The Grey Shift

The Grey Shift

A Story by D.S. Dirck
"

In the year 2451 life for All-Mart manager Alex Cameron is about to be turned upside down.

"

Cara had a soft smile wrinkling up the corners of her mouth. It wasn't unusual for her to smile, just not for such a long time, and not without a good reason.

"So when are you going to tell me?" I asked.

She shot me a pointed look while retrieving the red shirts from the box, sorting out the various sizes into orderly stacks before hanging them on the rack.

"Today's my anniversary," she gleefully answered.

Maybe a part of me didn't register it. I was after all, overly cynical about such things. I admit I stopped keeping track of my own work anniversary years ago. Yet none of that was of concern to Cara. I smiled, giving her nod. She was either too distracted or too dumb to interpret my feigned concern for anything other than that; concern.

"Congratulations." They say smiling uses less muscles than frowning. One of the few truths I refuse to accept. To me it was more akin to weights hanging from the corners of my mouth. On a good day it was just easier to let them droop. Yet, I reasoned for the sake of exercise alone it couldn't hurt to smile.

Behind her ragged strawberry blonde hair a bit of grime accumulated in the seam where her scalp met the back of her neck. I reached over and picked at it. Dust and something else. Greenish and slimy. Oil perhaps.

"What is it?" she asked.

"When was the last time you took a shower?" I rubbed the substance between my finger and thumb. It smelled like fruit. "Apricots?"

Her eyes met mine and her smile melted like hot plastic.

"Birge," she muttered.

"Again?" I sighed, grabbing her shoulders and spinning her around. "Take your vest off."

She sighed, doing as I instructed. Upon removing her sky blue vest I lifted her white shirt beneath, exposing a series of bruises running up and down her back. "Did he do this?"

She froze up, still as stone.

"I'm going to HR about this," I said with a flash of anger.

"No, don’t," she pleaded, ripping her vest from my hands.

"Cara. If you’re afraid--”

“He promised to get me away of retail,” she blurted out.

I looked suspiciously into her. Nobody enjoyed the retail side of All-Mart, though it was beyond me to suspect a synth like Cara had any thoughts one way or the other on the matter. She was, after all, indentured to the corporation with at least ten more years on her contract. Such was the lot of all synths; constructed to fulfill a specific purpose and entitled to autonomy after thirty or so years. Looking at Cara, her youthful complexion, shoulder-length hair and bubbly personality, I could have sworn she’d been fashioned for food service and not hanging shirts and stocking shelves. Had I been in a better mood, I might have asked, but my curiosity was more fleeting than my patience.

Lifting the next box, I shoved it in her hands. “There’s worse things than retail.”

“Alex!” a voice shouted from down the aisle.

I turned in time to see Darvis Portmire, running to the best of his ability with a look of panic splashed across his face. Even the briefest of exertion left the man a sweaty mess.

“What is it Darvis?”

“It’s Julian!”

“What about Julian?” I asked, not even bothering to act concerned or surprised.

“He went outside.”

Cara and I looked at one another when she shrugged.

“So?” I asked.

Darvis reached out, holding his hand open. I looked to see a ring. Julian’s ring.

“How did you get that?” I demanded to know.

“He climbed over the wall. I watched him do it,” Darvis nervously replied, holding the ring up. “He threw it back before he jumped.”

My heart sunk. Birge and I were the ranking associates for the third shift of Department Sector Nine. Knowing my luck, Corporate would be all over me for letting an employee escape.

“What should I do?” Darvis asked with the innocence of a child despite being twenty years older.

I snatched the ring from his hand. Smooth and gun-metal grey, it looked identical to mine. “What can we do?” I sighed. “Where’s Birge?”

“I don’t know,” replied Darvis.

Turning to Cara, I motioned for her to stop what she was doing. Together we walked to the  front entrance. Nobody left the premises. Ever. It was against company policy. Besides, where would he go? Why would he want to leave? All-Mart provided us with food, shelter, education, healthcare. We even had a church. What could Julian possibly want outside?

My gut twisted as we made our way to the front.  A concrete wall, some eighty feet high surrounded the complex. Fifty yards down, a pile of improperly stacked pallets rested against the stone wall, no doubt the product of someone’s laziness.

“Gardens and Rec are Birge’s jurisdiction,” Cara declared.

“Did you see him climb the pallet stack?” I asked Darvis.

