“The military has unveiled a device that promises to circumvent many future wars. Details are top-secret, but a government spokesman says the device can accurately predict the ultimate outcome of seemingly minor decisions. ‘The bottom line,’ he says, ‘is, we can prevent major conflicts by identifying the decisions that caused them before they even happen.’ ….”
“Huh,” Nathan muttered to himself as he flicked off the television, “How about that?”
As he rode to work that morning Nathan considered the ramifications of a machine that could identify mistakes before they happened. The applications were endless. It wasn’t just wars that could be prevented. People could know how a president would turn out before they voted for him. Maybe his high-school sweetheart would have said yes to his marriage proposal if he had worded it a little differently. And … he might not have taken the boring, dead-end job he was headed to for the 10,322 time. The very fact that he knew how many days he had worked at Bennington Die and Press was testament to how meaningless he considered his place in life to be.
After clocking in, Nathan headed for the same bench he had occupied for three decades. 30 years of dutifully stamping Inspected by Number 32 on pieces of metal. He was neither inventor nor even builder. All he did was stamp Inspected by Number 32. Boring, dead-end job. But, it paid the rent, as his father always used to say.
At 10 AM, something happened that had never happened in the 10,322 times Nathan had sat at his station. The CEO of Bennington Die and Press showed up. “Nathan,” blustered the smartly dressed executive, “I wanted to congratulate you personally on the part you played in a turning point for this company.”
Nathan frowned. He hadn’t been part of anything meaningful in his entire life. “Th … Thank you sir. But … what did I do?”
“You were part of a project we were doing as a sub-contractor to a company I can’t name. Your faithful work to ensure the quality of a short-run a few months ago ensured the stability of this company for years to come.”
“I … I … don’t understand,” Nathan stammered.
The CEO shook his head. “No, you couldn’t possibly. Did you see the news this morning about the military’s new prediction machine?”
“Well sir, a main component of that machine was made on this very floor. The parts we pressed were chosen at random and the ones chosen were the three your inspected.” With great flourish, the CEO pulled out a picture of the part he was speaking of. “The military used that machine to defuse a potential conflict with China. Because of our, I mean the government’s machine, our ambassador to China just issued them an ultimatum. The machine guaranteed they’re acceptance of that ultimatum.”
A knot the size of pea formed in the pit of Nathan’s stomach and then grew until he thought he would explode. He recognized the part in the picture. On day 10,128 of his tenure at Bennington Die and Press he had come in with a headache and an empty heart. For some reason, only three parts were passed down to him that day to inspect. He had discovered an identical, tiny, microscopic flaw on each. Probably a speck of sand or dust on the press. The tolerance levels were close enough. Not right but close enough for this day. Besides it was just a blank back-plate of some kind. Nothing that mattered. Nothing he did in this boring, dead end job mattered.
The CEO frowned, “What’s a matter Nathan? You look like you just met the grim reaper in person.”
Nathan couldn’t answer. His eyes were focused on the words scrolling across a news broadcast on the small television that sat on his workstation.
… FLAW IN MILITARY’S PREDICTION MACHINE…
His CEO followed his eyes and gasped. The signature image of a mushroom cloud filled the screen. A small graphic of the new prediction machine appeared in one corner as the scroll at the bottom of the screen continued.
… SET INTO MOTION A SERIES OF CATASTROPHIC EVENTS …
Nathan started to apologize for his lack of attention on day 10,128 but was interrupted by the distant rumble of an approaching shock wave. He wouldn’t have to worry about another boring, dead-end day at Bennington Die and Press.
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