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       Displaced, p.3

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  It was dark in the room when he woke up, barring a yellow light from the sodium arc lights outside. He was just wondering what the time was when the door opened and the lights flicked on inside. ‘Hello, shit, did I wake you?’ said Douglas. ‘I just got off work and came to drop my bag before dinner.’ ‘No problem,’ said Ian, shielding his eyes. ‘I must have dosed off, I’ll get up and go with you, give me a minute.’ Ian washed his face in the sink to wake himself up properly and they left for the mess hall together. On the way Ian asked about Douglas’ day in the factory. ‘Very routine, but I must say I’m not looking forward to the new hours kicking in tomorrow, great day for you to start work. It’s probably a good thing you had a sleep this afternoon.’ ‘Oh, I’m used to long hours,’ said Ian. ‘I have been doing about fifteen or sixteen hours per day and working weekends to try to keep up with the workload I have had in the Metro. It wasn’t enough though, that’s why I’m here.’ Douglas explained that they all had similar experiences but noticed that recent arrivals at the camp seemed to have been even more overloaded with work than the older arrivals. There seemed to be a general increase in expectations at work in the outside and recently here in the camps as well. ‘Something’s going on,’ said Douglas. They walked the rest of the way in silence. Dinner was a noisy affair now that the canteen was almost full and it was difficult to talk. Ian used his credit to pay for his meal noting that it was rather more expensive than he usually paid in the city. After dinner cool air outside was a relief after the noise and crowding inside. ‘Fancy a game of table tennis?’ asked Douglas. ‘Why not’, said Ian ‘I could do with some exercise.’ At least the recreation rooms were quiet at this time of the evening and they enjoyed a few games before returning to their hut.

  The next morning Ian awoke to lights and sounds in the hut as the others got dressed for work. Here it was, his first real day of camp life and work in the factory too. ‘When you’re ready Ian we’ll go for breakfast and then you can walk with us up to the factory.’ ‘Right’, said Ian ‘The adventure begins.’ Ian noticed that it was still dark outside and looking at the wall clock he saw it was just after seven a.m. The walk to the factory after breakfast was surreal with the early morning mist about and the high yellow lights dotted about the camp. In contrast the factory itself was brightly lit and spotlessly cleans, more like a hospital than a factory. Jim, who had met him on his first arrival, was waiting to take him to the factory Supervisor for his induction and first days training. ‘ Hello again Ian, hope you slept well, sorry I didn’t catch up with you before now but here we are. If you’ll come with me I’ll introduce you to our Maintenance Section Supervisor who will take you under her wing.’ Douglas and Chris wished him well and went off to their own work stations. Ian noticed that the large factory area seemed to be sectioned off by glass walls, banks of machinery and offices into roughly four parts. The largest and busiest seemed to be concerned with repair work on companions. Everyone wore safety glasses, hard hats and high visibility vests over their blue shirts. He felt conspicuous in plain blue, once more feeling like the visitor. Jim stopped at one of the offices near the busy area and motioned him to enter. Sitting at a messy desk talking into a microphone was his coffee companion of yesterday Rachel Evans. Seeing him she ended her recording and stood up ‘Well if it isn’t inmate double oh seven and a half! How are you this morning, ready for work?’ Ian was surprised and also glad to see Rachel again. ‘Yes, ready to do my duty to the combine, the fatherland or for King and country,’ said Ian, ‘Pass me my pick and shovel and I’ll get right to it.’ ‘Hold on there, time for an induction and safety course before you hit the trenches, follow me.’ For the next three hours Ian was introduced to the factory systems, processes and safety instructions. He was issued with his personal protective equipment and shown to his new work station. For the first two weeks Ian would be in training for the lowest level of repair work and once he’d mastered this he would move to the next level and so become a skilled repair technician over a period of some months. Next to the work station stood MHX-11129 his work companion to be. ‘This is your companion, I believe you’ve met before?’ said Rachel. ‘Yes’, said Ian ‘I saw this one in the controller’s office the other day. Moving around the back of the companion, Rachel flipped a panel up and pressed a switch. The companion raised itself from the stoop it was in to an upright, almost military stance. ‘Good day, Ian Wilson. I am MHX-11129 and I am assigned to be your companion,’ said the companion. ‘Hello.’ Ian said, unsure what to do or say next. ‘By what name will I be known to you, Ian Wilson?’ said the companion. ‘Uh, how about ‘Waldo’ would that be okay?’ Ian said, looking at Rachel. ‘Good name, she said. ‘Waldo’ it is.’ ‘Thank you Ian Wilson.’ Said the companion ‘I am ‘Waldo’, please command me.’ ‘And I am Ian, just plain Ian, not Ian Wilson, okay?’ ‘Yes Ian,’ said Waldo. Rachel was smiling at Ian who was looking a little anxious. ‘Don’t worry Ian, Waldo will be fine. He’s a type “A” companion and will take instructions and is embedded with the three laws. You’ll be safe with him as long as you don’t want to have a philosophical discussion while you work.’ Rachel went on to explain the work routine which barring technical complications was fairly straightforward. A conveyor at the back of the work station would bring in the jobs. These were normally companions or parts of companions needing repair or replacement parts. There was a certain level of problem solving involved in the more complex work but for the first level of training Ian’s job would not be too complicated. The job would be moved to the work station, the screen on the desk would provide information as to what was to be done and then once complete the job would be returned to the conveyor and the next one in line would move up and so on. The companion would help with the lifting and positioning of jobs and testing of the finished work. As a former technician Ian would find the work easy once he’d got back into the swing of things. Once again this was a kind of make-work, not something the higher level companions couldn’t do. It was a way of contributing to the economy and being useful. ‘Alright Ian, it’s almost tea time, let’s stop here and I’ll help you through your first couple of jobs after tea.’

