Assembly Line

Dan Hourigan

This story is part of ScratchThat’s 2110 project.

Cut. Snip. Bolt. Whir.


The man was busy, moving arms between tools, switching items to the right tracks, sorting all kinds of fabricated parts that came by him on the conveyer belt assembly line. The machines around him moved with great speed and consistency while he struggled to match their pace. Each part needed to be treated with the utmost care. Each thread of wire was laced like a vein into the lengths of metal forming the interior frame, each shell of plastic encapsulating it in a hard, cold exterior. It was a taxing job and not one he was equipped for.


Lock. Clatter. Sniff.


His principal business was not in manufacturing. Indeed, he had no proper job at all. He was one of the malnourished and downtrodden homeless, living in the dregs of the Lower City. He lived on what little property he could call his own—less than two square metres of sheltered concrete—and endured on whatever handouts were afforded him after his sweat and labour. They came at the end of each week, if the man’s street was remembered. Government men and the shinies, not suited for the detritus below their immaculate homes on the King George Level, selected the most abled of their neighbours, left the stragglers, and took them to the machine factories, making them work for less than they needed to survive.


Clink. Shuffle. Clash.


The repetitive motion tired the man’s arm. It was clear that the work had not been intended for humans for a long time. The automation at the heart of where he was clearly showed what the job could make. Every part that passed his station was a stark reminder of the machines working alongside him. Each nut put in place, every ligament taking shape—they were no more complicated than the parts of a toaster. Yet, they would go on to become a part of the machines their society held in such high regard. Their production started at a basic level right here on the assembly line. The factory was their equivalent of a maternity ward, where babies came screaming into the world. But their babies did not scream. Instead, they arrived cold and unmoving. It made it difficult the man to acknowledge that these machines would be considered equal to humans. While he worked here for a wage, for the benefits he was owed, the shinies required no such thing. To them, it was mere activity. To him, it was livelihood.


Gulp. Chatter. Swig.


People in the Middle City who walked alongside these empty machines and talked to them as any stranger might could not see them for what they really were. When the shiny could smile, talk about the decorations of their home, discuss the latest South Bank entertainment, or hold the notion of an extended family dinner, it was only natural that humans would perceive them to be equal. When they acted like any other neighbour, it was easy to miss the problems that sharing rights with the shinies would bring.


Squeak. Smack. Fasten.


In the factory, it was obvious. The man would arrive for the late shift, entering shortly after midnight, and be required to put on safety equipment. His orange hard hat and vest, the treated gloves and apron—none of the robots working on the line wore the same gear. They had no need of it, like he or any other human did. It was the double standard of the shinies. If he had to walk to the annex where the equipment was kept, then should they not have been required to do the same? It added an extra hour onto his shift, and every minute he was away from the conveyer belts was time not counted towards his quota.


Sneer. Shout. Swallow.


The man had made attempts to connect with the machines that worked by his station. The price was not high for them to grant him answers to his questions, but seldom did he get any response beyond the blank, neutral stare of a shiny as it told him to perform better. The ease with which they could work the assembly line had him failing to even come close to their output.


Cut. Snip. Bolt. Whir.


So, he worked his fingers to the bone. He forged connections between wires, mounted the metal framework, enclosed the package in its plastic shell, and stacked it in the delivery zone, ready for collection. He had little doubt, if any, that no-one above the Lower City was faced with such disregard. The Upper City bastards would sooner grant equal rights to those empty shinies than they would grant the downtowners like him the same benefits. If they wanted satisfaction for the injustices of their society, they would have to take matters into their own hands.

Dan Hourigan is a Brisbane based writer. Specialising in fantasy and science fiction, Dan enjoys the alternative perspectives that the genres allow for him to explore the different perspectives of society.