It was 8 o’ clock in the morning and Andrew Apercrombie sat in his car staring at a screen which projected a question that would permanently alter the course of his life.
It had been a Tuesday morning and, like every Tuesday morning for the past fifteen years of his life, Andrew Apercrombie had woken to the sound of electronically reproduced ambient noise—recorded during the dawn chorus of a woodland glad which he had never seen—at precisely 5:58 am. He had slept for 8 drug-assisted hours and had, as always, awoken feeling refreshed an invigorated. His dream selection for the night has been algorithmically selected to maximize his decompression and happiness after the first day back at work.
After waking, Andrew had removed his disposable sleep clothes—which had been custom manufactured to perfectly fit his sleeping form and provide unparalleled comfort on Monday Nights—and dropped them on the floor. His floor cleaner would later scoop up the garments and deposit them in the recycle chute where they would be ground up and reformed into other, perfectly designed sleeping clothes for someone else. Andrew had then walked, naked, to his small shower which had pre-heated the water to the optimal temperature and had begun flowing at optimal water pressure as soon as he was standing under the shower head.
The walls of the shower had displayed colors and images designed to enhance attention and mental clarity. As he had washed his hair, pertinent news and information was read aloud to Andrew by a pleasant, genderless, computer generated voice. Afterwards, he had dried himself with his disposable towel—which would later be recycled by the floor cleaner—and shaved and brushed and lotioned and made himself as presentable as possible with custom designed disposable instruments. Just like everyone else.
After dressing in clothes automatically selected to be both fashionable and functional according to socio-economic status, career objectives, body type, and weather, Andrew Apercrombie had sat at a table for 1 and eaten his Tuesday Breakfast: whole wheat bagel, jam, a glass of orange juice, one egg, and a small cup of coffee. This breakfast had come, like all the meals before it, in a hermetically sealed container which was dispensed automatically at Andrew’s optimal meal time.
Andrew Apercrombie had finished his meal at 7:50 am and, on this heretofore extremely usual Tuesday, found himself at the console of the electric self-driving car—which had arrived to pick him up and ferry him off to work—faced with an altogether unusual dilemma. On every other Tuesday, the console had read:
ARE YOU READY TO LEAVE FOR WORK?
And Andrew would say “Yes” and be driven without incident or second thought to work. On this particular Tuesday however, Andrew was faced with a different screen which bore a different message:
DO YOU WANT TO GO TO WORK?
He almost said yes before he reconsidered.
Andrew knew that he should go to work. It’s what he had done every weekday since he had left college. And besides, he reasoned with himself, it’s just what people do. But being confronted with the question of it, Andrew didn’t know if he wanted to go to work. He enjoyed it well enough, he supposed. He had been working at the Hornsby and Co. Box Manufacturers Headquarters for the last several years as a Data Entry Engineer transferring information from one form to another. Very important forms, he knew. But, he had to admit, he hadn’t chosen that job. He’d been selected for it. Computer programs had assigned him the job based on his aptitudes, test scores, college education, and how well he’d get along with his coworkers. He’d interviewed, but he’d never applied. He’d merely shown up.
And the more he looked at the WANT on the screen, the more he wondered if it was really something he wanted to do. As he sat there, developing an existential crisis at an alarming rate (he realized that everything, from his friends to his career path had been decided for him by algorithms and computer programs), the screen suddenly changed. The blue screen with white letters was replaced by a rather attractive woman with glasses. She was dressed in a white blouse with a black tie and had her hair cut short.
“Mister Apercrombie?” the woman said.
“Yes?” Andrew replied.
“Is there a reason why you’re still in front of your house instead of on your way to work at Hornsby and Co. Box Manufacturers Headquarters?”
“Um. Yes, actually, there is.”
“And that would be?” She looked at him over the top of her glasses.
“I don’t know if I want to go,” he said.
“Oh?” she said. And while she sounded surprised, Andrew got the distinct impression that she was almost impressed.
“Yes. The car asked me if I wanted to go, instead of just asking if I was ready to go. And the more I thought about it, the less sure I was.” Andrew looked at his hands. “I suppose I’m still deciding.”
“Excellent,” the woman smiled. Her teeth were perfectly white against her very red lipstick.
“Excuse me?” Andrew looked up quickly. The seat belt of the car quickly buckled him in.
“You’ve made a very good choice today, Mister Apercrombie.” The woman smiled pleasantly as Andrew struggled halfheartedly against the belt. The car pulled itself from the curb and rolled into morning traffic. “It’s the first step toward a new world.”
“What new world? What do you mean? Where are you taking me?”
“Sit quietly, Mister Apercrombie,” the woman commanded. Andrew complied without realizing he had. “Everything will be explained in time. The important thing to remember is that you came to a realization today.”
Andrew furrowed his brow.
