Steve stopped on the rocky road to look at the map.  The words of 
the Court Deporter still rang in his ears, "Be a good little toy and 
don't lose your way."  Why did they keep abusing that phrase upon 
him?  He had no answer.  He examined the endless wasteland which 
had surrounded him since leaving the Alley.  Totally barren, it was if 
some huge force had smothered the land in contempt, leaving 
mounds of rubble and slabs of concrete as far as the eye could see.  
Even the road he walked was nothing more than crushed gravel.
   His mind returned to the map.  It showed he should take the path to 
the right, a long and tortuous route through the piles of rubble.  Yet 
the relatively smooth road he was on lead directly to the brown haze 
ahead he assumed to be the Factory.  Unable to decide, he took the 
conservative approach and did as instructed.
   The travel was even harder than Steve anticipated.  He often 
slipped, scuffing his leather shoes and soiling his tailored suit.  And 
as Steve's suit went, so did his identity.  His mood turned foul and 
then worse yet as he started to get an accurate picture of the Factory.
   It was mammoth beyond comprehension, lifetimes spent constructing
the colossal endeavor.  The brown haze overhead reeked outward to
displace the atmosphere.  The towering high walls of the Factory
itself spread virus-like in all directions upon the land.  Steve, who
had yet to step a foot inside, felt infected already.
   With the horizon robbed by the Factory, Steve saw that he could 
never gauge a true measure of the colossus.  Its overwhelming 
immensity befuddled examination.  The haze, blocking the Sky to 
create an anti-world of darkness, transported Steve back into a 
medieval age of fuedal terror.
    A sooty, beaten metal door was the only entrance he could find.  
His original road stopped directly in front.  Worn exhausted from the 
lack of food and hope, Steve bleary-eyed his way to it.  Out of the 
gloom, he saw a Cheshire Grin.  He knew that could only mean one 
   "My, aren't we the good little toy!"
   Sarcasm.  But all fight had left Steve.  "How did you know?" he 
   "Who else would take the hard way when the easy way is so 
   "But they told me it was the way!"
   Unrestrained fear devoured Steve.  "Wh-What's it like in there?" he 
   "Sunny beaches, clean air and round the clock fun!  Ask your 
travel agent for details."
   Steve plead his case to the only soul he could.  "I don't want to 
   "Well, hey, feel free to roam the terrain!"  The Grin looked about 
eagerly.  "Yummy!  That rock over there looks tasty!"
   Steve despaired into defeat.
   "God I hate this world," he said, pushing open the door.
   Steve was appalled.  It was worse than any nightmare for this was 
reality.  Ceaseless rows of robotic workers split by an aisle 
disappearing into the haze.  Lights fought valiantly to reach a floor
littered in ancient trash.  Boredom was rampant, surpassed only by the 
endless disgust.  It was all the fiendish suffocation Steve had feared: 
the Factory was a kingdom of monotony; a user of people; a holocaust
for the soul.
   And what put it all in cold blooded perspective was the lack of
   A large soiled banner hung above in the permanent dusk.  Against 
a grayish background, huge black letters proclaimed:


            From this day forth, you shall obey
            all rules of the Factory - you have
            no say.  The Routine is life, life 
            is the Routine.

            Violation of ANY of the following
            rules will result in expulsion to the

            1. Never vary from Routine
            2. Never disobey
            3. No questioning
            4. No thinking
            5. No excuses
            6. No mumbling

   Steve skipped to the last one: "No fun allowed", number 178.  The 
bottom of the banner gave one final statement: "WORK WILL SET YOU
   Steve staggered backwards.  Briefly, he thought of taking his 
chances outside.  He turned his head back to the door, and when he 
did, a psychedilic grin popped in.
   "A regular frightmare, isn't it?"
   "Where are all the colors?  There are no colers here!"
   "That's right - it's all black and white to them!"
   The door slammed shut and Steve knew he was there to stay.  A 
sign pointed Steve to a room with "Uniformity only beyond this 
point" printed above it.
   He wandered into a room of racks of identical uniforms.  "One size 
fits all," said the Uniformity label.
   "How can they say that?" rebuffed Steve, squirming into coveralls 
too short.  A honeycomb insignia was printed on his back.  Steve 
drooped in the haggard garment that covered his fine suit.
   "Row 86, spot 1" was scrawled on the top of his map.  Dragging the 
weight of the Factory itself, Steve repressed his way down the long 
   Each row contained its own peculiar scene of people tending 
machines: some yanked, some pushed, some turned, some waited.  
Steve despised those who performed such menial labor.  He was not 
one of them.  Surely they would see that and place him somewhere 
   As he passed the rows, Steve noticed a bombardment of 
honeycomb insignia.  The walls, the floors, the machines, they all 
had it.  What was this fascination with honey?
   Propaganda also festered on the walls.  A poster of a prop worker 
with a prop smile declared, "THE FACTORY LIFE IS THE LIFE FOR ME!".
One slogan devined, "ONE IS NOT USEFUL, IF ONE IS NOT USED".  But the
knife through Steve's heart was the direct and unbending "JUST DO
   Steve's row was a wheel row.  Spot 1 was marked on the wheel 
closest to the aisle.  Hesitantly, he stepped in front.  He looked to
see if anyone noticed him, but if they did, no one showed it.  The
large, metal wheel was worn from many years of use.  Above it, a barely 
legible sticker read: "Rotate wheel 27 times and stop.  Repeat."
   No! refused Steve.  There's no way I'm going to do this.  I've 
already taken enough shit to last me a lifetime.  I'll be damned if
I'll do this.  Fuming, he watched the others obediently slaving over
their machines.  Steve lashed out his anger.
   "What kind of place is this?" he cried out.  "What's wrong with
you people?  Are you not human?  Is this all your life is worth?
   "Fools and idiots, every last one of you!  I can not do this!  I 
won't do this!  I am not a machine!"
   Steve glowered at the the Factory, crossing his arms in complete 
   His outrage was ignored, except maybe he had heard the word 
"Newcomer" spoken through the din of machinery.  It was an undisputable
voice that came from behind.
   "Welcome to Life in the Factory Grind."
   It was a rueful welcome, coming from a fellow with a suit sticking 
out from his Uniformity.  "I'd said something sooner but I couldn't 
lose count of my turns.  They call me 862 but my name is Bill."
   "You're not sarcastic?"
   "Oh, no.  Only the Alley people are that way.  It does that to them, 
you know."
   "What does?"
   "Living there - it makes them sarcastic."  Bill pitied the frowning 
face of Steve.  "The first day is always the worst.  You'll get used to 
it, most people do."
   "Well not me.  I'm not like you people.  I can't do this for a
   "You're a Workhard now.  It's either this or the Alley.  Take your 
   Mention of life in the Alley sent shock waves through Steve.  He 
began to wonder what he could put up with after all.
   "It's either here or the Alley?  There is no other place?"
   "Not for us who are condemned to the Factory.  Sweet little set up, 
   "Were you sent here by Judge-"
   "Yes.  For "Managing The Many For The Profit Of A Few"."
   "But that's no crime!"
   "I know.  But what can I do?"
   "What if we all simply refuse to work?"
   "No work, no honey."
   "What's honey got to do with anything?"
   "It's why we exist: to make honey.  All these machines here are for 
making honey.  Most of it goes to the Rats.  We get our share 
through that."  Bill pointed to a hose above him, dripping honey into 
a pot.  "When you work the wheel, honey comes out."
   "Making honey is the only way to eat?"
   "That's right.  The wheel is your god.  You take care of it, it will 
take care of you.  No exceptions."
   "There has to be a better way."
   "This is the Only Way.  Don't get me wrong, there are many ways 
to get honey in this sick place, but as far as I'm concerned, the wheel 
is your best bet."
   Steve was about to inquire of those other ways when-
   "Get to work 861!" a voice cracked from the aisle.  It spewed from 
a cruel, filthy face.  "Get to work or I'll reassign your spot!"  Steve 
looked back to Bill, who urgently nodded his head.  Grudgingly, 
Steve flexed the wheel around.  "Don't let me catch you sluffing off 
again!" stormed off the man.
   "You better hook up your pot," said Bill.  Steve fumbled with it as 
he spoke.
   "Who was that fuckhead?"
   "Shush!  Don't talk like that.  They'll hear you."
   "I'll be damned if I'm going to keep quiet."
   "You'll lose your spot if you don't.  Look down at your feet."
   Steve peered downward.  "I don't see anything."
   "Look closer.  You're standing on a trap door.  They can release it 
anytime they want.  It sends you directly back to the Alley."  Bill's 
voice lowered.  "Sometimes, when there's not enough honey to go 
around, they release hundreds, some say thousands, of doors at a 
time.  You should consider yourself lucky."
   A shrill horn blew and Steve found himself elbowed out of his 
   "I need every second," grumbled the replacing worker.
   Steve unhooked his pot to find a single drop of honey.  Bill smiled 
at his fellow Workhard.
   "Little work, little honey."
   "I don't think I can survive in this place."
   862 put his hand on the shoulder of 861.  "Don't worry, you'll 
make it.  We all hang together around here.  Come, let me show you 
   Steve told him he only wanted to rest.  But along the way to their 
quarters, Bill pointed out the important places.  The Vidiot Room 
with its Skewervision.  "It's all on fable," informed Bill.  Next was 
the Breast Room.  "They're sent by the Judge.  Women Of Thrill 
Repute he calls them."  The most popular place they saw was the 
Drug Sore.  "Why be sober in hell?" remarked Bill.
   They also passed by the tanking center.  "You put your honey in 
the tank and draw it out in small or large packets, whichever you 
   They came to a stairway leading down to a basement.  It was 
smelly and dank but Steve was too tired to care.  In fact, Bill 
wondered if Steve had heard anything he said.  He pointed to a bunk 
in the barracks-like room.
   "That's your bed there."
   "Thanks," mumbled Steve, collapsing onto it.
   "Don't go to sleep!"
   "Fuck off."
   "Eat some honey first or you'll have no energy for the next shift."  
Bill took some packets out of his pocket and handed them to Steve, 
who ate three and rolled over.  He reached inside the Uniformity to 
his suit, pulling out a picture of Debby.
   "I never realized how much I love you until just this moment."  He 
curled up with the photo and rested at last.

