Category Archives: SSTS Challenge
It’s another lunch hour and that means I’m multitasking to write the next part of this challenge story. For those that don’t know, these are stories that I’ve challenged myself to write, on the spot, as a blog post – unedited, no going back. This is as rough as a rough draft gets, so look past inconsistencies as best you can. To check out any SSTS material, click the link on the menu bar. To go back and read this one from the beginning, click HERE
After a few moments, the door to the interrogation room flew open. The supervisor and lead guard entered, purposefully. The guard closed the door much more firmly than necessary causing a metallic clank that reverberated in the room. He stood by the door as his boss dragged one of the steel chairs to the table, and sat opposite the old man.
The man seemed unphased, still wearing the same calm, welcoming smile he had since he’d arrived at the security desk two hours earlier.
“James,” he said. “I’m glad your here. I assure you, all of this is unnecessary. I’m not here to cause any problems. I just need to speak with Walter O’Leary.”
“How do you know my name.” He said as more of a statement than a question.
“It’s just as I have been telling them; I know what I need to know. And I know your Nana loved you very much and that you are not one to judge someone you don’t know so quickly.”
James’ eyes went wide and he had to focus to keep himself composed. “If you knew so much, then you’d know my grandmother died years ago.”
“Oh, I know.”
James sat for a second not sure how to proceed, then tossed the datapad on the table. “Well then, help me to know a few things. We can’t find a single trace of you in the system. In a legal sense, you might as well not exist. Now I’m sure I can find a Walter O’Leary, somewhere, for you to talk to. But I need something from you. How about a name?”
The old man, smiled more broadly and chuckled. “Of course. My name is Simon. Simon Peter.”
James stared blankly and looked to his subordinate. “Check it out.”
The guard left leaving the two seated at the table.
“So…uh…Simon, why do you need to see O’Leary so badly?”
“Again, just as I told them, he is in charge of the machine.”
James tried to look disinterested. “And if he does?”
“He needs to turn it off,” Simon said, calmly, but with a seriousness that was on par with the kindliness of his smile.
“I can’t believe I’m having this conversation,” James said, under his breath. “Do you know what the machine does for this country?”
“Yes,” he said. “It decides who lives…and who dies.” Simon’s smile dissipated into a cold stare. “That’s how I met your Nana.”
My lunch hour is over and its time to stop. Looks like 400 or so words in about 45 minutes. Not bad considering I went two months with no progress at all. I like where this one is going. Hopefully, I’ll get to spend some real time on it so we can get there.
Thanks for stopping by.
Well, I didn’t get back to this over the weekend…or the following two months…so I’m pretty much coming back to it cold. The momentum I had from day one is a dim memory. So now, be amazed as I multitask by writing and eating lunch at work at the same time. I haven’t even set word one to the page yet, and it already feels good to be writing again, even if it is for less than an hour. Looking back at Day One, of this story, I already see some significant changes that should be made, but that’s for when its all said and done. Time to get back to work. If you’re new to this one, go back and read day one HERE.
The lead guard handed the data pad over to his supervisor. “There’s not much to the report, but it was a clear code fifteen.”
The man skimmed through the text and grunted. “Stunning him in front of a hundred people on the concourse might have been a bit much.”
“Protocol is clear on this. He’s not chipped and he was asking about the machine.”
“True enough,” the supervisor said, turning to the two-mirror that seperated them from the holding room. The man they were talking about was seated at the interview table, none the worse for wear. “Could be a wacko. What else do we know about him?”
“Nothing. No chip means no historical data. DNA isn’t registered. We even went old-school checking fingerprints and got nothin’. Even his clothes are custom made. Nothing traceable.”
The supervisor shook his head. “Doesn’t make sense.”
“Who’s this guy, O’Leary, that he was asking about?”
He shook his head again. “No clue. Nothing on the threat board for that name, either.” He took a breath as he looked at the man behind the glass again. “He doesn’t fit the profile to be part of the opposition. Looks like he could be anyone’s kindly, old grandfather, actually.”
