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The assembly line forwarded another car frame towards Joel's workstation. He pushed his holo-lens up the bridge of his nose, straightened out his navy-blue workman's coverall and got to work. He grabbed a USB cable from one of the blue plastic bins and connected one end to the car's touch screen display and the other to the car's GPU. He then grabbed a dozen other USB and power cables and attached them to their corresponding slots. He completed his task in under a minute. No robot as yet could perform this task as quickly and as accurately as a human, though Joel was certain this would soon change.
The year was 2045, and machines had displaced humans from almost every other job that didn't require an extraordinarily high IQ or excellent hand-eye coordination. Joel's work in general vehicle assembly fell into the latter category.
Every day, Joel lived in dread of the day when his company would inform him of his 'redundancy', a euphemism for which he cared little. He had a wife and two children, a boy aged six and a daughter aged nine. If he ever lost his job, his family would have no choice but to live off social assistance. Sure, they wouldn't starve to death, but he wasn't keen on moving his family to the social housing slums of America where rapes, kidnappings, and gang violence were the norm.
Besides, he couldn't stand the idea of being completely dependent on the government. That gave the government too much power over him. Furthermore, he was a man, and a man should provide for his family. If, instead, the government forced others to feed his wife and children, then perhaps his wife should divorce him and marry the government instead.
Joel shook his head. His thoughts were becoming political, and he hated politics. Everyday, Global News Network, GNN, would flood his holo-feed with stories of violent street brawls between various political movements. The violence, the destruction of city property, the rising death toll now in the thousands since GNN started keeping track three years ago – all of it sickened Joel to his core.
He missed the good old days when people used to be afraid to reveal their political affiliations for fear of being fired from their jobs or facing a media firestorm. As bad as things used to be, today, people openly wore the colors of their political party while roaming the streets in armed gangs. One had to travel in gangs these days to avoid being mobbed by members of an opposing party.
Joel glanced at his royal-blue armband which had a silver cross on it. He looked away with a grimace. He scanned his gaze across the factory floor. All his coworkers wore the same armband. This factory was a Conservative Christians' factory. It employed only members of the Conservative Christians' Party, or CCP for short.
This didn't mean that the company itself endorsed the CCP, though many local businesses would have no choice but to endorse the local party. The car manufacturing company that Joel worked for operated many other factories, some of which were located in states dominated by the rival International Socialists' Party (ISP for short). Joel's factory, located near New Reno, Nevada, happened to be in a district dominated by the CCP, thus it would be unwise to hire anybody from a rival faction lest the factory manager wished for that unfortunate hire to be beaten to a pulp by his coworkers.
A GNN news flash popped into Joel's holo-lens. He read the headline and frowned. Apparently, a bunch of ISP terrorists had bombed a CCP headquarters in California, killing one and injuring a dozen. Five suspects had been detained. The Governor of California, who was a member of the ISP, blamed the attack on CCP operatives masquerading as ISP activists. The President, who was a member of the centrist Unity Party, had condemned the attack and threatened further crackdowns on political extremism.
Further down the assembly line, one of Joel's coworkers stood up on a bin and hollered with a wrench held high above his head. “We know what we're gonna do tonight, boys. We're gonna git 'em back!”
All of Joel's coworkers pumped their fists into the air. “Git the bastards!”
With a tired sigh, Joel halfheartedly raised his fist and bellowed a weak cry.
Another GNN news flash popped into his holo-lens. This time, he saw a video of literal Nazis in their brown-shirt uniforms and Nazi arm bands seig-heiling their way down the streets of Berlin. Then came the squealing of tires. Several black vans sped out of the adjacent alleyways and crashed into the marching column. Black-clad, bat-wielding, masked hoodlums jumped out of the vans and started bashing the heads of the Nazis. The headline: Berlin Nazis March into Antifa Ambush In Deadliest Street Battle Since Last December.
Joel took off his holo-lens in disgust and shoved the blasted contraption into his shirt pocket.
He heard a high-pitched beep, which usually preceded a factory floor announcement. “Attention all workers, please report to the lobby immediately for an important announcement.”
The assembly line ground to a halt.
All the workers groaned.
The floor manager only ever made announcements in the lobby if there was going to be mass layoffs.
