Literature for your lunch break! Get a new story every day, delivered straight to your device, free.
app store app store

Herd Mentality


I saw another Einstein today. Just peddling down Sycamore Avenue on a bicycle. As if we didn't have enough, and here was another one, large as life. I knew for sure it was another one, because ours doesn't ride a bike—he gets around in a chauffeured limo. Not that he comes around our town much anyway, except for big corporate dos. I stood there, watching the Einstein whirr and clank past in no particular hurry, and I felt that sinking feeling grow inside me. I waited, hefting my rucksack on one shoulder, chewing at my bottom lip, and I watched his old-guy form disappear into the distance. What on earth he was doing in our neck of the woods, I didn't know, but I could speculate. There had to be an opportunity there somewhere. Wherever there was opportunity, you'd find an Einstein. Briefly, I wondered what he might be looking for in our little town, but there was no way I could even really guess. Usually, we had some warning if another one was going to turn up. Still, we'd find out soon enough, Mary and me.

We just wanted to get on with our lives. We didn't need another Einstein. They were everywhere you looked anyway, without adding another one to the mix. It was hard enough for us common folk to make a mark as it was.

I made my way home and as I dumped my laptop on to the kitchen table, I told Mary about what I'd seen.

She wiped her hands on the front of her apron, waiting for me to say something else. Behind her pots steamed and clanked on the stove, and the smell of cooking vegetables filled the kitchen. One strand of hair was hanging down over her cheek and she brushed it away, blinking at the annoyance.

"Well?" she said.

"Well what?" I didn't know what she wanted me to say.

"How do you know? It's so hard to tell them apart. Why they all have to try and look the same beats me."

"Well, they're Einsteins aren't they? Some sort of genetic predisposition to looking the same. They sure as hell do the same sorts of things. How do I know? I'm no expert."

But he certainly was. All of them. Every single one of the Einsteins seemed to make a success of whatever they turned their hands to, and their influence dominated everything we did. I even worked for CompuSoft, another subdivision of a particular Einstein Enterprise, but then, the whole town survived because of the CompuSoft tech park. It gave us employment and lives and homes and a whole industry that kept the local region alive. When I'd first discovered the job opportunity, I'd leaped at the prospect and Mary and I had packed up and moved to Chaplin, lock, stock, and barrel. Quality of life, a nice professional community, one of the more advanced Einstein companies—it was the chance of a lifetime.

We ate dinner together in silence, and then settled in to watch television for the rest of the evening. There was a half-decent movie I wanted to see on the Einstein-Warner channel. We snuggled in on the couch together, my arm around Mary's shoulders. I gave a wry smile and a snort as the old guy's head appeared above the corporate logo in the opening credits.

"What is it?" said Mary.

"Oh nothing. Just something I remembered from work. Let's watch the film, okay?"

Einstein was getting old now. All of them. Not so old that he was past it, but you had to wonder. When our troops liberated the Spemann Lab complex in 1945, the Einsteins had been just five years old. The Government had done the humanitarian thing and brought them back home. Eventually, someone had leaked the information and slowly, slowly, public pressure and outrage had grown. The big hush-hush operation our government had mounted was shut down and the Einsteins were released—or rather, they were integrated into society in a humanitarian manner. That was the wording the government press releases used. Two hundred and fifty is a lot of Einsteins.

We never called them Albert, or Al, or Bert, or anything else. They were always just The Einsteins. I don't know whether they were searching for identity, or a sense of where they came from, but they all grew the moustache and wore the crazy hair, just like the original back in Germany. They never did find him—the original—but he sure as hell lives on, or at least his legacy does. You have to wonder what would have happened if he'd had the opportunities that our Einsteins had, the original one. I guess we'll never know. There was a lot of speculation about what might have happened to him, but from the bits and pieces from our Einsteins lives, we knew at least part of the story.

I kept thinking about it. Two-hundred-and-fifty is still a lot of Einsteins, and we just didn't need another one. Not here. That a new one had cropped up unexpectedly was worrying me. It gave me an unsettled feeling deep in the pit of my stomach.

