Authors: Jaci Wheeler
“I have a question though. What happens if you start to notice that they are starting to slip, or they begin to show unfavorable signs? Are they forced to step down?” As soon as I asked her this question I instantly wished I could take it back. If I thought there was an awkward silence before, it was downright uncomfortable now. Everyone was talking at once with their eyes, but nobody was actually saying a word. I wanted to blurt out that she didn’t have to tell me, that it wasn’t my business, but I knew that I had to know. I had to know for several reasons. “You don’t have to tell me who, but I need to know Annabelle.”
She looked around the table at everyone and then she slowly nodded. “Yes, I guess you do.” She reached for my hands and grasped them in hers. “Understand this Roz, we don’t expect perfection. People are human, and they make mistakes. We all know that. The founders know that. Nevertheless, there are a few things that we have to look out for. Pride, dishonesty, disloyalty, cruelty, there are many things on the list. It’s not all bad things either. Since we don’t have a set term, sometimes the main reason most presidents' term is done is because they are just plain tired. They aren’t as fresh as they once were. They don’t get as excited about things as they once did. It’s not always a dishonor to step down; in fact, most of the time it’s celebrated. It’s time to get new blood, new ideas. The list isn’t all just to watch the P’s & Q’s. The reason we don’t have a time limit is because some people have a ton of fresh exciting ideas, they are full of passion and hope and can give you years and years. Others may only have a short time in them, but the things they come up with in that amount of time are just amazing. I just want you to know we aren’t the bad guys looking over your shoulder waiting for you to make a mistake.” I’m very glad she said this because that’s indeed how I felt.
“Now with that being said, sometimes good people get worn down, the job becomes too much and they start showing signs that they are nearing the end of their time. When that happens we make a note of it and start the selection process. As you know we have a huge staff that is in charge of selection. Every child in every zone has someone who looks after them from the time they are born until age sixteen. They will get into the details of that with you at a later time. The Career Board also has a list. If you haven’t figured it out yet, we are big on lists. They have one that gives them things to look for and one that gives them a list of things to look out for. If a child shows signs of the latter they are immediately put on the discard pile. If they show signs from the first list they are put in the potential pile. It doesn’t really start to narrow down until around age ten or so. By twelve, the potential pile is very slim. We usually have a handful of files by around fourteen and by fifteen, the team makes the pick. We have our top three. This is very important to know Roz; just because you were chosen at sixteen, does not mean all presidents are. Some are chosen just as young, but many fall into the role. We don’t get rid of the person's file just because someone else is chosen. The potential list of people stays ongoing. Do you understand?”
It’s starting to get a little annoying that they continue to ask me, but I know they just want to make sure I’m following, not that they are calling me incompetent. I nod again. “So what you are saying is that once a president is chosen, the people on the potential list are continually watched and evaluated?” I ask.
She smiles, happy that I am, in fact, following. “Yes they are. We don’t have a vice president for a reason. We don’t want conflict; we try to avoid telling a person they are in fact second fiddle. In case of emergency, or a president needing to step down, we have a file already to go of people we can ask to step up. None of them know they are on this list, and it is very important it stays this way.” I nod at that, I completely understand how that could get out of control once people realize.
Another question burns at the back of my mind. “You said it was my choice if I accept the role of President or not correct?”
Up until now Annabelle has been open and all smiles and understanding. This question obviously caught her off guard and her eyes narrow slightly. “Yes, it is. We don’t force anyone.”
“And If I don’t accept, then what happens?” At this panic is clearly spread across everyone’s face.
“Are you saying you don’t accept?!” Simon asked sounding very flustered.
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I just want to know what happens if I don’t, that is all.”
“With all due respect Miss. Thatcher, that is none of your concern. If you don’t accept you may choose a different job and that is all you need to know.” Peter informs me very briskly.
I wait for Annabelle to smooth the situation over, but she doesn’t. The room is very quiet and feels like something is going to combust, there is so much tension. When all else fails I always go with honesty. “I didn’t mean to bring up a sore spot and cause tension. I guess I like to know all variables of a situation before I come to any conclusion. I blame Wes for this.” That earned a few smiles and a chuckle here or there but not much.
