“The Word” a short story

“The Word” by Sean Boyd

“Statistical Probability in the Global Transmigration of Genetic Information.”  It was a weighty thesis, but the calculations would be possible on the supercomputer he had access to as a UCLA student.  Exekial chose this topic as a substitute for his original doctoral thesis.  His field of study was theoretical math in relation to encryption algorithms.  He had worked for years on a strategy that would use a disappearing key generated from the National Science Foundation’s random number generator.  After numerous attempts to define a thesis that would be acceptable to his professors, he gave up on the topic and chose the traveling gene concept.  It was pure math.  The probability of genetic information mixing as humans traveled a few well-defined migration routes led to a supportable theory he could document and verify.  His projections would start with Charlemagne and Mohammed, and predicted what percentage of the European and American population would contain genetic material akin to these two historical persons.

His oral presentation was lengthy but precise, and after reviewing his data, the board bestowed him with a doctorate.  His results were accepted for publication in an academic journal, which added euphoria to his family’s pride.  His paper also caught the attention of media outlets, which picked it up as a human interest story.

After the excitement of his accomplishment died down and his fifteen minutes of fame was over, he realized he needed a job.  The only thing he felt he was prepared for was to be a student, and now he was faced with the reality of the working world and a pile of student loans.  He had wanted to take some time off, but he had taken two extra years to graduate and felt he needed to pound the pavement and get himself a paying position.

Ezekiel grew up in the insular Persian, Jewish community that holds court in Los Angeles.  Moneyed, educated, and disenfranchised by their native Iran, they lived, partied, and conducted business with the ebullience of a conquering hoard in the valley of smog.  He had been raised in a lavish, gilded environment where parties went to sunrise and Bar/Bat mitzvah celebrations and weddings were usually six figure affairs.  His siblings and cousins had moved away from commerce and had all become doctors and lawyers and gracefully upheld their comfort level as they moved into independence.  Ezekiel wasn’t attracted to such professions and was often teased that he would end up marrying a computer because he was too poor to attract a good wife.  His whole life he had rebelled against these ideas, and only now was he faced with the reality he had carved out for himself.  Surely people with his level of expertise commanded high salaries, but he lacked the aggressiveness to pursue objectives for their monetary goals.

 Though he was tall and muscular, his distinct lack of concern with his wardrobe projected the persona of a nerdy, computer geek.  He had clothes; picked out by his mother, for social events, but otherwise he dressed the part of a silicon major domo.  His chiseled facial features set him apart from his peers, but he downplayed his physical grace and carried himself with an air that occluded any manliness.  He was an assiduous student and had always blended in with the pocket-protector crowd.

It was a warm day, as most in La La land, and Ezekiel sat daydreaming with a collection of job offerings supplied by the placement department at the university spread before him.  He needed work, but all the jobs seemed so product-oriented.  He wanted to do research, but was tired of the university setting and he surely didn’t want to trade it for the cut-throat world of corporate America.  He picked up the Sunday Times to further distract himself and stumbled on the help-wanted section.  He perused the wider scope of employment possibilities.  Medical staff and restaurant workers were the largest sections, with computer work a close third.  He looked with interest at the computer jobs, but found most of them to be data entry, for which he was grotesquely over qualified.  As he dreamily flipped through the pages he amused himself with the family scandal he would cause if he took a janitorial job or became a night clerk at a hotel.  He was picturing his mother’s mortification when an ad caught his attention:

Research Assistant Needed

Must have programming experience,

Knowledge of working with random 

variables, Hebrew, and Latin. 

Apply in person at THE WORD

300 Westmere Blvd. 7th Floor

It seemed a little strange that the employer wasn’t collecting resumes, and he had never heard of the company, but he had the qualifications.  The address was only a few blocks away, and having a job one could walk to is a rarity in L.A., so Ezekiel decided to walk over and check it out.  Even if it was a low paying gig, he figured his family would be happy that he was using his knowledge of Hebrew.  

