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abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Inside Job 5

{Part 1 here}

Jeremy dreamt.

He was seated at his terminal, debugging a program. But the screen was filled with cuneiform characters. As he peered at the screen, trying to decipher them, they lost focus, swirled, seemed to melt away, only to reform into hieroglyphic script. Amidst the stylized figures and the pothooks and hangers, the eyes seemed to be blinking. He stopped trying to interpret it, concentrating on getting rid of the scarabs interspersed through the text, but when he hit , nothing seemed to happen. He looked down at the keyboard and found the keys were Mayan pictographs carved in relief. When he looked up at the screen again, his program was in runes.

He awoke. The fitted sheet had let go of the corner of the mattress and fit itself around his hand; the rest of the bedding had come to rest on the floor. On the plastic milkcaddy posing as a bedstand, the clockradio read 1.56, while the blinking red diode on the answering machine seemed to count off the seconds. As his eyes adjusted to the sunlight filtering in around the windowshade, the clockradio switched to display 1.55.

Jeremy shifted the sheet back around the mattress, leaned over to turn the volume back up on the phone and the answering machine, and hit . The tape reset and started: "This is Marion Schotz. I'd like to meet with you as soon as ... it's convenient for you, to clear up some misunderstandings. Please ring me back at my office so we can arrange a time."

He glanced at the clock. 2.0G. Shambling heavily into the bathroom, he splashed cold water on his face, then returned to sit on the edge of the bed, pulled the campus directory out from the milkcaddy and lifted the phone from its cradle. No dial tone. "Hello?"

"Jeremy? Phil. Hey, you pick up quick! Thought I was going to talk to the machine."

"No, no, I just got up."

"Well, you're psychic, but I don't have to tell you that. You talk to Schotz?"

"I was just about to call him."

"Hey, bud, we're back in business! What did I tell you this morning? Up the ivory tower without a ladder! But don't waste time yakking with me -- call Schotz, and I'll catch up with you afterwards in our office!"

"Our office?"

"Yeah, I mean your old office, but I'm getting another workstation set up in there ... but talk to Schotz first -- give me a buzz if you're held up. Your extension. Bye!"

Jeremy pushed down the button in the cradle, took a deep breath, and dialed.

"Economics department."

"Hi, uh, Judy? This is Jeremy Danzer. Is Dr. Schotz available?"

"Jeremy? You were here this morning? Yes, Dr. Schotz told me you might call. He's just started class, but he'll be free around three. Can you come in then?"


"Alright, I'll put you down for three." Jeremy heard irregular pecking at a keyboard in the background. "Very good, he'll see you then."

* * *

A quick shower and a change of clothes (into what the "suits" deemed corporate casual) later, he presented himself at the Econ department's reception desk. "Jeremy, Dr Schotz is in his office," Judy said. "I think you know where it is." He thought she almost winked.

The door to the corridor was open. The burgundy wall-to-wall carpet was a thicker pile than the grey industrial grade stuff in the outer offices. The furnishings were also a grade better, with a dark mahogany finish rather than blond wood or metal and composite, even down to the windowblinds, behind drapery that compared to the standard issue as velvet might to burlap. Only the fluorescent lights in the ceiling were the same, but here augmented by a green-shaded incandescent lamp on the desk, where Scholtz pored over some paperwork.

"Dr. Schotz?"

"Mr. Danzer." Schotz rose up from behind the desk, stepped out, extended his hand. The grip was firm but brief; the other hand swept over towards one of the two armchairs facing the desk. "Please take a seat," he said, turning the other chair to face Jeremy and sitting. Jeremy did likewise.

"Mr. Danzer, we've not had too many dealings, and the most recent have not been ... propitious. I'd like to take the opportunity to clear the air before moving on to other matters. I don't know if you were aware that your program interfered with some research I've been performing --"

"Yes, sir, I found out afterwards."

"Very well, then. As you may imagine, I was ... not pleased. You know, the press to publication and all that. I lodged a complaint. I didn't expect much to come of it, but it subsequently seemed to take on a life of its own ... not unlike your program." He smiled wanly. "Suggestions were made of misappropriation of computer resources, circumvention of security controls, and other violations of university protocols. At any rate, it all led up to the decision to cancel rather than suspend your project. All rather extraordinary, particularly with Dr. John unavailable ... he's back next week?"

Jeremy nodded.

