THE LOGICAL LEAP
The blue light flashed, starting with the eyes and spreading across the entire body. When it had dissipated completely Sam stumbled with the dislocation of Leaping in. He dropped whatever he'd been holding and looked down to see a pile of cards scattered all over the floor, the last few still fluttering to the ground. The cards were rectangular, with little square holes punched seemingly randomly, and printing along the top edge. They were old-fashioned computer punch-cards, he realized.
"Oh boy!" Sam said.
The young woman standing next to him said, "You OK, Bob?"
"Yeah, I just kinda lost my balance for a second and dropped the cards. What a mess, it's sure going to take me a long time to put them back in order." To himself Sam thought, "My name is Bob and I'm in a computer lab. Well, it's a start. Now if I can just sort out what I'm here to do."
His new acquaintance shook her head and said, "You could always use the card-sorter." She pointed to the big machine that Sam was standing next to.
Sam said, "Sorter? Sorter! Yeah, I guess I could, you know, use the card-sorter. You know, to put them back in order." He offered a sheepish grin.
The young lady laughed and said, "What a concept! Bring the deck to me when you're done, and I'll see if my changes worked."
She walked out the door and Sam felt a gust of cold air as she went into the computer room. He could see bank after bank of huge computers, lights blinking in erratic patterns and big round tapes spinning like crazy. He muttered "I must be in the early years of computing. That thing sure is a long way from Ziggy!" He squatted down and began scooping up all the cards.
"Hey, you missed one there Sam. Over there under the sorter." Al pointed with his cigar.
Sam hadn't heard the imaging-chamber door open, so Al's appearance startled him. He dropped the cards again and bumped his head on the leg of the sorter as he reached for the errant card. When he had them in a somewhat neat stack he stood up. "What year is it, Al?" he asked. "Take a look at that computer in there, it's huge. And I bet it can't even do as much as your hand-link. I can create a parallel-hybrid computer, but I don't have a clue what to do with these punch-cards."
Al was punching buttons on the hand-link with one finger while holding the cigar in the same hand. Still looking at the link he said, "Ah, it's June 13, 1977, Sam and your name is Bob Williams. You're, um, 24 years old and you're a computer operator at a big insurance company."
Sam had straightened out the pile of cards and was holding them in one hand while looking in confusion at the machine in front of him. "What am I here to do Al?"
Al punched a couple more buttons, then whacked the hand-link causing it to screech. "We don't know yet, you just got here," he said. He looked up and, seeing Sam's dilemma, said "Just put the cards in there and punch that red button. I haven't seen one of these in years! Reminds me of my time in Houston. Giselle and I would sneak away from the press parties and …"
Sam glared at Al, said "I don't want to hear it."
Al came back from his fond memories, but insisted on finishing the story. "We'd interface in the computer lab." His grin sent the message, "See, I can tell it nicely."
Sam did as instructed and watched as the cards began to run through the sorter. The door opened and the young woman came back in.
Al lowered the hand-link and leaned forward to get a better look at her.
"Aren't you done yet, Bob?" she asked. As she walked closer both men could see that her right eye was bruised.
"Wow! I never met a programmer that looked like that before." Al said. "It must be cold in there, I can tell because she's…because she's wearing that lab coat!"
Sam said warningly, "Al….", then his tone changed to a much lighter note. "Be done in a few minutes. I bumped my head, you know, crawling around on the floor picking up all the cards, and dropped them again. I'm just being kinda clumsy today I guess." He looked at Al and cut his eyes toward the girl.
She said "Well, be careful. You don't want to get a black eye like me!"
Sam said, "Oh, no, just bumped the side of my head a little. Right here." He pointed to his head, then looked under the sorter. "I'm fine. But I'm wondering how anyone could've hit their eye under there, nothing's sticking out." Again he looked at Al.
Al was still leering at the girl. "Um, what? Oh!" He brought the hand-link back up and poked at its buttons. "This is Lynn Jameson, she's a programmer here. She's 28, married, two kids."
