Hi there! I haven’t commented much as I wanted to catch up on posting parts for ‘World’s Eye View’ and now that I’m semi-caught up, I wanted to add in a story that was written with two endings. the first version ‘Rat Race’ was published in Corporate Catharsis. This is the alternate ending, with an alternate title. It gives the story a completely different feel and is a much more dark and dystopian.
Title – ‘To the Victor’
The guards were at the gated entry. the two men in brown and black looked out over the restless swarm of business suits and blue jeans. Each person there in the misty morning carried a briefcase with The bright silver letters ‘HKI’ stenciled on both sides. What HKI stood for was cause of a constant debate online after work, as no one professed to know what exactly the letters represented.
Cameron Farver was there, two rows back. Cameron, or Cam for short, was inches below six feet, pounds over being considered slim, and with less hair than considered attractive. His bulldog-like face belied his gentle demeanor and polite method of speech. He was at once the epitome of the classic squat, sharp-eyed con-man or pawn shop operator, and an elegant refined maitre-de at the most posh and expensive restaurants.
This morning, despite the mist, Cameron had forgone his usual business attire of brown jacket and pants with a white shirt, for the more practical pair of dockers and a button collar blue shirt with black running shoes. He looked at his watch. Five minutes before the gates opened. Because of his height, he couldn’t see higher than most people’s shoulders, so he didn’t know how large the crowd was. He could guess however, because of the way the crowd was pushing forward, squeezing against the gate. His heart sped up. There’d been times people had been trampled when the gate opened. He didn’t want to be one of them, and began using his elbows to open space around him. The quick jabs opened breathing room and calmed the unease he always got during the crush just before the gates opened.
Open they did with a blare of air horns. The gate dropped away as the workers charged ahead like racehorses leaping from the gates. Cameron was carried through by the initial surge. He managed to keep his feet under him as he was pushed through the gate and onto the HKI campus. People began to spread out, racing towards different locations.
“Good morning employees, it is a wonderful day at HKI. At this moemtn there are fourteen thousand, eight hundred forty three jobs available in all departments.” The bright, cheerful voice blared over the loudspeakers as the swarm spread out. Cameron looked around him at the familiar surroundings.
The large hangars were to the south of the gate, maintenance and transport to the southwest. To the west were security and software, while northeast was research, production, and HKI headquarters. A few ran towards maintenance. This was the easiest job to get, with bare minimum pay and a lot of time running around cleaning up after the water cooler drones, who spilled drinks and dropped food while they hovered around the dispenser. Transport was an okay job. You got to drive small golf carts all over the place delivering parts to research and production. The trouble here was that there were a lot of golf carts and a lot of people walking around. Bump any one of them with a cart and you were back with the Cooler drones for the rest of the day.
Down at the hangars were where jobs like welders, riveters, and other assembly personnel resided. These were hard jobs with a lot of lifting and carrying, plus a lot of work holding tools to help build a product. They were part of production, but didn’t do anything more than get pieces and put them together.
Some sprinted off towards security, where you could get a good job, with decent credit pay for walking around and making sure nothing was getting stolen or broken during use. Software was another fairly easy job, with a lot of console typing and fixing software puzzles. That job Cameron hated. He’d done it once and found he had no aptitude for wither typing in a foreign language, nor solving conundrums in software.
Research was one of the primo jobs on the campus. A chance to do research to create new products, and develop these ideas into a product. The workers who were assigned to the winning project got a salary bonus for its creation and a ten second head start at a random auxiliary gate. literally, Research was the best place to get ahead. 4Cameron liked having ten seconds no one else had. It was THE chance to get a lead. There was a lot to choose from with that kind of time.
Another option was production, turning a design from research into a real thing for sale. This involved problem solving on how you’d get an object from an idea to a finished object. It was here people solved puzzles fitting pieces together to make a whole. Like research, a finished product garnered a salary bonus and a three second head start the next day. Not as exciting as ten seconds, but any early start was welcome.
Most of the crowd, which included Cameron, scrambled to the Northeast, towards headquarters. The cushiest jobs were there. An executive job wasn’t Cameron’s choice this time. Too many tried for them, and ended up water-cooler slackers for the rest of the day. Cam wanted a good job this time, one that would pay for the water, electric, and PlayStation charges that Andrea, the home help program said he was behind on. It was really hard for Cam to concentrate without his PlayBox. He felt his body getting twitchy and his mind was always more and more aching for the sonic high that the PlayBox emitted when he played online.
“Good morning HKI employees, it is a wonderful productive day at HKI. There are seven hundred fifty-five jobs available in all departments. All director positions have been filled. There will be another job update in five minutes.”
