2084: Slavery Resurgent
by Fred Dungan
copyright 2018
No animals were hurt in the production of this novel.
For my granddaughter, Caitlin
Chapter 1
Franklin rolled over in his waterbed and forced open his eyes.
The commercial telepathy signal was too strong and had woke
him up. Twice before he had complained to the provider about
it, and they claimed to have significantly reduced the strength.
Bullshit. He was convinced that because he lived in the central
city less than a block from the provider's transmission tower, it
could not be adjusted low enough to prevent the transmission
from disturbing his sleep.
Two months ago, when he signed the lease for his apartment,
the landlord had given him a $20 monthly discount in the rent
in exchange for agreeing to allow the provider to telepathically
transmit advertisements to his subconscious between periods
of rapid eye movement sleep. He really did not want it, but his
part-time minimum wage job left him no other choice. Besides,
they allowed him to select the topics for the commercials. Like
most things that had gone wrong in his life, it had seemed like
a good idea at the time. All the bad choices he had made were
catching up with him. Since griping did not make things better,
Franklin rolled over and went back to sleep.
Many of the advertisements that interspersed his dreams were
recruitment pitches for various off-world careers. As a child, he
was fascinated by science fiction, but as time passed, science
fiction had been translated into science fact, and the fact was
that space travel was dangerous. Being careful and precise by
nature, he did not engage in high risk activities. His few school
friends used to dare him to climb trees and jump off of houses,
but he was afraid of getting hurt. Why should he do something
stupid? To his way of thinking, risk could only be justified by a
big enough reward. Outer space adventure would have to wait
until the odds were in his favor. No problem, he was a man of
infinite patience. He truly believed that his time would come. In
the meantime, he had bills to pay.
Chapter 2
“Climate change is a fact.” - Barack Obama
It was nearly mid-afternoon on the 12th of March and already
the temperature had climbed past 100 degrees. In fact, there
had not been one day in two weeks when the thermometer
had not risen over 90 degrees. Given the low humidity,
perspiration offered scant relief beads of sweat evaporated
almost as soon as they formed. Nor did the occasional wispy
white cloud high overhead provide any shade from an angry
orange-red sun.
The stale air stank. Intense heat had formed small puddles of
oil atop the asphalt. When he crossed the street, it stained his
new white sneakers. An inversion layer had formed over the
Los Angeles Basin, trapping odors, magnifying the sun's rays,
and making life miserable for the few foolhardy pedestrians
who dared to venture outside during the eleventh Los Angeles
Air Quality Management District alert in two weeks.
But 42 year old Franklin Pierce had no other option. His aging
truck did not meet modern technological requirements and his
minimum wage job as a janitor in an office building did not
provide him enough money to update it. He had no choice but
to take a hover bus to and from work. The nearest bus stop to
his apartment was over a mile away. It took Franklin an hour
and a half to go either way on days when the bus kept to its
schedule. He had been warned twice for being late. One more
infraction and he would be suspended for two weeks.
Janitorial work was mind-numbingly monotonous and provided
little satisfaction. Several times he had involuntarily nodded off
while buffing the linoleum floors. It didn't matter much since he
worked alone in empty offices at night and nobody seemed to
know the difference. And why should they care? The company
would sooner or later replace him with an unerring automaton
that would perform his job at twice the speed and half the cost.
Franklin's economic future appeared dim.
This was in contrast with his prospects twenty years ago when
he had graduated near the top of his class at the University of
California, Irvine, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics.
Sheepskin in hand, he had applied for career entry positions in
several government agencies, but had been rejected because
he refused to be injected with an identification chip as required
by anti-terrorist legislation enacted by Congress and a handful
of states following a string of bombings of public buildings and
assassinations of government officials in 2062.
Injectable microchips were invented in the early part of the 21
century. Initially, they contained data which aided in the return
of lost pets and animals to their rightful owners. Gradually they
became more sophisticated, increasing storage capacity while
minimizing size. It soon became possible to program terabytes
of data into microchips smaller than a pinhead. By 2031 fifteen
percent of the population in the United States and Europe had
been microchipped; hospitals routinely microchipped babies at
birth. In 2055, military dog tags were replaced with microchips.
Franklin had heard rumors that implants sometimes resulted in
skin cancer, that they could be hacked by third party scanners,
that they interfered with magnetic resonance imaging, and that
medical and financial records could be stolen from them, even
though encrypted. The transponders that were an integral part
of late model microchips threatened to put an end to privacy;
mandatory Global Positioning System signals were monitored
by the government, making it impossible to secrete a person's
What frightened Franklin the most was a biblical prophecy:
And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right
hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of
the beast, or the number of his name.Revelation 13:16-17, King James Version Bible
Society was rapidly becoming cashless. Ninety-one percent of
the population lived in urban areas. Microchips were replacing
charge cards, particularly in cities. Financial transactions were
faster and more secure. Money laundering, cheating on taxes,
holdups, and muggings had declined. And this had all resulted
from a mark on the right hand where a microchip was injected.
Franklin had an uneasy feeling about the future. He was not in
any hurry to be microchipped.
In downtown Los Angeles scanners were everywhere. Usually
the government scanners were mounted atop telephone poles
and lampposts together with video surveillance cameras. Little
activity went unnoticed. Although Franklin had no way to avoid
being videotaped, he knew that positive identification could not
be determined legally without testimony from an eyewitness or
information scanned from a microchip.
* * *
“Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all.” - John F. Kennedy
Multi-story holograms littered the central city. Projected in front
of tall commercial buildings, they obscured the intrinsic beauty
of landscaping and architecture alike. Franklin recalled a ballot
measure in a municipal election six years back that could have
limited holographic advertisements. Its opponents claimed that
Los Angeles derived a substantial portion of the city's revenue
from licensing outdoor advertising. Get rid of ads and property
taxes would skyrocket, the advertisers had trumpeted via their
holograms. The end result was that economics had triumphed
over aesthetics. By a margin of three to one, the measure had
been soundly defeated.
Franklin hardly noticed the holograms. He had more important
matters to think about. Besides, the overwhelming majority of
them advertised products Franklin could not afford. There was
one, however, at the Federal Building which always caught his
attention. It stood out from the rest because it was three times
bigger than city regulations permitted. In stark black and white,
a hologram of the Director of Homeland Security menacingly
towered over him as he walked two blocks to work from where
the hover bus dropped him off. Looking directly at Franklin, the
Director urged him to immediately dial the Anti-terrorist hotline
if he spotted any suspicious or unusual activity. Quickening his
pace, he tried hard not to cringe.
A friend had told him that people in Los Angeles were twice as
likely to be struck by lightning than to die in a terrorist attack. It
was difficult to believe. Although Franklin had never personally
seen a terrorist attack or received a terrorist threat, he took the
subject seriously. For as long as he could remember, terrorism
had been at the forefront of news reporting. Of course, he was
afraid. Who wouldn't be?
The Homeland Security hologram promised a $75,000 tax free
reward to any person providing information to the Anti-terrorist
hotline which would lead to the arrest and conviction of people
planning and/or committing terrorist activities. Franklin recalled
that while cleaning a men's bathroom at night a co-worker had
found a large locked briefcase in a wheelchair stall. Afraid that
it might contain a bomb, he dialed 911, the Los Angeles Police
Department's emergency number. A Bomb Squad was quickly
dispatched. Arriving at the office building, the unit cordoned off
a six block square area and evacuated everyone from it. Next,
they carefully placed the briefcase in a tub of water. Following
a thorough soaking, a robotic device removed it from the office
building and pried off the lock. A remote control camera on top
the robot transmitted the briefcase's contents to an explosives
technician monitoring a 3D LED screen inside an armored van
parked beyond the cordon. “Better safe than sorry,” he said as
he related to the lieutenant commanding the Bomb Squad that
Los Angeles had successfully withstood a threat posed by two
soggy, partially-eaten egg salad sandwiches and an unopened
bag of salted cashews.
Franklin had no desire to commit a similar boner. Fooling with
the Los Angeles Police Department was one thing, leading the
FBI on what might turn out to be a wild goose chase was quite
another. The chance of pocketing the $75,000 reward was not
worth the risk. Any suspicious activities he witnessed would be
better kept to himself. Besides, he had a strong suspicion that
terrorism was largely a red herring, used by the government to
distract the citizenry from economic injustices while serving as
grounds for authoritarian legislation.
Also, there seemed to be a profit motive. Section 9 of the anti-
terrorist bill passed by Congress in 2082 required the courts to
sentence anyone convicted of terrorism or treason to forfeit all
rights and freedom for the remainder of their lives without the
possibility of parole. Through use of frontal lobotomy, chemical
castration, shock therapy, and cerebral cortex reprogramming,
they were to be transformed into docile automatons who could
outperform robots and were cheaper to maintain. Auctioned to
the highest bidders, they enabled the administration to reduce
taxes and balance the budget. An ultra-conservative Supreme
Court ruled that slavery of felons was permitted under the 13
Amendment, Section 1 of which clearly states:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for
crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist
within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
By a revised interpretation of the 8
Amendment, the Supreme
Court ruled in a separate case that slavery of habitually violent
felons did not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”
At first, Franklin had opposed the use of automatons because
they might replace him on the job. But as time went on and the
promises of politicians of a decline in violent crime, a reduction
in the tax rate, and a balanced budget, came true, he changed
his mind. A nationally conducted survey had reached a similar
conclusion: “automatons improved the quality of most people's
lives and strengthened the economy.” The automaton program
was soon expanded to include those convicted of kidnapping,
first degree murder, armed robbery, espionage, and rape. Bills
introduced to state legislatures were essentially copies of laws
passed by Congress. Technological changes were resulting in
more sophisticated automatons. A popular evangelist declared
that evildoers deserved to be enslaved. Franklin's mind was ill
at ease; recurring doubts clouded his thoughts:
“Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard
of measure, it will be measured to you.” — Matthew 7:1-2
No sane person would ever choose to become an automaton.
A lifetime of slavery seemed a terrible price to pay for criminal
behavior, no matter how heinous the act.
The time was 1715 and it was beginning to drizzle. Employees
streamed out of the towering office buildings onto the sidewalk
– intent on going home before the rain turned into a downpour.
Franklin was not paying attention to where he was walking; his
mind was on other things. An automaton opened an umbrella,
slightly touching Franklin's right shoulder. Quickly apologizing,
the automaton murmured, “sir, please excuse my clumsiness,”
while lowering its head to avoid Franklin's quizzical stare.
There was something about the automaton's fawning behavior
and obsequious speech that bothered Franklin. This unctuous
creature certainly appeared to be human, but that is where the
resemblance ended. Twenty years earlier, he had read Maxim
Gorky's Creatures That Once Were Men for Literature 101, an
elective course he had taken in his Sophomore year at UCI. It
was astonishing how Gorky had depicted the self-degradation
by which men lost all traces of their humanity. Not having seen
such an entity before in real life, Franklin was grossed out by it
and prayed to God he would never encounter one again.
Fetid breath, body odor, rotten teeth, and unkempt hair - could
it be possible that the government had consciously engineered
automatons to be repulsive? If so, they had done a good job of
It was easy to spot an automaton. Most wore yellow jumpsuits.
Being programmed, they moved with a singular purpose, like a
horse wearing blinders, speeding ahead towards the objective.
Automatons sat in the back of public hoverbuses, surrendering
their seats to ordinary human beings when requested to do so.
Many restaurants, hotels, and other service sector businesses
refused to serve automatons. The general perception was that
automatons were unclean subhumans.
Franklin had heard on a podcast that automatons were rapidly
increasing in number. One out of every seven Angelenos were
automatons. It was estimated that by 2105 more than one-half
of the workforce would be slaves. Their human masters would
have more money and a great deal more leisure time in which
to enjoy it.
Sociology had taught Franklin that less than two percent of the
populace were criminals. Of course, that statistic was 20 years
out-of-date. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security
claimed that crime had sharply declined. The numbers did not
make sense. If only the most dangerous convicted felons were
being transformed into automatons, where had the increase in
automatons come from? To what purpose had the government
been lying?
Chapter 3
“If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” - 16
century English adage
When Franklin received a text message ordering him to report
to the main office after completing his shift, he thought he was
going to be laid off. Having walked fourteen blocks to the main
office, he arrived tired, hungry, and disheveled. His supervisor,
Hiram Nasov, had a corner office on the 12
floor of the Sanz
Building. Lightly knocking on the door with the second knuckle
of his right hand, Franklin pushed down on a lever and barged
in without waiting for Hiram to give him a go-ahead. It was just
as well, because his supervisor was busy talking to somebody
on a cellphone.
“I ordered 50 gallons of pine oil disinfectant, not some watered
down, sweet-smelling cleanser. Of the twenty-nine ingredients
listed on the labels, it says nothing about pine oil.”
(long pause)
“There is no substitute for pine oil. It cleans while killing germs
and insects. One client complained that his office was infested
with crickets. Another said he personally saw a roach fly down
from the ceiling onto the floor when he turned on the lights one
night. You made us look bad.”
(short pause)
“Your mistake, not ours. You have to pay for shipping it back.”
Hiram's face was flushed and the veins in his neck stood out,
but his tone remained level, never betraying the anger he was
obviously feeling. Franklin slumped into a pink fiberglass chair.
He was tired from working a ten hour shift. Hearing one end of
a two-way conversation was frustrating. To keep from nodding
off he focused his mind on listing prime numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7,
11, 13, 17, 19, 23....
(intermediate pause)
“It is your responsibility to make it right. I desperately need the
50 gallons of pine oil I ordered from your company nine weeks
ago. Either I receive it by Monday or I will find a company that
is morally opposed to 'bait and switch' and fills orders on time.”
With that, Hiram ended the phone call by tossing his cellphone
at the hologram of a clock that was being projected halfway up
a decorative pillar in back of his desk. Having been made from
a graphite fiber composite that was virtually indestructible, the
cellphone's cover was not even scratched.
Franklin hastened to retrieve the cellphone and return it to his
boss, saying, “If you are busy, I can come back tomorrow.”
“Have a seat,” said Hiram, pointing towards the pink fiberglass
chair. Rubbing his forehead with the palm of his right hand, he
remonstrated, “today, tomorrow, next Tuesday, two years from
now – it won't make any difference. The stress never ceases.”
