DiscoverDystopian

Peak Democracy

By G.D. Leon

Synopsis

In a world where data is power, one man must choose between corporate success and the fight for freedom…

August Remules is a rising star in the mega-conglomerate that houses nearly all of the world’s data. While his years in IT have taught him not to ask too many questions, a fateful interview could take him all the way to the top of the corporate ladder… or send his family crashing down.

Niklas Soderstrom has worked with August for years, but he has far less trust in a system rigged for those at the top. When his friend ventures into the heart of the corporate jungle, Niklas realizes his influence on the data that drives society could turn the tide in a growing resistance…

August’s new position of power seems too good to be true, but it also puts him at odds with Niklas and the people he loves the most. August and Niklas have no choice but to summon their courage to save their friends, their family, and the system that keeps civilization alive…

If you like corporate drama, nuanced characters, and future worlds crafted from current socio-political issues, then you’ll love G.D. Leon’s eye-opening trilogy.

Perfect System

August – July 15, 2041 – 4 Years to Day 0 (Burlington, VT)

“What do you mean, I shouldn’t have cancelled my platinum service?” August Remules slammed the door of his car. He was furious, at least by his standards. It was seven o'clock in the morning, already 87 Fahrenheit outside and it felt hotter with every word. He strode down the driveway and turned into the street. It was a dead end running into Lake Champlain at the end.

“I understand that gold doesn’t include instant support, but when I switched last year, you guys promised me a four-hour turnaround...” The neck microphone hurt when he shouted, but he couldn't take it off as the Comm-Dongle had no microphone anymore. 

Comm-Dongle: that was the short name for the mobile e-communicator sold by The Holding; it was a two-by-one-inch thing that had squeezed smartphones out of the market fifteen years ago.

“I want to talk to your supervisor. He's an actual human being, not another AI, right? ... Ok, I'll hold.” August turned into the main street and passed numerous, almost interchangeable houses with solar cells woven into the curtains, the tax-deductible tree in the front yard—stone gardens, interrupted from time to time by an artificial lawn.

He crossed the street without looking. A honk tore him out of his call, back into reality. 

A rusty Chevy stopped next to August and a man with a grin on his face shouted out through the open window, “You better watch where you walk! This isn't a pedestrian zone and not all drivers are as nice as I am.”

“Niklas!” August forgot he was angry for a moment and grinned. “What’s that? Didn't they ban gas-fuelled cars in Vermont?”

“They did, but this is an old-timer which puts it under federal laws. Let's say, it's complicated.” Niklas smirked and brushed his hand through his black hair. With his bronze skin and that hair color, he looked more like he was from Latin America or the Mediterranean than from Sweden. He was ten years younger than August. They had met years ago having coffee at the Lakeshore and got chatting, casually at first, but over time they became best friends. 

“Anyway, I only got it because it has no traceable electronics. I know you like to walk to work, but you want a ride?”

August shook his head with a smile. He didn't know anybody else who was so frantic about not being traceable. “Sure, why not? Although my phone will make you traceable.”

“It's only for a short ride.”

August smiled and got into the car. He appreciated the cool air from the air conditioning. The call seamlessly switched to the car speaker. 

“It has electronics?” asked August surprised.

Niklas smirked. “No traceable electronics. I put them in myself—”

“Thank you for holding, are you still there?” The operator sounded tinny through the car's speakers. 

“Yes, I'm still here.” August glanced out the passenger window. The houses turned from suburban to small town as they drove through Burlington's old main street.

Another, less tinny voice came on. “Thank you for waiting. My name is Dave. First let me apologize for your inconvenience. I'll have somebody fix it today.”

“Not today—now! My kid has to go to school and the school bus doesn’t stop if you don't fix it.”

“I understand, but we are still within the eight-hour window.”

“Four. I had four hours in my contract.” August looked at Niklas and pulled a face. Niklas raised his eyebrows.

“That was in the old scheme. One month ago we sent out an announcement—”

The overly calm demeanor of the supervisor made August even more frantic. “But I never agreed to this change of service... Do you actually understand what this means to me? My coffee machine wasn't working and I had to manually bypass the shower because they both thought I was still asleep. I had to hot-wire the door for the same reason and now I have to walk to the office because the door lock didn't send the release command so the car security system thinks I'm still at home. And all that because your e-alarm has broken. Why don't you build in failsafes?”

