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If OSHA only knew…


The Inspector


Chris Clark


In the last days of summer, when the heat from the three suns had become nearly unbearable and the constant tattoo of deep-throated drums echoed from the forest, an Inspector came to the refinery.  The announcement of his arrival made an already frustrating season even more difficult, as mandatory overtime schedules were imposed and leisure passes revoked in an effort to prepare the mines and the massive refinery for the impending visit.  Managers stalked the plant, supervising the workers as they cleaned and re-cleaned every bit of machinery.  Grime that hadn’t been touched in the decade since the last inspection was scrupulously removed, and fresh paint was applied to walkways and walls. 

During the entire run-up to the inspection, while men worked twenty hour days and the mood steadily degenerated, the drums beat relentlessly, sometimes in a steady, monotonous rhythm, other times in a random cacophony.  The drums were there no matter where one went in the plant: even in the mines, which by now stretched three kilometers into the planet’s interior, the mine rats swore they could hear the drums. 

            The Inspector’s visit made life difficult for everyone at the refinery, from Plant Manager Borla down to the lowest menial worker.  But for men like Tom Parker, Ed Kolowinski, and Skinner Bowie, the timing of the inspection was intolerable.  All three men were within three months of fulfilling their five-year contracts and receiving sizeable bonuses.  The idea that the Inspector could revoke all five-years if the plant didn’t pass muster was impossible not to dwell on.

            “I’m telling you, I knew a fellow who spent eight years on Spirco Four and lost his bonus two days before his contract was up.”  Parker stopped talking and glared around the table as if daring anyone to contradict him.  No one looked likely to do so: Parker stood well over two meters tall, with a barrel chest and arms and a slab face.  “The Inspector said that safety procedures weren’t being followed, and the Company iced all the contracts.  They said it ‘wouldn’t do to reward employees for following unsafe practices’.  Eight years and he loses his bonus like that.  Even if Spirco is a vacation compared to this place, it was still a lousy thing to happen.  You mark my words, the Company’s going to try the same thing here.”  This announcement was greeted with an uneasy silence by the men sitting around the table.

            Ed Kolowinski caught Bowie’s eye across the table and raised an eyebrow in silent query.  Out of all the men currently stationed at the plant, Skinner Bowie was the one person Ed trusted to think things carefully before reaching an opinion.  If Skinner said something, it was probably true.  Ed felt as uneasy as everyone else at the thought of losing his bonus at this late stage, but he wasn’t going to worry too much about it until he got Skinner’s take on it.  Unfortunately, Bowie’s only immediate reaction was to shrug his shoulders and look away.  No help there, apparently.

            As his drinking partners sat and brooded over their mugs, Kolowinski leaned back in his chair and looked around the tavern.  Faced with a workforce on the edge of open mutiny after weeks of twenty hour days, management had granted one night of leave after only ten hours of work; it looked like most of the plant was taking advantage of it.  The room was packed to overflowing: there must have been nearly a thousand men packed into a space meant for a crowd a third that large.  Large groups sat packed around tables, men sat elbow to elbow down the long bar at the far end of the room, and hundreds of others simply sat on the floor, drinking and enjoying a few moments of companionship after the long weeks of non-stop work.  The room was far quieter than Ed would have expected.  Raucous laughter filled a few tables, but most of the patrons were somber, focused on drinking and the threat of the upcoming inspection.  Even here, in the depths of the plant, the drums were audible.  Until a moment ago Ed hadn’t been consciously aware of them, but now that he had noticed them he couldn’t get his mind off them.  They stayed on the edge of awareness all the time now.

            “They wouldn’t do that, would they, Tom?  They couldn’t, could they?  What about the contracts we signed?”  The speaker was a man named Walters who Ed only knew vaguely.  Walters was a small, spindly man with a pinched face and a whiny voice.  Ed joined the rest of their table in hooting derisively at the question.  Parker just stared stonily at the man before responding.

            “Of course they would.  You think the Company cares about you?  You think because you signed some piece of paper, the Company has to honor it?  Why do you think the contracts are on paper in the first place?  Because that way there are no permanent records of the damned things, that’s why.”  Parker laughed bitterly before continuing.  “They can do whatever they want, and there’s not a thing we can do about it.”

            For a moment Walters looked like he was going to argue the point, but then his face fell and he downed the rest of his beer before standing up and weaving his way unsteadily to the door.  Someone kicked his chair out of the way and the men shifted their chairs to fill in the empty spot.  The rest of the evening was spent drinking and trying not to listen to the rhythm of the drums coming up through the floor.


