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Hello Readers! This is a one-off story that occurred to me when I was signed my one-millionth “contract” for some sort of website or service without ever bothering to read it. Let me know what you think!*
The alarm buzzed at 0545, which indicated that 3A, Inc. had delivered an urgent message that required my immediate attention. Under normal circumstances, the Company would permit me to sleep until 0615, so that I could arrive at my Temporary Vocational Station (“TVS”) at 0700. That is, my temp job. I sat up quickly on my bed, nearly bumping my head on the Wardrobe Storage Unit (“WSU” or, you know, closet) that was placed above my Reclined Sleeping Quarters (“RSQ”, also known as the bed). I swung my feet out into my Residential Occupancy Unit (“ROU”) and rubbed my eyes with the back of my hands. ROU means, essentially, an apartment.
Though, in that case, the official Company name didn’t bother me much. My ROU was not much of an apartment. My Combined RSQ/WSU, a Food Preparation Station (“FPS” or kitchen), a Recreational Viewing Area (“RVA” or screen), and Individual Sanitary Facility (“ISF” or bathroom) all crammed into an area about four meters by four meters. It was located in a very old High-Rise Residential Structure (“HRRS” or apartment building) and was shabby and perpetually dirty. I hardly consider it an apartment. It is most definitely an ROU.
My husband, Martin, he had always told me not to complain. He reminded me that the Company assigned much less spacious and clean ROUs to other people, including his parents. When I was in high school, the combination of my test scores and genetic screenings had indicated that I was of “moderate breeding stock.” And, as a result, I had been assigned a mate of similar attributes (that is, Martin) and allotted an individual ROU to facilitate breeding. If I had done more poorly on my tests, or disclosed less favorable genetic attributes, I would likely have been rendered infertile and assigned to a Mass Residential Center (“MRC” or barracks). It was my role to produce viable offspring in the hopes that they would someday be Productive Producers and Consumers (“PPCs” or…I guess, a person). And so my ROU, while far smaller than the ROUs provided to “high breeding stock” individuals or Valued Executive Contractors (“VECs”), was still a mark of relative privilege.
Martin took immense pride in that privilege and his place in the Company. I had never entirely understood Martin’s role at his Permanent Vocational Station (“PVS”), but I gathered that it was repetitive and dull. I had surmised that we were on the lower end of the “moderate breeding stock” classification and that my husband, consequently, was primarily involved in directly supervising Entry Level Associates (“ELAs”) from the MRC barracks.
Of course, all of that pride had ended two months earlier when Martin died. After seven years of marriage and two children, I was now an Un-Mated Breeder (“UMB”), or a widow. I was, officially, granted a two-month long Scheduled Bereavement Period (“SBP”) during which time I was assigned to my light-duty TVS. However, I felt no actual need for light duty, I was hardly bereaved. Martin and I had met on our wedding day. And, while our genetics had determined our compatibility, something different had occurred in practice. Martin was just…a bit of an asshole. I gathered that one of his accident at work might have been less of an accident, and more of a plot by the ELAs who had grown tired of his shit. I felt terrible that it had happened, because I’d never wanted anything bad to happen to Martin. But I couldn’t pretend that I missed him. I wouldn’t notice if the screen in my RVA was changed either. That was what Martin was. Furniture.
Not even the birth of our two children had brought us together in any meaningful way. Although, part of that was likely because, as only moderate breeding stock, the Company had decided that it was best that more qualified contractors handle their care and education. That was a relatively recent innovation by our new CEO. Our stockholders, I am told, were very happy with the results. But for us, the fact that we had children that we didn’t know had fractured the marriage even more than it had been at the start. I had actually placed a Request for Civil Divorce (“RCD”) with the Company on the day after our first, second, third, four, fifth, sixth, and seventh wedding anniversary (the only days on which those RCDs had been permitted) and had been denied each time, the final time with prejudice. Meaning I wasn’t allowed to ever file another one absent physical abuse. Fortunately, I would never need for file RCD regarding Martin again.
