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. Best friends Barney and Barnes are Wellington’s most successful extractors, but as interpersonal difficulties relating to previous extractions compound, the app’s developers have suggested they work separately for their own safety. Their sketchy associate Tom was screened out of the Extractions Ltd selection process weeks ago – or was he?
Barney let Barnes cover upper Cuba St while he took the Courtenay Place beat. It seemed only right, although he envied Barnes for the likelihood that he would run into people they knew and liked up there. Instead, he floundered through a dirty sea of aggressive strangers.
As the weekends wore on, Barney developed a strategy where he would deliberately hang around the worst bars in town. More jobs meant higher quotas, and unless he had overspent again that week, he could usually go home before the venues closed and town took on a heightened air of desperation.
He was sitting in a corner at a bar known for serving first-year university students when he got the fifth job notification of the night. “Madeline” was in trouble on the upstairs balcony.
She was standing with her back to him when he found her, one of about three girls outside with the same straightened, bleached hair. “Maddy?” Barney called, just to be sure, and she turned around with relief written all over her blurry, drunk face. Tom removed a possessive hand from her neck, but not quickly enough for Barney to miss it.
“What are you doing here, bro?” Tom, the antagonist, asked. “Bit old for this place, aren't you?”
“Tommy. Was just on my way to pick up my sister's friend Madeline, here. She needed a lift.” Barney couldn't remember if Tom knew he didn't have a sister, figuring it wasn't the kind of detail that Tom was likely to hold onto, anyway.
“Right. Like I'd fall for that. You're working, now, aren't you. As an extractor.”
Madeline tried to shake her head at Barney without letting Tom see, but she was too far gone to pull it off. “No, I want to go home, to see his sister. We got, we got separated,” she said. “I told you. My friends are somewhere else.”
“Look, I'm sober, I can give you a ride home,” said Tom. “Why don't you just let me give you a ride? Where do you live?”
“This isn't right, let it go, man,” Barney said. “Look at her, she isn't happy. She wants you to leave her alone.”
“She doesn't know what she wants, she's off her tits. Leave her with me, I'll get her home safe.” Tom was speaking in a calm, reasonable tone of voice. He appeared not to notice when Madeline started to cry.
“Oh, Tom, can't you take a hint? Fuck off!” Barney said, raising his voice.
“Make me!” Tom said, so Barney punched him in the face. Tom staggered back, holding his nose, and blood seeped out between his fingers.
Madeline stood still with her hands over her eyes, and Barney peeled them away. “Better head off now, sweetie, here's your chance.” He spun her around and pointed her towards the stairs that lead down onto the street, giving her a push. “Bye.” She tottered away without a second glance, and Tom grabbed Barney around the neck from behind.
“Cockblocking arsehole!” he shouted, diction blunted by the swelling behind his palate.
Barney bent over to flick him off and ran inside, ducking behind crowds of people to make sure he had lost him. He huddled beside the bar where it seemed safer, and fired off an extraction request for good measure.
A hand tapped him on the shoulder almost immediately, and Barney turned around to find Tom standing there, glowing cellphone in hand. “I joined your dumb club after all,” Tom said. “I'm here to extract you from myself, haha.”
“You gonna keep beating me up, then?” Barney said, sullen. “You stupid shit.”
“Nah. Wouldn't want to get barred from the venue, I like coming here. Lots of jobs.”
Barney felt sick. “This was supposed to be a good thing that would make town safer for everyone. Why do people like you have to ruin everything?”
“Don't take it so personally, man. I'm just doing what would normally happen, only more efficiently. It's the free market in action.”
Barnes was already home when Barney returned. He was wrapped in a blanket on the couch, red-eyed and engrossed in a video game. The sounds of explosions and digital voices echoed from speakers in each corner of the room.
“I'm not doing any more extractions,” Barney said, plopping down beside him. “It's not for me.”
“Thank God for that,” Barnes said. “I stopped going out after we had to split up.”
“Yeah. I usually went round the block and got chips and then came back to play Battle Scar. Found a new bit of the map.”
“Fuck. Is that where you are now? Can I have a geeze?”
“Yeah, take the controls. It's rad.”
Barney thumbed his way around the screen, exploring a snowy landscape blotted with razorwire and burnt craters. “Beautiful. Just beautiful. Hey, I guess now that we've waived our retainers, Jan and Bart actually aren't paying us anything unless we go out, eh.”
“No need to tell them,” Barnes confirmed.
“Nope. Might be a bit awkward if they drop into the cafe,” Barney considered.
“Too fucking bad.”
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: The Serenade by Eugene de Blaas and inspired by The Toast (RIP)
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