Rise of the machine

Written by McKenzie Zobrist on . Posted in AE Stories

Throughout the ages, even in the most populous and richest of empires, poverty has lurked in the background like a terminal disease. In the Moiser arm of galaxy WXS 50 poverty has become a normal part of life. On the asteroid base of Liberion many of the inhabitants struggle daily just to survive in a world where the rich become richer and the poor starve.

59 - rise of the machine

The large room was hot. It was very hot, the ventilation was malfunctioning and there was nowhere for the heat from the machine’s to go. The floor emanated with a cacophony of welding sounds, clanging and drilling. On a small section of the line near the finished bins stood a group of workers feverishly bolting together steel cylinders as they came down the belt, warning each if a bolt was missed or not screwed all the way. This particular factory was one of the few left on Liberion which had manpower work any part of the line. It was also the largest producer within 10 light years of engine parts.

Edrick Sweetwater was sweating profusely as he worked in the humid heat of the factory. He was coming to the end of a sixteen hour shift, working at three credits an hour. It wasn’t much but it paid rent and put some sort of food on the table. Edrick was wobbling as he stepped off the line when the next shift came in. He walked with a visible limp and exhaustion ruined his otherwise average face. He had been working on a large order of Thruster casings. Luckily tomorrow would be his last shift before his day off, and next week was a lighter order so he would only need to do twelve hours.

Edrick clocked out of the factory and stumbled to a railcar on the street nearby. The factory was part of a massive industrial complex built a kilometer deep in the interior of the asteroid, the surface taken up by high end luxury residences, shipyards, spaceports and pillbox habitats or sub surface apartment buildings. Edrick rode the railcar up a shaft to the surface near his apartment built in the wall of Liberion crater. The apartment was small and not very spacious, especially for a family of three. He had a meager view of the silver towers standing in the middle of the crater reaching for the stars. He had always wondered what it would be like to live out in the open space, without having to hide underground like a cockroach.

Edrick stopped outside his door, he leaned on it and closed his eyes for a minute. When he stood up again he had a half smile and actually seemed slightly less exhausted, though his eyes still gave away his lie. He opened his door and walked in, looking first toward the kitchen table where he saw his daughter Laura sitting doing her math, then looking in the living room where his son Max was sitting playing some sort of war video game. The military advertised any way it could. Two unwashed plates from dinner stood on the counter, leftover from dinner. Edrick forced his smile wider and called out “Kids, I’m home”.

At that moment Laura jumped up from the table and said “Daddy!” and proceeded to give him a hug. Max got up from the couch and said “Hi dad.”
Edrick’s smile became a little less fake as he asked them, “What did you guys have for dinner? It looks good.”
Max replied, “Ya. Sure, good. I hydrated some noodles for us. There’s some leftovers for you in the pot.”
“Thanks son, I’ll put the money for next week’s food on the counter in the morning.”

Edrick then took the pot and moved to the back where his room was. His room was small, cramped and slightly cluttered with dishes he hadn’t had time to bring to the kitchen. He had One of the three windows in the apartment in his room where took a glance of the rich homes and tall towers. There was a picture young man with a slight resemblance to Edrick and a gorgeous woman who laughing and enjoying a picnic in an artificial terran environment sitting above the bed. Edrick took a look at the picture and lost his fake smile. He then sat down on the bed and scarfed down the noodles in an instant before dropping the pot. He was asleep before his pot clanged on the floor.

Edrick frantically awoke to the blaring of his alarm clock. It was about five am, he had to be at work by six. Edrick rushed to change his clothes, having slept in the ones he wore yesterday. He jumped in the shower to make sure he was clean when he got to the factory, he always tried to look his best when showing up for work.When he jumped out of the shower he took another look at the picture above his bed before rushing to the kitchen, he quickly poured out a bowl of dehydrated corn meal and put some powder milk on it before pouring water from the faucet into the bowl. When he was done with breakfast he dug out his wallet and left four credits on the counter so that Max could buy groceries today for the next week. He made himself a lunch then he left for work.

Edrick rode the railcare down to the industrial complex, a sense of dread and anticipation filled him as it did everyday on his way to work. He noticed trivial facts about his surroundings as he rode down. The ceiling had a fracture in it, the car probably wasn’t airtight. When he arrived at the street outside his factory he took a deep breath and proceeded to walk into the factory.
Edrick clocked in at 5:55 on a Saturday morning. He greeted his co-workers and put his lunch on a chair in the breakroom. When he got out on the floor to his station he noticed something strange. There was a large crate next to his part of the line, but the night shift worker he was replacing looked at him with a tired expression so he didn’t have time to worry about the new crate. Instead he went to work, moving nonstop until the end of his shift building thruster casings to be used in creating a new line of luxury shuttles for interstellar travel.

Edrick’s shift ended early at twelve hours when the order was filled. At the end of Edrick’s shift a man in a black suit came into the breakroom. This man looked rich, why would someone looking so nice be in such a dismal and laborious place? The room became silent as Edrick’s coworkers looked curiously at this rich newcomer. The rich man, seeing he already had everyone attention went ahead and said, “Excuse me, I need your attention, thank you. You have all done a wonderful job, you even finished the order four hours early. It has been my pleasure to employ you, the last non mechanical cogs in the machine that is my factory. Really, you men and women are the last of your kind, at least on Liberion that is. You work hard and are good at what you do, unfortunately, I regret to announce that as a panel this factory has decided to replace you. The panel has deemed that a machine will me more economically efficient than hiring you great people. You will receive todays check as well as payment for next week shortly in the mail, good day.” With that the rich man walked out of the room.

Edrick stood in stunned silence, in fact, the entire room stood in stunned silence. No one breathed, no one moved. They had all heard stories about people being replaced by machine’s at their place of work but they had never thought it would happen to them. Their factory had prided in being the last one to employ human laborers on the line. Edrick stood there for a while, before slowly gathering his things. He rode the railcar up to the surface feeling numb. He couldn’t focus on anything, things kept slipping out of his vision. He didn’t even know how or when he got to his front door, but there he stood again. This time, instead of wearing a smile for his children he simply stumbled in, not knowing what to think.
Max was sitting at the Kitchen table eating some noodle’s while reading a comic book. When he looked up and saw his dad walk into the house he said, “Hi dad, how was work?....Dad?.. Dad are you ok?”

Edrick then looked down with a start and noticed that he was white knuckle clutching the counter. He shook himself and said, “What? Oh, nothing.” He stood there for a minute, then looked at Max and saw silver towers through his window past the open bedroom door. “Hey, have I ever taken you guys to a hotel? A real one?”
Max’s eyes widened and he shook his head, “No, never”.
“Well I think we’re going to stay in one tonight. Where’s Laura?”
“She’s taking a shower”
“Ok, well then just go and pack some clothes, I’ll do the same.”

Edrick then walked past Max into his bedroom. He looked at the crumpled clothes on the floor, then looked up and saw the picture of the beautiful woman that he loved. With a sudden and shocking flash of rage he grabbed the picture and threw it against the wall, shattering the frame before sinking to the bed sobbing uncontrollably. Max rushed in and said “Dad! Whats wrong?”
Edrick whispered, “Everything”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know”

Story sent by McKenzie Zobrist for the AE Stories event.