The Last Job
The job posting sounded too good to be true but the price was right, and the work description fell right into George’s wheelhouse. He could do this in his sleep. The online job caption was titled Fast Cash for College Apps and it stated: Looking for Financial Aid Professional to review FAFSA applications during our busy season. Will pay $100 dollars per application reviewed. Work from home with flexible work schedule, management breezy to work with, make friends for life.
George did some quick mental calculations and his eyes danced dollar signs. Granted, he didn’t know exactly how much work would be involved with these applications, but he couldn’t imagine an application would ever take him more than 20 minutes. $300 dollars an hour would obliterate any salary he’d ever had in his lifetime. And naturally, being the seasoned financial aid professional that he was, he knew the short cuts to fly through an application review. With great anticipatory fervor, George quickly answered the preliminary standard job application questions: employment history, contact information, references, resume, blah blah blah. He knew the drill; he’d done this hundreds of times since losing his job as a financial aid analyst at the illustrious Harvard Technical Institute last year.
During his somewhat brief tenure as a college financial aid analyst at HTI, his responsibilities primarily involved reviewing financial disclosures that appeared to be less than forthcoming. The parents of the kids who applied to the illustrious HTI would do anything within their means to under report their income in the hopes of receiving the coveted need-based financial aid. George became quite good at identifying hidden assets and shady business losses revealed within the tax forms and HTI was pleased with all the savings George’s work provided them. He was fast tracking himself to higher management.
But then the Great Sickness overwhelmed the country and all the colleges, including HTI, sent their staff home to work remotely. After weeks of working from home, George discovered he quite liked sleeping in, luxurious afternoon naps, and the three-hour breaks to run personal errands. Eventually, HTI caught on to all the missed hours and George was unceremoniously let go.
Merely two days after he had submitted his application to Fast Cash for College Apps he received a welcome email from the company. Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have met our initial requirements to become one of our next Fast Cash for College Apps processors. Please click on the link below to receive your first assignment. The instructions were simple: click on a college student’s name, go directly to their financial aid application and accompanying financial tax forms, and compare the self-reported answers to the corresponding lines on the tax forms. Submit the form with any discrepancies noted. The company would pay $100 dollars per application submitted at the end of each business day, directly deposited into his bank account.
The first day he completed 13 applications in 4 hours. He was putting in close to maximum effort. At 6:00 pm that evening, he received a ping on his phone alerting him to $1,300 dollars deposited into his checking account. Five minutes later an email was sent from the website fastcashforcollegeapps.com. Thank you for your hard work today. We are pleased to have you on board. Please keep up the good work and the fast cash will continue to roll in. That was it. No sign off from anybody’s name or title. Just a quick email, almost as brief as a text message. George was jubilant. “I’m free at last!” he shouted to the four corners of his room. George smiled triumphantly thinking of all the free time he was about to have.
The next morning, he increased his output to 20 applications, but he finished in half the time at 2 hours. Then he took a two-hour nap. Upon waking and having a cigarette and two cups of coffee, he considered putting in a little more work, but streaming his Netflix shows seemed a higher priority.
At 6:00 pm he got another ding on his alerts and sure enough, a whopping $2,000 had been deposited to his account. Fifteen minutes later an email popped up on his phone. This message was a little different, although equally brief. Thank you for your work. We value your commitment. Twenty applications is outstanding, and a measurable improvement on yesterday’s work. We noticed your keystrokes per minute decreased significantly. Please try to be more consistent going forward. What the heck did that mean? What kind of metrics were they using? Maybe he should be a little more careful.
The next day he worked two hours again but decided to reduce his output down to 10 files. Perhaps that would satisfy whatever computer monitoring system they had set up for this silly business. He took a three-hour nap. He smoked many cigarettes and worked on a new puzzle. Like clockwork, his phone pinged him at 6:00 pm on the dot. George glanced at his phone in between interlocking the pieces to a gorgeous sunrise. Our metrics analysts have determined that you are attempting to game the system and we do not believe your work summary is accurate. As a result, you have been put on notice. You have one day to improve your performance. If we find your work to be unsatisfactory, there will be consequences. George spilled his soda all over his nearly finished puzzle sunrise. This was not the type of language that would ever come out of a corporate office. He decided to sleep on things before taking action. In the morning, with a clear head, he was sure he’d know what to do.
