With permission granted, Robert opened the door, entered the room, then closed the door behind him. He closed the door with great precaution because he reminded himself of an incident where he once slammed Doug’s door and received a lecture for doing so. Although he can’t recall it entirely, the lesson dealt with showing courtesy to ones supervisors and respecting employee’s workspaces. Robert has since learned his lesson and now treats Doug’s door with more respect than he would treat David with.
A flash of light hit him as he entered the office. There was such a difference in the lighting compared to the hallway that it took Robert a moment to adapt to it. Afterwards, he could make out Doug standing behind his desk with his right hand out, anticipating a handshake.
Doug was of medium height with a slight arch to his back, probably caused by his tendencies to hunch over his desk for hours on end. He was middle aged with hair in a tightly cropped cul-de-sac. His face was fairly non-descript; no features were too small or too big. Essentially, nothing stood out or was remarkable in any way. If you looked up middle-aged bureaucrat in an archive of stock images your results would look like Doug, as long as the guy was balding and wearing glasses.
Despite Doug’s fairly non-descript facial features, he always seemed to stand out in the crowd when it came to how he was dressed. Doug always kept the motto “If you look good, you’ll feel good” in high esteem. Although he probably heard that phrase in a cosmetics commercial from the past, he embraces it fully to this day. It’s visible in his overall presentation because he is always dressed smartly. In the PR building, most employees’ clothes are fairly tattered, and it’s entirely acceptable, but Doug has a number of suits that have remained in good condition throughout the years. He even goes as far as wearing a tie. Today he was wearing his dark grey, single breasted two-piece suit with a blue tie.
Robert often wondered if Doug had raided a dress apparel retail store after the Restructuring, but he couldn’t see Doug breaking any rules so it remains a mystery as to how Doug attained a stockpile of dress clothes.
“Ah Robert, pleasure to see you. Come, sit down. I have a big assignment for you,” said Doug as he shook Robert’s hand.
“So I’ve heard,” said Robert as he took a seat across the desk from Doug. “What’s the deal Mr. Armitage? Does a Homestead have a fair amount of imports?”
“No Robert. I’m afraid it’s worse than that. I’ve been receiving a number of reports from Homesteads in Virginia and North Carolina telling me that they are having a serious problem with deserters.”
“That’s expected though, Homesteads are always losing labourers and more often than not, they just end up at a different Homestead cause they couldn’t make it on their own.”
“I’m talking about serious desertion rates, Robert. For example,” said Doug as he picks up a piece of paperwork on top of his desk, “A Homestead near Suffolk lost 24% of its land labourers last month. Twenty-four percent Robert! That will take a huge chunk out of its productivity.”
“That is a serious issue.”
“What’s worse is this isn’t an isolated event. A few other Homesteads in the area are experiencing desertion rates that are almost as high. And this ain’t the Southwest either; this is productive land.”
“I guess so. Do the Homestead’s managers have any clues as to why so many people are leaving?”
“That’s why I need you. They aren’t helping me much and considering I’m not in direct contact with them, I can’t get much information out of them. Unless I wait a week for a response. All I’ve heard is rumors about some sort of commune or tribe or whatever you wanna call it that’s more attractive to the drones than the Homesteads are. Apparently those drones that desert are claiming this tribe leader as a damn messiah.”
“That’s what they are saying before they leave. But who knows, they don’t know too much anyways. They’re just drones; they can easily be misled.”
“You got that straight,” agreed Robert just to please his boss. He wasn’t that comfortable with the term ‘drone,’ yet he didn’t quite feel like getting into an argument with his boss. Robert knows that Doug feels superior to the average Homestead worker because of his position in public relations, so, in correspondence with Doug’s lecture about courtesy towards one’s supervisors, Robert took that chance to reassure Mr. Armitage’s position in the hierarchy.
“You gotta damper this threat Robert. Do whatever it takes. If too much workers flee those Homesteads, well damn, that’s a whole lotta tobacco and cotton that isn’t gonna get picked. Picture this, Homesteads across the Republic with pissed off workers because they’ve got a cigarette shortage and they’re wearing rags. That’s just what we need: a revolution caused by a need for smokes and clothes,” said Doug almost sarcastically. This surprised Robert because he barely hears Doug say anything with a hint of humor.
