BOOKSIE COMMUNITY, I AM ASKING A BIG FAVOR. RIP THIS APART. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT BE MERCIFUL. ANYTHING THAT IS WRONG, ANYTHING THAT CAN BE IMPROVED...ANYTHING! DO NOT HOLD BACK!
Cicero was a true ecumenoplis, groomed by nearly three-hundred years of the financially literate, the city-inclined, the poor and the socilatic. Within the trillions upon trillions of tons of metal and polymers that constituted the surface, and the crust all the way to the flowing mantel, an equally incomprehensible number of humans of all shapes, sizes and disciplines lived in individual anonymity, for there where more members of that genus here on Cicero than there ever where or ever would be on Earth. Yet, the aggregate of all these people meant more than they did individually, as was often the case. Together, the great world had created concepts of psychology, science, urban planning, sanitation, archiving technology and civil engineering that where on the forefront of the universe. The individual, living in the enormous city that sprawled the terrain, had become a very important nerve cell in a super organism, in many ways. As a whole, the world produced ideas. It was simply too massive for individuals to make a difference; this became especially apparent when one realized that the incomprehensible billions living in the thin biosphere where insignificant next to the size of the universe.
Nia had arrived the day before, on the ship Doris de Amero, from Mars, where she had been teaching Statistics and Calculus at the Dante Alighieri University, indeed named after the medieval writer. Now, she stood before two well-dressed men, their hair combed off of their foreheads, their suits, single-breasted and black, their eyes wary and introverted. But the similarities ended there. The first man was Ashe Pinto, who was nearly two meters tall, had brown hair that would not have been out of place with any white man in any era, brown, unassuming eyes, and blunt features with a rounded jaw. Wholly unassuming, aside from his above average height. He bore the hallmarks of a man who did not go out much: pale skin, soft hands, and an unsure voice.
The second was Claude Belladar. At only one and a half meters, the tiny man hardly came up to Nia's shoulder. His long, white hair, so characteristic of his species, had been braided in one, long affair, and he wore the iridium and turquoise belt that represented the Martian upper-class. Large, lamp-like amber eyes, adjusted to seeing in the dark, and long, spindly fingers immediately placed him in Second Manhood, as if his height and accent and Darwin's ears had not been enough. His handshake was firm and confident, his eyes cold, and his voice disdainful, after a fashion. He welcomed her in a manner that would have been perceived as cold or perhaps uncaring on just about any world.
The two where the Chief Directors of, shockingly, Pinto & Belladar trading, and Nia stood in their office, on the umpteenth floor of a massive, rounded building with a panoramic window that gazed out onto a sunlit porch, furnished with real, imported trees and a dazzling view of the city, clean and polished as it should be. There where chairs for all three, prearranged around a curious faux-wood and shale desk, on which a triangular blue screen, currently blank, had been projected.
“Coffee, Dr. Arnett?” It took Nia a moment to respond to her own title. She was used to people being informal with her. Surprisingly for a Martian, it was Mr. Belladar who had addressed her.
“No thank you, sir.”
“Smoke?” The small Second Man reached for his pocket, raising and inquisitive right eyebrow. She shook her head: no thank you. He shrugged and produced a cigarette, real paper, tobacco and all, and lit it. The smoke dissipated quickly into the highly regulated air; indeed, before it even reached her nostrils.
“I apologize for my colleague.” Pinto's voice was deep and gravely, if awkward. “Please, sit. We should get to business.” Typical of First Men. Nia had been on Mars so long she was unused to that attitude and nearly laughed when she found herself thinking of her own species that way. Pinto pulled out the leather chair, reinforced with low-density compressed air, for his guest and potential new employee, then took his place beside the now seated Belladar. “Right, Nia. I assume you read the message we sent you? One of our best employees put a lot of work into that.”
“Yes, Mr. Pinto. Thank you.” The message had essentially been a crash-course in economics, and rather confusing, but Nia had read as much of it as she dared. There had also been the vague bit about what she had been called up for. Something for pay. Advisement, as she understood, and since term was over for the time being and it was extra lining in her pocket, she had taken it.
“Doctor, if you don't mind?” The Second Man tapped a small button on the desk, and lights dimmed and the windows shut, small, translucent polymer shades folding from seemingly nowhere. The screen flared to life as he clicked another button, projecting a keyboard and a small five-point mouse. On the screen in front of her, an image appeared. It was the universal currency symbol, the small glyph that had represented money since the human species had split itself biologically and linguistically. “As you know,” the Second Man's voice suddenly had a lecturing tone to it, “although economics has existed since the dawn of man, it is a constantly changing science. Not because the science itself changes, as it is implied, but because man's understanding changes.”
