[a festive short story to welcome the holiday season]
Detective Peterson found the plant manager standing outside. A little guy; Bangle, he was called.
“We have a disgruntled employee,” Bangle told him. “He’s holding seventy-two workers hostage.”
“Tell me about him.”
“Sprocket has been working here for decades. He’s an electrical engineer, a genius, I might add. He invented the Sugarplum. But he gets angry, doesn’t take suggestions well.”
“And he’s a Christmas elf, right? Those guys…” Peterson looked down at Bangle. “You guys don’t normally cause trouble. What kind of weapon does he have?”
“This is where it gets ugly.” Bangle shook his head. “Sprocket is brandishing our new ElimAnnihilator 6000. It’s a powerful multi-barrel personal cannon capable of firing twelve rounds per second.”
Peterson did the math. “He could kill them all in seconds.”
“Actually,” Bangle began, “the weapon fires molded polystyrene projectiles. They’re quite safe.”
“Let me get this straight; he’s threatening to shoot everyone with harmless plastic darts?”
“Polystyrene, and they’re not exactly harmless. We encourage wearing goggles, especially for children under three.”
“Prudent.” Peterson trained his binoculars on the factory windows. “So why don’t the hostages leave?”
Bangle shrugged. “Maybe it’s that hostage syndrome thing.”
“Maybe. Let’s get him on the line.”
Twelve rings later, Sprocket picked up. “Sugarplum division, how may I direct your frigging call?”
Peterson introduced himself. “Let’s find a way out of this.”
“We can start with a little respect. You don’t just fire a guy after six decades.”
Peterson turned to Bangle. “He was fired?”
“Not exactly, he was side-sourced. He can keep his job if he relocates.”
“Yeah, they want me to move to Bangalore,” Sprocket chortled. “You know what it’s like there? Hot as piss. I’ve lived in northern Canada my whole life. You think I want to move to frigging Bangalore? Last summer we did the company retreat in Puerto Rico and I almost melted. Also, my wife skis.”
“So that’s what this is about? You don’t want to be transferred?”
“Yeah. And another thing, I’m tired of listening to those boneheads in marketing. Every day they want to make another change to the Sugarplum, another modification. I’m sick of it.”
Peterson read the product description that Bangle handed him. “So this Sugarplum is some kind of tablet, like a book reader?”
Silence on the line. A moment later, the factory door opened, and Sprocket fired a projectile. It traveled nearly sixty feet before bouncing harmlessly off Peterson’s shoulder.
“How do you like that?” Sprocket demanded, back on the phone.
“That was just mean.”
“Yeah? Call it a tablet again and see what happens. Listen, I designed the Sugarplum to be the world’s most advanced personal digital concierge. It’s not just an e-reader, it’s interactive. If you don’t like how the plot is working out, you can suggest an alteration, and the Sugarplum will reconfigure the entire story arc. You think A Tale of Two Cities is dull? Just add another city.”
“If you don’t like a story’s ending, just pop in a cheetah.”
“I like it.”
“What’s not to like? The Sugarplum is also a camera phone and a meat thermometer. It can massage your back, measure your cholesterol, light your cigarette, and balance your pool chlorine. And in a pinch, its polycarbonate casing can be enjoyed as a delicious and nutritious snack.”
“I had no idea.”
“Also, it runs on triple-A batteries. Those are the little ones.”
“So what’s it going to take, Sprocket? Let’s finish this before somebody gets bruised.”
“Here’s what I want: first, the production line stays here; second, no more product modifications. And third, we get a new TV in the break room.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Peterson turned to Bangle. “Who can we talk to in corporate?”
Bangle handed him a slim grey tablet. It was nearly weightless.
Peterson stared as the Sugarplum began to emit a fine mist. A moment later, a hologram of an Asian man wearing a snowsuit appeared in the mist. Behind him, reindeer were being weighed and tagged for sale.
“As head of the transition team at Kwanzou-Gupta,” the man began, “I must inform you that as of noon today, when the papers were signed, we are the new owners of all Christmas gift manufacturing and distribution franchises.”
Bangle gasped. “I can’t believe the Big Guy actually went through with it.”
The man in the hologram smiled. “We made him an attractive offer — there’s a yacht involved. But the Sugarplum is our product now. If any of your employees wish to continue working on it, they are welcome to apply for an entry-level position at our factory in Bangalore.” The image faded as the mist evaporated.
Peterson shook his head. He relayed the information to Sprocket.
A moment later, the factory doors opened and Sprocket ran out. He fired shot after shot into the air as he ran screaming into the frozen wilderness.
“That could have gone better,” Peterson said.
Bangle had an idea. “Maybe it still can.” He backed up the file to where the hologram first appeared, and touched the ‘Plot Alteration’ button with the stylus.
“Identify desired plot device,” the Sugarplum responded.
“What are you doing?” Peterson frowned.
Bangle smiled. “Insert cheetah,” he said. He tapped the button again and watched as chaos erupted at Kwanzou-Gupta.
“So the sale didn’t go through.” Sprocket admired the new break-room TV. “That was quick thinking, Bangle.”
“Yeah, the cheetah ate the entire transition team. Unfortunately, it ate all the reindeer too.”
Sprocket frowned. “That’s going to gum up distribution.”
Bangle stared at the floor. “And the Big Guy isn’t happy; he really wanted the yacht. He’s asking for another product modification.”
Sprocket glared at him. “What kind of modification?”
“The Plot Alteration feature, it has to go. It’s too powerful. He wants a tip calculator instead.”
Sprocket jumped to his feet and grabbed his ElimAnnihilator 6000. He fired shot after shot into the air as he ran screaming out of the factory and into the frozen wilderness.