“…now this is the ground floor, so everything you see here involves strictly the acceleration and deceleration of all celestial bodies, satellites, PIGAP’s — that’s Perceived Intergalactic Astral Projections. Um… well, not too much goes on here, mindless work. Engineers, technicians, graphic designers, they all work upstairs. You’ll be on Floor Three.”
Ike looked over and saw two people emerging from the foyer, one of them Jean-Paul Lefevre from Human Resources. The other man was a short, stocky ginger with scarcely any neck and wearing thick, ovoid glass. Jean-Paul was navigating the pair of them through Ike’s workspace, between and around a jungle of pulleys and wiring.
“…and over here — oh, that’s Ike, he’s been here longer than anyone… Just pulls that rope, makes sure we get a full twelve hours of daylight everyday. Or near enough. Not much to it, it’s all connected by cables running about twenty thousand feet above the equator. Probably be automated before long.”
They stopped within fifteen feet of him (if he had known there was a tour today, Ike would have cleaned his space a bit; he didn’t have a desk, but the contents of his sack-lunch were strewn about the floor and 7-11 Styrofoam cups had been collecting for a week or longer).
“Ike, I’d like to introduce Ron Gibbs, he’s new. He’s going to be working in Sagittarius, so you might see him around some come the holidays.”
“Hi,” Ron said, waving meagerly. He was already sporting a red plus-size Christmas sweater. It was Casual Friday.
“ ‘Lo,” Ike returned barely.
Mr. Lefevre and Mr. Gibbs continued past, proceeded to the stairwell and took their tour out of Ike’s hearing. After they had gone, Ike stood by his rope, his grip slackened, and let his thoughts wander. Strange, Ike wasn’t the kind of man who thought about much of anything, but vague anxieties were bubbling inside him now, wondering if they really would ever bring in some fancy machination of gears and programs to do his job someday…
Before he knew it, five minutes had passed and Ike snapped out of his stupor, aghast at having let so long a time pass without pulling the rope. He cursed under his breath and gave it a firm pull before lulling back into the slow, steady work of moving the sun east to west.
After dusk, Ike was sitting in his boss’s office, waiting to be disciplined.
Mr. Schweikart assuaged his temples with his index fingers, eyes tightly closed for added effect. “Ike, this is the kind of thing that gives the nut-jobs and conspiracists credibility. The UN’s not going to be smiling our direction if I have to report any further mishaps, got it? If I need to put this responsibility on someone else, I will. You’ll just let me know if that’s what you want. Do you?”
“No, Mr. Schweikart,” Ike said resignedly.
“Right then,” Mr. Schweikart scribbled a signature at the bottom of the infraction notice, then pushed the slip of paper across the desk with his pen. “For you. Just keep pulling the rope, Ike. Not that hard.”
Maybe ten, fifteen years before, Ike had had vague ambitions for himself beyond pulling the sun across the sky everyday. Maybe get promoted to stars or planets, at least. Or he would have been happy in the lunar department, which involved some rudimentary mathematics and a broader timeline of routine duties (approximately monthly). Ike liked numbers. He liked routine also, but variety was nice too. Just not too much, he thought.
But he was still pulling the rope, and he didn’t really spend any time thinking about what else he could do anymore, so it was fine.
He took the last subway home at 7:47pm, as he had done everyday for going on sixteen years. It was a Swedish-designed high-speed rail that ran from the covert UN Wall several hundred miles west of the Hawaiian islands, travelling beneath the ocean floor and American mainland before reaching Ike’s stop in New Jersey. There was nothing particularly interesting about the experience for Ike, usually he napped for thirty minutes during the trip, or read the English newspapers. His wife had bought him a handheld radio device last Christmas, and he could use the free Wi-Fi on the train to plug-in to his favorite conservative talk shows. That was actually the only technological aspect of the train that tickled his sense of marvel.
Mrs. Tiller greeted her husband on the front doorstep when he arrived home, kissing him on the cheek. A plate of plain, tomato-y pork meatloaf was hot and steaming on the kitchen counter. Ike’s two sons, 13 and 15, were nearby watching a movie, absorbed in their iPhones, on the living room couch crowded with mounds of fresh laundry. Neither reacted to Ike’s entrance, nor did Ike consider them at all.
“Dear, you’ll never guess what happened to your son today,” Mrs. Tiller said, beaming.
“Yeah?” Ike said vaguely, setting his battered briefcase on the counter (he had taken it with him everyday since he started, though it contained only his radio among other personal articles irrelevant to pulling the rope) and turning to his dinner.
“Grant got his first job!” Mrs. Tiller continued happily.
“That’s great,” Ike said. “Where?”
“Sonic,” said his eldest son from the couch without looking up from his phone.
“That’s great, son,” Ike said, popping open a can of orange Fanta. “Gonna be a working man now, huh?”
His son didn’t answer. Ike didn’t press him, he didn’t really talk to his sons much.
“I assure you, I’m genuinely very impressed with your machine, Mr. Karpovsky,” Mr. Schweikart was saying. “Which is entirely beside the issue. We are a government-run operation. Obviously. I can only go through my approved vendors.”
“But you agree that my design would reduce your human costs by an extraordinary margin — with no errors, no additional accommodations, healthcare costs or paid leave, et cetera…”
Mr. Schweikart considered for a moment. “Well, I have a guy who’s pulled the sun for at least fifteen years now. But I suppose I could give him some notice. His work’s not been the best… Well no guarantees, as I say, but this could work, Mr. Karpovsky. I’ll have to speak with my supervisors, of course.”