Eternal Vigilance

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Photo by CGP Grey via Flickr

Blue Team have posters on the walls in their office, I know this because in Green Team we have the same posters, but there is no reason to look at the posters, we know their messages already, we were born with these messages and they have followed us around all our lives: work hard and with diligence and you will be rewarded. Everyone knows that there is no reason to look at the posters because everyone knows that everyone knows the messages they carry. Everyone knows that time taken to look at the posters is time taken away from being hard at work and diligent: punishable behavior.

This does not stop Blue Team Officer C from interrupting his supervision of Yellow Team Officer C to glance quickly away from his screen at the posters on the wall behind him. Momentarily he turns back to his screen and then once more turns to the posters, this time to take a longer look.[private]

The only reason that there could possibly be to look away from your screen at the posters on the wall behind you would be if the message on the posters had suddenly changed, which is impossible. As a responsible supervisor, though, it is my responsibility to gather all of the facts before I file a report and so I, too, turn away from my screen, interrupting my supervision of Blue Team Officer C, just as he interrupted his supervision of Yellow Team Officer C. A quick glance at the posters tells me that nothing has changed, but I look quickly back at my screen, just to see that Blue Team Officer C isn’t further breaking protocol and I see that he appears to be filling in a report on Yellow Team Officer C, which will take a little while, so I have time to turn back to the posters and inspect them a little more closely.

As I suspected, the posters haven’t changed one bit and neither have their messages, so I fill in a report on Blue Team Officer C. By the time I have finished this, I see that he has stood up and gone from his desk to the filing cabinet in the corner of his office where he keeps his reports on Yellow Team Officer C. He is building up quite a file on that fellow.

I get up from my desk and take the report I have just finished to the filling cabinet in the corner of my office. I put it in the drawer alongside the rest of the reports on Blue Team Officer C. I am building up quite a file on that fellow.

When I get back to my desk I notice that he has turned away from his screen and once again is looking at the posters on the wall behind him. He then turns back to his desk and begins to fill in another report. Of course I have only just inspected the posters on the wall behind my desk and I am absolutely certain that their message couldn’t have changed, but it would be irresponsible of me not to check once more to ensure that they have not been altered in anyway. I turn back to look at the posters, satisfy myself that their messages haven’t changed and that nothing new has appeared which would warrant taking time away from the supervision of another supervisor in order to inspect, and then I fill in another report on Blue Team Officer C.

By the time I have filled in this report I see that Blue Team Officer C is already at the filling cabinet with the reports on Yellow Team Officer C, so I hurry from my desk to file the report so that I can get back to my screen quickly.

On my way back to my desk, though, I trip and lose my balance, losing vital seconds of work. By the time I am able to return to my supervision of Blue Team Officer C, he is already looking intensely at whatever is on the wall behind him and I know that this is going to be a difficult day of work.

***

There is a problem with Officer C in Blue Team, I think. I have been watching him closely, of course, because this is my job and if I hadn’t been watching him closely I wouldn’t have been doing my job, but my interest in him has taken on a new dimension as my suspicions have grown. The other Officers in Green Team are convinced that the Officers we are supervising in Blue Team have been working together to trick us into thinking that they are working whilst they are secretly avoiding work but as of yet we have been unable to locate the key piece of evidence that would allow us to structure a case against them. The search for this evidence has required us to redouble our efforts, which is tiring because as a team we were already working at double our capacity.

‘What if Yellow Team finds out that Blue Team are letting standards slip?’ said Green Team Officer D. ‘If they knew their supervisors weren’t working hard…’

‘They’d stop working hard as well,’ said Green Team Officer A, finishing the thought. ‘And I dread to think what the consequences of that would be. We all know what Red Team is capable of.’

There was a rumor several years ago that Red Team had found a way of putting a recording of their work on a loop so that to their Supervisors in Yellow Team it appeared they were working hard when, in reality, they weren’t working at all.

‘Sometimes I think it’d be better if we just got rid of Blue Team,’ Green Team Officer D said, ‘and we supervised Yellow Team ourselves.’

‘Better?’ I asked. ‘Or just easier?’

