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Day Two Hundred and Twenty-two: The Workaholic

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

I’m going to do a couple of short ones, as I’m a day behind and the New Year is coming up. I’m sure you’re all busy as well, so I won’t take up too much of your time.

Our random number generator today provided us with Peter Wach, a character who has popped up in a couple of stories, never with a lot of good happening to him. Let’s see what his stories tell us about him.

46: The Big Day

  • He works 80 hours a week at Munin Scientific.
  • He’s working on “carbon pico-crystal arrays” that will allow a vast amount of storage space on a single chip.
  • He’s married.
  • He has a personality conflict with Ewan Conwell.
  • He was accused by the management heads of Munin of stealing work from Conwell. He was then detained and interrogated by security.

127: Last-Ditch

  • Some time after the events in The Big Day, Wach went to Taylor Petraglia for help.
  • He wants some kind of revenge/compensation from Munin.
  • After the events of The Big Day, Wach was fired, his bank account was frozen, his house was foreclosed on, his driver’s license was revoked, and his wife was sent a well-doctored photograph of Peter having sex with a teenage boy.
  • He’s currently staying with a friend.

Here we have a classic hard-luck case. Peter is a person of very narrow focus, and normally it would serve him well. It allowed him to work on this project, which is every bit as revolutionary as he claims it will be. In his words, “When it gets into production, it’ll be a bigger advance in computing than the integrated circuit.” So that’s saying a lot.

The problem, of course, is that he misses a lot of what goes on around him, which made it very easy for the conspiracy against him to be pulled off. And to be fair, I don’t think that Ewan Conwell actually had anything to do with it. He was a convenient excuse for the higher-ups to use, and the fact that Peter doesn’t like him very much just helps sell the whole thing. In fact, if Ewan found out how his name had been used as part of their snare, I reckon he’d be pretty angry about it.

The main thing about Peter, though, is that he is very good at what he does, and pretty crap at everything else. He never would have dreamed that his work would lead him to this situation, which betrays a certain trust in the fundamental order of things. He doesn’t have the time or desire to worry about the bigger picture, and so assumes that everything is working smoothly. A more street-wise man, perhaps, would have recognized the potential for backstabbing and hidden a copy of the data somewhere outside the company. But Peter is not that kind of guy.

Whats going to happen to him from here on out? Good question. If he’s gone to Petraglia, then Peter could just end up being the catalyst for a good mystery-thriller story. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see a naive kind of guy like Peter wade into the murky waters of industrial espionage and somehow come out on top. A more challenging story, certainly.

We’ll keep Peter around and see what happens to him, I think.

Day One Hundred and Twenty-seven: Last-ditch

September 25, 2011 3 comments

As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.

This time around we have an interesting pairing – Peter Wach from Day 46, The Big Day, and Taylor Patraglia from Day 43, Investigations. Just for fun, let’s add a third: the unseen Speyeder from Day 80, One More Door. Plus a special surprise guest who kinda walked into the story on his own.

And here… we… go.

———————————-

“Mister Wach, why don’t you just calm down.” Taylor Patraglia quietly locked the door to his office and turned back to the man pacing back and forth in front of the desk. The man was thin and looked like he hadn’t slept in days. His hollow eyes were shining and darting around the room, from the door to the window to Taylor and back again. He hadn’t stopped moving since he came, and he’d barely stopped talking either. His fingers twitched like he was flicking a cigarette.

“I can’t calm down, mister Patraglia, I just can’t. I’m telling you what happened, I’m telling you the truth, and if you won’t help me then I’ll try to find someone who will!”

“Hold on, mister Wach.” Taylor held up his hands and glanced at his watch. It was three-fifteen. All he had to do was wait another seven minutes and this problem might be out of his hands. “You do understand why I find all this a little difficult to believe.”

Wach laughed, and it was harsh and loud. “You find it difficult to believe, huh? Imagine how I must feel about it.”

Taylor circled back around to his desk and picked up the file folder he’d put there. “I can try,” he said. He flipped open the file and scanned his scratchy handwriting. The notes he had taken on the phone the day before were disorganized, but disorganized in a very specific way. “You were drugged and… tortured? By none other than Ulysses Grodin himself.” He glanced up. “You do realize what you’re alleging here, right? That one of the most powerful men in this city – hell, the country – held you in some secret prison and shoved bamboo under your fingernails?”

“Not bamboo,” Wach muttered. “They used tasers. Not bamboo.”

“My mistake.” Taylor took a pen from his pocket and pretended to write something. “Tasers. And then after that they let you go, but not before… ‘Pulling your life out by the roots.’ In your words.” He snapped the file closed and looked up again.

