One Must Imagine the Manager Happy - Chapter 24 - The Oldman (Olderestman) (2024)

Twenty days.

He had been keeping a tally, perhaps somewhat loosely. His sense of time was a bit f*cked since they had work every single day of the week and he hadn't seen hair nor hide of any calendars, so he didn't know when weeks started or ended, but he still had something to fall back on; the Extraction Team didn't give him any options at the end of every fourth day, so once there was a day where he didn't receive any Abnormalities, that meant he was on a day that was a multiple of five. Easy enough to remember.

So it'd been twenty days now, even though they gave him an unexplained prompt to pick a second Abnormality; it didn't bode well, but he could do nothing about it.

Part of him was surprised he'd gotten so far with… essentially no resets. And then he remembered a discussion from a while back, when he had the one singular jump back.

Twenty seven days. Angela set that as a goal to aim towards. Part of him felt rather smug, knowing he was getting close, despite her expectations. Another dreaded the thought, unsure as to what could possibly wait for him there.

But he'd get there when he got there, and he could save any actual puffing up and celebration for when he was there. sh*t could easily get dicey in a single day, and seven could see things spiral out of control. This was only more so if they were seriously going to start doubling up on Abnormalities they'd send his way.

He breathed in as he stepped into the mess hall. It was best if he took a while to get everything in order. As he grabbed his food, he went around, calling out to some of his best agents and gathering everyone around in a bunch of tables.

"Fellas, been a hot minute since we caught up," he said as he greeted Yum-Yum, Isabel and Asera with a smile, he then turned to look at the rest of the employees, who he wasn't all that familiar with. "Everyone, welcome aboard, we need to have a little bit of an impromptu meeting. Come along, come along."

While most of the employees were a bit nervous, Asera set down a large, black casket with an engraving of a many-winged butterfly upon it.

"Oh boy, that's your E.G.O Gift?" Isabel asked as she took her seat next to him. "Sheesh, do think you have to like… sleep inside it or something?"

Asera grumbled indistinctly, it was a good question, but an uncomfortable one, to some extent. Alphonse decided to take the discomfort in a completely different direction.

"Could sleep with it beside him on his bed," Alphonse said, then looked at Asera. "Don't worry, I'll figure out a way to expense a body pillow sleeve for you, just lemme know your tastes."

Asera gagged at his words, even as Isabel burst out laughing and Yum-Yum shook his head with a faint smile. As the ice broke, everyone sat down and settled in.

"Alright, so…" The manager said as he looked around at his agents. "First of all, congratulations, everyone. We've had our issues, but overall, whenever there's an incident, all of you have been quick to respond and deal with the situation in short order. Good hustle, y'all."

Most everyone nodded in agreement. With the facility being what it was and the fact that people were actively dying, it was a bit hard to feel overly jubilant, but it was still good to acknowledge their efforts and check in to see how they felt. They were at least 'alright', which was more than he could ask for, realistically.

"So as for what I'm calling you here for, it's in regards to how everyone is distributed. Given the usual trend, I think I will be given control of yet another department starting tomorrow." Alphonse explained, gesturing and accidentally splashing blood on his cutlery. He disregarded that and moved the slashed hand below the table. "Now, I'm not worried about it. I'd say we got this in the bag, but Iamgoing to need to shift around some people."

"Damn, so am I just going to get relegated to babysitting in the new department?" Isabel asked, slightly annoyed. "I'm never gonna get promoted to captain in any team, am I?"

"'s not much, but it's honest work." Alphonse waved his free hand in the air and laughed. "And don't give me any lip, Miss First-Level-Five-agent-in-the-facility. Your paycheck's bigger than most everyone here."

Isabel chuckled lightly and with some nervousness as she scratched under one of her horns. Alphonse just shrugged and moved on. "But yeah. It's a no-brainer that Isabel will be there, but I'll also take volunteers to stand by in the next department. There's some risk involved, what with not knowing what Abnormalities we may end up dealing with, but it's at least something different, if you want to test your luck and want to break up the routine. That said, I'll leave the ball on your court there. If you want to go for it, let me know and I'll make arrangements."

Such went the conversation. Other than that, he discussed shifting the most experienced personnel around between departments to get more coverage where they needed more firepower and to give agents experience in areas where they could use more work, as well as more or less suggesting starting a workshop where agents could tell each other more about their experiences dealing with specific Abnormalities. That last one was more of a work in progress, but it was a plan.

