this is where i put the things that don't fit in sandbox ii


Topeka — 1992

Past midnight the real car pulls up with Maryam in it — she falls out of the trunk of the dusty Prius with the rear windows blocked up with tinfoil, fresnel lens taped down over the number plate. Desmond and Caris on either side now getting her up by her shoulders, the suitcases in each of their free hands, Maryam clutching a Holiday Inn towel around her left thigh. Still ambulant, though painfully so from the look of it. Caris mouths at me to hurry. I hold the back door open for them, Caris covering the rear — we load the bleeding woman into the wheelchair in the freight elevator, count the suitcases, recite each others' passphrases. I bring them out on the sixth floor, across the cardboard sheets laid out for us in the afternoon, past the plastic hoardings and striped tape and rows of stacked-up swivel chairs held together with cling film, the sandbags and fax machines and blank files. I motion them to the saferoom with the chain on the door. Caris bolts it shut behind us.

Only then does Maryam speak. "Friends, I think I have been shot."

"I heard." I move to lift her leg onto a desk, holding down the wet towel. "Desmond, do we have first aid? Hypnotics? Torniquet?"

"Negative. We grabbed what we could from her office before we had to leave through the window."

"What do we have then?"

"Org psych readings, ritual implements, Maryam's hard drives, all the mnestic tabs we could find in her file cabinet."

"The administrator's file cabinet," booms Maryam from the wheelchair. "I had nothing to do with them. Did not set eyes on them, don't know they exist, none of you have ever heard of such a thing in your lives."

"With all due respect, I think we're past that," says Caris. She's rummaging through a cardboard box full of pilfered hotel toiletries, comes up with bottles of mineral water, a pair of scissors, and a fresh towel (Sheraton). She passes them to me, takes over applying pressure. I cut open Maryam's trouser leg, trying not to wince at the wound. First aid is not my forte but it seems our office was lightly trained.

"Let's see — well, the good news is there's an exit wound, so we won't have to find a bullet in there." I turn to Caris. "Who burned us? Site security?"

"The Food and Drug Administration," she says. She's pouring bottles of Sheraton water over Maryam. The woman hardly flinches. "Didn't even knew they had a SWAT team. Don't know who called them. They didn't say why. Don't know why site security started shooting back."

"It's in the atmosphere," announces Maryam. "I'm sure of it. You can't rely on each others' ess-oh-pees here — they're as much in the dark as we are, if not more. You can't blame them. You can't blame us."

I interrupt. "Do we still think it's memetic, or is it something else?"

"I hate to toot our own horn, fellows, but I think our hunch is still right." Maryam, bloodsoaked yet unfazed, downing bottle of mineral water after another. Caris is bending under the table to get a better grip, winding the towel around the wound. "We'll have to update the models, to be sure. I'll have to do up the whiteboard again to account for that last little coup."

"Well, we're not for want of stationery," says Desmond, looking around the room. "What is this, a backup front office? Logistics holding site?"

"Neither," I say. "Latest circular said to avoid affiliated resources. Advance party said they would start from scratch. I gave them a time and a place and they assured us this place would be undetectable for some time."

"Oracular assurance," says Desmond.

"No affiliated resources, Desmond. The long way. They staked out the place and eliminated the possibility of all detection. Said the tenants won't be moving in before three p.m. next Monday, on account of troubles in securing a delivery vehicle and other crisis-induced delays."

"Ah, so organisationally," beams Maryam. She's looking extra-flushed now. "Which we know through our work to be as good as any oracle!"

We listen for a hint of a joke, but there is none. Maryam squints at us one at a time through her good eye. "What, did none of you ever expect we'd be finally in business?"

"Not at the end of the world, no," says Caris, emerging from under the table. "Sara, where's the advance team?"

"They didn't make it," I say. "I, uh, found them in the broom closet, next to the C-suite. Two bodies. No heads."

"Okay. Desmond and I will sort that out. We have about sixty-five hours. Does Maryam need help with the model?"

"Sara and I will manage just fine." The towel is now a tight bundle around Maryam's left thigh. "Take out the pieces. I'll dictate."

The aides hurry out the door. I wheel over the meeting room's whiteboard. Maryam gestures to the larger of the suitcases, mouths the password to the padlock. Bids me unpack the velvet bag, the vials of pig blood and chalkdust and Six Sigma textbooks, the little battery-powered terminal, the black markers, the glossy rolls of org charts — we unroll this upon the meeting table, holding each corner down with a jade prism — the chess pieces, the obsidian knives. Maryam mouths a prayer as we go: Taylor, Gantt, Blackford et al. As on earth as it is in Harvard Business School, amen.

