“Get up, Mr. Mitchell!” Finch’s voice rang like a morning bell inside Alan’s brain. He had hardly slept at all the first night, and now it was still dark and Finch was shouting for him to meet the new day. “Bus comes in twenty minutes, and you’re going to be on it whether you like it or not.”
Alan rubbed his eyes, and looked around at his new home. Cracked drywall. Patchy carpet. Alan scrambled his hair, and got up out of bed.
“That’s the spirit. We’re meeting down in the lobby when you’re dressed.”
“What should I wear?” Alan asked.
Finch exhaled an exasperated breath and checked Alan’s name off the list. He pointed with his thumb at the doorway.
“Just wear what you got, kid. We’ll have uniforms at the site.”
The lobby was filled with, presumably, the rest of the occupants of the complex. There were plenty of new faces that Alan couldn’t place. He recognized a few people from the swimming pool, and Castor was still making unfriendly glares at him from the front entrance. Finally, Alan made eye contact with Marshall, who was socializing with a group of people around Finch’s desk. Marshall waved Alan over to their group, a handful who seemed friendly enough.
“Hey Alan, meet the guys,” Marshall shouted with a smile. Alan closed the distance between them and looked around at this new group of neighbors.
“Guys?” a girl in the group chided.
Marshall acknowledged her, “People? Persons? Humans? Mutants? You get what I’m saying, Athena.”
Athena smirked. Alan gathered that their dynamic was simple: Athena gave Marshall a hard time, and Marshall laughed it off. Maybe he could fit into it.
“Or freaks. Everybody seems to like that one,” Alan joked. The group didn’t seem very receptive to the levity.
“Yeah, maybe not bring that one up next time, kid,” Marshall said under his breath, and then addressed the group, “Anyway, you guys ready for another day at the construction site? I hear we’re building the frame today.”
The rest of the group didn’t seem as enthusiastic as Marshall. Some rolled their eyes, and the kind ones just nodded halfheartedly. Nevertheless, Marshall was the clear leader of the group and the positive light in the dreary gray.
“Alright, bus is here. Everybody out,” Finch shouted at the front door, “‘Swear the only peace and quiet I get is when you all leave.”
The bus was an old commuter transport that had been refitted for the specific task of shipping work camps to job sites. The windows were tinted jet black, and the driver seat was taken out in favor of a self-driving computer. The seats were upholstered in old colorful patterns, splashes of color in a gray, concrete world.
The ride was a twenty minute trek of several city blocks. Alan could see people passing on the sidewalks; people who couldn’t see him or anyone else in the bus. They were invisible, migrant workers etching out their day apart from the rest of the world. Not one person on the outside made eye contact with the bus as it traveled to the work site. Not one made notice of the people working to build their streets, office buildings. They all just carried on, forcefully unaware that there was second set of citizen underneath the veneer.
Alan was woken from his thoughtful trance by the bus brakes screeching and hissing. The vehicle halted in front of a large fenced-off lot with large yellow “under construction” signs.
“Please exit the vehicle,” the bus computer chimed, and everybody unloaded in a mad rush.
The chainlink gate opened and several supervisors walked forward, hard hats and glaring faces ready for their rebellious employees. Alan found himself funneled into the construction site, a concrete slab filled with metal beams, rebar, and a small collection of construction tools. A food truck stood off to the side where Alan presumed they would be getting their meals during the work day. Alan noticed Castor, forever disgruntled, push his way through to the food truck. He presumed Castor was famished after a long night of bullying, but then Castor got into the truck.
“Wait, Castor’s the cook?” Alan asked, jokingly.
“Government employment at its finest,” Marshall replied.
“What’s wrong with being the cook?” Athena retorted, pushing her way out of the work line, “Some of us find serenity in eggs and bacon.”
“Won’t argue with that,” Marshall shouted his reply as Athena hopped up into the truck with surly Castor.
Marshall and Alan were carried through the stream of people to the front of the convergence. A couple of supervisors were standing up on a concrete foundation, with clipboards and a single shared bullhorn.