"Well, if anyone could manage it, I can. I'm clumsy all the time, always bumping into things I shouldn't." Lynn said breezily. "Bring those in as soon as you're finished, I've gotta get that program working before I go home tonight." She turned around and walked back into the computer room.
"She didn't get that black eye from bumping into something, Al. What've you got on her?" Sam's tone said he thought he was onto something.
Al whacked the hand-link again, punched some more buttons and said "You're right, Sam. She's made fourteen trips to the hospital for cuts and bruises and a couple of broken bones. She always claimed she fell. And she did fall, in 1983, down a flight of stairs. It broke her neck. The police report says it was an accident." Al looked slightly sick.
Sam shook his head, a grim look on his face. "Yeah, it was an accident her husband killed her when he just meant to beat her again. This has to be what I'm here for Al, to get her to leave her abusive husband."
"Ziggy says 89%, Sam. You talk to her and I'll go see what I can find out about the husband," Al said. The door to the imaging chamber opened with a hollow grating sound, Al stepped through and vanished.
Sam picked up the sorted card-deck and headed into the computer room. As he approached the door he caught sight of his reflection in the window. He saw an ordinary-looking young man with short dark hair and black glasses wearing dark slacks, a white shirt (with a plastic pocket protector full of pens) and a skinny black tie. Sam shook his head and said, "Great, I'm a geek. Maybe I'll manage to break the kid's glasses, then I can use some white tape to fix them and I'll really look the part!"
He went through the door and shivered a little from the chilly air. As he walked toward Lynn's desk he noticed that almost no one wore lab coats, they must be used to the cool temperature. There was a stocky young man over by one of the tape drives wearing one, and Lynn was, but nobody else. He looked around for a coat with his name on it but didn't see one.
He handed Lynn the cards and sat down to wait while she ran the program. But someone else called him to make some changes, sort more cards, find a tape, and a zillion other little jobs. He spent the rest of the afternoon running in and out of the computer room and quickly forgot about being cold. In fact, by the time the stocky guy walked into the lab Sam wondered why anyone would bother with a coat.
"Aren't you hot wearing that coat?" Sam asked him.
The shorter man turned to look at Sam, his bug eyes blank until his mind obviously came back from some deep thought and recognized the face before him. "Oh, hello Bob," he said, smiling. "I hadn't actually thought about it, I've been working on this linked-list problem all day and forgot I had it on." With that he sat down at the card-punch and began work. Sam was just as glad the conversation hadn't continued, as the guy's breath was awful.
As he worked, Sam began thinking about Lynn's coat. She was in and out as much as anyone else, but she didn't seem as preoccupied as this guy - and there could be another reason she wore it. It was five o'clock before he got a chance to stop by her desk.
"So, did you get your program fixed?" he asked.
Lynn looked a little harried as she cleaned off her desk. "Yes, that last change did it. Now I can go home and worry about something else, like getting the laundry done." She shrugged out of her lab coat and hung it up, grabbed her purse from a desk drawer and started to leave.
Sam could see a bruise on her upper arm; clearly she used the lab coat to hide the marks of her abuse. "Wait, don't run off," Sam told her. "I, uh…I wanted you to show me your fix so I could, you know, learn more about programming." He wanted to talk with her in private and that was the best excuse he could think of.
Lynn paused, then said "I'll show you tomorrow, Bob. I've got to pick up the kids and get dinner started, my husband expects it on the table by seven o'clock sharp. He doesn't like it when I stay late." And with that she left.
Al had appeared in time to overhear the exchange. He took a puff of his cigar and said, "If he wants dinner on time the nozzle ought to cook it himself, considering he hasn't held a job in the last three months."
"He's not working?" Sam asked. "Why doesn't he help her around the house since he's got the time?"
"Because it's 1977, Sam, and unemployed construction workers weren't interested in helping, unless it was helping themselves to another beer. This guy, uh, Steve's his name, couldn't hold a job in a bucket! He's worked for 12 different construction companies since they've been married. "
"So you're saying he drinks on the job or something?" Sam asked.
