An's Workshop

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Chapter 3

Nisson Cup O Noodles Hearty Chicken, 2.25-Ounce (Pack of 12) 9905902340990, Ghostbusters Rated: PG-13 Format: Vintage Blu-ray 97189049-8137, Nef Zombie Strike Doominominator Blaster 90989098, Wix 46449 Radial Seal Outer Air - Case of 6m 8789798, Tungsten-Wedding-Fashion-Ring-Contrasting 2476504571, Spy Ski School (Spy School) Stuart Gibbs Hardcover 9390890, Luxury Cotton Hotel-Spa Tub-Shower Bath Mat Floor Mat - (2 Pack, Smoke Gray, 21 inch by 34 inch) 61234687123, Swing Time Tire Swing Bird Feeder 5364333, Apothecary Sea Salt Candle Jar 7473999, Base Sports Wireless Wearable 73843894. Finally some tech. Ari wondered how these worked. They felt molecular in his hand. He needed to get rate, meaning at least another eighty-eight items in fifty minutes. He still was not sure how the rate worked exactly. Around a hundred an hour should hit it. He remembered that was what Aion said on Day 2.

No one seemed near in the ghostly halls. The caged lights bathed a luminous halo around every shiny thing.

What was the algorithm to all this random merchandise? It seemed random. Or was it quite the opposite? Kind of like after you play a gamescape a few times when patterns start to emerge. It suddenly occurred to Ari that there was a giant brain running this operation. Someone thought this all out. These thoughts he walked through every night made him or her, this person, a trillionaire. He or she, It, created an algorithmic program to put each one of these products in its place according to space or popularity or whatever was inputted to the program code, maybe a few variables combined. It was all programmed from the mind of this creator. It created it all. And these long corridors were Its axiom, neural pathways. Synapses. Ari speedwalked at COR pace through Its brain all night. Down an axiom, turn a dendrite, he reached onto an upper D shelf and connected the synapse. When that synapse connected with the laser eye extending from his arm, the algorithm transmitted with his gun to search again for the next level, aisle, shelf, barcode and instantly brought up a new coordinate. It calculated much faster than a simple sum from a mathematical mind. It was omnipresent and instantaneous.

The buyer too was immediately connected to their purchase in a split second. The entire action was an extension of the algorithm created by the programmer, but It was ever-present, godlike in Its commands. It hurled him down the endless corridors to the limits of his rag-doll flesh, his sinews that were faster at sunset than at dawn, though It never slowed. It was just lines of code typed in by someone paid to write for the mind that created the idea of speeding flesh through the night to serve a buyer’s need. And that penny rang for that mind every time an idea dropped into his tote. Ka-ching.

‘You must be Ari,’ a voice somewhere near him spoke in the night.

The penny dropped. He didn’t recognize it but it was a deep and authoritative voice. A little older than the seekers and packers on the killing floor. The penny dropped and clinked. It had to be a floor manager. Ari found his voice and smiled.

‘Hello.’

‘Hi,’ he grinned back. He had a small cart with a lapsphere on it. There was also a scanner gun connected to it. He picked it up, scanned his own barcode hanging from his lanyard, and then pointed the laser at Ari’s chest. ‘May I?’ scanning without Ari’s permission.

‘How did you find me?’ Ari asked.

‘You’re in the system. Let’s look at your numbers Ari. Let’s see. Come here; you can look too. These charts are not that important yet because you are on the first day of your second week, but we like to keep you informed.’

‘OK.’ Ari saw tabs and tabs of spreadsheets with his name at the top.

‘You have not hit rate yet but you are on track. It takes a few weeks to get going so we compensate for that. As you know on your third week you will be expected to hit rate. If you don’t, you will be given a formal warning. On your third warning you will be dismissed. Do you understand what I have told you so far?’

‘Yes.’

‘OK. Let me scan your barcode again for affirmation and sign this paper.’

‘What is this for?’

‘Just that you understand and agree to the terms I have just told you.’

‘Terms?’ Ari asks as he automatically signs his name without reading.