“That's right.” Pinto's voice suddenly chimed in, and an image of a hand, holding an old-fashioned puppet control rod appeared, dancing slowly. “The concept of the so-called 'Invisible Hand', i.e. the idea that the market controls itself through the interactions of the basic two sides, has existed for now what must be roughly six hundred years.” The image changed to represent a trading floor of perhaps three centuries before, and the image focused, separately, on groups of people, hands raised, mouths open, calling out numerals and information. Computers, primitive and flashing brightly at the moment the picture had been captured, decorated the room profusely.
“Throughout all of this, some things have remained constant. Rules like supply and demand, comparative advantage and the ideas behind equilibrium and profit maximization have been considered fundamental.” The thick Martian accent broke through again as the image again changed, showing a collection of equations, graphs and pictures of various important economists. Nia would have recognized precious little of it had it not been for the aforementioned emergency training message. She had not attended an economics class of any kind in years now. The math, however, made perfect and logical sense to her trained mind.
“Companies, the sellers, the supplies, have been restricted by laws for time immemorial. We have tried to stay ahead of our costs, tried to keep running, tried to obtain the all-mighty currency.” His sudden self-association was interesting. “And, because of this, those we interact with, the customer, the consumer, the demander, have been bound by similar laws.” New images flashed up; collections of people purchasing things, varied from ancient engravings of Romans at market to modern, instant transactions over electronic networks.
“For the sellers, the most important innovation since their creation was the idea the stock market.” Claude's voice again broke in, and a line-graph, simply representing what Nia assumed was an imaginary companies share value report, appeared. “It combined the two. It brought the consumer and the producer closer together, owning and responsible to one another, and allowing both to profit, much like the bank profits, in principle, from the depositor.” The Second Man finished and extinguished his cigarette in a built-in ashtray. “The idea of trading shares is nearly a millenia old, and yet is far from perfected. Every day, gains and losses are represented on a multi-world scale, and need to be assessed by practitioners of an unfortunately soft science. Economists.” The image flickered again, and Nia leaned back in her chair.
“Stagnation is never a good place to live, especially in a science, no matter how varied or non-finite.” Ashe locked his fingers together, and leaned forward, ignoring his own projected keyboard. “The market always makes room for innovations. By its very nature, that is how one gets ahead. Finding out how the device that we call economics works, even if it is but discovering one tiny element of the massive interlocking cogs, can jump a producer metaphorical light-years ahead of its competitors. It happens, like the stock market, every day.” The image changed to another screen, showing several men deep in thought over personal projected tablet computers. “And, as such, we cannot allow ourselves to stagnate.”
“We are advisement firm.” Again, the Martian took over in the alternation, toying, it seemed, with his mouse. “People give us their money to tell them where to put the rest of it, to put it bluntly. And, as such, we must be ahead of the game. We are the weathermen of economics, the forecasters, practitioners of a branch of a non-exact science that is inherently even more difficult to find hard meaning in. Yet we do. Do you know how?”
“Mathematics?” Nia offered, glancing first at the two men's faces and then back to the screen where new data and equations where displayed.
“Precisely.” Pinto responded. “Mathematics can be applied to everything. The statement I just made is the hallmark of a modern civilization. Bet it the physical sciences, social and artistic ideas or psychology and the soft sciences, and yes, even economics, mathematics is fundamental and intricate at the same time, much as its creators, intelligence, is.”
“What my colleague is saying may seem obvious. Economists have been applying mathematics to their work for years. Think on the Nash Equilibrium of several centuries back. Think on the principles behind the essentials of profit, the equilibrium of marginal revenues and marginal costs. It's all mathematics.” The small Second Man popped his knuckles, more satisfied than aggressive. “And yet, economists continue to place their discipline in the social category, the realm of generalizations and estimations...and for years, this was excusable. But no longer.” Nia raised an eyebrow, mimicking the common Martian inquisitive expression. Belladar gave a hint of a smile.
“Mr. Belladar speaks the truth, Dr. Arnett. For a long time, the consumer and the producer interacted only during 'business hours'.” The implied quotations over the word where obvious. The man was speaking figuratively. “We only knew about the wants and needs of the individual, and the far more important mob, as described by the ruling classes, in terms of their interactions with us. Suppliers could only make decisions based on what their counterparts did in the business realm. True, we could apply the sciences of macroeconomics, vague as they have been for thousands of years, to these phenomena, taking things like geographical and social crisis and phenomena into account, especially in the stock market, but...”
