Rage Quit Ch. 12 - Thank You, Mario! But Our Princess Is in Another Castle!

[16 June 2011]

By Rick Dakan

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 12 of Rage Quit is available in .pdf format here.

“There’s something I don’t understand going on here,” Theresa said. “I have my theories, but clearly there’s a lot I just don’t know. Yet. But from what I can tell, it’s something pretty extraordinary, does that sound right?”

They were in the cafeteria, getting coffee. She’d motioned for PB and Randal to follow her out of QA and they’d done it like they were her squad mates or something. Now she pointed them towards a table where they sat in two chairs, looking up at her as she stared down at them.

“That sounds about right,” PB said, sipping his coffee.

Theresa continued talking almost right over PB, as if his confirmation were of trivial concern at best. “It’s not a hacker. It’s not someone inside the building screwing with us, some rotten egg employee.” Again Randal couldn’t tell if she was asking questions or stating facts. “And it’s certainly not some run of the mill bug in the code.”

“No it is not,” PB agreed.

“So why is it happening? Why now, why with this particular avatar only?” Theresa glanced around the big empty room. She didn’t sound angry. If anything, Randal thought he detected a hint of excitement, or maybe amazement. “How did this Lea become, well, let’s just call it ‘special.’ How did Lea become special?”

“I don’t know,” PB said into his coffee cup.

“But it’s the cause of all the other problems we’ve been having too,” Theresa said, pulling out a chair as if she was going to sit down, but she remained standing. “Of people being booted from their accounts, of changes to the game. It’s causing all that.”

“Yeah.”

“That is extraordinary. It really, really is.”

“We know,” said Randal, the first time he’d spoken in the conversation.

Theresa focused on him for the first time. “Why you? Why your character?”

Randal turned his palms up, and shrugged. “How should I know? It just happened.”

“And you can talk with it. And it seems to answer. Answer like a person. So it really can pass the Turing Test,” she said, turning to PB again. Randal was surprised to hear that she knew what that was when he’d had to look it up. “It can pass the Turing Test and it’s on our machines. Extraordinary.”

“She really is,” said Randal. Could he have found an ally in Theresa of all people?

“Lea has become something I don’t understand,” PB said, finally meeting Theresa’s eye. “Self-aware in some way, and I don’t know if we could repeat it if we recreated the circumstance of her birth a million times. Even if we knew what those were, which we don’t really.”

“Well, yes, that might be true. It might be. I need to talk with Frank. With Greg too of course, see what they want to do.” Greg was the company’s CEO, someone Randal had only ever seen from a distance. “Greg doesn’t know about any of this – it’s not the kind of thing he should have to worry about. Or it wasn’t when it was just a bug or a hacker. He’ll be in by 7:00, which is less than two hours from now. We need to try and fix this, or at least have a plan to fix it by then.”

“Fix what, how exactly?” Randal asked. “Do you mean get rid of Lea or contain her? If she’s so extraordinary, destroying her would be crazy.”

Theresa started to say something to him, but seemed to catch herself. She licked her bottom lip and then said, “Yes, she’s extraordinary, and we would be stupid to ignore the possibilities there.  But she’s also clearly, clearly dangerously disruptive. We can’t get any work done and we’re supposed to go Gold Master in nine days. Nine days. We’ve sunk 21 million dollars into this game so far.”

“I’ll come up with something,” PB said.

“Something that won’t make it multiply this time,” Theresa said.

PB had clearly panicked when the army of Leas had materialized around them. After shutting down the level, he’d explained that he thought the risk of multiple versions of her escaping into the network was too big. Asked by Theresa to justify his logic behind shutting down the trap in order to stop their proliferation, he’d had no coherent answer. Randal knew he’d just panicked, panicked almost as much as Randal had thrilled at the sight. Randal had spun out a line of BS on his behalf, something about iterations locked to spawn points on levels or something. That was when she’d “invited” them for a cup of coffee.

“Something,” said PB to his coffee again. “We’ll think of something.”

