[footwear company name redacted] by Benjamin Gibbons

I work for a boutique footwear corporation that specializes in steel-toed leather boots that tend to rip. Our customers don’t mind the ripping. They pay a lot of money to wear our boots, even though living costs are high. Our customers appreciate that quality derives not from durability, but from the testimonials of notable, high-impact creators that we hire to advertise our product. To accommodate customers’ financial needs, we offer a generous installment plan for our boots. The customer provides a small down payment, and agrees to pay the rest over a set period of time. Embedded within the twenty-page contract that we have them sign is a clause that highlights the penalty for nonpayment. That’s where I come in.

It’s not that I dislike being a Reacquisition Coordinator, but I seek out opportunities for advancement whenever I can. I attend seminars and workshops. I hone my appreciation for diverse backgrounds. I recognize and respect that not everyone went to a college that appears on the US News rankings. I work from home a few days out of the week, and between our two incomes, my partner Erdwina and I are able to rent a small, mostly intact house in a neighborhood where shootings and stabbings are only semi-regular. It’s ok that some people live in neighborhoods where shootings and stabbings are fully regular.

It’s mid-morning, and I’m in my home office in front of my standing desk; working upright promotes mental wellness and relieves muscle tension. My company-issued laptop informs me that I’ve been assigned a new case. It’s a woman in her early 30s who was recently laid off, and hasn’t been able to meet her last three boot payments. Even worse, she’s failed to respond to friendly notices from our Pre-Reacquisition team. Her Nonpayment Clause is active as of today. I compose a message to my Reacquisition Specialist, whose codename is Jess. She’s like a hit man. Hit woman. Hit person. Jess doesn’t actually kill people, but she does ruthlessly hunt them down, repossess their boots—by force, if necessary—and confiscate collateral items. Our company workshopped the Reacquisition process extensively, and determined that it imparts lasting lessons about money management. The process is also sensitive; market research indicates that most of our boots are bought by women, so, to maximize customer comfort, we make sure that most of our Reacquisition Specialists are women. GirlBoss magazine awarded us five uteruses out of five.

Jess gets back to me within minutes: “I’m on it.” I’ve never met Jess offline, but I get the sense that she enjoys her job. She might be an ex-convict. Ex-incarcerated person. Jess messages me again: “Staking out the case.” I navigate to my dashboard and open the FriendInTheSkyTM App, which displays a live video feed from Bryce, our Reacquisition Liaison. Bryce is a drone disguised as a crow; he circles over Jess’s head while she’s working, beaming footage back to me so that I can take progress notes. I use a rubric to grade Jess’s reacquisitions on parameters like empathy, firmness, timeliness, inconspicuousness, success, and impartment of wisdom. Our company values rubrics when the time comes for raises and cuts, and I value rubrics because they allow me to demonstrate my discerning eye. On my laptop screen I see Jess, clad in black yoga pants and a tank top mottled with shades of dark and light gray, crouching behind a bush outside of a four-story apartment building situated on the corner of a block. It looks like a neighborhood where shootings and stabbings are only semi-regular. The red brick apartment building isn’t fancy, not like one of those elegant high-rises clad in tri-colored siding meant to mimic wood, stone, and storage container. I aspire to live in one of those high-rises, where lobby cappuccinos flow freely and young professionals network by the glow of crackling firepits, which is why I attend seminars and workshops.

The scene is shot from above, and blurry green smudges obstruct my view. Bryce must be perched in a tree. Using the FriendInTheSkyTM app, I type a command for Bryce to move away from the leaves. His tinny affirmative caw rings through my speakers. Another message from Jess: “Car is gone. Will wait until back.” Our Pre-Reacquisition team has provided us with key information about the case: license number, address, phone and internet records, bank activity, blood type—the basics. They don’t tell me how they find that information. I like to believe that our company is owned by an entity that also owns several of the major communications, healthcare, and financial companies. Synergy functions best when services are concentrated.

It’s early afternoon, and Jess is still waiting for the case to return; the case’s credit card activity tells us that she’s gone for groceries and coffee. I’ve been prepping for Pre-Reacquisition cases that might enter my queue, which is the type of initiative that will lead to professional advancement. Bryce’s video feed, minimized and floating in the corner of my laptop screen, has grown progressively shakier. Bryce’s restlessness algorithm must be kicking in. The restlessness algorithm, developed by a startup called PanOpticon, ensures that Reacquisition Coordinators don’t wander from their laptops while working remotely. Without my intervention, Bryce will soon emit piercing squawks and flail his mechanical wings until he overheats and explodes, which will trigger a notification to my supervisor. I type a calming command. Bryce warbles and beeps softly, and the feed steadies. Jess sends me a message: “This chick shouldn’t be buying food and coffee if she can’t afford boots.” I agree that the case should work toward being a more responsible consumer.

