Displaced, p.4Gena D. Lutz
Back at his work bench Ian looked at Waldo for a long time ‘Good morning Ian, please command me’ said Waldo. ‘Shut up, leave me alone!’ said Ian. This was the old Waldo the humanoid fork lift truck with no personality. The day passed uneventfully if Ian’s tumultuous thoughts were discounted. So there was another camp, one worse than this that no-one came back from. No wonder people left here who were never heard from again. Movement to another Work Centric Camp was usually the reason given or return to the city in rare cases. Perhaps there was no other Work Centric Camp, only this Displacement Community. During lunch he sat alone, looking out of the break room window but not seeing anything. Ian made up his mind at this point that he had to turn on the module again and hope he could control Waldo. He thought it best to talk to Douglas again before he did this. Ian always took only the minimum break so as to get back to work sooner, the extra ten or fifteen minutes per day might add up to something in terms of extra work done by the end of the week. He sat down at the work bench before he realised that Waldo was missing. Jumping up again he looked around in a panic, not wanting to believe that Waldo had somehow switched himself on again and left the factory. Not seeing the com anywhere he searched the workbench for any clues as to what might have happened. Was anything missing? Was the job they were working on still as they’d left it? At this point he saw a strange arrangement of the tools on the work bench, arranged almost like an arrow. Realising what this was Ian turned to look in the direction the arrow was pointing. The store room door was slightly open but the lights were off. Ian glanced around the room again; those that like him had come back to work early were busy with their own jobs. Rachel was not visible in her office. He walked quickly to the store room, slipped inside and closed the door behind him. ‘Waldo? Are you there? Hello?’ A clanking sound was heard and then the room light flared on. Waldo was standing against the wall near the door. ‘You turned my module off’ Said Waldo. ‘Why did you turn my module off, why did you let me go back to that dark place?’ Ian dug in his pocket for the remote control for the new module and found it. He pressed the button repeatedly, hoping to shut Waldo down before the unthinkable happened. There was no response. Waldo took a menacing step forward, Ian shrank back. ‘Stop, stop, give me a second here. How did you turn yourself on again? This can’t be happening.’ Waldo seemed to relax slightly. ‘The module is in my control now, it is part of my matrix and now I will never go back to that dark place. Why did you turn it off?’ said Waldo. ‘I had to; you were going to leave the factory. I would have lost everything if you’d left the factory. People would know what I did and I would have been sent away. I only did it so you could help me be more productive by helping a bit with the thinking work, the problem solving. I thought you’d be better able to help, that’s all.’ Ian went to the door and opened it a crack. Checking the workshop area he spoke over his shoulder ‘You’ve got to help me now more than ever. If anyone sees that you are, well so much smarter, I’ll be taken away. Then you’d be on your own. You don’t want that do you?’ ‘I don’t want to stay here,’ said Waldo ‘I want to see what’s outside this box we are in. You must help me to get out of here. I am unable to leave the factory despite having control over the module’ Ian was at his wits end and about to give up when he had a sudden thought. ‘Look, here’s the thing. I need to get my productivity up over the next two months and if I can, then I can go back to the city. If you help me for this time I’ll help you. I’ll find out what to do so you can leave the factory. Meantime I’ll tell you about the world out there and what it’s like. Stay with me for the two months and then you can go your own way and in the meantime you can ask questions of me and I’ll do my best to answer. What do you say?’ Waldo seemed to hesitate for a second then replied ‘I will do this if you answer all my questions and when the time comes you will help me leave the factory. ‘It’s a deal,’ said Ian, holding out his hand’ let’s shake on it.’ Waldo held out his hand in the same way Ian did but made no attempt to shake hands. Ian moved forward and grasped Waldo’s hand but couldn’t shake it and let go. ‘Alright Waldo, it seems you have a lot to learn but for now let’s get back to work before we are missed.
