Idealog fiction: Extractions Ltd, Part 2.0

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. Wellington hipsters Barney and Barnes were impressed by their first extraction experience, but so was their shady friend Tom.

Barney checked his emails as soon as he woke up the next day, and found an invite waiting for him.

“Hello Barney Jackson!” it said. “Thomas Barnes has endorsed you as a potential member of our exclusive team of Extractors. Download this app to get started – become a White Knight today!”

Leaning back against the pillows, Barney tapped through to the website and installed everything he needed on his cellphone. As soon as he opened the app, a pop-up notification filled the screen: “Hello lovely future Extractor! You are not yet verified! Call Jan and Bart today to take this relationship to the next level!” There were two buttons labelled “Call” and “Cancel” underneath the message.

Snorting, Barney mashed his thumb against “Call” and set the phone to loudspeaker so he could talk while it lay on his chest. It rang a few times, and then somebody picked up.

“Hello? Jan speaking.” Based on the name, Barney had been expecting an older woman, but instead it was a young man with a faint European accent. He pronounced “Jan” like “Yahn”.

“Hey bro,” Barney said. “Are you the Extractor boss?”

“Yeah, man, me and my brother,” Jan said. “You want to join up?”

“Sure. What do I have to do?”

“I guess we just want good people, eh. You know, the kind you would want to show up and extract you if you were in an awkward situation one time. You understand all about what we do, yeah?”

“I think so,” Barney offered. “Someone, like, pages me and I go find them and figure out a creative way to get them away from whoever's bothering them. Then they rate me.”

“That's right,” Jan agreed. “A person requests an extraction, and the system randomly assigns them an extractor based on whoever's on call within 200 metres of them. Complete the job, get rated, get paid.”

“Right.”

“Also, no funny stuff – you're not allowed to fight the antagonist, that's what we call the problem person, and you can't ever cause a really big scene that gets you banned from anywhere. We won't be able use you in that place again if that happens, so we lose money. And no creeping on anybody you save.”

“No creeping. Gotcha. I'm not really a creepy kind of guy so that won't be a problem.”

“Everybody says that,” Jan sighed. “Tell me about who you are. What do you do? You go out a lot?”

“Yeah,” Barney said. “I work at a coffee shop, the same one as Barnes. You remember Barnes?”

“Ah, sure, I signed him up on the spot. He seemed like a good guy, and we really need more extractors sifting around. Hey, on that note, welcome aboard Barney, I'm happy to let you in on this.”

“Cool!” exclaimed Barney.

“Twenty dollars a week is our starting rate, how often do you go out?”

“That's for two nights a week, right? I reckon that's fine,” Barney said. “Hey, twenty bucks isn't much money though, that's way less than minimum wage for the amount of hours I'll be on call for you guys. How many jobs am I supposed to do?”

“You said yourself you go out lots anyway, right? We just give you money to do what you already do,” Jan said. “One job a week will keep you on the network, but I suggest doing as many as you can if you want to earn money. It's a seven dollar bonus for each job, and an extra three dollars on top of that if you get a five star rating. Customer service is a big deal for us. We just want everyone to have a good night out.”

“Amen,” Barney said. “Twenty it is, then.”

“Good one, buddy. I'm going to run this by Bart, he's my twin and he takes care of all the coding and stuff, then once he's done the update on your file, you can get started. Check the app on Friday and if it says you're rostered on, you can do that night and Saturday. Cool?”

“Cool,” replied Barney. “Nice to meet you, bro.”

“You too. Give us a ring if you have any problems, hey.”

It was only after Jan had hung up that Barney realised his phone number was not listed anywhere in the app.

#

A month later, making a few extractions had become a routine part of Barney's weekend. He had developed a professional persona for the occasions, smoothing interactions with the same kind of customer service banter he used to charm tips out of patrons at the cafe. Clients rarely gave him fewer than five stars.

Barney and Barnes tended to go out together so that they could back one another up if a scene turned nasty, although nothing out of the ordinary had yet crossed their path. The pair had decided they would stay on the scene and ring the police if they were ever called to extract somebody from a really violent situation, but mostly, their extractees were young people who wanted to get away from their bosses or their exes, drunk girls who just wanted to be put in a taxi and sent home, or sex workers like Emma who couldn't afford to tell regular clients to leave them alone.

As was usual on a Saturday, Barney closed up the cafe without Barnes, who worked the early shift that day. The boys had not partied much with Tom since getting into the extraction business, but he was still working in the cafe's kitchen, chopping vegetables, stirring soup, poaching eggs and washing the dishes.

Barnes was on the sofa when Barney got home, mechanically dunking a soggy teabag in a big mug of tea.

“Hey,” Barney said, dropping his coat on the floor. “Down for another big night of rescuing?”

Barnes grunted. He sipped his tea, then put the teabag back in and squeezed it to extract more tannins.

“We did like seventy bucks each last night, it was cool,” Barney prompted. “I'm pumped.”

“I'm not. I barely slept last night.”

“Why's that? You had all afternoon to catch up, right?” 

“It doesn't help, though,” Barnes said. “I just keep thinking, like, all these extractions. Heaps of them are just so fucking unnecessary.”           

“You think so?” Barney said, surprised. “What about that drunk girl we took off that douchebag at the Irish bar who kept following her around and trying to put his hand up her skirt? Or the ex-alcoholic guy who was out with all his drunk friends and they weren't gonna let him leave until he did a shot with them? We were totally necessary for those clients. We saved them from shitty experiences.”

Barnes groaned. “Yeah, all of those are exactly what I mean. This fucking behaviour, it's totally unnecessary. Why can't people just act like decent human beings?”

“Oh,” Barney said. “I see where you're coming from. We're there, though, acting decent. You're a good human being and so am I.”

“No we're not!” Barnes cried. “We're even worse than they are because we're pretending to be good but we're actually getting paid for it!” He scooped out the teabag with an angry flourish, got up and threw it in the sink. “You and I are going around congratulating ourselves all day, every day, just for doing what we should do anyway! It's shit. It's so shit.”

He walked around the kitchen counter and sat down next to Barney. “I feel real bad about it, man. Look at all this shit we bought with our pretend-good-person money.”

Barney picked up a clutch of remote controls, switching on their TV, console and surround sound system. “I don't know. I really don't know,” he said. “It's probably just 'cause you've been going out every weekend for so long. I'm tired too, but there's worse ways to earn a living. Just saying.”

Barnes turned his hands over and picked at the dry skin around his thumbnails without replying. “Wanna play for a while before we go out?” Barney asked.

 “Sure. Got a first-person shooter in there?”

#

Next week: The developers of Extractions Ltd offer Barnes a solution.  

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: Scene in the Courtroom by Jean Louis Forain and inspired by The Toast (RIP)