I take a short break to refuel with leftover pasta in the kitchen downstairs. Erdwina, who also works from home, tells me about her day. “...and then I had to literally teach this 40 year-old Italian man how to write a check. I think he’s probably wine drunk again.” Erdwina is a Support Coordinator for a local university; she focuses on pre-contracts, which are contracts that need to be signed in order for contracts to be signed. She’s talking about Mario, a hotshot Sicilian researcher who hides booze in his office and drowns Erdwina in torrents of emails requesting a contract for a contract for an unapproved mini fridge purchase. I suggest to Erdwina that she should use this challenge as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. A message from Jess pops up on my phone: “Case is back.” Implementing a strategy I learned from my reciprocal interaction workshop, I give Erdwina positive reinforcement in the form of a kiss on her forehead.

When I run upstairs to my laptop, I see that Bryce has left his tree branch and is slowly circling above the case’s apartment building. Below, Jess rises from her crouch and walks casually to the building’s front door. While Jess picks the lock, Bryce switches his video display to the Sneaky-Pete setting, made possible by his built-in ThroughWall device, which was developed by a multinational military contractor that collaborates with our company. In return, we provide their mercenaries with discounted boots. The Sneaky-Pete setting renders the inside of the building on a line grid that approximates three dimensions. The outside world is erased; the apartment building floats, white and skeletal, in an endless, blue-black void. On my laptop screen, the infrared outline of Jess’s figure stalks down the front hallway toward the digital approximation of the staircase. Smart of her to avoid the elevator. I open my notes tablet and type, “Avoided elevator—good inconspicuousness.” I admire Jess as a strong female role model for young girls who aspire to be Reacquisition Specialists.

Jess’s heat blob slinks down the second floor hallway, which appears on my screen as a horizontal ladder. Up and down the hallway, little humanoid splotches of magma live their lives behind toothpick lattice doors; pacing, having sex, sitting with heads in hands. We call these people NPCs—non-player characters. Our company’s Chief Reacqusition Officer likes to unwind with video games after a hard day spent brainstorming. Our Law Interpretation and Circumnavigation team assures us that the Sneaky-Pete setting is ethical and legal as long as we watch NPCs passively, not actively.

The case’s studio apartment is located at the opposite end of the hallway from the stairs. The case’s shape sits at what appears to be a small table, raising and lowering her hand to and from her head. She’s drinking the unwise coffee; its heat profile glows bright red. Jess has herself mic’d up, and her steady breathing sighs through my laptop speakers. The audio runs both ways, but I’m not permitted to talk; our company likes Reacquisition Coordinators to sit at a remove from Reacquisition Specialists. Because I’m grading Jess’s performance, my direct help would constitute a conflict of interest. All audio is recorded and analyzed by our Quality Control team. Jess poises herself in front of the case’s door. I plug my headphones in. I don’t want Erdwina to overhear and be startled.

Jess’s heat blob lashes out—a kick—and a crash thunders through my headphones. Jess has completed the door detachment procedure. The case’s heat blob leaps; Jess’s mic picks up her scream. While the case bobs frantically around the little room, Jess, calmly but forcefully, says, “Hello, [case name redacted]. I hope you are having a pleasant day. I’m Jess, a Reacquisition Specialist with [footwear company name redacted]. We’ve noticed that you have missed your last three boot installments, and have not responded to our cordial requests for payment.” The case cowers in a far corner of the room, sobbing.

Jess continues, “You are now officially in violation of your contract. Section Thirty-Four, Clause Three, Lines forty-five to forty-seven , found seventy-five percent of the way through the document—a copy of which was provided to you—outlines the penalty for nonpayment. I am here to reacquire your boot purchase, which I can see is currently located on your feet.” The tone of Jess’s voice indicates firmness, with bonus points for crossing into assertiveness. “I know that this may come as a shock to you, and I understand how you are feeling, but you did agree to this when you signed your contract.” Good empathy.

The case, still cowering, gasps, “Why are you doing this? Are you going to hurt me?” Jess responds, “I am simply carrying out the terms of the contract that you signed. If you could please remove your purchase from your feet and hand it over to me, I will not have to hurt you. I do not take pleasure in hurting people.” Jess might take pleasure in hurting people. The words for empathy are there, but the feeling isn’t as warm as it could be. I heard about a Reacquisition Specialist who read a bedtime story to a case’s toddler after she knocked the case unconscious. That Reacquisition Specialist won Reacquisition Specialist Of The Quarter. “Threats could be more empathetic,” I type on my tablet.

While Jess imparts financial wisdom to the panicking case—“You really shouldn’t buy things that you can’t afford, like boots and expensive coffee beverages. Breaking a contract is like breaking a promise, and that’s not very nice to us here at [footwear company name redacted]”—my cat swaggers into my home office and hops up on my lap, purring. I give her some absentminded pets. “Let me keep them,” pleads the case; “[Footwear company brand ambassador name redacted] has these same ones.”

