First Order of Business
The sun broke through a cloud causing a vast amount of sunlight to pour through the apartment’s windows. This influx of light triggered Robert to open his eyes. Morning time has come, yet the alarm clock wasn’t ringing. ‘Shit,’ he thought, ‘I must’ve forgotten to set it last night.’ He may have overslept, so he immediately checked his pocket-watch. On the display, the little hand was halfway between the seven and eight while the big hand was pointing almost directly at the six. 7:30 AM. ‘Alright,’ he thought, ‘I’ve got some time to kill before I have to head out of the city.’
He pressed his forearms on his bed and let his legs slide off the side of the bed, then he contorting his body so that he was sitting at the edge of his bed. Robert straightened out his arms in a Y shape above his head until his elbows made a cracking sound, then he brought his hands to his face so he could pick off those crystallized eye boogers that happen to grow at the edge of your eyelids while you sleep. After letting out a yawn he stood up and straightened his legs to the point where his knees cracked.
The bedroom’s closet was directly towards the right of the bed; this being the usual first stop off in Robert’s morning ritual. He remembered that he is going on a business trip so he might not be changing for a few days, so he opted to wear his cleanest outfit: a faded blue cotton blazer, a plain white t-shirt, a pair of khaki colored chinos, and a pair of grey wool socks. Most of his other articles of clothing hadn’t been washed in a while since he hasn’t taken the effort to bring them to the laundromat, but this ensemble was relatively clean and could probably last him the week or two that he’d be gone. He put the clothes on then grabbed a knapsack off the floor and headed for his bookshelf. He put a few books in the backpack just in case he gets bored on the road and then he headed out of his room.
The living-room/kitchen of Robert’s apartment was practically a blank space. A minimalist’s dream atmosphere. There were no couches, no television set, no paintings hung up, no sculptures, not even a coffee table. A real Zen like pad. The only objects with any character in the apartment were a few used dishes that Robert had neglected to clean because they weren’t worth the trek to the cleaners. Cleaning those dirty dishes was nonessential anyways because he didn’t have any food left in the pantry. It had been a long time since he visited the Distribution Center, which is alright though; he was going away for a while so he didn’t need a supply of emergency food.
As far as this morning goes, eating wasn’t Robert’s first priority. He could grab something at the office before he took the train to the edge of the city. Plus, he will have to go to his office anyways to pick up his Alpha Corp. badge. No, his main priority was to empty his bowels. In modern times for city dwellers, this is a somewhat difficult task. Not in the sense that people have a low fiber diet, more in the sense that your current location dictates how soon and where you can do your duty. Sure, Robert’s apartment has a bathroom, but what it doesn’t have is plumbing. No water going in or out of toilets means that one must know where the nearest functioning facility is. In Robert’s case, he’ll have to walk over to Franklin Square Park where there’s an abundance of outhouses.
Robert left his apartment without locking the door. Times have changed in the District of Columbia. He knew that nobody would try and break into his apartment because frankly, there’s no reason somebody should. Everything in his place could be picked up at a Distribution Center as long as they had a badge, and anyways, a sizable majority of people in the city have badges (probably nearing 95%). After flattening out a dog ear on his welcome mat, Robert walked down the hallway and entered the stairway.
Robert lived in a turn of the century condo development, so the stairway was a thin, isolated part of the building that was made entirely out of concrete and steel. Elevators were the main means of vertical transportation when the building was built, thus making the stairwell just a scrawny afterthought. At the time, only people who wanted a head start on their cardio would use the stairs. No use in giving them too much space; therefore, the width and importance of stairs could be greatly reduced. However, the stairway was now the chief way of getting around the condo so certain troubles arise due to its slender form. Since people can only walk in single file on the stairs, this particular stairway is prone to traffic jams. During the morning rush, tenants will sometimes have to wait in line at the end of their floor’s stairway entrance door because the tenants from higher floors are coming down in droves. Also, this building’s close proximity to Metro Center makes it a desirable place to live, where its occupancy rate is high (somewhere around 60%), which further exacerbates the traffic situation. It’s one of the many downsides to modern living, but on the plus side, more and more people are getting their cardio.
Having left too early for the morning congestion, Robert headed down the stairs with minimal resistance. He entered the lobby and waved to the maintenance man who was sitting in a wicker chair reading a novel. Robert had lived in other Alpha Corp. Housing Estates, ones that were always seeing technical difficulties, but for the past three years that he’s resided in this condo, the maintenance man has kept the place in ship shape.
Living in this condo would be living in squalor to an early 21st century commoner’s standards, but for post-Restructuring times it was borderline luxury. Sure, units didn’t have running water and not enough energy could be spared to run a refrigerator, it’s a downside, but that’s expected of dwellings. What really made the condo was the heating and the public showers. Heating was crucial during the wintertime and as far as the showers go, using the old pool change room showers was far greater than having to go to the crowded bathhouses.