A woman, who has been almost silent until now, named Patience speaks up, “Miss Thatcher, if you try to understand everything today you will only be over whelmed, confused and will walk out of here with a nasty headache. We are here to help you, guide you, and be there for you, as well as to keep you on the right path if you so choose to keep this position. But since you have been very upfront and frank with us, I am going to do the same with you. Time is of the essence here. We won’t be able to answer all of your questions to your satisfaction, and I’m sorry about that, but I will say that all ten of us feel deep in our guts that you are the one. We feel that you will lead this country into the future with grace and purpose. We think that if anyone can continue on with the founder’s vision, it’s you. However, now that I’ve said that I am going to just come out with it-”
“Patience”, Peter warned.
“Oh relax Peter. I’m saying what needs to be said. She has been perfectly honest with us and has signed the confidentiality agreement. It needs to be told Peter!”
“Not now!” he shouts back. I am becoming increasingly more uncomfortable as the seconds pass. There is obviously some sort of battle of wills going on that I can only watch.
They continue to stare each other down for a few more seconds until the lovely Amira speaks up again. “Enough!” she says to both of them, and then she turns to me. “I’m sorry Roz, but you see with this many people, we all have our own views, and when it boils down to it, it’s a good thing. It can become heated at moments. The only thing of late that we easily agree upon is you. Take that how you will, but in this situation I agree with Peter. We have our reasons for not being able to tell you further, but time is of the essence here as Patience has said. We don’t need your answer now, but what I would like to ask you is do you agree to stay on and train for a while? Do you feel comfortable enough to move forward with this?”
Everyone leans towards me slightly while waiting for my answer. I sit quietly for a moment and think about everything I was just told. So far from what I have been told I agree completely with our founders. There are so many questions rolling around in my head but she is right, today is still the first day, so with time I’m sure all of them will be answered. with this I make my decision. “Yes, I do feel comfortable moving forward.” They all sigh in relief, which is about to be turned into frustration. “I’m not saying I need this today, but before I accept anything I am going to need a list of the rules we must follow, as well as the entire list the founders made.” Nobody seemed upset by this, which I assume to mean they were going to have to give them to me anyway, but this next part was going to be tricky. “I know you aren’t going to like this but I also need to know what happened with President Vaughn.”
Instantly, the room erupted into mad chaos. Yelling and raised voices, whispers and hisses. Samuel raised his hand for silence. The earlier traces of humor completely erased from his face. “Why is it you
to know? If it’s to fulfill your curiosity then I’m sorry, you don’t actually need to know. That would mean you want to know, and the two are very different.” I appreciate his response. He was very right in everything he said, so I told him so.
“Yes, you are very right Samuel. There is a huge difference between the two, and if I’m being honest, I would say I both want and need to know, the need winning out over the former. I’m not going to play games or beat around the bush with you. I know something is up. I am coming into a hot situation here. I get that. You don’t have to be able to read people well to know that. However, as all of you I’m sure are already aware, I can read people very well. I have an uncanny talent for reading people and situations where most people can’t.” Nobody disagreed with me, in fact, they were all nodding in agreement.
“I’m not sure how many if any of you were at my Career Ceremony or if you watched it afterwards, but I’m assuming you at least watched it later, correct?” Again, everyone nods.
“Then you all witnessed the President’s reaction to me. It wasn’t very welcoming, in fact, it down right terrified me. I’m also going to go out on a limb here and say that Kevin, excuse me, Mr. Masters doesn’t normally have to come up and stand next to the President when he is speaking, correct?” They all nod again.
“That tells me several things. One, he is a loose cannon in some sense because nobody trusted him on that stage, including me. Two, he can’t be seen as a threat, or at least not a great threat, because he was allowed on stage in the first place. I will not undertake a role as serious as this one only knowing half of the facts, and as you should know, it wouldn’t be smart of me to do so. Whether you were planning on telling me the whole situation or not is irrelevant. Unless I know all of the facts around my coming into this role, I cannot take it!”
It is dead silent. I’m shaking on the inside, but refusing to let it show. I look each of them in the eye to show that I’m serious. Nobody talks; they don’t even look at each other for a while. Then of all people to speak up it is Peter. “Very well said, and you are right in saying so Rosaline. This is a very serious matter and one that we are still trying to work out a solution for. We will all break for lunch and the council will come back together and discuss it. Once we have come to a decision we will let you know. In the meantime, try to get comfortable, we will have someone show you around, bring you to your new quarters and get you acclimated. We will meet tomorrow morning to discuss the matter with you. If we feel it is best to not disclose anything further, then you may pick whichever job you would like and we will part with no hard feelings. However, if we feel it is in the best interest for everyone involved we will tell you, but we need your word and signature at that time that you will willingly take on the role of President. Does this sound fair to you?”
