Pryce was impressed when Nike contacted him via the US™ to ask for help.
‘I’d really like you to explain something to me, Pryce.’
Fleetingly Pryce thought he’d started to get through to Nike. Could offer him a way forward….. and then, ‘Do you need more credits?’ he asked, suspicious. After all, this was Nike.
‘No. It’s question theory. I’ve been working on the US™, but I’m getting a bit lost in it. And I remembered you said you’d done work on Question Theory so, I thought maybe, ask the master.’
Pryce couldn’t pretend he wasn’t flattered, and blocked out the afternoon to spend with Nike. It would be time and credits well spent if he was finally making a breakthrough. And they both needed to impress right now. Ten minutes later, the enormity of the task ahead hit him as he sat beside an unusually eager Nike.
‘What exactly do you want to know?’ Pryce asked, not impressed by his own questioning power. Having run through what Nike had done so far, he saw nothing more than standard level interactions, not, he suspected what Nike was confused with.
‘About questioning itself,’ Nike ventured, ‘about what makes a question a question and…’
‘You’ve come to the right man,’ Pryce reassured him, trying to reassure himself at the same time. ‘But it’s not easy. You’ll have to concentrate.’
Nike threw him a look. ‘Look Pryce, If you don’t want to help me.’
‘No. I just don’t know where to begin. What exactly..’
‘Well. I checked on some of your old work. About the proposition that both Logical and Psychological question theory are insufficient as paradigms. But I was getting lost about what comes after that.’
This really was game on. Nike was really engaging. Pryce felt good. Someone had actually, after all these years, accessed his best piece of work. In his worst moments of depression he had even thought the system hadn’t kept it on archive. He’d never dared to use the credits to look. He smiled. ‘The answer is Quantum Question Theory,’ he said, giving it everything but the drum roll.
‘And is that the pre-cursor to UTheory∑®?’
Back at the Trading House, Troy was rubbing his hands.
At the Project House, Pryce was also pleased. ‘Yes. You could say that.’
‘Well, can you explain it to me then?’ Nike asked. ‘It would take me months to get this via the US™ and I’m sure you can explain it better in half the time. I’m prepared to convert my ‘productive’ work schedule to this topic, but I really want to know NOW. Please help me.’
How could Pryce resist. ‘Okay,’ he replied, ‘I’ll adapt your work schedule ‘on the fly’.’
‘Can you do that?’ Nike wondered if his wide-eyed innocence was coming on just a bit too strong but Pryce was oblivious and bought it.
‘Sure.’ And with a few commands it was done. He’d do the admin later. He knew there was a theoretical danger in what he’d just done but in practice what could go wrong? He had no idea of course that Troy was logging Nike through his barcode and that this subversion of the standard procedure allowed Troy and the techies at the Trading House to get a link into the system without anyone checking. They were all but cheering. Their boy was doing incredibly well.
‘Does he have any idea what he’s doing?’ Griff asked Troy.
‘Nick. Oh yes. He’s a smart kid,’ Troy replied.
Meanwhile Nike was listening, or pretending to listen to Pryce’s explanation.
‘At the quantum questioning level of theory one deals with Ill formed questions (IFQ)
Well formed questions (WFQ)
Null questions. (NQ)’
‘Yes. I’m with you,’ Nike nodded.
Pryce continued. Finally. Finally he’d got Nike interested in something serious. ‘The status of the interrogator is vital. As is the domain of inquiry, the collection of observables, and the choice set.’ He caught Nike’s blank look. ‘Okay, let’s pull up some examples from the US™.’ He asked for explanation and the screen gave forth.
‘Does this question have an answer?’ is an IFQ
‘Does this question have an explication?’ is a WFQ.
To which the answer is ‘Yes’
And the explication is ‘The statement is a WFQ that asks an IFQ, a question about itself.’
‘You see, we’re dealing on the meta-level here.’
‘Yes, I see,’ asserted Nike, who didn’t.
Pryce took a deep breath. So we might ask, ‘What are the kind of questions?’
The US™ screen churned out the tired old answer
What? and How? are functional questions
When?, Where? and Who? are Temporal/spatial questions
Why? is a metaphysical question.
‘Yes, I know that.’ Nike replied, ‘but why separate them? They’re all questions.’
Pryce got in before the screen. ‘The question types are laid out in order of ascending unit value. Why? questions cost most credits because they are of least use to a system which knows all the answers. UTheory∑® prefers users to ask functional questions where ever possible. These questions yield the best kind of data to keep the system functioning at peak quality.’
He paused to let the credit drop. ‘And that’s why you’re always running out of credits, Nike. Because you continue to ask the why question.’
‘But aren’t they the most interesting kind of questions?’
‘Not to the system,’ Pryce spotted Nike going off track. ‘You have to stop thinking in an individualistic manner about these. It’s not a question of choice. We are all cogs in a wheel.’
He couldn’t believe he’d said that. Did he really believe that? What kind of a mentor was he? It was a hideous analogy. Even if it was true. Especially if it was true. ULTIMATE® must have had a million better ways of expressing that.