The supervisor used August's pause to jump in. “I understand, Mr. Remules, but—”

August frowned at the way the supervisor pronounced his name in perfect French. “Wait a moment, you're another AI. I asked for an actual human being, and don't tell me there are none around. Your CEO will get a complaint as soon as I'm in the office.” August hung up without awaiting an answer and stretched his neck.

Niklas grinned. “You are aware that an AI isn't programmed to be afraid of its manager? But I could delete its personality if it'll make you feel better. That's like killing it—” 

“That wouldmake me feel better.” August took two deep breaths though his nose. “No, don't do that, I was just kidding.”

Niklas chuckled without looking at him. “You know me well.” 

Right outside the old town center, they reached a traffic jam. August looked ahead to see what was up, but he couldn't see anything. The sound of drums and whistles wafted into the car when he opened the window, accompanied by heat.

“Riots again?” asked Niklas.

“It seems so...” 

August startled when a shadow rushed by the car window and threw something in: a flyer. 'Wake up! You live in a fake democracy. Join the Resistance,' it said. A cop followed the man who had thrown the flyer, but he gave up after two yards and came back to the car. 

“Criminals,” he said to August and shook his head. “You can give me that crap—maybe they left fingerprints.”

“What's going on there?” August gave him the flyer.

The cop shrugged. “Stupid farmers protesting. Seems some lost their jobs to self-driving tractors.” He grunted and walked away again.

Niklas turned to August. “You know how useless it is to call that service line? These bots get a better psychological education than many psychologists. I programmed one myself and added sentences that would annoy people, just for the fun of it.” Niklas smirked. “Their only job is to deflect you. But why did you cancel the platinum service anyways?”

“You've got it easy; you can program your AIs and automation yourself. Normal people like me have to rely on services, and gold service is just not good enough. I have global responsibilities and need to be on call twenty-four hours. Eight hours without AI could cost me my job.”

The line moved a little. 

August squinted through the window. “Most of my money goes to debt repayment: mortgage, student loans, you name it. The Holding requires me to have all loans with them. That way they can keep two-thirds of my salary themselves; it goes directly out of my paycheck. After that it's either the AI services or college savings for Jenny, and healthcare. Freaking healthcare—50% increase just because I was born abroad. Do you get this?” August tapped his fist against his forehead. “They can't evaluate the healthcare from where I was born. I bear a healthcare risk. Compared to the US, the healthcare system in Switzerland is Zero World, not First World.”

“I get it, but you must be doing something wrong. I don't have that problem. They seem to be able to evaluate Sweden correctly.”

“I don't know. It just seemed better to cancel the platinum service than to fall behind on healthcare. Frustrating, I never wanted to be at that point. I thought I had a career.” August sighed. “I guess I have to do better. Maybe being Chief Information Officer of The Holding would get me somewhere.” August shook his head, staring into space. He noticed that Niklas wanted to say something comforting, but he was happy he didn't. Sometimes things don't need to be said between friends. August tried to move his annoyance away; starting a work day as aggravated as he was would only end in disaster. 

The streets had been cleared of protesters in the meantime and they were moving again. August could already see The Holding's logo on the multiplex building, an overly large logo on a clunky brick. These buildings had popped up all over the country in the twenties of the new century. They offered comprehensive infrastructure-related services, from networking and security to food courts and fitness areas.

These multiplex buildings are an ingenious invention. I should have had the idea.

The cost of living in the hot city centers had become far too expensive for most people and the commute to less expensive areas too long to be absorbable. Companies started to allow people to work from home, but this created an even bigger problem. August chuckled to himself. He remembered too well the distractions when his daughter was a toddler; “Daddy” here, “Daddy” there. He had even heard of real excesses, like people privately offshoring their tasks or creating apps to appear online. He had used a more brick-and-mortar trick: place the mouse on an analog watch and the constant movements of the second hand would do the rest.

“I was just thinking how these multiplex buildings started,” said August, trying to move Niklas' thoughts away as well.