Wow, that was a lot to take in. He had a point though, and it did actually sound fair. “Yes, I think that is fair. I will think about it tonight and I will be here tomorrow to discuss it with everyone. What time should I be back?”
“We will send someone for you at 8:00 in the morning at the fountain.”
“That sounds good. Thank you everyone for the time you gave me, and for answering all my questions. Also, thank you for having so much faith in me. I’m not sure I see what you do, but it’s nice to know that people see the best in you.” Everyone smiled back at me, at least I'm leaving on good terms.
“I’ll walk you out.” Annabelle offered. I smile at her with thanks.
We walk out of the room and to the end of the hall in silence. She stops right before we get to the cylinder tube thing, I really do need to find out what this is called. Maybe Wes knows.
“You know Rosaline, you were meant for this.” She is smiling as she says this, but pure conviction backs her voice. “I’ve been through two presidents. Both were amazing in their own right and brought a lot to the table. I feel like we were successful with those, but with you…” she trails off in thought, so I stay silent and let her think about what she wants to say. “I’m not even sure how to articulate it, but you were just so...presidential in there. You were able to set your nerves aside and think clearly. You said exactly what you wanted, and you stood your ground, refusing to give in based on moral ethic! I’m so proud of you Roz.” This shocked me. I thought for sure all of the council members were upset with me for speaking my mind and demanding so many answers.
“You mean you aren’t mad at me? I was sure everyone would hate me now after challenging them.” She threw her head back and laughed. She had a great laugh, full of joy and it took years off of her face. “Oh sweet girl, of course they don’t hate you. That’s what a good leader does. They challenge people! They make them work for it, and in doing so make them earn it! We are going to get along just fine. That was very intimidating in there, you up against the ten of us. You handled yourself perfectly, strong yet graceful! I’m so proud of you Roz!” With this, she surprised me by giving me a hug. Maybe this job won’t be so bad after all.
I made my way down so many hallways, corridors and floors, I have no idea how, but I finally made it to the cafeteria to get some lunch. Even the café was beautiful, not to mention huge. But I guess it would have to be pretty massive to be able to feed everyone here. There were so many things to choose from, it made my head spin. I decided on a chicken salad sandwich, side salad and a pear. After that meeting, I was starving. On my way to the table I spotted jars of chocolate milk and I couldn’t pass it up. It was a hard morning, I earned it. I had just sat down to eat when a familiar duo walked in. I didn’t realize how much I missed him until I saw Wes again, as I knew he would, he radiated excitement. I’m glad he had a good morning. I was worried what would happen if it started out bad for him.
“Roz, oh you’ll never guess what we did today, seriously Roz it was amazing I can’t believe how awesome it was to be able to tour the train!”
He was about to say more when I cut him off with my hand. “As much as I’d love to hear about your day Wes its past 1:00 and I know you haven’t had time to eat, why don’t you go get some lunch, eat a little and then you can tell me all about it, ok?”
He looked like he was about to protest when Aspen cut in, “I’d love it if you could grab me a cobb salad and an iced tea, thanks.” And just like that, Wes was off to do her bidding.
I sat there stunned for a moment. “Wow, you handled that like a pro,” I said to her in total awe. “It’s literally taken me years to handle Wes like that.”
“I’m a quick study. I learn people and how they work, and the best way to go about working with them.” She says this like that isn’t next to impossible to do. Already this girl has earned my respect.
“So how did today go? Was Wes ok?” I had gotten so wrapped up with the council that I didn’t have time to worry about him.
“I couldn’t believe how amazingly brilliant he actually is Roz, I mean it. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. While getting his first tour ever of the train, never having seen a cargo area in his life, in less than 30 minutes, he had already come up with new adaptations and modifications to save hours, even days off of production time, it was bloody fantastic. The man is a complete genius. 100% banana bonkers, but total genius!” At this I almost sprayed chocolate milk out of my nose, as it was, I was choking and wiping my face as Wes walked up to the table.
“You ok Roz?”
“Hmm, oh yes, yes I’m fine.” I shoot Aspen a mock scowl, which was completely lost on her since I burst out laughing.
Wes once again was too caught up in his excitement to notice this. He handed Aspen her tray and sat down to start eating. He only got about three bites in before he couldn’t take it anymore. It was three more bites than I thought he would last, so I was pretty proud of him for lasting that long.
“Roz it was amazing. I couldn’t believe just how awesome it was.”
