Menjadi perempuan di dunia Adam bukan perkara mudah, sebab kemuliaan diukur dari seberapa dalam buah dada dan kemaluan disembunyikan. Apalagi jika sudah menyangkut soal kekerasan seksual, tubuh…
The empty warehouse was a skeleton. Normally busy manufacturing lines turned into long, unmoving snakes of rubber. The air conditioning howled, but without the chatter of moving machines, it howled alone.
Kyle through moved the empty hallways slowly, but with purpose. He knew that the cameras were off; he had just come from the security booth. He made it to an office on the second floor and kicked open the door, revealing a dark room and a human silhouette. Kyle gripped the baseball bat in his hands. He burped quietly, tasting multiple whiskey sprites come back up his throat.
Kyle stepped into the room. He was familiar with the walls, and even the posters that were still up. He used to stare at the motivational quote directly across from the desk. The poster said, “Every day starts with waking up.” Underneath the white words was an alarm clock. It had a digital display, but instead of numbers, it just displayed “Now” in fat red letters.
Kyle knew that the desk chair used to squeak, and that when the AC kicked on during hotter days the system groaned and clunked through the vents above the desk. He knew that in the mornings, conversations from the break room drifted through its thin walls, and that the whole damn place was poorly ventilated.
It used to be Kyle’s office.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
A Week Ago:
Kyle had had waited for ten minutes outside the boss’s office. He was sitting with Anne, the second shift manager. They were both waiting for Jacob to finish talking to Isaiah, third shift, and move on to them.
“What do you think they’re talking about?”
“I’m not sure,” Kyle said. “Maybe a raise?”
They had just finished a particularly brutal month. FullGro, a local tech start up, requested an almost unattainable number of automotive parts. Miller-Plant had accepted the deal greedily.
“All three of us, getting a raise?” she asked skeptically. “Why not just do it with in the same room?”
“Well, maybe some are getting paid more than others? I don’t know. Stop asking. You’re freaking out which is freaking me out,” Kyle said. “Let’s just sit and wait. Isaiah’s been in there for a few minutes. It should wrap up soon.”
He hoped so, because at that moment, Anne’s words were Kyle’s thoughts. What did Jacob want to talk about? Miller-Plant reached the quota for FullGro’s order. They basically wanted an army of the robots. Both Kyle and Anne looked into FullGro, and saw that they specialized in “Industrializing Intelligence,” which could mean any number of things that neither of them would understand.
From inside the office, he heard chairs scraping against the floor as both men stood up. Muffled words were exchanged, but the door and wall insulated away any meaning from the sounds. Kyle and Anne exchanged nervous glances.
The door swung open. Isaiah looked bewildered, eyes open and staring halfway at the ground, dazed. He looked at Kyle, simply shook his head, and walked past his two co-workers for the stairs. Jacob peaked his head out from the doorframe and caught Kyle’s eye. He grimaced and beckoned with an upturned finger.
“Kyle, I think I’ll talk to you next.”
Jacob spoke at the same time as the door slammed. Isaiah had rushed downstairs, and Kyle was looking at Anne, heart racing. She winced in return.
Kyle stood up, smiling nervously at his boss. He walked forwards into the man’s office, a big, beige room. There was bookshelf in the back corner, color-coded and impressive looking. Jacob’s desk was dark brown and had only a laptop adorning it.
Jacob was young, a thirty year old president, inheriting the Miller-Plant from his father who used to manufacture machines that mass-produced toothpaste containers. Kyle sat on the leather chair that sat across from Jacob as the president leaned back on his own.
“My father was an innovator, Kyle. People called him stupid for investing his life savings into something as plain and simple as toothpaste tubes. He was mocked for having limited, primitive views, and then ended up building one of the most prosperous factories in the Midwest.”
Kyle didn’t care about a word Jacob said. He wanted to know about his job. Jacob sounded like a super villain, lecturing a captured hero about his great, mastermind of a plan. Kyle did not enjoy the fantasy, nor did he want it.
