In the bowels of Worstmonster, in an underground laboratory, Maybelline’s designers are hard at work. A terrible thing has happened in the metropolis, and it has gotten Maybelline quite confused. Her programming is inept, out of date, and defective. As such, the unit is incapable of analysing the current status of affairs, much less compute a solution. Meanwhile in the upper horls, a committee has gathered. The Solution Committee, or SOLCOM as it is acronymically named, is meeting secretly in a little-known room at the end of a long corridor. On the top floor of the horls, four members, Fred Fixit, (an alias) Chip Monk, (real name), Horace Hamm, (real name) and Annie Leadbottom, (real name) are seated around a scarred conference table. Maybelline’s stunning failure to enact Mission Quench, (or MQ), has shoved all other parliamentary considerations into the shade, and so these four have gathered to consider the limited options available.
The fellow with the white coat is pacing around, anxiously observed by Maybelline’s current team of ‘advisors’. What to do, what to do!
This ‘Fred’, (no one knows his real name) halts suddenly and pushing his unframed spectacles up along his thin nose announces. ‘This calls for a realignment.’
Shock horror all around. ‘Realignment? Are you serious?
‘Serious as cancer’.
Fred glances at the tiresome woman with the Asprey style handbag, a recent addition to the team. He faces her head on. ‘Why the devil not, Annie?’
Annie Leadbottom inhabits a substantial chair next to the windowsill overlooking the River Times. The men staring at her, gives her a vague thrill.
Annie’s strident vocals lend her temporary authority, and she presses it to her advantage. ‘Don’t you remember? We decided ages ago not to request an upgrade until after the next selection. We needed to budget for our future campaign. Her programming costs a mint!’
‘Quite right, Annie,’ says Horace, one of Annie’s former admirers. ‘We’re going to need every penny for the next round.’
SOLCOM GET TO WORK
Fred cast his mind back to the day when he had found Annie and Horace plotting together in the committee room. ‘You’re not to bring the selection into this Horace!’
Horace blinked at Fred. He pushed a thatch of hair from his brow. ‘Well, it’s important don’t you think? After all, the gawkers need leaders! We must display an iron will. It’s important what they think of us.’
Horace’s allusion to his waning popularity irritated Fred, who dismissed Horace’s words with a wave of his white-coated arm. ‘Who cares what they think! They think that what we want them to think! What matters is what we think, and the future of our project.’
‘Of course, of course.’ Horace had the expression of a petulant schoolboy. ‘I am a great supporter of the project, dare I say we are all naturally and entirely supportive!’
Fred stared at his blueprints to conceal his anger. Of course, you are, he thought, but that doesn’t stop you hankering after Maybelline’s job, wanting it all to yourself. No, we’re better off with our trusty Maybelline, defective or not. I’d better set things straight, he thought. They need another lecture on the difference between mechanic and organic, and a reminder that Maybelline belonged to the party as a whole! But for now, there were more pressing matters.
‘This incident has placed us all at risk,’ Fred informed his colleagues. ‘Already the agitator is out there, organising the crowd, and there are plans afoot for a day of rebelling.’
Chip glared at Horace. ‘Your fault, Horace; you were the one who said scrap crap legislation.’
Horace gave Chip a pitying look. ‘Really Chip, you ought to make your mind up about these things. I merely offered you a piece of advice, and it was perfectly valid at that time.’
Chip was red in the face. ‘More than advice! You said if I tried to change the laws, the Stellar would come after me, you said …’
Fred raised his voice. ‘Stop squabbling you two! There’s work to be done!’
But Chip was not ready to desist. ‘Weren’t you the one who had all the old lavs taken from public housing? Never to be replaced, you said, too expensive, you said!’
‘Nope, not me,’ Said Horace.
Chip screamed at Horace. ‘Yes, you! It was your idea, this public bathing. It might have worked in the Roman era old boy, but certainly not now, and not with the stinky virus going around like wildfire.’
Horace guffawed. ‘Fiddlesticks! Such contemptible feebleness in the nation these days. What’s wrong with a few germs?! They’re invigorating!’