Al studied the hand-link and then said, "Not officially. He doesn't show up for work, or won't follow orders, or picks fights with the other guys. He says the bosses have it out for him."
Sam digested the information and said, "So he's angry because he's out of work, and he takes it out on Lynn. Damn it Al, why does she put up with that?"
Al waved his hand, leaving a trail of cigar smoke, and replied, "She's probably afraid of him. You gotta talk to her, Sam. Convince her she's better off without this jerk."
Sam nodded and said "I will, Al. I don't think she wants to admit it to anyone, but maybe if she knows I know what's going on she'll open up to me."
It was nearly 9:30 the next morning before Sam got a chance to talk to Lynn. They spent awhile going over the corrected code, then she reached for something, bumped her arm, and winced. Though her lab coat hid it, Sam was sure there was a fresh bruise on her arm. "I think I've got it now," he told her. "Why don't we take a break and grab a cup of coffee?"
"It's a little early," she replied. "But what the heck, I could use a little pick-me-up. I, uh, didn't sleep very well last night."
"I'll bet," Sam thought. "She was probably afraid to sleep, afraid he'd hit her again." Out loud he said, "Come on, I'll buy."
In the break room Sam poured himself a cup of coffee while Lynn got a Canada Dry from the pop machine. They sat at a table by the window looking out at the un-inspiring view of the parking lot. A woman looking for something in the fridge so Sam chatted about the weather until she left.
"You want to tell me about the bruises, Lynn?" Sam asked. "I know you didn't get them from being clumsy."
Lynn's eyes showed she was frightened, but she said brightly "Yes I did! I'm such a klutz."
"What about that new bruise?" Sam pointed to her forearm as he spoke.
Lynn glanced down and reflexively began tugging at the sleeve of her lab coat. Sam reached over and gently pushed the sleeve back, exposing two ugly red marks where her husband must've squeezed her arm with his big fingers.
"You didn't get this from cooking dinner. I know Steve did this to you." Sam spoke in a firm but gentle voice.
Lynn stared at the bruise for a minute, then looked up at Sam. Though she was clearly still scared, there was a look of relief on her face at being able to talk about the problem with someone. "Actually, cooking dinner did cause this," she said. "I didn't have it ready on time and Steve dragged me over to the stove to make his point."
Sam smoothed the sleeve back into place and told her, "Lynn, you don't have to take this. Steve's behavior is abusive and it's wrong. You need to protect yourself - and your kids, too."
"What," Lynn asked, "You mean leave him?"
Sam said, "Somethin' like that. At least for a little while, until he can get some counseling to learn how to deal with his anger."
Lynn began to look decidedly nervous, absentmindedly playing with the hem of the coat sleeve as if she couldn't decide whether to face the evidence of the bruise or hide it from herself. "He'd kill me if I even suggested leaving him."
"That's exactly what will happen if you stay, Lynn. He'll kill you. He'll hit you one too many times, or too hard. He won't mean to, but in his anger he'll get carried away. Don't you see? You've got to stop this now, before it's too late."
Lynn drained the last of her soda, stood up and said "I can't do that, Bob. I just can't. It's time we got back to work, break time's over." Without waiting to see if Sam followed she walked out of the break room.
The rest of the day went smoothly enough, Sam sorted cards and logged tapes and ran a thousand errands for the programmers. Lynn seemed uncomfortable talking to him, and kept things strictly professional. Sam knew she was thinking about what he'd said, knew it would take time for her to decide to stand up to her husband, but he wished he could do more.
Sam was standing in Bob's bachelor-pad apartment, looking for a clean shirt. The place was a mess, with clothes and magazines, soda cans and fast-food wrappers everywhere. He spotted a not-too-wrinkled shirt on a chair, picked it up only to find it had been tossed on top of a half-full pizza box. "Yuck!" he said as he let it drop. "Doesn't this guy ever clean this place?"
The imaging chamber door opened and Al appeared. "Would you look at this place, Al?" Sam asked. "I can't even find a change of clothes that doesn't smell like stale grease."