Franklin wasn't sure what to say, but he had to say something,
so he ventured, “You're replacing me with an automaton; isn't
that what you summoned me here to tell me?”
“All our janitors are being replaced by automatons; all but one,
that is. You are being promoted to manager. Somebody has to
train the automatons.”
“Why me? I despise automatons. Besides, I don't know how to
program a computer, much less an automaton.”
“I have never had a complaint from a client about you. You do
not cause problems for the company. You have a degree, you
belong in management. Nobody likes automatons. For Christ's
sake, it's a job. Would you rather be unemployed? You simply
show them how to clean an office monkey see, monkey do,”
Hiram gesticulated pushing a broom. “Leave the programming
to the technicians.”
“What happens when there are no more automatons to train?,”
asked Franklin. “It's not as if there will be an endless supply of
automatons. Sooner or later the company will be laying me off
or firing me.”
“It is not that way in management. Keep doing a good job and
the company will keep promoting you. Who knows? Corporate
might transfer you to San Francisco or Sacramento. Play your
cards right and you could wind up as CEO with a million dollar
home and a trophy wife. Quit focusing on the dark side. Life is
short, enjoy it while you can.”
“Is this promotion simply a fancy title change or am I going to
be making more money? I've got bills to pay and I am sick and
tired of riding a hoverbus to work.”
“Your starting salary will be twice your current wage. Purchase
a new hovercar. And while you are at it, buy yourself a decent
wardrobe. You start Monday. Pointing towards the door, Hiram
remarked, “Now, get out of here. I have work to do. Text me if
you run into any problems.”
“Do I need to wear a suit and tie to work? The automatons will
be impressed,” Franklin sarcastically commented.
“What do you think? Managers are paid to think. Go, and don't
slam the door on your way out!,” Hiram erupted.
Chapter 4
“Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”-Jack Kerouac
Franklin was fed up with commuting via hoverbus. He not only
wanted a new vehicle, he needed a new vehicle nothing too
expensive something reliable. Instead of going to church on
Sunday, his day off, he decided he could spend his time more
wisely by visiting the Auto Center.
He no sooner stepped onto a dealership than three salivating
salesmen set upon him like a pack of hungry dogs. Performing
an about face, he promptly left. The second dealership proved
little better. Finally, at the end of the street, Franklin found a
lot where there was only one salesman on duty. The salesman
pointed out the fashionable body styles and bright, shiny paint
jobs, but Franklin was more interested in reliability, particularly
what was covered by the warranty and for how long.
“Can I use my wheeled truck as a trade-in?,” inquired Franklin.
“Does it run? There isn't much call for gasoline powered trucks
nowadays. There's a market for them on Prince Edward Island
up north in Canada, but it costs me to ship them there. It might
be worth it to drive it there and sell it yourself. Without a trade-
in, I could give you a lease on a pre-owned hydrogen powered
hover for less than $300 a month. Just look at this convertible,
auto pilot and leather upholstery. It's the perfect ride for an up-
and-coming gentleman like you. I would have bought it myself,
if I wasn't afraid my kids and dogs would tear it up. Only three
years old, less than 20,000 miles on the odometer, and twelve
cylinders of thrust; this baby will get you anywhere you want to
go. I can make you a rock bottom deal. Walk over to my office
with me and we can work out the details.”
It was a bit past midday and already the sun directly overhead
was torturing Franklin. The asphalt sales lot was blistering hot.
By the time they reached the shack that the salesman referred
to as an office, Franklin's new Hawaiian shirt was dripping wet
with sweat. The office offered little relief. A dinky fan on a table
fought a losing battle with the unrelenting heat. The salesman
took two bottles of water from a small refrigerator and handed
one to Franklin who downed it in one long gulp. Looking down,
the salesman gave the second bottle to Franklin who gratefully
accepted it and guzzled it faster than the first.
“The nameplate on the desk identified the salesman as Cedric
Dickelsin. Since the sign in front of the sales lot read 'Dickelsin
Motors,' Franklin assumed he was dealing with the owner or a
close relative. Good, because his unusual credit history would
ultimately require approval by the owner. Franklin desperately
needed a hover and he needed it now.
“Please extend your right hand, palm up. In order to determine
your eligibility for a lease, I need to scan your microchip,” said
Cedric, removing a scanner from his desk drawer. “Under law,
I cannot sell or divulge your financial record to any third party.”
Franklin stuck out his right hand, commenting, “I haven't been
“I thought everybody had a microchip. Doctors implant babies
shortly after they are born. It has been years since I last came
across someone without a microchip. Why not go to a hospital
and get an implant? It doesn't hurt. As part of the deal, I'll even
pay for it,” offered Cedric.
“I have never had one. From what I have seen, I am better off
without one. The implant on your own right palm appears to be
oozing puss,” observed Franklin.
“Yes, it's red, but I don't think it's infected. Implants were never
designed to be scanned as often as they are today. It probably
needs a rest. Also, I have been scratching it lately. It's my fault
“I have enough health problems without having to worry about
a malfunctioning implant,” Franklin mused. Suppose I pay you
$300 cash each month. If I'm late to make a payment, you can
repossess it. What do you have to lose?”
“I am not comfortable having cash on hand. People have been
murdered for less than $300. I absolutely refuse to take cash.”
“All business involves risk,” Franklin retorted. “By law, you are
required to accept cash. As if to prove his point, he took a $20
bill from his wallet and handed it to Cedric. “On the front of the
bill, in the left hand corner, it unmistakably states, “this note is
legal tender for all debts, public and private.”
“Are you threatening me with legal action?”
“No threat intended, I was simply informing you that I have the
right to pay cash. And you will come out ahead by avoiding the
fee that banks charge for credit transactions.”
“I am not used to doing business this way,” Cedric declared. “I
suppose I could make an exception, but I require a $500 down
payment and I don't want to be burdened with your unlicensed
trade-in. With registration, down payment, sales tax, and other
fees, it will cost you $876.32 to drive it home today. Let's call it
an even $876 and I will throw in a free pine air freshener and a
full tank of hydrogen.
“What about the warranty?,” asked Franklin.
“Ninety days or three thousand miles, whichever comes first.”
Franklin removed his wallet from a rear pants pocket and gave
Cedric nine, crisp, one hundred dollar bills.
“Sorry, I'm used to dealing in credit, so I don't keep change on
hand,” apologized Cedric.
“Apply it to my next monthly payment,” Franklin suggested.
* * *
Although Franklin had a valid driver's license, this was his first
time driving a hovercar. There was nothing difficult about it. He
programmed the GPS with his starting address and his ending
address. Then he placed his right thumb on an identity sensor
and jets of hydrogen ignited all twelve cylinders. Three colored
squares appeared on the altimeter: blue for ground level, pink
for secondary level, and burgundy for top level traffic. Because
it was only a few blocks to his apartment, Franklin touched the
blue square and shifted the transmission into autopilot. Before
he could turn on the air conditioner, he had reached home and
at his verbal order, the hovercar parked itself against the curb.
Chapter 3
There are many events in the womb of time, which will be delivered.
William Shakespeare
After a delicious four course Mexican dinner, served piping hot
from a microwave oven, Franklin donned a new lime polyester
suit and a string tie. As an added touch, he pinned a gold-filled
metal tulip on his right lapel. He caught a glimpse of himself in
a hallway mirror and liked what he saw. “Time to step up in the
world,” he commented out loud to no one in particular since he
lived alone. Rapidly setting his security system, he flew out the
front door and pressed the ignition symbol embossed on a ring
remote control he wore on his index finger. It was Monday, his
first day in management and he did not want to be late. But he
had no reason to worry. His hovercar drove him to work in less
than ten minutes.
Franklin's automaton trainee was already waiting for him in the
lobby. “Good evening, my name is Franklin Pierce. I'll be your
instructor for a month while you learn to be a janitor. After that,
he extended his right hand in a gesture of friendship.
The automaton stared at the hand in disbelief. Following a few
awkward seconds, the automaton remarked, “it is improper for
an automaton to shake hands with his master.”
“Really? Well, since we are the only two people in this building
after 6 PM and, to the best of my knowledge, we are not being
recorded, I guess we can dispense with that kind of nonsense
and get to know one another. Does protocol prevent you from
telling me your name?”
“I'm George. All automatons are named George. Specifically, I
am George 41,832,709. Master Pierce, I do not wish to offend,
but I could not help but notice you do not have an implant.”
“Neither do you,” Franklin laughed. “Perhaps, we will go to hell
together. We should make a pact and shake hands on it. Even
a dog can shake hands.”
George grasped Franklin's outstretched right hand, pumping it
up and down for a full minute before letting go. He was smiling
a big, idiotic grin rimmed with rotten teeth. Making friends with
an automaton no longer seemed to Franklin to be a good idea.
It was time for them to get to work.
George proved to be a fast learner. Franklin was impressed by
how hard the automaton worked to please him. When Franklin
said to add two-thirds of a quart of pine disinfectant to the mop
bucket, George added precisely that amount without having to
measure it. Nor did he nod off while buffing the linoleum floors.
His attention to detail was truly amazing. Not a trace of graffiti
remained on the toilet stalls. He pried a used tampon from the
ceiling of a 22
floor women's bathroom without having to be
told to do so. This was much more than “monkey see, monkey
do.” George worked as if he had been born to be a janitor.
They broke for lunch at midnight. Franklin ate two burritos and
an avocado. George bought two cans of vegetable beef soup
from a vending machine on the 12
floor and warmed them up
in a microwave oven. Franklin wondered how George came to
have money. Were not automatons unpaid slaves? Would it
be impolite to ask? In the end, he decided against it.
On the 9
floor George had found a wad of gum under a table.
He offered Franklin half. Franklin declined and George popped
the entire wad into his mouth. Franklin did not speak to him for
the rest of the shift. As far as he was concerned “monkey see,
monkey do,” sufficed for an automaton. Besides, it was time to
quit. They departed in silence.
* * *
For the next four days the boss and his trainee had a business
relationship. Talk was kept to a minimum and even then it had
to be job related. Franklin was disgusted with automatons and
George was no exception. He was stuck with them; they were
his cross to bear.
The following Monday, they were servicing the 18
floor when
George spotted an oil spill in a hallway. He attempted to clean
it up with a mop, but it left a stain. Adding a pint of ammonia to
the mop bucket helped a little, but parts of the stain remained.
Feeling a strong urge to relieve himself, he rushed to a nearby
men's room. He had been gone a few seconds when Franklin
decided to check on him. Finding the stain and the abandoned
mop bucket, Franklin added a gallon of bleach to the contents
of the mop bucket.
When George got back from the bathroom, he found his boss
unconscious, lying face down on the floor. When George knelt
to pick up Franklin, he smelled the strong odor of chlorine gas
and almost collapsed. Knowing that the windows were sealed
and could not be opened, George lifted Franklin and dragged
him down the stairs to the 17
floor. Franklin started to cough
violently and then vomited. George pushed everything off of a
secretary's desk and laid Franklin on it. After drinking a cup of
water, Franklin seemed to get better. It was not long before he
got down from the desk and sat in a chair. Franklin said he felt
weak, but was otherwise alright.
* * *
 !
- Psalm 37:7-11
“Thanks, you saved my life,” Franklin stated, hugging George.
“I owe you, big time.”
“You probably would have recovered on your own. It was most
likely the ammonia I added to the mop bucket that caused the
mixture to produce toxic gas,” confessed George.
“And I added a gallon of bleach. Ammonia plus bleach results
in chlorine gas. The Germans gassed enemy soldiers with it in
World War I. It's so deadly that it was outlawed by the Geneva
Convention. I probably would have died if you had not rescued
me. I really meant it when I congratulated you for risking your
life to save mine. If there is ever anything I can do for you, just
let me know.”
George looked embarrassed. After an hour they went back to
the 18
floor. The chlorine gas had dispersed. They rinsed the
mop, emptied the mop bucket, and resumed their duties.
Franklin had always fancied himself a good judge of character.
Now, he was having doubts. Although it was his job to instruct
automatons, he didn't know that much about them. Hiram had
told him that “managers are paid to think.” Franklin would have
to solve the automaton enigma himself. His initial instincts had
been to befriend George. Although he had miserably failed, he
would have to try again.
They broke for lunch after servicing the 16
floor. Franklin was
determined to get to know George better. “I heard on the news
that all automatons are hard-core convicted felons. You do not
seem anything like that to me. Why did they transform you into
an automaton? It really isn't none of my business, but I cannot
keep from wondering.”
George stared deeply into Franklin's eyes for the longest time.
Finally, he opened up, “I never committed a crime and neither
have most other automatons. Years ago, I was conceived in a
test tube, technicians transferred the embryo to a polyethylene
sack full of amniotic fluid that flowed in and out of the bag, and
nine months later, they opened the bag, cut the umbilical cord,
and that was how I was born. I forgot to mention that my DNA
had been altered to produce a superhuman. It was all part of a
government project to create supreme soldiers. After spending
billions of tax dollars, the project was discontinued. All artificial
humans, including myself, were supposed to be murdered. But
the government was running out of convicted felons to convert
into automatons. The polyethylene womb project was restored
in order to meet the public's demand for automatons. Actually,
it seems to have worked for the better. I would prefer being an
automaton rather than dying on some foreign battlefield.”
“You didn't commit a felony and don't deserve to be enslaved,”
reasoned Franklin.
“And a man with a college education didn't deserve to become
a janitor. But it happened to you. Life offers no guarantees. No
choice other than to play the hand you are dealt, that is unless
you want to be the leader of a slave rebellion like Spartacus or
Nat Turner. They both died horrible deaths. That is not for me.
The company gives me a food and housing allowance and I
earn a little money on the side. I try not to draw attention to
“You have markedly changed,” Franklin noted. “Was all of this
servile automaton behavior just an act? Were you playing me?
What for?”
“I go along to get along. Stepin Fetchit became the first black
millionaire. Stereotypical personas don't get lynched. Give the
public what they want and they will love you for it.”
“Do all automatons come equipped with as much knowledge
as you have?” asked Franklin. “Automatons are not supposed
to think for themselves. You do not fit the popular stereotype.”
