There’s a metric buttload of books about zombies.
Who else do you call zombies? Yourself and your co-workers, caffeine-fueled drones trapped in a hamster wheel eight hours a day. Waking up feeling nhaaaaargh commuting doing tedious crapola either as the work or as one of the other aspects of the job — maybe your job is fascinating but the reports, the meetings, the boss, nhaaaaargh — and when you get out of it, you crash for the evening, and tomorrow it’s the same day.
This clearly is not the optimal use for a smart person such as yourself. Why, you might have thought, a lot of my day could be done by a zombie, because I for sure feel like a zombie for a lot of it.
Hold that thought.
In an alternate present (because the future is complicated) the problem of America’s overflowing prisons has been solved. Because what you want the prisons to be varies from person to person, but something that combines monstrous deterrent, vocational training, profit and putting people away satisfies most people.
And so, in the Sixties, a Doctor Brown concocted a drug that takes your average prison inmate and reduces him (or her, later) into a shuffling, occasionally moaning cretin with no drive or desires.
Doctor Brown wished to call the results of this process “the Brown people”, but some more sensitive doctors took him aside and explained this would be a bad idea.
Instead someone thought of calling them zombies, and though Doctor Brown thought the idea stupid, sentimental, superstitious and a lot of other adjectives starting with an angry “s”, the suggestion persisted.
Now prisons hold hardly anybody. Instead, if you break the law, you’ll be taken to a facility, injected and otherwise manipulated, and a day later you’ll shuffle to a job somewhere in the nation: docile, fairly tireless and not all that bright. A month, a year or ten years later, you’ll get the reverse injection and, through the miracle of muscle memory (“Mhah!” Doctor Brown mutters, “Muscle memory? It’s more complicated than—“) you have most of the skills you practised in the meanwhile: delivery work, woodworking, spreadsheets, gardening, sweeping, receptionist stuff; all the things a “normie” could do on autopilot, except, you know, the actual piloting stuff: nobody wants to see a zombie operating a forklift.
Of course the dezombified will be entering the workplace in competition to the zombies, but the zombies need supervisors, and an ex-zom is ideal!
The system is admittedly not perfect; the treatment of female zombies especially is a constant source of worry to OWZA, the Organization for the Wellbeing of Zombified Americans. It does not help that certain politicians consider the tales an especially horrifyingly effective form of deterrent. Then in addition to molestation there is the occasional and highly publicized vigilante who decides to find and kill the now defenseless criminal. They just don’t understand killing a zombie is still murder.
Not to say anything of the misguided romantics and revenge-hungry utter maniacs, who kidnap a zombie and try to reverse the process, for pleasure or for pain. Most often that’s aggravated murder, or then one of those “thriller” novels. (To say nothing of trash like “I Was An Innocent Zombie!”; and Doctor Brown would have conniptions if he heard that finale bit about “restored through the power of love”.)
There have been occasional problems in the system, that is true, but nothing that would have threatened its continued existence. Certainly nothing like that vile, sensational, alarmistic, almost pornographic 1968 hack piece movie, widely considered one of the most distasteful calls for capital punishment across the board ever made. If you ask Doctor Brown — you shouldn’t; too much spittle — that man Romero better never commit even a single felony or it’s guaranteed he’ll be scrubbing septic tanks so dirty the smell never wears off.
Capital punishment persists, of course, but the lesser crimes tend towards zombification in almost every case. If a zombie can’t be rented to outside use (capitalism in action!) due to fear of retribution or aid from accomplices, there are still some real prisons left. And with the inmates zombified, there’s no drug dealing, gang violence or escape attempts; just the steady grind of physical work so that the muscles don’t atrophy.
Oh, and somebody needs to sternly order the zombies to the cafeteria now and then, and to the toilet, and the showers; they can do the necessary operations themselves, but they have no initiative. (Well, sit one down next to a pot roast and it might eat on its own eventually; much like a broken clock hits the right hour twice a day…)
Now, the year and the hour is 198X. (Or 201X?)
Congress is yet again in gridlock, this time over an amendment to the 26th Amendment, which made the zombie system (“Intracranial Imprisonment”) possible; Republicans are trying to extend the system to all civil offenses, and Democrats are painting the walls with the spectre of your mom getting zombified and worse because she made a mistake with the tax forms.
The media, well, the media is in an uproar after an MIT professor made some unfortunate and true remarks about persistent police racism and economic injustice, and what the resulting skewed zombie numbers make modern America resemble, with a lot of the zombies being of a darker hue than their, uh, masters. A lot of people are outraged and insulted, but nobody’s in much actual disagreement.
All of this is background noise to the story. Which is not a story of all the zombies suddenly going for blood or brains. Which is not a story of the Brown injections suddenly, catastrophically, stopping to work.
Because once this is a story of zombies in the workplace, the story ought to be of a zombie apocalypse in the workplace, too.
There’s a company that has fallen on hard times. Its owners haven’t suddenly become psychopaths or evil; no, they just look forward and see the company crumpling against the wall of competition in a few years’ time unless they do something radical.
Which is why a meeting is called, and 90% of the workforce is told they’re being let go. Zombies will take their jobs, their livelihoods; their lives, more or less. The government Placement and Training Authority (PTA) can supply the warm bodies; providing housing and a cafeteria for them is much cheaper than hiring real, living, chatty, smoke-break-taking, secretary-ogling, nose-powdering normie people.
The employees are understandably pissed off. As in, the placard-waving, demonstration-organizing, chant-yelling, police-worrying sort of pissed off.
The zombies, ah, the zombies just moan softly and sway in place, waiting for orders: five hundred of them, blank-faced and without drives or desires.
Then, the next morning, the zombies are gone. All five hundred of them.
Our protagonist is one of the company bosses — because really, they are not evil psychopaths despite just having fired 90% of their workforce, they make hard decisions and resent all these psychopath allegations — and our protagonist is the first to realize the zombies didn’t run away, because zombies don’t do that and it would be very bad for the company and also the world if people got the idea they suddenly could do that — no, the zombies were stolen.
Probably by one of the ex-employees. (“You lot, follow me! And shush with the moaning!”)
And it should be easy to find someone hiding, feeding, keeping five hundred zombies, right?
It’s not like zombies don’t eat, after all.
Okay, I am not going to write that novel. Because (a) I am not an American, which would become painfully obvious very soon, if it didn’t already, and (b) I know nothing about actual non-university workplaces, worker-boss relations, and the like.
But if you do, here’s a free idea! Because ideas are cheap.