Home > Alien Cyberwarrior's Matched Mate

Alien Cyberwarrior's Matched Mate
Author: Mina Carter

 

1

 

 

Fuck her life. It was an endless conveyor belt of work, eat, and sleep with no respite in sight, and she was sick of it.

Isabella sighed to herself as she watched the belt in front of her for the next batch of six food blocks. When it drew level with her, she reached up and pulled the press down. The machine dropped with a kerr-thunk, sealing the small, beige blocks into their own synth-plast wrappers. They were biodegradable, and, if you were that desperate, edible.

She’d knew. She’d been that desperate.

The press lifted, and the sealed blocks were scooped away. She flicked a glance up at the big screen above her conveyor. It showed a young woman beaming with happiness as she ran through a field of sunflowers.

“Anselm Corp Cares. Your welfare is our welfare. We’re in this together. Apply for Anselm Corp Care today,” a man with a deep, authoritative voice reassured anyone who listened.

She could imagine a doctor having such a voice, if she’d ever seen one. She was worker class, not wealthy, so she’d never seen a doctor in the flesh her whole life. People like her only warranted a third-level med-tech, the lowest of the low on the medical scale. They weren’t caring. They were overworked, underpaid and in a constant threat of losing their jobs and ending up in the ranks of the hopeless they tended.

She sniffed and pressed another batch of six into their synth-plast skins. Relying on Anselm Corp Care wasn’t the sunlight and flowers choice the piped media claimed. She certainly hadn’t felt the need to run through a field of sunflowers after eating the one sad, tasteless cube.

First, she’d have to find a field of sunflowers. They didn’t grow in the wild anymore, so any live examples were in the private collections of multi-billionaires somewhere and certainly weren’t available for her to go gamboling through like a demented spring lamb. The only flowers like that she’d seen had been holo-projections of a famous painting during her schooling and in the Anselm propaganda.

Second… Anselm Corp made a big deal out of the fact it was feeding the masses who were a burden on the planet, but in reality, the nutritional value of the blocks was only enough to get a worker through their shift and to their next allocated ‘meal.’

The media glossed over the fact those ‘burdensome masses’ were the ones manning the factories and manufacturing facilities that kept the Anselm machine, and thus, the planet, running.

She flicked a glance along the lines of conveyor belts in front of her. There were hundreds of lines, each with a couple of employees stationed somewhere along it, doing different jobs. One extruded the block-paste into bricks, and the next operated the oven that cooked them. Then the cutter stood just before her and sliced the brick into rations. They were smaller now than they had been even months ago. When she’d started, the bricks made four blocks, but now it was six. She was expecting any day for the order to slice the bricks into eight.

The bricks were no bigger. The blocks were smaller… to protect Anselm’s bottom line.

The workers, most of them on Corp Care programs, trudged through life like zombies, barely awake, and only capable of working a shift. They had no energy in their ‘leisure’ time, the laughable few hours they got to themselves in the evening after the mandatory long shifts. Most had no energy to do anything but sleep. Including her.

Movement further down the cavernous factory caught her eye, the bright red jacket warning her that the foreman was making a surprise line inspection. She bent her head and concentrated on her task. James Randolph Junior didn’t like her.

She wasn’t on one of the care programs and had fought to ensure she wasn’t. Randolph had made no secret of the fact he didn’t approve. He didn’t approve of the free workers, saying that they had no incentive to protect the corp’s values and morals. By that, he meant the free workers wouldn’t stay for overtime without argument and without pay, desperate to avoid being thrown off their program. “It’s your choice,” were his favorite words, but it wasn’t. Those he asked had no choice whether to stay. Not when they needed the placement to eat or for their accommodation. None of them could afford to say no to him.

It was slavery, pure and simple. But she couldn’t do anything about it. She was just one person with no power or voice here, and she had to keep her head down to keep her job. She needed to keep this job. She needed to keep her freedom and stay out of the corp care system because once she signed on to it, she would become one of the zombies.

Sweat rolled down her spine as Randolph got closer and closer. He was always thorough in his inspections, but this morning he was taking extra care. Damn. That meant he was looking to sack someone. Anyone. He didn’t care whose neck was on the chopping block when he got in a mood, which was often. He relished flexing the power he had over the unfortunates on the shop floor.

“Crap,” she muttered under her breath as he stopped at the end of her line, his disapproving gaze looking for something to pick on. Her hackles rose, and she didn’t need to be looking at him to know excitement had filled his eyes.

Randolph was the worst sort of boss. Young and good-looking, he schmoozed his superiors while treating those below him like dirt on the bottom of his boot. His bosses didn’t care because he got results. That was all that mattered. Production statistics and the corp’s finances.

Her tension increased as Randolph walked the line, inspecting every inch. The section between her and the packer at the end, past the support column, was her responsibility.

Before her shift every day, she went over every inch with a fine-tooth comb to make sure it was in top-notch condition. Unpaid, of course. Any defect on the line was damage to equipment and her pay was docked. Any damage to the product was likewise a pay demerit. Hell, if they needed the air-con on in here to stop them from roasting to death, that cost was docked as well. She always lost weight in the summer, eating less to make up for the fact her pay credits were lower.

“Worker Seven-Four-Four,” he barked, referring to the number on the worker’s coveralls, and the packer at the end of the line snapped to attention. Isabella breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t picked on her. Perhaps she was safe for another day.

“Yes, sir?” The packer’s voice shook with nerves but she continued working as the foreman approached.

Isabella dared not look up, still operating the press diligently. Neither of them could move from their posts. If the blocks didn’t get wrapped, they couldn’t be packed, and that would stop the line… also a wage demerit.

“Come here, Seven-Four-Four.” He motioned to someone behind him to relieve the packer at her post. That was when Isabella knew the worker, Maci, was sunk. No one got taken off a line during a shift unless they were dead, headed to the medical unit… or about to be sacked.

She watched out of the corner of her eye as Maci handed over to her replacement and approached Randolph, careful not to look him in the eye in case she got accused of a ‘micro-aggression toward management’, also a pay demerit.

“Yes, sir?”

He looked at the young worker and then pointed to the belt. “Kindly explain this damage.”

Oh crap. They had replaced the current belt less than a week ago, so there was no way it should show wear yet.

“Damage?” Maci blinked in surprise as she glanced at the belt. “There’s no dama—”

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