Written by alcoholandaphorism
It is 2012 and the Orpheus group, a ten year old business recently floated on the stock market is starting to make waves. Centred in London in the highly prestigious London Shard. Taking up, appropriately enough, the thirteenth as well as the twelfth floor. Despite its intensive PR campaigns, including many buzzword friendly interviews with religious and spiritual magazines, there is little known about the actual inner workings of this company. A recent Guardian opinion piece penned by a religious figure noted the spiritual religious implications of their claims, but for the most part its vague claims are out of the mainstream press.
That may soon change, at least for three figures whose lives have intersected with the companies search for select talents. Three men, who for reasons each their own, submitted themselves to a barrage of tests at one of Orpheus’ openly, or less openly owned, centres. Now, the day of Orpheus first annual UK conference and recruitment fair they find themselves looking unsure at their invites before the Eurydice Hotel at which it is being held with lavish abandon.
Within the five story red brick Edwardian hotel there is a strange set of bedfellows. From the high fliers of the corporate world, counter culture artists, and those down and out of luck. Shoulders rub here in a manner unimaginable to most. Sceptic and believers talk and mingle, often somewhat unwillingly. A woman in a huge purple gown and tiara, black make up around her eyes, talks to a pale young man uncomfortable in his business suit. Her words are of resurrection from a past life as a Tibetan monk and of lives descended from a 3rd century Ming emperor, while the businessman looks for a way to escape the conversation.
She is not who the tale follows though, not for now at least, she is just another of the hopefuls and sceptics of the crowd. Neither is it the official Orpheus staff, the security guards armed with biometric scanners or the nervous, uncomfortable staffers that watch from above the pale bags that underline their eyes, nor the human publicity machines, pumping hands and throwing smiles to the crowd, their audience.
The first we follow is a Timothy Scott, once Captain Timothy Scott but no longer. His military bearing somewhat hidden beneath loose jeans and unassuming clothes. With a slight limp he enters pass in hand, taking in the vast projector screen beyond the main double doors, the fashionable food, a mix of sushi, organic wraps, and fair trade coffee. That done he shrugs and heads straight to the bar.
The second fellow we follow is similarly intent on the bar. Michael Frost. A man still unsure why he is here, or even why he was allowed in, his pass clutched within grime covered hands. Most vacate the path he walks, wishing to avoid the stinking man in ragged clothes chosen for keeping him warm rather than for fashion of even cleanliness. He is the reminder of what most of them have avoided, a life spent on the streets, barely surviving day to day. Here, somehow past the security guards, he eats what he can, pockets more for later before the miracle of a free bar promises escape from the pains that haunt him.
Finally we have a distinguished gentlemen of around fifty years who wanders the crowd discreetly, listening here and there to try and catch the tale of Orpheus that the press releases do not tell. This man, Geoffrey Wells, slips past the grasping hands of the marketing stiffs to find the truth. He is rewarded with a conversation between late twenties blond woman and a slightly paunch mid forty British man. “Look, I saw it, again, facing me” he says “There were voices in the television”. “”Calm down” the woman says “You can’t have. You should really see psyche about this”. At this the man storms off. Alone, the woman realises she is being watches and smiles, but not a smile that reaches the eyes. That pleasantry done, she walks past Geoffrey without another word
At the bar Tim Scott glances across the line of career people that surround him, nursing his drink in hand. He has just enough time to notice what looks like a homeless man knocking back whisky like there’s no tomorrow when his view is filled by an orange skinned Orpheus promoter who grabs his hand and pumps it several times with gusto.
“Ah, buddy. I’m Ched Mason, good to see you man! How are you finding it?”
Tim Scott looks at this man he has never met before and crack a thin doorman’s smile which emphasises the marks across his cheek made by stray shrapnel several months ago.
“The bar seems to be well stocked” Tim says, as non committally as he can.
