Welcome to 2037. The future is not some bleak, post-apocalyptic wasteland. Oh, contraire. The world is exceedingly happy. Everything is good. All needs are met. Everyone is going to have a nice day. Originally published in April 2020 by Freedom Fiction.
Have A Nice Day
by DL Shirey
The cavernous assembly area is far behind me, but I can still hear the pleasant lilt of the repeated message, “Please face forward. Remove your hats. Keep the line moving. Thank you for your patience.” The voice isn’t robotic nor is it a recording. A live human is speaking with an amiable drawl, her words reverberating enthusiasm.
She is obviously enjoying herself. We all strive to be like her. It’s what I want, too. I look forward to my morning placement because I can’t wait to find my perfect job.
A decade has passed since we began reclaiming what machines took from us. Today is a deadline, of sorts. On this first day of 2037, by law, no machine can have a job that can be performed by a man or woman. Ten years ago, with so many people in need of work, it seemed like the right thing to do. In retrospect, it was. One machine could take away jobs from dozens of people. Not that they were evil or on the verge of taking over the world, machines are just better suited to serve mankind; to store a person’s preferences, recommend alternatives and monitor findings until the outcome is perfect.
Take the clothes I’m wearing, for example: my favorite colors, in a style befitting my tastes, perfectly tailored by happy seamstresses. Of course, I have the right to reject what I’m given, but why? Results are based on years and years of tracking the things I like. I look good. In fact, all the people standing in this line look fabulous.
Hard to believe that data was once used to divide us; when the human pie was portioned into demographic slices based on race, age, wealth, politics, religion and purchases. That data is still there, but now its purpose is to calculate human potential, like finding each person a job they’ll love.
It’s why we queue up every day: to work a few hours, record our feedback and move on to the next assignment; one that fits a little better than our previous effort.
Before yesterday, I never would have guessed I’d enjoy pushing a broom. I honestly cannot remember ever feeling more contented on a job.
It’s a good system; the work itself is currency. No need for paychecks, bank accounts or credit cards. Working a job, any job, allows each person an allotment of whatever they need. Scan in, do your duty, scan out. For this you are given a generous ration of your favorite food, personal essentials like toiletries and drugs, and clothing—did I mention that the clothes are laundered, pressed and waiting for you when you get home? And the home they gave me is a nicely furnished flat in one of the downtown residence towers, so it’s just a short walk to work.
What more could I ask for?
Job preferences are based on physical ability and whatever they say needs doing that day. If you don’t have the strength, dexterity or aptitude to perform a task, no problem. Record your feelings and move on to a new assignment. Everyone eventually finds their niche and is able to give eight hours of honest labor every day. Some people find multiple tasks that they enjoy and switch gigs every few hours; whatever makes them happy.
The line moves at a slow shuffle down the hall, the sound occasionally compounded by friendly chatter. The lights are bright, the floors polished, the artwork on the walls is pleasant. With every step forward a voice in front of me grows louder.
“Show us your forehead, Luv. Thank you.” She has a British accent and a smile revealing perfect dental hygiene. “Forehead, Luv. Thank you.”
A dozen repetitions later, I rake my freshly washed brown hair up off my forehead. Instead of a thank you she says, “I’m sorry, Luv, got a yellow light.” She shows me the three indicators on the handheld scanner and the center bulb is lit.
Her baby blues meet mine for a moment, then her eyes flick up to the U-shaped suture. It is midway between my brows and scalp. A dotted line of scabs and fiery red skin surround the curve of black thread. It looks like a third eye, sewn shut in mid-blink.
“Ooh, that is a fresh one,” she chirps, “Stings like the dickens, doesn’t it?”
“Yes ma’am,” I reply.
“Only be a moment,” she says to the person behind me, “I’ve got to give this gentleman directions.”
“No need,” I say, “I’ll follow the yellow line.”
“Done this before have you, Luv? Took them a good week to get mine going. Pretty soon it’ll be straight up the green line for you. Not to worry.”
She has the perfect personality for this job; I’ll bet she loves it. “Show us your forehead,” I hear behind me.
The only difference in today’s scenario is this cherubic blonde holding the scan gun. Yesterday it was a jolly, rotund man draped in the brightly colored print of his ancestral African homeland. From here, workers follow one of three paths, demarcated by lines on the floor: the green one continues up that same long corridor to the work desk for another scan and the day’s job assignments; red diverts ninety degrees to the right, down a short hall, ending at a freshly painted but closed door; yellow shares this same hall for a few steps, then takes a hard left through an open door, into a separate room.
I approach the counter. A fit young man dressed in a tight turtleneck sweater is swiping a cloth over an already spotless surface. It’s a different person than yesterday. When he sees me, he stops whistling.
“May I help you?” he perks. After I point to my third eye, he turns and calls out, “Medical, please.” Blue Turtleneck brings up a flat pad of black glass, sets it to one side of the counter and patiently folds his hands. He smiles sympathetically, as if acknowledging my having to wait.
A seriously thin, rather pale woman enters the room. The pockets of her long, white coat are brimming with medical supplies. When she sees my forehead, she pulls on plastic gloves and invades my personal space with complete disregard for anything but my stitchery. To her it’s the most fascinating thing in the world.
“How old is this?” she asks, gently fingering around the edges until pain makes me flinch.
“Day four, I think.” I laugh. “At least I’ve been coming in here the past four days.”
“This is looking very good. Are you cleaning it every night? Keeping it moist with petroleum jelly?” After her questions are answered in the affirmative, she asks, “Any other symptoms or side effects?”
“No. If anything I’m feeling more, I don’t know, calmer.”
She snaps off her gloves. “Okay then, fingerprints, please.”
I move over to black glass pad and flatten my right palm on the left side of the screen. The adjacent blackness fills with my official photo. Blue Turtleneck nods and I withdraw my hand. The woman in the white coat takes the pad and taps innumerable tabs and buttons. She speed-types with one hand and pokes the window closed with a flourish. With a crisp nod she leaves, handing the pad back to Blue Turtleneck.
“Mr. Gallencamp,” He runs a finger inside the neck of his shirt, as if loosening it will help him speak. “It shouldn’t be long until your chip is activated. I apologize for the wait, but I hear the technicians are nearly up to date connecting all the new implants.”
“At least I got in before the deadline. Probably shouldn’t have waited until the last minute.”
“You’re fine. Any day now we won’t need fingerprints to know who you are.” He chuckles and checks the pad. “Looks like you’re in tower 23 today. How do you feel about wielding a mop?”
“We’ll see, won’t we?”
“Yes we will, but I’m sure you’ll love it. Have a nice day Mr. Gallencamp.”