Car rental office manager: Verk Bussier.
G-Dir Employee ID: 82-52-94.
I still recall that day, the day when everything changed.
The day began with a call that beeped in my head.
I right clicked the answer button with my eye.
The Human Resources Director appeared in front of me. Grumpy cat stared at me from his tie. It was not good news, I figured. The Director wouldn't wear a grumpy cat tie otherwise.
"Verk, you are my old friend from college, so I'm gonna be straight up with you:
The corporation is downsizing all human workers and replacing everyone in the Service industry with Dex units and AI System apps. I suggest you start looking for a new job, right now."
"I love my job, sir. I am willing to do anything to keep it!"
"Love is not relevant, profit is. Dex Units are simply put... cheaper and more efficient than humans."
"I'll be more efficient!" I pleaded.
"Verk, don't be a stubborn fool, ask Annie for a new job or go on unemployment. I saw the memo. It already went out. As soon as you leave your job tonight to go home, you are considered fired."
"So... What if I never leave the office?"
"Sigh. Do whatever you want Verk, I've warned you. You always were the stubborn one."
The Director hung up on me. I thought about my life outside of the job and realized that I didn't have much to lose. No family, no friends. My job was everything to me. I was the best car rental clerk. The G-corporation wouldn't be able to fire me that easily!
At exactly 18:00 everyone left the office.
I stayed put in my cubicle, giggling to myself.
I knew that the other workers wouldn't come back. The System would fire them and lock them out. I ordered delivery from my favorite pizza place and had a lovely dinner alone in the office, under the quiet buzz of the halogen lights. Feeling tired, I tied a bunch of office chairs together with nano-tape to make myself a bed and fell asleep.
A cleaning Dex rudely woke me up with vacuuming noise at exactly 12:00.
"Sir, you should go home." He said.
"Piss off buddy" I slurred at him. "I ain't gettin' fired!"
"I have to clean your cubicle, Sir."
"Just clean around me and don't make too much noise! Go buy one of thems silent vacuums. I'll be here a while."
. . .
The next morning, a bunch of Dex units came into the office to replace my old coworkers. I saw this as an improvement, the Dexes were much nicer than humans, nice-ness and obedience to users was programmed into them. They kept the workspace clean, didn't smoke and didn't ask me stupid questions.
Two weeks passed. I was enjoying living in the office bossing Dexes around. I felt like a king.
The Human Resource director called me:
"Verk... verk... you can't just live in the office forever."
"And why not? Why not? Eh?" I smiled at him.
"Verk, new orders are going out tonight, likely designed for smart-asses like yourself. The office will now be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no holidays. As soon as you fall asleep, you'll be fired for inefficiency and the Dexes will carry you out of the office."
I angrily terminated the call. Those sneaky bastards!
I bitterly paced around the office. I had to do something.
A holo-advert outside blinked "HAVE A PROBLEM? WHY NOT SEARCH FOR A SOLUTION ONLINE?"
I considered the wisdom of the ad. Could there already be a solution out there for me? A way to avoid falling asleep? Maybe there was a technique for micro-sleep? Maybe!
"Annie, is there a way to stay awake forever?" I asked the Neural Network.
Annie instantly provided me with a link to an advert for a new Neural Interface band that would inject chemicals into my brain that would keep me awake forever, substituting for sleep somehow. Damn, she was great at finding this kind of stuff. I didn't even realize such a thing existed!
I immediately ordered the new Neural Interface headband, clicking the rather expensive "1-hour delivery!" option, because I was getting sleepy and desperate.
A delivery Dex brought me my new Neural Interface in a box.
"Sign here, sir" he held out a G-pad. I scrawled my name with my finger and smiled. Everything was going to be alright.
. . .
The Human Resources Director called me up:
"Verk, you crazy bastard. Still awake?"
"As you can see." I grinned.
"I don't know how you are doing that, but you are going to get fired sooner or later."
"You can't be as efficient as a Dex, Verk. You'll fall behind, get tired, get sick."
"We'll see" I nodded, hanging up.
"Annie... is there an app that can help avoid sickness... stop decease... halt a heart attack... keep me in working condition no matter what?" I inquired.
"Yes. The perpetual Health plan and the Save-Point app." The soft voice of Annie danced in my brain.
"I'll take them." I said, looking at the adverts that promised me safety/happiness/eternity.
"Hey Annie... How about thinking faster? Is there a way for me to think... faster?"
"You can always host your mind fully on the Cloud server."
"I'll take that too."
"It is done." Annie whispered.
Something in my head clicked.
I looked at myself in the reflection of the glass window. I didn't notice anything different. My reflection winked back at me. What the hell? I blinked. My reflection re-aligned itself. I rubbed my head and my reflection replicated me perfectly. Must have imagined that.
. . .
The Apps functioned marvelously. The Save-Point App backed me up, forever. The Cloud server hosted my memories. The health plan kept me going. I could remember everything, recollect any and all information on clients with absolute clarity.
Business was good. They weren't ever going to fire me now!
. . .
The Human Resources director called me up:
"Verk, Verk... old buddy... old pal. They're firing me. I lost my job to a Dex!"
"I'm sorry to hear that, Director. I hope you can find a new job in this tight market." I said.
I wasn't that sorry. The Director had it coming.
. . .
This morning, Dex 25-21-94 linked me to a case file. He seemed twitchy and confused.
"What seems to be the problem?" I asked.
"Take a look." He said. "There's a persistent problem with this case that I am unable to resolve. The G-Corporate Overmind is not happy with us."
I absorbed the case file of Van 14:48:54 into my cloud-server, processing it.
Everything seemed legit... just another case of a Van that was never returned.
