You have no items in your cart. Want to get some nice things?Go shopping
Garrison and I sit in our chairs and watch the pale blue dot spin on the monitor. The pale blue dot spins on the monitor thirty times per minute. Garrison and I take turns watching. We speak infrequently. Before my days here watching the pale blue dot spin on the monitor, I worked in a different division some stories below, watching the bright red cube rise and lower. That was a fine place for a man to cut his teeth and get his foot in the door, to make connections of the sort that pay dividends down the line – this being a competitive industry – but sadly the team suffered from personality conflicts that were irreconcilable and vexed us from a standpoint of productivity. Ultimately, I was glad for the transfer.
Today marks my two thousand four hundredth day in my new position. Sometimes I receive postcards in my Personal Items slot that say “Congrats on your work anniversary!” or “Happy birthday, old timer!” or even a thumbs-up signal. I store these in an album I keep under my bunk. Every two thousand five hundred days the voice of a professional but nonetheless sultry female with the accent of your choosing comes on the PA system to read your name aloud in a congratulatory manner for the whole company to hear. I am still a hundred days away from this and take a sinful pride in not letting it show.
Our job is to watch the pale blue dot spin on the monitor. If it starts spinning too fast, meaning more than thirty times per minute, or one time every two seconds, the dot will turn saffron and begin to strobe. Too slow, and it will turn indigo and an alarm will sound. If the dot turns saffron and begins to strobe, we are to insert our keys into the module and turn them one quarter turn to the left or until we hear the click. If the dot turns indigo and the alarm sounds, we are to insert our keys into the module and turn them two full turns to the right, or until we hear the ding. Once the module is activated, the doors will seal hermetically to isolate our unit from the rest of the divisions. Thankfully the pale blue dot has yet to falter in its rotational velocity. It could happen at any time. I make an effort to review my Employee Manual once per week so as to not forget what the color saffron looks like.
Garrison and I speak infrequently. This is his forty-first day watching the pale blue dot spin on the monitor. He’s starting to get the hang of it. After my shift ends every morning, I spend one hour supervising his work, in compliance with Division Onboarding Procedure, to make sure he is an appropriate fit for the position. To hazard a lapse in humility it is not just any old joker who can sit and watch the pale blue dot spin on the monitor. It pleases me to note in my daily shift report to Central that nothing seems amiss with the new transfer. Garrison is a steadfast and consummate professional. I wonder sometimes if we will become friends.
Before Garrison there was Milton. Was Milton ever a strange one. Per his file, Milton once enlisted in the Multinational Brigades in hopes of getting killed by an insurrectionist after his Dobermann Hans died of adrenal failure in Tucson. He failed his psychological screening by three and a half points and so instead bought a used Ducati and drove it all the way to Baton Rouge before realizing he’d developed a windburn. This was some time ago.
From the day Milton arrived at my division I took him for a bothered sort. It was evident his view of himself had been rocked to its foundation by his failure to achieve gruesome death in combat. Milton spoke long into the night about human suffering and the devout facade of contemporary thought that binds all man its thrall. At times his chatter unnerved me. At times I found myself letting my mind drift unmoored while my body sat before the pale blue dot spinning on the monitor. But I never took Milton very seriously, in the end. All this from a fellow who never so much as glanced at his News & General Affairs slot! Milton and I watched the pale blue dot spin on the monitor for nine hundred ninety one days.
On the nine hundred ninety second day, Milton was gone. I rose from my bunk to relieve him but his chair was empty. All his possessions were taken, his bunk stripped, his orthopedic sandals in none of the places he would tend to leave them. No one ever told me where he went. Not one word came down from Central regarding Milton’s whereabouts. As for how long the pale blue dot had spun unwatched on the monitor I refused the temptation to wonder.
That evening in my Meals & Dietary Supplements slot I found with my supper packets a bottle of small white capsules that allowed me the stamina required to cover both shifts. I set about watching the pale blue dot spin on the monitor. Surely a new transfer would be along.
I swallowed one white capsule every six hours, or every ten thousand eight hundred rotations of the pale blue dot on the monitor. I kept my eye on the monitor each time I got up to retrieve my packets from the Meals & Dietary Supplements slot. Urination and defecation were no issue. Central went out of the way to ensure the chairs in the upper divisions were state of the art. A new transfer would be along shortly.
The day became another one. Then that day, too, was over, with still no word about a new transfer. I gritted and hung in, remembering my Employee Handbook. I sat and watched the pale blue dot spin on the monitor. I swallowed one white capsule every six hours. A new transfer would be along.
I began to suspect an oversight. It occurred to me Milton was my friend despite it all and he was never coming back again and he was perhaps hurt or dead. I recall an era of darkness, politically-speaking, of feelings bordering on seditious. In my swelling, apoplectic mind the blood began to rush and squeak in a high white boil. I began to see the distinct image of the wretched and metastatic rot that festers in the bone marrow of the lie of the world. Then began the hallucinations proper. Another bottle of capsules arrived that helped with this considerably.
It was a long while before Garrison arrived.
Garrison seems a sound fellow. He carries with him at all times a leather attaché case of dominoes he plays with beside his bunk before and after his shift. He polishes the case using a special ointment he sends away for. Sometimes he talks to himself. But he is not unwell.
On our second day together Garrison asked me how I had done it, how I had managed to cover both shifts for as long as I had. He told me I was something of an inspiration at his former division, where they watched the irregular shape expand. I looked at Garrison and told him the same thing I’d told myself over and over during that period in my career I’ve since indexed as the Long Bad Lonesome, which is each of us has a responsibility to do his part.
