MONDAY: Terrible Symmetry

BY ERIC WITCHEY

Copyright is held by the author.

THE INCOMPLETIONIST avoided social gatherings. People surrounding him made his soul cringe ā€” chaos, noise, whispers, endless possibilities with no closure or understanding. He was a man of patterns, geometries of potential understood to the fullest then truncated for profit.

Of course, people always thought he, of all people, should appreciate the chaotic incompletion of a raucous party. One woman had gone so far as to suggest that the best party for him would be a blindfolded orgy where, by grand agreement, he would never be allowed satisfaction.

He turned from her and ran.

Some parties, though, could not be avoided. When you were the guest of honour at a gathering of professionals, you had to go if you wanted to keep your power. And go, he did. In torrential rain, the pod rolled to a stop in the safety boarding cut-out just past the intersection of Intelichip Road and Applelaunch Avenue, about 500 metres from his Incomp Building. He passed his wrist over the sensor to pay, and the pod door swung up to free him.

The door rose, but not quite all the way, so he hit his head as he stepped from the pod.

He had certainly been part of the Arrivals Project that designed the street cut-outs to reduce the cost of transport by keeping all public transportation from full arrival at destination. In spite of the pain on top of his head, he was proud of that project. Promotion number one and respect had come his way because of his role demonstrating that pods that didn’t arrive would improve public health, reduce congestion, and provide for greater resource use efficiency for the company and the world.

That last one was certainly the point, but he had presented it as incidental, and he had used it to imply that there were so many more benefits that had not been added to the incomplete proposal.

The not quite fully opened door, though. He wasn’t sure he’d been involved in that. He might have been, but it would have been one of the many small projects he oversaw.

After and uneventful, if wet, walk to the Incomp Building, he steeled himself to face the admiration of his coworkers, passed through the almost open doors, nodded to the nearly uniformed greeter, who, out of respect, made a show of checking most of his name off the guest list.

The elevator stopped on the 48th floor, and he found the stairs to walk up to the 50th. He had been involved in reducing the standard 15 steps to a flight to 13. He regretted that when he had to leap the gap of two steps to reach the 50th landing.

Short breath and a tremble after the leap suggested he was nearly too old for that, but the gap had been part of the unfinished plan that gently implied that after a certain age, people would take early retirement or low-level jobs to avoid the dangers of leaping over a step gap.

Socially Optimized Systemics, they almost called it.

Catching his breath on the landing, The Incompletionist chuckled at the memory. Concrete production produced 8% of the gasses responsible for global warming, and a reduction of concrete use in buildings erected after 2031 provided carbon credit subsidies to all companies who adopted the incompletion protocols. Adding a few unnecessary floors to the building blueprints then demonstrating final incompletion of those floors, let companies have all the floors they wanted in the first place then receive hefty reimbursement for incompletion. Add the savings on retirement packages and the not insubstantial planned shift of the burden of liability to individuals ignoring signage on stairwell doors, and the idea of incomplete floors and their stairways had caught on globally.

Two missing steps had netted him another promotion and access to controlling shares.

He smiled, but the smile quickly faded as he realized that particular unfinished plan had worked as advertised. His years were heavy, and jumping the gap worried him. Eventually, he’d get to a point where he’d die jumping or he’d quit and find work lower down.

Ruhati Leggup’s apartment, a penthouse, really, though it covered only the top two of the top three levels of the Incomp Building, had an entrance from the elevators that would never arrive at the penthouse and from the stairwell landing the steps never quite reached. The Incompletionist pressed his palm against the security half-pad. He had to adjust his hand position twice to find the sweet spot in the incomplete pad, but he managed it, and the door opened.

The blast of cacophonous music using three-quarter scales, the buzz of conversations beginning, rising, competing with other conversations, then breaking apart long before any conclusions or agreements could come of them, and the smells of half-washed people and their half-considered chemical abuses hit him like the flat side of a baseball bat.

Staggering forward, squinting as if it might help him navigate the vape-fogged, raucous space, he brushed past a small group of interns clustered in a corner. The symmetry of the little circle of attractive, young people bothered him.

Pausing, he counted them quickly and found they had managed an even number in their circle, and they had moved to the edge of the party enough to be able to hold the round of that circle.

He couldn’t have that. Not in his company.

He tapped one on the shoulder, a young woman of maybe 25 years.

She glanced over her shoulder. Her eyes went wide and white. She squeaked more than said, “Shit!”

