Idealog fiction: Extractions Ltd, Part 3.0

A short story about an 'Uber of social saviours' app that gets people out of awkward social situations, published in four parts on Friday mornings. Enjoy.
Previously: Extractions Ltd is the Uber of social saviours. It allows people publicly trapped in awkward situations to discreetly summon an extractor who, for a fee, will disentangle them. Barney and Barnes have established themselves as Wellington’s most successful extractors, but the capital is a small city, and extractions aren’t permanent.

Barnes swore he couldn't face Courtney Place that night, so they went and holed up in a little bar at the top of Cuba St instead. There was only five or six other drinkers in the room, and the fat white candles that sat on top of each table made light glimmer and dance off the adobe walls.

Barney sipped his rum slowly, savouring it. “See, this is nice. No unnecessary behaviour here. We can just chill out, and then when you're ready we can head down to Courtenay and make some quick cash before it's home time.”

“I told you I'm not going there tonight, and I don't want to talk about it any more,” Barnes said.

“Fine, fine,” Barney soothed. “That guy Jan said you need to make at least one extraction a week to stay on the network, though.”

“I did more than enough last night, don't be tricky with me. Jan can go down to Shatter Bar and do his own extractions if he's so keen on it. I can't handle any more tonight. I'll be on call, but I'm not going anywhere there's gonna be heaps.”

“OK. There might be an easy job up here anyway. Some business person on a boring date.”

“Stop. No more.”

“Fine.”

As if on cue, Barnes' phone sounded the distinctive Extractions Ltd tone. He slumped over the table and thumped his head on it a few times before looking at the extraction request. “It's a girl. Natalie. She's outside in the smoking section.” He remained suspended, holding the phone and looking at it as if it would present a way to get out of the job. There was a button labelled “Refuse” at the bottom corner of the notification box.

Barney nudged him. “Come on. I bet it'll be easy. Let's just do it and then we can go home.”

“What happens if I click 'Refuse'?” Barnes asked. “Will it get reassigned to you? You want it, right?”

“Sure, man, if it'll make you happier. Pike out, that's OK this one time. Give it a whirl.”

Barnes stabbed a finger at the button and the button turned a darker shade of green to show it had been pressed. Nothing else happened. He tried to click it again, and the screen went black, then reloaded to bring him back to the phone's desktop. When Barnes opened Extractions Ltd app a second time, it had deleted the job. “Fuck. Did you get any message about that job?”

“Nah,” Barney replied, checking.

“It just forgot about Natalie's extraction completely. Do you reckon some other person here got it instead of us?”

“I don't think so. None of these people look like extractors, eh.”

Barnes cast his eye around the room and had to agree. “I can't just leave her. It might not be safe.”

“I reckon. Seriously, this job will be super easy. She looked older, she probably doesn't put up with dickheads until they turn really septic like these young girls do.”

           

#

Angry, drunken Carl saw Barnes as soon as he and Barney stepped outside. He stepped away from Natalie and stomped towards the boys with a roar: “You again!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Barney spotted Natalie slip out the back gate as he and Barnes sprinted through the bar with Carl close behind them. They didn't stop running until they were back at the flat.

#

The next day, Barnes was full of purpose. “Last night was real dangerous, I'm telling you. That guy Carl could have been some mental case, what if he had a gun?”

“This is New Zealand,” Barney said. “Nobody just walks around with a gun on them. What's he going to do, go through the town belt and ice a possum on the way home?”

“Fine then, a knife, lots of people have knives. I have a knife, so don't go telling me it isn't a thing.”

Barney raised his hands in defeat. “Fine.”

“Seriously, we've done heaps of extractions now, and all of them made someone mad. We're making enemies, Barney! This is dangerous work.”

“I guess it is. It's not, like, really bad, though. Carl was overreacting. We're not assassinating gangsters or anything.”

“Sure, but we're dealing with people who can't follow social cues. Basically, we're taking on the responsibility of pissing strangers off so that other people don't have to deal with the fallout. We're just making loads of people angry at us for ten dollars a pop.”

“I honestly never thought of it that way,” Barney said.

“Of course you didn't!” Barnes said. “You never think, you just want the money and you like being a hero.”

