When I came to interview for the customer service position at the DOGOS company, I thought it would be a work from home situation. It surprised me that they even required a face to face interview instead of using Zoom or a phone call.
Clad in a face mask, slacks, white shirt and tie, I got let in a run of the mill corporate office building. Glass and steel exterior, blue-gray interiors, modern leather chairs, designer reception desk, they had a plasma TV, but it showed boring company stuff. Antiseptic smells, the paint fresh enough to have a scent. I filled out the standard load of newhire paperwork, work history and all that.
A blonde in glasses, stylish Covid mask and white pantsuit led me to a small interview room - mahogany desk and table with glass counter protectors, up to date computers. The woman offered me a seat, introduced herself as Tamra, interviewed as she frowned at the contents of my job packet. I could see the mask wrinkle.
I guessed her age to be in the neighborhood of thirty, about a decade older than me. Not too bad looking. After a few of the standard job interview questions, like whether I felt I was more a leader or a follower, she asked, "How do you feel about wearing a uniform?"
"No big deal. I've worn brown overalls and company polos before."
I thought I saw a smirk behind the mask. "Did you wash and take care of them?"
"Yeah?" Remembering my professionalism, I sat up straight, and, "Yes, ma'am."
"If hired for the job, would you be willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement and agree to the penalties if that contract is breached?"
I furrowed my brow. "Proprietary secrets? Uh, sure. My lips are sealed."
"Would you be willing to do a job where ninety percent of your customers spoke a foreign language, if an interpreter were provided for you?"
So we're dealing with Spanish, maybe Chinese customers, I thought. What, am I going to say no now? "Certainly."
"Would you be willing to relocate, upon being asked?"
I swallowed. I didn't really want to pack up and move away from everyone I knew, but I was desperate for work. "We working in Japan or something?"
Tamra didn't answer. "Do you learn new software easily, or is it a struggle?"
That made me smile a little. "I'm kind of a geek. I like learning how to use new tech."
She raised an approving eyebrow and marked her sheet. Tamra gave another bland interview question about if I could handle doing a job after awhile with minimal assistance, then asked a weird one. "If a person decides to work in a foreign country, should they expect the company they work for to obey the labor laws of the United States?"
"It would be nice, but it's silly to expect that." The question gave me sudden pause. "Wait. This position is in China, isn't it?"
"Would you say you're physically active?"
I wasn't sure if she could see the puzzlement on my face. "I am. Not sure why that matters to a customer service job."
Here I at last got some information: "This position involves video conferencing."
"You might as well have asked me if I thought of myself as physically attractive." Realizing I'd just made an interviewing faux pas, I blurted, "No disrespect intended. I'm just saying, I like to take the stairs, but-"
"Relax. You're not winning any beauty contests. We're just looking for self confidence."
I flushed red at what she just implied about my looks. "Excuse me?" I decided to let it pass. I wanted a paycheck. "Let's, uh, continue..."
"Do you feel secure in your masculinity?"
My face really felt hot now. "And why does that matter?"
Looking indifferent, she said, "I'll put down no."
"Wait, wait. Why do you need that information?"
She scribbled something else. "It's just a question."
"It's certainly an oddball one for a job interview. Are the customers really that insulting?" I'm passive aggressive. I can't help it. "I didn't mean any offense, it's just unusual, that's all. I'm sure it's important." I coughed. "I'm secure."
"No you're not." She didn't laugh. That made it worse.
My interviewer made me sign a bunch more paperwork, NDA, agreement to wear a uniform and it being taken out of my paycheck if damaged, relocation, a bunch of legalese she rushed through with the attitude that it was all ordinary and on the level. I signed.
"One more question: If offered the job, would you be willing to start right away?"
"Uh, yeah?...I mean, yes, ma'am."
She got up. "Okay. Follow me."
Tamra could probably see the indent on my mask where my mouth hung open. "What?"
The woman sighed. "Having second thoughts?"
"No, no!" I stammered, jumping to my feet. "I just couldn't believe it when you said it."
She took me down a gray hallway lined with locked wooden doors with gold plastic number plates. "Obviously we can't start you off today, but we can at least get you set up and trained. The first portion, unfortunately, involves some Covid procedures. A little inconvenient, I know, but every company is taking precautions."
Tamra unlocked a door with her badge, and I found myself looking at a big green rusty thing resembling a submarine.
She led me to its door, opened the pressure hatch. "Take off your clothes and put them in the receptacle."
I paled. "Excuse me?"
My interviewer pointed to a tall plastic bin. "I'd like for you to undress and put your clothes in there. Standard quarantine procedure."
