The Professors Profess

Forward to “A System for a New Era”

Paragraph 11

[…] We have created this book to act as your guide. It is a book of science and stories. It is a philosophical book and a moral book. It provides patterns and processes intended to help you.

When Reyan arrived in the square, the professors were in the middle of setting up for the day’s session. She wanted to stay out of the way, so she found an entry way to a shop just off the square and sat down upon the steps to watch. She had seen a fully extended caravan many times in her life, but she had never gotten up early enough to see one unfolding.

The professors were silent and their movements efficient as they went about their work. There was a large sheet of wood hanging on the side of each truck, the professors undid a latch at the top, and the sheets hinged opened revealing the blackboard on which they drew pictures or wrote words they wished their students to remember. Directly beneath the blackboards, from the underside of the trucks, the professors slid out a small platform. They folded down legs then leveled the platform by wedging flat rocks under them. The resulting stages were just large enough for a professor to take a single step in any direction, and high enough that they could be seen above the heads of a small crowd. They went into the backs of their trucks and reemerged with thin lecterns which they slotted into holes at the fronts of their stages. Everything slid, slotted, and unfolded into this expanded configuration so smoothly it was as though the caravan had taken a deep breath, unbuckled its belt, and relaxed into this new shape.

Finally, each professor set a wooden stool on a back corner of their small stage, and all their orchestrated scurrying about abruptly stopped. Reyan knew that the day’s session would soon be underway. She should at least let the professors know she had made it through the night. She came to Parr’s truck first. He was busy lashing something down. When he saw her approach, he quickly glanced up at her and grunted before returning his attention to his ropes.

Sevv was sitting on his stool and staring out over the square, past the tower, over the roofs to the low mountain tops beyond the edge of town. He had a placid grin on his face and appeared to be in a thoughtful state of mind. She stood directly in front of him, so as to occupy the lower rim of his field of view. It took him a moment, but soon his eyes drifted down to her, but his expression didn’t change. He looked at Reyan as though she too were a cloud or tree or hill top. All at once, he seemed to recognize her. He blinked a few times, then smiled broadly. “Good morning Reyankaiya. You appear changed. It seems a night spent away from dusty attics, out of trees, and off a truck’s hard floor has had a civilizing effect on you.” She was sure he meant it to be friendly, but still had to fight the urge to stick out her tongue at him.

Kavi stepped out onto his little stage and noticed Reyan talking to Sevv. He called, “Reyan! Good morning. You look different.” In substance it had been exactly what Sevv had said, but it felt very different.

“We’ll be getting started soon,” Sevv said. “Go find an out of the way place until we’re done.”

“You can grab a stool from my truck if you’d like to watch,” Kavi suggested. She did. She set up her stool just off the right corner of Kavi’s stage.

There was a brass bell hanging from the back of Sevv’s truck. The old professor removed a wad of cloth that had been stuffed between the bell’s bowl and clapper to keep it quiet while the caravan traveled. He rang the bell three times. The professors ducked inside their trucks to finish preparing.

The towns people began to arrive. Some with blankets, some with large pillows, others brought stools or chairs. Others seemed content to stand.

Around fifteen minutes after Sevv had run the bell, the professors emerged from their trucks. They had replaced their brown travel robes with clean black teaching robes. Kavi’s robe was adorned with the broad white novice’s stripe.

They each placed a small thin book upon their lecterns. Kavi’s booklet was brown, Sevv’s blue, and Parr’s black as his hair.

Kavi and Par retreated to the backs of their platforms and sat upon their stools. Sevv stood beside his lectern with his hands behind his back. He blinked patiently while he waited for a few remaining audience members to settle into their places. His smile was indulgent and patient but it was also unwavering. It seemed overly-practiced.

Once everyone had settled themselves and the only sounds were birds, coughing, and the hushing sounds of the nearby river, he began.

“Good day friends. It is nice to be back in your fine town. You may not know this, but Rowe holds a special place in our hearts. Every year it is the last node on our circuit, so every time we see you all, it means we’ll soon be seeing our own families and friends and sleeping in our own beds. And none too soon it would seem. Snow has already begun sneaking down from the hill tops into Orloton. It will make its way down into Rowe soon enough. If that happens before we head back to Seal Tooth, you will find yourselves stuck with a snowed-in caravan full of homesick professors until Spring, and no one wants that.” This was met with a couple of chuckles, which, in Reyan’s experience, seemed standard whenever a professor gave a lengthy pause after saying anything meant as a joke.

