It was going to be a tight run thing. Every year they went up and this year's were especially demanding. The highest ever.
Haider was taking a break, he was exhausted, he had just worked twenty hours non stop and been on double shift for the past few weeks. Half dozing he slouched in the far corner of the rest area deep inside the administration bunker, barely noticing the grimy walls, the broken lights and the tatty furniture.
“Not after it this year,” said a dismembered voice.
Haider yawned and squinted. It was Qadeer his boss. It would have to be Qadeer.
“Won't get it this way,” said Qadeer, who was standing over him now and poking his long shrivelled finger in Haider's ribs. Qadeer could be such an annoying fool; he just loved the power of mediocrity.
Haider groaned. “Just need to relax a bit. Have a break.”
“It's your fault the targets so high. All those you pulled in last year. So you've got to get it for us this year. Haven't you.” Qadeer prodded him again. “Haven't you. That all time record. Your dam fault.”
It was more peaceful back at his puny desk searching the database than here. Haider struggled up and trudged back to the work area.
“I want that bonus,” Qadeer shouted after him, “and your the one to get it for me. Think what I can do with the money... what we can do... we can do.”
Back at his desk Haider tried to work. It was a thankless task scanning the database looking for subversives. Checking through the records recording peoples purchases, conversations, meetings. Looking through tedious details of peoples lives for those tell tail signs of anti-corporate thinking. Subversives were subtle, and no computer was efficient enough to detect their devious ways. Much better, and cheaper, to get some menial no hoper to perform the task. And that was Haider: a menial no hoper. All he had to do was find the target number of subversives; each day, every day. But he had searched most of these records before and flagged them clean.
There were only hours to go now, a few hours until the end of the financial year; until that total of totals had to be reached. And they could all relax; for a few weeks at least; until the new target was announced. Haider always had his emergency subversive: Urwa. Could he; should he? He had known Urwa from his school days and Urwa was not really a subversive, not a proper subversive; just a loud mouth, a bit of a lad, indiscreet. He had always liked Urwa; in a distant, don't want to get involved, sort of way. But targets were targets and needs must. So with great reluctance he searched out Urwa's records in the database. Just a few edits here and Urwa was no longer his gobby mate; he was a terrorist. One more towards his target.
Then Haider noticed something. One more tiny, almost insignificant, edit and Urwa's new mates were all subversives, terrorists. That was it, he had found a cell. A cell large enough to tip them over the target. The bonus would be theirs. Could he press the button? Could he flag Urwa? In the past he had always drawn back at this stage; at least with those he had liked.
Haider sat back and watched the other menials. All his other colleagues were hard at work scouring the database; record after record; miserable and eager for their individual targets. On the large display monitor over the work area the target ticked up slowly, hopelessly. Haider looked at what he could see of their earnest faces; concentration and trepidation.
“Look,” someone shouted, “it's there.”
A cheer went up throughout the room. Everyone forgot their screens, their work, their hunt, that final lone subversive. Suddenly everyone was around Haider cheering him, thumping him on the back, smiling, yelling.
Haider tried to join in, not knowing if he could ever live with himself again. Knowing that he would never see Urwa again, never hear another of his pathetic know it all jokes. Urwa would just disappear, like the rest, along with his boozy terrorist cell. Not even a smudge in the database. A never have been.
The tannoy over the administration area crackled into life.
“We have reached out target.” It was Qadeer's miserable voice; it would be. As always he stated the obvious. “Thanks to Haider, he did it last year, and has done it again. I knew he would.”
A loud cheer went up. Everyone looked at Haider and smiled with relief.
“And now I can announce the bonus. Where is it...”
The room was hushed; this was the important bit; it was also an indication of what the next year of their lives would be like.
“... yes, here it is.... it is... ten million dollars. Ten million dollars each, how about that.”
And the room exploded. Everyone seemed to be hugging Haider and cheering excitedly.
Haider tried to join in. Ten million dollars, he thought, in the old days that might be worth something; today, with inflation, that would just about buy a pint of beer. And next years target would be astronomical; Haider was running out of acquaintances, next year he might have to start on his friends.