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       Displaced, p.2

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  Ian woke to a knock on the door. Disoriented at first he called out ‘Hang on.’ Sliding his legs to the floor, he realised that he’d slept on top of the bed fully clothed. The door opened and a human face appeared. ‘Mr. Wilson is it? My name’s Jim, I’m the sort of liaison for new arrivals, how did you sleep?’ ‘I went out like a light I suppose.’ said Ian, getting up from the bed. ‘Please come with me and I’ll take you to your barracks then you can get cleaned up and join us for breakfast. After that we can sit together and I’ll explain everything to you.’ Ian followed Jim out of the room and they walked together for five minutes or so through the camp, passing sports fields and parks that he’d not noticed the night before. ‘What do we actually do here?’ he asked Jim. ‘Well, put simply, in our section of the camp we work, not on the intellectual level you are used to, no design work or anything like that but with more manual work, repetitive sometimes. Other sections of the camp work in different capacities be here, in this section we work the factory. We have set hours and more leisure time than you are probably used to and less pressure too I think.’ ‘What sort of work is it?’ ‘Well we have a factory you can see in the distance where we mostly work on repair and some assembly of companions.’

  Well that’s great, thought Ian. First we get put out of work because we can’t keep up with enhancements and can’t afford our own companions and now we get to put the bastard things together for someone else. ‘Wouldn’t it be more efficient to let other companions do this assembly work?’ said Ian. ‘The idea is to give us something meaningful to do which doesn’t require constant intelligence amplification or enhancement and in some cases when we perform well we can save what little pay we receive for an enhancement some day in the future and even have the chance to go back to normal society, if you want to.’ ‘Has that happened before?’ ‘As far as I know, yes’ said Jim. They walked in silence after this, Ian noticing a gym class in session and other people walking to and fro. They all wore the same blue shirts and blue pants with soft shoes. He felt like an outsider in his crumpled suit, as though he was a civilian visitor to an army camp. ‘Here we are,’ said Jim ‘this will be your new home for the first few months at least. We like to bring the new people into the smaller huts to start with, not that many names to remember that way.’ Jim led the way up the steps and into the hut. There were four beds along the wall and a communal bathroom at the other end. ‘The others are already at work so you’ll meet them later.’ Pointing to one of the beds Jim explained that this bed was for Ian and that he was to change into the clothes laid out for him. ‘Get changed Ian and I’ll wait outside then we’ll go for breakfast together and I’ll explain a bit more of how things work here.’ Ian had gotten changed and walked to the hut door when there was a dull crump sound and the hut windows rattled. The door flew open and a wild eyed Jim shouted ‘Stay here Ian, I’ll be back soon.’ and ran off in the direction of the factory. Ian could see a black plume of smoke beginning to rise above the factory roof and wondered if he should follow and perhaps help out. He decided to stay where he was.

  An hour or so later Ian heard voices outside and the door to the hut opened, admitting two men in deep conversation. As they entered, neither noticed Ian lying on his bed until he sat up. Both men were dishevelled and had what looked like smoke stains on their clothes. ‘Oops, I didn’t see you there’ said one of them ‘You must be the new guy, I’m Chris Schulz and this is Douglas Ryan and you are?’ ‘Ian Wilson, I just got here last night, what happened to the factory, was it an explosion?’ ‘One of the power packs for the companions went critical, it happens now and again. No one was hurt of course but the workshop will need repairs before we can get started again. We will have an hour or two off this morning and get back to the factory after lunch,’ said Chris. ‘Not a good start to your time here.’ Douglas said ‘Have you had any breakfast ? ’ I could do with a cup of coffee.’ Ian said he hadn’t and then he and his new companions left the hut a short time later headed for the mess hall. Ian noticed a few other people moving in different directions but when they reached the mess it was almost empty. During their meal his new companions explained life in the camp and what Ian would expect when he started work. The day started at seven in the morning and after breakfast there was a walk to the factory followed by an eight hour working day and back to the huts by four thirty or so. Dinner was at 6 and the time between work and dinner and after dinner till lights out was mostly free. There were classes, games and sports available in the evenings and weekends although they were never allowed to leave the camp. A few people chose to work longer hours. There were no screens in the camp itself and no personal assistants to go with them so no way to contact Bickie. It was rumoured that people had earned enough in the camps to pay for upgrades and had then been released back into normal life but no-one knew of anyone who had done this, it seemed like just a story to give people hope. Posters on the wall encouraged diligent and hard work and promised the chance to save for enhancement and a return to normal life. Saving was pretty much all you could do as there were no shops or on-line purchases available. Ian was going to struggle with that.

