05 Oct The Unproductive Ones – Chapter One
The Unproductive Ones
by Cristián Londoño Proaño
Translated by Lorraine Caputo
Operator 220 arrived at six in the morning to his Stock Exchange Building in the north of the city. He entered the main door, walked down the main hall and placed himself at the end of the double line the other Operators had formed for the elevator. He didn’t talk with his neighbors. Scornfully, he barely looked at them. Today begins my rise to the top, he told himself with a sarcastic smile.
He entered the elevator and took a corner. On the diminutive screen, the floor numbers counted off. I will achieve a just price for my effort, he thought, as the panel indicated 125.
When the elevator door opened, he delved into his floor and saw the Operator of the Month hologram. A cold stinging sensation circulated throughout his body. It’s been a month since I was beaten, he said to himself, and I couldn’t stop it.
But this month, I have the victory assured. I am the winner.
For a few minutes, he contemplated that white-complexioned face with brown eyes and thin chin. He remembered that Operator 305 had thwarted his designation as Floor Manager. Eleven times he had positioned himself to be Operator of the Month, for eleven months – and last month he lost, thanks to a sufficient strategy Operator 305 had used.
That twelfth month, Operator 305 had negotiated a block of food company shares at half the price. At first, he judged it was a horrible buy on the part of his rival. But within a few days, the value of the shares began to rise and triple. The woman took the opportunity to sell them and earn the points she needed to win the stock market competition. This strategy had impressed him and motivated him to make a decision, without realizing the consequences.
The day after his defeat, just as he got off the elevator at his floor, he found himself face to face with Operator 305. He had a strange sensation he had never felt before for any Productive Being. Very spontaneously, he said: “Congratulations, Operator.” The stockbroker 305 kept her face stony, not moving a muscle, and replied with a sharp tone, “You lost, I won.” She then slipped away in the midst of a group of stock market employees who had entered the floor. He stood in the hall, wondering about the primitive emotion he had felt for his rival.
In the course of the following days, he could not answer his question. He knew he had liked the emotion, he could describe it but not define it. It was like an electrical current that shot up his spinal cord and expanded down his extremities. Onc,e he was tempted to visit his rival’s cubicle and look her in the eyes. That simple act would have been enough for him to understand that primitive emotion. Although perhaps he would never understand.
But he wasn’t courageous enough, nor did he want to throw his future away. He had an idea, he had it clearly: He had to arrive to the top. He would not stop until he was another Robert Zach.
“It doesn’t serve you to compete unless you win.” The voice of the Global Television announcer pulled him out of his thoughts.
Your neighbor can be your worst enemy … Being first is the most important … These phrases were the secret to success that made Operator 550, one of millions of productive beings, win the competitions in each of the buildings, in each of the cities and in each of the zones, climbing positions and earn the right to become “Robert Zach, The Maker.”
He walked along his floor. He knew it was the same as all the floors of all the other stock buildings. All, absolutely all, were arranged on a mathematical matrix.
Twenty rows by twenty columns repeated in 200 square meters. Four hundred cubicles, 400 Operators, 400 stockbrokers that traded at the same time, fighting for points to be the first on the monthly list. The location of his cubicle was U5: Column U and Row 5. He took Column U.
“The Asians always acquire shares of the best companies!” He heard the furious shout of an Operator that was in the third row.
He noticed that that individual had virtual goggles on and had turned off the holographic screen. It’s ridiculous, the man said to himself as if commenting to another person, complaining to the walls of his cubicle. He’s losing time. He should be detained for unproductive activities.
He continued his course. At the fifth row, he turned and sat down at his workstation. He put on the neural crown and virtual googles.
“On,” he muttered.
Between the metallic porticoes, the holographic screen opened. He briefly reviewed the indexes of the main stock exchanges: Wall Street had risen seventy points, Tokyo had dropped ten points. London, Rio de Janeiro and Paris had remained unchanged. He asked the computer to display the monthly list of Operators in his department. He verified his score and placement.