For a moment, he was worried that Wach would do something violent. The man had finally stopped moving and was gripping the back of the chair with his knuckles white. “They took my home,” he said. “My bank account is locked. My driver’s license.” He barked out a laugh again. “Hell, they sent my wife doctored-up pictures of me and some teenager.” He wiped his eyes. “A boy, even.” He took a deep breath and stood up straight, not letting his eyes meet Taylor’s. “I have nothing left to me now. I’m staying with a friend. All I have is some cash I’d socked away.” He shook his head. “No one will hire me or even give me an interview.” He walked around and slumped down into the chair. “All because of that damned chip.” He dropped his head into his hands and took deep breaths.

Taylor glanced back at the file. “Yeah, the chip. Tell me about it again?”

“It’s memory.” Wach’s voice was muffled by his hands. “It can store a ridiculous amount of data.” He looked up, his eyes shining. “When it gets into production, it’ll be a bigger advance in computing than the integrated circuit.” He sat back, and his body seemed to have deflated. All the nervous energy was gone, replaced with resignation. “I designed it, figured out how to make it work, and then they said I stole it. After that… That’s when they took my life from me.”

“Okay,” Taylor said. He sat on the edge of his desk and tried to look casually friendly, something he’d never been very good at. The man sitting in front of him was either embroiled in a massive conspiracy or completely insane. Either way, Taylor figured that the chances of getting paid were slim. “I’ve got your side of the story. My question to you is this: what do you think I can do for you?”

Peter Wach looked genuinely puzzled by the question. “Do?” he asked. “Isn’t this what you do?” He gestured around the office, and Taylor followed his glance. He had been told, over and over again, about the need to make the office more comfortable, both for himself and his customers, but that took money. Like so many other private investigators, money wasn’t something he had in abundance. But for now it was good enough. It had a desk, it had chairs and a view of a part of the city that was just a good twenty minute subway ride away from downtown. He’d even bought a plastic plant to put in the corner.

Taylor shrugged and checked his watch again. “Yeah, but most of my work is tracking down husbands and runaways, mister Wach. Not digging into the internal workings of one of the biggest companies on the planet.”

There was a moment of leaden silence. “Then I guess I’ve wasted my time,” Wach said. He stood up, and at that moment the telephone rang.

“Just a moment,” Taylor said. He picked up the handset. “Yeah?” he said.

The voice on the other end sounded distorted and strange. It would be hard to say whether it was male or female. Taylor wouldn’t have been comfortable betting that it was actually human. “I’ve found it,” the voice said.

“Good,” Taylor said.

“You’re not going to like where it is, though,” the voice said, and even through all the electronic distortion Taylor thought he could hear amusement.

“Speyeder, I really don’t have a lot of time here.” He glanced up. Wach was watching him closely. “So why don’t you play nice and share.”

“Fine,” Speyeder said. “Be that way. The prototype is stored in a secure locker at Munin Scientific headquarters, and if that thing is even half as amazing as the files look, then it’s worth its weight in gold that’s been dipped in diamonds and wrapped in the skin of baby dinosaurs.” The voice chuckled. “The emails I picked up suggest it’s in the basement vaults, which are protected by the best security Cerbecorp could provide.” It paused, and Taylor could hear the hissing of static in the background. “Unless you have a commando team in your back pocket, you’re not getting in there.”

Taylor nodded. “Thought so.” He sighed. “Well, thanks. I owe you one.”

“You owe me more than one, Patraglia,” Speyeder said. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.” The static cut off and Taylor hung up the phone. He stared at it for a moment and then looked back at Wach. “You want the good news or the bad news first?”

The man’s eyes narrowed, but a wave of hope crossed his expression. “Good news.”

“All right.” Taylor nodded. “The prototype you were talking about? It seems that it’s real, and it’s still at Munin.”

Wach stood up. “See? I told you! I told you I was telling the truth!” He took a few steps, running his hands through thinning hair. “Oh, thank god,” he said. “Thank god I’m not crazy…”

“There is still bad news, mister Wach,” Taylor said. Wach stopped and turned around. Taylor looked at the notes he’d written. “Do you know of a vault in the basement level of the building?” Wach sagged where he stood and nodded. “Then you know how hard it’ll be to get at it.”

Wach pulled the chair to him and sat down with a thud. “Then there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “God himself couldn’t get into those vaults.”

Taylor walked over and patted the man on the shoulder. “There now,” he said. “That’s what they said about sinking the Titanic.” He took his cell phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. “It may not be easy,” he said. “But I think I know who can do it.”

He selected a phone number and listened to it ring. When a tone sounded, he entered ten digits, waited, and then entered five more. A voice – definitely electronic this time – told him to enter his passphrase. Slowly and carefully, he recited, “Imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie.” He looked over at Wach, whose eyebrows went up. Taylor shrugged and returned his concentration to the phone. There was a series of beeps. Then a voice, real and human.

