Chapter 1:

Chapter 1: A Shiny, Happy Day


I skip along the grass-riddled pavement, buoyantly traveling on my journey to nameless off-brand restaurant number 130, my shoulder-length light brown hair bouncing all the way. The sun beat merrily down on the pavement like a toddler playing with a xylophone. My raggedy bright pink and white sneakers thump to a staccato rhythm as I make a quick pace, listening to dramatic doom metal on my comically oversized headphones. I stop at the entrance, spiff up my uniform, and open the door to the ting-a-ling of the bell.

“You’re late,” accuses my best friend and comrade-in-cooking, Elisa. She taps her stark-black buckled shoes against the tile floor, folding her arms in frustration.

I, of course, cannot permit such slander! “Excuse me! How dare you level such accusations! It is...” I check my watch “8:50! I am ten minutes before my shift starts.”

She grabs me by the shoulders and with the dead look of a long-suffering individual, says “I have been stuck talking with Karen for the past hour because you weren’t here when I finished my preparation of the store. You know, like I always do. Why did you abandon me?” a plaintive tone clear in her voice.

I wince. That can’t have been very fun. “I’m really sorry. I slept in after watching robot fights till 1:00 am.”

Against my greatest efforts, a yawn practically takes over my body, before I slump down in exhaustion, arms hanging down.

Her glare softens “Ugh, you’re too cute to stay mad at. Don’t think I can’t realize you are using your wiles to escape your just punishment though.”

Hey, I am not using them this time!

“Now let’s get started before Karen decides to use her Managerial Command on us.” she wryly says.

I shiver. Nothing like the threat of mind control to get you moving. Well, teeechnicallyyy it is not mind control, otherwise it would be illegal. It’s mind influence. It just instills a strong sense of obedience and it makes your body resist doing non-work actions, but for someone who has 2 years till they unlock their system, the legal distinction is negligible when you can’t invest in the Willpower stat.

I run my work card through the system and got started on the daily grind, making crimes against Mexican cuisine ‘like a boss.’ I play Frank Sinatra on my oversized headphones and I’m groovin’ and movin’ to the beat. I’m the cat’s meow. The bee’s knees. I giggle at the anachronisms going through my head.

“Move faster. You’re messing up the proportions. I have never seen such abysmal wrap assembly. I want 10 large salads done in every five minutes. Cut that lettuce faster! Don’t stop until you’re done. Remember, no talking unless talked to.”

Ahhh, the angel herself, Karen. Crap. An old, white curmudgeonly woman in a red shirt and blue-and-white skirt. Unfortunately, her grating wish is my command. Against my will, my hands move from a professional speed to a blistering pace, cutting the lettuce with alacrity. Her wrinkled has-been face wrinkles in approval and she leaves to police my fellow workers. Oof. She’s going to Sanders. Poor guy is screwed, may he rest in peace. He’s so nice that he gets all anxious when he inevitably does not meet her ridiculous standards. He really did not realize what this corpo. contract entailed.

Time to try avoiding cutting my fingers.


I hate this job so much.

I’ve worked pretty hard to get high base dexterity, but my hands cannot keep this up. After the first nonstop 5 minutes, and the four hours of laborious taco making before her Managerial Command, my hands are starting to hurt. After the next 15 minutes, they are cramping and spazzing, but I can’t let go. I am sweating and panting. I really need a respite. I'm starting to accidentally scrape off my black and pink nail polish through the gloves, but I can’t slow down to prevent a mistake like I normally would have.

Goddamnit! I cut myself. Luckily it isn’t bleeding too profusely. It joins the old scar tissue on my hands. I cannot stop to get bandages though.

I continue cutting lettuce for a while more, until I make another mistake. I fail to move my hand out of the way fast enough and I cut myself again. This one is a gusher. Been a while since I got one this bad.

Tears well up in my eyes and then promptly retreat as if they remembered whose makeup they would be messing up. Blood starts soaking my gloves and my grip is slipping worse. My ruby lips purse as I try to break the multiple commands. I cut myself again; on accident of course. I can’t risk looking around, but I know that everyone else is under similar orders of silence and focus so they can’t help me.

Like moving through molasses, I desperately unclench my hand and whisper “Time. For. Lunch. Break!”

It’s so cheesy I would laugh if it wasn’t actually pretty serious.

To my undying happiness, the skill releases. Managerial Command can’t make you do something illegal, like skipping your allotted lunch break, which is unfortunately part of why it is legal.

“Haha! Freedom!” I shout happily. I drip blood across the floor as I race out to open my backpack. I pull out a heap of medical supplies till I find the gauze and expertly wrap my hands up.

“I am starving!” I exclaim.

I grab the massive sandwich at the bottom of the backpack with my mummified hands and do my best to imitate my pet python Jerry. Sure, my hands are stinging like hell, but the real pain is my empty stomach.

After halfway through the sandwich, I pause. A tingling sensation prickles its way up my neck. Goosebumps form. My big blue eyes widen, and I start shaking. I turn around with a big grin on my face.

“Hiya Boss!” I say to the specter of doom in front of me.

"You got blood ALL over the employee carpet. The mess is ridiculous! WHY would you be so careless?! You should have gone slower!” Karen shouts, spittle flying onto my face.

I summon my incredible acting skills and play the part she expects of me in this situation. “I’m so, so sorry. I’ll do better. Would you like me to clean it up? I’ll make sure to remedy my mistakes” I craft a flawless, sincerely apologetic expression just for her.

It is supremely difficult with her disgusting, germy spit and the images of drop-kicking her into a vat of our Ultimate Spice Sauce running in the back of my mind, but I am nothing if not capable.

You may now offer your applause.

Syed Al Wasee