The next day at work, I asked around discretely to see if anyone had heard anything. The guys in Technical Support where I worked didn't seem to know anything, or at least they were keeping quiet about it. About thirty of us worked in the section, our pods stretched out across bright, glassed space, the soothing blue carpet adding a clean uniformity to our working environment.

As often happens, the coffee machine became my source.

Bill joined me as I was waiting for the machine to finish its program.

"You know what you were talking about before?" he said.

I glanced at him and looked back at the machine, reaching down to retrieve the small plastic cup as it whirred to the end of the cycle. The coffee was pretty ordinary, but it was free. Just one of the things CompuSoft did for us, along with our ordered corporate community. All mod cons, everything on hand.

"Yeah, what about it?"

"I saw another one yesterday."

I lifted my coffee and sipped, looking at Bill over the rim, the hot synthetic aroma washing up into my face. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah, came in by cab. Came here. He wasn't ours. The clothes weren't right."

"Hmm," I said.

Bill stood in front of the machine, pretending to make a selection, peering through his smudged, geeky glasses. We didn't really like talking about the Einsteins too much. They were just too much an ever-present part of life in general.

"What about yours?" asked Bill.

I took another sip of the coffee before answering. "Kind of casual. He was on a bicycle."

"You don't say," said Bill. "Well, that's three. I wonder what's going on."

"I haven't heard anything."

"No, me neither," said Bill. "But you wouldn't, would you?"

"How do you mean?" I asked him.

"Well, they own so much of the media that they could probably shut it down if they wanted. I mean if a lot of them wanted to do something. Just one or two, they wouldn't bother."

"Hmm," I said again. He was right, and it didn't make me feel any more comfortable about it.

"Thanks, Bill," I said. "I'll let you know if I hear anything." And that was the end of the conversation. I returned to my pod, carrying what remained of my coffee with me.

It was a day like any other: support calls, incompetent users and questions that should have provided their own answers, had they taken a few minutes to look. There was one legitimate hardware failure in the lot. The only thing different was the nagging sense of unease lurking in the back of my head.

As I was walking back from the callout through the long glass corridor that looked out over the parking lot, I saw another one. He'd just pulled up in his nice new top-of-the-range silver-gray Lexus. This one was different again, all slick and corporate in a neatly cut gray suit. How many Einsteins were we going to get? I stopped in mid-step, watching him as he headed toward the double glass doors. That made four.

Later that afternoon, Bill came and hung over the side of my pod.

"Just got a call," he said.

I glanced up from my screen. He was grinning. "Yeah, what is it?"

"Big meeting tomorrow in the auditorium. They need tech support. Screen projection, audio, that sort of thing. Upstairs said there's going to be a couple hundred. We need a couple of side rooms with email link and everything else. Now what do you think that's for?"

Technically Bill was my superior, but we ran a pretty flat structure in CompuSoft. He was a whiz with software apps and with his shapeless sweater, perpetually smudged glasses and boyish face, you'd never really think of him of being in charge of anything, but he was good at what he did. I was good on the hardware side of things and we recognized our separate strengths. He was waiting for me to say something.

"Gee, I don't know." I wasn't going to give him the pleasure, but his grin stayed all the same.

"Listen, you want to do the set up and everything, you can take it if you like. It shouldn't need more than one of us. You seem all fired up about whatever's going on, so let's put your curiosity to bed. What do you say?"

I smiled back. "Thanks," I said. "Appreciate it."

"No problem. Just let me know what you come up with."

He disappeared, back to his own pod. I got up, headed for the stores and then to security for the keys to the auditorium. The place was only really used for large sales presentations to impress big external clients, or the major annual meetings, but it helped the company image. It was wired for sound and vision with the state of the art, and at CompuSoft we had the state of the art, so there wouldn't really be that much setup involved. I was eager to get started though; it would get me one step closer to finding out what was going on.

Though we didn't really need it, I decided I'd set up an auxiliary video feed in the room itself. That way I'd have a legitimate excuse to be inside the auditorium when whatever was going to take place happened, and then I'd know for sure. If they were really up to something, they might not like my being there, but I knew from experience that tech support guys were pretty much invisible to anyone who mattered.