“Well, to be honest, when the first ones popped up in South Carolina and Tennessee, I thought they'd disappear again soon. I was working for Bank of America back then and they wanted our entire department to move down there, accompanied by a 30% pay cut, but they had no space. They offered for me to work up here—of course with the same pay cut.”

August frowned and shook his head. “But back then this was an ordinary office building, not a multiplex. Only the new owners transformed it.”

“Guess who the new owners were? Right: The Holding.”

“They sold the building to themselves? Hmm. Anyway, if you think about it now, it was a natural development—”

FAN!” Niklas shouted to the driver who had just cut him off. As he slammed on the brakes, the seatbelt cut into August's shoulder.

“It probably wasn't even his fault. The auto-drive system didn't see you.” August looked at the car in front of them. Through the rear window he could see the guy reading the newspaper.

Niklas raised one eyebrow. “Very comforting.”

“You should switch on your transponder. It's mandatory for these old cars.”

“And be traceable? No way.” Niklas shook his head without taking his eyes off the street. He turned into the parking lot of the multiplex building; there were only uncovered spaces left. “Perfect. This car will be an oven by the evening.” He shrugged.

“Lucky me, I don't have to drive back with you,” said August when they got out. 

Niklas tilted his head with a questioning look.

“I'm giving a guest speech at the university.”

“Sounds fun.” Niklas waved and walked towards the side entrance. 

August knew that Niklas worked in a highly secured area with no connection to the rest of the building, but that entrance looked more like an unloading dock for trucks. August shrugged. Maybe hiding in plain sight is the best tactic,he thought while he was walking to the main entrance.

Inside the building August was reminded again of the very unpleasant start to the day. He had not been able to check out at home, which caused the security gate to deny him access. The identification desk was around the corner, but he wasn't the only one with this problem—it seemed the service outage had not been an isolated event. August sighed as he saw the long line of managers in front of the desk.

This will take me at least a half an hour,he sighed. Although the identification was based on a three-second iris scan, 100 times three seconds, plus twelve seconds per person for moving forward, equals twenty-five minutes—simple math. 

Until he was cleared, he wouldn't be able to move his meetings via his Comm-Dongle; he couldn't even get his messages on his VR goggles. Somehow the linking of everything together made the whole thing fragile. He wondered where they would stop.

“My daughter got a loan for her wedding—can you imagine?” said one of the managers in front of him to another. “How crazy is that?” 

He was about August's age, a little greyer maybe. He sounded older and his suspenders made him look as if he came from another century. August didn't know him, but he had worked with the other guy on a project; August tried to remember which one, but who recalls every project they have worked on? He knew he worked for The Holding's legal department.

“Getting a loan is even easier than buying a gun,” said Legal Department Guy, “but beware of the consequences. I've seen this too many times. If there’s the slightest risk of defaulting, her cost of living will go through the roof: the interest on her loans, her healthcare cost, even her rent. Don't ask me how they calculate the risk—for that you need an IT guy with a doctorate in math.” He was unstoppable. 

The one with the suspenders already regretted having started the conversation. “And guess what?” he was finally able to throw in. “I'll be the one picking up the tab when something goes wrong—all for the family.”

The other guy ignored his words. “Eventually she'll also lose her job because she’s a 'higher risk for fraud and irregularities to a company'. The Supreme Court ruled on this years ago.”

“Isn't that crazy? The future of the nation is defined by the mortality of judges. That's the same as if the president were elected by throwing a dice.”

Legal Department Guy shrugged. “There was an outcry back then and now it's business as usual. I've seen many go down simply because they were one day late with an invoice or, even worse, when the loan company made a mistake. As soon as the avalanche is moving, you don't stand a chance.” He raised his arms to the side and shrugged again. “The trailer park cities in the Midwest are full of managers who landed in that trap, and the graveyards are full of those who acted upon it. But this is the system. We are just too willing to run up debt—an expensive MBA here, a 200-person wedding there, and everybody needs the most sophisticated AI on top. It's simple: it's their own fault.”

Suspender Guy had stopped listening. His eyes were wandering around the hall.

