The Delegate Account

“Morning, Rob!” the cheery receptionist exclaimed. “Good weekend?”

“Yeah, not bad thanks, Sarah. Didn’t get up to an awful lot. Yourself?” Rob replied, a well rehearsed response.

“It was great!” she smiled. Sarah was a typically pretty young girl, though she wore perhaps too much makeup. She was dressed in her usual conservative style, a high necked, long sleeved dress, with thick, black tights to cover her legs. He walked past the reception desk and along the hallway into the kitchen.

David — who Rob didn’t particularly like — was fussing over the coffee machine. It seemed to be a daily struggle for him, and Rob wondered how a man who couldn’t perform such a simple task could hold down a full time job.

“Oh! Hi, Rob! Could you maybe give me a hand with the coffee machine?” said David, sheepishly. Rob suppressed a sigh.

“Sure, I’ll put a pot on” Rob replied, with as friendly a smile as he could muster. As he methodically set up the coffee machine, David took his phone out and fiddled with it, pretending to read a text message. David hadn’t worked at the company for very long, and Rob was already weary of these awkward exchanges. As the coffee machine began to drip comfortingly, Rob glanced at his colleague, noting the wrinkled shirt which was half tucked into the bulging waistband of his trousers — which overlapped somewhat onto his faded leather shoes.

After Rob poured his coffee, he nodded politely to David and headed for his desk. As usual, he checked his emails. His boss, Mr Jameson, had sent an email reminding him that their current project — ambiguous titled “the Delegate Account” - was due on Friday ; it had to be completed this week.

Rob’s daily duties mostly involved monotonous grunt work — data entry tasks, including answering behavioural multiple choice questions, and putting conversational paragraphs and phrases into his own words. It wasn’t even clear to him what the company did with all that data; the purpose of his work was above his pay grade. Rob double clicked an icon on his desktop and waited patiently as it loaded.

PLEASE ENTER MANAGEMENT AUTHORISATION CODE” read the message on the screen. Rob sighed — it had become a familiar message since the software was updated a few months ago. He picked up the phone and dialled Mr Jameson’s extension. It rung out, of course. That man never answered his phone. Rob stood up and left his cubicle to find his boss.

On his way to Mr Jameson’s office he passed Joseph, a polite and somewhat overly formal man who was staring into his monitor while his fingers flew across the keyboard.

“Good morning, Robert.” Joseph droned, his intonation remaining at an unchanging pitch. “I hope you and Susan are well.”

“Morning, Joseph. We’re both good, thanks — just had a quiet weekend in.” replied Rob “Is Jameson in? I need an authorisation code — again.”

“Yes, he’s in his office.” Joseph answered, then turned his attention back to his screen, indicating that the conversation was over.

Rob knocked on Mr Jameson’s office door and listened for a response. Nothing. He opened the door and entered. Mr Jameson was exiting the large, walk-in cupboard in his office while tapping furiously at his mobile phone. He looked up at Rob, scowling.

“Let me guess — another authorisation code?” Jameson snarled “I’m so sick of this fucking shit.” He stomped over to his desktop and hammered at the keyboard, then scrawled a 12 character sequence on a post-it note and thrust it towards Rob, who quickly took it, said a quiet thank you, and left the room.

Mr Jameson was rarely happy about anything, and the constant need for authorisation codes didn’t help his temperament. The software update had been issued by corporate, and Jameson didn’t get a say in it. It seemed to have affected all of the companies’ employees to begin with, but gradually the problem had been isolated to Rob alone. Once back at his desk, he entered the authorisation code, had a large sip of his coffee, and began working.

The day dragged by, as Mondays often did, but eventually it was over. Rob left the office and set off for the bus stop. It was a dull, wet day, though the rain had thankfully subsided for now. Rob trudged through the streets towards his destination. As usual, he ran into Linda, a kindly middle-aged lady, who was walking her dog. As she noticed Rob approaching, she peeled off the hood of her bright yellow raincoat to reveal a head of greying, rain specked hair.

“Cheer up! One day closer to the weekend!” she smiled. Rob liked Linda — she had an inexhaustible supply of good spirits which she excelled at spreading to others. She walked her dog around this time nearly every day, and almost always stopped for a quick chat.

“Hi, Linda.” Rob said, his tired face approximating a smile. “And hello, Sam!” he added whilst squatting down to pet the small, wet poodle, who was panting happily.

After a few minutes of small talk, Rob excused himself to catch the bus. The rain had started again, beginning with a light drizzle before becoming a torrential downpour. Rob thankfully reached the bus stop before he got too wet, and took cover in the shelter. The bus arrived dead on time — it was becoming much more reliable the past few months, Rob noted.