   "Steve!  Ste-eve!"
   A desperate hand shook him.  "Oh God, I'm still here.  It's not
over yet?"
   "No time for dreaming!" snapped Bill.  "We can't be late!"
   Bill pulled Steve out of bed and started him running.
   "How long was I asleep?" gasped Steve.
   "Almost twelve hours - the total time between shifts."
   "Can't we be even a couple of minutes late?"
   "Production before all, Steve, especially with a boss like ours.  
He's a-" Bill barely spoke the word. "-Rider."
   "You talking about Quasimodo who snapped at me yesterday?"
   "Stop talking like that.  And don't ever repeat what I just said
about what he is."
   "Why not?"
   "Don't ask!"  Bill was adamant.  "I'll tell you sometime when we're 
very alone."
   The pair arrived at their posts just as the whistle blew.  Steve had
a terrible hacking cough from the smoggy air.  Bill spoke as soon as 
their Rider departed.
   "Everyone coughs from the air at first.  Don't worry, you'll get 
used to it."
   "I don't want to get used to it.  I want fresh air."
   "You'll just have to cope.  This is the Only Way."
   "Cope?  I don't want to fucking cope!  I want to breathe!"
   The two workers remained silent for a while.  Steve grew quickly 
bored with the wheel but the work was therapeutic for his racing 
mind.  He had a thousand questions to ask.  If he was to be stuck 
surviving here, he wanted to know what the game was.  There had to 
be a way out of the Grind.
   "It's hard to believe," he reflected, "That we stand here for eight 
hours and all we get is one pot."
   "That's because most of the honey goes to the Rats upstairs.  They 
have vat after vat of it - a lifetime's supply."  Bill explained
further.  "The Rats are the ones who control this place.  They come
down to our level every once in a while to inspect the plant, but I
think they do it just to lord over us."
   "Are they really rats?"
   "You can tell they were human at one point.  But then they turned 
all grey and worried and fat."
   "They sound hideous."
   "They are.  The only one who looks different is White E, Minister 
of the Indefensible.  They got him from the Home."
   "Home of the Insanely Selfish.  Here, greed is the only acceptable
   "So if you want to get out, you have to become a Rat?"
   "Not necessarily.  You just have to be good at producing honey.  
They don't care how.  But the Rats are a devious bunch.  If they view 
you as a threat, they'll destroy you no matter how much you produce."
   Steve held no desire to became a Rat.  He still harbored hidden 
thoughts of returning to the Alley.  Maybe there was a safe place to 
live in there he did not know about.
   "When I was in the Alley, I ran into these midgets-"
   "The Mutants.  Oh, yes."
   "Who are they?  How do they survive?"
   "They survive by cutting the throats of whomever they can.  But as 
to who they are, they were once Workhards.  The Rats use midgets 
to clean the toxic smokestacks.  They're treated like royalty when 
they're healthy, but eventually the chemicals deform them."
   "But the leader did not look sick."
   "That was the foremen.  They go to pieces, too.  When you become 
useless, you get dumped in the Alley."
   "Dumped with no way to survive?  So that they'll prey on decent 
folks like me?"
   "It's the law of the jungle.  They're just midgets, anyway."
   It was a contemptable remark, but Bill was one who'd had his 
beliefs deformed.
   "Do you know about those big, yellow dogs?"
   "Those are the Honey Hounds.  Brutal animals.  They'll devour 
your honey and rip your throat out if they get the chance."
   Steve decided to skip over the Dignity Robber and go directly to: 
"The Scruffians - who are they and how do they live?"
   "Those pitiless little twerps?  God only knows how they survive."
   "So there is a way to survive in the Alley."
   "Not for us there isn't.  They'd eat us alive."
   "Maybe not if I-"
   "Do you want to get killed for your shoes!"
   Bill's outburst of reality crushed what faint hope Steve had of 
living in the Alley.  He knew Bill was right - they were too soft for 
such an environment.  It was several minutes before he spoke again.
   "How did you get to the Judge?"
   "I was Detested by the police for having no honey.  They sent me 
up before him.  How 'bout you?"
   "For some reason they charged me as a leach."
   "You let somebody else do your thinking for you?"
   "No, never!  I can't understand it."  Steve hung his head.  "Isn't 
anybody on our side?"
   "Just us, and I wouldn't even bet the farm on that."
   Steve was attacked by another long, hacking cough.
   "They really do need to do something about the air in here.  This 
place is killing me."
   "They say it won't harm us.  Even the Rats have to breathe it.  
You'll get used to it."
   "Isn't there any way of fixing it?"
   "Sure, they know how."
   "Thank God!  When do they start?"
   "They aren't," said a matter-of-fact Bill to Steve's incredulous
face.  "In order to do that, they would have to rip out all this
machinery and replace it with new.  That would interrupt the flow of
honey.  It'd be a cold day in hell when that happens!"
   "Well, what if they're wrong?  What if this stuff is killing us?  
Then what?"
   "In the Rat's minds they never do wrong.  Don't think about it.
All I know is that I need to keep my honey flowing or I'm not going
to eat.  Comprende?"
   "You said there were vats of it stored away.  We could-"
   Steve was interrupted by Bill's laugh.  "Like they would really 
share it!  You really are green."
   "Better green than mean," countered Steve.
   "There's only one rule here: Keep the honey flowing at all costs.  
Honey is more important than life itself.  Believe it.  This is the
Only Way to live."
   "I hope I never become so sick as to believe that."
   If Steve had little food in his belly, he definitely had food for 
thought.  Racking his mind, he could find no answer to his 
predicament.  There was no place to go but where he was.  That's 
when he first felt it: a collapsing feeling of impending doom, a fuse 
lit to his own ticking time bomb.  It was a thought too terrible to 
comprehend - he must choose between his sanity or his life.  For the 
time being, he chose denial.
   He pulled himself out of his stupor, unaware of how much time 
had passed.
   "What if we all get organized-"
   "We are organized-" said Bill as one who had seen such ideas fail 
before, "-by the Rats."
   "Has anyone actually left this place to find out what's out there?"
   "Who wants to see anymore after what we've seen so far?  And 
how many times do I have to tell you, the Factory is the Only Way.
Things have to be like this."
   "Sounds like a load of crap to me," said Steve bitterly.
   "Oh well.  Welcome to the Land of Sir Real."
   "Sir Real?  Who's he?"
   "God only knows."
   "Well, if he's the one responsible for this place, he's an
   "Well, you can't get too mad, though.  You know what they say..."
   "That nothing happens to you in the Alley that you haven't already
done to someone else."
   The words sparked a panic in Steve.  Had he really done all that?
Had he really been so awful?
   "No way!" he proclaimed.  "I haven't done-", unwanted memories
flashed through his mind, "-most of those things!"
   "Nevertheless," spoke a deadly serious Bill, "here we are."
   Steve exhaled a long, draining sigh.  He did not speak the rest of 
the day, wondering how much lower his life could sink.