Jess, huffing in frustration, and worried about her timeliness grade, steps around the table, grabs the case by the ankle, and drags her toward the kitchenette. Jess uses utensils to facilitate some of her tougher reacquisitions. She’s very creative. My cat rasps her tongue on my elbow. Then, in a flurry of infrared movement difficult to make out on Bryce’s Sneaky-Pete display, the case kicks a free leg out at Jess’s shin, causing Jess to grunt, release the case’s ankle, and grab the table for balance. Our steel-toed boots facilitate effective kicks, according to surveys completed by the multinational military contractor’s mercenaries.

As the case scrambles to her feet, her limb flashes out. There are amoebas that sprout arms when stressed, and that’s what her motion looks like when translated to blob format. The case’s limb pauses by the coffee’s heat splotch. The cat tongue rasps. Then, with a flick of the case’s tendril, the coffee splotch elongates and melds into the upper reaches of Jess’s blob. A shriek of agony, accompanied by a muffled sizzle that sounds like bacon being fried under a blanket, rips through my headphones. I jump, and my startled cat flies from my lap. Jess’s blob sinks to the fishbone floor, and the case’s blob zooms through the empty doorframe and into the hallway.

I should be worried about Jess, who likely has third degree burns on her head and face—and I am—but our company doesn’t pay me to worry about Reacquisition Specialists. Our company pays me to oversee Reacquisition Specialists with a discerning eye. The reacquisition itself is Jess’s purview, and she’s aware that the process is not nonrisk. I want to be lenient with my scoring, but I have to avoid the appearance of bias for my weekly rubric audit, so I type, “Tried to impart wisdom, but got face melted by hot coffee. Wisdom not imparted.” I use mindfulness to calm myself down, a strategy I learned in my crisis management seminar. I open myself up to Jess’s sputtering and groaning, allowing the sounds and the emotions that they engender to float through my brain without judgment.

The case’s blob is in the elevator. The type of person who buys unwise coffee and takes the elevator one floor down is the type of person who should be receptive to our process. Jess’s blob has staggered to its feet and started to lope down the hallway toward the staircase. Jess lets out a ragged string of curses. She nears the bottom of the stairs as the elevator stops on ground level a few dozen feet away, which registers as inches on my laptop screen.

Jess and the case cross their respective thresholds at the same time. “You’re fucking dead!” shouts Jess, pursuing the case, who has a head start to the apartment building’s front door. Jess’s empathy grade has slipped. As the case nears the yawning, monochromatic maw of the outside world, I type a command for Bryce to revert back to his normal camera display. He squawks. In brilliant color, a shock after the spare “Sneaky-Pete” screen, the case bursts through the front door. Jess follows a second later. I’m worried about what Jess will do, in broad daylight, once she catches up. It’s hard to tell from Bryce’s height, but Jess’s face looks misshapen. Her right eyelid seems to have fused with her cheek. I jot down, “Right eyelid possibly fused with cheek.” I’ll need to do a debrief with our company’s Law Interpretation and Circumnavigation team. I admire Jess even more now that she’s differently-abled.

Jess bravely pursues the case down the apartment building’s front walkway, past shabbily manicured hedges and signs advertising not-cheap rent within. The case’s car is parked across the street. She could have sold it if she wanted to keep the boots. From above, I see a speeding Tesla blow through the stop sign at the corner next to the building and wheel around the bend. I briefly consider violating our no-contact policy, but, with rubric audit in mind, remain silent. As Jess catches up to the case in the middle of the street, I restrain myself from typing a command for Bryce to kill the feed; I will use mindfulness and continue watching for the sake of the debrief. The case did violate her contract, after all. And Jess knows about the not-nonrisk nature of reacquisition. Jess’s mic picks up the tire screech and the crunch before cutting out. If only the case had chosen to live in a neighborhood where shootings and stabbings are fully regular; the Tesla would have been a hooptie with a lawnmower engine that announced its presence from blocks away. I type, “Case terminated. Reacquisition Specialist terminated.” Bryce settles on the same branch as before; he’ll record the aftermath for the Law Interpretation and Circumnavigation team debrief. Silently, the Prius driver, a white man in a pink shirt and tight shorts, sits on the ground, rocking back and forth and clutching his head. A phone glints next to him. I prompt Bryce to zoom in on the case’s feet, splayed at the ends of legs Jackson Pollocked on the pavement. Despite the tendency of our company’s boots to rip, hers—ours, now, legally—are in decent shape. My dashboard alerts me that there’s another Reacquisition Specialist in the area. I take a deep breath and remember my Termination Contingency seminar. I feel like I should cry, but our company doesn’t pay me to do that.