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He clocked on,
8 sharp as he always did, strode into the office,
entered his cubicle and powered up his terminal.
Some people working in another company might have
been late, even just occasionally, but not him. No
delaying event entered his life; actually, no
adverse event ever entered his life, whatever time
of the day.
It wasn't in the schedule, which meant it wasn't
part of the Plan.
Anything that didn't affect the Plan (which wasn't
much, being such a widespread and intricate Plan)
was ignored. Anything that interfered with the Plan
(such as a late worker), was deemed
counterproductive, henceforth not tolerated.
Working for the Corporation had its benefits!
He liked his work. He'd been told about the Plan in
his induction, about how it kept everything going
like clockwork. He was proud to be a part of the
Plan that kept everything running so smoothly. The
Corporation's Plan allowed the seamless flow of
Events, organizing everything behind the scenes.
The robot smoothly activated, lights gradually
blinking on, the rising hum of servomotors spinning
up to speed, relays switching to new
configurations. The faint smell of ozone.
He'd been in Recruitment for a while now, everyone
in-house knew it was the fast-track, if you did
well you could write your own ticket to a good
position anywhere. Once you proved your worth -
earned your spurs, as it were - to the Corporation
in Recruitment, you were virtually rocketing up the
Recruitment was difficult and esoteric work. It
took skill to classify the different units and
divine their possible use in the Plan. (It was
policy to use the term "unit" for the same reason
that laboratory hamsters are unnamed; no emotional
attachment that way.)
Really effective Recruiters found units and
modified them ahead of time, preparing for the
future steps of the Plan. This was quite an art,
and the powers that be in the Corporation really
concentrated on people who had an intuitive grasp
of the Big Picture.
Units were altered by Events, created by other
individual units or Special Operations. There was a
symbiosis between Recruiters. The Event you created
with your unit that helped another Recruiter's unit
to be altered might allow you to create an Event
later that would affect another unit under your
care. It paid to scratch each other's backs.
It was teamwork. They were all working in line with
The robot began its task, every movement totally
efficient, unbelievably accurate, working in
seamless harmony with the rest of its steel
"Request for a #8276 in Operation 7924. Psych
profile follows. All Recruiters, please present
Looking through the basic unit type and the
accompanying psychological profile, he knew he had
the perfect candidate for the operation.
"Request for Operation 7924 filled by Recruiter
#5062. Thank you for your cooperation."
His co-worker next to him in #5063 asked him "How
did you get it so fast?"
Replying with professionalism and confidence he
revealed his technique. They weren't competing in
this organization. "Think of them as acronyms.
Instead of a #8276, it's an LMJ."
"Loud Mouthed Jerk. Then you check the psych
profiles, and see which one is the closest match.
LMJs are common, but rarely called in for much
precise work, occasionally the call for a mob of
them for some Events. Sheer chance that I had what
they wanted, sheer chance."
"Ah, you're kidding yourself, stop being so modest!
No chance at all, you're just one with the Plan.
You're going to go far, son. Really far. You know
what's going on."
Uplifted by his colleague's vote of confidence for
his advancement, he sat back at his terminal and
brought up the details of the Event. Pity he'd
never got the guy's name, it just never came up in
Hmmm, the Event was the #8276 slamming into a #0408
and #0411 unit with his car, deactivating them. It
would be deemed a tragic accident, of course, and
this Event would lead the surviving #8276 to
another Event, the unit's self deactivation. Such
an Event would cause other Events to ripple out
within the units related to all three of the
deactivated units. These Events would cause
improvements to road safety against other unit
deactivation. Consequently, a key unit that would
have been deactivated without these improvements
would be spared.
The robot picked up the components before it,
assembled them into one complete form, finely
machined pieces slotting together exactly. Each
movement never changing, always the same twists and
turns, perfect in motion.
The few must suffer for the sake of the many. It
was all for the greater good.
(The term "death" had been removed from official
Corporation terminology. The term "deactivation"
had been deemed far more productive and efficient.)
He didn't know how they would get the #0408 (RAG;
Rebellious Angst-ridden Girl) together with the
#0411 (MWS; Mild-mannered Wage Slave). Both of the
units seemed completely inappropriate for any type
of social interface.