“Recently, when I chose to invest in FullGro, I received similar criticism from the board. The future is in automation, I said. They said it sure was, but we’re still in the present. They said I was wasting money, that I should focus on the now, just like what my Father did. But, of course, I chose to push on. And look at me now. Look at us now. Miller-Plant just signed a six-year deal with FullGro, doubling our profits from the last two years combined. Combined.”
Jacob smiled and looked at Kyle, waiting for a response. Kyle, not knowing how to react to this Miller-Plant pep rally, gave a thumbs up.
“That’s great news,” Kyle said flatly. “Is this what you wanted to talk about?”
Jacob chuckled and shook his head. He walked back to his desk and sat down, folding his hands, his perfectly manicured fingers lacing each other like latticework. He stared at Kyle with the half-smile of an advisor, someone who wanted to teach Kyle something, even though Kyle was five years older.
“No, but it leads into what I told Isaiah, not too long ago,” Jacob said. “I like you guys. I like you, Isaiah, and Anne. You get it. You’ve had our assembly lines running smoothly. As smooth as possible, really.”
Kyle nodded his head.
“You’ve been as efficient as a human could be.”
Here came the big “but…”
But, as we all know, humans have limitations,” Jacob continued bluntly. There it was.
“FullGro has promised us a prototype machine of theirs. They’ve been dabbling in Artificial Intelligence in the labor force, and came up with a system that connects to our robot manufacturing line. The prototype, because that’s what it is, takes the place of people like you, and controls the whole system. If a cog malfunctions, rather than having a human go check the analytics and find the faulty piece, our machine can simply plug into the mainframe, located in its office of course, and determine the fault within seconds. Seconds! With the inclusion of this tech, we could have full warehouses running at maximum efficiency at all times. Without the need for humans at all!”
Jacob was saying this excitedly, waving his hands in the air. He was smiling widely, proud to show Kyle of his work.
“I’m a human, Jacob,” Kyle said.
It felt stupid to say. Of course he was human. He had flesh and bones. He felt blood pump through his veins, could actually feel it at that specific moment.
“Which brings us to this meeting,” Jacob said. An awkward pause followed. The clanking and whirring of Miller-Plant’s warehouse droned in underneath the conversation, like the building itself was breathing. “FullGro’s prototype comes in next week.”
Kyle waited. He didn’t want to ask the question. He wished he were an android, so he could stand up, rip open his chest piece and show Jacob his wires. Kyle was no human. He was better. He was adaptable.
“Since FullGro has been so generous, we need to make cut-backs,” Jacob said. “You’ve been a vital part of our team, but to have someone do your job for almost free? No vacations? No days off? You’ve got to understand what this means for the future of industry. I like you Kyle, but I’m running a business.”
Kyle’s voice caught thickly in his throat. He thought of his Nathan, and how he was almost finished with middle school. He was supposed to play baseball at St. Ignatius High School in next year. Private schools were expensive. Especially without a job.
Kyle was terrified to tell his wife.
“We know this is abrupt, so we’ll provide with you with two extra months of pay, enough to keep you moving on your job search. We also have this goodie bag, complete with snacks and a gift card to Morton’s Steak House,” Jacob continued, stating these things like they’d actually help Kyle.
Kyle wasn’t listening. The sound of Miller-Plant’s warehouse increased, smothering him in the clanks and creaks of labor. Kyle had always felt like he was a part of the building, like he was its heart. Except now, he was being ripped out of it. Kyle was being replaced for a cheap prosthetic.
Jacob droned on, apologizing and telling Kyle how important this move was for Miller-Plant. He accepted the goodie bag, shook Jacob’s hand, and left the office without saying a single word. He now knew how Isaiah felt. Anne looked at him hopefully as Kyle left Jacob’s office, but Kyle shook his head. He saw Anne’s eyes widen, but walked past without a sound. He placed a hand on the door leading back down to the warehouse floor and fought back against the tears that were clawing their way out of his body.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Kyle walked up to his old desk. The humanoid machine was off, slumped over like it was as drunk as he was. The machine looked human except for the lack of detail in its body. It was large when upright, maybe six feet tall, and the whole of its skin was sleek, chrome metal. At the end of its long arms were hands, but with little chords and docks for fingers, perfect for slipping into the manufacturing line’s mainframe that splayed out across the desk.
