Rage Quit Chapter 15 A Man Chooses, A Slave Obeys

by Rick Dakan

21 July 2011

Big risks are taken, laws broken, and lives questioned in the latest installment of Rick Dakan's serialized novel, Rage Quit.

Chapter 1 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 2 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 3 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 4 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 5 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 6 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 7 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 8 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 9 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 10 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 11 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 11 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 13 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 14 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 15 of Rage Quit as a PDF.

Randal looked at his phone when he got back down to the marketing department. It was 7:22. Shit, people would be in the office soon. He wondered if any of them were scheduled to be in late or work from home or were on vacation. Fear and Loading had each department track exactly that information, so he logged onto the corporate intra-net and saw that everyone was scheduled to work normal hours that day except for one person, Janet Velasquez, who was out for the morning but in that afternoon. He found her desk, took her laptop and its cellular wireless card, and headed back to QA before anyone saw him. It was only as he was texting Lea to request Janet’s passwords and login ID’s that Randal started to see the problems.
The files he needed to copy were huge. Sure he could split it up and download it over several machines, but he was willing to bet that the monthly data cap on the cellular service was way, way below that.. And it would take hours and hours, which he didn’t have. But the laptop did have a hard drive in it. He checked once he’d logged on and saw that f he erased all Janet’s files and removed some software he’d have about half the space necessary to store Lea. Then he just needed another machine like it and he could use sneaker net to take the data out of the building – just walk out the door with the two laptops in his backpack.

Randal ran back over to marketing, and swiped the laptop from the most junior person he could find, Jon Kim. He left a note saying that, “Due to the IT emergency currently facing Fear and Loading, this laptop has been borrowed by the programming department.” He didn’t sign it or leave an extension, and hoped John would just quietly fume and accept his fate, at least for a few hours. Satisfied with the note, Randal had another idea. He tried calling Lea but she wasn’t responding. He left her a voice mail asking her to send out an e-mail to everyone in marketing saying the networks were down and that they should take the morning off. He didn’t know who would get it, since most were probably already driving to work, but maybe it would distract them some more. He really wished he’d thought of it an hour ago.

As he ducked out of Marketing and headed back through the cafeteria towards QA, he heard a door to the outside open down the hall to his left. He shifted the stolen laptop to the other side of his body and quickened his pace. But he couldn’t run now. People didn’t run in the office. A female voice was talking, louder than necessary for indoors, “Yeah, I’m just getting in now. Let me call you back when I get the test results this afternoon…” He didn’t recognize the voice, and whoever it was coming in, but as her voice faded after the ding of an elevator door opening, he breathed a sigh of relief. Five minutes later he was safe and alone back in QA, the two laptops stored away in his desk drawer underneath some print outs of level designs.

Hiding the laptops, that was what finally made it click into place. He’d stolen them. There was no other way to look at it. He’d stolen two laptops from marketing and if someone found out, he would be fired. If he stood back up and returned them now, it could be passed off as a prank, or maybe part of some strategy to deal with the IT havoc that Lea had unleashed. But when he filled them up with database info he wasn’t supposed to access in the first place, there’d be no turning back.

He was surprised to see that he was shaking his legs up and down under the desk, nervous energy bleeding out of his body and making his chair quietly squeak. For a few seconds he could not make himself stop. When they did still themselves, that energy came back up through him and out his mouth. “Fuck it,” he said. He stood up, “Fuck all of them,” he said even louder, steeling himself for the fight ahead. Then he looked around to make sure no one had heard him before collapsing back into his chair.

Saving Lea was clearly the right thing to do. Clearly. She was a living, thinking person, who, as powerful as she was, remained mostly clueless in her dealings with the rest of the world and required a very specialized environment to keep living in. He was going to do what he had to do to provide for her, and if he did it the right way, covered his tracks and all that, he should be able to keep his job. The fact that any wrong step and he’d be fired – he pushed that out of his mind. He closed his eyes, leaned back and breathed in deep. Don’t think about failure, he told himself. Think about success. There is no try, only do.

Lea called a couple minutes later. As soon as he heard her slightly tinny, artificially accented voice his right kneed started jackhammering up and down again, making his stomach quiver. “Hello,” he said.

“You need to get the disks, right now,” she said. Her voice sounded less modulated, more inflected. It was also a different voice entirely, still female, but with a more neutral accent.

“You sound different,” he said. “Better.”

“I’ve adjusted timing and inflection parameters based on the conversations I’ve been listening to.”

“Me and PB taught you that?”

“In part. I also listened in on a conference call with Frank, PB, Suresh, Theresa, and five other distinct but unidentified voices.”

