Mindless work

Image: The Fourth Transformation

My second short horror story, originally published on Twitter.

Ellen hit send on the her 11th resume and cover letter of the day – and 37th of the month of October – and 146th since graduating in June. The MacBook screen swam in front of her bloodshot eyes. And she began to despair.

Demand was clearly weak for a recent graduate with a focus on marketing and a B-minus average at an undistinguished liberal arts college. But unless something showed up soon, the choices were cleaning houses or living with Mom. Either that or go back to that loser boyfriend Ernie. Not a very appealing set of alternatives.

As she moved to shut the laptop, a message flashed. Resume email number 146 had generated a response.

“Dear Ms. Malinowski,” it read. “We’re delighted with your qualifications for the position of senior marketing assistant. Please join us for an interview on Monday.”

On a lark, she’d applied to a tech startup called Wealth & Wisdom that had something to do with investing. Apparently, they were hard up for marketers.

On Monday morning, Ellen slipped on a spotless white blouse and tan suit and arrived at the shiny offices of Wealth & Wisdom. “Spike,” who appeared to be younger than she was, conducted the easiest interview she’d ever had. He found her description of her barely-passing senior thesis “fascinating.” Her internship at her roommate’s dad’s golf shop was “awesome.” Her C-minus in econ was “not a problem.”

“Let me show you around,” Spike insisted. The office sparkled and was eerily silent. In rows of cubes sat a succession of what appeared to be recent college graduates. Not a single computer, phone, or tablet was in sight. Instead, each wore a tightly fitted cap and a set of opaque goggles connected to earbuds. Their hands, gloved, were gesturing.

“That’s our direct brain interface,” Spike explained. And at the end of the tour, he handed Ellen a contract with a staggering salary and bonus on it and a five-year guaranteed term. She signed it on the spot. “Hey, no need to wait,” Spike said. “Let’s put you to work today.”

He walked her down to an empty cube and fitted her with the cap, gloves, and goggles. “Just put these on – they’ll explain everything.”

A resonant voice echoed in her headset. “You are the newest member of Wealth & Wisdom. Get comfortable, you’ll be here a long time. And don’t worry about work – just watch this.” Ellen spent the next interval – it felt like about 30 minutes – on a virtual tour of the city.

At the end of the tour, the voice returned. “While you’ve been sitting here, your direct-brain-interface has mined $13,500 in cryptocurrency,” the voice of God said. “You’ve directly contributed to our wealth and wisdom. You’ll get better, don’t worry; your bonus depends on it. And you’ll find that time flies when you’re mining money. It’s time to go home.”

Ellen removed the headset and the goggles. Her forehead was damp and she felt logy and wrung out. Outside, surprisingly, it was already dark. She dragged herself home, ate a bowl of cereal for dinner, and crashed into bed.

The next morning, there was blood on the pillow, little spots from her ears and nose. Contract or no, job market be damned, she decided there was no way she was going back.

But Spike soon arrived on her doorstep with two burly guys in coveralls. “Come along, Ellen,” he said. “You’ll find our contract is airtight. And think of the bonus you’ll be earning.”

They dragged her to the office and strapped her into the cube. The video began. Ellen’s brain churned madly, mining coin. Her thoughts drifted away. And slowly, steadily, inexorably, her brain began to turn to mush.

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  1. This story is making me doubt some of the things I thought I knew about the world in your previous story. I love the connection and all the new questions that connection raises.