“Okay!” a supervisor shouted over the bullhorn, the sound bouncing around the open lot. The supervisor waited for the clamor to die down, then his partner began again. “Okay, today we will be placing beams around the foundation. Assignments will be handed out as such: Magnets will move beams. Eyes will weld pieces together. Muscle will be here for safety. If you don’t fit in these categories you are a floater, and we will find you something to do. Don’t idle. Don’t cause trouble, and we’ll get out to lunch on time. Troublemakers will be docked points. Extreme violators will be given a strike. A member of the board’s investigation unit is on-site for those of you are already on your second strike. Be careful, keep calm, and we will make this a great work day. Thank you.”
The other supervisor began barking names and designations. Most of the crowd seemed to be ignoring him. This wasn’t their first day, unlike Alan.
“A. Mitchell, Magnet Crew!”
Marshall put a hand on Alan’s shoulder and pointed him over to a large trailer where the crowd was grabbing equipment. “Come on, A. Mitchell. We’ve got work to do. Grab your hard hat and orange vest. Safety first,” Marshall instructed sarcastically. “This goes on your head.”
Marshall gingerly dropped the hard hat on Alan’s head, the orange plastic shine covering up his eyes.
“You may need to adjust it.”
“Gee, thanks for the pointer,” Alan replied sardonically, and he shifted the hat on his head so he could see again. Marshall put on his yellow vest, denoting his status as an Eye. These individuals emitted concentrated light out of their eyes; light so powerful that it could melt metals and weld them together if carefully controlled. Another orange vest came over to Alan. His name tag: Nick.
“Hey, Nick.”
Nick looked down at his name tag with an unamused frown on his face, “Yeah, ok… We’re supposed to move the beams into place. I’ll show you where to go. Since you’re new, you’ll be a support staff for the movers right now. When you get the hang of moving beams, we’ll talk about bigger responsibilities.”
Alan nodded apathetically, and Nick showed him over to their spot. He wasn’t really interested in more responsibility. What did he have to look forward to: Head serf? No, he was resigned to do his time. It was what he deserved. But he didn’t have to enjoy it, and he certainly didn’t have to be invested in the system that was using him for labor.
Nick showed Alan over to a squared off area, lined with dashed yellow markings. A supervisor stood in the center and motioned to the metal beams stacked next to them. Nick gave Alan a signal, and pointed at the beams. Nick lifted his hand into the air, and one of the beams creaked and groaned as it lifted off the rest of the stack.
“You try to get your field underneath the beam,” Nick shouted over the noise that was building all around them as other Magnets began moving pylons with their magnetic abilities. “The foreman will show you placement, and you have to get it close enough for Muscle group to slide it into position.”
Nick shifted his weight to the left, and Alan watched the beam float in a direct, efficient manner across the lot and onto the concrete foundation the supervisors had been standing on before. Nick then lowered his right arm so that his hands were one on top of the other. The beam then rotated vertically, and Nick slid his arms – and the beam – across the concrete foundation; then a Muscle worker grabbed it with gloved hands and pushed the beam down into holes that were designated for the metal supports.
“See? Easy peasy,” Nick exhaled. There was always a certain level of mental exhaustion involved with moving such large objects.
Alan looked back at the beam and saw Marshall’s eyes glow white-hot, and a spark ignited at the beam’s bottom section, welding it to the foundation’s support structure. Everybody had a job – even Castor, who was sulkily cooking pots with his hands – and nobody seemed to care much about who was telling them what to do. Alan figured it couldn’t hurt to go with the flow, and let his co-workers lead the way. If people who had been doing this, seemingly for years, then he certainly could swallow his pride and be part of the system too. Even if he was building the next precinct’s government inspection office.
“Okay, Alan, now I’m going to lift a beam and I want you to do the rotation for me. It helps for the higher elevation,” Nick explained, almost like Alan was a child. Alan rolled his eyes and nodded back.
The beam screeched across the stack and came up over their heads. Alan lifted his hands and rotated them like Nick had done before. The beam struggled as it rotated.
“I can take it,” Alan shouted back to Nick.
“You’re not ready, kid,” Nick yelled back over the din of construction chatter.
