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Corruptor: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 21:03 EDT



    Rodney scowled as he looked over the latest report featuring the newest bug to pop inside the mainframe of The Warp. Not only was it being ignored by the debugging programs, which were largely automated, it also seemed to be causing non-interfacers to lag so badly that they were timing out. The bug also appeared to be preventing the VR users from logging on, he observed as he scribbled some notes down on the paper. He rubbed his graying temples wearily and sighed.

    Next to him, John merrily sang along with the radio in bad German as he drove them into work. The cheerful Texan had picked him up exactly when he said he would, which had initially cheered Rodney up a bit. After ten minutes in the car dealing with the large man’s driving, though, he was reassessing his definition of happiness. He yawned and scratched his ear.

    “Are we almost there?” Rodney asked as John swerved around a stopped car, honking his horn at the motionless vehicle. Rodney pitied the family in the car.

    “Few more minutes,” John answered as he slid back into the right lane and yanked the wheel hard to the right. The back end of the car slid around the corner, wheels smoking and screeching in protest. John smoothly pumped his brake once before gunning the engine. Laying down a strip of rubber nearly one hundred feet long, the car accelerated out of the turn. Rodney swallowed the scream of terror lodged in his throat and pointed at a large building which lay ahead.

    “WarpSoft?” Rodney gasped.

    “Yep,” John answered.

    “Thank God.”

    John was forced to slow down as they approached the guarded security gate, where two guards waited for them to arrive. Rodney exhaled a sigh of relief as he realized he just might live to see the fruits of his labor. He offered the second guard a small smile as the first began walking around the car.

    “What’s he looking for?” Rodney asked John as the first guard knelt down to peer at the undercarriage of the car.

    “No clue,” John admitted with a small shrug. “But Mr. Champion hires former military vets for guard duty. Just one of the many special surprises that he and our head of security came up with when we opened this station.”

    “Interesting,” Rodney murmured as the second guard made a motioning sign for them to proceed. John shifted the car back into gear and pulled through as the arm of the gate lifted. Rodney looked back at John, surprised. “No ID check?”

    “Not yet,” John informed him as he cruised into a large parking lot and pulled to a stop. He reached behind his seat and grabbed his briefcase. Rodney hopped out of the car and looked at the large, nondescript building. He whistled appreciatively.

    “Seeing this place in person is different than seeing it online,” Rodney admitted to John as the Texan wiggled his way out of the car. John slammed his door shut.

    “This?” John asked, chuckling. “This building was designed to take a near-miss nuclear bomb blast. But this ain’t nothing compared to what’s inside.”

    “The windows too?” Rodney asked curiously.

    “Well, no,” John admitted as they entered the building. “But the windows are all part of the maskirovka.”

    Rodney looked around at their surroundings, but the lobby looked just like all the other lobbies throughout the business world. A directory was featured on one wall, with a few plants in giant pots scattered throughout. Except for the mounted directory, the grey stone walls were bare and plain. Two elevators were behind the main information desk, though something about them seemed off to him.

    “The what?”

    “The trick, the, damn, surprise is all I can think of,” John said as they approached a rather bored looking guard at the front desk. “It’s a ruse. Russians used it in war.”

    “Uh,” Rodney looked at the guard. From a distance, Rodney had thought he was bored. As he drew closer, though, his perception changed. The guard only appeared to be bored. His eyes, however, were bright and alert.

    “Call down to Mike, please,” John asked the guard as he gave the uniformed man a respectful nod. “Got a new imprint to do.”

    “One second,” the guard said and typed on a hidden keyboard beneath his desk. A second later one of the elevators chimed. The guard looked at Rodney speculatively. “You’re the new boss?”

    “Yeah.” Rodney nodded as he offered the guard his hand. The guard, surprised, accepted it. “Rodney Adams.”

    “Bart Elroy,” the man said, a smile on his face.

    “See you, Bart,” John said as the elevator on the right opened its doors. Rodney gave the man a wave and followed John into the elevator. As they stepped inside, John grinned. “You made a friend for life.”

    “Huh?” Rodney asked stupidly as the doors closed.

    “Old boss, Ms. White, never acknowledged the lowly peons who guarded the entrance,” John stated as he stared at the buttons of the elevator. Rodney waited for him to press a button. After a few seconds more, his impatience got the better of him.

    “What floor?” Rodney asked, brushing past John. John chuckled and shook his head.

    “That’s Bart’s job,” John informed him. Rodney gaped at him, surprised.

    “We didn’t have this kind of setup out in Virginia,” Rodney admitted. John offered him a crooked smile.

    “That’s because you were just a server station there,” John said as the elevator began its ascent. “This is WarpSoft-Europe. We’re just here for the beer.”

    “Tell me you’re kidding,” Rodney laughed quietly as he looked at the man towering over him.

    “Well, a bit,” John admitted after a moment’s pause. “It’s our motto.”

    “That’s mildly amusing.”

    “What’s a motto with you? Don’t like it?” John asked as his grin widened. Rodney’s eyes watered from barely suppressed laughter.

    “Oh Christ,” he groaned and buried his face in his hand. “I’m going to have to fire you now for bad puns.” The elevator chimed softly and the doors opened, saving Rodney from more bad puns. They stepped out of the elevator. Rodney whistled, impressed.

    The security station, located on the second floor, reminded Rodney of what he imagined the National Security Agency might look like on the inside. Two guards, both armed and stationed behind bulletproof glass, were staring straight at Rodney with expressions that would normally have made him turn and walk the other direction. John pulled him along before he could reenter the elevator, and walked over to one of the guards. He pulled a leather wallet out of his pocket and opened it for the guard to view.

