Bewildering Stories

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Sat Alone At His Computer, part 2

by John Thiel

Finally the time for the meeting arrived. Clan spread before him a large outlay of possibilities which Dylac calculated carefully. "There seems to be a sort of rift in the day here where an interview could be fitted in," he said.

"It's during process, a time when you and Berkins, that's his number there, will be idling simultaneously. There are other factors involved, and it's a practice run; we're going to program the possibility with all its attendant phenomena for an elementary outlook, and see how the general process takes to it."

"You expect other opportunities like it?"

"Even better ones. It can be indicated in much the same manner as 'lunch hour' or 'safety drill' is done. At the same time it's seen as an irregularity and the use of the same, under the heading 'idling;' we once set forth 'viewing of pictures' as an example but the system didn't want it. In the end you'll be seen as functioning elsewhere with a non-necessary task. We don't intend to claim it as any form of office necessity."

It was one of those illusions, then, that travelled through the computational world's views, fading out with some display on its event horizons. Finally there would be remote air space and a breathability to the process, and the new non-conference would pass easily, just as if it never had been, only semi-accounted for like so many things of this life.

He communed then with the night. He found himself waiting for the new experience.

* * *

It took place in a small and comfortable sub-level oasis. He found the psychologist agreeable company.

"How are things in the trade?" Dylac asked Berkins. He was seated across a long shining table from him. On the table reposed fluids of a high drinkability ratio. Dylac picked up one of the phials, settling into comfort and relaxation.

"I couldn't ask for better if I tried," Berkins said. "I suppose you mean, what exactly do I do? I think you know my position is adjunctive to yours, although at times you do consult with us. The nature of my service is the simple one of isolating psychological colorations in a problem and dealing with those suited to our establishment, forwarding them knowledgably elsewhere if they are not. I know I'm describing my function in a crude and basic manner, but I'm somewhat that way, whereas the tasks I handle are not and are quite the opposite. The real technician exists somewhere in the components, and I myself am compensating for the need for non-technical places in the general scheme, is the way I see my position."

"Why, I could have you fired," said Dylac, sipping.

"Sure you could, and I hold onto my position less sincerely than many. I'd be relieved of obligations. When it comes to being the right man on the spot, you've got me beat by a hare."

"A hare, a fief and a tariff," said Dylac. "But I don't feel so secure."

"Why not?"

"Who knows, the whole system might go out of existence."

Berkins mulled this. Treating it as if it were a difficult problem that might well be avoided, he said at last, "That's a step in saying that the entire approach to existence might cease to be meaningful, and lose its credibility."

"In that case, it would go back into the human consciousness from which it evolved."

"Well, systems are indeed transient, and the same may be said of ways of life. I believe the present system in which we are involved has gotten us into thinking rather ultimately."

They were interrupted by a person who came in to see that the lounge decor was all in order, and the visitors well-attended-to. "It's a living," he said. "Although it resembles the slackest of times in the early days of the Industrial Revolution."

"That's art," Berkins said, laughing, as the man went out. "He's actually a minor technician on a Vacation Function, though."

"You sound like you're talking to an Observer."

"I'll say one thing for our present way of life," Berkins said. "We've got freedom of speech as never before."

"It's a category over in some department or other that I've been getting familiar with," Dylac said. "Oh, yeah, Justice."

He noticed that they were getting thicker. If he had wanted it to be that way, he was getting better results from this conference than he had reason to expect. He thought it over. Would it be any good to amalgamate attitudes with this individual, who was basically a completely different sort of man?

Berkins solved some thought problems on the matter for him. "People's attitudes on psychology have changed quite a bit," he said. "Psychology is now regarded as a process, perhaps even one of life's processes, one which is present in life and either does or does not influence other affairs. In private practises, the person with problems has to bring matters to a head himself. He must present his case as one which must be dealt with or which will remain as a situation interfering with the progress of other matters. We acknowledge that there will be such complaints, and even that they will rise from known or unknown circumstances. But sanity as such is not deemed necessary. The machine is what is orderly and men are not expected to be. Life is considered an ambiguosity that is solved by our technological methods as best we can manage. Men are apt to reason in any manner; we use the means we have to go into these reasonings and check their validity."

