Friday, June 2, 2017

Story 232: Limited Contract

Chad woke up a little, sometimes.  They had told him that might happen.

As if in a dream, he would look out from his eyes as he stood at his workstation and typed.  It would fade to numb darkness soon enough, leaving only the faint impression of a huge room filled with identical computers and nearly identical workers.  Later - though it was impossible to tell how long later - he would see the curved ceiling of his sleeping tube inches from his face, or the nutrition dispenser dropping a pre-wrapped bar into his hand.

In these short glimpses, Chad tried to look for dates.  How far into his five year service was he?  A week?  Six months?  Three years?  Once he saw that he was in the gym, and was sure the calendar on the wall said August.  He didn't see a year though, so that wasn't a lot of help.  It didn't matter.  They were clearly keeping up their end of the bargain, maintaining his body as it worked around the clock for them.

Then there was the one where he was walking down a dark hallway.  In the distance, an emergency light was flashing.  A fire drill?  A power outage?  It was gone before he could tell.  After that it was his workstation, and everything seemed fine.  The workstations on either side of him appeared to be empty, but he couldn't turn his head to see for sure.  They were empty the next time, certainly.

He was in the gym, and the treadmill wasn't working.  He watched his hand press on the button over and over, trying to make it start.  He was in the sleeping tube, and someone somewhere was yelling.  Angry.  He was at his workstation, but the screen was blank.  He was typing anyway.  The lights started to be off more often than on, but he never felt hungry so at least the nutrition dispenser seemed to be okay.

The calendar in the gym said October, but the ink was streaked as if water had dripped down it at some point.  Chad started to notice mildew spots on the walls.

His monitor had fallen over, and he could see the rest of the massive room.  Only two other workstations had people at them, out of hundreds.

A dark hallway, with someone screaming in the distance.  Screaming, and screaming, and screaming, and then silence that was somehow even louder.

He stood in front of the nutrition dispenser, hand outstretched.  Nothing fell into it.

His sleep tube.  Something smelled very wrong.

Gym.  Marching in place on the broken treadmill.  Hungry.

Pain.  Someone had just slapped him.  Chad tried to make out the words they were saying.  "...awake?  Snap out of it!  This whole place is..." as the vision faded, he tried to focus.  It was a teenage boy, filthy, wearing a beanie and holding a baseball bat.  Nobody he knew.

Workstation.  Not hungry anymore.  Typing.

Gym.  It was darker than anything before, not even emergency lights.  He could just barely see his reflection in the mirror as he walked towards the treadmill.  His jumpsuit was disgusting and torn.  Something was smeared all over it.  He had a beard.  The hair on his head looked strange, but he didn't get a good enough look.  It might have been a hat of some sort.

Workstation.  The keyboard had fallen, or something.  He was drumming his fingers on the dusty countertop.  He was so, so hungry.  There was nobody else in the room, that he could see.  A single emergency light was on, but his eyes must have adjusted because that was enough to get a pretty good look.  Surprised, Chad realized he was turning his head.  He was in control.  Had it been five years, or had the device just failed?

He reached up with a trembling hand and felt his beard.  It was thick, matted.  Numbly he wandered through the center, but didn't see anyone else alive.  There were a few bodies, and some parts of bodies.  The water was still running in the break room for some reason, which didn't seem right considering the state of everything else.  He used it to wash himself as best he could, and then pulled on a fresh jumpsuit that he liberated from someone else's sleeping tube.  His own tube looked terrible and smelled worse.

The nutrition dispenser was empty, but he found a pallet of the bars in a back room and ate until he felt sick.  The calendar in the Gym still said October, in that smeared ink.  He nodded.  It could be October.  Who was here to say otherwise?  He headed back to the main lobby, almost tripping over something in the dark hallway that clattered against the wall with a wooden sound.  The exit was barricaded, but one side had been knocked inwards.  He considered it for a moment as if it was a puzzle, a riddle in a language he couldn't understand.

Turning, Chad walked back to his workstation.  He picked up a keyboard from his neighbor's unused spot, and began to type.