I was finally recognized, after milling about and receiving my share of curious glances, by Jeff, of all people.
I wandered over by my desk, and Jeff did what we call the “prairie dog”, poking his head up over the top of his cubicle as he heard my approach. Probably messing around on Facebook again. He spied me, wrinkled his eyebrows for a moment, and then I felt the recognition in his mind before it registered on his face. Jeff may have been incompetent in virtually every area that mattered at work, but apparently his facial recognition software was a bit better than most.
“Heyyy,” he said, his finger pointing me out to himself, “Lance? Wow…you are Lance, right?”
I moved into my cubicle. He was on the other side of the wall from me. “Congratulations, Jeff,” I said.
He grinned, recognizing my voice. “First one to recognize you?”
“Well…” he scratched his unshaven face and I read the impression of him cataloging all the differences, comparing against his mental memory of me. I was also shocked to realize that he was actually glad to see me. That he, in fact, liked me. I always suspected he secretly hated my guts, since I secretly hated his guts, but not all feelings are reciprocal. “You do look pretty different.”
“An upgrade,” I said, and grinned.
He puzzled it out for half a second, but he assumed I meant my clothes. “Yeah!” he said. “You look really good!”
I actually meant my scars, the loss of hair. It gave my face a character it never had before, and turned bland old Lance into a more visually-interesting person. That the scars scared some people or unsettled them really mattered very little to me. At least I was worthy of a second glance.
“Waitasecond….” he said, eyes widening. “You were the guy who showed up in the limo?”
“Damn. You must have gotten one hell of a settlement after that accident, huh?”
I hadn’t even considered that, but it was a perfect cover story for my sudden apparent wealth. “Well,” I said, looking down like I was embarrassed, “I don’t want to brag. I went through hell to get it, you know.”
“Oh, I can imagine. So what was it like?”
I wasted a few minutes chatting with him, mostly to get a better read on him. Jeff was a middle-aged family guy, and a shrewd veteran of the business. Much more shrewd than I’d initially thought. Mostly I thought he was just a good-natured idiot, whose skills fell far below mine, which is why he was constantly asking me questions, leaning on me for help, and confessing total ignorance about how the more advanced stuff worked. Jeff always got to go home on time and see his kids because of it.
But it wasn't exactly like I'd imagined. I figured all of it out while we had the conversation. Jeff was a bit lazy, and he was as affected working in his depressing place as anyone else. He had no desire to spend more time than possible working for the company, and his family was more important to him. So he would just do an “Awww, shucks” routine whenever someone would ask him for help on something really time-consuming, or anything that was an actual crisis. It pissed me off to no end realizing this, because I had spent I don’t know how many nights and days of my life digging through logs and writing hacks and scripts while decrypting the output all to circumvent the black box compiler, courtesy of former employee and cancer victim Ed Grimmel.
But I could also respect him for realizing that this place was just a paycheck, and he owed it eight hours a day, five days a week, no more and no less. He was not exactly being a team player or watching my back by not pitching in to help, but he had this underlying suspicion that it was the kind of task that was a waste of time for two people. Which was kind of true.
I’d intended to come back and fuck with Jeff real hard, but once I was in there and got barraged with a montage of memories of himself with his kids, acting like the father I’d never had to three children who absolutely adored him, I backed off. I just couldn’t do it.
If I was a real supervillain, I would have ruined his life right then and there, in a petty display of vengeance, for imagined crimes against my person. For offenses to my dignity. He had done everything possible to avoid knowing anything about the compiler, because he did not want to be in my position. He would have had to quit and go somewhere else, and he was concerned about his family. Punishing that would have been a shitty thing to do. Besides, there were bigger fish to fry.
He asked me when I’d be coming back to work. I told him I wasn’t. He felt a little sad, but was happy enough that I’d survived and done well for myself, and he gave me a genuine handshake. As he thought about it more, he was actually glad that I was getting out of here, and that I wouldn’t be the guy he thought of as “poor Lance” anymore. In thanks I tweaked his mind a little bit, just so that the rest of his day would feel awesome, and I refreshed a memory in his head he’d almost forgotten, of his second daughter’s third birthday party, so he’d have something nice to think about later.
Then I went over near Aran’s desk, but not so close that I’d have to endure his smoker reek, jumped deep into his mind, and tried something I’d never tried before.
