by Sar Nandi
The dusty air was thick and dark, only illuminated by the bright beams of old fluorescent lights. Maybe, just maybe, you could ignore the hard to breathe air and the disgusting smog if the smell wasn’t so awful. Decades of neglect made this place reek like a rotting corpse, not that he could smell it though.
The only sound besides the distinct hum of the awful lighting was the loud smashing steps of the cyborg. Half man, half-machine, he cared not for trying to navigate the clutter that had built up in this godforsaken place. Sounds of precariously placed towers of cardboard boxes filled with the refuse no one wanted crashed and fell. Metal bent and screeched. Glass shattered. And rotting decayed meat just squelched.
He was in the under floors of the meat processing plant, and these wretched halls wouldn’t let him forget it. Servos whirred as his enhanced brain scanned the walls. Many decades of flesh mods had made it so there were a minimum of 30 sensors running at any one time; it would drive a regular person insane under the crushing excess of information. Scanners, maintenance, information, it all had to be neatly and efficiently categorized into something vaguely understandable.
For now, he had relegated most of his processing power just to taking in and reviewing heat signatures. Not that it made his job much easier. For every vaguely human-shaped mound, there were a thousand other overheated laptops and waste piles.
His target wasn’t just one person; it was a small group of packrats, employees who had been fired, but instead just moved to the basement levels to find a home. He knew somewhere down here he’d find them, but it was all a matter of when. Packrats were strange, some shifty, some migratory; some just sat down at a spot and rotted there until either an “issue management technician,” such as himself, came in or their diet of rotted meats and rat stew caught up to their biology.
It wasn’t the hunter who struck first though; it was the hunted. A loud clang came from a wall next to him; his scanners already searched for the source and they got it. It was short, lanky arms that ended in hands clenched around a makeshift spear made of broken knives and broom handles. Its eyes darted around the very not-dead issue manager with the same look as a raccoon in the garage. But it was undeniably human. It sprang forward, spear at the ready, and searched for a spot to pierce.
Did you know, foolishness and bravery come from the same portion of the brain? Down to their very chemical signatures, they are shockingly similar. An unmeasured leap of faith errs more on the side of foolishness. Its body slammed into the technician’s chassis. It rolled on the ground shrieking and screaming about how it had done nothing wrong, that the unknowable foreman had just singled him out out of blind hatred.
Its shrieks were stopped relatively quickly.
The issue manager approached the room it came out of, and his scanners showed a mound in the shape of a curled-up person under some blankets. He threw them back and found nothing. Just a crumpled pile of electronics. He stomped around the room throwing back towers of trash. Towers that groaned and shrieked with the compression of metal on metal. Towers that threw sharp metals, rotted meats, and ancient bureaucratic files everywhere.
He stopped for a moment and listened. His sensors weren’t showing it, but he could hear it. Its soft breath, quickened from the carnage of garbage, desperately trying to stay silent. He slowly walked forward, as if he were approaching something else. He could hear the noise coming from under a foil-like reflective blanket. He peeled it back to reveal a thin, elderly woman. She still had her uniform on from the center, only out of date by a few years. In her hands, she clutched onto an ID tag stamped with a large red “TERMINATED.”
For a brief moment, a distant and dusty neuron fired. For a brief moment he paused. Staring down at the terrified woman looking up at him expecting to be thrown into the great oblivion at any moment. He realized why he had paused; she looked just like his mother.
Her eyes and hair were so similar.
A short burst of flame ended this small colony of leeches on the system.
Hulking out of the room and back down the corridor, his scanners marked off this job as a successful mission. A copy of the video was forwarded to his manager, and it would be reviewed later to decide if bonuses were applicable. The digicard he had been given unlocked itself giving him ample access to the 800 meta-bills it stored. A small emoticon of a smiling ground meat package told him he had done great work for the IMD, International Meat Distributor.
I am a freshman who sings and plays the drums. I like to work on punk lyrics and sludge metal drum lines. Additionally, I write short stories that are loosely based around general and large societal concepts and issues.
What motivated you to write this piece?
Throughout the West, we’ve culturally seen the decline in how the laborer is treated and looked at. Naturally, this scales with the size of the company. No one at the top of an ivory tower sees those below himself as anything less than specks. This story is about the natural evolution of that, where the worker becomes a pest to be killed.
What artists and/or writers inspired or influenced your work?
Ben Bova’s grand view of science fiction mixed with realism. H.P. Lovecraft’s abstract horror. Funnily enough, metal lyrics and one-liners really made my writing what it is.
How do you resonate with your piece? Why is it personal
Though I’m not a worker, the plight of the worker is the great modern tragedy in my eyes. The cold otherness of the cyborg is also something that also strikes a chord in me.