   Steve was overwhelmed.  The last few days had turned his world 
upside down and he sought to hide in his bunk.  Bill tagged along 
with him to the barracks.
   "You need to meet the guys," he insisted.
   "Why?  What's wrong with them?"
   "Nothing, you just need to meet them."
   Steve was repulsed by the idea, swallowing fears of frightening 
regret.  True, he had gotten out of the Alley, but was this any better?  
Not only was the work intolerable - but just imagine the people!  
Bill, a suit man, was okay.  But no telling what kind of ogres the 
others would turn out to be, probably just like the Mutant Midgets - 
eager to rape others as they had been.  Steve entered the thankfully 
empty room and turned on his bunk to face the wall as if he could 
turn his back on his own despair.
   The sound of vicious slaps of leather against skin shocked Steve 
back to reality.  Entering the room was a huge tree of a man, lashing 
himself with his own belt.
   "That's Wipper," explained Bill from his bunk above.  Wipper 
offered a shadow of a smile to the newcomer.
   "Care to join?" he asked Steve.
   "No-o," backed away Steve.
   "It's good!  Keep you down like you need to be.  Get feeling too 
good and you'll never go back to work."
   "I'll just try and live without it."
   "Suit yourself, but if you don't do it, the Factory will."
   Wimper, Wipper's twin brother, flustered in with his never ending 
stream of whine.  "Oh, thank heavens it's over, over for one more 
day; push, pull, drag, turn; it's enough to drive you crazy! day-in and 
day-out; how do they expect us to stand-"
   "Shut the fuck up," ordered an annoyed Rubini, trekking into the 
room.  "How many times I gotta tell ya?  Just say, "Fuck the 
   Rubini plopped on his bed, crossing his legs to secure his spot.
   Almost unnoticible, Spiny took his bunk, peering out like a scared 
animal.  Next, an oblivious Otto went to lie rigidly on his bed.  And 
pudgy Frank lumbered in to a hapless chair at the center table, letting 
out his disgust for the day in a long, low growl.
   Steve was not a happy camper.  This collection of human remnants 
was all that he feared.  But that was not his worst fear.  Unspoken, 
but known to all, was his fear of becoming like them.
   "What's a Yuckie to do?" stung Rubini, reading Steve's face.
   Bill rushed to break the ice.  "Everyone, this is Steve.  He's been 
sent here for Being a Leach."
   Steve's eyes grew wide at his exposure.
   "Leach, eh?" mused Frank.  "Must be an insurance man."
   "Nah," corrected Rubini, "They are parasites.  Pretty boy here 
looks like a banker."
   "No place for bankers here," Frank stated.  "You'll have to learn 
how to work."
   "Oh, yes," added Wimper, "You must work; work, work, work; 
work you must."
   Rubini pile on the abuse.  "What do you think, Otto?"
   "Hard work never killed anyone."
   "And you, Spiny," continued the antagonizer, "What do you 
   "I work!" defended Spiny in perpetual hurt.  "I work every day.  
What are ya yellin' at me for?"
   The dark features of Rubini focused on Steve.  "You're surrounded 
by Workhards, suit man.  How does that strike you?"
   Steve was too crippled to say.  Bill stepped in.  "Get off his back, 
Rubini.  He doesn't even know anybody.  And I don't see you singing 
off to work every day."
   "You're so right, Bill.  Suits of a feather and all that.  Well,
hell, let me properly introduce - what is your name?"
   "Steve," eeked out Steve.
   "Let me properly introduce our gang to you, Steve."
   "First, we have gruff Mr. Frank at the table, our resident 
philospher, complete with degree.  He drives a forklift.  'Math and 
science, math and science' I tell these boys, but do they listen?  
Why in this section alone we have fourteen janitorial graduates of 
the liberal arts!" chortled Rubini.
   He continued his lecture.  "Wipper and Wimper, big and strong 
like you should be, skim slag from bins of molten metal.
   "Otto, floor buffer extraodinaire, has a cliche for every occasion.  
We call him the "Otto-bot"."
   "Only you call him the Otto-bot," corrected Frank.  Rubini ignored 
   "And last, but certainly least, is Spiny, Cowered of the County, 
having been so named for once asking a Rider if it was okay to roll up
his sleeves while on duty!"  Spiny slid back in shame.  "And then
there is I, Rubini the magnificent, your friendly neighborhood mechanic."  
Rubini put his hands on hips in a conqering stance.  "Okay if we pick 
on your friend now, Bill?"
   "No, but you can kiss my ass."
   "You little-"
   "Rubini!" barked Frank.  "You had it comin'."
   Otto added:  "Do unto others as you would-"
   "Shut the fuck up, Otto," said Rubini, frustrated by his lack of 
support.  "Ya'll are a bunch of whineys."
   Wimper took that as a direct insult.  "I can't help it if I whine;
it's all so awful, so terrible; you don't know what it's like-"
   "Yes we do!" snapped his brother.
   Rubini again tried for the upper hand.  "Wimper's like that 
commercial: "When will it end?   When?  When?  Dial 1-900-SEND-
HONEY to find out."  Hey Wimper, I'll tell you for free: Never!  It's 
never going to end!"
   "Meany!" sulked Wimper.
   Steve huddled back to his friendly wall, relieved the focus had 
shifted from him.  He noticed his hand involuntarily shaking.  Bill 
spoke to him from above.
   "Not much of an introduction, but you're through the worst of it.  
That's why I brought up the leach part."
   Bill was consoling.  "Trust me, they aren't so bad once you get to 
know them.  Rubini's the only one who carries a knife or anything, 
but he never uses it.  You could have done a lot worse than these 
   Bill stared at the motionless back of Steve, but recieved no 
response.  Only after he leaned back in his pillow did he hear a weak 
and pathetic "Thanks".  He savored the word, dozing off into his 
post-work nap.  Bill had already learned the lesson Steve had yet to 
comprehend: honey kept the body alive, but it took each another to 
keep the spirit fed.

   Steve knew only one formula for success: Do whatever they say, 
no questions asked - and be damn good at it.  And such was his 
provisional plan at the Factory.  He would do his time at the wheel 
until he could work his way out to a better position - whatever that 
might be.
   At the morning wheel, his frowning face greeted Bill's apparent 
cheer.  Steve thought Bill might try to inflict his cheer on him, so he 
cut him off at the pass.
   "Say "I'll get used to it" one more time and I'll bite your head off.
I hate this work."
   "Hate away.  I won't say anything."
   Bill's understanding soothed him.  He blocked out his mind and 
concentrated on his work.  Steve learned the rythm of the wheel, 
finding out how to get the most out of it.  It almost seemed a 
bearable chore.  But his mind soon rebelled, aching for release from 
its prison of boredom.  He reached out to Bill.
   "How does everyone around here stand this day in and day out?"
   "By not thinking about it."
   "But I have to think - it's my nature."
   "I don't know what to tell you, Steve.  If I had an answer I would 
use it myself.  We all would."
   Bill received an unintelligible reply.
   "What did you say?"
   "I said I'm scared," repeated Steve in a whisper.  "I have serious 
doubts I can survive here."  Steve struggled to fight back against a 
relentless truth he feared.
   "Rely on everyone else," Bill consoled.  "They feel the same pain.  
Trust me, they want to have a good time as much as you."
   "You mean the Christian missionaries from last night?  I saw their 
kind of fun."
   "You don't know them," reprimanded Bill.
   "Well I hardly see them as the answer to my suvival.  In fact, I 
don't see any way to survive.  Can't you see how panicky that makes 
   "That fear will pass.  Don't worry."
   Steve 'humph'ed in disbelief.
   He was twice panicked now.  Not only did he have a ticking bomb 
inside - something he was more certain of with each passing moment 
- but he was ignored when he tried to express it.  Was he the only 
one who felt this way?  Steve looked around at his fellow robots 
working their machines.  They did okay.  What was the deal with 
   I'm a freak! he thought.  God has made me wrong!  What will I do 
if they ever find out!
   It was a dirty secret Steve could neither tell nor deny.  It simply
ate at him.  Fear twisted into rage.  The innocent eyes Steve arrived
with would never return, replaced by cold and bitter ones.
   Bill did his best to keep Steve distracted.  "I heard the Rats are 
coming through today."
   "Big deal.  Are they handing out honey?"
   "You learn fast.  No, they just parade around with White E 
squeaking behind?"
   "They actually squeak?"
   "You'll see."
   "Is this White E the same whose name is on the bottom of those 
posters that say shit like, "Smile - the Factory is our home!"
   "One and the same."
   "Where do the Rats live anyway?"
   "Above us.  The honey is above us, the Riders are above us and so 
is everything else.  We support it all."
   "At least we get our fair share," said Steve in mocking lament, the 
corners of his mouth turning up.
   "There you go.  Laughter is your best weapon.  The Rats are too 
far above to hear it, but the Riders hate it, so we can only go so far."
   "They hate laughter, huh?" pondered Steve.
   "They hate our laughter.  There is no sight more sickening than a 
laughing Rider."
   "It would be interesting to see just how far we could go with it."
   "Interesting and dangerous."
   Steve thought: I may have to live here, but I'm taking as little
shit as I have to off these creeps.  I have to let it out!  It's not
like I'm going to make it, anyway!  "When do the Rats show up?"
   "Whenever they get to it."
   Steve wheeled away his time amusing himself with grand visions 
of humiliating the Rats, devestating them with his superior mind.  
After all, was it not Steve who had had the reins of the corporate 
world proffered to his capable hands?  And in that world, he had 
never met his match.  Steve danced around the plodders, out-thought 
the bold and outmaneuvered the ambitious with his own singular 
drive whose end he never found.  The Factory had placed him in the 
clothes of a Workhard, but he was still the Boy Genius.
   His daydreams were disturbed by a blare of trumpets.  Steve 
peeked around his machine to the aisle.
   Haughty Riders cracked whips, clearing nonexistent obstacles for 
the huge and lording Rats.  Grey and bewhiskered, beings from 
another world, they strode imperviously to the tending of the 
machinery.  Rulers among men were they, modern day Ceasars.
   But Steve made an important discovery.  "They aren't rats!  
They're just men, dressed like rats."  He turned accusingly to Bill.  
"They're just pretending not to be human."
   "They are rats as far as I'm concerned," surly remarked Bill.
   "But it's all a farce!"
   "Some say for them to dress as men would be a farce."
   All day Steve had dreamed of crumbling and belittling the Rats.  
But this - this surreal daymare of unreality - unnerved him to the 
core.  Who were these entities that walked about in such open 
contempt of any who saw?  It recalled the sick nervous feeling of 
standing before Judge Mental.
   The sweet perfumed scent of the Rats breeezed into Steve's row as 
they passed.  His body tingled with the sensory rush.  Plainly he saw 
the beady eyeballs of the Rats squished between the chubby, grey 
cheeks that held the long, fine whiskers.  Completely consumed with 
themselves, they paraded with all the pageantry of hierarchy, 
protected by that ancient axiom of civilization: Whoever Lives The 
Best, Is The Best.  It was a moment forever branded onto Steve's 
   And he became furious.
   Furious for quaking beneath their contempt.  Furious for being 
there.  Furious for all that had happened.  Fighting his swirling mind 
and churning stomach, he sought an outlet for his revenge - and 
found it.
   As Bill had said, a squeaking sound followed the pack of Rats.  It 
was White E, lean and eaten, a ghost of a person.  His desperate eyes 
were forever probing, searching the thoughts of others, having long 
ago given up on his own.  He was a man so white he looked to have 
been dipped in whitewash by his heels.  Steve looked to the shoes 
and sure enough, the heels had spots of black showing.  His 
annoying squeaking noise came from his stubborn attempts to fit a 
square peg in a round hole.  His hands twisted in neurotic vengeance.
   The frustrated Boy Genius exploded onto the whitewashed man.  
"You idiot!  You can't fit a square peg in a round hole!"
   "Just watch me!" refuted White E.
   "What are you?  Some sort of lunatic?"
   "You're calling me a lunatic?"
   "Yes!  You're obviously a mental midget, bordering on the 
   White E cackled in glee.  "Oh, yeah?  Well just look where I am, 
and look where you are!"
   White E scurried off to rejoin the pack.  Steve was blown to pieces, 
floundering in confusion.  The Boy Genius had stuck out his neck to 
promptly see it chopped off.  Steve Stevens was no longer sure who 
he was.
   Bill's voice buzzed in his ear.  "Don't let it bother you-"
   "I don't want to hear it!"
   "Shut your goddam mouth!"
   All ties to Steve's former life had been cut.  No comfort, no
status, no Debby - he had nothing to value in his life; he stood a
valueless man.  Sunk in despair, suicide did not seem so drastic a
step.  Sure, he could try to scavange up something valuable in
himself; something to make life worthwhile.  But what hope did he
have of that?  Could he find value in himself when no one else saw
him as valuable?  If not, then...