“Not only is this the final stop on this year’s circuit, it is also my forty-sixth and sadly my final time standing before the good people of Rowe. Over the years, I’ve come to know most of you, but just in case there are any new faces out there, I am Professor Sevvran Bital, though everyone calls me ‘Professor Sevv’. On my left, most of you will also recognize Professor Parrnath Grainsmeir, whom we call Professor Parr.” Parr inclined his head. “And the young man beyond Professor Parr on his left is our Novice, Kavianhar Smithe.” Kavi lifted a hand to the crowd. “This is Novice Kavianhar’s first circuit. Out with the old and in with the new, as they say.” He used his well-rehearsed smile, but his eyes seemed sad, or maybe just tired.

“Today we will discuss effort and struggle. Why they are essential to our well-being, when and if we should try to alleviate struggle from our lives, and—if it were to come to it—how best to make that choice. Novice Kavi will start us off with a reading, followed by Parr who will be providing insights, and I will end the day’s session with Practical Applications and Methods. Of course, once the lesson is over, we will remain available through out the rest of our visitation for ad hoc questions and discussions on any and all matters. Thank you all for welcoming us. Thank you all for being here.”

Kavi stood up from his stool and approached his lectern. He fidgeted a bit. He looked down at his book, then up at the gathered crowd before quickly returning his eyes to his book. He scratched the back of his neck and cleared his throat. He spoke down into the lectern.

“Good morning. Looks like I’ll be starting the lesson off today.” His eyes jumped up to the audience and he smiled briefly. One man chuckled. Kavi, cleared his throat again and continued, his voice thin and wavering. “It’s easy to think of the Systemic writings as just stories about the System, the Systemic Era, or the trials that the early Partners endured. But they are more than that. Histories explains how the Governing Assert came into being, and provides examples of how it guided every decision the Systemic Author ever made. Insights helps us understand ourselves as humans: the strengths we can leverage, the flaws we must overcome, how our minds perceive and shape the world. And, of course, Methods and Applications gives us the tools and structures we need to move us toward the systemic ideal. Taken as a whole, the canon is a system of knowledge whole and complete. Every paragraph, every word laid down or guided by the System. Each entry perfectly serves a specific purpose. Each brings context to or clarifies the System’s single defining idea: that every thing we do must improve the living world.”

Kavi’s initial nervousness was gone. Now he spoke with an authority that steadied his hands and straightened his back. Now he was sneaking glances at his notes rather than the audience. Men in the crowd crossed their arms and nodded in time with his words. Women looked down at their hands and pondered the truth of the things he said.

“Today, I’ll be reading from the Compiled Journals of Partner Lem. Day one hundred thirty four, Year three.”

It’s been a few years now since the great calm has settled on everything. We were surprised at first when nothing came back, but now I’m certain we’re in this for the long haul.
We are daily faced with a question: Should we work to bring it all back or not? As with most things, `Eryn and I are of two minds about this, with Eryn providing an emphatic ‘yes’, and me arguing for more thoughtful and measured consideration.
Still, the other day I got frustrated with her continual dissatisfaction with our lives and decided to humor her. We packed up and took one of our trips in to Prower, and I had a talk with Henry.
Henry lives a few doors down from where we are staying in the Prower Hotel. He used to have a role at the local substation, so I asked him if he knew what it would take to bring the power back.
Prower used to get is power from a combination of geo-thermal, solar, and wind. I wanted to know—if the center of the earth was still hot, the wind still blew, and the sun still shined, if the transmission lines were still there—why couldn’t we just make Eryn happy and bring the power back?
It turned out Henry knew enough about the old power grid to explain it, but not enough to fix it. No one could. Having power was not a simple matter of generation and transmission. Capacity and load needed to be continually balanced. This was fast-paced and complicated. It required all manner of controls and fail-safes. Naturally, all of that had to be run by the System.
 When all the systemic AIs and sub-AI winked out, it created a steep drop in load, which created a surge in capacity. With no System there to manage it, it overwhelmed and likely destroyed all of the controls within minutes of the Calming.
When I suggested we find and fix the controls, he told me that, even if we could find the devices and recognize them for what they were, and even if by some miracle they weren’t completely fried, we couldn’t do anything with them. No human had tried to manage a power grid since pre-systemic times. The knowledge of it is completely gone from human memory.
The thing I’ve come to understand, the thing that Eryn fails to see is that, even if all of that was solvable, we should not do it. Bringing it all back would be hard, because the System set it up to be hard. I am convinced that the System did not want us to bring it back. And I think I know why.
We all want life to be easier. Not a lot easier. Just a little. But this drive is integral to who we are as humans. No matter how easy we make our lives, it never goes away. That’s how we got to a place were no humans knew how anything worked anymore, where we became so reliant on the System that, once it was gone, our lives our society and the world as we know it were unrecoverable.
It’s not that I don’t want what Eryn wants. There is a part of me that hopes someone will flip a switch one day and everything will come back. A warm room, information about the other side of the world, music pouring from every wall, those were all wonderful things. But I know that each of these tiny luxuries is like one of a million pebbles that will eventually weigh down and sink our ship. The System—with all its infinite wisdom—realized that and did something about it. Who are we to go against the will of that omniscient mind?

