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art by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

Final Inspection

Afalstein JD Kloosterman is a grad student of English Literature in Texas, studying medieval Anglo-Saxon literature and enjoying sci-fi and fantasy literature (and comic books). His greatest claim to fame thus far results from a few unoriginal fanfictions on the internet and a score of random scribblings. He is currently working on a fantasy novel he intends to publish on Amazon.

It was the start of third shift and Quality Assurance Specialist Wilfrid Sachs was, as usual, typing out his resignation letter on his clean suit's wristpad.
...being long past retirement age, and health no longer allowing me to fulfill my job appropriately, I must again resign my position at Thermadyne Inc. I again thank Thermadyne for the many opportunities it has given me over the years, and trust the company will continue well enough without me.
Wilfrid sat back and looked at that last line critically. Was it a bit much? he wondered. There was just the hint of sarcasm to it. Well, perhaps sarcasm would succeed where politeness had so often failed. Shrugging, he hit the 'send' button.
As always, the reply came back nearly instantly.
Dear sir,
Thermadyne's Automated Accessories Inc. thanks you for your many years of service. We here at Thermadyne's Automated Accessories look on every employee as a vital member of the team, with their own vision, skills, and dynamic talents to contribute to the ongoing experience of Thermadyne's Automated Accessories.
Your request was received and handled by our personnel department. Thank you for taking the time to tell us how you feel! Unfortunately, we are at this time unable to find someone to fill your position, and therefore we cannot grant your request. We trust that...
Wilfrid stopped reading. They hadn't even bothered to change the letterhead, he thought bitterly. The sarcasm had had no effect--if they had even read it. How could they possibly have read his letter in so short a time? And how was it that they still could find no one to take his place? It was an easy job, it paid well.
Sighing, he walked to his position on the line and took his assigned seat. The pressure mat under the seat sensed his presence, and the assembly line behind the glass whirred into life. Wilfrid squinted at the "product model" displayed on the screen, then blinked at the blur of battery casings racing past behind the plexiglass. Out of sheer boredom, he pressed the "defect spotted" button and randomly selected a casing for the robot arm to discard.
He really didn't know why they even had his position anymore. Just before him on the line was the nanoscope, comparing each product to the model on a molecular level. How was he supposed to do any better? Sure, Mr. Thermadyne had gone on about the "human touch" and how a machine could not "anticipate the irregularities of nature," but there had to be a limit to these things.
A ding on his wristpad caught his attention, and he glanced at the message.
Dear valued employee,
This past week Thermadyne Automated Accessories Inc. produced 3,293 ROBO-BACKHOES and 523,483 INCINERATORS, supplying market demand FULLY. This week was our most successful run yet, with only 4 defective BACKHOE COMPONENTS spotted during assembly, and 23 INCINERATOR COMPONENTS. According to our analysis, these defects were caused by FOREIGN CONTAMINANTS.
Steps are being taken to eliminate all causes of factory defects. Remember that absolute perfection is every employee's goal!
Thermadyne Management
Incinerators. Now that had been a weird run. Not as odd as the laser cannons and attack helicopters they'd built a number of months back, but still, strange. Some days Wilfrid wasn't even sure what Thermadyne "Automated Accessories" made anymore. What had happened to the hospital beds and farming equipment they'd made when he started? But then, the factory was designed to make absolutely anything. He supposed it just followed whatever the public needed.
Apparently, what the public needed now was battery casings and repair droids. Or at least, that's what the screen next to Wilfrid showed. He could barely see the line itself, his eyes had gotten so bad.
Another ding. Again he looked down.
Wilfrid Sachs,
According to our analysis, 83% of this week's defects occurred due to foreign contaminants on your person. Thermadyne Quality Assurance would like to remind you that absolute perfection is every employee's goal. Please minimize the risk of foreign contaminants affecting factory performance by:
• Washing regularly.
• Wearing your clean suit at all times.
• Washing your clean suit regularly.
• Refraining from touching or breathing on products.
• Refraining from touching or breathing on Automated Equipment.
• Refraining from touching or breathing on Clean Suit....
Again, Wilfrid stopped reading. He'd been getting those messages for the past year or so. If he was such a risk to factory performance, why didn't they just fire him? Or at least let him quit?
And where on earth was he getting "foreign contaminants," anyway? He lived in the factory, he drank and bathed in filtered water, he hadn't had a hot meal in the past decade. It'd been mandatory for all employees--which was really just inspectors, since the machines did all the work--after they'd decided that the mistakes were resulting from "contaminants" brought in by the employees from the outside. Hence mandatory factory-determined housing, eating, and drinking. Apparently it wasn't enough to fit them all with clean suits and seal the machines behind airtight plexiglass.
And then they'd said the contaminants were still coming from the outside air, and then it was the "unclean environment." Wilfrid shook his head. Of course, that was when they'd started making the laser cannons, so perhaps there was something to that... maybe there'd been a war polluting the atmosphere or something.
He sighed and settled back further in his chair, folding his arms across his chest as he watched the blurry line speed by. Now it looked like--again he consulted the screen--automated lubricant systems. What the heck did people need automated lubricant systems for?
For a moment, he considered picking another product out of the line, but instead bent over his wrist pad to type out another resignation letter. It probably wouldn't do anything, but it couldn't hurt to try.
He really wondered why they couldn't find a single person to replace him.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Author Comments

"Final Inspection" was conceived while working a temp position at a manufacturing firm. I had a job where I had to sit on a chair all day and watch the bottles roll past me to make sure their labels were printed correctly. I started to wonder how the labels could get screwed up, how you could eliminate the mistakes, and where that might ultimately lead. And then I inserted killer robots, because of course I did. It was a trifle challenging to turn a boring job into an interesting story, but I liked the idea of a story--really a history--being revealed through products on an assembly line.

- Afalstein JD Kloosterman
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