"Good. Where was I? Ah, yes." He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees, hands folded. "When your program's second output turned up, I happened to be in the SimLab, working with a staffer there to reconstruct some of my research data. That grad student you work with, um, Philip, was there as well, and when he denied knowing anything about it, and what with the activity on your account, it gave every appearance that you'd hacked into the system ... thus the strong words on the note I dispatched him with. That sort of decision is clearly outside my authority, anyway ... I'd just like to say, I'm sorry if I caused you any personal distress."

"Thank you for taking the trouble to explain, Dr. Schotz. I am sorry about the effect on your research -- it was completely unintentional."

"Of course it was. Funny thing about intentions ... you see, I'm a bit of a student of the history of science and technology. There are many well-documented cases of advances accomplished not by slow and steady progress, nor by revelation, but by fortuitous accident. Sometimes the ground had been prepared, and it was an accident waiting to happen, other times it came from out of the blue. Take penicillin -- if Fleming's sample hadn't been contaminated, or if he hadn't taken notice of that one anomalous sample, or rejected it because it didn't fit in with his experimental design, it might have been years before antibiotics were discovered. As it was, this bit of serendipity was good enough for a knighthood and a Nobel for Fleming."

"Sort of broke the mold ... sorry, I think I've been hanging around Phil too long."

Schotz smiled. "That's okay. I'm glad you've been able to keep your sense of humor. Well, I may be getting a little ahead of myself here, but I think your program has the earmarks of such a fortuitous accident. More to the point, so do some of the staff, particularly among the junior faculty in the computer division -- and you've certainly piqued the curiosity of the AI cognoscenti here."

"But, sir, I don't think --"

"Hear me out. I don't claim to be well-versed in this area -- if you want, you'll have the chance to speak with people who are much more expert than I. These same people tell me that, in effect, you've executed an end run around the whole AI program here. Whether or not this was what your project was meant to do, it turned the heads of a lot of people who supposedly know better. And, given that your appointment here was ... controversial in the first place --"

"How do you mean?"

"Your hiring was something of a pilot project, something that ... some people here would have liked to have seen never get off the ground. Consider that the type of work that you're doing here has been traditionally reserved for full-fledged professors, some of whom have been known to be ... territorial, shall we say. The idea of dispensing important work to an outsider, not even a grad student firmly under the thumb of a faculty member, was anathema for many of them. Personally, I favored such a move, since the prospect of cross-fertilization between academia and industry is a well-established tenet in my discipline, and I viewed it as an opportunity to forge another link to the business community. But, to get back to the point, your results so far turned many such critics into ... well, if not believers, at least interested parties. Some of whom would like to pick up your work and run with it, I might add." Schotz sat back, his elbows on the armrests, fingers touching. "In part due to the peculiarity of the situation, and my inadvertent role in contributing to it, the board has reversed its decision regarding the termination of the AUTOLOGOS project, and has permitted me to speak on its behalf in extending an offer to you to return to your post."

"Thank you, sir, but --"

"Before you say anything, there's more to it than just getting your job back." Schotz leaned over to pick up a folder from on top the desk, set it open on a leg crossed over to hold it. "First, the matter of your severance." Schotz drew a sheet of paper, highgrade bond, from the folder and handed it across to Jeremy. "Should you choose to stay on, you will retain the payment as an incentive bonus. Not a term that many are familiar with in these precincts ... but the circumstances are extraordinary."

Jeremy glanced at the bottom of the document and saw that the signatories included the Dean of the College of Computer Arts and Sciences as well as one of the Trustees. Schotz was handing him a laminated plastic card. "Your ID badge, reactivated," he said, following with more, but thinner, paper, "and here is the authorization to re-establish your computer access. They'll set up a separate account, but with all the necessary permissions to access your old one -- that's also been reactivated, but it was thought best to leave it undisturbed, to see what might happen without interference. Other resources will be made available to your team -- I mean those whom you choose to involve -- as the need arises; the Dean of Development will attend personally to any requests."

Schotz rose, set the folder back on the desk. "The details of your continuing relationship with the University will be defined in due course, and I'm sure will be attractive, moreso than your current ... previous contract -- and will of course be retroactively applied." He imperceptibly motioned Jeremy to get up. "As I said, there's no need for a definitive decision or commitment at this point, but it should be a no-brainer. Meanwhile," he continued, escorting Jeremy to the door, "your efforts to determine what actually occurred in the initial run, or is occurring now, will be greatly appreciated."

{So concludes Chapter 1 of Introversion for Beginners, Volume I. Chapter 2 is currently unavailable due to technical difficulties.}