Bewildering Stories

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Serial: part I

Sat Alone With His Computer

by John Thiel

He was only one man. Not among or against many, for he did not regard himself as being actually among others. He was not in any conflict with them. He regarded them as encroachers whose existence was basically negligible. They were effigies who distracted him, made him unable to operate his systems with maximum effectiveness.

It's what he expected them to do. He was an actualized genius in the art of computing, one who had far surpassed anyone's expectations for an operational specialist. The kind often prophesied but never recognized upon appearance.

The Power Elite of Systems wanted a specialist to be good, but not that good.

Dylac Scudd was a name that was beginning to resound throughout WorldSovereign Systems, the hydra-concern that had bases on three moons and several asteroids and was now contemplating the cosmic jump that would make their InterNet consolidation interstellar.

No one seemed to like the sound of that name. There had not been any Removal attempts, but deletions in his profile were many and cancellations had been used in such a manner that whole programs had been diverted, with obvious design. If ever the Systems Managers had been trying to tell someone something, they were doing it now. His own position of disesteem could easily be read out of the data.

They didn't need men like him. Even the interstellar attempt could best be handled by what was already handling it, a mass input of thinking regulated by wizards in the overseeing levels. Genius was not progress. Indeed, it most frequently came up as a Retard, showing the presence of another odd-shaped human monkey-wrench caught in the gears. Genius tended not to be fully adaptable to the system.

Not that the Systems Masters had no use for it. It was precisely what was needed to handle the critical positions in which standard technicians were almost an anomaly. With a system that was virtually its own set of technicians, only a technical genius could handle the odd problems thereby arising. Everything unaccounted-for was a problem, and these problems usually required immediate resolution. The equipment could shelve it, but only the rare technician could solve it. A build-up of unreckonabilities was a certain outage in the system.

That was the nature of Dylac's position. It accounted for his unpopularity. His resolutions being over fast was causing an overload of unsolved problems. The problem could not be referred back to him, obviously. The problem would be tending to create itself. Describing the problem in these terms served the function of a rationalization and equalized the condition, but the situation was well remembered nevertheless.

StarSystems wasn't wanting him, and neither was anyone else---except his immediate superiors, who wouldn't even consider letting him go. "There's irregularities in everybody's system," Paul Stuck, his direct supervisor, said. "If there weren't any irregularities, the system would be running too smoothly. You can ask Dylac about that." It was a joke. Dylac's regularizations had become irregularities by accumulation and expectation.

It might have been accountable to a systems grind, but somehow Dylac was growing more and more remote from the system in general. He was able to handle things without much interchange, and conversation in his office was coming to relate more and more to the jobs at hand. Dylac became a man sequestered at his desk, three-and-a-quarter walled into a trapezoid of glass.

* * *

Behind this glass he dreamed, an apparition on semi display who looked upon his observers the same way. His dreams were of faraway places which he could not reach but which could be reached by Systems. He'd been taking the places of which he dreamed into himself, assembling them privately from a tangle of information and images. All of it was part of his job, for it was his business to deal with places unseen. Australian aborigine societies were wanting the special touch of a non-observer to free them from the cloying effects of tradition, Siberian Eskimos were craving the manipulations of sources free from cultural prejudices, Tibetans were desirous of techniques not imposed upon the mystical observer by ancient ritual and ceremony. Molochi wanted gambling, Easter Island wanted randomicity. These calls had been noticed and assimilated into a grand design, and as Scudd had the account, he had become a demigod. It was because he was visualized as such.

The access was FOREIGN LANDS, EXOTIC, PRIMITIVE, TRADITIONAL, a simple route to a vast status quo realm whose existence was so far-fetched as to be esoteric. They were that to him also, never-never lands through which his spirit moved, at-one and yet dissonant, building and rebuilding what had already been made, evolving new and challenging patterns in which mind and spirit were commingled with the physical, and in this he could experience being and non-being, the delights of the high and the torments of the low, union and separation. He was the perfect deity. He could walk away from it all when he chose and return when he chose, his limitations being defined working hours. But the program in which he operated wasn't much different, of late, from himself. This made him less than perfect. The perfect deity isn't subject to his own deityhood.

