Art Pact 256 - Creating the morning
Something of a rush, of course. There's never enough time to set such things up in advance, so we're called in at say six in the morning and everything has to be in place by eight, when it wakes up. I work on walls - walls are kind of a boring thing, but they're necessary and it isn't too taxing, so I can be relied upon to do my bit. I like working with brick walls, because they're pleasantly solid. Partition walls - you know, those things that are basically paper and plaster - they're kind of... unsatisfying? I don't know what it is about them that makes them so terrible, but there's clearly something. I think perhaps its the fact that anyone could put them up in a couple of hours, whereas brick is a skill that the average Joe, even the average bricklayer, has to take his time over. You've got to get everything in a line, you have to have the mortar at the right consistency. Don't get me wrong, I know that there are some quick-working and talented bricklayers out there, but if you want a room, or a building created in a couple of hours, I'm kind of the only game in town. So there's that, that sense that you're at the peak of your profession, that no-one else can do what you do. That's job satisfaction.
Still, there are downsides to being on the walls, and being so good at them. I keep getting the feeling that I'd painted myself into a corner, if you like. On the timescales we're dealing with I can't afford to hand the job over to someone else. It has to be me. I could train someone up, but when am I going to do that? We're rushing in each morning on another emergency job, and the jobs are so exhausting really that we can't do anything but take downtime until the next day. Could I do it? Train someone else up to do my job? Of course I could, assuming we start with the correct raw material, obviously. But finding someone with the correct attitude and the natural talent, then convincing them to spend their spare time training up even while they're still taking care of their main duties? That is a difficult one. It's not like it was in the old days. In the old days there was downtime, there were budgets for this sort of thing. There were more of us, I think, and that gave us the slack we needed to experiment. It's efficiency that's the problem here. I think of myself as an efficient builder. I do my job to the required standard with the minimum of effort because I've practised and practised and analysed what I do and when, and I've worked out a foolproof plan - assuming that everything goes ok. I can get my work done in the time allotted - under the time allotted, usually, but all that does is convince the up-aboves that the time they've allotted is too much. They want to trim, trim, trim, always cutting away at the margins. Which would be great if we were machines, but - well, we're not, no matter what some of us might look like. You can't keep pushing and pushing and pushing like that, because sooner or later someone finds themselves in a situation that's a little out of the ordinary, and for that you need some kind of slack. Let's say that a target wakes up a little early. That's the sort of disaster you have to have a bit of spare energy for. The room's dark, of course, but you need to have arranged everything so that it looks right. That means walls created in the direction the mark is facing when he or she opens his or her eyes. That means shadows hung in the places they need to be hung, it means deviating from the plan so that the shapes of things in the target's eye-line confuse them, paralyse them to give a few moments of response time.
That's the sort of thing you can't learn in just a few courses, you see. That's even more important, and it's something only the old apprentice system could deal with. When I was young we were still doing stone rooms occasionally. Can you imagine that? People sleeping in rooms where the walls were stone. That was satisfying work. I suppose bricks are more like stone than plasterboard is, maybe my preferences are just poorly-concealed nostalgia. Either way, I worked back with old Sacarapustus, that rogue. He was a wall-man through and through, but he'd come up in the days when you learnt everything. He could put in decorations when he needed too. He was a generalist. I think I'm now a better wall man than he was even at his height, but he could do so many other things that I feel ashamed when I think about it.
He could do a dawn light! Oh, I just remembered that. Now that is something I'd love to do. We've got one guy on dawn light, it's kind of simple but subtle. You have to blend it just right - so that it doesn't wake up the target too early but on the other hand it has to be alien enough to be disconcerting, so that when it creeps through their eyelids it's the first hint that something's weird, that they're not in the same world they went to sleep in. It's delicate stuff. Sometimes tinkering with the energies of a band of wavelengths a few nanometres wide is enough to do the job. That's attention to detail! I'd love to do that. It makes sense, too. Like I say, we have one guy on it. What if he dies? What if he's spotted by a target and evaporates? There's no margin, and we'd be screwed. A smart boss would have been training up an understudy for decades by now, but guess what? No understudy. It's like they can only understand that something will fail when it already has failed. Madness.
We can call on the full emergency response, of course, but no-one wants to do that. It's messy, and there are consequences from higher up. Consequences I'd rather not think about. Our job is to make the new world for the sleeper when they wake up. Each sleeper that gets eliminated in an emergency is one less client. Now, perhaps a few less clients in the short term is okay, would give us some breathing space. But in the long term, where are the new clients coming from? Nowhere, that's where, and anywhere. It's unpredictable. Perhaps there won't be any more sleepers, so every one is precious. Or thinking both optimistically and cynically, if we're not working at full stretch won't the up-aboves think that more of us can be laid off? We'll be working at full capacity all the time again, and then what if more sleepers emerge? We won't have the capacity to contain them all. One of them will wake up in the same place that it went to sleep, and then there'll be trouble, won't there? They'll start to expect that. Reality will be more solid to them than their dreams. They'll start to remember. That's a dangerous path to start down, but one way or another we've already taken a few steps. We need more workers, and some slack to do the training in. We need to take some steps back.