‘Do you believe that?’ Nike was right on him. ‘That we have no choice?’ It was a bit of a leap of faith, but Nike knew that he had to keep the interaction going as long as possible to give Troy and his men the best chance to completely analyse the system, so he just kept going. He’d deal with the consequences later.
‘I’m not sure talking about choice is a good idea in this context.’ Pryce gave party line. But wanted to engage. He felt he was losing Nike’s interest. ‘The algorithmic analysis of data structures from the first two sets of questions is actually both interesting and valuable.’
‘I’ll take your word for it,’ Nike grimaced. ‘Sounds dull to me.’
‘That’s because you’re still not getting the deeper level of significance,’ Pryce retorted. ‘Are you sure you’re interested in this?’
‘I’m sure there’s something interesting,’ Nike observed, ‘but, like all the good questions, I’m sure it’s well buried.’
‘Don’t think of it in terms of individualistic choices,’ Pryce ventured, ‘when you reduce such questions to questions about the self you’ll always end up in this sort of mess. Self isn’t important to the ULTIMATE® world. Self is personal. Personal is meaningless. It’s better to think in terms of systemic preferences. And always remember that the aim of Question Theory is to produce data which helps the ULTIMATE® system refine itself.’ He didn’t add that this effectively meant keeping the system one step ahead of the random elements of the system aka the population. That was beyond Nike’s clearance level. He knew that.
‘So what is the difference between a choice and a preference?’ Nike asked, pretending to be interested. Neither word held any great meaning for him.
The US™ simply stated
DEFINITION: Choice. The act or an instance of choosing. 10 CREDITS.
Pressed, it continued
DEFINITION: To choose. Select out of a greater number. Select between one or another. 10 CREDITS.
Certainly there was no indication that a choice could be between things that were ‘better’ or ‘worse’ or that any emotional content could be involved. ULTIMATE® offered the definitions that reinforced its own system. Unsurprisingly.
‘And preference?’ Nike asked.
DEFINITION: Preference. The act or instance of preferring..
‘This is getting stupid’, Nike said, but went for the whole set anyway. After all, he wasn’t wasting his own credits.
DEFINITION: To prefer. To choose. Or to promote.
‘I am certainly not going to ask what it means by promote.’ Nike pointed out. ‘I know when I’m going down a blind alley. This is what I hate about the US™. This is why I wanted you to tell me.’
Pryce understood Nike’s frustration. He’d felt it often enough himself in his younger days, before he’d given in and learned to accept. Now, in his more depressive moods he felt that the ULTIMATE® definitions did in fact explain the role of choice in the ULTIMATE® world. The words had no meaning within the concept. He wondered how that had happened. He remembered a day when people had at least felt they had a real choices. Had they been wrong? Had choice never really existed except as a word in a lexicon. The lexicon had changed, the word had become redundant. The concept had always been so. Pryce remembered that Choice used to be linked to Freedom. Another personalised concept ULTIMATE® had done away with. He sensed he was losing Nike now and he wanted to get back in control. Offer something positive.
‘I know it seems confusing,’ he said. ‘I can give you a systemic example if you like, so you can see that there is a meaning to things, just not always the personal meaning you think you want.’
‘Okay.’ Nike just needed Pryce to keep talking. He hadn’t had a signal from Troy to say he could stop yet.
‘Within UTheoryƩ®,’ Pryce began, ‘there is the understanding that by discovering specific user preference you can create/adapt preferences both for that specific user and more importantly for the general user. Preference is important on a systemic level. This is much more efficient and is known as the power of HYPE®.’
This was a concept Nike had heard but hadn’t paid attention to previously.
DEFINITION: Hype. 1) Promoting with extravagant publicity. 2) Cheating, a trick.
‘Of course you have to realise,’ Pryce stated, ‘that it’s the promotion aspect we are dealing with.’
‘So why did it mention a trick?’
Pryce sighed. He remembered that the subsidiary definition of cheating had also worried him once, but he had quickly learned that was something everyone had to get over if they were to stay working for ULTIMATE®.
‘Sorry. You just have to accept that,’ he answered. He knew it was no answer.
Hype had sold everything in the 20th century. By the millennium it was one of the most important and manipulated virtual commodities.
‘You can’t avoid it. It’s one of the facts of ULTIMATE® life. The creation of HYPE® preference has made life easier for all. Systemically it made preference easier to predict and therefore to maintain. It’s the world we live in.’
How weak was that? But it was an ULTIMATE® truth. By controlling preferences you could change belief systems and by changing belief systems you could change reality. It was simple.
‘It’s the beauty of the UTheory∑®,’ he continued, ‘and that’s what all the question theory stuff really comes down to.’
Nike was not impressed. Of course he had been taught that the principle of UTheory∑® was the acceptance that theory changes as the system changes. A once ground-breaking concept was something he had never questioned, simply because it seemed to have no relevance to his life. It was just the way things were. He’d viewed the definitions when he was fourteen after all.
DEFINITION: UTheory∑® is essentially the theory of theories. It is Chaos theory meets Game Theory meets Semantic Theory….
