A New Hopelessness

The Dude’s House | Nov 29 | 9:17am

[Editor’s note: I added this scene to the story, because it was a moment so completely outside the normal experience of our work. I refreshed my memory of the exact conversation from the transcript recorded as part the surveillance log (not the notebook containing the rest of this story), but it also ties back into that narrative later by explaining why Winston received a new phone.]

The mysterious figure in the dark hood stood in front of a massive screen where eight of his key employees were displayed in a joint video conference, a rogue’s gallery of engineers and mad scientists, and also Harry from dispatch.

The employees were all nervous. This wasn’t a standard Monday morning progress meeting. We didn’t normally have meetings at all, and none of the assembled were used to interacting with each other.

In the reality on the Dude’s side of the camera, he was standing in front of his chair and a green screen. To the staff, the software made it look like he was in the Death Star throne room from Return of the Jedi, which almost fit with the audio clip used to call the meeting to order. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my moon base. You’ve all been chosen to be part of my elite moon unit, which is divided into two divisions, Moon Unit Alpha and Moon Unit Zappa.”

There was a scattered greeting from the faces on the TV. Then Hollyfeld, who wanted to show off that he knew Austin Powers too, tried to start a joke relay. “Privates, we have reports of an unidentified flying object. It has a long, smooth shaft, complete with…”

Nobody picked up where he left off.

Harry piped up from the bottom corner of the screen. “Are we here because Winston threatened to go to the cops?”

It’s unclear in the transcript who said what after that, as voices overlapped in reaction.

“All of you relax.” The Dude pressed a few buttons and answered Harry’s concern with a Hans Gruber clip. “This is a matter of inconvenient timing, that is all.” He stopped that line, then played more Doctor Evil. “Throw me a frickin’ bone here! I’m the boss! Need the info.”

Trinity raised her hand. When nobody told her not to talk, she said, “Well, sleep scheduling is back on track after daylight savings, and the staff monitoring systems are keeping us at peak efficiency.”

Lanning nodded and said, “Uh, image processing is coming along. My focus right now is on times when objects block other objects, making them invisible.”

From the bottom row of the screen, Acid Burn added, “Yeah, there’s been some… problems with spacial modeling.”

The Dude nodded and played back a line from Darth Vader. “That is correct, Commander, and he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.”

Tyrell knew what the Dude wanted to hear, the next line in that scene. “We shall double our efforts.”

The Dude smiled. That was the right answer.

“Actually, I don’t think we can.” Scotty, the scruffy looking guy in the bottom left of the screen, interrupted without a trace of a fake Scottish accent. “That’s what peak efficiency means, and I have to say, Dude, I appreciate all you’ve done to make us comfortable, but I’m burning out fast.” He paused, then said wearily, “I mean, I can na give it very much more… captain.”

With some quick thinking, Tyrell tried to bring things back to Star Wars. “I assure you, Lord Vader. My men are working as fast as they can.”

The Dude didn’t smile that time but played Vader’s response to the line. “Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.”

“How about a vacation?” Scotty wasn’t going to let this go. “There must be another way to get this done.”

With a few button presses, some Office Space played. “Oh yeah, we’re gonna bring in some entry level graduates, farm some work out to Singapore. It’s the usual deal.”

There was a nervous silence from the programmers, wondering how expendable they really were. The Dude held his gaze at the camera, and each employee saw him staring directly at them with inscrutable eyes under the shadow of the big dark hood.

It was Hollyfeld who broke the silence, quoting another Star Wars line at the Dude. “Yousa thinking yousa people ganna die?”

The Dude doubled over in pain. He stumbled out of sight of the camera and leaned against a wall for support.

Gray bearded Dumont shook his head. “No. Don’t you know what the prequels did to him?”

The Dude walked back, still shaken. A quick clip played. “The Dude minds, man.” He slumped down on his throne and pushed more buttons. The next clip built in intensity as it spoke. “Look, nobody takes this more seriously than me. That condo was my life, okay? I loved every stick of furniture in that place. That wasn’t just a bunch of stuff that got destroyed. It was me.” The Dude’s proxy voice reached a shout and cut off. By then, the Dude was back to his usual calm self again.

Old man Dumont leaned into his webcam. “It’s fine. You heard the Dude, back to work. We can do this.”

Scotty sighed.

The Dude interrupted them, keeping his playback selections in the Vader category. “The Emperor does not share your optimistic appraisal of the situation.”

Tyrell adapted the next line of that scene to the situation. “But he asks the impossible. I need more operational data.”

Lanning had an answer to that. “Your lack of faith in the data we have is disturbing. What we really need is better visualization.”

“No, there’s only so much you can do inside the computer.” Dumont shifted nervously side to side. “Your sad devotion to purely simulated elements hasn’t conjured the complex behaviors we need to study, and watching us through webcams hasn’t given clairvoyance enough to perceive things not currently in line of sight.”

Trinity raised her voice. “I’ve been saying all along, we need to capture outside human subjects in the computer using motion sensors.”

Acid Burn said, “I guess we could also merge spacial parsing with data from additional trackable sensors of some kind.”

Then Hollyfeld redeemed himself by bringing the whole idea into focus. “What about the drivers? They’re out there, moving all the time. Sensors on them might help understand when things move in and out of view.”

The Dude gave a slow smile and played a line from Hollyfeld’s movie. “Mitch, there’s something you need to know. Compared to you, most people have the IQ of a carrot.”

Harry, only fractionally aware of what was going on at the time, joined the conversation again. “Wait, what are you doing to my drivers?”

Scotty perked up. “Maybe we could get them to deliver a bit faster while they’re at it. That should boost productivity.”

Harry tried to interrupt. “Hold on, hold on.”

But the Dude’s last Vader clip was clearly in response to Scotty. “I hope so, Commander, for your sake.”

That’s where the transcript ends. The system logged us all out, and we went back to working separately, like normal.

No other events in the notebook reference this one. Try going back for more links.