            The Inspector was scheduled to arrive one week later, during the evening hours of Third Day.  Only Deuce, the smallest of the three suns, was currently visible, but the weather was still brutally hot and humid.  Management must have regretted giving the workers that night off, because since that time they had been driven even more relentlessly.

            Kolowinski stood in front of the plant with Skinner and Parker, sweating in his freshly pressed uniform and trying to ignore the dull ache in his back and legs.  The entire plant staff was turned out to greet the Inspector.  Mixed among the workers were numerous security officers dressed in the same gray coveralls as everyone else; their presence, Kolowinski thought grimly, was probably all that was preventing a mutiny at that point.  After countless hundred-hour weeks, asking the exhausted workers to stand at attention in the hundred-degree heat for two or more hours while the drums echoed into the clearing seemed like a sure recipe for disaster.  The drums were particularly random at this moment: there was no recurring rhythm or pattern at all that Ed could discern.  A mix of drums in a wide tonal range sounded in a cacophony of frenzied beating.  Every time he thought he had gotten used to the drums, the natives found a new way to drive him crazy.   He could see more and more men shifting and looking around angrily; the tension was building by the minute.  An angry buzz of grumbled complaints was growing incrementally.

            “Hey Skinner, what do you think?  A fifty says there’s a riot if he doesn’t get here in the next twenty minutes.”  Before Skinner could respond, a fist fight broke out between two men ten yards away from Ed and his friends.  The crowd started to shout and circle around the two men, but before they could move far, two men in the crowd moved forward quickly, pulled taser batons from inside their clothing, and subdued the fighters.  Everyone else scattered as the men donned security helmets that they seemed to procure from thin air.  The two workers started to protest frantically as the security officers marched them toward the plant gates.

            Skinner turned to him with a wry smile.  “I don’t believe I’m going to take you up on that wager, Ed.”  He turned to look at the management team, standing a short distance from the laborers and scanning the skies nervously.  “I would, however, bet that Plant Manager Borla is going to wet himself if the Inspector doesn’t arrive soon.”

            Ed just shook his head as Parker and a few others chuckled and turned to look admiringly at Skinner.  That was Skinner for you: if anyone else had dared to make that comment, there would have been half a dozen Security goons waiting to pounce.  But Skinner never seemed to worry about Security, even though he criticized management more than anyone Ed knew.

            Before Ed could think of a response to Skinner’s comment, he saw the managers pointing.  He joined the rest of the crowd in looking in the sky to the north.  Deuce was hanging fairly low in the western sky by that point, but he could see nothing in the deep blue of the sky.  Some of his coworkers were pointing now, but he still couldn’t see anything.

            After another couple of minutes of this, he finally saw the Inspector’s car approaching out of the northern sky.  As the craft approached the plant a silence descended over the crowd, all restlessness now gone, replaced by awe or fear.  Ed stood silently with everyone else as the car made its final approach.

            The car – really a space-to-ground shuttle, of course,  but always referred to as a ‘car’ for reasons Ed had never figured out – was absolutely silent as it descended gently to the ground and landed with absolute precision.  The craft was easily ten meters long, a matte-black tube with a flattened lower surface, unbroken by any signs of windows or doors.

            After the car touched down nothing happened for five long minutes.  At first the management team stood at attention, but after a couple of minutes they started to shift around and look at each other uncertainly.  Borla tried a reassuring smile, but to Kolowinski he looked scared half to death.  The laborers started to mutter nervously, a low-pitched counterpoint to the drums that were still echoing across the clearing.

            All at once the drums switched from random noise to a single slow, steady, ominous beat.  Concentrated into a single, relentless rhythm, the sound of the drums was an overwhelming pressure in Kolowinski’s chest.  Despite himself, he felt a strong urge to hide somewhere, anywhere that wasn’t out in the open.  After two minutes of this, the door of the car slid upward without warning.  The Inspector stepped from the car and into the fading light.

            Kolowinski’s immediate reaction to his first glimpse of the Inspector was extreme dislike.  The man was tall and extremely thin.  Dark, expensive-looking sunglasses hid eyes set in a pale, aristocratic face already wearing a look of prim distaste, topped by close-cropped, immaculate dark hair.   He was wearing a dazzling white suit that Ed didn’t give a snowball’s chance of staying white once he stepped foot inside the refinery.