Sure it is, I thought, backing away in horror. "Look, I don't know what this is. I just came in for a regular job, maybe something we can do from home on a laptop. I don't think-"
"Mr. Finch," the woman snapped. "Our equipment is very expensive and proprietary, our materials restricted to this building. You just signed paperwork to the effect that you consent to any and all Covid procedurals done on this location, including but not restricted to the sterilization of clothing and a period of quarantine for observation and testing."
"This some biomedical research thing like Quntiles, isn't it?"
The look in her eyes said no, but she answered, "A little."
I seriously considered walking out, but instead found myself asking, "Am I getting paid for this?"
She rolled her eyes. "We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't prepared to give you paid training."
"That doesn't answer my question."
The look on her face said `Now really.' "To be brutally honest, Mr. Finch, I think you're better suited for customer service than, say, a more `exotic' line of work. You certainly wouldn't be my first choice. I wouldn't be asking if it wasn't necessary...now disrobe, please."
Although still not entirely comfortable with the idea, I found some reassurance in the fact that the woman was a professional and not just after a free show. The submarine thing made me a little nervous - I'd seen horror movies involving similar plot devices, but the woman seemed deadpan about the whole concept, nothing diabolical in her expression. She didn't even crack a smile, as far as I could tell.
"What should I do with my wallet?"
"It should be fine out here, Mr. Finch. We have cameras." She texted something on her phone.
Great, I thought. So I'm going to be naked on video. Is this how they enforce that NDA I just signed?
Hoping the answer was no, I stripped to my cotton briefs, put my clothing in the bin. "Is...sterilization going to affect my phone any?"
She shook her head, gestured to my underwear. "I'm sorry, Mr. Finch. You're going to have to take that off too."
"As a heart attack."
"I'm pretty sure there's a law against all this."
"You signed the paperwork."
"You can say the same about a lot of illegal things."
"We'll discuss the legality of the situation during our tour. I'd explain it now, but it would be much easier to show you."
"What, like a legal document or something?"
She gave a slight nod. "...Something."
"If it's a gun, people work better when not under duress."
"I agree. It is not our intention to create a hostile work environment." She crossed her arms, glanced at my underwear impatiently.
"God, this is ridiculous." I did what she asked, letting it all hang out.
Tamra gave me an appraising look, as if reassessing her previous opinion, but then only scoffed and waved me into the submarine.
"Uh-huh." She pulled a little metal sphere out of her pocket, waved the object around me, clicked the button a few times.
"Wait, what is that?"
"Proprietary equipment, Mr. Finch. Get in the tank."
"Like a germ scanner or something?"
"Something like that."
I scowled at her. "Something! Did you just take my picture?"
"It's a scan, Mr. Finch. As stated previously, you are not centerfold material." She put it back in her pocket.
"...What about the mask?" One side effect of the Pandemic. You got so used to wearing the damn things that you forgot they were on. Mostly.
"Keep it on. I don't want to get sick."
The structure had rusty steel bulkheads bearing old dripping pipes and weathered ventilation ductwork. Someone had cranked the AC to an uncomfortable level, raising goosepimples on my bare flesh. The chamber was quiet, save for the blower and dripping water. Sportscenter, muted, with closed captioning, showed on a plasma TV bolted to a wall.
The floor had chevron patterned plating like the running board of a truck, but dirty and gray. The place smelled faintly of vomit, old cheese, and something like skunk...maybe a hint of Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers.
No toilet, no sink, no food. I sincerely hoped nobody wanted me to stay in this thing long term.
Okay, so I'm naked, inside a rather unpleasant sort of decompression tank, which kind of throws professional etiquette out the window. I plopped down on a padded bench, wondering if anyone sanitized its surfaces recently.
My jaw dropped when the woman, with dispassionate nonchalance, also stripped off her clothes, including bra and panties, stepping into the tank clad only in a mask.
She set my job packet on the bench, pulled the pressure door shut and sealed it.
"Um," I stammered.
I wanted to ask if this were some sort of casting couch situation, but couldn't get the words out. I wondered how this would play out in terms of sexual harassment litigation...or if either of us would actually want to press charges.
I at last managed, "W-why are you in here? With me?...Like this?"
I'd been staring a little, and, judging by her annoyed glances between my legs, Tamra had seen what I thought about the view. "Don't be getting any ideas, Mr. Finch. I'm only here doing this because I've been in close quarters with an individual who could potentially be a carrier." She told the truth. I saw no signs of arousal on her part.
I crossed my legs, tried to think of something boring, focusing on her face, as if in a normal interview. "I'm wearing a mask."
"So am I. Masks are not perfect, Mr. Finch."
