The Great Cubicle in the Sky
“Death by tiger? Come here and look at this one, Steve.” Steve wheeled his chair across the cubicle, a practiced glide across the shag carpet of the office. He peered over Mack’s shoulder, looking at his computer screen, a skeptical pucker on his lips.
“Pneumonia, heart disease, cancer. . .” His voice trailed off. Mack looked at him, expecting a reaction. “There it is. One Sumit Chattarak, I see. Mauled to death by a tiger. Location: Valmiki National Park, Republic of India. Not quite three minutes ago.” Steve waddled his rolling chair to his side of the cubicle. He hammered against the keys, typing out a memo.
“Well?” Mack said. “That’s it? It’s not every day you see a tiger attack in the daily spreadsheet.”
“Why is this even relevant?” Steve responded, not taking his eyes off his screen.
“I mean, okay, it’s . . .” Mack paused for a second. “It’s interesting to me. When was the last time you saw a tiger mauling in the spreads?” Steve paused.
“It’s certainly been a while. You have me there.” More typing.
Mack scowled. “I was thinking you would have cared more, Steve,” This could be the last tiger-induced death that you will ever see. Everyone knows they’re going the way of the dinosaurs. You remember that whole eff-up, don’t you? One day, you were weighing out how many baby butterflies could be infused with one tyrannosaur soul. Next thing, there were no tyrannosaurs. Precious few butterflies, too.”
Steve twisted his chair towards his coworker. “Yes, Mack, I’m aware of the current state of charismatic megafauna groundside.” He scowled. “I know you are up to something. What is it that you want to tell me?”
“The folks from Wing C and I like to play a game at lunch. Each of us picks out the strangest or, I dunno, ‘most interesting’ death. Then we slot the victim’s soul into the place we think would be the most fitting.”
“And your plan is?” Steve asked, one eyebrow cocked.
“We bugged Sue, and judging by her data, Sumit’s about as good of a fighter as we’ve ever seen. Tore the head off a snake when he was five. A cobra mind you. Since then, it was only a matter of time before he really started playing with fire. Might I remind you he was only twenty-two when he died? It’d be a shame to waste a soul like that on one of your anthills.”
“Go on,” Steve said.
“You remember the MacArthurs? Douglas MacArthur? Reincarnating good old Julius C. into a strong warlike American family was my masterwork. We all followed Douglas closely. I was a little disappointed when he didn’t, you know, take over like he did in the previous life, but you know the saying. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. He did good enough. Anyways, we’re planning on placing Sumit’s soul wholesale into a new MacArthur baby. A new great American general. Perhaps then we’ll have the ‘hostile takeover’ we all dreamed of. It’s been a while since we had a good dictatorship.”
Steve burst into laughter before stopping abruptly. “You and your Chosen Ones. Always trying to hand them the reins of history.”
He spun his chair around, looking Mack in the eye, all traces of laughter gone from his face. “But I’ll be damned if this has gone well in the past. You lecture me about the dinosaurs? What about all those hotheaded egomaniac souls you put next to power, eager to screw everything over? Do you not remember what your pranks got us into with Ethelred? Ivan the Terrible? You and your merry band of sociopaths have done nothing but get in the way of company policy and my philosophy.”
Mack began to guffaw. “Company policy and . . . your philosophy?” He could barely finish the sentence, snorting in laughter. “You loved it when Admin told us that we needed to up the rate of insect reincarnation. Those days are, I don’t know, three hundred million years gone!”
“But management hasn’t officially rescinded that policy!”
“Steve, Steve,” Mack said, hushing him. “The only policy you obey is reincarnating every goddamn soul that comes your way into your precious insects. Guess where they are going?” Mack spat. He pointed at Steve and smiled. “The same place as the tigers!”
A knock. Both men paused. The door to the cubicle creaked. Mack and Steve jolted up towards the new arrival. They groaned together.
“What do you need, Maya?” Mack asked, all fire having left him.
“Don’t you have eyes? The cubicles have no roofs. Everyone can hear you two arguing like an old married couple.”
“And?” Steve said. His face twitched as his boss looked towards him.
“And?” she repeated, a hint of mockery in her voice. “Management created you two to work together. Not disrupt one another. Least of all the rest of the office. Sometimes I envy the companies groundside. They can lay people off down there. Here? We are stuck here. . .”
“For eternity, I know.” Mack finished her sentence for her.
“Yes, eternity. So, do us a favor and stop arguing. Or we may have to move the water cooler to the other side of the office again.”
Mack and Steve jolted in concert at this. Maya stepped out of the cubicle. “Wait!” Steve shouted.
Maya turned around. “Yes?”
“Mack and I have this conflict. We’re unsure of where to reincarnate this Chattarak guy. I was thinking butterflies while Mack was . . .
“The whole office heard, Steve. Have you ever considered what he wanted to happen after death?”
“No, not particularly,” Steve said.
“The spreadsheet says he always wanted to make video games,” Mack read, looking over Steve’s shoulder.
“It’s settled then. We’ve got a spot open in Stockholm. Lots of game studios there.” She left the cubicle.
Both men glared at each other before returning to work.