You’ve stopped just outside the Factory. You cannot help but to take in the sight, this time from a distance which you’d never closed until today. Today… You knew today would be the day you would finally put an end to the rejection that has defined your life. You’ve studied so long for this day. You were always behind the curve when it came to trends. This time was no different.
As with so many other people, at first you were apprehensive about the Hive. It quickly became a powerful organization that erased the individuality of anyone who joins, reducing them all to near identical drones. At first the thought was harrowing. “All that I am, gone in an instant? No agency? No self? Just whatever the Hive commands?” As was reasonable, the thought terrified you.
Your doubts began to fade when you learned that every single drone, without exception, was willingly converted. As far as the government — what was left of it, anyway — was concerned, the Hive was like any other company and its drones were simple employees who were on call 24/7. So as time went on, as more and more people joined the Hive, were turned to drones, that terror began to morph into something else.
Even without a face with expressions from which emotions could be gleaned, you could effortlessly tell that these new drones could communicate and coordinate without breaking a sweat. Not that “sweating” was something they were even capable of doing now. There was something they shared, something that you needed. That need grew stronger with each passing person, each acquaintance that had turned up as a new, shiny, sleek, latex-coated drone. Their mere existence was more than enough of a sales pitch.
You needed to Belong.
One last deep breath, and you walk to the Factory’s doors. A camera to the side whirs to life. It rotates, now pointing in your direction, pans down, then back up, then locks with your eyes. Even though it’s not a real set of eyes, your shoulders begin to tense as if it were. It’s staring into you and you don’t know what— Your thoughts are interrupted as the sliding door opens. You look into the Factory, now open to you, and see a lone drone behind a counter. Its head is turned toward what you surmise is a screen. After a moment, it turns away toward you. After another, it raises a hand and waves you in. Startled with the realization that you’d missed a cue, you step in.
You were always awkward with this sort of thing, never seeming to quite see all these unspoken cues. Your embarrassment is cut short by your confidence that this deficit won’t matter once you Belong. Finally, you too will simply act according to norms which you will understand for once.
As you approach the counter separating you and the drone, you decide to politely apologize for the mistake.
“Sorry about that — I wasn’t sure what—” but the drone cuts you off.
“Welcome to Our Factory. May I assist you?”
“Uh. Ah. Well…”
You’re caught by surprise. But once you recover, you mentally reassert the reason for your arrival.
“I want to Belong.”
“Of course. Right this way.”
The drone gets up, and begins walking further into the Factory’s halls. You don’t miss the cue this time, so you promptly follow the drone, trying to carefully match the cadence of its movements.
You’d often been called curt or rude, and no matter the effort you put into softening your words or your tone, it never seemed to be quite enough. Though the bluntness of each of the drone’s responses stung briefly, you also got the sense that it was natural for you to feel that way. After all, you did not yet Belong. Once you did, all of these little misunderstandings would finally come to an end.
After a few minutes and a few turns, the drone stops just next to one of many nondescript sliding doors.
“Before you can Belong, some routine paperwork needs to be done.”
The sliding door opens, and the drone accompanying you signals for you to enter, but not before emitting two melodic beeps. In turn two more beeps can be heard from the room that has just opened.
Entering the room, you see what looks to be a desk. There’s a drone sitting behind it. Its faceplate is locked with yours. You approach the empty seat on the closer side, and you sit down. You hear the sliding door close, then turn back to the drone sat across from you. As with the previous drone, it simply gestures to the large stack of papers waiting on the desk.
Wow. That’s a lot of paperwork. You take the first page, and you begin to read it. From the first page, you gather that this is technically a contract of prospective “employment”. From the size of it, the terms are very thorough. Though your mind has already been made, you see fit to match the meticulously outlined contract with your own meticulous approach.
You carefully read and digest page after page. Some of the legalese escapes you but you’re starting to get a view of the bigger picture. The contract outlines the terms of “employment” if the Hive decides to “hire” you. What’s odd is that you hadn’t heard of anyone being declined “employment” until now. It must just be some kind of failsafe. It would be very much like the Hive to ensure every possible case was accounted for.
After what must have been a few hours, you’ve reached the end of this lengthy document. You sign the last of the necessary signatures, and as outlined by the contract you have now officially begun onboarding. It’s happening. As you hand the stack back to the drone, you hear the sliding door behind you slide open. Two beeps from the desk drone, and another two beeps from the hall.
You step out and see a drone stationed exactly where the first drone had left you, only it’s a bit taller than what you remember. Is it a different drone than before? It must be. You meet this drone’s face, it says “Follow”, and the two of you begin to walk down still more halls. As you’re walking, you hear and feel a loud gurgle from your stomach. You hadn’t noticed until now just how long the paperwork had taken. You hope that your conversion begins soon — so you can be rid of these needs once and for all.
The drone stops at an opaque sliding door. The door opens, the drone heads inside, and you quickly follow it in.
The next room is exactly the last thing you’d expect to find at a drone conversion facility. It has a bed. A television. Minifridge. Lamps. A framed painting on the wall. It’s a hotel room. There’s even an attached bathroom – thankfully with its own sliding door for privacy. The floor is even carpeted – but the walls are still the sterile white that is characteristic of this Factory.
“The paperwork is being processed. Wait here until it’s completed.”
Your impatience is growing, but it will need to wait because your hunger is growing even faster. You open the fridge to find it fully stocked, or at least as fully stocked as a minifridge could be. On top, there are some paper plates all ready for you. You plate a few cubes of cheese, some cold cuts, a handful of grapes, and you move toward the hotel room’s obligatory desk. As you eat your odd dinner, a print magazine on the desk catches your eye.