  Just as they sat down with their meals Jim came into the mess and joined them. ‘I see you have met your roommates Ian, good stuff.’ ‘Yes,’ said Ian ‘they were just telling me about the routine and about the explosion at the factory this morning, any more news?’ ‘Not really, pretty routine stuff,’ said Jim. Ian saw a warning look pass between Jim and the others as if to ward off any further discussion on the explosion. Ian decided to broach the subject with Jim about the opportunity to save for enhancement and perhaps return to normal society one day. At first Jim was cagey but then quite bright and positive about the chances of returning to normal society. The other two said nothing but looked uncomfortable. Ian was beginning to wonder what was going on when Jim said ‘Well Ian, now that you are changed and as soon as you’re done with your breakfast we’ll pop in to see the camp controller and get you properly settled.’ ‘Okay, won’t be long,’ said Ian. Conversation for the rest of the meal was of the weather, sports and other innocuous subjects.

  In the controller’s office Ian was introduced to a sixty-something grey haired woman with a military bearing. She sat at a large desk, empty of paperwork barring a thin folder which he assumed was his resume, if that was the right word. On the desk was a name plate with Janet H. Delaney – Camp Controller in white letters on a green background. Behind her in the corner of the office stood a companion; basic skeletal type except for a red flash on the chest and shoulders. It was not very human like at all but somehow more menacing. ‘Come in Ian, please take a seat.’ She said pointing to one of the hard wooden chairs on the visitor side of the desk. ‘I hear you arrived last night and though we’d get our initial interview done this morning and get you settled into an occupation.’ Ian sat without a word, feeling it was best to let the controller do the talking. He experienced a brief wave of anxiety when he realised his brief case had remained behind in the room before he realised that it probably was of no help to him in this interview. Opening the file the controller said ‘There is nothing special about your case Ian, it seems like so many of the people here you fell behind in your work and either couldn’t or wouldn’t obtain enhancement and so you were unable to contribute properly.’ Ian lifted his hand from the desk to give his version of events but was ignored. She went on ‘With your technical background you will of course be assigned to the factory. This companion behind me will be assigned to you during working hours. The designation is MHX-11129 but you will assign a name to it and it will be your work companion from now on.’ Ian took more note of the companion standing motionless in the corner. It appeared strong and capable. This was what all of the well to do people in the city had with them, a so called companion to help with physical daily as well as work tasks, to fetch and carry and to stand ready at all hours like some never tiring mechanical butler. Not as human like in appearance of course but essentially the same thing. Had Ia
n been able to enhance his mental performance and earn more money he could have had a companion of his own. Now that his normal life was over, at least for the short term, having a companion felt weird. ‘Report to the factory at eight tomorrow morning and you will be shown to your work station and given an induction,’ said the controller. ‘The companion will be waiting for you at the work station and you can sync with it at that point, any questions?’ ‘What kind of work will I be doing?’ asked Ian. ‘You will have all that explained to you when you arrive at the factory, anything else?’ ‘Is it true that we can earn money working here and that if we save enough we can buy enhancements and maybe go back to the city to work?’ ‘It’s a bit early in your time here for that kind of discussion. Now if you’ll excuse me I have work to do. The rest of your day is free, just report at the factory on time in the morning.’ With that she stood up and opened the door for Ian to leave the office.