He's right. I have to take care that the data I'm protecting is not abused, even within The Holding,August thought. I don't want to be the cause of somebody's misery, and the data of the Valkyrie Microfinance Company can easily be abused. Information about loans at risk leads to a veritable disaster for the borrower.

“Stop him!” The commotion brought August back into reality. A man who had been first in the line was running zigzag through the hall, followed by a handful of security officers. “Stop him!” one of them shouted again. Too many foxes are the rabbit's defeat; one of the guards took him down with a Taser. 

While the security brought the unconscious man to a side door, a murmur went through the line. August caught things like “an imposter” and “Resistance tried to infiltrate”.

The guy looked familiar, but August couldn't place who he was. 

Without further trying, August just stood and watched; the thrill deadens after having seen it a few times. Just a dull angst remains. One defaulted loan and that could be you.

#

When August finally got into the building, more bad news was waiting for him. The occupancy panel showed free offices only on the top floor. Damn, that's the only thing I hate about these multiplex buildings. It wouldn't have to be a corner office—just every day the same, my office.The top-floor offices could get as hot as 95 Fahrenheit. August selected a corner office with views onto Lake Champlain. The green light above the door turned red when he unlocked the room with his iris scan. He wasn't that worried about the temperature; right now it was still bearable, and he would be out in the afternoon. He was more worried about what else would not work due to the incident that morning, but everything was working when he put his Comm-Dongle in the docking station: the e-pad and the large screen came up with his communication module and the documents where he had left them before the weekend. At least the visit to the identification desk had set back the office configurations. 

Every office was equipped with a docking station to access your virtual machine, a large screen on the wall, an e-pad and, August's favorite gadgets, a meeting booth for virtual meetings and a glove to swoosh around files and programs between all devices. But what he loved most was the AI voice module. August had named her Alex.

“Alex.”

“Good morning, Mr. Remules. What can I do for you?” said a dark female voice with a Russian accent. Niklas had helped him to program that non-standard nuance. “The only tricky part to adapt,” he had said, “was removing the perfect French accent when Alex says 'Remules'.”

“Daily planning routine.” August suppressed the urge to call the manager of the AI from that morning. He sighed. Niklas is right; that would be useless. 

“Sure. Weekly outlook importan—”

“Skip.”

The AI's voice seemed impervious to his annoyed tone. “News—”

“Meetings and overdue tasks first.” I need to change that routine,thought August.

“Today. Daily planning, 7.30AM, missed. Update call with team, 7.45AM, missed. Three messages.”

“Move update call with team to tomorrow. Find a slot.”

“Invitation sent. Automated data transfer to SURE, 10AM. Guest speech, 1PM at the University of Vermont. Tasks: call New York Timesjournalist re: interview.”

August pulled a face. He had procrastinated over this task for a week. He was only allowed to give this interview because the Timeswas part of The Holding. These interviews were just boring and took time away from the day: pre-arranged answers to pre-arranged questions.

“News: the border protection legislation passed the EU parliament...”

August's thoughts faded away as he marvelled at the view. The building was located at the end of Queneska Peninsula, and from today's office he could see across Lake Champlain, far into the Adirondacks. The water was sparkling in the sun, and on the horizon he could make out a flock of Canada geese travelling south. He enjoyed the view for a moment; tomorrow he might be able to get an office on a lower level.

“...polls for the upcoming elections show a vast majority for the European People’s Party. no more news. Three messages. Play the messages now?” Alex's voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Play messages,” August said towards the desk.

“Team meeting, message one: 'August, you owe me. It's the third time now. You top the list of missed meetings.'“

August had to smile. Lorenzo was the joker of the team, but what a bright mind. He was living down in Key West.

“Team meeting, message two: 'Ey, August, sorry to bring it up again, but I need you to sign off my vacation...'“

August interrupted the AI's flow. “New task: sign off Daniel's vacation, priority high, due today.”

“Task logged. New message, received today, 7.45AM, from Jude Dennings, priority high: 'Hi August, call me. We have to align our positions. We already agreed on the request, so no surprises at ten o'clock, right?' No more messages.”

Align our positions?August thought with a little grim grin on his face. That means adopt his view.

