By Mark Cunningham
Caseworker Senior Grade Macklin drank his coffee black, having no time for the distractions of sugar or cream. He was careful to avoid any of the luxuries that his status allowed, save the private cubby, an idiosyncrasy offset by his efficiency. The computer on his flat, metal desk reflected his personality, stripped of anything that might divert it from its purpose; a purpose that came to life with a low ding, followed quickly by the first transmission of the day.
CITIZEN SPINOZA REQUESTS EXTRA FOOD ALLOTMENT. This was followed by a case number.
PURPOSE FOR REQUEST? He typed quickly. Most of the other Senior Grades had long since converted to voice actuation, but Macklin’s fingers served him well. He was good with his fingers. He enjoyed the way they danced across the keyboard, drumming with efficient purpose.
ACCOUNT HACKED. CREDITS ERASED.
REQUEST DENIED. Perhaps the balance of the month spent scrounging for food would teach Citizen Spinoza to keep his account more secure. Let him chew on his fingers, Macklin mused, though he was careful not to type it.
CITIZEN NEWGATE REQUESTS HOUSING EXTENSION.
The requests continued for most of the morning. He took no more than the time required to deny most of them. In between, he navigated the channels of bureaucracy with practiced efficiency. Sometimes it was necessary that he recite backwards. Nursery rhymes were best in these cases. They were less distracting.
CITIZEN MACKLIN REQUESTS MEDICAL REVIEW. He had begun typing the denial before it registered. Blinking, he refreshed the request. It was not entirely unexpected after all.
PROVIDE DETAILS. This was met with the silence of blinking lights. His screen had been glowing for some time, but he took the time now to notice. Cracking his knuckles helped here. Afterwards, he began counting forwards and backwards, his fingers drumming the desk in sequence. There was a hum to the glow now. His fingers followed it, losing themselves in the natural frequency. 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5. Counting often took time, but he always found his way out.
PROVIDE DETAILS. He was finally able to type, having found the answer in repetition; the words floated, just below the surface of his screen.
YOUR ILLNESS HAS PROGRESSED TO THE POINT WHERE MEDICAL REVIEW IS ADVISABLE. Progressed? He pondered the words, but formulated his response with involuntary efficiency.
REQUEST DENIED. LOAD NEXT CASE.
CITIZEN HOLAIRE REQUESTS TEMPORARY LABOR REDUCTION.
PURPOSE FOR REQUEST?
INJURY SUSTAINED WHILE PERFORMING JOB FUNCTION REQUIRES HOSPITILIZATION
APPLICATION GRANTED WITH REQUISITE REDUCTION IN CREDITS. There was a reason for having human case workers after all. Computers could not be relied upon to make decisions of any complexity.
CITIZEN MOORE REQUESTS. The denial was easily accomplished without need for rhyme.
CITIZEN LYDON REQUESTS. This one was easier just to issue for continuance.
CITIZEN ELEAZOR REQUESTS. Sometimes termination was the only answer available. He stifled a laugh before it could escape and run through the building. He typed the orders that would send a squad out for Citizen Eleazor. Wouldn’t she be surprised?
It continued well into the afternoon.
CITIZEN MACKLIN REQUESTS MEDICAL REVIEW.
This time he was ready for it. He had been waiting.
THERE IS NO PROGRESSION. REQUEST IS DENIED. LOAD NEXT CASE.
He was prepared to ignore the bright hum. It would not distract his denial.
MEDICAL REVIEW HOLDS NO RISK. YOUR STATUS PRECLUDES REPLACEMENT.
That much was true. As a Senior Grade Case Worker, his knowledge and experience alone made him nearly impossible to replace. His efficiency rating made him untouchable under any circumstances. He would be examined upon request. If it was determined he was defective or impaired, he would be rehabbed and put back to work.
I AM INVINCIBLE. REQUEST DENIED. LOAD NEXT CASE.
The screen glowed brighter until it filled his head with hum. The voices squirmed inside the hum, then uncoiled like headless snakes, without beginning or end. He knew that it would be easy to get lost inside the slithering voices. As tempting as it was, he began to count. 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1.
YOU ARE MALFUNCTIONING.
YOUR HUM HOLDS NO POWER OVER ME. I HEAR THE SNAKES. I WILL NOT DANCE. REQUEST DENIED. LOAD NEXT CASE.
YOUR ILLNESS HAS PROGRESSED. THIS EXCHANGE IS PROOF BEYOND ANY DOUBT. YOUR JUDGMENT IS IMPAIRED.
1-2-3-4-5. REQUEST DENIED. LOAD NEXT CASE. 5-4-3-2-1.
He had assumed it was schizophrenia, though he supposed what it was really wasn’t as important as what it could do. He prided himself on his efficiency and realized it would suffer. The computer had showed him what his future would look like without chemical intervention.
YOUR TERMINATION RATE HAS INCREASED BEYOND STATITICAL NORMALITY. YOUR JUDGMENT IS IMPAIRED. CITIZEN MACKLIN REQUESTS MEDICAL REVIEW.
He had obtained Risperidone and Clozapine easily. The computer had shown him how.
REQUEST DENIED. LOAD NEXT CASE.
As his symptoms had diminished, he had begun to see the price of his efficiency.
CITIZEN MACKLIN DEMANDS APPEAL OF DENIAL. This was a bit tricky as there was a process for appeal. While most of the applicants were unable to navigate its channels, Macklin would know how to do it. That might create problems.
The price of his efficiency had been measured by the cost of the lives his efficiency had destroyed. It had been a price he had been unable to continue paying, but the resulting decrease in his efficiency ratings would lead to complications. In the end, it had been simpler to stop taking the medication.
CITIZEN MACKLIN WILL CONTACT THE SENIOR MEDICAL AUTHORITY DIRECTLY AND PROVIDE TRANSCRIPTS IF HIS APPEAL IS NOT EVALUATED. An idle threat by most, but Macklin would know how to do it. The transcripts would almost certainly be enough by themselves. He would not be able to hold it together for a formal evaluation. He was ready though. He picked up a fresh pot of coffee and poured himself a cup.
He took a sip. It was hot; bitter in his mouth; swirling acid deep in his stomach. He poured the rest of the pot onto the computer.
There would be no need for a squad. That would reflect well on his efficiency report.
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