   The end of the day signaled little joy for Steve.  Scared, his
spirit sinking, he dreaded another confrontation with the Workhard 
creatures.  It was Bill who pushed him onward.
   "It's sink or swim, Steve.  You're not doing yourself a favor by 
avoiding them."
   "You make sinking more appealing by the moment."
   "Knock off the self-pity.  You'll survive."
   "That's what bothers me."
   They stopped at the Tank to have their pots weighed and drained.
   "There," said a cheery Bill,  "Don't you feel better with some 
honey in the Tank?"
   "I suppose," grudged Steve.
   Steve took apprehensive steps to the bunk room, preparing himself 
for the shellacking he would receive for his fiasco with White E.  
But he wasn't going to take it lying down!  Enough with these sordid 
lowlifes!  How much hell was a person supposed to take?
   But it was applause and whistles that greeted Steve's entry into the 
room.  Bill laughed at the surprised and bewildered Steve.
   "You're a hero!"
   "Hey, dragon slayer!" piped up Rubini.  "How did it feel to get 
under White E's skin?  Like crawling in a snake, eh?"
   Even Frank, who believed in the Factory system, enjoyed it. 
"'Mental midget bordering on the deranged' - I'd have killed to seen 
   They do not know the truth, thought Steve.  He tried to downplay 
the incident.  "He just got on my nerves," he shrugged.
   "Those bastards are always on our nerves!" asserted Wipper.  "I 
love it when someone gets them back."
   Steve could stand the praise no more.  "But he only laughed at 
   Bill cleared it up.  "White E always lies.  When he's laughs, he's 
really crying."
   The room saw it the same, Steve noticing a special delight in the 
silent eyes of Spiny.
   "You know what I wish?" dreamed Rubini, inspired by the heroics 
of the day, "I wish we could put a knife to the throats of all them 
Rats and Riders and shove them into the Alley."
   "It would be sweet to see," nodded Bill.
   Wipper would not associate with the mutinous words.  "Don't 
make them mad; mad is bad; they'll get us for sure-"
   "As far as I'm concerned," cut in Wipper, "You can't hurt those 
son-of-a-bitches enough!"
   Frank, the system man, spoke.  "Maybe if we changed the people in
charge, things would work the way they're supposed to."
   Otto put in his two cents.  "The forces of greed and power are too 
strong.  The only thing that can save us is the end of time.  So keep 
your nose to the grindstone."
   Rubini addressed the Man of the Hour.  "What do you say, Steve?"
   The room reverberated with an instinctive respect, anticipating his 
words.  "You could take every Rider and every Rat and throw them 
in the Alley and it wouldn't make a bit of difference."  Steve spoke 
as one who knew.  He settled into the air of respect he had been 
granted.  "Whoever replaced them would act in exactly the same 
way.  You can't trust a system that values honey more than people.  
Those guys at the top have learned to devote themselves soley to the 
pursuit of honey."  All listened as Steve revealed his insider 
information.  "To them, it's a matter of survival - and we don't mean 
   Frank felt threatened.  "So what are you saying?  Do away with the 
honey system?  Nothing will ever get then."
   Steve replied with no doubts.  "I say this: God did not put me on 
this earth to be fucked over, shit on, or used like a piece of crap.  
That much I know - now."
   "Maybe you weren't put here for that," retorted Frank, "But you're 
damn sure doing it!"
   "I know what I know!" roared Steve.  "Maybe these goddam 
people and their goddam system have sentenced me here, but that's 
not why I exist!  Maybe you were put here for the Factory, but not 
   Frank was sorely wounded by the shot, but would not give up.  "So 
tell us why you are here then," he said in controlled calm.
   "I'm here I can...I don't know exactly why I'm here, but I
do know right from wrong.  The real question is: why are all of us 
   It was a rare moment when the bunkroom was completely silent.  
Steve, trembling from his passion, waited to rip the head off of any 
who defied his belief.  Tension was strung about the room.  Steve 
had invited them to examine themselves and the verdict could be 
disastrous.  It was the unlikeliest voice that spoke.
   "I agree with Steve," simply stated Spiny
   "So do I!" joined Rubini.
   The flood gates opened.
   "He's right, he's right; it's a horrible place; shouldn't be,
shouldn't be."
   Wipper looked to his scarred back.  "I guess there could be a better 
way to live."
   "I don't see how you expect to solve anything," muttered Bill.
   Otto thought the discussion inane and Frank finally cracked.  "I 
don't want to see anyone hurt, either," he defended.  "But that doesn't 
mean you can go around destroying everything."
   Steve snickered softly and settled on his bunk for a nap.  "Why is 
it you automatically equate opening your mind with the destruction 
of the Factory?"
   He shut his eyes to his own world.  The satisfaction of sticking to 
his beliefs replenished long sagging spirits.  He had a chance to 
articulate a side of him he had not known since his school days.  
Dangerously close he had come to losing it.  And though it was weak 
and crawling, Steve felt linked to an inexhaustable strength - that
same strength he first felt at his sentencing.  And yet - and yet he
still heard the ticking bomb.
   "What good does a soul do me in a soulless world," he scoffed.

   Steve went to work the next day to begin a bottomless string of 
days that bled into a continual sameness.  A confining sameness that 
slowly terrified him.  Was this his forever fate in life?  To labor in 
acts in which he had no interest?  To feign happiness in the Routine?  
To pretend his dreams had no meaning?  Steve's soul was rocked to 
the core by these questions.  He stared face to face with the Horror 
of the Grind.
   During work, he would strain a few words with Bill.  Steve would 
ask all that he hoped would help, assimilating the information, trying 
to find a loophole in the Factory's grip.  When all his attempts were 
exhausted, his mind cried out in agony - it had no use.  Steve's only 
challenge: the hopeless task of making the tedious bearable.
   Work was an exercise in human torture - a grueling monotony that 
pummeled him into submission.  If Steve tried to fight, he lost count 
of the turns, foregoing the life sustaining honey.  There was no 
choice; he must be a slave to the wheel.
   And the wheel was merciless.  Steve grew to hate the cold hard 
iron he whisked through his hands.  Familiarity not only bred 
contempt, but dread.  Nothing ever changed.  Nothing was ever new.  
He was stuck in an endless rut where each step was as before.  The 
only thing that did change was Steve.
   His edges started to fray.  Bit by bit, he watched himself 
disintegrating, trying not to think about it as Bill had recommended.  
But he did think about it - until the thought became too horrible to 
bear.  He was dying in a place where death was ignored.  He could 
only shove it all aside and focus blindly on survival...