“Drake McBane. Talk to me.”

Taylor smiled and gave a thumbs-up to Peter Wach. “Hello, mister McBane,” he said. “This is Taylor Patraglia. I have an adventure for you.”

Day Forty-six: The Big Day

July 6, 2011 4 comments

Pete stared at himself in the mirror, straightened his tie, and tried to smooth down his flyaway hair. “Should’ve gotten a haircut,” he muttered.

But it wasn’t just that. The pale complexion, the ill-fitting suit, the exhausted look in his eyes – they all worked together to make him look like a man who worked eighty hours a week. Which, of course, he did. For the last two years. But that’s what you had to do, what anyone who wanted to get ahead had to do. Nobody got anywhere in Munin Scientific on forty hours a week. Nobody.

After today, though, it would all be worth it. The work he had done on carbon pico-crystal arrays would revolutionize the industry. It would launch Munin Scientific to the top of the market, and within five years everything that had a computer in it would be indebted to them. To him. He took a USB drive out of his jacket pocket. It was all there.

That wasn’t the only copy, of course. No one could possibly be so stupid as to store their only copy of a potentially revolutionary technology onto something as droppable as a thumb drive. He had the data stored in several different places, all secure behind the best encryption and security the company could provide. If things went terribly wrong, he might lose the drive on the elevator ride up, but the data would still be there.

The LED on the end was glowing a soft amber. The drives had to be accessed at least once every twenty-four hours, to ensure security. If they weren’t, then the LED would turn red and the drive would erase itself the next time it was plugged into a computer. Pete didn’t take it too seriously. After all, if someone was going to steal his data, they probably wouldn’t wait until they got around to it to make copies. But it made the company feel like it was being proactive, so there wasn’t much to be done about it.

He put it back in his pocket and checked his watch. Fifteen minutes to go. He rinsed his hands off and tried to give himself a stern look in the mirror. It just came off looking more exhausted. His wife said he should smile more for interviews, to try and look more personable. He thought that smiling made him look like a freak. He tried it. He was right.

When one of the toilets flushed, he started and turned around. Ewan Conwell came out of one of the stalls and Pete felt his blood pressure rise. “How’s it goin’, Petey?” Ewan asked. He waved his hands under the sink and got a burst of water. Pete didn’t say anything, but went back to inspecting his tie. “Big day today, isn’t it? Well…” He took a handkerchief from his pocket and started to dry his hands, grinning at his own reflection and checking out those big, white teeth of his.

There was something about Conwell’s face that made Pete want to punch it, and Pete had never punched anyone in his life. Maybe the big chin, the fake smile, the beady little shark eyes – he couldn’t pin down what it was. Every time he saw Ewan, he just felt some kind of primate rage build in his gut. This wouldn’t have been so bad if they didn’t work in the same division. Ewan always seemed to be schmoozing, always looked relaxed and healthy. Never seemed to be cracking under pressure or pulling his hair out trying to solve a problem. He was perfectly happy working at Munin, and that was the biggest sign that something was really wrong with him.

“Yes,” Pete finally said.

“You wearing that tie?”

Pete looked at the tie, then at Ewan’s reflection. “Yes,” he said.

Ewan shrugged. “Cool,” he said. “Good luck!” He clapped Pete on the shoulder, winked, and walked out of the bathroom.

Pete took a few breaths to calm himself down. Freaking out over Ewan Conwell was the last thing he needed to do right now. He breathed, in and out, in and out, and then addressed his reflection. “You ready?” he asked. “Ready,” he replied.

The interview was fifteen floors above him, so he took the elevator and fidgeted with the USB drive on the ride up. It was a smooth, quiet ride, all the way up to the thirtieth floor. When he got there, a receptionist looked him over with a single raised eyebrow, carefully checked her appointment book, and pressed a button on her desk. A moment later she leaned in to her earpiece and said, “Yes, sir. He’s here.”

She looked up at him. “You may go in,” she said. The doors to the left swung open. Pete’s mouth was dry, his palms were sweating, and his stomach hurt. He nodded, gripping the USB drive tightly, and walked in.

The boardroom was bright and spare, influenced by how designers thought Japanese people lived. A long table, shiny and black, stretched down the middle of the brightness and made Pete a little dizzy. Embossed in the center of the table, shining under layers of lacquer, was the Munin Scientific logo.

Three men in suits were sitting at one end of the table, next to a laptop. The men were all wearing suits that each probably cost more than his salary. Before taxes, of course. “Come in, Mr. Wach,” one of the men said. Terence Dorshimer, the chief technology officer. About five levels above Pete, and just the fact that he knew Pete’s name was enough to make him want to throw up.

