There was a moment of stunned silence. Then Carver said, “Sir, I protest this decision,” and the beloved quartet all tried to talk at once, which resulted in Gail standing helpless with her mouth agape. Roger Binks, meanwhile, began edging his way to a safer distance from Telzock Dimsho, who took no notice of him. Dimsho’s and my eyes were locked. A bureaucratically malevolent smile played at the corners of his mouth.
I held my hand up, and Carver and the others subsided. “Can I ask on what grounds I’m being fired?” I said.
Gertrude spoke up. “Yeah, and you’d better have a damn good–
“Gertrude,” I said calmly. My tone stopped her short, and I gave her the direst cautioning glance I could muster, praying that it would work. It did; Gertrude fell silent.
Dimsho observed all this with contemptuous amusement; then, he answered. “I suppose you have a right to know. You’re being terminated for flagrant disregard of Complex policies, including destruction of Complex walls and fixtures, entering restricted areas without a permit, and assisting in the infiltration of the Complex by outsiders, namely these,” he said, gesturing at the beloved quartet and Roger Binks, who was now on the other side of the room. “In light of your years of service, your friends will not be forcibly ejected, but will be permitted to leave with you under the escort of Carver, here. Which will happen within the hour.”
Carver spoke. “Sir, I–”
“Spare me,” snapped Telzock Dimsho. “You’re on thin ice, Carver. You might want to step lightly.” At this, Carver fell silent, giving me an apologetic sidelong glance.
“Now,” continued Dimsho, “if you’ll excuse me, I’m a busy man.” He turned on his heel and began walking towards the door.
A prickling pinpoint of fury began to form behind my forehead, and quickly spread. I had very nearly lost my life in service to the League, and suffered considerable agony. That they would play me as I had been played over the past few days was bad enough. That I was expected to take being fired lying down, without even being given a decent excuse, was utterly untenable. Telzock Dimsho had nearly reached the door when my temper snapped. “Why’d you do it, Dimsho?” I said quietly.
Something in the tone of my voice made Carver go white. The beloved quartet stared at me in alarm. Dimsho paused as if debating whether or not to ignore me. Then he slowly turned to face me. “How’s that again?” he said with a cold malice that was breathtaking.
I was not cowed. I spoke calmly and concisely, matching him for coldness. My hands were shaking. “Management knew all along what was going on with the fish. Why’d you let Harold use the Complex? Why’d you assign me to deal with the fish? Why’d you play me against Mr. Bob? And why are you firing me for these petty, jerk-off infractions? After everything I’ve done for you, why would you fuck me over like this?”
Telzock regarded me for some moments, during which you could have heard a pin drop. Carver, Matilda, Heather, Sara, Gertrude, and Binks stared at the two of us with open mouths.
Finally, Dimsho replied. “Again in light of your service to the League, I will answer your questions. First, the League’s position on toast is one of neutrality. Harold went through proper channels to establish his lab, and the League encourages extracurricular research projects and experiments. We were not particularly pleased about the fish, but we were not displeased enough to be bothered to deal with it ourselves. Therefore, we decided to send one of our consultants. We arranged for you to get the assignment, subsequently set you up to go against Mr. Bob, and are now firing you because we thought it would be fun.”
“Fun?” I repeated incredulously. My anger began to dissolve, replaced by bemusement.
“We think you’re a dick, Millik,” Telzock replied.
“What?” I said, still incredulous.
“Good day,” said Telzock, tipping his bowler hat and turning once more towards the door. “Out within the hour, Carver,” he called over his shoulder as he left the room.
Carver regarded me, shaken. “You’re crazy,” he said. “He could have erased you, me, all of us from past and present as easy as putting on his stupid hat.”
“I suppose so,” I said, Lying back down in the hospital bed. I was feeling a little weak after my loss of control. “But it did feel good to get a straight answer out of Management for once.”