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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Toil and Broil: A Science Fiction Story

On 9:00 on August 17, 2135 Ed Newton began another day as an office worker. The hardest part of Ed's day seemed to be the beginning, when he had to walk up 35 stories to his office on the 35th floor. They didn't use elevators at Ed's building, because elevators used too much electricity. As part of the global agreement to reduce fossil fuel emissions, part of a late effort to try to reduce global warming, non-essential examples of energy use had been banned. The ban included air conditioning, elevators, and power lawn mowers.

Ed's life as an office worker had some similarities to the life of an office worker in the early twenty-first century. One major difference was the clothing. Around the year 2015 men came to work in “business casual” long sleeve shirts and khakis, if they were fortunate enough to work at a company without rigid dress requirements. Otherwise they might have to wear ties and perhaps even suits. But at Ed's company people dressed much more casually. All of the workers wore bathing suits. 


No one at the company had mandated that workers must wear bathing suits. It simply became necessary to do so. The temperature inside the building was typically 115 degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes climbing to 120. With these temperatures you could no longer wear pants or shirts without a high risk of fainting. 

Many of the employees wore hats indoors, but they were very unusual types of hats, what they called water hats. When you wore these hats, you looked kind of like someone wearing a big bowl on top of your head. But the bowl of the water hat had lots of little holes in it. The idea is that you would fill your water hat with water, and then water would gradually drip down on to your body. This might be enough to keep you from fainting from the heat.

But the water boys kept things from getting too bad. The water boys were summer interns whose sole work was to keep employees from fainting because of the heat. The water boys would walk the office floors, armed with plant mist sprayers. Whenever they saw signs that an employee was close to fainting – signs such as a little pool of sweat on the employee's desk – the water boys would start spraying their plant sprayers around that employee's body.

The glass parts of the windows on Ed's skyscraper had long since been removed, so that air could get in. This created a fierce competition for cubicle spaces close to the window holes, which employees battled out with great seriousness. Back around the year 2015 you might want to get a cubicle near the window so that you could enjoy the view. But in Ed's building the employees knew that their lives might depend on getting a cubicle close to a window hole. It was no secret on Ed's floor that the five employees who had died from heat prostration while working at their cubicles had all worked in cubicles near the center of the floor, away from the window breezes.

The bosses on Ed's floor knew how to exert power with an iron hand. To force obedience, they didn't need to threaten to fire people or lower their salaries. The bosses would merely threaten to relocate workers to cubicles at the center of the building, which didn't get any breezes.

At 4:07 PM a summer thunderstorm started. Whenever this happened all the people on the floor would drop whatever they were doing, and move over to the open window holes, hoping to catch a little bit of coolness and mist from the falling rain. Some would reach their hands out the 7-foot tall window holes, trying to wet their hands. They would then rub their hot faces with the cool raindrops.

Ed saw his boss Mr. Fields reach his arms way out the window hole to catch some falling raindrops.

Be careful, boss,” urged Ed.

I know what the hell I'm doing,” said Mr. Fields, who reached his arm out a little bit farther out the window hole. Then Ed heard a sickening shriek which started out loud and then gradually died away into silence. Ed heard no noise when the body of Mr. Fields struck the ground 35 floors below.

Damn!” said Ed. “That's the third employee we've lost this year in one these 'rainstorm cooloff' accidents.”

But later Ed realized that there was a silver lining in this dark cloud. For he realized that he would get Mr. Field's cubicle space closer to one of the window holes.