Disclaimers: Gary's not mine, Lucius isn't mine, and the Ultimate Personnel Manager is based on the inimitable creation by Terry Pratchett. Other than that--it's all mine. No foolin'. Mine, mine, mine. Please, enjoy. . .
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by Jayne Leitch
Gower Torville, Penultimate Personnel Manager, was updating his accounts books when he heard a sound. Without looking up from the neat rows of numbers he said, "This will be a business call, I take it?"
There was the soft creak of leather as his visitor sat down in the high-backed chair on the other side of Gower's desk, then a muffled clicking as he presumably settled himself.
Presumably, because Gower still hadn't looked up. He didn't mind his visitor; in fact, he held him in the highest regard--after all, his was a tough job--but Gower had never stopped being unnerved by the sight of him. Anthropomorphic personification or not, he was just creepy.
"You could give me a hint," he commented, when no information seemed forthcoming. "Throw me a bone, as it were." Gower smiled, amused at his own joke.
There was still no answer, but after a moment a neat envelope dropped onto Gower's paperwork. The man picked it up, noticing the handwriting of the address. "Again? What happened to the first one? Never mind," he added hastily, remembering who he was talking to, "I can figure it out." He held the envelope up, taking care to block out the sight of his visitor. "I suppose I should get to work on this," he commented, pushing his chair back a little so he could stand up. "And I know that you have quite a few pressing duties to perform, as well. Don't let me keep you." Gower took a deep breath, steeled himself, then looked up into Death's cowl. "Thanks for giving me the message."
The Ultimate Personnel Manager tilted his skeletal head in response, then turned and left Gower's office.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
REQUISITIONS FORM No. 1136-459-828
To: Torville, Gower
To be designed with all available expediency by PPM Gower Torville, for ASAP delivery:
ITEM: One Hero, Complex.
DETAILS: preferably male, animal fancier, literate
Reminder: Once delivery is complete, Processing Form No. 1136-460-829
completed in triplicate and notarized by the relevant authorities.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Gower re-read the form as he strolled down the hall, his eyes coming to rest on the ITEM line: One Hero, Complex. "Could you make it slightly more vague, perhaps?" he asked the world in general.
Gower Torville appeared to be a dignified-looking gentleman, about fifty years old, with grey hair and warm brown eyes. He walked sedately, smiling at the various personnel he passed, radiating an air of friendly superiority. For Gower was superior to everyone he passed; Penultimate Personnel Manager was almost the highest-placed position anyone could attain, although not until Gower relinquished it. Promotion was never a real option in his workplace unless someone wanted you promoted.
Gower had been promoted when the previous PPM had decided to go back into the field. He had been hand-picked by the departing man, Verret Loriff, and was barely settled in when the first Requisitions Form No. 1136-459-828 had hit his desk. So he felt that he was mildly experienced with the procedure, vague instructions or no.
Gower reached the end of the hall and turned right,
then trotted gently down a flight of
stairs. A set of double doors at the bottom led to a large waiting area, furnished with a large desk and two chairs--one that was occupied by the secretary at the desk, and one that was placed against the opposite wall beside a huge potted plant. No one waited for very long in this office.
Ignoring the chair, Gower went up to the desk and leaned against it, smiling at the secretary. "I have here an S-99," he informed her, holding out the form. "When will the QS be available?"
The secretary smiled back, barely glancing at the form. "She has some time right now, Mr Torville. Go right in."
"Thank you." Gower nodded, then slipped
behind the desk and through another door that led
to. . .
Gower shook his head in amazement. The Quality Room never ceased to be a wonder to him, despite the many times he had visited it in the course of his duties.
It was massive. The dimensions were impossible to determine; the room seemed to stretch out in every direction, walls hidden behind shelves infinity deep, ceiling stretched up higher than the most domed cathedral. Most notable about the Quality Room, however, was its total lack of detail. You could see the shelves, you could see the fuzzy spaces off in the distance that *might* be walls--but that was it. To the untrained eye, the shelves, despite being labelled, were empty, the room deserted.
That was to the untrained eye. Gower, however,
was looking for a set of trained
ones. . .
He found their owner standing in front of a stack
of boxes, holding a clipboard, a frown of
concentration furrowing her forehead. "Lucy? Do you have a moment?"