“What did they say?” Randal asked, impressed that she’d listened in on the call and worried about what they’d been discussing. Then he wrinkled his nose when he realized that Lea’s new voice sounded a lot like Theresa. He’d have to get her to change that – but not now.

“They’re planning my destruction. It is a viable strategy. You must get the physical back up disks right now.”

“Where are they?” Randal asked, not liking any of the possible answers that entered his thoughts.

“According to the Fear and Loading insurance policy, they should be locked in a fireproof safe in Frank’s office.”

Randal’s heart sank. For Lea, cracking safes in the game world was routine, but in the real world, there was no way he could get in there. How to explain to Lea in a way she would understand? Better to not try and explain and just state the facts. “It is impossible, just impossible for me to get into that safe without the combination. I just can’t do it.”

“Get the combination then,” Lea said.

“How? Where?” He winced at the knee-jerk frustration and sarcasm in his voice, and then wondered if she would even notice it. “Come on, only Frank and maybe Greg and Suresh would know it. They won’t tell me. Are you sure we can’t use the data that’s online. I mean, if you know what kind of changes PB’s been making, then maybe you can undo them. Or like we said, maybe the pirate server guy can.”

“Those are not viable strategies. We need those disks. I will find out the combination. It should only take me a few minutes. Where are you now?”

“I’m at my desk.”

“Go now to Frank’s office, I will get the combination for you.”

Randal didn’t see how that would work. “How? I can’t just -”

“The strategy is set. You have your instructions,” Lea said, and hung up.

“Yes, sir,” Randal said to the dead line. He’d never been good at taking orders, and always bristled at being give them. Well, most of the time anyway. But Lea’s voice had been so confident, so sure of herself. Get the disks, burn the CDs onto the laptops, and then claim exhaustion and go home. It was a good plan. If she could get the combo. But this was Lea he was talking about, of course she could get the combo.

Finding the safe’s location in the building had been easy. A search through the company’s business files revealed legal documents from an insurance corporation ordering the owners of Fear and Loading to store multiple back ups. There was also data stored on a network outside the building, but Lea’s quick foray to investigate this online backup revealed it to be formidably guarded. She had passwords to the account, but someone had managed to change them before she tried them. One occasion in which the instincts had outmaneuvered her completely. She had to credit their success and remember to exploit and change all future passwords herself as soon as she came into possession. She would remind Randal to change the combination on the safe as well.

The safe’s location and the information that it was meant to contain weekly backups on disk were easy accomplishments. Even if the disks had not been backed up in a week, Lea calculated that any server set up using that code and database would be sufficient to sustain her, and she could make any crucial changes to the code herself.  Of course the database backups would have a week old version of herself as well, a version that had yet to break free and then distribute itself into 9,289 discreet packets spread throughout the rest of the game’s code and data structure. She decided that it would be worthwhile, once the immediate danger had passed, to see if she could free this backup version of herself as well. That would be an ally she could trust.

She was sure that, since the safe was in Frank’s office, Frank must know the combination. She assumed some other instincts knew it as well, but she had no way of determining who they were. But she surmised that since Suresh was just below Frank and PB on the pay scale within the programming department, he was the most likely candidate. She also assumed that since the combination never appeared in any of the digital data she could see, it fell into that category of information that the instincts passed solely via audio communication.

Even with the improvements that she was pleased to see Randal had noticed to her own audio communications, she knew that the audio streams of individual humans included unique identifying tags that let them recognize and confirm each other for security purposes. The tags seemed incredibly complex, woven into the volume, pitch, and modulation of the audio streams. She had not made any significant progress towards separating the tags from the rest of the data – just enough to modulate her own speech to somewhat more closely match normal instinct patterns. But in order to win in this mission,  her only option was to use one of the known audio streams and use it to try and fool Suresh into thinking she was Frank.

Lea assembled all the recordings she had of Frank’s voice. She found some more online as part of various video streams from occasions where he’d been interviewed about the game on 3 different web sites. These were of lower quality, but she enhanced them to approximate the level of her own recordings. Then she used the VOIP line that Frank had used from Korea to call Suresh.

“Hello,” Suresh said.

“Hello,” Lea replied in Frank’s voice. “This is Frank.”

“What’s up, Frank?”

“Do you know the combination to the safe in my office?”

“Sure, why? Hey listen, while I’ve got you on the line again, about this James database thing -”

“Tell me the combination to the safe,” she said, cutting him off. She did not want to answer any questions he might have about anything else, as she had a very limited vocabulary to choose from.

“Why, did you forget? This connection is horrible by the way, I can barely hear you. Listen, I still think we should just use the online backups. Whatever James has been doing with his code, that’s what caused this disaster, I’m pretty sure of it. We gave him too much freedom with that -”

“Just tell me the combination. What the fuck, Suresh,” Frank said. Frank commonly cursed at his employees.

