“Criticism is an inevitable part of working life “

Vignette inspired by: The Workplace Inequality That Has Nothing to Do With Pay, BBC, November, 23, 2016

 

The room looked like more of an interrogation room than an office, all plain white walls, functional furniture free of aesthetics, and bare surfaces swirling with privacy enchantments scrawled in ivory ink. He felt like he was being charged with a crime rather than completing his bicentennial review.

He stepped into the room with muted clicks of his polished dress hooves, grazing thick fingers over his curved horns and smoothing his palm over the heft of the platinum ring pierced through his nostrils.

The being across from the table sat with a lean leg slung over a knee, tablet computer held on a lap covered in a silk suit. Androgynous facial features worked themselves into a polite smile, dark eyes burnishing with twin sunbursts of gold striated with amber. “I appreciate you being on time, Mr. Torro.” Alto tones warmed over with professional politeness. The dark skin of the extended hand was washed out underneath the glare of the light seeping from the edges of the ceiling. “I’ll be sure to make a note of that in your review.”

Their shared handshake was one part smooth confidence and two parts clammy unease.  

Majestor withdrew his long-fingered hand and ran his palm down the front of his suit jacket as he eased himself into his chair. “My thanks.”

Three-toned eyes scrolled down to the tablet screen. “My name is Avery. I’ll try to make this review quick so you can get back to work.” Quick head lift and another cordial smile before the eyes returned to the tablet. “In your 224 years as a security guide with Olympus Enterprises, you’ve done exceptional work.” Eyes flitted back and forth, fingers tapped and swiped. “For the most part.”

Majestor scratched a thumbnail over the thickness of his lightly contoured eyebrow. “Every day’s an opportunity to improve myself. After all, I’m a minotaur, not a god.” Disarming chuckle.

Avery’s head tipped to the side, a solitary strand of sea-blue hair coming loose from the tight warrior braid worn high on his scalp. “Quite true.” Head lifted once more, attention pressing against Majestor with near-tangible force. “I won’t mince words or waste our time: Mrs. Tauryn feels you exceed in the most essential capacities of your position; you’re habitually punctual, cordial to guests and coworkers alike, contribute solid ideas and suggestions for company and department improvement, go well above and beyond your job duties.” A pause; the birth and death of a world held cradled in that empty stretch of possibility. “But Mrs. Tauryn and most of your other co-workers feel that as a minotaur of your maturity and social background, you aren’t aggressive enough when it comes to safeguarding the Hallowed Halls.” Quick inhale. “Rather than casting out dimension-hoppers through the etherlock on their trespassing rumps, you instead gently escort them through the Marvelous Gates as if they were invited for an afternoon ale.”   

Majestor’s jaw muscles bunched as he gritted his teeth. He bobbed a knee and smoothed his hands over his slacks. “I feel like I’m only as aggressive as the situation demands.” A puffed-out scoff.

Avery unlooped a leg from knee, touched fingertips to lips, reversed leg over knee. “Quite understandable. But I’m sure you’ve noticed that Olympus Enterprises is–” Eyes ticked to the side in consideration, hands opened for the right words. “Not necessarily changing its image, but instead reinforcing it.” Composure regained. “And that image is one of strength, ages-old influence steep in prestige.”

Majestor nodded his understanding.

“The specific issue we’re rubbing against with you is that you aren’t quite solidifying that image.” Eye flick over the minotaur’s well-toned form that strained against the shoulders and thighs and merely grazed against the suit’s furred material at the arms and waist. “Another concern is your current physical stature.”

The minotaur furrowed his thick brows and flicked a glance down his body before snatching it back up.

Avery continued. “You’ve lost considerable muscle tone in the past few months.” Another quick scan of his form as if to confirm it, compare it with whatever information was available on the tablet screen. “Mrs. Tauryn and the other supervisors were hoping you would gain it back, but…unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Majestor took a quick tug of his nose ring, sniffing.

The emptiness and the lapse between them blossomed into an almost-palpable chasm that kept them rooted in place, heavy gravity waves rolling in from a distant interstellar shore.

“I was diagnosed with Herd Culler five months ago.”

Majestor’s words doubled the weight in the air, wrested a gradual expression of fully-concentrated shock from Avery’s face that lasted for a few pinched seconds before being ironed over.

The minotaur reached up with uneasy hesitation for his platinum tie clip shaped like an infinity symbol. Exhale. Deep inhale that puffed up his chest. He grazed his middle finger over the symbol three times.

His left horn blurred for a moment, pixelating out of focus. It blipped out of sight to reveal a cleanly sheared horn stained a withered indigo at the edges.

Avery lowered his eyes from the stubbed and stained horn and noticed the tarnish bleeding across Majestor’s nose ring. Lips parted, jaw worked for words that were out on break. After a moment they returned for their shift, glazing the tongue. “I deeply admire you for continuing to work through such a difficult time.” The tablet was laid down gently on the table. “Do you mind if I ask how you contracted it? I thought the Herd Culler curse had been fully shattered during the Great Minotaur Exodus after the Kindred Shepherds gave their millennial offering to the Elysian Fieldmasters.”

Majestor dropped his brown eyes to the table. “A few centuries ago the World Health League discovered that it’s become hereditary.” The gravelly bass of his voice took on more grit as he dropped his tone, the charm seemingly dissolving a glamour of health instilled in his voice. “My father had to sever my connection with my ancestral war ax.” Shoulders rippled. “Was afraid I might active any other curses lying dormant in our family.”