But he didn't have their psych profiles. He had to
handle his own part in this Event, other Recruiters
would handle theirs. Time to get to work.
He had it. As well as some minor situations he
could arrange, he had two units which would alter
the specific #8276 to the appropriate state for the
Event. First, after the unit had performed
wage-earning activities for higher designated
units, he would be approached in his favourite bar
by a #8352 unit (STD; Sexy Teaser of Drinks) who
would ply him for cocktails and leave after she was
sated, lowering his meagre funds without any return
on his investment. Result to unit #8276: increased
anger, frustration, blood/alcohol level, decreased
feelings of duty and compassion. Next, the #8276
meets a #4989 (SAD; Speeding Abusive Driver) while
driving home. Result to unit #8276: increases in
frustration, anger and vehicle speed. Specially
prepared mechanical faults in unit #8276's car
cause said unit to lose control of the car at a
critical juncture, causing the successful
deactivations of units #0408 and #0411. He set the
wheels in motion; it would be ready by tonight.
The robot had finished its work, not wasting a
single joule of energy with unnecessary motion.
Precise, perfect. It moved on to its next job,
different pieces, same motions.
All part of the Plan.
Barring UEs, of course.
They had been cropping up far too often for the
powers-that-be to ignore as "acceptable
It was believed that these UEs, Unknown Events,
were caused by a shadowy reflection of the
Corporation, an organization pitted against the
Plan. In essence, an anti-Corporation whose Plan
was the destruction of the Plan.
He refused to believe that such people existed. The
Plan was humanity's only hope - imagine what life
would be like if things just happened, no control,
no organization, no Plan. Such an existence would
be indescribably chaotic, no underlying reason or
logic behind anything. He shivered at the thought,
such a thing was anathema to him.
He was thoughtful as he left his cubicle, preparing
for his trip home.
Scheduled to be uneventful, as always. He thought
of arranging a "chance meeting" with an old friend
from his college days. As long as it didn't
interfere with the Plan, it should be fine.
On the train ride home he read through the
Corporation's edition of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New
World." He found the utopia described therein
enchanting, comforting, a society that worked, all
people in all strata of society determined to
fulfill the Plan. For the greater good.
The robot, now in stand-by mode, ran through a
self-diagnosis procedure. Finding minute
temperature-alteration cracks and repetitive stress
points, quickly repairing these minor flaws
carefully and methodically.
Looking over the aisle, he couldn't help but notice
a young woman in black; hair, clothes, nails. She
was reading the same book, although a conventional
version, containing the sections that were
considered anti-Plan, which had been removed from
She looked at him, nailed him to the fibreglass
wall of the carriage. Deep electric blue eyes,
cerulean orbs, held him rooted to the spot. Why was
she looking at him? Why did her eyes show so much
animosity? He was just another face in the crowd,
what made him stand out? Why did she see him
different to anyone else?
It was hard thinking of this living, breathing
human being by a unit designation. She was real,
she was THERE, right in front of him. At the office
it was easy; units were designated with code
numbers, not names. Units were deactivated, people
Here, in the midst of humanity, the knife-sharp
edges of the Plan started to blur. He clenched his
book with trembling hands, priest grasping for holy
"I know what
He could hear the soft whisper of anger in her
velvet tones, accusing him, focusing her wrath upon
him, sunray shining through magnifying glass.
He felt like an ant.
"You TOY with people's lives, twist them,
MANIPULATE them for your MASTERS. And you only have
a vague notion WHY. You are an ignorant fool; while
you control other people like puppets you are just
a PUPPET yourself. At least I know they are messing
with me, and I'm not going to TAKE it any MORE!"
He'd found one. Someone that opposed the Plan, and
worse, knew far too much about it. They weren't
mythical - they were real. The enemy.
He blurted out, almost by reflex in his shocked
state: "It's all part of the Plan."
The robot suddenly was patterned with tiny rust
spots over the featureless metal, growing
larger by the moment. Self-repair systems were
initiated to stave of this new threat to the
tireless worker. An alert flashed through silicon
With raging fires subsumed underwater, hissing and
sending up great gouts of scalding steam, she
retorted: "LISTEN to yourself. Whose Plan is it?