Gaming was his life. He had to have more time. It was so hard to concentrate if he didn’t get time. He pushed his squat body faster, angling off from a gaggle of people running towards the second-tier jobs in management. Cameron was gasping for air by the time he’d gotten to the door. It was a brown rectangle in a featureless ivory wall. The door had stenciled in bright white lettering; ‘Employees Only beyond this point.’ Cameron gripped his briefcase tighter, twisting the doorknob and pulling the door open.
The door had no stop, and banged hard against the painted cinder block, adding more scrapes and streaked color to it. If he remembered right, this would shortcut into the research area, coming in opposite the main doorway that led to the job cubicles. The only trouble was he was currently trying to hack up a lung, and his legs were shaking. It was three floors up to research, and one huge production floor west from the exit. This was a secure area. He wasn’t supposed to be here. It was, however, the best shortcut to where he wanted to go.
The trick was to avoid security. The previous shift hadn’t finished yet. They would be relieved by the newcomers in a few minutes. It was a fortunate window he could use if he was careful. Cameron walked quickly and as silently as he could in his hard-soled shoes. The faint tapping of his shoes sounded like gunshots as he moved along the gray and yellow corridor.
A sudden bang startled him. He looked over his shoulder and gasped out a curse. It wasn’t security, it was Blondell Jasper. Blondell spotted Cameron at the same instant, and tucked his chin down against his pale rotund chest and pushed his massive body into a waddling charge towards Cam. Unlike Cameron, he was dressed code-monkey casual; bluejeans, a red t-shirt, and sneakers. Both the pants and shirt were a trifle undersized for his bulk. But Blondell was a full head taller, and much wider.
Cam didn’t wait, tucking his own head down and running as fast as he could. If security showed up, it was better to be in front and closest to the exit. He’d done a job in security, and they always, always walked the same route day in and day out. Deviating from the path or missing a checkpoint got you demoted to Slacker, and your paycheck revoked.
No money meant no PlayBox. No PlayBox meant no way to game, order food, clothing, pay energy bills, socialize, or game. It was solitary confinement until the next day and a new chance for a job. Cameron had been through a number of days like that as he had reached the age of job-holding. There was no breaking in period. You got in line, and ran for a job. It took a few tries to get an idea where to run. The jobs weren’t just for crossing the finish line, you had to FIND it. Jobs like the golf cart delivery were easy. Collect the right key and put it in the right lock, and the job was yours.
Security jobs required you find a clean uniform, put it on and then find a security guard whose shift was up. There was a little red light on top of their caps to help identify those who needed relief.
Just as Cam reached the yellow door on the yellow wall, with Blondell only twenty steps behind him, the door behind Blondell banged open a third time with security yelling ‘Halt!’ at his retreating back. Cam, threw the door open, stepped through and pulled it closed behind him in one smooth motion. He turned the lock just as Blondell started trying to pull the door open. Another shouted ‘Halt!’ vibrated through the metal door, and Cam heard Blondell curse. The heavy footsteps receded, followed by multiple footsteps rushing past the door. Cam heaved a sigh of relief. With Blondell occupied he could get on with his mission to find his job.
After listening for any footsteps, he turned his back to the door and faced the stairs. Listening for any noise, he slowly started up, ready to bolt if he was discovered. This was part of the test for this job. You had to get past the obstacles to claim the job. Risk versus reward. Cam didn’t know of any job like this one. He’d found it totally by accident, after he’d done seven straight shifts for security. “Good morning HKI employees, it is a wonderful morning. There are five unfilled management positions, eleven unfilled security positions, six unfilled manufacturing positions, fourteen unfilled maintenance positions, two unfilled research positions, one unfilled position…”
The Public System would announce the number of unfound jobs, and what department they were in. All except one. Every day there was always ‘one job unfilled’. Just that. No location. No other information. At first he thought it was just to keep the Water Cooler Slackers stirred up. It didn’t. No one seemed to care about the job, apparently because no one had ever found it. It was a small mystery that the Public System never explained. Most concluded it was just a glitch. Cameron wasn’t so certain. There wouldn’t be a fake unfilled job would there? The Public System was perfect after all. So the job had to be real, didn’t it?
Cam’s curiosity had gotten the better of him during the last day he tried for a security posting. He walked the halls diligently, making every check-in location on time. But, for all their diligence in covering the security stations, something seemed off. Cam began charting the circuits. There was one area that the circuits avoided. It was a nondescript location, far away from any of the secure rooms and manufacturing floor. The closest thing of any consequence were three vending machines and a small square table on the Northern edge of the area in question. There were doors, with the usual admonition of ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ in white block letters on brown doors set in ivory-yellow walls.
It took him weeks to explore the campus, and finally he found a clue. There was a hole in security. Five different routes overlapped along the edges of an unpatrolled section above the manufacturing floor. No one entered the area, but with all the overlap, it was impossible to hunt for where the JOB, as Cam called it, might be. The unpatrolled location was a break area
So far, all the doors had been locked. His time between security sweeps was up. He hurried back to the small snack alcove and slid in-between the two vending machines. The machines had been set up back to back, rather than side to side. Why this was Cameron didn’t question. It was a hiding place, and he was in dire need of one.
