In the near future, known as the "3rd Era," most human beings have been reduced to "Valued Associates," Global Corporation's word for people whose brains are completely connected within massive cubicle complexes. Echo 900682972187 "lives" all his days within the narrow walls of his Multitasking Cubicle-Home Station (MCHS). Every aspect of his existence is completely focused on "Productivity," also known as the bridge to Global Corporation's promised utopia, the mythical "7th Era." Once per year (12-Month Productivity Cycle), Valued Associates are scheduled exactly 59 minutes to communicate with their biological parents. Welcome to "Family Hour."
Fred Caliber returns to North Carolina after serving two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army. It's 2006, two years before the economic crash brought on by the collapse of the housing market. In Charlotte, Fred finds his sister with bruises on her face and his nephews without enough food. Fred also meets his sister's abusive boyfriend, George Rumstead, a well-heeled mortgage seller/investment broker who frequents Rough Riders Ranch strip club, where Fred's sister works. Rumstead wears rattlesnake cowboy boots and, although he never served himself, Rumstead loves to show off his patriotic bumper stickers. Caliber is no longer in the Army. He's no longer a sergeant. But he's still deployed, permanently. Is there another war brewing between Caliber and Rumstead? Or, in fact, has war never ended? "DESPERATE ENGINE" is a short story, part of a new series by Theodore Webb, "The Fred Caliber Stories," examining the "heart of darkness."