October 04, 2004

Chapter 8

Margaret led Alice, William, and Matthew into the council room.

"Sit down," she said.

The three looked surprised, but sat.

"We have been unable to choose a leader," she began, "but we agree that the leader is to be one of the three of you. This is not an interview, however - we are turning the decision-making over to the three of you.

"The three of you must choose a leader for the city from among yourselves in the next two hours. The other two of you must consent to serve on the council under that leader. When you have chosen, knock at the door. This council will reconvene one last time to ratify your choice, and announce it. We will then dissolve this council and hold elections for a new council."

The council members stood and filed out of the room. Margaret remained. "Good luck," she said. "Don't be too surprised - it was easy to choose the three of you. Choosing among the three of you was very difficult."

As Margaret departed, the three candidates turned to each other, all stunned by her announcement.

William was the first to speak. "I thought I was coming here to make a report," he said. "I don't know what to say about this."

"I thought the same," said Alice.

"And I did as well," said Matthew. "Gregory used to call at odd hours to ask questions, and this seemed like more of that."

"He was calling me constantly over the last few years," said Alice. "Always concerned that our factories were slowing, that we'd have to incinerate another production unit sooner than expected."

William nodded. "He wanted to know as much about our reactor as I did. I thought it was because he'd worked there long ago, but I guess I wasn't alone in answering unexpected questions."

"They were mostly good questions," said Matthew.

Alice agreed. "They were good questions, but so many, at odd times, and in such depth. I've spent as much of the last year reporting to him as working on projects."

"So who wants to be the next Gregory?" asked William.

They all looked down.

"Does either of you want to be the leader?" asked Matthew.

William and Alice shook their heads.

"That makes three of us then," said Matthew.

"I have a lot of projects in the reactor and the distribution network that we need to get done. I don't think that work would get done as effectively if I was trying to run the city," said William.

"And I have similar problems," said Alice. "We have two solar panel manufacturing units that need to be torn down and rebuilt in the next six months, and five other units that need similar work. The foundry is having more and more quality problems, and glassmaking is consuming far more energy than it should."

Matthew nodded. "There's a lot I'd like to do coordinating the farmers to work more smoothly with us, things that Gregory never permitted. We need to build some kind of a relationship with the lake-dwellers as well, and our coordination with other cities has been neglected for years. We've been lucky for a long time, though I think that luck may unfortunately be coming to an end."

"It sounds like all of us could do with less leading in general," said Alice.

William nodded. Matthew thought for a moment. "Gregory did a lot of good for me, though. I think he might have restrained me too much, but he also taught me a lot about how most of the city sees the farmers."

"They're okay with me," said Alice. "So long as they stay up there."

"That's a nice way of putting it," said Matthew. "A lot of the older citizens still think of them as dangerous, and some even wanted us to break contact completely."

"Really?" asked William. "Didn't we more or less create the farmers in the first place?"

"Sort of," said Matthew. "There were a few farmers in the area when we returned to the surface. We reshaped them from pretty good raw material, and were lucky that there wasn't a lot of pressure here from other communities. They accepted our lead on a lot of things, and we were able to help them find a more stable life. They didn't even have electricity then."

"I know we rejected the idea of letting them tap into our power," said William. "We have a hard enough time sustaining our own city."

"So how long exactly is our fuel supply good for?" asked Alice.

"That's confidential to the council," replied William, looking around. "But I guess we sort of are the council now. At current rates of consumption, we have thirty years of fuel."

Matthew and Alice gasped. "That's all?" asked Matthew.

"That's all," said William. "Gregory was talking with other cities about additional supplies for years, but always felt the price was too high."

"And here I thought he was selling our solar panels too cheaply!" said Alice.

"There are things we can do - lots of things, actually. We only have a few panels on the surface, and could increase that a lot. We've barely tapped potential hydropower both in our underground supplies and on the surface. We took down a wind turbine out of fears for its security, but we could put that back up. There are a lot of inefficiencies we could fix, though they take effort and cost supplies."

"How much could we get out of that with our existing fuel?" asked Matthew.

"If we did everything we could, probably fifty years," said William.

"We have real problems," said Alice. "I'd like to solve problems in my own space, but I don't think I'm up for these."

"Nor am I," said Matthew.

"Nor am I," said William. "It may seem like an energy problem, but those I can solve. This is a diplomatic problem, something that requires us to work with other cities."

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Is anyone looking forward to being on the council?" Matthew asked.

"Sort of," said Alice. "I've wanted to present some possibilities to the council for years, though that was largely to get around Gregory."

"I'm in the same position," said William.

"And I am too," said Matthew.

"It'll be a new council," said Alice. "Half of them are too old to stand in new elections."

"It sounds like the three of us in this room will be sharing power with ten other people, one way or another," said William.

They paused again.

"Do any of us object to having any of the others as leader?" asked Alice.

"I don't," said Matthew.

"I don't either," said William. "You?"

"No, you've both done a good job from everything I've heard. It doesn't sound like either of you is planning radical change," said Alice.

Matthew smiled. "We haven't had much time to think about it!"

"It seems like there are fewer possibilities than I'd thought," said William. "Gregory was always talking about how the city could leap forward, and I wondered why we hadn't done it already."

"Me too," said Alice. "Though with only fifty years of power, max - maybe you should lead, William, if it's that big a problem."

"I'm not sure I could fix it as effectively if I was leader," said William. "Too much of it is in the details, and I don't want to do to my successor what Gregory did to me."

"It sounds like whoever is the next leader needs to have a lighter touch," said Matthew. "Let the different divisions do what they need to do and make sure none of them get too far out of line."

"Maybe we can agree on that. Whoever we choose as leader needs to manage, but give the divisions more freedom," said Alice.

"Given our experiences, that seems likely to happen anyway," said Matthew.

"Yes and no," said William. "I heard Gregory started out that way, and got more controlling later."

"That's what I heard too," said Alice.

"Will it help having the other two of us on the council?" asked William.

"Probably," said Alice, as Matthew nodded yes.

"If we make agreements now, do they hold after this meeting?" asked William.

"Yes," said Alice and Matthew at the same time.

"Okay," said William. "Then let's work out a deal."

Posted by simon at October 4, 2004 09:09 PM
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