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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Feb 16, 2019


Chefs. Hundreds of them. Tall chefs, short chefs, black chefs, white chefs. I pushed forward through them, like an explorer hacking away at undergrowth. They muttered curses at me, but I was stronger than they were. I came to a door. I opened it. Sweet empty space. I shut the door behind me, sat down in the chair.

“Hello,” I said. “Detective Paul Eastman, pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Doctor Zachary LaShay,” said the man behind the desk. His little remaining hair was greying; his eyes showed hints of the intellect that had been buried beneath the dullness of an administrative career. “I hope you didn’t have any trouble getting here. Did my secretary warn you about the chefs?”

“She did not,” I said.

“Well, forewarned is forearmed,” he answered, inanely and incongruously. “But I trust you got my message about the federal investigators?”

“Once a federal investigation has started, we’ll retreat and let them take over. But two women died here. We can’t just not investigate because you tell us you’re trying to get the Feds involved.”

“Yes, ah, of course. It’s just that we’re a sort of, ah, defense contractor. None of our projects are officially classified, yet, but we were hoping to get someone with a security clearance, in case this touched on sensitive areas.”

“I won’t pry further than I have to, but until someone from the government says something official, this is a matter for city police. Maybe you could start by telling me more about exactly what you do here.”

“We’re the United States’ only proverb laboratory. Our mission is to stress-test the nation’s proverbs. To provide rigorous backing for the good ones, and weed out the bad ones.”

“I’d never even heard of your organization before today, I have to admit. And now that I’m here…it’s huge! Who pays for all of this?”

“Everybody who uses proverbs,” said the Doctor, “which is to say, everybody. Consider: he who hesitates is lost. But also: look before you leap. Suppose you’re a business executive who spots a time-limited opportunity. What do you do? Hesitate? Or leap without looking? Eggheads devise all sorts of fancy rules about timing the market and relying on studies, but when push comes to shove most people are going to rely on the simple sayings they learned as a child. If you can keep your stock of proverbs more up-to-date than your competitor’s, that gives you a big business advantage.”

A smartly-dressed woman came in, handed Dr. LaShay a cup of boiling liquid. He put it to his lips, then spat. “This is terrible!” he said. “Try it!”

I had been expecting it to be tea, but it wasn’t. I didn’t know what it was. But it was terrible. Somehow too plain, too salty, and too bitter all at once. I gagged.

“That settles it!” said the Doctor. “Too many cooks really do spoil the broth. Tricia, tell the chefs they can all go home now.”

“So that’s what you were doing!” I said.