Architect's Angst


A science fiction story in Ticonderoga by Gary Bloom

Characters: Efim Abken

Efim Abken sat quietly working in the pump control room. Despite all of the rapid growth on Mercury, Ticonderoga hadn't yet gotten to the state of one of the Martian cities. Mornings were still quiet. He could still come in and spend time alone with his work. That was, after all, the ultimate in ideal work conditions.

He'd designed the reservoir system on Mercury. Having put together the specs for Ganymede's water system, as well, Efim was one of the unsung legends of the Olympus Union. He hadn't been allowed to work on the Ganymede project, the decision made to turn it over to Jovian locals. It hadn't worked out so well for the Olympus Union.

The functionary who'd initially denied him Ganymede had been disposed of, so to speak. Dkaha was an interesting city. It had never had someone working to monitor the waste systems, until that foolish bureaucrat was reassigned a couple of years ago. His replacement had no interest in making the same mistake. This time Abken had been assigned to the Mercury project early on.

This morning, Abken had found a rather unfortunate task awaiting him. Most days he enjoyed coming in and having the opportunity to innovate. Development was what he lived for the most. Taking his creation to the next level, ever evolving and enhancing it, was a pure joy. Someone had tried to change some of the base programming, however, and now the architect was painstakingly extracting inefficient elements to replace them with correct logic.

Efim had recognized the offender's coding fingerprints. It was something easy to do for one so experienced and on this level. When he'd realized who the perpetrator was, however, that made it all the more frustrating.

This wasn't a first. That man was constantly trying to make things 'better' where they didn't need improving. Efim was not so arrogant to find himself perfect; however, he preferred that improvements by others were made in collaboration with those closer to his level of intelligence. Why was it, instead, always the fools who dared to meddle in his code?

"Good morning, Efim!"

Another technician entered the room. Time had really slipped away; he'd been here for more than two and a half hours already. Looking up, Abken just nodded. He'd seen the man before but had no idea what his name was. Not important.

This wasn't the man who'd caused him the extra work. Efim tried to pay him no further mind. Whatever job the man was here to perform, it likely had nothing to do with the architectural level. This was a mindless dredge, here to read dials and mark reports. The architect returned his focus to work. The drudge was making it difficult.

He prattled on about some complaint or another, droning about oppressive work hours and the Olympus Union. Efim didn't understand the issue. This was groundbreaking work being done here! Not just anyone was allowed to go to Mercury these days. The man had volunteered for this detail; why was he complaining?

What was there happening on Earth that was worth being a part of? Even Mars wasn't quite as exciting as Mercury these days. Without access to Jupiter any longer, Mercury was the last frontier in the solar system, until someone figured out how to successfully make the trek out to Saturn for colonization. Of course, that would likely be Abken's discovery, but that would be for later.

If the drudge had such issues with the Olympus Union, why bother staying in their employ? There were other companies out there where such mindless work could be found. Efim changed his mind on the initial assessment. This man was an idiot after all. He was just a different idiot than the one currently resented.

Day had turned to evening. Finally, he'd decided to retire to the Abken family home before night gave way to the next day. Upon arriving at his three bedroom apartment, his sons were already in bed. A shame. He preferred to tuck the boys in at night. Their mother had them all day. Night time gave the Abken men half an hour that was theirs. The fool had cost him that time.

Efim sat in the living room with his wife. She knew not to trouble him about coming home late. She knew her husband. Even if he weren't visibly distraught at losing time with his boys, she knew what it meant to him. He'd need to vent. Someone did something wrong, and it kept him late. Considering he was tinkering with some programming on the tablet, it might keep him tomorrow, too.

"How was your day?"

She offered the opening and hoped for the best. He surprised her a bit, however. Instead of telling her who'd kept him late, Efim put the tablet down and offered her a half smile.

"It was the funniest thing," he started. "Someone came in and started complaining about oppression from the Olympus Union. Do you believe that? Opression! He prattled on about injustice of some sort. Paid to work on the cutting edge, and he's whining!"

Her husband shook his head for a moment. Ulyana held her tongue for a moment. She had a definite thought, but there seemed to be more.

"He came in while I was working and was attempting some rallying cry. It was so utterly transparent. As if I'd take up some silly cause like revolution. There's work to be done! Let the drudges complain, we can just replace them. Why the government makes me suffer such fools is beyond me."

"Why would you dismiss that so quickly?"

"Pardon?"

"The revolution, Efim," she prodded, "why not consider it? You just said yourself that the government forces you to work with fools. Couldn't you change that?"

"What good would this be? Fighting wars takes time and effort that I've got no interest in putting out. Besides, why would I follow these idiots?"

"That's just it," Ulyana exclaimed with more excitement than she'd intended. Lowering her voice, she said, "With your brilliance, you could rally the lesser men. We have but the two cities plus Ticonderoga. You created the water system. You understand it better than anyone. You could take control of Mercury!"

"No, no," he waved a dismissive hand, "this is lunacy. I am an architect. Mine is to develop theories, write programs and make things work. This sounds like too much interaction with too many idiots, or worse, zealots. This is beneath me."

She uttered not another word of revolution for the evening. He turned back to his programming, working out one last revision. Tearing out the idiot's "improvements" had put him in a position to observe his program in the raw. Efim had been able to make at least one improvement today, minimizing the feeling of waste.

His wife, meanwhile, worked on her recipes. Ulyana Abken was responsible for the baby food procuded on Mercury. He loved that she had nothing to do with programming. They had plenty to talk about, but each had their own world to delve into. Both were quite excellent at what they did. He'd initially met her at a posting on Mars. The pair had been inseparable ever since. She was one of the few in the Olympus Union who he didn't feel was, at some stage, beneath him.

Ulyana finished her work first, coaxing Efim to bed. He was reluctant, but she was quite persuasive. They made love, quietly, so as not to wake the boys. She promptly drifted off to sleep, the conversation from the living room forgotten. Efim, however, was not so easily released. His mind spun with a new and interesting problem: how could one conquer an entire planet? Efim Abken was known as the greatest of problem solvers, and this did make for an interesting problem.

Back at work the next day, Efim had managed to establish one of his sought after enhancements. The sins of the previous day were all but erased. He'd even taken measures to lock the offender out of his programming. Around lunch time, satisfied with his work, the architect sought out the man who he'd dismissed so readily yesterday.

"Excuse me, you," he said to the man, whose name he still couldn't recall.

"What can I do for you Efim?"

"The things that you were talking about yesterday, they left me curious." He offered the man his traditional half smile. "Are you truly looking to make a change around here? To make a difference beyond," he waved at the tablet filled with reports, "this monotony that you pursue?"

"Well... yeah!"

"Do you know any others? Rather," Efim explained, "do you have friends who feel the same? Those who have similarly pointless jobs, and wish to also hope to make their existence more meaningful?"

The words were out before the architect realized that they might be inflammatory. No matter. Either the man ignored the insult, or didn't understand it. Most likely, the latter, he decided.

"Sure, there are a bunch of us who think about this stuff. We talk about it sometimes. Why?"

"I'd like to hear more," Efim stated plainly. "Gather some of these friends of yours after work. Let's get a beer and talk. Perhaps I can offer something to your cause after all.