The guard stood, unwavering, with his arms crossed and a furrowed brow. “Maybe that’s their new M.O.? ‘If your grandparents are anti-resource management, maybe you should be too’, type of thing? Personally, I never understood why people would have a problem with it anyway. Resources perfectly balanced with the population, how horrible!”, he said mockingly.
Then a voice came through the intercom speaker from the next room. “James? James Newman?”
Both the guard and his supervisor, stopped cold.
The old man sat, smiling, looking directly at them through the glass despite the mirror that was facing him. “James, would your Nana approve of this?”
“Did he just–” The supervisor barely got the words out as he darted through the door.
That’s all I have time for, folks. My lunch was interrupted. I’m not even sure of today’s word count, but I got to write something at least. Read Day One, then read this and leave comments. This one is especially rough, at the moment, but with the SSTS challenge, there’s no going back to fix anything until its done.
Thanks for stopping by.
Welcome back, friends. It’s time for another long, long overdue edition of my Short Story on the Spot Challenge (SSTS). Yeah, my intention was to do one of these a month and, if you’ve been following along, you know that I blew that pretty goal quickly. But that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to do them. The first one was a ton of fun for me, and any writing I can do is totally worth it.
I’ve been tossing this idea around in my head for a couple weeks. It’s still half-baked, but what fun would it be to have a story come to you complete and ready to dictate to the page? If it progresses they way I think it should, it will address certain moral questions concerning the role technology will play in our society in the future. At the same time, there is great potential for this thing to go waaaay longer than short story length. The only way to know is to get down to business…
“I need to speak with Walter O’leary, please,” the man said.
The security guard couldn’t help but look the man over from head to toe. At first glance he looked ordinary enough. You could miss him in crowd if you weren’t paying attention, except that you couldn’t help but pay attention when you saw him. His suit; grey jacket, grey slacks, white buttondown shirt, black tie, were absolutely perfect. Not just cleaned and pressed, but prestine to the point where it wouldn’t be a stretch to for one to believe the suit was almost a part of him. The man’s short, salt and pepper hair was styled with a side part that was precisely just so. His chin appeared to be perfectly shaved blue. Not a single bit of stubble to be found, even though is was getting close to five in the afternoon. It was as if the man had been unwrapped from climate controlled storage five minutes earlier and send out into the world. The notion was ludicrous, of course, but it still gave the guard pause.
There were probably a dozen or more people a day that came by the guard’s desk, asking to see someone on staff for one reason or another. The U.S. Department of Resource Management and Administration was magnet for all the wackos that had ideas for doing things better, and a dozen times a day he was turning those people away and tossing out the message card he had them fill out for whomever it was they wanted to see.
No visitors – that was the standing order.
But of all of those that tried to get in, no one ever asked for Walter O’Leary. Ever.
“I’m sorry, sir. We don’t have anyone here by that name.”
The man smiled. “Yes, you do.”
The guard wanted to avoid a ‘No, I don’t. Yes, you do’ second grade pissing contest with the man. He pulled out a datapad from his desk drawer and handed it to him. “Here. Please look through the directory. Maybe you have the wrong name.”
The man took the datapad, in hand, raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t know how to use this.”
“This device,” he said, setting the pad back on the desk. “I’ve never used one. We don’t have them were I come from.”
The guard couldn’t help but ask the logical question. “Well, what do you read with?”
“Nothing. Anything that we need to know, we know.”
That made the guard laugh. But he was just trying to keep the situation light-hearted. Perfect appearance or not, the guard was starting to think he had a nut-case standing at his desk, and they generally have something else they really came to do. He had to be careful.
“One moment please, sir” He reached up and tapped the communicator he was wearing in his right ear. After a moment, he said, “I have a gentlemen at post two looking for someone named O’Leary…yes…code fifteen.”
In just a few seconds, a half-dozen more security guards decended on post two, surrounding the man in a loose circle, almost casually, as to not spoke the man into some action he would regret.
The man was still unphased, unruffled, and as pleasant as he’d always been. He looked around at the guards and the stunners on their belts. “I assure you, there is no need for force. I only require to speak with Walter O’Leary.”