‘Just COR policy. There is something I see that might improve your performance. You see here. Yesterday you were two minutes late after your lunch break when you scanned in. It might not seem like a lot, but it adds up. If that continues on every break that will add up to six minutes a day and twenty-four minutes a week—enough to cause you to miss rate. Don’t waste your time. I am telling you these important tips now because I don’t want you to fall into bad habits. It starts now. Other than that, let’s see if you can use this week to speed up a bit and hit rate on your own. If not, then there is always the option of going back to the Learning circle to analyze what areas you can improve… and then reprogramming. We are here to help Ari.’

‘Well thanks.’

‘No worries.’

‘I didn’t catch your name,’ he asks.

‘You don’t know my name?’

‘No. I’m sorry, I don’t. I didn’t catch it.’

‘Well you should. My name’s Ananke. Don’t forget it.’

‘OK’

‘Say it again just to remember.’

‘Ananke,’ like a child Ari watches his superior - stunned and waiting for approval.

‘That’s right. You should remember because I sign all your papers. If you are sick: anything and everything goes through me.’

‘Alright thanks,’ he said as he looked at his gun. He had just lost three minutes talking to Ananke and now he was behind. ‘Hey did you pause my path on the computer while we were talking? So my rate….’ he asked as he looked up, but the cart and computer were gone. Ari peeked down the corridor but Ananke was not there either, already down a dendrite connecting his next synapse.

He had to speed up. He was worried as he calculated if he could hit rate this week. If he couldn’t make it, then they would give him his first warning in two weeks, then two more warnings in each of the following two weeks. His worst case scenario was four more weeks until he would be sacked. He picked up his pace a bit. How hard could it be to not be the bottom 10% of his shift? But if they cut the bottom 10% every week, they wouldn’t have much of a workforce after too long. He shrugged and continued.


There was no other alternative for Ari. He had to last. It was either COR or Prepurg again. Either or.

’Did they want him to last?’ He wondered. It was no coincidence that his two weeks of probation and then three weeks of warnings directly followed the peak season for buyers. After this would they see how many orders there were as to how many workers they retained? There was no way to know this. No, they would be liable for those unethical practices. But they also knew that all staff had no other options. And who would have the strength to go up against COR in a court of law, one which they own?

Not thinking about the unmentionable was easy. Ari just traded these corridors for the corridors of his favorite first-person shooter (FPS) gamescape (but not his all-time favorite gamescape; that was still F451). Wolfenstein 3D was old school but he liked it the most because it was clunky and unrealistic. (random15) He hated most FPS gamescapes after his ordeal at military school. He had been playing Wolfenstein since he was a little kid. It came out in 1992 but that was before his time. In fact it came out when his grandfather was a kid and that is who first played it with him. He loved those days. It was always just lying around near their antique MS-DOS IBM. It was the first of its kind and the best in his opinion. Doom and Halo were later improvements but they never really captured the raw energy of the breakthrough that Wolfenstein 3D had when it placed the player at the center of the universe. Everything was a target and everything revolved around the player and his weapon.

His favorite part of the game was the death cam where you could see a slow-mo recap of the Nazi boss you just killed. In the ‘Die, Führer, Die!’ segment you infiltrated a bunker under the Reichstag, ’culminating in a battle with Adolf Hitler in a robotic suit equipped with four chain guns.’ He is reading from wik, one interscape site that is still open in the COR sphere zone. ’Wolfenstein 3D (created by id Software) was an instant success, fueled largely by its shareware release, and has been credited with inventing the first-person shooter genre. It was built on the ray casting technology pioneered in earlier games to create a revolutionary template for shooter game design, which first-person shooters are still based upon today. Despite its violent themes, Wolfenstein largely escaped the controversy generated by the later Doom, although it was banned in Germany due to the use of Nazi iconography.

Wolfenstein 3D was published by Apogee Software and FormGen. Originally released on May 5, 1992, for MS-DOS, the game was inspired by the Muse Software gamescapes Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein. In the game, the player assumes the role of Allied spy William ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz during World War II as he escapes from the Nazi German prison Castle Wolfenstein and carries out a series of crucial missions against the Nazis. The player traverses through each of the game’s levels to find an elevator to the next level or kill a final boss, fighting Nazi soldiers,’ He keeps reading from wik while he waits for Treasure Hunter to boot up.