Kyle walked up the machine. He wished that it had a face, maybe sneering features that ached to be punched. Kyle wanted to see the pain that he caused. He wanted to feel strong, in control. His future was not going to be determined by a god damn robot.
Squeezing the bat in his hands, Kyle swung, aiming for the machine’s head. His arms rang as it connected, shock jolting down his limbs painfully. Kyle looked at the machine’s head. Unmarked. He reared back again, ready to swing at the neck this time, when the machine suddenly turned on.
A whirring sound shot out through the office as the humanoid shape’s head jerked up. It turned the smooth metal sphere until it stared directly at Kyle, at least that’s what Kyle guessed since the machine didn’t have eyes. Panicking, he swung again, smashing into the face. The machine was left unmarked again.
“What are you doing?” a voice asked. It was deep enough to be almost masculine, but still had hints of femininity. The voice made Kyle sweat. He could feel small droplets trickling down his back as his knuckles clenched the bat. He didn’t answer, but swung again, hitting the machine straight in its chest.
“Please stop,” the machine said. It still hadn’t moved. This time, a small dent appeared in its chest. Kyle was preparing to swing again.
“I have no defense mechanism. Please stop,” the voice repeated. Although the sound was human enough, Kyle was uncomfortable with how the machine said “please stop” the same way it did before, same tone, same voice, same everything.
“What do you mean, you have no defense mechanism?” Kyle asked
“I mean exactly that. I have no defense mechanism,” the machine said. “I wasn’t programmed with one. You can destroy me with ease if you want, but please don’t.”
There was no trace of fear in the machine’s voice. It was simply stating facts. Kyle couldn’t decide if the machine’s words made him more or less anxious, but didn’t want to get bogged down in philosophical matters. Kyle wanted destruction. Vengeance.
He swung again.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
“Those fucking assholes knew exactly what they were doing,” Anne said. She was sipping a vodka cranberry at Jordan’s, a bar just a few blocks away from Miller-Plant. The small building was packed that night, just a week after Miller-Plants layoffs. The ex-employees still found excuses to get drunk with each other, seeing as Jordan’s had become a staple in their lives.
“They had all the factory workers making the robots that took their jobs, and had me, you, and Isaiah pushing them along, only to have our jobs taken as well. If I wasn’t so damn mad, it would almost be funny.”
Kyle didn’t answer. This conversation happened every night at Jordan’s. He clutched tightly the whiskey sprite in his hands. Sharon didn’t know that he lost his job yet. Kyle had told his wife that there was meeting tonight, and that he’d be home around nine. She was a waitress, and worked long hours to have spending money for toys and fun things for Nathan, while Kyle was the main provider for the family. Both she and Kyle wanted their son to have a comfortable, optimistic life.
“I think we should just burn the whole place down,” said Harold, one of the old security guards. He was being laid off too. FullGro was going to supply the whole company with upgraded camera systems and security robots. The change wasn’t going to be implemented for another month, so they laid off every security guard except Jeremy and Frank. Harold was the oldest and worked the least amount of hours between the guards, so he was the first to go.
“I just wish they could’ve told us sooner,” Anne replied. “I just keep thinking of Jacob’s smug fucking face. I actually met with him a week before the layoffs to talk about long-term safety plans. That motherfucker just smiled and worked quietly with me. He helped me draft a plan. And he knew the whole time. Fucking asshole.”
She punctuated her last word by slamming her drink on the table. Kyle winced. He finished his drink with one last pull and ordered another.
“Someone needs to do something,” Harold said. “My wife is going to kill me. This is the second job I’ve lost in five years. Fucking machines.”
“Didn’t you lose your first job because you were a drunk?” Anne asked. Harold stared back at her blankly. He looked at his own drink in hand and shrugged.
“This is fucked,” Kyle said, more for himself than anyone else. “I’m too old to be looking for another job. Besides, if companies like FullGro keep popping up, what jobs are going to be left? At what point can a machine not compete with a human?”
“Art?” Harold asked. “I bet they can’t make art.”