The building was a nondescript, fifteen story, modern, glass plate affair, and Ezekiel took notice of the immaculate maintenance as he caught his reflection in the highly polished brass of the elevator.  All illusion of an orderly workplace vanished as the doors opened on the seventh floor.  He stepped into an open floor with only one office way in the back.  The space was filled with folding tables holding computers, and a jumble of wires on the floor.  There must have been two hundred computers all buzzing away.  Repulsed and attracted at the same time, like an adult not sure whether to clean the children or join them playing in the mud, Ezekiel found him drawn back into the elevator whose open doors invited escape.

A fine layer of dust coated everything in the room including the receptionist who was the only visible occupant.  She was sixty or so, though it was a tough guess through the façade that had received the energies of make-up artists, hair dressers, plastic surgeons and a Wal-Mart sized cosmetic shop.  She was busily conversing on the phone about a neighbor’s son who was dating a black woman, and apparently committing the equivalent to racial genocide by doing so.  Just as he was ready to push the button in the elevator, the receptionist,  paused her anti-defamation rant and asked if he was there for the job.

“Yes I am, I saw the ad in the Times,” he responded thinking they must not have many visitors if she was able to peg him so easily.  

“You can wait in the back, I’ll tell him someone is here.”  Ezekiel headed towards the solitary office in the back and stood there waiting.  An elder gentleman, whose facial expression and hairstyle looked as if years of bombardment by protons from the cathode ray tubes in computer monitors had permanently left their mark, stuck his head out of the doorway.  He looked surprised to find his applicant standing and said to himself, “I guess we’ll have to get another chair.”  He closed the door to the office and proceeded to interview Ezekiel while they were both standing.  Ezekiel explained the work he had done and apparently satisfied his new boss.

“Can you start tomorrow?”

“I guess.”

“Good.  Oh, by the way, what is your religious background?”

Prepped for such an unrelated and illegal question by mock interviews held at the placement office at school he replied, “My beliefs will not hinder my ability to perform in my job function in any way.”  He gave the canned response even though he had no idea what his job function would be.

“I guess it doesn’t matter, though I assume that if you know Hebrew you are probably Jewish.  Not too many non-Jews learn Hebrew these days.  So I will see you tomorrow around eight a.m.”  He turned to leave, but Ezekiel stopped him.

“Excuse me sir, but you haven’t told me what my job will entail and we haven’t discussed salary.”

“I will explain the job tomorrow.  Feel free to make up your own title.  How much do you expect to earn?”

Again Ezekiel was thankful for the interview training provided by the university, and gave a ready response, “With my training and background, I expect my qualifications to be worth at least $100,000 per year.”

“Good.  $101,000 per year it will be, and bring your own chair.  I pay Hephzibah every other week; I will pay you the same.  Stop on the way out and tell Hephzibah to call the accountant and tell him to add another employee.”

With no hand shake or welcome aboard, Ezekiel’s new boss turned and walked back into his office.  He gave Hephzibah his name and social security number, realizing that it was the first time he had given his name and he did not know his employer’s name.

The next morning Exekial wheeled his office chair towards his new place of employment.  He didn’t mention his job to his family, not knowing enough about it to stand up to the scrutiny of his siblings.  Hephzibah was at her desk, seemingly unmoved, yet with a wardrobe and corresponding make-up change.

“Make yourself comfortable, he will be with you shortly,” she said, and went back to her phone conversation which seemed to be a continuation of the previous day’s rant.

Ezekiel walked around the room and noticed how temporary everything looked.  The folding tables, the space void of any decorative touches, and the haphazard wiring of the computers gave the office the feel of a hastily put together ‘war room’ to handle a natural disaster.  The only thing that attracted any attention was a display on the back wall.  He approached the wall to take a closer look.