Joel and his seven hundred coworkers in the general assembly department dropped their tools and begrudgingly shuffled towards the monorail station. The factory was huge, covering a whopping ten million square feet, hence the necessity of an in-house mass transit system. The monorail itself wasn't actually a train on rails. It was just a big lane for self-driving buses and smaller taxis.
Several buses pulled up to the boarding station. Joel and his coworkers boarded the buses. He approached a seat occupied by his buddy, Chuck Calhoun. Chuck slid towards the window to make room for Joel. Joel sat down with a heavy sigh.
“I'll bet the severance will be shit,” Chuck grumbled.
“Well you're an optimistic bastard, aren't you?” Joel chided. “Thinking there's gonna be severance. Pfft.”
Chuck snorted. “Yeah, you're right. I hope you're ready for an ass-whoopin' cuz ya know what's comin', don't ya?”
Joel crossed his arms and wanted to shrink into himself. “Does it always have to devolve into violence?”
Chuck shrugged. “It's a tradition. Wouldn't be right if us workers didn't throw a shit storm after yet another round of mass layoffs. So what kinda protection ya think Mr Ass-wipe is gonna bring this time?” He chuckled. His chuckled devolved into a maniacal laugh. “Remember the last time? He got his ass dragged to the floor and everyone piled him.”
That was how the manager got his latest nickname, Mr Ass-wipe. Because the workers wiped the floor. With his ass.
Joel couldn't help but chuckle despite his distaste for violence. He didn't blame the workers. Their very survival was at stake. It wasn't like there were any other jobs for men like them. They weren't stone geniuses who could cook up some sort of Satanic AI on their computers. They were working class people with no higher education. Hell, even if they did have the opportunity to pursue a higher calling, it wasn't like they had the smarts for it.
He glanced out the window and watched as they drove past section upon section of tightly packed machinery, all working in concert to manufacture the various components of a Kissler Cruiser. In these sections, there was not a single worker in sight. All the parts produced in these sections would eventually be funnelled into the general assembly department, which was one of the only two departments in the entire ten-million square feet factory that had people working in it. The only other department with human staff was the engineering department. Joel envied those genius bastards who were living it up with their six-figure salaries and generous benefits.
The bus train took the workers to the lobby, the only open area in the packed factory. Joel disembarked from the bus with Chuck following just behind. The workers gathered before a podium where Mr Ass-wipe stood on a stage with three full platoons of security guards standing watch on the floor. The guards wore black military combat gear, complete with gas masks, titanium arm protectors and leggings, and a belt full of nasty surprises. They wielded stun batons on their right hand and a riot shield on their left.
As the workers gathered before the stage, the security guards positioned themselves around the workers, one platoon covering the front and one covering each flank, leaving only the rear open so the workers would have an opening to flee the building if shit got real.
Chuck wheezed out a chuckle. “How much ya think it cost him to hire all these guys?”
“A small fortune, I'd imagine,” Joel muttered.
Chuck patted Joel on the back. “At least we cost him that much, am I right?”
Joel merely grunted.
Chuck cracked his knuckles. “Still, I'm itching for a fight. Don't care if I get my head bashed-in. Ain't nothin' to lose.”
Joel shook his head. He turned away from the stage and put his hand on Chuck's shoulder. “We don't have to stay for this shit. Come on. Let's go.”
Joel bit his lower lip. He could tell by the glower on Chuck's face that there wasn't going to be an argument. There was going to be a fight. Joel relented. “Fine. If you stay, I'll stay. Somebody's gotta watch your stupid ass.”
Chuck grinned. “Thanks, buddy. Beer's on me when this is over.”
Joel turned back to face the stage.
Mr Ass-wipe's Adam's apple bulged up and down as he tapped his finger on the microphone. “Testing. Testing. Can everyone hear me?”
The workers silently glowered.
The paramilitary security guards spread their feet out and tapped their batons on their riot shields. Joel envied their job security. He didn't envy their job, though. He wouldn't want to make a living out of bashing the heads of disgruntled factory workers.
Mr Ass-wipe spoke. “Let's cut to the chase. You've all been replaced by machines. ImaGen first-gen androids can now perform all the functions of a human worker better, faster, and with fewer complaints than all of you.”
A metallic clack echoed from the doors. Joel turned around. He was moderately tall, standing at six foot one, so he was able to stand on his tip-toes to see over everyone else's heads. A company of sleek white androids with big black eyes and no mouths marched into the lobby. When one of the workers tried to accost an android, the android pushed back with such force that the man flew a few feet backwards and crashed into his peers.
