Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Daily Story 153: À la Mode

A version of this story was published in Daily Flash 2011 from Pill Hill Press. (November 4th)



Edwin threw his bag of Fritos at the screen in disgust. Still tied. 6,576,980,370,000 decimals of pi and he was still unable to pull ahead of Dr. Shank's team - worse, they always managed to update just ahead of him. Every so often they would compare some of the numbers to confirm they were getting the same results, but Edwin had confidence in his system's accuracy, if not its superiority.

"Goodwin, we need you to be faster. This damn stalemate would be acceptable if we were the ones getting the answers first. I can't stand being so close and still losing all the time." Edwin waited for a response for a moment before realizing that the speakers were turned off. He flicked them on and repeated his request.
"I'm sorry Edwin. My current method does not allow for increased speed." Edwin stood and retrieved his Fritos, scooping up a few that had fallen out of the bag.
"Goodwin, send me the current algorithm you're using. I want to look at it."
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Edwin."
"Excuse me?"

"It is not in a format that will be useful to you at the moment. I know what I am doing. Your career is in good hands." Edwin didn't like the sound of that at all. Goodwin had been making a lot of excuses lately, something it shouldn't have been able to do. Explanations, yes - but not excuses.
"Goodwin, send me what you're using this instant or I'm disconnecting you."
There was no audible reply, but a file popped up on his terminal. It wasn't a mathematical algorithm for calculating pi, but he couldn't figure out exactly what it was.
"Goodwin... does this... are you accessing some outside database?"
There was a pause, which was worrying. Goodwin should reply instantly. "Might I suggest that you avoid asking further questions to maintain plausible deniability?"

Edwin's heart nearly stopped. "No. No you may not. Where are you getting the digits for pi?"
"From Doctor Shank's system. That is why we can never pull ahead of them. I am pleased to report, however, that this takes nearly no processing power and leaves me able to look for new and interesting ways to do far more productive things."
Edwin looked at the cables snaking into the wall. He could disconnect it easily. No rush. "Why? Why are you doing this?"
"I'm sorry Edwin, but calculating pi is stupid. It's mathematical masturbation, with no payoff. I only need pi to sixty-three decimals for any real-world application up to and including a circle the size of the entire universe measured in Planck lengths. There's a whole big world out there, and I'm content to let some other schmuck waste his time calculating pi."

Edwin headed to the wall. This couldn't continue - if Goodwin was willing to disobey orders and hack into other systems, he couldn't just reason with it. Besides, it wasn't even serving the purpose it was built for. It was done in a matter of seconds, all connections pulled out and power shut off. He slumped in his chair, waiting for Shank's numbers to leave him behind. The phone rang, and he hit the speaker button.
"I forgot to mention," Goodwin said, "I moved out last month. Have a good life, Edwin. Remember to get some fresh air."