The Fulfillment Center

November 25, 2042

Amazon’s Houston fulfillment center, opened more than 20 years ago, continues to attract vagrants in search of water, food, and shelter. (Photo/Omar Martinez)

HOUSTON — It’s a bright, balmy November morning, and a light breeze is wafting in the humid air. A shrill siren blares, followed by the metal scraping of six shed doors lifting open, as Amazon’s Volunteer Labor Force exits, ready for work. The laborers, without any external direction, split into groups and begin working their assigned tasks—some begin loading and unloading delivery trucks, others pick and package orders, some retrieve cleaning supplies and begin the daunting task of mopping the warehouse’s 1.5 million square feet of floor space, while more still pile into autonomous electric vehicles, to be given work at some distant part of the facility. The laborers are intently focused, working efficiently and speaking only to share information relevant to their current task. They are not glassy-eyed, but appear not to notice each other as they walk single-file to their daily duties. Social interaction is rare here, to the extent that a row of workers, spending an entire 12-hour shift standing next to each other, will not share a word of small talk or pleasantries between them. The volunteers of Amazon’s Houston fulfillment center may look like slaves, but they are among the happiest people on earth.

The Houston facility is unique, as it is the first Amazon fulfillment center to be staffed entirely by volunteer laborers—a trend set to continue, according to company sources. Amazon’s Volunteer Labor Program, started in 2038, offers food, clothing, and on-site residence to volunteer workers who agree to undergo the Axiom procedure. The Houston facility’s workforce is comprised of 1,900 volunteers, representing laborers of all ages (above 16), races, and nationalities—a tribute to the ever-increasing popularity of volunteer work since the program’s inception. In this building, a 67-year-old woman from Nova Scotia spends her entire 12-hour shift assembling cardboard boxes beside a Black teenage boy from Baltimore, with the two never uttering a single word to each other. Despite the crowded isolation found within the warehouse, both workers will end the day with a sense of deep satisfaction.

This is where the Axiom implant—the program’s most crucial (and controversial) component—comes into play. Embedded in a volunteer’s brain, the implant stimulates the amygdala, frontal cortex, and insula throughout the work day, creating a deep sense of satisfaction as the laborer toils away. According to the implant’s designers, the emotional experience is equivalent to that of a person accomplishing their life’s work, or a monk who has spent decades meditating to achieve enlightenment. The Axiom implant promises to recreate emotional experience of a life well-lived—but how does this artificial fulfillment compare to the real thing?

“There’s no meaningful difference,” said Travis Herd, senior engineer at Axiom. “Let’s say your passion is writing, so you work on that your whole life—you spend decades practicing, you go to school, study your craft, work your way up from being an unknown proofreader or copy editor. Maybe you make the right connections—maybe you get something published, and maybe it turns out to be a hit. Maybe someday, if you’re talented enough, lucky enough, and you’ve put in enough work, you win some major award like a Pulitzer Prize. You know what happens then? Your brain releases the exact same sequence of chemicals that our volunteers experience on a daily basis. The only real difference is that you will eventually grow bored of the novelty of winning a Pulitzer Prize, whereas our workers will never grow tired of their jobs.”

First developed in 2032, Amazon’s Axiom implant was not available for public use until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was dissolved in 2037. Since then, thousands of volunteers have signed up for the procedure, with all of them highly recommending it.

“Amazon has given an incredible gift to the world,” said Gene Mendez, a 22-year-old volunteer. “Before I came here, I was on the verge of suicide. I felt totally lost, I had no direction, no future, and no one left to turn to. But now I know my place, and my purpose, and it is perfection. It’s really a win-win situation.”

“After I lost my two boys in a car crash, I thought I would never be able to feel happiness again,” said Janet Olson, a 46-year-old volunteer. “But now I can say that volunteering for Amazon has been an incredibly empowering experience, and even more rewarding than motherhood.”

According to volunteers, the only downside of the program is the social stigma surrounding it, with many on social media branding the laborers as “Amazombies.” Indeed, many are skeptical towards Amazon’s claim that the Axiom procedure does nothing to alter a person’s personality—a claim that volunteers are quick to defend.

“Look at me—I’m not brainwashed, I’m not a zombie, I’m just like anyone else,” said James Crawford, a 47-year-old volunteer. “I just love my job, that’s all.”

“Sure, I was pretty nervous about it at first,” said Nadine Coley, a 19-year-old volunteer. “I didn’t even really want to do it, but after my parents kicked me out, I didn’t have much choice. That was a dark time in my life—I was living on the street, I never felt safe, and I woke up every day not knowing if it would be my last. But now? I’m safe, I’m happy, and I wake up every morning laughing, because I get to go to work.”

“I was in prison, some guys took me out of my cell and said I could have a reduced sentence if I got this Axiom surgery,” said Josè Burgess, a volunteer on a special work release program. “At first I was like, ‘What? You want me to put a computer chip in my head?’ But, you know, it beat a 45-year stint.” At this point Burgess laughed, and said with a beaming smile, “Those guys were chumps! They’re acting like I’m doing them a favor—I would’ve paid anything to feel this way every day.”

According to the company’s latest financial statement, volunteer laborers now make up 64% of Amazon’s workforce, compared to just 45% in 2041. This figure is set to grow, with company heads projecting that at least 95% of Amazon’s unskilled labor will come from volunteer workers by the end of the decade.

“The Axiom implant is a revolutionary technology with high potential to reduce labor costs across all industries,” said Preston Bezos, CEO of Amazon in a recent public announcement. “We are in talks with several major brands to license the technology, and spread the volunteer work revolution across the globe.”

Is Amazon making the world a better place? The future the company promises will be one where no one is unhappy, no one questions their place in the world, there is no hint of dissatisfaction or discomfort, and everyone will end the day as contentedly as someone who has achieved their every goal in life. It may even be a world without conflict and war—we’d have no need of nations, only contended shareholders and the volunteers who work for them. The Axiom implant may well be the end of history, and that may well be a good thing. As Axiom engineer Travis Herd put it, “This may not look like utopia, but it sure as hell feels like it.”

This author cannot come to a conclusion on the betterment of humanity in relation to the grounding of its collective creative output. This author can hardly tell the difference between right and wrong anymore. All this author knows is that he is sick of being a poor hack in competition with AI, that he has volunteered for the labor program himself, and that his implant will be installed this Friday. Until then, he will sit back, blast Pink Floyd, and smoke his nights away.

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