“Alright mate?” asked the bus driver, his grin showing off a set of chipped, yellowing teeth. Rob returned the greeting and showed his bus ticket. The bus was full almost to capacity, so Rob had to stand for the duration of his journey. The bus stop at which he disembarked was only around five minutes from his house, but by the time he arrived he was already soaked.

Rob wiped his feet on the doormat before he stepped inside, immediately feeling the warm comfort of home. He stood for a moment, enjoying the sensation.

“Hi, Honey!” his wife, Susan, called happily from the kitchen. “Good timing — dinner’s almost ready.” Rob smiled, the tension of the day slipping off his shoulders.

“So, how was your day?” Susan asked, as they sat down to eat. Rob had changed into some dry clothes and was wearing his slippers. A simple bliss which - he felt - was well earned after a hard day of work.

“It was okay.” said Rob. “The usual. Jameson was angry — seems he gets worse every day.”

Rob and his wife chatted about their respective days, as they typically did in the evening. Susan was wearing a thick, woollen jumper with a faded pair of jeans, but she still looked beautiful. It wasn’t the kind of beauty at which you would gawk in a fashion magazine, all superficial and airbrushed. Hers was the kind of beauty that filled you with a soft warmth; the kind of beauty that took time to appreciate. Her brown, shoulder length hair fell over her face slightly at one side, partially masking her in shadow. After they had finished their dinner, they curled up on the sofa, with Susan’s legs draped over Rob’s lap, warming his thighs pleasantly.

After an evening of chat and a few episodes of some critically acclaimed drama, they went upstairs to go to bed. Susan came out of the bathroom wearing all-in-one pyjamas, covering her from neck to feet. She had been complaining of cold for a few weeks now, though Rob found their house quite warm. Rob embraced her from behind, pulling her close and kissing her neck playfully. He slid his hand up her side smoothly to cup her breast, as he pressed his hips against her so she could feel his erection through his trousers. She caught his hand as it slid down between her legs.

“Not tonight, Rob” she said, apologetically. “I’m not feeling great.” Rob assured her that it was fine, and kissed her on the cheek. They got into bed and went to sleep, with Rob’s thoughts focused on sports.

Tuesday and Wednesday were much the same as Monday, as Rob chipped away at the Delegate Account. On Thursday, Sarah wasn’t at the reception desk — somewhat odd, she usually started working earlier than Rob. David was attempting to make a pot of coffee, as usual, which Rob ended up doing for him.

PLEASE ENTER MANAGEMENT AUTHORISATION CODE”. Rob tried calling Mr Jameson, but of course there was no answer. Passing Joseph, they exchanged their typical pleasantries. He knocked on Jameson’s door, to no response. He entered to find no sign of his boss, though the walk-in cupboard was open. Rob approached it and peered round the corner. To his surprise, the cupboard opened out into a large, brightly lit room. Curiosity getting the better of him, he entered the room and looked around.

The fluorescent lighting was almost painful as it reflected off the glossy white surfaces covering the floor, walls, and ceiling. Once his eyes had adjusted, Rob noticed several small alcoves — around two meters deep by one meter wide — along the perimeter of the room, and a door on the far wall. Looking into the nearest alcove, he saw a large, cylindrical object at the back, stretching nearly from floor to ceiling. A thick, black cable snaked out of a socket at the bottom of the cylinder, ending in a plug whose shape was entirely alien to Rob.

“Mr Jameson?” called out Rob, somewhat timidly. There was no response. He theorised that Jameson may be through the door at the end of the room, and began edging his way across the space. He peered into the alcoves on either side of the room as he walked, and found each to be identical to the first. As he looked into one of the last alcoves, he noticed Sarah — the receptionist — standing in front of the cylinder, entirely naked.

“Shit! Sarah, I’m sorry, I di-” his voice trailed off as he took in the sight before him. The absence of clothes and her motionless, upright posture were strange, but stranger still was her complete lack of genitals, and in fact any surface level detail or imperfection, below the neck. Her skin was smooth like plastic; her nippleless breasts suspended in the air as though still supported by a bra. It was as though she had not been designed to be seen this way. The only clue that she was still alive was the infrequent shutter motion of her eyelids, too unnatural to be considered blinking.

“Morning, Rob!” she exclaimed cheerily, her face unchanging. “Good one last night?” Rob was nonplussed.

“What…? Sarah are you alright? Do you need me to call somebody?” Rob didn’t know where to look. He settled for a spot on the floor.