He visual-clicks footnote 3 at the bottom of the page. ’In 2010, researchers at University Leiden (established 1575, Holland, now Eurafrica) showed that playing first-person shooter gamescapes is associated with superior mental flexibility. Compared to non-players, players of such games were found to require a significantly shorter reaction time while switching between complex tasks, possibly because they are required to develop a more responsive mindset to rapidly react to fast-moving visual and auditory stimuli, and to shift back and forth between different sub-duties.’(random16)

Mental flexibility’, ’switching between complex tasks and sub-duties’, ’fast moving visual stimuli’—he had been training all his life to be a seeker. He should have been a natural. Well the complex tasks part was a bit of a stretch, but yes he should be very good at his job. At least hit rate. But perhaps fear was the largest part of the work. Everyone was continually worried about being let go because of poor performance and this motivates. Fear was the way to increase the performance of COR. If an associate could conquer or channel this fear and pressure, then they would survive.

With this job he was saving up for the version called Wolfenstein: Virtual Seeker, which was released on May 5, 2065, exactly seventy-three years after the original release. It had a lot of improvements and brought the franchise into the post-modern era but for him there was still something exhilarating about the uncluttered first version that he couldn’t put into words. It brought back some beautiful childhood memories, perhaps his first memories. When he looked out through the weapon of his choice, it felt real to him. He always felt like he was part of the game and not just in it. The screen, the metal he held, everything was real-- as real as the world.

He held onto the railing on level three for balance as he looked down at packing again. This was beginning to be part of his routine. He was at a bad angle and he was not sure what station she was on that day. Maybe she had been fired already. She was bloody slow. Slow Bookworm. Even from up there anyone could tell. Ari couldn’t see her. Maybe she had been put somewhere else. Maybe she was off that day. She could be on another shift or inbound helping the bots stock what he unstocked. It could be any number of things that the algorithm calculated in this giant machine. Only It knew where she was. Ananke could punch in her badge number and know her location immediately. How much did It know though? Her background, her details, her story? Only Ananke, the algorithm, and the creator of COR had the numbers. Everybody knew the game was loaded because It always won. It was like playing a multiplayer against the computer that made the game. But the game was the thing. Ari checked for her one more time.


It was only one more day until payday. Ari was part of COR now. Nearly two weeks inside this algorithmic neural network, but it was all about to be worth it.

‘So are you solving a problem or working hard? You obviously must be solving a problem,’ her words hung in the air because he was not expecting her voice. He had forgotten what it sounded like. It was matter-of-fact and to-the-point, yet at the same time the tone was slightly high pitched.

‘I didn’t catch your name the last time,’ he said.

‘An.’

He didn’t know how long he could talk to her. He had to find a way to pause time. ‘Can I add you on ibook?’

She looked away from him, then back and slowly said, ‘No.’

He wasn’t thinking. She was not going to be that predictable. ‘You’re not on ibook?’

‘I didn’t say that.’

’What about chat or sapp or whatever?’

She stared blankly at the suggestion wall. It was empty except for someone suggesting that there should be a Pokemon Go! training gym in the sphere zone. That was retro. So 2015.

‘Aren’t you on some network?’ He asked, but it came out more pleading than he wanted.

‘You mean those gateway drugs that store all your information? I’m not really into them. It’s hyper-normalization crap.’

What the what did she just say? Is that a new multiplayer or something? ‘Hyper-normalization?’ Ari asked.

’Hyper-normalization-- from Russia, Eastralasia-- the idea that we don’t know what reality is anymore so we make our own fake reality, but we become so immersed in it that we don’t know it’s not real.’ She sounded like she was reading off one of the plastic placards that Aziz the Learner read to every Purg on his first day. ‘Some people on ibook are so addicted to viewing others’ lives that it becomes like their real job. Anyways, I’m too busy for it. We can connect in real life; imagine that, like we are right now.’

She was not into tech at all. She just read those antique books. He crossed his arms. No tech. What is there to talk about then? ‘Oh yeah. Sounds fascinating,’ he said with his best B.J. Blazkowicz/Wolfenstein grin.

‘It is. It is important. You should read up on it. Anyway, how is your job working out for you?’ She asked as if reading his thoughts.

