The Future According to Marvin: Episode 4

Rozedda arrives at the plant early in the morning after a trip on public transit that wasn't as bad as she expected. She had her attenuators turned up and wore long, loose sleeves. Nobody seemed to notice her larity, and most people's nagers were somnolent.

Rozedda finds the plant manager's suite with little difficulty, and enters.

Bling looks up at whoever is coming in without knocking properly.

Bling: May I help you, ma'am?

Rozedda: Good morning. I'm Rozedda Stown, the quality control consultant.

Bling: Ah. The Sime.

Bling pushes a button on her desk to notify her boss that someone's here.

Rozedda thinks that's a bit rude, but ignores it.

Bling: May I give you some advice, Miz Stown?

Rozedda: Yes?

Bling: It's inadvisable to open closed doors without knocking on them first. The person inside might be doing something private.

Rozedda: I see. Excuse me.

Bling nods.

Rozedda refrains from explaining that she could zlin that there was only a bored clerical worker inside.

Bling's intercom squawks:

Ratite: If that's Miz Stown, send her right in.

Bling: Yes, sir. Go on in, then. You needn't knock.

Rozedda: Thank you.

Rozedda proceeds into the inner office.

Ratite jumps up from his desk, starts to extend his hand to Rozedda, remembers his hurry-up training in Sime etiquette, and holds still.

Ratite: Greetings.

Rozedda: Good morning, Mr. Ratite.

Ratite: A good morning to you, Miz Stown. Can I offer you anything, coffee, tea, water?

Rozedda: Tea would be very pleasant, thank you.

Rozedda has been told that food-sharing is an important social ritual out-T.

Ratite: I'm afraid it's not trin, just the regular kind.

Rozedda: That's fine.

Ratite turns to Horvit, who is also standing in the office -- inconspicuously, or so he thinks.

Ratite: Horvit, would you take care of that, please?

Horvit is, unfortunately, ~~ consumed with very loud curiosity ~~

Rozedda wondered who the other Gen was, and why Ratite didn't introduce him.

Horvit reluctantly leaves off peering at Rozedda through thick lenses.

Horvit: Of course, Mr. Ratite.

Horvit goes over to the small refreshments table in the corner.

Rozedda is relieved to have Horvit's curiosity less intensely focused on her. Ratite, at least, zlins relatively calm, and sincerely interested in getting along with her.

Horvit: Should I get you some more coffee as well?

Ratite: Thank you, yes.

Horvit pours hot water from a polished pot into a mug that is embossed with the company logo.

Ratite recalls his manners ~~ abruptly ~~.

Ratite: Oh. Miz Stown, Mr. Horvit. He's our Third Assistant Quality Control Engineer.

Horvit: Pleased to meet you, ma'am.

Horvit is, too.

Horvit: Do you take cream or sugar in your tea?

Rozedda: Just plain, please. I'm happy to meet you, too.

Horvit offers the mug with a grin, then goes to refill the boss's coffee.

Rozedda takes the mug.

Horvit is not so presumptuous as to serve himself a drink in such exalted company, of course.

Ratite pulls his chair around from behind his desk.

Ratite: Have a seat, both of you. And Horvit, get something for yourself, for heaven's sake.

Ratite knows Horvit, like himself, thinks best on a steady diet of xanthines.

Horvit: Thanks, boss.

Rozedda picks the more comfortable looking chair in front of the desk, hoping she's got the status posturing right.

Horvit pours himself a cup of coffee -- black -- and settles awkwardly into a chair.

Rozedda sits and sips her tea. It's nice stuff.

Horvit somehow manages to look like he slept in his clothes, and didn't comb his hair, even though he took a whole extra five minutes with his morning toilette. He might have done better in his attempt to imitate the executive look if he'd removed the pencil from behind his ear, but he forgot it was there.

Ratite: Well, welcome to the Cago plant and all that. I'm not too clear on what the company's objectives are in sending you here. In particular, are you here on a short-term assignment, just to clean up the problems, or do you see this as a more permanent, ummm, assignment?

Rozedda: It's definitely an interim posting. We would like to study the plant's operations and see what's needed to bring its product up the standards of our in-T plants. We hope it won't take a great deal of time or resources to do this. We wouldn't have bought the company if we didn't think it could be made profitable and up to standard in a reasonable time frame.

Rozedda is prepared to stay as long as a year, but hopes it will be more like half that.

Horvit looks sideways at Mr. Ratite, wondering how he's going to take this blunt assessment of the job he's been doing running the company. He has heard that the boss has a nasty temper when crossed, but he can't threaten to fire the Sime, so what can he do?

Ratite: Well, I'm all for improved product, you can count on me for that. ~~ only somewhat hypocritical ~~

Rozedda: Perhaps the company has been starved of capital by its previous owners, or perhaps it just hasn't had access to some of the new methods we are using in Norwest.