Alan pushed on Nick’s field, resting control of it from Nick. Nick could tell what was happening, and pushed back. The beam groaned as two forces pushed on it from different angles.
“Knock it off, kid!”
“I can do it, Nick,” Alan shouted back.
The beam couldn’t handle the two forces and as the fields changed angles, the beam spun out of control. Alan watched as the beam fell toward them. Alan and Nick fell to the floor as the support beam came down on top of them. Alan closed his eyes, waiting for the crunch of bones and for his brains to spill out on the ground. But the crunch never came. Alan opened his eyes. Marshall was standing over him; his arms hoisted upward, beam in hand. Marshall was a rare mutation. Alan had heard rumors of multi-mutations, but he’d never met one before.
“Kid, you wanna move.”
Alan slid backward away from the beam’s shadow, and Marshall settled the beam back onto the ground.
“What is wrong with you, kid? I told you to let me handle it. You had one simple job, and you couldn’t even do that,” Nick was yelling in the silence of the moment. Everyone had stopped working for a brief moment to witness the accident, and the silence was now filled with Nick’s whining.
“I didn’t mean to do it. You could’ve just let me handle it instead of trying to take control back,” Alan justified.
Nick’s nostrils flared, and an errant metal rod flew toward Alan’s head. A hand jutted out and caught the rebar before it could impale Alan. Marshall held the rod as it strained to reach Alan. Marshall looked sideways at Nick, his eyes glowing.
“You don’t want to do this, Nick.”
The supervisors were chattering through walkie talkies, and a man clad in black, including black helmet, entered from the gate entrance. His sunglasses gave no hint to his purpose, but Alan could see that he was looking their way. Nick didn’t see the man coming towards them. He was too busy thinking about what it would be like to ram a bar through Alan’s cranium.
“Stand down, Magnet,” the man said in a firm tone.
Nick finally realized he had an audience, but it was too late. Marshall bent the metal bar and began advocating.
“Everything’s fine here, officer. Just a little disagreement. Nick is very sorry, and this will never happen again,” Marshall said with confidence. “We’re sorry to bother you.”
The man didn’t even look at Marshall. He didn’t know the situation, and he didn’t care really. There was a zero tolerance policy for fighting on job sites.
“Nicholas Bradford, you are cited one strike for insubordinate behavior and attempted assault. This is your third strike. Come peacefully,” the man stated in a rote, memorized monotone.
“It wasn’t my fault. The kid…,” Nick whined. The agent lifted his forearm, his fist balled in a fiercely tight grip, and Nick found himself floating in a mad rush toward the officer. It was an ability Alan had never seen before. It wasn’t magnetism or strength, but something much scarier to Alan. Foreign and intimidating were the thoughts crossing Alan’s mind. He could feel a cold sweat envelop his skin. The agent pulled specialized handcuffs from his vest and cuffed Nick, arms uncontrollably locked to his back. A black sack was pulled over Nick’s face, and the agent pointed to Alan among the crowd.
“Alan Mitchell, you are cited one strike for insubordinate behavior. This is your first strike. Cease further insubordinate actions or you will be cited again,” the agent rattled off the sentencing efficiently and without emotion. “Please return to your work.”
The agent walked out of the work camp in silence. A woman was standing at the front entrance, and, as the gate shut, a piercing blue light blinded the crowd for a brief moment. Then they were gone, the work crew left only to guess where they had vanished. Marshall looked back at Alan, a confusing mixture of disappointment, anger, and compassion lining the wrinkles in his face.
“I’m sorry, Marshall, I didn’t know…”
“It happens, kid. Not usually on the first day, but it happens,” Marshall sighed, and he picked up Alan’s hard hat off the dusty ground, and then placed it back on his head.
Alan looked over and saw Athena standing outside the truck, her hand gripping the back door. She had an overwhelmed look on her face; but when she realized Alan was staring at her, she looked away and went back to work. The rest of the camp went back to their work as well, and, after a brief scolding from his supervisor, Alan went back to work with his group. But all Alan could think about was Nick Bradford, his five-minute-boss, and the inevitable appointment Nick had with the Board. And he felt guilty.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.