Ched smiles widely “Well, you know we want to look after our potential employees, for example have I told you about our top notch health benefits here? No? Well, considering you’re a war hero it’s the least we can offer you”
Tim’s eyes narrow “I wouldn’t use that phrase”
“You’re too modest then. Without brave heroes like you defending our democracy we wouldn’t be here. What you do out there in Afghanistan and Iraq protects our freedom. In return we want to offer you the very best the free market has to offer. Trust me, I’ve seen your psyche profile, you deserve it. You limeys are finally getting it, forget that socialised healthcare. NHS as a brand, that is the way to go. We make money, drink whisky, find a woman to fuck. We got it all. This isn’t Russia. This isn’t Singapore. We treat you right”
“Strange. Because after 5 minutes with you I wish I was in Serbia again” Timothy says
Ched laughs “Such a joker man.” He looks over at Michael Frost huddled at the end of the bar, attempting to avoid attention as he drowns his sorrows. “Hey buddy I think you’re in the wrong place”
Michael tries to shuffle back into the crowd away from the loud promoter with the American accent who is haranguing him, but before he can Timothy Scott steps in to speak “Hey, if he wasn’t meant to be here security would have thrown him out, so how about you back off”
“I’m kidding buddy, I’m kidding” Ched turns back to Michael “Looked at your file, you’ve been through some tough shit. Now forget that. I see you in a Savoy suit, a good hotel, expensive car. Ignore this liberal congestion charge bullshit. I see the world for you man. All we want is for you to see our presentation” Michael just looks unbelieving at the man speaking to him, the way Ched is promising the world to him he expects at any moment to wake up in an ice bath with organs missing.
As Ched walks off, Michael tries to work out what the hell he has got involved in. Like anyone who has spent time on the street he has heard of high society parties where they bring in people who wouldn’t be missed, to be used as entertainment and killed, but he has never believed it. Amongst these bright lights and laughing faces he is starting to wonder if he made a big mistake.
Meanwhile Timothy downs his drink and decides to go looking for someone even vaguely genuine in this room. Amongst the crowd he crosses the thousand yard stare of a man who looks like he has seen hell. They meet eyes for a moment when a figure crosses past his vision. By the time the figure has passed, the man he was looking at is gone.
He doesn’t have long to consider who he just saw as the doors to the presentation are thrown open. Geoffrey is already within, having headed in early to get a discrete seat at the back. The rest fill in slowly to sit and see what is to transpire.
The presentation, mainly powerpoint led, gives a fluffy view of the Orpheus project. Speaking of “Patented methods” that help give bereaved family’s closure. Example cases of families given closure come and go, with talk of the spiritual benefits of the job. Psychoanalysis details are dropped in with great regularity, but is little understood by most of the people watching. The presentation is led by the combination of a business suit attired woman of Asian descent and a red haired Caucasian woman.
In the midst of the high vaulted room they speak of the significant salaries available, and the tremendous benefits. In this rich atmosphere, surrounded by portraits, crystal chandeliers hanging above them, it is very easy to believe the figures they promise. As staffers with Orpheus lanyards around their neck flick their fingers across the IPads they work on, the Orpheus logo appears above a shimmering 3d image of the London Shard. The next few hours are a mix of PR promise, and glowing testimonials. When the call for questions finally comes Timothy Scott raises his hand.
“I’ve sat through three hours of marketing, are you going to tell me what you actually do here?”
There is a momentary hush upon the room before Ched steps into the breech to answer
“Allow me to reassure you, we will answer that question in detail if you pass the selection process. All our cards will be put upon the table and I am confident that you will find our answers very persuasive”
Another hand reaches up, the woman in the purple dress from earlier “Is it true that the dead are involved in our lives, beaming us positive energy every moment of every day”
Relived another PR agent stands up smiling “Yes, it the majority of cases the dead beam us nothing but positive hopes. We consider it our duty then at Orpheus to do our bit to beam some positive energy back to them” Out of the corner of his eye Geoffrey notices a Orpheus staffers rolling his eyes at this, even a nudge in the ribs from a fellow staff member seems unable to prevent him from showing his contempt at this bit of feel good PR.