One of the guards that had just arrived produced a small hand scanner from a pouch in his belt. “Sir, there is no O’Leary here. Would you turn around please?”
The man did so, without a word.
The guard held the scanner, moving it back and forth across the man’s back. The scanner made no noise whatsoever. He clicked it off.
“He’s not chipped.”
As if on queue, the new guards drew their stunners. The first guard stepped forward.
“Sir, we need you to come this way immediately.”
“I see. Are we going to see O’Leary?” The question almost had a child-like tone to it.
“For the last time,” he said, “There is no O’Leary here.”
The group walked across the main concourse, toward an unmarked door on the far wall behind the guard post.
“But there is.”
“How do you know, sir?” The first guard said, not really caring.
“I told you. I know what I need to know.”
One of the other guards said to the first, “What the hell is he talking about?”
He ignored the question and said to the man, “Fine then. What does Walter O’Leary do here? Maybe we can find him that way.”
“Walter O’Leary is in charge of the machine.“
The words had barely crossed his lips when the man saw a blue-white flash, heard a woman scream, and then…nothing.
Not a bad start, I think. Not perfect. Remember, there is virtually no editing of any kind in these SSTS stories. Writing this little piece answered some of the questions I had about it on the fly, which is what discovery writing is all about. Hopefully, I can get back at this tomorrow, before I lose the rythym I’ve started here. Day 1 stats are below.
Word count: 808
Writing Time: Approximately 90 minutes
Please read and comment, if you feel so compelled.
Thanks for stopping by!
First things first. Both my cell and the DC phone were ringing off the hook now. I wasn’t going to be able to focus with that racket, so I cancelled the forward to my cell and muted the ringer on the phone. I sat down and refreshed my inbox and, sure as shit, there were no less than fifty email alerts for failed processes. One of those had to be on the mail server, because I sure didn’t get anything on my phone. I was stuck.
I looked at my phone again, thinking about calling Marty anyway. No, I wasn’t going to do that. I knew what would happen. I’d call. He’d come in. Magically, things would all be running correctly and there would be no record of any problem whatsoever, just like every other time. I was not going to look like a dumbass again. I could have just sat there and let things stay broke to prove my point, but that would’ve given them cause to can me on the spot. I had to work on the problem.
The list of things that broke was still on my screen. I looked it over again, did some mental arithmetic, and realized the situation could be salvagable…again. You see, I had learned a long time ago that most of what the programmers said were so-called ‘time sensitive’ processes were scheduled in such a way to lighten their work load. The actual hard deadline was some other time during the day, so I knew I had a cushion to work with.
First I sent an email to all of the remote sites, saying I had found the problem and would have it resolved soon. Part of that was a load of BS. I didn’t have a cause yet. I wasn’t sure what to fix. I went back to the first email alert; connection to database yada-yada failed at 02:45.
To hell with that, I thought. I had still been in at my console at that time and I sure didn’t see that alert. I logged in to that server and checked that database connection. Imagine that, it tested successfully. I had to be on the verge of a coronary episode, that’s how mad I was. If those servers were people, I would’ve jack-slapped ’em silly. I could’ve done that anyway, and not felt anything in my hand from hitting those steel racks because hands were numb from the cold. I realized I hadn’t heard back from the maintenance tech, either. It looked like I wasn’t going to be able to depend on anyone for help, man or machine.
Resetting all the failed processes and everything connected to them took some worked, about another half-hour. I had to nurse some of them along, manually, but things were working…again. Omaha was happy…again. And I was happy…again. Twice in the same night, fate had tried to make a mockery of me and twice, I had thumbed my nose in the face of fate and won.
Beep – ‘Ping test timed out at…’
I jumped out of my chair and went on a verbal tirade that would have made a thirty-year sailor blush. I absolutely could not believe it. I had half-a-mind to just let it go, and that’s what I should’ve done. Instead, in true Andy fashion, I went back to address the problem.
“What in the fiery pits of hades is the damn problem?” The sentiment seemed to go unnoticed by The Granddaddy and his minions. I walked down that last row of racks, hitting each rack door with my fist as I went. Not hard, just a little something to take the edge off. And I was right, couldn’t really feel a thing.
