Written by: Mark Elgersma
After talking on the phone with a gloomy Halpatty protein engineer for the last 70 minutes, Samantha finally was able to hang up. Her stomach grumbled. Through every choked sob of her most-recent horribly depressed caller, she couldn’t help but crave one of the free-range-flavor “meat” substitutes that he had worked so hard to create. Samantha stood and stretched, looking around the crowded room. She was only one of two-hundred Synchronous Help Desk Assistance Specialist and Team Members--SHDASTMs--in the stark-white cubicled chamber. Samantha had been brought on to route calls for her employer, RemoteSource, when the employees of client companies called. Initially, she acted as operator for RemoteSource tech support, maintenance, and dozens of other services. However, in response to many client companies losing profit from their employees committing suicide, RemoteSource had started to expand their horizons very soon after Samantha had been brought on. After a quick contractual change, the client companies’ employees could also call with personal grievances, searching for emotional support. The SHDASTMs’ duties expanded to accommodate these calls. Samantha, after a thirty five minute training video, was certified as an official “RemoteSource Emotional Support Professional and Expert” and was given a tin badge to identify her as such. While Samantha listened to the crowd around her, a growing electric whir identified the approach of Mr. Man. She turned to distantly greet him, hoping he would finally leave her be. Mr. Man was an unsightly mole on the already-pockmarked skin that was Samantha’s worklife. He, an automated manager and shift supervisor, was a chrome cylindrical roving drone equipped with emotional intelligence simulation software and an encyclopedic knowledge of management strategies. When Mr. Man spoke, it came out as a singing tenor that enunciated every letter of every word. “Why hello, Samantha VanderHarren-Ino, how are you this fine afternoon?” He asked. “You can just call me Sam. Or Samantha. That’d be fine.” “Yes! I understand where you are coming from. Your emotions are valid and something to be celebrated! However, as there are many Samanthas and Sams that we employ, I regret to say that, to promote clarity and communication in the workplace, I believe it would be best if I were to refer to you by your full name! So no! But remember: Your emotions and frustrations with this and all situations are so valid, and the RemoteSource family wants to encourage your individuality!” A small screen on Mr. Man’s front lit up with a pixelated smile and "YAY" underneath. “Alright,” Samantha said flatly, “I’m going for food.” “Wait, Samantha VanderHarren-Ino, I would like to discuss something in my office with you! Would you like to have lunch? I shall get the company to provide some. Food serves as a wonderful bonding experience between coworkers! We can build a good work relationship, promote team connections, and increase job satisfaction.” Samantha thought for a moment. She tried to avoid Mr. Man whenever possible, but she also severely needed to save money, and a free meal was hard to pass up. After a moment, she spoke. “Fine. Let’s go.” Mr. Man flashed a thumbs-up on his screen. “Fantastic! I’ll lead the way.” Then he turned and began to roll down the aisle. One of Mr. Man’s many flaws was his inability to go any speed but slightly slower than an average walk. As such, anytime he asked someone to follow him, it led to them trudging. By the time they reached his office and Mr. Man was behind his empty desk, Samantha’s forehead was slick with sweat. Behind Mr. Man, a floor-to-ceiling window showed the large snow-ridden city of Bilnaujaat. Bilnaujaat--previously known as Naujaat before it’s sponsorship and expansion by Bilco--was one of hundreds of sponsored compact settlements that were established in the arctic following America’s drought, now referred to as the “Big Shrivel”. Samantha, along with 95% of North America’s population, now lived above 55°N. Each building in official compact settlements was required to house a certain number of people both above and below ground and be fully reliant on green technologies. Each one of these buildings, above its primary entry way, bragged that “the way of the future is together!” It was also this togetherness that forced Samantha to sleep in the same room as Hellen, a fellow SHDASTM who was birdish and smelled of celery. Samantha looked around Mr. Man’s office. Two of her apartments could have fit in here. “Did your weekend consist of a comfortable level of excitement, Samantha VanderHarren-Ino?” He asked after a moment. It didn’t. “Sure,” she said. “Excellent! Now that rapport has been built, I would like to discuss a raise with you.” As Mr. Man said this, a panel slid silently open on the wall, and a steaming Halpatty with Verisco Chips was presented on a plastic RemoteSource-branded tray. As Mr. Man had no orifice with which to eat, Samantha safely assumed that this was hers. She took it and sat in one of the two minimalist stools in front of the desk. It was then that she realized what Mr. Man just said. “A-a raise?” “A raise!” “What kind of raise?” “The kind in which,” Mr. Man said enthusiastically, “you don’t get one. In fact, your pay shall be lowered. We’ve recently noticed a drop in your mentions of RemoteSource-sponsored products, and as such, your per-hour rate will reflect that!” He flashed another smile. “What?” Samantha asked, “I’ve mentioned every required product umpteen times over. I keep a list next to my desk.” “Yes, and grand job of mentioning every one of the old sponsored products. But now, Samantha VanderHarren-Ino, we’re on to a new, sleeker list of sponsors, now nearly double the size of the old one!” “When was this?” Samantha said, her eyes glazing over again. “Nineteen days ago,” Mr. Man said. “And how was I supposed to know?” “It was very clearly stated,” Mr. Man said, “in the RemoteSource hourly company newsletter number 22956. We sent it directly to you.” Samantha opened her mouth in anger, then closed it. She could feel her face grow hot. Her emotions had been tempered by a feeling of dread. The window behind Mr. Man was barraged with sleet and snow at all hours. Even now, on a relatively mild day, wind whipped between the gray, utilitarian buildings plastered with advertisements, raising a fog of ice that hung over the entire city. The streets, no matter how well-lit by LEDs or well-shoveled by solar-powered plow-drones, were a void. The options for Samantha VanderHarren-Ino were a reverse-raise or death. If she could get to the south, she could maybe live long enough to find another job, but right now, she hardly had enough money to get down the road. She bit her lip. “Okay,” she said. “Wonderful!” Mr. Man said, “now finish your delicious Halpatty sandwich quickly. As we provided lunch, we’ve shortened your break by five minutes. Enjoy! And good luck on the lines, Samantha VanderHarren-Ino. Remember: We care about you, and you’re bound by contract to do the same for us. The future is bright!” Another smile, and then Mr. Man turned and rolled out without another word. “The future is bright,” Samantha muttered to herself, “the future is bright.” She ate her cold sandwich as she stared out the white window.