It was the end of the mission, and Captain Lead was remembering when his team first flew in to conduct the external quality assurance review. The starship had fluxed out of hyperdrive and returned to real space with the sound of air collapsing in on itself and the disorienting feeling that everyone's insides were being blown about like windswept workpapers.
But that was always the way it was with hyperspace travel – a disorientation that made even the strongest internal auditor wish for the days of sixteen column spreadsheets. The Captain cursed under his breath. He had signed up with the QA Corps to help ensure effective internal audits, not to have his atoms scattered back and forth across hyperspace. But such was life in the corps. As much as he wanted controls, documentation, and evidence, sometimes you just had to trust the egghead engineers.
But this trip – this landing – there was something more. He couldn't shake the vague sense of displacement, like he was conducting accounts payable tests in an accounts receivable environment. He might be a firm believer in concrete evidence, but he also believed in his auditing sixth sense. At the very moment the ship emerged into real space, amidst the discomfort of that emergence, that sixth sense was tingling.
It was that same auditing sixth sense that helped him succeed in the past. That sixth sense had led him to complete CAATS over the unadjusted spice shipments from Arrakis and report that terraforming efforts should be halted because of the adverse effect on spice shipment profits. That sixth sense had led him to explore statistical anomalies regarding the deaths of domesticated animals on the planet Hoth, resulting in the planet wide abolishment of light sabers due to adverse impact on animal inventories. And it was that sixth sense which had led him to examine the work processes being used by the Vogon fleet, leading to the streamlining of the process in such a way that the demolition related to the development of the hyperspace express route could be completed on time.
"Has our location been verified?" he asked. The navigator answered in the affirmative and the Captain started giving orders. "Okay. Communications officer, contact Headquarters and let them know we have arrived. First Auditor, contact the audit department and let them know we are ready to beam down and start the review." He watched his team scurry to comply as they began documenting the workpapers. "IT Officer, show us the big screen."
Floating in front of the crew, the tri-viewer provided a picture of the planet Sepa. It was an alien planet; yet it felt familiar. The captain's uneasiness grew. And through their psychic connection he could tell his team felt it, too. It was a great benefit to have a team made up entirely of CPIAs. The best way to get a solid review completed in the shortest time was with a team of Certified Psychic Internal Auditors. But this time the psychic disruption was palpable. They would just have to trust their skills and turn that unsettling feeling into a concrete finding.
Upon meeting the head of audit, they were even more confused. He was gregarious. He was personable. He was entertaining. He was a joy to be with. In other words, he was everything an internal auditor should never be. On the second day, the Captain finally asked, "Your degree doesn't happen to be in marketing does it?"
The Chief (no one within the audit department seemed to call him anything else - no titles, no respect, no professionalism – just "Hi, Chief") looked slightly taken aback, but smiled (he always smiled) and said, "Of course." A strange truth began to dawn on the Captain. "What about your audit team," he asked. "Are their degrees in marketing as well?"
"Of course not" answered the Chief. But before the Captain could set aside his fears, the Chief went on to say, "Nope. Some have marketing degrees, but others have degrees in sales, public relations, communications – you know, all the basics." Apparently he saw the look of shock on the Captain's face. "What degrees does your team have?"
"Accounting" answered the Captain. For the first time, he saw the smile on the Chief's face disappear. "Why would you..." but then he paused. Still smiling (but smiling like he had just been asked to remove a finding to allow an improvement in the overall opinion) he said, "We would never put anything as important as internal audit into the hands of accountants."
That night, the Captain hadn't been sure what to tell his team. So he told them nothing. But the team wasn't fooled. (After all, if a CPIA can't tell something is up, then the voracity of the entire certification program comes under question.)
As the QA review moved forward, little things began to be noticed. First it was evasive answers when questioned about the audit committee, noncommittal responses about how the standards were applied, and vague comments about documentation. But one morning the team came into their work area to find that their workpapers had been folded into origami unicorns. Another morning the team turned on their laptops and, rather than the familiar windows theme, they heard the song "Daisy". And one day they opened a cabinet to find that it was empty except for a single, spinning top.
But they slogged through. It was hard work; every place they looked there was something wrong. Even the most basic standards were unknown or ignored. It appeared the concepts of risk and control were second and third thoughts for the auditors (if they were thought of at all.) And throughout it all, the Chief smiled and offered to take them to lunch and offered to take them to dinner and offered them other things of which it is best not to discuss and, all in all, managed to avoid any of the meetings the team scheduled.
The Captain was remembering all this as he prepared for the wrap -up meeting. He was polishing up the final report. (Further proof that things were not going as they should –only five rewrites were required.) He tried to forget the disturbing events that had occurred. And he tried to forget that, in spite of everything they had found, his sixth sense continued to warn him that something was definitely wrong. The only way to put it all to rest was to finish the report, have the meeting, and head back home. He had let the team go back to the hotel to get ready for the trip. There was not a one of them that could think of anything except the mind-twisting trip through the hyperverse with home on the other side.
He heard a noise at the door and looked up to see the Chief. He was smiling (as he always was), but this time there was a weird twist to his mouth – as if he knew where the one cent was hidden that would allow the account to be reconciled. More than any other time, the Captain felt something was wrong...very wrong. He thought he glimpsed it – the hidden truth that would be the key to the entire review. But it wouldn't stay pinned down.
And then Chief laughed. "You've almost got it, haven't you? And yet, you just can't allow yourself to understand what has happened." The Captain had no answer. The Chief, for only the second time the entire visit, looked serious. "Do you want the answer?"
"Yes" the Captain whispered.
"Go to the Executive Suites on the top floor. But, instead of turning right, turn left."
"What will I find there?"
The Chief's face twisted into something indescribable. "It was once a paradise. It was once a location for broad strategic thoughts and concepts. It was a place where people worked together to make things better. But your breed made a desert of it."
The Captain passed through the door doing everything he could to keep from touching the Chief. "What will you find there? Your destiny."
The Captain took the elevator to the executive floor and, instead of turning right, turned left. It was vacant. It was dusty. It was desolate. It was an abandoned shell of a once professional department. It was all beginning to become clear.
He arrived at the corner office. He looked at the nameplate. He saw his own name.
"Oh no! I'm back! I'm home. All the time, I've been home. We finally really did it. You maniacs." He picked up shreds of an audit charter. "You blew it up. You detailed and nit-picked your way to oblivion." He pumped his fist into the air. "Damn you all to the Mailroom!!!"