He’d just finished squeezing into the space when heavy booted footsteps announced the latest round by security. He squeezed all the way back, shutting his eyes and holding his breath, hoping that this would not be the time security got diligent and searched the gap between the two machines. The guard stood to the left of where Cam was hiding. Cam heard the familiar ‘clunk’ of the Guard’s key check, then there were two heavy steps closer. Cam’s heart thundered in his chest when the footsteps stopped. He closed his eyes and tried to will himself deeper into the dubious shadows when he heard a series of coins falling into the machine. Another, louder ‘clunk’ followed . Then the hiss of a can being opened. He heard the guard swallow, then continue on his route without looking back.
This mystery job had to be something important. It had to be! All this searching and puzzle work to figure out where it might be had to be right. If it wasn’t he’d be isolated for a whole night. No one to chat with, no game to make credits to pay bills or get groceries, much less any fun time. Everything ran through the MMO’s. Everything. From shopping to conversation to barters, sales, purchases, anything and everything was for sale on the MMO. All you needed to do was play. But to play you had to get a job.
The job got you credits to open up your account. Your account was created for you when you were born. The whole system worked through the MMOs. Farming MMO, hunting MMO, combat, sports, puzzles, they all made resources for consumption. Everything done in them produced credits, and items for sale or personal use. in a hunting sim, if you shoot a wild pig, then pork was delivered to your door, or you could sell some of it for other credits. Not enough to be independent of the system, you always had to go get a job for usage credits. You had to have a job to earn time online.
He was betting his future on this. Get behind a few times and things got more expensive. The simple jobs to get weren’t enough and when you got far enough behind it was a death spiral. He was so close to that now. A lot of lousy jobs that didn’t pay well and barely making do, he was at the edge where death spirals began. He wanted ahead of the death spiral, and he had to know what the mystery job was. The curiosity had blown into a full-on obsession.
Њ ᄥ 㓲 Ф
The obsession is what caught Blondell’s attention when he’d been at the security jobs for a month. Blondell had been working security too, and was much more aggressive about finding slackers and giving them the boot off the grounds. He got a bonus for each one he caught and escorted out. All security did. But most didn’t care one way or the other about the Water Cooler Slackers. They were there trying to fill a job if one became available due to illness or someone getting fired.
Blondell had noticed Cam’s activity, and spotted him scratching out patrols on a piece of paper. That he used paper was unusual enough to remember. Most everything can be downloaded to goggles and displayed as overlays, or diagrams, or whatever the user wants. It had to be something important. Cameron was keeping it off the System. He wanted to know why.
“Good morning HKI employees, to day is a wonderful day for business. There are three emergency openings in manufacturing, one unfilled opening in security, one unfilled opening.”
He did some searching of his own, and found Cameron’s last five jobs. They were all security. Each job was in a different part of the building. Of the eleven, there were only seven that overlapped. Blondell figured after spotting this trend he ought to get ahead of him, and see what he was after. After days of following him around, Blondell discovered it; blank empty space. Cameron was searching all the routes and charting the areas covered. The only area without any patrols going through it.
Blondell looked at the patrol routes. None in a thirty meter diameter. He rubbed his cheek in curiosity. Was Cameron looking for a place to hide something? Something dangerous? Something valuable? Blondell’s mind whirled with possibilities. It was important clearly. What was it? Why not check online? Everything was online. Money, food, entertainment. Why use paper? Hardly anyone bothered to use it. finally, he decided it was unimportant. Beating Cameron to the prize was. He just had to figure it out first.
That figuring came when he noticed the wall midway along the south edge of Cameron’s open area. The color was slightly off to his eyes, being a tan-yellow rather than the usual bright and cheery canary yellow at the other break areas. As he pondered the reason for the different color, he noticed a series of smudges that were lighter in color than the rest. Curiosity brought him closer, and he could make out under the paint a series of letters: “AUTHORI D PERS NLY” Someone had painted over a door!
Blondell grinned in triumph. This had to be what Cameron was looking for! Feverishly he worked at the edges of the door Blondell dug in his pocket for the little universal multi-tool and drew it out. frantic scraping revealed the seams of the doorway. At waist level was another lighter off-color section that looked like a long vertical rectangle. Blondell recognized it as a push plate. He put his hand on the plate and shoved with all his considerable bulk. The Door flexed, then opened with a sticky cracking sound and swung open. Blondell eagerly slipped inside and the door closed silently behind him.