The truth is I had always suspected Green Team Officer D wasn’t as committed to the work as the rest of us and this was just the latest thing he had said that had given me the impression that the reason we hadn’t found the evidence to indict Blue Team was because he was being lazy and wasn’t working hard enough to find it. He was cunning, though, because not only had I not found the proof that he was too lazy to help us find the proof that Blue Team were being lazy, his supervisor in the team above us had also not found the proof that he was being lazy. Our only hope was to make it obvious that not all members of Green Team were as lazy as Green Team Officer D and it was for this reason that whilst everyone else in Green Team had redoubled their efforts, I retrebled my own.

***

There is a problem with my screen. On occasion the signal disappears and it turns blank. I have to jiggle the cable that connects to my screen several times so that the image returns and I can continue my supervision of Blue Team Officer C. It worries me that someone might see the blank screen and imagine that I am not working, so I hold my hand close to the cable, ready to jiggle it as soon as the signal disappears. I used to hold my hand directly on the cable and I even had a sort of sense for when the screen was going to turn blank, but it occurred to me that my supervisor might easily misinterpret this and believe that it was my jiggling of the cable that had caused the screen to go blank and not vice-versa, so I left my hand on the desk, close to the cable, but not too close to the cable, so that it was obvious that it was the screen going blank that caused me to jiggle the cable and not my jiggling of the cable that caused the screen to go blank.

It may seem absurd to imagine that someone would cause their screen to go blank for a few seconds just so that they can have a small break from their work, but even though such a thing is almost impossible for a hard-working person to conceive of it is not completely beyond the realms of possibility. I have seen Blue Team Officer C hold his hand close to the cables on his screen and jiggle them, and I have seen the screen go blank at just that moment that he started jiggling the cables and—as though by some coincidence—the image only happens to return just as the jiggling stops.

At least once an hour he sabotages his work like this so that his screen goes blank and he doesn’t have to keep up his supervision of Yellow Team Officer C. I say at least once an hour, but I suspect that it is twice an hour, though I can’t prove it. My own screen goes blank once an hour as well, though through no fault of my own. I jiggle the cable furiously, hoping to get the image back as soon as possible in the hope that I will catch him in the act of jiggling his cable so that his screen goes blank. I have not caught him, yet, and so I have no proof that he does this twice hourly, but I am certain that he does and, by some freak occurrence, his second hourly black-out occurs at just the moment that my screen blacks out. As such, I file two reports on his deliberate screen black-outs every hour, just to be on the safe side.

***

One day all our screens black out. At first I think that I am the only one who has a problem with their screen and I jiggle my cables furiously, desperately, but without being able to bring back the images of Blue Team Officer C. I don’t say anything as it would only make the rest of Green Team suspect me of shirking my responsibilities, I simply keep on jiggling my cables. After a while, I notice that it sounds like everyone else in the team is jiggling their cables as well.

‘Is everyone jiggling their cables?’ Green Team Officer D asks from the cubicle next to mine.

I don’t say anything, as I suspect that it is one of Officer D’s tricks. Eventually, though, Officer A confesses that he suspects that at the very least a large majority of the Officers in the room are jiggling their cables, although he is reluctant to guess which of the Officers are jiggling and which are not.

‘What if everyone who is jiggling their cables stops jiggling their cables and leaves their cubicles. We could talk about it,’ Officer D says.

‘This isn’t our official break time,’ I say, as I am increasingly suspicious that Officer D is planning to trick the rest of us into taking an unscheduled break while he continues working. The end of period assessments are coming up and I am sure he is afraid of being demoted to Blue Team.

‘So, we just keep jiggling, then?’ Officer D asks.

‘Officer C is right,’ Officer B says. ‘It’s not break time yet. We have to keep working.’

We continue our jiggling until our official break time and then we get up from our cubicles to stretch our legs. I notice as I walk up and down the office that all of the screens have gone black.

‘This is going to look terrible,’ Officer A says. ‘Our supervisors are going to think we’ve not been working all morning.’

‘I’m sure they’re too good to think that,’ Officer D says. ‘I mean, they’re the elite supervisory team, no? They’re even better than us.’

‘I don’t even know what colour team is above us,’ said Officer A. ‘Has anyone ever been promoted above Green Team?’

No one says anything. If anyone has been promoted above Green Team they wouldn’t confess to it, because to confess to the promotion would also mean confessing to the subsequent demotion back to Green Team.