“Of course, I don't. I was a holdover from the defunct Supreme
Soldier program. The government decided to transform us into
automatons when they ran out of convicted felons. Ninety-four
percent of transformations were successful, but in my case the
process failed. Due to my enhanced DNA, I was smart enough
to act like it worked. They sold me at auction to your company
and here I am. Go ahead and tell them about me. Nobody will
believe you. To them, I am a valuable investment.”
“Valuable investment, my ass. You are a Wobbly Warrior dud.
I have no intention of ratting on you. Everybody has a right to
privacy. As far as I'm concerned, the government shouldn't be
keeping tabs on private citizens who haven't committed crimes
and are not involved in terrorist activities. Politicians no longer
trust the people who put them in office. Constant surveillance
intimidates people. That is how the top one-half of one percent
maintain their stranglehold on the citizenry,” Franklin resolved.
“Society is rapidly changing,” remarked George. “I doubt that
the political system can keep pace. Automatons compose over
thirty percent of the U.S. population. The government projects
that by 2200 the number will be more than fifty percent. Also,
the birthrate of ordinary humans is continuing to decline to the
point where deaths outnumber births. Cro-magnon man will go
the way of the Neanderthals. In other words, you represent the
past while I represent the future.”
“Keep dreaming,” chuckled Franklin. “How come I am the boss
and you are the worker?”
“It could have been that the Neanderthals initially lorded it over
the Cro-magnons, but not for long,” countered George.
* * *
It was time to get back to work. Given the noise from the floor
buffer and the compressor that sprayed the unisex restrooms
with disinfectant, they did not have many opportunities to talk
for the remainder of the shift.
The following night, Franklin found a scanner recessed into an
acoustic ceiling tile in a hallway on the 14
floor. After soaking
it with a caustic aerosol spray, he hit it with a hammer until the
plastic cracked. He was sure he had disabled it, but to be safe
they stopped talking freely and communicated on matters that
were not work related via notes that they shredded by the time
they quit work.
* * *
Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
- Abraham Lincoln
Despite not finding anymore concealed scanners, George and
Franklin continued to pass notes to each other. Franklin's offer
to drive George home after work was refused. He was curious
as to where George lived, but did not want to pry. Obviously,
George had some kind of life outside of work and he was not
ready to let Franklin become a part of it. George was taking an
enormous risk by opening up to his boss and he was reluctant
to further jeopardize himself. He could not be sure he was not
under surveillance. George was unnerved by it. He was afraid
of what Homeland Security might do to him.
They were cleaning the inside of the windows in the hallway of
an office on the 22
floor when George saw a drone hovering,
apparently surveilling them from a position approximately eight
feet from the outside of a window. It was so small and dark as
to be barely visible. He had no way of knowing how long it had
been watching them.
Franklin was angry. His privacy had been violated. He wanted
the drone to go away so he flipped it the bird and made faces
at it. But the drone remained in place. A blue LED light blinked
on and off, indicating it was recording them. George motioned
for Franklin to get away from the window.
They took the elevator to the 18
floor in an effort to evade the
drone. It must have been effective because they didn't see the
drone for the remainder of their shift. Still, they felt depressed.
The totalitarian state was making its presence known. Franklin
regretted having destroyed a scanner. That was probably what
had called attention to the two of them. He half expected to be
raked over the coals for it.
Two hours later, Franklin received an email from Hiram Nasov
ordering him to report to the office the next day. He had some
misgivings about it, but he went anyway. Hiram was his usual
grumpy self, however, it seemed he was not aware of Franklin
having destroyed a scanner and made obscene hand gestures
at a drone.
“Those automatons cost a bundle. Is the one you are training
capable of doing the job by himself yet?,” asked Hiram.
“I think so. He is a fast learner.”
“It's not a 'he', it's an IT,” Hiram corrected. “That automaton is
company property the head office refers to them as chattel.
Don't treat them like human beings. They may look human but
in reality they are merely dumb animals. Monkey see, monkey
do; what we want is for them to mimic your behavior. You're in
charge. Don't ever let your guard down. It's simpleyou order
and the automaton obeys.”
“Are you saying we can mistreat automatons because they are
subhuman?,” asked Franklin.
“No, our automatons are valuable investments. You better not
let me see you mistreating them. They were born as human as
anyone else, but they made too many bad choices and ended
up being convicted of violent felonies. In the past, we confined
dangerous felons in penal facilities where they were a drain on
the economy. Now, we transform career criminals into societal
“There seems to be no end to the supply of automatons. They
couldn't all be vicious convicted felons,” Franklin ventured.
“Of course, they all are recycled criminals. The newscasts are
full of them. There was a time when people could not go out at
night for fear of getting mugged. Believe me, the bad guys are
finally getting what they deserve. But we aren't social workers
and we do not have time to philosophize,” Hiram said. “It is our
job to make money for this company. The reason you are here
today is to assist me in evaluating the results of the automaton
development program. You told me that your automaton could
do the job by himself. That is good news. You taught one to be
a janitor in less than three weeks. Do you have any objections
to doing it that fast on a regular basis?”
“That depends on how bright they are,” reasoned Franklin.
“It is not a question of intelligence. Do what it takes to get their
attention. After that it's simply monkey see, monkey do. Get it
done in three weeks and you will earn a considerable bonus,”
Hiram offered. The man was grinning from ear to ear. Franklin
had never seen him do that before. It was downright scary in a
Halloween pumpkin sort of way.
“How about we make the last training day this Friday,” Franklin
suggested. “That will give me time to teach it how to fill out the
“Suits me. Let George know that I will be sending someone by
from time to time to check up on him. Next Monday you will be
getting another automaton to train at a different location. Your
hours will remain the same, however, you will be cleaning the
Prudential Building on Wilshire Boulevard. You remember, it is
the large building where you took your on-the-job training. Any
questions?,” Hiram asked.
“Is it a male or a female automaton?,” queried Franklin smiling
back at Hiram Nasov.
“Since they are all named George, I do not think there are any
females among them. It wouldn't matter anyway because they
are neutered as part of the transformation process. Please say
you were not thinking of having sex with an automaton.”
“No way. It is just that I saw a holograph soliciting automatons
to work in a Hollywood massage parlor,” Franklin evinced, still
“Get out of here!,” Hiram exploded. “For your information, your
predecessor lost his job because he spent more time watching
pornography than disinfecting toilets. Fool around and you will
suffer a similar fate. Consider yourself warned. Try not to slam
the door on your way out. Now, GO!
Franklin stood up from the shoddy pink fiberglass chair so fast
that he nearly knocked it over. He rapidly exited, slamming the
door behind him.
Chapter 5
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” - Albert Einstein
In two days Franklin would be going to a new office building to
instruct another automaton and George was going to be on his
own. Although the drone did not return, they were too afraid to
communicate by word of mouth. When Franklin wrote George
a note asking him where he had been born, George picked up
a ballpoint pen and wrote on the back: I believe I was born in
a remote underground laboratory in a Nevada desert.
On George's last training day, Franklin resolved to find out by
one means or another where George lived. Where did George
disappear to after work? Again, Franklin offered to give him a
ride home. Once again, his generosity was rebuffed. Franklin's
curiosity got the better of him. At quitting time, he rushed to his
hovercar and waited for George to exit the building. He put the
transmission into manual ground level and the hovercar slowly
inched forward. Franklin was careful to stay far enough behind
to avoid being discovered. Fifteen minutes later they came to
a rundown, poverty-stricken neighborhood known as Skidrow.
Several blocks later, George entered a dilapidated apartment
complex on the corner of Maple Avenue and 6
Street. It was
composed of sixty year old prefabricated modules stacked like
children's building blocks that jutted out in every direction from
boarded-up businesses at the base. It looked like a good wind
could blow the modules down. Despite the late hour, a ghostly
figure with a rope belt holding up threadbare trousers emerged
from a nearby alley with a rag and an aerosol bottle filled with
soapy water. Too late, Franklin saw him coming. The derelict
leaned across the hovercar's hood and washed the windshield
while he hummed America the Beautiful. Afterwards, Franklin
stuck his hand out the window and gave the man three dollars.
Feeling embarrassed, he jerked the transmission into top level
autopilot and punched the icon that indicated his residence on
the touchscreen keyboard recessed into the dashboard. A little
voice inside his head kept whispering, “curiosity killed the cat.”
He didn't own a cat because he was allergic to cats. In fact, he
wished their species would become extinct. For him, curiosity
was a positive virtue and Franklin vowed to satisfy his curiosity
concerning automatons.
* * *
Goodbye, George 41,832,709; Hello, George 99,243,909. The
new trainee proved to be a standard issue automaton. In fact,
in Franklin's opinion the second George was definitely not any
match for the first George. Franklin figured it was because the
first George was recycled from the Supreme Warrior Program
and the second George came from the government's standard
Not only was this George going to be more difficult to train, the
Prudential Building would take more effort to clean. Franklin's
former workplace was more than three times as tall, however,
the overall square footage of floorspace was less because the
Prudential Building's footprint covered an entire city block. No,
it was not fair, but then few things in life are fair. Franklin knew
it would not do any good to complain.
Each floor of the Prudential Building had at least four scanners
and a large conference room on the 3
Floor had six. Franklin
was careful not to say or do anything untoward. Also, some of
the white collar workers worked late at night and occasionally
nodded off at their desks. All in all, Franklin had the feeling he
was constantly being watched.
George 99,243,909 was a klutz. He fell over chairs, slipped on
wet floors, and bumped into desks. On his third day on the job,
he broke the glass cover on a fire alarm when he inadvertently
struck it with a broom handle. Three fire engines, seven police
cars, two rescue units, and an ambulance responded in record
time. Franklin explained to the battalion fire chief that it was an
accident, after which the chief shook his head as if in disbelief.
His last words to Franklin were, “It does not matter who set off
the fire alarm. You were the person in charge and that means
you are the responsible party. Should this happen again, there
will be severe consequences.”
Much to Franklin's surprise, when he offered the automaton a
ride home after work, George 99,243,909 readily accepted. He
dropped his new trainee off at the corner of Maple Avenue and
Street. Evidently, the new trainee lived in the same module
apartment complex as his previous trainee. Franklin doubted it
was a coincidence. Most likely, someone unknown to Franklin
had arranged quarters for them. It seemed there was more to
the automaton program than the public had been told. Franklin
was determined to uncover the truth about automatons.
The klutz (it was how Franklin had come to think of him) was a
slow learner. Franklin ended up resorting to Hiram's “monkey
see, monkey do” method of teaching his trainee to be a janitor.
The problem was that the trainee did not pay enough attention
to detail. While Franklin loaded new rolls of toilet paper so that
the end hung down the back of the roll, the trainee repeatedly
loaded the rolls with the end hanging down the front of the roll.
Although it was no big deal, it irked Franklin to no end to have
to show him the proper way to do it over and over.
The klutz had problems learning how to operate a floor buffer.
Ideally, janitors lead a floor buffer as one would lead a dancing
partner moving gently; expending only enough effort to point
the buffer in the right direction. If a janitor grasps a floor buffer
too tightly, the full force of the spinning brushes will act against
him instead of the floor. The trainee was fighting it, rather than
making it float upright as Franklin had instructed him. Several
times George 99,243,909 was sent sprawling across the floor,
while the floor buffer went off in the opposite direction. And he
had forgotten three times to recharge its lithium battery packs.
A lesser man would have chastised George 99,243,909 for his
repeated mistakes. But Franklin wasn't about to give up. Over
and over he told the trainee to “relax and take it easy,” and he
never got upset or raised his voice. Finally, after a full week of
on-the-job training with the floor buffer, the klutz got it right. In
his weekly training report to Hiram Nasov Franklin commented
that “although George 99,243,909 is exceptionally clumsy and
a slow learner, it is trainable. Barring unforeseen difficulties, its
janitorial on-the-job instruction will be completed by the end of
the allotted three week period.”
Twice Franklin saw drones outside the windows. The first time
the drone appeared to be passing by on its way to some other
building. However, the second time Franklin observed a drone
three times the size of the previous drone hovering less than a
foot outside a conference room window. Red, green, and blue
lights flashed on and off. Franklin watched as a tube extended
from the drone and attached itself to the outside of the window
at eye level. Then the lights ceased flashing and the propellers
stopped turning. The drone remained in that position for three
days. On the fourth day it was gone. Franklin mostly ignored it.
George 99,243,909, however, tapped on the window as one
would tap on an aquarium with a finger to make a guppy swim
faster. Franklin ordered George to quit it because it could draw
the drone's attention to them. Franklin surmised that the drone
was positioned there to spy on a board meeting taking place in
the conference room. It would not make sense for two janitors
to be the target of a costly, sophisticated drone. There was no
reason to be paranoid.
Near the end of the three week training period, the klutz pulled
a real boner. While buffing a linoleum floor, the buffer bumped
against the wheelchair of a female secretary who was working
late at night. It threw her onto the floor and spilled a full cup of
coffee on her dress. Outside of a minor bruise, she wasn't hurt
and Franklin lifted her back into the wheelchair. However, she
was quite upset and kept yelling obscenities at the klutz. After
she calmed down, Franklin told George, whom she referred to
as “numbskull,” to sanitize the toilets in the women's bathroom
where he would be out of her sight.
Franklin was afraid that this particular incident could blow up
into something much bigger. No need for a complaint or, much
worse, a lawsuit. He admitted fault, apologized profusely, and
gave the lady 50 dollars out of his own pocket to pay for a new
dress. Franklin had concluded that the less Hiram Nasov knew
about the unfortunate incident, the better.
The next morning, Franklin received an email from Hiram that,
among other things, ordered him to report in person to Hiram.
He reluctantly complied. When Franklin entered Hiram's office,
he was surprised to find his boss throwing holographic darts at
a holographic dartboard.
“Come on in, sit down, and pretend you are happy to see me,”
Hiram cheerfully greeted Franklin. “Can I get you something to
“Water would be fine,” accepted Franklin. “My stomach is a bit
Hiram took two luminescent glowing bottles of sparkling spring
water from a red polka-dot cylindrical refrigerator in a corner of
his cramped office and handed one to Franklin. When Franklin
turned the cap, a straw came out of the bottle and squirted the
liquid into his mouth.