Not like you should have expected anything else, the magazine is named “Hive Monthly”. This must be that sales pitch you’d been missing out on. With little else to do while you eat, you start to idly read its pages. None of the articles or features pique your interest quite like the “before and after” showcase. You knew the conversion technology could change the shape of its subjects, but seeing it all laid out together is an entirely different learning experience. To see all the ways that the Factory can make a drone embody its perfect form drives your excitement even further. You suppose this is one way for the Hive to ensure that candidates are eager for conversion.
“All who Belong are remade to be perfect.”
The words from the drone that you hadn’t noticed was looking over your shoulder break you away from your enraptured trance. You recoil in shock at the intrusion. You’d completely forgotten it was here, with you.
“The paperwork will finish processing in the morning. It is imperative to be well-rested before continuing.”
The hotel room’s outer door then opens, and the drone departs. After the door closes again, the room’s lights begin to dim. You hadn’t noticed how tired you’d gotten, and with the artificial nightfall in place you decide to heed the drone’s advice. This will be the last sleep you have as a person.
As the night goes on, your excitement and nearly overwhelming restlessness finally die down to grant you just a modicum of rest. Your mind and surroundings begin filling with sights of greenery. A canopy above. Detritus beneath your feet. Surrounded by foliage.
The forest is dark, but not pitch black. Despite the darkness, it’s possible to navigate this place. This forest is not known to you, but you feel welcomed in a way that is unfamiliar.
What are you doing here? Where were you before this? Why do you hear a beeping sound? Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep…
You’re startled out of your sleep by the beeping of a drone that has welcomed itself into a makeshift hotel room inside of a large drone conversion factory.
Why did reality feel less believable than the dream from which had just been ejected?
“The paperwork is complete. It is time to proceed. Follow.”
You would normally be discomforted by the thought of leaving the safety of this room without taking the opportunity to freshen up, but you know what you’re here for. You know your discomfort won’t exist soon.
You spend the walk contemplating which form you’ll be able to inhabit at the end of this process. You’d known that it would be possible to find yourself with a much more comfortable form after your conversion, but you’d not allowed yourself to really contemplate it until now. It’s finally within reach. You can finally allow yourself to dream. Your ideal form is already well-formed in your mind. Tall, slightly bulky, and very defined curves.
Imposing, capable, but still undeniably feminine. That’s what your perfect comfort would be.
Many more halls, turns, nondescript sliding doors, and you end up at the end of a long hall. The door here is unlike the rest. It is heavy, on a hinge, and seemingly kept locked by a security system. The drone beeps, and ushers you through the door.
End of the line. Finally, you’d find yourself on the assembly line, and after a painless procedure you would Belong once and for all. One last deep breath, and you head on in.
It’s dark. Darker than the dream still clinging to you. You turn your head, but fail to see anything. Before you say something, ask what’s going on, the lights above turn on.
It’s not what you expected. It’s so not what you expected that it’s not even the assembly line. It’s just a small room. The walls aren’t even painted. It’s just a dingy concrete box, completely unlike the uniform perfection of the rest of the Factory. Immediately across from you, on the other side of the room, are a set of double push doors with the word “EXIT” painted on in a bright red.
Your gaze tilts slightly downward and you notice a small folding table with a single white envelope on it. The envelope has your name printed on it. You pick it up, break its seal, and your heart has already sunk before you can even properly read it.
“…found to be grossly unfit for conversion…”
You can’t believe the words you read.
“…hereby banned from all facilities belonging to the Hive.”
The pain deepens with each word.
“Further applications for employment will be rejected…”
You will never Belong.
“…pending deactivation of accounts on public network services provided by the Hive’s partner corporations.”
You will never Belong.
“…ordered to cease and desist…”
You will never Belong.
“…you will never Belong.”
You will never Belong.
You toss the sheet and the envelope aside.
You toss the table aside.
You toss the exit doors aside.
The bright morning sun would have blinded you if not for the blinding rage you find yourself in. You’re standing on grass. You seem to be behind the Factory. They didn’t even pave a path for you to take to reach the street again, but that doesn’t slow you down.
The further you get from the Factory, the angrier you become. Everything is wrong. You just want to get away from this. You find a nearby bus stop and wait. Again. So much waiting. Even without Belonging, everything you do is being dictated by other forces. The boiling ire within you is slowly bubbling further and further. Finally, a bus. You need to get away. After a few tense rides, and a couple of even more impatient transfers, you’re stomping home.
The seed of animosity within you is now burning in your mind. It scorches. It scathes.
You’ve reached your home but it barely registers against the backdrop of fury you feel at the indignation of how they treated you in response to a simple desire to Belong and something inside you cracking from the pressure snaps and something within you just breaks.
The exasperation evaporated in an instant. The intensity of your emotion has been replaced by an equally intense feeling that you can’t quite identify because you’ve never felt it before.
Your mind is now filling with ideas that feel at once foreign and comforting. You imagine vibrant dresses, girly looking things with skin so clear, ornate rooms of a woodland mansion. You don’t know where this energy is coming from, but your conviction is now stronger than ever. Today will be the last day you beg to belong. You’ll find your own means to put an end to the rejection. The way forward is now clear, and soon, you won’t need to bear this overwhelming Purpose alone.
This story has a sequel, An Intruder in Our Midst.
This story was also posted to the Fediverse at https://mastodon.triggerphra.se/@flora/109775259536111130.