He nodded a benign greeting. “Even. Symmetry. Do you work for me?”

The whole circle broke and scattered. Only one of them stayed behind, a young man in a black, three-piece suit that would have been solid in the pre-greenhouse films of the thirties and forties. To the young man’s credit, the suit jacket had only one sleeve. The vest had pockets on only one side, and the left leg of the trousers came to a ragged edge just above the man’s bare ankle and sandal. The right pantleg dropped to the midpoint of a shiny, patent shoe and argyle sock.

The Incompletionist nodded his approval. “I like your suit.”

“Thank you, Sir. I designed it.”

Again, he nodded. “How many companies are involved in that look?”

The young man smiled. He might have been planning this moment for months by the look on his face. “Seventy-one, beginning at the farms and moving through to retail.”

“Proposals?”

“Sixty-five.”

The Incompletionist approved of the odd numbers. He smiled his trademark half smile. “On my desk on Monday.”

“Yes, Sir! Thank you, Sir!”

Leaving the kid behind, he wondered if the symmetry of the circle and the even numbers had been part of the kid’s plan? If it had, bonus. If not, well, that would be disappointing, but the suit and the proposals would be enough to give the kid some attention. The odd numbers for farm-to-wear entities and proposals, combined with the suit and the circle, though. That was executive-level thinking. It showed that the kid understood context, motivations, and needs. It showed that he could use opposition strategies and manage perceptions to advantage.

He hoped the kid had orchestrated the whole thing to catch The Incompletionist’s attention.

Ruhati had, as they usually did, positioned themselves near the stairs to the upper level of the penthouse. Standing alone was not okay for Ruhati. The powerful person preferred to gate space and force every person in the party to pass by at some point. The not-so-subtle demonstration of power and control had become habit as the two partners aged together. The Incompletionist wasn’t sure he liked it, but it wasn’t harmful to him or the stockholders provided Ruhati’s tastes in manipulation of employees into liaisons didn’t become public.

“Ruhati,” The Incompletionist said to get his partner’s attention.

“The man of the minute!”

They embraced, as they usually did, shoulder-to-shoulder but never a complete hug. When they broke apart, Ruhati said, “I want you to meet Maria.”

The Incompletionist faced the woman, who stood not quite a step lower and to the right of Ruhati. “Pleasure,” he said.

“Encantada,” she said.

Her smile lifted full lips on the left side of her face but not the right. Her left eye crinkled attractively, and her right remained cold and neutral. Half her dark hair had been shaved along the right side of her head, and the other half cascaded along the contours of her handsome, 40ish face then ended in half-braided tails that rested on her single, bare shoulder.

Her glorious representation of self as the idealized form of the company’s philosophies made the kid look amateurish. Moved, The Incompletionist bowed low, took her hand, and almost kissed it to show his appreciation for her effort.

She liked that. Her smile showed that she understood his full understanding and appreciation.

He stood from his near bow and asked, “Do you work for us?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’m your VP in charge of financial risk adjustment.”

“If you did not, I would offer you a job on the spot.”

Again, she seemed pleased.

He asked, “Why have we never met?”

“My last name is Zyentis.”

“Of course.” Her name would never appear on any of the company’s employee lists or org charts. Realizing that, he also understood that Ruhati had probably hired the woman not only because she could do that painful and difficult job but also because her name would keep her off all company correspondence, which would in and of itself reduce the risk profile of the company.

That level of insight had caused him to partner with Ruhati to begin with.

He gave Ruhati the nod of respect they deserved.

Ruhati returned the nod and said, “Mz. Z would like to talk to you about a few almost interesting ideas.”

Maria nodded.

Ruhati stepped aside, opening the gate they had bodily made on the stairs.

Mz. Z slipped past him and upward.

The Incompletionist followed her up to the penthouse mezzanine.

They moved out onto the balcony garden, which wrapped around the roof rooms of the penthouse. As with all of their buildings, sections of roof on the top-level rooms had been left off. Rebar poked up from bits of half-poured concrete. Several windows into unused bedrooms had no glass installed. The whole atmosphere of the place gave The Incompletionist a sense of accomplishment.

However, he shuddered as the chill evening air bit at him in spite of it being August.

Mz. Z pretended she found the evening air comfortable, but The Incompletionist caught the goose flesh on her crossed arms. “Would you like to go back inside?” he asked.

