It was Peter’s first day at Subjugation plc, and as he looked around the meeting room with its truncheons and handcuffs in the glass cabinets around the walls, he was a little nervous. The HR manager who was welcoming him didn’t provide much comfort either.
“It’s just that I’m not sure you’re up to it, dear.” The lady looked at him doubtfully over her glasses, her face framed by tinted auburn hair. “I’m Violet, by the way.”
Somehow, she didn’t seem hard enough for HR, Peter thought. He was about to reply, but then the door swung open with a bang, and a burly man with a balaclava over his face and black leather gloves burst in. He marched up to Peter and swung a punch right into his face.
The room jerked backwards, and stars exploded across Peter’s vision. He went down, but even as he fell, his employee instincts took over and he clutched at his chair. If you want to dish it out, you have to take it. Hauling himself up, he looked around, shaking his head, ready with the chair. The attacker had already left.
“Not bad,” Violet said grudgingly. She made a note. “I see you have some experience, but mind you,” she continued, “it’ll be a pretty tough week. They don’t all make it.”
Peter grunted. He had expected violence – this was HR, after all – but the ferocity of it had taken him by surprise. He gingerly felt his jaw and his teeth. Nothing seemed broken.
Violet finished her notes, stood up, and looked at him expectantly.
For a moment, Peter didn’t understand. Then, even as Violet murmured, “This is Subjugation, Peter,” he got it. Slowly, he came round and knelt down in front of her. He extended his hand flat on the floor, palm down. Violet put one high heel cautiously onto it. Balancing herself by gripping Peter’s hair, she transferred her full weight onto his hand. Then, with a final twist of her heel, she stepped off. “Thank you, dear,” she smiled, and left the room.
Peter knelt there, panting with the pain. As he caught his breath, he looked around for a weapon, but the glass cabinets were all shut. Then, through the open door he heard the sounds of vacuuming down the corridor, interspersed with screams. He didn’t want to be vacuumed and without waiting for instructions, he grabbed his bag and staggered out.
The rest of the morning passed uneventfully. Peter found his cubicle, kept his head down, and was even given some work to do, which he accepted gratefully. His bag was stolen – a passing colleague just picked it up and swung it onto his shoulder – but Peter had his phone and his wallet in his pocket, so he let the bag go. Peering cautiously over the top of his cubicle, he saw that there were other nervous-looking faces around. Plucking up the courage, he even walked along the aisle and introduced himself to a blonde young woman, who turned out to be called Trina. She grimaced as she stood up to greet him, and pointed to her leg which through the torn stocking showed an ugly weal. That was her welcoming interview. Peter grinned in sympathy – a little stiffly, given his bruised jaw.
Later, he got up to go to the washroom, receiving a warm glance from Trina as he walked past her seat. Hey! he thought as he reached the corridor, things weren’t so bad. No bones broken; his hand – he checked it – was merely bruised. Violet wasn’t up to her job, he chuckled to himself. In his previous place he’d have been in a much worse state by now. He opened the washroom door and stepped inside.
Whomp! A high-pressure jet of water caught him in the chest. Peter tumbled over and slammed against the tiled wall. The hose transferred to his face, blinding him and filling his open mouth. Choking and gasping, he tried desperately to deflect the jet with his arms, floundering across the tiles towards the shelter of the toilets.
The hose suddenly switched off, leaving Peter choking on the floor. Wiping the water from his eyes, he made out two burly figures in black by the washbasins. “Welcome to Subjugation!” said the bigger of the two, who was holding the hose.
Screwing up his eyes against the light, Peter saw that the man was wearing black leather gloves. Although the balaclava was absent and the fleshy crewcut head was unfamiliar, he recognized the man from his posture. It was his assailant of earlier that morning. As Peter nodded in acknowledgement, there came to him an absurd concern for the leather gloves amid all that water. He struggled to rise, feet slipping on the wet tiles. If you want to dish it out….
“So you want to work here?” Black-gloves continued.
Peter nodded again – and was again blasted off his feet by the hose.
“He can’t stand up!” laughed the smaller man raucously. He was also dressed in black, but his outsized hands were bare. “Why don’t you help him, Bill?”
This Bill switched off the hose and gave it to his partner. Then, stepping forward, he launched a powerful kick at Peter as he lay gasping. Peter somehow managed to parry the blow with his hands. Then, his staff training kicked in – he rolled, and quickly rose to his feet, where he stood dripping, his eyes on the two men.
“Ho-ho!” said his smaller assailant. “Got spirit, have we?” He raised the hose again.
“Nah, Fred.” Bill put a hand on the nozzle. “Our new colleague wants to go the toilet, remember?” As Fred grudgingly lowered the hose, Bill motioned Peter to the cubicle.
Warily, Peter glanced towards the toilet. In the excitement he had forgotten his bladder, but now that he was reminded, it was bursting. Cursing himself for not having gone earlier, he edged inside the cubicle. There were no doors.
“Don’t be shy!” Fred was enjoying himself again now. “We’re all boys here.” He slapped his bigger friend on the back.