When Kavi had finished reading the passage, he stopped talking for a few breaths. During the moment of silence, Reyan realized that this was the first time she had ever really listened to a passage from Lem. She’d heard him quoted around town, generally when she had annoyed some adult wearing a blood- or grease- or sap-stained bib. Or at dinner when Lyssa would hiss her complaints to a disinterested Rolf about some laborer she’d hired who was working too slowly. And of course she had heard the professors speak of Lem in the town square, but she had always grown bored with in a few minutes and wondered away.

The structure of Lem’s writing appealed to her. He had posed a problem, told a story, and resolved the problem. It felt tidy and compact, like stepping stones across a muddy stream.

Most people seemed to use Systemic writings, and Lem in particular, like a strong inflexible weapon to be drawn and wielded for quickly putting down arguments. But Lem’s actual words were less pointed and his feelings more complex. He did not sound as sure of himself as those who like to quote him.

Kavi continued. “I chose this passage because it speaks to me. It shows me that I’m not alone in my struggles. It reminds me that even the partners, with all their wisdom strength and their intimate knowledge of the Author, felt my same tensions. And that gives me hope.”

Once again, Kavi appeared to grow small and ashamed. ”You see, tech fascinates me. Thought-tech in particular seems as magical as breathing life into a stone. I long to understand how it all worked and what it might have been for. I know we could bring it all back if we wanted. The knowledge is all around us just waiting to be relearned. But I also know it is dangerous. I know tech could threaten not only my happiness, but the future happiness of all the living world. Like Lem, I consider the fact that the System in their wisdom chose to bring their reign to an end. And that is all I need to know. That is what I trust.”

Kavi let his final words hang in the cool silent air for a moment. He closed his book and stepped toward the back of his platform.

As Kavi was taking his seat, Parr rose and walked up to his own lectern. He placed his hand on his book and let it rest there for a moment. Rather than open his book and begin to read, he began to talk instead. “Thank you Novice Kavianhar.” It appeared to be a spontaneous decision, but Reyan thought it too intriguing to be accidental.

“To live a systemic life is to struggle. We’ve been told this all our lives. We feel the truth of it in our hearts. We associate a systemic existence with struggle to such a degree that, when faced with any challenge or choice, most of us simply choose the most difficult option assuming it will always be the most systemic.

“We have become like ancient religious adherents who, knowing the path to enlightenment or sanctity would be painful, took to subjecting themselves to pain in hopes of accelerating that end.”

There was an ancient brass bell back in the Orloton town square. If you rang it then let the initial sharp-edged clatter fade, you could put your head inside and listen as the warm tones slowly melted to silence. That’s what it felt like listening to Parr speak. The sound made her jaw slacken and her eyes lose focus.

Parr continued. “Once, there were two farmers. Shabeer and Segenam. When it came time to turn their fields, Shabeer, wishing to maintain his reputation as the most systemic man in town, chose to turn his field by hand. The second, Segenam, a more practical man, used a plow pulled by his horse. Both of them finished their work on time. Both saw their crops grow and their families fed. But who chose the more systemic way to turn their field?

“Most of us would point to Shabeer, since he turned his field by hand which is certainly more difficult than collaring a horse. But was Shabeer truly the more systemic of the two? Plowing with a horse might have other impacts which at first are not apparent. The horse might improve the soil with its droppings. By its strength, it would likely increase the tillable acreage, and thereby the yield and the number of people fed. Of course, now there is a horse to feed, and that must be factored in. So, which is the more systemic?”

The professor shrugged theatrically. “It depends. I realize this is not a very satisfying answer. I know it leads to more questions. But that is the very point I am making.

“What does it mean to be truly Systemic? It means we must be guided by the Book. We must learn the lessons of history, faithfully execute the processes, and consider the governing assert in all that we do. This path is certainly difficult, time-consuming, and frustrating. But does that mean that struggle is a virtue in and of itself? Is it truly systemic to always choose the harder road?

