by Jake Christie

BUREAUCRASEA.
a story.

At first nobody was really worried, because Atlantis sprang leaks all the time. There wasn't a week that went by without some outdated piece of transparalloy wall, some rogue storm, or some unusually high-velocity fish creating a tiny leak in the outermost layer of the underwater metropolis. Leaks were park of life under the sea, just as weather was part of life above. So when this certain leak started, nobody batted an eye.

The technician who first spotted the leak filled out the requisite green repair form and filed it with the Maintenance Department. A clerk reviewed the form and filed it in the proper pile so that a repair could be scheduled. The leak leaked.

Days later, after all the other leaks in the queue had been repaired, a city repairman made his way to this certain leak. There was a little more than a foot of water on the floor of the chamber when he got there, and wading through it made the repairman angry. The repairman happened to be quite hungover, and pretty much every inconvenience was bound to make him angry – chief among them his boss' insistence that he come way out here to repair a leak on the very edge of his district. He would have done almost anything to avoid repairing the leak, and it only took him a few seconds of inspection to find a suitable excuse. He sloshed out of the chamber and sealed it behind him.

Even more days later, the technician who first spotted the leak received a citation in the mail from the Maintenance Department. He read it quickly, then immediately read it again. His face changed colors. He marched straight to the Department's main office and stomped up to the clerk. The leak, meanwhile, leaked.

“False report?” said the technician.

The clerk had been clearing his desk, preparing to go home for the evening. Business hours were just minutes from being over. “Excuse me?” he said.

“I just received this citation for filing a false report,” the technician said. He waved the page under the clerk's nose.

The clerk sighed, tried to smile, and failed. “And are you here to pay the fine?”

“I'm not paying any fine,” said the technician. He stopped shaking the page, but continued to hold it between him and the clerk, like it was caught on something in the air. “I didn't file a false report. I'm not having this on my record. I have a performance review coming up.”

The clerk plucked the page from the technicians fingers and scanned it, glancing at the clock between each paragraph. “According to this, the repairman went to repair the leak and found it was a different size than you stated in the report you filed. He found a crack two-point-five inches long, and in your repair form you stated the crack was only one-point-eight inches long.”

“Yes, but--”

The clerk tapped a few numbers into his computer and brought up a duplicate of the repair form the technician had filed. He turned the screen so the technician could see. “He's right,” said the clerk. “The green form doesn't match.”

“The leak got bigger,” said the technician, “because it's been leaking for a week. That's why it needed to be repaired immediately.”

“Emergency repairs need to be reported with the red form,” said the clerk, implying with his emphasis that even Atlantean children could tell the difference between a green form and a red form. “The green form and the repair invoice have to match.” He tapped his keyboard again and looked up at the technician. “The fine for a false report is one hundred pearleans.”

“For a first offense?” asked the technician in disbelief.

“We like to discourage this sort of thing,” said the clerk.

The technician shook his head. “No, I'm not paying that fine and I'm not having this on my record. How do I dispute this?”

“If you really want to,” said the clerk, “you'll have to request a hearing.” He reached for his desk drawer then stopped and said, dramatically, “That can tie this up for weeks.”

“I don't care how long it takes,” said the technician. “I'm not going to let my whole life be destroyed because I filled out the wrong form.”

“Okay,” said the clerk, “if you say so.” He found the hearing request form. The leak leaked faster.


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