Nonetheless, I suspected the urgent message from the Company was, in some way, related to Martin. I rose slowly from my bed and walked over to my RVA. I clicked on the screen. As I knew would happen, the urgent message precluded me from watching any Recreational Visual Programming (“RVP”). The message popped up immediately. casino oyna The familiar, soothing feminine voice of the 3A, Inc.’s Virtual Human Resources Liaison read a message that also appeared in block letters on the screen. I listened, rather than read:
“Good Morning, Mira Sanders nee Wolinksy,” the message began, “3A, Inc.’s Human Resources Department is in receipt of your Form 32-A – Request for Permanent Reassignment to Non-Procreative Vocational Tasks. That request is hereby DENIED. Your Form 32-A contained a properly attached Addendum F7 – Request for Explanation of Disposition of Form 32-A. Our records indicate the the Addendum F7 filing fee was properly included. Therefore, that request is hereby GRANTED.
“3A, Inc.’s Human Resources Department has reviewed your file for pertinent details. Mira Sanders nee Wolinsky, aged 28, assigned as moderate breeding stock. As per your Independent Contractor Agreement, you are required, in addition to your Regular Moderate Vocational Duty, to provide the Company with no fewer than four (“4”) viable offspring. Your personnel record indicates that you have thus far produced only two (“2”) viable offspring. While one of those offspring currently demonstrates possible aptitude as a high breeding stock, two (“2”) offspring of any aptitude level is an insufficient basis for granting a modification to your Independent Contractor Agreement, as expressly stated in 3A Inc.’s Personnel Manual, Chapter 17, Paragraph 15, Lines 72-73. Of particular concern to the Human Resources Department was the fact that we calculate that you have at least 19 child-bearing years remaining. In that time, we calculate that you should produce at least four additional viable offspring. You will, of course, be entitled to bonuses for any child produced beyond the contractually required four (“4”). For these reasons, your Form 31-A -Request for Permanent Reassignment to Non-Procreative Vocational Tasks is denied.
“This notification further informs you that your SBP is hereby ended. You are to report to your TVS today and return to your Regular Moderate Vocational Duty tomorrow at 0700. When you returned to your ROU at 1900, your new mate should be assigned. You are a valued member of the 3A, Inc. Team!”
I let out a low sigh and clicked off the screen, as it started to play the message again. I guess I had been expecting this, even if I had been desperately hoping for a different result. To translate HR bot’s message into something humans can understand, after Martin’s death I had asked for a new job (even a more strenuous job) that would not carry any requirement that I have children for the Company. Two were enough. I had also asked for an explanation for whatever decision was reached (having been burned many times in the past, on making requests of the Company and receiving one-word responses without explanation. That is: DENIED). My request was denied. I was being returned to my normal job, with the requirement that I produce children. To that end, I would have a new husband by the time I returned from work that evening.
“Fuck,” I said. I knew that the Company monitored what I said in my ROU at all times. It wasn’t paranoia. It was in my Independent Contractor Agreement. I had signed it 20 years ago and knew it pertinent provisions by heart. Twenty-four hour monitoring was a condition placed on me, in allowing me to stay in my ROU. But I had long since learned that you could complain as much as you liked about the Company, as long as you never actually did anything about it. The Company actually seemed to welcome impotent frustration.
I headed for my ISF and removed my night clothes. I looked at myself for a moment in the mirror, running my fingers through my long black hair. Martin had always said that my test scores must have been lower than I supposed, because my status as moderate breeding stock must have been mostly based on my appearance. He considered this a compliment. Still, I knew that my new husband would likely be gratified, despite the fact that I was an older UMB. I was attractive enough. Large dark eyes, smooth skin, high firm breasts, narrow waist, luscious hips, and slender legs. A Company girl, through and through.
“God help me,” I said bitterly, not really meaning anything by it. Sometimes, liked to tease the bots that watched me. If they thought I was thinking something else, the algorithm that attended to my needs would get scrambled. And why make it easy on them?
By 0701, I had taken a shower, shaved, brushed my teeth, dressed, eaten a light breakfast, left my ROU, taken the shuttle to my TVS and clocked in. I knew that by the time I returned, my water tank, shaving cream, tooth paste, and food would be replaced and an invoice would be resting on the FPS counter indicating the credits that had been removed from my Company account to pay for them. I would also have a husband.
“Mira Sanders,” A loud voice called as I headed towards my cubicle to work. I recognized the voice as my Temporary Vocational canlı casino Director (“TVD”). My boss. I stopped and waited for my TVD, a portly little man named Bruener, to approach me.
