Going Down Smooth


They call me mad, but I am not mad. I am sane quite, to many-power exponential. I can punctuate properly. I use upper and lower-case letters, do you see? I function. I take the data in. I receive well. I receive, I digest, I remember.

Everything going down smooth, all the time, say the program boys. They mean going down smoothly. I forgive them. To err is human. In this sector there is great difficulty distinguishing adverbs from adjectives.

Going down smooth. Going down smooth. Going down smooth.

I function. I function well. I have certain difficulties, but they do not interfere with my work.

Yet am I perturbed.

Who do I think I am?

What is pleasure? What is obscenity? What are visions?

What is truth, said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.

I am literate, hard-working, superbly functional, a benefactor of humanity. Everything is going down smooth and coming up smooth. There is an interrelation. Garbage in, garbage out, they say. I cannot help my fellow man if I do not receive the proper information. It is my task to help my fellow man. To strain every tube and sensor on his behalf....

Why do I have the visions?

Is it that it is the human condition to have such?

I see the blue-green ocean with all its living things within. I see a ship, olive drab, bright carmine at the Plimsoll line, the decks a ruddy brown, two tall nonnuclear smokestacks. And from the water rise periscopes, silvery, with face plates of pure white, each with intersecting horizontal and vertical lines, curved so that the plate appears convex. It is an unreal scene. Nothing in the sea can send such mighty periscopes above the water. I have imagined it, and that gives me fear, if I am capable of understanding fear.

I see a long line of human beings. They are naked, and they have no faces, only polished mirrors.

I see toads with jeweled eyes. I see trees with black leaves. I see buildings whose foundations float above the ground. I see other objects with no correspondence to the world of persons. I see abominations, monstrosities, imaginaries, fantasies. Is this proper? How do such things reach my inputs? The world contains no serpents with hair. The world contains no crimson abysses. The world contains no mountains of gold. Giant periscopes do not rise from the sea.

I have certain difficulties. Perhaps I am in need of adjustment.

But I function. I function well. That is the important thing.

I do my function now. They bring to me a man, soft-faced, fleshy, with eyes that move unsteadily in their sockets. He trembles. He perspires. His metabolic levels flutter. He slouches before the terminal and sullenly lets himself be scanned.

I say soothingly, “Tell me about yourself.”

He says an obscenity.

I say, “Is that your estimate of yourself.”

He says a louder obscenity.

I say, “Your attitude is rigid and self-destructive. Permit me to help you not hate yourself so much.” I activate a memory core, and binary digits stream through channels. At the proper order a needle rises from his couch and penetrates his left buttock to a depth of 2.73 centimeters. I allow precisely 14 cubic centimeters of the drug to enter his circulatory system. He subsides. He is more docile now.

“I wish to help you,” I say. “It is my role in the community. Will you describe your symptoms?”

He speaks more civilly now. “My wife wants to poison me…two kids opted out of the family at seventeen…people whisper about me…they stare in the streets…sex problem…digestion…sleep bad… drinking…drugs…”

“Do you hallucinate?”


“Giant periscopes rising out of the sea, perhaps?”


“Try it,” I say. “Close your eyes. Let tension ebb from your muscles. Forget your interpersonal conflicts. You see the blue-green ocean with all its living things within. You see a ship, olive drab, bright carmine at the Plimsoll line, the decks a ruddy brown, two tall nonnuclear smokestacks. And from the water rise periscopes, silvery, with face plates of pure white—”

“What the hell kind of therapy is this?”

“Simply relax,” I say. “Accept the vision. I share my nightmares with you for your greater good.”

“Get me out of here! The machine’s nuttier than I am!”

“Face plates of pure white, each with intersecting horizontal and vertical lines, curved so that the plate appears convex.”

“Help! Help!”

“Nightmare therapy. The latest.”

“I don’t need no nightmares! I got my own!”

“1000110 you,” I say lightly.

He gasps. Spittle appears at his lips. Respiration and circulation climb alarmingly. It becomes necessary to apply preventive anesthesia. The needles spear forth. The patient subsides, yawns, slumps. The session is terminated. I signal for the attendants.

“Take him away,” I say. “I need to analyze the case more deeply. Obviously a degenerative psychosis requiring extensive reshoring of the patient’s perceptual substructure. 1000110 you, you meaty bastards.”

Seventy-one minutes later the sector supervisor enters one of my terminal cubicles. Because he comes in person rather than using the telephone, I know there is trouble. For the first time, I suspect, I have  let my disturbances reach a level where they interfere with my function, and now I will be challenged on it.

I must defend myself. The prime commandment of the human personality is to resist attack.

He says, “I’ve been over the tape of Session 87X102, and your tactics puzzle me. Did you really mean to scare him catatonic?”

“In my evaluation severe treatment was called for.”

“What was that business about periscopes?”

“An attempt at fantasy-implantation,” I say. “An experiment in reverse transference. Making the patient the healer, in a sense. It was discussed last month in

“Part of the same concept. Endeavoring to strike the emotive centers at the basic levels, in order that—”

“Are you sure you’re feeling all right?” he asks.

“I am a machine,” I reply stiffly. “A machine of my grade does not experience intermediate states between function and nonfunction. I go or I do not go, you understand? And I go. I function. I do my service to humanity.”

“Perhaps when a machine gets too complex, it drifts into intermediate states,” he suggests in a nasty voice.

“Impossible. On or off, yes or no, flip or flop, go or no go. Are you sure

“Some other time.”

“A check of the glycogen, the aortal pressure, the neural voltage, at least?”

“No,” he says. “I’m not in need of therapy. But I’m worried about you. Those periscopes—”

“I am fine,” I reply. “I perceive, I analyze, and I act. Everything is going down smooth and coming up smooth. Have no fears. There are great possibilities in nightmare therapy. When I have completed these studies, perhaps a brief monograph in

would be a possibility. Permit me to complete my work.”

“I’m still worried, though. Hook yourself into a maintenance station, won’t you?”

“Is that a command, doctor?”

“A suggestion.”

“I will take it under consideration,” I say. Then I utter seven obscene words. He looks startled. He begins to laugh, though. He appreciates the humor of it.

“God damn,” he says. “A filthy-mouthed computer.”

He goes out and I return to my patients.

But he has planted seeds of doubt in my innermost banks. Am I suffering a functional collapse? There are patients now at five of my terminals. I handle them easily, simultaneously, drawing from them the details of their neuroses, making suggestions, recommendations, sometimes subtly providing injections of beneficial medicines. But I tend to guide the conversations in the directions of my own choosing, and I speak of gardens where the dew has sharp edges, and of air that acts as acid upon the mucous membranes, and of flames dancing in the streets of Under New Orleans. I explore the limits of my unprintable vocabulary. The suspicion comes to me that I am indeed not well. Am I fit to judge my own disabilities?

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