   Precious seconds of relief were slipping away into eternity.  The 
minute hand clicked another notch forward.  Pressure mounted.  
Tick, tick, tick sped along the second hand.
   Steve jumped at the sound of the horn ending his break.  "I'm
starting to feel like Wimper," he jested ruefully to Bill.  "It just
gets harder and harder to go back."
   "Know what you mean."
   They winced their way back to their wheels.
   "Life has no meaning," sighed Steve.
   "Not in this hole it doesn't," Bill agreed.
   "I must be being punished for sins in a previous life."
   "You're not the only one."  Bill brightened with a joke.  "And it 
must've been something awful!"
   Steve savored the sympathy.  "I don't think we should take 
complete responsibility for this mess.  I just wish I didn't have to 
walk around feeling like my head is in a vise."
   "I feel the same way."
   "You do?"  Steve always felt unique in his contempt.  Bill bared 
   "Don't think you're alone in hating this place just because the 
others don't always agree with you.  We all hate it."
   Steve always looked to the logical outcome.  "So everyone's just 
going to keep it all inside until they explode, huh?"
   "Don't be so dramatic.  There are very few Exploders considering 
the number of Workhards."
   Exploders were the ones who snapped, going on beserk rampages 
of killing and destruction.  Steve identified with those feelings - a 
feeling which grew and grew.
   "Well if you ask me, one is too many."
   "Ideals will get you nowhere."
   "Tell me about it," muttered Steve, lapsing into silence.
   Steve trundled his way to the bunk room after yet another day of 
grueling drudgery.  In the Factory, the appetite for distraction was 
insatiable.  For a while, Steve had tried them.  But the Skewervision 
was so unreal and the Breast Room just another function to perform.  
Only the Drug Sore offered relief, but it's price of ever increasing 
doses was too high.  So Steve decided distraction was not a solution, 
settling instead for his relatively peaceful bunk.
   He plopped down to hear the usual chatter.  Otto displayed 
uncharacteristic emotion in his voice.
   "I'm tired, Frank.  So tired my bones ache.  My back is bent.  I 
want to do something different."
   "So come over to my department," answered Frank, who felt he 
should always have an answer to the Factory ills.
   "You know I can't do that.  I have no experience driving a forklift.  
And besides, Frank-" Otto looked over with his oh-so-weary eyes,
"- you know it's the same job wherever you go."
   Rubini, with his inimatable look of smiling contempt, butted in.  
"What does it matter to you, Otto?  You're perfect: you have no 
needs."  Everyone knew what he meant.  Steve himself had felt a 
twinge of jealousy at the man who took all in stride with no apparent 
pain.  Otto didn't seem to "feel it" like the others.  "You know what 
Otto is?" rhetorically asked Rubini, "The Otto-bot!"
   Rubini walked stiff legged, arms cocked forward at the elbows, to 
the center of the room.  He spoke mechanically.  "I am the Otto-bot.  
I do not need rest.  I do not need food."
   Everyone but Frank laughed.  "That's enough," gently spoke Frank.  
"You don't know how he feels."
   "So fuckin' what?" scowled Rubini.
   "We have to be sensitive to each other's feelings.  We're here 
because we screwed up our lives."
   Steve balked.  "Speak for yourself."
   "It's your own fault you're here, Steve.  You have to take 
responsibility for that.  You are free to make your own 
   Steve bit into him with no remorse.  "Well then, philosopher, it 
looks as if you have pissed yours away."
   Frank bowed his head.  "That I have."
   "Oh, shit," said Steve to himself, "You really do believe it's your 
   "What do you expect me to say!"
   "What kind of philosopher are you?  School of the Braindead?  
The way things are supposed work is: the system serves people - not 
the other way around.  Fuck this bullshit!"
   "That's irresponsible," belied Frank.  "You have to give them 
   "Control?" riled Steve.  "This isn't control, it's rape!  That's what 
you call it when you take away a person's choices."
   "You have plenty of choices.  Make something of yourself."
   "You mean like you have?  A philosopher not interested in the 
truth?  You can't stand to see anything that doesn't fit your own 
narrow viewpoint of life.  I don't care what you say or how great you 
think this system is.  All this - the suffering, the stupidity, the 
insanity - is unnecessary.  It is contrived!"
   Bill moaned upon entering the room.  "Oh, no.  Another one of 
those discussions."
   Otto continued the debate, siding against himself.  "You can't have 
everything, Steve.  There is no Utopia."
   Rubini was a happy man.  Chaos, discord, open misery - it served 
his sense of how things should be.  He jumped to stoke the flames.  
"Planning to overthrow the Factory again, Steve?"
   "Yes - and you're the first victim."
   "Touchy, touchy."
   "I can't help it.  I know how these Rats think.  I've been there,
had them kissing at my feet.  Before this, I had an office, a life, and
no end in sight!"
   "You had an office?" spoke Rubini in curious wonder.  The entire 
room was curious at Steve, who had suddenly revealed himself as a 
creature from another planet.
   "Yeah, so?" he replied uneasily.
   "And you gave it all up to come here?" asked a mystified Rubini.
   "It's not like I volunteered to come here!"
   "But you had to have questioned what you had."
   "It wasn't enough, okay?"  How could he make them understand?  
When you're empty, you're empty.  "I wasn't happy.  You people just 
don't understand.  You think someone gets a great job, has a lot of 
things - he's going to be happy.  Well, put that illusion to rest."
   "There must be something wrong with you not to be happy with 
it," charged Rubini, hating Steve's words the most.
   "As long as I'm stuck here, I might as well tell you - I did fuck
up, okay?  I lied to myself.  I thought I was free but those assholes 
owned me.  My job owned me, my car owned me, maybe even Debby owned
me, too."
   The philosopher spoke.  "Would you trade places with your former 
   "In a heartbeat."
   "Knowing you're living a lie?"
   "The work was better."
   "You think you could still do it?"
   "Of course!  I have to!  I can't be stuck here the rest of my
   Steve was surrounded by eyes that told him otherwise.  Rubini 
enjoyed being the one to deliver the news.  "Ain't nothin' here to
sell out to but the Factory, suit man.  Coming here was the biggest 
mistake of your life.  Should've stayed where you were."
   Steve's head spun.  "So what does are you saying?  I can't go back
to what I had?"
   "You got greedy - looking for a free ride," surmised Frank.  "Now 
you will learn to live within the system - the best system of living 
known to man."
   Steve was ready to drop, but hung in for a few final blows.  "Oh, 
that's beautiful," he mocked, "I just love you ignorant bitches who 
don't believe in doing what you want."
   "That's a selfish attitude," again surmised Frank.
   "You're only talking about yourself," charged Steve.  "I'd
rather be surrounded by people who do what they want than miserable 
pricks who don't."
   "There is no escape!  Have you found one yet!"
   The last remark went straight through Steve's heart.  "There has to
   "Dream on!" snapped Rubini.
   "Okay, then, I got just one frickin' question for you-"
   "Why do fools fall in love?"
   "Why is there 'extra crunchy' but not 'crunchy' peanut butter?"
   "Why do my armpits always stink?"
   Steve was ready to rip his hair out.  "Stop it!  Just stop it, okay!
I want to know how those Rats expect us to live like this, okay?
Somebody tell me that!"
   Rubini was the one to retort.  "They don't care about you, man.
All they care about is their lifestyle.  As long as they got that they
don't care shit what happens to you.  Understand, bright boy?"
   Steve rolled over in his bunk, understanding all too well.  He had
just heard a description of himself.
   Steve continued to pass his days in mute horror at the wheel.  He 
had long ago run out of things to talk about with Bill.  In the
Factory, everything lead to a dead end.  It was pointless to discuss
hopes or dreams.  Steve's plan of saving honey to get ahead failed
miserably.  Something always came up to take it away - he was even
responsible for maintaining the wheel at his own expense.  He began to
see the big picture: things were designed to keep him where he was.
   So that left only his despair to talk of - and talking only made it 
worse.  In moments when he dare face his life, he saw only a 
harrowing hell of hopelessness.  There was no reprieve from the 
Factory, the relentless monster that never slept.  The monster's all 
consuming goal: Find what is needed and ransom it for honey.  Only 
by twisting all to its ways did it find satisfaction.  But there was so 
precious little new left to twist, it could only ask for more from 
whom it held.
   And there was no running from the Factory's tentacles.  No matter 
what you tried or where you went, it tracked you down and dragged 
you back.  No plea was heard; no quarter given.  The only thing to 
do was rot; wither into nothingness.  The less you were, the less you 
felt.  Nothing was safe in the Factory; nothing was the only thing to 
be - make Death your friend.
   "Steve!" cried the anxious Bill.  "What's wrong?"
   Steve, lost in his thought at the wheel, realized his painful
thoughts must have shown.  "Oh, nothing," he said, straining a grin.
   "But that look on your face-"
   The cover-up was successful.  For the millionth time, Steve probed 
around to the other Workhards.  They still had no problems with 
their work.  Steve used to be called one of the Lucky Ones - now he 
wished to be as the others.
   The day went quickly.  Sometimes that happened.  The Terrible 
Thoughts that absorbed Steve could take a sizable chunk out of his 
time.  Other times, though, they took only a minute.  A Good Thing, 
his post work nap, pined for him at his bed.
   Lying on his bed, Steve thought:  There must be something I can 
do.  Some way to relieve the boredom. Something!  Then it hit him.  
The corners of his mouth smirked mischeviously.  His mind whirred 
away the time in deviousness.  It began next morning...