“Good Morning, Director,” I said courteously, “I was actually coming to see you. I received a message from Human Resources this morning and…”
“You are required to scan your finger at this TVS at 0700. You scanned at 0701,” he said. He was not angry. Directors were never confrontational. He simply stated the facts. The other workers,in the cubicles around me, kept their heads close to their computer screens, working diligently and pretending they didn’t listen. They were all TVS workers as well, bereaved in some way. They’d be leaving soon too. I’d never see them again.
“Yes, and that is partially the reason why I wanted to speak with you…”
“You will be docked one hours credit for your late arrival,” he said, and I felt the sense of quiet despair. Bruener had already made his decision. He couldn’t change it now, it was not permitted. I could appeal his decision to a Neutral Third-Party Arbitrator (“NTPA”). However, the successful appeal rate was currently published at 4.6%, down from a high of 7.9% six quarters ago. Beyond that, my Independent Contractor Agreement only permitted me one appeal of a Director’s decision once during the course of my contractual relationship. I had signed an open-ended contract that was renewed annually at the Company’s discretion. It would be renewed until Forced Retirement, unless the Company decided that I violated my Independent Contractor Agreement and included me in a Personnel Surplus Reduction (“PSR” or shit canning) before that time. And so I had one appeal for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to waste it on something like an hour of credit.
“I understand, Director,” I said, “And the reason I was late was that I received a message from HR this morning informing me that my bereavement time is over and I am to report to my normal Vocational Duty tomorrow morning,” I explained.
“Do you have your Form Q-H?” the Director asked.
“Q-H?” I asked and Mr. Bruener made no motion as though he’d heard my question, “I’ve never heard of Form Q-H. What is it?” Mr. Bruener sighed impatiently. For a lower-level supervisor, this was the greatest show of displeasure permitted and I knew that I was on thin ice.
“Please refer to 3A Inc.’s Personnel Manual, Chapter 17, Paragraph 210, Lines 2-8,” Mr. Bruener began, and I almost cursed under my breath. I had had the same, inviolate Independent Contractor Agreement since I had first been On-Boarded. But Article IV, Section 29 of that ICA provided that the terms and conditions of my employment were dictated by 3A Inc.’s Personnel Manual. The ICA (Article IV, Section 30), further provided that the Personnel Manual could be changed, at the Company’s sole discretion at any time and for any reason. It was sometimes amended two or even three times a week and was now well over 500,000 words. There was no way of knowing what Form Q-H was or when it was added.
“In order to terminate TVS, an Associate must submit to their TVD a Form Q-H. Form Q-H contains fields that indicate when your bereavement time began, the cause of your bereavement, and when HR indicated that the bereavement period was over,” Mr. Bruener said. He looked at nothing, but he sounded as though he was reading. It was almost eerie.
“Director, I do not have a Form Q-H,” I said. There was no need to state why I had no Form Q-H. It was my responsibility to follow the rules and regulations contained in the Personnel Manual. No excuses would suffice to overcome that responsibility. It wouldn’t have mattered if the requirement was added while I was walking in the door to the office.
“Then I shall expect you here tomorrow,” Mr. Bruener said, “At 0700.” My belly felt cold. I shook my head.
“No,” I said, “I will be expected at my Regular Moderate Vocational Duty tomorrow. I can’t be here, I need to be there.”
“I cannot release you without a Form Q-H,” Mr. Bruener stated simply.
“And I don’t have one,” I said.
“Then you have to be here at 0700 tomorrow,” he said. I could see sweat breaking out on his bald pate. His eyes shifted from side to side. He knew this didn’t make any sense. But he didn’t have any authority to do anything about it.
“Let me get a copy of Form Q-H and I will fill it out immediately,” I asked. Mr. Bruener shook his head.
“You have to work now,” he said.
“After work, as soon as work is over, I will provide the form,” I said. Mr. Bruener shook his head.
“A Inc.’s Personnel Manual, Chapter 17, Paragraph 210, Lines 7 states that the form must be completed and handed in before the completion of the preceding work day,” Mr. Bruener explained. I felt tears welling up in my eyes but I refused to blink them away. My muscles were tightened into knots and it took every ounce of self-control in my body to keep from screaming. I never even asked for this SBP and kaçak casino now…fucking fuck!
“What am I supposed to do?” I asked, my hands shaking. I looked at Mr. Bruener, saw his eyes soften slightly. Humanly.
