All right, guys, a bit of a warning with this one. It’s … dark. Very dark, especially if you stop to think about it. And grim.
Worse still, it’s not entirely untrue.
A bit of background: I wrote this story after my second frustrating workplace injury and experience dealing with Worker’s Comp and my part-time job’s Human Resources department. If you’re interested in hearing the details about that, you can check out this post here, which is all about how I acquired the injury and the recover I underwent. But the short of it is that within days I was already feeling like I had when I’d had my knee injury. In other words, very much like my company just wanted to practice horse medicine and shove everything under the rug.
In my frustrations, I ended up writing this short to blow off a little steam. It’s dark. It’s grim. And, worst of all, it’s actually pretty true, and like most good fiction, that makes it all the more alarming.
The microphone monitoring tech? That’s real. A certain massive mega-conglomerate retailer patented it last year and has already started rolling it out into stores. It monitors all employees at all times. And yes, they do warn that ‘certain problem words’ can trigger an automatic, computer-driven firing. Boop, a text to your phone, go home, you’re done here.
That’s what scariest about this story: It’s really not that far off. The tech involved here is very real, and already being rolled into the workplace much in the same way you see it in this story. It’s just all in one package, and seeing the sudden jump from where we are now to where we may be in five, ten years really does seem jarring, compared to coming in to a new bit or piece every day.
Am I worried we might go as far as this story? Well … in a way, yes. We were once already there, if you know your history of what jobs used to be like before labor laws were put in place.
But I’ll stop waxing on it now. You’re here to read a story. So, without further ado, I present to you Human Resource. Enjoy!
And try not to let it depress you too much. I can tell you it was therapeutic to write.
First, we must understand that like all things in nature, there is a hierarchy of needs within ethics. If all things were given free and equal treatment, roles and responsibilities would collapse. Therefore, in the modern era, the forward-thinking businessman—
Wells pulled his eyes away from the ethics book he’d been studying for a brief moment, glancing around his small office and blinking several times as his eyes adjusted. Been staring at the pages for too long, Ben, he told himself, bringing up a free hand and rubbing at his eyes. And sitting for too long.
He spared a glance at the page once more, running his eyes briefly over the last line he’d read and marking its position before flipping it over and placing it gently down atop his desk. His small desk. The cover of Modern Ethics and Business stared up at him from atop the surface, the bright blues and yellows of the cover at odds with the stained wood.
With a sigh he rose, leaving the comfort of his chair for a brief moment and making a lap around the office, stretching his legs. It took entirely too little time.
It’s just too small, he thought as he took another lap, following a now well-worn line in the carpet. Health was important in a business career, and he made sure to stretch his legs regularly to keep the blood flowing. Bigger than my last office, but not by much.
He began another lap, only to pause for a moment by the office’s lone window and peel the heavy blind back. Concrete and a cloudy sky looked back at him, a parking lot filled by hundreds of cars.
His own vehicle, naturally, was not one of them. It was right near the office entrance, around the side of the building from where he was. There was likely some meaning behind that. He was looking out over the hundreds of vehicles of people he was responsible for keeping tabs on, rather than looking out over the nicer vehicles of those in management. Ideally, he suspected, he wasn’t supposed to have blinds on the window either, so he could see the workers arrive via bus or car and walk through the employee entrance.
But if they wanted me to do that, they shouldn’t have made my window face directly east, he thought as he dropped the heavy shade once more. Right into the rising sun. Sure it looks symbolic when the morning shift shows up and there’s the morning sun at their backs as they look up at the building, but it sucks when your office has to stare right at it. And so he kept the shades down.
Besides, he thought once more as he moved back to his desk. The windows are tinted. All the workers need to know is that we can be looking. Not that we are.
Not that he ever did. His chair let out a faint squeak as he dropped back into it. There wasn’t a single thing to be gained by watching a bunch of minimum-wage middle-class workers wander across a parking lot. Not when there were cameras that could do it all for him. On the rare occasion that something did happen, he could simply check the recordings and start the necessary paperwork.
Which perfectly summed up his job. He eyed the book still sitting pages down atop his desk and then jostled his computer, waking it up. “Keep track of all employees and make sure they perform their duty to the best of their ability on behalf of the company.”
Drilled into his head. Along with hundreds of other corporate rules that kept things running smoothly. As well as gave him, if properly memorized and acted upon, an advantage in moving up the corporate ladder. To a bigger office, and better still, a bigger paycheck. A hundred and fifty grand a year just wasn’t cutting it, especially not when he could make a circuit of his office in seconds.