Avery curled an elegant finger over pursed lips. “That’s why you’ve lost so much of your mass, you can no longer draw on the strength imbued in your war ax.”

The minotaur nodded. “The curse also makes it so that I can’t use my horns to locate my soul- or blood-bound herd.”

“Is there–” Hesitant hitch. “Is there any way to remove the curse? Block it off and isolate it like you would a virus, perhaps?”

Majestor responded with a bitter laugh that rubbed like raw rock salt in a wound. “I’ve been to nearly every mystician who accepts my insurance. More than a few who don’t.” He reached up to scratch at the skin underneath his whole horn. “They all tell me there’s a unique strain in the curse that indicates it was cast under the light of an Effulgent Nectar Moon.”

Avery’s lips parted, head bobbed once in understanding. “So the opportunity to unravel it comes only once every one-hundred years.”

Majestor lowered his hand to the chilled smoothness of the marble table. “Even then I have to be at the right place at the right time to harness the event’s full power.”

The reviewer tugged a tailored suit jacket sleeve back to glance at the timepiece on his wrist. “Would you rather I keep this between you and myself?” His voice was back to all-business crispness.

He lifted his eyes, fully bridging their gazes for the first time since he’d stepped into the room. “Would it negatively impact my review if you did?”

Avery considered for a moment. “Well, telling Mrs. Tauryn about your mystical affliction would probably make her much more understanding of your current physical and professional state.”

Majestor leaned his elbows on the table and bent forward a bit, wrapping the fingers of one hand around the fist of the other. “Do whatever you need to do to increase my chances of keeping my job.” Fingers unfurled and palms tilted upward in near-supplication. “Maybe even get me a slight bump in pay.”

Avery’s thin eyebrows laced together. “You wish to remain here at Olympus Enterprises? Even as quickly as the curse is advancing?”

The minotaur leaned back in his seat, breath easing out of him. “I’ve been picking up any extra shifts I can so that I can help pay for my brother’s wedding nose ring.” He rubbed a hand down his face, absently massaging at the weariness etched into his features.

“He’s marrying outside of his race.”

“A sylph.” Majestor paused. “A male sylph.”

Avery glanced at the time again.

“How much time do I have left?”

The question visibly disarmed Avery. “I think you would know that better than–”

A chuckle. “I meant for the review.”

The answer visibly relieved and embarrassed Avery. “Oh, of course. You–you’re my last review for the day.” Fingers tugged smoothness into the suit jacket, trailed over creases in slacks.

“But to answer your unasked question, I don’t think I have much time left, doesn’t feel like it at least.” Majestor stared at the wall behind Avery but didn’t seem to notice its solid existence. “The mysticians aren’t able to give me anything solid on when the curse will kill me.” Shrug. “But I don’t think it would make much of a difference even if they did. I mean, I could use the time and resources I have left buying information on the time and location of the next Effulgent Nectar Moon.” Eyes focused on Avery. “But I’ve decided to take advantage of the fact that I work with one of the most powerful, lucrative and well-known deified-pharmaceutical companies in this dimension to do my older brother a favor so he can live a long life with the man he loves.” The edge of his smile caught the tear trailing from the corner of his eye. He sank his head to hide the reaction.

Avery uncurled a hand, inched it over the table towards Majestor’s, dragged it back. “Does your brother have any idea of your condition?”

He lifted his head and shook it, swiping a hand across his cheek. “I asked my parents to keep it from him, at least until he’s married; already enough for him to worry about.”

“I can imagine. I’ve read that the process of receiving a wedding nose ring can be quite taxing both physically and psychologically for minotaurs.”

“And making sure his marriage is legally recognized is just as strenuous, emotionally and financially.” He looked down when Avery finally grasped his hand with a smooth motion powered by purposeful intent.

“You’re doing magnificently well for someone in your condition, Majestor.” Hand retracted, expression sobered. “Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I’ll be successful in convincing Mrs. Tauryn to let you remain in your current position. I’m sure you understand how vital it is to your current career and Olympus Enterprises that you’re able to adequately fulfill the duties of security guide, duties for which you were originally hired because of your ability to carry them out without mental, mystical, or physical assistance.”

The minotaur swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. “What else, ah…” Another hard swallow. “What other position could I fill. And would it pay as well?”

Avery consulted his tablet, taking a moment to swipe, read, and tap in search of satisfying answers. “There has been talk of hiring a liaison who works with the security and IS departments. I might be able to convince Mrs. Tauryn and Mr. Cyceus to hire internally rather than externally.”

Majestor’s expression curdled to one of doubt. “I don’t think I have the professional qualifications to work Information Sorcery.”    

Avery patted the air. “IS really isn’t as complicated as you might think, Mr. Torro. While you may no longer have your connection to your ancestral war ax, you still have an intimate and natural understanding of how it works, which is more than most IS freshmen can claim.”

Majestor pondered the possibilities. “Mind sending me more information?”

Genuine smile. “Already digitized on your company scroll.”

The minotaur brushed his fingers over his infinity clip, conjuring up his glamour of vitality once more. “Thank you. You’ve got my deepest gratitude. Are we all done here?”  

“Yes, I do believe we are. Thank you for your time. And for sharing.”

Majestor stood, reached across the marble table for an appreciative handshake, turned to go.

“I know of an ethical soulringer who might be able to help you.”

He stopped, turned back around and shook his head. “I truly appreciate it, but…that’s okay. In a way, I feel like I’ve already healed. I’m slowly learning how to wrestle my curse into a blessing.”   

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