The Secret to Filing

(Originally published in Mt Diablo Chapter Newsletter)
By Andrea P Wood, CRM

Pdrsn sighed a heavy sigh.  Three new bags of data crystals had just materialized in his In Box, transported there, no doubt, by the mail room whose policy seemed to be, “If you don’t know what to do with it, send it to the PD Files.”  Three bags of crystals, containing reports on everything from asteroid mining to zienite, to be catalogued, sorted and filed by Pdrsn as the Chief, and only, File Clerk in the PD Files.

Pdrsn hated the PD Files.  But that was nothing new.  Everyone hated the PD Files.  This was primarily because no one knew where to file anything or where to look for anything.  No one even knew what “PD Files” meant.  Everyone had called it that for so long that no one remembered what “PD” stood for.  Some thought it meant “Planetary Data”; but much of the information housed there had little or nothing to do with planets.  Others thought it might stand for “Production Data”; but again, what did exploration have to do with production?  And there was plenty of exploration included in the PD Files.  Pdrsn occasionally amused himself by trying to come up with new possibilities.  His latest (kept wisely to himself) was:  “Pointless and Desperate.”

Nevertheless, he had three more bags of crystals to try and find homes for.  Reaching into the first bag, he pulled out a crystal and held in such a way that the title of the report glowed in the air above his hand.  “Planetary Exploration,” it read.  “Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible.  Iotia.”  Well, that one was easy.  Plenty of PERN planets around and people almost never asked to see any of them, since they weren’t very valuable.

He tried another one.  This one read, “Corbomite Syndrome in Gamma 7A”.  That would take more effort to catalogue.  It could be medical, or chemical, or it could be something else entirely.  One of the reasons Pdrsn hated the PD Files was that he had never received a moment’s training in how to catalogue.  The Powers That Be seemed to think that all you needed to be a file clerk was at least one head and at least two hands.  Pdrsn had few illusions.  He knew that the reason he’d been hired for this job was that, having eight pairs of eyes and eight sets of hands meant that he could sort and file faster than any other species in the galaxy. 

And he could.  That wasn’t the problem.  Figuring out where to file and where to look for requests was the problem.  Pdrsn knew he was luckier than many previous file clerks.  At least he’d had some college level training in planetary engineering, which meant he could sometimes recognize technical terms that would have baffled anyone else.  (Of course, he’d only taken those courses because some chuckle-head had told him it would be easier than Galactic Civ.)

Just then, a Tan Ru came in looking for information on Pollux IV.

“What kind of information?” Pdrsn asked.  “It’s filed by subject.”

“Maybe Planetary Data?” the Tan Ru suggested.  Pdrsn led the way to Planetary Data, but they didn’t find any crystals containing reports on Pollux IV.

“How about Tellarite?” the Tan Ru asked.  Again, they looked, but found nothing on Pollux IV.

“What about quantum mechanics?”  Again, no luck.  At this point, the Tan Ru left in disgust and Pdrsn went back to his desk, frustrated as always.

When Pdrsn got frustrated, he tended to chew his nails.  The Powers That Be had decreed that all reports had to be recorded on inexpensive data crystals and sent to the PD Files, but declined to spend the credits on anything more than the most elementary of computing equipment for the file room.  Pdrsn couldn’t even use his equipment to create a data crystal of his own with a cross referencing system.  It would be so much easier if he could look reports up by location as well as subject.  But the Powers That Be weren’t interested in making Pdrsn’s life any easier.  After all, he was just a file clerk.

By now, Pdrsn was finishing off nail number 15 and it was time for lunch.  Unfortunately, while eating in the company lunch room, he overheard some engineers talking about an overdue report.  “Why don’t you just tell the boss that you already wrote the report and sent it to the PD Files?” someone suggested.  “No one ever finds anything in that Black Hole.  He’ll never know the difference.”

Pdrsn put all of his hands on the table and began counting fingers.  By the time he reached 39, he was feeling somewhat calmer and went over to the replicator.  Several years earlier, and quite by accident, Pdrsn had discovered (during a particularly wild office party) that the replicator was capable of producing an ancient Earth delicacy whose unique combination of nutrients and flavors almost always helped to raise his spirits.

