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Gatekeepers Short: The Agency, Part 1

RhetoricalHypotheticalMay 2, 2018, 3:53:57 AM

Note: This story is a continuation of a larger series. Here is the complete list of sections.

Steve Lyon sat at his desk, tapping away at the keyboard. He absentmindedly responded to emails, sipping occasionally from his pure white mug that contained his preferred flavor of tea. He finished typing his response, then clicked send. But just as he pressed down on the mouse, he saw it. He wasn’t selecting reply. He had selected reply all.

As he struggled not to spew his tea all over the monitor, he frantically tried to cancel, but it was too late. The email had been sent. He had responded to a mass email from someone he knew personally, and had included some disparaging remarks about other people included among the recipients. Once they saw, they would go never forgive him, and his job might even be in jeopardy if they complained to HR.

He checked his sent messages to verify what he already knew. But what he found was something else. The message had not been sent to everyone. Only the intended recipient. And that wasn’t all. It didn’t have any of the negative comments about his coworkers.

He stared for a full minute, bewildered. He could brush off mistakenly thinking he hit the send all when he hadn’t, but the email sitting in his outbox was not the one he had written. It was polite, professional, and used corporate buzzwords like synergy and inclusion. It wasn’t him.

He quickly typed a new reply email. Reply All. Subject, test. Message, test. Send.

He switched back over to his sent emails. Nothing was there. He tried sending another email. Nothing happened, yet again.

He received a different email that required a reply. He quickly typed the response, but added a question about emails being filtered. He explained his observations, while including some random swear words with a disclaimer on what he was doing so the recipient would know he wasn’t angry at them. He clicked send.

Sent emails. The message was there. The necessary information he was asked to send was there. But the other part about the mysterious alterations was not, and neither was the profanity. Even the language he had used in the relevant part had been altered slightly to sound more professional, and he also didn’t see any typos he was sure should be there when he hadn’t proofread the message thoroughly before sending.

Steve stood up from his chair and backed out of his cubicle. He walked briskly to his rotund supervisor’s office, Mr. Crumb. Knocking on the open door’s frame, Steve acquired the balding man’s attention, causing him to look up from his cluttered desk with towers of papers.

“Yes, Mr. Lyon? Can I help you?”

Steve scratched the back of his head, unsure how to properly ask the question. “Um… I’ve been seeing some strange stuff in my emails. I mistakenly hit reply all, but it still was only sent to the original sender.”

“Hmm… are you sure you didn’t actually hit reply?”

“Maybe, but that’s not all. I tried sending some test emails too where the same thing happened, and I also noticed some of my outgoing emails were altered before being sent. Do you have any idea what might cause that?”

Crumb scratched his chin thoughtfully before his expression showed he had registered an answer. “Oh. That’s just the Auto-Correct System.”

“Auto-Correct System? Are you saying this is supposed to happen?”

“Yes, it processes all information and makes corrections where necessary, finding mistakes and fixing them on the fly. It’s been in effect for as long as I’ve worked here.”

Steve blinked, shocked at what he was hearing. “Are… are you saying it’s always been there? Ever since I started working here when I was ten?!”

Crumb chuckled to himself. “Yes, it has always been there, long before even I started. And you have only been here a couple years, so I can understand why you may not have noticed it before. It’s designed to be undetectable, to be a safety net you can’t even see. I hear that things can slip through the cracks, but it has been perfected to the point where even minor mistakes getting by is almost unheard of.”

Steve turned to leave, relieved that he wasn’t crazy. But such a system was incredible and far too good to be true. Automated correction of all mistakes? That meant he never needed to worry about messing up. He could take an even more relaxed attitude toward his work, and no one would notice. But his relief was short lived when he thought longer about the implications.

Steve ran back to his desk, weaving between his complacent coworkers as he reached his computer to check more emails. He ignored his filling inbox as he checked his older archived emails.

They were all different. Back then, he had even less respect for standard company speech codes, but any inflammatory language he had used had been whitewashed. It was all the same boring tone his coworkers used.

The horrific realization dawned on him. He had always thought his coworkers were all just boring, despite being just as young as he was. But they were under the same system. Their replies read just like his sanitized emails. It was all fake. No one was getting through with the words they chose.

He ran to a coworker, a red haired girl seated in the cubicle next to him. He yelled at her, but she hardly reacted, turning nonchalantly to respond to him. “Yes, Steve? Did you need something?”

“Did you even hear me!? I just yelled at the top of my lungs! Our emails are being censored, none of us can say what we want!”

The girl gave him a quizzical look, as if she was still waiting for him to say something. “Um… I’m sorry Steve, but I have work to do. If you need something, we can talk later…” The girl turned back to her computer, typing away as if she hadn’t heard a single thing Steve said.

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