"I don't mean to complain. It's just that I expected government work to be a bit more ... relaxed."
"A common misconception," said Mr. Theus severely. "But this is what DPIT is all about. A full and committed effort is expected and required. 'Over and above!' That's our motto. It epitomizes DPIT."
Over and above? Seemed redundant and silly to me. By George, it did epitomize DPIT.
"But this boulder-pushing stuff," I began experimentally. "Could we discuss that a little?"
"I believe we've already exhausted that subject," growled Mr. Theus, eying me with heavy jowls.
"Um, not exactly, sir," I blundered on. "I think I'm the only subject that's been exhausted. It's just that the boulder pushing started out as a quarterly activity."
"And so it still is," Mr. Theus cut in.
"In a manner of speaking," I admitted, "but when you add the three re-rolling climbs with each quarterly push, that actually quadruples the work load."
"That's Danae's call," waved Mr. Theus dismissively. "You know that, Sisyphus. She's the program specialist."
Ah, yes. Danae. She was one of the Danaides, the 50 women who were tasked by their father with murdering their husbands. All but one of them followed through. Danae was not that one.
"I know," I replied. "Olympian drachmas. The agency runs on Olympian drachmas, and the Olympians want to see more boulder-pushing."
"Very good," crooned Mr. Theus. "So, what's the problem? Still pissed that the boulder always rolls back down to the foot of the mountain, just before you reach the peak?"
"No, I'm used to that," I said. "I just want a little help. I thought you were going to recruit a couple more PIT Specialists. I've been working at the Department of Punitive Impossible Tasks for some three years now, and you haven't kept any of the promises you made when I hired on."
"I have advertised," said Mr. Theus apologetically, "but PITS are hard to find. Look, here's the announcement ..."
He handed me the printed paper. I read:
Title: Punitive Impossible Task Specialist III - IV
Job Description: Perform tedious, interminable, and/or excruciatingly painful labors for long hours and low pay. Subject to intense divine scrutiny. No benefits. Many and horrific malefits.
"Get many applicants?" I asked.
"One," he shrugged. "Actaeon."
"Oh, is that the guy who gets torn to pieces every day by his own hunting dogs because he accidentally saw Artemis naked? He's just a couple of cubes down from me. I hear him screaming all the time. Sometimes, I get splattered a bit. Why is he interested?"
"Well, he's only a PITS III," said Mr. Theus. "It could be a promotion for him."
"Fine," I said. "Send him on over."
"Couldn't possibly," said Mr. Theus sadly. "Can't spare him from his current duties."
"Then could you at least move him out of earshot?" I begged.
"Sorry," he replied. "Space is limited."
Limited, my ass. They have plenty of space to send me up steep inclines with bloody great boulders for no apparent reason.
"Ok," I capitulated. "How about finding me some help here, then? What about Tantalus?"
"Oh, no!" cried Mr. Theus quickly. "No can do! Tantalus is off limits. He's up to his neck in the Receding Water Interface."
I was puzzled. "How is that an 'interface?'" I asked.
"Well, not with his face, that's for sure!" cackled Mr. Theus. "Tantalus is responsible for supplying water to the Ag Department."
"But when he reaches for it, it recedes," I objected.
"Yeah," admitted Mr. Theus. "I guess it isn't an interface at all. But it sure is funny!"
"Ok, no Tantalus," I said reluctantly. "How about that guy Narcissus, down the hall? He doesn't do anything but look at himself in the mirror all day. I could do that. In fact, why don't you let us switch jobs? Let him push boulders for a while."
"O-o-o-oh, no, you couldn't," Mr. Theus disagreed. "Narcissus is a highly skilled professional with qualifications you can't even dream about!"
Because they don't exist, I didn't say. "How about this?" I suggested. "You let me take a class in whatever it is he's supposed to be doing, then let us switch jobs."
Mr. Theus merely waggled his hand at me.
"But there's an Olympian audit coming up," I pleaded. "That means another boulder push just before the regular four for this quarter."
"Actually, that would be another four pushes - per Danae! Her call! She's the program specialist!" Then Mr. Theus seemed to relent a little. "I'll tell you what. Pandora can help you. She used to do some boulder work before the unfortunate Box Incident."
I almost kissed his feet. And I found Pandora most accommodating.
"Sure thing!" she kvelled. "I'll take care of the Olympian audit. Just leave it all to me, Sis."
It was a huge weight off my back.
Until the week before the audit, when Pandora came by my cube.
"What do you mean, you can't do it?" I screamed. "All you do all day is play with that damn box!"
It was, perhaps, not the most politic thing to say. I begged an urgent meeting with Mr. Theus and Pandora.
"Well, what now?" asked Mr. Theus innocently. "I gave you some help."
"But she says she can't do it!" I sobbed.
"I'm perfectly willing," said Pandora, "but you'll have to explain to me what 'pushing' is."
"But you used to do it!" I wailed.
"We-e-ell, if you say so, I suppose it must be true," she said, "but I can't remember a thing."
I tamped down my temper. "You just brace yourself, put your hands on the boulder, and walk forward."
"What's a 'boulder?'" asked Pandora. "What do you mean by 'brace?'"
And that's how I got called on the carpet by Zeus.
"Explain yourself!" boomed the King of Gods. "How is it that four people got squashed by boulders on the same day and in the same place? Explain how it is that you knew all four of the victims: your boss Mr. Theus, a program specialist named Danae, and two colleagues of yours named Narcissus and Pandora? And you are the boulder expert. Now, that can't be a coincidence! And don't try telling me it was an accident! Not four at once, not with each being a perfect bull's eye!"
"Accident?" I babbled. "I'm sorry. I don't know what an 'accident' is. And what about 'coincidence?' That's a really big word. I'm afraid you'll have to tell me what a 'bull's eye' is ..."3