Human Resources 3: An Offer He Can't Refuse

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We go a while back, Peter and I.

I was fresh out of high school at the time, all full of hope and dre- well, no, I got that out of my system a while back. Wanted to be an actress, at the time; still do, really. Film or theatre, Hollywood or Broadway, I didn't much care. Just not Japan, no future in that kind of thing, here. When's the last time anything worth watching came out of this rock? Even picked up some English for that end. Bit rusty, but enough to talk to the Eighth when I have to, as it turned out a few years later.

Don't give me that voice acting spiel, either. I'm not going to be some faceless sound in a microphone.

I guess it was the idea, on some level. The thought that you get to pretend you're someone else and, for a little while, everyone believes you, connects to someone you just made up, thinks you're whoever you tell them you are. I wasn't too happy with who I was back then for a lot of reasons, so that might have been part of it. Honestly, though, I just always had so much fun with it. ...Not that the fame and stacks of cash hurt any, if I made it big.

Needless to say, I didn't. I didn't make it at all. In fact, I didn't even start. You get a helping hand from on high up until high school, but then you reach university and the floor's swept out from under you. Family couldn't rustle up the money for university, acting school, the sort of connections that get you into the acting world, anything like that. I didn't have the training, the people or whatever else I'm supposed to have. Just how it goes, and my day job at a register sure wasn't going to change that. What can you do, really?

Along comes an Incubator, like a carrion bird for dreams. He gave me this big talk about granting a wish, how he could make me everything I wanted to be. Promised me the world. Too bad he laid out way too much, or at least more than he should have. Sometimes I wonder what would've happened if I met Little Coobs – Peter just stares at me when I call the Ninth that – instead of the Third.

He's what you might call one of the traditional, old-fashioned Incubators. Really by the book, didn't have enough of... himself in his head to be clever; all empty inside, like they're supposed to be. Might be a genius in his own way, but he didn't have the first clue about humans. Told me everything, see? Fight witches for a living, maybe die, unless I miraculously last to retirement, or most likely just turn into a witch myself.

Not a bright guy, sometimes.

Knew someone like him, once. Sold watches, and I think maybe some other branded stuff, all 'genuine' if you ask him. Real cheap, too, almost too good to be true. I met him at a better time in my life, so I was having none of it. This little rabbit, though... well, he was one lucky guy, showing up when he did. I had an ear to listen, to see what I could get out of him. It was a tempting offer, somehow, despite all the strings attached. Despite the promise hanging over the door that I'd be coming to die, or worse.

I'd say I know a scam when I see one, but I like to think you don't need to be all that clever to spot this one. Given that he got some contracts even back then, though, I'm not so sure.

We talked for a while, partly since I was hoping I could figure him out. Fat lot of good that did, but I did learn a thing or two about entropy, mostly that Incubators love bringing it up with every other word. At least, the real old school ones do. It's a funny feeling, realising the world's so much bigger than you know. That there's all this stuff going on around you that you never knew about.

I spent a while there, on that rooftop. It was a nice view, with the blinding orange sunset over Mitakihara's skyline. Just me and some half-cutesy, half-disturbing alien sitting next to me, with his ears flapping a bit in the wind. Staring at me with the same wooden expression, the same beady little blue eyes for ages. I still haven't figured out if they can change that at all; physically, I mean. It'd go a long way towards helping them reel in contracts if they didn't look so weird and creepy once you think about it. Still, there we were, a pair of silhouettes in the sunset, while I started to figure out just how little both of us understood.

I didn't take the contract, in the end. Turns out it's an offer I can refuse after all.

He didn't get it at all, I told him. He doesn't get US at all. Not a clue about what he's doing. Funny, huh? Ancient alien or whatever, getting lectured by some girl right out of high school. I like to think it did him good, because like I told him, his schtick was barely good enough to convince the odd desperate teenager. That's when I made him a counteroffer, and he might have looked surprised if he could do that at all. Told me later that it hadn't happened before. Somehow I felt a little proud about that, at the time.

I offered to teach him, in a way. To manage things for him. Get him some fresh recruits. Give him a little pointer here and there to help him snare more new blood, or get his Officio running more smoothly. I'd like to pretend I was oh so special, but the truth is that most of it wasn't that hard. The contract details were some of the first things to go. It's all sensitive, dangerous information, the kind that needs to be explained properly and carefully. Slap on some security clearances, and put someone in charge of relaying it properly to the greenhorns.

That means me, obviously. An Incubator can't lie, or so I'm told, but if I happen to twist things a little, to never tell these kids just how they're going to end up, how's he to know? It wasn't his fault. Plausible deniability, one of the older and better tricks in the book, and I handed it to him on a platter. Once in a while, someone blabs a little too much, and one of the girls at the Third finds out. Sometimes we ship her off to another country, other times we have her retired. Once in a while, they witch out just from learning what's going on.

What's in it for me? Well, it's good practice, partly, but the paycheck doesn't hurt any. Little guy can afford to spare me a good bit of money given everything I do for him. Third wasn't exactly doing great for a while, little low on recruits for obvious reasons, but I've propped it up pretty nicely, and the business side of it isn't doing half bad either. Got its hands into supporting a fair number of orphanages and hospitals, too. Makes a good impression and, frankly, a real good hunting ground for new catches.

From there, it's down to me. Perfect older sister of all the Third, looking after each and every one of them. Not to grease the wheels or keep everything running smoothly, of course. Not because having them witch out or snap prematurely would be inefficient. No, it's because I care about each and every one of them, and we're all making it through this together. I could show them the ropes, tell them everything they need to know, because I've been at this for longer than any of them.

Ate it all up, too. I've been just a little bit older than all of them for... oh, a while now. Keeps me on my toes, adjusting my look in one direction or the other over the years so I'd stay just the same. Just what the image calls for. Sure, I don't change any, and that might seem suspicious if any of them lasted more than a couple years. They don't, not so far.

That's about how it's been until now. Main difference is, I got better. Petey did too, little by little, in his own way. Sometimes I think it might be bothering him. End of the day, that's about all there is to me: The woman who threw her wish away, and made her own deal with the devil.

Poor old Mephy, I don't know what he'd do without me.

Some might say it's... oh, I don't know. Cruel, selfish, selling out humanity. Human trafficking, if you want to slap a term onto it. I've given the last couple of years to helping an alien take the souls of kids and jam it into rocks so they'll turn into monsters. Some people might hate me for that. Some might lecture me. You know what?

Get off your goddamn high horse before I punt it out from under you. The door's over there.

I didn't get my dream either. Why should they? Whatever the reason, I spend all my recent years looking after a gaggle of psychotic brats, making sure they keep ticking, hearing out all their stupid problems and throwing away my life for it; like I said, as far as anyone from my old life knows, I'm dead. The best company I've got in all this is some kind of living mascot that wouldn't know a human emotion if it hit him in the face, and given that he swallows grief seeds sometimes, I'm not completely convinced that it doesn't literally do just that. You know what, though? I'm the only one in this Officio with anything close to standards. I've never hurt anyone; I carry a gun just in case, but I'm not a killer. I haven't lost my mind like the rest of them. I don't giggle while I carve up monsters. You'd think that would mean something.

But hey, think of the poor children, right?