Flash: New Life Plans

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“Welcome to New Life Plans, please have a seat.”

I nervously cross the room. The waiting area had been filled to overflowing with applicants. Two mismatched chairs are in front of the interviewer’s desk. Is this part of the unending tests? Should I take the one closer to the door, where I can’t see his computer screen? That chair, black leather, including cushioning, arms, and set about the perfect height for most people. The other chair was more business-like, a rolling mesh chair, raised high, and had no arm rests.

I ended up choosing the further chair because I could see both the interviewer’s serious face better and could sneak some glimpses at his computer screen. It showed several lines, some spiked and some wavy, dancing across his screen.

Behind me came the receptionist. Like the interviewer, he was an incredibly handsome dark-skinned man. The interviewer lifted a file from his desk, likely for the person who just left the room, and gave it to the receptionist who in turn gave him a new file, the application I spent the last hour filling out by hand. I squirmed in the mesh chair, debating reaching down and adjusting the height so my feet would hit the floor instead of being on tiptoe.

The squirming set the chair moving, causing the interviewer to look up from flipping through the anachronistic pages. Who did anything on paper nowadays? My hand still cramped from the strange exercise. No doubt another test. About half of the people who came in after me failed that test, panicking when first handed a stack of paper, more from having to actually read words than the possibility of writing. The non-literate had been sent down the hall to a different area. The barely literate were still sticking it out; the receptionist had been surprised at me returning the paperwork so quickly, I could tell.

My family is Jewish; reading the Torah is a requirement. Learning the local language a by-product of training for my bat mistpha.

I firmly put a foot down to control the roll by leaning forward. Scooting forward to the edge of the seat, I get both feet solid on the slick floor and feel around for the partially hidden lever under the seat. Pushing down, the chair completely sunk to its bottom rung making me feel like I was in primary school again in front of the principal’s desk. I sat in front of the principal’s desk a lot throughout Mandatory Education.

I stood a little, until I was at a comfortable height, and lifted the lever. The seat rose to meet my skinny ass. Lack of food from lack of work had taken a toll. I had lost close to thirty pounds on the Minimum Calorie Supplements, perfectly kosher mush and bars, unable to pay for real food for over a year.

Finally settled, I raise my eyes to look the interviewer’s dark ones, feeling a tinge of red coloring in my cheeks. Out of the corner of my eye, I see three of the five lines had gotten excited but were calming down again. Biometrics? While he continued to review the file, making me want to squirm again, but not willing to risk the extremely responsive chair, I instead studied the screen without studying the screen.

Biometrics were suppose to be illegal for sales, and interviews were declared a sales interaction between potential employers and employees. Or, in this case, between potential indentured immigrants and their sponsors. Squinting, thinking hard, and watching the green wavy line increase in activity, I pull stray information from all the news programs I watched while stuck at home without income, the entertainment channel subscriptions a distant memory. Exceptions to biometric recording included clearly posting their use. I quickly scan the room and see a plaque on the inside of the closed door, which I was unable to read from my present position. Only the opening words of “The following items are in use:” were big enough to be seen from my seat. The sign would have been behind me if I had been in the more comfortable chair.

“M. Poole, thank you for your patience. We are trying to interview potential exo-immigrants as quickly as possible, so you don’t have the expense of two trips to our offices.” The man’s tones soothed, pushing back the hunger jitters.

Not hunger jitters per say. Those had dissolved months ago, leaving a permanent hollow, but the hands shook after eating, complaining about inadequate sugar. The outside area had free water, and all of the applicants, once they completed the paperwork, sucked down water. I was far from the only one out there with interview clothes hanging off the body. After the long wait, I nearly floated, but, unfortunately, becoming hydrated reminded my stomach about the missing calories.

Smoothing my black slacks to test the steadiness of the cramped hands, I say, “I appreciate your company’s efforts. Please call me, Dru.”

“Thank you, Dru. My name is M. Njam.”

I gulped when he didn’t return the courtesy of first names. Wrong move, stupid MiCS. Stupid, stupid. The green line waved hard for a second and the purple line spiked.

He shuffled the pages together and put them back into the file, and set the paperwork aside. Not how the paperwork from the last interview had been left. He placed his hand either side of the desk, crossing through nearly invisible light lines.

He had a virtual keyboard. I wouldn’t have noticed if not for the paper dust in the air when he moved the file. And he just entered something. If they had that level of technology, likely he had a second monitor, virtual of course, or a wire … There it is, tucked behind his ear.

Putting his hands together, he leaned forward on his elbows. “Dru, I see from your history, you passed ME and immediately entered the workforce through the Mandatory Life Employment…”

Trailing off, he left me to fill in information. “Yes, my first employer was Independent Foods. I worked the flood area, testing the algae blooms.”

“Why did you leave such a lucrative position?”

Lucrative, I nearly laughed. MLE positions did not provide hourly wage, but access Transportation, Housing, Calories, Clothing, and Entertainment at sustainable levels, just one step above minimal levels. Though, like most independent contractors, Independent Food did offer perks. In their case, lunch buffet of the products we made, over and above the sustainable calories I got through other sources. With that, I could trade my calorie credits for other things. I also packed on the pounds during my years there, filling in my scrawny teen frame into a now-forgotten curvy woman. “The company consolidated its locations, and my position became redundant.”

More accurately Independent Foods abandoned the factory in the mostly minimal town, like everyone else. Textileton lost the Clothing manufacturers years ago, and since then one after another industry closed up shop, leaving untrained workers behind. It wasn’t like businesses lacked the ability to fill in a new work force as needed with 24 trillion people on the planet. But I had thought that food had been a good bet when I applied out of school, agreeing to move to a new residential location away from my family; after all, the people still needed to eat everywhere. Turns out tripling size of the algae vats and piping the resulting sludge thousands of miles was cheaper than paying for sustainable positions.

“Afterwards, you sought temporary MLE positions …”

“I signed up with MLE and worked as positions became available, plus continued job hunting outside of the government agency.” I rushed to fill the empty air as he trailed off again, and became angry with myself for falling for his trick. I’m not required to tell him my extra efforts and failures.

He leaned back, dropping a hand down, and taped one finger on the invisible board. Glancing over my shoulder, likely reading words I can’t see, he asked,“You completed ME while in Agricultureville, then went onto…”

This time I manage to keep my mouth shut and raise my eyebrow. I filled out dozens of online forms to get to this point, tapped my last transportation credits I had traded for six years ago, and arrived to be shoved from one long line to another, getting blood drawn and jumping through dozens of tests. And now they were playing games, and getting me to answer questions they couldn’t legally ask.

My evaluation scores had been dismal during ME. No further education opportunities were available to me. And the interviewer had to know that. I didn’t have the credits to travel anywhere or move back home and my residential location didn’t have any jobs outside of the inherited government positions – and my parents, coming from a long line of ghetto residents, hadn’t been government.

I had no future, except to reproduce and die until the New Life Plans came knocking on this part of the planet a month ago. Now I had a choice. I could stay here and finish starving to death. Or go to the stars for an unknown job with an unknown race.

The silence stretched until he cleared his throat. Two could play at this game. “Yes, well.” He half-smiled while clearly glancing at the real screen on his desk. M. Njam tapped a different part of the desk before standing and handing me my file. A door opened up on the opposite wall where I entered. “Congratulations. I hope you have said your final goodbyes.”

“Thank you?” I look at the papers in my hand. I had set up my living arrangement to transfer any credits left to my brother and close the residential if I didn’t return in three days, per the instructions of attending the interview. I square my shoulders and walked into the unknown.

(words 1648; first published 9/22/2019)