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Adventures of a Work Unit

Entry 1975, on 2019-04-10 at 15:44:47 (Rating 1, Comments)

The alarm rang and Bob dragged himself out of bed with little enthusiasm. Another day of tedious work, another dollar in his bank. It had to be done, but that didn't mean he had to like it. After 30 minutes of routine he was ready for the drive to work. At least this was a bit of a break from the tedium, because he never knew what weirdness might happen on the freeway.

Entering his rather dated car Bob hit the gas and headed for work. On the radio a rather dreary voice intoned the latest news, listing off the problems of the world. They weren't of any great interest, and by the end of the bulletin Bob probably couldn't have remembered a single item that had been covered.

The sameness of the journey, the news reader's rather soporific voice, and his general state of apathy lead to him being even less connected with the world than usual, and that might have been why the unthinkable happened at that time.

Rounding a corner on an almost deserted part of the road an old pickup truck approached from the opposite direction at high speed, closely pursued by a police patrol car with all its lights and sirens going. The truck skidded to a stop and a scruffy individual jumped out, taking cover behind the door and shooting at the police. Bob had little choice but to stop in the blocked road and decided today was his day to be a hero.

The cops were taking cover from a hail of fire from the criminal but he had not noticed Bob behind him. So Bob leaped at the bad guy, knocking the gun from his hands, just like he had seen on those cop shows on TV. The cops came up and cuffed the crim, leading him away. They thanked Bob and said he was likely to get an official commendation for his heroics.

Suddenly wide awake after the excitement, Bob re-entered his car and completed the drive to work. The rest of the journey was uneventful, and at work he started up his dozer and continued working on the construction project for a new company called Ares, Inc. It was some sort of dome structure and its purpose was a great secret. Bob and his fellow workers speculated it was a military installation of some sort, but no one knew for sure.

After an hour or two of pushing piles of red dirt from one place to another, Bob was recovering from the excitement of the morning and his mind was wandering as he contemplated what form the reward the police had talked about might take. Would it be a medal? Or maybe cash? That was always good. Maybe he would feature on the evening news bulletin. A bit of fame would definitely make his dreary life better.

But this time his state of excitement and complacency was disturbed by another unusual event. As the dozer blade sliced through the fresh earth there was a massive flash of light and an explosion. He instantly realised that he had hit a power cable and threw his machine into reverse to avoid any more damage.

A security crew drove up fast, and inspected the cable. Then a team of technicians arrived and patched it in less than 5 minutes. Everything seemed to have returned to normal until a rather officious looking woman approached him and demanded to see the site plan he was working from. He didn't remember there being a plan, but then noticed a rolled up map of some sort in the cab of his dozer. Sure enough, in the exact location he was at, a warning sign showed the location of a 22,000 volt power main.

The woman - some sort of senior manager - assured him his poor performance would be noted and he might suffer the consequences in future. Bob wryly noted that you win some and lose some. One moment a hero and the next you're getting an official warning. C'est la vie. He wondered where that phrase had come from. Did he know any other French? He mused "je ne sais pas."

It was time for a break so Bob drove back to the project base-camp. It seemed to be a lot closer than he remembered, but the building was unmistakable with its brightly lit company logo of a white capped red sphere, with the words "Ares, Inc." emblazoned across the roof-line.

Bob casually entered the dining room and wondered whether he should tell his fellow employees about the bizarre events of the day. First his heroics helping to subdue the gun-toting criminal, then the mishap with the cable. The odd thing was that he really couldn't understand how the section of road had got so quiet that he was the only person in a position to help the cops. And, now that he thought about it, he couldn't remember ever seeing that plan with its warning of the location of the cable, either.

Maybe the drudgery of his life was getting to him. The company offered free counselling sessions for its employees so he decide he should take advantage of that before he was killed by a stray bullet from a dangerous criminal or electrocuted by a high voltage cable! Still, that could wait, so he grabbed a pre-packaged lunch, which was exactly what he wanted that day, how did the company cafe always know? They always seemed to, and that's all he cared about right now. He sat down with his co-workers who were already talking about their own lives.

Strangely, many other workers at the table seemed to be talking about the unusual things that had happened to them that same day. Apparently, helping the cops apprehend dangerous criminals, and damaging high voltage power lines was not that unusual. And some people there had even more bizarre experiences. One person discussed with complete seriousness how he had been abducted by aliens on the way to work, although they had freed him after a few minutes, and another hadn't just hit a power cable, he had damaged a whole nuclear power facility!