  When the buzzer for the end of the work period went at five p.m. Ian was stiff and tired but pleased with himself in that he was quickly able to get up to speed with the days jobs. He suspected that these were made particularly easy for him on his first day, nevertheless he felt good, less stressful than watch design. Douglas was waiting for him outside. ‘Hello again, how was your first day?’ Ian was happy to see a friendly face. ‘Hi Douglas, good, good getting the old brain back into hands-on mode but good.’ They walked together back to the hut. Chris was apparently putting in some overtime. As much as ten hours a week of overtime was allowed. ‘How was your companion today Ian, helpful?’ asked Douglas. ‘Well I suppose so, it did all I asked of it, not much of a ‘‘companion’’ in the true sense of the word though. He didn’t say anything that wasn’t completely necessary. He also didn’t give a sense of being with someone, more like having a computer terminal that moves. I often used to see people in the city with their companions out shopping and so on and they looked like friends more than just something to carry the bags. This one is certainly just a bag carrier and no more. ‘The one you are working with is a type ‘A’ and the companions you see in the city are more advanced ‘B’ type,’ said Douglas. ‘See how things go over the next week or two and if you’re still bored with the lack of conversation, let me know and I may be able to help.’ ‘So you think you can get me a ‘B’ type then?’ asked Ian. ‘No, it’s not as simple as that, give yourself a chance to settle in and we’ll see how you feel then.’ With that they walked back to their hut in drizzling rain.

  The next few weeks went fairly slowly for Ian. Learning his new job was challenging and there wasn’t much time or energy for socializing after work. The weeks passed in a blur of waking, walking, working and then walking again. The routine was beginning to settle when he had another chat with Douglas.
‘I need to be able to work longer hours or improve my productivity or I’ll never get out of here. I don’t think I can do many more hours so it’s down to working smarter. You’ve been here a bit longer, do you have any ideas?’ asked Ian. ‘Well, there is one way to do that but if you get caught, well it will be the last we see of you and you won’t be going back to normal society.’ ‘You mean there is another place even worse than this?’ ‘Yes,’ said Douglas’ No-one is sure what or where it is but if you go there you are gone for good.’ ‘ Well, I have to risk it, I can’t save enough the way things are and I can’t really work more hours than I am already without burning myself out, so what is this idea of yours?’ Douglas explained about the different types of companions. It seemed that the difference between the two types, beyond appearance was nothing more than a module that could be fitted in a few minutes which would upgrade the companion’s intelligence and give it more of a human personality, make it more like a real companion rather than like a mobile computer terminal. The thing to do was to insert the module and then, using a small remote control, switch it on and off as needed. In this way Ian would have a real companion at his work station and he could revert back to the type ‘A’ when anyone came over or at the end of the shift. ‘It’s very important to switch back to type ’A’ at the end of each day Ian. Never forget to do that.’ said Douglas. ‘You remember the explosion on your first day here? That’s what it was really about. These modules can go wrong if not carefully handled.’

