Previously: Chapter 3 <Part 1>
At the front gate of Factory 2319, Gatesman Karney barely looked up from his clipboard as the grey-suited, grimy-faced workers shuffled past him. It was the same thing every day, the same people, the same pace, the same time. He didn’t even have to watch the clock anymore. When he saw the overstuffed cap of Naggee, who tried so hard to blend in, short of chopping off her marvelous mop of red curly hair, he knew it was time to throw the lever to begin closing the gate. There she was, just behind the group of men dragging along a thin, weak boy between them. Poor lad must have decided to exercise something like “free will” last night. Much good it did him! Karney threw the lever, and the air was filled with the sound of grinding gears.
“Oy! Oy! Oy!” The cry went up from the people just in front of the gate. Karney at last put down his clipboard. Never had anyone had cause to make any noise while the gate shut—and yet there were people who had to scramble to avoid getting crushed! How? Why? Were they slow? Were the gates too fast? Since when? The last man had barely gotten his heels out of the way before the gates slammed shut. Karney sighed with relief and picked up his clipboard again; he was not used to so much excitement. He watched the men with the scrawny boy begin to climb the stairs toward the stacks. Karney shuddered and kept his eyes focused on the ground. He couldn’t abide heights, and those stacks were the highest in the city. Let the other men climb. Karney would stay in his gatehouse, on the ground.
Deep in the belly of Factory 2319, Under-Foreman Galen surveyed the floor below with its assembly line of men and women, all dressed the same, all placing the same parts on the same items as they scooted down the assembly line. Another thousand lawn chairs for the masses; they must be sold today, because the people need them. And not one of them must have a single wingnut out of place. Such models are defective and must be destroyed, and the worker’s motivation uncovered and squelched. Galen understood full well that humans were not perfect machines, they could make mistakes, and a minor slip could be rectified without having to dispose of the worker—but a deliberate change in manufacturing? What was the point in that? Such a thing could only throw the city into a state of panic. Galen sighed and continued scanning the rows as their unison made a simple movement echo loudly through the whole building. Galen wished he could shut out the loud noise; it stuck in his head all day long, pounding through his sleep cycle.
The Under-Foreman—well aware that he in turn was being watched by the Foreman on the level above him—sighed again and tried to concentrate on something else, to shut out the loud booms. He felt the wyrt on his shoulder quivering softly. If only just one person was just the tiniest bit off-beat, the noise would not be quite so loud; where would be the harm in that? Galen closed his eyes and imagined what that would be like—what would one call that?
Galen’s eyes snapped open. What sort of word was that? It sounded incredible. The wyrt next to him began to shake worse, but Galen didn’t notice as thoughts hitherto unexplored began to fall into place. If just one person at a time fell just a fraction of a second off from the others, production would still continue at the same rate, but the incredible noise would not be so loud. It would be spread out, constant, even, instead of harsh and punctuated. A warm feeling licked over the Under-Foreman from his head to his toes; he, Galen, had just innovated! His wyrt frantically tried to crawl toward his neck and to the top of his head, but it remained where it was, shaking furiously. Galen knew it would not be long before the Foreman noticed this. Thank the Fates wyrts could not read minds, only use the senses of their hosts! Galen continued to give the appearance of doing what he was supposed to be doing, all the while his mind continued to spin these new ideas.
For example, what would one call it when one person decided on their own to do something different from others, while benefiting others still? One person, doing their own thing, to make a difference—
Yes! What a perfect word! And still within the bounds for Human Error and Tolerance, the two foundational tenets of the Eillumaeian belief system. For if one allowed for the possibility of Error, the Tolerance of said Error, perhaps something could then be said for Innovation and Individuality; one did not have to do or look the same as another, one was free to have their own feelings, their own thoughts—and the result in Galen’s mind looked pleasing indeed!
Just then, Galen’s radio squawked, and the grating voice of the Foreman interrupted his thoughts.
“Galen! What’s going on down there?”
Galen shook his head. Of course the Foreman was too far up to see the Floor, but that was Galen’s job; the Foreman only had to look after Galen. Yet, why had he asked such a question? What worried the Foreman so? Galen turned his attention back to the floor.
His wish had come true! Instead of the constant thudding, the workers were out of sync with each other, producing a rather pleasing “ratta-tatta-tatta-tatta” buzz over the floor. The Foreman must have detected the change in the noise level, but Galen enjoyed it.
“Situation normal,” he reported to the Foreman. It felt good not to have to yell each syllable between poundings. Galen looked across the way at the row of catwalks, each with an Under-Foreman standing upon it. He wondered if they had come up with the same thoughts of Innovation and Individuality as he had. Suddenly, Under-Foreman 6, three rows from Galen’s position, took it upon himself to walk away from his post. Under-Foreman 5 did the same thing—walking in the opposite direction! Galen felt the urge to cheer welling up inside him—dare he? It was almost too much; he had never been so happy over an idea before. He would burst if he didn’t—hang uniformity! Galen whipped his hat off his head and threw it up in the air.
“Innovation!” he crowed.
Suddenly, all the workers on the floor stopped and turned to him. As their last act in one voice, they all cried, “All hail the individual!” and threw their hats in the air as well!
Galen was amazed by the variation of appearance. Dwarves removed their stilts and became half the height of everyone else. Elves straightened and became taller. There were heads of red hair, golden hair, silver hair, black hair; long hair, short hair, curly hair straight hair. Galen ignored the stream of objections coming from his radio as he cheered along with the workers. They turned back to the assembly lines, but no longer were they doing the same job as the person across from them. Galen watched Individuality in action as different workers began putting components together in different combinations, painting them different colors, inventing entirely new and never-before-seen objects!
A loud hissing erupted from the air ducts all across the factory, but it wasn’t any kind of nasty-smelling gas leak. To Galen and to those who inhaled deeply of the fumes, it was the smell of freedom.
One tall creature—very much an individual, because Galen had never seen its like before, all covered in fur and like a cross between a cat and an Elf—stood on top of a machine and roared, “Let us spread the good news to the other Factories! All hail the individual! Innovation is king!” The creature leapt off his pedestal and led the charge out of the factory doors. Galen climbed down from the catwalk to join them. He waved to Karney the Gatesman as he passed. Karney threw the lever to open the gates, and then snapped the handle, rendering it impossible to ever close the gates again.
“Durned if I ain’t doin’ this no more!” he shouted. “It’s about time I did somethin’ differ’nt!”
Not one of those workers paid the slightest bit of attention to the carpet of wyrts who scampered about their feet, desperate for new hosts and finding none among their number.
High in the stack of the Factory, Laurel’s work was not done, even though everyone else had to get to the factory floor to prevent total mayhem. She was not completely alone, sitting there on a perch just below the rim. A second figure watched over her from the very rim of the stack, one with pale hair and dusky skin—and keen silver eyes that read every twitch of Laurel’s face.