Kyle was silent. He took a large pull of his drink. It was half-empty. He motioned to order his third. At this point, he could feel a good drunk coming on.
“Google has an AI that makes paintings,” Anne answered. “They’re pretty good actually.”
“Christ,” muttered Harold. A silence followed as the three stared at their drinks. The rest of the bar was loud, different conversations rose from the din. The bartender would be working late hours that night.
“They can’t reproduce,” Kyle said. “We’ve got them beat on sex.”
“We literally work- well worked- at a factory that makes machine that make machines. Soon, it’ll be running on its own. Isn’t that reproduction? Like kind of?” Anne answered back.
“Christ,” Harold said again.
Kyle didn’t feel like answering again. It was pointless. Either Anne was drowning in a hole of paranoid pessimism, or machines really were taking over. Soon, they’d be serving Kyle drinks, robot bartenders wheeling back and forth, instantly mixing drinks. He stared at the whiskey sprite in his hands and wondered if a machine could make a better one. Probably. He slammed it back and ordered just one more.
Anne finished her drink as well and stood up to leave. She had bags under her eyes, and for the first time Kyle noticed that she looked sad. They didn’t have each other’s numbers, and neither asked, so he figured he probably wouldn’t see Anne again unless she came back to Jordan’s. She said goodbye to Kyle and Harold and walked out the door.
Harold looked at Kyle and raised his glass. Kyle put his own up as well, nodding with the old security guard. The two took long drinks together before placing their glasses back down.
“Know what you’re going to do?” Kyle asked.
“Not a clue,” laughed Harold. “With the pension and money I’ve saved for a rainy day fund, I should be fine for a couple of months. I’ll start looking for jobs eventually.”
Kyle nodded. An awkward silence filled in, the type of silence one feels with a coworker that he’s not quite friends with and gets stuck in an elevator, each knowing that the small talk is pointless, but they do it anyways.
“What time is the misses expecting you home?” Kyle asked. His own wife was still waiting for him. He told Sharon that he’d be back by 9:30pm, and the clock was already showing that he had only an hour left.
“Whenever. It doesn’t matter. I’m coming home drunk and she’s going to be pissed anyways. I’m taking my sweet time.”
Kyle wondered what Sharon would say to him. He almost wanted her to be mad. He wanted her to yell at him and break something. Then, he could yell back. The two rarely fought, but when they did it was loud. Relieving and good sometimes. Like a workout.
He just didn’t want her to cry. The last time she cried was when Nathan had a nasty strain of the flu in preschool. Sharon took one look at Nathan, all plugged up with IV’s and deathly pale, and sank to the floor crying. Kyle held her in his arms as she sobbed, heaving her body against his. He would rather her be mad than hear that sound again.
“I can’t stop stewing on it. I just wish I could do something, anything to get back at that asshole,” Harold said. “If I had a bat or a crowbar, I’d go back tonight and break as much shit as possible. I want Jacob’s wallet to be thinned out, at least for a little, so I could just fucking show that-”
“I have a bat in my car,” Kyle cut in, half-joking. Nathan had a baseball tournament the coming weekend, and Kyle had bought him both a bat and new gloves. He probably should’ve saved that money in hindsight.
Harold put his drink down and stared at Kyle. The old man’s five-o-clock shadow was sweaty and unkempt. If Harold had longer hair and wore a dirtier coat, he would’ve looked homeless. Especially with the crazy look that just came over his face.
“You have a bat?”
“Yeah, it’s for my kid,” Kyle said. Harold waved at the bartender and asked for another round. Kyle received his fifth drink before finishing his fourth, but downed his remaining glass and kept pace with Harold. Kyle was a drinker, and could put down quite a few whiskeys before he was really impaired, but at this point, both of the men were slurring their words.
“Isn’t it bullshit that you’re going to have to tell your kid that you’re unemployed?” Harold asked. Kyle nodded. “And your wife? Not because you can’t do your job, no because you can. So can I. So can Anne. But it’s cheaper to use a machine. Machines are relevant. Human aren’t.”