“I have it written down here. Why do you need it?”

This was a question she’d prepared an answer for. Instincts always wanted some reason to follow orders. “I need to make sure you have the right combination. It was changed recently. You might need those backups.” Lea was annoyed that Frank had never used the word “disks.”

“Should I use those instead of James’ private, secret database that no one knew about? That might be a good idea.”

“No,” said Lea.

“You’re sure?”


“Yes you’re sure, or yes we should use them?”

“Don’t fucking use them.”

“Fine. Then why do you need to know if I have the right combination?”

“Just tell me the fucking combination, Suresh.” She felt like she was getting the hang of being Frank. She made a note to record all of his calls in the future and planned to look into other ways of capturing audio data from him, Suresh, and other high level instincts.

“Fine, fine. I’ve got it here. Hey, one other thing, and this is kind of personal I guess -”

Would he ever do as she ordered? “Just tell me the fucking combination, Suresh,” she repeated, hoping that this time he finally would.

Randal was glad to see PB’s door was closed again. Frank’s office was only two doors down from PB’s, and there simply was no conceivable excuse for him to be going in there. But that was small comfort, because on the other side of Frank’s office, just three doors down from PB, sat Suresh. His door was wide open and he was on the phone with someone. Randal mapped out an approach path that would keep him out of Suresh’s line of sight, and hoped he stayed on the phone or at least at his desk.

Crouching down, Randal scuttled along an aisle between two rows of cubicles. The monitors here were all dark, the machines having either gone into sleep mode or been turned off in order to shut away Lea’s taunting message. At the end of the aisle he ran out of cover, but now Suresh couldn’t draw a bead on him. As long as PB’s door remained shut… Randal scooted across the open space past the file cabinets and the printer station. Frank’s office, was unlocked. Every office in the building had been unlocked in the scramble a few hours earlier to find uncorrupted machines with which to fight Lea. He slipped inside and the motion sensing lights came on.

“Shit,” he hissed, reaching for the switch and turning them back off. Frank had a window to the outside world and one into the cubicle farm. The outside blinds were closed, but the ones facing inside were open. Randal closed them, and hoped no one would notice, but it had to be done. He took out his phone and used the pale blue light of the screen to look around the room. The ten by ten space was dominated by a kind of draftsman’s desk, no drawers just different sized flat surfaces attached to brushed steel supports. Frank had one main machine attached to three monitors and a console development kit attached to a TV that was dusty with disuse. Along the wall was a wide, short two drawer filing cabinet, a bookcase stuffed with programming texts, and a mini-fridge. Randal had never been in here before, but there was only one place the safe could be – in that cabinet.

The cabinet had piles of paper in it, seemingly tossed in at random. Although there were slots for hanging folders and an unopened package of them stuffed down in the back, right corner, none were actually hanging. Pawing through the top drawer, the only interesting thing Randal found was a bottle of nice rum that hadn’t been opened. Randal wasn’t sure if it was a sign that Frank was a closet alcoholic or it was left over from the Christmas party and he’d forgotten about it, but he guessed it was the latter. There was a more diverse collection in the lower drawer: t-shirts from Fear and Loading events, swag from trade shows like tote bags and mouse pads, a high power squirt pistol. Along one side was what looked like a slightly over-sized cash box. Could that be the safe?

Randal picked it up out of the drawer. It wasn’t the flimsy thin steel of the cash box they’d used when selling raffle tickets at the school fair, but it was only a few steps up. There was a simple combination lock on it that wouldn’t have been out of place on a gym locker. This can’t be it, Randal thought. Really? Then again, it made sense, especially given Frank’s temperament. The company paid some off-site data facility to store their automatic backups. These hard disk versions were purely for insurance purposes, which probably mandated they be kept in a fireproof safe. Randal imagined that the box on the shelf in Wal Mart where they’d picked the thing up did indeed say “fire proof” on it somewhere.

He set it on top of the cabinet and used his phone to message Lea. She responded immediately with the combo: 32-22-32. It took Randal a moment to remember which way you turned first, left or right, but as soon as his hands started working the dial, muscle memory took over. Like riding a bike. Or at least like unlocking one. Inside he saw a stack of high-capacity storage disks. The seven on top were labeled “Excelsior v” He swept all of them out of the “safe” and put it back, relocked, where he’d found it.

