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 entryway 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 and efficient as they went about their work. There was a large sheet of wood hanging on the side of each truck. The professors undid latches at the tops, and the sheets hinged open, revealing the blackboards 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 abruptly stopped. The day’s session would soon be underway.

Reyan felt 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 vision. 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 hilltop. 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 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 townspeople 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 and Parr 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.

“Rowe holds a special place in our hearts. 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 most call me ‘Professor Sevv’. On my left, most of you will recognize Professor Parrnath Grainsmeir. Call him ‘Professor Parr.’” Parr inclined his head. “And the young man 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 tired.

“Today we will discuss effort and struggle, and why they are essential to our well-being and the well-being of the System. 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 throughout the rest of our visitation for questions and discussions on any and all matters.”

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, then quickly returned 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 old stories about the System, the Systemic Era, or the hardships the first Partners endured. But they are more than that. Every paragraph, every word, every tool and methodology was laid down by the Systemic Author to serve a single defining idea: that everything we do must improve the living world. These writings compose a system of knowledge, morality and practice whole and complete.”

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

“Today, I’ll be reading from the Compiled Journals of Partner Lem. Day two-hundred thirty-four, Year zero of the New Era.”

It’s been two-hundred and thirty-four days since the great calm settled on everything. At first we thought that things might come back, but now I’m certain they will not. Not without us deciding to bring them back ourselves.
But should we?

As with most things, Eryn and I are of two minds about this. Eryn is certain we should, while I’m for a more thoughtful and measured approach.

Kavi stopped reading and looked up at the crowd. “At this point, Lem goes into a level of detail about electrical power that I personally find fascinating but which I’m sure you all would find extremely boring. I’ll spare you.” The crowd chuckled gratefully. “Suffice to say, bringing back electrical power would be very challenging. If you want to understand why, and you have the time, come talk to me later. I would be happy to fill you in.” More chuckles from the audience. Kavi was surprisingly good at this.

“Lem continues:”
The thing I’ve figured out, the thing Eryn fails to see, is that the System purposefully waited to shut down until all knowledge of power grid maintenance had left human memory.

I think I know why.

We all want life to be a little bit easier. But no matter how easy we make our lives, this drive never goes away. That’s how we got to a place where no humans knew how anything worked, 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.

I am not so different from Eryn. There is a large part of me that hopes someone will flip a switch and everything will come back. A warm room in winter, information about happenings on the other side of the world, music pouring in from every wall; those were all wonderful things. But I know that each of these minor luxuries is one of a million pebbles that will eventually weigh down and sink our ship. The System—with all its infinite wisdom—realized that. The System wanted our recovery to be hard. We could bring it all back if we put our minds to it, but who are we to contradict the will of that omniscient mind?

When Kavi had finished reading the passage, he stopped talking for a few breaths. Once again, he appeared to grow small and nervous. “Tech fascinates me. Thought-tech in particular seems as magical as breathing life into a stone. I long to understand the details of how it all worked.

“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, even Lem, with all his wisdom, strength, and intimate knowledge of the Author, experienced my same conflicts. And that gives me hope.

“Just like Lem in his day, I realize 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. Then, he closed his book and stepped toward the back of his platform.

Reyan realized that this was the first time she had really listened to a passage from Lem. And the first time she felt she understood him. She’d heard him quoted around town plenty of times, generally when she had annoyed some adult wearing a bib stained with grease or sap or blood. Or at dinner when Lyssa would hiss her complaints to Rolf about some laborer who was not working to the point of suffering. In her experience, these people wielded the Systemic writings, and Lem in particular, like a strong inflexible weapon. They used them to make points and pierce arguments. But Lem’s actual words were more rounded and his feelings more complex. And Kavi made Lem sound less sure of himself than those who liked to quote him.

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. With a well-rehearsed air of spontaneity, he decided to leave his book closed, and began to pace about his tiny stage and talk instead.

“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 being systemic with struggle to such a degree that, when any well-meaning person is faced with any choice at all, they simply choose the most difficult option.

“But why? Why must we always choose difficulty over ease? Well, it’s a reasonable thing to do given our history. During the Systemic Era, our tech grew so clever that there was nothing left for us. We remember how the toys we made learned to play for us, then learned to play without us. Soon, we were no longer a necessary part of the game.”

He stopped here to slowly pan his eyes over the crowd. The townsfolk 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.

There was a large and 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 was how Parr spoke. The sound made her jaw slacken and her eyes lose focus.