He clicked over to social media for a moment, checking to see what was new, but only half interested. He wasn’t about to post anything, not when his company monitored all social media via computer programs that checked for any sort of dissatisfaction. Too many positive comments, however, were also seen as suspicious. Thankfully, as a member of human resources, he had a better idea of how many positive comments his company looked for, and could keep himself right around the proper number.
With a little variance, of course. One never knew when one would need to move to another employer monitoring the social feeds, and their own algorithms could be quite different.
Speaking of which … There were several alerts on the computer for him to look at. Silent ones, or they’d have interrupted the book he was studying. Such an interruption would have almost been welcome, dry as the book was, but if he wanted to move upwards inside or outside the company, he had to be recorded reading and then saying the right things.
Still, silent alerts he could let pile up. They were flags that didn’t require immediate attention, just a human eye and a resolution before the end of the day. Though they were working on the first one. Though last he’d heard, the most recent test had resulted in the artificial intelligence behind the experiment firing just about everyone who used a phone. Not a great start, but the way the future was moving, it was another reason to get promoted as quickly as possible, before his position was automated out of existence.
Let’s see … There were only a few flags, and none of them too grievous to the company. One was only quasi-related, a worker complaining about how little sleep she was getting between the three jobs she needed to afford her apartment. She didn’t specify which of her three jobs, but he issued her a warning anyway. Anyone who knew her could assume that she worked at the plant. Besides … he thought, glancing at her history. She’ll be a shoo-in for welfare, if she isn’t on it already. Which she really should have been, even with the three jobs. There were forms that came pre-filled out with an employee’s hiring for exactly that purpose.
If she’s too stupid to take the government’s money, then why would we let her work here? He was tempted to just terminate her immediately, but … She has two strikes now, in just a few months. When she hit the third her pay rate would be penalized, and she’d be up for review. If she failed the probation state …
Well, I’ll click a few buttons, and she’ll have an even harder time paying for that apartment. Maybe one of her roommates would cover for her; she had five according to the file. All crammed into a place that’s maybe twice the size of this office, he thought, shaking his head as he resolved the flag. They must sleep in shifts.
The next two flags were both similar in nature, and he applied strikes evenly to both. The fourth was different: An employee had been approved for time off and then their manager had scheduled them anyway. They had protested the decision and not shown up for work. One strike already, the complaint is strike number two, and missing work for any reason, well … He clicked the button terminating their employment, the action both generating a report for his superiors and dealing with the necessary paperwork. And this infraction will likely lower your desirability with other employers, he thought as the reports went through. Too bad. That’s what you get for being lazy. The final step was to dock the former worker’s last paycheck against the missed day, done with another click, and then disable their access to the building.
Just as well, he thought, jumping up one menu. Team three was oversaturated with employees anyway. Would have had to fire one or two before the next review just to keep hours under quota.
And so a lazy employee saves me the trouble. Two more flags went by, little more than quick glances and clicks to assign the proper penalties. But nothing interesting. Simply more cases of employees saying something that they shouldn’t in the wrong place, such as online or in any public or private space where they were in auditory range of one of the monitoring software sets the company subscribed to.
The last was an automatic termination, the cause so flagrant that he didn’t even have to do anything other than verify that it had happened. An employee had been overheard discussing unionization.
When will they learn? He approved the termination. From the look of the black mark across the worker’s information on the network, he was out of at least three other jobs as well, and probably being fined by a few of them. Legal charges would follow.
Flags resolved, he switched back over to his own feeds before sending computer back to sleep and reaching for his book once more. It wasn’t fascinating, but there wasn’t much else to do until the end of his shift.
He’d made decent headway through the next chapter when the computer woke itself up, a bright red icon flashing on the screen.
Shit. A flashing red icon was never good. It was a real red flag, the kind of thing that needed immediate attention and action that couldn’t yet be handled by a computer. It meant that some supervisor, manager, or program somewhere in the plant had seen or heard something important enough to warrant immediate, physical intervention.
He closed his book without looking at it, one hand already typing out his password on the keyboard and bringing up the full alert, a red border still flashing behind it.
Double shit. There were multiple alerts coming in now as the systems picked up more flags, specific keywords being repeated across company radios and picked up by ambient microphones. But they were all tied to the same event, bannered under the same, initial incident.
A clip from the security cameras was already on the screen for him to look at. A scream of pain had been what had alerted the system, and it had responded by checking the last several seconds of video and, upon seeing evidence of the source, forwarding it to him. He hit play, watching as the accident was carried out before him.