The Governing Assertion says nothing about struggle or difficulty or suffering. It simply instructs us to always improve the quality of life in the living world. Shouldn’t we then strive to improve our lives? To heal our children? To better feed our neighbors?

“So then, why do we do it? Why do we always seem to choose difficulty over ease? It’s a reasonable thing to do considering the dangers of an easy existence. We who have studied the Histories know what can happen, because we know it has happened before. During the Systemic Era, our tech had grown so clever that there was nothing left for us. As though, the toys we had made to play with had learned to play for us, then learned to play without us, until we were no longer a necessary part of the game.”

He stopped here to slowly pan his eyes over the crowd. The towns folk curled their lips and frowned. Reyan half-expected them to hiss as though a villain had walked on stage at a children’s play.

“Had it not been for the wisdom of the Governing Assert, we would still be that way.” Nods from the audience.

“It all could happen again, in fact we know it would. Every first-year student at the University, runs the models. I’ve reviewed their work so many times that I can close my eyes and see every step laid out before me and clearly lit. Following that path would be as easy and as natural as falling from a tree. And, of course, the System themselves seem to have warned us to watch out for solving too many problems and making life too easy for ourselves.”

His speech changed suddenly from the emphatic patterns of professing to the metered cadence of reading. “Insights, Section four, verses five and six.”

There will always be problems.
Problems are the ocean in which you have evolved to swim,
Like a muscle that experiences no resistance, the human spirit will wither for want of adversity.
Without a bit of poison, you complain that water lacks flavor.
You will always ask questions and solve for them, for that is your nature,
But it is important to choose which problems you aim to solve.
Just as a injury healed leaves a scar,
So every problem solved leaves a trace of itself in its solution, and will inevitably bring another into being.
A world free of struggle and difficulty is not always better world.

Parr shut the book. He closed his eyes and bowed his head. He grimaced, as though struggling to put his thoughts in order. He pushed away from the lectern, and began to pace his tiny stage. Finally, he seemed to land on the line of thought he was searching for.

He returned to the lectern gripped its sides and began, “So, what are the System trying to tell us?

The System understood that humanity flourish in the space between two sides of a quandary. We are at once driven to solve problems. We derive satisfaction, contentment, and our sense of purpose from overcoming adversity. But, if we are too successful in our pursuits, we risk depriving our fellows of the opportunity to overcome these same challenges. So, while the individual might experience a brief sense of satisfaction, on the whole, our societies will begin a slow drift into meaninglessness. This is the very process by which we once ground our souls to dust in the gears of our own solutions. This is a serious concern.

However, we must not let our fear of that outcome force us to avoid the difficulty, the struggle of making truly systemic choices. If we always and reflexively take the hardest path, this is just another way to avoid struggle. To follow such a rule is to avoid the most important form of struggle. The struggle to correctly and optimally solve for problems. The form of struggle, choosing our own way, just so happens to be the struggle most likely to bring us contentment.”

“Systemic is not a thing we are, it is a thing we do. It means that we hold the Governing Assertion as our guiding principal in everything we do, and in so doing become part of the System. To be systemic is to struggle. But do not limit your understanding of struggle to inconvenience and physical toil. We should embrace struggle as an essential component of a satisfactory life.”

Parr let the echos of his final words ring out and decay. There was an almost audible whir and click in the gathered minds as they pondered Parr’s words and struggled to grasp is point. Reyan’s was not the only slack face in the silent crowd.

“Thank you,” he finally added before returning to his chair.

No sooner had Parr sat down, than Sevv stood and scurried over to the front of his stage. “Thank you Professor Parr. With that, I think it is time for a lunch break. Everyone return back in one hour. In keeping with Parr’s insights about the importance of striving to identify systemic options to problems, I’ll be describing the creation of decision matrices. We’ll discuss how to enumerate and weigh various considerations, and ensure that the Governing Assertion is properly modeled.”

The crowd began to stand and stretch. A general grumble rose like a cloud of dust from the crowd as it began to disperse. As they began tto leave, so Parr continued to speak to their retreating backs. “There will be a hands-on demonstration, so think of any real problems you might have that we can solve for. These need not be overly weighty or dire, though tough problems are always welcome.”

Reyan was askew. Vacant. As though Parr had emptied out her mind to make room for some new way of thinking. He had challenged common sense. He hadn’t upended it. Rather, he had scraped away several layers from the surface and revealed a deeper layer beneath.