"You got bigger problems, Sam!" Al said. "Your little talk with Lynn changed history, she tried standing up to that meathead and he sent her to the hospital again. You gotta do something!"
Just then the phone rang. Sam looked around trying to find where the sound was coming from. "Over there, Sam. It's under that newspaper." Al pointed to the corner with his cigar.
Sam answered the phone. "Hello? Lynn? Calm down, are you OK?" Sam put his hand over the receiver and told Al, "Find out where the hospital is."
He returned his attention to the phone, listening to Lynn for a minute and then telling her he was on his way. "And tell the nurses not to let your husband in. In fact, tell them he's the one who did this to you!" he said as he hung up and ran out the door.
Thirty minutes later Sam stood by in the emergency room, listening while Lynn told the policemen the truth about her injuries. She looked up at him when they asked if she wanted to press charges, and he smiled and nodded 'yes'. She took a deep breath, then said "Yes, officer, I do want to press charges."
After the cops left Sam asked, "Do you have somewhere to stay? Can I take you somewhere?"
"Let me call my sister, "Lynn answered. "I'm sure the kids and I can stay with her for awhile. I tried to hide it from her, but I think she suspects and I know she'll help. You've done enough, Bob."
Sam waited with Lynn until her sister arrived. He offered further assistance if needed, but they both assured him they would be all right. As he watched them drive away he had a satisfied look on his face, clearly expecting to Leap at any second - but he didn't.
The next morning Sam was in the lab sorting cards again when Al appeared. "Why haven't I Leaped, Al?" he asked. "Lynn said Steve was arrested last night, does he get out and hurt her again?"
Al waved the hand-link for emphasis and said "Ziggy's got an interesting theory on that. She was so sure you were here to help Lynn that she overlooked something else."
"I did what I was s'posed to do, I saved Lynn's life, Al. Didn't I?" Sam asked.
"Oh, yeah. You saved Lynn's life, Sam. Steve does five years behind bars, Lynn divorces him and eventually remarries. She works part-time as a counselor at a crisis center, helping other women break the cycle of abuse."
"That's good, Al. So are you going to tell me what Ziggy's theory is?" Sam was looking a bit annoyed.
Al had a knowing smirk on his face. "Sure, Sam. See that little guy in the computer room? The short kid, hanging a tape over by the end."
Sam looked and said "Yeah, what about him?"
"Doesn't he look just a little familiar? Why don't you go talk to him?"
Sam frowned, but Al just said "Go talk to him, Sam. Go on!"
Sam shook his head exasperatedly, but went into the computer room anyway. As he approached he could see the guy was having trouble with the tape drive. "Here, let me help," he told him.
"You would think we could design a better way to communicate with computers than using tapes and cards," the young man said.
Sam winced and backed off a step, having forgotten about the man's bad breath. "Wouldn't it be great if they could think for themselves and we could just talk to them?" he asked.
The guy brightened at the idea. "You mean Artificial Intelligence? I've read some articles on the theory in the trade journals. But at our current rate of technical progress that won't be a possibility for over a hundred years."
"Oh, I don't know," Sam replied. "I've got a feeling it's gonna happen a lot sooner than that. You're a smart guy, if you started studying the theories you could get in on the ground floor and help build them. I think you'd be good at it. It seems to me that any intelligence, even an artificial one, must have an ego."
The stocky kid's face went a little blank as he considered the possibilities. "That would certainly help it pass the Turing intelligence test," he replied.
"I've got some ideas about that. Let's go get some coffee and we can talk about it," Sam said.
Just then another programmer called out "Hey, Gooshie! Quit trying to solve the problem in your head and hang the tape already."
Sam stared with sudden comprehension. "Of course!" he thought. "Why didn't I recognize him yesterday? I was here to get Gooshie interested in Artificial Intelligence so he'd be ready when I built Ziggy!"
As they started walking out of the room Sam asked, "If a computer had an ego, wouldn't she need a name?" And then he Leaped.