Why is it so freaking good? Why are They right,
with Their Plan? It's not MY plan, not YOURS, either. Freak, WAKE UP and smell the REALITY, bud.
You're just a slave like the rest of us, but while
we are slaves through ignorance, you know the score
and you still SUBMIT to the masters. You have
CHOSEN to be a fool."
He had to concentrate on the Plan, its beauty, its
purpose, its comfort. Her foul lies were getting to
him. He had to remind himself that it was not up to
him to ask why.
The robot saw the rust race across its surface,
leaving holes and crumbling framework in its wake.
Inside the inner workings came a metallic screech
of gears clashing discordantly. Humming of
servomotors faltering slightly, occasional lights burnt out.
She left at the next station and he couldn't let
her go. Not only was there major kudos for bringing
in such evidence, it really would help the Plan,
remove the possibilities of UEs from the equation.
Noticing that he was following her, she broke into
a run, striding speedily into the concealing night.
He picked up the pace. She opposed the Plan, but
once she understood, she would help them in the Corporation. Once the Corporation showed people the
magnificence of the Plan, they saw the light of
reason, saw the wondrous order that the Plan
The robot perceived its self-repair systems
repairing holes within its form, patching holes,
restoring integrity to the unit. Threat neutralized
for the moment, it sought for a logical explanation
for this degradation of its substance.
Just a little out of his reach, he'd almost caught
up with her as the road curved sharply. Bright
headlights illuminating sable cloth on dead-white
Suddenly she about-faced and grappled him into the
undergrowth. Behind them, a scream of tyres,
thundering smash of metal on wood. The jack-knifed
sedan slowly sped off again unsteadily. Scorch
marks on the road and the smell of burned rubber surrounded the place where they had been locked in
pursuit. Around the track lay the highway pickets,
red cat's eye plastic sparkling in the darkness,
wood strewn around like corpses blasted by violent
She got up from the greenery, brushed herself off,
but she didn't run away. Just stood defiantly in
front of him.
"You saved me."
The shock tore through him - he had almost died,
and she had averted that terminal event. Wordlessly
she showed him a dossier, her picture emblazoned on
the front of the innocuous beige folder.
"UNIT #0408-80-9249. Scheduled for deactivation by
a unit #8276 in Operation #7924."
The fury was back in her voice as she recited the
Event that described her scheduled death, mixed
with regret and pity. She'd found out the when and
where, and had avoided her execution. He thought
the aspect that infuriated her most was that she
had been reduced to a simple number, to be removed
from the equation of Life at a whim.
She held forth another dossier, photo glinting on
beige in the flickering streetlight.
His number. His photo.
The Corporation had set him up to be deactivated
(screw the euphemisms!), to DIE.
He was merely another pawn to be sacrificed in
another move of the great game. Bloody heart ripped
out of still-living chest, burnt in holy homage to
He imagined all the people whom he had reduced to
numbers, killed for "the greater good." Not to
mention the countless individuals warped and
tortured from their choices, enslaved by the
Regret and anger ran through him; fire and ice
hopelessly intertwined. But she could see the signs
stamped upon his face, she embraced him firmly,
lovingly. They were both crying, tears of anguish,
tears of rage. Blinking back the drops, she looked
deeply within his eyes, and he knew her, he could
feel her. A person who cared about him. Not a
number, never a number. She whispered softly, voice
"Welcome back to the human race."
The robot searched for the threat, but the
self-diagnosis program intervened. "DANGER" The
rust had returned, destroying integral structure
faster than before. The unit seized up with rattles
and clanks, vibrating madly, falling supine upon
the ground. Shuddering, breaking itself apart.
From the broken shell a man arose, eyes wide with
wonder, as if seeing the world for the first time,
seeing life through fresh eyes. He saw the robots
slaving away perfectly at their tasks, never
changing, and knew that this shrine of stability
was not his place. An open door led to a lush
meadow, cool breeze blowing lightly on his bare
skin. He left this world of steel and glass and
He did not look back.
"Request for a #0411 in Recruitment, cubicle #5062.
Existing position holder rendered untraceable due
to UE in Operation 7924. Need another."
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