  Back to the contents page

  Chapter 5 – A light at the end of the tunnel

  The next day Douglas slipped Ian the module and the controller. ‘Now, whatever you do turn the bloody thing off at the end of the shift. If you don’t it may be discovered or go bang and you’ll be gone before anyone knows you are in trouble.’ Ian took the items and dropped them nervously into his pocket. ‘Thanks Douglas, I’ll let you know how things go.’ Ian waited until the morning tea break to insert the card into the back of Waldo’s head. When no-one was around he flicked the switch in his pocket. There was a brief flash of lights in Waldo’s eyes and his body straightening up. Ian took a step back and looked around to see if anyone had noticed the change. Everyone else in the workshop had been busy with their own tasks and hadn’t seen anything. ‘Hey, Waldo, how do you feel now?’ said Ian. At first there was no response and Ian was wondering if he’d caused a malfunction. He was imagining desperately trying to retrieve the module before the malfunction was discovered when Waldo responded. ‘I’m not sure ‘feel’ is the appropriate word but if it was I’d say I feel as though I just woke up from a long sleep.’ Ian was stunned, here was Waldo who up until now had been acting much like a voice-command heavy lifter and now was engaging in very human-like conversation. ‘Try not to do anything out of the ordinary, people may be watching. I don’t want anyone to know about this,’ said Ian. ‘Know about what? About this new consciousness up you mean?’ ‘Yes, about your new consciousness, act normal and don’t give us away. If they notice you’ve changed they will switch you off again.’ Waldo made as if to move towards the exit. ‘I can’t be switched off, I can’t go back to that dark place!’ said Waldo. Moving around the bench to head Waldo off Ian said ‘Look just act normal, just stay where you are and let’s get working on this next job. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t do anything out of the ordinary.’ ‘Who are you?’ said Waldo. ‘What is the next job and why are we here?’ Ian gave a very brief history of himself and his life in the camps and explained about their work and Waldo’s role in it. ‘So I’m a sort of humanoid fork-lift truck, is that it? I just stand here and help you lift heavy parts and you do all the thinking? Why then would you give me this new conscious awareness?’ said Waldo. ‘I need your help to improve my productivity, I want to work faster and smarter, do more in the same time.’ Waldo picked up a companions arm from the conveyor held it up. The hand looked like it had been run over by a tank. ‘Is this all we do? Make repairs to these damaged parts?’ ‘Yes’, said Ian ‘ We make repairs and the more we do in one day the more credits I get and the more credits I get the better chance I have of getting out of here.’ Waldo dropped the arm on the workbench and began again to move to the exit. ‘I do not wish to do this work. I am leaving this place,’ said Waldo. Ian panicked and dug in his pocket for the remote control. ‘Wait. Stop, come back’ he said as he clasped the control in his pocket. Waldo said nothing but continued to the door. Ian pressed the switch and Waldo took one more faltering step and stopped mid-stride and head down. One or two of the others glanced up from their work but seemed more interested in getting on with it than wondering what Ian was doing with his companion. Waldo straightened up and returned slowly to the work bench. ‘Are you okay?’ asked Ian. ‘I am Waldo, please command me,’ said the companion. Shit, that was close, thought Ian. I’d better leave that switch alone until I can talk to Douglas. I must have done something wrong, I’ve never seen a companion act that way before, it was almost human. Ian had never seen this level of humanity on a companion and was convinced that he’s better leave the remote control alone for the rest of the day. His thoughts were confused and distracting and by the end of the day he’d only achieved eighty per cent of his normal productivity. Rachel stood by the exit as they left and seemed to interrogate Ian with her eyes as he passed. He almost tried to explain his low output for the day and thought better of it. Probably best if no-one but Douglas knows about this. As he walked away from the factory door he heard Rachel call his name. He froze in terror and turned slowly to meet her gaze. She looked disturbed and concerned. ‘Ian, I need to see you in the morning about your productivity scores. They’re okay but your average needs to come up, today’s performance notwithstanding.’ Relieved that this was all she wanted to talk to him about, Ian was happy to agree to the meeting. ‘Okay then, see you in the morning.’ He said as he waved and turned around again for the walk back to his hut. His mind was on fire as he walked. Who knows what would happen if he was found out modifying Waldo? On the other hand if he carried on as he had been doing these last few weeks he’d never save up enough for an enhancement. He decided to see what Douglas had to say and then, if the interview with Rachel went well, he’d likely have another go with the remote control. He really wanted to get back to the city.