"Still, I'm surprised you're...doing this, and not going to a separate...room. I mean, what if your interviewee is dangerous?"
"Separate tanks are cost prohibitive, and this situation allows me to further weed out applicants. Besides, I'd know a threat the moment we begun the meeting. We cultivate a certain type of employee here. A specific personality. I can tell right away who will keep their hands to themselves." I think she caught my skeptical look, for then she added, "I'm not going to let a rapist in here, if that's what you're getting at."
"Y-yeah, but what if?"
"I can take care of myself." She struck a bulkhead and a panel popped out, revealing a pistol. "Peek a boo." She closed it again.
I wondered if she intended to attack me, like the company were a front for an assassin's guild or something. The idea didn't seem so silly, considering the circumstances, but instead she picked up the clipboard, removed a pen from the top to continue marking my paperwork.
"Wait, wouldn't that have germs on it too?"
"We'll run it through a process later on."
She asked me more job interview questions.
"I thought you said I was already hired."
Her gaze narrowed. "And I can easily unhire you. I need answers to a few more questions to make certain you're a good fit for the company."
I stripped naked for you, I thought. Shouldn't that be enough? But then I supposed all of this could have been a psychological readiness test of some sort. "Sorry, I...I'm just not used to the way you do things around here." I self consciously crossed my wrists over my crotch. "I, uh, there are worse things I could be doing with my time..."
She cut me off before I could say something about enjoying her company. "If faced by a justifiable physical threat, do you feel confident in your ability to defend yourself?"
I reacted to the question like I would a cold shower. "What?"
She scowled, scratched out a note. "Sorry, never mind."
"That tough in the workplace?"
"That was part of our...security questionnaire."
"Is this... An assassin's guild?"
She burst out laughing. "You watch too many movies. Next question: How do you feel about surgical implants?"
"Um, not sure. I...don't really like the idea of Big Brother watching me, if that's what you mean."
Tamra made a note. "Are you doing anything for the rest of the day?"
I swallowed, decided I'd better put any plans I had for today on the back burner. "No? Why? Training?...Or does the Covid test take that long?"
"Great. What do your plans look like for the rest of this week?"
I got the job, I thought. Guess I have to commit. "Open."
"All day for seven days?"
"It's very extensive training."
Okay, so I was desperate for employment. And naked, and locked in. With a nude woman. "Fine. Okay."
More notation. "Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?"
I goggled at her. "You're...serious."
The woman looked serious.
Only now did she show signs of arousal. I forced my attention away from her, um, salient points, to her eyes. "Honestly, I wish they existed, but I think they'll never visit earth. I don't know why that would affect a call center job."
She took a note, but refused to explain.
I heard a knock on the outside of the tank, then a gruff male voice. "He's clean. I followed your order to hold your clothing until the test came back, but we kinda incinerated the other stuff."
I bolted to my feet. "You did what!"
A nervous chuckle came from the other side of the door. "Relax! We got you a uniform! And your wallet, keys and cel phone (as outdated as it may be)!"
"Well gee thanks!" I groaned. "Will underwear be included with this uniform?"
"What do you mean by sort of!"
The male voice just laughed.
I angrily rushed for the wheel that opened the pressure hatch.
"Leave the clothes by the door," Tamra called. "He's trying to come out."
The male giggled. "That could be interpreted several different ways."
Whoever it was, I really wanted to choke him now. I turned the wheel.
"Victor, I'd clear out if you don't want an eyeful."
The wheel clanked to the unlocked position. I pushed the hatch open.
"Oh God! I'm going! I'm going!"
I spotted a little man in a Hawaiian shirt and khakis rushing to the security door, but he was outside in the hallway before I could throttle him.
I looked down on the floor and frowned. The boss lady had all her things, but mine were...Peculiar.
Beneath my wallet, keys and cel phone lay a fat silver unlabeled package, similar in shape to ones used in Amazon clothing orders, and next to it, something greatly resembling Mary Jane flats. "Where are my shoes?"
Tamra, already clad in her underwear, pulled her blouse on over her head. "They've been incinerated. Didn't you hear him say that?"
"These are girl shoes."
She examined the heel. "When's the last time you saw a girl wearing size 13's?"
I gawked at her. "You're shitting me. Why would I wear that?"
She pulled her slacks on, looking irritated. "Because we don't allow employees to walk around barefoot, and it was custom ordered for you. Are you going to get dressed or do you want to attend orientation in the nude?"
I gulped, hurriedly opening the gray package.
It got worse. Inside, instead of finding a brown jumpsuit, or jumpsuit of any color for that matter, I discovered a dress.