The fat man looked down in shame. I couldn’t be troubled to ask why Darvis did nothing. “I didn’t think he was gonna jump over the wall.”

“That’s quite a drop, eighty feet,” said Cara.

Someone needed to climb up there and see.

“Cara, climb up there and see,” I ordered.

“Why me?” she asked with a tinge of fear to her voice.

Darvis swallowed. “Because you’re--”

“What?” she seethed. “Because I'm not real. Is that what you were gonna say?”

I swatted away accusation of discrimination with deftness. Better now than later. I was well aware of synth rights. “Darvis is too fat to climb that and I’m scared of heights.” I made sure to look her dead in the eyes when I said it. “Besides, you weigh less than thirty five kilograms.”

She huffed in rebuke, more angry for her lack of retort.

With the agility of a cat she scaled the pallet tower, peering over the concrete wall.

“Is he down there?”

“It’s pitch black,” she answered back. “Do you have a light?”

“You don’t?” I blurted out.

Even in the darkness I could feel her stare of disapproval.

Reaching into his pants pocket, Darvis pulled out a penlight, tossing it up to Cara. She caught it with ease, shining it down for long moment.

“Nothing,” she remarked. “He’s gone.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. Now I only had to worry about being accosted over an escaped All-Mart employee. Not a dead one.

 

© 2015 D.S. Dirck


My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register




Featured Review

Very good! I can't say I am really into sci-fi type stuff (although I have written a few sci-fi short stories myself) but this had me intrigued. I can see you turning this into something much longer and developing your characters even more. I want to know what happens to them. And, by the way, I love the name of your character - Darvis Portmire. The name itself sounds mysterious. Great job!

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Like a few of the other reviewers have said, this feels like a great *start.* The dialogue is natural. You feel for the POV and Cara, the synth immediately. But the mystery only starts and is not resolved. And while and unresolved mystery is common in short stories, usually there is some twist at the end that leaves the reader with an open-ended story, and the opportunity to engage their own imagination to fill in the rest. It's too good of a beginning to end it here. Keep going!

Posted 3 Years Ago


An excellent futuristic tale that, perhaps, is not that far in the not too distant future if the world and our nation continues in the direction it seems to be headed ... I await some form of continuation or follow up to this story, as it could easily be used to spin a lengthier tale, maybe even a novel ... I would love to see this posted among the writing of my group, Storyteller's Tavern ... But you must accept the invite I have sent you first ... Great writing, riveting from first line to last ...

Posted 3 Years Ago


Really good. I liked it a lot. Reminiscent of the sci-fi shorts I used to read. It had the feel of Philip K Dick, was that intentional?
Do you intend to extend the tale or is this a stand alone?

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

D.S. Dirck

4 Years Ago

Thank you for the thoughtful words. I just woke up and found you left this review five minutes ago. .. read more
A good, thought-provoking short with lots of great emotional context. I think it would benefit from a few more good visual descriptions, particularly of the setting, but what's here is very well done and interesting. I'd definitely like to read more of this.

Posted 4 Years Ago


Now that's an intriguing world you created and like everyone else I'd like to know more. Not just because it's so interesting but also because this story doesn't feel quite finished - so this is both a compliment and a tiny critique ;-)
The characters, style - all done very skillfully, so this is a great read! I sincerely hope there's more to come :-)

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Very good! I can't say I am really into sci-fi type stuff (although I have written a few sci-fi short stories myself) but this had me intrigued. I can see you turning this into something much longer and developing your characters even more. I want to know what happens to them. And, by the way, I love the name of your character - Darvis Portmire. The name itself sounds mysterious. Great job!

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

That's an interesting start, I would like to read more if you choose to continue.
keep going :)

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I really have nothing to say except great story. Your use of exploiting the dark is great. Bruises on Cara, a missing employee. Shows it's not really a good place to work at. Great read.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

An intriguing start to what promises to be an addicting story should you choose to continue it. Other than a few punctuation errors I'd say you've done a great job! I'd like to read more if you write more.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Stats

467 Views
9 Reviews
Rating
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on September 2, 2015
Last Updated on September 3, 2015
Tags: future, science fiction

Author

D.S. Dirck
D.S. Dirck

Fort Wayne, IN



About
I am an unpublished author searching for a literary agent and eventually publication. In the mean time, I'm here to network with other like-minded (and even non-like-minded) authors. I'm by no mea.. more..

Writing

Related Writing

People who liked this story also liked..