Gritting his teeth, Peter undid his trousers. He daren’t turn his back on the two men, so he lowered himself trembling onto the toilet seat.
The men waited in silence. At last Peter’s bladder opened, and at the tinkling sound he sighed with relief.
The water jet knocked him off the toilet seat.
“…And those are the Subjugation values,” Violet intoned. “We are a Caring Company.”
She smiled, and wrapped up her presentation, clicking the PowerPoint off. The lights came on again, making the large meeting room uncomfortably bright. Peter blinked, and from his vantage point in the second row, looked cautiously around.
A battered group met his gaze. A few looked determined; most had had the spirit beaten out of them and were avoiding Violet’s eye. Peter turned back, a feeling of elation rising in his chest. It was already the fourth day of Induction Week. Subjugation had done its worst, but he had survived with nothing more than bruises and scrapes. He glanced to the back of the room where Bill and Fred leant stolidly against the wall, and felt almost sorry for them. There was a limit to what they could do: it couldn’t really be fingernails, not even waterboarding. The kicks and punches had been pulled. It was more bark than bite.
Trina, sitting beside him, swept back her blonde hair and gave him a glance. Her lip was cut, and her eye a little swollen, but she was taking it. Good girl! He smiled with encouragement. He then turned back to the front of the class only to find Violet looking directly at him.
Peter lowered his gaze, but too late. Violet gave an odd little smile. “Now, Peter, a test for you. What are the Subjugation values?”
Peter cleared his throat, trying desperately to recall. “Er, there’s-”
“Why don’t you just step up here so that everyone can hear you?” Violet interrupted. She stood aside, gesturing to the centre spot.
Nervous, for he was not a good speaker, Peter got up and sidled out to the front. The eyes of the other inductees were on him; Trina’s sympathetic, other faces just relieved that it wasn’t them.
“There’s Fulfillment…,” Peter began slowly, trying to remember what came next.
“I can’t hear you very well, Peter,” Violet said, putting a hand to her ear. “Can you speak louder?”
“I said, there’s FULFILLMENT,” Peter said, as loudly as he could.
Violet walked to the back of the class, and stood beside a smirking Fred. “I’m not sure they can hear you back here.”
“I know what the problem is,” Violet said triumphantly. She had a penetrating voice that drowned his own. Already too late, Peter realized that he had underestimated her. “It’s your breathing,” she went on. “You’re too constricted around the middle. Take your trousers off!”
What!? Peter looked numbly around. Bill and Fred stirred themselves from the wall and took a step nearer, grinning at each other. Violet repeated her command.
Slowly, Peter undid his belt, and let his trousers slip to the floor.
“Everything off!” Violet continued with relish.
She did not stop until he was completely naked. Next, he had to shout the five Subjugation values three times while the class shouted after him.
There was pause. Peter, almost dying with embarrassment, gasped for breath and reached for his underpants. Violet still hadn’t finished.
“Do you love this company?” came her strident voice.
Peter hesitated. “Yes, I love this company,” he mumbled.
“YES, I LOVE THIS COMPANY!”
Violet came forward until she was close, nearly as tall as him in her high heels. Peter shrank back. If she touched him, he was ready to strike back, but her gaze wandered elsewhere.
“Trina!” she called. The young woman looked up. “Do you think Peter loves this company?”
Trina kept her eyes down. “I am sure he loves the company,” she said quietly.
“And do you think he loves you? With that teeny-weeny thing of his?”
The class giggled; Fred roared with delight. Trina said nothing.
“I can see you need a speaking lesson too.” Violet turned back to Peter. “That will do, you can go now.” She walked over to Trina. “Up you come, my love, let’s see what we can do for you.”
Peter was now into his second month. Induction Week, with its bruises and humiliations, was long behind him. He and Trina even joked about it. She had healed well, and was already busy with her first assignments. Life at Subjugation was not so bad after all. Bill had taken him out for a drink (‘Nothing personal, you understand, just doing my job!’), and had shown him the padding in the gloves, even offering his own jaw for a mock punch when Peter had put the gloves on. Although Peter could not bring himself to speak to Fred, he nodded to him when they passed in the corridor, receiving a respectful grunt. Violet had given him a congratulatory call when he passed his probation. He had had his first paycheck. With the key to the permanent staff toilet, there would be no more getting caught with his trousers down.
No, there was just one thing missing to make life in Subjugation perfect.
Peter walked along the corridor, fingering the key in his pocket, relishing the moment to come. He reached the meeting room, and thought of bursting in, but no, that would be too… too Bill. He had his own style. He knocked gently on the door, humming, You have to take it, to himself.
“C–come in!” quavered a male voice.
Peter entered, and a young man started up nervously on the other side of the table. His hair was disheveled, and a bruise was already forming on his cheek. He eyed Peter warily.
“Welcome to Subjugation!” Peter said, extending his hand. He gestured to the glass cabinets with their truncheons and paraphernalia. “I’d like to show you how things work here.”
Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely his writing has veered from non-fiction to literary and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published numerous SF short stories and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets as there is no space for these in Hong Kong.