‘Hilary had an enterprise on the shore of a recreational lake in eastern Oklahoma. This was the Computerized Lake-Fish Company. But Hilary did not have a Commercial Fisherman’s License to operate on Lake Tenkiller nor on any other lake, stream, river, pond, or reservoir in Oklahoma. Commercial Fisherman’s Licenses were quite rare and very hard to obtain. The only really good way to get such a license was to be born with it. And why should one bother? Those who did have commercial licenses seldom fished, for there were no longer any fish to be caught in the lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, or reservoirs of Oklahoma. Nevertheless, Hilary Ardri had become quite wealthy from his Computerized Lake-Fish Company. A man from the State Fish and Game Department spied on Hilary constantly to find out how it was all accomplished, but he could find out nothing at all. And the fact was that Hilary himself did not understand how he did it.
‘“I do not break any of your thousand-and-one regulations,” Hilary always insisted to that man from the State F&G Department. “I do not fish at all, not with hook or line or net or jug or dynamite or gaff or harpoon or fish-line or fish-bane. I do not poison the waters to kill the fish. There is no smell of fish on my shore (my own shoreline is only ten meters long), and there is no debris of fish. I have no factory or processing plant. Where is my fish works if I am accused of engaging in commercial fishing without a license?”
‘“I dunno, Ardri, where is it? That’s my own question,” said the man from the F&G Department.
‘“It’s right there, on my table there, taking up only half a square meter of space,” Hilary said in a moment of candor. “That computer, small and efficient and personalized, is all the fish business that I have, is all the business of any sort that I have.”
‘“You deliver packaged fish (excellent fish they are) to more than three thousand Oklahoma stores every morning,” said the man from the F&G Department (his name was Myron McMasters). “How and where do you get the fish, and how do you deliver them?”
‘“My computer there takes care of everything. It gets the fish without hook or crook, and it delivers them by driverless vehicles to the stores. It puts them in stock. It bills them and it collects for them. And it deposits all the profits (the profits are 100%) in my cash accounts and in my security accounts. Hey, these fish are good, are they not, Myron? They’re some of mine. The computer delivers them to me every morning too. And then it prepares and serves them however and whenever my whim desires it. And the driverless vehicle by which it delivers them, well, it isn’t anywhere when it isn’t in use. But I don’t know anything at all about fish.”
‘“What do you know about then, Hilary Ardri?” Myron McMasters from the State F&G Department asked. He had a touch of irritation in his voice, but not too much irritation, for he loved Ardri’s fish and he also believed that one shouldn’t ask too many questions about a good thing.
‘“Computers,” Hilary Ardri said. “I know about computers. I am not known as a big brain among the computer people, but I know a few things that the big brain people haven’t learned. One thing I know is that a happy computer can work wonders, and that a computer is most happy when it can indulge itself in a little bit of sociability. But computers don’t find the society of humans all that captivating. Some computer-owners stable a goat with each computer to keep it from getting lonesome. That’s the second best solution to the problem. But the best solution is to let the computer welcome the guest of its choice, and most computers are kept too clean and antiseptic by their owners to appeal to the special visitors. But I was never bothered by the fetish of cleanliness and over-maintenance. My computer has a poltergeist friend that lives in its maw and does not take up any physical space there. And my computer is happy by this circumstance. So it works wonders for me.”
‘“You’re kidding, of course,” Myron McMasters said. “I’ll solve your mystery yet, Hilary. I’ll solve it yet.”
‘There wasn’t much of a mystery to solve. Hilary Ardri did know about computers, and he knew about them by hard study as well as by sudden intuition. He studied things that other computer people didn’t bother about. He even studied a humorous chapter in an obscure computer operators’ manual, a chapter named Theoretical Things That Could be Effected by a Computer in the Ambient of an Unreal World.
‘“Might as well try some of them,” Hilary had said.
‘To take one example, the one that he did take, he learned that in an unreal world, the amount of fish that may be taken out of a lake has no connection with the amount of fish in the lake. The amount of fish to be taken out is related only to the amount of fish that the computer programs to be taken. It does not matter whether or not there are any fish at all in the lake. In an unreal world, the ambient is never restrictive. The fish will be processed as the computer programs them to be processed. They will be delivered, collected for, and deposited for as the computer programs them to be done. It is a little mental game that one may imagine for a computer. And it is safe, for it will work only in the ambient of an unreal world.
‘But it worked for Hilary Ardri. That wasn’t the first indication that Hilary had that the world was unreal, but it was one of the most telling indications. So Hilary Ardri learned, quite by accident, that the world in which he lived was unreal. And hardly anybody in the world knew that.
‘To be real is to be unique. To be unreal is to be common.
‘And the odds in favor of the world being unreal are prohibitive. There is only one chance in all infinity of it being real. But there are a billion billion and ongoing billions of chances of it being unreal.
‘And besides that, Hilary’s computer had an alter ego, or at least an inhabitant, who became a pleasant friend of all of them in the household.’
-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988), pp.4-6