“Yes, so you’ve said. Would you like to share why?”
“Oh I wouldn’t know where to start. I met Miles, he is a pretty cool guy, maybe a tad bit territorial, but cool.” This caused Aspen to snort.
“Territorial? Seriously Wes, this has been his baby for years. He eats sleeps and breathes his design and in 30 minutes you tore it to shreds.” Wes went to protest but she stopped him. “I’m not saying it wasn’t founded or that you weren’t completely brilliant in your findings, but I also think Miles was being great about taking your criticism. As constructive as it was meant to be, it came off a little harsh.”
“Oh come on, I wasn’t that bad.”
“Not that bad. I believe one of your nicest phrases was ‘even an ignorant knave could have figured out a better climate control than this.’”
“And your point?”
Aspen threw her hands in the air, “I give up!”
Their interaction has me thoroughly amused by now. But I decided to bring us back to topic. “So your ideas, do you think they are going to use them?”
Wes grinned from ear to ear. “Yep, Miles is already working on it back in the lab.”
“So are you going to enlighten me on this amazing insight of yours?”
“Well it wasn’t that amazing Roz, it just made the most sense. You see they have been using the trains as cargo for the food. Since we grow all our own food and need to deliver it to the different zones as quickly as possible and keep it fresh because we don’t use any chemicals or pesticides, they were using one train to make several stops a day. The train has a schedule it goes by when it picks up the nuts and beans, dry goods mostly, then the vegetables, fruit, dairy; lastly the meat so that it doesn’t spoil. But when you do it like that you are limiting how much you can bring on, it doesn’t make sense at all. I proposed to use climate controlled boxes and have a designated box for each individual product. You can pick up more products at one time this way without having to freeze it. Why nobody thought of this before is beyond me!”
I couldn’t resist teasing him a little. “Maybe because they are all ignorant knaves!”
“Exactly!” Well looks like the teasing was lost on him…again.
He just continued on his rant. “So I figured out a way to design each box based on the exact temperature for that particular product to retain the most freshness. If you make the cargo area for the meat just under freezing temp it keeps the best, and if you designate a whole train just for the meat you only need to make one trip, plus you completely eliminate cross contamination. The trains are making fewer trips while getting more products.” He said finally taking a breath.
“Yep, still brilliant, glad I brought you along!” I smile at him.
“Well it’s good to know I’m useful for something.” He said taking another bite of his sandwich.
“So you guys had a good time then, got along alright?” I ask trying to sound casual. Truth is Wes tends to have a hard time making (and keeping) friends without me running interference. Once he becomes friends with someone they are friends for life, he grows on you quick, but he’s not great with first impressions.
“Oh yes, Aspen and I got along great. Besides the name and the fact that she’s a personal assistant, she is surprisingly smart.”
I just died! I’m literally horrified for her that this came out of my best friend’s mouth!
Wes looks up perplexed? “What?”
“I can’t believe you just said that.”
“What? I paid her a compliment.”
“That was not a compliment, you need to apologize.”
“Apologize?” Now he is looking down right confused. “Apologize for what? I said she is smart.” He said looking a tad hurt.
“Apologize after you insulted her name and job.” I tried not to sound like I'm scolding him, but really…I am scolding him.
I look back at Aspen to gage her reaction to his thinly veiled insult. Instead of looking hurt she looks…amused? Forget like this girl, I’m pretty sure I love her.
Wes looks at Aspen. “I wasn’t trying to offend you, I’m sorry if I did. I meant it as a compliment.”
She gave him a little smile and said, “Most guys call a girl beautiful when they are giving compliments Wes.” The fact that she was batting her eyelashes at him in a mock flirt had no impact whatsoever.
“Well you are beautiful. If you were just beautiful, I would understand the personal assistant thing.”
I groan. When will he ever learn?
Aspen throws her head back and laughs. “Why Wes, you just called me beautiful and smart!”
“Well. that’s. because. you. are.” He said like he was talking to someone slow.
“Yes, but you noticed.” She winked at me and slid her chair closer to Wes, “I’m also single you know, so you can add that to the rest of your data about me.” She confidently stood up and took her tray, as she turned to walk away saying over her shoulder, “A beautiful assistant's work is never done.” With that she walked off.
Wes stared after her for a few seconds and then said, “Girls are so weird! I don’t think I will ever understand them.” He said, continuing to eat his lunch like the last fifteen minutes didn’t happen. It looks like working here is going to be entertaining to say the least.