He set his shoulders back, tried to stiffen his spine, and strode to the end of the table. “Pete Wach,” Terence said, “I’d like you to meet Harris Brummitt, the vice president in charge of research.” Brummitt shook Pete’s hand, a strong, confident shake. “And this, of course, is Ulysses Grodin. I know you know who he is.”

Of course Pete knew who he was. Grodin’s was the public face of Munin Scientific. Third-generation president of the company and probably one of the most well-known and well-loved CEOs in the country. Pete put his hand out. “Of course. An honor to meet you, sir.”

Grodin didn’t offer his hand, and Pete was left hanging for a moment.

“I… um…”

Terence stepped in to rescue him. “I’m sure you’re eager to show us what you have, Pete.” He gestured to the laptop. “It’s showtime.”

“Yes. Yes, of course.” Pete plugged the USB into the machine and the little LED turned green again. An explorer window opened up, Pete found the icon he wanted, and the slideshow began. Terence pressed a button on a remote and the lights dimmed. A wallscreen lit up, with the computer display on it.

Pete looked at the three men, licked his lips, and cleared his throat. Grodin was starting to look annoyed, Brummitt bored, and Dorshimer’s smile was beginning to turn brittle.

“How would you like,” Pete said, “to have every movie ever made – yes, every single one.” He dropped to a whisper, as he’d practiced at home. “Even the dirty ones.” He paused for a laugh, didn’t get one, and then stuttered back into form. “Um… All the movies ever made, in ten different languages – twice – stored on a chip the size of your thumbnail?” The slideshow faded to show a close-up of a hand with a small silver chip in its palm. “And if you want, we can throw in the Library of Congress just for fun.”

That should have gotten at least a chuckle. Something really wasn’t right here. He advanced the slideshow, and what looked like a computer-generated thornbush appeared. “With picotech crystal arrays, we can store more data in a smaller space than anyone would have dreamed even two years ago. What’s more-” He went to the next slide, which was numbers and data on a pleasant gradient background. “As you can see, it’s highly durable, and will hold onto data with little or no corruption for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.” He went to the next slide and started to read from it. There were circles and arrows, pointing to other circles and other arrows that explained what the technology was and how it worked, and as Pete read from it he knew that something was going horribly wrong.

He could feel the yawning void on the other side of the table. It was exactly as though someone had walked up to him and was standing behind him, breathing down his neck, but he wasn’t allowed to see. After he got to the third circle, his voice trailed off and he turned around.

All three men were staring at him. “I, um…” he said. He cleared his throat again and straightened his suit jacket. “I suppose I can… um. Take questions? If there are any?”

Brummitt shifted in his seat. He glanced at the other two men, who were still staring at Pete. “Mister Wach,” Brummitt said. “Do you think we’re idiots?”

Pete’s mind went blank for a moment. Of all the questions he had prepared for, this certainly wasn’t one of them. If they had asked about data retrieval rates, thermal fluctuations, storage tolerances – he could have talked the sun down on any of those. But did he think they were stupid? “Um… No, sir. Of course not.” He looked at the other two men, and their faces were unreadable. “Why would you think I thought-”

“You must think we’re dumber’n a Texas schoolbook, Mister Wach, coming in here like this.”

“Sir, I-”

“That we just fell off the bullshit truck yesterday. Is that it, Mister Wach?”

“No, sir, of course-”

“Because if we were stupid, if we were complete and utter shitheads who didn’t know our dicks from diamonds, then you might have gotten away with this stunt you’re trying to pull!”

Pete tried to speak, but all that came out was soundless breath. He looked from Terrence to Grodin and back, but neither man would speak. Terence pushed another button on his panel and nodded to Brummitt. A moment later, two security guards, hands on their tasers, came through the door.

Pete put his hands up. “Wait, woah, woah. Wait! Look, I really don’t understand why-”

For the first time, Ulysses Grodin spoke. “Mister Wach, you have taken enough of our time. You may either leave, or you will be taken out.” The tone of his voice made it clear which he would prefer.

“But I don’t understand,” Pete said. “The technology, my presentation, I don’t… What did I do?” he wailed. He started to make his way back around the table, which was the cue for the security guards to launch their tasers at him.

The pain was far worse than he imagined, and he collapsed almost instantly, just barely missing the table. He lay on the floor, twitching, and he heard someone say, “Again.” Another bolt of white-hot pain shot through him, and he tried to yell. His jaw was locked, and he couldn’t get the breath out.

When the pain stopped, and he felt himself fading into unconsciousness, he heard Brummitt kneel down next to him, one of his knees making popping noises as he did. “We’re going to have a very long talk later, Wach,” he said. “And you’re going to tell us exactly how and why you stole that research from Ewan Conwell.”

Pete’s last thought as he passed out was of Ewan, and how much he hated him.