By Ricardo Fernandez
Published Issue 049, January 2018

The air was filled with the smell of the forest and my ears picked up the faint gurgle of a distant creek. Laying on my back, eyes closed, I felt a tickle of warmth as light broke through the canopy of trees and danced on my naked body. I could have remained motionless for the rest of the day but the chirp of a Pygmy Nuthatch signaled the end of my session in the nature simulator.

The odor of pine was gone, as was the heat of light and the sounds of the creek. I slowly eased my nude self up from under the bank of florescent tube lights and off the vinyl lounge chair inside the private suite of the therapy clinic. Being a manager had its privileges, I thought as I dressed.

Walking down the hallway towards the exit, I passed the open bays where the drones took their simulator time. It was sad seeing a dozen or more in each bay all laying on foam pads on the floor. As I left the clinic and entered the main transit tunnel I made a mental note to suggest to this section supervisor he move the manager suites to avoid ruining our post nature simulation euphoria by exposing us to the patheticness of the drones naked … or at the least install a drape at the door of their bays.

When I was nearly 9 years old, and in my second year of management training, the Subterranean Network of Caverns and Mines Greater Rockies had its 100th anniversary. To celebrate the momentous event, the owners of the surface ascended five managers. The joy I felt watching those loyal men step into the elevator still remains to this day, reminding me to strive towards excellence, so that one day the owners will choose me to go up above the ground.

When the world’s governments collapsed, the owners saved the poor from themselves by giving them work. They saved us by giving us homes and purpose. My forefathers were amongst the original managers who moved all the factories, power plants, water treatment and garbage dumps deep below the earth so that the surface would become paradise. The owners made us the managers responsible for everything below. Excellence is rewarded with ascension, the penalty for failure is demotion by being made a drone. No one ever allowed themselves to become drones though. Failed managers usually jumped down ventilation shafts rather than suffer such a humiliation. Thankfully, my ancestors were industrious and superior administrators. Each ascended when it was their time.

Once, not long after I was given my section, I overheard a conversation between two other managers in our dining hall. Only one of them did all the talking, while the other listened. I recognized the man speaking, a peer from my time in management training, Francis Condylura. He was a bore and was perpetually cleaning the filth from underneath his fingernails with corners of paper or, on this occasion, the tines of his fork. Picking at his nails he said, “Maybe if we were to treat the drones with dignity and respect they would be more productive.” The other manager said nothing.

I immediately stepped over to their round table. My fist pounded the formica top, thus making absolutely sure that everyone in the dining hall was looking so it would be reported to the owners that it was me who defended the company from this crazy. I spoke more to those managers staring from the other tables than to that traitor Francis, “Drones are not people, just tools! They are mindless, lazy creatures who complain of fairness and rights! Why should we respect them? Never once in our history below the surface has a drone been promoted to a manager! Why? Because not a one of them takes pride in the work or even shows the smallest reverence towards the owners for giving them work and shelter! A drone lives for that one hour every week they have in the nature simulator, and if that wasn’t guaranteed to them in our laws, I myself would lord it over those listless cretins so as to improve productivity. But until that day comes I will use my club and the lash!”

My face was red and, in my anger, I had bit my lip so hard that it began to bleed. Several managers clapped and others wrote feverishly into tablets. Shamed not just for sitting with Francis, but for listening to him, the other manager left his seat with his head bowed.

Francis Condylura was soon placed on administrative leave. He had been caught fraternizing with a female drone in his section. Francis had no remorse for his actions in the dining hall or for betraying his esteemed position by carnal contact with a subordinate. His work was to be audited and I was selected to lead the team. His section was in charge of the production LED indicators switches. It was soon apparent that Francis had been falsifying his reports. After analyzing the drones operating the machines in the assembly line, and the ratio of raw materials to completed goods, it was quickly seen his section was far below quota.

The other members of the audit team seemed reluctant to report such a negative review of one of their own kind. As the team leader, I pressed the other auditors to explain their apprehension. They feared that such a gross deficiency in duty should have been noticed earlier and that this would lead to a general investigation of all the managers. They feared their own shortfalls in their sections. They feared demotion.

I held my composure even though anger bubbled up behind a veil of stoic indifference. I hate cowardice. Allowing them to struggle with their prior statement, I finally spoke, “There is a cancer amongst management. This is an opportunity to strike at this cabal before it corrupts another section. Follow me and we will bring the guilty to account, and by our ferocity to this task, we will absolve ourselves from reproach.” They smiled at my plan.

The report was filed and the owners soon returned the verdict. Along with Francis, nearly 20 other managers were found to be derelict in their duties. As the loudspeakers broadcasted the order of demotion no one held them back. One by one, they dove headlong down the main ventilation shaft to their deaths.

I had positioned myself to witness this event, but as the speaker read off the name of Francis Condylura, he made no effort to move. He stood stock still. His only change of movement came when he looked me straight in the eyes and smiled. He defied logic, he defied the tradition that it was better to die than to live in disgrace as a drone. Walking to the stairs that led towards the drone quarters, Francis laughed.

To be continued.