Getting Ahead by David Henson

Shirley wants John to kick a bad habit, but his boss has other ideas, in David Henson's sci-fi flash.

I don't feel a thing after two... or four. No new ideas. Still got the shakes. Just as I'm shoving a handful into my mouth, Shirley walks into the bathroom.

"John, what are you doing? I thought you were trying to get off of it?"

"Can't," I say, shivering. "Besides, this global product launch Tweed gave me is so complicated I couldn't do it without 'Q." My hands trembling, I gulp a glass of water to wash down the pills.

"Tweed's a freak. I don't know how you can even stand the sight of him." Shirley looks at my eyes. "My God, how many have you had?" She takes my face in her hands. "Honey, I kicked it. You can, too. I'll get you through it." She dabs my forehead with a damp washcloth. I flash back to the long days and nights when it seemed like I was holding an ice pack to her one moment and a heat pad the next. When she would recite long differential equations in her sleep... then wake up screaming because she could no longer solve them.

"Yeah, and you lost your job to that asshole, Oester. You know what's going to happen if we lose mine."

"Let the bank take the house. We can move into a smaller place, find jobs where we don't need 'Q. Remember how it was when we first got married?" She gives me butterfly kisses with her eyelashes like years ago. "Remember we never had enough hot water so we'd shower together?"

Between all the 'Q and Shirley I'm feeling better. I start kissing her neck. Then all these great ideas about the product launch start popping into my mind, and I pull back. "Gotta run."

"Is he in yet?" I say to Michels in the next cubicle. His eyes are red, and he's twitchy and so skinny he seems lost in his clothes.

"You kidding? I was here before dawn and heard him in there barking orders to Tokyo." Michels starts shaking. He opens a desk drawer, removes a pre-loaded syringe and stabs his forearm. Then he injects a second. Then a third.

"Careful... Does Ginny know you're hypoing now?"

"Who do you think got me these? At least I'm not freaking like Tweed." He lowers his voice and nods toward Sally Jensen. "She'd steal this position out from under me in a minute." Michels looks at his screen. I can tell his 'Q is kicking in. "Of course. So simple... Excuse me, Philips, I've got to work on this before I crash."

Tweed yells for me. I take a deep breath and head for his office.

"Philips, do you have that product launch strategy yet?" I keep my eyes lowered so I can't see him. I hear a frenzy of clacking. Sounds like he's typing on two keyboards at once as he talks to me.

"Coming along, sir. It's complicated. Customer surveys are all over the place. I don't have the logistics plan from Michels yet. And -"

"I want solutions, Philips, not problems. Speaking of Michels, he's on injections now. He's a good man. Are you a good man, Philips?"

"I... I'm... The pills seem to be all I need."

"A matter of opinion, Philips. Look at me."

I do as he asks and try not to stare at the large pulsing mass grafted onto the side of his head. It's a highly experimental procedure. The mass, encased in a shiny, pinkish membrane, is part human brain matter and part quantum-infused MushPaque. Super intelligence with no pills, no injections - and no addiction.

"Philips, you have potential, but you have to keep improving yourself to get ahead... hell, to just survive. Forget about injections. Leapfrog. Get out of your comfort zone. I could arrange a company subsidy for you to get one of these." Just as he points toward the mass, a glob oozes from it and is absorbed into the membrane.

"I, uh, don't think my wife would prefer... No thanks. I know I can do the job with just IQ pills." Even as I speak, I begin to sweat. Starting to crash. Already getting confused about the great ideas I had earlier this morning.

Tweed shakes his head, the mass quivering like jello. "Don't say I didn't warn you." He turns away from me. "I want that strategy before lunch. And don't tell me it's complicated. You're paid for complicated."

I hurry back to my desk and am about to shove a handful of 'Qs into my mouth when suddenly there's a commotion from Michel's cubicle. I look over and see him on his back, frothing at the mouth and seizing.

After a moment, Tweed emerges from his office. "What's going on?" Seeing Michels, Tweed sighs. "OK, people, back to work. I'll notify Security to get him out of here. Philips, you've got both projects now. And I want you to start training Jensen."

Shivering and starting to ache all over, I look at Tweed, then at Michels. Honey, I kicked it. You can, too. I'll get you through it. I open my hand, and the pills clatter on the floor. Sally Jensen drops to her knees and scoops them up...

As I'm walking out, Tweed yells something about the product launch and a promotion. I ignore him. This isn't so complicated after all.


  1. An insightful, tough story threaded through with a thin skein of hope. Many thanks,

  2. Nicely done. I was reeled in from the start and, as Ceinwein suggests, found the that thread of hope hard to let go.


  3. clever story, Philips needed to see how bad things can get before realising he had a way out.
    Mike McC

  4. Clever title, nicely understated harsh environment and appropriate escape at the end. Well done. Thanks.

  5. Gosh, if I were ever so inclined, this story would scare me clean off ever trying drugs! Held my breath until Philips saw where he was headed. A clever expose of the dangers of addiction.

  6. This story really pulled me in. Didn't let go until the very end. Very visual. A good read.

  7. Frightening apocalyptic vision of the future. Enjoyed this story.