“Shade windows.”

The crystals in the windows turned it to a transparent charcoal. Keeping the sunlight out was the best tactic to avoid a sauna in the afternoon, and at the same time the crystals served as a solar panel.

August scratched his chin. It's astonishing what progress can be achieved if we have to. And all because of the nuclear meltdown of Palos Verde.After the terrorist attack it had taken less than five years to switch off all but three nuclear power plants. It had been the hour of solar cells and batteries.

He grabbed the e-pad and swooshed the files for the meeting onto the screen while he walked over to the couch. This deal is a veritable career-killer,he thought when he went through his notes again. I agree and something goes wrong, they hang me. If I don't agree, Dennings will make sure I get hanged right away.The insurance company SURE had requested access to the company's database. SURE was one of the reckless companies within The Holding; they had found out that over 45% of their claims came from people whose loans defaulted less than one year later. Some bright guy had the idea to procrastinate on paying out these claims until the defaulting happened, but for that they would need the predictive data models from August's data scientists and the underlying data of Valkyrie. Technically that would not be a problem—

A signal indicating an incoming call interrupted him. August narrowed his eyes when he saw the caller's identity: Donna, the group's Chief Information Officer. 

“Answer, voice only.” 

He liked her, but her stubbornness had gotten her into trouble before. You'd better stay out of her way when she gets started, even though most of the time she's right.

“August, I assume you got a call from Dennings as well?” Donna had never been a big fan of small talk on the phone, but today she seemed particularly gruff. She continued without waiting for his answer. “I can offer some free advice: don't sign that contract.”

“What's your concern?”

“It would violate the anti-trust regulations. The Department of Justice only allowed The Holding to form if we kept the business in silos with Chinese walls between them. You know exactly what I'm talking about.”

“Yeah, but if Legal and Risk agree, who am I to deny it?” August shook his head.

“I've got some legal advice of my own. The Department of Justice will see this data sharing as violation of anti-trust law. If you sign, they will use you as a scapegoat.” 

“I see, let me think about it.”

“I will not sign. They’ll need to replace me if they want the group CIO's signature.” She paused for a second. “And don't trust Dennings. I've seen too many people go and they never saw it coming. He plays dirty games.” 

“Don't worry. I'll be cautious. But thanks for the warning.”

A beep-bop sound indicated that she had already closed the communication. No, she doesn't trust Dennings at all—and neither do I. Dennings was the shooting star of The Holding, a guy in his mid-thirties with a career like a rocket. But Jude Dennings was also known for always having an agenda. August sure didn't want to be one of his victims. 

“New message. Sign-off matrix from Pradeep Singh,” said Alex with her dark female voice. 

August looked up at the screen on the wall and furrowed his brows. Sign-off matrix from his boss? He hadn't missed a sign-off last week, had he?

Alex's voice interrupted him again before he could check his open action list. “Meeting cancel request: automated data transfer to SURE, today, 10AM.”

Something's rotten in the state of Denmark. He switched to the communication module on the e-pad. They wanted this so badly and now they cancel the meeting?He took a moment, and then he got up and swooshed the two items next to each other on the screen. He stood in front of them as if he couldn't believe it. The meeting had been cancelled and instead he had received the simple sign-off page for the request. Everybody else had already signed off, including Jude, August’s boss, the two company CEOs and the heads of Risk and Legal. August shook his head and sighed. He looked back at the screen. Donna was missing; she was not even required to sign. He frowned. The deadline for him to sign was today at noon. 

Then he realized it—the real plot, the Machiavellian move. Every signature had a date in the future—only by eight days, but nonetheless in the future. August held his breath for a second. He opened his mouth to say a command, but no sound came out. He jumped to his e-pad and opened the communicator. This is Dennings' doing. Right before calling him, August stopped. He walked over to the blackened window, turned around and then went to the water dispenser. If this is fraudulent, I don't want to be part of this. It wouldn't need a conviction; just substantiated allegations alone would trigger a default on August's loans. His hands were shaking as he filled a cup, and he spilled some as he drank it in one go. Afterwards he felt able to speak again without the urge to vomit, but he needed somebody to spill out his head to.