No one seemed to be surprised that so many odd things had happened to them, and Bob tried to remember whether this was normal. But he had always had problems with memory, and really just couldn't recall the events of even the previous day. He guessed that meant nothing in particular stood out, so that it had been a normal day, but it might be worth mentioning to the counsellor.

After lunch Bob drove his dump truck out to the site again. For some reason the controls seemed different than they were that morning, and he even briefly wondered whether he had even been a truck driver then. But that was his job, so what else could he have done?

He was almost surprised when nothing strange happened that afternoon, but somehow he managed to get through the day without any outstanding incidents and the drive home was uneventful.

After that day Bob figured he deserved an early night, so he went to bed early.

Junior programmer Sophie Smith tapped her computer controls in frustration. It had not been one of her better days, and she knew it. As if on cue a senior bureaucrat from the quality control section entered her office, and he didn't look happy.

Standing in front of her desk, he demanded "What was that. What were you thinking?" and continued "You are supposed to be a professional programmer. What was professional about that?"

Sophie tried to defend herself by pointing out that she had been forced to manage a much greater number of work units recently, and that would inevitably lead to a lower level of control over individuals, but the bureaucrat was not accepting that.

He launched into a lengthy tirade bout how she was expected to manage the work units (which he referred to as WUs) for maximum efficiency, but something in Sophie's mind rebelled against that because she couldn't stop thinking of the WUs as real people. She knew they had signed up for this level of control when they became employees of the new company, so there was no real reason why she should feel guilty about what she did, but the feeling persisted.

The bureaucrat told her to read through her perfomance report, which he had already sent, and to make sure that she followed procedures more carefully in future, especially regarding the state of mind of the WUs, and how important it was that they accept their artificial reality without question. So being too obvious with the manipulations she applied was unacceptable, and she should also use different manipulations with different WUs in the same group to avoid them becoming suspicious.

Sophie pulled up the report and began scanning it. A series of mis-steps were listed and suggested improvements were included...

1. WU Bob was depressed and needed some excitement in his life, but using the old apprehending the criminal routine was a bit obvious, and that over-stimulated him. In future mix it up a bit because making the WU too confident and then having to arrange another intervention in the future to drop his confidence back down again, like the old high voltage power line routines, was very clumsy.

2. The WU should not know that he was really working on Mars, so the company name "Ares, Inc" should have been disguised. Luckily the unit's previous knowledge of classic mythology had been suppressed so he didn't recognise the link between Ares and Mars, but it was still an unnecessary risk.

3. Pay attention to the temporal consistency. Sneaking that plan into the cab of his dozer when he hadn't seen it previously is what we would expect from a complete amateur. Make sure the plan is there already so that it can be re-programmed and used as an excuse when needed.

4. His pre-training for the future project for the French base on the Moon was essential but disguise the training or the unit will start noticing anomalies. If he starts using French phrases for no apparent reason the subliminal training we do during his sleep phase might become obvious. Remember that the simulated environments must remain convincing.

5. Several optimisations you made were taken too far. The WU noticed the base was closer than he expected, the lunch was always suspiciously perfect, and tone down the counselling idea or he might want to actually use it. Again, the simulation must be kept realistic.

6. We know that one of the truck drivers went rogue and had to be taken away for re-programming, but suddenly switching WU Bob's role to compensate was not a good choice. Even with the memory suppression in use there are occasional leakages and that was too much of a risk.

Finally, your psychological profile seems to indicate you have too great a level of sympathy for the units. Remember that legally we are perfectly entitled to run them for the greatest operational efficiency for the corporation. No doubt you are aware that we rarely use re-programming routines on management staff like yourself, but it is an option if your performance doesn't improve.

And that final point left Sophie feeling cold. Despite the guidelines specifying that no physical harm was allowed to happen to work units while they were involved in doing alternate reality work, she thought the whole process robbed the person (she still had trouble using the term "work unit") of their individuality and free will.

She suddenly felt depressed and despondent, but it was time to leave work for the day. She left her office and ordered her self-driving car to take her home. Watching the day's news didn't help her mood much and she was paying very little attention to what was going on, when an extraordinary thing happened.

Rounding a corner on an almost deserted part of the road an old pickup truck approached from the opposite direction at high speed...


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