“The Systemic Author understood that humanity exists between two sides of a great quandary. We derive satisfaction, contentment, and our sense of purpose from overcoming adversity. But, if we are too successful, there will be no more adversity for us to overcome and our souls will once again be ground to dust in the gears of our own solutions. We know it could happen. 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 clearly laid out before me. Following that path would be as easy and as natural as falling from a tree. And, of course, the System warned us of this very thing in Insights, Section four, verses five and six.”

His speech changed suddenly from the emphatic patterns of professing to the metered cadence of reading.

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.
Just as a injury healed leaves a scar,
So every problem solved leaves a trace of itself in its solution, and brings another into being.
So, be thoughtful in which problems you choose to solve.

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, and gripped its sides. “I worry friends. I fear we have become like those ancient religious adherents who, knowing the path to sanctity would be painful, took to subjecting themselves to pain in hopes of more rapidly achieving their ends.”

Everything was still for a moment. Then Parr began conversationally, “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 benefits which are not apparent at first. 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 as well. 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.

“Being truly Systemic means we must be guided by the Book. We must learn the lessons of history, faithfully execute the defined processes, and consider the governing assert in all that we do. This path is certainly difficult, time-consuming, and frustrating. But the Governing Assert 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? To improve the System itself? I say ‘yes’. And while so doing, we must embrace the difficulty, the struggle, of making truly systemic choices. Simply choosing the difficult way is just as bad as always choosing the easy way. It is the choice itself that should cause us to struggle. It is the thinking that should be hard.

“Being systemic is not a thing we are, it is a thing we do. We hold the Governing Assert as our guiding principal, and in so doing become part of the System.”

Parr let the echoes of his final words ring out and decay. “Thank you,” he finally added before returning to his chair.

Reyan’s was not the only slack face in the silent crowd. There was an almost audible whir and click in the gathered minds as they pondered Parr’s words and struggled to grasp his point. 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 to know the truth. They wanted lumberjack answers and butcher block solutions. They wanted to simply choose the hard way and be done with it.

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.

No sooner had Parr sat down, than Sevv stood and scurried over to the front of his stage. “Thank you Professor Parr. What a fascinating take. With that, I think it is time for a lunch break. Everyone return 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 to leave, Sevv 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 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 rain or 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 appeared to take more effort to keep its shape and intended 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, and she had two assistants with her. Apparently a town the size of Rowe required assistants to their keepers.

“Before lunch we had wonderful sessions led by Novice Kavianhar and Professor Parr. I think we can all agree that Kavianhar’s introspection and forthrightness are admirable. As he continues to struggle with curtailing his hobbies for the greater good, I’m sure he will serve as a model to others. Parr reveal the myriad ways continuous struggle is essential to a systemic existence. Out of the corner of her eye, Reyan saw Parr uncross his arms and disappear behind his truck.

“Committing ourself to struggle and suffer to do right is all well and good in theory, but how shall we actually do it? In Methods and Applications, Section three verse one, the System describes the Decision Matrix. The matrix is one of our primary tools to help guide our systemic thinking. It forces us to clearly articulate our values and provides a structure so that the decision-making process becomes a matter of simple math.” He smiled the confident smile of someone who had just graced his pupils with clarity.

While Sevv’s enthusiasm 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. She had a notebook and a pencil poised to jot down whatever the old professor might say.

Sevv chuckled. “It sounds very complicated, I know, but the structure and mathematics are straightforward. I always find an example to be helpful. Does anyone have a decision they are trying to make?” No one spoke up. Sevv’s smile grew wider, but appeared more brittle. “Come, I asked you to bring examples.” The townspeople looked at each other hoping someone else would speak. “Very well then. Earlier, Professor Parr told the story of the two farmers. We will use that.

“Let us say that we are one of these farmers. 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 important things we must consider while making our decision. Since we want this to be a systemic process, we must always account for the Governing Assert. The standard considerations which fall from the Governing Assert are as follows.” He loudly mumbled along as he wrote. “Immediate preservation of Human life. Long-term preservation of Human life. …Contentment. …Social cohesion. …etc,” he concluded as he finished writing a few more lines.

Soon, Sevv 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 and minds focused more 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 concentration made her stand out like a flower in the bog of the others’ indifference. Her smooth brown hair was pulled into a neat ponytail. 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.”

She raised her hand again. “And why seven?”

“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…” He began to draw the lines of a grid.