“Now we have the capability to apply mathematics to the lives of consumers, to the existence of the balance between supply and demand, and to the constant interaction of both sides.” The Martian's voice was exited, and he shut the screens off, turning the lights back up and reopening the windows. “I know,” he said, leaning back just a bit, “what I am saying may be initially meaningless. What exactly am I talking about? I am talking about the transformation of the fundamental principles of the science that we know as economics into a purely mathematical, and therefore intelligible and predictable, concept.” Now, he stood, though Mr. Pinto remained in his seat, and walked to the window, projecting his voice powerfully despite his size. “Of course, this idea has been applied on a micro scale for a long time. We can base our guesses mathematically for the future on graphs and charts and equations gathered up from the past, and we can stumble forward with the ideas we, as the economically literate, have deduced from experience, and then prove or at least make a case for our ideas numerically.”
“You are suggesting you can eliminate both the guessing factor and the ideas based solely on past experiences factors?” Nia said, curious. The idea that mathematics could be applied to everything was a trending topic in the human academic community; it always had been. Undoubtedly, it had been applied to the field of economics before this. From his pocket, Mr. Belladar produced a small remote, no bigger than his palm. With a click on the projected screen, the windows where covered again, this time possessing a faint blue sheen, a hallmark of computer screens.
“Yes, that is what I am suggesting. You see, doctor, this has of course been attempted before. People have tried to apply all sorts of constants to the sciences of both macro and microeconomics in vain attempts to predict the future, and, naturally, get rich.” With another click, thousands of images appeared, ranging from family photographs that could have come from any world to tired workers to graphs and math problems to scientists to explosions to spaceships to automobiles to water to air...and onward. The sheer mass was overwhelming, displayed along the many meters of now available screen. The metaphor was apt, she realized, suddenly comparing the scale to the that of the screens they had been viewing before. Very perceptive, this pair.
“We live in an opportune time. There are uncountable numbers of humans and Nolaah living in the Arm. There are equally gigantic amounts of data, amounts inconceivable to the organic brain, circulating like blood throughout the scope of intelligence. It is only natural.” Pinto now spoke, though he remained seated, half regarding both of the other people in the room with a sideways glance that took in neither and yet both of them. “You see, there are five basic principles that have allowed us to finally capture economics in the realm of the hard sciences, and place it where it belongs with physics, chemistry, statistics and their relatives and offspring.”
“Those, doctor, are as follows.” The martian spoke again, clicked his remote, and brought up five images. He gestured to the first, a picture of several line graphs superimposed on one another. “The independent economic structure inherent to any system where, as the old adage goes 'Trade benefits all'. Interaction. As simple as it sounds, it has blossomed in this pinnacle of the great age of information. Interaction takes place nearly instantaneously courtesy of the electromagnetic forces we have harnessed and on scales our ancestors could have scarcely imagined. Gamma rays, coded and patterned and traveling at super-luminous speeds bring us information in huge amounts unbelievably fast.” The short man chuckled. “I assure you, now laws of physics where harmed in that process.” As he finished, Pinto stood and joined him. Not wanting to be left out, Nia stood too, and followed at a respectful distance, keeping a few meters between when they stopped.
“The second is equally simple and complex, as all the concepts we have been discussing are, perhaps ironically.” The tall, soft First Man spoke now, gesturing to the second image, a picture of an enormous group of people. “What, in pre-spaceflight times, would have been termed 'Western Ideals', the emphasis on perceived freedom, individuality and emotion, have largely been relegated to the less-studied realms of psychology, because they have already been numerically backed. For now, few have challenged them. What is at the forefront of that quickly numerafying science is the study of the mass, the collective, the science of the group. Thanks to advances in our understanding of the behavior of humans in large numbers, regardless of their species, we know mathematically how they will react to many stimuli, including economic ones, such as incentives and the psychologically perceived version of consumer advantage. Companies now have free access to equations that allow, to put it grandiosely, the reading of the mass mind.” The implications, Nia realized, were potentially massive.