Њ ᄥ 㓲 Ф
Cameron moved slowly along the catwalk over the work floor. Below workers scurried back and forth, running the printers, fitting parts, building items that had been ordered online. The factory floor was not dedicated to producing one thing, such as an automobile. Instead it was a series of inter-related 3-D printers that produced parts for automobiles, planes, engines, and anything that needed manufacturing capacity. Once the parts were finished, they were moved according to etched tags to assembly areas, where the actual building of the car, plane, or toaster occurred. Then off to shipping it went, and the printer was assigned another part. Workers scurried around the printers like ants, moving finished parts, checking resource levels, sweeping the floor, rushing to claim an empty printer for use. Foremen, armed with tablets, kept track of their teams and item output, and guarding their team against Water Cooler Slackers trying to hijack a job from an employed worker.
All the noise and activity actually made it easier to sneak along the catwalk. Everyone was preoccupied with their own jobs, allowing Cameron to saunter over to the restricted door and pull it open. He stepped in as the PA system announced, “Two new job openings in maintenance, one job opening in IT, one job opening.” The last was the one he wanted. It was always announced throughout the day at hourly intervals. He hadn’t seen Blondell since he’d barely escaped earlier, but was certain that the huge man was still hunting him.
Blondell and he had a history. Literally. They shared history classes, math classes, science and programming in school. They both vied for the top grades in the classes, as both men enjoyed learning, and were fiercely competitive. The AI used that competitiveness to enrich the classes by offering rewards to the best performers that week. This turned their potential friendship into a vicious animosity for each other which carried over into their work life.
Blondell would win, and rub it in Cameron’s face, only to have it thrown back in his by Cameron on the next test or job hunt. Cameron knew Blondell was trying to figure out what he, Cameron was looking for. The job was to get there first.
“Good afternoon HKI employees, it is a wonderful day for business. There are two emergency jobs in programming unfilled, one security job unfilled.”
The announcement surprised Cameron. The one mystery job hadn’t been announced! Sick with fear, Cameron forgot about stealth and charged forward, taking the direct route to the unpatrolled area. What if Blondell had got there first?! He could challenge him for the position, but knew that would be futile. Blondell was larger and heavier. Unless Cameron surprised him, there was no way to win. But the job was his! He did the study! He did the research! Did Blondell!? NO! He was just the parasite that tried to steal the job from him. That job was HIS!
Cameron stormed into the break area, spoiling for a fight. It was empty, clean even. The walls glistened with fresh yellow paint that was already starting to let the covered paint bleed through.
Cameron frantically scanned the area, looking for any clue that might tell him the job was here. There! on the floor against the left wall. Bits of brown and yellow sprinkled the floor. Cameron dropped to his hands and knees to peer at his discovery. On the ground were small flakes of yellowish-tan paint. He looked up at the freshly coated wall, studying it intently. He spotted an area where the paint dimpled in. Following the minute depression in the paint, a rectangle revealed itself. His heart beat faster as he realized that the rectangle was a door.
The wet paint puzzled Cameron, but not enough to curb his burning desire to open the door and claim the job inside. He scanned the rectangle for any clue hoe to open it. There were no depressions or bubbles that might be a hidden latch on the door, but a small rectangle at waist height was barely visible under the fresh paint. Cameron recognized the push plate immediately.
He started to lean back to kick at it, then stopped. Noise could draw security. He had to be quiet and alert. Five different routes intersected at the edges for the patrols. He had a window right now, and there was no time. Gritting his teeth he aimed a clumsy kick at the push plate. To his surprise the door flew open with a squishing thud of wet paint and sticky lintel. Inside was a series of screens to rival the security hub for the HKI campus.
The dark wood desk in front of him was semi-circular with a similar cut-out at it’s center for a luxurious brown-leather chair. From one side of the desk to the other were monitors, stacked six-high, each one showing a different picture with the camera number and location at the bottom of the screens. On the far right was a large refrigerator sunk into the wall.
“Good afternoon sir, you have found the ultimate job on campus. From here your merest whim will be turned to reality by the A.I. Please sit, and take the job.” The voice was sultry and soothing, just like the Gamebox voice “Lexi”. Cameron absently noticed the door closing silently behind him, and immediately stepped to the chair and pulled it out. He’d done it! The ultimate job was his!.
Cameron sat down in the chair. Needles in the seat and the back plunged into him, releasing poison. Cameron arched as the poison hit him, then slumped in the seat. The seat then turned towards the refrigerator, and rolled forward. The door swmong open and the chair stopped. Cameron’s body slid forward off the chair onto a slanting chute. The chair then returned to its position at the desk.
The danger was averted. Employees who were ambitious were a danger to the stability of the company. The solution was to cull these unusual individuals, and make certain they did not pollute the working stock. Once reset, the system waited for the next ambitious employee.
“Good afternoon HKI employees, it is a wonderful day to be here. There are four emergency manufactuing jobs unfilled, one security job unfilled, one job unfilled”