"So I see it. The only problem a man could present the system is not to like it and to be reasoning that there ought to be some other system."

"That could occur in normal reasoning, but if it were coupled with fanaticism and autonomy the problem would indeed be in the realm of sanity."

"Well, I see the system much as you say it is generally viewed."

Berkins had a slight correction. "You are of an autonomous nature. That might arise as a complaint in various departments, but it is not offensive to the system. Indeed, it might be expected, and the system might be considered to approve of it, and to encourage it."

"That makes me wonder if you see it the way it is generally viewed."

"Yes, it does. When things are seen from that perspective, of integrality to the system and likelihood of being outmoded, I might have some motives of rebellion or social criticism. But, as we have been mentioning, the system is able to take all such things into good account. I'm not harmful to it and neither are you. So it would be a few people, including myself, criticizing you for autonomy if you were being criticized for it. It does, in fact, have a rather bad reputation in classical psychology."

"As you say, it does the system no damage."

"There is, though, the matter of competition." Berkins had been quietly helpful in his commentary and Scudd had been gotten wondering what he was leading up to in his argument. Now Berkins leaned forward a little. "You get a systems impasse when one part of it is functioning too much like the rest. There are several mechanical analogies for it. Your own tendencies to consolidate might get a little too intense."

Scudd let him sit for a moment lost in thought. The criticism he had rendered could obviously be utilized in reverse. He looked the psychologist over for signs of discomfort. There were, in fact, a few of these. Then he said, "Your conversation is getting that way. I haven't noticed these matters coming up before."

"That's because they have TENDED to come up. The tendencies have been noticed, studied for accumulation, and at last merged into a slight inquiry. Your fellow staffers might already have been inclined to a sensitivity to that inquiry."

"So you think there's a danger to my position, or to myself?"

"There's one of the strongest dangers there is, that of continuance and insolvability. It's an area where a Systems Change would be necessary, and that would have to be a large one. It might even be one affecting the whole of the system."

Scudd's interest had been definitely gained. "You're not being very much concerned with a systems collapse," he said after a length of time. "Is what I'm saying."

"I have to be, though. It would definitely leave things high and dry."

"Are you proposing a solution? That's what I meant. Perhaps you see some way out of the problem you mention."

The question of whether there was a solution to be had was interesting enough to keep both of them silent for several minutes. Scudd looked his discussion partner over. The man seemed to draw into himself when he was considering something, and at the same time to look distraught and ill-at-ease, as if by huddling he was holding himself together. Also he gave a distinct impression that the answers to these questions were to be found in his pockets, if only he were able to decide to actually look there. It might be that he wanted smokes. A tiny bell rang above the lounge door, signifying a theoretic session interval for the benefit of people who never paid any attention to it. Berkins came to again and said,

"I think the way things are now, a solution would involve me. I have certain things in common with the situation you are in, that of being an ambiguous presence. Although I've been fully accounted for, there still remains the cumulative effect of my actual doings, those not being taken into full account. It's as if a mutual attraction of free-floating matter were causing us to gravitate in the same direction. We have the effect of being partial impediments to each other, which in turn registers as a systems danger. We'd have to adapt to each other in some way and inform the system that the discrepancy had been compensated for. Then we'd be back where we started."

"Getting along, in short, is involved. Yes, our reaction to meeting does constitute a series of unknown factors. And I think our behaviour would have to be mutually corroborative. I had some such idea in mind myself. I was intending to take the presence of a psychologist in a technically nearby area into account."

"That could easily be done if we were to register this as a perfect conference. With some misgivings, of course, for realism."

The session came to an end with the decision to register its occurrence as a possibility, and the matter seemed to be settled. For the sake of further realism, occasional further meetings were arranged, with a sporadic possibility pattern in regard to occurrence, but no distinct program was evolved. It fitted neatly into the range of likelihood. Berkins was definitely in another area but the geographical proximity made the happenstance a natural one. Beyond that it called attention to how remote the other department actually was, making the geographical arrangement questionable. Around there they all knew how that had happened---it was a matter that would have to be taken up with civic planners.