Horvit is pretty sure, given the scuttlebutt, that Mr. Ratite has resisted making any changes to new methods.

Rozedda hopes to indicate that she isn't necessarily blaming current management for all the current problems, but she isn't letting them off the hook either.

Ratite: I wouldn't be surprised. You have to make allowances, also, for the quality of the labor force that's available here.

Rozedda: I see. What are the problems with the labor force?

Ratite: Well, if you can put some process in place for identifying under-performers, that would make a huge difference all by itself, I'm sure.

Rozedda: Or perhaps we can identify why they are underperforming, and see if those reasons can be addressed.

Rozedda knows that bad management and poor organization can make it difficult for even willing workers to do a reasonable job, and too frustrated and discouraged to try.

Ratite: Oh, indeed, indeed. ~~ go along to get along ~~

Rozedda zlins that further discussion of objectives will be unproductive.

Horvit sees that Torry was right: there is likely to be a search for scapegoats. He hopes that none of his friends get dismissed as part of the ass-covering.

Ratite can't zlin, but he knows when the atmosphere in a room changes.

Rozedda: Perhaps Mr. Horvit can take me to where we'll be working, and you and I can have another discussion in a week or two when I've had a chance to study the situation.

Ratite: Excellent. I'm sure Horvit here will be able to show you and tell you everything you need to know, but if that turns out not to be the case, by all means come to me sooner. My door is always open.

Ratite waves his hand at the closed door.

Ratite: As it were, of course.

Rozedda smiles, remembering how the receptionist scolded her for opening the outer suite door without bashing her knuckles against it.

Rozedda: Good.

Rozedda gets up and puts her empty tea cup in the refreshments area. She turns to Horvit.

Rozedda: Ready to go?

Horvit finishes his coffee with a gulp.

Horvit: Sure, Miz Stown.

Horvit absentmindedly puts the empty mug down on the boss's desk and bounces to his feet. He holds the door for Rozedda.

Rozedda: Thank you.

Horvit's mother did manage to drill him on manners; he just tends to forget them whenever there's something interesting happening.

Rozedda goes out ahead of the young Gen.

Ratite waits for the two of them to leave, then picks up the phone (dialing the number himself) and speaks quickly into it.

Ratite: Yes. No. Yes. Yes, she's here. Horvit. No. No. I don't know. I don't know, I tell you!

Ratite hangs up the phone forcibly and pushes the button on his desk.

Ratite: Bling, can you clear away these dishes, please? Thanks.

Horvit leads the way through the building.

Horvit: It's kind of a maze, here. I spent my first week getting lost.

Rozedda: I can understand that.

Rozedda notices that the areas they are passing through get less and less clean, recently painted and nicely appointed as they retreat from the executive offices.

Horvit: The lab's in the basement, to protect the computers. We're still hoping we can talk management into investing in an upgrade, but they say we'll have to make do.

Horvit ~~ pouts ~~. His passion for new toys equals any toddler's.

Rozedda: I see.

Rozedda reserves judgment, but knows that starving quality control of resources is one of the easiest ways to guarantee a substandard product.

Rozedda: What do you think the problems are?

Horvit: We do seem to be catching more problems lately. It's kind of hard to tell whether that's a problem with the assembly line or the new equipment we got in. We're testing to a higher tolerance.

Horvit's ~~ enthusiasm ~~ for the new stuff is easy to zlin.

Rozedda: Once you identify a pattern of defects is it very difficult to get operations to help you find and fix the cause?

Horvit: Well, it wasn't while old Gliam was around. He'd practically rebuilt the assembly lines single-handedly, he'd been repairing them so long. He retired though, after he hurt his leg.

Rozedda: And the present staff is less knowledgeable, less interested, less cooperative or all three?

Horvit: They try, but Gliam... he was practically a wizard. You can't expect every repair guy to be a wizard.

Rozedda: I see.

Rozedda doesn't think equipment that can only be properly understood and repaired by one person is a good thing in a production environment.

Horvit leads the way down a final staircase, this one with bare concrete steps.

Horvit: We're down here. The lab's through that door, and Dorban's office -- I mean, your office -- is there.

Rozedda is pleased at the nageric insulation provided by the foundations and surrounding earth.

Horvit points to a door with an ancient, stained copy of a cartoon taped to it, illustrating the "department of entropy".

Tunx is standing beside the door. He's one of the line workers that Horvit knows by sight but not by name. He's also a ~~ donor ~~, but Horvit doesn't know that either.

Tunx: Mr. Horvit! Good to see you.

Horvit: Hi! What's gone wrong while I was meeting my new boss, here?

Horvit indicates Rozedda.

Rozedda nods politely at the Gen, glad that at least some of the workers are donors.

