by Brett V. Hoxie
A warehouse of robots, conveyor belts, and packages hummed in motion. Package after package came to Louis. One time, he tried to count them in a single day but after the 751st, he became bored and counted conveyor rollers instead. Eventually he grew tired of counting all together and gave up. Every package must be wrapped with steel cable. The steel cable was the important part. Without it, these packages could never fly and the ability to fly was what was most important to Louis.
Louis Ramirez sat on his stool as a basket stopped in front of his work station. He stared out of the massive window above him, past the many belts shooting packages here and there, and into the soft blue hue of the sky above.
The robots beeped and chirped. The conveyors turned and whirled. The packages zipped and zoomed. You could smell the packages; the smell of fresh cardboard. Some had the scent of weather from far away. Others had the scent of the mysterious item within.
Louis worked in the Sorting Floor B complex. The room resembled a very large warehouse that housed the very massive sorting machine. The machine was so large that there were seven work floors with many stations like his. Some people monitored the sorting while others assisted.
He believed his station was the best because it overlooked the Drone Pad below. Behind the pad was the massive window that allowed all incoming and outgoing air traffic. The Complex sat on a hill allowing someone standing at Louis’ station to see the tops of a few skyscrapers below. On a clear day, one could even see the ocean.
“RAMIREZ,” yelled the Foreman from above. “Get back to work you daydreaming fool!
Louis snapped back into reality. He tucked his dream of flying off his stool carefully back into his imagination. He had a very large dream. Louis had always wanted to fly. He knew he could never be a real pilot but that did not mean he could not fly drones. Four packages were gently being pushed into a release wall as a fifth raced around the corner.
He quickly grabbed the first package with one hand, dragging it onto his work station as his other hand fingered a meter long steel cable tie. He wrapped one cable length wise followed by another to wrap the width. With his other hand he pulled the ties tight and cut the slack. He completed his task by clipping a metal ring in the center where the two cables overlapped. He pushed the package off his station and with a push of the button, the package zoomed through the retainer wall, down a rolling slide, which directed it to a pad below.
Louis watched in fascination as a helicopter drone zoomed from above and down to the pad. In seconds, the package was secure and the drone zoomed out through the window.
“What did I say Ramirez,” questioned the Foreman. “Last time today. You’re not even close to quota.” A machine popped.
“Dammit Gonzales! Call the mechanic ASAP! Where were you!” The Foreman ran into the forest of scaffolding holding the many levels of the sorting machine.
The sound of the lunch whistle blew through the cavernous room, drowning out the sounds of the machines powering down. A small group of mechanics would spend the next hour servicing parts of the machine they could not do while it was running.
“LUNCH,” screamed another foreman on another floor above him.
Louis filed out building with the rest of his coworkers as the conveyors and robots slowed to a halt. The humming was reduced to a buzz as they waited to be turned back on.
Louis had decided he wanted some pizza today. He trudged along the sidewalk constantly bumping into people.
“Watch where you’re going buddy,” a man yelled bouncing off of him. Louis was too busy looking up.
Above the street was the Drone-way. Thousands of drones flew by on the left and right side, following the same rules that cars abide by. Some were remotely being driven but most were autonomous. At intersections, north and south swarms flew under the east and west streams. Sometimes there were so many drones at once, it was hard to tell what was above them. He imagined that the street from above looked like millions of ants pouring through the city.
Louis had been an employee of the American Postal Service for five years. He remembered being taught in school about the Great Privatization of America. It was what allowed the American Postal Service to soar to new heights.
“…and new profits,” quoted Louis.
He came to a large window with a beautiful painting of a pizza on it. Inside he asked for two slices of pepperoni and sat returned to sit outside under the window. He loved to watch the city and the drones. A newscast was playing across the street. The windows of many skyscrapers acted like a network of giant television screens. This one happened to be playing a news broadcast. A official dressed man was addressing the camera with suave hand movements.
“Who is that guy,” asked Louis to a business man at the table next to him.
“The CEO of America,” the man said questioningly without taking his eyes off if own tablet computer.
Louis was surprised. He had forgotten who the official was. Did I vote last year? As he ate his pizza, he tried to remember the name of the CEO without success. Another building’s windows advertised the Lunar Sky-way, a space plane with service to the moon.
“One Small Trip for Man,” a soft voice said. It almost seemed lost in the noise of the city.
He pictured himself in a form fitting black suit with golden wings lapeled to his breast. The space plane’s flight stick firm but soft in his hands as he soared above the clouds. He told his copilot to relax; it was his first flight and Louis was training him. The vacuum of space engulfed the plane and the moon began to grow larger and larger.
His watch beeped to reminded him that lunch time over soon. As he finished his pizza, he watched another commercial. A quadcopter dropped a package off into the smiling arms of a perfect family.
“…APS, America’s most trusted Postal Service”
When he got to his station, the Foreman was there. “You were almost late Ramirez.”
