Work Units

The door clicked and Trey pushed it open. The Director sat behind her desk, tapping at a screen. Without raising her eyes she waved a lazy hand to indicate the seat across from her.

Trey walked towards it, each step echoing loudly. He kept his eyes forward, ignoring the antique bookcase and the strange sofa, and the abstract artwork she displayed on the walls. He didn’t want any distractions. He needed to keep his focus and his composure, because this meeting was not a surprise. Trey knew what the Director had to say.

He lowered himself into the chair and focused on a point just over the Director’s shoulder, on the curtain pulled across the far wall. Of course, there was no window. He couldn’t recall the last time he’s seen true daylight.

“Trey,” she said finally, putting her screen to one side, its surface blank. “I apologise for the delay‌—‌a few minor matters to settle.” She smiled, and Trey saw perfect teeth and pale red lips. “So, report.”

He cleared his throat. “I’m sure you’ve read the figures. Overall production is up one point seven net this month, but the predictions for the next few months are even higher. The new tech work units have been assimilated with greater speed and efficiency than we envisaged, and early indications show a possible fifteen percent rise over the next quarter.”

Of course, she already knew this. He had submitted his report, as always, on the first of the month. And she had far deeper access than he’d ever have. She always knew more than those beneath her.

“So I understand.” Her hand rested on the desk, and her long fingers tapped rhythmically, soft pads alternating with polished nails. “Yet the larger picture is not as encouraging. We have increased productivity, yet profit predictions do not rise at the same rate. Can you explain this?”

Trey took a breath. “We have, as you know, something in the region of ten thousand work units currently in use. For many of our lines, these units are functioning at optimum levels. The new tech work units we have introduced will increase productivity by replacing roughly three thousand of our current work units, yet doing the equivalent work of about six thousand‌—‌and this is before we take into account the longer operational hours of the new units.”

He paused, uncertain how to proceed.

“Yes,” she said slowly. “But that still doesn’t explain the low profit predictions.”

It was warm in here, warmer than he remembered from last time.

“Director, change is not instant. These replaced units‌—‌they are still a part of our operations, and they still require upkeep.”

“Why?”

“Because‌‌…‌‌because they are still part of our operations. They might be of use.”

“What use?”

Trey needed a drink. “The new units are more effective, but they still require maintenance and adjustment. It makes sense to keep some of the old units in reserve in case the new ones go off-line. Of course I don’t envisage any major problems,” he said, maybe too hastily, “but where tech is concerned, I have always considered it best to consider all possibilities.”

The Director nodded, her expression a mask. “I can accept that. So maybe we keep a few hundred old units in reserve, have them running some kind of cosmetic function to keep them active. That still leaves the rest. Three thousand is far too many to keep.”

Trey closed his eyes for a moment. He took a breath, forcing himself to calm. But it did no good. He knew where this was going.

“So what would you suggest, Director?”

She stared at him, calm as a snake. “Isn’t it obvious? If three thousand work units are no longer required, retire them.”

“Permanently?”

“As you suggested, we keep some in reserve. But the rest? It costs us to keep work units active, and if they serve no purpose, we are throwing money away. So yes, retire them permanently.”

“But so many? That’s almost a third of our units.”

The tapping of her fingers stopped. “Trey, your role here is to help deliver a healthy profit. If that means permanently retiring work units, then so be it. I don’t call on you to be sympathetic, but to be practical. Even if those units are inactive they still cost us space. So deactivate them, then remove them. Do what the Factory demands. Do I make myself clear?”

He nodded. Far too clear.

“Good. Then I look forward to an update in forty eight hours. Good day, Trey.”

And that was it. Meeting over.

He rose and turned, making for the door that seemed so far away, each footstep a heavy heartbeat thump.

As the door closed behind him he steadied himself, one hand on the wall. His stomach lurched and his vision swam. For a moment he saw past the veil of words. For a second, he allowed himself to understand what she had ordered him to do.

Three thousand work units. That was three thousand people.

And he was to delete those workers from existence.

But what choice did he have? If he could not carry out his duties, if she saw him as a defective unit, then he would be permanently retired. A new unit would be upscaled to perform his role.

Three thousand people would die either way.

His shirt sticking to his back and the skin tight across his face, Trey headed to his office, his mind already framing the instructions he would issue.

Because this job was his life, and he intended to keep both.


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