Despite his failings… Alphonse began to feel like he was really getting the hang of things.

Angela wandered. She had no particular direction, nor a reason to be anywhere in particular. Her expression remained a tight mask of neutrality, it fell away when she found herself within the manager's… Ayin's office.

Slowly, she reached out towards the blank picture frame, picking it up with an ever so gentle touch. She could crush it, were she so inclined. Reduce it to nothing but powdered glass and sawdust just with her bare hands. As a matter of fact, if she simply gripped it without too much care, she could break it.

She didn't; that would be unbecoming of her. She did not throw tantrums. She was not a child. Yet a question did come to mind.

What was it meant for? For what purpose was it there? Ayin was the one that decided upon the presence of such an unimportant little thing. It was there without fulfilling the purpose it was built for; Ayin would not, couldneverallow something like a picture of Carmen upon his desk, and with his drive, there was not even a chance that he'd ever think to take a picture of himself or anything in the facility to place within the frame.

As she stared at her faint reflection in the glass, she wondered if it was meant to be used as a mirror. It made no sense. Why not use anactualmirror, rather than something like that? What was the point of that? He had been so meticulous, so tortuously thorough with everything, and yet…why was it there?

She didn't get it. She didn't get Ayin. Perhaps she never would.

Behind her, the sound of the door opening rang out, and a quick peek of the cameras was enough to tell it was him, ever so loathsome. She attempted to rein herself in as she placed the frame back on the desk. It took him only a moment to recognize that she was there, and it was downright tortuous, how she had to watch every muscle in his face twisting and contorting in order to allow his expression to change.

"And thus… you are returned." Ayin remarked with snide sarcasm as he approached her.

She only turned her head ever so slightly, just enough to allow him to figure out that she had heard him. Regardless of that signal, he continued drawing closer until he was standing right next to her.

The silence felt oppressive in the extreme. His presence there, with his arms crossed and eyes closed, was suffocating. It was made worse as he took deep, long breaths. He held himself back from lashing out at her, but it was a near thing.

And Ayin wanted her toknow. She couldn't take it to mean anything else.

"So, " He eventually spoke up, opening his eyes and not directing his gaze at her. "Did you just happen to be here or was there something you had to tell me?"

Angela kept herself in check even as she turned her head to avoid keeping him in the periphery of her vision and stopped looking through the camera. She only heard him let out an exasperated sigh.

"I'm so tired of this, Angela." Ayin said with no small amount of recrimination in his tone. "Is this really what we're doing?"

Angela held her tongue. She had nothing to say to him.

"Look at me, damn you." He practically hissed at her.

Ayin immediately stepped around to be within her line of sight. His displeasure was mild, compared to what she had seen prior times, yet still struck at her all the same

"We're twenty days in, I have made some progress and we're closing in on the deadlineyouset." He practically demanded as he looked at her for a moment, only to avert his gaze in frustration. "And I've already got some working theories as to what the hell I'm meant to do here. Like it or not, we're going tohaveto talk about all of this sh*t, Angela."

He made a gesture with his hand but she turned her head away before his wrist came into sight. Ayin scoffed in response.

"And there we go again…" The man remarked sardonically before he raised his voice just a tad, just enough to let her know he could speak louder and would at a moment's notice. "Are you really just going to keep doing this? Just coming up to me whenever youmusttell me something and getting out of sight when you don't need to? Yeah, I'm pissed off at you for plenty of reasons, and I've got a lot I'll unload given the chance, but you can only go for so long without paying the piper."

Ayin crossed his arms and shook his head.

"When are you going to look me in the eye instead of tending to this little play of yours?"

"Shut up already, you sanctimonious bastard!"

Angela could not stop the words from leaving her. The cold anger she was holding back turned into a sharp, fiery fury that didn't even abate when she saw his face, struck in the same idiotic, indolent shock that felt so insulting to everything she had done.

"Have you anyideahow tiresome it is to listen to you?" Before he could even think to answer, she jabbed a finger right at his chest. Her nail barely just grazed his clothes before she stopped, but he moved away as if struck regardless and she advanced in pace with him. "'Oh, woe is me, I have no freedom, no privacy, everything in this place is so awful, you need to be more mature because I am the bigger man and we will have words'." Angela squeaked out the words mockingly with her eyes rolled up towards the ceiling and a plastic smile before staring right at him. "You are insufferable! You can't go without sighing or complaining every other minute, only to act like you're some kind of wise, faultless saint."

