By Ricardo Fernandez
Published Issue 051, March 2018

Francis Condylura, the recently demoted manager and now drone, whistled as he worked read the report. What is he on about? I thought. In the entire history of the Subterranean Network of Caverns and Mines Greater Rockies never once had a disgraced manager chosen demotion over suicide. Not until Francis. To make the insult sting the remaining managers even more, he was enjoying himself. I was the one who presented his owners the evidence to charge Francis and nearly 20 other managers with dereliction of duty. The owners rewarded my vigilance by making me the manager of the whole operation, and at 39, I was now the youngest to ever hold the post. I came one step closer to ascension and living above ground with the owners.

Seated behind my wide steel desk I read the several reports on the bizarre behavior of not only Francis but many other drones throughout the whole of the facility. Why were they all suddenly so happy? I needed to quell whatever was happening with the drones and restore absolute control. But how? Tapping my fingers against the desk and matching the cadence made by the noise of the steam pipes which ran along the ceiling of my office, I ruminated on a possible solution. The answer came as swiftly as if I had just been struck by a bolt of electricity. Before I could put this thought to paper, a red light started to flash on the map of the facility attached to the wall opposite my desk. I flew to the map finding the emergency was coming from power plant #18F. That station provided power to nearly a third of the mine and all of the pumps that kept the lower tunnels from flooding. 

Power plant #18F had been my assignment prior to this last promotion and, knowing the intricacies of its equipment, I raced through the many corridors and down 10 levels to the station’s control room rather than calling the newly installed manager. Thankfully, I made the correct decision in coming here. The control room was empty and the reactor was nearing critical mass. Why did the manager abandon his post? Where were all the drones? These two questions spun around and around in my head as I brought the reactor back online and restarted the turbine generators. 

With the crisis averted, I grabbed the phone and called the security chief to find the absconded manager and drone detail. Luckily this event took place so close to shift change that before I could call them in to start early the second shift manager and his drones arrived. Livid could hardly describe my disposition as I left the control room and returned back to my own office. Negligence of this magnitude meant only one thing: demotion. I suggested as much as I filed the report of the near-meltdown to the owners.

By the time the sentence was sent from the surface, the chief of security had shuffled the absentee manager into my office. His face wore the look of defiance and his eye burned with rage. He disgusted me. This traitor had nearly irradiated all of us. I paced in a circle around him as I spoke, “The owners have been informed and that envelope on my desk contains the verdict for your crime. Your compatriots, those filthy drones, have been detained as well. For their part in this plot, they have been duly executed and their remains will be hung from the supporting beams in the drone dormitories. The cameras in this office are providing the video onto every screen in the facility. 

“We the managers serve the owners because they have imbued us with the responsibility of leadership and the strength of knowledge. This knowledge is not only of one’s own department, but knowing that a lifetime of good work is rewarded with ascension; failure with demotion. My responsibility as the supreme manager of the Subterranean Network of Caverns and Mines Greater Rockies is to preserve that way of life who the owners above were placed in charge of over a century ago when they sent our ancestors below ground. I am truly disappointed in the heightened frequency of failure amongst the management corps. It pains me to see another peer fall.” 

I walked back to my desk and retrieved the envelope. Clearing my throat as I tore it open, I read out loud “Demotion.” The disgraced manager was led from my office but rather than suffer the humiliation of becoming a drone he dove headfirst down the ventilation shaft. As he plummeted into the abyss he yelled, “This is for the truth! Francis Condylura can save us all!”

The drone Francis Condylura was under 24-hour surveillance. Everywhere he went, everything he said was being recorded. Even his weekly hour-long session in the nature simulator was monitored. I also had the manager in charge of his section regularly beat him. But after months of investigation and physical torture I was no closer in discovering how he kept corrupting more and more managers. The owners were beginning to lose confidence. Production of essential commodities such as food, potable water and electricity was almost at a standstill. Twenty percent of the facility had been shut down in order to send more power to the surface. The drones no longer avoided eye contact with the managers as they once had. But what was most unnerving was not how they smiled but the malice hidden behind their expressions. Though the evidence of an impending coup was enormous I still believed that the rule of law and the system that had governed over us for more than a century would prevail. How wrong I was.

Never once did I stop working. The last of the faithful managers and myself labored tirelessly to keep the organization going. It had been weeks since I received a response from the owners above to any of my reports. I had just ordered the lights to be dimmed another 20 percent facility-wide when the drones broke through my office door. I struggled against waves of them, but however many I kicked and punched more swarmed in and finally, exhausted, I surrendered. They carried me to the managers’ dining hall. There, seated on a chair resting on top of a table so everyone could see him, was Francis Condylura. I could feel my blood boil and, if my arms had not been held by my sides by at least a dozen drones, I could have strangled Francis when he left his chair to greet me. 

“Supreme Manager Kris Cestoda, this facility is now under my control. It is my displeasure to inform you that of the 30 managers who had remained loyal to you only five allowed themselves to be captured. The others jumped to their deaths down the ventilation shafts, like your kind tend to do.” He actually had sympathy for them, and even for me it seemed, because after a small silence he embraced me. In that hug he whispered, “Have strength. This pain, as all things, will too pass.”

Francis returned to his makeshift throne and the room fell into a complete silence. Only the air circulator humming broke the hush. He spoke so the whole of the dining room could hear each word, “Kris, we were once peers but you embraced this failed system. I compliment your zeal, but with your voracity you have been blinded by the obvious. The owners above do not care for us. They have pitted managers and drones against one another since the beginning. You have said we should venerate the owners because they gave us purpose and homes. Have you ever once considered that they banished us from the surface of the earth so not to have to witness our struggle? They buried us like we bury their garbage. Our labors here in the darkness allow them to live in leisure!” The hall exploded into cheers and it was several minutes before he could continue speaking. 

“I know you will never change your beliefs, so you and your five remaining loyal managers are to be taken to the elevator of ascension. I have managed to override the controls so we can send you all up. If you see the owners tell them we are liberated and are digging to the surface to claim that right which they had robbed from our forefathers so long ago! Take him to his ascension.” A path was cleared and the last of the managers and myself walked to the only elevator to the ground up above. It had no bottoms on the inside so once we moved there would be no going back. Before the scissor doors closed, Francis came and shook each of our hands. 

The ride up was slow and the lights intermittently flickered on and off. It felt like time stood still. Only the din of the electric motor pulling us up marked its passage. Then with a great jolt it stopped and the doors opened. There was just the faintest light and a sickly smell of old rot. To our horror, when our eyes adjusted to the near darkness, we saw the remains of all the previously ascended managers. The owners had never let them near the surface, save for a pinhole of daylight from the ceiling. Francis Condylura had been right. 

And as I slowly starve to death, I write my story in my own blood on the cold granite walls of my tomb.