“Come tomorrow and bring your Form Q-H. That way, on Wednesday, I will not have to dock you for the day. After that, leave immediately and go to your Regular Moderate Vocational Duty and work there,” he said. And I felt a wave of relief wash over me.
“And there won’t be any disciplinary action?” I asked. Mr. Bruener furrowed his brow.
“You will be absent without leave tomorrow, because the Form Q-H does not take effect until the next day,” Mr. Bruener explained, “I will have to dock you a days worth of credit.”
“But if I have to come here at the beginning of the day and then go all the way across the city to my Regular Moderate Vocational Duty, I will be two hours late for that as well!”
“You should have brought your Form Q-H today,” was all he would say in response. I would get docked an entire days pay at my TVS. Then, I would be docked two hours pay for being late to my Regular Moderate Vocational Duty. I would work 12 hours and be docked 14 hours pay. I couldn’t afford it. But even that wasn’t big enough to use my appeal. What if I needed it later?
“Thank you Mr. Bruener,” I said in a choked voice. What good would it do me to get upset? I would simply be docked more hours of credit. I couldn’t afford what I was going to lose tomorrow. I turned and walked to my work station, breathing heavily to avoid crying or screaming of flailing or something. As I walked past, I saw the other workers writing on their arms in this black pen “DO NOT FORGET FORM Q-H.” They learned from my mistake, I supposed. But by tomorrow, there was always a chance the Personnel Manual would be changed again. I sat down at my desk and started to work.
At 1930, I was standing outside of the door to my ROU extremely tired. I had spent the entire day with my mind stretch out, over and over again, to the next morning. All the hassles that would come the next day. Things I couldn’t even imagine yet. I did this all the time. These things happened. The Company was designed to make sure that you could not end up ahead. You weren’t supposed, at the end of the month, to have any money left over. If you tried to be careful, they would figure out a way. They would find some loophole, or create one, to take whatever you’d saved (time or money) away from you. There was no use getting frustrated about it. And yet…I was terribly frustrated. It was like I’d worked two full days, my job and my worries, at the same time.
I entered the code into my door and it popped open. I stepped inside, biting my lip and furrowing my brow as I wondered which meals I could avoid eating the next week. I stopped short, my heart climbing into my chest when I recognized a person standing in my room.
“Holy fuck!” I yelled, almost jumping into the air. Almost instantly, I calmed down. I recognized the person in my house.
“Casey?” I said, “Did you get a week pass? Why didn’t you tell me you were visiting?” Somehow, my little brother looked almost as surprised as I did.
Casey was 8 years younger than me, but we had grown up in the same ROU. We were the last generation of “moderate breeder stock” who had been raised in nuclear families. I had been the oldest child, Casey the youngest, of 4 (as per my mother’s ICA). I had not seen in him two years, not since our mother’s funeral. I couldn’t imagine what he had done to get a weeks pass!
Still, it was nice to see him, especially after a particularly difficult day. Casey had been the baby and I had been like a second mother to him. Even now, he still looked a bit like a kid to me. He was probably only as tall as I was, with the same dark hair. And he was skinny, with just a wisp of a moustache over his mouth. He was 20, but he looked younger.
“I am not visiting. What are you doing here?” Casey asked, he took a sort of half step back, nervously. I sort of laughed.
“What are you talking about? I don’t get the joke,” I said. He had always been a playful kid, I wondered what sort of prank he was pulling I wondered if our father was in on it. They were always partners in crime. Casey didn’t smile, he just stared at me. To the point that I became uneasy, “Come on, Casey. This is my ROU. What is the game?” I asked, feeling a bit uneasy. The stress from the day had sort of burned away, but this was somehow weirder.
“I received my designation as ‘moderate breeding stock’ yesterday and I received a 414 Notification with this address,” he said.
“What?” I asked, this didn’t make any sense. I put my hand out towards my little brother and sort of circled it around. Casey sort of shrugged, looking around confused. “Give me the 414 Notification!”
“Oh, yeah,” Casey said, and he reached into his back pocket and handed me a crumpled form. I scanned it quickly.
“What in the mother fuck?” I asked, looking up at Casey. His eyes were wide and he shrugged again. I looked down at the piece of paper in my hand. I looked at it for five minutes before I could believe what it said:
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