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More Than a Number

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A man laid stiffly in his sweat-sheened bed at approximately 23:34. This man was 38076, a number that appointed to him by the STATE. He had a moderately short and neat haircut that was the color of ground coffee beans and matching espresso brown eyes. His weight was slightly below-average with his height just shy of being five feet, seven inches tall. He looked completely average, except for the noticeable dark circles permanently imprinted onto his face. In just a few hours, he would need to get up and go to his new job. He, of course, had had previous jobs, none of which he was successful at. He made too many mistakes, he didn’t perform as expected, he was worthless. As he thought of these things, his mind was a whirlpool of fear and anxiousness. This job was his final chance, his final chance before he got carried away by the STATE workers. ‘It must not be pleasant,’ he thought, ‘to be exterminated.’ It was now 23:47. ‘I must sleep,’ he reminded himself, ‘or else…I do hope I set the alarm clock correctly.’ The alarm clock was set for 05:00, just enough time to get ready and be at his job at 06:00, as was expected of him. He closed his eyes and struggled to sleep.

It was approximately 05:26. The sun swallowed 38076’s sleeping quarters in an annoyingly warm glow. His eyes opened from the heat and shone with alarm. The clock had not gone off. He scrambled out of bed messily, a fashion not approved by the STATE. He usually would make his bed, get dressed, make himself an approved portion of toast, take a shower, gel his hair, and brush his teeth. He jumped into his clothes, straightening his crumpled tie as best he could. He ran into his bathroom and quickly combed his hair with a stainless steel comb. He took a swig of antiseptic mouthwash and ran back into the main room. He grabbed his virtual card key and ran onto the smokey, barren street. He jumped into his basic worker car and put in his card key. It roared to life and he drove quickly towards his new Work Center.

Halfway through his route, the traffic hit a startling stop. ‘Of all days...’ he groaned, ‘why must this happen today?’ This abrupt roadblock allowed him time to think about his upcoming job. It wasn't a heavily requested job; most of the workers came from previous positions after they didn't perform up to standards. The occupation required workers to stay long, egregious hours doing non-confidential paperwork for the STATE. The STATE was composed of leaders from each Work Quadrant: Consumables, Plastics, Law, and Documents. The STATE ruled over all 100 Work Centers located in its own providence. The only form of government above the STATEs was the Supreme STATE: a powerful and resolute government ruled by unknown individuals. As this train of thought tapered from his mind, a line soon formed around the blockade. Within a few minutes he continued on his drive. It was 05:57 and he was five minutes away. His heart beat faster and faster as his car wheels’ squealed from usage. He arrived at his Work Center at 06:01, a minute late. He rushed into the crowded center, but walked when he saw other workers. When he entered through the sliding doors, he saw a huge back facing him in front of hundreds of dull colorless cubicles. The sound of keyboard clicking surrounded him as waited anxiously to be confronted by his new boss. “One minute late…” the lumpy back said, “you think the STATE is a joke? Do you find me laughable? Or perhaps you wish for exile and death…”

38076 gulped loudly looking down at his unpolished dress shoes. “N-No sir, of course not, s-sir. I j-just…had an issue at h-home…” Truth be told, he was terrified.

“Problem? We don’t have problems. Problems are burned, or hanged, or shocked. Are you going to be a problem, 38076?”

“N-no sir. I will not be a problem! I just…”

“Hmm one warning. This was your one warning. If you become a problem,” the huge back turned towards 38076, revealing a tall and grey man with a hideous face whose skull looked as though it would burst from beneath his tight clammy skin, ”I will personally see to it that you will be permanently taken care of.” He did not wait for a response as he turned back around and started to walk away. He paused and said, “ Oh yes. I will need you to stay in here and work during your break. For your...insubordination...as it were.”

38076 gulped and wiped his damp hands onto his dress pants. As the man got further and further away, he searched for his new work cubicle labelled with his number. ‘Lets see… oh, there it is,’ he thought. 38076 examined his bare cubicle, only containing an empty filing cabinet, a strained office chair, and a dusty computer that was out-of-date. ‘I wonder what happened to the last guy who worked here… maybe I shouldn’t think about it too hard,’ he dreaded to know what became of the former worker. He sat on the dinky office chair carefully, afraid it might give under his light weight. He learned the basics of his job through a virtual tutorial and quickly got to typing.

Six hours later...

*RING! RING!*

A loud bell rang throughout the office and would have ruptured ears that were not used to its toll. 38076 glanced up from his computer and settled his tired hands on its keyboard. “Okay everyone, BREAK TIME!” a voice ranged above him from a staticky speaker, “You have exactly 15 minutes until you are to report back to your cubicles.” 38076 looked up from over his cubicle and saw a hoard of white dress shirts stampede into the large break area in the back of the building. He looked at the group longingly as they pulled out their pristine sandwiches and exhaust-branded cigarettes. Seemingly, out of nowhere, a slightly rambunctious voice spoke to him.