            The Inspector had only taken a couple of steps forward when he stopped suddenly and stood absolutely still with his head cocked to one side.  Plant Manager Borla, who had started forward to offer a much-rehearsed welcome speech, faltered to a stop and looked at his aides uncertainly.  Clearly unsure of what to do next, the plant manager settled for standing and waiting for the Inspector to move again.  Kolowinski thought he could figure out what was happening, even if Borla seemed clueless: hearing the drums for the first time had to be a disconcerting experience for anyone, let alone for someone who apparently valued quiet order as much as this Inspector was supposed to.

            After standing stock-still for a good minute, the Inspector moved forward with a start and strode with short, decisive strides past Borla, who was again trying to stammer out a greeting, and toward the open main gates of the refinery.  The laborers scrambled to move out of his way as he walked straight through their ranks as though they weren’t even there.  Followed by a dozen attendants, he walked into the dark maw of the refinery gates and disappeared from view.


            None of the rank-and-file workers saw the Inspector for the next three days, although the constant pressure to increase production and follow safety protocols to the letter was all the reminder of his presence they needed.  Borla had reinstated the standard twelve-hour, six-day work week, but it seemed to Kolowinski that the line foremen were determined to make up for the lost man-hours by pushing everyone to work twice as hard.  Ed all but forgot about the inspection over the next few days as he worked until he was ready to drop each night before dragging himself off to his bunk.

            When the Inspector did reappear, the tension level in the plant rose even higher.  The Inspector moved from station to station relentlessly, examining machinery, interviewing workers, and inspecting the refined ore with merciless precision.  No detail was too small to escape his attention.  He took notes constantly, whispering into a recording chip surgically implanted in his wrist and instructing his aides to compile thousands of digital pictures and videos.  Amazingly, the white suit never received so much as a smudge, in a plant where most of the employees’ hands were permanently stained black.  Everywhere he went workers all but stopped breathing from fear.

            The drums never relented once during the inspection.  Workers stationed in the outer parts of plant, closest to the walls, could hear as many as twenty differently-voiced drums at once, constantly varying in rhythm, pitch, and intensity.  For those workers stationed deeper in the plant, the sound was lower-voiced, with less variations getting through, but the sheer monotony of the noise was almost worse for them than for those who could at least hear some variety in the noise.  The unfortunate laborers assigned to tasks in the mines themselves, the mine rats, were subjected to the constant pounding of the deepest drums, a sound so low and intense it was felt as much as heard.

            At first, the Inspector didn’t seem to notice the drums, or if he did he was able to ignore them.  To the men he was inspecting, who had a hard time ignoring the drums even after living with them for months, this was a feat bordering on the supernatural that only served to heighten their fear of him.  His focus never faltered, his intensity never wavered, even as nervous laborers stammered through carefully rehearsed answers to his questions and tried to stand up under his icy stare.

            After a few days of this, Ed found himself back in the bar, sitting at a corner table with Tom Parker and Skinner Bowie.  All three men were exhausted and emotionally spent, but the prospect of skulking back to their bunks again was unbearable.  They didn’t talk much at first, content to sit and nurse their beers.  Finally, Parker broke the silence.

            “I hear tell he isn’t even fully human anymore, not the way we are.  Johnson over in Sorting told me that the Company does brain surgery on the Inspectors to make them smarter and meaner than regular people.  He says they don’t even need to eat or sleep anymore, so they can spend all their time inspecting stuff and looking for reasons to fire people and shut down plants.”  Parker nodded his head decisively after saying this, like he had proved a telling point.  Bowie just shook his head in disgust.

            “Johnson in Sorting would need brain surgery to achieve the intelligence of the average lump of coal.  The Company wouldn’t spend the money to alter their Inspectors like that.  They just recruit people who are already mean as sin, that’s all.”  Bowie stopped and drained half his beer before continuing.  “Besides, I don’t think our Inspector is quite as steely as he’d like us to think.”

            “What’re you talking about, Bowie?”  Tom asked indignantly.  “I had to explain my station to him and I thought he was going to rip my heart out of my body right there.  I’m telling you, he isn’t human.  Not like us, anyway.  He doesn’t blink.  And the look in his eyes, it’s like he’s just waiting for you to say the wrong thing so he can rip you apart.  Freaked me out, I don’t mind telling you.”

            “Yes, well, I don’t doubt that he ‘freaked you out,’ Tom, but I’ve been watching him as often as I could these last few days, and he’s definitely human.  For one thing, the drums are starting to get to him.”

