“Hurry it up, Robert.” Sighed Mara. “We’ve got a quota to meet. Just chuck him in the army or something.”
“You can’t rush these things.” Replied Robert, pressing the words through his teeth with barely concealed impatience. “Please try to be professional.”
“I am.” She snipped. “I’m trying to meet the professional standard of not spending a quarter of an hour on one decidedly average citizen.”
“Tell me, how long have you been working in this department?”
“Twelve. So it might be worth listening to my advice: you can’t just throw everybody in the army. The Military Board doesn’t like it, the CR Board doesn’t like it, and if they get around to complaining upwards rather than down, the Ministerial Board won’t like it either.”
“I don’t want to throw everyone in the army, Rob. I want to throw this schmuck in so that we can move on the next one, and maybe actually hit our daily target for once.”
“Well, perhaps we’d be more productive if you stopped bickering with me on every case.”
“We’d be more productive for sure if we just took the algorithm at its word, but you don’t like that idea…”
“We have human oversight for a reason.”
“Right. And we have two humans for a reason, too. Cuts both ways. Army.”
Robert scowled. He enjoyed scowling, Mara felt.
“Fine. We’ll run some numbers one more time, and if I don’t come up with anything else, we’ll go with the army option.”
She smiled inwardly, glowing in the anticipation of coming smugness.
“Alright, you shuffle aside, and I’ll take the screen.” She said. “There’s not enough space in this broom-closet for both of us to huddle over it. I’ll feed you the numbers.”
“Fine.” Robert relinquished his place at the computer with an air of wounded pride. Mara moved over with precisely the opposite demeanour.
“Ready when you are.”
“106. And a third, if you care about the third.”
“178 cm. 73.4 kg.”
“Deviation from standard life expectancy.”
“A nice, crisp, 120. Tell me, what are the Military Board’s minimums for those?”
“HQ 85, DQ 115.”
“Thought so. And IQ 105 – 130, as I’m sure you know.”
“Yes, I do. But there are plenty of roles for those ranges.”
“Fine, fine. On to the achievement scores?”
“Correct. Physical, bipartite.”
“Social. Just give me the overall for this one.”
“Academic. Tripartite, this time.”
“40, 51, 42. No love for the heptadecapartite scores?”
“We only use those for IQ 140 or above, and you know it.”
“I must have forgotten.” She smirked. “You’ve got those four IQ points on me, remember? Go easy.”
“Alright, alright. Any Observer comments that we missed?”
“Of course not. When was the last time you saw any?”
“It can happen. Clearly, the designated Observer just didn’t see any need in this case.”
“Or any case, apparently. Must be a pretty cushy job.”
“Careful what you say. The Overall Value Band is 3b, right?”
“Well, you win.” The furrows of his dissatisfaction were slightly more pronounced than usual. Not only had he ‘lost’, he had forgotten the OVB. For Robert, who was strangely resistant to apathy, this was a source of personal frustration. “We’ll say army and be done with it.”
“Oh, are you sure?” She crowed. The smugness had arrived, and she welcomed it with open arms. “I’ve got pages and pages of this stuff.”
“Yes, I’m sure. What did the algorithm recommend?”
“Army, of course. I didn’t come up with that stroke of genius myself. You sure you don’t want to bounce him back for another year in the Supervised Community?”
“A good allocations clerk never does that.”
“So you’ve told me.” Robert was stubborn about this, which was strange, since the option was officially sanctioned. Sometimes you really did just need more data. Equally, it sometimes made more sense to leave a file for the next lot rather than risk a mistake. “Army it is.”
Mara input the appropriate vocational code, and the pair’s decision was beamed off to that all-knowing god of bureaucracy, the (great, glorious, noble, infallible) National Mainframe. Seeing no red flags, the Mainframe dumped Citizen M45QS-S, soon to be renumbered to fit his designated raison d’être, into the lap of a bored Civil Resources employee. This provider of token human oversight scrolled through the case file in search of anything entertaining, found nothing, and confirmed the decision.
Robert and Mara received confirmation of this confirmation, and were duly presented with another citizen ready to graduate from their community. There was a mutual, simultaneous discarding of attention as they scanned the first page. This would be an easy one.
“IQ 98.” Said Mara. “Unlucky, Ms. F82GL-S.”
“Luck has nothing to do with it, Mara. The numbers don’t lie.”
She was about to retort that this didn’t necessarily mean that they were saying anything particularly truthful, but intercepted the thought before it could escape her head. Some things really were better left unsaid.
“Ship it over to the lovely people at the Exceptions Department?”
“Correct. Unless you see any reason not to?”
She scrolled through the file. “Well, not in the scores. And would you believe it, there are no additional comments.”
“Don’t get glib. This is an unfortunate necessity.”
She declined to comment.
Another offering to the Mainframe. It accepted it, ratified it, and rerouted it. A different (albeit equally bored) Civil Resources clerk gave the go-ahead, and the Exceptions Department found themselves with another lump of biomass.
Robert and Mara were blessed with a run of easy calls. There were certain lines in the sand that people in this vocation acquired very quickly, certain numbers in certain columns that, by virtue of their relation to prescribed benchmarks, narrowed things down to just a small handful of options – and that hand was sometimes practically empty. Save for exceedingly rare cases, a single exceptional score (euphemism or otherwise) was enough to determine someone’s optimal fate. It was the average ones who were more problematic, if you insisted on thinking too hard about them. Robert was rather prone to this. It was one of a curious selection of scenarios in which thinking too hard was encouraged.
Armed with their knowledge of these no-questions-asked indicators, the pair were able to allocate citizen after citizen in a matter of seconds each. It was a stroke of good luck, and they were able to make their quota for the day. Robert, as the senior of the two, confirmed their performance data for the shift and sent it to their sub-manager, a man or woman whom neither of them had ever met. The record would show that they had done well. In turn, it would show that the team who had assigned them to the department had done well, and so that their allocators had done well. As had the Observers, whose data had fed these successful decisions, and the sub-managers of all of the previous, and their managers, and their Superior Managers on the Civil Resources Board, and their overseers on the Ministerial Board, all the way up to the very top of the chain. The day’s reports reached the National Mainframe, and somewhere within its whirring, deific networks, the results of untold assessments ticked up in infinitesimal approval.