The factory sat on the tallest hill in the area. From each of its four sides, the city below seemed to stretch out to eternity. Michael sat on the bench in the factory break area and stared up at the nighttime sky, watching intently as thousands of commuters shot in all directions above him and over the horizon. The sight of the commuters made him wish for home, but he knew that he still had six more hours left on the line before he could be back with his family again. He thought of young Billy and smiled. We’ll be playing that game of catch tomorrow, buddy, he thought, just like I promised. A loud horn sounded across the complex. Break time was over. It was time to head back to the line.
On the line, Michael put on his protective suit, what the workers called ‘the wall.’ When the commuter vehicles drifted up to his station, his job was to apply the magnetic field. The wall helped to prevent arcs of energy from causing a short in the wiring or worse. Once the suit was completely assembled, he waved his hand in front of the panel sensor to let the mainframe know that he was back at his station. Three of the commuter vehicles flew by him at almost the speed of sound; the fourth one stopped and hovered in front of his workstation.
Michael pressed the large blue button and there was a sudden hissing sound as metallic gas particles encircled the vehicle. After the vehicle was well hidden behind a cloud of particles, he pressed the red button. As if the vehicle was itself a vacuum, the cloud of particles fell inward and attached to the outside of the bat-shaped machine. A single push of the green button sent a surge of energy flowing through the outer shell, magnetizing it. Once the process was complete, the vehicle rushed off to the color station and then the interior decorating station after that. As soon as it departed, another vehicle appeared to take its place.
About an hour after Michael came back on the line, Jerry’s voice came over the speaker in his helmet and told him that Mr. Pritchard wanted to see him. Michael had been working at the factory for just over three years and had put in a request to have his salary increased so that he could better take care of his family. As he removed himself from the wall, he thought about how happy Jenny would be that he’d gotten a raise. She may finally be able to get Billy that new hover-board that he’d been asking for over the past year or so.
He approached the main office and placed his hand on the sensor by the door. A white light scanned down the length of his palm and then back up.
“Access granted,” Jerry’s voice said and the heavy metal door slid open. As Michael walked into the main office, he thought for the thousandth time how adorable Jerry’s voice sounded to him. He wondered, not for the first time, what she would look like if she actually had a body. The metal door slid closed behind him and he stepped up into a large, transparent chamber, set in the center of the large outer-office.
“Please raise your arms,” Jerry’s voice said. Michael obeyed. Another line of white light scanned down the length of his body and then back up again. “Please exit the chamber, Michael” Jerry said. “Mr. Pritchard will see you now.”
Mr. Pritchard’s office door was already open when Michael stepped out from the chamber. The heavy-set man sat behind his desk, smiling brightly. On either side of him, standing behind his desk, were his two assistants, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Dale. Michael could never tell them apart. Not only did they look exactly the same, they always wore the same, exact outfits.
“Take a seat, Michael,” Mr. Pritchard said when Michael entered the office. The factory manager motioned to the single chair that had been placed in front of his desk. Michael did as he was told.
“Hello, Michael,” Mr. Pritchard said, folding his hands on the desk-top. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“No problem, Sir,” Michael said.
Mr. Pritchard cleared his throat a couple of times before continuing.
“Michael, I have some bad news.”
“Bad news Sir?” Michael hadn’t expected to hear bad news when he was called to the office. He became immediately worried. “My family, sir are they okay? Billy?”
“Calm down,” Mr. Pritchard said. “Your family is okay. I promise. This isn’t about them, Michael. This is about you.”
“Yes, Michael. You see, I have a new unit coming in tomorrow that will automate the magnetization process on the vehicles. Do you understand what that means?”
“Am I going to have to learn a new process, sir?”
“No, Michael,” Mr. Pritchard said, gravely. “Michael, it’s going to do everything that you do. I’m sorry, Michael, but you’ve been coded obsolete.”
For a few seconds, Michael couldn’t speak. The shock of the news sent his mind reeling. I can’t be obsolete, he thought. I have to play catch with Billy like I promised. I have to provide for my family… My family!
“Sir,” Michael said “This can’t be. I’m supposed to get a thirty day notice!”
“I know, son. I truly am sorry.” Mr. Pritchard stood up and held out his hand to Michael. Michael stood and reluctantly shook it. “You’ve done a great job here, Michael. This decision is in no way a reflection of your service. I hope you know that.”
Michael nodded dumbly, lost for words.
“Good,” Mr. Pritchard said. “You’ve been scheduled for termination tomorrow. Your family’s been notified.” He walked around his desk with his two assistants following him and patted Michael on the back as he led him toward the office door. “If it makes it any easier for you, your family is extremely upset.”
At the door, Michael turned around quickly.
“My family,” he said. “Who’s going to take care of them?”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Mr. Pritchard said. “Dave, from the interior decorating department lost his family in an unfortunate commuter accident last month. We feel that he’ll fit nicely.”
“Dave’s going to take care of my family? Who the hell is Dave? It’s my family, not Dave’s! They’re my responsibility!” He lunged at Mr. Pritchard, but Mr. Thompson and Mr. Dale grabbed his arms and dragged him backward from the office. A small alarm sounded and Mr. Pritchard’s office door slid shut. Michael fought the twins as hard as he could, but in the end, he couldn’t match their combined strength or the electric shock that they sent through his neck, rendering him useless.
When he came to, Michael found that he couldn’t move. Standing on the very platform where he’d watched so many other fellow workers terminated, he knew that it wouldn’t do him any good to struggle. He was an obsolete. When the job was terminated, so must he be. That was the law. Below the platform, thousands of workers stood silently, watching and waiting for his end to come. A side door opened to his left and Mr. Pritchard walked out onto the platform, followed by his family.
“Billy!” Michael called out. “Billy, I’m sorry. I wanted to play catch with you!”
Seven year old Billy began to cry, turned away from Michael, and buried his face in Dave, the interior decorator’s side. Dave pulled the boy close.
“That’s okay, buddy,” Dave said, running his fingers through Billy’s hair. “I’ll play catch with you.”
Michael and Dave locked eyes for an instant and an understanding passed between them. Take care of them. I will, I promise.
Michael looked over at Jenny, but she was looking down at the floor. Her husband, Ken wrapped his arms around her and gave her a squeeze.
“I know you’ll miss Michael,” Ken said. “But, I’m sure that Dave is going to work out just fine. He’s a newer model, you know?”
Mr. Pritchard stepped up to the center of the platform and stood beside Michael, facing the thousands of workers below.
“We’re here today to say goodbye to Michael, model number 57. He’s been an outstanding producer and will be missed.” He turned to Michael and patted him on the shoulder. “Just so you know, Michael, I would have been happy to give you that raise”
Michael didn’t respond. He stared silently out at his fellow workers and waited for his inevitable end to come. Mr. Pritchard nodded to Mr. Dale, who was standing behind Michael. Mr. Dale nodded slightly and opened the small panel on the back of Michael’s neck.
“Goodbye, Michael,” Jerry said from somewhere high above the platform. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, Jerry,” Michael said. He looked at his family and then back out at the crowd. “I’ll miss all of…” His head fell forward when his chip was removed.