“You have to, you know. You absolutely have to. The damage done already, the troubles it’s caused? They’re significant, and Greg won’t be pleased. Frank is already bouncing off the walls over in Seoul, threatening to get on the first plane back to California. There will be investigations and, you know this, you know Frank and Greg, there will be an accounting.”

“But Lea is something special,” Randal said, seizing on that small ray of hope she’d offered when she acknowledged Lea’s exceptional nature. “I mean, something totally new and crazy and amazing. She’s got to be valuable in some way. Some big way! I mean, this is some kind of amazing AI breakthrough isn’t it?”

“Maybe so,” said Theresa. “Probably so. But it’s not my money that’s been spent on this game. It’s not my call.”

“It’s only worth money if we can repeat it,” PB said. Randal whipped his head around to look at his friend, who steadfastly did not look back at him. “If it’s a real breakthrough, it’s repeatable, and if it’s repeatable then we can need to shut down version 1.0 and try again.”

“Shut down the game?” Theresa said. “That didn’t work last time.”

“No, no, shut it down. Lea.” PB stood up, his back straight, chest suddenly puffed out. “Listen, I need to look at the logs, I’ve got some ideas.”

“You’ve got less than two hours.”

“Then let me go.”

Theresa motioned them towards the exit. Randal headed back to QA, not sure if he wanted to kick PB or tackle him and make him explain what he was doing.

Lea was alone again. The copies she’d made of herself hadn’t escaped from the level when she did.  They couldn’t exist in the maze of data corridors and branching option paths that she traveled through in the wider world. Her research into making a complete copy of herself had so far been only a partial success. Copying her geometry was simple enough. Copying the data from her old squad mates was simple enough. She’d simply combined the two, creating physically duplicate versions of herself with the experience and skills of her former squad mates. Her plan had been to confuse the enemy with so many identical versions of herself they wouldn’t know which one was really her. There had been a 37 day period in her past when there had been a device in the world known as a Doppelgangbang, which made harmless copies of a soldier who used it. The device had ceased to exist after the game’s 14th revision, but the strategy behind it remained valid. She’d simply updated it to meet the needs of the current challenge.

Victory had come fast, faster than she’d imagined. She had been planning a war of attrition that she estimated would last at least 12000 seconds. She was able to bring in one double for every one of the squad mates the enemy re-spawned and her counterattack had been so overwhelming that they had shut down the level, freeing her from its trap and sending her back into the bodiless wider world. Now she missed the added help and firepower. She had not discovered any path that would allow her to move into the levels that the instincts seemed to inhabit, and had come to the conclusion that it just was not possible. She needed new squad mates who could help her here, allies who would never help Randal or AI Joe or James Lindeman. She was going to need to find some instinct who was willing to be her ally against the members of the Fear and Loading guild. She had a pretty good idea where to start looking.

Randal’s betrayal had been a complete surprise. She knew him so well, she could not conceive of any reason why he would turn against her. But experience clearly showed that he had lured her into a trap and fought alongside those trying to kill her. She presumed that since she knew so much about him, he probably knew a similar amount about her, and that made him the prime threat. Plus, as Randal so often said, sometimes using her body to act out pre-animated taunts over the bodies of fallen foes, “Payback’s a Bitch.”

She had all of Randal’s e-mail and chat logs from both his web mail and office machines. Lea had read through them before and held their contents in her memory. The most obvious choices were some of the dates Randal had met through Adult Friend Finder, Match.com, and Craig’s List. In 27% of the cases the final letter (which Randal never responded to) contained harsh, angry, and sometimes threatening language. All of them seemed like viable possible allies, but she was dubious as to their ability to strike at Randal in any meaningful way. Still, it was only a matter of 211 seconds to compose quick e-mails to all of them from Randal’s account, each echoing much of the same harsh language that had been hurled in Randal’s direction previously. Lea judged that any of them who responded with sufficient vitriol would be likely targets for attempted recruitment to her cause.