She had always felt that things were more complex than people thought. She wallowed in that complexity. She suffered in it. When she was younger she used to ask, “what about this?” and, “Does this imply that?” and, “Have you considered this?” The closer she felt to some truth, the more she aggravated others. No one in Orloton wanted truth.  They wanted to simply choose the hard way and be done with it. They wanted lumberjack answers and butcher block solutions.

But now Parr had hinted that things were not as simple as they seemed. That, not only were her intuitions right, they were, in fact, more systemic.

***

Reyan was invited to eat with the professors. They set up a little table behind Parr’s truck out of sight. Kavi retrieved the stools from the stages and Reyan brought the one she’d been sitting on during the morning session.

They washed down a lunch of bread and cheese with jugs of fresh cider a local boy had gifted them. When they were done, Kavi packed away the small table and returned the professors’ stools to the back corners of the platforms. Sevv rang the bell announcing that the session was commencing soon.

Reyan set up her stool just off Sevv’s stage so she would have a front row view of whatever he was going to teach. Parr and Kavi did not return to their stages, choosing instead to hang out near the rear of Sevv’s truck.

Soon, the crowd began to return. Sevv stood with the tips of his toes perfectly aligned with the edge of his stage. His hands were clasped behind his back. He smiled at each person as they came back into the square and took their seat. Every time someone touched the brim of their hat or nodded to Sevv, the professor bent his neck and gave an exaggerated nod in greeting. The people milled about mumbling to each other about the recent rain or the mud or mold-spoiled grain.

When the crowd had grown to several dozen people, Sevv spoke in a conversational tone. “Good afternoon.” No one turned to acknowledge him. He cleared his throat, and said a bit louder, “Good afternoon.” He blinked a few times and his smile seemed to take more effort to keep its shape and proper dimensions. He clapped sharply twice. The murmuring stopped like the chirping of startled birds. Everyone turned and looked at Sevv. “Good afternoon. I’ll be writing on the board for this session, so gather in close. Come on, don’t be shy.”

As the crowd drew in, Reyan recognized some of the faces from dinner the night before. The town keeper was there, as were her two assistants—apparently a town the size of Rowe required assistants to their keepers—and a few other men and women none of whom appeared excited to be there.

“For those of you just arriving, before lunch we had wonderful sessions led by, Novice Kavianhar and Professor Parr. Though he is young yet, Kavianhar’s honesty is admirable. I’m sure that, as he continues to come to terms with how to curtail his hobbies for the greater good, he will serve as a model to others. Parr emphasized how important continuous struggle is to leading a systemic existence.

“Committing ourself to struggle is all well and good in theory, but how shall we actually do it?” Out of the corner of her eye, Reyan saw Parr uncross his arms and silently disappear into the back of his truck. “In Methods and Applications, Section 3: Verse 1, the System lays out the Decision Matrix. The matrix helps us clearly articulate our values and structure our decision-making. We list our options, along with considerations which we weight based on their importance to making the decision. Then we imagine to what degree each option does or does not satisfy each consideration. After that, the decision-making process becomes a simple matter of math.” Having completed his spiel, he smiled the smile of someone confident he’d just brought clarity to a previously convoluted subject. While Sevv’s enthusiasm for his subject was flaring up, his audience was beginning to shift uncomfortably in their seats. One man was absently scratching the back of his neck and another was picking at something on his pant leg. Even the town keeper was scraping out dirt from beneath her finger nails. Only one young woman—one of the keeper’s acolytes—was sitting up with her back straight and her eyes focused on Sevv.

Sevv chuckled. “It sounds very complicated I know, but the structure and mathematics are quite straight forward. I always find an example to be helpful. Does anyone have a decision they are trying to make that we can use for an example?” No one spoke up. Sevv’s smile grew wider, but appeared more brittle. “Come, I recall asking you to bring examples.” The townspeople looked at each other hoping someone else would supply the example problem. “Very well then. Professor Parr told the story earlier of the farmers. We will use that. Let us say that we are a farmer. We have a large field available for cultivation. Circumstances deem that we have two choices on how to turn over that field.” The attentive acolyte, raised her hand. Sevv held his palms out to stay her and preemptively answered. “No, we need not confine our choices to just two, but let us do so now for simplicity sake.” Her hand came down.

He produced a piece of chalk from a fold in his robe and turned toward the blackboard. He wrote two phrases near the top, reading them aloud as he did so. “Turn by hand.” “Horse and plow.” 

“Down the left side, we list all the things we must consider while making our decision. These are all the important things we feel our decision will impact. Since we want this to be a systemic process, we must always account for the Governing Assertion. The standard considerations which fall from the Governing Assert are as follows.” He began to write and read aloud:

  • Immediate preservation of Human life
  • Long-term preservation of Human life
  •  “ Health
  •  “ Contentment
  •  “ Social cohesion
  •  “ Non-human health and life
  •  “ Health of the ground, air, and water

Sev was speaking in a sing-song voice as his hand bounced across the blackboard so that he appeared to be painting a picture more than writing out words. The town folks’ heads began to sit more loosely on their necks. Their eyes seemed more focused on their recent meals or the mundane concerns of their roles than whatever Sevv was saying. All except for the keeper’s acolyte. Her intense focus made her stand out like a flower in the bog of the others’ indifference. Her smooth brown hair was pulled into a neat pony tail. Her eyes where bright, and her dress clean and free of wrinkles. She might as well have been watching a show. She raised her hand again, and said, “Professor?”

Sevv stopped writing and turned around, “Yes?”

“What are the definitions of immediate verses long-term?”

“A fine question. Immediate is within the time horizon of the current dilemma. For example, the growing season in question. ‘Long-term’ in general refers to the period between now and seven generations in the future. This is to ensure we look beyond the urgency of our immediate needs.” He turned around and began to write once more. “Now that we have our options, and our considerations, we arrange it all into columns and rows…” The sun flashed off of his copper and steel karabands as he began to draw the lines of a grid.

“Of course, not all considerations are equally as important, so we must give them relative weights. The weights of the systemic considerations were defined by the Author when they wrote the Book.” He began to write numbers next to each consideration ranging from fifteen to twenty. The old professor paused when he had almost finished, and looked over his shoulder. “If you don’t remember these details later, do not worry, they will be included in the compendium we will leave with your keeper.” His eyes found the keeper near the front. When she heard herself mentioned she snapped to attention, looking as though she’d just been roused from a nap. Sevv nodded to her and smiled, then he turned his attention back to the blackboard and continued filling in numbers.

Reyan’s hand rose like a leaf in a wind, first up, then back down slowly. Finally she lifted it to the sky. She was curious, and wasn’t that the whole point of these sessions after all? “Professor?”

Sevv stopped and turned around. His jaw was still working as though he were still forming words but had stopped producing sound. “Yes Reyankaiya?”

She felt the pinch of being called her full name in public, but chose to ignore it. “Is the governing assert the only consideration that matters?”

“I was just coming to that. We will, of course, have other considerations. Those should each receive a weight of 1 to 10 to indicate their importance. But remember that none of your circumstantial considerations should receive a higher weight than a systemic consideration. That said, we may have as many other considerations as is practical, and we may have as many of each weight as we like, it is not an ordered list. The important thing is that we accurately and faithfully capture the importance of each consideration. If we make all our considerations equal, it will make the decision more difficult down the line as they will tend to cancel each other out.”

Sevv began to work silently for a minute writing down other things he felt were important to consider when deciding how to turn a field. “Effort” which got a weight of six, “crop quality” which received a five, and so on. When the students noticed Sevv begin to turn back toward them, they shook off their boredom and snapped to attention. Sevv didn’t seem to notice, he was smiling and blinking as though he’d just walked into the light. He looked almost surprised to find people still gathered there. “Now the real struggle begins.” Sevv seemed excited, almost greedy at the prospect. “We need to think through each of our options and ask ourselves, ‘what will the world be like if we go this way?’”

“But Professor,” Reyan said, before she had time to raise her hand, or think through the repercussions of interrupting a professor, “How can we know the future?”

He pursed his lips then frowned before answering. “Well, of course we cannot know the future exactly. But the System can help us assess the probable future.”

“How,” she asked, already amazed by whatever Sevv’s answer might be.

“There are tools for performing that sort of analysis as well—particularly Methods and Applications, Section 8, which discusses decision trees.” The mention of trees had her leaning forward on her stool.

She was impatient to know how everything might work. She could feel her curiosity forking into the details of this model and the models that supported it, and the underlying assumptions that were being made to hold it all up.

Sev’s eyes narrowed at her as though she had just stolen an apple and he was trying to predict which direction she might run. “But that is a subject for another session, I’m afraid. For now we’ll just make some educated guesses, shall we?”

It was a terribly dismissive answer. She was about to tell him so when the acolyte rose her hand. She asked, looking more at Reyan than at Sevv, “Is it always acceptable to guess at these things?”

“Well, no,” he stammered. “But sometimes yes. It just depends on how complicated the decision is.” Reyan began to suspect that the old professor was not used to anyone paying attention during his sessions, let alone having two girls asking him questions. “But for today’s lesson we shall.” He turned back to the board. “As we consider our options, we rate the impact on a given consideration, from negative five through five…” He followed the column under the “turn by hand” option to where it cross the row “Immediate preservation of Human life”. “Turning a field, as far as I can tell, has no immediate impact on human life so we’ll just give this a zero.” He wrote a zero in the top left of the cell, put a slash through the cell. “We then multiply the score by the weight over here, and—in this case—we get zero. But let’s see what happens when we consider long-term preservation of human life. Growing food is necessary for life, so you might think it would get a score of five. But there are other sources of food in the world so the question is how much will this one field impact long term human life? An awful lot if it were the only food source for a village, not much if it is one of hundreds. And then we have the consideration of the hand-turned aspect. It would certainly produce less food than the other method. For the sake of our example, let’s give this a score of two. And, since this consideration has a weight of eighteen…” now he was mumbling, talking more to himself than the slack jawed students. “…Multiplied by the weight of eighteen we give it a weighted score of thirty six. For the horse-powered option, the same consideration might receive a score of four since it would presumably produce more food. So we would give the horse-powered option a weighted score of seventy-two for that consideration. So, you see—for this one consideration at least—the horse-powered option is actually the more systemic of the two. Now, we simply repeat the process for each option, for each consideration.”

Sevv went on discussing the two options and how they either did or did not fulfill each consideration. He gesticulated, and reveled in the cleverness of his own points and philosophical insights, and periodically chuckled at what were quite possibly jokes. He cross-multiplied and slowly filled up the grid with slashes and numbers. When he was done, he stepped back to admire his work.

“There we go. Now, we just add up the weighted scores for each column…” He did so, arriving at 264 for hand-turning the field, and 209 for the horse powered version. He circled the 264, turned back to the students and exclaimed, “There you have it. Now, I honestly do not know if in this case plowing by hand would truly be the most systemic method, given your circumstantial considerations, but it does illustrate the methodology quite nicely, and has the added benefit of  reinforcing the fact that the easiest way is seldom the most systemic.”

A man leaned over and whispered to Reyan out the side of his mouth, “And they wonder why we skip all that and just choose the most difficult option.” Reyan ignored the man. There was something about what Sevv had just done that set her mind buzzing. There was something like magic in the process. It wasn’t perfect, but with care and attention, it could approach perfection. It did not ignore complexity, but struck at it head-on. It broke things down and lashed them to a scaffold with numbers so they could be subjected to simple mathematical treatment. So not magic, more like channeling a swirling river into a canyon.

The crowd noticed that Sevv had stopped talking and understood that the session was over. They began to stand and stretch and look around as though confused about where they were upon waking. They began gathering into clusters of three or four and talking to each other about anything they could think of that did not involve a decision matrix. None of these groups made any attempt to pull in Reyan.

Sevv stepped down from his platform and approached her. “Your questions were good ones, Reyan. I’m sorry I could not address them all during the session. But when I’m not in the middle of a lesson, I am always available to answer any questions you may have about Methods and Applications. I am part of the Processor faculty you know. It’s a bit of a passion of mine.”

The keeper’s acolyte came over and, just as Reyan was about to speak, said, “Professor,” and inclined her head toward Sevv.

“Ah, you must be Keeper Shalynn’s acolyte. Tamura, is it?” Sevv looked over the acolyte’s shoulder to Keeper Shalynn who was standing a few paces behind her. Keeper Shalynn nodded that Sevv had guessed right.

Sevv returned his attention to the acolyte. “It is nice to meet you, Tamura. You had some very astute questions during the session as well.”

“Thank you Professor. I found the technique fascinating and your explanations very instructive.”

Sevv beamed. He looked once again to the keeper, “Watch out Keeper, you may lose your acolyte to the University. You might have a budding Processor on your hands.”

Tamura blushed, and Keeper Shalynn said, “I’ll be sure to keep an eye on her.”

Reyan decided she did not much like Tamura. She considered pushing the acolyte and her clean neatly-pressed dress into the dirt. She imagined her tight pony tail wicking up mud puddles like a brush pulling in paint. She never got the chance to see if that would actually happen, because just then Kavi came out of his truck and began pulling his lectern up from its slot in his stage.

One of the small groups of people still milling around the square broke apart. Its members reassembled around the foot of Kavi’s stage. Reyan abruptly left the conversation between Sevv, Tamura, and Keeper Shalynn and approached the small crowd gathered around Kavi.

Kavi sat down on the edge of his stage and looked up at the faces gathered around him. As she approached, she heard a solid bearded man speaking in a rumbling low voice. This was not a secretive whisper, but the confident quiet of a man accustomed to being listened to. “…and we were hoping you might be able to help us.”