At that the last door, though, I paused. I peered through the perforated steel, and stared at that same Cat5 I had messed with all night the same way Cameron stared at the painting in the museum in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Only, instead of wallowing in my own insignificance, like Cameron did, I was playing out scenarios, in my mind, about how I could make that thing feel every ounce of pain it had caused me that night.
In my mind, it had to pay…some how.
But that would be a score to settle another time. I calmly opened the rack door, plugged the cable in firmly – maybe more firmly than required – and went on my way.
I had almost cleared the corner, at the end of the row when I heard a little clank and then something sliding against steel. I went back down the row, inspecting each server. When I got to the last server, I was beside myself.
Beep. ‘Ping test timed out at…’
My phone went flying. It hit the wall with authority and tested the limits of the hundred-dollar case I bought for it. I flung the rack door open and saw that same Cat5 draped on the floor. It had come completely out of the port What the fuck!
I just slammed the rack door closed. It clanged against the rack, and shook the rack next to it, and bounced back open. I was done. Time to let it ride.
I walk over to my phone in the back corner. The phone was in the corner. The case had busted open into a couple of pieces and scattered elsewhere. Again, I didn’t care.
My phone was now a paper weight. Oh well. Time to finish up and just get the hell out of there.
Feeling what could best be described as defeated, I walked past the racks to go back up front. Then I noticed one on the end. It housed about eighty terabytes of storage spread across dozens of drives. The activity lights on those drives usually flickered randomly. Now they flickering in a rapid sequence like christmas lights. I looked for a minute. It was puzzling. The lights on a rack in the next row were also doing strange things; a definite pattern that looked lively and cheerful. As I look further, I found that all of the servers were doing it. I could even hear rhythmic beeps and other sounds coming from them. Even the readout on the thermostat was blinking. It was the damnedest thing.
Happy sounds and rippling lights. It could be said that they seemed happy. Or was it something else?
Beep-beep-beep-beep with happy lights to match. I don’t know what made me think of it, but it was almost like servers were all …laughing. Laughing – at me!
“Oh, I get it now. You fuckers think this is funny. Make me jump through your hoops like a rat in your little maze. Well, you fuckers are going to find out just how funny it is.” I walked – no, I strutted – out the door, putting a box in the jam to keep the door from closing and locking me back out. I was gonna fix their little red wagon.
I strutted down the hall, toward the break room, “Oh yes, you guys are some funny fuckers.”
A minute later, I returned with something behind my back. I had totally forgotten that these were just machines. They had pushed me over the edge and I wasn’t taking it anymore.
I meandered back to the last row, and faced the racks. They were still laughing. I pictured a bunch of good ol’ boys at the bar laughing, and slapping each other on back, watching another guy spray is beer all over himself after taking a big chug and finding they had dumped salt in it. Real funny guys.
“Now ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to have a good time…my way.” From behind my back, I produced the firemen’s axe that was stowed down the hall. It had a twelve-inch steel axe head that had a five-inch pick on one side, and polished flat blade on the other that sat, securely, on a red fiberglass handle that felt oh so right in my grip. I brandished the axe in front of them and said, “Yessiree, we’re gonna have some fun now.”
All at once, their lights went solid. I heard alarms tones that meant server power supplies had failed. I even got a reaction from The Granddaddy. His tired old fans revved up to a roar, I hadn’t ever heard. But he was ok. He had been the only thing that went right all night.
I held the axe out with one hand and step, slowly, over to the last server – the one with the loose Cat5. “You there. We are have fun first.” I went on to explain just what I thought of it, and what I thought should happen to it. I was going let loose six months of frustration.
I wish I could have seen the smile on my face as I took that axe in both hands, wound up, and said, “Let me quote one of my favorite movies with a twist. HEEEEEERESSSS ANDY!!!”
What I didn’t see was the shadow to my right that rush me and tackled me before I could swing. I fell down hard. Someone was on top of me and yanked the axe from my hand.
“Jesus! Andy, what the hell are you doing?”
It took a couple seconds for me to get my bearings. I looked up. Dammit. It was Bill who had knocked me down and Marty wasn’t far behind him. “Is there a betting pool on this one?”