“Will George 99,243,909's on-the-job instruction be completed
within the three week parameter we set earlier?,” Hiram asked
after bolting down his drink.
“He's rather slow and clumsy. I think he needs one more week
of training before he can do the job on his own. This way we'll
keep complaints to a minimum,” Franklin advised Hiram.
“Automatons are supposed to be all the same. What's different
about this one?”
“The first one was reprocessed from the government's defunct
Supreme Soldier program. George 99,243,909 is not from the
same source. They're not programmed alike,” Franklin stated.
“Nonsense!, our company bought both of them at government
auction. Violent convicted felons are transformed into useful,
productive workers. We no longer imprison them and they get
a generous food and housing allowance. We're happy, they're
happy, and everybody benefits. If it were not for automatons,
you might have spent the rest of your life as a janitor. Instead,
you have been given a chance to move up in the world. Is this
how you show your gratitude?,” Hiram lectured.
“Yes, that is the official line. What the government isn't saying
is that they ran out of convicted felons long ago and now they
are obtaining them by other means. The truth is that they have
sacrificed quality for quantity. Give me an automaton from the
Supreme Soldier program and I will train it in three weeks. All I
want is for the company to get what they are paying for; not an
inferior substitute,” countered Franklin.
“So how can I tell the good automatons from the clunkers. We
purchase them at auction. It is not like they give us any details
about them. Since all of them are named George, how can we
bid on the best ones?,” queried Hiram.
“It is all in the numbers. The first automaton was 41,832,709. I
assume that automatons with numbers near that are from the
Supreme Soldier program. The government has probably sold
them already, however, we might be able to purchase them on
the aftermarket, that is, they are chattel and there is nothing to
prevent their owner from selling them downriver,” extrapolated
“That is a horrible analogy. Of course, that does not mean it is
not apt. I will check it out and if it proves to be correct and has
the potential to save the company money, I will have it brought
up before the Board of Directors,” Hiram promised. “And, yes,
you can take an extra week to prepare the automaton to work
“You told me I am being paid to think and that is exactly what I
have been doing,” declared Franklin. “I am constantly looking
for ways to save the company money. Anything I come up with
I will pass along to you.”
“Last week our firm won the bid to provide janitorial services to
the Union Bank Building at 445 S. Figueroa Street. Complaints
I do not need, so I am sending my top supervisor, that means
you, to start the ball rolling. As soon as George 99,243,909 is
qualified to work by himself, you will be relocating to the Union
Bank Building where you will begin training a new automaton.
Since it is more than 40 stories tall, you will be supervising two
janitors: the automaton trainee and a janitor who was working
the day shift at another location. Because it involves additional
responsibility, you'll be making more money. How much more
depends on you. I don't like excuses and I have zero tolerance
for complaints. I am depending on you. Do not let me down,”
Hiram warned. “Any questions?”
“Just one. Will I be working the same hours?”, asked Franklin.
“Yes. I will text you some other information you will need to get
started at the new location. Now, take these two empty water
bottles and toss them in the recycle bin to the right of the door
as you exit,” Hiram directed as he went back to throwing darts
at the holographic dartboard.
* * *
Franklin's last week at the Prudential Building was uneventful,
with the exception of George 99,243,909 slipping on a freshly
mopped hallway floor, bumping against a doorknob on his way
down, and falling face first into a storage closet when the door
opened. When he attempted to get back up, his feet jarred the
mop bucket, spilling several gallons of soapy water on himself
and the floor. Franklin suppressed a laugh and helped George
to stand up. Franklin could not cure the automaton's awkward
bearing, but he made certain George 99,243,909 was capable
of doing the job. At the end of the on-the-job training, Franklin
praised the automaton for his persistence and shook his hand.
Chapter 6
A ne'er-do-well is a rogue, vagrant or vagabond without means of support; a good-for-nothing louse.
- Wikipedia
Some years ago, Franklin bought a wooded, three acre plot of
undeveloped land in upstate Michigan. Because it was almost
as cold as Siberia in the winter, had swarms of mosquitoes in
the summer that resembled flocks of birds, had absolutely no
cellphone reception or utilities, and could only be accessed by
a narrow dirt road that vanished beneath the snow for much of
the year, he purchased it at auction on the steps of the County
Courthouse for the cost of paying the unpaid property taxes of
the previous owner. Franklin had intended to build a log cabin
on the plot, but he was a city boy, definitely not the lumberjack
type, so he kept putting it off.
Then, Franklin received a text message from his younger half-
brother,Tom, telling Franklin that Tom had been released from
the Chippewa Correctional Facility in upstate Michigan where
he had served five years for having been the getaway driver in
a convenience store robbery. Tom had inherited a trailer from
his recently deceased mother and was living in a trailer park in
Kincheloe, Michigan, but had been evicted for threatening the
manager with an aluminum baseball bat. Tom wanted to know
if he could come to Los Angeles and room with Franklin. Also,
he requested Franklin to wire him $250 for an airline ticket.
Tom was a ne'er-do-well who had graduated from the juvenile
justice system and gone on to prison. Franklin didn't want Tom
to stay with him. He offered to let Tom be the caretaker on his
three acres in upstate Michigan where Tom would stay free of
charge. When Tom accepted, Franklin wired him $200 to have
his trailer transported onto Franklin's property. Franklin hoped
that he would never hear from Tom again, but it was not to be.
Contacting Tom again brought back memories, most of which
were unpleasant. There was Tom when he was four years old
using a magnifying glass in the blazing sun to fry red ants on a
sidewalk. And when Tom turned six, he caught houseflies and
pulled their wings off. By the time he was eight years old, Tom
was caught by his mother torturing kittens and was sentenced
by her to a month with no television or internet. But it had little
or no effect on Tom. At twelve years old, Tom was introduced
to the juvenile justice system after he hit a girl with a pole and
broke her left arm in two places because she refused to reveal
a secret to him. For that, he spent two months in Juvenile Hall.
Tom's bad boy behavior grew worse, increasing in magnitude
with each passing year. Tom's father once referred to him as a
bad seed. Franklin worried that Tom would someday fall victim
to the government's automaton program, but Franklin put it out
of his mind and did not lose any sleep over it. Experience had
taught Franklin that the less he thought about his half-brother,
the better.
Chapter 7
When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind,
not with it. – Henry Ford
The Union Bank building was colossal, the tallest office tower
in Southern California. When Franklin looked at it from across
the street, he had to crane his neck to take in the antennae on
top of the structure.
George 99,689,794 was sitting on a bench waiting for Franklin
to come through a revolving door into the Union Bank building.
It stood up and shook Franklin's outstretched hand with a firm
grip, unlike the dead fish handshake he had received from the
previous trainee. It was much taller than Franklin, more than a
foot taller, and it appeared to be well fed. When the automaton
smiled, it revealed a set of sparkling white teeth, as if they had
been capped. Surprisingly, the trainee wore a neatly pressed
neon orange jump suit and smelled like men's cologne. “What
the heck is going on?,” Franklin whispered under his breath as
he turned to sit down.
Franklin looked for the other janitor he was supposed to train,
but evidently he had not yet arrived. Good, Franklin thought, it
would give him a chance to get to know the automaton better.
Franklin had great faith in his social skills. He always preferred
the carrot to the stick. He believed that an automaton that was
punished severely every time it made a mistake would turn on
its owner at the earliest opportunity. Franklin was a born again
Christian. The doctrine of love and forgiveness was part of his
everyday life. Rarely, did he lose his patience. Life was meant
to be full of pain and tribulation. Setbacks served to strengthen
his resolve. The Kingdom of Heaven would be closed to those
who failed God's tests. Los Angeles was hot enough, Franklin
had no intention of spending eternity in Hell. After having read
Dante's Inferno, he became convinced that evil was for losers.
“My name is Franklin Pierce. I prefer to be called Franklin. For
the next three weeks I will be your instructor. Learning to be a
janitor is not that difficult, providing you pay attention to what I
say and do.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you. The government has labeled me
George 99,243,909, but I was formerly known as Simon Kline.
Perhaps you have heard of me on the evening news. I was an
investment broker until I was arrested for fraud and convicted
of operating a ponzi scheme. It all stemmed from misanthropic
investors misunderstanding the nature of capitalism. Business
is a risk and those who are not prepared to take that risk don't
belong in business. They gambled and lost. Being sore losers,
the investors scapegoated me. I saw it coming and vacationed
in Brazil. How was I supposed to know that eight weeks earlier
Brazil had signed an extradition treaty in exchange for military
hardware? But I have not lost faith in the system. My lawyers
will win the appeal. And if not, I will buy my freedom from your
employer for more than your company paid for me at auction. I
remain confident. This automaton thing is merely a temporary
setback. The reason I'm telling you this is I want to be up front
with you. Don't expect me to be around for long.”
“I appreciate your frankness. However, there are a few things I
don't understand,” replied Franklin. “I thought the government
deleted all memories of a former life, including the name, from
an automaton before selling it at auction. Since an automaton
is chattel, there can be no appeal, especially considering it is a
voluntary program. You chose transformation over prison and
now you are stuck with it.”
“I bribed the transformation technicians to fake the alterations.
I was not the first to do it and I probably won't be the last. As a
matter of fact, I am rather proud of what I did. The government
traffics in slaves,” justified the new trainee. “Naturally, I will do
anything and everything to regain my freedom. Didn't we fight
a Civil War to abolish slavery? History has a way of repeating
itself. There is no reason to expect a different outcome.”
“Unless abolition occurs within the next three weeks, and I find
that extremely doubtful, you will be finding out how hard it was
for the investors you cheated to earn their money. Welcome to
the working class. I do not take bribes, so do not expect to buy
your way out of this. You will pay close attention to details and
do anything I tell you to do. Do I make myself clear?,” retorted
Franklin, his voice gradually raising in volume.
“Certainly, you are the overseer and I am the slave. Your wish
is my command. You won't have to whip me to get work out of
me. I am not about to cause trouble. I am simply informing you
that I intend to pursue obtaining my freedom regardless of the
cost. I didn't set out to cheat investors and I have no intention
of cheating you or your company,” George 99,689,794 stated
with conviction.
The plexiglass revolving door rotated and in walked the janitor
for whom they had been waiting. He ambled over to the bench
and in a slow drawl introduced himself:
“Hi y'all, I'm Beauregard Benoit and I'm gonna be working with
ya. Hiram sent me to the service entrance and I banged on the
door for ten minutes before trying the main entrance. Really, if
it weren't for his crummy instructions, I would'a been on time.
Nobody mentioned no automaton. Cannot say as to how good
I would work alongside one of them. Anyway, how come I'm
not using the service entrance? You'd think I was Lord Dimwit.
Why didn't the butler announce me to the stuffed shirts in the
“It's because the bearings on both ends of the revolving door's
hub need to be sprayed with graphite once a week. That's part
of your job. When you finish doing that, make certain you lock
it by pressing 2,0,8,4 on the keypad in the center of the wall by
the left side of the door. Also, you will be servicing the first 15
floors of this building. Since you are so fond of the service exit,
we will all leave in a group from it at the end of our shift. And,
there is no need for you to discriminate against the automaton,
because I will be training it for the next three weeks. Although
you will probably regret not having it to help you get everything
done on time,” declared Franklin.
“Look, boss man, this building is bigger than the Super Bowl. It
ain't right for you to be expecting me to clean fifteen floors of it
without a little help. Or you could give me a couple of hours of
overtime and I'll make it as spic and span as a fire truck in the
station on a Sunday morning,” remonstrated Beauregard.
“If it's too much for you, perhaps you would like to trade places
with one of the eight janitors Hiram furloughed last week. You
could take his place in the unemployment line. I certainly don't
expect you to work up a sweat. All that I want from you is a full
day's work for a full day's pay. You can forget about collecting
overtime. Those days are long past. I'm grateful to have a job,
and you should be, too,” Franklin countered. “Since there is no
union, you will not be filing a grievance.”
Franklin showed Beauregard how to lubricate, test for the rate
of spin, and then lock the revolving door, after which Franklin
and the trainee took an elevator to the 16
floor. Surprisingly,
George 99,689,794 proved to be an avid pupil, seldom making
mistakes and quick to correct the errors he did make. Acutely
aware of the vast number of video cameras and scanners that
were present on each and every floor of the building, Franklin
insisted on keeping conversation to a minimum. It was just as
well, considering the enormity of the task before them. By the
time they had been working diligently for five hours, the two of
them had serviced only eleven floors of the towering structure,
despite eating lunch on the run rather than breaking for lunch.
Although they worked hard and fast, the two of them had only
managed to service 17 floors by quitting time. Worse yet, they
were both so exhausted that they had to sit down for a minute
before going down the elevator.
Discouraged, Franklin shook his head and pointed out, “This is
ridiculous. No matter how hard we work, we will never be able
to finish on time. This building is just too big.”
Au contraire, mon fraire,” George 99,689,794 responded. “We
don't need to work harder. We need to work smarter. We must
divide up. That way we can do twice as much work. Now that I
know what to do, you won't have to constantly keep an eye on
me. I'm not stupid. What little you have not already taught me,
I can figure out by myself. Or would you rather have your boss
conclude you do not have what it takes to get the job done on
Franklin gave it some thought. “I guess I will not have to check
on you very often. Yes, it just might work. First day on the job
and you are already solving problems. You helped me and it's
only fair that I return the favor. I would be honored to drive you
home at night.”
“You should think about rescinding that offer because it's quite
far from here,” admonished George 99,689,794. “Besides, I've
already arranged transportation.”
“How far?,” Franklin queried.
“I could not find a nearby residence that suited my tastes, so I
ended up leasing a place more than eleven miles from here,”
the trainee answered.
“That will not be a problem. After all, it is only for three weeks.
And, speaking from personal experience, it will be a lot better
than having to depend on Los Angeles' hoverbuses,” Franklin
assured the automaton.
“Public transportation is for immigrants and welfare recipients,”
George 99,689,794 blandly stated. “A chauffeured limousine
brought me to work today.”
“That's a bit ostentatious. It must be grossly expensive,” stated
Franklin while rolling his eyes.