            Ed and Bowie looked at each other in shock.  One of the great unspoken rules in the plant was that you did not mention the drums.  You might think about them constantly, you might want to claw your own ears out just to make the noise stop, but you didn’t talk about them.  Ed couldn’t remember ever hearing anyone talk about them.

            “As I said, I’ve been watching him as often as I could, and when he’s in front of us he’s all business, ruthlessly efficient and as charming as a snake.  But when he thinks no one is watching, he can’t do anything except stand there and listen to them.  He just stands completely still, with his head cocked to one side, like he’s frozen.  Yesterday he actually put his hands over his ears for a full minute before he moved.  You should have seen it: his assistants didn’t know what to do.  Some of them have started wearing ear plugs to get away from the noise, but obviously the Inspector couldn’t afford to do that.”  Bowie finished the rest of his beer in a single gulp and signaled the barkeep for another.

            “So, since you brought them up and all, what do you think –” Parker stopped talking as three more beers were delivered to their table, “—what do you think the drums mean?  I mean, where do they come from?  I know we’re not supposed to talk about them, but I’ve just always wondered about them.”

            Ed wasn’t entirely comfortable talking about the drums, but he had heard a few things, so he answered.  “The natives use the drums in their religious ceremonies.  Each drum represents a different god, and the different rhythms are all prayers for different things.  So a fast, high drum might be a prayer for rain, or a low, slow drum might be a prayer for…well, for something else, anyway.”  Ed stopped talking for a moment.  “Of course, that doesn’t explain why they pound on the damn things all the goddamned time.  I mean, who prays all the time?  I guess I don’t know what the drums mean after all, Tom.”

            Both men looked at Skinner Bowie, who was contemplating his fourth or fifth empty mug of the night.  Ed asked the question.  “Say, Bowie, what do you know about the drums?”  Ed expected Bowie to know all about the drums, but he was surprised by the man’s answer.

            “I can’t say I know much about them, except that I’d gladly welcome instant and total deafness at the moment.  What I do know, I learned from Alexander Sloboda.”

            “Old Man Sloboda?  Why would he know anything about them?”

            “Because, my friends, he has not only entered the forest that surrounds us, he is one of roughly four humans in the universe who has actually seen the natives.”


            After ordering and draining another beer, Skinner began to speak.

            “About two weeks after the drums started, I was stationed over on Sorting Three with Sloboda.  I had never met him, and at first he ignored my efforts to start a conversation.  He seemed nervous, but we were all on edge back then.  I don’t think anyone had learned to block out the drums yet, but they seemed to affect Sloboda more than most of us.  No matter what I tried, though, the old man wouldn’t talk.  He just stood at the line, doing his work and ignoring me.

            “This went on for three days, me talking, him ignoring me, while we spent eight hours a day standing next to each other, until finally toward the end of the day he turned to me and said, ‘I’ve seen them, you know.’  Well, needless to say, I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, and I was so shocked that he was talking that I didn’t know what to say.

            “After looking around to make sure no one else was near, he told me a story that I’m still not sure I believe.  It took most of the night – from the line we went back here, then to his bunk, and he never stopped talking.  He claimed that he was one of the original site inspectors who first checked out this planet for the Company, twenty years ago.  Which obviously seems impossible, except that he was so sincere it was hard to doubt him.  The man was jumpy as hell, though; the drums definitely had him spooked.

            “He told a long, rambling tale about landing right here, in the clearing this plant occupies, and establishing a base camp.  True to Company form, the site engineers had to come down to the surface to do weeks of work that would take a day if the Company would pay for the rights to a couple of AI-level computers.  Sloboda said they spent the first few days making routine observations and taking copious notes.

            “Then the drums started.

            “He said they were just as loud then as they are now, and even more frightening because they were so unexpected.  You see, every scan and reconnaissance mission had indicated that there were no indigenous populations on the planet.  After a lot of hemming and hawing, they decided to send out some people to investigate.  Sloboda was one of them.

            “I won’t bore you with all the details of the journey into the jungle that he shared with me: detailed descriptions of practically every plant and small animal they encountered, as well as a truly encyclopedic list of minor injuries and aches he accrued during the three days they traveled inland.  Suffice it to say that it’s a very hot, lush, humid jungle, with lots of thick brush, tall trees, little light, and no easy paths.