Over time Garrison and I have settled into the comforts of our daily routine. We have grown accustomed to each other in these forty-one days, mutually appreciative of the other’s commitment to the duties entrusted to him, liberated from the nervous impulse toward noisemaking that powers the vast majority of workplace conversation. We sit in our chairs and watch the pale blue dot spin on the monitor. I enjoy the sound of Garrison’s dominoes clinking against each other when he returns them to the case. I enjoy the amber reading lamp glowing in my peripheral vision as Garrison alternates in his gentle tenor between The Book of Job and a tattered Norwegian Cruise Line brochure for a seven day all-inclusive vacation to Bangkok. I would very much like to share with him my secret thrill about the woman’s voice reading my name on the intercom, but I wonder if it would betray a level of self-regard he might consider in his own inmost heart to be unprofessional. In our Employee Handbook we are strongly advised to maintain sound relations with our fellows at all times. Garrison journals regularly in a compact leather bound book. I feel a light surge of pleasure move obliquely through my abdominal region each time I neglect to include this in my daily report to Central.
My father had always been a sad and peculiar man. More than anything he wanted to be a painter. He constructed an easel out of balsam fir and coated it in a synthetic resin recommended by an esteemed woodworking quarterly and placed it by the window. Each week he wrote incessantly about the great painters of history in his messages home to us. He wrote glowing passages about single point perspective and the virtuosity of the cubists. How excited he would be come Friday to get two full days of freedom to sit at his easel and midwife with brush and canvas the perfect images that all week tickled his mind. This was years ago; workers were always traveling back and forth. My father would rise before the sun on Saturday mornings. He would sit at his easel by the lightening window for an hour and then stand up and adjust it by a few degrees in a different direction. Then he would sit for another hour and scratch his chin. On Monday mornings he was very quiet again. My father was a Senior Operations Manager who oversaw the team who ensured the magenta ellipse never intersected with the dotted line. None of us ever knew what he was thinking about.
Several months before Garrison arrived, there was, unfortunately, a death. A killing. A man was killed by a guard after attempting to abandon his responsibilities and flee his division. It was one of the lower down divisions where these things sometimes occur. I read about the incident in a series of furtive glances while watching the pale blue dot spin on the monitor. The report came down from Central in the News & General Affairs slot. I scarcely knew what to make of it. Of course I felt a bleakness about the loss of one of our fellows. Then again a man ought to cooperate with the guards. A man ought to not shirk his duties. A man cannot simply escape his division at will. Were a man allowed to do that, a chain reaction would ensue; men would abscond from their divisions in droves. Who would watch the monitors? Productivity would be in shambles. A mass exodus would devastate the atmosphere of ambition and steadfastness required for hard work, for innovation, for the development of novel ideas. No, the guards were essential. So you can see how it was all very complex.
The killing caused quite the stir at the company. One of the more liberal divisions issued a memo to Central for immediate distribution in which they advocated for the commissioning of a task force to run a cost-benefit analysis on instituting more enlightened training protocols for guards. Central was happy to distribute the memo, in compliance with the Free & Open Discourse provision in our company contract. Some months later, Central sent word down to our divisions that a vote on the matter was being considered at the highest levels by our elected ambassadors.
On top of all this, effective immediately, all workers were to receive a special edition armband in their Personal Items slot whose color corresponded with the division of the victim in question. We were to refer to the color key in our Employee Handbook if there was any confusion. The armbands were well received. They allowed us to do our part in raising awareness for a broader social plight without interfering with productivity in the workplace. Interfering with productivity in the workplace was no way to honor our fallen colleague, Central reminded us. If anything, he would have wanted us to be even more productive in his memory. Central assured as that a safe, friendly, inclusive working environment was of paramount priority. We were reminded never to forget that we were a family, here, in the end, capable of solving even the toughest challenges without violence. Representation matters, said Central. Our diversity is our strength.
My heart swelled fit to bursting when I read these pleasant slogans emerge from my News & General Affairs slot. How fortunate we were to be given the right to enact change within the system. I watched the pale blue dot spin on the monitor with a renewed vigor and purpose.
Garrison sometimes asks the strangest questions. Today he asked me what I would do if the pale blue dot ever stopped spinning on the monitor. I reminded him that the pale blue dot never stops spinning on the monitor. Garrison asked how did I know that. I was visited upon by an urge to strike him in the jaw with my hand again and again until the blood came and his teeth split through his lips and scattered across the corrugated floor. However, as we are strongly encouraged to maintain sound relations at all times, I wrangled my pain and confusion and shrunk them back down into little things that could fit inside me again. I politely reminded Garrison that the pale blue dot can only change speeds. I reminded him to refer to his Employee Handbook. He would find nothing written at all about what to do if the pale blue dot stops spinning on the monitor. He said so what. He said somebody out there writes the Employee Handbook, don’t they? What if they’re wrong about the pale blue dot? People get stuff wrong all the time, he said. We stared at each other. Then he fell silent and returned to work.
I haven’t the slightest idea what to make of it. Somebody writes the Handbook. Somebody could be wrong. Garrison seems a sound fellow. He is not unwell like Milton. But there are times you wonder. To discuss the pale blue dot in such callous terms. I don’t know what to make of it. I wonder what he keeps in that domino case. I think it over in my bunk for a long time.