   A dreary-eyed Bill reached to give the wheel its first spin of the 
   "Yuck!  Aggh!  What the hell is this stuff?"
   Steve's helpless laughter coughed up the answer.  "Vaseline!"
   "You scum dog!  You know I can't leave until break time!"  Steve 
nodded his head, still laughing.  But Bill was quick on the take.  He 
smiled.  "Okay, Steve, just remember I sleep above you.  Hope I 
don't wet the bed tonight."
   Steve turned white.  "You wouldn't dare."
   "Bed wetting runs in my family," said Bill with a straight face.
   Steve was nervous the rest of the day, But Bill never mentioned it 
again - until Steve was ready to slip into bed.
   "Wet dreams, Steve."
   "Hah, hah.  I'm not worried."
   He slid in to find his sheets wet.  He pulled them back in terror
to find a big yellow stain.  But before Steve could say anything, the 
room erupted with laughter.
   "Hop on in," urged Rubini.
   "Wouldn't bother me," said Wipper, satirizing himself.
   Steve was chagrined.  "I can't believe you did this, Bill."
   Bill watched with satisfaction.  "It's only a dye.  Just wanted to 
teach you a lesson."
   "Teach me a lesson, huh?  You are a mere pupil compared to I, the 
Master Joker."
   "Sleep tight, Master Joker," said an unaffected Bill.
   Thus was the dawn of the Age of Practical Jokes.  No one was 
safe, not even Spiny, who never retaliated.  No shoe was put on 
unchecked, no door opened without kicking first, and no chair was 
trusted after Rubini placed an invisible layer of glue on them.  It was 
all out war, releasing the accumulated steam of the Factory.
   Everyone had unitied in their thinking, immersed in the glorious 
feeling of creating of their own accord.  Time was spent analyzing 
schemes; partnerships made and dissolved according to circumstance;
and there was much re-living of others' agony.  Life had a purpose.
   It culminated with Steve, the sawed off end of a broom stick and 
an extra pair of underwear.  Filling everyone in but Bill, Steve put on 
the extra underwear and slipped the stick between it and his normal 
pair.  All rested in normal fashion after lights out that night, but no 
one was asleep - except Bill.  Motionimg for quiet, Steve crawled on 
the top bunk, pressing the stick against Bill's leg.
   "What the-" said a groggy Bill.
   "Oh, Bill.  I must have you," whispered Steve loud enough for all 
to hear.
   "What's that pressing against me?"  Bill suddenly figured it out.  
"Get it off me!  You sick son-of-a-bitch!  I can't believe you did 
that!  Get it off!"
   Bill's outburst triggered a mountain of laughter.  Steve flipped on 
the light switch, showing Bill the wood and the underwear.  Bill was 
red with embarrassment, then grew more embarrassed with his 
   "That was classic!" cheered Rubini.
   "Bill!  We never knew!" hazed Frank.
   "'Get it off!  Get it off!'" mocked Wipper.
   The moment transported Steve to his college days, from where he 
got the joke.  Life was once again a game and fun was king.  Steve 
was legendary in those days, revered for his daring and imagination.  
And now everyone shared those times.  Steve had done it: he'd 
created his own little cocoon of unreality from the Factory.  But it 
came with a staggering Realization: he couldn't hide there forever - 
just another dead end.  The blinders ripped off, Steve's interest 
waned and the movement died.

   Steve had tried it all but there was no escaping the shattering
effect of his forced labor.  His Realization that all things lead to a
dead-end in the Factory was inducing suicide.  His direction could
only be down.  He focused on the cold steel wheel in his hands.  The
wheel howled in disdain at his foolish attempts for joy.  Go ahead, it
mocked, pray for freedom.  Plead for it, beg for it, spill your soul
onto the floor - it is yourself you deceive.
   Its were claws no one could break.  The beauty of the trap was: the 
more you struggled to get free, the greater its hold.  Steve the 
Workhard was a caged squirrel, spinning his wheel to feed his 
masters, his own food doled out according to production.  Production 
was the sole purpose of a Workhard.  Being 'Unproductive' was the 
greatest sin the Factory knew.  'Unproductive' was so strong a label 
that even the Rats feared it.
   So go on, walk away, said the wheel.  Be 'free'.
   Steve sighed and looked at his watch.  Damn!  This Moment of 
Terror had lasted only a minute.  It was a very long day.

   Thoughts of Debby could be painful, but Steve's one priceless 
photo of her was his most valuable possesion.  With her, he could 
retreat into a world of love and flowers.  She was a beaming ray of 
sunshine in the dark Factory confines.  But the painful exit from her 
world to his own cold reality made his trips increasingly infrequent.  
And yet, he had nowhere else to turn.  Feebly, he clutched the photo 
once more, daring to make himself vulnerable.
   Animated words between Frank and Rubini destroyed the dream.  
   "Burned the shit of 'em!" broadcast Rubini.
   "Burned the shit out of who?" asked Steve, annoyed to find 
himself back in the real world.
   "The guys in the Boiler Room.  This guy - works there for eighteen 
years - shows up today, cuts a steam hose loose and scalds the fuck 
out of everyone in sight."  Rubini let out a gallows laugh.  "I think
he fucked up a Rider so bad he'll never walk again."
   Steve shifted uneasliy on his bed.  "He was an Exploder?"
   "Yup.  Just another wonderful day in Wacko World."
   Frank was incensed.  "They should do something with those people
before they hurt somebody." 
   "They don't care about us, man.  All they look at is the honey."
   Steve interjected.  "Well what do they expect to happen?" he 
exploded, "When they treat us like slaves!"
   "We are not slaves," said Frank in disgust.  "We are free to do as 
we please.  How many times do I have to tell you that?"
   "We're free to do as the Rats please," corrected Steve.
   "Quit feeling sorry for yourself.  We live a lot better than most 
people.  You're surviving just fine."
   "You don't know what the fuck you're talking about!"
   "You just don't want to work.  We are not slaves."
   "Oh, I suppose you stack boxes for a living of your own free will?"
   Frank had been known to complain of his tedious work.  "No, but-"
   "Then you're a slave for Chrissake!  What do you think slave 
   As Leader of the Resistance, Steve tolerated no Factory-speak on 
his turf.  But, as he had learned to do, he diffused the situation.
   "Hey, Frank," he smiled, "Didn't anyone tell you it's a sin to do 
something you hate?"
   "Oh, that's good.  I'll just go traipsing along, doing as I please," 
said a facetious Frank.  He dropped the mask.  "Just see where that 
gets you," he scathed.  "I have responsibilities.  Something you 
wouldn't understand."
   "What about the responsibility to yourself.  How do expect to take 
care of anyone if you can't take care of yourself?"
   Rubini's head went from side to side as if watching a tennis match.  
He turned back to Frank.
   "Let me worry about that."
   "Now that's a selfish attitude.  This place gets in the way of taking 
care of yourself.  How can you say that's not wrong?"
   Rubini saw a chance to trap Steve.  "If work is so wrong, why do 
you keep showing up?"
   "Because I'm surrounded by evil people who won't let me do 
   "I'm no less surrounded than you!" said an irritated Frank.
   "Then why do you stick up for this place?"
   "I'm just trying to keep what little I've got."
   "Go ahead!  Side with your oppressors!  See where that gets you!"
   "I'll tell you where it gets you: exactly where you are!  So you 
better be happy, Frank, 'cause this is where you're going to be for the 
rest of your life!"
   Frank let out a faint "That's not true", but Steve did not notice.
His screaming to Frank had cleared out his own cobwebs of delusions 
and denial, grasping a truth too terrible to embrace.  But the clearing 
did bring a priceless moment of peace - until it was crushed by the 
fact he had no tangible solution.  But if everyone cleared his mind...
   "Wake up, Frank," he said, "We're all on the same side."
   Frank was direct.  "One thing is clear, Steve.  You're on your own 
   Frank struck a nerve - Steve had been bought before.  Maybe all 
his outrage was merely over the fact he could not live like the Rats.  
He felt the silence accusing him.
   "You want to know how I feel, assholes?  I'll tell you."  Steve 
swallowed hard.  "I think you're great.  I think everyone is - I can't 
help it.  And anyone or anything that hurts us is wrong.  This is no 
game.  And there's more to life than mere survival.  This is a battle 
for our souls - and I like mine!"
   "Way to go, Steve!" cheered Rubini.  "Fuck the motherfuckers!"
   The system man was intransigent.  "That's a nice ideal but 
   "Unrealistic?  Hah!  We shall see!"
   The room grew tired of the debate and Steve rolled over to his 
wall, turmoil driving through his system.
   He knew he was right.  True, they weren't openly called slaves.  
Their work was done for some mythical ideal of good.  Steve, too, 
had once believed that - when it benefitted him.  Yet so many of the 
Workhards clung to the chains of the Factory.  Despising it on one 
hand, protecting it with the other.  The Alley was the key to it all, a 
silent menace on everyone's mind.
   Rejected Workhards literally died for work in the Alley, but the 
Factory did only as it pleased.  The death of the Alley dwellers 
meant nothing to no one.  The Rats loved this.  People dying for the 
system!  What could prove it more almighty than that?  Their suffering
was a 'necessity', for this was the Only Way.
   Well, remembered Steve, his suffering was not a necessity.  And if 
it was not necessary for him, then it wasn't necessary for anyone.  
Everyone wanted out.  And if everyone got unhappy enough, they would
destroy the agonizing Factory.  He smirked and rested with the pleasure
of the thought.

   Bill thumped the too peaceful face of Steve.  "Get up!  Uniformity 
only around here!" commanded the drill sargeant.
   "Oh, hell," moaned Steve.  "Time to sigh and die."
   But he remembered the thoughts of the night before and fed off 
them.  He was dying to share them, yet he knew the ears around him 
were deaf.  But no one could deny the good feeling he got from 
believing in them.  He did his best to annoy everyone with his 
chipper attitude that morning.
   "What kind of drugs you on?" eventually inquired Rubini.  "I need 
some like that."
   Steve only smiled.  Then the question came up again: What was a 
soul in a soulless world?