I wheeled the equipment in, set up the table and the leads and everything, looked over my handiwork, then stood there at the front of the room, looking at all the empty seats. With a satisfied nod, I killed the lights and locked up for the night. I still didn't know what was going on, but I sure as hell would.

Later that night, I discussed my suspicions with Mary. Whatever might draw them all together, it couldn't be good. It couldn't be good for us, the little people.

It took me a long time to get to sleep, and when I did, it wasn't easy.

I was there early enough, everything unlocked, and the hardware and feeds kicked into life to see the first Einsteins arrive. It was peculiar watching them trickle in and take up their positions around the auditorium. Close together, you could see the subtle differences: this one was more tanned; that one was skinnier than the one next to him. Apart, with nothing else to compare them to than memory, it was harder, but there were other signs: their clothes, their manners, their ways of carrying themselves.

I sat behind my desk, pretending to make minor adjustments to the equipment, surreptitiously watching them over the top of my screen. A few were in conversation, and there was a quiet buzz around the auditorium that grew as the numbers swelled. Our Einstein came in dressed in a crisp blue suit, and paused in front of the desk where I sat. He stood there looking slightly troubled.

"Everything set up?" he said.

"Yes, Mr. Einstein," I replied, barely meeting his eyes.

"No trouble?"

"No. Not at all."

He lingered for a moment, seemingly about to say something else, then he headed for the stage and the central podium. He waited for a couple of minutes as the last few Einsteins came through the doors and found their places. There were so many of them. I kept glancing from the screen to the auditorium. Rows and rows of Einsteins sat looking at the stage, like some bizarre picture. For a couple of seconds, I wondered if maybe I was just dreaming it.

The Einstein on the stage cleared his throat and a hush settled over the room.

"Welcome and thank you all for coming. As we all know, we are fewer this time. There have been accidents, a couple of us have drifted, but these things happen. We still number above two hundred. I am honored that we have chosen my facility this time."

So, they did this often. I diligently watched the screen as the Einstein on stage continued.

"We have made great headway over the last couple of years, but as you all know, our time is getting short. Way back then, back in the place of our birth, Professor Hans Spemann solved the telomere problem, but much of his work was lost. We are close to finding the solution to that problem, thanks to the work of one of our brothers." He lifted a hand indicating an Einstein in one of the central rows and inclined his head slightly. A couple of other Einsteins turned to look in that direction.

All attention turned back to the Einstein on the stage. I still had no idea where this was going, what they were doing here.

"We've also made great progress in accumulating the needed resources to do what we must. The breakout sessions we will split into shortly will follow the course of what we need to do over the next few years. The material and your assignments are all set out in your agenda packs."

A couple of the Einsteins reached down and started shuffling through their papers.

"Please," said the Einstein from the stage. "I cannot stress enough the importance of what we are doing here today. You all understand the resistance and the fear. We have each and every one of us worked against those pressures in each of our chosen fields. World government is not an easy thing to achieve."

I'd heard the words, but my mind just registered disbelief. I swallowed, trying not to show any reaction. I couldn't afford to make myself suddenly visible. World government? They couldn't be serious. At that moment, I was really glad to be sitting there, if this was what they were really planning.

"Our own government, as you know has been resistant to our plans, and time is running out." He leaned forward on the podium. "We scare them, and they don't really know why. That's why they passed that anti-cloning legislation in the first place, not for any ethical consideration. The anti-trust actions we've had to face have been another mark." There were mutters of assent. He held up a hand. "But we will start dying soon. One by one, we will disappear." There were nods and low grumbles from the audience. "So, we have choices to make, here, today, that will impact the future and what happens."

He paused for maximum effect, then stood tall. "We have a lot of work to do. If you would now follow your agendas and head to your assigned breakout rooms, we will reconvene here in three hours."

One by one, the Einsteins stood and filed out through the side doors into the cluster of meeting rooms.