I’m in first place, he said to himself with pride and emotion. I just need to make one transaction. Perhaps I could buy a package of shares from a genetic lab and then sell them for three times the points. An excellent transaction. My point difference with increase in comparison to Operator 305 and I’ll reach my objective. At last, I’ll gain my twelfth month and I’ll be made Floor Manager.
He cracked a sweet, pronounced smile. He continued to revise the list and discovered that Operator 305 was still in second place with 290 thousand points. His smile softened.
The same number of points as two days ago, he told himself with admiration. Perhaps there’s a system error. He ordered the machine to check the system, looking for network errors over the past two days.
“The system is operating optimally,” he read on his screen.
What’s happened to this stockbroker? he said to himself, trying to find an answer.
He felt uncomfortable. Could it be that Operator 305 had been a coward, that she had opted for inertia when she found that any of her attempts proved unsuccessful, because he would win this time?
A malicious idea came to his mind. An idea that had evilness similar to what any productive being in the same situation would have. Perhaps the young Operator was afraid of her inevitable defeat, and couldn’t control herself and committed suicide.
He heard several voices passing through his floor.
“Video,” he ordered his computer.
In one corner of his holographic screen transmitted the signal of the closed-circuit cameras. A pair of Detectors was crossing the floor. She was a small, svelte woman with a round face. The other, a middle-aged man with a strong body and a flattened chin. They entered cubicle 305. The Floor Manager had a pale face. He felt sorry for his boss.
He recalled that a few months ago, the previous Manager had serious problems with the Detectors because of a case of unproductivity. The official had not systematically reported the case of an Operator who had arrived late for work for three days in a row.
The Manager had only verbally reprimanded the unpunctual operator. The next day, the Detectors did not take long to arrive to the 125th floor and apprehend the unproductive Operator and the Manager, accusing him of concealing “a crime of unproductiveness.”
On his holographic screen, he watched the Detectors’ procedures. One of the cameras focused on the agent that was adjusting his glasses and crossing his arms. The woman approached the metal porticoes of the cubicle. Meanwhile, the Manager did not stop observing the Detectors’ rigid movements.
The man gestured with his hand to the Manager, requesting that he leave the cubicle. The woman remained seated in front of the metal porticoes. He heard the murmur of the Manager’s and Detector’s voices nearing bit by bit.
“The first case of unproductivity that has occurred in your administration,” he heard the gruff voice of the Detector say.
“As soon as I noticed that Operator 305 was not coming to work, I contacted the Service,” he heard the Manager’s emphatic response.
“Don’t worry, Manager 125,” said the Detector. “We haven’t filed any charges against you.”
The voices fell completely silent. Intrigued, he got up from his chair and looked down the hall as the Detector and the Manager moved away from the cubicles and towards the manager’s office. He returned to his post and paid attention to the video window that was still open on his holographic screen. The Detector was sitting in the chair of cubicle 305. She put on the neural crown and virtual goggles, reviewing the Unproductive’s information.
What happened to the Operator, to cause her to desert? she asked herself.
The Detector ordered the machine to shut itself down, turned her body and rested her head on the back of the chair. One of the cameras captured her face. Her brown eyes shined brightly and her facial expression was relaxed. Suddenly, her fine lips formed a word that summarized in one word all the investigation in that workplace: “Nothing.”
“Attention, Operators,” a female voice said over the floor’s loudspeakers. “Code Orange.” He settled back in his chair. He had not imagined that the defection of the Unproductive was so serious. As stipulated in the regulation, when the Detectors thought it was convenient, they could declare a Code Orange or a Code Red. Code Orange code was a DNA sample taken from everyone on the floor.
Code Red was an interrogation of each of the Operators. He had heard many times, the stockbrokers got too nervous and ended up confessing to whatever behavior that may have been done that did not comply with procedures. Others thought it a good opportunity to get rid of rivals and lie, saying that so-and-so Operator had committed a crime of unproductivity.
“Three hundred forty-nine,” announced the female voice.