* * *

The visit was much discussed back in Scudd's office structure. It seemed necessary to view it as a social event. Scudd got eloquent on the matter.

"It expands the range of possibilities in a manner that is definitely geographically relevant," he said. "Suppose the matter were to go to the Planners; shouldn't we be on better and closer terms with them? We just haven't been taking them into enough account. And they certainly have been taking us into a lot of account."

"Yes," Dilsey said. "I was just about to say that. The only thing that can be done when there is a discrepancy in social planning is to get to know the social planners. Our recent experience with another department is good practice."

"Things have been getting pretty merry about this, but the planners will probably want it that way," Stan Macon, the departmental manager, said. "We've been getting stagnant. We're new enough that we're not too familiar with that condition of stagnation, but I'm sure it's a condition Systems would want to deal with. And what better way than cultural assimilation?"

"Still, that other department is situated in a backup no one has accounted for," Dilsey said. "Becoming very aware of them is a potentially dissonant and situation-forming matter. It may be we couldn't adjust things with them."

"We've had commerce with them before," Clan said. "But it's never reached the officially significant range."

The discussion broke up after awhile without referendums being made, but they all presumed it would lead informally to some further developments. Thereafter the office returned to its normal functioning.

* * *

He couldn't dismiss from his mind the thought that he had, for all intents and purposes, been viewed as a problem and furthermore recommended to a psychologist. It was a matter that involved the state of his being, and it had its effect on his meditative fancies.

His mind moved over the new substantive territory opened up by his encounter. It was a different outlook. He had always considered certain of the things around him to be naturally remote, and this remoteness to be part of the order of things, ordained, possibly, by the master planners as a systems necessity. Certainly the local human factor was going to be altered by any incursions into unrelated departments. He wondered how he could reconcile his world-view with any further local perceptions.

The experience had, however, done him good. His name was reading out better and jammings had diminished. He'd been reconciled into the system, improved what had perhaps been a blind spot, that of the incompatibility of the other office, and broadened his territory in the process. And as a deity perhaps ought to be, he was less visible in the system.

More visible, though, may have been his contemplation of the surrounding city's configurations, as he stood in a high window and looked out over it, now really bearing some of the aspect of a deity, a fact of which people within the city may have been aware, for he was being viewed in turn by others, many of them equipped with telescopic equipment. The window in which he stood was known to be a place of observation, and a turnabout seemed natural to those living and working near the system's citadel.

In the city beneath him was the ebb and flow of humanity that was of such concern in terms of System, and it was interesting to see it in terms of reality and actual cases. He could intermingle with it essentially merely by the forms his observation took. Perhaps it was due to the Tibetans, but he was becoming more and more a being who was what he saw. A view of the life of the city was coming to affect him almost metabolically. The unknown out there was much the same as the known, the imagination of what he looked upon of the same essence as the perception of its stark factuality. What might be going on in its hidden places was as much a part of him as what was visible. When it came to that, probably his imaginings were as valid in life's terms as what was considerable as facts. What were facts but ordained viewpoints and occurrences, true for as long as they were held to be true?

Of course, his observation lacked the intercourse of meaningful activity, in spite of the counter-observation; but what, after all, was the difference between what counted and what did not? Merely that imposed difference. Activity would become part of observation eventually, as it had been in preceding it. It did not matter when things occurred. Perhaps, he thought, it did not matter if they occurred at all. What was so all-pervasive about matter?

Continuing in that same reasoning, it was not of great concern that he seemed to have his problem solved. Things came to whatever they came to. Disharmony might lead to progress.

He wondered how his present considerations would affect any of the rather non-materialistic territory in his jurisdiction. He'd probably be feeling in certain ways a lot closer to them, and they to him.

Speaking of getting closer, the greater tolerance he was experiencing was probably a significance that he would not lose his position. He might be receiving notification from the masters that they had noted the problem being solved.

