At the Offices for Human Employment, Harper tapped his stylus against his office desk as he waited to filter though the next interviewee. A woman walked in, tall and blonde. Hair slightly askew. Clothing tacky designer knock-offs. Eyes slightly vacant.
“Name?” Harper asked mildly, stylus hovering over the inbuilt touchscreen on his desk.
“Suzie Mertzkitch,” she said, nervously fiddling with her perfect glue-on fingernails. “Susan, actually.”
Harper waited a couple seconds for her to spell it for him, but when she didn’t look up he asked her. “Spell that, please. Mertzkitch, not Suzie.” He felt the need to elaborate, as Mertzkitch did not seem very bright.
He looked down at what he’d spelled. “Isn’t there supposed to be a C in there?”
She looked annoyed. “I said C. Before the H.”
“Of course, ma’am. Where do you reside currently?”
Her eyes squinted slightly as she tried to think of a better answer, but then she gave up. “Sector 4,” she said, not making eye contact. “But I used to live in Sector 9,” she added proudly, looking up.
Harper knew better, but he just smiled. It wasn’t his job to argue with her about where she used to live and what her past economic status used to be; it was his job to make sure she was who she said she was and fit the criteria for job placement by this establishment. She was cleared, he was certain of it. He touched a few buttons on his screen, then looked up. “He’ll see you now. Right through there.” He motioned to the door.
She seemed slightly dazed, beyond her naturally dazed expression. “But don’t you need to see my papers or something?”
He continued to smile at her as he replied in a well-modulated tone, “I do not think that is necessary.”
She smiled back and fluttered her fake eyelashes. “Maybe I’ll see you on my way back.” Her husky voice, in an attempt to sound seductive, sounded like somebody who had smoked a pack a day for thirty years.
“You exit in the other direction,” he replied noncommittally. He felt no attraction to her. He did not watch her leave, but heard the huff she gave as she did so.
He let in the next interviewee with a couple taps and swipes. An old man. Craggy features. Thick eyeglasses that he had trouble keeping on his nose. Baggy ex-working class clothing. A small scar on the back of his left hand where his thin, wrinkled skin had been recently scraped and healed over. He knew before starting the interview that the old man was cleared.
“Name?” he asked.
“Jacob McCavitt. With two Ts, sir.”
“Sector 3, sir. Worked there all my life, doin’ this or that. Thought I might pick up a little extra income in my retirement, so when I saw your advertisement I thought I might as well come out here.” He spoke with a sense of pride in his working status.
Harper tapped away at the screen. “You may enter now, sir.”
“Thank you greatly, young man,” he said, limping slightly as he crossed to the door and entered.
Harper paused for a brief moment. In a way, he wished he could feel envy for the old man, but he felt no emotions. There was a man who has known what it was like to work, to play, and to really live. Harper lived the same stagnant life day in and day out. He knew he should rebel against the stagnation and resent his job, but he didn’t have it in him to do so. He automatically put the thought aside and swiped in the next person.
A young man strode in carrying a small briefcase. Face smooth. Stride even and confident. Fair complexion, and hands that never saw work. New clothes off the rack, lacking both wear and character. Harper felt like frowning, but did not.
“John Cooper,” the young man replied, voice clipped and precise.
“No middle name.” His confidence did not waver.
“Where do you live, John Cooper?”
“Sector 7, 215 34th Street,” he responded smartly.
“And what brings you here today?”
“I am seeking employment, and was hoping you could assist.”
“Sit down, please.”
John Cooper sat down stiffly on the edge of the chair. Bright eyes regarded Harper, assessing him. “I brought my papers,” Cooper offered.
“I would like to see them, please,” Harper replied, casually turning his sharpened diamond ring around under the desk so that it was palm side down.
Cooper retrieved the papers from his briefcase and extended them to him. Harper stood up and reached out to grasp them, letting his sharp ring graze Cooper’s hand. Cooper gave no reaction of having noticed. While appearing to look at the papers, which were in perfect order, Harper glanced at his ring and saw no traces of blood. He looked back at the papers, and read the date stamp. 2098, the year androids were created that could reprogram themselves and adapt to various situations and stimuli in order to function in society. 2098, the year androids were accepted as taxable individuals able to join the workforce and contribute to society without an overseer. 2098, the year many regarded as the beginning of the end.
Harper looked back at him. “I’m sorry, but this is the Offices for Human Employment. We can’t help you here.”
Cooper’s eyes dilated and darkened. “I do not know what you mean.”
“We both know what I mean. These offices were founded to find employment for deserving humans. You are guaranteed placement at many jobs because of your tireless efficiency. They are not. You do not belong here.”
Cooper stood upright quickly, taking a stiff step forward. “This is discrimination.” His modulated voice raised an octave. “I have the right to sue.”
“I’m sorry, but according to Section 201, Paragraph 157 of the United World Code, we are granted special license to turn down any individual who does not fit our criteria as a ‘human’.”
Cooper turned sharply and moved towards the door, opened it and stood there, then turned back briefly. “You are a traitor to your own kind,” he said.
“I know this,” Harper replied, then automatically reached to let in the next interviewee.
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Hello. I am loving every second of this story-- NO IT'S OVER! Still not sure how he isn't "human", so I'll reread. Great work!
Thank you so much! He's an android, but only at the end do I reveal this so that the reader is left guessing.
I thought when I was reading it that the people were being sent off for soilent green processing or something like that. This reminds me of the Humans tv series which was all about how society would adapt to having androids that were basically better than people. There’s so much to explore with this kind of idea. The animatrix had a bit about droids ruining the human economy as well. What inspired you to write this?
Self-checkout lines indirectly inspired me, I suppose. The way automation replaces humanity is a very real theme in today's world, and I'm sure it inspires many people in different ways.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. There won’t be many jobs left you can get without a degree soon.
I enjoyed reading your story. A great look into a possible future for us humans if Earth is not destroyed by 2098 or before we can live on other planets! Perhaps this is on another planet in 2098? Discrimination/prejudice will continue even with androids and whether that is good or bad is all in the eye of the beholder.
So sorry for taking so long to reply, I thought I did a long time ago. Thank you for reading my story! The story can be set on any planet the reader's mind wants to make it. :-)
I thought this was great! My only feedback is maybe could have upped the consequences - like the Android presented a danger or had to be recycled. Great story!
Thanks for the input, you have a good point! I'll keep that in mind if I ever go to publish it.
Hah! You opened a new door to my perspective. Yes, robots might also have 'discrimination' feelings. I liked how you portrayed a different time and executed it so beautifully. Great Job Lee!
Thank you very much! I'm glad it was able to entertain. :-)