The Interview

Holt yawned as he entered the office. He could swear the nights were getting shorter. He'd have to check with the folks in Planetary Dynamics to make sure. Knowing them, they were just waiting for a certain number of people to complain before they set things back to normal.

"Good morning, Mr. Hursey," Daphney said from the reception desk, as bright and cheery as usual. Or maybe, he thought sourly, it was in vogue to have a shorter circadian rhythm. If so, he'd probably have to get adjusted to it.

He sat down behind his desk and closed his eyes just for a moment--a bad idea, because his body tried to persuade him to go back to sleep, just for a little bit... He opened them again. First he'd check and see if he had anything urgent to do. He touched the intercom button. "Any appointments this morning, Ms. Sittler?"

"Just one--a Mr. Shrieve, the final applicant for the Editor position."

Oh yes, he remembered now. The fellow who'd been unable to come in last week--something about being caught in a temporal anomaly. The sort of fishy excuse everybody tried to get away with once in a while, but apparently Shrieve's excuse was backed up with official verification from above. What this spelled to Holt was distinct favouritism. It wasn't that he minded, as such, being made aware that his hiring choices had already been made for him (something he had an unerring talent for discerning). It was more that he wished they hadn't made him interview a dozen others first.

He dug out the fellow's resume. Adalberto Shrieve. Most of the entries didn't mean anything to him, which was a good sign. He hadn't messed up too badly. The only ones he did recognize were relatively minor, which was usually a sign that this was the best that could have been done with the situation. He checked out a few in the database, and was favourably impressed with the supervisors' reports. He made a few notes of questions to ask during the interview. He really should have done this earlier, before the original, delayed, interview, but he'd gotten into this habit years ago and found it hard to break. So far nobody had expressed dissatisfaction with his results, either.

And, of course, he knew that this interview was just a formality, though he wasn't sure if Shrieve knew that or not.

Holt's intercom buzzed. "Mr. Shrieve here to see you," Daphney said.

"Send him in," he said. Quickly he pulled out some minor memo so that he could make it look like he was busily at work when Shrieve came in. He'd always used to wonder why job interviewers did this, until he took the courses and discovered all the underlying psychological reasons.

Shrieve came in and sat down, but Holt barely glanced in his direction. As he pretended to finish up what he was working on, he reviewed the image he'd impressed onto his brain in that split-second. Dark hair, worn long in back, bangs curled and back-combed. Pupils so dilated that the blue iris could barely be seen. Wearing a simple sheath that matched the barely-visible iris. Recycled rubber sandals. All in all, a fairly conservative interview costume, but with a few touches of individual taste as well. And, obviously, his circadian rhythm as well-adjusted as Daphney's. He'd definitely have to do something about that.

"So, Mr. Shrieve," he said without preamble, "you've applied for the Editor position here at Temporal Dynamics."

"Yes, mynheer," Shrieve said promptly. His voice was deep, probably enhanced, only barely above the level of illegal subsonics. Holt unobstrusively twiddled a dial beside his chair, which should damp the effect. In any other circumstance, that kind of thing would have prejudiced him fatally against the applicant. He realized that Shrieve was probably aware of his unfair advantage over his competition, and was flaunting it before him. Holt mentally ground his teeth. He'd had to deal with this kind of arrogance once before, and hadn't liked it much.

"I have been looking at your record, and your qualifications seem to be adequate for the position." Actually, Shrieve was far and away the best candidate for the job, and Holt began to resent the fact that his superiors didn't have the faith that he'd make the decision they wanted.

He gave Shrieve some fairly open-ended questions, hypothetical questions intended to reveal his methodology, examination of the details of his already-executed jobs. The answers started to worry him. Despite Shrieve's record, he seemed to lack the instinct for the crucial intervention point, even in the simple scenarios Holt posed. And yet his description of the actual jobs he'd been on--what he was allowed to reveal, at least--contradicted this impression. In fact, Shrieve had never seemed to have made a single fumble, heading unerringly for the "sweet spot" of the intended Change every time. The discrepancy worried him.

"Well, Mr. Shrieve," he said at the interview's end, "I can assure you that you will know of our decision very soon, by tomorrow at the latest." Mostly because Shrieve's interview had been delayed a week. It wasn't like it should take a lot of decision-making, anyway. But he sat there for a long time after Shrieve left, trying to puzzle out the inconsistencies. He was good at it--he'd worked as an Editor in his own time, after all, and could tie together the most innocuous and seemingly unrelated of minutiae--and he soon arrived at a plausible and disturbing explanation. Time-looping.

Every Editor tried it at least once. Rather than suffer the incredible disaster of having one's efforts to dampen out a historical change instead exacerbate it, an Editor would go back and examine the problem more deeply, often choosing a different intervention point, the original choice having been mistaken. To avoid paradox, each Editor used a specific signal to his previous self that he was looping, so that he would know not to venture out and possibly meet himself. Some Editors preferred just leaving notes for themselves detailing the problem, but most agreed that that was no substitute for seeing one's own mistakes, and remembering them later.

But it was a practice used only in emergency. If a Change was not everything one had hoped, but still fulfilled most of the requirements, then it was good enough. Looping excessively was considered risky, and it was not done gratuitously. Except, possibly, by Adalberto Shrieve.

It would explain all the anomalies. Shrieve could substitute brute force for intuition and elegance. He could make mistakes, secure in the knowledge that they would be fixed next time around.

But Shrieve's method relied on nobody suspecting what he had done. The effects of time-looping could be easily detected, if one knew what one was looking for. He didn't care if his superiors wanted Shrieve. They'd probably been thoroughly duped by the time-looper themselves, and would welcome a chance to save face. He turned to his terminal and typed in a message for Security.

***

"The crucial decision, of course," Adalberto said, "is whether the man is truly anomalous, or whether he is just a focus for already-rampant dissatisfaction. In the latter case, simple early elimination is not sufficient, and the Change may not even be possible. Further evaluation will need to be done."

The interviewer--Mr. Hursey, the plate on his desk said--nodded and jotted something down on his pad. Adalberto wasn't worried. He knew he had the answers right this time.

Mark-Jason Dominus <mjd@plover.com> made a post with the following Keywords:

employed minutiae resume sleepy

Back to the Four-Word Stories Page...

The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com