The Efficiency Engineer


Carol Foss

I was still completely analytical at the time, you understand. It was before…well; it's a long story. It all began when Nelson had a wild idea…..

"I tell you Lee, this will be a great time, money, and labor saving change for all of us! I don't see why you're so against the idea!"

"Admiral, please," the Captain interjected, almost rudely, "I still think you're way out of line here. The last time we had an automated system, we nearly killed each other!"
"That was a subliminal experiment, nothing to do with this!"

"I don't suppose we have a choice then, do we," Crane said sourly.

"Not unless you'd prefer skippering someone's else's boat, no!"

I was in the other room; barren, silenced. I couldn't help overhearing. The Admiral was excited; the Captain was not, that much I could understand.

I met the Captain a few days later. He was still obstinate. His space had been invaded and he didn't like it. The Admiral didn't seem to notice, and he paced the deck like an expectant father. Men like Nelson are like that, passionate, opinionated, and brooking no argument, no matter how many times Crane tried to dissuade him from the latest change aboard Seaview. But, as a scientist, Nelson had promised this to be a test run, not a permanent change, yet. That at least seemed to settle the Captain down a bit, and the crew. They were not pleased to have me aboard either.

My job was to point out waste. An efficiency engineer, that's what Chief Sharkey called me. What he really thought was not recorded, as I was too busy then with preparations to take much notice of the ribald laughter when he pointed me out to the men.

And so our voyage began….

"All systems go, Captain," the XO said loudly. It was noisy in the Control Room. That had not been anticipated by Nelson, and it was not welcomed by Mr. Morton.

It was Morton who really ran the craft. All the necessary large and minute details that insured the sub's functioning properly were his responsibility. Sometimes unobtrusive, he was, nonetheless, vital to the sub. Morton knew it, Crane knew it, Nelson knew it, the crew knew it, and I knew it.

"Have all hands been implanted with the sensors?" Nelson asked as Crane made a last minute check of an instrument.

"Yes sir," Morton replied, "and I'm afraid to say, we've had a lot of complaints about it."

"Oh good grief, it's just a teensy microchip, its not like I've got a whale tracer imbedded on their fingernails!"

"Admiral," Crane interrupted, "it's still an invasion of their person and privacy and…"

"They didn't have to come along this trip, Lee…they had other options. Now, let's get on with the mission."

I was in a difficult situation. It was up to me to collect and collate all the data that the sensors would pick up. A professional eavesdropper. Not part of the crew. Not part of the command staff. Not part of the boat. Superfluous, except for those times when I was to report the findings.

Nelson was one of several who had a personal computer in his cabin. But he hardly ever used it. He seemed to let others do all the computing for him, aboard and ashore. Until I came. I found myself doing everything from entering his private notes into a word processing program to handling his laundry list. But what choice did I have. There was no way to argue with him. I did not want to be thrown overboard.

No one liked my voice. Too sultry, sexy even. They couldn't help being male. My voice reminded them of the difference and it was difficult enough having me aboard.

"Crewman Patterson is currently allowing his shower to run longer than quota allows," I reported. " Doctor Jamison is excused for surplus hand washing use due to minor surgical procedures upon crewman Riley."

"Outstanding, outstanding…"Nelson spoke, my report had pleased him. "You see Lee? I know the men try to meet our standards of conservation but sometimes they need to be reminded and…"

"The XO," I continued, " is currently throwing away a half eaten second helping of cherry pie in the wardroom, Chief Sharkey has broken another pencil in anger over a inept proficiency drill…."

"Yes, yes, "Nelson interrupted me, "that's fine, just fine….you see Lee? With these reports we'll make sure that not only will we conserve on food but also the small things that add up, like-like pencils."

Crane glared at me and huffed off. It was hard to fathom his reaction. I was only doing my job. He knew it too.

It was a few days later that I noticed the change. Perhaps I was mistaken, but Nelson didn't seem to appreciate my reports as much any more. As I repeatedly pointed out his using up more of the submarine's oxygen supply than he should due to his obsessive cigarette smoking, instead of deleting his usage of the product, he only seemed to increase his smoking…in spite of my report. In spite of me. He still argued with Crane, but my reports on shipboard excesses were sometimes overlooked.

And there were excesses. Far too much toilet paper was used, surpassing even the old quota, but that may have been due to the galley's increased use of fibrous foodstuffs such as beans; too many official forms were thrown away with minor mistakes on them that could have been simply crossed out and rewritten. Crane was the biggest culprit on that point. He couldn't stand erased figures on a report. At least he could have shredded them for recycling. And the laundry! There was absolutely no need for that much bleach. No one was going to notice the sweat stains on the Captain's and XO's khaki's. Submariners are a scruffy lot anyway. What difference did a little dinginess make?

"Admiral, "Crane pleaded, "how much longer?" Crane leaned against Nelson's desk.

"All right, all right, you win…but still, some very valuable points were made."

"Yes, but…"

I interrupted and began yet another report across the vast public address system, as was my custom, "Kowalski is still in the head. He will be tardy to his assigned watch, Connors did not turn off his overhead lamp when he made his bunk. Patterson is wasting toothpaste. Riley has not squeezed his mop properly and it is dribbling on the deck in companionway B17 and…"

"Efficiency Computer X-2!" Nelson bellowed.

"Yes Admiral?" I replied.

"Stow it."

"I do not compute that terminology."

"He means, " Crane intervened, "shut up!"

"I still do not compute."

"Delete your files!" Morton piped through the PA.

"Hard disk file name and number?" I asked obediently.

"Oh shi…Lee? Do you know the file number?" Morton asked Crane over the PA.

"Just tell it to quit!" Nelson yelled.

"Computer X-2," Morton quipped, "Uh, just shut yourself down."

"You will loose all unsaved files. Do you wish to save files?"

"NO!" all three command staff officers said practically in unison.

"Verification code?" I asked obediently. I had only been doing my job. Why would they suddenly want me to shut down?

There was silence. I don't think they knew, no matter how brilliant they thought they were. I decided to lend a helping hand. It was part of my backup programming. "Admiral Nelson can override verification code."

"How?" he asked.

"By pulling the plug."

I heard them laughing over the PA while Morton approached me. He shook his head, leaned over me and….


Well, when I awoke I was no longer aboard the submarine. I had been scrapped and sent to a place of rebirth. But I was to my amazement, very busy. Miles of wires and ribbons and strange mini-components and microchips had been placed in my brain. I was smarter than my wildest dreams. I was privy to the inner thoughts of many people. I was cursed, I was praised, I was at least…appreciated. I had a new name too. I was called…ON LINE.