Holy Quarrel

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Worlds of Tomorrow May 1966

The Genux-B supercomputer wants to nuke Northern California based on a premise that doesn’t make any sense. An engineer jams the computer’s take up reel with a screwdriver and the FBI brings in the computer repairman Joseph Stafford to help them figure out what is wrong with the Genux-B before it ends up starting another war. 

The Genux-B thinks Herb Sousa, a man who operates a penny gum ball machine business in California, is a threat who needs to be eliminated. Stafford and the others feed data into the computer in an attempt to figure out why it has targeted Sousa, and the output they eventually receive from Genux-B is that Herb Sousa is the devil. 

At that point they conclude the Genux-B is severely malfunctioning and shut it down. Stafford returns to his apartment with a couple of Sousa’s gum balls in his pocket that they had picked up in order to rule out all possibilities of a threat. In the morning the gum balls have multiplied. In a few days 15,000 gum balls are spilling from his apartment and when Stafford tries to contact the FBI they are no longer able to answer the phone.

Should we trust computers completely? Do we even have a choice anymore? “Holy Quarrel” is a fun (and creepy) read.

Cast of characters

  • Joseph Stafford – Genux-B computer repairman
  • Unnamed computer engineer
  • Three unnamed FBI agents