These qualities made this condo development a big step up from squatting and it can be largely attributed to the maintenance man. He used to be an engineer for an alternative energy company which comes in handy considering that the building is powered by some solar panels and a wind turbine on the roof. Most Alpha Corp. maintenance men know a thing or two about their building’s power source, namely how to order a new panel or turbine if one stops working, but not enough to repair them. This can be detrimental if its wintertime and a building is waiting for a new turbine to arrive. So, Robert’s maintenance guy’s knowledge is valuable. The building hasn’t experienced any major power outs, at least in Robert’s time there, and if a panel gets knocked out or the turbine stops spinning, the maintenance man won’t make a big stink about going up to the roof to fix it. That’s a lot to ask for considering the building is thirteen storeys high – a height that wouldn’t be fun to drag a bunch of tools up the staircase - but then again, the maintenance man lives on the twelfth floor.
Robert left the building, which was on 11th St NW, and walked southwards to the end of the block. For how early it was in the morning, a surprisingly large amount of people were up and about. The weather couldn’t have been any nicer, which made a contribution to the liveliness, but the main reason why there’s so much activity is because this is a very dense region of the city. While most parts of the city are now desolate, Downtown D.C. has remained a major population center. The two remaining metro lines are easily accessible and a number of Alpha. Corp departments are located in the area. The Mid-Eastern Seaboard District’s headquarters for Human Resources, Public Relations, Logistics, Advertising, Energy Resources, Distribution Centers, Health & Employee Wellness, Housing Board, Finances, and Security were all located Downtown; this means there are a lot of jobs in the area, thus a lot of dwellers.
With a few exceptions, if a job was out of walking range from the respected employees dwelling, that employee would simply find a new job or a closer place to live. It’s quite the change from the late 20th/early 21st century commuter who would be willing to wait hours in traffic just to get to a decent job, but the change has been beneficial since the Restructuring during the 2020s. In Robert’s case, his work was only four blocks away from his apartment, which was pretty convenient on the days that he woke up late.
After crossing K St NW, Robert walked two blocks west to his destination. On the eastern end of Franklin Square Park there were twenty-odd outhouses lined up, most of which were shaded by tall elm trees. The outhouses were mostly modified port-o-potties with some newer wood models present. All of them were raised four steps and connected to a central pit which wasn’t visible, but everyone knew it was there. No line-ups were had today, which was a good thing for Robert because there wasn’t anything that he dreaded more than having to wait to use the restroom. He passed up five outhouses that were in use before he settled into one of the newer wooden models. As Robert was fulfilling his first priority for the morning, he got to thinking about how privileged he was since he never had to work directly below his current location.
Dung mining is practiced in the central pit underneath the outhouses. It disgusts most people, but it’s actually a practical solution to a number of problems. Instead of powering the plumbing systems in every inhabited building, or having people defecate in the streets (a very unsanitary practice), public outhouses on top of dung mines is a fairly reasonable solution. Since industrial chemical process are severely lacking, fertilizers have to be made in a more conservative way. So, mining human excrement is a good source of fertilizer and a way to clean up the streets.
17th Century Londoners had figured this unorthodox bit of knowledge after enduring the Great Plague. Human filth had contributed to the increased rat population, where the rats were infested with fleas and the fleas were a vector for a bacterium that caused the bubonic plague. After being hammered down by the plague, Londoners smartened up and thought, ‘Maybe living near our waste isn’t such a hot idea; we really ought to do something about it.’ So entrepreneurs of manure were born. They gathered up feces, put it on a modified horse or dog drawn carts (aptly titled a dung-carts), then sent it off to the farm lands surrounding London claiming it as rich fertilizer. Subsequently, those farm lands had the highest crop yields that they ever experienced, and London hadn’t experienced any pandemics until drinking water was contaminated by fecal matter, thus causing cholera outbreaks in 1848 and 1866 (this being another problem that dung-mines have solved; since excrement is contained, the water supply is rarely contaminated).
Dung-mines, being the advantaged solution that they are, follow a similar principal and are actually complex operations. The pit in itself is quite a marvel. They usually extend to about 30ft below, are about 30ft wide and 30ft in length. That’s a total of 27,000 cubic feet, a volume that’s hard to overflow. That isn’t its total volume either because the ‘mine’ section of the pit further increases the volume. Starting about 6ft above the bottom of the pit, there’s a tunnel that’s approximately 7ft high and 6ft wide. The tunnel is dug diagonally; ultimately connecting the surface to the pit. Depending on how long the space is where the outhouses are located (ie. how big the public park is), the diagonal tunnel can either stretch out for many yards, thus causing its tunnel to have a shallower slope, or the tunnel can be confined which causes it to have a steeper grade. For dung-miners, the former is preferred because, for the most part, the bulk of the operation occurs in these tunnels.
Tracks are laid down throughout the length of the tunnel to accompany a mine cart. Dung miners, who are actually Homestead workers that are seasonally assigned the job, will guide the cart to the lowest point that it can go then start shoveling the feces into crates.
Anyone who has walked past the entrances of these dung mines fears the wretched stench that lies beneath. In order to cope with the wretched stench, Dung miners wear a snorkel like apparatus that connects to the surface through a lengthy tube – or more appropriately, an umbilical cord. So instead of breathing the foul air of the pit, the miners are entitled to the fresh air of the surface. It couldn’t be considered a perk, but it certainly makes the job more bearable.
