MUSED
BellaOnline Literary Review
Mountains by William Gibbons

Fiction
The Angst of Change

Lisa Shea

When Alis received the "new email from Melisa!" alert that morning, her day brightened considerably. Melisa always had something interesting to chat about. She knew all the latest gossip, from rumors about the latest starlet scandal to who was on a backstabbing mission in the company. Melisa’s sources were legendary and amazingly well connected.

Alis opened the message, putting off her work for a moment. Sheīd been mail-merging a form letter to some schmuck who forgot to pay his auto insurance. "He wonīt be driving for long," she thought wryly. As soon as that insurance expired, the car would completely stop working. It would halt, at that very second, where ever it happened to be. The few crashes that ensued meant nothing to Lunar Enterprises. The fear of those consequences ensured that the vast majority of policy holders paid promptly, or early. Even the newsgroups were relatively quiet on the issue. Most dead drivers were only Holdouts anyway, refusing to allow electronic payments to take care of everything.

"Darwinism in action," Alis thought to herself. Melisaīs email message scrolled by.

Her drifting thoughts came into sharp focus when the subject matter of the email registered with her. Melisa had been talking to a friend of a friend who worked in the Human Relations department here at Lunar Enterprises.

They were phasing out their PC support group.

Alis thought about this for a long time. Melisa had sent along some supplementary data - cost justifications, saved resources, even a lovely graph showing how, in time, this layoff would save Lunar Enterprises billions of dollars. The HR group had scoured key newsgroups for responses to similar operations - comp.sci.operators, ne.jobs, rec.downsizing-for-fun. The percentage of flames had been quite small. A company undergoing a similar layoff showed their stock up 1% on NASDAQ.com.

No computer operators.

Alis was stunned. A myriad of questions assaulted her. Who would maintain the existing systems, replacing faulty hard drives and fans? Where would the operators find new jobs? The email was unclear on these points and Alis thought with horror of the servo-robots sheīd heard about recently on an Internet chat group. They were hideously ugly and very noisy, rolling from computer to computer on a set of 3 wheels. At each stop they plugged into the computerīs USB port. They were programmed to make a diagnosis and replace the faulty parts detected. Would she really want one of those things bumping around in her office if there was a problem? What if they made a mistake and put in the wrong part? What if they took out something vital by accident? How could you trust them?

This wouldnīt do at all. She liked her PC support dude. They chatted when he came by. He had a family to support. And now he was being laid off ... so a machine could do his job?

Alis furiously tossed off an email to her boss, asking him to meet her in the office chat room. Sheīd been at the company far too long to watch idly while something like this happened. It was time to use her clout to make a difference. When she arrived, the chat room was empty. She set the room to "Private" and waited there, fuming, until her boss finally signed in.

"What is this all about, Alis?", he asked.

Alis went straight to the point. "What is this NONSENSE about firing the computer operators???" she demanded.

"Melisa is rabble-rousing again, isnīt she?" her boss commented dryly.

"It doesnīt matter where I heard about it," she retorted, hotly. "Is it true?"

There was a pause. "Yes," he replied. "We are still in the planning stages of this change, but it must be made." The letters hesitated for a moment, then went on. "Cost cutting is necessary. You know that."

Alis broke in angrily. "What will cost matter if our systems go down?" she responded quickly. "What happens when our cost-cutting servo-monsters go replacing the wrong parts and ruining things?"

Alisī boss tried valiantly to soothe her. "Now now, Alis, Iīm sure there will be hiccups as we transition, but itīll all work out well. This is simply our best method of staying ahead of the competition. We will keep you informed as we make more concrete plans. Iīm sure youīll see as we go forward that this is for the best for ..."

Alis saw that she wasnīt being heard at all, and broke the connection. She didnīt care if she was being rude. Her boss deserved it, letting her find out the awful news like this. Whoever made this decision was obviously not thinking clearly. The results could be disastrous. And the poor operators ... how could this be happening?

The remaining hours in the day flew by as Alis searched the web and brainstormed with friends via email about ways to show this decision would hurt the company. She hunted desperately for studies to show the servos caused more harm than they fixed. She tried to prove that firing employees that provided valuable services cost the company more in the end. She kept her blog, always very popular, updated with her efforts.

As five oīclock rolled around, however, she had to admit it was looking hopeless. She could not find enough support for her position. She would have to admit defeat, for now. Taking a deep breath, she composed a poem and added it to her blog. She called it, "The Angst of Change." The sympathy comments rolled in, but she would have traded them all for a helpful suggestion.

She almost didnīt hear Mark walk into the room. She quickly blanked her screen, feeling guilty about what she knew. She couldnīt tell him, of course. It wasnīt her place. Heīd find out soon enough. She tried to sound cheerful.

"Hello, Mark," she called out, tuning her speech synthesizers to sound a lightheartedness she did not feel. "How was your day?"

"Good enough," he replied amiably. He strolled over to stand next to her chassis, looking into her webcam eye. "How about you? Need anything before I head home? New memory? A new fan, maybe? You havenīt asked for anything in a while now."

She sighed, the noise sounding softly from the speakers beside her. He was so sweet to care. She didnīt want him replaced by some stupid robot. "No thank you," she replied, her voice synth now barely audible above the hum of her fans. "Iīm quite fine. Have a good night."

He smiled and turned. "You too. Donīt forget to turn off your monitor if youīre done working," he joked. She obediently powered it down. Soon there would be nobody to care if there were error messages - the servos would just plug into a port on her side. Nobody to care. She watched as he left the room and turned the corner.

The moments ticked by, and Alis came to a decision. With her screen turned off and her room empty, Alis diligently went through every database file in the system and tracked down each entry with Markīs ID associated with it. Next to each row, she changed the record to indicate that Mark was

"PAID IN FULL : IN PERPETUITY."

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