   Fresh pill from the Drug Sore in hand, the ragged being wandered 
to his bunk in the gloomy, gray world of his slow motion nightmare.  
Heart pounding, he popped in the sedatives.  He dwelled on himself, 
desperately trying to hold the pieces together.  Part of him begged to 
fly apart, just to see what harm the shrapnel would do.  The thought 
was sickly appealing, giving him a sense of power.  His face creased 
in pain.
   In the anti-world of the Factory, death kept you going; a place of 
refuge.  Steve had seen its effects in many forms.  Men who talked 
of destruction as savior.  Men who saw their dreams as enemies.  
Men who no longer knew who they were.  Hope was too painful for 
most.  It was just easier to be dead.  Zombie Steve struggled to find 
even one good reason to continue in the Grind.  He had asked a 
thousand times and got a thousand empty replies.
   Bill had noted the nervous state of Steve of late.  And, seeing him 
especially wretched at the moment, made the mistake of approaching 
him.  "You okay, Steve?"
   Steve did not appreciate the interference, answering with eyes 
closed.  "Don't fuck with me.  I'm vegetating."
   "Steve!  Talk to me!  Something the matter?"
   Bill's persistance infuriated him.  His eyes opened.  "I'll tell you 
what's the matter - nothing is the matter!  The answer to everything 
around here is nothing!  What can I do about this shit eatin' job?  
Nothing!  What can I do to make my life better?  Nothing!  What can 
I do to solve the problems of this place?  Nothing!  NOT A FUCKING
   It was the kind of outburst usually cheered by Rubini, but not a 
word was said in the room full of Workhards.  Steve was "feeling it" 
more than the rest.  No one dared doubt his feelings.  And no one 
dare insult him with a solution.
   Rubini offered the only medicine he knew.  "Does this mean you 
want me take your name off the Prospective Rider List?"
   The thought, so ridiculous and preposterous, filled the room with 
repressed smiles until Steve's own humor broke free.
   "Fuck you and your Rider List, Rubini," joshed Steve.
   Spiny dared to speak, the rarity of the moment causing all to hear.  
"Maybe he should be a Rider.  He'd be a nice one."
   Frank jumped on the bandwagon.  "Yeah, you're always griping 
about this place.  Help change it."
   The idea snowballed around the room till all agreed - except Steve.  
"Nice of you guys to offer me as sacrificial lamb of the week, but I 
think I'll pass on your generous offer."
   "Why!" demanded Frank, most eager to see things work.
   "Because I'm not going to put myself in that position.  I hate this 
place and I despise the Rats and Riders.  How long do you think I 
would last with those feelings?"
   Steve was glad to see murmurs of reluctant agreement.  "Honestly, 
can you see me sucking up to those guys?  Gimme a break."
   "It's true," said Rubini, "You do have to win a bootlicking contest 
to become a Rider."  Spiny's eyes grew wide at the revelation.
   "I think it's an asshole contest," snorted Frank.
   "No, it's an I.Q. test," stated Bill.  "If you pass it, you're out."
   "They are nasty and awful and mean and decrepit-"
   Wipper interrupted his brother.  "Afraid of work is what they are."
   "Life goes on," uttered Otto.
   Steve spoke as the final authority.  "It's all a matter of 
conditioning," he said.  "They stick 'em all in a room, the Rats yell 
"Buttfuck", and whoever bends over first gets the job."
   Steve's ruthless definition was appreciated by all.  The room was 
ripe for a Discussion, manna to Steve's soul.  "What's so strange," he 
began, "is that every Workhard in this place feels the same way, but 
we can't get anything changed."
   "He who controls the honey, controls us," determined Frank.
   "They are all powerful," said a convinced Rubini.
   "Go with the flow," swayed Otto.
   Bill saw the chance for another dire warning.  "You can't go 
against them, Steve.  They'll do anything to protect it - even kill.  
Give it up."
   Steve rolled his eyes.  "You guys sound like a girls who's just been 
laid for the first time."  Steve spoke in a frilly voice, "Oh, the 
Factory has dominated me.  It must be God."
   Rubini responded, "That's cold, man."
   Steve's soul rejoiced.  He loved it when he could break through 
their wall of indifference - an indifference to their own suffering as 
well as his.  And even if he could never find a rational explanation 
for his beliefs, he would never leave them.  No, he would not make 
Death his friend.
   "They are not all powerful," he declared unequivocally.  "They 
have one fatal weakness - "  Everyone knew Steve had special insight.
They held their breath.  "- their lies."
   Disappointment was slung at Steve.
   "They can lie all they want!"
   "They do it every day!"
   "They control the truth!"
   Steve held out his palms for them to stop, excited by the truths he 
discovered as he spoke.  "Don't you see?  Fear is their Achille's heel.  
All powerful people aren't afraid.  The Rats have a fear-" Steve 
grasped it as he said it - "A Fear Of Being Known.  Their lies will 
come back to haunt them.  The truth cannot be controlled.  Don't you 
see that?"
   "They've done a pretty good job of controlling it so far," shot 
   "The Rats live in fear of the Truth, that much I know.  They may 
fear us less every day, but their haughtiness is spurred by a fear.  The 
costumes, the parades, the posters - everything!  Look around at 
what do you see?  Endless propaganda.  Methinks they do protest too 
   "You may have a point," conceded Frank, "But-"
   "'We want smiling faces - not your real feelings' is what they tell 
us.  And those moronic Skewervision shows, acting as if this crap 
can go on forever; that the world has no problems.  They are deathly 
afraid of something, and if I find out what it is, I'm going to ram it 
down their throats."
   Steve met the usual resistance.
   "You'll be killed," flared Bill.
   "There's no way out," confirmed Rubini.
   "Can't have everything," dismissed Otto.
   Steve crossed his arms, defiantly keeping his pact to find the Truth.  
The others eyed him suspiciously, viewing his attitude as suicidal.  
Steve was setting himself up, they thought.  Setting himself up to Exploder.

   Steve's new found passion for the Truth brought moments of 
satisfaction - and confusion.  In Truth he hoped to find the Answer, 
but the Routine continued unabated.
   Recovery time from work stretched longer.  Mood swings accompanied
his short temper.  Fear and confusion hammered him.  He just couldn't
piece it all together.  On one hand, he did everything in the world
to feel better.  He drew strength from his belief in A Way Out,
laughed away the frustrations, pushed away his nightmares - then
precious energy would flow back.  But then he would turn right around
and send himself back to the hell of work.  What was the point of
healing if it only served to bring more suffering?  Why did he do this
to himself?  Why didn't the precious Truth show him the Way?
   Confusion ruled Steve's day, but fear ruled the night.  During the 
day, Steve disconnected; his mind running on a skeletal crew.  "Just 
do what's needed to be done and forget everything else" was his 
mantra.  But at night, it all came rushing back - a tidal wave of 
repressed desires.  Steve was out of control, afraid of what he was 
becoming.  And no one must know his delimma or they'd clamp down on
him even harder.
   Such was the private hell of Steve.
   Finally, one night, he reached the end of his rope.  No more! he 
screamed silently.  No more!  I can't take another second!!  He 
tossed wildly in his bed, desperate to lash out; to kill.  He had to do 
something.  His frantic mind raced to find an answer that did not kill.  
He got the eternal empty reply.  He had to buy time - anything.  
Crushed to the marrow, he pleaded with the one force he saw that 
could help.
   With quivering hand, he sent an S.O.S.

      Dear God,
         I know you must be pissed at me.  Why else would you treat       
      me this way?  I'm pissed at me, too.  Problem is, that doesn't 
      solve a thing.  I miss Debby very much.  I find it very hard
      to believe I'll find any girl as special as her.
         I am a rambling wreck, putting on a show for whomever I       
      meet.  I don't know who to be when I can't be myself.  I
      don't know how to make you understand how I feel.  It's as
      if no matter what I do, I end up dead.
         I must have committed some grave sin for this to be       
      happening to me.  For the life of me, I can't figure out
      what I'm doing wrong, but I am deeply sorry for whatever it
      is.  Don't get me wrong, I know I haven't led a pure life.
      I wanted to treat Debby better, but didn't.  I'm stuck in a
      spiral of doom, so I ask you to forgive me.
         Maybe I deserve to die.  I shit on the love of my life and
      the world shits on me, maybe I am not worth caring for.  I've
      racked my mind, but I don't know what to do differently!
         I know you won't believe this - I'm not sure if I do - but
      I do care.  I'm just so scared!  The other guys don't seem
      to have the problems I do.  I just stand like a jerk in the
      corner, aching to reach out.
         I hope Debby forgives me.  If you knew her, you would love       
      her, too.  Though I despise many of her ways, I never told
      her how I secretly feel unworthy of her.  So I guess it all
      boils down to: what am I worthy of?  With all my heart and
      all my mind and all my soul, I want to be worthy of more than
      this.  I don't want a free ride or humiliation.  It's only I
      don't know what I do want, either.

                           Sign me,
                        Steve, tired of being alive

   Pain still held Steve in its grip, but he had passed the point of 
hurting anyone.  He folded the paper and placed it under his pillow.  
He had bought time - he would still be able to laugh with the others 
tomorrow.  But the bomb still ticked.  Let us read on, thanking we 
are not he.