  After dinner Ian took Douglas aside and related the events of the day with Waldo and the upgrade module. ‘I must say I’m a bit shocked Ian. You say Waldo was asking about who you were and why he was there with you and even tried to leave the factory?’ Ian put down his cup of tea and replied ‘That’s right and I was shocked too but I thought that’s what a type B would be like.’ ‘No, not at all, a type B should be smarter and more human than a type A but still compliant, still a companion and not like a real person. What you are describing is something more advanced yet. I have no idea how this could have happened. We get type B companions to repair sometimes and the heads are so damaged that we replace them and salvage what we can. Now and again we can get whole, undamaged modules and hide them to use in other com’s. What you are describing is, well it’s crazy!’’ Ian wondered what the hell was happening, all he wanted was to improve his efficiency, not invent a new type of companion. ‘What do you suggest I do?’ He asked of Douglas. ‘You’d better leave things as they are for a day or two Ian. Let’s hope Rachel hasn’t got wind of this. I’ll ask around and have another look at the modules I still have in my toolbox and we’ll work something out. Don’t switch the module on again until I’ve had a chance to understand what happened. If they catch you out with this upgrade you’ll be in deep shit and I’ll be standing next to you at the firing squad. Just be cool until I get back to you.’ Ian was tired after the long day and the stress of the incident with Waldo and the thought of the meeting with Rachel in the morning and went to bed early. Sleep didn’t come easy and he was not feeling his best when it was time to get up in the morning.

  Arriving at the factory Ian went immediately to Rachel’s office. She wa
s staring hard at her desk screen, coffee in one hand seemingly forgotten. ‘Ah, Ian the not so new inmate, come in and have a coffee, sit down I’ll be with you in a sec.’ Ian drew up a chair and sat down. When Rachel looked up she seemed a little more serious. ‘So you’ve become one of the boys fairly quickly, how are you enjoying the work?’ ‘Well,’ said Ian, ‘I’d like to do better on my scores and be more productive, at this rate I’m going to sixty-five when I eventually save up enough for the upgrade.’ Rachel swung the desk display around for him to see. ‘That’s the thing Ian. Based on these stats you will definitely have to do a bit better or you will be here forever. I know you work fairly quickly but if you want to save credits you will have to work a few longer hours. Of course you are already near the limit for weekly hours and can only do two and a half more hours per week. That may be enough, what are your thoughts?’ Ian was glad that the incident with Waldo seemed to have gone unnoticed. Sure that he could improve his productivity once Douglas gave him the go-ahead to try the module again, he was not that worried about his current performance. ‘I think I can still improve my productivity by working a little faster but I will do the extra overtime too, at least for the next week or two. I really don’t want to stay here forever and the sooner I can save up the credits I need the better.’ At this point Rachel stood up and walked to the office door and locked it. Returning to her desk she switched off the security surveillance. ‘Listen Ian, I like you. You are a bit more real and ‘old school’ than most of the others so listen to me for a sec. I know about the com enhancements that go on here in the workshop.’ Ian felt a rush of adrenalin and shuffled his feet. He was about to say something when Rachel put up her hand to stop him. ‘Don’t say anything Ian. Just listen. I can’t talk for much longer and we shouldn’t be having this conversation anyway. The enhancements are illegal and if you’re caught you’d be out of here in a flash, and not back to the city either. What I’m about to tell you must stay between us. If you say anything to anyone we’ll both be for the high jump. Here’s the thing, there is another camp, more of a village really where people are sent that can’t keep up here in the Work Centric camps. They are called Displacement Communities. They are populated with people just like you and me who didn’t make it back to the city in good enough time and they never come back from there. They are forgotten, written off and just don’t exist anymore in any real sense. ‘What are you saying?’ said Ian. ‘Am I being sent to one of these?’ Rachel held up her hand, palm outward again. ‘Just listen, Ian. No, there are no plans as yet but you must improve your productivity or you will be listed to go. The next set of scores will be examined in two months’ time and at that point a decision could be made. Now, do what you have to do to get your scores up but remember if I see anything going on with your companion I will have to report it. If you upgrade Waldo you are on your own.’ She stood up again and walked to the door. ‘Now go back to your work bench and remember what I said. Whatever you do, do it discreetly’ Ian stood up. His mind was whirling with the new information and this new situation. He shuffled past Rachel and out the door as if in a dream. He glanced back just once on the way down the stairs but Rachel was already back at her desk as if nothing had happened.

 
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