“Dr. Havel Milkman,” the short man says, and handed over a business card that says the same.
The guard twitches the card in his hand back and forth, admiring the holographic sheen. “The shrink, right? We’ve been expecting you.”
Dr. Milkman grimaces, but nods. “I prefer psychoengineer, but yes, that is who I am. I’m here to see Bessie.”
The guard has not washed his hair in several days, and doesn’t remove his cap, even though it is very hot. “Follow me, doc, I’ll show you around.” He swipes his keycard and the door opens. The short man follows the fat man in.
Once inside, the guard relaxes slightly. He breathes deeply, savoring the temperature-controlled air of these outer corridors. It will get hot enough again soon. “This is the reception area. Mornin’, Susan.” The guard nods at the woman behind the reception desk, who smiles back at him and then returns to her work. “It’s nice and cool in here but the rest of the plant gets pretty steamy.” He leads the doctor deeper into the plant, past corporate offices, copier machines and HR, making sure to point out each one as they pass. “If you need access to anything in those for any reason, just ask the people working there. They’ll help you with whatever it is.”
Dr. Milkman is impressed. “I don’t usually have clients so willing to help me do my job. Most of these places make a golden calf out of secrecy.”
The guard shrugs. “What you’re doing is pretty critical. Every hour the plant is down we lose production.” They stop at another keycard-protected door. The hall beyond is lit with an ominous red light. “We’re going into the guts, now. Hope you don’t mind the smell.”
“Lead the way,” says the doctor.
As the door opens, the two men are assaulted with a wave of sensory input. The clank and bang of heavy machines echo out an uneven rhythm, underscored by the constant harsh buzz of motors. As they move further in, the play of light and shadow on the walls belies distant fires, and the air thickens with an acidic curl. The floor is unwashed linoleum tile, or else just raw steel paneling. The lights vary seemingly at random: one hall is studded with deep red floods, another strobes with yellow light from swinging ceiling lamps, and another burns the men’s eyes with the harsh glare of fluorescent tubes. One hall has no lights at all, and the darkness is only abated by the ambient glow of adjacent rooms. “We’ve been meaning to get this place lit up again,” says the guard as they stumble through the shadows, “but maintenance has been working overtime since the incident.”
The doctor makes no comment except for a muffled curse when he stubs his toe against the wall.
Finally they reach the heart of the facility, and the temperature drops again. “This is the server room,” says the guard. He opens the heavy metal door to reveal a dark closet full of blinking LEDs. A switch on the wall fills the room with light, revealing racks, boxes and cables strewn about in a mess. The doctor surveys the scene and exhales loudly. It looks like a mess.
The guard pulls the door mostly closed and moves to the next room. “Here’s the terminal, doc. She’s all yours.” The terminal room is larger than the server room, and has about half a dozen techs in it running from workstation to workstation, writing things down on tablets and clipboards and pulling out their hair. The doctor strides into the room, full of confidence.
“I’m here to see Bessie.”
The person who turns around to answer him is a woman, and for a brief second he loses his bearings, wondering if this is Bessie. But her badge reads “Jacie Greyhound” and she introduces herself as the technical lead for the Bessie system. She has a habit of twisting a lock of blond hair around her finger as she speaks, and her eyes move faster then her lips, which move very fast themselves when they move at all. “It started yesterday around closing time. Bessie went into a loop and hasn’t responded since. We’ve had to cut production to less than ten percent.”
Dr. Milkman grunts, but doesn’t answer with words. Neither of them are good at talking to people. He moves past her to sit at the terminal and runs a quick diagnostic. Bessie, the plant’s controlling AI, has been isolated in the server room, cut off from the input — and output — of the plant. It hasn’t stopped the loop. The doctor had spent sometime on his trip to the plant going over Bessie’s algorithms, and he starts shutting down various processes one at a time in an attempt to break the loop. He does this for almost an hour, ending one process, waiting several seconds, and then starting it again. Finally, something he does breaks the feedback loop, and Bessie goes catatonic. A couple of the techs cheer, and the relief in the room is palpable. The worst part is over. No AI technician will admit to being superstitious, but there is always the fear in the back of everyone’s mind that this is the bug that will end the world, this time the computer has outsmarted its makers, this time nothing they do will work. The first victory is always the most important one.
“We’re not done yet,” warns the doctor. “Not by a long shot.”
Greyhound speaks for the first time since he entered the room. “We have to figure out what triggered this loop, and patch it.” Dr. Milkman waves her over to his workstation, and she leans over his shoulder.
“This is the block that I shut down to stop the loop. This is our failsafe.”
She nods, and her hair brushes his shoulder with the motion. “That’s not great. What’s the memory look like?”
Havel runs the diagnostic again. “Memory’s corrupted. We’ll have to reboot Bessie, which is time consuming. We don’t want to have to do this again, so let’s avoid triggering the loop again if possible.”
The lead tech frowns, although Havel can only barely see her face reflected in the dark screen of the terminal. “We’ve never done it before, but we can boot Bessie directly into the server room and keep her there. But how do we recreate the bug?”
Dr. Milkman opens the system logs. “We know what started the loop and we know what stopped it. It’s possible we can trace it without even turning Bessie on again.” He does not scroll through the logs immediately. Instead he turns, leaning slightly away from the tech so her hair doesn’t get in his face. “This wasn’t a complicated job.” Any schmuck of a college intern could turn things off and back on again until a problem was fixed. “Why did you call me out here?”
Greyhound backs away from the terminal. “You’re on the company retainer for a reason. Besides, you said yourself that the job isn’t over yet.”