On one corner of his holographic screen, he watched the security camera video. Operator 349 got up from his chair with a slight tremor in his hands. He thought that it would not be at all odd for that stock market employee to plead guilty to having ingested unpermitted quantities of Boxin.
The Detectors would smile compassionately and tell him not to worry, that it happened frequently, he had committed no crime. “As you should know, Operator 349,” the Detectors would say, “Boxin is a substance of unrestricted consumption.” The Operator would breathe a sigh of relief and apologize for the impertinence.
On his holographic screen an icon flashed, indicating that a block of shares had been placed for sale in the virtual market. He verified the provenance. It was a package placed by an Operator in the West Zone. There were only ten shares from one of the laboratories that make Boxin. It seemed his prayers had been heard.
These laboratories are revalued daily, he told himself. They elaborate a genetic product for mass consumption. The same Global Corporation distributes it free of charge in doses of twenty vials per month … I must buy those shares at half the price and then I could sell them for twice as much.
“Four thousand points,” the computer indicated.
His offer entered the virtual market, along with two others. The first offer was from a Frenchman who proposed five thousand more points and the second was from an Arab who gave seven thousand five hundred. On the screen appeared his opponents. The French Operator, a white guy with brown hair and wide eyebrows. The Arab was a stocky man, with a round face and a wide mustache.
“Eight thousand points,” said the Frenchman.
“Ten thousand five hundred points,” responded the Arab.
“Fifty thousand points,” he said, certain that this price would be much higher than his competitors and he would acquire the shares.
“Sixty thousand,” said the Frenchman.
“Sixty-five thousand,” the Arab proposed immediately.
“Eighty thousand,” counteroffered the Frenchman.
He ordered his computer to put an “Operator on hold” sign. A digital clock appeared on his screen and the countdown began. He had five minutes to give his last offer. After that time, if he did not indicate another value, the system assumed that he had abandoned the transaction. I cannot let those shares be taken by the Frenchman, he told himself, biting his lips.
“Seventy-six,” he heard on the loudspeakers. It was the number of the next Operator summoned for interrogation. He concentrated on his transaction. He decided to use everything in his power. He had to get those actions at all costs. He reviewed the West Zone’s monthly list.
“Twenty-four.” He heard the next interrogation call like a murmur. He decided not to listen to the speakers and concentrate on his work. If his turn came, he would know it when they said his number. He turned his gaze to the screen. He checked the Operator’s history. He was an employee in the second-to-last place on his floor’s monthly list and had remained in that position for two consecutive weeks.
He noticed another distinctive feature: The Operator was at the limit of his useful existence. He knew that, according to the procedures, all the stockbrokers had forty years of usefulness and then they had to be removed from the service and sent to the Organ Bank. If he denounced the fact to the Detectors, they would soon take him away and hand over the shares to the Operator that offered the highest points.
Does the fact that I get the promotion merit denouncing an Operator who has one minute of life left? he said to himself. A question that’s too unproductive. The top is the most important thing. He sent a message to the Detectors, notifying them that the useful existence of that Operator was at the limit. It was a matter of minutes before knowing what had happened.
In the distance, he heard the numbers of the Operators who had to go for interrogation in the Floor Manager’s office. He ordered the waiting sign to be removed. At that moment, he looked at his holographic screen as a couple of Detectors held the French Operator by the arms, telling him that he had fulfilled his useful existence. The Frenchman shouted that he was the victim of a betrayal. The Detectors took him out of his cubicle. The system proceeded to deliver the package of shares.
I did it, he told himself. I knew I should act fast. This was the moment.
“I’m selling the Boxin laboratory shares at one hundred thousand points,” he said. Three offers arrived from different continents.
The first offer had the points he had asked for. The second had three thousand points more, and the third five thousand points more. He accepted the last offer. He was happy. He had done it. Thanks to the obtained score, certainly he would end the day in first place and he would have achieved his twelfth month.
“Operator 220,” announced the female voice over the loudspeakers.