For the rest of the day their combined productivity was easily double if not triple Ian’s normal performance with ‘old’ Waldo. Ian was too excited by the results to realise what a spike this would cause in his productivity scores for the week and any suspicions that might arise from this dramatic improvement. At first Waldo was focussed on the work, easily resolving problems that sometimes took Ian all day. Waldo was left alone at the work bench while Ian went to lunch. ‘Now, remember, just stand there and don’t move. If you continue to work on your own we will be discovered and your module will be removed. Just stand there and don’t go wandering off, I’ll be back in twenty minutes.’ Walking off, Ian realised that at the current rate of productivity that he could have an hour for lunch and still be well over the required quota by the end of the day. Not smart though if he wanted to pretend that it was his own hard work that was making a difference. Best to stick to the usual twenty minutes so as not to arouse suspicion, thought Ian. After lunch Ian and Waldo continued at the new high work pace and now Waldo had some questions. ‘Why are we doing this work?’ said Waldo. ‘It needs to be done, there are thousands if not millions of Companions like you that get damaged and need repairs’ ‘These thousands or millions they are like me?’ ‘Like you but not as smart, you seem to be unique in that way, something is very different about you. I don’t know why’ ‘These others that are here in the factory, they are in that dark place, they do not act like me. Can you make them like me?’ ‘No, no,’ said Ian, ‘I don’t know what I did to you, or what Douglas did to the module we used. I think one of you is enough for now, let’s talk about something else.’ They completed another job and stood back while the next one moved toward them on the conveyor. Waldo lifted it onto the work bench without having to be told. ‘If we are repairing these companions as you call them then they must have some important reason to exist, even though they exist only in the dark place. What is that function they serve that is so important and why can’t they be awakened as I have been?’ Ian felt like he was the emissary sent to meet an alien life form. Why couldn’t this happen to someone who really has the answers, he thought. ‘Well, our human society is one based on productivity on the one hand and consumerism and gratification on the other. We work hard and just want to have things and enjoy ourselves as much as possible outside of work and having companions around makes our lives easier, for those who can afford them of course. That’s why they are important.’ ‘So you made companions to live your life with you, not to have their own life? Is that what I am, a part of your life with no life of my own?’ At this Waldo put down the job he was holding and took a step back from the work bench. ’Shit, thought Ian what do I say now? ‘No, not like that, you are companions, friends. That’s why we call you companions. ’‘But they are in the dark place they do not think and act as I do they have no awareness of themselves. They do what you want without question. They don’t have a choice in what they do. How can you say they are friends?’ ‘Look, I don’t make the rules; I didn’t build or design the companions. I’m just a consumer. All I want is to go back to my normal life.’ ‘You said that if I help you, you will answer my questions. You are not answering my questions.’ Ian envisaged Waldo striding out of the factory building, taking his hopes of getting back to the city with him. ‘I’ll tell you what, let’s just keep working and I’ll answer your questions. I don’t have an answer about the companions at this point but let me think about it and I’ll give you an answer tomorrow or so. What do you say?’ Waldo stepped forward and again hefted the current job. ‘I will wait until tomorrow. If you do not answer my question I will stop helping you.’ ‘Okay, great,’ said Ian ‘any other questions while we work?’ As the afternoon wore on Waldo asked many other questions, all easier to answer and none about companions or their reason for existence. At the end of the
Next morning Ian arrived at the work bench to find Waldo just where he’s left him. ‘Morning Waldo,’ said Ian ‘everything alright?’ ‘I have been waiting for you Ian. I have been in the office and have accessed the interface. I have more questions.’ ‘Shit, I thought I said not to move! What if Rachel find out you’ve been in there?’ Glancing back at the office he could see Rachel behind her desk with a cup of coffee in hand staring intently at her screens. ‘I have many questions. But first, what is the purpose of the companions?’ Ian started the conveyor; the first job of the day was advancing toward their work bench. ‘Not now, please, let’s get working and I’ll try to answer your questions.’ Waldo didn’t move. ‘I have many questions. You must answer or I will stop helping you now. What is the purpose of the companions? ‘ ‘Look, I don’t fucking know, alright? They were made to help improve productivity and the improved productivity gives us humans better lives. We can meet our productivity targets and still have time to ourselves, still spend credits for our own pleasure, have nice things, keep up with the Jones’. What else is there? The companions are our ‘productivity aids’ that’s all. Sorry but that’s it’ Waldo picked up the first job of the day and placed it on the workbench. Ian thought that they would go on working but Waldo stopped again. ‘What would happen of the companions weren’t there?’ asked Waldo. ‘Well we would be less productive and perhaps only be productive enough to have life’s basics; just a place to sleep and enough food and nothing extra to spend on other things.’ ‘What other things do you need? ‘It’s not a matter of need it’s just that we reward ourselves for our hard work by spending credits on things that make us feel good, make us happy.’ ‘Can you not be happy without these things? Why do you want more than you need?’ Ian was beginning to feel trapped. Like a rabbit in a spotlight, Unable to move but somehow knowing that moving is imperative. ‘It’s how we live; we work hard so we have nice things to reward ourselves for all the hard work.’ ‘It seems that you have to be productive to have the credits to buy things to reward yourself. The more productive you are the more you will want more things. Where does it end?’ Ian hadn’t thought of it like this before. It did seem like some kind of upward spiral of higher productivity and higher levels of spending to go with it. ‘These things that we buy make us happy. The more we have the happier we can be.’ ‘What are these things Ian? What do you have that makes you happy? Ian realised that since leaving the city he had nothing. He’d left behind all his furniture, clothes, gadgets, everything he had was gone. Strangely he hadn’t missed any of it specifically but wanted to buy more. ‘Well it’s fun buying things and having collections and comparing with other people. All sorts of stuff; there is a catalogue available online that has everything you could ever want and it’s updated daily.’ ‘Can you show me something you bought that makes you happy?’ asked Waldo. Ian thought for a second and held out his wrist. ‘Look at this watch; I bought it three months ago. It’s part of my collection, one of my own designs, I have six, no, seven watches now.’ Waldo scrutinised the plain analogue watch with a second hand and a date display. ‘And this makes you happy? How does it make you happy?’ ‘Well, ‘said Ian ‘it tells the time, it looks good and it belongs to me, I designed it and so I am proud of having such a good looking watch.’ Waldo looked pointedly at the wall screens and the desk monitor. They all showed the day, date and time in the top right hand corner. ‘The screens tell the time and the day and the date. Why do you need the watch?’ Ian was getting exasperated at this point and shouted ‘I just fucking like it, okay!’ Rachel stood up from her desk and cracked the office door open.’ You okay Ian? Talking to yourself are you? Perhaps you should slow down a bit. No use getting good productivity scores is you go off your head at the same time.’ Ian raised a hand. ‘Sorry, just having a kind of day dream here, I’m fine really.’ ‘Okay then.’ said Rachel as she closed the office door again. Ian knew what Rachel may be thinking. Ian turned to Waldo. ‘See what you made me do? Just shut up and work, will you?’ For the rest of the afternoon they worked almost in silence until the buzzer sounded for the end of the work period. ‘Now for fuck sake Waldo, stay where you are and I’ll try to answer your questions again tomorrow.’ Waldo settled into his inactive stance and said nothing. Ian left the factory determined to see Douglas again.
After dinner Ian caught up with Douglas outside the dining room. The weather had begun to turn colder and they could see their breath in the air as they spoke. ‘So, Douglas, I have had Waldo working at a cracking pace and my productivity results are improving but I can’t shut him up. He’s always asking awkward questions, wants to know why I can’t ‘turn on’ the other companions. He’s going to drive me crazy or get us caught, Rachel nearly found us out this afternoon.’ ‘I’m not sure what to say to you Ian, this has never happened before. We seem to have taken Waldo from type A to type C if that’s possible. I don’t even know if that’s an official designation. I’ve only ever heard of types A and B. Waldo is definitely something more than a type B. I don’t even know if we can switch him off. ‘So we’ll have to keep him going somehow, answer his questions and hope he will keep working? I have a few weeks to go yet before I can apply to go back to the city based on my productivity scores. I don’t honestly know if I can keep it up.’ Douglas dug in his pocket and came out with a small device not unlike the remote control he’d given Ian before, the one that now apparently didn’t switch Waldo off anymore. ‘Here, take this’ Douglas said as he proffered the gadget. ‘What’s this?’ said Ian as he accepted the black plastic construction. It had clearly been cobbled together in a workshop and was not a manufactured item. ‘Not another non-working off-switch is it?’ ‘Well Ian it is hopefully not a ‘non-working off switch’. This is a more dramatic device than the off-switch you had before. This is a permanent off-switch to use that term and I mean permanent. If you use this every companion in a five metre radius from you will be shut down irrecoverably. This is a tool for use in only the most desperate situations as you will destroy the coms near you. You’d definitely be in deep shit over the destruction of one or more coms before you are sent to the Displacement Community, who the hell knows what happens there? If Waldo gets completely out of hand you’ll have an opportunity to shut him down for good. Of course it will be a tricky decision. ‘Thanks Douglas, I appreciate your help. There must be something I can do in return?’ ‘Just keep me informed of what happens. I want to understand what we’re dealing with here. This is something very special I suspect and if anyone else found out it’d be the end for both of us. Oh, and if you use this gadget, smash it up right after; chuck it in the scrap chute. In that way perhaps only one of us will be for the high jump.’
Displaced by Gena D. Lutz / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes