The Honesty Corporation
Frustrated by the feedback they were getting, management appealed to the Diabolical Enduser Solutions Corporation to provide them a way to make feedback both candid and anonymous.
“Studies have shown this feedback is important to our business,” Carolyn B. Straynahan said over the phone to the CEO of DESC.
“How important is it to you?” the peculiarly suave voice asked.
“I have to do what it takes. They’ll give me the budget as long as I can show we’ll get what we’re asking for.”
“We can give you what you’re asking for.”
After he hung up, the CEO of DESC smole a smile. His protuberant eyes almost bugged out of his head. Here, he told himself, was an opportunity.
Six weeks later the DESC operatives were shown to Carolyn B. Straynahan’s office and she showed them the conference room dedicated to what DESC called the CANDICON IX: The Ultimate Feedback Solution (from the Diabolical Enduser Solutions Corporation: Solutions Businesses Committed to Aggressive Growth). It was ready in six days.
For optimum results, allow the participants to have six hour sessions, the manual read. Since the company had invested half a billion in the CANDICON IX, they bit the bullet and scheduled all the upper management to get into the room twelve at a time in six hour shifts.
“We’ll provide bagels in the morning and pizza afterward,” Carolyn B. Straynahan wrote in the email invitation. But what really allured the management was the topic sentence of the third paragraph in the email: “Using cutting-edge research and the latest technological breakthroughs, DESC has pioneered a tool of uninhibited performance.”
“I want to be part of that,” Dennis P. Tuphloss said with such enthusiasm that the Vice-President for Optimizing Human Resources Performance wrote his name down on his notepad and put a little star beside it. Dennis had been talking about it with Susan J. Swinehusker in the break-room while the Vice-President was getting himself a Mountain Dew. Both Dennis and Susan were slated for the first session.
Entering the CANDICON IX by way of a separate door, each participant found himself in a dark room looking out upon a conference table which appeared to be three stories down. The table had a light shining on it for each participant. When all twelve lights came on the soft, female voice of the computer began its instructions. Then the computer gave the first question and invited participation.
As each began to speak, the others heard a mechanically shrouded sound like a harsh grating. They began with the usual tentative niceties, but the mask of anonymity and the ugly sound of the other voices soon encouraged the candor which Carolyn B. Straynahan thought her company desired. And so in the weird darkness, looking down upon the lights at the table, there ensued a forthright and uninhibited outpouring of twelve human hearts.
Susan J. Swinehusker did not last more than an hour. She abruptly left the conference before the scheduled time, in tears of rage. A few days later people found out she was no longer with the company.
Carolyn B. Straynahan had all the codes and did not delegate the task of secretly overhearing the conversations. At first she did not convert the harsh grating into the real voices. Nor did she avail herself of the option of having the console show which room was speaking so she could identify the speaker. After all, the whole point was complete anonymity and utter candor.
Once the conversations progressed and the old inhibitions were shed, however, Carolyn B. Straynahan, first shocked, then hurt, then hardened, began to reason with herself. It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have that harsh grating of the unfortunate masker. I’ll have to talk to DESC about it, she resolved as she switched the masker off to hear the voices. I can’t believe that’s Dennis saying all that stuff about . . . She became very attentive as the conversation moved on. After a while, uncertain of the owners of three of the voices, she turned the identification on.
At the end of six hours eleven very grim managers came out and barely glanced at the pizza. Carolyn B. Straynahan could hardly make eye contact and she knew her smile was fake. But nobody looked at her. They all went back to their desks.
The next day, still with a hangover but feeling a lot more positive about the whole thing, Carolyn B. Straynahan reported to the executive committee that the CANDICON IX was a really great thing and, if given the support it needed, would revolutionize the company. The executives were a little hesitant just listening to her speak, but she got together an amazing power-point (mostly cribbed from the sales material DESC sent her) which made them all feel better. And then she clinched it all by saying, “They didn’t even go for the pizza afterward; they went straight to their work.”
The CFO nodded. “That’s true,” he said. “I ate a whole pizza because there they were, just sitting there.” Somebody suggested they put the CFO in the room next and the subsequent haze of laughing and joking made everybody feel good about the CANDICON IX.
Six months, six days and six hours later, when the company went under, the DESC corporation had not trouble recruiting Carolyn B. Straynahan.
Sounds of Space
The planet lay below us. We could see the cities, the transport lines leading away from each, connecting city to city. We watched the natural and artificial topography below. And around us was the gentle wash and wonder of outer space. We rotated slowly, the ship and awed capsule of serenity. The stars were bright, and we floated before the great glass panels.
Slowly I thought about it: save the whales! I swam in slow motion through the cabin on my way over to the wales. They were in a little jar. I scanned the instrument readout. The whales were fine. Fine, I repeated to myself gently. Fine.
I wept within myself for joy. I floated in a field of gratitude. I embraced all my space-mates and we wept within ourselves till the rotation of our ship lulled us all to sleep.
We woke to the slow-sounding horn of heaven. It was beamed through all the galaxy from the X-76bmi, the mothership. It was like an ocean in the fires of the heart of the galaxy, that ship. Oh my mothership, I cried silently. I wept within myself and heard its long, dwindling horn.
Holy Cow, I thought. Just like that. Then I realized something and wept within myself, man. Holy Whale. Holy. Whale. And I heard the gong and the first words of the aliens coming into our serenity. Their voices scrabbled around us with an electronic chitter. It was so weird; I felt glad.
Glad. It was like the music of the whales. I went back to look at the jar as the horn sounded more slow and faint. The wales were gone. The aliens chittered one last time and then the sound went out like the tide.
Christmas With the Stars
Christmas in the Helen Marconi, Friendly class starship, was a special event. They had welded together a Christmas tree six years back. Having nothing in which to stick the trunk, nothing to prop the tree up, they had welded it to the deck. So every year they decorated it.
The problem was not the decorations. They had a whole two ton cargo container full of Christmas decorations. They seldom used a quarter of the supply, and a third of what was in the container was broken or useless anyway.
The problem was not the will. For all they lacked the will to sort out the decoration stored in the container, they had great enthusiasm for the decorations and the festivities. They were so notorious nobody would contract the starship during the standard calendar months of November and December. So the ship spun in space, celebrating.
No, the problem was the music. Nobody could agree on the music. They could all have listened to their own private music as they did all the rest of the time. But the spirit of decorating and celebrating together somehow required they play the same music over all the ship.
“Dude,” Bjink said. “We should have that Christmas with the Whales.”
“Christmas in Wales would be fine,” Jot said.
“Man, that is not what I’m talking about. You know what whales are?” Bjink said.
“That would be like Johan,” Dlog said.
“Like, maybe Jonah?” Jot asked.
“Wasn’t Johan in the whales?” Dlog asked.
“Dude, Dlog,” Bjink said. “He wasn’t, like, among the whales, ok?”
“I thought he was a biblical character. Do you mean to say Jonah was Welsh?” Zipper asked.
“That totally makes sense because Christmas is also in Wales. I had been confused thinking they were in the Bible.” Dlog said.
And so, as you can imagine, none of the music they had really fit. What happened, as a result, was that the crew decorated, had long discussions about the music, and eventually gave up and celebrated until the season was over.