“Almost, sir, but never late. For five years.”
“My office in fifteen,” said the Foreman and he stomped off.
Was today the day? Louis didn’t expect it to be today. He quickly dispatched the four remaining packages at his station as the sorting machine began to come alive again.
“I’m your swing-man. Name’s Jason,” said the Swing-man Jason. “Ten minutes to cover station 115B for Louis Ramirez. That guy is a dick up there.”
Louis shook Jason’s hand with a light chuckle and headed towards the offices.
Every year around this time, he filed his request to become a drone operator. If he could not fly a plane, he would fly a drone. At least he could live his dream through a high definition camera.
He left the sorting room floor entering the office area and went through double doors into a very long hallway. The hall was carpeted dark blue with a long pearly white wall on one side. Scattered along the wall were small but very comfortable blue waiting chairs. The opposite wall was one long window that looked into the Flight Control Center. Thousands of monitors filled the wall beyond the windows. Pilots sat in front of their own banks of fifteen monitors with their controls and joysticks at their fingertips. A few leaned back in their chairs sipping coffee or playing on tablets. Others were dropping packages off or troubleshooting problems as they arose. The fun was watching them take control. One pilot took control of lost drone and set it on a corrected path.
He stood next to a chair watching the pilots. It was his favorite place in the whole complex. When he brought lunch, he brought it here to eat.
Louis could lose himself in this place for hours. Today he was going to be promoted. He was going to be an Operator 2nd Class. He continued to the end of the hallway to a set of stairs which he mounted two by two.
After two flights, the Foreman’s office was one of the first in a new hallway. He knocked on the jam of the open doorway and moved inside, taking a seat in front of an empty desk.
“Here sir,” he said.
The Foreman stood with his back to the door and his clipboard under his arm while his hands stirred and sipped from a coffee mug.
“You don’t have time,” he said. “I have to move the Swing-man to Murphy’s post. Parker called in sick. I fired him. You’re staying at station 115B.”
“My review? Sir,” said Louis apprehensively. His excitement instantly drained. “I don’t understand. I’ve never been late. I always meet my quota and then some. I’ve been training to pilot!”
“Enough. You’re at station 115B. For your services, APS is offering you a 1.5% raise for your hard work. Today is good news for both of us. I was promoted Operations Manager of Building A. You will meet the new Foreman for Sorting Floor B on Monday. Relieve the Swing-man.”
The Foreman continued looking out the window to the Sorting Floor. Louis was speechless. A lump swelled in his throat. His stomach turned. His legs became limp. Louis remained in his chair.
“Get back to work Ramirez! You’re going to be late! Late equals less packages. Less packages equals less profit. Less profit equals pissed shareholders and pissed managers. You wouldn’t want to find yourself without a job would you!”
Finding the ability to move and speak, Louis shuffled out of the chair and staggered to the door.
“Yes Sir. No Sir,” he stammered.
He couldn’t believe himself. He wanted to yell and scream., but his body continued to limp and drag itself down the hallway further and further from the Foreman’s office. At the stairs he practically fell down both flights. He unconsciously looked the opposite direction as he passed the Drone Operation Room windows. He had never noticed how white they were.
Swing-man Jason jogged away as Louis hunched over Station 115B. Packages slowly began to build again. One package. Two Packages. Three Packages, four.
Louis turned to watch the drones down below him. What did I do wrong he asked himself over and over. Another drone gracefully picked up a package and took flight through the large window into the beautiful blue sky.
“RAMIREZ,” screamed the Foreman. He leaned over the railing on the fifth floor. “You’ve lost lunch privileges for the week!”
Louis turned to his station, noticing that the conveyor had reached an overload point. Packages filled the belt up to the third floor and began to drop over the sides. Some spilled their contents as they slammed into ground around him.
The world was silent. He looked up and saw many heads peeking over railings. Some began to run this way and that. Others tried to pull packages off the conveyor into their own stations.
The Foreman’s arms were flailing frantically as though he was desperately trying to grab the air from the room. Spittle erupted from his mouth as it flapped away.
A thought occurred to Louis and a smile formed at the corner of his lips. He pushed as many of the packages off of the belt in front of his station and jumped on as he zip tied two cables over his torso.
With a smile he looked at the Foreman throwing his fist in the air with a single middle finger raised. With his free hand he grabbed a large metal loop and brought his hand down on a large red button.
The retainer wall burst open throwing Louis down the slide. The wind rushed by his face and he threw his arms up as though he was riding a roller coaster.
At the bottom, he was diverted onto a large landing pad. He latched the large ring connecting the two large cable ties around his body.
A large drone hovered overhead. The quadcopter’s large propellers blew dust from the warehouse floor in his face. The drone lowered until it was inches from his body and clipped it’s arm to the steel ring connected to Louis.
The drone lifted off and took Louis out the window.