Overtime

Overtime by Charles Stross Read Free Book Online

Book: Overtime by Charles Stross Read Free Book Online
Authors: Charles Stross
All bureaucracies obey certain iron laws, and one of the oldest is this: get your seasonal leave booked early, lest you be trampled in the rush.
    I broke the rule this year, and now I’m paying the price. It’s not my fault I failed to book my Christmas leave in time—I was in hospital and heavily sedated. But the ruthless cut and thrust of office politics makes no allowance for those who fall in the line of battle: “You should have foreseen your hospitalization and planned around it” said the memo from HR when I complained. They’re quite right, and I’ve made a note to book in advance next time I’m about to be abducted by murderous cultists or enemy spies.
    I briefly considered pulling an extended sickie, but Brenda from Admin has a heart of gold; she pointed out that if I volunteered as Night Duty Officer over the seasonal period I could not only claim triple pay and time off in lieu, I’d also be working three grades above my assigned role. For purposes of gaining experience points in the fast-track promotion game they’re steering me onto, that’s hard to beat. So here I am, in the office on Christmas Eve, playing bureaucratic Pokémon as the chilly rain drums on the roof.
    (Oh, you wondered what Mo thinks of this? She’s off visiting her ditz of a mum down in Glastonbury. After last time we agreed it would be a good idea if I kept a low profile. Christmas: the one time of year when you can’t avoid the nuts in your family muesli. But I digress.)
    * * *
    Christmas: the season of goodwill towards all men—except for bank managers, credit scoring agencies, everyone who works in the greeting card business, and dodgy men in red suits who hang out in toy shops and scare small children by shouting
“ho ho HO!”
By the time I got out of hospital in September the Christmas seasonal displays were already going up in the shops: mistletoe and holly and metallized tinsel pushing out the last of summer’s tanning lotion and Hawaiian shirts.
    I can’t say I’ve ever been big on the English Suburban Christmas. First you play join-the-dots with bank holidays and what’s left of your annual leave, to get as many consecutive days off work as possible. Then instead of doing something useful and constructive with it you gorge yourself into a turkey-addled stomach-bloating haze, drink too much cheap plonk, pick fights with the in-laws, and fall asleep on the sofa in front of the traditional family-friendly crap the BBC pumps out every December 25th in case the wee ones are watching. These days the little ’uns are all up in their rooms, playing
Chicks v. Zombies 8.0
with the gore dialled to splashy-giblets-halfway-up-the-walls (only adults bother watching TV as a social activity these days) but has Auntie Beeb noticed? Oh no they haven’t! So it’s crap pantomimes and Mary Poppins and re-runs of
The Two Ronnies
for you, sonny, whether you like it or not. It’s like being trapped in 1974 forever—and you can forget about escaping onto the internet: everybody else has had the same idea, and the tubes are clogged.
    Alternatively you can spend Christmas alone in the office, where at least it’s quiet once everyone else has gone home. You can get some work done, or read a book, or surreptitiously play
Chicks v. Zombies 8.0
with the gore dialled down to suitable-for-adults. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work . . . except when it doesn’t, like now.
    Let’s rewind a week:
    I’m pecking away at a quality assessment form on my office PC when there’s a knock at the door. I glance up. It’s Bill from Security. “Are you busy right now?” he asks.
    “Um.” My heart just about skips a beat. “Not really . . . ?”
    Bill is one of our regular security officers: a former blue-suiter, salt-and-pepper moustache, silver comb-over, but keeps trim and marches everywhere like he’s still in the military. “It’s about your Christmas shift,” he says, smiling vaguely and hefting a bunch of keys the size

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