‘You were right. It’s not as great as I thought. I can’t get back to my normal sleep. The ten hours really takes a lot out of you. I’m so tired when I get to COR home now I don’t eat, just sleep and then when I wake up I’m really hungry and still tired. I never feel fully rested, except maybe the last day of the two days off, but then it’s back to work-- that and the sore muscles.’

‘It’s the nightshift. You’ll never get used to it. I heard one of your guys snuck in a fitbot and he said he COR -paced twenty K a night.’

‘That’s tech. I thought you weren’t into that stuff.’

‘Oh I’m not against tech…’

He felt relief at those words.

‘… as long as it doesn’t control your life.’

He felt like confessing that tech was his life, his whole life-- social and otherwise. Instead he rubbed his right palm and looked at the clock.

‘Let me ask you something,’ she said.

‘Ok’

‘Don’t you find it odd that whether you work or get fired today depends on your rate but you don’t know how they calculate your rate.’

‘That’s true.’

‘I mean, they say it is based on an algorithm but what is this algorithm and why can’t we access it? How do we know if it’s true or just made up? Maybe they can tweak it to get rid of people when they are overstaffed.’

‘Yes, we don’t know do we? There is something nazi-like about that.’ ‘Nazi-like’? That’s the best he could come up with when he had Wolfenstein thoughts cluttering up things.

‘And we always have to sign the paper every week that we agree to the terms that they say. So it doesn’t really matter what the rate is or how they got it because we just agreed that there is just cause to fire us.’

‘And we are always on edge about if we make rate or not, so we work harder.’

‘Constant anxiety.’

He had to ask her. Should he? Alright, ‘An, what is your rate?’

She looked directly at him and said, ‘I don’t know. They have given up telling me it because I never sign the forms. I stopped signing after I got my second warning. If I agree to the third warning then I am agreeing to leave… and I’m not quite ready yet.’

‘But it sounds like you are close?’

‘I don’t want to tell you too much,’ she squinted, measuring him.

That sounded inviting. He wondered what she was talking about. ‘Where would you go? There is nothing else.’

‘Yes there is. I just need some final edits…’ she had let L slip.

Ari had no idea what she was talking about and didn’t want to ask her to avoid looking uninformed. He wanted for them to talk further about this another time, but he looked again at the omnipresent red, digital clock in the lunchroom. They were a minute late already and he hadn’t scanned back in.

‘I have a plan. It’s probably too complicated for you,’ she answered.

He got up and moved toward the computers, turning awkwardly around to her once again. She saw the time too but instead of reacting, she took out her notebook and started writing. Her pen quivered, then darted down onto her wrinkled page. The notebook was tattered and held by a string. She tied the string three times around the sides of the binding just as he slid his badge across the machine like a credit card. Ari was one minute and four seconds late so the numbers and colon of time were colored red, not white as usual. There would be a reprimand again from Ananke.

Ari almost ran to meet everyone for the warm-up Quick 5. They were already on the second movement. He missed what the managers said. It didn’t matter. More numbers they had to reach. More carrot and stick. Who would get a prize today? Which side was behind this time, packers or seekers, or maybe the inbound bots? What items of merchandise were all the buyers out there busy away on their spheres buying now?

As Ari walked to get his gun and trolley, he heard the other seekers talking about a new distraction. It seemed management had decided the corridors were too bland. COR had contracted out to paint them. Apparently, they consulted several independent groups to decide which color would increase the awareness and safety of the futurehouse and decided that red would keep the seekers not only more alert but also heighten their awareness of the surroundings. The logo for COR was also in red, so it all tied together quite nicely. The pillars were being painted red by four painterbots. They said it would take the better part of a month to finish. Avoiding the four drones took concentration away from seeking. The seekers wanted it be taken into consideration when calculating their rate, but the managers said nothing about this obvious obstacle. The smell and the sight of fresh red filled the senses. The intoxicating mix awakened.