Chip stood up abruptly. He stomped over to the water barrel, placed a paper cup beneath the spout, and slapped the lever down with the palm of his hand. The plastic handle broke and fell to the carpet.
‘I think it’s frightfully indecent,’ chipped in Annie, ‘that painting in your bathroom, Horace, the one by that Henri or Eddie chap.’ She looked at Horace accusingly. ‘Whatever can you mean by portraying such filth … ?’
Fred banged his fist on the table. ‘Enough! We are veering off the subject. We need to focus on what to do about Maybelline.’
Annie reached for a cigarette.
‘What can be done?’ Asked Horace.
‘To put it bluntly, she needs rebooting.’ Said Fred. He looked around the room. No one said anything. ‘I take that as agreement from you all that I should reset the old thing.’
There were mumblings of consent as Fred outlined the various system errors; verbal repetitions; no scanning ability; erroneous fixes; respond and repair mechanisms compromised; and worst of all, a tendency (built-in to modern AI systems) to go it alone.
‘That particular feature is for combat era use,’ Fred reminded them. ‘Not for non-war situations, although it is fair to say we are approaching that possibility. Everyone knew what was meant. Horace, whose capacity to remain calm in a crisis was abysmal, began accusing Fred of shoddy work. Fred struggled to resist plucking the bust of their esteemed ancestor from its stand and flinging it at Horace’s fat head. Fred would have liked to inflict lasting damage, the sort that would require a ‘modification’ of Horace’s biochemistry. But such things were wont to leak to the press, and those unscrupulous slaves of the entertainment industry would make an excellent meal of it. No, not worth the risk Fred decided. Better to explain things as best he could, and move on.
‘Look, let’s be honest.’ Fred urged.
Chip, Horace, and Annie peered at him suspiciously. Honest? Not a word to be bandied about lightly. But Fred, being in the systems department, was permitted a degree of eccentricity. Scientists were batty; everyone knew that.
‘The situation has reached its nadir,’ Fred went on. ‘The elect has cut our resources, we’re using the same assets as ten years ago, and even longer in some cases. Our leader’s software is wearing thin; she is well past her functionality, the SBD having been signed off long ago. We badly need an upgrade, but the elect says we have to make do, says it has other priorities.’
There was a general sputtering of outrage.
‘Madness!’ Said Chip Monk. ‘If she fails, we all fail, and what then?’
‘Apparently, it doesn’t matter to the elect!’ Anne Howled.
‘Outrageous,’ Horace added. ‘Have you rightly outlined the case? Don’t they care that we are facing unrest on an unprecedented scale!’
Fred was glad that only he understood the elect and its motives, but he would never share his hard earned knowledge with these dimwits, not in a million years. ‘Ladies and gentleman, you are quite right. The simple fact is that we have a crisis on our hands, and our job is to handle it. So, I say we bypass Maybelline and deploy the big gun on this occasion.’
Annie’s mouth dropped open. ‘You can’t possibly mean Old Lofty?’
Horace was aghast. ‘Preposterous! Insane! That programme is reserved for state occasions, not urban missions.’
‘What about her programming?’ Chip added.
Horace had a face like thunder. He barked at Chip. ‘I ask the questions around here.’
‘I do too!’ Whined Annie.
Horace threw her a warning look and then wheeled around on Fred. ‘Old Lofty is transcendent, in fact, she’s impenetrable, you can’t just tinker with her dignity and wheel her out there for such a downbeat occasion.’
‘Quite right,’ Fred admitted. ‘She is fixated, but there are protocols in place for emergencies. The occasion demands it I’m afraid.’
Horace looked thoughtful. ‘It’s not right, not right at all, but it would certainly silence the gawkers.
‘And the complainers,’ Said Chip.
Horace raised his fist and landed Chip a mighty thump on his ear. ‘I thought I told you to zip it!’
For the rest of the meeting, Chip nursed his throbbing earlobe while the remainder of the team discussed the logistics involved in deploying their most valuable asset. At half past twelve with stomachs growling, they made their way to the canteen for Scotch eggs and soup. The matter was settled. It had been decided that there was no option but to engage Old Lofty and march her off to Glenfowl Manor to extinguish the simmering revolt.