were distracted by either the elegant martini bar or the swarm of security robots, Paradise was intrigued enough to pay attention. Without lowering the eyebrow Paradise pulled off the report cover and started performing a rite of origami on it.

"What is the problem?" Paradise asked in a lightly pleasant tone.

"The Department isn’t happy," replied ‘Marks’. He hadn't been able to decide whether presenting as pitiful or aggressive would be best to get him what he wanted. As a result, his presentation was the aggressive pout of a four-year-old denied ice-cream. Paradise wasn’t impressed with the tone, but the fact that ‘Marks’ had managed to both escape Industrial Intelligence and keep his eye on his target, was a point in his favour.

"It isn't fair that External Review gets all the best assignments,” he insisted.

"What is unfair about that?" asked Doc Paradise, giving every indication of listening intently. On the corner of the desk, unnoticed by ‘Marks’, was a copy of Communication Skills for Megalomaniac Dictators. The corners of Paradise’s mouth raised in an encouraging fashion. This shark-like grin was supposed to improve motivation in minions, or at least distract them from noticing how close to the trapdoor they were standing.

"It's favouritism!"

"Yes."

That stopped him. Paradise waited while ‘Marks’ brain staggered around inside his skull looking for a new argument. It couldn't find one, so it tried the old one again.

“It isn’t fair,” he said in a shaky voice.“The hot assignments should be distributed fairly.”

"That sounds reasonable," agreed Paradise, pleased at how well the tactics were working. "Your Director made a similar request on your behalf." A flick of a finger across the tablet caused a memo from the Director of Industrial Intelligence to be displayed. It was short and to the point. Paradise read it aloud. "I recommend that Industrial Intelligence be reassigned to a large metal trash box full of roaches and set on fire." Paradise looked up from the memo at ‘Marks’. "I'm so glad that you agree. Transfers are much simpler when everyone agrees.”

‘Marks’ choked. “That isn't what I meant.”

"What did you mean?" Paradise asked, this time displaying a curious look which had been practiced to perfection in a mirror.

"We want paid vacations," he clarified. "Like her."

There was no question who was being referred to: Molly Smith from External Review. (Oh, how they hated her.) Ms. Smith treated the Industrial Intelligence martini bar like her own personal trolling grounds. Without fail, three days after returning from her latest assignment, Smith would waltz into the bar like she owned it and proceed to brag about her exploits to anyone who was there. (Everyone was there.) She told tales of exotic locations and unbelievable adventures. (It was so unfair.) She drank. (They bought.) She sang karaoke badly. (They clapped.) She drank more and dropped hints about her next assignment. (They took notes and bought more drinks.) She danced the night away. (They tried to keep up and promised themselves that they would work out more.) At the end of the night she would disappear. (They reported her activities to their actual employers.) The day after was Mysterious Flu Day. (Oh, how they hated her.) The denizens of Industrial Intelligence gathered quietly around water coolers and explained to each other how unfair it was that External Review got all the good assignments.

"That is simple enough," replied Paradise, sitting back in her chair with a true grin of satisfaction. This was working splendidly. "All you have to do is produce reports that are as complete and effective as hers and you will be eligible for a Vacation Evaluator position. Staffing evaluations for the position are merit based and the position qualifications are listed on the internal network. The position requirements are clearly stated in the application form.”

“We just have to fill out a form?”

“That is correct. Successfully displaying initiative and problem solving skills is the first qualification.” Paradise smiled and made a shooing motion. “We look forward to your application. Good-luck. Close the door on your way out."

‘Marks’ left feeling like he'd won, but not quite.

----

Much later, while everyone else in Industrial Intelligence was in the martini bar, ‘Marks’ sat in the Director’s office chair, stared at the screen of the Director’s computer, and contemplated what the open file meant for him. He was fucked. Fucked sideways. Fucked backwards. Fucked forwards. Fucked while soaring through the air on a trapeze carried by flying monkeys. There was no way he was not fucked. He wished he had a drink.

There was a quiet knock on the door.

Since it really didn’t matter anymore, he answered, “It’s not locked.”

Molly Smith entered carrying two martinis. She gently pushed the door closed behind her with her foot. “You missed karaoke. I sang Genghis Khan and everybody danced. It was fun.” She carefully put the drinks, one red and one blue, down on the desk. “I suppose you know what this is…”

“Heavy handed symbolism?”

“I prefer to think of it as a job interview,” she indicated the drinks. “If you take the blue one, you continue to play by their rules. If you take the red one, you play by ours.”

“Either way, I die.”

“Well, no… I mean maybe. That’s up to you. We won’t kill you. We’ll pay you for your years of double-agent services either way. We believe in appropriate compensation for risk. You earned that money. It’s yours by rights. Unfortunately, your application for the position of Vacation Evaluator renders your further employment in Industrial Intelligence impossible. You will have to choose. You can take the money and run, there is enough money in that account to hide from them for at least a decade if you are careful, or you can sign an exclusivity agreement with us. Our benefits are excellent and competence is rewarded. Your work would actually have an impact on the world.” She paused to assess how her offer was being evaluated, then continued with a grin, “And we have cookies.”

‘Marks’ laughed.

Maybe he wasn’t that fucked.

He picked up the red martini and drank. It was delicious. “What was in the blue one?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but it smells like glass cleaner,” replied Agent Smith. “Welcome to External Review.”

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