Ari got his tote, put it on his cart and started down the crimson corridor. He noticed there was always some minor change going on. Adapting is in the job description-- passive uncertainty. He was on the lowest floor, L1, which was hard cement on the feet but saved him some time walking up flights of stairs just to get started. He had a second wind after seeing An, yet he knew time-wise he was already behind the eight ball. He was nearly running. It was forbidden to run, so he made sure to be just a pace below lifting both feet off the ground at the same time. This would be dangerous if someone were also to run out of an aisle whilst he was coming down the corridor. As well, there were cameras on every corridor so it all could be played back by the floor manager if proof was needed as to whom was at fault. They were being constantly watched from above-- as if the information on their whereabouts being fed from their guns to the algorithmic mind was not enough. In any case, he was looking for aisle one-eight-one and was only at aisle forty as he came from the Quick 5 to the nearest carts and totes. As he ran, time slowed. The hum deepened into an incomprehensive garble as his trolley hurled down the corridor.

He noticed there was no one else around. It seemed he had the entire futurehouse to himself, but this was a trick he had succumbed to before, which was only due to the scale of the place compared to the amount of workers. Sometimes, usually at the beginning of the shift, there were many of them in the same area but other times later in the shift it was like this. It might have been a bug in the system. 179… 180… 181. He turned down the aisle. 14… 14… 14… C.. C…C…C. There it was. He looked at the screen on the gun. It said Smith, Adam THE WEALTH OF NATIONS ISBN-10: 0679424733. It sounded familiar. He had sought this one before. He looked on the shelf and there it was, the dusty red cover.

An was smart. She knew she was smart. But what did she see in these relics? He knew he didn’t have the time, but he couldn’t resist. Whoever chose to buy this book had just as much opportunity to buy something more up-to-date, at least from the present decade, but why would they choose to buy this? And books were expensive. It was probably six bits at least. You could almost buy a new game for that.

He cracked open the spine. What had he to lose? He quickly read, thinking that it would be of no interest to him and therefore he could move on.

The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man who knows himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer.

He saw the words but there was nothing to see. He needed to keep moving along. He looked again to try one more line for good measure.

The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.

It spoke to him. It was exactly what he was doing. But Ari thought he was far from becoming some stupid ignoramus. He did do the same repetitive actions though-- so often that the fast parts of him became invisible. He was too young still for it to have an effect. It was just a job. Something he and she did to survive. There were no other choices but the futurehouse or the factory. He did what he did-- this work and the gamescape, and she had her reading and her plan.


Payday.

The day marked the end of two full weeks of work-- his first two weeks. In a few hours it would be all worth it. As Ari was told by those who had been there longer, they would be paid precisely at 00:05. They had their half hour lunch break then. He hoped they would let him go outside to use his sphere.

Right before the first break he scanned the new Play Virtual VR 10D FLIGHTSUIT Launch Bundle 3499u793 on his gun and put it in his tote. Wearable technology had come a long way. He understood intuitively that this new VR was total immersion into the gamescape. It had goggles with built in playhandle gloves, complete with a full flightsuit not a sensor screen and separate controllers. It was the next generation. He wanted to own one… one day, but his first payday was for Wolfenstein: Virtual Seeker.

He was in row one-one-nine on level two, nowhere. When he looked at the gun and then paced to the shelf he was lost in the repetition of where he had to go, A2, A2, A2. He repeated the mantra out loud until he knew nothing else. He looked at the screen on his gun to make sure it was A2 while repeating it: L2, A119, A2. Once he arrived, he reached up to the 2 spot on A shelf. Then the item popped up instantly and dutifully. It was a movie. Brave New World RETRO DVD Leslie Libman 9780060850524. (random17) On the plastic cover it read, ’The Year is 632 AF (Anno Ford)’. This didn’t compute in his mind as he looked for the barcode and then the red laser lit it up. The gun beeped in agreement, turned green and then displayed the next aisle and shelf. L2, A121, C4. He was off.

Just as he oriented himself as to which direction to move next, turned the corner of aisle 119, and maneuvered into the half-red corridor, he was stopped by Ananke directly in his path. Ari put on his brakes.

’What didn’t you do?

Ari had to think for a second and put L2, A121, C4 out of his mind. What didn’t he do? What didn’t he do? He moved through a mental checklist from the placard on the first day with Aziz. In Aziz’s heavy accented voice, Ari moved through each checkmark.