A line worker had been standing next to one of the machines at the plant—what it did, he wasn’t really sure—when an overworked bit of metal had given way, slashing them across the arm and shoulder. He watched the accident several times, pulling up the same time-stamp from two other cameras and viewing the event from several different angles.
There was no getting around it: The employee’s injury was severe. Without looking, he reached over and flicked on the dusty company radio sitting atop his desk. A barrage of voices filled the quiet of the office, supervisors and managers shouting back and forth at one another. One of the voices was already calling for him.
Good. They’re following proper protocol. He took a brief moment to silence the other alarms on his desktop and speed the security camera up to the current moment. The employee was sitting on the concrete factory floor, cradling her arm, blood seeping down her front. Someone had called a halt to the line, most of the employees standing around while a few of them tried to help.
He let out another sigh. Great. There was no way around it. They’d need the emergency kit. He pushed his chair back and bent down, pulling the plastic box from its place beneath his desk and grasping it by the handle.
He knew the drill. It wasn’t the first time someone had been injured on the job. He put the computer back to sleep, clipped the radio to his belt, and—carrying the emergency kit—made his way out of his office, already calculating exactly what would need to be done to offset the latest accident.
The line will have to be cleaned, he thought as he made his way toward the factory floor. And that bit of equipment repaired. Unless the line can function without it. Shift leads would have to make the call there; they knew what worked and what didn’t. And then there was lost productivity to explain, even if they could fire the line right back up and didn’t have to send anyone home.
Well, assuming this is over and done in under fifteen minutes. If it was, then the incident would just be the line’s break. He popped the edge of the emergency kit open with one hand, the other searching for and finding the earmuffs he was looking for just as the door to the factory floor came into view. It was heavily reinforced and padded, the seal airtight to keep as much noise out of the office area as possible. He snapped the kit shut with a sharp click as he came to a stop in front of the doors.
Dammit, he thought as he slipped the earmuffs over his ears. This’ll probably muss my suit up as well. I’ll have to get it cleaned. Even just walking onto the factory floor meant he’d be exposed to grime and dirt.
But … that was his job. He pulled the radio from his belt. “This is Wells,” he said, his radio overriding all other signals as he spoke. “I’m on my way. Shift leads, see if you can get the line running again ASAP.”
He didn’t wait for a reply. No one currently on the floor had seniority over him. Not for a workplace accident such as this. He shoved the door to the factory floor open and strode out.
The catwalk that greeted him moved over the top of the floor, allowing anyone who felt like it to see all twelve lines at once and check on their progress. Not that anyone did now that security cameras were everywhere. Anyone who wasn’t required to actually be on the line could simply monitor things from their office.
He strode down the catwalk, heading for a far set of metal stairs that would let him down to the floor. He could already see the site of the accident near the distant wall, several employees clustered around the wounded woman. They’d at least had the foresight to move her away from the line, and shift leads were already examining the machinery to see if the day’s goal could be salvaged. Cleaning crews wouldn’t be far behind. Especially not once blood had been spilled.
“Stop gawking!” he called as he passed the middle line. Eyes darted away from him, quickly turning back to their work. Robotic arms moved in concert, assembling … something. In all honesty, he had no idea what the factory made. His job was to keep track of what human employees were still employed by the company and see that they worked hard, not care about what they actually produced outside of raw numbers.
His shoes rang against the metal steps as he worked his way down the stairs, coming closer to wounded employee, who had at long last, it seemed, noticed him. Her eyes were wide with pain.
He neared, the other employees falling back at his presence like fish before a shark, and she opened her mouth, saying something through tears. And probably with a shaky voice too, given the amount of pain she had to be in.
He couldn’t hear her. Not with over the sounds of the other lines and with his earmuffs on. Not that he needed to. He could guess what she was saying easily enough. Something about how the injury wasn’t that bad, and she could still work just fine. That there’d be no need for her to see a doctor, it was just a scrape. Despite the blood that had soaked her shirt and was slipping between her tightly clenched fingers.
Then again, she could be threatening him to stay away. But workers who went that route usually looked more angry than scared. This one just looked scared.
He came to a stop several feet away and looked down at her injury. Her hand and good arm were covering a good portion of it, and with all the blood it was hard to tell, but …
No, that will definitely require a doctor. He let out another sigh and crouched on one knee, setting the emergency kit on the concrete before him. He opened his mouth as his thumbs undid the clasp, only to shut it again as he realized he’d forgotten the employee’s name.