“Not really, it's actually only eleven dollars more per week than
taking a hovercab. There is no comparison in speed, comfort,
and reliability. Nevertheless, I would gladly accept a ride from
you if you will agree to have an early breakfast with me. I told
the cook to make venison and eggs. You'll be amazed by how
well she prepares it,” bragged the imitation automaton.
Franklin wasn't convinced that the trainee was telling the truth.
Maybe it was all an act. It was high time for Franklin to call its
* * *
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. And, believe me, rich is better!” - writer Beatrice Kaufman (1937)
“Mid-level is usually faster. Our destination is 503 North Alpine
Drive, Beverly Hills, California 90210. We'll be hovering along
the old I-10E for the most part. The traffic should be light. But
in a few hours it will be gridlock on all three levels. Did you get
the address right?,” asked George 99,689,794.
No problema, it's already punched in. We'll get there in under
fifteen minutes,” Franklin estimated, reading the figures on the
screen. He jammed the transmission into auto-pilot and flicked
the hydrogen ignition switch. With a barely audible swish, they
were off traveling 15 feet above South San Vicente Boulevard
on a cushion of air and automatically transferring to the I-10E,
where the hovercar's onboard computer set the throttle at the
maximum legal speed of 70 miles per hour. Settling back in
their fully adjustable ergonomic seats, they engaged in a lively
conversation with no fear of being monitored by scanners and
“I gather you aren't bothered by rules, laws, morals, or ethics,”
Franklin stated.
“What gave you that impression?,” asked George 99,689,794,
feigning surprise. I am compelled to obey the First Three Laws
of Automatons.
“Never heard of them,” said Franklin, scowling. “Suppose you
enlighten me.”
“Three Laws of Automatons
1. An automaton may never injure a human or, through
inaction, permit a human being to be harmed.
2. An automaton must obey orders given to it by human
beings except where such orders interfere with the First
3. An automaton must protect its own existence whenever a
human being places it in danger in which case it should
consider disregarding both the First and Second Laws,”
George 99,243,909 recited from rote, with a pokerface,
while trying hard to suppress a laugh.
“I am impressed,” said Franklin sarcastically. “Which movie did
you steal that conundrum from?”
“I, Robot, based on the 20
century Isaac Asimov Sci Fi novel
with the same name,” commented the trainee.
“That was long before my time. Isaac the Ass must have failed
Economics 101. Robots don't come cheap. I read somewhere
that the Sultan of Bahrain had a robot guard his harem until a
consort gave birth to a cyborg,” Franklin joked.
“Such humor. All kidding aside, I meant it when I told you that I
intend to regain my freedom soon. There is a team of lawyers
working on it. I might purchase my freedom from the company
that owns me. Then again, I might win on appeal or be given a
presidential pardon. When the government convicted me of a
felony, they attempted to confiscate my assets. However, they
had trouble locating most of them. I continue to live well,” said
George 99,689,794 in a matter-of-fact manner.
“503 North Alpine Drive, this is it,” declared Franklin. “Should I
park next to the curb or on the circular driveway?”
“Parking at the curb will get you a $350 fine,” advised George
99,689,794. “People are not permitted to park on the street in
Beverly Hills. “It interferes with trash collection.”
“Then why isn't the curb painted red?,” asked Franklin as if he
found it hard to believe.
“Because it looks tacky. There is a sign at both ends of every
block on this street that informs red paint enthusiasts such as
yourself of the neighborhood's restrictions on parking,” George
99,689,794 pointed out.
* * *
Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity. - Coco Chanel
“Franklin Pierce meet my cook, Rumi Ono. Rumi is a fantastic
chef,” George 99,689,794 introduced Franklin to a thin, petite
Japanese woman dressed in black with a spotless white apron
that resembled a French maid's attire not withstanding that it
was bordered in frilly, hot pink lace. Had she stepped into the
kitchen from a sex scene on the silver screen? No doubt Rumi
was the sum total of everyman's secret desires. And to think
she was wasting her talents on an automaton!
The venison and eggs was positively superb. Lining the plate
with truffles rather than the usual parsley sprigs was the act of
a bold chef who was not afraid to dispense with ornamentation
to enhance flavor. Besides, Franklin was one of those people
who actually ate the garnish rather than pushing it with his fork
to the edge of his plate. And he was partial to deviled eggs. It
certainly beat his usual breakfast of sugar-coated wheat flakes
awash in almond milk. Franklin's problem was that he had five
star gourmet tastes with a two star budget.
Following breakfast, the two of them sat on a futon in the living
room, discussing subjects that could not be brought up at work
due to constant surveillance.
“You have a beautiful home,” declared Franklin, stretching his
legs in an unsuccessful effort to unknot the muscles that were
protesting the low (for him) futon. “It must have cost a fortune.”
“Automatons cannot own property,” corrected the trainee. “The
owners are vacationing in Venezuela. Their realtor faxed me a
short-term lease. I never met him in person. Rumi was part of
the deal. She lives rent-free in the converted three car garage
at the side of the house.”
“You realize you are a fake. I can't imagine how you managed
to bribe the technicians not to alter you without getting caught.
If anything, you have compounded your crimes. You cheated
your investors and now you are cheating our employer. Have
you no shame?,” remonstrated Franklin.
“Financial institutions cheat people everyday by charging them
double digit interest on their credit card debt, bilking them with
phony services, selling personal information of their clientele,
and performing improper foreclosures. That is what they do to
the middle class. The government arrested me because some
wealthy individuals lost money by following my advice. For ten
years in a row they made fantastic profits. Then they blamed
me for an economic slump that nobody could have predicted.
And, as for those minimum wage technicians, how dare you
chastise them for transforming my purportedly filthy lucre into
buying food for their families or making a mortgage payment.
Holier-than-thou are you? What you are is an overseer making
sure that the absentee masters get maximum productivity from
their slaves. Simon Legree used a whip. You use psychology
and feign friendship. I assume that makes you better,” George
99,689,794 said in a huff, instantly regretting having made the
analogy. Franklin wasn't a bad boss. “Please excuse me, I felt
frustrated and took it out on you. It won't happen again.”
“It's alright. You could blame your behavior on the government
altering your brain if it weren't for the fact that you bribed your
way out of the transformation process,” suggested Franklin.
“That is only partially true. Although I escaped the worst parts
of the transformation process, I had the technicians enhance
my DNA. They inserted a gene for longevity on a chromosome
and repaired damage to my chondriosomes. The result is that
I have more stamina and I will probably live longer,” confessed
George 99,689,794.
“But society will still consider you a sub-human,” remonstrated
Franklin, “with no rights or privileges; chattel to be bought and
sold in the marketplace.”
“My attorney tells me that if I contribute three million dollars to
an incumbent President's campaign fund, I can get a pardon,”
George 99,689,794 said to Franklin, informing his benefactor
of his intentions.
“Get real, you cannot bribe the most powerful man in the world
for a mere three million dollars,” asserted Franklin.
“Who said anything about a bribe? It is a political contribution.
The Supreme Court says that political contributions amount to
free speech. It's all perfectly legal. Hedge-fund manager Marc
Rich fled the country after he was indicted on multiple counts
of tax evasion, wire fraud, and racketeering. Denise, his wife,
made a substantial contribution to the Clinton Foundation. On
January 20, 1991, his final day in office, President Bill Clinton
pardoned billionaire Marc Rich. All was forgiven. In John 8:11,
Jesus says 'Go, and sin no more.' I have faith that redemption
draws near,” George 99,689,794 prophesied.
“The automaton program is extremely popular with the public.
It isn't liable to end anytime soon because it is responsible for
a balanced federal budget and a sharp reduction in the prison
population. If you are planning on a sitting President coming to
your rescue, you are severely overestimating your worth. Marc
Rich was a billionaire, you, however, can only scrape together
a few million. Marc Rich was indicted, but not convicted. Also,
Marc Rich never admitted guilt. You are a convicted felon who
voluntarily became an automaton. Many people regard that as
an admission of guilt. It looks like you outsmarted yourself and
are now suffering the consequences,” observed Franklin.
“Plato said 'we are twice armed if we fight with faith.' Patience
and perseverance are the weapons of an invincible faith. I will
never surrender. You inherently know that I am doing the right
thing for the right reason. Why are you trying to dissuade me?
Could it be that your own faith has begun to waver?,” probed
the probationary trainee.
“I'm having second thoughts about exploiting automatons. The
automaton program is a cancerous growth on society. I figured
I was helping to keep the malignancy from metastasizing. You
be the judge. Am I deluding myself?,” Franklin asked, shaking
his head from side to side.
“I didn't expect to get someone like you for a boss,” the trainee
admitted. “You are one of the few human beings who relate to
automatons in a positive manner. And you have a conscience.
The United States fought a bloody Civil War to rid the nation of
the scourge of slavery. History is repeating itself. Evidently, we
failed to learn life's lessons the first time. Make no mistake, we
are here for a reason. Deja vu; catastrophe beckons. Let's do
our best to avoid it.”
“I need to get home,” declared Franklin. “How about we meet
next Sunday at the Metrolink USC Station. There is something
nearby that I would like to show you.”
“I'll be there wearing my best jumpsuit. What time?,” inquired
George 99,689,794.
“Is 9 AM okay with you? I would like to get an early start,” said
“Then I will plan on being there at 8:30 AM, just in case there
is a delay,” the automaton who was formerly known as Simon
Kline promised.
* * *
“I like whiskey, I always did, and that is why I never drink it.” - Robert E. Lee
Beauregard Benoit was not an alcoholic, leastways according
to him. Occasionally, he took a nip while at work from a silver-
plated hipflask he had inherited from his dear departed father.
Of course, he did it on the sly because other people were less
cognizant of the beneficial effects of five year-old single mash
whiskey. His boss, Franklin Pierce, was definitely one of those
“other people” because Franklin went ballistic when he caught
Beauregard leaning against a mop while imbibing the precious
elixir of life in a conference room on the 10
Fire shot from Franklin's eyes as he yelled, “YOU'RE FIRED.”
Nonplussed, Beauregard extracted a roll of Wintergreen mints
from some inner sanctum of his faded denim overalls, asking,
“Care for a mint?”
“Are you stone deaf?,” Franklin inquired with a furrowed brow,
his face flushed red in anger. “You have been drinking on the
job which is sufficient grounds for termination. Go to the office
on Friday, turn in your keys, and Mr. Nasov will figure out your
“Not so fast,” cautioned Beauregard, “without me, you and the
automaton will probably have to clean the entire building until
Hiram gets around to hiring another janitor. Be reasonable, it
won't happen again.”
“That's right, it won't happen again because you won't be here
to do it. Good luck finding another job,” Franklin declared.
“I've got bills to pay. I need this job,” pleaded Beauregard.
“You should have thought about that earlier. Get out of here or
would you rather be thrown out?,” cautioned Franklin.
“I tried to be nice, but you chose to nitpick. You shouldn't have
done that. Now, you are going to pay. Nobody is here, but me,
you, and your soon-to-be ghost,” Beauregard warned Franklin,
as he reached into an inner sanctum of his denim overalls and
brought out a gutting knife which he opened with a practiced
flick of his right wrist.
Franklin's eyes narrowed and he drew a deep breath. Slowly
and deliberately, he tightly wound a large wet rag around one
arm with which to fend off Beauregard Benoit's blade.
The curved surgical stainless steel blade glistened under the
LED strip lighting. Screaming like a banshee and swinging the
knife in a downward spiral, Beauregard lunged at Franklin, but
came up inches short. Backpedalling, Franklin stumbled into a
bench, hefted it over his head, and threw it at Beauregard with
lethal intent. The bench struck the fired janitor's right shoulder
sending him reeling to the floor.
Beauregard struggled in vain to get to his feet. The sharp pain
in his right shoulder indicated it was dislocated. He shifted the
knife to his left hand and slowly stood up. Gnashing his rotting
teeth, Beauregard was taking another slash at Franklin when
George 99,689,794 grabbed him from behind and wrested the
knife from his hand.
While maintaining a chokehold on Beauregard, the automaton
tossed the gutting knife into a nearby trash chute. They heard
it clank its way down eleven floors to the bottom. It was music
to George 99,689,794's ears. In fact, he liked it so well that he
stuffed Beauregard Benoit into the trash chute and forced him
to slide down it. The automaton was rewarded with numerous
thuds and blood curdling screams as Beauregard bumped and
thumped to the dumpster at the bottom.
“Good riddance for bad rubbish,” quipped Franklin, unwinding
the wet rag from his arm and using it to wipe perspiration from
his brow.
“I never trusted that man,” declared George 99,689,794. “You
were gone for so long that I came looking for you.”
“It is a good thing you found me. If it wasn't for you, he might
have gutted me with that knife. But didn't you violate the Laws
of Automatons?” Franklin inquired.
“That depends on one's perspective. According to an alternate
fact rooted in situational ethics, one or two laws were bent, but
none were ever broken,” asserted the automaton. “Legal rules
and their application have to be flexible in order to achieve just
decisions in individual cases.”
“Admirably circuitous; spoken like a true self-serving convicted
felon at his appeal,” said Franklin with a grin.
“Grateful to be of service, master,” George 99,689,794 replied
sarcastically with a straight face while unctuously executing an
absurdly deep bow.
“We may not have seen the end of this. There are bound to be
repercussions when Hiram gets word of what happened. We
should go down to the basement. Beauregard may have been
injured,” Franklin speculated.
“I hope he is dead. His knife preceded him down the chute. He
could be dangerous. Why not call the police and let them take
care of him? There is no need to worry about consequences
because there are four scanners in this room. I suppose there
is enough incontrovertible audio and video evidence to convict
him of attempted manslaughter,” George 99,689,794 advised.
“Great idea. Prison is too good for Beauregard Benoit. Instead
of going stir crazy, he can volunteer to become an automaton.
I believe that would be poetic justice,” Franklin said as he took
out his cellphone and called 911.