Kyle nodded again. It was bullshit. Not everyone can be executive material. Not everyone can have vital, six-figured skills. Kyle was a provider, he was a husband and a father. That’s what he was good at. And soon there’d be machines that took over his domestic jobs as well. Robot babysitters. Tutors. Cooks. Maids. Coaches.
It was bullshit. Why didn’t people want humans anymore? A man without a job was a neutered pup. Toss him on an island with female dogs, say he can’t fuck, and then just leave. That’s what Jacob was doing to Kyle.
Harold put an arm around Kyle. He smelled like gasoline for some reason.
“The crazy thing about technology is that sometimes it doesn’t work. Like Miller-Plant’s cameras. Sometimes, they just turn off in the middle of night, for no reason. It would be a damn shame if something happened to the warehouse at one of those opportunities, you know?” Harold said. He was grinning, showing brown and gray teeth. Kyle felt himself crack a smile as well.
“I’m sure you’ve never done that,” Kyle said.
“Oh yeah, of course. I don’t even know to,” Harold said with a wink. He pulled a piece of paper from his wrinkled jacket and started penning words with shaky handwriting.
Kyle knew they were being ridiculous. No one could hear them. Even if they did, most of the Jordan’s crowd was from Miller-Plant. They had no true reason to be acting like spies, but they were both drunk, and it was fun. Kyle felt like he was being given a mission from his commander, the noble and reputable Harold, disguised as an aging alcoholic to retain his anonymity in a crowd.
Harold slid the piece of paper across the bar top. Kyle pocketed it quickly, looking around to assure no one was watching. Harold winked again and chuckled. It was a rough, wheezing sound. Kyle had never seen Harold smoke a cigarette, but could tell from the chunkiness of the noise that Harold had to be a smoker.
“Give them hell,” Harold said from the side of his mouth. It was clear that the two were done discussing the matter. Enough had been said. Harold ordered another round of drinks, and the two men sipped in silence. After Kyle finished, he went to pay his tab. Harold put a hand on Kyle’s arm and stopped him.
“It’s on me. Consider it as appreciation.”
Kyle thanked Harold and stumbled outside to the parking lot. He sat in the front seat of his car, blasting the heat to wake himself up. He was close to Miller-Plant, but didn’t want to head there just yet. He turned the radio to 94.5, a classic rock station, and sat back
Machines couldn’t feel emotions. That was why humans were better in the long run. Sure, there were efficient and sleek, but what about passion? What about love, hate, anger, comedy, and revenge? When everything is metal, where is the soul? Metal meets metal, clashes and moans, grinding out copy after copy, but are the copies even worth anything?
Kyle put the car in drive and started to roll back to work. When he finally pulled into Miller-Plant’s parking lot, he drove to Jacob’s executive spot. He rummaged through his trunk and grabbed Nathan’s bat. As he walked into the warehouse, he spat on the parking spot’s nameplate.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Spider-web cracks jutted across the machine’s breastplate. It had fallen from the chair and was lying on the ground. Kyle swung again.
“Why?” asked the machine. The voice came out in fragments, like they were trapped in a tunnel of bad reception and trying to communicate via phone. Kyle didn’t have to answer. They don’t have feelings. That was the whole point of machines. Circuits not veins. No blood. No pain.
“Because,” Kyle said, grunting as he started swinging again. “You’re. Taking. Away. My. Life.”
“Ple-Please don’t” the machine cracked. It was lying on the floor at that point. Its arms were hanging at an odd angle. It still hadn’t moved them to defend itself.
Kyle put the bat down and rested, arm hanging limp of the rubber top of the handle. He looked at the breaking machine, lying in pieces on the ground. The voice was off-putting. It felt sort of cheap that the machine could talk, but not fight back. It would have been better if it was either completely silent, or was could talk and fight back.
“Can you feel anything?” he asked.
“What do-do you mean?” the machine asked.
“Like, you know, feel anything? Like pain when I hit you with this here bat.”
