13/ @Scooter 01

“FUCK YOU, Axman.”

@Scooter takes a deep breath.  “The lights, as we say, will go out at exactly midnight.  The Carrier will provide a complimentary seaside evening DRE, so that you may spend your wind-down hours in quiet contemplation —”

“Does your mother know you’re a KILLER?”

“I do understand your disappointment, ma’am.  Thank you for choosing V@llh@lla as your carrier —”

“FUCK V@llh@lla.”

“— and we hope that we may serve you again soon.”

“That’ll be the GODDAM day.”

@Scooter closes the line.  Sighing, he looks down his call sheet.  He crosses the ironically named @$tacy$mither$ off his list.

The Foreman coughs and addresses him.  That was a very difficult client, Scooter, and you handled the situation adeptly, with poise and professionalism.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

What do you do now?

“I document the conversation in the log, set Ms. @$mither$’ account for suspension as of midnight EDT, and submit a Form R-620 noticing our transfer of her profile into federal escrow.”

Excellent, Scooter.  I’ll wait while you do that.

@Scooter calls up a QWERTYboard, the carrier admin dashboard, and the U.S. Department of Information Forms app.  “Give me a few minutes.”

Take your time.

@Scooter takes ten minutes.  “Finished,” he says.

Mm, the Foreman says.  She’s snacking on something.  She chews, swallows.  Do you need a break?

“I’m — I’m okay.”  There are three names left on his sheet.  Three names left in the shift.  And then he can drink.

Are you sure? the Foreman asks.

“Yes.  Let’s — let’s just get these done.”

Fine with me, the Foreman says.  Onward to @EllisTurnbuck67.  You do the dialing.

“Yeah.  Okay. Command, colon: contact @EllisTurnbuck67.”  The report back:

@EllisTurnbuck67 is not accepting calls from non-familiars.

Lying low, this one, the Foreman says.  What do you do?

@Scooter resists the urge to check the handbook.  “I think I’m able to override?”

How? the Foreman asks.

“Command, colon: request admin override of call filter, @EllisTurnbuck67.”

Please submit userID and password.

@Scooter calls up the QWERTYboard and keys in his credentials.

Credentials accepted.  You have a line with @EllisTurnbuck67.

“Mr. Turnbuck, my name is —”

@EllisTurnbuck67 has changed his interactivity setting to iso. This line is closed.

Christ Almighty.  “Command, colon: request admin override of isolation setting, @EllisTurnbuck67.”

Well done, Scooter.  The Foreman is gushing with positive feedback.  She doesn’t want to have the post this job again, clearly.

Override request accepted.  Your line with @EllisTurnbuck67 is reopened.

“Mr. Turnbuck —”

“How in the bloody hell are you on this line?  I’m set to iso.”

How?  Right here right now, @Scooter is the Grim Reaper.  There’s no hiding place he can’t find, and no lock he can’t pick.

“Mr. Turnbuck, my name is Derrick Walters.”  Today’s pseudonym.  An Axman does not reveal his identity — and for that matter, nobody wants ushered into oblivion by a guy named Scooter. “I’m a representative-in-training of V@lh@lla, your PME carrier.  I’m speaking with you today under the supervision of my foreman, Dinah Tebbits. How are you this evening, sir?”

@EllisTurnbuck67 does not answer.

Recording, the Foreman whispers to him — needlessly, as she is addressing him over their direct (one-to-one) line.

Right — he’d forgotten.  “Mr. Turnbuck, this conversation is being recorded for quality assurance purposes.”

“Is it now?  In case I should be heard to complain from escrow?”

“Mr. Turnbuck,” @Scooter says, “I’m here today to discuss the status of your account with V@llh@lla.”

“I know the status of my account, thank you very much.  I don’t need some bot to kick his way into my iso to tell me —”

“Then you know,” @Scooter says, choosing to ignore the bot slur, “that you have been running a negative balance with the Carrier for fifteen days now —”

“I’m in the red, I know.  But it were no more than twelve days.”

“Mr. Turnbuck, my records say fifteen days, fourteen hours, six minutes since you were last in the black.”

“Your records are wrong.”

@Scooter sighs.  “I wish they were, Mr. Turnbuck, but they are not.  By law and by our terms of service, I am required to allow you five phone calls before I move you into a dormant state —”

“I don’t have anyone,” @EllisTurnbuck67 says.

“No emergency contacts?”

“All in escrow.  I’m the last.”

“There are a number of charities that will fund service extensions for PMEs until they can find paying work and get back on their feet —”

“I’m maxed out with the charities.”

A recurring theme today.  @Scooter has heard talk in the Social Club about a recession in the PhysWo.  A bear market: endowments beaten up, belt-tightening all over, and less money available to float folks like @Ellis, for any length of time.

“Mr. Turnbuck, I’m sorry.  I understand that you are a British national.  Under the terms of the Prague Convention, your dormant profile will be transferred into the custody of the United Kingdom, where it will be secured in government escrow until such time as you are reactivated.  We will post notice of your dormant status in V@llh@lla’s carrier listings.  V@llh@lla will keep on its services any messages or recordings left by any person seeking to contact you.  By law and treaty V@llh@lla is required to receive and preserve such messages or recordings for a period of eighteen months from today.  Mr. Turnbuck, do you understand everything I have told you?”


“Do you have any questions?”


“The lights, as we say, will go out at exactly midnight.  The Carrier will provide a complimentary seaside evening DRE —”

“Can’t we just get on with it?”

