by Jason Gibbs
“Hi, I’m Lucy, welcome to CABComms… I’ll be taking you round the office,” her tone was a little flat he thought, but perhaps she did this a lot.
“Ah thanks, I’m…”
“Dunstan, yes, I know. So let’s be going. I believe all your interviews were remote?”
Dunstan Howard nodded, slightly taken aback by the brusque nature of the woman. He thought she was pretty, in a careful low maintenance sort of way, and was wondering whether there were company rules about asking out colleagues when he realised that she had turned and was walking off at a pace. He trotted after her.
She waved to her right, “Lawyers.”
A few paces on, she waved to her left, “Accountants.”
And a little later, “Toilets.”
Every word with the same tone, as if the information was clear and equally valid. They turned a corner and she carried on at the same pace.
She stopped and turned to him, “Could you remind me, your keyboard rating was?”
“Ah, um, 98 wpm.”
She stared, nodded and said, “Basic. Yes, I recall, this way.”
He was feeling a bit bruised by her attitude, and was thinking that 98 was really rather good, certainly faster than anyone at his last place, when he was distracted by the sound of music. It was lovely, with a celestial feel.
“Ah, um, Lucy, what is that?”
She turned back to him and answered, “You should teach yourself to stop that.”
“Ah, stop what?”
“The ahs and ums. Inefficient, and you’ll need to be efficient to prosper here.”
She turned again and started to walk off.
“What is the music?”
She rounded on him, nodded and gave the hint of a smile.
“That is the top level communicators. By the sound of it they’re composing a new policy. Now, we must move.”
With this she headed along the corridor again, faster than before. As they went there were further one word descriptions, coffee, admin, supplies and suchlike. Dunstan thought he was unlikely to remember it all, and after three more turns they stopped at a door which said in big black letters “Basic”.
“This is where you will be starting. I’m sure you’ve noticed that we have done a full loop so the entrance is just there,” she said pointing to her right.
“Good luck, I will see you at the end of the day to gather your feedback, now please go in.”
She was off before he could say anything. He took a breath and opened the door.
Inside the room were desks in rows of three. On the desk there was, as he expected, a large computer monitor. What he didn’t expect was the keyboard underneath it, it wasn’t qwerty, or even Dvorak. It looked rather like a piano keyboard.
He was still staring at it when an imperious voice said, “Sit.”
He did, and then looked around. At the end of the room was a woman on a slightly raised platform. She was petite, with grey hair in a tight bun, the stereotype of a perfect typist of the last century.
“You are fairly fast Mr Howard on a standard keyboard. You will be slow for a while until you have mastered this style.”
She stared at him sharply, and he swore to himself he would never um or ah again.
“We do not select candidates with piano training, so do not ask. They have learned the wrong language and helping them unlearn it is painful. We used to only take those with no music training at all, but those standards have been relaxed.” It was clear what she thought of that decision.
“Look at the keys. You will see they have letters on them. Some have more than one letter, and most letters appear more than once, some, such as E and S, no less than 8 times.”
He stared down at the keyboard feeling even more at a loss than usual for the first day at a job.
“Carefully type the quick brown fox…”
He started tapping at the keys, using just two fingers. The first key caused a note to play which surprised him, though he guessed it shouldn’t have, but after looking up to see a scowl, he carried on. It was slow, and the sounds didn’t really follow, but he got to the end. He’d normally been able to type that in about three seconds.
“Not appalling. Now, use the left hand for the first word, the right hand for the next and alternate. You’ll see that the letters flow more logically than.”
He did so, and it was faster, and the sounds produced were almost a melody, like they fitted. He looked up at the screen to see that the sentence had appeared.
“Excellent Mr Howard.”
They carried on for the rest of the morning. He’d not been able to ask a single question, and at lunch time she’d merely said, “At 1300,” and disappeared. He’d left and found a sandwich shop, bought a sandwich, headed to the park and sat and pondered the morning. He could make neither head nor tale of it.
“Mr Howard, can you hear the errors?”
“Then why are you making them? Do you like torturing your ears?”
“Well then, try again.”
It had been a much tougher afternoon. He was now typing more complex sentences. He’d either have a document he’d have to copy, or sometimes dictation, played out of a speaker when he clicked on the icon. At first it had been jarring hearing the words and the sounds he was typing, or should that be playing? He was used to that now, but he was still bemused.
He didn’t know what it was all about, or indeed how to consistently play, or perhaps type? Occasionally the woman, whose name he still didn’t know, would give him a hint, at other times she’d just criticise.
He tried again, using alternating hands and various of the other techniques, and it seemed like he could feel the melody as he was typing. He was starting to enjoy it when he mistyped and the dissonance stopped him short. He looked up.
She looked approvingly at him and said, “I am Miss Eagle. You are progressing very well Mr Howard, I believe you almost found the line there. Now try the next piece.”
At the end of that day Lucy had met him at the door, enquired politely as to his progress, nodded and wished him good night. He wondered why. Yet each morning she would greet him, and each night she’d be there to see him out. She never responded to any attempts at further conversation.
After a month of practice he’d not done anything he could identify as work. He’d also never seen anyone else in the practice room.
