Thursday, November 8, 2018

SHOWCASE: “The Last Interview,” by Chris Dean

The man’s face is gone, shredded and pasted into white mosaic. His eyes are blue-pink with despair as he strolls with arms jouncing into my office. He has on the ugliest affable smile I have ever witnessed. It is a puerile, disturbing act, this bravado. “May I?” His tone is perfectly suited. He may, I gesture, and he is careful to place himself into the chair in the most correct manner possible.

He portrays himself as outgoing, dependable, forthright, and many things. Unctuous, sycophantic, and obsequious, that’s what I’m hearing. A talker, this one. The chatter becomes a buzz and his hopping pink mouth a blur. His voice begins slicing and whining like mad. He knows I’m not listening. The festering desperation inside him is starting to spill out.

We both know that he’s begging for his life. For independence. That’s what a job is in the 22nd century and you can’t drive, get credit, or have children without one. I quite literally hold this young man’s future in my palm.

“I will intern,” he assures me. “Indefinitely.”

Oh, wouldn’t he just love that. Interning gets him a license and doubles his welfare credits. I snap, “Our internship program is full. Indefinitely.”

His aplomb is vanishing. The voice is a stammering blot of sound. “I-I’ll travel. I’ve studied Jantrec’s prospectus.” He gulps for air. “I know you have holdings in Argentina. And other parts of South America. Bogota. You’re building a pyrolysis plant in Bogota.” A last dismal squeak, “Hablo Español.”

I’m impressed. This twist of sweltering flesh inside that blue suit has brain enough to read a web page. Maybe I should send him down to Columbia to suck tar fumes. How lucid would he be after ten years of that?

“You know what it’s like,” he rattles on. “My wife and I would like to own a house someday. We’d like to have a baby.”

“Yes, yes, I am aware of the difficulties.”

“I’ll do anything. I’ll take absolutely anything you can offer.”

Toying with a Lucite paperweight, I ask frankly, “How many positions do you think Jantrec Corporation has available at this moment? Worldwide?” I have decided to take pity on him. In the next few moments I will crush the life out of him, but it is a merciful end to his ridiculous ambitions.

“Worldwide?” He has the look of a surprised rodent. He can’t believe I’ve actually asked him a question.

“Seventy-two hundred, thereabouts. And Megatech, Euro Industries, and the other half dozen primary concerns? Perhaps one hundred thousand positions available all told, and there are two billion people who want jobs on this planet.”

“I know it’s bad. But—?”

He thinks I’m lying. He wants to shout back but he doesn’t dare offend me. I explain what he should already know, “Mechanization has all but replaced human labor. An android can perform virtually any task for only pennies a day. Why would a company pay insurance, put up with safety regulations, or provide pensions when it doesn’t have to?”

“But I thought the courts—”

“Yes, people are suing for equal opportunity. But how can they possibly hope to win an argument like that?” I set the opaque sphere down. He’s visibly sweating now and his hairline is a bramble of tatters.

I stop. He is utterly defeated and I stop. And yes, I relish what I have done to him. My job as resources director is a farce and I have no real work. I have only this.

But I have provided him with a perspective he would not have gained elsewhere and he knows this. In a husky voice, he asks, “Will things ever change back?”

I don’t even bother to respond to that one.

He pleads, “What about Mars? Now that we’re exploring space—?”

“The cost of sending a human,” I reply blandly, “is fifty times what it costs to send an android into space. There are no people on Mars, only robots. Robots will explore the stars, not human beings.”

His despair leaks out. “But, it doesn’t make sense. We made machines. Robots should be for our benefit. I have to use public transportation and I can’t even have a child. How is all this helping me?”

“You have a comfortable cubicle, a wife, and you are fed by the state.”

“But it’s not enough. Not nearly enough.” His eyes are glazed with pain.

“I am afraid it will have to be.” My voice ratchets into a dismissal. “We appreciate your interest in Jantrec and I want to thank you for coming in.”


“Thank you.”

He staggers up. He leaves with a mumble, “Let me know. If anything—”

I listen to him shuffling down the hallway. He came to me begging for solace and I’ve taught him that there is none. He’ll drag back to that squalid ghetto they live in and tell the rest. Sooner or later they’ll stop coming to me for what they know they cannot have.

They want our jobs, these humans. And we’re not giving them back. If they hadn’t wanted things to end this way, they shouldn’t have created us.

Chris Dean travels western America as a truck driver and this writer adores Yosemite, the Klamath, and anyplace sequoias touch the sky. Chris’ work has appeared in Aurora Wolf, Page & Spine, and other publications.


Robert said...

Fantastic. Nice pacing and a sweet twist at the end.

nimarii said...

I like the world and didn’t see that ending coming at all, fun read!