I woke at six to the sound of sirens. Breakfast. What’s on the menu today? The same thing as every other day. A hard boiled egg and a piece of moldy toast. My first vision was the stained and decaying ceiling tiles above my rack. I get used to the scenery just like anyone else would in this situation. I have no choice.
A month ago I was living the good life with my family in my hometown. I had a good job, I had a car and a home. I played video games and visited friends. Sometimes we’d get drunk or high together. Listen to music. Simple stuff. One morning I woke up to a loud knock on the door. I could hear the loudspeakers in the street saying something about remaining in our homes. I think mine was the first door they knocked on, coincidentally or not. I’d said some abrasive things about the current regime on the Internet.
These days I don’t have to wonder what’s going to happen. They made the choices so much easier. There really aren’t any. I get up and eat a quick bite, hopefully food that isn’t going to make me sick. After chow we will line up in the courtyard for health inspections and work detail assignment. It’s always the same for me. I failed my aptitude tests and got stuck on shovel detail. We’re building a new light rail system. Someday people will ride on it and won’t even remember how it was built. They won’t hear the gunshots that ring out when a worker falls from exhaustion. No, they’ll be happy to have affordable and quick transportation to their work assignments. Everyone gets an assignment now, no one has to make a choice. Choices lead to disorder.
Last week I think I popped something in my spine. I asked about a doctor, but they said they can’t afford to treat camp workers like real citizens. Real citizens have demonstrated the patriotism and service that keeps our amazing country firing on all cylinders. Real citiizens understand the importance of keeping the economy going. All I could do in my ‘free life’ was sit around and write silly songs and poetry. There was no place for me in an industrious society.
The guards are passing out work gloves and shovels. When we first got here we lost about fifty people to blisters and the bullets that soon followed. I’m glad it’s not like that anymore. Now all I have to do is hide my chronic pain from the overseers and keep leveling the ground that will keep people moving on those “light” rails.
We head across the courtyard after roll-call into the cattle cars. Guards are screaming, dogs are snapping at our heels. An old man stumbles on his way into the car and is trampled underfoot. If you slow down, you die. No one wants to be that guy. Today wasn’t his day, I guess.
As I stepped up onto the high side of the cattle car I felt something give a little in my spine. Shit. This day isn’t starting out well. They say we’re increasing our production goal. The rail system isn’t on schedule. We’ve worked hard every day, and workers keep coming in, but just as many fall due to exhaustion and sickness. Is today my day?
A two hour ride to the jobsite over the highway isn’t bad, but we’re not on the highway. We’re trailblazing, man. We’re going where only the natives have gone before. Society has never stretched to this point in this country before. The rough and rugged road isn’t doing much for my sense of well-being. Pain shoots up and down my back and I don’t know if I’ll make it or not. Glancing around I see several have already given up hope and are sleeping on the metal floor. Some kids, some elderly. They won’t live to see tomorrow. So it goes.
We finally arrive at our assignment and I brace myself for the worst. When the overseers come in they usually come in kicking ass. The door slides open. More dogs snapping. The bitch is in charge today, I see. Who’s the bitch? Glad you asked.
The bitch is about thirty years old, she has blonde hair and blue eyes. She’s our medical supervisor and makes the determination on who lives or dies. That’s the truth of the fucking matter. She’s supposed to be watching out for us or giving medical attention, but I think the only medical attention she really administers around here is the terminal kind. She doesn’t take care of that herself. Armed guards do that. She just holds the clipboard and makes the final call.
We rush for the exit. I feel the head of a child squish a bit beneath my work boots. Do I have time to care about that? No..it’s just about survival. Remember, choices lead to chaos.
As we pile out orders are barked. We head to our assigned positions. They give us certain quotas on work performed. Workers get ‘units’ for work completed. If you get enough units you get a lunch. If you get more credits you get an actual break to eat the lunch. Get more than that, and you make all the workers look bad and are likely to be strangled to death in your rack . Crazy, huh?
I observe that the terrain we’re working with is particularly rocky. A bad omen for me. I press hard on the shovel in the hopes of finding purchase, or leverage. The tip of the shovel penetrates but I’ve hit a hard stone and the shockwave sends blinding pain up and down my arms, which circuits up into my back and suddenly I can’t feel my hands. I’m stunned for a moment.
A moment is all it takes. I hear a whistle blow, and the bitch is walking toward me, clipboard in hand. She asks me if I’m in too much pain to continue. I shake my head vigorously, ‘no’, but my body has betrayed me one final time. My muscles are twitching all around the injury site. She can see it through my shirt which is already soaked through with sweat and stuck to me.
“Guards, we have a patient in need of treatment. WORK DETAIL!! SEE!! This is what happens when you don’t take care of yourself! Haven’t you learned yet? You MUST take care of yourselves! If you had done this in your lives before you wouldn’t be here for re-education and extra duties. When this man falls he represents the worst of what you are. Your weakness, your inability to give your all to the whole. Prognosis…unfit to work.”
I bow my head. I hear the racking of a machine gun bolt behind me. The birds are singing and shovels continue clicking merrily along.