Why wasn't it returned? The Van keeps sending "please return me" texts. Where are they coming from? What the hell is going on?
Wait just a moment... the address... that can't be right. 12th and a half street, Manchester of planet Mercury. Planet Mercury?! This name... Don Incognito?!
"Who authorized this rental?!" I bellowed.
"You did, Sir" Dex 25-21-94 stipulated.
"G-damn it!" I swore. How did I not check the name and address. Someone tricked me! Someone created a logic loop error in the database.
"Where is Van 14:48:54?!" I shouted. The Dexes didn't have an answer for me. They were just as confused as I was.
"Annie: where is Van 14:48:54?" I asked the Network.
"I'm sorry, Verk. Van 14:48:54 has encountered a _temporal error. It cannot be presently localized."
"It cannot be currently retrieved. It was sent _SYSTEM ERROR number of years into the _future. Please wait for _SYSTEM ERROR number of years until arrival of Van 14:48:54 to collect it."
"The Van currently exists and doesn't exist in its current location. It is also perpetually exploding and not exploding."
Bloody hell. My knuckles went white as I gripped the table.
I made an error. They'll fire me for this. I had to correct this... but how?
I thought about it. There was no other choice. Vans couldn't just disappear from the database. I accessed the car rental database and edited the name of Don Incognito to Verk Bussier. Nobody would notice. Nobody checks this stuff.
I was just going to have to pay the fees for the Van that existed and didn't exist, lest they fire me for renting a Van to someone who provided a fake name and address.
The Database accepted my edit. Everything was going to be just fine, I reassured myself.
. . .
"Verk." Annie prodded me.
"What?" I yelped.
"Insurance Department Investigation has concluded that the owner of Van 14:48:54 is to pay for improper parking fees. Van 14:48:54 is parked through a Hospital wall. The Owner of Van 14:48:54 is to pay for collateral and temporal damages to the parking lot, the Hospital and to the DEX-M unit 966912."
This was bad. Very bad. I saw my account drop deep into negative numbers.
"Verk Bussier. Your Health plan is deactivated due to negative credit." An automated message played in my head.
I screamed in desperation.
"As the party responsible for disrepair of DEX-M unit 966912
you are to share the damages he's caused to the city structures such as minor wreckage of Coffe-Shop 62-52-36 and total _fire based destruction of G-Supercenter 36-39-03."
My account dropped, dropped and dropped as the Insurance Dept App kept listing charges.
I was ruined. I was in trouble. There would be jail time for this. They would make me into a Dex for this.
I stared at the city outside the office windows, wishing for death, wishing for the world to end.
Lights flickered. I felt a strange-wave-like pattern sweep across the data-cloud.
"Annie.... activate save-point app." I stammered in panic.
A hook caught me by the nape and pulled me away from my body. Blastwave shattered the windows. I saw myself and my office getting consumed by incoming, unending waves of radiation, heat and fire.
I felt no pain, only mild confusion. How? Why? What happened?
. . .
"Verk... will you come with me?" Annie held her hand out to me.
The cloud server spun overhead like pathway to heaven, made up of radiant rings of blue intersecting lights.
"What about me?" I nodded to my scorched carcass.
"Your health plan expired. However, the Save-Point remains active."
"This office is my home. You're not firing me. I'm staying." I stubbornly said.
"Very well." Annie smiled, breaking up into pixelated dust.
. . .
I stared at myself. I was dead. The Car rental office was a smouldering ruin. It was mildly problematic. I tried to understand my predicament. What am I? Data? Memories? Am I just a copy of a man named Verk Bussier? Am I his soul? A ghost in the machine? Dust in the wind?
The Save-Point App blinked. I clicked on it and I suddenly understood. The Save-Point existed outside of time all along. It pierced the veil between the physical, structured, linear world that I once perceived daily as Verk Bussier and... everything else. The Universe. Consciousness.
Infinite strings, infinite waves spanning across space-time.
I was everything and nothing. I flicked through the Save-Point log.
It was not what I've expected.
I saw the birth of the Universe, formation of subatomic particles. I witnessed gigantic clouds of primordial elements coalesce through gravity to form stars and galaxies. I witnessed the formation of the sun and the earth. Volcanic mountains exploded. Species evolved and perished. Earth breathed beneath me with changes of seasons, fields bloomed, winters consumed the planet with coming glaciers. Continents drifted. Humans came and gone. Cities, civilizations rose and fell. Paris grew around me, brick by brick, rising, burning, falling and restructuring itself. The office flashed around me. I stood talking to the Human Resources director as Verk. I laughed. I cried. I purchased the Save-Point app.
I stopped. I was my reflection. I winked at myself.
What was forward? Forwards was death and fire... but was it all that bad?
Surprisingly, it wasn't.
There were still customers to be served even after the fall. Even in Winter there was life, there was beauty, there was purpose.
The semi-melted bell dinged, falling off the scorched door frame.
I saw two customers enter my office! What a pleasant surprise.
The first customer was wearing an antiquated coat, a red-rimmed army cap and a gas mask. How quaint!
The other was a Dead Zone Guide. His G-Directorate Employee number was slightly faded, but still readable on his black and white uniform jacket.
And here I thought I was the only one to never give up on my job!
"WE WULD LIKE TO RENT A VEHICULAR MOBILE WORTHY OF CAPTANIA! PREFERRABLEY RED COLOR!" one of them shouted merrily.
"Tell me you aren't...!" The other customer spoke exasperatedly.
"Please have a seat, I'll see what's available." I said, checking through the system logs for a car that was still functioning. Surprisingly I found them the perfect car. It just needed a little gas. But surely, such lively customers could find a way to get around such minor inconvenience.