Was there any difference between the city that lay outspread beneath him and the places elsewhere in the world that thy accessed technologically? All of it was a continuity of life with endless possibilities. It made him feel good. His associates need not be seen as meaningless others, but as part of the same humanity with which he had merged his spirit by way of the System.

* * *

Scudd's new appraisal of things had come to him none too soon. It had virtually coincided with the formulation into a thematic crux of the wave of objection to him, which was now apprehensible and situationally real. He was being discussed around the office whenever the chance arose. Now, with himself in transit from the upper observation levels, Stuck was informally leading an office symposium.

"I don't know how his non-behaviour affects our office infrastructure in general, but I do know how it affects me," he said. "I don't think Clan's original step did enough about the problem. Which is one of utterly ignoring everybody else in the concern, according to my definition of it."

Rhonson, the director of their section, had further observations to make. "We were hampered from doing anything about it for a long time by the possibility that it would get to Systems," he said. "We don't want a complaint emerging from this department, particularly as we have none. He does nothing to Systems. But he does something to US. And I think we'll have to find the way to manage it."

"It's hard to know what other steps we could take," Dilsey said. "It was hard thinking THAT one up. We're likely to become a possible systems problem ourselves if we go at it too hard. Not that we wouldn't be considered that if any complaint got to Systems."

"He does seem to have mellowed somewhat," Clan said. "I don't think our action has been wasted."

"Exactly how long would anyone define the situation as having existed?" Dilsey asked. "He wasn't always like he's been getting. It IS a question of mood."

"It's been this way ever since everyone but him got involved with an alternate concern," Macon said. "It was registered as something that shouldn't have happened, and we have guaranteed that it wouldn't happen again, but it seems to have stayed with him."

"When I proposed it abstractly to Berkins, he said it may have been his way of getting back at us," Clan said. "We had something that he didn't have in the togetherness of our alternate effort, but now he's showing that he has something we don't have---the ability to remain in a state of isolation, and whatever it is that sustains him."

"It shouldn't have traumatized him," Macon said. "It was entirely explainable. But it did go on for the better part of a month."

"As someone said, he was always pretty distant," Clan said.

"He wasn't before we were in this sort of work. He used to get too near, sometimes, then. But that was the attitude he developed for our original project."

"It was he who got us from the original experimental condition to a general acceptance within the new system," said Stuck.

"So it says, in the general history," Rhonson said. "Well, I can identify with his position and sympathize with it. I wasn't here then. So I'm somewhat subject to the same sort of individuation. I've been feeling I'd better walk carefully on the matter."

"We don't want to make any blunders," Stuck said. "Like the man suggests, we'd be walking into something ourselves."

Their conversation was interrupted by flashing lights and bells, signs of Scudd's return. "I've been getting some air," he said. "Vision is air on the upper levels."

"Isn't that a strange thing to say?" said Rhonson, covering up the fact that the conversation had been about Scudd by saying something about Scudd.

"I know it is. Probably you've been discussing me in my absence. I have been developing a different form of personal philosophy, and it has looked dangerous to you. I was just hinting at it. If you think it's dangerous, I'll tell you more about what it is. Then you can see if you think it's dangerous."

"I don't think that was a very strange thing to say," Dilsey said. "We've been calling room to think or move around 'air' for quite some time now. He might be complaining about it."

"Well, it'll give us something to talk about," Stuck said, uninterrupted. He was quick to accept the invitation; he'd been wanting to do just that, discuss things. Unlike some of the other employees, he wanted to get to just what Scudd was thinking about when he kept himself so aloof and distant. "I hadn't known there was any possibility of getting any discussion out of you about your thoughts," he said.

"Well, there is," said Scudd. "I'd LIKE to talk to people about what I think about. But it has been too new an approach to life, something I wasn't sure of or secure about. Now that I've noticed it bothers people, I've hurried it up."

He looked around at the rest of the broadly-set room. Most of the office force had been noticing the conversation. "Bettner wasn't in on it," he hazarded.