In his dreams, he was often one with the multitudes, quite opposite to the way he was living. He felt himself to be part of the creative urge and its realization and with the nihilism and nirvana of destruction. He dreamed of history and transfiguration, expansion and compression, the real and the abstract, his dreams peopled by the inhabitants of faraway regions, involved in what they seemed to be doing.

He was the last man on Earth. That is, the last to come into being, the latest and the last, because what could develop from what he was? He had his own visionary microcosm to survey, a world that did not, perhaps, exist, and which would not be very likely to come into existence; hence, a world that would go out of existence if he ceased tending to it. The last man on a new Earth of his own.

* * *

He wasn't being ignored. "You're quite the active dreamer, aren't you?" Clan Webster asked him one day. His question seemed to Dylac to be almost telepathic. Clan seemed determined that afternoon to make conversation that was not about the technique of their latest operation. Scudd was surprised by the sudden intimacy.

"It's an acute observation, Clan. Observations like that are valuable, but I suppose you would know that."

"It's time-tried with me. It's gotten to be second nature with me to be an acute observer. And it's been my secret that I can be accurate about anything, even a person's mood."

"You should meet someone who's more your type, more compatible. That won't be found in this office. We're all business, not a humanist society."

"Well, yes. I suppose I could find what I was looking for in the cube containing Dilsey Chalmer. She handles the human relations setups and is an excellent secretary. I suppose her Mixing Service is deemed a necessity even by the higher-ups."

Scudd knew that he was considered to be largely uninterested in interoffice relations. He said, "I don't doubt that is well-thought-of. I myself think her position should be further emphasized and enhanced. Greater harmony in the office is a plus, realistically and for its own sake."

Dilsey had heard this conversation and she emerged from her own office space. She said, "You would be in favor of it. Perhaps we can acquire some of YOUR greater harmony- -the soulful effect of the Tibetans, for instance, or the group consciousness of the aborigines."

"Speaking of harmony, he's the most harmonious man in the setup," Clan said, laughing. "I'm sure we could use some of his disembodied approach to existence. Heh, heh. She already said that."

"I didn't know you knew about it," Dylac asserted. "I have been expressing some of my outlook, but I haven't set a name to it."

"Your filing system does that for you," Clan said. "I think it becomes almost metaphysical around here at times, if you look at it in a certain way."

Dylac wanted things more to the point. "I'm not sure anyone likes this. It could be you've got some complaints about my outlook."

"Non-fileable ones, too. Not that I want you to stop having that perspective, and I'm not wanting any of us to be relieved of it. But I was about to suggest that you might want to talk to a psychological specialist about it. It could sort of broaden the outlook, even interpret it in comparitive terms. I think one of the complaints I could have is that you're not being sociable enough. Let the rest of us in on things."

Dylac took a step backward, wheeling slightly in another direction as if acquiring a different short-range perspective. "I hadn't thought about it in those terms," he said. "Merely having a chat with one of those fellows, eh? Well, I might consider doing it for the very reasons you've named, but I don't know who would line me up. They've got enough cases that are cases not to be otherwise available."

"You can't consult with one online," Dilsey said.

"No, it has to be a direct encounter. That's the whole theory of it," Clan said. "Of course, all the available specialists do technical work, but one would like to have a private discussion on his favorite topic. They have no private practices. I wasn't suggesting you should see a money-making practitioner. I wouldn't dare to. It would be too much of an offense."

Dylac said, "Those offenses can be very expressive. However, the kind of consultation you recommend sounds rather appealing. You've about got me sold. If you can give me further information about such a get-together, I'll try it out."

The three did a charade around the available office floorspace, viewing Clan's suggestion from various perspectives. A couple of other workers came forth to join in it. For awhile the discussion was quite lively, but it was finally ameliorated by due protocol; the talk had not really been part of the order of the day.

* * *

The matter of the interoffice conference loomed over things at the office the way unusual occurrances did. Dylac's outlook was not seriously disturbed by the new eventuality and his spirit continued to roam in his available channels of communication and brood over his placement in the scheme of things.

Part 2
Part 3

Copyright © 2002 by John Thiel