“If clothes are what they’re worrying about, they might as well just loot a pre-Restructuring clothing store,” said Robert. Clueing into Doug’s sarcasm, Robert figures the conversation is getting lighthearted, so he’s trying to bait a reaction out of Doug. If Doug gets defensive and standoffish, then he probably looted his wardrobe; if he shrugs it off like he has no idea what Robert’s talking about, then he got his clothes some other way.
“That’s beside the point. Plus, clothes sitting around a derelict store for twenty years will probably be moth-eaten by now,” replied Doug in a passive tone. This wasn’t the way Robert expected him to reply. He’ll have to find another way to crack the case of the fancy garments.
Continuing on, Doug said, “Look, Alpha Corp. has a system that works. We have a series of Homesteads across the country that trade products with one another. The workers tend the fields, but in the end they get a variety of food to pick from. They even get to play with their ARTifacts when they’re not working. It’s what works in these times and they should respect that. Their way of life can’t be mucked about by some messiah that magically springs up. If more and more drones think that this commune life is better suited to their needs, then more and more drones will abandon the Homesteads. Damn, maybe even some of the employees in the cities might follow suite.” Doug took a break from his rant for a second to gather his thoughts. “I might be getting ahead of myself so listen: I want you to make sure this problem doesn’t spread. If it spreads then we have a major threat to the system and since it started in the Mid-Eastern Seaboard District, we’re not going to hear the end of it. That means more work for me, and more work for you. Do you understand?”
“Yes Mr. Armitage,” answered Robert. Doug preferred being called ‘Mr. Armitage’ and since he was getting pretty worked up right now, Robert was taking every conversational precaution he could think of. There’s no need to draw out the classic Doug tangent, so Robert’s just trying to cut to the chase.
“Okay, since we have that settled we might as well get into the logistics of your journey.”
“I was going to ask about that. Where am I even supposed to go? If they don’t know where this messiah is, how am I supposed to locate him?”
“Use your head Robert. Do some investigative reporting. Problems such as these don’t have simple solutions. Didn’t training cover this?” asked Doug.
“Well, to be honest, it’s been awhile since I’ve been in training.”
“Stick with me here. You are to head to a Southampton County Homestead. From there I want you to ask around and see if you can gather any info from the manager or the drones.”
“Then check out the commune or tribe or whatever it is that’s stealing away our employees.”
“Okay. One question. How am I supposed to get to Southampton? That’s over a 200 mile walk! I probably won’t be in the mood to do some snooping around after a walk like that.”
“We’re not going to make you walk. Brighten up. We have transportation arrangements for you, of course. Here, it’s all written down on,” said Doug as he rummaged through his desk, “now where is it?” He finally found what he was looking for, a piece of paper with handwritten notes on it. He handed it over to Robert. “You’ll be off tomorrow so I probably won’t see you for awhile. Have a good trip Mr. Christiansen.”
Doug said the last bit with a smirk on his face. Again with the sarcasm, thought Robert. Twice in one conversation? Robert thinks that maybe the boss is experimenting with humor. Then again, it could be something worse; maybe Doug knows this task is impossible and is trying to get rid of Robert. Whatever it is, he knows that the boss is finished with this briefing and Robert might as well get on his way.
“I’ll try. Have a good day… err, I mean week,” responded Robert.
With that being said, Robert left Doug’s office and waddled through the dark hallway until he found his office. Once inside he read what was on the sheet of paper that Doug had given him:Robert Christiansen’s Itinerary
-On June 3rd take the Blue Line Metro to the southernmost station (Franconia-Springfield).
-Meet with your driver in the Springfield Mall parking lot. You can usually see the drivers from Spring Mall Road. Your driver’s name is Clayton Johnson. He is African-American (not to be racist, just to give you a way of identifying him).
-Take the I-95 to Templeton then take the VA-35 into Courtland. Take Rochelle St. which will eventually turn into Flaggy Run Rd.
-Visit the Southampton County Homestead No. 224 and find information. Pursue it if it’s reliable. Clayton will still be at your disposal so you are encouraged to search around the area.
-PS. Report any potential deserters to Human Resources. The last thing we want is more deserters.