‘Calm down,’ says Officer D. ‘I’m sure the guys in the team above have been supervising us for look enough to know that we’re diligent workers. I’m sure that they realize that this isn’t our fault.’

‘You’re right,’ Officer B says, ‘they’re probably decent people with decent families and they’re bound to recognize other decent people when they see them. They’re probably laughing at us now for worrying about it.’

‘Exactly,’ says Officer D. ‘If you work hard and are diligent, you’ve got nothing to worry about, even when the technology breaks down and you’re not able to work hard and be diligent.’

I don’t say anything. The truth is, if the team above us has been paying any attention to Officer D at all, which I suspected they have, they would certainly believe that there is something wrong with Green Team and that we’re responsible for the morning’s blackout.

About five minutes before the end of our break the screens flicker and the images of our supervisees return. We go back to work early, hoping that the team that is supervising us sees that we have sacrificed our break time in order to make up for the time lost earlier in the day.

As soon as I sit down I see the image of Blue Team Officer C leaning on his cubicle wall, looking away from his screen and munching a sandwich.

I can even see the image on his screen of Yellow Team Officer C’s cubicle, which is also empty. Although I can’t see his screen I am almost certain that Red Team Officer C’s cubicle is also empty. After all, if the other teams aren’t doing their jobs, you can hardly rely on Red Team to keep things together.

Even though it is still break time, I decide it is best to file a report on Blue Team Officer C. I take a form and write down that he is slow to return to work after his break and that it has taken him five minutes after I have finished my lunch to get back to work. I sign the form and take it over to the filing cabinet. There is a queue, though, as all the other Officers in Green Team have reports to file as well.

***

When the assessment period is over I receive a letter informing me that I have been promoted and am no longer to report to Green Team. The letter congratulates me on my re-assignment to Red Team.

At first I find it confusing and wonder if there has been some mistake. This is impossible, though, as no one has ever been demoted by more than one team in a round of assessments, and I am a particularly hard and diligent worker, so in my case it is even more inconceivable that I would be demoted all the way to Red Team. The only explanation is promotion. Promotion to Red Team.

When I arrive in my new Office I see that it is indeed Red Team and that they are engaged in the supervision of Green Team. The new office is just the same as the last, except all the trimmings that had previously been green are now red.

‘Well done,’ says Red Team Officer D, slapping me on the back. ‘Keep up the good work and you’ll find yourself promoted again in no time.’

I take the seat at my new cubicle, but before I am able to begin my supervision of Green Team Officer C, I realize that there is a problem with my chair and that the previous Red Team Officer C must have been very tall. As a result the chair is positioned quite uncomfortably for me.

I stand up and move around to the back of the chair where I find a lever that enables me to adjust the height of the chair to a level that is more suitable for someone of a normal height. Once this has been done I resume my supervision of Green Team Officer C.

For a few moments I watch optimistically as he seems to be hard-working and diligent, but as usual my good faith in people proves to be misguided and, after only a few minutes of work, he stands up, goes to the back of his chair and fiddles with the lever for a moment or two, before resuming his supervision of Blue Team Officer C.

Of course, there is no reason to get up from your chair during your supervision of an Officer in the team below you, and no reason to fiddle with the levers at the back of the chairs as they are perfectly fine just the way they are. As a responsible supervisor, though, it is my responsibility to gather all of the facts before I file a report and so I too get up, turn away from the screen and investigate the levers at the back of my chair. As I suspect, there is nothing wrong with the chair so I return to my seat and begin writing a report on Green Team Officer C. Once this is done I look back up at my screen and notice that Green Team Officer C is standing up to take a report on Blue Team Officer C to the filing cabinet in the corner of his office. I take this opportunity to stand up and take my report to the filing cabinet in the corner of my office. It is there that I discover Red Team has already built up quite a substantial file on Green Team Officer C.[/private]

David Simpson

About David Simpson

David studied literature in Edinburgh and Manchester before teaching English in Athens for two years. He mostly writes short stories, but is currently working on a novel. After discovering a passion for European fiction, he had a better understanding of what he would like to achieve with his writing. He has been failing to reach those standards ever since.

David studied literature in Edinburgh and Manchester before teaching English in Athens for two years. He mostly writes short stories, but is currently working on a novel. After discovering a passion for European fiction, he had a better understanding of what he would like to achieve with his writing. He has been failing to reach those standards ever since.

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