It was too fucking early for this shit, or that’s what Brandon was thinking as he opened the door to the company van. Too fucking early, and too fucking stupid. There was no reason all four of them needed to go on this abysmal four-hour trip to bumfuck Georgia, where the tail end of hurricanes went to sleep, drowning the grass and flooding basements but not actually destroying homes. The town wasn’t even good enough to die by hurricane. Not even God cared.
But his fucking boss sure did! This was going to be one part R&D, one part machining master, one part Engineering guro, and one part Brandon, the dumbass with the camera. Everyone present had a smart phone, but everyone else was important. They had to ask questions! Take notes! That meant ol’ Brandon had to film. “Documentation,” the plant manager had said. “So I don’t have to go,” the plant manager had said. Brandon supposed that made him part of R&D, which was kind of cool, but it was also 5:00 in the morning. That was too early for cool, even if it was chilly for Alabama.
“Everyone ready?” Dave said as he put the van into drive. It hummed and thrummed and did things vans did. Brandon didn’t care because it was time to sleep. At least he’d get paid for that, and he supposed that was kind of cool too.
“Yeah,” Molly said, the engineering guro. This was her idea.
They pulled out of the parking lot, and Brandon did his best to make his forearm into a pillow. It wasn’t quite working, but he was also too tired to really care. His norm was waking up at 7:30, chugging a coffee, and driving to work for his first morning piss. It wasn’t a great routine, but it worked for him. It also started three and a half hours later, but who was counting?
“This is going to be so cool,” Scott said, already tapping away on his laptop. “If this goes well—and I think it will—we’ll be the first machining company to purchase a robot. Well, a real robot. Think about it!” Scott kept talking, but Brandon didn’t want to think about it. It wasn’t important.
Brandon dozed off as Scott went on about robot workings and robot accuracy. Something, something, never missing registration. Something something never getting dirty because the robot wouldn’t ever leave the plant.
The underlying thought was, of course, something something firing half the plant because robots didn’t need insurance, hourly wages, or smoke breaks.
“Hey Brandon!” Molly said from the front, waking Brandon up from a light doze. “You awake back there?”
“You got everything, right?”
“Yeah.” Two batteries, a notebook, and the company camera. It shot in HD and probably did a thousand other things, but the manual was too long for Brandon to really bother with. He got the point of it; point and click. Just like a video game.
“You sure? No going back now.”
Molly turned on the radio, finding a political station because she had to be insufferable in every sense of the word, and the whole van listened as Brad Horkson fear mongered about the dangers of Atheism.
Brandon punched at his arm, trying to soften it up like it was a pillow, and began to doze again. A bruise formed where he had hit, blackening his pale skin.
“Hey Brandon,” Molly said, waking him up again. He checked the clock and saw an hour and a half had passed. Well, that wasn’t so bad. Two and a half to go, but he had his phone with him. That had video games. “You awake?”
“You ever think about killing yourself?”
What? “What?” There was no way he had heard the question right. He was still half asleep, still groggy.
“Sure,” Molly said, as if she had asked about the weather or the second wall the president was building along the Canadian border. “I mean, it’s normal, right?”
“Yeah,” Scott said. Jeff echoed the sentiment from the front seat.
“Uh,” Brandon said, hoping someone would repeat the question he clearly had not heard right. “I dunno.”
“How can you not know?” Molly asked, performing a lane change without blinking. God she was even a bitch while she drove. “It’s a yes or no question.”
“If I were you,” Jeff said, his face buried in his phone, “I’d kill myself.”
“Only logical,” Scott said.
Brandon was stuck between confused as hell and angry as hell. What the fuck was going on?
“If I were you,” Molly repeated, “I’d kill myself. Probably with a knife. Everyone owns knives.”
“I have one if you need it,” Scott said. Brandon heard a click as Dan opened his pocket knife and made to hand it to him. “Here.”
“I mean,” Jeff said, “If I were you, I’d kill myself.”
The knife gleamed. At some point during the last half hour, the sun had risen. The sky still had wafts of pink shot through it, though the knife didn’t reflect those. Just the sun.
“Here,” Scott said. “You can borrow it, but I want it back when you’re done.”
Brandon took the knife. He didn’t want to, but he also kind of did. He didn’t know why. Yeah sure he was depressed sometimes, but who wasn’t? The country was building a fucking wall on the border of Canada and robots were going to take over the most basic of jobs. The American dream was as dead as a forgotten goldfish won at a carnival. For some fucking reason, the country still had those.
“Fuck you,” Brandon said. “I’m telling HR about this.” Yet took the knife. He held it and watched the sun gleam.
“That’s okay,” Scott said. “That’s what I’d do too. But only after, you know?”
“Sure,” Jeff said. He was still looking at his phone.
“Did you know AI will do whatever we tell it, because the A stands for artificial?” Molly said from the front seat. She made another lane change without blinking. “Cool huh?”
Brandon looked at the knife. He didn’t want to use it, didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want about a million things, but he wasn’t sure if that mattered.
“Fuck off,” he said as he closed the knife then flicked it back open.
“If I were you, I’d kill myself” Scott repeated. “And then give me my knife back. It’s a good knife, you know?”
Brandon did. It was sharp.
Jeff put his phone down and turned to look at Brandon from the front seat. There was something off about his face, something twisted and broken. He didn’t look real.
“Do you want to do it?” Jeff asked. “Kill yourself, I mean?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Molly said from the front. She was speeding now, zooming by everyone at 20 mph over the limit. On the radio, Brad Horkson talked about the horrors of atheism and the wonders of AI because they believe everything they are told. The A stands for artificial.
“I don’t want to,” Brandon whispered.
“I wonder what that’s like,” Jeff said, now going back to his phone. Brandon saw that he was playing Angry Birds. “Not wanting to do something.”
“If I were you,” the Molly and Scott said together. “I’d kill myself.”
Brandon pressed the knife to his left wrist. He didn’t want to, but he realized that even though he was himself, he’d do it too.