Francine carefully poured the tea into the cups.
“So, how has everyone’s week been?”
“Ok, well, who will we start with this week?”
“I vote we start with Karen, she had a decidedly poor week last week, I want to know what kind of changes she made.”
“You’re just saying that because you had a bad week.”
Josephine shook her head, “No Karen, I’m saying it because we all know you did badly. We’re not angry, just concerned. We’ve all be doing this for a long time, we all know what happens when someone gets burned out, we have your best interests at heart.”
Karen let out a small laugh, “Best interests? None of us care about each other. We tolerate each other, don’t deny it, we all know it.”
“I may not be fond of any of you, but I know you, I respect you and yes, I care about you. If you screw up and are replaced we’ll have to deal with a whole knew element. It will throw us all off and by extension, everything else. It’s better for business to care. Sure, we might try to get the upper hand, but that’s all part of doing business.”
Karen shook her head, “Fine. I’ll go first then.” She took a sip of her tea.
“Well, production is up this week-”
“Of course it was up, it couldn’t have gotten worse if you had tried!”
Karen frowned at Natalie, “Will you please let me finish. You’re the one who wanted me to speak first, so let me speak.”
Natalie dipped her head slightly, Karen sighed and continued, “Production is up, so were the outputs for everything else, they’re slightly higher than their pre-dip levels. We weeded out the troublemakers. A young couple. Nasty business. They were both taken care of as were everyone they had spread their ideology to and they won’t be causing troubles for any of us. Currently we’re looking into where they got those ideas. Someone had to have planted them and I want to make sure we rip up the dissention at its roots rather than pruning it back. Suicides were also down this week.”
“How many is down?”
“There were three. Down from twenty last week and seven the week before.”
“You really want to address it.”
“Why? It’s small numbers.”
“Yes Karen, but they add up fast.”
“The population is more than stable. It’s fine.”
“Anything else to report?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Karen reached out and took a sandwich.
“Are you sure?”
Karen shot a glare at Natalie, “Yes. Yes I’m sure.”
“Ok. If you say so, I guess we’ll be dealing with that next week.”
“Dealing with what?” Karen hated that squeaky, panicked tone that entered Francine’s voice when she was worried.
“Nothing Fran, it really is nothing. There was just a couple of spikes.”
“Yeah, it’s ok, I’m dealing with it.”
“You better be.”
“What about you Natalie? You’ve had some irregularities.”
“Yes. I have and I’m brave enough to admit them. I was just waiting for my turn to speak.”
Francine sighed, “Well, if you’re done Karen, we’ll move onto Natalie then. Agreed?”
“Agreed.” They spoke in unison, years of practise.
While Natalie droned on Karen looked about the room, curious as to how Francine had changed it since they last visited a month ago. They rotated where they held the tea. Next week was her turn. She wasn’t looking forward to that. It always made her so worried, she knew they were judging her décor just as much as she judged theirs. Besides that, she didn’t like having any of them, Natalie in particular, in her home. It just didn’t seem right, even though it was how they always did it. The room was still decorated in reds, a deep red carpet, light red wallpaper, accents of gold. It gave off an oriental feel, the designs Francine chose usually did. The chairs were extremely comfortable, which was more than she could say about Natalie’s choice of seating. Natalie seemed to prefer sitting on solid, unyielding wooden chairs. Josephine was a mix between the two. Comfortable, but only for a short period of time. Karen always thought it was a clever and subtle was to encourage the meetings to end quickly. In Karen’s opinion though it just made them drag on longer, she would have to spend every ten minutes or so trying to readjust herself to get comfortable. It always made her look like she was squirming from nerves or some such nonsense.
“So are we agreed?”
Karen snapped out of her thoughts and nodded along with the others, she wasn’t too concerned with what she missed, she could just scan through the minutes of the meeting later on.
“My week was good, everything is on the upswing, though I suspect it will dip down again to normal levels soon, that kind of output is only sustainable for so long. I have had no problems with any kind of dissenters. I’m almost positive we managed to root them all out from last years uprising.” Josephine gave an exaggerated shudder, “That was a particularly unpleasant time for us all, but I have taken care of it on my end at the very least, the last of the repayments shall be finished today.”
They all nodded politely. The penalties were steep for not keeping any form of rebellion contained to their own sectors.
Francine smiled before she spoke, “Everything is climbing, slowly but steadily. There are no problems to report.”
Josephine took a sip of her tea, “Good, I’m glad. On a more personal note, how is everyone doing? Last year took a toll on us all, some of us are still feeling the after effects.” She shot a quick glance at Francine. “and I just wanted to check in. I know we’re not exactly friends, but if any of you need anything please feel free to talk to me about it. I’ll see what I can do to help.”
“Please, stop with the whole “I care about you” shtick. We all know you just feel guilty over what happened last year.”
Josephine shot a glare at Karen, “You should know me well enough by now to know that I mean it. I do not feel guilty over what happened last year. It was a failure on all our parts, not just mine.”
Francine cleared her throat slightly, “How is everyone doing for tea? More food?”
“I’m fine thank you”
“Good.” She glanced down at her watch, “oh, my! Look at how late it’s getting, I’m afraid I have work to do ladies.”
“As do we all.”
“It was lovely seeing you all, and I look forward to next week.”
They all stood in unison and bowed slightly, then they stood and left the room one by one, Francine leaving last and turning out the lights. Workers would escort the others from her home. As they left she felt herself relax, she always felt so tense when she had to host these meetings. Particularly after last year, the first time there had been an attack during a meeting. That had certainly been unpleasant. Her hand reached up unconsciously and her fingers gently rubbed the scar on her temple. No, that had not been pleasant at all. She still had some problems, though she was getting better every day. It was a pity the repairs couldn’t be carried out all at once, but there had been too much damage. Still, she was walking now and she had most of her facilities back. Of course the others were not quite aware of that yet, she might as well let them think she was feeble for a little while longer. Smiling to herself she turned and made her way deeper into the house, she hadn’t been lying, she had so much work to get done, it was never ending.