“Oh, hey! You must be the new guy. I’m usually alone in here if you can believe it. I’m 07734.”

Chapter Text

38076 looked up towards the unexpected voice. Above him was another young man; he was leaning over the top of his cubicle, dangling his arms in a carefree manner. He had mischievous, diamond blue eyes and a confident smirk that somehow seemed friendly and inviting. He had wavy, dirty blond hair that looked like it had never been combed. The most noticeable detail about him was a small beauty mark located just above his left cheek.

“Oh uh, I’m 38076...did you need something?” implored 38076.

“Need something? I only need your attention! You wouldn’t believe how boring these 15 minutes usually are. Pretending to work is such a drag dude,” groaned 07734.

38076’s eyes widened. ‘Who doesn’t work when they’re already in trouble,’ he thought, ‘and how has he not been assigned a new job?’ “If you always get in troubled,” 38076 asked after deciding to voice his questions, “then why are you still here?”

“Honestly, I have no idea man. Maybe they’re dumber than I thought. I’ve worked here as long as I can remember. Anyway, were you seriously gonna work during your lunch? Those brainless idiots barely check to see if we work in here. All ya gotta do is pretend to be typing when they walk by.”

“Uh yes actually I was. I can’t afford to get in trouble again, you know.”

“Oh yeah... didn’t he give you a little speech or whatever? ‘One more chance’ or something ridiculous like that. Honestly, if you’re already in trouble, you might as well go out with a bang. At least, that’s what I think.”

38076 looked at the man with a bewildered gaze. ‘Does he seriously think I would just give away my chances of living? He must be crazy! He may be able to avoid being taken, but I’m can’t!’ “Listen,” spoke 38076 in a calm voice, “you may not ever get in serious trouble, but I can and will if I don’t do this job. It’s my last available option and I need to do it well.”

07734 gazed down at him with a hint of pity. He seemed disappointed for only a second, then his eyes seemed to fill with what looked like determination. “You may say that now,” he said seriously, “but just you wait. You’re different man, I can tell. Usually nobody talks to me so you’re already leagues better than most of these dweebs. They’re all sticks in the mud who don’t think for themselves. Hey, tell ya what. I won’t do any of my wicked pranks today and then we can see each other in lunch tomorrow. These 15 minutes are up soon so I gotta go back to my seat. Oh yeah, wait outside for me when the final bell rings.”

38076 had no time to respond as the other man quickly slipped away. In a matter of seconds, the same clanging bell that signaled the 15 minutes rang again. A pale sea of workers flooded out of the break area to start their boring routine once again. ‘I should get back to work,’ 38076 thought as he resumed typing. ‘Should I wait for him? How do I know he’s not lying? He seemed pretty...unique.’ As he typed furiously, he couldn't stop contemplating about his odd coworker. ‘I guess I can wait five minutes for him,’ he finally decided as he snapped out of his thoughts to focus on typing.

Six more hours later…

*RING! RING!*

38076 ears perked as he heard the bell ring, signalling an end to his exhausting day. As he gingerly got up from his rickety seat, he fast-walked out of the Work Center. He drew out his virtual card key and jerked to a stop. He almost forgot to wait for 07734 in his after-work daze. He choose to wait beside his car patiently. Three minutes passed before 07734 came bustling out of the large building. 38076 watched as he caught sight of him and jogged towards his car.

“I *huff* came as fast *huff* as I could. Our stupid boss decided to *huff* talk to me just as I was gonna leave. It’s like*huff* he knew I had somewhere to be! Anyway, thank for waiting man,” 07734 said as he took in deep breaths.

“No problem? Why did you want me to wait, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Here dude, I want you to have this lil’ key.” 07734 handed 38076 a small key. He was surprised to see it was a metal key, since most modern keys were digital. As he examined it, he noticed it looked like faded gold with minor scuffling scars. He turned it over and saw a strange pattern of bumps on its back.

“Thanks? What is this and why’d you give it to me?”

“To answer both of your marvelous questions: I dunno. I tried it on any locks I saw and it didn’t open any of ‘em. I’ve had it as long as I can remember, even way back in Care and Training. I have this feeling, man, like I should give it to you. Maybe you’ll find a use for it, who knows? Heh, maybe it’s a key to something really cool ey? You’ll keep it safe though, right?”

“Yes, I will. I, uh, got to go now though, ok? I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“No prob, dude. See ya!” 07734 walked away and turned a corner, disappearing behind the building mysteriously.

‘All the way since he was in Care and Training? Guess I better take care of this,’ thought 38076 as he got into his car and drove the long journey back home.