“No. Not much,” she said. “Perhaps we can just move most of the way out of the breeze.” She gestured to a half wall that extended along the edge of the garden overlooking the half-lit city. The wall ran in in incomplete chunks, like medieval castle battlements, rounded a corner of the building and made its way toward the centre of the garden and stopped. The requisite rebar poked out from the incomplete form.

He nodded, offered his arm, and she took it.

They strolled to the corner where the breeze would almost not find them. As they walked, she said, “That’s a brilliant bit of incompletion.”

“The wall?”

“And the rooms. I’ve seen the numbers.”

He liked her admiration, but he was meticulous about the risks and liabilities that went with lying to his executive staff ā€” even the ones he had only just met. “I wish I had thought of it.”

She paused in their stroll toward shelter. “It’s down to you in the company histories.”

“Incomplete histories,” he said.

“Of course,” she said.

“I stole the idea from the Greeks. They used to tax buildings at final completion.”

“Like our government? The carbon tax, the altitude tax, the occupation tax, the. . .” Appropriately, she let the list die before completing it.

He nodded. “All charged against the project on completion.”

“Still, it’s brilliant. You applied the historical precedent.”

He nodded, and they continued their stroll.

While they walked in companionable silence, he admitted to himself that he liked the warmth of her hand on his arm. Not completely looking at her, he took in her profile. A handsome woman, to be sure, though he would never take advantage of his position. No matter how much they might be attracted to one another, and he certainly had no sense that she was attracted to him, any relationship would always be complicated by the power dynamics of the company. After all, he wasn’t Ruhati.

Arriving at the wall’s incomplete edge, they moved along until the breeze disappeared and an odd sense of shelter surrounded them. In the low light of the evening and the shadows of the garden, he asked her, “What is it that you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Projections.”

He waited politely. Ruhati had sent her up here with him, so whatever she had to say would be worth his time and require privacy.

She said, “Our current risk projections for profits and losses suggest that our market space is changing in the direction of symmetry and completion.”

This was not what he expected, but he was the CEO of the company, so he responded knowledgeably. “That has always been the case until considerations of profitability are factored in.”

“When you came in. . .” She had not taken her hand off his arm. “. . .that circle of young people you spoke to.”

Surprised she had noticed, he nodded.

She said, “They stood in a perfect circle of 10.”

“It caught my eye.”

“They scattered when you spoke to them.”

“Yes.”

“And one stayed behind to engage you.”

Again, she was correct. “Where are you going with this?”

“The others all scattered and quickly connected with other groups. They each found odd numbers and made them even.”

“It’s a party. I doubt anyone was paying attention to circles and numbers except possibly me, Ruhati, the young man I spoke to, and apparently you.”

“Four. An even number. That’s the point,” she said. “They did it without thinking. They moved automatically into circles and made them even numbers.”

A little agitated and beginning to think he should cut the conversation short, he said, “I don’t see the point yet.”

“Sir.”

She gripped his sleeve and pushed closer to him. Maybe he’d missed her cues. They had probably been incomplete. Maybe she was attracted to him. This needed to end.

She said, “The psyche of the culture is changing. Symmetry and completion are on the rise.”

He said, “I’m ending this conversation.”

She pressed closer. “I believe in the ideals on which you built this company and especially in one that the globe’s culture adopted.”

He chuckled. The company motto started as a joke he shared with Ruhati. “Profit by perception, tension, and.”

She put her warm hands on his chest, “Your career has been an example to us all.”

He stepped back from the sheltered space to put distance between them. “You talk like it’s over.” The chilling breeze caught him.

She pressed forward, hands still on his chest, “Incomplete, Sir.” She shoved.

It is odd that a man like him should remain calm as he fell 50 stories, but he found himself admiring the gap in the wall, the twisted rebar, the jagged concrete, and the way they framed her face against the starry sky.

He built that.

He made her.

He only regretted not being able to alter the terrible symmetry of the cycles of life that had finally caught up with him.

3 comments
  1. Love it! You built a whole world in fewer than 2000 words. Beautifully do….

  2. Eerie how our own world reflects this approach and this tale sadly depicts so many horrible truths about industry and politics. Bravo Eric!

  3. Kathryn and Kay:
    You are both very kind. Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. I hope you’ll take a look at some of my other work. If you liked the world building and reflection of the our world, you might like this award-winning short novel: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0763B3JVQ/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
    You might also enjoy this collection: https://www.amazon.com/Professor-Witcheys-Miracle-Mood-Cure-ebook/dp/B01HSFXSV2
    Both could use some love.
    Again, thank you for you kind words. You made my day.

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