“I’m fine, Rob! No need to worry! I’m just on my break; I’ll be back to work soon.”

“But you’re…” began Rob

“Shouldn’t you get to work?” she suggested “the Delegate Account is due tomorrow, right? I’m fine here — trust me.” Her voice was the same as every day, its natural sound in dissonance with her physical appearance. Rob noticed that the thick cable which was attached to the cylinder seemed to run into the small of her back. Could this be setup for some medical reason? What was it called, dialysis? He backed off, muttering an apology and slunk back to his desk.

“Ottley!” Jameson’s voice startled Rob, who had zoned out at his desk. “What the fuck are you doing? The Delegate Account is due tomorrow! Get the fuck to work!” Rob felt his face redden.

“Oh, uh- sorry, Mr Jameson. I need an authorisation code, and I couldn’t find you.” Rob mumbled. Jameson slammed a post-it note — with Rob’s required code pre-written — down onto the desk, and stomped away. Rob shakily entered the code and began working.

He struggled to focus on his work for the rest of the day, the disturbing images from the morning lurked in the back of his mind. Sarah had returned to her desk shortly after Rob did, fully clothed and behaving as naturally as ever. She didn’t mention their encounter. As soon as the clock struck five, Rob put on his coat and left the building. On the way to the bus stop, he saw a familiar yellow raincoat being dragged along by an energetic pup, while the woman wearing it struggled to keep up.

“Cheer up!” she exclaimed, breathing heavily. “Only one day to go!”

The bus driver shared his usual charming grin as Rob boarded the crowded bus. Rob managed to find a seat in the middle of the bus, and he remained there all the way home. Susan and Rob enjoyed a night much like any other, eating dinner and watching TV, then finishing with a cold shower for Rob. Most of his interactions were performed on autopilot, his mind still distracted by his run in with Sarah in the white room.

“Morning, Rob!” exclaimed Sarah, as Rob walked through reception. She still didn’t seem to be acknowledging the previous day’s awkwardness, so Rob followed suit.

“Any plans this weekend?” she asked. Rob mumbled a token response, and hurried along the corridor to the kitchen. David wasn’t in his usual spot, thankfully, so Rob made his coffee in peace and took it to his desk.

PLEASE ENTER MANAGEMENT AUTHORISATION CODE”. No answer to Jameson’s phone. Rob let out a sigh of exasperation, and got up to find his boss. Joseph wasn’t at his desk, so Rob walked past and knocked on Jameson’s door. Of course, there was no response. Rob entered, and was dismayed to find no sign of Jameson, and the cupboard door, once again, wide open. He took a deep breath, and entered.

The room looked much the same as it had the previous day. Rob glanced into the nearest alcove, and saw David’s naked form standing upright, missing his characteristic slouch. Just like Sarah, he had no genitals, no nipples, and his skin was flawlessly smooth below the neck. His eyes demonstrated the same infrequent shutter motion that Sarah’s had the day before, and similarly the thick, black cable seemed to run into the small of his back. Rob inhaled sharply and moved to back away.

“Oh, hi, Rob! Could you maybe give me a hand with the coffee machine?” David chirped, expressionless. The door Rob had come through to enter the white room slammed shut. Rob ran to it and frantically tried to prise it open, attempting to worm his fingertips in between the door and the frame. It was no use; the door was locked. His heart was racing. What the fuck is going on? He thought.

Rob turned his attention to the door at the far side of the room. Unlike the exit, it had a handle — well worth a shot. He began moving across the room, giving a wide berth to the alcove occupied by David.

“Smile, Rob! It’s Friday!” said the kindly voice coming from Linda’s naked, featureless husk. Rob broke into a run.

“Good morning, Robert.” said the form resembling Joseph, as Rob passed its alcove.

“Alright, mate?” came the greeting from the thing that looked like the bus driver.

“Let me guess — another authorisation code?” Jameson’s voice snarled, his nude, featureless figure at rest.

Still running, Rob reached the door. He yanked it open and ran through, barely pausing to take in his surroundings. He stopped when the figures at the end of the room came into focus, and sank to his knees.

“Hi, honey!” Susan’s body said, as she walked towards him. “Good timing, dinner’s nearly ready!” She picked him up by the arm, effortlessly, and threw him down next to the other figure. He looked up with despairing, teary eyes, as he saw his own face attached to one of the impostors. The hands that should have been Susan’s ripped his clothes from his body, and he felt a sudden, sharp pain in the small of his back.

Then, he felt nothing at all.