In the center of the wall was a diagram with ten connected circles that was labeled: “The Sephiroth”.  Next to it was a chart that started with Y/H/V/H on top and a listing of combinations below it.  It wasn’t complete, but it appeared that the letters were being replaced in some sort of order.  Ezekiel recognized the tetragrammaton as the anagram of the name of God.  He thought of how many combinations there could be to solve this riddle.  There are twenty two letters in the Hebrew alphabet and four positions so there would be 175560 permutations.  Surely it was a job for a computer.  Apparently part of his job would be to make a program to run such calculations.  Beside the diagram of the Sephiroth was a chart that showed codices for the Hebrew language.  One assigned numbers to the letters, another showed letters as abbreviations for divine words, and yet another showing the Sumerian cuneiform equivalents of Hebrew.

His inspection was interrupted by the arrival of his new employer.  “Good morning.  Sorry I was so busy yesterday.  My name is Adam Qodman, and I am doing research of codified combinations of Hebrew letters that result in divine words.  I need an assistant to set up a computational array that will simulate a super-computer and write algorithms to run on it.  I believe that if we use a server to direct traffic to a number of small computers at the same time, we can achieve the kind of power we need for some of these calculations.”

Ezekiel realized how easy it would be to divide complicated calculations and farm out the pieces to separate computers, thus achieving a multitude of calculations simultaneously.  You would only need one powerful processor that would act as traffic cop and assign tasks to the others.  From the charts on the wall he assumed that there would be four separate codices being applied, so with four different algorithms being needed he suggested four separate computational arrays.

“Excellent idea, get to work on it right away.  Hopefully by next week we can begin programming the calculations.”

Ezekiel went to work and by Friday afternoon he had the four arrays functioning.  Adam seemed pleases and told him to take the rest of the day off. He left with his first paycheck and, though it was only for three days, it was the largest check he had ever received.

On Monday morning Ezekiel went to work early.  Though it was only seven in the morning, both Adam and Hephzibah were already there.  “Excellent work.  I have run some tests on your arrays and they function perfectly.  I think that this configuration will work well.  Now to the programming.”  Adam explained the goals of his research while Ezekiel took notes.  Ezekiel set out to write four programs that would jumble the Hebrew alphabet in different ways.  One for the tetragraammaton, one for anagrams, one for assigning numerical values, and one for translating Hebrew to Sumerian which is an older Semitic language.  By week’s end, the system was humming and churning out results.  The next week Ezekiel had nothing to do, but in his excitement Adam either didn’t notice or care.  

Adam spent most of his time in his office, which was apparently soundproof.  He would often appear to scoop up piles of data and rush back into the confines of his office.  His attire was a toga-like robe and barefeet.  The smell of incense accompanied him and he took no notice of Ezekiel.  It was a strange work environment, but Ezekiel was happy to have such a high-paying job.

 Over the next few weeks, Adam began acting more bizarrely.  He muttered to himself, and appeared not to have slept as he stared right through Ezekiel with a dazed look.  His frustration grew and would sometimes bang on the computers and curse at them in various, ancient languages before calming down and going to stand before the wall of charts, often for hours at a time.  Ezekiel did his best to ignore him, but one day he suggested that if he knew more about the results that Adam was looking for he might be able to write programming that would be more helpful.  It was clear that Adam was overworked and beginning to lose his mind.  Adam looked at Ezekiel with crazed eyes filled with a jealous rage and cried, “You want it.  I know you came here because you know.”  This outburst pushed him over the edge and he fell in an exhausted slump on the floor.  Hephzibah came over to comfort him, but he was too far gone.  She rolled up her shawl and placed it under his head and he was soon fast asleep.

Hephzibah suggested they call it a day, and said she would get Adam home.  “This happens sometimes.  He works so hard,” she said.  Ezekiel left, but he didn’t go home.  By now he couldn’t quench his desire to know about the project that was exhausting his employer.  He went to the university library and began a search beginning with the Sephiroth.  He found his answer in a scholarly work from a sixteenth century Palestinian named Luria who had authored a collected work that entreated all previously practiced forms of a belief known as Kabala.  His exegesis summarized the basic belief, which was this:

The first creation of the material world occurred when the all-pervasive godhead, or endless one, retracted into itself, leaving a void where the world would come to exist.  This retraction made possible the expulsion of all evil elements that were inherent in the endless one which would form the material world.  As the emanations flowed from the divinity, a disastrous event occurred.  Part of the emanation included non-evil elements that were contained in vessels that would bring balance to the new realms and during the transmission the vessels broke.  Sparks of divine light cascaded into the physical realm and were entombed in material constructs.  The Manichean practitioners of Kabalistic thought viewed their task as liberators of this divine energy to reconstitute the primordial man.  This belief gestated the concept that man could influence the inner structure of the godhead,  Speaking commandments with the proper intention, together with breathing techniques and cathartic practices would restore harmony and make possible the release of the divine energy trapped in the material world all around us.  The Latin for primordial man was Adam Qogman. 