Ten minutes later, two officers from the LAPD arrived and took
a report. Afterwards, they went down to the basement, where
they removed Beauregard from a dumpster, keeping his knife
as evidence. Other than lacerations and a dislocated shoulder,
Beauregard was not badly injured, however, he was shaking
and his vision was blurry. Minutes later, an ambulance drove
him to Martin Luther King Hospital, handcuffed to a gurney. It
was all over in less than an hour. Franklin and his trainee went
back to work as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
* * *
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” - Benjamin Franklin
“I will personally make certain that boozehound will never work
in this town again,” Hiram promised Franklin over the phone. “I
viewed the holograms the police sent to me from the scanners
and I forwarded them to the home office. That took courage to
take Benoit down. I should have done a better job of checking
his background before hiring him.”
“We need someone to take his place,” declared Franklin.
“I have already taken care of it,” Hiram assured him. It's a big
building, so I decided to assign you two janitors in addition to
the trainee you already have. They will be starting Monday.”
* * *
“Until computers and robots make quantum advances, they basically remain adding machines: capable
only of doing things in which all the variables are controlled and predictable.” - Michio Kaku
For the six-day-a-week blue collar worker, Sunday is a special
day, indeed. It is not to be wasted through sloth or squandered
on frivolous activities because it is the only day when they can
feel truly alive; free to go where they choose and do what they
will. So it was that Franklin Pierce and George 99,689,794 met
together at the Metrolink USC station just as the chimes in the
clock tower on the USC campus struck 9 AM. From the station
they walked to the California Museum of Science and Industry
at the corner of Figueroa and 39
Street. On the way, Franklin
bought two chili relleno burritos dipped in queso from a street
vendor. It was a great start for what would prove to be an even
greater day.
With Fall approaching, daytime temperatures had dropped to
the mid-eighties. Best of all, the humidity was tolerable. Wrens
and pigeons competed for crumbs that fell from the food being
consumed by pedestrians as they went about their business. If
one focused on the cut flowers bordering the sidewalk, a world
of insects bees, aphids, flies, and beetles revealed itself. If
one looked even closer, that very fortunate person might see a
praying mantis devour her mate or a mud dauber paralyzing a
spider to feed her larvae. On this balmy, bountiful day, Nature
was having fun in the warm California sun.
The best part about the Museum of Science and Industry was
that admission was free, including automatons. People could
wander around all day, fiddling with the hands-on exhibits and
enjoying air conditioning for which other people footed the bill.
This was the museum's third reincarnation, having been razed
and rebuilt three times at taxpayer expense. Perhaps in two or
three more times the elected officials will get it correct. All this
in a county that claims it cannot afford to renovate, replace, or
in a number of instances, even maintain Martin Luther King Jr.
Community Hospital, which is the primary healthcare provider
for poor and indigent residents in South Los Angeles. A priori
conclusion: remembering past achievements was judged to be
more important than the current, 2084, welfare of Los Angeles'
citizens. Not exactly doublespeak, but closely related.
Robby the Robot welcomed them to the California Museum of
Science and Industry when it opened at 9:30 AM. Robby was
an imposing figure, six and a half feet tall with gangly arms
and legs that jerked into action when anyone went through the
infrared beam that spanned the entrance. Thousands of times
a day it burst into a preprogrammed spiel:
“Hi, I am Robby the Robot. What is your name? (short pause)
Welcome to the California Museum of Science and Industry.
Our interactive exhibits will entertain and amaze you. Feel free
to ask our staff any questions you may have concerning hours
and nearby accommodations.”
“What was that?,” asked George 99,689,794.
“That was a robot, a distant cousin of automatons, attempting
to impress us with his human mannerisms,” Franklin declared.
“I am not related to that bucket of bolts. Isaac Asimov must be
turning over in his grave. If that is an example of a state of the
art robot, it must be the reason why admission is free,” George
99,689,794 retorted.
“Yes, robots proved to be a gigantic disappointment,” admitted
Franklin. “They are fine for repetitive tasks such as welders in
an assembly line, but not much else. They've been consigned
to the dust heap of technology. Automatons replaced robots in
much the same manner as airliners replaced zeppelins.”
“That makes sense. Why spend billions of dollars to develop a
mechanical substitute for something as complicated as a living
human being? No need to reinvent the wheel. It's a no-brainer.
I started life as a man. Due to a series of bad choices, I'm now
an automaton. Exploit me if you will, but please don't insult me
or my kin by equating us with those ridiculous rustbelt rejects,”
pleaded George 99,689,794. Robots can only mimic humans.”
“You do not want to hurt Robby's feelings,” cautioned Franklin.
“Robots are machines. They don't have feelings or emotions,”
George 99,689,794 instructed. “For that, you need a cyborg or
an automaton.”
“Walt Disney's head was frozen in liquid nitrogen immediately
following his death in December 1966 in the hope that medical
science would someday be able to revive him. Since his body
was cremated two days later, it would make sense to graft the
head onto a mechanical body, in effect transforming him into a
cyborg. Perhaps the museum could be persuaded to volunteer
Robby the Robot for this munificent role. After all, he currently
seems to be rather empty-headed,” Franklin quipped. “It would
definitely be doing him a favor.”
They visited the laser beam, spectrometer, hydrogen fuel, and
hyperloop transportation exhibits. The best exhibit of all was a
short anime portraying the evolution of gene replacement and
its benefits to mankind. Having personal experience with gene
enhancement, George 99,689,794 was so fascinated by it that
he watched the film three times.
“It says nothing about transforming felons into automatons or
eliminating violent behavior utilizing gene splicing techniques,”
George 99,689,794 whispered to Franklin as they left the tiny
“Of course, it does not. It was produced in Japan which has an
homogenous society in addition to a low crime rate. They have
no need for an automaton program. Besides, they focused on
the positive aspects of gene enhancement. There is nothing to
gain by focusing on America's dirty little secret. The U.S. didn't
ban bondage until after the Civil War. Due to economic reality,
human bondage is back in style. Automatons are the bastard
offspring of an unregulated, capitalist, free market economy. It
cannot go on like this. I will most likely burn in hell for profiting
from it,” predicted Franklin.
“Don't be so hard on yourself. Let's enjoy our day off,” advised
George 99,689,794.
“It is 4:45 PM. We should head for the door,” Franklin urged.
“One more thing. Give me your pen,” said George 99,689,794
as he removed an index card from a pocket of his jumpsuit.
After writing something on the index card, George 99,689,794
gave Franklin back his pen and the two of them headed for the
As they exited, Robby the Robot said, “We were having fun. I
hate to see friends go. Please come again soon.”
As they stepped out onto the sidewalk, Franklin asked, “What
was the index card all about? What did you write on it?”
George 99,689,794 doubled up with laughter. Some moments
later he regained his composure, commenting, “I wrote 'KICK
ME' on it and stuck it on the back of Robby the Robot when he
wasn't looking.”
And so ended their perfect day. Things go amiss, but they get
better with a little levity.
Chapter 8
“This town was built on nepotism.” - Damon Wayans
True to his word, Hiram sent two janitors to assist Franklin and
his trainee in servicing the Union Bank building. Franklin knew
one of them, having worked with him for a brief period several
years ago. His name was Donnie Something-or-Other. Donnie
was infamous for having stood in a crouched position atop the
motor of a buffer, attempting to surf across the floor before he
fell off. Although he bruised his shoulder on the first attempt, it
didn't deter him from trying again. Donnie was sure it could be
done. To his way of thinking, it was similar to surfboarding and
skateboarding in that an awesome ride could be achieved only
by being absolutely fearless as he performed a balancing act.
On his sixth attempt, Donnie almost mastered his technique,
before he became tangled in the electrical cord, landed on his
face, and broke his nose. Franklin was amazed that Hiram did
not fire him for goofing off on the job.
Ronnie, the other janitor, and Donnie were brothers. They lost
no time in letting Franklin know that they were distantly related
to Hiram Nasov's wife.
Since Ronnie was the older, and hopefully more responsible,
of the brothers, Franklin issued him a set of access codes and
keys in addition to teaching him how to maintain the revolving
door at the main entrance. Franklin made it clear that Ronnie
was the head janitor and, as such, would be held accountable
for Donnie's behavior. The company's code of conduct did not
permit taking drugs and/or alcohol within four hours of the start
of a shift; any indiscretions would have severe consequences.
Buffer surfing would result in immediate termination. Franklin
said he had already discussed the issue with Hiram. Although
he was lying, it was merely a white lie, one which he intended
to correct the next time he reported to Hiram. Nepotism stank;
it conflicted with Franklin's principles. But God had chosen His
Son to be mankind's Savior. Wasn't that nepotism? No, Hiram
was a Jew, so in this case it did not seem to matter. Franklin
forced the issue from his mind. Philosophy wasn't his forte. He
felt a headache coming on. And the shift wasn't half through.
Franklin left a message on Hiram's voice mail detailing a list of
supplies that they needed to clean and service the Union Bank
Building. At the end of the message, he thanked Hiram for the
two new janitors and alluded that Donnie had been a problem
in the past. “Advise me as to what I should do if this employee
continues to violate OSHA safety regulations,” ended Franklin.
He phrased his last statement as delicately as possible, being
particularly careful not to make any references to nepotism.
Fortunately, Donnie and Ronnie had decided to do a good job.
They were planning on taking a long Surfing Safari vacation to
Australia in the Summer of 2086. They needed to save several
thousand dollars to finance their trip. Also, they would have to
ask Hiram for three months off. Nothing short of excellent work
on their part stood even a remote chance of persuading Hiram
of the efficacy of granting them an extended leave of absence.
Nonetheless, they had made up their minds to become stellar
employees. No more smoking dope on-the-job, no more buffer
surfing, and no more abusing sick leave they would undergo
a miraculous transformation. Unbeknown to either of them – or
anyone else for that matter their determination would last for
almost three weeks. And three weeks was just long enough to
make Franklin appear to be a spectacular disciplinarian which,
of course, he alone was aware he was not.
George 99,689,794 did not need a full three weeks of training.
He was a fast learner and paid attention to details. By the end
of the second week of instruction, Franklin felt that the trainee
was ready to do the job on his own. However, Franklin had not
forgotten that the automaton had disarmed Beauregard Benoit
and tossed him down a trash chute. Franklin was in no rush to
be rid of the most intriguing individual he had ever met. Simon
Kline was an enigma. The more Franklin discovered about the
fake automaton, the more he wanted to know. Extending their
relationship by one more week wouldn't bankrupt the company
and it had the potential of assisting Franklin in his quest to cut
to the gist of the automaton phenomenon. Slavery had staged
a rebirth. Franklin wanted to know how and why. Slavery in all
of its forms was evil incarnate. The United States had fought a
Civil War to remove the cancer of slavery that was threatening
freedom. The cancer had not been killed. It simply went into a
prolonged remission. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
Once more into the fray. Franklin knew no fear. He had faith in
God; good would guide him.
Chapter 9
The commercial telepathy signal that cut in as a dream ended
had eventually been adjusted to a tolerable level, however, the
provider appeared to be gradually upping its strength. Franklin
was once again sleeping fitfully.
Due to the sophisticated equipment involved and high costs in
energy, telepathy was a one-way affair in 2084. Technological
innovations would someday make two-way telepathy practical,
but Franklin's only recourse at 3 AM was to stick his head out
of an open window and shout, “Turn that signal down!,” hoping
in vain that someone at the Telepathy Transmission Provider's
Building at the end of the block would take pity on him and do
something that would let him go back to sleep.
As soon as the Provider's office opened at 8 AM, he lodged a
complaint in person. The clerk at the counter politely informed
Franklin that their contract was with the landlord. Franklin was
merely an affected third party. It was a complicated matter that
could not be settled overnight.
Feeling dejected, Franklin walked home. He no longer needed
the $20 discount in his rent that was part of his lease. “Time to
move,” he said to no one in particular. He could afford and felt
he deserved better.
* * *
“Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.” - Lucius Annaeus Seneca
One week later, precisely at eleven, Franklin went to the office
as requested by Hiram Nasov to make a progress report. Mr.
Nasov sat at his desk drumming his fingers against an ancient
upside down keyboard while humming a popular ballad from a
previous decade. He was noticeably happy, the corners of his
mouth ever-so-slightly upturned in the semblance of a genuine
This was definitely out-of-character for Hiram. His face usually
bore a sour look that could curdle milk. As of late, Franklin had
been worrying about his boss. He resembled nothing so much
as Ebenezer Scrooge after having been visited by the ghosts
of Christmas. However, since it was nowhere near the Holiday
Season, Franklin suspected the change in demeanor was due
to hormonal imbalance, drugs, or a combination of both. Since
it was improper for him to be judging his boss, he filed it away
in the recesses of his mind for possible future reference.
In hindsight, Franklin's guesstimate was baseless. Which was
not very surprising, considering that Franklin could never have
stuffed his big feet into Hiram's shoes, much less have walked
a mile in them.
Hiram motioned for Franklin to be seated in the pink fiberglass
chair and began, “Are the two new janitors working out? Have
they caused any problems?”
“There was some friction at first, but I had a talk with them and
they listened to reason. Lately, I have been whipping them into
shape,” Franklin answered.
“Figuratively whipping or literally whipping?,” asked Hiram with
a smirk while casting his eyes downward.
“Figuratively, of course,” Franklin retorted. “I'm not a monster.”
“Frankly, either way would be fine by me,” confessed Hiram. “I
never would have hired them, but my wife kept pressuring me.
Those two idiots are the bane of my life. I put them under two
different supervisors and had identical results. Dope smoking,
time sheets falsified, abuse of sick leave, surveillance scanner
mooning, buffer surfing, insulting clients, making inappropriate
gestures towards women, two hour lunches; you name it, they
did it, knowing full well they were breaking the rules. They lack
respect for anything or anyone. Warnings, suspensions, legal
actions, forfeiture of pay, mandatory drug rehabilitation clinics,
transfers to other locations – nothing short of firing fazes them.
And then you come along and all of a sudden, they want to get
along. I want to know your secret, my wife wants to know your
secret, her father, the Chief Executive Officer of this company,
wants to know your secret. The missus is telling everyone that
you, and you alone, have accomplished the impossible. Stern
disciplinarian, martinet, provocateur of personnel; the Board of
Directors can only suspect how you do it. One thing for certain
is that our company needs a man with your skills. We've seen
the transformation you made in the two most slovenly slackers
ever employed by this company. Thanks to you, I'm a happier
“It was nothing, really,” denied Franklin, feeling uncomfortable
as he attempted to shrug his shoulders while sitting in a hard-
as-hell, rigid, pink fiberglass bucket chair.