With this the presentation concludes, but before they wrap up a list of three names are read out requesting that they stay within the auditorium. The names are Michael Frost, Geoffrey Wells and Timothy Scott. When the rest of the audience have filed out Ched steps up, closing and locking the doors behind them, much to Michaels displeasure. Noticeably nervous Michael’s eyes flicker across the room, looking for a way out, unsure of what is to come next.
“Gentlemen, I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to bear with me” Ched says “We have singled you out as the three most likely candidates to be fast tracked as assets to our company. The things we are about to show you will be unsettling, but will be the easiest way to answers Timothy’s question here. When you go past this point there is no turning back, you will sign an NDA and if you break it you will be sued”
Even nervous as he is Michael wonders about the effectiveness of a threat of suing against a homeless man like himself. Tim asks “I have one question then. Was the last three hours just one massive smoke screen?”
“No. We needed to know if you were serous” Ched says “ Alicia, Sanji. If you would be so kind as to show yourself”
In response hazy figures flicker into sight on the stage behind them, The air distorts and the vague image of a woman shows in ephemeral body upon the stage. Recognising the woman as the one he listened in on earlier, Geoffrey looks over to where he had last seen her, finding her physical body asleep at the side of the room.
With the temperature dropping Timothy looks at his hand with disbelief as it moves against his volition, picking up a pen and writing “Does this answer your question pal?”. Tim shakes his head in disbelief, which results in his hand writing “Ah come on mate. Don’t be coy”. Keeping his voice level Tim says “Now how exactly did you do that?”. “Don’t be a prick and we will show you” comes the written response. “What a refreshing state of honest” Tim says to that.
Michael is pretty much backed against the door by now. Deep within his pockets his hands feel for the reassuring touch of a small sharp object he had hidden in its folds. His eyes glance to Ched, the only person with the keys to get out of this room.
Tim speaks again “Just to clarify gentleman. I did not consciously write those notes myself”
Ched points to a second slumbering figure, this one a man of seeming Asian descent “That would be Sanji here, he is what we call a Projector, part of a team we like to call a crucible”
A voice echoes from Michaels mouth “and I am Donald. It is a pleasure to meet you”. Micheal blinks as his consciousness returns to him. “What? Why are you looking at me? What’s going on?”
Tim goes to pull a cigarette from his pocket to calm his nerves when his hand instead tosses the packet across the floor to the feet of the sleeping gentlemen. “Cheers mate” his hand writes. “You’re welcome” Tim comments to the air.
The point made, Ched continues “Ladies and Gentlemen. If you wish to manifest now” Beside Timothy an Asian man appears, a blond woman besides Geoffrey, and a slightly elderly bespectacled gentlemen beside Michael.
The blond woman throws Geoffrey a wink as she shakes his hand “Hi, I’m Alishia Harley. Nice to meet you” Geoffrey looks from the woman, to the sleeping figure. “Nice to meet your. Which one of you am I meeting exactly?”.” Oh, its just me. I’m a projector. That is me and this is me, well my spirit”
Michael thinks and then says “Why do you want us here?”
“We have you marked down as having the right stuff” Ched says “and despite your dishevelled appearance I agree”
Timothy shakes his head “I’m not sure, I’ve just been discharged and…”
Sanji interrupts “We know, we know what you said to your councillors as well, about what you saw. They thought you were mad. Similar happened to me, the Orpheus found me and I realised I was right. The money they offered as well didn’t exactly hurt either
“Now, we know what you are thinking” Ched says “Who do I sue for breech of patient confidentiality? Thing is, those people, they work for us. We need people with the right stuff. Multiple near death experiences. You got that. We hope that you come to work for us, we weren’t bullshitting out there. We do good work. Kid goes missing, we find them. We find out they been kidnapper, we show those fucks that you don’t do that shit in a democracy. You find out a ghost is looking after them. We tell her those aren’t your kids. We help her move on. We got lots of jobs available, and you do well we got big bonuses. This is the free market and we reward those who do well for us. So, 50K, plus expenses. Top class private healthcare. What do you say?.