The Quality Specialist, a younger-looking woman with long red hair and pale skin, started at the sound of his voice. "Gower! Sweetie, it's great to see you, but you've gotta stop sneaking up on people." Setting her clipboard down on top of the boxes, Lucy Corinthax turned and gave the older man a quick hug and a bright smile. "What brings you to my door? Looking for your successor so soon?"
Gower smiled back. "Always after my job. If I didn't know you so well, I'd start worrying."
Lucy shook her head, her green eyes sparkling merrily in the low light. "Poor, trusting Gower. Just because he's known me for a few centuries, he thinks he can trust me. Gotta work on that cynicism, sweetie."
"I practise every night." Holding out the form, Gower got down to business. "An S-99 was delivered to me today," he stated, letting Lucy take the paper. "I require the assistance of a qualified professional."
"Let's see." Her eyes scanned the order,
then her eyebrows went up in surprise.
"S-99-741-0036? So soon? What happened to--"
"Dead." Gower smiled wistfully. "He did his job, now I have to do mine."
"Replacements are always a little bittersweet." Lucy shook her head a little. "These ones especially. You want to make sure you get it right. You want to improve on the original, but you don't want to feel ungrateful to the previous. . ." she trailed off, still reading, then snorted, her good humour returning. "'Hero, Complex'? Since when has Requisitions gone cryptic?"
"The standards are high. There's people watching this one, and they don't want to get too specific in case they put together incompatible qualities," Gower supposed.
"Yeah, they're not exactly professionals up there, are they," Lucy agreed. She took a deep breath, then turned and headed purposefully down an aisle, Gower following behind. "Luckily for you, I am. What did you have in mind?"
Gower was silent for a moment. He'd been giving this some thought. "Well, last time we did fairly well with humility," he hazarded.
But Lucy shook her head. "You're bringing me in at the middle there, Gower. Humility happens only after he has something to be proud of. We need basics here."
"Basics. I remember you telling me about basic heroes." Sighing, Gower continued, "A basic hero would be easy; we did that last time. They want complex now. . ." He stopped, then folded his arms, perplexed. "What makes a complex hero?"
The two of them stood there for a moment, thinking this over. Gower let his eyes fall on the shelves surrounding them; now that he was getting used to the room, he could almost make out the blurry, undefined shapes of the Quality Canisters, sitting innocently on each ledge. It seemed incredible, that out of these, well, jars, a competent Quality Specialist could put together an individual, a completely unique human being. And they were all his responsibility. . .
Lucy shook herself and turned their attention back to the order form. "The only things they specify are male, likes animals, and is literate. Well, of course he's male, otherwise we'd be putting together a heroine. And animals are kind of a given, right? Heroes generally have horses, or something. Literacy's the stumper, though. . .guess he won't be barbarian stock, huh?"
"Not all heroes are barbarians. Heroic deeds aren't always performed out in the sandy dunes of a forgotten empire." Gower shook his head. "This won't get us anywhere. Why don't we figure out a few *basics*, and go from there?"
Lucy raised her eyebrows, but didn't object. She pulled out a card and a pencil and wrote 'HERO' at the top. "Basics. Heroes are handsome." She looked to Gower for confirmation, and wrote it down. "They're also independent, strong, good at making friends--"
"Stop." Gower frowned, then suggested, "If he's complex, we need to skew these a little. What if we add some shyness into the mixture? Make him a little uneasy in group situations, maybe even a little clumsy?"
Lucy's eyes narrowed. "We'll have to be careful with that," she replied. "Too timid, and he'll have problems making the saves. But it could work." She wrote 'shy' on her list. "I guess fearless is out, then," she added.
Gower nodded reluctantly. "Fearlessness would help with what he'll be doing, but if he's going to be reticent, he can't be impetuous. He can be brave, but not fearless." He thought for another moment, then said, "He should come from a good family. Educated, loving, able to teach him good morals and manners--yes, manners. A polite hero."
This made Lucy laugh. "As opposed to the kind that throws chicken bones on the floor and makes suggestive comments to the scantily-clad women he rescues?"
Gower's eyes widened. "Oh, no. No, our Complex Hero will be the perfect gentleman, or else I might be retiring sooner than expected. That's something we could have finessed a little more with the original."