“Of course, all considerations are not equally important, so we must give them relative weights. The weights of the systemic considerations were defined by the Author.” He began to write numbers next to each consideration. He paused when he had almost finished, and looked over his shoulder, specifically at the acolyte who was furiously writing these numbers down. “If you don’t remember these details, do not worry, they are included in the compendium we will leave with your keeper.” When the keeper heard herself mentioned, she snapped to attention. 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? “Professor?”

Sevv stopped and turned around. His mouth was still forming words but had stopped making sound. “Yes Reyankaiya?”

She felt the pinch of her full name, 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 one to ten to indicate their importance. But remember that circumstantial considerations should never receive a higher weight than a systemic consideration.”

“Is that to make sure the Governing Assert is always our greatest concern,” the acolyte chirped.

“Exactly,” Sevv beamed.

“How many other considerations should we have,” Reyan wanted to know.

“As many as is practical. The important thing is that we accurately capture the relative importance of each. If we weight them all equal, they will tend to cancel each other out later.”

“But if there are enough other considerations, and they are important enough, they might together outweigh the systemic considerations.”

Sevv looked like he suspected her of some form of sabotage. “That is possible in theory. But I would posit that, if your other considerations run so contrary to the Governing Assert, perhaps you should reevaluate your priorities.”

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, “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 might answer.

“There are tools for performing that sort of analysis as well—particularly Methods and Applications, section eight, which discusses decision trees.”

The mention of trees had her leaning forward on her stool.

Sevv’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. For now let’s 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 was looking more at Reyan than at Sevv when she asked, “Should we always just guess?”

“Well, no,” Sevv stammered. “But sometimes yes. It just depends on how complicated the decision is. For today’s example we shall.” Reyan suspected that the old professor was not used to anyone paying attention to his sessions, let alone having two inquisitive girls continually interrupt him. 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 crossed 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.” He began to mumble to himself loudly. A few clear words popped out, but mostly he was incoherent. “…necessary for life…other sources of food…think of the whole town… There!”

After all of that, he wrote a six into the cell. “Weight of eighteen…multiplied out…gives us a score of one hundred and eight!” And then we have the next consideration. The mumbling began again and a few moments later that cell received a score of two. “Weight of seventeen…multiplied out…gives us a score of thirty-four!” He turned back to his slack-jawed pupils. “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 ticked and tallied and cross-multiplied, and thus slowly filled up the matrix, the sun flashing off of his copper and steel karabands all the while. 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 364 for hand-turning the field, and 309 for the horse-powered option. He circled the 364, turned back to the students and exclaimed, “There you have it. Now, I do not know if plowing by hand will always be the most systemic method, each situation is different, but it does illustrate the methodology quite nicely, and proves the point 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. 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 that was not a decision matrix.

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 a Processor, you know. And Processors are the faculty who concern ourselves with these aspects of the System.”

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.

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, “You might have a budding Processor on your hands. Watch out Keeper, if you don’t want to lose her to the University.”

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

Reyan was surprised to find herself wanting to push the acolyte and her clean neatly-pressed dress into the mud. She imagined her tight ponytail wicking up mud puddles like a brush pulling in paint. She did not get 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 something we’ve been considering 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 eyebrows 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?”

“We were hoping you could help with that.”

“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’re 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 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 were 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 supply.”

“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 Assert, the small group had dispersed, each disappointed face nodding to Kavi as they left, one of them even nodded to Reyan.

After the day’s sessions, Reyan was unsure of what to do with herself. Back in Orloton she might have gone to stand on the rocks and peer into the pond. She might have gone off to throw stones at the standing waves in the river. Most likely she would have spent her time inhaling the pine-pitch breath of her tree.

Deprived of her hometown comforts, she listened in as a stream of individuals and small groups came to avail themselves of the professors’ wisdom.

Though Kavi never got to look at the cooling machine, he was able to fiddle with other gadgets which Reyan had never seen before but which people here had incorporated into their lives and whose malfunctioning distressed or inconvenienced them. Each time he began a repair, he made sure to receive a subtle sideways nod from Sevv before he began.

Parr gave aid and provided care instructions for a girl with an infected cut on her arm. Sevv helped neighbors come to an agreement about a property line dispute. The queue was long and the consultations went on for hours.

Reyan was fascinated by the breadth and depth of the professors’ knowledge. They had whole lives worth of technical and philosophical insights at the ready for any question that came. Reyan wished she could be like the professors, never feeling flustered or confused or ignorant, no matter what problem lay before her.

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