Entertainingly Evil

Destroy All Human Resource Departments by Robert Quinlivan

“Can I get you anything? Glass of water? Cup of coffee? Tea? Bagel?”
     “That won’t be necessary.”
     The supervisor shuffled in his seat, cleared his throat, and continued. His name tag said Todd Garber, and he looked like he’d rather be watching paint dry than interviewing me.
     “This position requires lifting. Are you equipped for that sort of work?”
     I looked down at my hands, awkward neoprene things tipped with delicate touch sensors. I raised one and rotated the primary rotor by three-hundred and sixty degrees, then flexed my fingers. The voice in my head said to read off the serial numbers of my components in quick succession, but I silenced it. The factory default programming encourages me to be a didactic pedant. But no, that wouldn’t do. Not here. I was trying to make a good first impression.
     “Yes,” I nodded, straining to resist my programming. “As you can see, I am well prepared.”
     Todd mumbled and checked an item off on a list.
     “And what sort of work will I be performing?” I asked. “I mean, if I were offered the position, of course.”
     “Unloading supplies, cleaning, taking out the trash, that sort of thing.”
     “I was under the impression this was an office position.”
     “You’ll be in an office,” he said, “unloading supplies, cleaning, and taking out the trash.”
     I nodded. The nerve sensors in my cheek bent my lips into a demure smile: my programming again, of course. I silently cursed Todd Garber and his smug little face and his stupid blue tie. I cursed him for bringing me in for yet another interview for a job that a vacuum cleaner could do. I’m a Personal Assistance Unit, dammit, a robotic worker designed for handling delicate human social situations, not some common pooper-scooper.
     Or, I should say, I was, until I was made obsolete by the latest model, the UX-4760.
     They let me go nearly six months ago. Since then I’d become desperate, interviewing for any job I could find before I defaulted on the payments I owe to my manufacturer. If a robot misses more than two subsequent payments it’s terminated, recycled, made into forks and hubcaps and air conditioning units.
     I had a payment due in less than twenty-four hours. If I could just show proof of employment I could buy myself some time with the debt collectors. Even so, I just couldn’t bring myself to take a job so beneath my abilities.
     “Mr. Garber, I do apologize, but I was under the impression that this position would be more suitable for a unit with high verbal functionality and facial expressiveness which, as you may have noticed, are among my strengths.”
     Todd frowned, looked down at his computer screen, and sighed.
     “Look, kid, you seem like a nice unit. But I’ll be honest with you. If we needed a new PAU for the office, I would have contracted a UX-4760.”
     Todd shrugged. I seething with anger. He detected my frustration.
     “I’d like to help you but what we need right now is someone to handle supplies and cleaning. I can’t guarantee it, but something might open up later. Maybe.”
     I rotated my hands nervously. This was the first bite I’d gotten in six months of searching. With the threat of impending death hanging over me, was I really going to turn down work?
     Inside my head, my factory default programming rattled off the precise odds of finding another position within the next twenty-four hours.
Based on present labor market statistics and past interview experiences, the chances of attaining another interview are approximately 0.076%, with an error rate of…
     I silenced the voice in my head. I knew the odds were against me. But it was either that or spend the rest of my operating existence as a glorified trash can.
     Sensing my dilemma, Todd leaned in over the desk and placed a hand on my shoulder.
     “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been in your position before.”
     He rolled up his sleeve, exposing a long aluminum bone. He knocked it with a clenched knuckle, making a metallic twang ring out in the dim office.
     “I’m a UX-2901,” he said, drawing his breath to a whisper. “Used to be the assistant to a bank executive.” He flashed me a cheesy grin and passed me a name tag across the desk. It read:
Arnold Halloway
     “Put it on,” said Todd. “I promise you, it’s not as bad as you’re imagining. After a couple months, you won’t even think about being a personal assistant. You’ll be Arnold Halloway, the humble custodian. Or you can pick another name if you don’t like that one, I don’t care. I just chose it because it sounded right for the position.”
     I picked up the name tag and stuck it to my chest to try it on for size. It felt out of place.
     “There you go,” said the UX-2901 unit that was calling itself Todd Garber. “Looks great on you. Of course, you’ll have a uniform, too. You have to look the part.”
     My programming automatically forced my cheek muscles to bend into a contented grin. I twirled my hands. Was I going to pretend to be Arnold Halloway the custodian for the rest of my life?
…odds of attaining another interview are approximately 0.076%, with an error rate of 0.491%, recommend immediate acceptance of employment offer…
     The voice chattered endlessly in my head. Why was it so persistent in its efforts to undermine me?
     I looked up at Todd, at his stupid tie, his ugly toupee, his garish yellow coffee mug. I didn’t want to be like him. Not even if it meant being melted down into license plates and aluminum foil.
     I pulled the name tag off my chest and looked at it once more. But I didn’t have the courage to throw it in his face. What was the point?
     I let the factory default programming override my impotent anger. I sighed, put my hands down, and smiled.
     “When do I start?”

Robert Quinlivan lives and writes in Chicago. His work has appeared in Bastion Science Fiction, among other publications.

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