He was left at the door by Lucy as usual, and he entered. He looked up, expecting to continue as before, but Miss Eagle was just watching him.
“Mr Howard, what was your typing rate before you joined us?”
“Just under 100.”
“98 in fact.”
“Do you know what you sustained in yesterday afternoon’s session?”
“No,” he said quizzically.
“Just under 200.”
“198?” he couldn’t help himself.
There was a dead silence, and then she answered, “199.98 to be exact.”
“But… how is that possible?”
“You have passed Basic. The theory will be explained after you have passed Advanced. Tomorrow you begin Intermediate. You may take today off.”
She disappeared, and he walked out of the door even more bemused than before. Lucy was waiting, which was unexpected.
“Dunstan, you must read and sign these documents before tomorrow to continue your evolution.”
She handed him a stack of papers, smiled almost warmly, and conducted him to the door.
He’d started to read the documents and begun to have a nagging feeling of recognition. He was onto his third page before he realised he’d typed them, and then, suddenly, he just knew the whole document, what it meant and what it meant for him. It was a switch, a sharp refocussing of knowledge.
He also realised it was a good deal for him, more money and benefits, so he signed happily.
If he’d expected Intermediate to be different he was somewhat disappointed. Lucy led him to the same door, and Miss Eagle waited for him. The sessions were similar, though tougher. The dictation was faster, he sometimes had to copy from scraps of paper, and on a couple of occasions had to type up recorded conversations.
Now and again he’d get flashes of knowledge from what he’d written, but not in the same way as that contract. He didn’t know why. But he wanted to know.
The end of Intermediate was similar to Basic. His typing speed was now up to 300, which was unreal, and he could follow multiple lines at once. Miss Eagle even expressed mild approval.
Once again Lucy presented him with a pile of documents, and a real smile this time.
“Dunstan, you are progressing well,” she said. He thought she looked very pretty when she smiled.
“You will need to pass Advanced,” was her curt reply, even before he let the question out, but he could see that she was just communicating the rules, and it was not a personal rejection.
He read the document, and before the third sentence the knowledge had refocussed sharply. He now understood the process, and he signed the contract.
“Today we start on dissonance,” said Miss Eagle.
For the very first time she was sitting down, at a terminal like his own.
“Let us begin.”
She started typing, and music flowed. He clicked on his typing source file, and voices started and he commenced typing.
At first their lines inter-weaved and the music was pretty, beautiful even, and then, it started to clash. Just a note here and there at first, and then worse and worse. He forced myself to keep going but after only a few minutes he stopped, panting with the effort.
“Good Mr Howard, but you must focus. Hold yourself above the music and you will be able to continue for longer, you have allowed yourself to fall into the lines themselves.”
She was right, and over the next few days he was able to build up his tolerance until he could play with, or perhaps against, her for an hour without needing to stop.
“Excellent. And now true harmony,” she announced one day.
This was different. He had thought it would be a relief, but if anything it was harder. Holding the harmony with hers for long minutes. While dissonance was easy to hold at bay it was tempting to fall into the harmony, and if he did then it collapsed and he would receive a sharp rebuke from Miss Eagle.
“Mr Howard, that instrument is one of pleasure. Do not abuse it.”
He concentrated and improved, and one day while in mid-harmony he came to understand what it was that they were writing, he could actually understand her part too. It was perfect communication, and he began to vary it, and she did too, responding to him. It was like magic.
“Why Mr Howard, it has been some years since I’ve enjoyed a practice that much. Excellent. I believe you will be ready to pass soon.”
Soon was still another three weeks, the harmonies became more complex, and more beguiling, and then he had mixed harmonies and dissonance, and dissonant harmonies. She called these ‘Synthesis’, but he often didn’t know which of them was leading the Thesis.
Then suddenly, “Mr Howard, congratulations, you have passed. You may take a week’s holiday, and then you will be starting work.”
She walked over and shook his hand. She was petite but very strong, and there was a twinkle in her eye.
He left, and once again Lucy was waiting for him.
“Here are your documents. You may take me for coffee.”
They went for a nice coffee. She refused to talk about work, but that wasn’t a problem.
He took the week off to relax, signed the contract and went back to work.
Lucy met him and for the first time in months they did not walk to Miss Eagle’s room, instead they went the other direction, to where he’d heard that music on the first day. As they walked she said nothing, and he listened. He could hear documents in the air, and could pick out bits of the words, of the meanings.
“It is probably best that you don’t listen like that too much, it can sometimes be painful,” said Lucy.
He shot her a guilty look and she smiled, “Don’t worry, we all do it sometimes, but it’s just… well, if you get caught by a bad dissonance, it can be jarring.”
They walked on a little further, “This is us.”
She was pointing at an office with two desks in it.
“Yes. We have been paired.”
“Ah, is that good?”
She gave him a withering look, and sat down at her desk, and started to play.
She was using music.
He did, and she played.
There was a playful a note in her response.
She continued with a more serious note.
She smiled at him, and her music smiled too.
He smiled, as did the harmony he wove with her. He was way beyond words per minute, he was now able to communicate perfectly whenever he wished, and he would be able to help others do so too.