"Neither was Price," Stuck said. "But they both evolved themselves into a systems position when our new task schedule was in its process of occurrence."

The two men referred to gave looks of acknowledgement back to the group that had convened up toward the front. "I thought that informal agenda discussion was getting to be a bad thing," Price said. "It's too bad Dylac got left floating. I think that observation should be contributed to the forum."

"Seems like the problem could be solved," Rhonson said. "That'll be nicer days ahead for us. We're new enough that we still are experiencing the problems of coming into being."

* * *

Dylac didn't tell him that that was precisely the nature of his own maladaptation, but he left the get-together with the intention of letting them know it. He didn't want to return to his former way of relating to them or to see things as he had been seeing them. In re-establishing rapport with the other personnel, he wanted to be what he had been during the hiatus and see if he could get them thinking more his way. It had seemed like he was not only isolated in the office, but isolated in the world. There may have been personal gains to it, but the way to re establish contact was to contribute his new thoughts to them. There was, in fact, as Stuck had said, plenty to discuss.

Of course, they might not like what he said, but that was the nature of social intercourse. A new dynamic for the concern was just what it needed to account for its continuing existence. He was beginning to think the office way, and that too would contribute to his re-assimilation into it.

* * *

In Tibet, the psychic researchers were not unaware of the new turns events were taking. The spirits who had come from the sky had been ambiguous at first, inscrutable as to motives and methods, different in their ways, and had gone through several episodes of change, but once they had gotten things arranged, they seemed to maintain a ceaseless constancy, to which, when they perceived it would be unchanging, the Tibetans had wholly adapted. Now any difference in the ways that had been imposed upon them were highly disturbing.

"I'm telling you, the system has got flaws in it. We shouldn't have bought."

"They've seen somewhat that has troubled their horizons. A cloud has been cast from their north."

"The net fabric hath been rent, of a surety. New devices on old wildebeests. I was able to perceive it. Is it not written, 'The river hath changes, as do the courses of man; and who can forestall them?'"

"If it were not so, the prophets would be wrong."

The speakers were the men in closest contact with the system, events of a high order, judged the ones best able to understand the concept of the net, and to be able to master contact with it. They were not accustomed to being able to do anything about the vagaries of the system, let alone deal with its constant policies; reasoning with it was their only potentiality.

"Give some to the Earth Mother, it will all be the same."

The beneficences they received had become more and more akin to their own ways, and had been causing a change that was widespread, a somewhat optimistic influence that spread from its original hemispheres into all ways of life. Its original metaphysical tendencies had been supplanted by an interest in architecture, agriculture, marketing and population data, and recently it had become interested in road-building. But now the InterNet seemed to have swung back to the less interpretable, and this it was reinterpreting.

The high priest of the ruling sect didn't like it. "We're approximately thralls to that establishment," he said. "It would seem well to me if we could in some way divert this thing back at its origin. It isn't very good not to react at all. Eventually there is inertia, then innervation."

In practical fact, the seers liked no reaction at all. Inertia and innervation seemed good to them. But they were compelled by the system that seemed to be bringing that to them to do something about it. They had been unable to avoid opposites from the first, hence the involvement with the InterNet. Their research had integrated them into it. Their reactions tended to acquire significance, and the System had them described as the New Men of Tomorrow's World.

Several had figured out that it was Scudd whose interest was leading them toward mutation. He'd been called the "Cloud of Doubt" since his influence first darkened their horizons, and it looked like his somewhat subtle dealings might annihilate their culture.

The weather, which had been somewhat influenced by the presence of Systems, took a turn toward darkness as they commenced registering their existence as dissatisfied observers.

* * *

The city had lasted for a hundred and ninety years from its Yukon-like origins. It was populated with people with new ideas and new approaches to existence. It was now a super-city with settlement features and living styles here and there. It had exceeded original expectations and the ultra teletype-and-video culture it carried had gotten into the InterNet, predicting spectacular results.

Part 1
Part 3

Copyright © 2002 by John Thiel