“You’ve realized that you don’t necessarily want what you’ve been given.” The woman on the screen smiled her perfect smile and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Now, you’re being taken somewhere safe. Please just sit tight and you will be tended to shortly. Until then, enjoy the scenery, Mister Apercrombie.” The screen went black and Andrew was alone in an automated car headed to an unknown destination for an unknown purpose. But, true to his nature, Andrew Apercrombie sat tight and looked dutifully out of the window of the car.
He was carried past familiar tracts of houses on the streets which he had traveled past on his way to work every weekday for the past 10 years. The car carried him toward the familiar freeway full of familiar cars heading in familiar directions. But when it came time to turn to the on-ramp which would carry him toward the Hornsby and Co. Box Manufacturers Headquarters in Downtown, the car passed under the freeway and into the world of manufacturing.
Andrew had seen it from on high, of course. The smoke stacks and squarish buildings had seemed quaint, almost picturesque in the light of the early morning and late evening. But down here on the streets among them, the buildings brooded over him. They turned the world into a shadowy place, even as morning turned into late-morning. He saw people on the street walking, something which never happened in his neighborhood. Their complexions were ashen and only a few turned to look at the small, single-seat car as it hummed down the road.
Andrew was taken on a labyrinthine path between buildings that looked increasingly similar. After several minutes of turns and trips down alleys and stops for poorly maintained trolleys, he was sure he’d never be able to find his way home again.
Eventually the car pulled to a stop in front of a nondescript building, much like dozens of others he had passed. The car made a strange series of beeps and noises which Andrew didn’t think were very healthy for a car to be making and a large door rolled open. The car hushed its way inside and the door rolled shut behind it.
The car came to a stop and Andrew found himself surrounded by darkness. The lights of the car shut off and he was left alone with the faint illumination of the black screen, which was still functioning.
“H-hello?” Andrew asked the screen.
Nothing happened. Andrew pressed the emergency button in hopes of contacting the authorities, but nothing happened. The screen continued to emit a faint light of projected blackness.
Andrew began to chew his nails in an attempt to calm his nerves, ruining his perfect manicure. After he had worried all ten fingers to the quick, the screen flickered to life and the beautiful woman appeared on the screen. She did not look pleased.
“Ugh,” she said to Andrew, “Do we have to tell you to get out, too?”
Andrew blinked at the screen in surprise with his pinky finger pressed against his lips.
“Usually the door opens itself when I get to work,” he said.
“Oh, for the love of…” the woman said as she rolled her eyes.
The doors opened.
Andrew stepped out of the car and into darkness.
“Hello?” he called into the blackness.
The warehouse lit up, revealing a middle-aged woman and a man slightly younger than Andrew. They both wore plain jumpsuits and looked as though they were deciding whether or not Andrew had something on his face. The woman nodded to herself and stepped forward with a hand extended.
“Yes,” Andrew replied and extended his own hand without thinking. She gripped it more firmly than he had expected.
“I’m Priscilla and this is my colleague, Harold. Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?”
Andrew was immediately reminded of the surveys he had quite enjoyed taking throughout school. Dozens of Yes or No questions which had decided a large portion of his life and which he had always found comforting.
“Of course not,” he said, which was the reply of a good citizen, anyway.
“Good,” she smiled, “Shall we sit down?” She gestured to a small table to Andrew’s right, and sat on one side with Harold. Andrew sat in the single chair on the other side of the table.
“Now,” Priscilla continued, “How do you feel about how your life has been going?”
Andrew, who had been expecting a good old-fashioned Yes/No question, was taken aback.
“I-I don’t know,” he said.
“Just take a minute and think about it.”
Andrew had had, until very recently, every minute of his waking life accounted for in some activity or other—surveys, work, mandated exercise, scheduled time talking with friends and family, playing games online—and was not used to being reflective or even being given that much time to think. He was so busy, after all. Everyone was, weren’t they?
But Priscilla and Harold were both smiling pleasantly and that put Andrew at ease. He thought and reflected and the more he thought about his life and the things in it, the more he realized that he didn’t have very many feelings about them, really. And he told Priscilla as much.
“I see,” she said and nodded. “And how does that make you feel?”
Andrew responded with the first and truest thing he could have thought of.
“Good!” she said. “Would you like to find something worth caring about?”
Andrew nodded, still coming to grips with his own realizations.
“Excellent. That’s precisely why we brought you here, Andrew. You see, cities all over the world are filled with people just like you. They do what they’re told, given what they need, and perform their functions without a second thought. We want to give people a chance to think and make decisions for themselves. you’ve just become a part of a new Order, Andrew. What do you think about that?”
Andrew didn’t know. But he was excited to find out.
Author’s Note: Sorry this took so long to get out. I’ve had it for almost 2 weeks now and as much as I think the Thanksgiving Holiday is a good excuse for not writing, the truth is that I was dragging my feet because I don’t much like it. But I have to keep writing, right? So I hope you enjoyed it (even if I didn’t) and now that it’s out of the way, I’ll hopefully be able to get back on track. -CT