Fried brains and Sam:

Natural disasters are anything but entertaining, from my point of view. I end up with a week’s worth of congestion and am always forced to work overtime without pay. I tried to complain last time 10,000 people popped onto the conveyor belt without a moment’s warning and I was forced to work two double shifts in a row, but nobody listened. Actually they had the gall to accuse me of being insensitive! I called my foreman asking if there was any way I could get the night off so I could rest. He gave me a 30 cent pay cut, stating on my bicentennial review that I had “little empathy for the poor souls who perish en masse in the most obscene of circumstances.”

I think God hates me. Honestly I do. I’m not convinced these disasters even need to happen, but considering they do, I don’t see why I have to pick up the slack for “their Holiness’s” decisions. When I got this job I was told it was an honor to work in the “Final Judgment Sector” — that I played an important role in determining how people would spend eternity, but honestly I always feel under qualified, underappreciated and overwhelmed.

For instance, one thing they never trained me for was what to do when I come across someone who doesn’t speak my language. This came up several times following the recent meteor strike that clobbered some medium-sized North American city.

“Kid, it’s all gibberish to me okay,” I grunted, trying to decipher his transcript. “What language is this kiddo? French? Spanish?”

He babbled some more, flailing his arms about, becoming increasingly upset.

This type of problem has become commonplace during disasters for two reasons. Reason number one — globalization. In the old days when I started working here, we were all given a dedicated region of the world to deal with. Ninety-nine per cent of the time there were very few problems, as most people in a given region spoke the same language.

Nowadays it’s a clusterfuck because we don’t have a clue what languages are being spoken where anymore. It’s just some bizarre tossed salad of human communication. There’ll always be some tourist or newly-immigrated family that dies and doesn’t have an idea what I’m asking them. Sometimes I can call for assistance, but during a major disaster everyone is so backed up that I’m asked to make the best assessment I can.

Reason number two — population. There are like nine billion of these fuckers now and they just keep reproducing. This means if a big wave knocks out some major city, or some ass drops a nuke, we can have millions of deaths at more or less the same time. None of us can handle that kind of death toll all at once, so the system starts to redirect people in every direction and suddenly I have a full day’s worth of Chinese people to deal with whom I know nothing about. I mean, I’m sure they’re as good as any other people, I just don’t know anything about them.

I had already called up my communication directory specialist, Tiddo, less than five minutes earlier, when I tried to deal with who I assumed to be the boy’s mother. He told me that no translators were available and that I’d have to wait. Tiddo is a good guy, but his hands were tied.

Of course if I waited, I’d be accused of laziness because my numbers were down. So normally I just ask the questions I’m required to ask and give them a 3/5. It maybe unfair, but at least I give them the benefit of the doubt. I could give them a 2.5, since that’s the average, but I feel bad about the injustice I’m forced to be a part of. Yet if I was to give any of them a three, and they turn out to be some great sinner of biblical proportions . . . We’ll I don’t know what would happen to me, but I’m sure it would be worse than working here. Three out of five lets them live comfortably, without any risk of getting me audited.

The boy became hysterical.

“I don’t know what you’re going on about, so if you hold tight and just let me go through the required steps I can send you on your way, okay?”

Suddenly the line exploded with even more people. The light over the boy’s head dimmed slightly, causing his life force to pause momentarily, then sprung back to life with all the grotesqueries of watching someone fry in an electric chair. The system was struggling.

“Any final thoughts, before we make you a spirit-in-the-sky?” I chuckled to myself, but felt bad for doing so.

He muddled something that sounded like he was speaking in tongues. I sure hope these people aren’t into black magic or something.

“Okay kiddo, I’ll take you to your mother.”

I pressed the big red button, and his light went out. He fell limp in the chair. He was so small, and looked like a happy kid. You can kind of tell if a kid caused a lot of trouble or not by how much youth they appeared to have relative to their actual age. Another lost innocence, and the blood for this one was on God’s hands yet again. I usually like to give kids at least a four unless they killed another kid, but I’d already given who I presume to be his mother, a three. At that age, the kid could use his mother, even in heaven.

I hope that was his mother.

The chains rattled and moaned, causing the conveyor belt to pull another departed soul before me for final inspection. It was another young homely woman whom looked as though she could have been the boy’s mother.

She got a three as well. I think I’m going to have to invest some translation dictionaries.

I hope at least one of them was his mother.