A Literary historical science fiction mystery
Table of Chapters
Chapter 0. Problems
Chapter 1. Headaches
Chapter 2. Happy Holidays
Chapter 3. Mr. Nice Guy ----------------------------->
Chapter 4. The Brainless One
Chapter 5. A Little Crazy
Chapter 6. Grave Consequences
Chapter 7. Core Directives
Chapter 8. Expect Difficulties
Chapter 9. Caveats
Chapter 10. Mister Machine
Chapter 11. Good News, Bad News, El Cheapo
Chapter 12. New Memories
Chapter 13. Little Problems
Chapter 14. Lasers, Language, and Happiness
Chapter 15. Chatterbots
Chapter 16. Ready Or Not
Chapter 17. Not a Turing Test
Chapter 18. Reality Test
Chapter 19. Chess, Anyone?
Chapter 20. FOM
Chapter 21. Chairman of the Board
Chapter 22. The Usual Suspects
Chapter 23. M. God
Chapter 24. Walkabout
Chapter 25. Why
Chapter 26. First Blood
Chapter 27. More Machines?
Chapter 28. POV
Chapter 29. ROI
Chapter 30. Last Blood
Chapter 31. Don’t Want to Talk About It
Chapter 32. Round Table
Chapter 33. A Change of Mind
Chapter 34. Threes
Chapter 35. Knight Moves
Chapter 36. Little Combinations
Chapter 37. Can We Talk?
Chapter 38. Pas de Deux
Chapter 39. The Jig Is Up
Chapter 40. Good, Bad, Ugly Chapter 41. Function Goes On
Don’t believe everything you think.
Gaitano (Guy) Enver-Wilson hadn’t seen that bumper sticker before, and he spit out a laugh. As an engineer and a developer of event-driven computer programs, Guy appreciated the importance of timing: Sighting that sticker a few seconds earlier or later would have sprayed his table and window with a mouthful of mocha. He scanned the shop for anyone whom he could cast as owner of the car—or believer of its sticker.
His twenty-five years made him seem old to most of his siblings—yes, siblings was as good a word as any to describe the other foster kids. To middle-aged people he seemed quite a bit younger. Maybe it was his blond haired crew cut and shy manner.....
Doc had scheduled this talk and deliberately picked a Saturday. Guy gave up trying to guess the agenda. Looking out the window, the young man saw his boss stride ‘round a corner, run thin fingers quickly through his mane of steel grey hair, and throw open the café door.
Dr. Maynard Little was a tall, dark, but not particularly handsome man—“rugged” would be a better word—and was old enough to be Guy’s father or possibly his grandfather. Although Doc could be considered old, he seemed more an ageless man. Lanky, energetic, with a chiseled, not quite gaunt face. He walked and drove with hurried purposefulness but rarely hurried when he was stopped and doing something or talking with someone. You didn’t feel that his motor was running and in gear, ready to go someplace if you looked away or paused for breath.
Guy rose to greet him. The Ohio window scene still resembled a stage, and Guy still felt like someone at a play: The curtain had just gone up and the wind, whistling now and groaning through the trees, played an overture he heard through the glass.
As they sat, the wind outside shifted and Guy had an eerie feeling: Trees and shrubs were now an audience craning for a better view inside the café window, and the two men were on stage. Certainly he didn’t know what the play was about; Doc had told him nothing. All he heard in his mind’s ear were words of G. K. Chesterton as a sort of voice-over narration: There is one thing that gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.
Doc settled in his chair. “Guy,” he began quietly, “you are a good man. It has been a pleasure working with you. You know your stuff. You are professional and thoughtful about what you do. I’ve known brilliant programmers who couldn’t handle themselves as well as you do.”
Guy's thoughts raced: Yesterday was payday. I’m getting fired. Sacked. Canned. Let go…
To him thoughts often seemed like students in the school halls, jostling him and each other as they hurried from where they had popped to where they were going. “Running with bulls in the streets of Pamplona” seemed a better simile now. He stood his mental ground and side-slipped the thought of losing his job by agreeing with another thought that was obviously true: But, he called me “good.”