Marty reached out a hand to pull me up. When I got to me feet he started in on me.
“Andy, what the hell was that crap? I would say you’ve got some explaining to do, but you won’t be here long enough for that.”
“No way you’re pinning this one on me.”
“Pinning it on you? What is your malfunction? You call the service tech about the cooling system and two in the morning. He calls me to let me know there’s nothing wrong with the damn thing. Then–“
“Oh, hell no. It was fricken forty-five degrees in here most of the night and that jackass never called me back.”
Marty was red-faced pissed. “Forty-five?”
“Look for yourself,” I said pointing to the thermostat.
Wild Bill walked over and shook his head. “Sixty-five, boss.”
I wanted to pull my hair out. “I’m telling you, it was cold as shit in here all night.”
“And how does it feel now?”
I paused and waved my hand in the air. I cupped my hand in front of my face and breathed. Nothing. It felt fricken normal. “That shit’s impossible…What a minute…Why are you here?”
“The Omaha site called me after they couldn’t reach you.”
“They wouldn’t leave me alone! I was working on getting things back on schedule, but they wouldn’t shut up so I turned off the ringer…but I sent them an email. Go look!”
I’ll say one thing for Marty. He’s a patient son of a bitch. We went over to my console and I brought up my mail history.
My email wasn’t there. I’ll be damned if it wasn’t there. As a matter of fact, all of the email alerts were gone. Just not there!
I opened my mouth to protest, but Marty stopped me. “Just…Just shut up.”
I composed myself again. “Look I know you think I’m crazy, but those things back there are alive and they screw with me on a nightly basis. they have it in for me or something. I don’t know. Those things back there were laughing at me!”
Marty rolled his eyes. Wild Bill buried his face in his hand.
“The servers…’laughed’…at you,” Marty said.
“Absolutely. And you know what else, after everything that’s happened tonight, it wouldn’t surprise me if all those science fiction movies about machines being alive were true.”
“Well you were about to destroyed about $85,000 worth of server equipment when we walked in. How do you explain that one? And believe me, you have my undivided attention. Why were you going to axe that server rack?”
Well, there was no salvaging the situation this time. I don’t think there was anything I could do to make things any worse so I had to answer honestly. “There was a Cat5 that wouldn’t stay connected.”
Marty looked like he was trying to rub away a headache. “I thought you were past this. Let me break it down for you…again. All of those racks back there are like little kids–“
“Heard this one before.”
“They’re little kids that each have assigned jobs and they do what they’re told and you have to remember that.”
There was a long, silent moment that felt like an hour.
Finally, Marty said, “Bill, help him get is crap and get him out of here. Andy, if I were anyone else you’d be walking out of her in handcuffs.”
Without a word, I did just that. Wild Bill grabbed me by the arm and motioned me ou the door and down the hall. We walked by the long row of windows that faced into the DC. I could see Marty by The Granddaddy pacing in front of the server racks like a sergeant standing in front of a formation.
I thought he might have been talking to himself, but he turned and faced my way and I read his lips perfectly, Why do you guys keep doing this?
“Whoa, Bill, did you see that? He ask them a quest–“
Bill shook his head. “Just keep walking, Andy. Just keep walking.”
I got home without any further incident. And the first thing I did when I got there?
…Threw my dryer out to the curb.
WOW!!! Short Story on The Spot #1 is DONE. I powered through to the end, and I feel great. Complete stats for this challenge story are below.
Day 5 – Writing time – Approx. 3 hours Word Count – 2225!!!
Totals for story #1 : writing time – 5 days (dont have hours figured, sorry) Total Word Count – 5438
That’s good enough for a 1000 word a day average and that’s what I like to accomplish as a minimum. I’m great shape compared to this time last year. SSTS #2 will probably be coming soon. I want to channel this momentum into another project that’s stil outstanding. This one went straight down as it came out of my brain, with only a spell check and a couple small tweaks on the fly, so its probably pretty rough. I haven’t even gone back to read it all from start to finish. You can go back to the beginning HERE. Comments are always welcome.