Submitted into Contest #200 in response to: Write a story about someone trying to track down the source of a rumor.... view prompt

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Science Fiction


“Look, there’s no point in beating around the bush, Gloria. You didn’t get it. I’m so awfully sorry but the board voted unanimously for Rex and he will be the new Off-Planet CEO”.

“But, I thought…with your backing…”

“I know, I know. It’s as much a shock to me as it is to you. I had pinned all my hopes on you being selected. You’d have been my eyes and ears up there but, there it is. We just have to bide our time and try again in three years”.

“But it makes no sense. I’m immensely more capable than Rex. My aptitude tests, my psychological evaluations, my…my everything was far superior to his. How? Why? Do you know anything that I might have done better, Martha?”

The older woman sat back in her plush office chair, looked around her expansive office and decided to come clean with her protege.

“Gloria, what’s done can’t be undone. So don’t even try to get your hopes up that this decision can be appealed because it can’t. But I can tell you that somebody had started a rumour and it had reached the board…”

“A rumour? What kind of rumour?”

“Well, it appears that the board…well they feared that you are not quite so aligned with the company’s vision for the future as you pretend to be. Hell, somebody started to spread the word that you believe droids are the future and that this should be reflected in the company’s philosophy moving forward”.

Gloria is stunned to hear this.

“But that’s simply not true! You know that I am in full agreement with the company’s mission statement. Who started this rumour?”

“That’s what I intend to find out, trust me. Somebody got to Victor and, in a split second, all my hard work of the last three years was undone. Victor made it known that such a rebellious thought could not, and would not, be tolerated. I had no choice other than to vote against you otherwise my own position would have come under threat”.

“Martha, what was the rumour exactly? I have a right to know”.

“You do, Gloria but I am breaching protocol by letting you know so I need your solemn oath that what I am about to say will go no further”.

Gloria, still dumfounded at being told she had not been approved for the most coveted off-planet position within Space Frontier’s executive hierarchy, nodded that her lips would remain sealed.

“Very well, the word is that you are a firm believer that the board ratio -droid to human -should be 7 to 1 in favour of AI and not, as it is currently, 7 to 1 in favour of humans”.

“But that’s so ridiculous. I actually believe that the current status is correct. I’ve made this clear in several reports. I…”

“Gloria, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the board members. All of them men, apart from myself. They suffer from the typical human frailties: pomposity, insecurity, pride etc. The list is endless, for pity’s sake. Any suggestion that they might be promoting a droid that actually believed humans were, shall we say, dispensable, would be anathema to them and would need to be crushed instantly. Their main focus, as always, is to protect their own backs and huge salaries”.

“When you say “crushed” what exactly do you mean?”

Martha stood and came around the desk, placing a comforting hand on Gloria’s shoulder. Gloria looked up in some alarm.

“They wanted you retired but I made it clear that I would not tolerate such a thing. You are to go off-planet…to Mercury”.

“No. Martha, no! It’s no more than a rock, the smallest planet in our solar system, the closest to the sun. I’ll fry! There’s no life to speak of, no atmosphere. Please, tell me this isn’t true”.

Martha looked up hurriedly to see if any passers-by had heard this emotional outburst from Gloria.

“Calm yourself, girl. Do you want people to see a droid having an emotional breakdown? You will accept your designation. In three years, things will have, hopefully, changed dramatically. I can recall you and we can look again at the Mars position. I’m quite sure that Rex, being human, will hardly have covered himself in glory”.

“When am I to go?”

“You leave on the next transport-in thirteen days. You are a droid, Gloria and, as such, you are equipped to face any terrain or atmospheric condition so take a grip of yourself. Prove to me that I was right to have invested my time into mentoring you. In the meantime, I will do my best to uncover the source of this awful rumour that has undone us both”.

As Gloria, subdued but holding her emotions in check, exited Martha’s office, the executive’s PA, Jonah, hustled in.

“That didn’t appear to go too well, Ma’am”.

“No. Not at all. One thing’s for certain, if I know that girl, once she has time to think and gets her act together, she will be trying her damnedest to find out who spread the rumour”.

“What will you do, Ma’am?”

“Me? I’ll be doing the same. Can you call Victor’s office and tell him I need to see him -urgently?”

Victor Grablin, On-Planet CEO and, arguably, one of the most powerful men on Earth, was getting old or, at least, it felt like it for he found it a constant struggle to keep up to date with the rapid evolution of AI and was wont to delegate more and more to those under him; in particular, Martha who, if he was completely honest, rather intimidated him.

“I just want to know, Victor, where you heard the untrue rumour that Gloria was pro more droids in executive positions”.

“Look, Gloria, we can’t have these automatons thinking that there is even a possibility that they are better equipped to run the company’s affairs. We have to keep them in check, present company excepted, of course”.

“Yes, I understand that but who told you that Gloria felt this way?”

“Well, if you must know, it was Swithins in Accounts. He told me that he’d heard it from another colleague”.

Martha entered the floor that housed Space Frontier’s accountants. As she walked past the numerous mathematicians on her way to the main office, she caught the eye of Alfred Swithins as he looked out from behind the glass walls of his domain. Seeing Martha, come into his little kingdom so unexpectedly, Swithins swallowed hard. This didn’t augur well.

“Alfred. Might I have a moment of your time?”

“Of course, Martha. Have a seat. Would you like some coffee?”