Tunx's eyebrows head for the ceiling.

Tunx: You're the new boss, ma'am? ~~ astonishment ~~ I didn't expect ...

Tunx grinds to a halt.

Rozedda smiles.

Rozedda: I don't suppose you've had a Sime working here before.

Tunx: Um, yes, that too. But I didn't expect a woman. Ma'am.

Rozedda: I see. Well, in Norwest about half the engineers are women. I understand that it's different here.

Horvit: Very different.

Rozedda doesn't understand why work tends to be divided up by gender instead of larity out here, but doesn't want to get into an anthropological discussion.

Tunx is actually ~~ glad ~~ to see a woman in charge of QA: maybe she'll be more interested in product and less interested in gamesmanship.

Rozedda: Please, don't let me prevent you from consulting Mr. Horvit, Mr...

Tunx: Tunx, ma'am, just Tunx, please. Anyhow, you are Mr. Horvit's boss, aren't you?

Rozedda: For now. I'm Rozedda Stown. Our company in Norwest recently bought this plant, and sent me here to see how things are run, and improve them where possible.

Tunx: Oh, excellent! It's about time. ~~ relief ~~

Rozedda smiles.

Rozedda: What work do you do here, Mr. Tunx?

Tunx: I work one of the machines on the line. Don't ask me what it does. But if you wanted to ask me something, I could tell you what we need around here.

Rozedda: Yes?

Rozedda thinks it's very bad for morale for the workers not to know what the purpose of their work is.

Tunx: We need about half the equipment replaced. For two reasons.

Tunx ticks off on his fingers.

Tunx: Firstly, because we'd work a lot faster if the line weren't all the time stopping because some mysterious machine or other has broken down. And twothly, because newer machines would be safer machines, and we wouldn't have so many folks having to stay home because they, umm, "don't feel right" that day.

Rozedda: People are afraid to work with these machines? They expect they will be injured?

Rozedda thinks this is very serious indeed. Safety regulation in-T are quite strict -- nobody wants an injured worker, especially a Gen.

Tunx: Not afraid, no. Just... cautious. And cautious means slow. But slow is better than ....

Tunx grinds to a halt again.

Tunx: Mr. Horvit, you know I'm a good worker, I wouldn't say these things if they weren't true. Or didn't really matter.

Tunx ~~ appeals ~~ to Horvit's fellow feeling.

Horvit: Hey, I'm not your boss, and Ratite doesn't exactly invite me over for dinner.

Tunx: ~~ relief ~~

Rozedda: I see. Mr. Horvit, perhaps we can review recent injury reports then discuss them with the operations manager.

Tunx: Look at absenteeism, too. Some things, well, they don't show up on the injury reports.

Rozedda nods. It looks like personnel problems are a major issue here.

Horvit: Speaking of injuries -- did that guy on the third welder lose the finger?

Tunx: He did, Mr. Horvit. They even sent him to the Sime Center and all, but they couldn't do anything there either.

Rozedda firmly suppresses her imagination.

Horvit: That's hard. He's not going to be able to weld without it.

Tunx nods.

Tunx: Mr. Opps, he's none too promising about it.

Horvit: Maybe he could handle loading the discs on the beginning of the line?

Tunx: That's an idea. I'll bring it up in the meeting tonight.

Tunx thinks Horvit is really pretty decent -- for management.

Horvit at least has the virtue of being largely oblivious to people, which means he generally lacks malice. He was viewing the injured worker as a somewhat damaged machine that might still be useful, which is a mark of decency, since he generally has a lot more compassion for machines than people.

Horvit: Let me know if there's anything I can do.

Tunx: Will do. Ma'am, I'd invite you to the meeting tonight, but, well, you're ...

Tunx stalls for a third time.

Horvit: Oh, that's all right. Meetings are boring.

Rozedda: Thank you for the invitation, but not tonight. Perhaps you should get on with your business with Mr. Horvit while I check out my new office.

Horvit: Sure. What's the problem? [to Tunx]

Tunx spews a peculiar variety of English only intelligible to people who work in this particular plant.

Horvit retaliates in kind, or at least the techno-geek dialect.

Rozedda goes into the office and is somewhat dismayed by what a mess it's been left, and all the pictures of near-naked Gen women on the dirty stained walls.

Rozedda sits in the chair and looks in the desk drawers which are full of an apparently random collection of papers and miscellaneous objects. She notes in particular an almost empty bottle of some sort of high-alcohol content drink at the back of the bottom drawer.

Rozedda finds a tube of lightweight grease in the top drawer and lubricates the chair so it doesn't screech when she leans back in it.

Rozedda gets out a pad of paper and begins to list what will have to be done to make her office acceptable, including a thorough cleaning, a coat of paint and the mud washed off the ground-level windows to let some daylight in.

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