“Call Donna.” August's voice was still shaking. Maybe she knew something; at least she was in the headquarters in Fairview.

“Call failed. User inactive,” said Alex.

August jerked his head back and took deep breath.They didn't fire her for not signing, did they?With all he had seen so far in the office, this was messed up on a whole other level. 

“Text Niklas, 'Hey buddy, you have time for a quick coffee?'“

“Text sent.”

August stood in the middle of the room as if it was a funnel and he didn't know yet which direction to take to get out. Finally, what felt like an eternity later, Alex said, “New text: 'Sure, buddy. Usual spot.'“

He grabbed the Comm-Dongle and was already out the door before Alex finished the message. The door locked automatically behind him.

#

Niklas

Niklas knew where to go. Since they had become close friends, it had happened almost every other day that one or the other needed to vent. August was already waiting on the boardwalk outside the Lakeshore with his venti coffee and a quadruple espresso. 

“Hey mate, what's up? You look even worse than this morning.” He gave August a clap on his shoulder. “Whatever it is, remember: be fit and survive.”

August forced a smile and Niklas had the impression that a couple of jokes wouldn't be enough this time. August took a deep breath and told Niklas about the request, Donna's phone call and Jude Dennings’ maneuver. Niklas looked out on the lake while August was talking. Poor August. I'm so glad I'm not part of senior management. In the corner of his eyes he noticed that August had almost crushed his cup with his hand. Niklas wondered why he didn't feel the pressure like August did. It could be his level in The Holding's hierarchy—Niklas was a database specialist on the bottom of the food chain—but it could also be the all or nothing of it. Once you default, you're done.

He waited patiently, blowing out air through his nose from time to time. When he got the feeling August had finished, he asked, still looking out on the lake, “And who do you blame?”

August didn't answer. 

Niklas snorted. “Where have you been? This is reality. What do you think, my friend? How many times a day do I have to do something a) mindless, b) meaningless, c) just because a managerwants to have it or d) to cover up somebody else's unethical plots?” He stopped and bit his lip. That was a little too harsh. “I refused two or three times. You wanna guess what happened?”

Niklas turned to August, who was looking down at the wrecked coffee cup in his hands. He felt a little pity for his miserable-looking friend, but he had to hear this.

“Somebody else did it, got promoted and got a salary increase. I know you’re different, but I got the check for my good conscience. Look at me: I live outside town in an old industrial complex, I don't wear expensive clothes and all my money goes into my computers. Wake up, August. Don't you think your Jude Dennings already got the data via another channel? He's made sure the whole deal pays. I bet those corporate big data scientists have already done the analysis and now they need a regular data feed. You surprise me.”

August looked up with eyes wide open.

“You’re so strategic and cautious in your thinking and then you throw everything overboard in a heartbeat, simply based on a gut feeling or a mood.” Then the pity kicked in. “See, your approval has nothing to do with the real world, it's not worth the electricity it uses. It's the same as if you stole something in your friend's house and asked after the fact if you could borrow it. And like Jude Dennings, you just never return it,” he added smiling. “Sign it and forget about it.”

“Maybe you're right.” August nodded.

Niklas stood up. “Of course I am. The sign-off date in the future is odd, though.” He shrugged.

August got up as well. It seemed he had calmed down a little. 

He's too nice. Sometimes I wonder which of us is older and wiser,Niklas thought.

“By the way, did you hear about the intruder this morning?” Niklas tried to guide August's thoughts in a different direction.

August nodded. “I saw it, poor guy.”

“And did you recognize him?”

“No, should I have?” August held the door for Niklas when they entered the building.

“It was the former CEO of The Holding's logistics company. You remember? The one they fired a month ago? He had all his loans with The Holding and lost everything: house, car, boat, wife. Apparently he was caught speaking up against how the system treats people who defaults on their loans. There were also posts he made on social media. That triggered a risk flag in the system, which made his loans default. Isn't that ironic? He came back because he wanted to get proof of something, at least that's what people are saying on the floor.”

“Poor guy,” said August again, but Niklas wasn't sure if he had actually listened.