“You are being overly modest,” Hiram declared. “Modesty has
no place in business. Always take full credit for everything you
and your subordinates have achieved that is, was, or will be of
benefit to your employer. The Chief Executive Officer decided
to put you in charge of entry level management training for the
United States and Canada. Your salary will be commensurate
with your abilities. Also, mid-level managers, such as yourself,
receive stock options and profit sharing. All moving expenses
to Las Vegas, Nevada, will be paid by the company. We have
booked a suite for you and your assistant, George 99,689,794,
at the Eclipse Resort where you will be conducting a series of
seminars.” George 99,689,794 will assist you in demonstrating
effective methods of discipline and, should it prove necessary,
will act to enforce your authority. I understand you foresaw an
unpleasant reaction by subordinates to your unusual methods
and programmed the trainee to back you up. Everyone on the
Board of Directors was impressed. They voted unanimously to
reward your initiative. Your promotion is effective immediately.
Sign and date the contract on the lines highlighted in yellow,”
Hiram instructed Franklin, as he shoved the necessary papers
across the desk.”
“Franklin stood and began signing the contract. Several pages
later, he paused and asked, “Do I get a copy?”
“Don't trust us?,” asked Hiram Nasov, grinning from ear to ear.
“You're learning. Never trust anyone in business. I will have a
secretary make you both a paper and a digital copy before you
leave the office.”
Franklin resumed reading each page of the contract before he
signed it. He had Hiram explain a confidentiality clause to him
before placing his initials next to it.
When Franklin finished signing, Hiram summoned a secretary
to make copies of the contract. It took mere seconds for her to
complete the assignment.
“There are a few more things we need to cover,” Hiram stated,
the somewhat disconcerting grin gradually dehydrating into his
usual serious aspect. “One of the clauses in the contract has a
drug test provision. George 99,689,794 was tested yesterday.
Now, it's your turn.” Hiram stood up, walked past Franklin, and
opened the door. In walked a phlebotomist wearing a white lab
coat. “Sam will be taking blood and urine samples,” instructed
Hiram, as a vestige of his grin returned. “This provides us with
evidence that any behavioral changes were not drug induced.”
Franklin was silent while Sam pricked a vein and withdrew two
vials of blood. Then Sam accompanied Franklin to a restroom
and watched as Franklin urinated into a sterile urine cup.
Samples in hand, the mobile phlebotomist and Franklin parted
ways, Sam presumably returning to the laboratory from which
he worked and Franklin, although not having been specifically
told to come back to Hiram's cramped office, reluctantly did so
anyway because he knew it was the right thing to do.
Knocking on the office door, Franklin entered and took a seat
without waiting for an answer. As he suspected, Hiram was on
the phone, oblivious to everything else around him.
“Two first class tickets on tonight's hyperloop to Las Vegas?,”
Hiram's voice was rising, “that is expensive. Why not wait until
tomorrow and have them drive there? What's the rush?”
(long pause)
“Yes, I understand. I will book them on the redeye. Come hell
or high water, I will make certain they get there tonight. Later,
the company will have to pay any penalty involved in breaking
their respective leases plus boxing and shipping their personal
belongings to Las Vegas. You do realize you are shanghaiing
my best team? Without them, the Los Angeles office might not
meet this quarter's goals.”
(short pause)
“That's probably a mixup by some dimwit programmer on your
end. It makes no sense for the automaton to be paying seven
times as much for rent as his supervisor. Are you sure it's not
the other way around? Quit griping. You want the two of them,
then pay up the leases. It's as simple as that. I need to get off
the phone so I can book the tickets.” Hiram threw his phone at
the door. As usual, it didn't break. In fact, it never did. Modern
cellphones were virtually indestructible. Top of the line phones
came with a lifetime guarantee. Throwing phones was Hiram's
way of letting off steam. His psychiatrist had recommended it.
Franklin bent down, picked up the phone, and placed it on the
desk. He felt relieved that Hiram was back to being his normal,
grumpy self.
“George 99,689,794 and you are going to board the 11:15 PM
hyperloop to Las Vegas tonight. Be at the terminal 30 minutes
early, go to the counter, and present them your identification.
Two first class will have been reserved in your name. A shuttle
van from the Eclipse Resort will be waiting for you at the other
end. The company will terminate your rental leases and pay to
have your belongings boxed and shipped to you in Las Vegas.
Any questions?,” asked Hiram.
“Why so soon? What is going to happen to my new hovercar?
Las Vegas has a high cost of living. George 99,689,794 needs
a company expense account. Don't worry, I will monitor it and
restrict it to essentials,” Franklin assured his boss.
“You will be replacing the spokesperson at a seminar that was
scheduled months ago. The Chief Executive Officer wants you
to inform people that in order to keep the company competitive
in the 22
century, the Board of Directors has come up with a
plan to phase out human janitors and replace them with cost-
efficient automatons,” explained Hiram. “The decision is likely
to provoke controversy. Some people fear change. We believe
that you, having had success with integrating automatons into
the workforce, can best allay those fears. Also, two observers
from the government's Supreme Soldier program will be there.
They saw the tape of you and George 99,689,794 facing down
an armed opponent. Inability to foster loyalty in an automaton
was the reason the Supreme Soldier program was shut down.
This Administration wants to reinstate it. But they can't do that
if George 99,689,794's 'demonstration of loyalty' had anything
to do with drugs. That is why we tested both of you for drugs.”
“Tomorrow morning, your hovercar will be loaded on a flatbed
truck and delivered to you at the Eclipse Resort. It has already
been arranged,” Hiram reassured Franklin.
“Setting up an expense account for George 99,689,794 should
not be a problem,” Hiram speculated. “However, it needs to be
approved by the Board of Directors. They appear to be willing
to pay most any price to get you to act as the point man for the
radical changes they are making in the company. That way if it
goes wrong, they can blame you. Because you are an upstart
outsider, the Board of Directors could dispense with you at will
without worrying about the consequences. That's a worst case
scenario. But I prefer to look on the bright side. If the changes
prove to be a success and automatons turn out to be the best
thing that ever happened to this company, you will become the
man of the hour. You could be the next Chairman of the Board
and accomplish wonders. When that occurs, do not forget who
started you on your way. Now get out of here! We both have a
schedule to keep.”
Standing up, Franklin halfway pivoted to face the door, before
turning back to ask, “How is George 99,689,794 getting to the
terminal? Do you want me to pick him up?”
“I will take care of it. I am sending a hovercab to his residence.
The fare will be prepaid, including a ten percent tip,” promised
Hiram. “Go, you don't have much time to prepare. Think about
what you will say at tomorrow's seminar. It might help to make
an outline.”
Franklin went home to his studio apartment. Despite its lack of
amenities, he was going to miss the place. Resort living didn't
hold any appeal for him. However, he had signed a contract, it
was too late to be having second thoughts. He packed the one
bag he would be taking with him. There was still three hours to
go before it would be time to take a hoverbus to the hyperloop
terminal. He decided to take a short nap. When he awoke, he
was covered in cold sweat. Although Franklin could not recall
dreaming, he was certain he had gone at least once into rapid
eye movement sleep because he remembered the commercial
telepathy that invariably came after each dream. It had been a
recruitment advertisement for dilithium miners on Io. The only
requirements were good physical health and to be under forty-
five years of age. He was tempted to pursue the off-world job,
rather than go to the seminar in Las Vegas, but the temptation
vanished as quickly as it had come. A responsible person met
his commitments, regardless of consequences. Franklin could
not bring himself to renege on a commitment.
It was a tad early to go to the hoverbus stop, but Franklin liked
to give himself a margin of error in case something unforeseen
happened. He rode on the Number 6 hoverbus for nine blocks,
then transferred to the Number 11 hoverbus which took him to
the hyperloop terminal.
Franklin entered the terminal through a massive airlock which
kept the atmospheric pressure within the terminal at two-thirds
that of the outside air.
Once inside, Franklin went to the ticket counter and asked for
the two first class tickets to Las Vegas, Nevada, that had been
reserved in his name. The ticket agent behind the counter said
that it was Hyperloop policy for all passengers to be microchip
scanned to establish identity. Franklin rolled his eyes, smirked,
then requested to speak to her supervisor. Two minutes later,
her supervisor authorized a retinal scan whereby Franklin was
able to prove he actually was who he said he was. He still had
to sign a receipt, after which the ticket agent slid a rectangular
manila folder containing two envelopes across the countertop.
He slit the envelopes open and consigned the two tickets to an
inside coat pocket.
* * *
“It is by presence of mind in untried emergencies that . . . a man is tested.” - Abraham Lincoln [1864]
Franklin took a seat in the hyperloop waiting room. At this time
of night, there were plenty of empty seats from which he could
choose. Trying to relax, he downloaded a science fiction novel
onto his cellphone. He had reached the end of the first chapter
when his cellphone began to buzz, indicating an incoming call.
“Franklin, I will be arriving at the hyperloop terminal more than
a half hour late,” George 99,689,794 declared apologetically.
“What happened? Are you alright?,” Franklin asked suspecting
the worst.
“The hovercab driver would not allow me to be a passenger in
his vehicle. He said automatons are diseased subhumans, not
fit to associate with human beings. When I told him I wanted to
speak to his supervisor, he gave me a rude hand gesture and
left. Rumi called the taxi company. They apologized profusely
and dispatched another hovercab. Is there a later hyperloop?,”
George 99,689,794 inquired.
“No, but it's my responsibility to think of a way to get out of this
predicament. Go to the ticket counter and have them page me
as soon as you arrive,” Franklin requested. He quickly glanced
around the waiting room, noting several red emergency levers
spaced at intervals along the opposite wall. He came up with
an idea. It was a long shot, but this was an emergency and he
was desperate. He stood and walked to a long hallway that led
to the restrooms. He walked halfway down the hallway until he
reached an area that wasn't covered by scanners. An adjacent
red lever read, PULL FOR EMERGENCY and underneath it
in smaller print, “pressure leaks, fire, or other hazards.” Surely,
the situation confronting Franklin qualified. He had to come up
with a way to delay the departure of the redeye for at least 30
minutes. He took a deep breath and pulled the red emergency
lever. An alarm began buzzing at five second intervals. A short
time later, an announcement was made over the loud speaker
system, “Remain seated. Please, do not panic. This is a test of
our emergency procedures. Follow the instructions of firemen
and emergency technicians. Since it is merely an unscheduled
drill, we do not anticipate a long delay. Hyperloop will continue
to operate. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Franklin did an about face, returning to the waiting room as if
nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Firemen milled about
the terminal, searching for pressure leaks. Someone turned off
the alarm. Forty minutes later the firemen left. Several minutes
later, Franklin saw George 99,689,794 approaching the ticket
Franklin ran up to the automaton and warmly embraced him. “I
was worried you would not get here in time,” said Franklin, as
he pulled the automaton toward the passenger capsule which
a line of people were waiting to board.
First class was luxurious. Ample legroom, fully reclining seats,
complimentary champagne, and their choice of shrimp kabob,
orange duck, or venison for a midnight meal. Perhaps the best
thing about first class as far as they were concerned, was that
nobody was so gauche as to gripe about an automaton sitting
near them.
Although the passenger capsule was moving in excess of 325
miles per hour, there was almost nothing to indicate that it was
in motion – no significant changes in landscape, no clacking of
iron wheels on steel rails, and no bumps – just the digital dials,
gauges, and instruments being monitored by an engineer in a
control compartment at the front of the capsule. The hyperloop
was essentially a giant pneumatic tube that transported people
across hundreds of miles in less time and at considerably less
expense than a jetliner.
Franklin was tired and fell asleep after downing two glasses of
champagne. George 99,689,794 took a slick magazine from a
pocket on the back of the seat in front of him. An article about
hyperloops captured his attention and he began reading:
“Hyperloop One, connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas, was
opened for commercial passenger service in 2081. Hyperloop
is the brainchild of billionaire inventor/investor Elon Musk, who
had previously fathered Pay Pal and Space X Corporation. It
has shuttled thousands of people millions of miles on time and
without a major mishap.”
“Following the much heralded success of Hyperloop One, Elon
Musk inaugerated Hyperloop Two in 2083, connecting Seattle
to San Francisco. Hyperloop Two incorporates safety features
learned in operating Hyperloop One, including a viscous self-
sealing lining which inhibits pressure leaks and a revolutionary
“Hyperloop Three, connecting Tokyo with Nagasaki, Japan, is
scheduled to open in the Winter of 2086 with free wi-fi internet
and first run in-transit movies. Contracts are being negotiated
with Singapore, China, Russia, and Abu Dahbi.”
“Thank you for choosing Hyperloop. It's the fast, inexpensive,
and quiet way to travel.”
A stewardess brought a blanket for Franklin. He was snoring,
but not annoyingly so. George 99,689,794 shut the magazine
and put it in the back pocket of the seat in front of him.
The engineer announced over a loudspeaker that the capsule
had crossed the California border into Nevada. Hidden panels
in the passenger capsule's walls slid open to reveal digital slot
machines. The noise from the slot machines woke Franklin.
Turning toward George 99,689,794, Franklin asked, “You want
to play?”
George 99,689,794 raised his eyebrows and replied, “I am not
tempted to do so. Slot machines give terrible odds. You might
as well flush your money down a toilet.”
A stewardess took their orders for the midnight meal. Franklin
ordered venison and George 99,689,794 ordered orange duck
with brown rice. Ten minutes later, the same stewardess came
back with their meals.
After several bites, George 99,689,794 complained, “This was
reheated in a microwave oven. And the brown rice is imitation.
Real brown rice is harvested by Native Americans in canoes in
the shallow waters of the Great Lakes.” The automaton made
a face as if he had swallowed something disgusting.
“You're confusing brown rice with wild rice,” Franklin rebuked.
Brown rice is white rice that was hulled, removing most of the
nutrients and leaving the bran, germ, and a few vitamins. Wild
rice is a misnomer. It is actually any of four species of grasses
grown in wetlands in Minnesota and China. Yes, the meals are
cooked in advance and then reheated, similar to the way they
do it on jetliners. Obviously, Rumi spoiled you. Eat your meal.”