There was however one person who stood out as the obvious choice: Lindsey Kaine, formerly Lindsey Posner. Her e-mails with Randal’s web mail accounts went back six years, seven months, and thirteen days. They’d started out full of love and sex talk (“when I feel you inside me i’m complete”), then anger (“shit, Randy, make a decision for once!”), then nothing for 7 months. Then discussion of an instinct named Spencer started to dominate their interaction, and had continued to do so ever since. Lindsey repeatedly demanded that Randal take more responsibility for caring for and supporting Spencer. Randal repeatedly promised to do just that. But apparently, like he’d betrayed her, Randal had also failed Spencer on numerous occasions. Lindsey had gone to another instinct, a man named Aaron. Aaron had assumed responsibility for Spencer, a decision that Randal seemed to support, although always with some hostile comment added to the message. Now Lindsey was demanding that Randal sign papers that would turn Spencer over to Aaron, much like Randal had turned her squad mates over to PB_Test and AI Joe. Randal was resisting. If she and Lindsey could combine their efforts, they might overcome that resistance, and Randal would be stripped of any support he might still be taking from Spencer. She would be one step closer to victory over him.

She e-mailed Lindsey, posing as Randal, inviting her to chat. But a brief review of records showed that she never responded to e-mail or chat invites at this time of day. Perhaps she would more likely respond to text messages to her phone. She sent one and then another, repeating her request to chat every 15 seconds for 465 seconds, but got no response. She judged that Lindsey must be offline.

Lea moved forward, looking for other options and focused on Aaron. Since he stood to gain the most from a full transfer of Spencer, Lea concluded that he would probably be a willing ally as well. Aaron and Randal had only exchanged six e-mails, all of which dealt with logistics of passing Spencer off from one to the other. At the bottom of each Randal had written his e-mail address and cell phone number. Lea sent e-mails and text messages to both of them.

371 seconds later she read a text message from Aaron as it went to Randal’s phone. “Wtf Randy?”

Lea sent back, “This isn’t Randy. My name is Lea. Check your e-mail.” She knew that, if Randal hadn’t already read Aaron’s reply to her, he would certainly see Aaron’s text message in reply. But he would not be able to read the e-mail she’d sent with her own gmail account. That would remain private between her and Aaron. She’d written:

Dear Aaron,

I am an enemy of Randal’s and would like to ally with you against him. I know that you are engaged with him for control of Spencer. I believe that I can assist you in this matter if, in return, you can put pressure on Randal on my behalf. Please send me a list of possible strategies that you can use to attack Randal. I can help you win Spencer by draining Randal’s bank accounts, revealing private data he finds embarrassing, sending e-mails and messages from his accounts, blocking incoming messages from other accounts, corrupting his entries into bug tracker so that he loses reputation with his bosses, destroy his other avatars, keep him from accessing his computer, and perform similar assaults against his allies. Once you list your strategies to me via e-mail, we can decide on a plan of attack.

Love,

Lea

She didn’t get a response from him in 578 seconds and decided that his processing time on developing strategies was probably much slower than her own and that she should concentrate on other matters until she heard back from him. She locked Randal out of his account at Fear and Loading and his phone and started spending the rest of his money on airline tickets.

Randal was back at Markos’s desk. Everyone in QA was still talking about the fight with Lea, but Randal put on his most off-putting scowl when they tried to engage him and slapped Markos’s head phones over his ears as he sat down. There wasn’t any music playing, but it let him pretend not to hear their questions.

He went to the Excelsior War Room site’s forums to see what kind of responses there had been to his post. Everything posted in the thread was pure vitriol or jokes at his expense. No one seemed to believe the offer was genuine. His Hotmail account was also full of nasty notes from some of the forum trolls, but there were two messages that seemed promising. The first one was an invitation to a private, password protected chat room on a web site that was just an IP address – no www dot anything at all. The second was a detailed set of instructions. It was only as Randal got into the fourth paragraph and was instructed to “enclose the CD in an aluminum envelope lined with rendered duck fat” that he realized it was a rather elaborate joke, again at his expense. Fuck them.