“The third is also deceptively simple.” Mr. Belladar now regained control, a role he seemed to relish. “Like all before us, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Now, however, we have enough giants beneath us that we may be able to become even more influential in our own discoveries.” A collection of photographs and images, people she recognized from the message as Adam Smith, John Locke, Ronald Reagan, Einstein, William Cassedy, John Holmes, Kevin Jacmae, to name a few. “We have enough accumulated probing of the fields necessary to economics, that is to say, all of them, to now have the foundation for the essential. Discovery can only be made when discovery has been made before. The body ceased to evolve rapidly long ago, it seems, but the mind has continued to sharpen. Of course, this point was theoretically reached long ago, but the other factors where essential. In fact, not one of these could stand alone.”
“And the fourth, now.” Pinto regained his speaking role, standing casually in front of the image of a group of men and women, both Second and First Men, well dressed and seated at an enormous round table. “The science of government has become one of balance, primarily because the ultimate truth, mathematics, has proven fundamental things. The new laws of politics are simple: war is obsolete, the atom is God, and prosperity keeps one fit. This atmosphere, the pinnacle of human understanding as it has been in development for a very long time, is essential to what we are proposing. It may sound grandiose and bizarre, but it is, in fact, important and, in a way, beautiful.” Nia studied, mentally, the statement that had just been made. It was widely supported that the man's three tenants, though she had never before heard of such a broadly encompassing idea, where true.
“And the final,” again, the Martian, in the normal routine, “is perhaps the most obviously simple and yet the most subtly complex. It is part of our everyday lives. The idea that we can share our information, as we want, in a private or public setting of our choice, electronically, is simply economic iridium. Rich, stable, and magnificent once one realizes what he is standing on.” The little Martian was excited, and was showing it in the reserved confidence characteristic of businessmen in such a state. “The social communications: at once a slap in the face of mass psychology and yet, as is characteristic of the paradoxical realm of our modern day, the fields most compelling proof. Behavior is tracked based on trends in the media which man consider essential to their lives. The news of the now, of the familiar, and the sharing of thoughts and experiences on an enormous scale. When combined with the other factors, and when brought to the feet of the modern deity of mathematics, one truly sees the potential.” The Martian exhaled, and then clicked his remote. Slowly, the screen lifted, and the daylight was let in again, steadily.
“So, you think you've done it?” Nia said, addressing both men. “You,” she gestured to the Second Man, “a psychologist in executive’s clothing, and you, a sheep in the same of a wolf.” Let that sink in, she thought, laughing lightly in her mind. “I need to see some numbers. Words, as Samuel Beckett believed, are a poor manner of conveying human ideas.”
“Of course, Dr. Arnett. If you will?” The short Martian gestured toward a door at a ninety-degree left from the one from which she had exited the lift into the room. Like the desk, they where of very fine faux-wood, indistinguishable but for their setting. It would be preposterously unfashionable to have actual wood in a rich investing firm's office. She again followed the two men's lead, the taller of which opened the door and held it as his companions walked on through, and then followed, shutting it gently behind. Nia found herself in a room with tall, arched ceilings, decorated as the large office they had been in before had been, with soundproofed walls lined with enormous cybernetic nervous systems. The computing power this room possessed would have been inscribed in purely scientific notations, and even then only slightly above the cost. At desk terminals around the room, men and women of both human species worked diligently and in dignified, quiet manner on numerous personal tablets, calculating, assessing, and watching markets, making hushed communications, or relaxing over a cup of coffee. It was only nine-thirty Cicero time.
Her two companions, the Chief Directors, led her back along a straight line to a small stand, about a meter tall, on which, in suspended magnetic limbo, a small black cube hovered.
“What exactly is it?” Nia asked, reaching out to touch the device. Surprised that neither of the men stopped her, she did so, feeling the cold surface under her fingers. “A magnet? What does it do?”
“Simple.” Claude Belladar answered. “It's a memory unit. The equation is inside.”
“How much space can it hold?” Nia removed her hands, wondering how such a device was accessed.
“Enough for now. Yottabytes. It sounds massive, because it is. The equation we have come up with is neither small nor simple nor constant, but, as I am sure you of all people understand, that is part of the beauty of it. Mathematics, like everything else, does not stagnate when helped along by our brain power, but, unlike every other science, can be predicted, guided, and checked according to itself. We have created a painting in progress that paints itself as we paint it.” Again, Nia thought, the image was inadequate for the concept. Pinto might as well have read her mind.
“Would you like to observe it?” He asked in his gruff voice.
“Yes, please.” She said, reaching for her inactive tablet, converted into a rod no larger than a stylus. But Pinto opened his palm in a stopping motion.