            “After a week of traveling they encountered the natives.  This is where Sloboda’s tale broke down: he would not or could not describe the natives or what he saw during that time, and several times he started to break down and cry.  I do know that several men were lost immediately before contact.  Sloboda swears he saw several thousand natives in a vast clearing in the middle of the forest, and every last one of them was pounding on a drum, everything from tiny hand-held skins up to oval drums standing ten meters tall, but that was all the detail he could give me.  His tale became less and less coherent, until he seemed enraged and terrified at the same time.

            “Finally, after talking for hours, Sloboda suddenly stopped and stared at the wall silently for a while with a look of terror on his face.  After ten minutes of this, during which time I barely moved for fear of sending him over the edge, he turned to me and, in absolute terror, whispered, ‘they want another one.’  Just a whispered question, but it sent chills up and down my entire body and gave me nightmares for a week afterward.  I got out of there pretty quickly after that and haven’t spoken with him since.”

            Ed and Tom sat silently for a while after Skinner finished speaking, nursing their beers and thinking about Old Man Sloboda’s story.  Ed wasn’t sure what to believe and what to discount as the ravings of a mentally ill mind.  For one thing...

            “If he was a site engineer, why would he be working on the line as a common laborer twenty years later?”  Ed had a feeling the answer was obvious, but he couldn’t work it out.  Skinner answered quickly, but in a way that made Ed at least feel like the question hadn’t been a stupid one.

            “I’ve wondered about that myself, Ed.  The only thing I can figure is that Sloboda saw something the Company doesn’t want advertised.  They didn’t want to kill him, but they also couldn’t let him off the planet, for whatever reason, so they stuck him in the plant, where he couldn’t do any harm.  A sort of permanent exile, if you will.”

            Ed thought about it for a while.  It didn’t feel right, but he couldn’t come up with anything better, so he let it go.  “Here’s another one:  if the Company has made contact with the natives, twenty years ago, why haven’t they ever announced that?  If they’ve never made contact, as they claim, why is simply entering the woods a crime?  For that matter, the Company claims that there are no natives, and the drums are actually just a natural phenomenon.  I saw it on the All-Net before I came here.  Why the big denial?  What are they hiding?”  Ed fell silent, a little surprised at himself.  Skinner sat quietly, evidently in thought, while Tom looked more than a little confused.

            “Those are all good questions, Ed, and I don’t know the answers to any of them.  Here’s one more I can’t answer, and it was one of the last coherent things Sloboda said before he scared the hell out of me:  why did the drums stop after the last inspection ten years ago, only to start up again a few months before the next scheduled inspection?”  With that, Skinner stood up and excused himself before wandering toward the exit.  Tom sat a few minutes longer, still looking confused, before he too got up and moved toward the exit.  Ed stayed until closing, chewing over questions with no answers and wondering where this was all leading.


            The three men didn’t talk much over the next few days about Sloboda’s story, but Ed thought about the story constantly, and especially pondered the connection that Sloboda had implied between the inspections and the drums.  No matter how much he chewed on the problem, though, he couldn’t make any sense of it.  It was like a Gordian knot, impenetrable and ultimately, he suspected, unanswerable.  Perhaps there was no connection, and the drums’ stopping after inspections was sheer coincidence.  The more he thought about it, the less sure he felt about anything, including the likelihood that the old man’s story was true.

            The one thing Ed was sure of during that time was that the drums were finally getting to the Inspector.  Skinner had said as much, of course, but not it was obvious to everybody in the plant.  The Inspector still wandered the plant at all hours of the day, observing and whispering notes into his wrist, but he was a changed man.  His pristine white suit glistened no longer; it was smudged and smeared with grease and smoke.  He didn’t seem to notice.  His short hair was dirty and unkempt, and he ran his free hand through it continuously.  Where before he had glided from station to station, he now darted about uncertainly, practically running from spot to spot before stopping altogether and standing silently, head cocked, for minutes at a time. 

            The Inspector approached Ed once during this time.  Ed was shocked by the man’s appearance: up close, his eyes were blood shot and red-rimmed and blonde stubble stood out in uneven patches on his cheeks.  His lips were cracked and bleeding and he mumbled constantly under his breath.  As he stood staring at nothing, Ed thought he heard the phrase ‘drums of Hell,’ but he wasn’t sure.  After staring into space for five minutes, the Inspector turned suddenly, glared at Ed, then turned and sprinted down the narrow gangway, up a flight of stairs, and around a corner toward Borla’s office.  Ed shrugged and tried to look nonchalant as he returned to work, even though his heart was pounding after the strange encounter.