‘Look,’ he said.

‘Look before what?’

‘Look before moving my cart and tote into the corridor. Making it safe for myself and other COR associates,’ He monotoned in Aziz’s voice.

‘Correct,’ smiled Ananke. ‘You are showing some improvement.’ He looked at a chart on his lapshere that sat haphazardly on his cart. ‘You are moving in the right direction, but you are not quite there yet. Your probation time is nearly up and I am worried you will not hit rate.’

Ari looked at the chart Ananke was looking at. There was an arrow that fluctuated but generally moved in an upward direction from the lower left to the upper right. The number it was leveling off with was 85 or so.

‘How much faster do I need to be?’ he asked.

‘It looks like you need to improve by 16.73 percent.’

‘But this week isn’t over yet,’ he said.

‘Well it is the last day of your second week. We have compared your numbers against all the past associates of COR and can see that you will not make it this week. It’s pre-prorated.’

‘Pre-prorated?’

‘Yes, prorated into the future. The proprietary algorithm determines that there is a highly probable chance that you will not make rate this week and next. I see a positive correlation between your efforts and a failure to hit rate. Therefore, I am here today to tell you this so that you are aware of it and can make the necessary adjustments. We have found that this is the most productive and beneficial course of action at this time. For you and COR.’ He scanned the barcode of Ari’s ID without acknowledging any need for permission.

Ari searched for what to say while realizing there was nothing he could say that would change the numbers. Whatever. He was getting paid in a few hours. It clicked: the stick and then the carrot. They were doing this right before the pay came in to reinforce discipline. They wanted higher production and figured out this was the most efficient the way to get it.

‘I will improve, Ananke.’ Ari was on the clock still, so he pushed by him. He was not about to let their meeting slow him down. The last time Ananke had taken him offline while they talked but not today. He couldn’t believe Ananke had the gall to reprimand him on his time. A121, C4. A121, C4. A121, C4. There it was…

Ananke turned his cart and lapshere again into Ari’s aisle. Without hesitation he said, ‘Sign this,’ and handed him a piece of paper and a pen.

‘What is this?’

‘Just confirmation of our talk.’

‘Our talk?’

‘Yes that I gave you a warning of the possibility that you may not attain rate.’

Ari read a few words and it seemed to be what he said. He placed his initials, AT, on the page. At the bottom it said, ‘Recommendation to Azzam’

‘Who is Azzam?’ Ari asked.

‘He will be taking over…’ He took the page with a glance at the writing and then pressed a key on his lapshere. ‘… if you don’t hit rate,’ Ananke trailed off as his mind was already on the next issue-- in synch with the algorithmic mind. A map expanded on his lapshere screen with a pin on it. The computer displayed the word ‘An’ under the pin on level 1, station 6 of packing. Ananke then pushed his cart toward the direction of the service elevator at COR pace. It was ingrained in him to walk that fast. Ananke must have done Ari’s job once.

Ari tried to continue walking at the same speed as Ananke and got a lucky break after a few minutes. He got twenty-three items on one shelf that were all the same. Someone must have ordered the exact item for everyone on their holiday list. That was one lazy buyer. In this unusual case, he just scanned one item and then a screen came up that said, ‘How many?’ and he punched in twenty-three, two and then three, very carefully because it would waste his valuable rate time if it was incorrect.

He looked at his gun to see how much his rate had gone up from that one pick. It was at ninety when he saw Ananke and now it was at one-twenty. Why couldn’t Ananke have come a bit later? Or did Ananke intentionally give that gift for Ari to lift his rate after their talk? Or to lift his spirit? Ari was overthinking it now.

He kept staring at the gun while he was trying to think. It had the level, the next aisle, shelf and space as usual. L2, A122, D12. He kept staring at it for some reason because something wasn’t right. In the bottom right hand corner was the time. It said: 11:44:22… 11:44:23… 11:44:24… 11:44:25… 11:44:25. There it was again. He thought he was imagining it. It couldn’t be. He kept zoomed in on the seconds for another minute. :34…:35…:36…:37…:38…:39. No, he must have been wrong. He was tired or something. Hallucinating. 11:46:04…11:46:04. No, there it was again. It was true. A true glitch. Was it on purpose? It couldn’t be. Were they slowing down time for COR ’s benefit and then at the same time telling the associates to go faster?