“That will not be necessary, doctor. All the required technology is contained here in this magnetic interaction. Your device has inadequate computing power to compete.” As he said this, his companion stepped forward to the stand, and recomved the cube, pulling it out of the field. Between his two small palms, the Martian Director held the little black geometric image of perfection, and then, with a sudden motion, twisted it down a previously unobserved line down the middle. In an instant, a soft glow flowed out, slowly but surely engulfing the area around them to about two meters out: clear of any interaction. They where surrounded in a milky sort of glow.
“It's quite safe, I assure you.” The little Director said. “But look...” he trailed off as tiny black lines began to crawl across the side, little scroll-works of nonsense. Slowly, though, they began to grow, expanding and changing and shifting as they increased in size. With close examination, and an unvoiced sigh of relief as the light did not irritate her eyes, Nia bent closer to look. Numbers, and their companions, where arraying themselves, like a self-assembling jigsaw puzzle. It was quite a phenomenon to observe. She had seen magnetic displays before; they where quite common in the permanent collections at Dante, but this one was intricate and large, and fascinating. A moment more she watched, deciphering in her mind that possessed, from years of tutelage and experience, the computing power of a limited calculator, and then turned back to face the two Directors.
“Very interesting. I...I would very much like to look at it in segments. This is all a bit overwhelming...” for a moment she paused. “Yes, actually, I fail to see the purpose of arranging it in such a fashion. Could you explain?”
“Ah, of course, doctor.” Pinto spoke up first, though Belladar had opened his mouth. “There are two primary reasons. The first is that the mind thinks in terms of visual patterns. Anomalies that existed within the equation as a larger body would be displayed instantly to an artistic mind, or a mathematical one, would quickly observe any such. The second is that we enjoy showing off. Few who would understand the finer processes that went on in creating the new principles of economics would fail to be impressed by this display. Psychology, again. The science of everything, it seems.” With that, his colleague shut the device, and the milky light quickly faded, along with the numbers. The black cube was placed back atop its stand.
“Then, why exactly have you brought me here? It seems that you have completely worked out at least the beginnings of your neo-economics, you have all the help you need, and have the entire thing under well-paid-for control.” Nia gestured around the large room as she spoke. “I have finals to grade and a job to return to, not to mention the time I have to enjoy off. What is it exactly you need?”
“Dr. Arnett,” the short psychologist paused, considering his words, “you are considered, at least among the academic community, to be among the brightest up and comers in your field. Would you deny this?” Nia shook her head slowly, considering how she should respond. Yes, that was what people said. “Good. False modesty is entirely a misplaced emotion. As I have expressed to you before, it is necessary to continually upgrade and modify our equation to encompass subtle changes and shifts in the ever flowing and ebbing tides of the free market.” Again, the considering pause. “Perhaps I understated. It is, with the help of computers, nearly absolutely necessary to work on the equation virtually every moment of every day, all the time. While the automated processes can take over things that man would not dare attempt, calculations and problem-solving ideas that the human brain is notoriously bad at, it is necessary to have a mathematician...a human mathematician, in charge.”
“What my colleague here is saying, Dr. Arnett, is that we want to hire you. We want to put you on as our lead mathematician. I know this is abrupt, but, as we have said earlier, the information sharing age is upon us, and meeting someone face-to-face is hardly even relevant any longer. A shame, in a lot of ways. But good for business, and for your salary.” Mr. Pinto was looking intently into her eyes, his small, hooded oculi trained on her own. She noticed that Mr. Belladar's where as well. The tension was just short of palpable. These men truly wanted her to accept. Truly.
“What exactly will you pay?” She asked, slowly. If they really wanted her, leverage was in her hands. That was good. Things had to remain that way.
“A cool six million a year.” Pinto said without breaking a sweat. Six million! Currently, as a freshmen professor, she was making less than a hundred thousand. Six million iridium backed Pounds was a ridiculously enormous sum.
“Vacation?” Nia said. It did not matter. Even after a single year of working every day, she would be able to live off just the interest of her salary. There where likely to even be bonuses.
“Within reason.” Pinto answered again. He was maintaining a straight face. They knew it was an offer she could not refuse.
“And with benefits, ranging from medical protection and insurance to all-expense paid space travel when you have to travel. Really, a good deal. We may be sending you places as a representative...you certainly are a competent and well-spoken academic, doctor.” The Martian added.
“Gentlemen,” she said, reaching into her pocket to produce her tablet. “Once I finish my obligations to the university, I am happy to tell you that you do, indeed, now have a mathematician for your project.” The two practically beamed as they reached out to shake her hand.
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