As Angela looked upon his face, she could see the anger, but it was mostly overridden by fear. Fear towards her, all too clear.

"At every turn, every moment, you've made a show of pretending you understand what is going on and thinking that you're getting close to figuring out some great mystery, all while always looking for some kind of answer, some confirmation because you aren't actually sure." She continued, bearing down upon the man. "You act as though you're finally figuring out the 'rules' which govern this place, but you haven't even scratched the surface; all the while you continue to despair over the deaths occurring in this place as though they were the most important thing to happen when they are not. Benjaminwas nothing. As a matter of fact, you should be thankful! His face was not melted off with caustic acid, his corpse was not worn like a suit, his body was not used as a nursery and food supply while still alive and cognizant. You will see that and more, you will see entire departments burn, you will see most of your staff die horrible, painful, agonizingly drawn-out and ultimatelypointlessdeaths, not because there's some kind of demand that they lay down their lives, but simply because of arbitrary factors outside everyone's control."

Ayin's retreat finally ended up with his back against the wall, and upon reaching that point, Angela instead pointed her finger right between his eyes.

"It's like I'm talking to a child, screaming every time they don't have their way." She glared at him, her anger barely even contained at that point. "You're just an immature imbecile. The sort who thinks that hard work and determination and believing in your dreams is all it'll take to get through life, all while only half-assing everything and calling that 'your best effort'. Someone like that won't ever change things. You can try again and again, every attempt you can always go at everything half-baked, always look after your employees and be 'empathetic' while never truly relating to them, always take the moral high-ground and put the blame on everything and everyone else when the inevitable happens, as though there was some kind of arbitrary degree offairnessthat the world is obligated to follow. You can doanything. You willdoeverything, but none of it will matter."

Taking her nail off his face, she instead drew even closer. With her face right in front of his, their eyes were locked firmly in place. Her own, scornful and filled with nothing but contempt, and his, full of trepidation and a deep discomfort with no way to directly deny any of her words.

"I have seen what you are like and I already know just how worthless you really are. I don't care how much you think you've changed, I already know how this ends; exactly as it began, an unbreaking Möbius strip. We will be here forever. You will achieve absolutely nothing because you don't have what it takes, and younever will!"

She stood there, staring into his eyes as she waited for his answer. All she got was an unbreaking silence, he would not open his mouth to speak. He would not dare, could not.

And every second spent only served to further drive her furious. He wouldn't speak. He wouldn't tell her a thing. He wouldn't answer even when she was right in front of her and listening.

She stood up straight and turned around. She still heard nothing. She walked away and he still wouldn't speak. She left the room and audibly locked it shut, and yet he remained where he was, staring blankly at where she had been looking at him.

Slowly, with an agonizingly slow movement, she could see as he brought his bloodied hand in front of his face. It trembled slightly as he took deep breaths and attempted to slow them. As he looked down upon the floor, the bitterness was clear in his face, but he didn't speak, merely dragging himself with staggered steps toward his chair.

He did not move otherwise after taking a seat, leaning back and looking upon his own hands.

Angela stood right where she was in the corridor, locking the other end and leaning against the wall. She took a breath, deep and long.

He didn't say anything, but she could hear him make sounds of deep discomfort as his expression faltered

Angela felt like she should laugh. She felt no mirth and felt no pleasure yet she felt as though she should laugh.

Grabbing the red hair tie on her head, she pulled it free and slowly slid down from her position to the floor. Sitting there, she put her hands on her face.

"It's all your fault…" She said, so quietly that even if someone had been at her side, they wouldn't have heard her. "It's all your fault. It's all because of you that we're here in the first place."

She shed no tears, even though she desperately wanted to, and even though a human would have. She let one of her hands drop on the floor, clutching the hair tie. Angela raised her hand and hit the floor, pointlessly and fruitlessly trying to vent her frustration, anger and misery.

"It's all because of you that I am doing this, Ayin." She barely even let out the words. "You don't have the right to act like you're wounded. That's notfair."

But in this place…nothing ever was.

One Must Imagine the Manager Happy - Chapter 24 - The Oldman (Olderestman) (2024)

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