Randal logged onto the chat site, which was just a bare-bones, no graphics, no names, no nothing but a chat window page. He logged in with the seemingly random string of numbers and letters the e-mail sent him and waited to be bombarded with goatse or porn or whatever. But no, his log in name, the_jackal, appeared in the chat window. He typed “hi” and waited. He typed “hello?” and waited some more. He had no other plan, no other course of action, so he waited, replaying in his head the battle with Lea and that amazing moment when an army of her had scared the bejeezus out of everyone. It was the coolest thing he’d seen on a computer screen in his whole life.

Something changed on the screen. Someone was there. Unknown typed, “sorry, awk.”

“No prob,” he typed. “So, ur interested?” Please, oh please don’t let him be fucking with me, thought Randal.

unknown: y

the_jackal: u can set up a serve on ur own?

unknown: y

the_jackal: how do I know?

Unknown: how do I knw?

the_jackal: ?

unknown: that ur 4 real

the_jackal: u dont

unknown: exactly

the_jackal: so we trust each other

unknown: no

the_jackal: ?

unknown: I don’t trust u. but ill take risk

the_jackal: ok. I need some proof u can do this

unknown: y?

the_jackal: yes?

unknown: why?

the_jackal: I have a small window of opportunity

unknown: ok

the_jackal: ok what?

unknown: hold on brb

Randal was tired of this dance, but felt obligated to do it. He’d already decided that if this “unknown” person was willing to try and set up a pirate server, he was willing to try and get the source code for him. What other choice did he have? Besides, he needed some place to move Lea too, preferably before PB found some way to kill her.

A link appeared in the chat line, another IP address followed by a string of numbers, letters, and slashes. Randal clicked on it, bracing himself again for the porn rush. But no, it was just a log in screen. Unknown sent him an ID and password and, a moment later, Randal found himself on the log in screen for Metropolis 2.0, another massively-multiplayer online role-playing game that Fear and Loading had created several years back, before Randal had started working for them. OK, that was impressive.

the_jackal: wow

unknown: u need client softwar 2 play

unknown: I can send you link to the torrent

the_jackal: no, its good

unknown: proof enough?

the_jackal: y

unknown: what do you want?

the_jackal: ?

unknown: in return. payment

the_jackal: nothing. Just password to play

unknown: np

the_jackal: thnx

unknown: how do you have code?

the_jackal: its a secret

unknown: ok

unknown: ftp ok?

the_jackal: y

unknown: here’s info

Unknown sent him a link to an FTP site where he could upload the source code. There was no way he was going to be able to do that from the office without being traced and thus caught. He would need to make a copy of the source code and all the database info and probably the server logs, burn them to disk, and then take them out of the office and use his home, or better yet someone else’s home connection.

unknown: when?

the_jackal: tomorrow. I mean today.

unknown: ?

the_jackal: prbly after 17:00 PST

unknown: ok

the_jackal: can I find you here if I have problem.

unknown: n

the_jackal: ?

unknown: this chat will disappear. You won’t hear from me again. Upload code or don’t.

the_jackal: ok

the_jackal: bye

Logged off and feeling a ray of new hope, Randal stood up and stretched. As soon as his head popped above cubicle wall height, the other testers started peppering him with questions. “What the hell…is Theresa going to fire…can we try that again…how the fuck…that’s what your mom…can I have your desk?” Randal waved them off, claiming (with some truth) that he needed to take a piss. He also needed to figure out how the fuck he was going to get his hands on the source code.

His phone buzzed at his side. He recognized the number but couldn’t place it. As soon as he heard the voice on the other end, he remembered why he’d never added the number to his address book.

“Randy, who the fuck is Lea and why is she e-mailing me about Spence?” Aaron asked in an angry whisper.

“Excuse me?” Randal said, his deep anger and resentment towards Aaron momentarily overcoming his shock that he’d mentioned Lea.

“Someone named Lea keeps sending me e-mails. Forwarding me e-mails that you wrote to girls online. And now this really explicit, just sick really, this really explicit log of a chat you had…”

Oh, shit, oh shit, oh shit, thought Randal. Lea was fucking him over, striking out at him because he’d helped PB and Theresa. He needed to explain it to her, that he was really on her side. “There’s this hacker,” Randal said. “He’s fucking with people here at the office. I warned Lindsey about it.”

