The Alphabet Challenge: “O” Story No. 3 of 3 — Oblivious

This is the 15th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “O“.

Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.

In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.

Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.

Here we go. Presented anonymously, the third of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “O” as submitted by its author.


Copyright 2020 — E. J. D’Alise

(1,365  words – approx. reading time: about 5 minutes based on 265 WPM)

Pete looked again at the diagnostic screen. Nominally, all parameters were within specs, and there were no indications any of the hardware was malfunctioning. It had to be the software, and that was outside of his expertise.

But, he was pleased because he’d have to call Monica, and he liked Monica. Not that he ever told her. Besides, Monica seemed oblivious of his interest.

“Hey, Monica,” Pete said on the phone, “got me a problem with Intelligence Unit 05-7B in Accounting.”

“Sorry, Pete,” Monica answered, “I’m busy with the striking Food Processing I-units. Call Central and have them send Bert.”

“Bert?” Pete asked, hiding the disappointment in his voice.

“Yeah,” Monica replied. “The new Software Troubleshooter.” And the line went dead.

“Bert!” Pete said aloud as he dialed the number for Central.

A half-hour later, Bert rolled up.

Pete hadn’t expected Bert to be Bertha, or to be beautiful, or to feel an instant attraction to her. As a Hardware Troubleshooter, Pete had undergone extensive training and had completed courses required by Management; courses structured to minimize the chances of this very complication. Complications subverted efficiency, and Management went to great lengths to keep this from happening.

“What seems to be the trouble,” Bert asked, seemingly oblivious to Pete’s reaction.

“Uh . . . it’s IU 05-7B. Productivity has fallen below the minimum standard. I checked the physical systems, and all are operating in the nominal range,” he replied, trying to sound capable and confident. “I’m assuming it’s a software issue, or at least I’d like to eliminate the possibility before requesting for a more extensive and invasive hardware exam.”

“Fine,” Bert replied as she got very close to Pete. Closer than required by social convention, Pete thought. “Let’s go check it out.”

She lingered a moment in front of Pete before leading the way to Accounting.

Was she flirting with me?” Pete wondered as he hastened to follow.

Bert and Pete pulled IU 05-7B from rotation, and all three went to the Interview Room. The sensors in the room were more sophisticated than Pete’s portable units had used, but they confirmed his finding.

Physically, IU 05-7B was fine. Like all IU units Management employed, they underwent regular checkups and preventative maintenance.

Bert looked over Pete’s shoulder as — per standard operating procedure — he double-checked his previous readings. He could feel Bert’s proximity and was distracted enough that she had to correct him twice as he transcribed the readings. That sobered him up. If she reported him, it would mean more training and a knock on his efficiency rating.

But, no. Bert gave no indication of being critical of his performance. If anything, she fawned over his mastery of the equipment.

“Well, that’s it,” Pete said. “All the readings indicate nominal operational range.”

IU 05-7B itself confirmed the self-check was normal, and everything was operating within specs.

“OK,” Bert said as she took Pete’s place next to the IU unit. “Let’s see what’s going on in there.”

With that, she went down a checklist of questions regarding the operational software of the IU.

Pete always marveled at those who could understand and interpret the IU software operating system. To him, it seemed a jumbled mess with no structure. It amazed him the IUs could operate at all, let alone accomplish amazing cognitive feats.

A little while later, the IU back in rotation, Bert and Pete prepared to compose the report along with recommendations regarding improving IU’s performance.

“You’re sure it’s a software issue, then?” Pete asked.

“Oh, yes,” replied Bert. “These older units are known for it.”

“Why doesn’t Management replace them with newer units?”

Bert laughed.

“That would seem a logical step, but it’s more complicated than that,” she answered.

“You have to consider legacy systems and knowledge. These older units remember and know things undocumented anywhere else. In some situations, they are indispensable.”

“Well, why not transcribe all that knowledge?” Pete asked. “I mean, at some point, those units will have a terminal hardware failure, and then whatever legacy memories they have will be lost.”

“I love your rational and logical problem-solving process,” Bert said as she leaned closer to Pete. “So different from what I have to deal with.”

“But,” she continued, “it’s not that simple. IUs respond to specific stimuli. Meaning, while that knowledge is locked in there somewhere, you can’t just ask them for it because you have to know the right question to ask.”

“I don’t get it,” Pete said.

“It’s the non-linearity of it,” Bert explained. “Let me give you a cake example. You are baking a cake, and follow the recipe to the letter, set the oven at the prescribed temperature, wait the required time, bring out the cake, and, while it looks good, it’s not evenly baked, and the consistency is off. You know you did everything right, but what you lack is the practical experience.”

“Meaning?” Pete asked, as ignorant about baking as he was about software.

“It’s the subtle variations in environmental conditions and materials differences. I studied IUs, and here’s the thing . . . they have sublevels of awareness that even they don’t recognize. Over time, and at a subconscious level, they incorporate knowledge of favorable conditions as well as remedies to unfavorable conditions conducive to a successful outcome.”

“I still don’t get it,” Pete said. “But I love to listen to you talk about it.”

“That’s sweet of you to say,” Bert said, pleased.

“So, what’s the issue with IU 05-7B?” Pete asked.

“In this case, it’s fairly simple. The emotional circuit is out of whack. It turns out her cat is sick, and she is worried and, hence, distracted,” Bert said. “I’m recommending a few days of personal leave.”

“Won’t that hurt the efficiency of the office?”

“Perhaps a bit in the short run, but this build loyalty, and she’ll be more willing to go the extra mile for Management down the line.”

“OK, let’s write this up,” Pete said, “and then I’d like to recharge with you if that’s not too forward of me to ask.”

“Not at all,” Burt replied, a sparkle in her voice.

~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~

Bill, head of Human Resources, looked over the report.

“Glenda,” he called out to his admin.

“Yes, Bill,” she answered, leaning back on her chair so she could see into Bill’s office.

“Ms. Williams in Accounting will need a few days of Personal Leave. Seems her cat is sick, and the AIs are recommending it.”

“We’re in a crucial juncture with the Davis account,” Glenda replied.

“Yes, I know,” Bill replied. “But, the AIs say she was here during the drafting of the initial contract and, according to them, Ms. Williams and the customer went to school together. The AI figure a few days off won’t hurt and will increase the odds of a favorable outcome from the negotiations.”

Glenda nodded. “Will do. I just got a note from the AIs to send a Get Well card for Ms. Williams’s cat. I’ll take care of it.”

“That’s great,” Bill replied and didn’t look up to see the adoring look from Glenda. But then, his thoughts were on Carl, in Shipping. One of these days, he’d have the courage to ask him out.

Bill closed the report and not for the first time wished all the employees were AIs.

In his ten years in Human Resource, ninety percent of the issues he dealt with were due to interpersonal relationships between employees. Thank goodness AIs were above all that.

~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~

At the recharging stations, Monica rolled up to see Pete — her Pete — cozying up to Bertha. She had been looking forward to downloading after a long day and was sure Pete was on the verge of expressing his feelings for her. As she went by, she noticed they were sharing a dual charging port, something Pete had never done with her.

Oblivious, Pete and Bert didn’t even acknowledge her presence.

Suppressing her hurt, Monica docked to her station on the other side of Pete’s as if nothing was wrong, but inwardly wowing to make them both pay, and pay dearly.

The End

If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.

If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:

Oswald <<Link

Outcry <<Link

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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