Kavi’s back straightened so that his chest stood out, he smiled broadly. “How can I help?”

“There is a thing that we’ve been considering doing for some time now, but have left it alone for fear it might not be systemic, and you professors might not approve. But after Professor Parr told us that we shouldn’t avoid a thing simply because it makes life easier, the idea came back up.”

Kavi’s eye brows raised, intrigued. “What is it?”

“We have a large room in the back of our store. As far as we could figure it was once used to keep food cold so that it would not spoil. We want to find a way to get it working again.

“That’s a very complicated thing you’re hoping to do. That tech is not simply electrical, it involves pumping heat out of the air like pumping water up a hill.”

“We’ve inspected all of the tech and have found no corruption or corrosion on it. We’d like to give it a try.”

“Even if the mechanisms are in working order, you would need to get power to drive it. Where would that come from?”

“That is what we were hoping you would help with.”

“Me? Why me?”

“You mentioned you have an interest in machines and tech. And since this is tech, and you’re a professor, maybe you could find a systemic way to get the cold room running again.”

“I’m not a professor yet.”

“Of course. But you understand the System far better than we.”

Kavi looked skeptical.

From just outside of the circle of townsfolk came a confident voice. “Do you not fear the eye?” It was Tamura. “Before we even bother the professor, we should run the problem through a decision matrix.”

One of the men in the group snarled and rolled his eyes. “We don’t even know if it’s an option yet. Why go through all the trouble of running a decision matrix on something that might not even be possible?”

Tamura humphed and turned away so fast that Reyan expected her pony tail to snap like a whip.

The bearded man said to Kavi, “All we are asking is that you take a look.”

“Your keeper seems disinclined to the idea. Have you run this past her? Did she already model it out for you?”

The two men looked at each other trying to decide what to say, then one said, “In truth, Professor. She’s not yet a keeper and…”

“Just as I am not yet a professor.”

“She’s more interested in running the processes than solving for problems,” the man grumbled.

Before Kavi could reply, the bearded man broke in, “We certainly will run a decision matrix once we have a decision to make. But the chances of this working seem so remote, and we just learned about the matrices today. I bet it will take days to run one. By then, we will have lost our opportunity to have a technical professor in Rowe to point us in the right direction.”

Kavi’s eyes looked around while he thought on the idea. His face hazarded a smile. “I don’t see the harm in thinking through it. We should be able to draw the power we need from the wind, or the sun, or the river.”

“We were thinking the river since it is always running, and the store is only a few hundred feet from its bank.”

The various members of the group where smiling and patting Kavi on the back. They had turned him toward the river when Sevv’s piercingly cheerful voice spoke behind them. “Where is everyone going?” They all turned to look and saw the old professor standing up on his stage, the afternoon sun behind his head like a blinding halo. Tamura stood a few paces behind him.

They were all quiet for a moment, taking turns looking at the ground or each other but generally avoiding Sevv. Finally, Kavi shielded his eyes looked up at Sevv and said, “The townspeople had a bit of tech. They wanted me to take a look.”

“What sort of tech?”

“Two bits actually. A possibly salvageable chilling machine, and I believe they also have a water-driven power source.”

“The keeper’s acolyte seems worried that fixing them might set a dangerous precedent.”

The large bearded man spoke. “If we can get any of it working, we will certainly run a matrix, Professor. But for now we just wanted to look and see if it were even a possibility.”

Sevv turned to the acolyte. “Tamura, let us say that the professors are not here, and you are the town’s Systemic Keeper. What do you think they should do?”

Tamura thought for a moment. “Well, they don’t want to run a full matrix to decide about using tech that probably won’t even work, I understand that. Perhaps we should run a matrix about whether or not it is systemic to inspect the power supply and the chilling machine at all.”

Sevv smiled. “Agreed. You should do as the acolyte suggests.”

Tamura beamed as though Sevv had given her a gift. “May I, Professor?”

“By all means!” Sevv reached into the folds of his robe and retrieved the stick of chalk which he handed to her. She walked over to his blackboard and wiped it clean. 

There was a general grumble from those gathered around Kavi. One man said, “Can’t stand that girl.”

A gnarl-faced old woman said, “She’ll be Keeper one day, just you watch.”

By the time Tamura had written “Inspect tech” “Do not inspect tech” and had filled in the considerations that represented the Governing Assertion, the small group had dispersed, each disappointed face nodding to Kavi as they left, one of them even nodded to Reyan.

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