  Back to the contents page

  Chapter 4 -Losing hope

  Stepping down to the pathway Ian was at first disoriented but then found his way back to his hut. Expecting the hut to be empty he was surprised to see a woman about his age sitting on the doorstep. ‘Hello,’ said Ian ‘Do you live here too?’ ‘Hi,’ said the woman, standing up. ‘You must be the new inmate.’ Ian laughed at this but she seemed serious. ‘You really see me as an inmate?’ ‘Yes,’ said the woman ‘We are all inmates or prisoners or something like that, I mean we can’t go home, we can’t leave and we have to do what we are told. I don’t share this hut with you if that’s what you mean; I just sat down a minute to tie my shoe laces.’ ‘Well, I’m inmate Ian Wilson number double-oh-seven and a half, and you?’ ‘Rachel, Rachel Evans, prisoner number ninety-nine.’ ‘Perhaps we should stand back to back and pretend to read newspapers while we talk out of the sides or our mouths?’ said Ian amused. They laughed together at this but Ian could see she was serious at least about being a prisoner. ‘Anyway, I’ve got some time off this morning after working very late last night. If you like you can buy me a coffee and I’ll explain to you your new status as a jail bird,’ said Rachel. ‘Well I’d be happy to do that, seems I’m free today and still very nonplussed about what this place is and what we have to do here.’ They walked off together towards the mess hall. There were some tables outside at the back where they could talk. Ian used his new I.D. card for the first time to buy two coffees from the vending machine. This would debit his account at the camp and as he worked in the factory credits would be applied. ‘I owe my soul to the company store, ’Said Ian. ‘What’s that again?’ Rachel said with a puzzled look. ‘Nothing, just an old song, so tell me prisoner ninety-nine, what do we do to escape, are you digging a tunnel under the wire or do we jump in the bin with the dirty sheets and go out the front gate in the laundry truck?’ ‘Very funny,’ said Rachel, ‘but there’s less to it than that. Notice I said less to it, not more to it.’ Rachel went on to explain what she understood about the workings of the camp. In the camp were about a hundred and fifty people, all of working age and all sent here due to their inability to keep up with their respective workloads. This is turn was due to their inability to afford upgrades to their intelligence amplification implants that would let them work faster and more accurately. Work in the camps was of more physical nature than they had been used to and because of this they were assigned companions to help. The companions were not allowed to leave the factory and were used as part of the tool kit and work bench issued to each person. Work was fairly simple assembly and repair work, mostly on damaged companions sent to the camp workshops for repair or upgrade. Workshop manuals were downloaded to personal implants on the first day in the factory. People soon got up to speed with the work and became useful within a week or so. Weekends and evenings were free for recreation but no-one was allowed to leave the camp at any time. ‘So far I can’t get an answer to one simple question,’ said Ian, ‘is it possible to earn enough to afford an upgrade and if so is it possible to leave the camps?’ ‘I’ve heard about people who have but it’s like the people you hear about who win a lottery, they are always heard of but never seen. I’ve never actually known anyone personally who has done this. My calculations show that you’d have to be one of the senior technicians to get enough pay to be able to save that much and even then it could take years.’ ‘What about you?’ said Ian, ‘Are you saving anything, are you hoping for an upgrade yourself? It doesn’t seem like there is anything to spend your credits on here.’ ‘I don’t believe it’s possible, I have other ideas about the future myself and not much interest in spending. I’d rather not say anything more about that now. You should rest before the big day tomorrow.’ With that she stood up and Ian followed her outside in silence. As they stepped outside Ian said that he’d like to have a look around the camp and walked off on his own. It was a warm sunny day and Ian was soon lost in thought as well as in his wanderings. The road back to his old life seemed a long one and in only one day he was beginning to feel very distant from the normal routine of work and home life. Strangely he missed Bickie and realised he’d gone two days without buying anything more than breakfast and coffee. What Rachel had said about other ideas made him wonder if the tunnel digging escape was actually in progress? Thinking more about this Ian realised that without the proper authorisation, going back to the city would only end up in another bus trip back to the camp, why would that make any sense? There must be some other idea she has in mind, perhaps he’d find out more soon.