It was obvious to Ezekiel that his boss was a practitioner of the Kabala, gave himself the moniker of the one who would succeed in releasing the divine energy.  The strange behavior was becoming clearer.  Adam saw himself on a mythical journey, and much of what Ezekiel had seen since he began to work at the word began to make sense.  He figured the computers were needed because part of the incantation must have been lost or never known and Adam was searching for it.  Ezekiel read enough that day to convince himself that some very respectable thinkers had taken this belief seriously, though he didn’t believe.

He returned to work and over the next few days he collected all the data kicked out from the computers.  Adam hadn’t been back since his collapse, but Hephzibah said he was fine and would soon be back at work.  Ezekiel made a sign to alert Adam that he understood his goal.  Over The Sephiroth, which he now knew to be the tree of life, he mounted a little placard that had the Latin words, UNIO MYSTICA, which meant God and man.  When Adam appeared at work and saw the sign a few days later he seemed to relax.  Knowing he wouldn’t have to hide his intent from his employee took a burden from him.

“So you know?”

“Yes.”

“Well, let me show you the rest.”

Adam led Ezekiel into his private domain, which turned out to be a hallowed shrine, not an office.  There was no furniture and the only light was from candles.  The floor was covered with a huge rug, in which the ten degrees or potencies of the Sephiroth were embroidered in gold with purple lines connecting them.  Except for Keter (thought), which was the highest degree on the tree of life, each potency had a little card with a Hebrew word on it.  On the wall was a flow chart of how energy flowed through the tree.

“I have almost arrived,” said Adam, “One more word and I should be able to complete the circuit.  The first nine were fairly easy to discover, but the tenth was elusive, thus the computers and your involvement.”  Ezekiel was overwhelmed.  He had little confidence in the concept and little understanding of the ultimate goal.  If it were to work, would matter cease to exist?  Would it result in a singular enlightened being?  The Messiah perhaps?

Adam went home for the evening and left Ezekiel alone in the office.  He went over and over the problem in his mind.  Hoping to randomly produce the final clue seemed like a long shot.  An idea came into his head that there was a relationship between the first nine that would point to the tenth.  He want to his desk and wrote down the first nine and started to write a program that would analyze them for etymological or numerical relations.  Before he even began he saw the obvious relation.  It wouldn’t have been obvious to most people, but his years of studying encryption trained his mind for this sort of work.  The connection was non-linear, and involved prime relations, so a computer would have had a difficult task of it.  But as Ezekiel pondered what sort of algorithm to write, it jumped right out at him.  The code revealed an anagram whose simplest interpretation was: I am, I am here.

With the problem solved, Ezekiel was ready to go home.  He though he would make a card and set it next to the tenth potency on the Sephiroth, as a surprise for Adam.

When he went into the room, he was overcome with desire to test out his hypothesis.  Like the wizard’s apprentice that picked up the hat and wand in his master’s absence, Ezekiel donned Adam’s robe.  Following the pattern on the wall he pronounced each name as he stood in its spot.  Arriving at the tenth position he hesitated before reciting the last symbol.  He already felt himself charged and filled with wonder.  He could feel some change occurring inside of him.  While he was becoming aware of the complexity of the universe, it was becoming simpler.  The air was electric and he could feel the space that existed between the elements of the world.  In those spaces he heard a cry to read the last word.  As he ceremoniously spoke the last word, he saw everything around him dissolve without fanfare.

Days later, Adam wondered what had become of his employee who was never heard from again.