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The Operator

A purveyor of insignificant purposes, of lesser destinies, we may never be more certain of The Operator’s intentions than the sum of the debates and theories that abound.


Every advance in human thought and industry has created unique paradigms into which the impossible might manifest; channels where something ancient might redefine and express itself afresh or where something wholly new and previously unthinkable might be born into our world. Along with these come new myths and superstitions and the work of drawing the distinction between those and the truth (no matter how messy the delineation might be). Stories about The Operator - for instance - date back to the infancy of the telephone and have only grown more commonplace as the technology first became popular and, quickly, ubiquitous.

At first believed to be the product of crossed lines, or a deliberate and obtuse prank, The Operator came by their name because of their ability to place calls without going via the switchboards that were originally required in order for mass telecommunications to function. The calls had, even when any other would need to be manual wired through, no traceable source; a fact that continues to this day. Defying the mechanics of that early infrastructure a phone, somewhere in the world, would ring five times. Assuming that there was someone there, assuming that they chose to pick up the phone, they would find themselves speaking with The Operator.

Descriptions of the voice on the other end of the line changed from case to case, seemingly different every time. It wasn’t for several years that, with people more used to hearing recordings or echoes coming back down the lines, more people were able to recognise that The Operator was speaking to them in their own voices: Familiar enough to be authoritative, different enough over the crude speakers to not cause an uncanny discomfort. The calls were always and only ever one-sided; The Operator sticking rigidly to a minimalist formula that began “Hello, would you please…” and finished with a curt but cordial “Thank you”.

There has never been any known deviation from this pattern, innocuous as it is, but between these niceties The Operator will always make a request of the person to whom they are speaking. These requests range from the banal to the abstract - one person might be asked to rearrange two items on their mantlepiece or leave a glass of water next to a particular plant in their garden, another to give whatever small change they have to a homeless person or to mail an empty envelope to a nonsense address - but they are asked without explanation and no context or incentive is offered.

No matter who The Operator is or what they ask of someone, there is seemingly no obvious or arcane compulsion to act imparted along with the request. Just as no reward or gratuity is made mention of, nor will one ever be received, there are no known examples of repercussions for inaction towards those who deny or disregard The Operator’s call. Whether a request is met or not, there are no follow-up calls; no direct consequences at all and - in the absence of any particular evidence as to if one is doing good or ill - deciding for or against compliance falls to individual whim.

Some have considered the larger moral question of if one should or should not fulfil the requests of The Operator. Although the instructions given and their immediate effects appear morally neutral (at least in and of themselves), with most involving making a minor change to one’s intended actions or immediate environment, some reject them instinctively. Beyond apathy, the central reason to refuse is the correlative and counter-balance to the idea that we know of no intended or actual harm resulting from The Operator’s requests. Namely that in the absence of proof of intended or actual good, inaction abrogates responsibility regardless of what the eventual outcome might be.

Creating a context would be difficult enough, but the direction and drives of The Operator can appear to be somewhat imprecise. Most messages are intended for whomsoever answers any given call, but there are those that are either too vague or lacking in sufficient context for anyone to be sure. Sometimes it even seems that the person answering the call is being employed as a go-between, that the message they receive is not one upon which they can act but that - sometimes years later and in a chance recounting of the experience - it will eventually find its intended recipient at the behest of a de facto stand-in for The Operator.

While the ideas of fate, of destiny and predetermination are extremely contentious - both from ideological and practical positions - those who believe in them (or are at least willing to operate on the assumption that there are things willing to act based on a sincere belief in them) suggest that they might be enacted through an extremely sensitive balancing of many disparate forces and influences. Fate is not a fait accompli, in other words, and the maintenance of a plotted path requires constant monitoring and minor course corrections. They argue that these adjustments would, necessarily, be like the efforts to keep dozens of spinning plates in balance.

Heavy-handed, dramatic interventions might give the appearance of having solved an issue, but would create new, equally violent and volatile instabilities in turn; a problem repeating and being reproduced by its solution until they became impossible to halt. In making almost imperceptible changes, The Operator is interrupting and rewriting the end results of causal chains that might be a thousand or more links distant from the perception and understanding of the person to whom a given request is made. An understanding of the science and the maths involved are far beyond our most advanced technology; they might even be beyond the limits of our imagination.

Proof of this functional understanding of The Operator is scarce and, usually, more circumstantial than compelling, but the work to determine the truth continues unabated. Not long after the work of The Operator began, a movement to document all confirmed contacts began in earnest. Fittingly, this took the form a number one could call, first to report that a request had been received, then to repeat it verbatim (or as close as possible). Every year these messages are compiled into an annual record - The Collected Instructions: a guide to the messages of The Operator - and pored over by scores of volunteers, all searching in fruitless earnest for rhyme or reason.


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