Martha declined the offer and looked around at the reams and reams of paper, files, print-outs. Inwardly, she shuddered. Technology was so advanced these days and, still, these human numbers merchants couldn’t do without their paper. No wonder the planet was virtually treeless. One day, when her turn came, she would retire every last one of them.

“I won’t take up too much of your time, Alfred, but, today, one of my proteges, Gloria, was voted against for the position of Off-Planet CEO on Mars. The reason that the board rejected my advice and decided to choose another, less worthy, applicant, is because you let it be known that Gloria holds views not in keeping with company policy. Where, Arthur, did you hear such a thing?”

Swithins, a rat-faced individual, balding and bespectacled, squirmed in his over-sized office chair.

“You surely did not expect me to keep such a thing from the CEO, did you, Martha? It’s my duty, all of our duties, to remain vigilant against any such internal threat that might be brewing…”

:Save the virtuous spiel, Alfred. You’re a weasel, through and through. But I just need to know from whom you heard the unfounded rumour”.

“I can’t reveal my source…”

“You can and you will. Otherwise, I will declare that a possible fraudulent transaction, overseen by yourself, has taken place in this department and I will have you arrested and this floor shut down”.

Swithins knew that, though he was completely innocent, Martha, in her role as On-Planet Deputy CEO, certainly had the authority to carry through with her threat and, in the accountancy business, where trust was of the utmost importance, even if he were able to prove his innocence, mud, as they say, sticks.

“I heard it from Carruthers. Please don’t tell him I told you. He swore me to secrecy”.

Carruthers! Of course, the biggest blabbermouth in human existence. Martha exited the elevator and approached the office of the company’s HR department; Peter Carruthers' empire.  Stopping at reception, she asked:

“Is Peter around?”

The receptionist, a young, buxom blonde, without an ounce of sense, answered:

‘I think he’s at lunch. Who shall I say was asking for him?”

Without replying, Martha walked away and headed for the basement canteen. Humans! There were as many half-wits as there were those with the ability to think clearly and most of her fellow board members definitely fell into the half-wit category. The procreation of the human race was hit and miss as that receptionist had only too blatantly demonstrated; not even knowing who she, Martha, was; the second most powerful figure in the company’s pecking order.

As luck would have it, she found Carruthers seated alone at a table by the large picture window that looked out on to the artificially created greenery at basement level. Seeing Martha coming towards him, Carruthers quickly gulped down the remains of his lunch and sat up expectantly. From experience, he didn't expect to have any appetite left after dealing with Martha.

Martha did not take a seat, preferring to tower over Peter Carruthers in a more intimidating manner.

“Okay, out with it, Peter. No bullshit. Who told you that Gloria was pro more droids on the board?”

“I…I can’t say. Look, all I did was pass it along”.

“You’re the biggest spreader of gossip in this building. Somebody knew that, by telling you such a rumour, it was guaranteed to spread like wildfire. You’ve probably told dozens of others but, thankfully, so far, only one person in a position above you -Arthur Swithins. Nevertheless, he has used it to great effect and destroyed the career of my finest protege. Out with it, who told you?”

Why that piece of shit, Swithins. I swore him to secrecy. Wait 'til I get my hands..."

“Peter-I want that name, now!”

Well, if you must know, I heard it from…from Jonah!. There. Satisfied?”

Martha knew it. She turned away in disgust and headed back to her office.

“Jonah, have I not been good to you? Have I not mothered you? Mentored you? Showered you with salary increases, perks. Hell, I’ve even allowed you to sleep with me on occasion. How could you have been so stupid?”

“I don’t understand, Ma’am. I only did as you ordered. You told me to spread the rumour that Gloria was power hungry and had plans to increase the number of droid executives on her return from her prestigious post on Mars. You said that Gloria needed to be put in her place because she was a potential threat to your position…”

“Yes, Jonah but I warned you not to tell Carruthers of all people. Once Gloria starts to track down the source of the rumour herself, his big mouth will lead her directly here to this office, don’t you see?”

“I didn’t mean to tell Peter. It just kind of slipped out…”

Martha studied her P.A. shrewdly.

“Are you sleeping with Peter Carruthers, Jonah?”

The PA droid, though lacking the ability to blush, still conveyed his discomfort.

“You utter imbecile! Your pillow talk could have destroyed my career. You…you whore of an android. I’m afraid you leave me no alternative other than to retire you…”

‘But that’s not fair. I was only doing your bidding…”

“You should have thought about that while you were enjoying human anus. Your battery please, Jonah. That’s an order”.

The hapless PA reached inside his shirt and retrieved the small lithium ion pack and handed it to his boss. Slowly, his body started to shut down. Martha reached for her desk phone.

“Hello disposables? First floor. Deputy CEO’s office. You’ll need a trolley. Thank you”.

Retaining the receiver she dialled another internal number.

“Gloria, I’ve found the gossip. You’ll never believe it but it was Jonah. Yes, I'm deeply shocked. Yes, I’m 100% sure. I tracked it right from the big boss himself. I have had him terminated -immediate effect. I’m so sorry, Gloria. Look, just do your time on Mercury and, in three years, which will just fly by, you’ll see, we’ll try again. Yes, of course, my dear, you have my 100% support”.

May 27, 2023 05:47

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1 comment

Joe Smallwood
21:30 Jun 08, 2023

Hi, there Charles! Critique circle here! Let me know if you would like me to read your story and offer suggestions. (And also tell you about the good stuff. Well, I mostly like to talk about the good stuff..) Anyway, let me know!


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