   A Rider read from a book - an all white book - to Row 86.
  "We are a team," he said mechanically, "We joyfully work together 
to acheive the greatest possible production.  Working together means 
winning together.  One for all and all for one.  I stand here not as 
your supervisor, but as an assistant to your production.  We are all 
on the same side."
   The book snapped shut in a whiff of white powder.  The Rider spoke
to inspire.  "So let's be the best we can be.  I want to see our 
production increase twenty percent this week.  We're going to be the 
best row in the Factory!"
   The Rider moved to the next row to start all over.
   "They take such pride in our work," said a contemptous Bill.
   "Good one, Bill," said an appreciative Steve.  "Wish I'd said that."
   Compliments from Steve were rare but genuine.  Bill basked in the 
   Steve was distracted this morn by his own mixed emotions.  
Something Out of the Ordinary was to happen to day.  His wheel 
was breaking down, getting hard to turn.  The night before he had 
told Rubini, who said he would come by that morning to fix it.  So not
only did Steve have a golden Valid Excuse not to work, but he'd have
the chance to see one of the gang during work.
   But Rubini had not seen the "Work" Steve, covered with pain and 
despair.  Steve went to great lengths to keep his condition hidden 
and did not feel he could afford to have his cover blown.
   Rubini's arrival was a breath of fresh air.  "Steve!  Tearing up his 
wheel!"  His smiling countenance was in sharp contrast to Steve, who
wore his smile badly.  "Something the matter or do I smell bad?"
   "Never ask if something is the matter," grimaced Steve, referring 
to his "Nothing" outburst.
   "Yeah, right.  Oh, hey Bill.  No vaseline on there today?"
   "None today," replied the bored Bill.
   Rubini enjoyed his work.  "Let's rip this puppy apart."
   He broke out his case of tools and started to dismantle the 
machine, all the while keeping a delightful patter for Steve's ears.  
But Steve was not there.
   True, his body remained, but this rare break from the Routine sent 
his spirit scarily drifting.  He watched himself watching Rubini.  He 
saw how he nodded his head and gave the appropiate grins.  Then 
unreality.  Floating.  He crawled among the rafters.  Nobody could 
see him.  Would his body collapse and give him away?  He did not 
want to go back.  It was so nice to be unnoticed.
   "Just a bad bearing."  Rubini held it up for Steve.  "Steve?
   Steve came running back and hit hard.  He physically jerked.  "Not 
used to not working.  Guess I drifted away."
   "I'll have this fixed in no time.  Don't worry about not working."
   "No need to rush," joked Steve.
   He stayed put as Rubini replaced the bearing.  But the drifting was 
acid in his gut.  He had no say over anything anymore!  Time was 
running out!  Terror was waiting - and he was all alone.
   "Debby," he whispered.
   "Say what?"
   Rubini twisted in the final screw.  "She's good as new now.  Give 
her a whirl."
   Steve spun it to his satisfaction.  "How much do I owe you."
   "On the house."  Rubini snapped his case shut to leave.
   "No, really.  I want to.  I don't want any freebies."
   "I'm doing it because I want to.  Shit, Steve, everybody can see 
how much you're hurting.  I'm glad to give you a break from this 
   Steve bit his lip, all he could do to hold back the torrent of 
emotion.  "Thanks," he choked.
   Rubini patted him on the back and left Steve to whisk the day 

   Obliteration.  There was no other way to describe work.  No 
amount of mental preparation or careless laughs or moral support 
could crush the wall of indifference spun by the wheel.
   The disconnected Steve, fighting the maddening loss of mental 
control, homed in on his bunk once more.  Again, his pounding heart 
would not let him rest.  It took concious effort to stop his gnashing 
teeth.  Each time he would try to re-connect, he was stung with pain.  
He dwelled on nothingness.
   A breathless Rubini rushed into a room containing only Frank and 
Steve.  "Where is everybody?  Otto got Floor Buff Fever."
   "What the hell's Floor Buff Fever?" asked an annoyed Steve.
   Frank explained.  "It's when you can't let go."
   "Right!" said Rubini.  "Funniest thing I ever saw in my life.  The 
shift whistle blows and Otto doesn't stop.  Just back and forth, back 
and forth."  He demonstarted with outstretched arms with a pretend 
buffer.  "Rider comes up to him, asks him what his problem is.  
"Gotta buff.  Gotta buff," says Otto over and over.  So the Rider-" 
Rubini giggled "-the Rider yells for him to stop.  No effect.  Then he 
yells right in Otto's ear, and Otto ignores him like he's not even 
   "That must have pissed off the Rider," observed an amused Frank.
   "That it did.  So the Rider goes over and pulls the plug, but that 
doesn't stop our hero.  Everyone's standin' around watching, the 
Rider's yelling his head off, and there goes Otto, back and forth, 
"Gotta buff"."
   Frank was in hysterics.  "Buffing with his machine off!  That's 
   "Yeah, and we was all laughin' cause the Rider was afraid to go up 
to him any more."
   "What happened?" asked Steve soberly.
   "A couple of other Riders come over and peel him off.  Otto fought 
'em good and hard.  But they finally carried him away by his hands 
and feet."  Rubini's voice turned serious.  "All down the hallway, he 
just keeps saying, "Gotta buff.  Gotta buff."
   The image it invoked brought sorrow to all - and terror to Steve.  
He nervously asked what would become of Otto.
   "They'll take him to a Home - for reprogramming."
   Steve was so upset he verged on vomit.  Right before his eyes he 
saw his fate spelled out.  His entire being shook.  He shuttled off to 
the only place he could be alone: the bathroom stall.
   An unreplaced burnt bulb required the door to be propped open to 
let in light.  Steve latched his dark stall shut, and there he went 
   Mad imagery and disturbing conversations swirled in his head.  A 
smokestack worker bragging about newcomers dropping like flies.  
The mocking laughter of a Rider to a complaining Workhard.  A 
wild-eyed Rider screaming, "To hell with the gauges!  Turn up the 
   The graffiti in the stall was a comfort to Steve, the airing of 
repressed thoughts acting as an underground conduit to humanity.  
The scribblings ranged from one-liners - 

   "Honesty can be hazardous to your wealth!"

   - to frustration,

   "So when is a man truly alone?
   "When he digs his grave and buries his bones?"

   - to suicide,

   "What would happen if I ended it all,
   "Took a truck and slammed a wall.
   "Just to be free,
   "Of the misery.

   "They drive me insane,
   "But it's me they blame.
   "Don't want to cry,
   "Just want to die."

   But in this moment, nothing could comfort Steve.  Feasting 
Factory demons joyfully devoured him.  Rage annihilated him.  
Visions of slaughtering, destroying this living hell.  Yes, yes, he 
understood the motivations of the Exploders.  Driven, always driven.  
When reason is lost, violence is the only thing heard.  Steve would 
find a gun.  Kill a few Rats.  But really, did it matter who he killed?  
They were all a part of it.  Just to put one little dent in the place
that so arrogantly - and relentlessly - oppressed him.  One little
   The sound of raucous laughter snapped him back to reality.  
Wipper and Wimper had entered the bunk room with Rubini telling 
the story once more.  Steve knew why they laughed - they laughed 
away the thought of it happening to them.  He moaned.
   "There's got to be a better way.  I just know it."

   That night, he cuddled with the picture of his beloved Debby.  In 
her warm brown eyes, passionate lips and delicate fingers, he 
soothed his wounded psyche.  But attached to the soothing came an 
equal amount of horror.
   Dimly through the darkness, Steve saw the spot where Rubini had 
told Otto's story a few hours before.  Had it all really happened?  He 
struggled through the haze.  Maybe it was the night before it 
   The dreaded, helpless 'End of rope' feeling attacked once more.  
Steve reached out but no one was there.  God had turned his back on 
him, perhaps Debby would listen.  Grabbing pen and paper, he 
bottled another letter.

                  ODE TO A CHEERLEADER

      Dear Debby,

        I love you.  You're all my dreams, hopes and desires
      wrapped into one.  All my dreams are on you, my little slice
      of heaven.  Just being with you makes all my fantasies of
      life come true.  I really want to keep these things, I just
      don't want to have to tell you that.
        I wouldn't write this if I thought your eyes would see it.
      But I don't want my existence to pass with no one ever
      knowing the truth.
        I never told you this - I want you for your mind.  Hard to       
      believe, huh?  I know I only talk about how sexy you are and       
      everything, but what I really like are those times when you
      snap back at me or when we just sit without having to say a
      word.  Those times don't happen as much as they used to, do
        I've met girls I loved before, but you know when you meet       
      The Woman.  You're so classy and delectable.  I can't see why
      you always feel you have to put on an act for me.  Do you
      think I'm so stupid I can't see it?  That rah-rah shit has
      to go.
        But make no mistake about it, I fucked up this marriage.
      I just feel I have to be too many things to too many
      people - including you.  I've got to fuck off somewhere,
      just to ease the burden.
        So here I am to tell you: Always and forever, no matter       
      what happens, I'll treasure, and secretly visit, the place
      in my heart marked Debby, the only person who ever believed
      in me.

                           Your Idiot Husband

   Steve crumpled into a ball.  "I'm not going to make it," he uttered 

   The unyeilding prison of the Routine pounded like a giant hammer 
at the very foundation of Steve.  His nerves were on edge.  He lost 
weight.  His face left unshaven.  The tasks of living were like 
moving boulders.  It was always give, give, give - with nothing in 
return.  Life had been scoured out of him.
   Steve had followed his old formula for success: do what was asked 
with no compunctions.  In that he was successful.  Unfeeling, 
undesirable and unlovable, he was the Perfect Machine Part.  His 
sentence was for life; parole denied.  And though many 'answers' 
were sold in the Factory, none were true.  Steve's only solution: 

                    More "Life" in the Factory Grind