This is an entry for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge this week. The theme is ‘An Uncharted Apocalypse’.
Tatiana was stretching her wings when the door to her office was flung open. A male fairy hurried in and slammed the door behind him.
“Oberon,” Tatiana said. “What’s wrong?”
“We have a problem.”
“A problem? What kind of problem?” Tatiana looked towards her desk. Both her in-trays were piled high. The one on the left was overflowing with harvest reports, payment requests and expense accounts. The right tray was less full, but the research papers and future modelling diagrams would take hours to read. She didn’t have time for problems.
“They’re on strike,” Oberon said.
“What?” Tatiana’s gaze shot back to the other fairy, paperwork forgotten for the moment.
Oberon licked his lips. “They’re on strike.”
“Everyone,” Oberon said.
Tatiana’s eyes widened. “Conversion?” she asked.
Again, Oberon nodded.
Tatiana’s shoulders slumped. “Collections?”
Oberon nodded. “Collections, Research, Conversion, even FR. Everyone.”
“Fairy Resources, too?” Tatiana’s shoulders slumped further. She’d heard rumblings through the grapevine that the staff of Tooth Inc were unhappy, but this was unthinkable. Tooth Fairies didn’t go on strike, they just did their jobs. “Why?” she asked.
Oberon shrugged. “Pay. Conditions. The usual.” He shook his head in dismay. “What are we going to do, Tatty?”
Tatiana’s temper flared. “Fire them,” she said.
“Tatty,” Oberon said, stepping towards her with his hands outstretched. “We can’t fire them. We need them.”
She shook her head. “No, we don’t. We’ll go back to the way things used to be. You and me. Maybe Magnus and Alberich will come back. It’ll be just like old times.”
Oberon put his hand on her shoulder, but didn’t say anything. It was a sentiment he’d heard from her many times.
Tatiana turned her back when she saw the sympathy on his face. She’d never wanted the CEO position. She was a field agent back when being a Tooth Fairy meant something. Back when Tooth Fairies wore the badge with pride. They’d harvested teeth by day and soaked up the adulation by night, never having to pay for their cups of hot clover. Now she sat behind a desk, day after day, and Tooth Fairies barely earned minimum wage.
Oberon said, “Maybe a small payrise would help.”
“There’s no money,” she said, turning to face him again.
To Oberon’s credit, he didn’t question the truth of her statement. He just asked, “Why not?”
Tatiana looked back over at the heaped paperwork on her desk. “Expenses. Wages. Everything.”
She sighed and ticked off the points on her fingers as she said, “We’re understaffed in every department. The Converter Bins are full, and Conversion need at least another seven bins to keep up with supply. We’ve had to hire more fairies for the Teleport Circles. R&D are understaffed, and can’t develop better solutions. And every day, we need more collectors.
“Plus, the price of teeth just keeps going up.” She laughed sadly. “Remember when we could buy a tooth for a coin or two? Sometimes the humans were happy for us just to take them, no payment required. But now…” She shook her head.
Oberon nodded. “So we cut back a bit,” he said. “Maybe we could withdraw from Europe. Or South America.”
“No,” Tatiana said. “We need—”
The door was flung open a second time, and a short, black-winged fairy wearing heavy boots and a surly expression stomped into the office.
“Aubrey?” Tatiana said in surprise. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in engineering?”
“What the fuck is going on?” Aubrey demanded, leaving the door hanging open behind him. “Why aren’t the Circles working?”
Tatiana held up a hand in a conciliatory gesture. “It’s okay, Aubrey. The fairies are on strike. We’re working it out.”
“On strike?” He was furious. “What the fuck do you mean ‘on strike’? Tooth Fairies don’t go on strike, they do their fucking jobs!”
“I know, Aubrey,” Tatiana said.
Aubrey wagged his finger in Tatiana’s face. “You can’t stop the Circles, strike or no fucking strike. It’s too dangerous.”
Oberon stepped forward, trying to put himself between Aubrey and Tatiana. “We’ve got it under control,” he said.
“Huh! I’ll believe that when I see it.” Aubrey waved a dismissive hand at Oberon and then looked back at Tatiana. “I warned you, Tatty. I told you the Circles were a bad idea. ‘Build more Converter Bins,’ I said. ‘The humans will need more oil,’ I said. But no. Instead, you set up Circles to teleport teeth into the fucking sun. And now we’ve got global warming and enough PE sitting in crates to cause a major fucking incident.”
“PE?” Oberon repeated quietly, shooting Tatiana a questioning look.
“Potential Energy,” she whispered.
Aubrey was still talking. “There’s over eighty teeth a second being harvested, and those teeth need to be processed. Do you know how much PE there is in an hour’s worth of teeth?” He paused, giving her a chance to answer. When she didn’t, he finished, “A fucking lot.”
Oberon spoke up. “We’re doing the best we can. Besides, there’s no danger. The Collectors are on strike, too.”
“The Collectors…” Aubrey repeated, his eyes wide. “Then who’s harvesting the teeth?”
“No one,” Tatiana said. “But as soon as we figure out—”
Aubrey interrupted in an explosion of rage. “No one’s harvesting? Are you fucking insane? Leaving PE in the human world is even worse! Do you have any fucking idea what happens if you have two pools of unstable PE separated by the veil?”
Tatiana shook her head.
“Kaboom! Both worlds. Fucking gone.”
Tatiana’s eyes widened in horror.
“How long do we have?” Oberon asked.
Aubrey did some calculations, the fingers of his right hand running over those of his left as he thought. “An hour.” he said. “If that. Now get those Collectors harvesting. Lie to them if you have to. And get the fucking Circles working.”
Tatiana nodded, feeling better now they had a plan. “How long since the strike started?”
Oberon looked at his watch. “About fifty—”