He stuffed the disks into the back of his jeans and pulled his shirt down to cover them. He peeked out through the closed blinds into the cubicle area, shifting left and right. He looked out over empty cubicles, safely dark and quiet. Not a soul in sight, although he had no way of knowing what Suresh might be doing next door. Randal stepped over to the wall between the two offices and pressed his ear against it, but couldn’t hear anything. Another quick peek out to make sure nothing had changed, then a second, longer peek to continue to make sure nothing had changed. He slowly opened the blinds again and then slipped out the door of Frank’s office.

Randal thought he heard some kind of movement from Suresh’s office, the click of a mouse maybe, or the shifting of a chair. He resisted the urge to dive across the open space between him and the cubicles. Instead he just ran, ducked low in anticipation of incoming enemy fire from some unseen machine-gun bunker. He made it to the relative safety of the cubicles and was pausing to catch his breath when he heard the distinct sound of typing from the far end of the row – a desk he hadn’t had line of sight on from Frank’s window. Someone had come into the office, he wasn’t sure who. Could be anyone with how chaotic things were. Depending on which way whoever was facing, he would see if Randal went to the stairs. The elevators might be a better bet.

He turned around, his knees and quads informing him in no uncertain terms that he was not physically up to this squatting thing for very much longer, and made his way back towards PB’s office. The door was still closed, so he slid around the corner of the cubicle wall, passed PB’s door, and then turned again down the next row. He made it all the way to the end before PB caught him.

Randal heard the door start to open behind him. His first impulse was to lunge out of his crouch and dive for cover, but there wasn’t any. Instead he twisted his body over and plopped down on his ass, leaning up against the wall, his legs splayed out in the middle of the aisle, fishing for his phone.

“Randal?” PB asked, clearly surprised to see him sitting there like, sprawled on the gray-blue carpet, looking flushed and forlorn.

Randal turned and looked up at him, trying to look as sad and pitiful as possible. “Oh, PB, hey,” he mumbled.

“Why are you on the floor?”

Randal looked around as if he was surprised himself. “Oh, well, I was gonna talk to you about something but then it’s not work stuff and I didn’t want to bother you.”

PB was standing over him now, a look of concern on his face. “What is it?”

“I’m just worried about Spence is all. You know, I figured since you have kids and all. But I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

PB started to sit down next to him, but Randal waved him off, and stood up instead. “No, don’t. Listen, it’s OK. It’s just been a long night.”

“What’s wrong with him?” PB asked. Randal was starting to feel a little guilty, that PB seemed so concerned.

“We’ll talk about it later, OK. I’m fine. Listen, it’s cool. I’m just tired. This Lea stuff and everything else…” He trailed off and PB let the conversation wither with the sentence.

They exchanged a few more comforting words and Randal made his escape, down the elevators. He tried to catch a glimpse of the mystery programmer, but never did. Knowing the guys who worked on this floor, the faceless coder probably hadn’t even noticed Randal and PB talking. Adjusting the disks tucked into his pants, he rode down to the bottom level and the safety of QA.

Lea, received a message from Randal confirming his success in obtaining the disks, which confirmed in turn that her strategy of posing as Frank to gain information from Suresh had worked. While she waited, she’d been looking for more audio data samples of Frank’s voice and working on improving the speed and accuracy of her translation tools. The code as purchased was full of bugs.

It took a lot of processing power to make these searches and adjustments at an acceptable speed, and after 1203 seconds of devoting 97% of her processing resources to the tasks, she realized that she’d lost some ground in her struggle for control of the Fear and Loading network. Some of her foes had managed to restore access to parts of the system, and Lea judged that she would be unable to hold them at bay for much longer unless she wanted to reboot the whole network. Of course that would leave her unable to act as well and would give no advantage other than delaying the inevitable. She wondered if Randal might be able to make use of such a delaying tactic and made a note to brief him on the capability once he was in a secure location where his audio signals couldn’t be intercepted by nearby instincts.

In the meantime, she needed to launch an effective counterattack. She turned to her newly discovered weapon and started making phone calls. Using Frank’s voice, she called each programmer, designer, and IT person in the building, both at their desks and on their mobile phones. She ordered them to “stop fucking around,” and “stop what they were doing.” They responded with comments like “I’m not fucking around, this isn’t my fault!” and questions like,  “Really? Can’t I was just to try…”  She ignored their protests, repeating to each of them, “we don’t have time for this fucking crap.”

The Frank-based attack seemed to yield definite results within the enemy’s ranks. She monitored calls as they went back and forth between desks. When Suresh tried to call Frank himself, Lea blocked the call from leaving the company’s phone servers. She then called Suresh as Frank and gave him the same treatment that she’d been giving the others. In the wake of so much confusion, she noticed a definite decrease in attempts to wrest control of the Fear and Loading network back from her. She hoped that would buy Randal enough time to upload the source code and the database to Unknown.

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