Sloppy. It’d been right there in the flag. Carol? Catherine? Karen? Karen! That was it. A glance at her employee ID confirmed that he was close, at least. The name tag read “K. Haplow.”
Good. Let’s get this over with. He flipped the lid of the emergency kit up, exposing its few contents. One hand touched cool metal. A slide moved under the other.
“Karen Haplow,” he said, raising his voice so that the cameras and microphones would be able to hear him over the tumult of the factory. “Your injury is sufficient enough for the company to exercise our rights as declared by the Worker Wellness and Healthcare Act of 2026.” Karen appeared to let out a sob as she pushed herself backward, and he rose, the pistol gripped carefully in his hand. “We’re very sorry.”
He took three steps toward her, raised the gun, and fired. Her head jerked back as the round entered her temple, breaking apart and pulping the insides of her skull. Blood and brain matter squirted out of the entry wound in a violent burst, and then the body slid to one side, eyes vacant and staring.
“Well?” he asked, looking around. The few employees that had turned to watch darted back to their jobs, and he nodded in satisfaction. “Good.”
He reclaimed the case, not bothering to replace the gun inside its foam clamshell. It would need to be cleaned before he could take care of that. He took a final look around the room, brushed a bit of … something, he wasn’t really sure what … from his sleeve, and made his way back over to the stairs. A minute later, he was back in his office.
He made sure to save the casing from the single round he’d used. The number etched on the bottom would need to be on his report, and the bullet accounted for. He cleaned the pistol first, the process quick but fulfilling as he disassembled it, cleaned each part, and then put it back together. He woke his computer while he waited, checking the security cameras and watching as the clean-up crew arrived and began to collect the body. He’d need to know exactly how long it took in order to bill the cleaning against the employee’s last paycheck or estate in the event that her paycheck didn’t cover it. Which it probably wouldn’t. Not with as little as she’d made. At which point, they’d simply assign a debt collector to collect the remainder.
The pistol, clean once more, went back into the emergency kit, which then took its proper place beneath his desk. Then he went through and began to fill in the requisite forms. It was easy work, with the computer doing most of it. All he had to do was complete a few blanks and it practically wrote itself. “Injured on the arm … blah blah blah … Exercised Worker Wellness and Care Act … etc etc etc.” He attached video clips of the injury as well as his handling of things. He rewatched the later a few times, just to make sure there had been no slip-ups.
But there weren’t. The entire operation had been smooth and precise. Exactly the kind of thing that would make him look good on his annual review. Or to a prospective employer.
He made a quick check of the line and found it running once more, the bit that had caused so much trouble held down with tape. Likely there’d be a check to see if it was worth repairing now that it had cost them an employee, but … that wasn’t his department. Not fully.
The cleaning crew was gone, the body already removed and the blood sprayed off and sterilized. Good. He backed up the footage until he found the right time stamp and noted it in his report. Then, the last bit of information filled out, he hit send, and off it went.
Not that he was done. The line was now understaffed, five workers below the recommended medium rather than the more productive four. They’d need a replacement.
The computer could handle that too. He opened a separate program, noted the type of opening and how many positions were open—just one, any more than that wasn’t quite as cost effective, despite the safety issues—and told the computer to go to work. Within seconds the program had found a replacement for Karen from the tens of thousands of resumes it could pull from job-hunting sites, forwarding both it and an internal, corporation-only file collected from social media feeds to his screen.
Don Cooper, Wells thought as he looked over both files. Two jobs, and almost three-hundred thousand in medical debt after you had your appendix out. Which, he noted, had cost him two of the three jobs he’d been working at the time.
Perfect. Desperate enough that he won’t make trouble, and we might even be able to get some unpaid hours out of him. He hit the approval process, and the system went to work, scheduling and sending out a message with an appointment for Cooper to come in and fill out the paperwork … if he wanted the job.
Which he will, Wells thought as he put the computer back to sleep. He’s desperate.
Desperate employees were always the best ones. And that would reflect well on him. His lucky day.
Wells let out a sigh and leaned back in his chair, stretching slightly. Nothing like a hard day’s work.
Then, with little else to do, he picked up his copy of Modern Ethics and Business, found his place, and resumed reading once more.
It had been a good day for the company.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this story, please check out my books! And don’t worry, they don’t get as dark as this! They’re generally a lot more positive!
One thought on “Human Resource – A Free Short Story!”
[…] Again, a lot of what’s on display in this story is already starting to come true, even in the months since it was written. So, you know, it’s worth keeping in mind where we might be going. If you passed this one by, here’s another chance to give it a look. […]