“Yeah, I guess I do. It's just the way I'm built.” Barney had nothing more to add. The silence stretched on.

“Well, I'm going to talk to Jan and Bart at their office and see what they have to say about this situation. Coming?”

“Always.”

#

The brothers were younger than Barney had expected. Both had shaved their heads to mitigate receding hairlines, but their facial features didn't place them as more than five years older than he and Barnes. They weren't quite identical, but Barney didn't know which of them was which anyway, so it wasn't much help.

He and Barnes had found their office with the help of a sign next to the elevator downstairs, which read, “Extractions Ltd: Not a Dentist.” When they walked in, one brother was working at a standing desk while the other lounged on a pile of bean bags.

“Hey, it's Lancelot and Galahad, our two bravest knights” he said, struggling to get up. Giving up on dignity, he tipped himself out of the bean bag pile onto the floor, got on all fours and then sprang upright with a smile. “You guys are doing extractions left, right and centre, I've been keeping an eye on you. How's it going?”

“Alright,” said Barnes. “We wanted to come and talk to you, actually.”

“Of course! I am Jan, by the way, and that handsome guy at the computer is my brother Bart. How can I help you guys?” he asked.

Barnes drew himself upright. “Look, it's like this. You said before about how we've been doing a shitload of extractions, but the thing is that Wellington is not that big, and now all the antagonists know us by sight. We nearly got killed by some big rude fucker last night.”

“Shit,” said Jan. “Did you tell the police?”

“Well, no, it wasn't like, literal. He would definitely have done us harm if he caught us.”

“I see. You keep running into antagonists around town and the more jobs you do, the more awkward confrontations you get into.”

“Exactly,” Barnes said.

“Well, it's your lucky day,” Jan grinned. “For here at Extractions Ltd, we are uniquely equipped to handle awkward confrontations.”

Barnes frowned. “Can you just tell me what you mean? This is our skins on the line. It's been very stressful.”

“OK, OK, the solution is super simple. I've actually offered this to a couple of other extractors already. All you need to do is waive your retainer fees, and then Bart can add you to the network as clients and contractors. Then, every time you need a hand, you can just summon another extractor and they'll take care of it.”

“We work together, though,” Barnes said. “What if the network just assigns us each other?”

“There is a little 'Refuse' button on the screen. You can just press it when it comes up with an unwanted extractor's profile and it will randomly assign somebody else.”

“That doesn't work,” Barney cut in. “We tried it the other night and it shat the bed.”

“It what?” Jan gasped.

“The app crashed my phone, and then the job got deleted.”

“Shit. That's really bad. Bart, do you know anything about this bug?” Jan called over his shoulder.

“Ah, yeah,” Bart said. He did not turn around. “A26. I've been working on ironing that one out for a while now.”

“We can talk about this later, but I wish you had told me that before. It's a major problem.”

“I said I'm working on it. What would you have done, anyway?”

Jan made an annoyed sound in his throat and turned back to Barnes and Barney. “So sorry about this. It appears you cannot refuse jobs until my idiot brother fixes the faulty code he wrote. You might just have to work separately for a little while if you want extraction privileges.”

“That's not good enough,” Barnes said. “We're way safer together.”

“It sounds to me like you can be safe together, or you can be safe in a different way apart. Why not try them both and take your pick?” Jan shrugged. “You're probably fine either way. These people are mostly drunk, they get pulled off of some girl, then they go eat a kebab and forget about it by the next morning.”

“You're the expert,” said Barnes.

“Thanks again for visiting,” Jan said, looking towards the door. “We'll come by the cafe sometime and say hello. Are you both working together all the time?”

“Nah, we tag-team it,” Barney said.

“That's the way,” Jan replied. “Tag team! Hope things settle down soon for you.”

“Bye,” Bart said in a flat voice.

#

Next week: In the last installment of Extractions Ltd, Tom finally gets a go at performing an extraction and Barney and Barnes resolve their uncertainty.
Sarah Dunn is the editor of our sister publication The Register/NZ Retail. This is her first published work of fiction about a tech startup.
Main image: Francesca da Rimini by William Dyce and inspired by The Toast (RIP)