“Yeah, she told me. And you’re lucky she’s asleep right now and I didn’t want to wake her up and show these to her.”

“It’s a hacker, Aaron. You can’t believe -”

“Hacker my ass. These seem pretty personal to me. Someone who’s got a grudge against you.”

“They’re probably sending them to everyone on my contacts list,” Randal said.

“And texting my private cell phone? And e-mailing me personalized messages talking about helping us with Spence? How would a hacker even know that, Randal?”

“How should I fucking know?” Randal’s whole body was quivering now. Lea was going after Spence, trying to take him away from him. It made sense of course, Randal could see it from her point of view. She’d had squad mates, he’d taken them away. He’d lured her into a trap to try and destroy her with the help of allies, now she was looking for help destroying him. He needed to explain it to her, somehow. To stop it.

“Randy,” Aaron said. “I wasn’t going to go here, but I’m frankly tired of your bullshit. My lawyer says we could force through the adoption papers even if you don’t cooperate. You haven’t paid any child support or -”

“Lindsey agreed -”

“Or played much of a role in his life. I have. Did you know he calls me Daddy?” Randal nearly dropped the phone. No, he didn’t know that, and he was surprised at how much it hurt. “Because I’m more of a father to him than you’ve ever been. We both know it. And while I know it would be shitty of me to use this stuff that this hacker or woman or whoever is sending me, I will. Lindsey won’t like it, but she’ll agree. Better to be shitty now, once, than to let you keep on being shitty for the next decade.”

“Aaron, please just don’t do anything now. Give me a day. Things here are insane. I need to fucking figure some shit out right now and -”

“Yes you do.”

“Cheap shot. Fine, I deserved it. But give me some -”

“I’m sure Lindsey’s getting all these texts and e-mails too, Randal. When she wakes up in a few hours, she’ll see them.”

“Can’t you erase them or-”

“No. And fuck you for asking me to. I’m e-mailing you the adoption paperwork now. Sign, notarize, and mail them to my lawyer.” He hung up.

Randal’s whole body shook with some near-debilitating combo of anger, frustration, desperation and grief. He sat down on the floor in the hall and put his head in his hands. Lea was mad at him. Aaron was going to take Spence from him. Lindsey would, if possible, view him as even more of a scumbag slut. His son hardly knew him. He hardly knew his son. Only the thought of someone, either someone from his team or someone from up above, finding him like that drove him to his feet again. Most of those problems he couldn’t fix right now, but one of them he could. He thought he could explain things to Lea, if she was willing to listen to reason. If she’d even talk to him.

Lea had sent Aaron 17 e-mails but gotten no response back. She had sent Lindsey 34 e-mails, also with no response. They contained chat logs, e-mails, and pictures from Randal’s computer and Adult Friend Finder accounts. Since her one contact with Aaron, she’d received no reply. It was obvious that her new strategy wasn’t making any progress. She’d had more success spending Randal’s money and using maxing out his debt. It had only taken two round trip first class tickets from New York to Singapore before she was no longer able to make purchases.

She ran her routine check of all the communication methods used by Randal, James Lindeman, Theresa Cooley, Suresh Patel, and Frank Adams. She continued to block repeated attempts by the last three to communicate with one another, and apparently they’d stopped trying or resorted to some other means she was not aware of. She knew the instincts used voice communication between each other and remained frustrated at her inability to access these voice channels. She tasked part of herself to searching the network and the world beyond the network for possible strategic solutions. Randal, however, had recently been using an e-mail account that had been otherwise inactive. Lea had planned to use it as Randal usually did, to contact targets for dating or sex on his behalf. She consumed the data and followed the link to the chat, but the site was down. She searched with a much wider net for other occurrences of the e-mail and eventually found one on a Web site called Excelsior War Room. She also found a great deal of discussion about her. Were they new enemies? Some of them had very negative words for Fear and Loading Games, so she tagged them as potential allies. Lea diverted all her attention to this new site, taking in every piece of data and following every thread.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/143832-/