Shift Work: 2047

It’s a new day, the lights in my room wake me up, turning on automatically at five a.m. and flashing periodically to ensure I remove myself from my sleeping pallet, they only stop once the room registers the shifting of my weight from the mattress to the floor.

Standing there naked in the harsh white glare my eyes squint until everything shuffles into focus. Three by three metres of efficient, densely packed, hard edged furniture, containing the sum total of my material possessions.

I step into the decontamination tube in the corner of the room and hit the button that lowers the plastic shielding around me, it jostles my shoulders into place as it slides down, humming as it goes. I grunt my annoyance; the limit of protest I will allow myself.

The tube fills with hot steam and the exhaust fans in the roof push it around my body, I rest my head on the plastic shield; still exhausted from the day before. My eyes shut in the hope of a bit more rest.

Half a minute later the cold cycle begins and the steam is pushed violently through the floor grate, making my flesh prickle into goose bumps, the shield hisses up and I stumble to the wardrobe compartment, it has already slid open to reveal my uniform, a coarse blue set of overalls and standard issue underwear.

Reluctantly, I slide everything on and stumble towards my room’s door, it slides open quietly and the harsh lights of my room blink out into pitch blackness.

The light in the dormitory hallway is, if anything; harsher than that in my room by several shades of piercing white. The narrow corridor is already beginning to clog with blue clad workers making their way to the west, toward the refectory. I slide on the laceless boots next to my door and join the winding line.

How many days have I done this without rest? Why am I doing this?

I do not know the answers to these questions, it seems that the only option is to continue as I am, a piece in the machine of industry and national interest; A living gear that never shifts, perhaps a cylinder that knocks eternally against a pump, simply doing; never knowing why.

The people in front of me look the same, shaved heads, dull eyes, blue coveralls, laceless boots. No laces, no belts. We all know why but not body talks about it.

Nobody talks.

The only noise in the shuffling line is the scuffling of heavy feet and the snuffling of congested noses, it is cold on the Floor, its taking its toll but no one will stay away from work. They can’t afford to.

I guess that I’m lucky I’m single, not afflicted by the burden of childcare or the need for a larger room. That keeps the costs down, I still owe thousands though, I always will; everything I buy, my food, my rent, it’s all on credit.

We are told if we work hard we can come out ahead, we can be the next Johnny Wilson, ultra-successful worker who now lives in a mansion on the high hill. We see the interviews playing on the communal screens while we eat, Johnny sitting by his pool, in civilian clothes, eating some kind of exotic fruit; an apple I think, but I’m not sure.

The refectory door looms in front of me and one by one we shuffle in, the security gate beeping and showing our credit details before we enter.

Negative forty thousand, three hundred and ninety-seven dollars, fifty-five cents.

It’ll take a while to pay that off, by that I mean never.

Inside I wander over to my allotted position on the trestle tables. A cold bowl of protein-carb-something is congealing there already, I glance at the wall clock; I’ve got two minutes to eat before I’m considered late for work. I’m tempted to leave it, but I know that as dubious as it may be to believe, I’ll need the energy the meal provides.

I sit and begin spooning the gruel into my mouth, attempting not to process the flavour but the gluey, fibrous much sticks to my tongue, infecting it with a blandness so pervasive as to be offensive. It doesn’t matter.

The room is huge, over a thousand workers just like me sit at their places quietly eating this, their only meal for the day.

Life could be worse; I could be one of the thousands that don’t have jobs; living in one of the ubiquitous “Scum Towns” that have popped up next to every major city. Those people are barely even considered human, I hear CorpSec use them for target practice when they get bored.

Of course, I wouldn’t be telling everyone else that.

With my meal finished I take my plate to the disposal slot in the wall and push it inside; I get charged another ten dollars and fifty cents for that but leaving the plate out lands you a four-hundred dollar fine, so whatever I guess.

Joining a line of workers just like me I trudge along in single file, the line is moving smoothly and within ten minutes I’m aboard one of the shuttle buses that drive a continuous ring-route from the hab-blocks to the factories in town where we all work.

What do I do? I make bullets. Well, I use a machine to make bullets. Every day I watch the little plastic cases get filled with propellant and then see another machine stick the bullet into the casing, day after day, week after week.

I guess we are at war because we’ve been told to up our production. I don’t know who we are at war with; there was a ceasefire with RedDragon Industries last year; perhaps It Grande Conglomerate in the Americas or our old rival Glenncorp. Who knows?

To be honest, who cares?

I close my eyes as we get to the factory, I need to be calm when I go through the security section because if the guards decide I’m nervous, or anxious or upset they’ll detain me to make sure I’m not a security risk.

Security risks get thrown in “The Holes”.

I slow my breathing, I’ll be okay.

We file in the doorway and I see the same blank visored guards I see every day, motionless; unresponsive, their helmets reflecting our tired, grey faces. Reflecting our dull, grey lives.