The gigantic orange machine has arrived, early, as is not entirely a surprise. The catering staff is concerned until it becomes obvious that no place was set for it on its orders, and it is entirely fine with that.
The machine looms at the front of the room.
The machine isn’t really here, of course. In the most tangible sense, the machine resides in one of several bunkers deep underground. Not exactly a single bunker, at any time it using resources from all the bunkers in various ways. But that sort of truth doesn’t really matter. The bunkers exist, and are filled with memories, processors, and long term storage, all of it belonging to the machine.
For most public occasions, it uses an avatar. This is a formal occasion, so the most formal and forbidding of its avatars is rolled out to entertain the troops.
Who, it should be noted, have begun to file in. They are very aware of the presence looming at the front of the room, and do their best to avoid letting it bother them. They have seen it before. Some of them even know more of the truth and have access to a part of the machine’s resources more directly.
They are here, despite a sinking fear that year is it, for one reason only.
They think they are here in a show of team-building comradery and support. While that is partly true, it isn’t all true.
Knowledge of the truth is strictly limited. No one but the machine knows the whole truth.
But their fears will prove to be baseless this year. For all of them, no, I swore to be truthful, all but one of them will return home to friends and family safe, sane, and sound.
One winner of life’s lottery will have a different experience entirely, and will be absorbed into the consciousness that is known as “the machine”, shedding their earthly coil, and all sign of their past existence will vanish. They will live on in the hive mind, as a wisp of data running through the various secret deep data centers. They will live forever.