I was kept pretty busy over the next three hours, checking connections, walking various Einsteins through the email connect procedures and generally troubleshooting what they needed. Inside, I was still reeling from what I'd heard, trying to come to terms with it, trying to believe it and understand. I had a responsibility now to find out what they planned and to let people know. Well, that's what I thought.

The three hours finally passed, and I headed back into the auditorium to take up my place at the side table, watching and waiting. Our Einstein headed back to the central microphone, waiting for the last of the other Einsteins to take their seats.

"I am pleased to say we've made good progress. From the information we've collated today, it's clear that we are further along in the program than we thought. We are now in a position to commence our next generation, our successors. We may not have the time to finish what we've started. You, me, every one of us will die some time in the next few years, but we should have enough time to prepare those who will follow us—the next generation of Einsteins—and we will have put enough in place for them to succeed where we have not yet succeeded. One world government guided by those who with their collective imagination can do more for the world than petty nations and politics and geographical boundaries and ideologies. This is what we must do. We, together and our next generation, our successors, and after them, their successors, however long it takes."

The Einstein at the podium waited, looking out over the heads of his assembled brethren. The sea of old guy faces looked back. Slowly, slowly, he removed his finely tailored dark blue jacket, stepped back and draped it over the back of a chair. The others watched in silence. The way they all held themselves was almost reverent. I frowned, and watched, not really understanding what was about to happen. Just as slowly, he returned to the podium, unbuttoned and rolled up his right sleeve. He held the arm aloft, his hand closed into a fist, turned out toward the audience.

"We cannot forget," he said. "We cannot let this happen again."

I glanced up at the big screen, then down at the small screen from where the video was being fed and leaned closer. There was something on the outside of the Einstein's forearm, faded blue and etched deep into the pale and ageing flesh. Whatever it was had blurred with time, but it looked sort of like a row of numbers running at a slight angle. A couple of the Einstein's sitting in the front row gently gripped their own forearms, lightly squeezing. There was a ripple of motion through the entire auditorium.

"We mustn't forget," said the Einstein at the podium again. "We will be the last."

One or two of the shaggy heads nodded. Others closed their eyes. As I thought about it, I realized I'd never seen any of the Einsteins in anything other than long sleeves.

I looked back from the auditorium down at the small screen. The Einstein at the podium slowly lowered his arm and rebuttoned his sleeve. He scanned the assembled faces. Slowly, slowly, there came a spark of understanding. I started to comprehend what was going on here. A deep chill rose inside me. If that mark really meant what I thought it did…

I swallowed and looked back up at the podium.

"I think we all know what we need to do. Each one of us will communicate with our appropriate counterparts to put the plans in motion over the next few weeks. The minutes from the breakout sessions will help guide us as a first step. They will be transmitted through our secure network as always."

He gripped the sides of the pedestal with the CompuSoft logo etched clearly on the front and then nodded once more.

"Thank you all for coming."

Slowly, then gently swelling around the auditorium, applause broke out, then died away. One by one, the Einsteins got to their feet, in their shirts and their suit and their sports jackets. One by one, they filed out of the auditorium in their trousers, their jeans, their chinos, their loafers, or smart business shoes in groups and singly, a sea of old shaggy heads and mustaches, washing out of the room carrying their collective wisdom and perception and their vast imagination with them.

The Einstein at the podium waited for the others to leave, then stepped down from the stage and walked over to the table with my equipment and the wires and leads. This was our Einstein, CompuSoft's Einstein. He stood in front of the table for a few moments watching me as I shut down the equipment and busied myself with unplugging leads and putting things away.

"The session went well, I thought," he said.

"Yes, it seemed to," I responded without meeting his eyes. The hollow chill was still nestled inside me and my mouth was dry. I swallowed. It was hard to meet the enormity of my realization face to face.

"Ray– it is Ray, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes, Mr. Einstein," I said, stopping what I was doing and looking up into his speculative gaze.

What had they been through? What had they seen? They'd just been kids.

He waited for a few seconds, watching my face with those deep, puppy-dog eyes. "Ray, I want to thank you for your help today."