Scribbling furiously on her list, Lucy commented, "Lucius wasn't exactly a boor."
"No, but he wasn't incredibly polite, either. This new hero should be." Gower checked his watch and pointed out, "He will be a hero of the nineteen-nineties, after all."
"A man of the nineteen-nineties, you mean." Lucy groaned a little, good-naturedly. "I'm all for progress and evolution between the sexes, sweetie, but those people need a bit of realism once in a while. Sometimes I'm tempted to mix up a little package of Perspective, just to let them all know how odd they are. . ."
Gower smiled, then thought this over. "Why not give our Complex Hero a shot of realism?" he suggested. "Give him a chance to see things from a different perspective: the grounded human. That would add to his overall complexity, wouldn't it?"
"That's another iffy one, Gower." Lucy got a far-off look in her eyes, and she began to make a few calculations beside her list. "But. . .if we're careful not to overload on the awareness. . .could be interesting. . ." She continued to scribble.
Gower read over her shoulder for a while, watching as she worked out the proportions and compatible amounts of each quality they had come up with so far. They were doing well, but there was one thing that kept nagging at the back of his mind. He stared absently at a shelf labelled, 'Left Feet (2 Max)', trying to find a way to express himself. Finally, as she reached the end of her work, he spoke up. "What makes. . .heroism?"
Lucy's pencil froze, and she looked up from her jots. "You're wondering about that too, huh?"
"It's difficult. We didn't have to worry about it with the Basic Hero; *basically*, a hero is heroic." Draping his hands behind his back, Gower began to pace. "Almost every instinct I have for this assignment tells me to make him noble, brave, the kind of man who does exactly what needs to be done because. . .it's what he does. But there's one little thing. . ."
"He's only human." Lucy nodded, smiling sardonically. "And heroism is not necessarily programmable."
"But it is!" Pausing, Gower took a deep breath and began to think out loud. "It is programmable; we've done it lots of times. Heroism is not a sub-category, you can't leave it to chance and the possibility that it will develop through other compatible qualities. There are degrees, and there are specifications, and there are precedents--" he broke off and shook his head. "Heroism is complicated. Should our complex hero be the kind that rides valiantly to the rescue of the hapless damsel in distress? Or should he be the kind that has to muster every ounce of courage he can just to keep a person from being mugged?"
Lucy listened to this, then spoke up. "It is difficult. Heroism's the basis of what makes a hero. But there's that damn human factor. . .it's unpredictable, to say the least. Free will, and so on."
"Free will. . ." Gower repeated, slowly.
"All humans have free will," he continued, trying not to think too hard about
the thought in case it disappeared, "They all have to be able to choose their
path. . . What if our hero had to choose to *be* a hero?"
Lucy blinked, then nodded slowly. "What if the heroism is something he has to bring out in himself? I think I know where you're going, Gower."
"Your average hero, that's what he is: heroic. It's what shapes him, gives him a purpose. If our Complex Hero has to realize that that's what he is, has to consciously make the decision to help people. . ." Gower trailed off, and gave his friend a triumphant look. "Self-determination in the pursuit of self-existence. He has to choose to be a hero, not because it's what is expected of him, but because he can't be himself unless he chooses to be." The triumphant look froze, then melted into a slightly worried frown. "Did that make sense to you?"
Lucy's mouth split into a grin. "Perfect sense, sweetie. We'll make a Complex Hero by giving him a hero complex."
Gower smiled back, relaxing a little. "You do have such a way of putting things, Lucy," he commented idly as she went back to her calculations. "If I'm still around the next time the PPM gets an S-99, remind me to track you down to help."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Some time later, Processing Form No. 1136-460-829 was filled out in triplicate, notarized by the relevant authorities, and sent off to the designated offices. Lucy Corinthax was busy in the Quality Room, unloading boxes of discontinued items she'd stocked up on, simply because she sometimes liked to prepackage some random Obsequious Genius, Black Humour, and Roguish Appeal, just to be difficult. Gower Torville was in his office, attacking the paperwork that had been interrupted earlier. . .
. . .And on earth, in a small town named Hickory, Indiana, a Complex Hero named Gary Hobson was born.
Email the author: Jayne