The 6am klaxon jolted Tav into a bleary, muddled wakefulness, yanking her from a dream in which she had been enjoying mashed potato and gravy. She had never eaten mashed potato and gravy, but from the books she had read – when there had been books – she imagined it to be salty, buttery, warm. Comforting. It had always struck her, how authors had been obsessed with describing food. Midnight feasts fuelled by lashings of ginger beer. Hot, steaming slices of juicy roast meat served with flavourful vegetables and spicy punch. Creamy hot chocolate. It amazed her that there could ever have been a time when chocolate had ever been available to anyone other than the Overseers.
Another day, another dollar. Wasn't that the saying? Only there were no dollars here. You worked for nutritabs and water, a cot to sleep in and your continued existence.
It hadn't always been like this. People spoke in whispers of a time in the late 2030's when work was exchanged for money, and people had some measure of freedom. Advanced automation techniques had forever changed the face of capitalism – now only the Overseers could go Outside. They owned the factories and the machines, which at first had been a wonderful, labour-saving development. However, when the crisis hit, in 2041, there were no jobs for ordinary people any more. Debt had spiralled out of control, and without employment millions were soon destitute.
It was felt that the people would only experience satisfaction if they worked. Work was the tool to greater motivation, self esteem and worth. So, the WorkFarm was born. Of course all of the necessary tasks to keep society running were already taken care of by the AIs but it was simple enough to find mundane tasks that the Workers could do that, while not actually productive, would keep their hands busy and their minds numb.
Of course, some found it harder than others. The former doctors, lawyers, nurses, firemen and women, teachers – many of them chose to SelfPurge before being rounded up into the WorkFarm. And some were not deemed suitable for the program. It would have been a cruelty to expect the infirm and disabled to cope. The deviants would not have been safe to be in the confines of the Farm – how, after all, could you protect someone from sexual attack from members of their own sex? The resultant drop in population size was seen by many as a blessing. Now there would be more food, more medicine and more resources to go around.
The canteen was silent as Tav and the others shuffled in in a line. Each was given a nutritab and a cup of water, each sat on a sterile metal bench to consume it. The benches were not designed for comfort – you would not sit there for long. Time wasted is time lost forever, as the slogans on the wall said. Breakfast generally took less than 5 minutes from joining the queue to dropping one's cup in the disposal chute. If a Worker was not on the Floor by 6:15am ready to start work, they risked solitary confinement, loss of rations or the Sting.
Tav's work, like that of the other women, involved twisting bolts onto screws. Minute after minute, hour after hour, she plucked a bolt from one box, and a screw from the other, and twisted them together. Oftentimes the screws or the bolts were so worn that they were too stiff to work together, or the threads were gone. But a non-assembled screw and bolt would earn the Sting. More than one would elicit removal of rations. Tav's hands were scarred from forcing bolts unto screws until her fingers bled.
The conjoined bolt/screw arrangements were fed onto a belt, and transported to the Men's section. The men's job was simple enough. To unscrew the bolts from the screws and load them into boxes – one full of screws and one full of bolts. It was the perfect system, a closed cycle, where resources were neither wasted nor thrown away.
Two tables away from Tav, there was a sudden commotion as an older woman quietly, and without any fuss, simply fell to the floor. Tav did not know her name, friendships and interactions where actively discouraged, but she recalled this same woman had been coughing throughout the night at the far end of the dormitory from Tav's own narrow cot. The woman slumped, pale and lifeless, her threaded screw on the floor an inch from her still fingers. Two Overseers briskly appeared, picking her up as though she were a sack of grain, and carried her away. She would not be seen again.
The other Workers simply closed the gap, like water rushing into a hole, and continued their work silently.
The lunchtime klaxon sounded at 1pm, signalling another nutritab and, this time, a reading from the Book. There were no pages in this Book, no ink. It was held on a tablet by Head Overseer, and pronounced from. Themes included the benevolence of the government, the folly of laziness, the danger of grandiose thinking, the perils of academia and the fruitlessness of religion. The only thing good about the 30 minute midday break, thought Tav, as she shifted uncomfortable on the edge of the ridged bench, was that one could sit down, even if it was more of a perch than a sit.
The afternoon followed the same pattern as the morning. Pick up a bolt. Pick up a screw. Thread them together. Place on the belt. Tav winced on reopening a cut on her palm while working on a particularly tight screw, but was careful not to lose pace or let an Overseer see she was bleeding. She wiped her hand down her overalls, and continued on.
Evening klaxon sounded at 8pm, and the Workers downed tools and filed silently back into the canteen for the last nutritab of the day. This time, one wall of the canteen was completely filled with a black screen. There were Purges daily – political criminals mostly, Deviants, academics and liberals. These were shown in the WorkFarms to instil gratitude in the Workers that they were spared from living in the world with these monsters. When the last Purgee had finished kicking and squirming, there was another short reading from the Book, and the Workers filed back to their cots. Tav stripped out of her overalls and dropped them into the chute at the bottom of the dormitory, took a clean one from the stacks, shrugged it on and climbed wearily into her cot.
The 6am klaxon jolted Tav into a bleary, muddled wakefulness, yanking her from a dream in which she had been enjoying roast beef and yorkshire pudding.