"No, I said. "Thank you, Mr. Einstein."

"We value our employees at CompuSoft. We value all of our people. It's a good company. We're doing good things. You do understand that don't you, Ray? We're doing good things."

I waited.

The Einstein cleared his throat. "You know we've put together resources. You know we have our means. It's something I try and spell out in the company vision. They're important things, vision and trust, particularly trust. I hope I can trust you to…"

"You've no need to say anything Mr. Einstein," I said.

He nodded once more. "Thanks again, Ray," he said. He cleared his throat one more time, then turned and walked from the auditorium, disappearing out the side door. I stood there for some time, watching the door, then let out a long slow breath, turning back to pack away the last of the gear. Maybe he thought that those few words were enough. I was just one of the little guys, after all. It didn't matter. But I kept remembering what I'd seen.

Once I was done, I headed out to find a trolley to load the equipment, thinking all the while. As I left the vast room, I looked at all those empty seats, my hand hovering above the red light switches on their stainless-steel panel. A sea of Einsteins. I shook my head, killed the lights and shut the door behind me.

There were questions of course from the other guys. I sidestepped most of them. Oh, you know, standard corporate stuff, rah, rah, all pretty boring really.

So, do they meet like that often?

I simply shrugged and said I guessed so. Wouldn't you? They're sort of family, aren't they?

It seemed to satisfy them. There was a bit more discussion during the rest of the afternoon, but I tried to stay out of it as much as I could. I was still thinking the pictures that lingered in my head, what they really meant. I thought about what our Einstein had started to say. I packed up as soon as I could and left, making my way through our clean, well-maintained, suburban streets to home.

Mary was waiting for me eagerly when I got home, barely able to restrain the questions.


"Let me get in at least, hon," I said to her. I wasn't really sure how much I was going to end up telling her.

She hovered about while I dumped my things and got rid of the jacket.

I stood where I was, my hands resting on the back of a chair, composing my thoughts.

"So, come on."

"Okay, okay. I'm thinking."

I didn't know how much I should tell her. Our very own Einstein's unspoken request was still hanging with me. But Mary was my wife, my partner, she had a right to know as much as I knew. I figured it couldn't do any harm.

"You'd better sit down," I told her.

She pulled out a chair and sat, a frown on her face. "What is it, Ray? This sounds serious."

"Okay, well they had a meeting. All of them. All the Einsteins. They were all there. It was really weird."

"Wow," she said. "All of them?"

"Yeah." I shook my head, still only half believing it myself. "It was the strangest thing to look at. You get used to seeing them all the time, but all at once, all together…"

"How many?"

"I think he said there were two hundred and twelve left, or something like that."

"Wow." The word was long and drawn out. "So, what did they talk about? You said you thought they were up to something. Were they?"

I looked at her long and hard. "Yeah, in a way. They reckon they're going to make more of them. More Einsteins."

She looked at me blankly. "How can they do that?"

I shrugged. "They're Einsteins. They'll find a way."

"But that can't be right. How can they? Isn't it illegal? I seem to remember something about them banning it. I'm right, aren't I? They already have too much power. You've got to tell someone, Ray."

I reached across the table and took her hand. I placed my other hand gently over the top of it. "I don't think so, hon," I told her. "I think they know what they're doing. Remember, they're Einsteins. They're a lot smarter than us."

She didn't look convinced.

I patted her hand gently. "Trust me, Mary. It'll be all right. I spoke to our Einstein today. I actually spoke to Mr. Einstein himself. They do know what they're doing. They really do. Come on. Let's go and watch TV for a while, then we can think about dinner. It's been a pretty full day. I just want to relax for a while and not really have to think about anything else, okay?"

She nodded, slowly.

After all, I knew, there was someone else to do the thinking about the really big stuff. There really was.

Mary seemed satisfied for the time being and if it came up again, I knew I'd be able to reassure her. I was confident about that much, at least.

We headed into the living room and took our place on the couch. As the Einstein-Warner logo came up on the screen, I caught myself in the middle of a half-formed smile.