“I do not feel-feel,” the machine said. “But I do not like what you are doing. Why? Ple-Please stop. Please stop. Please st-stop. Ple-”
The machine started glitching, repeating the same phrase over and over. Kyle was an executioner, standing with an axe over a begging body. He gripped the rubber handle, steeling himself for the killing blow. He imagined looking through the eye slits of a black hood, hearing a crowd jeer in the background. Pulling back on his axe, he brought it down with all of his back, cracking the machine’s head off its neck. Kyle was pulled immediately back to his office. The bat rang in his arms.
It was silent. In the darkness, the machine looked was a corpse. Kyle was thankful that there was no smell. He swung again at the machine’s chest, but it hurt his arms too much. He stopped, huffing to catch his breath again. Kyle was glad the activity hadn’t made his stomach upset. His vision was still swimming.
He walked over to the desk chair, stepping over the broken bits of metal lying on the ground. Miller-Plant had replaced his old chair with a more stable metal replacement. He wondered why they even had to use a chair in the first place, couldn’t they just build the robot to not need it? If a machine had designed it in the first place, it probably would have thought that out.
Kyle didn’t know what to do next. Now, he had to go back home and still face his family. Nothing had changed. Except now, he could maybe get arrested. How would Sharon and Nathan react to that? He started breathing a little faster, spinning around to look at the destruction before reminding himself that he had disabled the security system for the night.
How much was thing going to cost Miller-Plant? What would FullGro do in response? This machine was (allegedly) the only machine of its type in the world; the higher ups in both companies were going to be pissed.
“I’m sorry,” Kyle said, looking at the disembodied metal head on the ground, “but we’ve had to cut-back on our workforce. You know how these things go.”
He folded his hands and surveyed the room from the new, metal desk chair.
“But don’t worry, there’s a nice pension for you so you can get back on your feet.”
The room answered him with silence. Kyle was beginning to feel a little ridiculous. He wanted to go home.
Kyle’s phone rang in his pocket, ruining the smothered quietness. He reached down and pulled it out, seeing that it was his wife.
He fumbled with the phone, almost dropping it before answering.
“Hi,” he said, “what’s up?”
“‘What’s up?’” She said. “‘What’s up?’ Really? It’s like ten o’clock Kyle, where the hell are you?”
“I got held up at work,” Kyle said.
“Don’t give me that bullshit. You’re slurring your words.” Sharon’s voice cut like a blade. “Where are you?”
“I got a few drinks after with some of the guys-”
“Who are ‘the guys’, Kyle? You have never called anyone you work with ‘the guys,” she replied. “What is going on?”
“Look,” Kyle mumbled, desperately trying to find words to say. He glanced around the room, trying to bide time. The dismantled machine on the ground gave him so help. “So, um…”
“Jesus Christ,” Sharon said. “Are you Ok? Did something happen?”
Kyle felt his heart rate quicken. The walls suddenly looked a lot closer than they did a few moments ago.
“Sharon,” he began, “I- I might have fucked up.”
There was a silence on the line before Sharon spoke.
“And what does that mean, Kyle?”
Her voice was dripping with anger.
“Please, can you come pick me up? I’m at work.”
“At work? What? I thought you were drinking?” Sharon had quickly moved from confusion to anger to concern.
“Just- just trust me. I’ll tell you when you’re here. I just need someone right now. I need you. I’m sorry,” Kyle said. With each word, he felt his throat tighten even more. He stared at the motivational poster on the wall. Every day indeed starts with now.
“Ok,” Sharon said. The line was empty between her words. “Ok. I’m coming now. Keep your phone on.”
“Thank you,” Kyle said, practically whispering. “I love you.”
“I hope so,” Sharon said before hanging up.
Kyle was left staring at his desk. He didn’t know what he was going to do about his car. He definitely shouldn’t drive it home. Maybe he’d set an alarm to wake up really early, like five, and go move it before anyone showed up at Miller Plant.
He really didn’t want to go to jail.
The air condition turned on with a loud bang. Kyle jumped in his seat. He nervously looked around, seeing only the sprawled out machine on the ground. Kyle nervously waited for its hands to twitch, like some sort of zombie rising from the ground.
He sat in paranoid fear for the next twenty minutes. When his wife called him to say she was in the parking lot, he left the room without a backward glance. Kyle was happy to be heading home.
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