Charcoal grey, puff sleeves, ruffled skirt, big swirling D logo across the chest. "Oh my God, is this some kind of practical joke?"
Tamra's face did not reflect any sort of amusement. "That, Mr. Finch, is your required uniform, fitting with the client's standards of gender equality. I asked you up front if you had any objections to uniforms and you said no."
"Yeah, but I never-"
"I also asked if you were secure in your masculinity, and you tried to argue that you were. Now, being as your street clothes have been destroyed, and you are naked, I suggest you put that on immediately."
"Street clothes! Those were damn business casuals! I had a tie!"
"At any rate, they're gone. So."
I really didn't have much of a choice, so I pulled the outfit on.
A little snug, but it seemed someone had gotten my exact measurements. The good part: It didn't expose my chest in a womanly way, or give any illusion of me having boobs, making it a little more masculine than it could have been. The skirt, however, was disconcertingly short. Secure in my masculinity! I thought with no small amount of annoyance.
Instead of briefs, or even panties, I found white stockings and a sort of diaper in the package. "That's... Not underwear."
"Correct," the woman said. "It extracts water from your waste, and creates fertilizer pucks for our indoor farm. Much more environmentally friendly than a water based flush toilet."
"So it's actually a diaper."
"And you want me to use it at some point. Won't it...smell bad afterwards?"
"Not really. It's an advanced device. You will also have access to cleaning and personal health supplies." Tamra cleared her throat. "Being as the company doesn't issue underclothes..."
I reluctantly pulled it on. "Wait, you have a farm? Why?"
"Sustainability project. We are an environmentally conscientious corporation. Now, the stockings are optional, but since you don't have any socks, I'd still wear them to keep the shoes clean."
You would, I thought.
Well, what's one more humiliation? I completed the ensemble, stuffed my wallet and other things in my dress pockets ( thankfully the ones at the waist allowed for that) and reluctantly followed the woman to the door.
My embarrassment deepened with every swish of my skirt as I trailed the woman down the hallway.
"I once had an applicant who tried to go to class in the buff. we had him put on a gorilla costume for the first class, then sent him packing." She summoned an elevator. "It seems I guessed correctly about you. Insecure but open to persuasion."
The comment made me hot, from anger or sexual frustration, I don't really know. If I did know, this story probably would have ended at the elevator.
Past the sliding doors, we met a man who wore standard American work attire. Like an accountant. He seemed unsurprised by my transgender apparel. No amusement whatsoever. He got out and Tamra used a key to access a lower floor.
We came out in a concrete sub basement. More security locked wooden doors. A big metal thing stood in the center, sweating condensation. It looked like a water tower with legs. "Our client believes in preparing for all contingencies," she explained. "This is the main floor. You will eat, sleep and do work on level."
"Wait," I blurted. "Sleep?"
I smacked my head. "Never mind. It stopped making sense the moment you told me to take off my clothes."
"You can leave any time you want, Mr. Finch. Just remember the NDA."
"I'd have to tie a string around my finger. I hate basketball."
She stopped to glare at me, possibly to lecture.
I raised my hands defensively. "Sorry, bad joke."
A couple cute African American girls, both clad in uniforms identical to mine, came strolling up the hallway in our direction, chattering away. Both bore loaded binders in their arms, manuals, I guessed. Unlike myself , they really had the figure for those uniforms.
Upon seeing me, one elbowed the other and muttered, causing her companion to snort in amusement, but when we made eye contact, the face I got wasn't 'Hey, Tamra got the new guy to wear a dress,' but rather `Oh boy, here comes another one.' She rolled her eyes at me, walking on.
I got a tour.
Like Google, the campus offered a full service cafeteria, daycare center, reading room and coffee shop.
The line about sleeping had been no exaggeration. The place had actual bedrooms, one for men, one for ladies. It also had a laundry room, 'Interfaith' chapel, and even a mini hospital.
Tamra swiped her badge at a secured turnstile, showing me down a concrete tunnel that smelled damp and earthen. "You'll be taking your fertilizer pucks down here. We have a composting station and a place to wash your hands. The water you can drain with hoses in the bathroom."
It was there, at the end of the tunnel, that the facility went a tad overboard with the whole 'sustainability' concept.
She hadn't been equivocating when she mentioned a farm. Although underground, it looked like enough crop to feed an army. I even saw small trees.
And then, as Tamra took me around plots of corn, I saw it. I could not believe my eyes.
It looked like a gray octopus. On land.
Eight eyes like a spider, and it was gardening.
I pointed, fumbling for words.
"Yes, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. I hope you changed your mind about reporting us to the authorities now, Mr. Finch."