charlotte and jeanne were the first to arrive at the conference room in the tower for the meeting. although charlotte held the relatively modest title of head of the unspeakable crimes unit, she was also a member of the council of seven. she was seen as a favorite of mrs roosevelt, and was regarded with trepidation by most of the other council members.
charlotte took her seat at the table with only a small pad of blank paper and a pencil that she twirled in her fingers as she waited for the others.
there was a line of chairs along the wall for the assistants, and jeanne took one. she set a heavy briefcase on the floor beside her.
the other members of the council, some of whom, including the duc d'otrante, had offices in the towers, arrived. nobody was late. all were in their seats when madame defarge and mrs roosevelt entered together.
besides charlotte and the duc d'otrante, the council included barras, head of security and population; margot de valois, director of religious containment; anna akhnaton, head of public works including robot manufacture; madame ching, supervisor of prisons and education; and the only robot in the group, mrs brown, in charge of food, energy and the economy.
mrs roosevelt, like charlotte, had only a pencil and pad of paper in front of her. madame defarge had nothing at all. blinking and suppressing a yawn, she opened the meeting by addressing mrs brown.
"how is the economy running, mrs brown?"
"good. and public works, anna?"
anna was the youngest human member of the council and very serious.
"ahead of schedule, madame. public works is ready to take on any new job you can think of. i would like to take the opportunity at this time to thank m barras, madame ching and mrs brown for all their cooperation."
"thank you, anna," said mrs roosevelt. "i'm glad you had the opportunity at this time instead of some other time to express your gratitude. let's move on, shall we, unless anyone has any questions for anna or mrs brown."
"i have a question for mrs brown," said barras. "how come i can't get a decent sandwich any more?"
"i don't have any problem with mrs brown's sandwiches," madame defarge answered quickly. "in fact, i find them quite tasty."
margot de valois turned to barras.
"mrs brown's sandwiches are most excellent and coordinate well with the new order. what did you have in mind, monsieur, a sandwich with a big slab of bear meat dripping blood and cartilage ? "
mrs roosevelt tapped her pad of paper with her pencil. "don't be improper, margot. are you suggesting, m barras, that the quality of sandwiches, or of food in general, is contributing to unrest in the population - the unrest that we are here to discuss? if so, you should speak in plain terms."
"no, no, nothing of the sort," barras replied quickly.
"i think an apology is owed mrs brown," madame defarge added.
"i apologize to mrs brown. i meant no harm."
"i know m barras meant no harm," mrs brown answered with a smile. "i have always found him a perfect gentleman and very cooperative in his role of head of population. he has often made humorous references to sandwiches to me. it is a little joke between us." she smiled again, directly at barras.
"i am glad that is settled." said mrs roosevelt.
"can i add something?" madame ching spoke up. "in all seriousness, we have had good results with extensive substitution of mush and gruel for sandwiches among the prison population - a population which as we all know, is growing in great increments every day. of course," she added with a glance at mrs brown, "mrs brown is also providing the mush and gruel."
"did we come here to talk about sandwiches and mush?" charlotte asked. "as far as i'm concerned, a sandwich is a sandwich and mush is mush."
"no, charlotte, we did not," mrs roosevelt agreed. she turned to madame ching. "your point has interesting implications, madame. perhaps we can take it up in detail at a future meeting. if you could prepare a paper on the subject -"
"oh, but i already have, " madame ching interrupted. she picked a sheaf of papers up from a pile in front of her. "i have copies for everyone."
"that is excellent," madame defarge told her.
"if we have time at the end of this meeting we will take it up. if not, we will consider it at the next meeting."
"thank you." madame ching settled back in her chair.
"now." mrs roosevelt looked down at her blank notepad. ""this is all well and good, but the only one of us who need be concerned about feeding the human race is mrs brown, who, we are all now agreed, is doing a great job. the rest of us are not here to feed the human race but to keep it in line. which brings us to the purpose of this meeting - the same purpose as the last one.
unrest - particularly religious unrest - continues to rise. the new policy of widespread arrests, agreed on at the last meeting, does not seem to be bearing fruit. margot, what do you have to say about this?"
"the new policy was the idea of monsieur barras."
"i know that. but we all agreed to it. i asked you what you thought of it."
"it's not making my job any easier."
"nobody cares how easy you find your job. we can always find someone else to do it. what do you think the result of the new approach has been?"
"it has made religious containment more difficult. the religious groups feel - predictably - they have nothing to lose,"
"predictably? the theory was that the accredited groups like the christians and the darwinists and the church of bruce lee would cooperate and welcome the new policy. is this not happening?"
"it's not working. the general level of unrest is up a little. as i predicted."
madame defarge nodded. "she did express skepticism at the last meeting," she told mrs roosevelt.
"what do you think, monsieur le duc?" mrs roosevelt asked. "you've been quiet so far."
"yes," said margot. "it has hardly seemed like a meeting."
the duc ignored this and adressed mrs roosevelt directly. "after an initial period, when the similar groups with long standing antagonisms rushed to denounce each other, the effect of the new policy has been negligible or a little adverse. nothing has changed - religious containment is what it has always been. the groups - large and small - see it as a first step to elimination."
"as it should be," said charlotte. "religion should be an unspeakable crime."
"thank you, charlotte," said the duc. "we know how hard it must have been for you to hold that in until now."
"call my department religious elimination instead of religious containment," said margot, "and let's see what happens. just give me a chance."
"can i say something?" asked barras. "if the religious groups were dealt with a little more diplomatically , the current policy might have half a chance. as it is - "
"no one is asking margot or anybody else to be a diplomat," mrs roosevelt said.
"we go over this at every meeting," barras persisted. "the cold fact is that most humans have some sort of religion, large or small, even if its just something like astrology or einsteinism. we can't put them all in prison."
"i don't see why not," said charlotte. "with everybody in prison we could start some serious re-education."