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First Override

The weekend had come and gone. Tom said “Hello” to the voice ID at the factory gate and picked up a fresh week’s anti contamination suit, gloves and footwear. He wondered if he really had been alive for another week or not. The crucibles propelled towards him on the airflow. To the uninitiated it was a magic factory, the whole production line was like a dance of engine components weaving around on streams of air.

There was no sound save for the gentle hum of the lights, computers and bio-computers. Tom was wearing his anti-contamination suit and the world had a muffled, mesmeric quality.

He grabbed a crucible and thrust it into the mould. The red laser awoke, tracking jerkily across the shiny surface and probing its insides.

The monitor spun a near perfect tracking graph. '99.99% accuracy, ' the accent less voice announced. It nearly always said '99.99%' accuracy, every minute, '99.99% accuracy.' He was hardly needed but procedure demanded a check by eye in case the laser was malfunctioning.

Sometimes he used to wake up in the night dreaming.

He used to dream that Annie was making her usual morning noises in the kitchen. He wandered into the kitchen, Annie was jerking across the kitchen in little movements. He said good morning and Annie replied '99.99%' accuracy' in an accent less voice.

He shook her and she said '99.99% accuracy'. Her eyes were blank, her face an expressionless void. He used to wake up shaking her and shaking her.

'99.99 % accuracy', said the speech synthesizer. Tom's job was much more important than it appeared.

A crucible was the central sealed unit within the fusion engine, the unit where the fusion reaction took place. If the crucible wasn't perfect then the fusion engine wouldn't work and it wasn't financially viable to rebuild it. Two hundred more engines could be rebuilt in the time it took to dismantle just one engine.

Tom had seen most of his colleagues come into the section and go. This was either because they became bored and left or were sacked because they weren't paying attention. The latter was more common. The chances of Tom having to intervene in the process of crucible checking were roughly about one in a two thousand. It was an event to intervene, it made his week.

Ralph, the Assembly Operations Manager had often said,” It takes a special kind of ability to look at five hundred and forty crucibles a day and not slip up, you've got it Tom. Whether that makes you as dumb as pigshit, have good eyesight or just weird I don't know."

Tom's mind drifted off: 'It doesn't matter now what Ralph thinks.’ Tom smiled. He watched the computer graph spin out another near perfect graph.

"I'm afraid you're going to be made redundant in crucible checks," Ralph had told them all at lunchtime.

The Koreans were, as a gesture of 'good will' providing a nanotech machine to make flawless crucibles every time. This new nanotechnology was beginning to threaten jobs the world over or so everyone thought. This was just the start.

They would receive quite a generous pay off but no guarantee of employment after that. Ralph said the plant was going to be expanding very soon, so it was unlikely they would be out of a job for very long.’ Pledges, pledges,’ thought Tom.

The fact remained in some ways he had had it coming for a long time. He was practically redundant when doing the job anyway.

Ralph didn't care too much, he had the whole of assembly to run, and it was just one thing less for him to worry about.

“Ralph’s a bastard,” Tom muttered to himself.

“You'll move up Tom, you're that type, steady," Ralph had said to him with his leering grin. Tom was feeling much less steady now, much less steady than he had ever felt.

'99.99% accuracy,' the voice blurted.

“How am I going to tell Annie?" he mumbled.” She said I'm a born loser." She meant it in jest but he'd never forgotten it. Not this time.

“But Ralph said there may be more new jobs for us in the factory didn't he Tom?"

Tom jumped as the internal microphone blurted in his ear. It was Jack Robinson, he worked opposite Tom in the factory, and they were allowed to talk for two minutes every hour.

“Yeah, Ralph they did say that," Tom answered.

“But in the meantime we're unemployed on Saturday,” he said singing into the mike.” We’re going to have to celebrate, and anyway they're gonna expand the factory," shouted Jack.

“I'll believe it when I see it."

“97.2% accuracy," Tom smiled. This was the first time it had ever been below 98.5% since he had worked there.

He pressed override and watched the crucible disappear off on the air conveyor, in a processional march into the distance.
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