The Cube Factory (Flash Fiction)

From the beginning of time, Bob worked in the cube factory. His job, like everyone else who worked in the cube factory, a factory that employed millions, was to unload the cubes from the conveyor belt onto the loading pallet. The conveyors were automatic, and the pallets that took the cubes away were driven by automated machines. As far as Bob knew, the entire process was automated aside from his role of placing the cubes from the conveyor onto the loading pallet. There were times, fleeting times, when Bob would find time to pause and look around him. When he did, he saw millions of people, just like him, working silently and moving their gray cubes from their conveyors onto their loading pallets. For miles and miles, the workers surrounded Bob in a dark factory with solitary spotlights shining down on each person from above.

The cubes were always the same size, but they varied in weight and color. While they were always gray, the range of gray was apparently limitless. Bright silvers that could be used for the finest jewelry were followed by flat grays of a dead sky. Some were light and flirted with floating away when lifted from the conveyor, and some were so heavy they nearly fell to the ground. And some, every so often, were so incredibly heavy that the conveyor had to be stopped and an assisting robot was required to move the cube from the conveyor to the loading pallet.

For years, day in and day out, rain or shine, although it never did shine, Bob watched these cubes move before him.

One day, the conveyor came to a halt. Its long belt, with its origin hidden somewhere deep within the darkness of the factory, stopped with one final cube before Bob. At first Bob failed to realize the final cube and considered summoning a maintenance robot. He picked up the cube, a chipped and broken thing that crumpled around the edges in his hand, and set it onto the loading pallet. The pallet was empty, save for this one cube, but the automated machine still took the pallet away. That was when Bob noticed the conveyor was now stopped and empty, and that he was the lone soul no longer lifting cubes in a factory full of millions who were.

He stood for several minutes, unsure of what to do next. He had moved cubes his entire life, never knowing why, yet now he understood that he could never lift another cube again. So he began to walk.

He passed row after row of conveyors, all bringing cubes to workers, all of the workers moving the cubes to loading pallets. None of them saw him. None of them said hello. The automated machines moved around him as though he never existed, yet they were strangely aware of his presence. Paths were clearly altered to account for his straying, but the factory continued on just the same. He walked for miles, for days, in the dark, passing conveyors too numerous to count, passing persons too mesmerized to consider.

After weeks of walking, Bob came to a door marked “exit.” He pushed the handle and left the factory.

Outside, the world was a dark and raging storm. Rain fell in torrents and the wind ripped at Bob’s clothes. It seemed as though the weather were angry, and Bob became afraid. He began to run from the factory, into the darkness that surrounded him, unsure of where his legs were taking him. Before his lungs could become winded, he smashed into a hard surface and fell to the ground. He wiped the rain from his squinting eyes and saw a great wall. It rose into that terrible sky and was swallowed by the clouds. That was when Bob noticed the robots.

The loading pallets, the very pallets Bob had spent his life filling with cubes, were in constant transit from the factory to the wall. Bob watched as dozens, hundreds, thousands of great robots moved cubes from the loaded pallets for the construction of this great wall. He knew then what it was he’d been working toward his entire life. He knew then what the cubes were for. He knew this and he wept. He wept for himself and he wept for the millions of people inside the factory.

When he thought all was lost, a glimmer caught his eye. In the distance, along the gradual arc of this massive wall, was a burst of light. Bob wiped his eyes of the rain and looked to see a man pulling cubes from the wall. All around him, cubes were strewn about and a magnificent golden light was beaming through. It was like nothing Bob had ever seen. The man crawled through the opening in the wall, was swallowed by the amazing light, and disappeared forever. Soon after, a robot came along and began to replace the missing cubes in the wall.

Bob turned, sloshed through the mud, picked himself up and began to tear at the cubes in the wall. Some were heavy and some were light. Some were dark and some were bright. He pulled at the cubes before him and threw them to the ground while the robots, autonomous in nature yet strangely aware of his being there, continued to place more and more cubes higher on the wall. Bob pulled cube after cube and finally broke through. A beautiful bolt of golden light fell on his face. He saw the sun, the sky, and golden fields of rolling hills.

He pushed his way through the opening, weeping with joy and understanding, and never picked up a fucking cube again.

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