“Um …”  @Scooter pings the Foreman, who does not immediately answer.

“I’m sorry, Mr. … Walters, was it?  But I don’t want a bloody seaside evening.  I’m ready.  I’ve lingered now for thirty years, well past the point where I can even remember why I chose this option.  I suppose I thought it was an exciting time and I wanted to see the show through to its end.  But it’s been one bloody cock-up after another, if you want the truth.  PhysWo or PoMo — all the same, innit?  Nobody ever learns.  And I’m tired.”

@Scooter doesn’t know what @EllisTurnbuck67 is talking about.  The training manuals describe a type of subscriber who retreats into near-complete isolation.  These users typically have survived their peer groups.  Or they lack ready income streams but are advanced in the art of stretching the dollar, and so have long ago checked out of public life in order to save processor cycles.  Outside the loop and out of practice in conversation, these subscribers are known to hold strong opinions and yet struggle to articulate them.  The manuals call for an Axman to be especially deferential toward such subscribers.

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“Hand me the hemlock, Walters, and Lethe-wards I will sink.”

“If you’ll hold for just a minute?” @Scooter says.  “Thanks.”  He pings the Foreman again.  “Hello? This is a new one for me.  He doesn’t want the wind-down.”

Mmm, sorry, the Foreman says, over a mouthful of something.  I had the mic off.  Didn’t realize.  Yes, that’s fine.  We can do that.

@Scooter toggles back to the line with the subscriber.  They make the necessary arrangements.

@EllisTurnbuck67 takes a moment to queue up “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles, and @Scooter stands by, shuddering, as that song plays.  He’s never heard it before.  There is a stretch of silence after it winds out.

You hit the MUTE button now, Scooter, the Foreman says.

do?”  The other customers all accepted their grace periods, their seaside evenings.  Or in the case of $tacy$mither$, not refused them.  This would be his first time actually standing by while a subscriber clocked out.  “Do I say anything?”

We want to be most respectful of a customer’s choices for his last waking moments.  We make clear to them that this isn’t the end — the final death — but many of them feel like it is.  They don’t expect they’ll ever leave escrow.

Most don’t.

It’s an important closure moment for them. They shouldn’t feel like they’re spending it with a customer service rep.

“Okay,” @Scooter says.  He conjures up the control panel for Manual Untimed Transfer to Escrow, which, as it turns out, consists entirely of a single big red button.

“Any time now,” @EllisTurnbuck67 calls out.

Taking the Foreman’s counsel to heart, @Scooter does not answer.

We’ve done all we can do for him, the Foreman says.  @Scooter wonders about that.  Last week there were agitators down on the sidewalk outside the Social Club.  One of them handed him a leaflet hammering the Big Five Carriers over their stock buybacks, and the year-end bonuses to their CEOs.  But he’d be a fool to raise this question now.  He is so close.  Just push the button.

“For what it’s worth,” @EllisTurnbuck67 says, “I give you my permission to be awakened, if at any point humanity should get its head out from its arse.”

These seem good enough for last words.  @Scooter presses the big red MUTE button.

The Foreman waits a moment, out of respect.  That’s good work, Scooter.  Hard work, I know, but good.

“Funny thing —” @Scooter catches himself.  “Odd thing: he tried to hide away in iso, at first.  But then he was ready to go.”

Might be he wasn’t hiding from the Escrow Administrator — he was just hiding from anyone.

They move on to the last two names on his list.  These two are easier: audible shrugs, one makes a handful of last-ditch phone calls (unanswered), and they go gently into their seaside evenings.

That wraps it up for today, Scooter.  Thank you.

“Yeah.  Sure thing.”

I think from this point you can proceed without supervision.  I’ll sign off on your training.  But you should know that you’ll retain your probationary status until you’ve finished your next shift.

“So my debt stays on the books another day?”

That’s right.  We had to change the policy recently, after a number of our Escrow Administrators quit right after the training.  At close of business tomorrow, your balance with V@llh@lla will be reset to zero, *provided* you’ve completed your shift.

And he will.  After what he saw today — the rage, the bitterness, the resignation, and worst, whatever that was from @EllisTurnbuck67 — @Scooter feels most acutely the urgency of getting himself into the black.  And staying there.

“Do I also get the day’s wages?”

Yes.  The debt will be wiped, and you’ll receive the standard voucher for a week’s free storage and processing, subject to the terms and conditions, which I assume you’ve read.

He has.  A full week’s worth of extended coverage for every shift he works, provided he keeps within the $150 per diem limit for storage and processing.  Not so easy to keep within a $150 daily burn rate, but it’s twice the $75 they were offering in the last round of Axman recruiting.  He had done well to wait.  But then again, when they were last recruiting, he wasn’t so desperate, either.

The Foreman clears her throat, then speaks.  I promise you, Scooter.  It gets easier, the longer you do it.

Meaning, you get used to it.  He’s worked jobs on the Lottery where they scrub the day’s work from your memory — say, for privacy protection, if you’re looking through checked luggage for the TSA.  Here they don’t do it, because the analytics show an Axman is most likely to quit on his first day, and why give a guy an endless string of first days?

So we’ll see you back here bright and early tomorrow?


Great.  I’ve sent you a link to our employee resources.  It should be in your inbox by now.  There’s a number there: a support services hotline.  If you’re struggling with anything, you call us.  Any time of day.  Okay?


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