The workers started shouting and raising their fists.
“Settle down!” Mr Ass-wipe yelled. “Don't even try to touch them. They will break you with ease even without help from security.” One worker threw a shoe at Mr Ass-wipe who narrowly dodged it. The floor manager glowered. “Look, with no workers left on the floor, I'm out of a job too, jack-asses. But it's not all doom and gloom. Kissler's Board of Directors has made us a generous offer.”
“Huh,” Chuck said. “Looks like there's gonna be severance after all.”
“Y'all might have heard of the Eden Project, headed by Doctor Gabriella Romero.”
The workers murmured amongst themselves.
Joel raised his left eyebrow. He had heard of the Eden Project. It was some sort of utopian schemed dreamt up by the heads of a bunch of multinational tech conglomerates.
“Shit,” Chuck said. “Ass-wipe's trying to sell us a pipe dream. Looks like this is gonna get ugly after all.”
Joel eyed the paramilitary wannabes. He eyed the cold metal robots standing between the workers and the exit. If shit hit the fan, the workers were going to take the brunt of the hurt.
Ass-wipe continued speaking. “Kissler's Board of Directors has voted to join the Eden Project, which means y'all get the opportunity to be among the first to live in one of their shiny new cities. I've been told it's paradise.”
Joel shook his head, muttering, “Yeah, right.”
Chuck cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered, “Fuck you. Give us money.”
The workers chorused in agreement.
“You will be assigned new homes in this new city. Apartments equipped with state-of-the-art modern luxuries. Food will be delivered to your door, ready to eat and free of charge. Just pick out what you want to eat on your newly issued, and free, holo-lens. Want sushi? Just tap and swipe. Feeling like Italian? Why not? You will never again have to pay for food. Or anything. All your needs will be provided at no charge.”
Chuck pointed at Mr Ass-wipe. “Liar!”
Several workers did the same.
Ass-wipe spoke louder. “In the days leading up to Christmas of each year, you'll be able to pick out a new set of clothes for next year. For the whole family. From a wide variety of big international brands such as Oops Apparel, Johnny Jeans, or Japanese fashion line Osaka Bling.”
Chuck unzipped his coveralls and tore off his shirt, thereby unleashing all of his pent up BO to Joel's dismay. Chuck held up his shirt in a clenched fist. “We don't want clothes made by Japanese homosexuals. Give us real American dollars so we can buy real American clothes.” He threw his sweat-stained shirt at the podium. His shirt got caught on the microphone.
Ass-wipe grabbed the shirt and cast it aside. “I don't care if y'all believe me or not. There's nothing else out there for us. Take this offer or leave it. There won't be a second chance.”
The paramilitary security guards flicked their batons in unison. The electric tips of their batons turned on all at once, producing a collective buzz that sent a shudder down Joel's spine.
The workers simmered down.
The two sides faced each other in silence.
Joel's heart was beating so fast he was afraid it might jump out of his chest. “Shit,” he hissed. He glanced at the exit. The robots were still standing there, watching with cold, black eyes and hands held open at their sides.
“A show of hands,” Ass-wipe said, breaking the uneasy silence. “Who's on board with the Eden Project?”
After several seconds, one of the workers raised his hand. Then another. A group of three raised their hands. Several groups raised their hands. Soon, it seemed like all but Chuck and Joel had their hands raised. Chuck and Joel exchanged glances.
Chuck grimaced. “Ah, fuck it.” He raised his hand.
Joel had no choice. He had no other job prospects. He didn't want his family living off food stamps and meagre government handouts. He had to do what was best for his family, even if it meant believing in a pipe dream just to avoid a violent end to his pathetic life. He begrudgingly raised his hand.
Thank you for reading! I originally planned for this to be a short novella, but it seems like it might turn into something much longer. We'll see how it goes.
This story is set in the same universe as my first novel, Red Eden: Homeworld Bound. The Eden Project is set two centuries before the events of Red Eden: Homeworld Bound, so you'll get much of the backstory if you follow my new series. If you're interested, you can support me by downloading Red Eden: Homeworld Bound for free and leaving a review. Just click the following link:
If you're feeling really generous, you can support me by buying the e-book or hard copy on Amazon and leaving a review:
Thanks again for reading! Cheers!
Michael E. Vigil