Addressing the replicator, he ordered, “Two Ho-Ho’s.”

Back in the PD Files, Pdrsn was still looking for categories for data crystals when a Cordite stuck one of its heads in the door and piped, “Got anything near the Horsehead Nebula?”

Wordlessly, Pdrsn threw 14 hands into the air.

“Right,” said the Cordite and left with the air of someone who had just won a bet.

This was too much.  In shear frustration, Pdrsn bolted down the hallway and straight into the new supervisor’s office.

“Can I please rearrange the PD Files by location first and subject second?”

For a moment, Pdrsn thought all three of his hearts would stop.  Had he really just blurted it out like that?  Nervously, he eyed the company motto as it floated in the air above the supervisor’s head.  It read, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

The new supervisor shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sure.  Go ahead if that’s what you want to do.”  Pdrsn left before the supervisor could change any of his minds.

Back in the PD Files, Pdrsn grabbed bags and boxes and started going through the data crystals, pulling out any with a location starting with “A”.  Soon he had piles of crystals rough sorted by the alphabet.  For three solar units, he did nothing but sort crystals, pausing only to run to the lunch room replicator for a snack or to water the roddenberry bush in the corner.

Finally, he had all the crystals back in their drawers, arranged first by location and second by subject.  And just in time, as the door to the file room opened and in stepped an Obmud, a species known for their rather large ears.

“I’m looking for anything on the Scalos System,” the Obmud said.  Pdrsn led the way through aisles of crystal drawers.  Pulling open a drawer in the “S’s”, he waved at a row of crystals.

“This is everything we have on the Scalos System,” he said.  The Obmud began touching crystals to see the report titles.  Suddenly, his ears began to wiggle.  Pdrsn took a step back, just in case this wasn’t a really good sign.  Then the Obmud started grabbing at crystals.

“I’ll take this one...and this one...and this one...”  Pdrsn reached wildly for a scanner to check the crystals out.  The Obmud’s ears were wiggling quite rapidly now, making scanning his ID code difficult.  But in a few minutes, he had nearly all the crystals containing data on the Scalos System and was headed back for the door.

Pdrsn closed the crystal drawer.  Hearing a loud bang, he whirled around in time to see the Obmud, whose ears were flapping so fast that he had become airborne, hit his head on the top of the door jam.  He honestly didn’t seem to mind.

Pdrsn went back to his desk and just sat there for a moment.  It had been so easy.  Then he continued cataloging reports.

About an hour later, a sudden gust of wind announced that the Obmud was back.  And he wasn’t alone.  In fact, he was dragging a hexapod by one of its tentacles.

“Go ahead,” the Obmud said.  “Ask him.”

Without much hope in his voice, the hexapod asked, “Got anything near the Horsehead Nebula?”

Pdrsn quietly palmed a scanner before leading the way to another set of crystal drawers.  Opening a drawer, he waved three hands across it.

“Everything in this drawer concerns the Horsehead Nebula,” he announced.  In a matter of minutes, the hexapod was gripping dozens of crystals.

“What did I tell you?” said the Obmud, bumping his head against the ceiling on their way out.  “This place is a dilithium mine!  I can’t think why we never came down here before.”

Pdrsn went back to his desk to contemplate what had just happened.  It had taken him only three solar units (and a month’s replicator rations in Ho-Ho’s) to turn a “Black Hole” into a “dilithium mine”.  And all he’d done was rearrange the data crystals so they were the way people looked for things.

From that moment on, he resolved to never ask himself, “Where should I file this?”; but rather “Where would someone else be likely to look for it?”

Like most people, Pdrsn kept one of the company paradigms floating in the air above his desk.  Right now it read, “Welcome to the PD Files.”  Pdrsn typed quickly and a moment later it read:

“The secret to filing is retrieval!”

(The case study you have just read is absolutely true.  Certain names and places were changed to protect the innocent.  And the guilty.  apw)