George did not sleep well. He tossed and turned and had dreams of mafia goons banging on his door with billy clubs. He awoke from one of these dreams in a cold sweat, but soon laughed it off. This was ridiculous. He’d already made three grand off this company in two days. Even if they did put him on notice, or whatever consequences inferred, so what? He would have netted 3K in three days. Not too shabby. So he upped the ante. He worked for two hours and submitted a report documenting 30 files.
George found himself slightly apprehensive as the day wound down to the anticipated 6:00 o’clock hour. He wasn’t able to indulge in his afternoon two-hour nap. His cigarettes tasted like ash. He drank twice as much coffee and only felt jittery and anxious as a result. Ten minutes to 6:00 pm. George had a terrible thought that he might have made a grave mistake. He paced around his kitchen, too amped up to even consider doing any of the piled-up dishes. He flipped through all the cable channels but there was nothing he was interested in watching. At last, 6:00 o’clock came and he eagerly stared at his phone for the expected email. There was nothing there. Just the usual spam and dumb newsletters that perpetually flooded his emails. Two minutes past. Three. George realized he hadn’t been breathing.
And then, a knock at the door. George froze and found his limbs had turned to ice. Time slowed down and he could feel his heartbeat hammering in his temples. He waited to see if there would be a second knock. It did not appear there would be one. He snuck quietly to his upstairs bedroom where he could peek open the curtains and spy down to the front door to see if anybody was there. He saw no one. But he did see what appeared to be an envelope lying conspicuously in front of his door. George made himself slow his breathing until he felt somewhat closer to a calm state. He went downstairs and opened the front door. He picked up the envelope and looked in all directions. Only a sole neighbor out mowing his lawn. Birds lined up on the telephone wires doing their birdy things. He slowly opened the envelope and withdrew a single piece of paper. The letter contained a brief message: Fast Cash for College Apps is disappointed you have not been a good fit for our organization. Our metric analysts have been watching you closely and we know exactly what you have done. As stated in our previous email, there will be consequences. Best regards, The Fast Cash for College Apps Management Team.
George stared dumbly at the letter for a full minute, wondering what this meant. Should he call the police? Perhaps that was overkill. The letter was vague, and no specific threat had been made. And yet, things seemed to have taken a turn toward the sinister. Clearly, this whole situation had gotten out of hand. He regretted getting involved with the Fast Cash gig, even if it did seem like ridiculously good money. He decided he would email the company, apologize for the misunderstanding and let them know he would return the money from his last paycheck. It just wasn’t worth this level of stress. He grabbed a soda out of the fridge and hunkered down in front of his keyboard. He opened up the last email he had received with the ominous consequences line. He clicked reply and started to type: His intended opening of Dear Sir or Madame, I apologize for the misunderstanding, came out: 01110001110000011101010101110000.
“What the heck,” stammered George. He picked up his keyboard and looked at it suspiciously. He shook it around, blew on it in case dust was causing some kind of malfunction. He started typing again. Same result. Those darn 1’s and 0’s were the only characters popping up on his screen. He was pretty sure he had another keyboard in his junk room upstairs. After 10 minutes of searching through piles of electronic junk he found another keyboard. He plugged in the USB connector, heard the little computerized ding of acceptance. He exhaled deeply, said a quick Hail Mary, and began typing again. Still, those infuriating 1’s and 0’s. Evidently this was a computer issue and not a keyboard issue after all. Time to whip out the spare laptop. He booted it up and brought up his email. He began to type. 1’s and 0’s. George began to have an inkling that this was undoubtedly connected to the letter’s threat of “consequences.” George decided this was a bridge to far. You didn’t mess with a man’s computer. It was time to call the authorities.
