Lex is nervously standing
in Mr. Rangler's office, only a few inches inside of the door. It is
splendid, a proper office, with a window and all of the trimmings. The door
has been left wide open, and the people walking in and out of the front bay
are giving Lex curious looks. Lex would appreciate it if Rangler would ask
him to take a seat. Although they've never spoken before, Rangler is one of
the many people to whom Lex's organizational arrows point. Rangler talks on
the telephone for several minutes, his glance occasionally landing on Lex.
He has a dismissive look that makes Lex want to light up. After the call is
completed, Rangler swivels around to face his computer and work on something
more important than Lex.
After a while - Lex knows that it's been seven minutes and twenty
seconds according to the fine bronze DSA 40th
anniversary commemorative clock mounted above Rangler's desk - Rangler looks
at his email in-box, sorting on the senders and checking subject lines
without finding anything he deems worthy of opening. His incoming mail alert
is set to sound like a little telephone, and it has been ringing off the
hook. In the time that Lex has been standing in the office, Rangler has
acquired nearly a full screen of new messages. Rangler begins to compose his
own message, selecting recipients rapidly from the global address list. He
types a single line, examines it, then types another. This process is
repeated many times.
Lex has been standing
quietly for nearly half an hour before Rangler finally swivels around to
face him. He seems surprised to find Lex still in his office. He clears his
throat, pausing a long moment, then leans forward. He has Lex's cartoon in
his right hand. In a voice much harsher than the one he had been using on
the phone, Rangler asks Lex just what the hell he was thinking of, putting
up an offensive picture like this on the door of a government office.
"Do you think that this is appropriate behavior for a senior
employee, Thompson?" he asks.
Lex hates rhetorical questions.
Rangler strokes his
mustache, trying to put together a mental picture of Lexter Thompson,
GS-334-14, Computer Specialist. Has he ever seen this man before? Why does
he have to be the one to deal
with him? Damn it to hell. Like this is the only thing he has on his agenda
Rangler has placed Lex's personnel file in an intentionally
conspicuous position on his desk. This is a cunningly effective management
technique, he thinks to himself, letting the employee imagine whatever they
might about their history resting in front of them. It's a Rorschach test.
Will the employee project fear, will they project hope, will they to be too
fucking dumb to even notice that the file is sitting there? Rangler hasn't
read much of the file, and has no intention of doing so, but he's examined
it enough to know that Lex has established himself as a floater, drifting
around the agency from office to office for more than a decade. He knows
that Lex was dumped here by some other business area during the most recent
The same business area, he is shocked to discover, that had realigned
him into Information Operations a couple of months prior. Good Lord, he
thinks in a shock of denial, have I been slacking? Is it noticeable? I
better start picking up the pace before I end up like this poor slob.
No, he thought, not me. That will never happen. Look at this guy. He
really is a slug. Brrrrr. Hasn't been promoted in over twelve years, and at
his age, he's never going to be promoted again. Why won't these people just
leave on their own? He's old enough. Lazy bum. Plus he's got a fat ass.
Rangler inadvertently thought about his own posterior. He had been
logging a lot of chair miles for himself over the past few years...
Lex was from J-8? Don't remember him there...
Rangler's first thought had been that J-8 was always dumping their
garbage off on someone else, usually J-6, Info Ops. He quickly had to
suppress this notion, since his own mentors had assured him that the reason
for his transfer to J-6 was to help round out his skill set.
'No, not me', Rangler thought, 'it couldn't be. Look at this guy.
He's nothing but a down-trodden goofball.'
This soon after his transfer, however, it was impossible for Rangler
to tell with certainty whether he was being groomed for promotion or being
pushed aside to wilt in the darkness. It could probably go either way.
Without having said a word, Lex had already managed to piss Rangler off.
"What's it mean, Thompson?
Talk to me. Cat got your tongue? Why don't you go ahead and explain to me
what sort of point you were trying to make with this?" Rangler was fingering
Lex's cartoon, holding it by the corner, dangling it over the high
efficiency paper shredder sitting on his mahogany side-table. Lex sadly
noted that a coffee ring was badly staining half of the panel.
Lex badly wanted to reach
out and reclaim his cartoon, and his fingers twitched anxiously in their
desire for action. They have become very long fingers. They were trying to
transcend his hand. 'Snatch it back', he thinks, 'snatch it back'. His
thoughts have become very dark, and he knows that he must carefully guard
against showing his feelings. 'Fuck you mother-fucker fucker fucker fucker',
he thinks. 'I have been working here since forever, and this balding clown
dares to sit here in judgment of me! Die, asshole, die! Bite Me! Bite me
bite me bite me!'
Lex stands solemnly, a slight slump to his shoulders. In a way, he
does not look unlike Bill Rangler. Their hair is in a similar corporate cut,
with the same blend of salt and pepper coloring. 'Only I've got all mine',
thinks Lex, 'while this clown is going to look like Kojack by the time he's
my age'. Their gold framed eyeglasses are much alike, and they've got
similar well-manicured mustaches, but 'Good Lord, take a look at that big
ass on Rangler. Wouldn't hurt to work out once in a while, cueball'.
There is one major difference in the two of them. Rangler looks a hell
of a lot more comfortable sitting there in his big black leather chair. Lex
has been standing up for what seems like ages, and he would really love to
be offered a seat. Even a wooden one. His back hurts, 'You know that
Asshole?' A thorough investigation of Lex's personnel records would have
revealed that he had once slipped on an icy patch in the DSA parking lot,
injuring his back and causing him to use up several weeks of sick leave,
leave that he could ill afford to take at the time. Where had the union been
then? Rangler obviously would not care even if he knew, the bastard.
Lex calms himself down. His breathing is steady. His expression
betrays nothing. Lex supposes that the rude treatment he is receiving now is
part of the punishment for the reprehensible deed of posting a cartoon that,
let's face it, wasn't really all that offensive. He was standing here in
Rangler's office at the moment solely because he gave off a faint odor of
disloyalty. Lex may be guilty, but he's certainly not guilty beyond all
Lex answers calmly. It is
the simplest thing in the world.
"Well, you see, sir, I'm certain that you realize that the man holding
the marker is spelling out the words GO FUNGAL".
"Go fungal, Thompson?"
"Yes sir, go fungal. That's one of the new methodologies that I'm
researching for the agency at the moment. I'm sure that I don't need to tell
you. You must be aware of it. Fungal Propagation is a
very important Knowledge
Management concept. Fungal Propagation. You've heard of it, haven't you sir?
The process of spreading information incrementally throughout the enterprise
using the existing network infrastructure and the system/user interface.
It's low-hanging fruit, Sir, and I must say that the more I learn about the
subject, the more that I'm able to assimilate the core concepts of Fungal
Propagation, well, the more excited I am about it. Just spreading the word,
Rangler slowly looks Lex up and down before propping his elbows on the
desk and cradling his head in his hands. He massages his temples for a few
seconds before looking back up at this strange man. Rangler's face shows
such a look of unmitigated disgust that it's quite an unpleasant thing to
see. Lex would love the chance to wipe that look right off of Rangler's ugly
"Okay, Thompson. Okay. Assuming that's the case, then I guess maybe I
just didn't understand. Think that might be the case? Your turn, then. Go
ahead, maybe you would be so kind as to inform me exactly why this is
supposed to be humorous?" He is gripping the cartoon with an intensity which
has caused his thumb and fore-finger to turn white.
Rex boldly takes a step closer to the oversized desk. He can see the
sincerity of his face reflected in the polished wood. "Oh no sir, I don't
think you misunderstood. What I mean is, if there's any confusion on this
matter, it's entirely my fault. I'm apparently the one who didn't
understand... No one's briefed you on Fungal Propagation, have they? I am so
sorry. Sir. Let's back up for a minute and start anew. This is clearly my
mistake. This drawing is not supposed to be funny, no, not at all, sir, this
drawing is supposed to be inspirational. It's a way for me to demonstrate,
to you and the entire J-6 business area, my enthusiasm for a process that
could greatly benefit the entire DLA organization. Absolutely. Really,
really benefit the agency. And I must say, Sir, were you to give me the
money to start up a pilot project on FP - that's the acronym, you know - it
would certainly be a feather in your cap. You would absolutely get all of
the credit, as well you should, for showing such vision in sponsoring me."
What seems like a
considerable period of time passes. Lex abruptly extends his hand, and
before Rangler has time to consider what he's doing, he finds himself
standing up and shaking it. Goddamn automatic reaction. Usually it serves
him so well.
Rangler looks at Lex without blinking for an eternity. He examines him
in the manner that he might scrutinize a virus through a microscope. Lex
returns the gaze with a hurt but sincere expression. Oh, sir, how you have
misjudged me. Rangler sits back down at his desk and pulls a Wet-Nap out of
a side drawer, carefully opening the package and making a show of cleaning
the Lex germs off of his hands.
Rangler picks up a fresh yellow pencil and briefly regards it with
utter distaste before biting off the eraser and spitting the pink rubber tip
out into a silver silk handkerchief. He adapts a savage look.
"Thompson, let me be
blunt. You're fucking with me. You are personally fucking with me."
He stretches to pick up Lex's personnel file and taps it sharply on
the desk. "You want me to put those words down in writing so you can run
and tell the union about it?"
"No sir, that won't be necessary. Good joke, sir." Lex cuffs his hand
up to his mouth and makes a sound somewhere between a laugh and a cough.
Rangler could swear he hears the word asshole in Lex's sound. He could
really use a cigarette.
Lex speaks. "They told me you were an amusing fellow, Sir. I was never
all that good at jokes, myself."
Rangler snaps the pencil
in two and hurls the splintered yellow halves towards the trash, missing by
a good two feet. "Who does your employee evaluation, Thompson?"
"I do sir. I do my own. And may I say that I've received excellent
ratings the last few periods." Lex smiles broadly.
"Well I do it for you now, Thompson." Rangler flips through the first
few sheets in Lex's file, not even pretending to read. "I want you to write
me up a synopsis of all your official duties, the moment you leave my
office. I want to know every project that you're working on. Every little
thing. And Thompson?"
"You can leave right now."
Lex was already standing so making a speedy exit would be no problem.
In his mind, he was already halfway down to the smoking area.
"One more thing." Rangler has turned Lex's cartoon into a tiny ball
of trash, which he now tosses to Lex. Can't be accused of illegally
confiscating an employee's property. Union wouldn't like that. "Hope your
schedule isn't too
overwhelming for you right now. I have a special assignment for you. You'll
be briefing the Executive Panel. Monday afternoon at 1530."
"Yes sir. On what, sir?"
"On fungal propagation."