Michael’s head is reeling, he doesn’t know if he is insane, asleep or if he dare imagine that this is actually real. Tears are in his eyes, his legs barely hold him and he slumps against a wall to say upright.
Geoffrey jumps in “you’ve seen my file. You know what I’ve been through. I’m interested in giving it a shot, but what if it doesn’t work out. Can I walk away?”
With the three on the hook Ched starts to reel them in “Give it a shot and we can make sure you don’t want to walk away, but sure, this aint Russia. We’re not going to shove a pager up your ass and send you to a Gulag in the ass end of nowhere. You will have to sign an NDA, we don’t want you taking our secrets with you, but apart from that you’re a free agent”
“How dangerous is it?” Timothy asks, “How dangerous do you want it to be?” comes the answer.
“All I’m hearing is benefits, you are offering good money. I take it there is a reason for that?”
“We don’t want you going to our competitors, there is a lot of people willing to profit from this situation. You will be dealing with dead people a lot of the time. Some may get angry, but hey, they’re dead, they cant hurt you. If need be we can even teach you techniques to restrain them”
With a shrug Timothy says “Fuck it. What else am I going to do”
Ched smiles. “Perfect, so I’m thinking …The Ritz. We will get Michael here cleaned up and lets celebrate”
Michael raises his hand “Do you mind if we start somewhere smaller. I am not used to this.”
“Don’t worry buddy, I’ll hire us a private room. Lets party”
So, Michael thinks, suddenly destitute no longer. This is what it feels like through the looking glass.
Two months later. Two months of training, meditation, and in the case of Michael, medical attention detoxification and addiction treatment. The London Shard is nearly a home to them. Lavishly set with gymnasium, meditation rooms, pools and relaxation rooms it makes for an impressive workplace. Here they are shown the basics of the classification system for spirits and their nature.
It is in an office room here, overlooking London city, that Geoffrey sits, nervously speaking to an attendant doctor. Amongst walls of medical texts and computer banks a Doctor with slick back hair offers Geoffrey a drink, and makes small talk about settling in.
After a few moments they get down to the real business
“The others seem to be making much faster progress that I am” Geoffrey says “I’m not sure what is holding me back”
“It’s not unusual, not everyone responds in the same way.” The doctor says “We do have other methods we can use for the same result but we need your consent for the medical procedures. We would induce a state mimicking death and suspend you in that using the facilities available to us. The nature of the procedure means that you would be down for weeks or months at a time, but we offer a significant leave package to compensate. There are technically risks, but we have state of the art technology and top class doctors here. We have not had a single incident yet. There are some drawbacks, weakness, tiredness on awaking, some muscle pains”
Geoffrey nods “Give me an hour please. I need to get my head round this. It sounds fine, but I just need to think”
“Of course but please don’t take too long, we have an opportunity ready for you and your colleagues”
Nodding Geoffrey lifts himself from the chair. Leaving the ground floor minutes later to walk the streets of London he considers the strange choices ahead of him
In a Zen garden on the thirteenth floor Michael and Timothy are attempting to meditate, a battery of helper drugs flooding their system. Water features flow around them and a blissful lightness grows within. Michael, still worn by his years on the street still shows distinct improvements from the months of medical aid and sufficient food and shelter. In the midst of their breathing exercises they hear the female tutor, who is what they have been told is called a banshee shade projector, speak.
“Imagine yourself as a ball of light, let it rise up through you, through your chakra. Feel the lightness.” the tutor claps “Well done. How does that feel?”
Michael opens his ayes and sees his own body beneath him.
“It fields weird. Warm, yet…”
Timothy interrupts from the side, his spectral body looking at his physical one “Well that’s interesting”
The tutor sits, and her spirit rises from the body nigh the moment her body touches the ground, a silver cord trailing from behind her.
“That cord is your link to your body. As long as you are alive you can use it to return to your body. In an emergency you can do at at speed. What we call ripcording”
“So gentlemen, you can project now, from this day, projecting or not you will be able to see the dead that walk amongst us”
“Welcome to Orpheus”