|a picture of people marching under the close watch of guards|
from the For King & Country music video of "The Proof of Your Love"
“So this is Project M?” Erin commented. She leaned forward across the empty chair, peering into the screens of the monitors. It was a dismal view. The cameras tracked prisoners marching in some underground concrete tunnel. “Where are they? The basement of some dilapidated building? An abandoned subway tunnel?”
“No one knows but Mr. DeKoorce himself,” her guide, Haley, answered. “Our job here at Project HQ is simply to monitor the progress of his projects. There is no need for us to know the locations.”
Erin cast a glance over her guide, taking in the straight blonde hair, polished red fingernails, seamless makeup, and professional but attractive business suit. Then she returned her gaze to the monitor screen. A guard stepped into view, raising his stick and beating one of the prisoners. It was a teenage boy with a thin face.
“What’s the boy being beaten for?” Erin queried, checking the other Project M monitors for a different view of what was happening.
Haley joined Erin in her surveillance. “I am not sure. It could be random or the guard may have suspected a form of self-expression,” she answered, squinting at a dark monitor screen.
“Self-expression?” Erin asked, startled. Her eyes searched Haley’s face for an explanation.
Haley nodded. “You will notice that all the prisoners are gagged – speaking is a form of self-expression and is forbidden unless they are reciting their laws under strict supervision. Stepping out of line would also be a form of self-expression. If a guard suspects a prisoner is thinking or acting outside of our parameters, he must stop it,” she explained.
“It seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it?” Erin commented, absentmindedly.
“Not at all,” was Haley’s response. “We have to maintain the integrity of the projects.”
“Who are these people? Where did they come from?” Erin queried, turning back to stare at the screen. The beating had stopped and the boy was again staggering with the rest of the marching prisoners.
“Most of them came from the village, Tankoli, when it was destroyed. A few children have been added from other villages here and there as the project goes on,” Haley explained. She ran her fingers through her blonde hair with one hand and opened the door leading to the hall. “Shall we move on? There are other Projects…”
Erin straightened up. “I want the charts on each of these projects on my desk by noon,” she ordered.
Haley smiled. “Of course,” she replied. “You inspectors from Project C are all the same. You will find we are ready for your demands.”
“And perhaps I could meet with Mr. DeKoorce while I am here,” Erin suggested. “I may be able to do a better job if I know the man himself.”
“But what better way to get to know someone than by studying his projects?” was Haley’s comeback. “You will meet him if he wants you to meet him. But all the other inspectors from Project C have conducted their duties without an interview with our leader. You can do the same.”
Erin followed Haley into the hallway. Two other Project HQ employees passed them, nodding a greeting to Erin. “Have you ever met him,” Erin asked Haley.
“This is only my second year here,” Haley responded, shaking her head no. “But I feel as if I know him quite well…just from working here. He is a brilliant man.”
“Indeed?” Erin commented, through pursed lips.
Haley led her through a large room filled with cubicles. Project HQ employees were at nearly every desk. Around the border of the room were small rooms, offices for higher-ranking employees. Haley led her to one of these rooms.
“This will be your office,” Haley told her. “I will make sure the files are in here by noon. Please make yourself at home.”
Haley left her alone, closing the door behind her. Erin sat down at the desk, slowly taking in the arrangements of the room. The low-loft carpet was a plain bluish-gray. The walls were paneled in false-wood. There was a large window facing the interior cubicles and a large window facing the world outside – both were hidden with closed blinds. A plant, rather tall, slender, and tropical-looking, sat in one corner. The desk was a dark wood, and her chair was a comfortable office chair – the kind with wheels on the bottom. A small wastebasket lingered close to the desk like a loyal servant. The whole room smelled faintly of lemon-scented cleaners.
Erin sighed heavily and opened her top drawer, pulling out a piece of embossed letterhead.
“Sir,” she wrote. “I arrived punctually at Project E at 9:20 this morning. A second-year intern gave me a tour of the control rooms. It has opened many questions to my mind, which I hope to be able to answer for you within the fortnight. As you know, my inspection will be thorough, and I will keep you posted on my progress. Respectfully, Erin Matvich, Inspector 927, Project C.”