Ari didn’t move at COR pace for the last fifteen minutes of the shift. It was impossible to think deeply about an idea and at the same time hold a location in his mind. His eyes darted from shelf to shelf. What did it mean? But soon enough it was almost midnight. He had been looking forward to this. So he dropped a level, scanned his badge with his gun and then put the battery of his gun back in the recharger. Quickly now he moved to the front computers and ripped his badge through after he waited in the lineup. Then it was the queue for the metal detectors. He took off his badge, the two coins in his pocket and his wallet and put them all in the electro-tray for the 3-D scan. He went through without the hint of a beep. Then he pressed the random button. All clear green. Finally, he waited in line again and then glided through the metal fingers after he scanned his badge for the last time to open the lock and push through.

In the hall outside, there were no more guards. So Ari opened his locker and took his sphere into the dark parking lot. It was nice to be outside. It was cold in the night. Hoarfrost was starting to form on the windshields of the few managers’ vehicles. It was growing, crystalizing its short life. He could see his breath against the diffused light coming from, perhaps, the moon behind a cloud.

He put the passcode into his sphere. A… N…

‘Hi Ari.’

He turned and there she was as if summoned. ‘Hi An. I didn’t see you.’

‘Obviously. On your sphere I see.’

‘What? Yeah, I just wanted to see if we got paid yet.’

‘What is the difference?’ she said. ‘We are still stuck here.’

‘I have to buy something as soon as it comes into my COR account.’

‘On your sphere?’

‘Yes.’ He was already on the interscape. He went to the COR site. ‘Look,’ he tried to say as nice as he could. ‘I’m kind of busy. Let’s talk next break.’

‘You know, those devices are no good. They separate us from one another, just like you are doing now. We can’t have a little chat without the interscape taking precedence.’

‘Kind of like you with your writing and your books,’ he said jokingly, yet dismissively, to stop her from going on.

‘That’s different. I control my time. I read or write the words when I want.’ She glared through his sphere. All she could see was the light illuminating his face in the dark. ‘The epitome of this age is scanning ibook on your sphere a story someone posted while taking a selfie in some stupid location while falling to their death… probably posting it while they are falling. Death by selfie by ibook by sphere. This is our time.’

Ari was outright ignoring her now. He saw that he got paid in his COR account. He finally got logged onto the COR interscape and found his saved item, Wolfenstein: Virtual Seeker. He waited for it to load into his cart and then virtually waited in line to go through the checkout.

She crossed her arms and leaned back, looking in through the COR entrance.

Alright he was through the checkout. Now he wanted premium delivery which meant it would be at his COR home, physically waiting, long before he got home. He would be able to get a couple of hours of playtime in after work. No wait…

She had been talking for a while but he hadn’t been listening, ‘… and that’s what I’m working on now. It will give people back the power to be human,’ An ended her long explanation. The silence of the night was deadening.

‘What?’ he asked.’ Where did that come from? Why are we talking about the power to be human all of a sudden?’

A red light wavered out of a hole in his sphere so he held it up to the top of his head. It scanned down over the straight and round lines of his face in geometric, infrared squares. Ari smiled to show he was pleased with his purchase and it confirmed his identity as well as his satisfaction. Then fanfare music loudly pitched out. ‘Dum du dum,’ and other screeches and bravado precluded his reward. As though he had just defeated the boss at the end of a level, the deep movie-trailer voice announced, ‘THIRTY-EIGHT COR CREDITS. CONGRATS.’

‘Oh for crying out loud. Did you not just hear what I was saying? I just laid it all out for you. This is the only way.’

‘Yes, of course,’ He unknowingly agreed.

‘So you’re in?’ She looked through him with her piercing eye under the covered moon.

‘Absolutely, of course,’ he said, having no idea but happy that he got what he wanted as well as the last word in.

‘Perfect,’ she said.

An looked at the time at the top of his sphere and motioned into the futurehouse. They passed under the giant COR sign together and both of them went through the security procedures again in reverse to begin the end of their shift.

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