He barked at his phone: “Hey Siri, give me the local police department number.” Siri cheerfully gave him the number. He began dialing, but to his horror, no matter what number he pressed, the numbers appearing on his cell phone display were the same defiant 1’s alternated by 0’s. He had a horrible thought. He opened up his bank app on his phone to check his account balance. His checking was $0. His savings account was $1. He checked his brokerage account. His running balance was $1.01.
George ran out of his house and sprinted to his friend Marla who lived two blocks down the street. He had to tell somebody what was happening. Was he imagining it all? He needed someone to corroborate what he was seeing. He rang the bell and panted furiously waiting for Marla to let him in. Marla opened the door. She had a strange vacant looking expression. Marla was kind of weird, but she didn’t usually look checked out like this.
“Marla, you okay? You look a little out to lunch.”
“Hello George.” She replied in a flat monotone voice. “It is very nice to see you. Won’t you please come in and enjoy human company with me?”
“Uh, sure… look Marla, I think I’ve pissed off the wrong people. They’ve emptied my bank accounts. They’re sending me threatening emails and now letters are being dropped off on my porch. I think I need to go to the police.” He paused because Marla was still looking extremely off. He right eye had wandered off to the left and she had an unsettling half smile, half smirk going on.
“Friend George, would you like to eat food and drink that I may prepare for you?” She took a weird side shuffle and nearly lost her balance. Was she having some kind of seizure?
George noticed Marla was wearing earbuds. George slowly grabbed one earbud out of Marla’s ear and carefully placed it inches from his own ear. He heard static with soft little clicks and clacks. Marla did not seem to realize her earbud had been taken. George realized in horror what must be happening. Alien body snatchers!
“Marla! Listen to me! You’re being body snatched. I’m going to free you.”
He ripped off her other earbud and Marla blinked a few times slowly. She opened her mouth as if to say something. But then she only drooled and toppled over to the floor. She began twitching and then she was still. Horrified, George grabbed his phone and attempted to dial 911. Bu the numbers that appeared on his display were 001. George threw his phone against the wall, shattering the device that until now had been the relied upon instrument for almost all daily tasks. He ran outside and looked wildly in both directions. What was to be done? Where we the authorities?
The Fire House Station was three blocks up the road. He ran as fast as his out of shape legs could carry him. He reached the fire station winded and out of breath. He approached the first person he saw at the front desk. He was so upset that when he tried to talk, he found he was screaming incoherently. The man had the same dead eyes as Marla. And the same earbuds stuck in his ears. “Hello civilian. Are you reporting a fire or an emergency of some kind?”
“Yes! An emergency! My friend Marla has been killed! My computer and bank accounts have been hacked and I think it must all be related, but I don’t know what is going on!” He stopped and fell to his knees sobbing uncontrollably. He looked up and realized to his abject horror that the man was simply starting at him vacantly with those same dead eyes Marla had before she kicked the bucket. He shot up quickly and yanked the man’s earbuds out. The man circled around several times, drooled, and dropped to the floor just like Marla.
He walked back to his house, demoralized and defeated. There was another letter placed directly on his welcome mat. He slowly opened the envelope and pulled out the letter. It read: Ha ha ha. You have been punked. Do not mess with us anymore, human. Out of the kindness of our hearts, we are giving you a new job as trash collector. Sincerely, AI overlords.” There was a PS at the bottom of the note: We are actually not the company Fast Cash For College Apps. What a stupid human to think that was a real job. Ha ha ha. Enjoy your garbage collecting.
The air felt thick and stifling. He heard a soft machine-like buzz from overhead. A little drone flew down from above and zapped him with a light taser. It flew twenty paces to George’s left and hovered over a pile of trash bags. On top of the bags was a pair of simple black earbuds. George picked them up and glared at them. He looked back at the drone which only hovered patiently. George slumped his shoulders and sighed. Resigned to his fate, he put the earbuds on. His body stiffened. George, the former financial aid professional, embarked on his new career as trash collector.