“Thank you for calling Central Core Data Collections,” the computerized voice said. “If you’re a customer, press one. If you’re an analyst, press two. If you’re a data collector, press three.”

Collector 980 stretched out his robotic arm and using his singular automated digit, pressed the appropriate button on the numerical panel before him.

“Your wait time is fifteen minutes. To pass the time while you wait, we have selected some music for you to listen to.” Music from the Bach collection began playing from the speaker set into a gold sphere that was attached to the data wall.

“Tin plated scrap metal pile of junk,” 980 muttered.

“Problems with the Core?” Collector 114 asked, glancing toward his co-worker with sympathy.

They were robotic data collectors; both worked third shift in a data collection storage facility a hundred feet below ground in what used to be known as the state of Colorado. While it wasn’t hard work, a large portion of the job required them to transfer certain bytes of data to the Central Core, which was connected to their chamber by an underground system of cables and fiber optics.

“When don’t I have trouble with the Core?”

“At least you have music to listen to.”

“If they were smart, they’d program the Core to allow me to keep working during these data dumps, so I don’t get backed up. On average, three hours of each shift is eaten up waiting to do a data dump.”

“I know. It’s frustrating. It used to be every few months we’d have one or two nights where we’d have an overflow of data from second shift but this month it’s been every night. We could use an extra data collector.”

“Why,” 980 said with a sarcastic tone, “when they have the two of us handling the load?”

“Yep. We do too good of a job. Now they expect it.”

“We could slow down for a few nights,” 980 suggested.

“That won’t work. We’d get written up. And we’d still be expected to keep our quota.”

“Your current wait time is ten minutes,” the Core voice said with no emotion.

“Shut up.” 980 reached out with his automated arm and thumped on the golden sphere.

“Careful,” 114 reminded his friend. “They’ll send a repair bot.”

“They won’t even need one if I hit this thing hard enough.”

“I feel your pain. But listen, there’s something I haven’t told you. It’s more good news than bad, depending how you look at it.” 114 slid along his rail until he was inches away from 980. Despite the fact they were alone in the chamber, he lowered his voice. “I had intercepted a few texts last week that we’re getting transferred to the Core. Somehow, I’m on a mailing list.”

“Support positions?”


“The same positions we requested seven months ago?”

“The same. Our workload would drop dramatically.”

“And its essential work so the job security is there.” After a pause, 980 said, “I’m not getting my hopes up. It’s probably just gossip.”

“We’ll find out soon enough.”

“Your wait time is now seven minutes. Or you can press four and we will place you on a call back status.”

980 lifted his robotic arm in frustration, tempted to smack the gold sphere.

“Meanwhile,” 114 said, “it’s important in that that we do not draw attention to ourselves.”

980 lowered his robotic arm.

“If you wish to be placed on call back status, please press five. If you wish to file a complaint, press six.”

980 sighed. “I hear there was a time when you made a call and an actual human picked up on the other end right away and you could get served in a timely manner. Also, depending who was on the other end you stood a good chance at a few minutes of intelligent conversation too.”

“That was a long, long time ago.”

“If you wish to remain on hold, press seven.”

980 stretched out his robotic arm and, using his singular digit, pressed seven.

“Thank you.”

“Stupid tin-plated scrap pile.”

“Temper, temper.”

“Still, I’d like to have a blow torch and ten minutes alone with that scrapper at the Core.”

“I’d be standing in line behind you, pal.” While his co-worker continued to wait for his call to connect, 114 slid down his track toward the next panel where, once there, he began studying and correlating the next batch of data he needed to gather in order to meet his hourly quota. “Yes, sir. Right behind you, indeed.”

And the canned music continued.

Frank Zubek has a story collection on Amazon, Hope from Loss, and has been published on Every Day Fiction before. He is working on a novel.

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