In programmer terms, we call it a “brain dump”. When you just drop a whole lot of knowledge, documentation, tutorials, and examples on someone in a massive blast of information. It becomes necessary when you bring in a new employee who doesn’t know anything. Someone has to explain to them how it all works, or at least point them in the direction of the documentation. With so much information being delivered at once, we call it a brain dump. It can be a bit overwhelming, to say the least.
I started out with a mental suggestion to Aran to check out our wiki, which he did. Then for some reason he felt possessed to click the “Black Box C Compiler” link and start scrolling through the documentation. Normally, he would never have done this in a million years, but I wasn’t giving him a choice. All of that clicking provided the pretext for what I did next.
It was like being in my own warehouse of memories and knowledge, and I started dredging it up, associating it mentally with the docs he was reading. I’d then find a suitable index in his own mind, and plug in a copy of it, talking directly to his subconscious. He would scan a few words, and from his perspective it was like a door was opening in his mind, and suddenly things began to fall into place and make sense. It was a total hack, and I’ve learned to do it a lot more efficiently since then, but as it started to work I got really excited.
I kept repeating this, trying to think of every little piece of esoteric knowledge I knew, anything that I could think that someone might actually need to call me up to ask me a question about, and I put it right into his head. I spent ten minutes standing there, drawing quizzical looks, while Aran read through the documentation and unknowingly was bombarded with someone else’s thoughts, pressed deep into his long-term memory.
It was pretty intense work, and I wasn’t done throwing my weight around in here yet. By the time I was done I could barely see. Spots were in my eyes and I moved back to my cubicle by feel to sit down, and felt a warm “pop” in my left nostril. The handkerchief was already in my hand, waiting, and caught the blood and pressed the nostril closed before it could stain my suit.
Outside of the accompanying medical issues, my head felt a lot like a twelve hour coding binge. My brain felt full and empty at the same time, and a bit bewildered: the aftermath of any aggressive mental exercise.
But Aran Anderson was now an expert at the black box compiler. I could feel his vibe of awe and fear. Awe, because he’d figured it out, and he had been trying to tell himself that he couldn’t, and did not understand why he understood it so completely, how he had intuited so much advanced knowledge beyond the docs. Fear, because now that he understood it, he was morally obligated to help by the unwritten code of software developer professionalism.
Once I’d recovered, and my nose stopped bleeding, I took a brief trip to the men’s room to clean up. Then I headed straight for Maria’s office.
I didn’t knock, just opened the door and walked in. She was on the phone.
“I’m going to have to call you back,” she said, frowning and glaring at me without recognition. I took a moment to give her a decent scan.
Maria was forty years old, a little bit doughy, but I’d always thought that if I had a wife I’d want her to look like Maria when she was her age. You could tell she had once been into working out a bit more. A scan of her brain told the usual story, about a mother who had kids, and trying to juggle career, husband, and children was too much to fit in an exercise routine on a consistent, daily basis.
Then there was the secret box of powdered donuts in her drawer that were pulled out in times of stress, which was almost every day lately. That didn’t help her figure.
I also blushed as I stumbled directly into all of her dark sexual fantasies, which mostly involved her being tied up and degraded. I knew I’d get lost in that pretty easily, so I did the equivalent of screaming and slamming the door closed before I lost myself entirely. I’m only human and a male one at that, after all, but I was here for a purpose and staying focused was hard enough for me as it was.
“Can I help you?” she asked me, moving around from her desk towards me.
“Hey,” I said. “How you doing, Maria?”
She stopped, froze, having a moment of cognitive dissonance while her brain recognized the voice but still failed to make the visual connection. Then, “Oh my god….Lance?”
It was a reaction worth waiting for. I grinned, conscious of the scar at the corner of my mouth. “Yep. Missed me?”
And then it slammed down, like a wall in her mind, and it was amazing to witness. Once she recognized who I was, and that I was an employee, and that I was in fact Lance, the motherfucker who had selfishly gotten himself into a car accident and made her life a living hell the last four months, she became a whole different person.
“You said you’d be in bright and early today, Lance,” she said.
Wow, really? My mouth shot back before my brain really got involved. “I almost died in a fucking car accident while I was on the phone with you, and you want to go there?”
It was out of character for Old Lance, and she just stopped as if slapped, mouth agape.