#

They separated in front of the high-security entrance and Niklas went down to his office in the basement. He didn't have to fight for an office like the others, and he never had an issue with the temperature down there. As a database specialist he sat right in the center of the north-east data hub of The Holding. Together with the technicians, there were only seven people with direct access to the server rooms.

Ten floors beneath ground level the elevator door opened. The server room looked like something from a bad science-fiction movie. It was two stories high and divided by a glass wall into a large server part and a tiny office area. The floor and the walls were tiled in white. Seven desks stood in the office area, each equipped with virtual-reality glasses and gloves for the developers. Only the supervisor's desk had an actual screen from where he could switch from one set of VR glasses to another. Niklas chuckled. This moron could watch him the entire time without having a clue what he was actually doing.

“Welcome back to our sacred halls. How is the temperature outside?” David, one of the IT technicians, had taken off his VR glasses and was eating his breakfast. The chair he was sitting in appeared far too small for his hips.

“Reaching 87, I guess.” Niklas walked towards his desk.

“Puh, happy to be down here during the day. I hate to sweat.”

You sweat like a pig. Niklas tried not to inhale while he passed him.

“You met your manager friend, right? Did he know anything about when they will move us?” David licked his fingers.

“I don't talk about projects with him and he wouldn't even know. This project is top secret. I hope youdon't talk about Project OneHub outside.”

David put his VR glasses back on and all Niklas got was a grunt as an answer. He shrugged and went back to work, only to be interrupted minutes later by Michal, the project leader of the OneHub project. Niklas' hackles rose when he saw the name pop up on his screen. Assholeflashed through his mind and he resisted the urge to decline the call. 

He picked up and Michal's voice yelled into his ear. “Soderberg, you're not supposed to leave the secured area during the day. We didn't install a pantry and a kitchen down there for nothing. I need your status on the safeguard software for the program workshop.”

It’s Soderstrom, you idiot. Niklas tried to stay calm and took a breath before answering. “I sent it yesterday night to the project management office, at 11PM my time. You were copied in on it. Let me check. Yeah, here it is, Michal Kolamtov, but you have to look in the secured mailbox.”

The voice grunted. “I don't read e-mails from people of a lower rank than director. Just brief me on the sub-streams. Anti-malware/anti-spyware stream?” Michal's voice had something that grated on Niklas like nails on a chalkboard.

“Green, code delivered and tested. User acceptance test pending.” Niklas tried to give the updates in as monotone a voice as possible.

“Database integrity module?” scratched Michal's voice.

Niklas made a game out of these calls: how long does it take until Michal gets angry? “There are difficulties—”

“How many times have I told you how I want this? First the red-amber-green status,” Michal almost shrieked. 

Niklas sighed but chuckled. “Amber, they delivered the—”

“No amber, you have to set it back to green.”

“But we have to send the code back to the developers. There are some issues they have to fix.”

“You can fix it right? Otherwise why do we need an expensive database specialist in the US, when we could have two offshore?”

“You need to have coding and data encryption capabilities to do so—that's why you would need three people offshore to replace me. And to answer your question: yes, I could fix it myself, however it would be against policy if I did.”

“Listen, Soderberg, delaying the project helps neither you nor the project. This is a career-killer. Fix it. If you need master key access rights to the back end, just order them and I will approve. Next, audit module?”

“Also amber, do you want me to fix this too?” Niklas sighed.

“You are a quick learner, I like that. I assume your coworker is up to date on the code, in case they want the program to offshore more people?” 

“Aye, sir—”

Michal hung up before Niklas finished talking. He threw his headset on the desk. What a Monday morning,he thought. What did I tell August this morning? Well, the universe has a dark sense of humor. He frowned for a moment and slowly shook his head. Michal hasn't the faintest idea what I could do with those access rights. For a moment Niklas wasn't sure if it was that thought or the smell of David's breakfast getting into his nose that made him nauseous.


About the author

G.D. Leon is a novelist with roots in the German language. His journey brought him from Zurich, where he grew up, to New York, where he lives with his beautiful wife. Outside writing, sports and reading have been given spots on Gilbert's agenda, and he loves to travel the US and the world. view profile

Published on October 03, 2017

Published by

60000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Dystopian

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