The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair (a story)

A colleague and friend once said to me (in a moment of rare frustration) “You know Mark, you should write a story called ‘The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair’”. I really liked the title, so I decided to oblige.

At their worst, public service performance reviews can feel like being savaged by a pack of wild dogs. This story does not contain a particularly subtle metaphorical treatment of the subject.

It is, I guess, a sequel to ‘In the Service of the Public‘, if flash fiction can have sequels.


The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair

Oh god, performance appraisal time,’ Alison thought as the mauve indicator light flashed in the corner of the screen. It was her supervisor, T’ahmar.

Ever since Earth’s artificial-black-hole-induced implosion, Alison had drifted from job to job throughout the bureaucracies that made up the Interstellar Coalition Public Service. Initial sympathy for her plight had morphed into curiosity, which had then solidified into indifference.

The years danced by. No alien race was willing to take on the burden of the million or so human refugees who happened to be away from home when the accident happened. The reality of it was that governments only allowed proper citizens to take senior positions in their public services.

So Alison, once considered the bright future of the Earth Department of Foreign Affairs, was reduced to menial filing in a backwater colony of the Frusbian Empire — a grand name considering the Frusbians had colonised only three moons and a mining asteroid in their own solar system.

Still, human beggars like Alison couldn’t be choosers. With no place to call their own and so little in the way of aid from the other races, humanity drifted towards the edge of extinction. The Sol system had been evacuated and was still off-limits. Any habitable planets in what had been known as human space were claimed by civilisations with military capability. The few nascent human colonies were relocated, “for their own protection”. Humanity was the new underclass of the civilised worlds.

The indicator flashed again. T’ahmar didn’t like to be kept waiting. Not that her previous supervisor Z’utpok had been lenient, but he had at least recognised that Alison — despite being human — had significant skills to offer. Z’utpok had allowed her to help with issues of policy, and she had been instrumental in getting his bureaucratic pièce de résistance approved by the Frusbian government.

Flushed with success and singing Alison’s praises, Z’utpok immediately retired. Unfortunately, the senior bureaucrat brought in to replace him moved to populate senior posts with former colleagues selected more for loyalty than competence. Before long Alison found herself on the wrong side of her new boss T’ahmar through a combination of her connection to the previous regime, her non-Frusbianness, and her all too human tendency to speak her mind.

Now T’ahmar had insisted on a traditional performance review. While theoretically still legal, the orthodox Frusbian performance review was considered barbaric and tasteless by most modern commentators. Still, if Alison was going to save up enough money to get off this rock she’d have to go through with it.

Alison donned the traditional Frusbian review garb (which looked to her more like a hessian sack) and mentally reviewed what she knew about the D’armen attack dogs that T’ahmar favoured. Once she was as ready as she would ever be, she grabbed her favourite duelling dagger from her desk and headed out towards the Review Arena, trying all the while to think of a better way to earn a living.

THE END


‘The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 171 (September 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

Author: mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good. OK, sometimes good.

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