It’s the end of the fiscal year. Hunting season has begun.

Ultimately, it all kicked off with the invention of the “workplace transparency plan.” As ad revenue stagnated, social platforms instead offered corporate clients access to their employees’ private messages. For a small subscription fee, employers could learn who their workers were communicating with and retaliate as they saw fit.

Within months, an entire industry of talent recruiters found themselves stonewalled by a terrified workforce. With electronic communication lost to them, the recruiters — far behind on their quotas — resorted to more drastic methods.

Strive Solutions is a midsize software company on the third floor of a converted building in the old warehouse district. Its two vintage elevators are too old to support ID card readers, so a pair of security doors flanking the reception area are all that stand between potential intruders and Strive’s inner sanctum.

A few minutes past 3:00 in the afternoon, both elevators open and the mob piles out.

Runners always raid in force, the better to overwhelm any on-site security. Where once the typical recruiter was a bland, nonthreatening thirtysomething in business-casual pastels, now they trend toward linebackers’ builds and stab vests. Those who aren’t the general size and shape of a refrigerator are the most dangerous of all — quick, clever, and vicious.

Not one of them is over the age of 30. Running is a youngster’s game.

The security doors are RFID-locked, but made of glass. Somebody puts a boot through one of them, and the runners barely slow as they stampede through.

The bulk of Strive’s employees work in an open-plan area referred to as “the Pit” whenever management isn’t around. The runners swarm through it with ease, unhindered by hallways or doors, vaulting over desks and chairs when they need to.

Certain pieces of equipment are standard. Every runner carries a tablet, ruggedized to withstand all sorts of abuse and equipped with a fingerprint scanner. A simple swipe of a new recruit’s thumb and the contract is sealed, filed instantly with their new employer. Signatures were once the preferred endorsement, before someone realized a fingerprint was valid even if the owner of said finger was unconscious.

Most of the runners also carry weapons, usually truncheons or collapsible batons. Those who don’t are about to learn that Strive’s CEO has a blacksmithing hobby and an office full of medieval weapons.

The rest of a runner’s arsenal varies with personal preference.

Barry Duboc, like most of his colleagues, goes for the easy money: junior employees who are easily seduced by playground offices and extravagant launch parties, and are easily intimidated into signing anything put in front of them. Clients don’t pay much for cannon fodder like this, but Barry makes up the difference in volume.

Inside a military surplus document holder, its metal edges filed razor sharp, Barry carries photos of his client’s break lounge — stuffed wall-to-wall with vintage arcade games — and a laminated copy of their dense recreational calendar. Before long he’s herded a sizable number of impressionable young programmers away from the safety of their fellows.

A few yards away, a 6’7” runner with tattooed sclera and brass knuckles on both hands sinks his teeth into the earlobe of a production intern.

Seasoned runners like Tom Saunders know where the real money is: senior developers, not so easily swayed by treats, parties, or threats.

Tom never goes on a run without a copy of his client’s benefits package, a breakdown of their flexible working policy, and a stun gun. This time, though, Tom’s got a secret weapon: his client operates out of a refurbished boutique hotel and offers private offices to its senior employees. The promise of working behind a door that can close attracts two senior web developers, one production manager, and an automation engineer.

Shelly Fleming is a virtuoso; she glides through the bedlam of the Pit like a shark through a school of fish. Painstaking research, careful maneuvering, and perfect timing have brought her here, today, for one target alone.

Over the weekend, Strive’s lead software architect posted anonymously online about her struggles at work since transitioning. Unfortunately, the post went viral and a characteristic turn of phrase gave her away. She was summoned to Strive’s HR department ten minutes ago for a lecture on “undermining the company’s public image.”

Shelly bursts into the room with a six-figure contract and her client’s novel-length Diversity & Inclusion policy. If the architect took the time to actually read the policy, she’d quickly realize it was crafted with great care to serve as a flawless legal and political shield while entitling the company’s employees to no actual protection or recourse from discrimination. But time isn’t a luxury she has anymore.

She winds up at the center of a tug of war between Shelly and the HR manager, whose brightly painted nails carve deep lines into the architect’s arm as Shelly drags her from the room.

Of course, Strive has invested in countermeasures. An expensive renovation over the holidays transformed the entire office into a Faraday cage, ensuring no wireless signals can go in or out. The runners’ contracts are all hosted on a remote web service; they must get their prizes out of the building.

Barry ushers his pack of recruits back through reception, but the elevators take precious seconds to arrive and more to depart. Strive’s two security guards beat several of the defecting juniors unconscious before they can escape, and a particularly zealous manager drags another from the elevator as the doors close.

Tom knows better, and heads for the stairs; unfortunately, the route to the stairwell leads past Strive’s executive suite. He loses one of his recruits to a flying tackle from the COO, who adorns his desk with high school football trophies.

Shelly cased the office in advance. She leads the architect to an old fire escape at the far end of the floor, near the server room. The windows are locked, but a quick blow from Shelly’s collapsible baton and they’re both home free, clambering down the side of the building.

As quickly as it started, it’s all over.

Of the dozens of workstations arrayed throughout the Pit, almost half now sit empty. Broken glass and loose papers lie scattered across the floor, alongside a few office chairs knocked over in the chaos. Strive’s remaining workers peer uncertainly from beneath their desks.

A light breeze wafts through the shattered window.

Strive’s CEO storms and rages for an hour, cursing the disloyalty of his former employees. Then, shutting himself in his office, he places a call to his own recruiter.