"Now then, how shall we start?"


From the beginning: when God created the Foundation, he created organisational psychology.

Containment is management of reality with no tolerance for failure in miniature and at scale. At the very heart of our conspiracy lies the fundamental task of keeping a volatile organisation organised: unquestioningly loyal, resilient to headcount loss, self-correcting to any perturbations in organisational values and goals. The first Ford factory was an test case, mind you, but a successful one nonetheless, one our predecessors found suited for scaling up into all manner of clandestine production of infrastructure, research, the procurement of vehicles and manufacturing of experimental small arms and forging of rare earth alloys. The key was this: where the person is unpredictable, the mean-regressing organisation is not. No sooner did our topologists and semioticians grasp the fundamentals of memetic action than they turned their focus to management science, and in the process discovered this one simple trick, that the organisation was far more quantifiable and tractable than the workings of the human mind. This is the version of the story that Maryam tells us at every Thanksgiving, every staff dinner, every annual performance review: we structure, lest the Foundation forgets itself.

(This elides the brief sojourn into Project Gehlen, PAPERCLIP, and the whisper apparati of General Contreras; I will not go into these for the sake of maintaining organisational geas.)

With the right orientation programme, reporting structure, data classification framework, and threats of disciplinary action, each member of the chart can be designed as a redundant neuron performing a crucial organisational function, wherein failure, if not impossible, is at least topologically unfavourable. With enough process design and the right strange loops, the org chart starts decisionmaking in a way individuals don't, safe from the petty susceptibilities of mortal flesh and mind. Organisational psychology becomes the psychology of the org. People die, quit, get irreparably maimed in the line of duty — yet the mind of the organisation, in all its lumbering glory, stays on.

Maryam has a copy of the latest staff circular in her hands. She calls out the reporting manifold of the affected sites of the Midwest. We mark out the loss of key personnel on the glossy charts, map the resultant transformations from each contingency plan, retrace each delegation of duty until the shape of the org is clear to us (or at least Maryam) again. The attempted mass shooting at Area Twenty leaves its local command intact but surprisingly blind. The containment breach in St. Louis has built new kinks into the audit chain, restructuring at least fifteen sites into decisional quagmire. The detonation of Site Six's nuke, on the other hand, is mere diversion — a marlinspike with no effect on decomposable structure, but which has nonetheless stirred business continuity teams along the upper Mississippi into panicked full gear. On the whiteboard, I decompose and re-derive every move in notation, confirming what Maryam in her wisdom intuits; the restlessness of my geometry mirroring the dawning graveness in Maryam's good eye.

"Son of a bitch!" she blurts out, when we factor the casualty list of the FDA's little coup.

Maryam's worked on the Midwest chart for twenty-odd years, building on her predecessor's legacy of more than thrice that. Midwest Command has weathered nothing short of total annihilation of all ops capabilities under her watch, only to grow back kudzu-like in hardened, antifragile fervour. At least one-and-a-half generations of personnel have re-derived Midwest Command from the irradiated scraps of handover documents under Maryam's doctrine; each time welcomed back smoothly into the Overseers' fold with nary any break in the veil. This is her cockroach, her zombie chicken, her multi-throated hydra.

What the sum of recent calamities has achieved is the encirclement of all contingencies. Prematurely triggering one after the other, the Midwest chart is healing over itself faster than it can regain its former complexity. Each failure creates vulnerabilities that lead on to others. The delegation of authority now floats as a dangerous ring over the bloated lotus-like islands of barely-operational site clusters. Maryam's chart is starting to decouple itself.

"That can't be right," I stammer. "It's got to be a leak, or a mole, or something. But even if we were compromised — the chart has backups for us too."

"You missed out the part where St. Louis gets triaged to do public sentiment control, cutting off the audit flow for our cell while freezing the information state from Missouri," states Maryam. "If we were compromised at any point, even RAISA wouldn't know. That's even assuming any of this was intentional in the first place."

"It has to be. We've run the model before."

"Not with the goddamned Site Six nuke. Why did they have one, anyway? It's a total fucking black swan, Sara. We're rudderless as long as this holds."

A gunshot from outside. I peer through the blinds. The lights near the C-suites are on. A large shadow passes over the hoardings. Desmond's voice, muffled through glass: "—get the fuck down!"

Maryam blinks. "I'll redo the goddamned graph. We can still outrun this." She snaps her fingers at me. "Before you see to our friends outside, get me a notebook and a pen."

She pauses, surveys the table.

"And some pig blood too, if you please."


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