            Three days later, Ed found himself back in the bar, sitting with Tom and Bowie and group of other men around the table.  As before, the place was overflowing with exhausted men who were, for the most part, drinking quietly and trying to ignore the pounding drums.  When a mine rat burst through the doors at the far end with a crash and a yell, Ed started awake.  Everyone turned to stare in shock at the man who was now trying to talk and catch his breath.

            “He’s…gone…forest…he….”  Finally the man stopped trying to talk and stood for a minute, breathing deeply, while everyone, Ed included, got up and surrounded him.  Skinner somehow worked his way to the front of the crowd and handed the man a mug filled with dark beer.

            “Here now, drink this, son, and take your time.”  Skinner looked around at the curious, shocked, or angry faces surrounding him.  “Don’t take too much time, though, huh?  Now, what is it?  Nice and easy, there you go.”  The man had recovered enough to speak almost normally.

            “The Inspector.  He’s gone.  He –” The man was interrupted as a hundred men starting shouting questions at once.  Skinner held up his hand for silence, and then motioned to the man to continue.  Perhaps realizing that he wasn’t doing a very good job, the man took a deep breath and started again.

            “The Inspector is gone.  He walked into the forest alone, about thirty minutes ago.  Just walked out the back gates and into the trees by himself, carrying nothing but a flashlight.  I happened to be coming up from my shift and saw him walk by, with Borla and the rest close behind, so I sort of followed along.  Borla and everyone else stopped about twenty feet out of the gate, but the Inspector just kept on going, walking fast and straight, like he knew just where he was going.  I was so shocked I just stood there.  Borla must have been shocked too, because when he turned around and saw me he didn’t do anything, just said, ‘He says he’s going to stop the drums’ and then turned around and walked back into the building.”

            All bedlam broke loose now, as everyone started talking, laughing, and drinking at once.  A dark man in badly stained coveralls jumped up on the bar and motioned for quiet.

            “To the Inspector.  I don’t know if he’s the bravest man here or the craziest, and I don’t really care as long as I don’t have to look at him anymore!”  This was met with raucous laughter and enthusiastic drinking.  More toasts followed, all centered on the basic theme that the men didn’t really care what happened as long they didn’t have to deal with the Inspector any longer.

            The party grew so loud that it nearly drowned out the drums.  Ed realized with amusement that he couldn’t even really hear them properly anymore over the shouting and laughter.  Even when he stopped and really tried to listen, they weren’t there…there was no pressure in his chest….

            “Ed, what’s wrong?”  Skinner looked mildly concerned.  Ed put his fingers to his lips and focused on trying to detect the drums.  Nothing.  He looked at Skinner in something like disbelief, a lump forming in his throat at the mere thought.  He couldn’t do more than whisper to Skinner.

            “The drums.  Listen.”  Skinner looked at him skeptically, then shrugged and listened.  His expression moved quickly from quizzical interest to doubt, then to something approaching awe.

            “Quiet!”  Skinner’s voice roared over the din, instantly getting everyone’s attention.  There were a few protestations, but within a few seconds almost complete silence had descended.

            Silence without drums.  They had been a part of the fabric of life for so long that it took some men a while to realize what was missing.  Men look at each other in wonder, in awe, even in fear and then, as the deafening silence stretched from twenty seconds to thirty, from thirty seconds to a minute and then two, a look of absolute joy spread over the face of everyone in the room.  Grown men, some of the toughest Ed had ever known, stood and wept openly but quietly, listening to the indescribable silence.  Later that night there would be loud and joyous parties, but for now, all over the plant, men simply stood silently and thanked whatever gods they prayed to that the ordeal with the drums was over.  The message spread quickly throughout the plant that management had declared a general holiday.

            For Ed, as for many other people, the absence of noise was overwhelming; he felt almost lost without it at first.  But only for a short while; much, much later that night, when he finally crawled into his bunk, delirious and overwhelmed, he slept peacefully for the first time in months.


            Meanwhile, as Ed and his friends celebrated the end of the drums and the inspection, Plant Inspector Borla sat alone in his private office, high atop the northernmost tower of the complex, and composed a message to be sent to the Company’s President.  The President was a man who valued brevity and concision above all else; the composition of the message was a tricky business.  In the end, Borla settled on the following:

Mr. President:


Inspector’s visit a complete success; nervous condition manifested exactly as predicted.  Sacrifice seems to have been satisfactory to natives; operations should continue unimpeded for another ten years.  I shall contact you at that time to arrange for another inspection.


                                                Plant Manager Borla


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