Yet another thought pushed back: He only said “good.” I’m getting fired. Jesus!
People think consciously at perhaps ten times the speed they speak, which computes to about 1500 words a minute, so all of this internal conversation happened, of course, in a small fraction of the time it takes to tell it. The lightning of his boss’s words produced thoughts that rumbled around like thunder in Guy’s mind. The Doctor studied his programmer’s face for a few seconds and then continued, “I have known you since your co-op days at MTM—since before we formally met—and I have learned I can trust you even though we disagree about some really fundamental things.”
Looking at Guy’s empty cup, he added, “Let's grab some coffee or whatever you want and finish this outside. I'll buy.”
“As you probably know,” the Doctor began as they reached the path, “TLC has a bunch of great products in the works. But there is a very large problem: We are desperately short of qualified testers. If we test the stuff with our present staff, it means we are not working on research and development.”
“And programmers,” added Guy, “can’t have the final word on whether their code has bugs. And good testers cost money.”
“Yes,” the Doctor said after a moment or two, “you programmers look at things from inside the black box and can’t really be trusted to test your own stuff thoroughly.”
Swallowing another mouthful of coffee with a face-wrinkle of distaste Doc continued: “Bob Turcote is the best QA man I’ve ever seen. Raj and the others are good, too. I’d like a half dozen more, but we can’t afford ‘em. For most jobs, we often need three times the number of testers as developers to deliver product quickly. Things will get worse as the new products hit. We cannot afford to leave bugs for the users to find.
“Now, just between us, you understand…” Doc stared at Guy, waiting until the programmer gave definite noises of agreement. “I have tapped our financial resources to the limit. Oh, maybe I could get more money, but I won’t if it will only go for testing.”
“Only?” said Guy.
“pHah!” Doc agreed, spitting the sound out.
He went on, “Some of our investors and board members want us to out-source the testing or hire new people and then just lay them off when we’re done with them. I wish the money men wouldn’t try to direct operations. New testers—no matter how good or where they come from—still have to learn our systems and build up an inventory of the way things can go wrong in our world. But once we’ve invested in their training, and taught them our ways—our secrets—does it make sense to let them go and work for the competition? No. People aren’t pawns or widgets, and I don’t want a company of mercenaries; I want… a different solution.”
“We need to overhaul our testing methods radically,” Little clarified, “and I have a cunning plan. ... Are you in or out?”
“I want you for this job. Do you want it?!”
“But,” the programmer continued, sparring for enough information to locate the edges of the job, “we already make devices to test every device. Don’t chip and component makers everywhere do that, more or less?”
The young man hesitated, so Doc called over a shoulder, “Yes, sure, and those testing machines are usually larger and more complex than what they test—and you should know, since you design most of ours.” Looking away and talking now to distant trees, he went on, “I’m tired of that. I want a new testing machine that works for any device, board, or chip we could ever build. And I want the new machine to write all of the software drivers.”
“Build one testing machine—that also writes drivers?” repeated Guy, catching up. But that’s my job. Or a lot of it, anyway.
Stopping now, Little faced Guy and waited for an answer.
The programmer was speechless. Everything was too obvious or too obscure. He felt beads of sweat trickle. He looked over at a bare bush and thought: So… Maybe I’m getting fired verrrry slooowly.
Leaning and looking intently at the young man’s face, Little saw the angst forming there. “When the testing machine’s done,” he added, “you can move into any department you want, if you want... okay?”
Guy’s angst gave way to reluctant honesty: “Yes. But why pick me? You liked Vince at MTM and he’s brilliant. And he knows Lisp really well. I don’t know much about AI other than courses in school.”
“I know,” Doc exhaled absently. Estimating the approaching rain and doing some sparring of his own, he added, “Well, you’ll know better after you’ve seen my specifications. Any more questions?”
“Yes. Won’t that mean that the machine will be the only one testing its own software? If we don’t trust people to do that, why should we trust a machine to do it?”
“That’s your problem,” said Doc with a laugh. “It will be easier than you think, precisely because machines are not people.”
Guy listened. A small thought, like a barefoot child in summer, skipped across his mind singing: But people make the machines.