  The centre of the camp seemed to be dedicated to recreational pursuits such as sports and parks. At one such park Ian took a seat at a bench and watched a group of people playing tennis. Pity there are no shops or screens to use, Ian was thinking when there was a loud alarm sound and everyone stopped what they were doing. The alarm sound faded and then mechanical sounding voice was heard over hidden loudspeakers. It urged all campers to the main hall for a briefing in five minutes time. Ian noticed that the tennis players immediately stopped their game and moved off between two buildings, not knowing where the main hall was, he followed them. The hall itself was not a very tall building and there was already a small crowd at the doors. Finding himself alongside one of the tennis players he asked ‘what’s happening, any idea?’ The tennis player said ‘You must be new here; this is an almost routine occurrence these days. Probably some new rules we have to know about or some such thing.’ With that the tennis player spotted his friends and moved off. Ian squeezed in through the door and took a seat near the back of the hall among the murmuring, chair leg scraping and clumping of shoes on the wooden floor. The camp controller stood at a podium impatiently waiting for them all to settle. Finally the crowd quieted down and the controller began her address. ‘This is an announcement and not a discussion. Shortly a notice will be posted which will confirm that from next week normal non-overtime working hours will be increased from eight hours per day or forty hours per week to eight and a half hours per day or forty-two and a half hours per week.’ There were some groans and whispered protests. ‘I remind you,’ she continued ‘that you are here in this camp due to your inability to conform to societies needs and that your contribution to society is now drawn from your work here, in the factory. As society’s needs grow on the outside people will become more enhanced to deal with it. Here in the camp your increased contribution can only be achieved by longer hours as long as you are unable to upgrade and produce more in the same time period. Rather than being paid for sales you will be paid per job done with increased rates for jobs done after normal working hours. Note also that although you may work a half hour longer per day this will not affect your credit allocation. You will not be paid more for the extra half hour per day and overtime pay will only apply after the initial eight and a half hours. That is all.’ At a signal the doors at the back and sides of the hall opened and the controller stepped away from the podium and left by a back door. As soon as she was gone the murmuring started again. There was general unhappiness at the extended hours but more about
the lack of increased pay. Just outside the door he heard a small group discussing their savings and decided to ask them about the possibility of saving for an upgrade. ‘Excuse me’, began Ian ‘Is it possible to save for an upgrade? I can’t seem to get an answer to that.’ One of the members of the group laughed and said ‘Only if you could work here for six or seven years and the prices of food and other charges don’t keep going up as they have been recently. Also with this new rule you’d have to work ten hours a day minimum before the overtime pay really helps unless you get promoted.’ ‘So, in your opinion it’s impossible?’ said Ian. ‘No. I’m not saying that it’s just that it’s not easy and I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it as you would almost have to starve yourself to save the money and what are you going back to on the outside anyway, for more shopping, more struggling to keep up?’ They began to walk off together, obviously not willing to discuss things further. One of the group members gave him a backward glance which seemed to say that Ian was better off not thinking about returning to so called normal life.

  Back at his hut he found himself alone and sat on his bed, opening his briefcase. Everything inside was from another world, of no real value to him and only served as a reminder of the outside world that he had left so recently which seemed now to be so far away. He lay down on his bed and thought again about his life and how it had been recently. His work load had increased to the point that without the enhancements he could only cope by taking work home and working almost every evening and almost the whole weekend too. His leisure time was limited to an hour here and there once or twice a week. With all of this he was unable to save enough to pay of the upgrades and so as the demands increased he was finally unable to keep up. This was not a lifestyle he would want to return to but with enhancements he could keep up with the workload and still have plenty of time off and not have to work evenings and weekends. Besides he missed his collections and Bickie. Perhaps he could one day buy a companion of his own and join the ranks of the Capitalists. Having been divorced for going on six years now he had left no-one behind and was grateful at least for this. So many others in the camps had been separated from their families. Being used to working fifteen hours a day, Ian thought that he would try to get as much overtime as he could to save enough for an enhancement. If everything worked well he could be back in society in a few years working only eight hours a day with his own companion, if this was possible. He dosed off thinking about the possibilities.

 
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