Once the crates are filled, the miners will bring the mine cart to the surface using a crank system and then load up a dung cart with the filled crates. The dung carts are very traditional; in fact, they are horse drawn just like the old London ones. Most goods use the Metro for transportation throughout the city, but for good measure, there happens to be a ban on dung crates. People have always had to endure peculiar smells on the Metro, which they were never too thrilled about, so to prevent this tragedy the dung crates have to be transported to the rail yards the old fashion way. Ironically, the people who live far enough from work to take the Metro – ie. rail yard stevedores – tend to be the ones in contact with the crates when they’re loading the freight trains. The freights will then distribute their cargo to the Homesteads where the crates contents will be used to nourish next season’s crops. This whole process slightly alters that old expression ‘one man’s waste is another man’s treasure.’
Having just evacuated his innards, Robert felt it was an appropriate time to go get breakfast. His office had its own kitchen staff and was always stocked with food (unlike his pantry), so he decided to head over there. Robert left the wooden outhouse and walked onto the sidewalk that borders 13th St NW. He saw one of his coworkers, Tim Hutchinson, and gave him a nod.
Tim seemed to be in a hurry, heading towards the outhouses, so Robert understood why Tim didn’t want to chat. ‘Never stall someone on their way to the pit’ was a popular expression nowadays, an expression that most people hold dear to their hearts. Except, of course, David Dunlop. He was notorious for making mundane small talk with people on their way to the bathroom. Most people would brush him off and tell him, “Look, I really gotta go,” but some people were too sympathetic and opposed to possibly hurting his feelings that they would stick around and talk to him about the reports their working on or the weather. Robert was part of the former group, but he still despised David for this personality trait because he had sympathy for those who couldn’t blow off David’s conversations.
Robert walked south for a block and a half and crossed New York Avenue. Even though he crossed New York Avenue every day, it still amazed him how easy it was to cross it these days. Robert had visited Washington once before the Restructuring and had seen the Avenue in full effect. Car after car rushing past, horns blaring, botched lane changes, red lights being blown through, numerous fender benders, pedestrians almost getting hit every second, ‘what the fuck’ being said more times than if a platoon of infantrymen was caught playing hopscotch by their company commander… well, one can get the picture. Total chaos. At one point in time, five out of the ten most accident prone intersections in D.C. were located along NY Ave. Robert had almost been one of those unfortunate souls who lost their life to an automobile travelling down New York Avenue, but luckily, his wits were quick and he stepped back up on the curb as a buzzer beater whizzed past him. Now things were much different. The only traffic the avenue sees now is pedestrian traffic and the only thing that travels down the roads are dung-carts and other horse drawn materials that are too big to fit on the Metro.
After crossing NY Ave, Robert headed west on H St and passed the charming Renaissance Revival building that was once a Masonic Temple, then it housed the National Museum of Women in the Arts. It was a shame that buildings such as this were no longer occupied, but then again, they lacked the productivity and space that one could find in the surrounding buildings. There wasn’t a need for aesthetic or architectural significance in the modern world. Filling your employees’ eyes with visually stimulating surroundings would only distract them. This was an attitude that Alpha Corp. holds onto dearly and, to say the least, it probably is one of the reasons why it’s still operating smoothly.
Take Robert’s place of work for example. Located less than a block away, everything about the building is drab. Inside the offices you’ll find nothing worth looking at: blank desks, blank walls, blank shelves, blank faces, blank… well, everything. The only things that aren’t blank are the reports, so the employees might as well be looking at those. In addition, the hallways are empty and poorly lit; the lobby is void of anything appealing; and the cafeteria and other common spaces lack any excess décor. Hell, even the building from the outside is lackluster; it’s a late 60s modernist building constructed out of concrete and glass. If it were taller it could be called monolithic, but due to its average height (for the area) it doesn’t even deserve that menacing description. In toto, it was a real lifeless place, but that worked to its advantage because it would only encourage people to do more work. There was nothing else to do anyways. However, the building did have its one productivity fault, ie: the windows were too small.
Robert arrived at his destination and glanced up at the concrete fortress that housed his office. He would have let out a shudder knowing that he would spend the rest of the day there being pestered by David Dunlop and getting reports from the brass, but today was different; he was heading out of the city. It had been several months since his last out of town assignment, so saying he was a little excited would be an understatement. He had shed his pessimistic outlook for just a moment as he thought up scenarios that could happen on his trip, many of them dealing with him never having to return here. After realizing that he was just wasting time thinking of these unlikely events, Robert walked across H St, greeted the security guard at the front door, entered, then headed towards the cafeteria.
 Besides, Robert got his maintenance man to change the lock on the bathroom door and lock him out so that Robert isn’t tempted to use the toilet.
 21st century.
 How they gathered it is anyone’s guess.
 Keeping in mind that the pit often flows into the tunnel.
 An essential system. You wouldn’t want the cart to go speeding down the slope and go right into the pit. Salvaging that cart would be no fun for whoever has to do it.
 Or quite possibly, their own.