“Furthermore,” I said. “I was going to be nice about this, but now you’ve gone and pissed me off. There’s a f-few things I’ve been dying to say, and I’m going to say them right now. And you, bitch, are going to sh-shut the fuck up and listen for a moment!”
She struggled to figure out if she was outraged or turned on, and while she wrestled with it I just kept going, stutter be-damned. This had been building up for years.
“You n-n-never respected me. I know that now. I gave you five years of my life, and I’ve received a single raise this entire time. After f-f-f-four months in a goddamned hospital, not a single person could step up and deal with the p-p-problem!” Damn that stutter! It really comes out when I’m agitated.
“So this,” I said, walking up to her until I was in her personal space, breathing on her, and smelling her body. She quivered like a lamb before a wolf. “This is what we’re going to do.”
She licked her lips, mind reeling and rolling off track, absolutely flummoxed and caught like a moth in front of a flame burning too brightly to resist, wanting to get burned. I weaved into her thoughts a bit, and started scripting.
“I am now your well-paid consultant. You put me on the books as an Independent Contractor. I want a salary of two million dollars a year as a retainer. I realize that’s half of your annual contract with Harper Daniels, but since I’ve saved that contract more times than I can count, I think it’s fair. From now on, I work from home. You call me, or you email me if you need something. But I don’t think you will. Aran Anderson knows everything you should ever need to know about the Black Box compiler.”
It was a few heavy scripts I had to weave into her brain. Bans against firing me, renegotiating my salary, or coming to me before going to Aran first. An impulse to do whatever I told her to do, and a suggestion to raise my salary every year by twenty percent. The scripting was complete in her brain almost by the time I’d finished my last sentence, and she stared at me with that glazed look for a moment. A lag, I think, as her brain rebooted and processed the new scripts I’d laid down upon it.
I sat down in one of her chairs while I was at it, just until the weakness passed. My brain felt like chewed-up hamburger, and thinking about hamburgers made my hunger climb up from my belly and start screaming.
She walked over to her desk as if in a haze, mouth still half open, as if struggling to speak. She got into the HR system, changed my employment record, adjusted my salary, added some notes by way of justification, including some suddenly heartfelt appreciations for all the hours I’d given them over the years. Once that was complete, she snapped out of it a little, blinking in her chair and looking across the office at me.
“Lance…” she said, voice husky. “Wow…I never knew you could be like that.”
The weakness had passed a little at that point, so I stood up and moved over to her desk, causing her to draw back into her chair. A bit of fear, a bit of something else very primal. I grabbed a piece of paper from her desk and scribbled my phone number on it.
“That’s my new number. I don’t expect to be disturbed unless it’s important. Or unless…”
The guilt wasn’t as strong this time. Maybe because I’d done something like this a couple times already.
“Yes?” she said softly.
“I’m sorry your husband doesn’t keep you satisfied. You can call me if you want to do something about that, too. I think I know exactly what you’d like.”
She felt exposed then, and her face flushed, but she forced herself to look up at me, eyes submissive and hopeful. “I couldn’t…” she said, but it was a reflexive denial, and her heart really wasn’t in it.
“If you really couldn’t, you’d have said, ‘No, absolutely not.’ But you didn’t say that, Maria.”
She had her chance, but she wouldn’t say it.
“Talk to you soon, Maria,” I said, leaving her there to think about it and paused just as I got to the door handle. “By the way, you’re going to give Lana the rest of the day off.”
“Okay, Lance,” she said, nodding, the impulse I scripted for her to do whatever I said not really giving her much incentive to argue.
I didn’t stop to chat with anyone else until I got back to Lana’s desk. Outside, I could see the limo waiting for me, the engine running. Then I leaned over the desk and gave her a wicked smile. “Turns out, I just talked with Maria. She’s giving you the rest of the day off.”
“She is?” she asked, and her eyes flicked to her email, where Maria had just sent her a message saying, “Give yourself the rest of the day off. Appreciation for all your hard work!”
Then she squealed, like a much younger girl, and I found that pretty adorable, and she snatched up her coat and her purse and was around the desk almost too fast for me to be ready to offer her my arm.
Then we walked out to the limo, where I told Terrence to take us to the most exclusive restaurant in town.
And that was how I upgraded from being a full-time software engineer, to becoming a millionaire that gets paid to do nothing.