“While you were snoring, I was thinking about what I should do
after I regain my freedom. I lost my investment broker license.
Perhaps it is better that way because it keeps me from making
the same mistake twice,” George 99,689,794 remarked. “What
I have been thinking about lately is something I garnered from
hearing you complain about one-way commercial telepathy. It
seems to be a near-sighted, crass, commercial use or more
aptly an abuse – of a revolutionary, breakthrough technology.”
“I could not agree more,” said Franklin, recalling the sleepless
nights in which an out-of-adjustment signal caused him to toss
and turn, sometimes breaking out in a cold sweat.
“Years ago, when I first became an investment broker, a man
approached me seeking funds for a telepathy communications
startup. It sounded like a potential winner. I wasted 30 minutes
watching a power point presentation. There is evidence that in
our distant past before language was developed primates had
the ability to communicate for short distances by means of
telepathic imagery. With the advent of language, it faded away
until nowadays all that is left is a few low key image receptors
straddling the spinal cord buried within the upper midbrain that
hardly amount to much. But if a way could be found to amplify
the low frequency signals being transmitted by our midbrains,
we could read each other's thoughts. However, the idea would
take a lot of research and development before it could become
a reality,” George 99,689,794 maintained. “They had to come
up with a fast way of generating income to cover the analysis.
I suggested putting amplifiers in baseball and football helmets
that could improve teamwork in the big leagues, but it was too
far fetched. I believe they eventually settled on making a quick
buck from commercial telepathy. Mea culpa.”
“It's coming. It's only a matter of time until multi-way telepathy
is perfected,” Franklin predicted. “What we need to do for now
is to come up with an outline of what what I should say and do
at tomorrow's seminar.”
“I am way ahead of you,” George 99,689,794 asserted. “While
you were asleep, I made a three page outline.” He passed it to
Franklin. “You're stepping up to the big leagues. Don't worry,
you will most likely hit a home run your first time at bat. You're
a Most Valuable Player destined for fame and fortune.”
“Or I could swing and miss three times at sucker pitches and I
would be lucky if the owner let me return to minor league ball,”
Franklin speculated.
The capsule came to a smooth stop at the hyperloop terminal
on the northern end of the Strip in Las Vegas and the engineer
announced over a loudspeaker that the time was 1:00 AM and
the temperature was 93 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
The first class passengers disembarked before the rest. They
walked across a concrete platform, passed through an airlock,
and went down thirteen steps into an almost empty parking lot
littered with discarded clear plastic cups. The hot, humid night
air stank of urine, vomit, and stale beer. A derelict climbed out
of a dumpster near where a shuttle van waited to take them to
the Eclipse Resort.
Chapter 10
[Las Vegas] is a hideous, gaudy place; it may not be the end of the world per se, but
you can certainly see it from there. - Robin Williams
Franklin checked them in at the front desk. The Eclipse Resort
consisted of seven concentric rings of condominiums arranged
around three central buildings, the largest of which hosted 90
conventions and seminars a year.
The two story condominium the company had booked for them
was located across from an entrance to the convention center
on the northwestern side of the first ring of dwellings. Franklin
phoned the front desk and asked for a 7:30 wake-up call in the
morning. Next, he phoned the CEO at company headquarters
and left a message on his voice mail that they had arrived and
would be conducting a seminar the next day.
It was too late to unpack. They ate some fruit and nuts from a
Complimentary Bowl that the resort's staff had left on a dining
table. They buried themselves in the silk sheets of the beds in
the two adjacent bedrooms and were fast asleep before either
of them had fully undressed.
The wake-up call came far too early. Still, it gave both of them
more time to take a shower and eat breakfast. Franklin tried to
memorize the outline that George 99,689,794 wrote for him. It
was impossible to concentrate. He was nervous and could feel
his heart racing within his chest.
In the end, Franklin decided to wing it. Public speaking wasn't
his forte. He had no intentions of trying to be anything that was
contrary to his nature. Besides, he had George 99,689,794 to
back him up. Whenever Franklin got the jitters, time crawled at
a snail's pace.
Finally, the dreaded moment arrived. Showtime! Franklin and
George 99,689,794 walked the short distance to the entrance
of the Convention Center. There, they paused in the doorway,
taking in the vastness of the darkened auditorium. Most of the
audience had already been seated. Turning left, they mounted
five wooden steps to the stage. Positioning himself behind the
lectern, Franklin stood erect, resisting the urge to slouch with
his elbows resting on the lectern. George 99,689,794 sat in a
brown metal folding chair directly behind his boss.
A spotlight focused on Franklin. He was blinded for an instant
and began to sweat. The footlights switched on and it became
hotter. Franklin felt a bit woozy, but he caught himself and bit
his lower lip intentionally to stay alert.
Franklin took the outline out of a suit pocket and placed it face
up on the lectern. He stared at it intently. In a sudden impulse,
he turned it over. If he was going to wing it, he needed to soar.
Self confidence pulsed throughout his body. It actually tingled.
“Good morning,” Franklin began, “and welcome to the first of a
series of seminars on honing management skills. I am Franklin
Pierce and this is my assistant, George 99,689,794,” he stated
as he turned and pointed at the automaton sitting behind him.
George 99,689,794 stood upright, waved with his right hand at
the audience, and made an exaggerated deep, sweeping bow,
almost scraping his forehead against the stage floor. Wearing
an immaculate, freshly pressed, one-piece jumpsuit; if George
99,689,794 recalled any lesson from his previous life as a Wall
Street investment broker, it was “dress to impress.”
“Automatons are a relatively new phenomenon in our society.
It is a voluntary form of slavery without racial bias. In it, career
criminals tried, duly convicted, and sentenced to long terms for
felonies can apply for a rehabilitation program that transforms
recidivists into nonaggressive, productive blue collar workers.
Do not confuse them with mechanical robots who lack human
emotions, are outrageously expensive, substitute rote learning
for deductive reasoning, and have no sense of appreciation or
loyalty. Think of them as novelty items, good-for-nothing other
than performing repetitive tasks,” Franklin lectured. “Contrast
that with automatons. They behave like humans because they
are human. When people go astray, it is cheaper to fix what is
wrong with them than to put them in prison where they will be
a burden to society.”
Franklin paused a moment for effect. Observing the audience,
he noticed a young man in the fourth row who was fast asleep.
He stepped down off the stage, went over to the sleeper, and
gently shook him awake. “I assume we both work for the same
employer?,” Franklin asked. “That is, we both used to work for
Janitorial Services. You fell asleep on the job and now you are
fired! Get up and get out!”
Willful stupidity made Franklin livid. He took a deep breath and
tried to calm down. Looking around, Franklin saw that he now
had the audience's attention. Smiling broadly, he walked back
to the stage and ascended to the lectern. George 99,689,794
was smiling back at him.
“Some of you seem to think that the company sent you to Las
Vegas for rest and recreation. You thought wrong. You're here
to listen and learn,” Franklin remonstrated. “Tomorrow, you'll
come here with a blank spiral notebook and two ballpoint pens
and you will not charge them to your expense account. This is
similar to how school works with one important difference: you
get paid for it. Therefore, it's not too much for me to ask you to
pay attention and take notes. What you do after the seminar is
over is none of my business. Gamble, drink, act out fantasies,
party until you puke what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Anything and everything goes as long as you show up for the
next day's seminar bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager beaver
that you are, fit to gain knowledge and insights into the career
you have chosen. May God help you if you are not, because I
certainly won't.”
* * *
“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, 'How good and
pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity.'” - President Donald Trump
“Whether a person has ever met one or not, most people have
preconceived opinions about automatons based on what they
have heard from friends and the media. General opinion has it
that they are vile, filthy creatures with halitosis, dysentery, bad
breath, and rotten teeth,” Franklin stated.
Franklin moved from the lectern to the front of the stage where
the lights were no longer in his eyes and he could better see
the audience. He motioned for George 99,689,794 to join him.
Putting his left arm around the automaton's shoulder, Franklin
smiled broadly and said, “This is my trusted assistant, George
99,689,794 without whom I would be lost. Four weeks ago, he
saved my life by disarming a deranged individual who came at
me with a knife.”
“All automatons begin life as human beings, the same as you
and me. The majority of mankind are law-abiding, morally and
ethically upright individuals who are an asset to humanity. But
a small percentage cut corners, lie, cheat, and steal until they
are caught, convicted of their crimes, and sentenced to spend
a number of years in prison. Think of them as caged animals,”
Franklin conjectured. “They are going stir crazy and are willing
to do anything, regardless of risk, to rejoin society. Desperate
people do desperate things such as voluntarily permitting the
government to transform them from inmates costing upwards
of $50,000 a year of taxpayer money for food, healthcare, and
prisons into constructive workers that the government auctions
to the highest bidder, thereby reducing taxes. Automatons fuel
the economy. Unlike Canada, we have a balanced budget.”
“I understand that many of you, similar to me, were working as
blue collar janitors until recently when you were promoted to a
management position within the company. You now have the
responsibility of training automatons to be janitors. It's a brave
new world in which routine physical labor is increasingly being
performed by automatons and maximum security confinement
is becoming a thing of the past. You are the cadre of the future
bringing social progress on a par with technological progress,
ushering in a new era,” foretold Franklin. Growing up, I dreamt
of traveling to exotic planets in faraway solar systems. I didn't
realize it then, but it was a form of escapism. People were sick
and tired of rising crime rates, overpopulation, homelessness,
wage stagnation, and political corruption. Social evolution was
at a standstill in the United States. That is all about to change.
You are at the forefront, preparing to lead the way forward. I,
along with a grateful nation, salute you.”
“I am not a grandstander and it is not fair of me to monopolize
the conversation. The company values your input. For the rest
of today's session I will be answering your questions and you'll
be stating your opinions. To keep this organized, please raise
your hand if you have something to say. So that we can better
see and hear you, standup when you take the floor. Let's start
with the lady in the back row wearing a red blouse with a rose
in her hair,” declared Franklin.
“Why isn't there any female automatons?,” she questioned in
a loud, slightly angry voice.
“Good question. Frankly, I have no idea. But I will ask my boss
about it and I will have an answer for you at our next session,”
promised Franklin. “In the meantime, I would be happy to help
you apply to be transformed into an automaton. I doubt if they
will reject you. You can use me as a reference.” This brought
a few giggles and laughs from the audience. Sitting down, she
made an obscene hand gesture.
Next, Franklin called on a baldheaded man in a pinstriped suit
seated in the third row near the center aisle. “Are automatons
covered by a health plan?,” asked the baldheaded individual.
“As far as I know, they're treated at county hospitals,” Franklin
ventured. He took nine more questions and an opinion from a
former janitor that “criminals deserved to be lynched instead of
permitting them to steal jobs from honest, hard working people
who are the backbone of the nation.”
Chapter 11
“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a
college education.” - Mark Twain
Tuesday was overcast. Since the seminars were held indoors,
Franklin did not pay it any attention. However, when lightning
struck a nearby condominium, he thought about canceling the
seminar scheduled to start in an hour, but on second thought it
was too late to reach everyone who would be in attendance. In
the end, it turned out to be a desert electrical storm with more
noise than rain. By the time Franklin and George 99,689,794
walked to the seminar, it had already blown over.
Before the second seminar began, Franklin took the lectern off
the stage and told George 99,689,794 to turn it on its side and
place it in a storeroom.
The audience was filing into the auditorium in twos and threes.
Franklin saw that they had brought spiral notebooks with them
and were prepared to take notes.
“Welcome to the second in a series of three seminars. At the
first seminar,” Franklin began, “You met my assistant, George
99,689,794. All automatons are altered male human beings. A
question was asked at the end of our last session for which I
did not have an answer. Would the young lady who posed that
question please stand up? According to my sources, there are
not any female automatons because the legislation authorizing
the automaton program excluded women. However, there is a
case before the Supreme Court that challenges that provision
of the law.”
“All automatons are named George and given a serial number
instead of a last name. This practice dates from an earlier era
in which all black railroad employees were called George as a
sop to white Southerners who had previously referred to them
as boy. Make no mistake: slavery has always had a role in the
United States from colonial times onward. The crueler aspects
have been removed. I have heard it said that convicted felons
deserve to be enslaved. If you buy that malarkey, we might as
well sell you the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus,
and the myth that all automatons volunteered for the program.
Slavery is what it is. No amount of window dressing or political
propaganda can justify exploitation. However, I will say that in
its present form it is benign when compared to that of Greece,
Rome, Egypt, and other slave societies.”
“At the start of the first seminar, you will recall that I introduced
George 99,689,794, my assistant, to you. But I did not tell you
much about him, other than that he saved my life by disarming
a knife-wielding attacker. George 99,689,794 was born in New
York, a perfectly normal human baby. His parents, Patrick and
Naomi Kline, named him Simon. He went to public school and
won a scholarship to Harvard, eventually earning a MBA. After
graduation, he worked as an intern for the equity firm of K.K.R.
Several years later, Simon Kline was hired by Goldman Sachs
as an investment broker. Thirteen years later, Simon founded
the hedge-fund investment LLC of Kline & Associates. Clients
reported earning a 30 percent annual return on their portfolios,
a figure that brought in additional investors,” Franklin claimed.
“The SEC noted irregularities which were investigated by the
FBI. He refused to rat on his associates and was subsequently
arrested for operating a Ponzi scheme. The trial lasted thirteen
weeks. Because Simon would not disclose what he had done
with his wealth, a federal judge sentenced him to twenty years
in jail. Rather than languish in prison, Simon Kline volunteered
to be transformed into an automaton, a process which entailed
chemical castration, a frontal lobotomy, memory deletion, and
reprogramming. Simon Kline became George 99,689,794. The
government then sold him at auction to the highest bidder.”
“My assistant, George 99,689,794, whom you see before you,
is by no means a mindless moron. To prove it I'm going to ask
you a number of questions,” Franklin announced. “How many
of you are proficient pianists? Don't be shy. Please raise your
hand if this applies to you. [short pause] There are two of you.
Alright, how many of you are multi-millionaires?” The audience
burst into laughter. “Nobody? What about the lady in the front
row dressed in a black, low-cut gown and high heels. Judging
by the diamond necklace you are wearing,