And again at fifteen for a deeper understanding.
UTheory∑®is a theory of everything, non reductable to the theory of everything in physics. It is a mutable theory. It works against primitive definitions of theory which state that: A theory is a system of ideas explaining something – especially based on general principles independent of the particular thing to be explained.
By seventeen he’d just accepted that not only did UTheory∑® underpin the ULTIMATE® system, but that it was the ULTIMATE® theory. And he’d gone back to his gaming.
Now, at twenty, he was in a position where he had to address the question again. But only because he was working for Troy, trying to get answers for Troy, trying to get a link for Troy. It might bore him rigid, but it sounded like the kind of stuff that Troy would be interested in. So he feigned interest himself.
‘So, what is the purpose of UTheory∑®?’ he asked.
Pryce was in his element now. Now he was really getting somewhere. Nike was asking intelligent questions for once. The kind of questions that had absorbed him as a young man. Was he witnessing a rites of passage here? Was he responsible for that rites of passage? Was he finally a father figure, explaining the facts of life to his son? Of course, it wasn’t the sort of question that Nike should be asking but Pryce was so carried away in the moment he forgot that.
‘The development of Chaos theory shows that even a fixed system cannot give a general result because every element in the system (never mind the elements outside the system) can alter it. This realisation of the importance to the system of the elements of the system and the randomness inherent was the start point of the development of UTheory∑® in history. I was part of that history,’ he couldn’t help adding with a sense of pride.
‘I thought we weren’t meant to bother with history,’ Nike threw back. That was Nike all over. Give with one hand, take with the other and all the while smiling as if he could never have thought to upset. Pryce choked. Nike’s generation didn’t have the concept of upsetting. It required too emotional a make-up. ULTIMATE had factored this out of Project Kids. He had to remember that and stop being so thin skinned.
‘Yes. You’re right,’ he smiled back, ‘I was just trying to give you a context that might make it more interesting.’
‘Oh. Okay.’ Nike smiled again.
Pryce continued. ‘The relationship between actions and consequences used to be thought of as progressive, one way, linear. Now we know that it is at least symbiotic if not cyclical. Everyone is important to ULTIMATE® because within the ULTIMATE® system everyone is engaged in creating, refining and maintaining the theory itself. UTheory∑®is not just the answer to our lives, UTheory∑® IS our lives.’
And then Pryce got carried away. His own random element kicked in. He gave away information far beyond Nike’s level of clearance. This was the danger of not using standard procedure. If he’d stuck to the prepared schedules and techniques this would not have happened. But it was out before he could help himself.
‘UTheory∑® brought about a shift from divisiveness to a holistic approach, that’s an acceptance that everything is (or can be) related and therefore controlled. When you can control the random element you can control everything.’ The moment it was out he realised his mistake. And of course it was the one moment Nike was paying attention.
He asked, ‘what does controlling the random element mean?’
Pryce pulled back. He knew this was out of his depth. He’d better play safe. leave the answer to the knowledge bank which on cue gave the following definitions:
RANDOM: Definition, made without method or conscious choice.
ELEMENT: Definition, a component part
CONTROL: Definition, a means of regulation
‘Why does UTheory∑® control the random element?’ Nike asked. There was no way the knowledge bank would give him the answer to this one.
‘Nike. That’s back to the kind of why questions we’ve been trying to avoid.’ Pryce sighed.
‘Yes. But I want to know.’ Nike wasn’t giving up now. ‘I thought you really wanted to help me understand. I thought you were my friend.’
That did it. Pryce couldn’t resist that appeal now could he? He knew there would be ramifications. He knew if anyone was logging the interactions there would be a heavy price to pay, possibly even his job. But then, it was just possible that no one was logging real-time. And he could go and wipe the whole interaction. Against policy of course but….. he told himself it would be okay. He wanted to believe it.
‘I will tell you, Nike. But realise that this is just between us. We should keep this kind of thing within established protocol. So…’
‘Don’t worry,’ Nike stated, ‘I won’t tell if you don’t.’
‘Controlling the random element effectively means being one step ahead of it. UTheory∑® understands and accepts the random element as a necessary part of the system but unless it remains one step ahead of it, the random element could threaten to destroy the system.’
In a moment Nike realised the power of the information. The Immortal Horses were the random element. And now they were one step ahead of the system.
‘I can trust you?’ Pryce asked. It was a futile question to a generation who had no concept of trust.
‘Of course you can.’ Nike responded. He felt a sort of electric shock through his ßß™ and reckoned that was Troy’s way of telling him he could stop now. He’d done his job.
Pryce headed back to wipe his files. He felt that he had done his job too. Not the job he was paid for by ULTIMATE® but his job as a mentor. Today, he felt Nike trusted him and that felt good. He felt proud. Was this what it felt like to be a father? If so, he was sorry he’d missed out. It gave him another reason to despise Angela.
Basking in their individual successes, neither Pryce nor Nike knew what lengths the ULTIMATE® system would go to in order to stay one step ahead of the random element. But they soon would. ‘You can’t fight city hall.’