    “Show him your license,” John instructed Rodney quietly. “Quickly, before he shoots you.”

    “What?” Rodney choked as he fumbled into his rear pocket and withdrew the ancient and battered wallet, a gift from his deceased wife. He pulled out the Virginia driver’s license and pressed it against the glass divider.

    “Other side please,” the guard ordered as he shifted his hand to the gun holster at his hip. Rodney blinked and turned the driver’s license around so the guard could see the pertinent information. In his nervousness he had showed the guard the back of the license.

    “Sorry,” Rodney muttered as the guard nodded. The guard moved his hand away from the pistol holster and looked at John.

    “Mr. Lawrence said to make certain you do the voice imprint first, John,” the guard instructed as he offered Rodney a slightly less threatening stare. “He’ll meet you two after the retina scan.”

    “Thanks,” John said as Rodney pocketed his license. “Let’s go, boss man.”

    “Are they always this paranoid?” Rodney asked as he looked back at the guards, both of whom were still watching him. John shook his head.

    “Only when they’re hazing the new guy,” John informed him as they reached a small office. John opened the door and Rodney entered the room.

    Another guard sat at a miniscule desk, though Rodney could not immediately see a weapon on him. In front of the guard sat a small computer. A large microphone protruded from the side USB port.

    “Sir, please state your name into the mic, last name first,” the guard ordered Rodney. Rodney leaned over until he was merely inches from the padded filter on the microphone.

    “Adams, Rodney L.,” he said. On the computer screen wave modulators matched his voice and created a digital copy. The computer hummed and ran the voice through recognition software buried deep inside the computer. Dated technology, Rodney realized. A second later the computer beeped.

    “Thank you, sir,” the guard said with satisfaction.

    “Why do we still use voice recognition software?” Rodney asked as they left the small office.

    “We tried the digital fingerprint a year ago,” John explained as they continued down the hall. “It didn’t take so well, because sometimes people had grease on their fingers or the machine got fouled up. Security got annoyed with responding to so many false alarms, so Mike proposed we switch back to voice recognition and then combine it with retinal scanners. More expensive, but harder to beat than the digital fingerprinting.”

    “So it’s easier and more efficient,” Rodney commented.

    “Yep,” John said as they approached the last door in the long hallway. He rested his hand on the handle and paused. “I can’t go in with you here. Just follow the instructions and I’ll see you in five.”

    “Okay.” Rodney nodded. John opened the door for him and Rodney entered the darkened room.

    A dim red light lit the small room, though this time there was nobody present. A small virtual reality mask, nearly identical to the one used by a large portion of the gamers who played within The Warp, sat on a padded cushion on the table. A solitary chair was the only other piece of furniture in the room.

    “Please take a seat at the table,” a voice came from a small speaker behind him. Rodney looked back and spotted the miniature camera next to it and gave it a thumbs-up sign. He walked over to the table and sat down in the chair.

    “This next part takes roughly two minutes,” the disembodied voice continued as soon as Rodney was seated in the chair. “Please place the VR device on top of your head, ensuring that the small nub inside the visor touches the bridge of your nose.”

    Rodney followed the speaker’s instructions, and immediately the dimly lit room grew pitch-black. He felt a small surge of nervousness wash over him, which he ruthlessly squelched. He had never played within The Warp, which made him something of a pariah for WarpSoft. He also knew he had no intention to start. He waited impatiently for the machine to begin. A red light appeared within the helmet and the voice returned.

    “Please don’t look away from the red light, Mr. Adams,” the voice instructed as the light brightened slightly. Rodney felt his eyes water as the light grew brighter with each second. At the very last moment, as Rodney struggled not to wince under the harsh red light, it stopped. The VR beeped and the red light in the room returned.

    “You may take off the VR now, Mr. Adams,” the voice instructed. “Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Kalishek are waiting for you outside. You are now officially in the WarpSoft-Europe computer. Should you have any further questions or issues, please direct them to Mr. Lawrence, our head of security.”

    “Thanks a lot,” Rodney said and quickly removed the visor. He placed it back on the padded cushion, stood, and left the room.

    Waiting for him when he exited the room was John and another man who looked oddly familiar to Rodney. The large, muscular black man grinned at Rodney and slapped him on the shoulder playfully.

    “Ah, fresh meat,” the man said. “I’m Mike Lawrence, the bane of everyone’s existence. You’re Rodney Adams, of the sub-station in Virginia and former defensive end at the University of Michigan. Welcome to Wally World.”

    “Um, thanks?” Rodney guessed as he rubbed his shoulder painfully. He looked at his new security chief skeptically. “Looking in on me?”

    “My job,” Mike said, his grin disappearing rapidly. His brown eyes tracked over to John for a moment before they returned to focus on Rodney. “If I don’t know who works for WarpSoft, then it’s time for me to move on. And since I love this job...” his voice trailed off.

    “So what do I call you?” Rodney asked as Mike motioned for the two men to follow. They walked past the guard station, where one of the guards gave Rodney a half-smile.

    “Mike works,” his head of security said simply. “Or ‘minion’. I draw the line at ‘Chief’, however.”

    “Good. I like a little informality when dealing with minions,” Rodney joked as they reentered the elevators. Mike leaned into the elevator buttons and stared into one of them. A second later a softer, different tone chimed in the elevator. Rodney looked at Mike.

    “I’ll have your retinal scan uploaded to give you free rein as well,” Mike informed him as he pushed a different button. A moment later the doors closed and the elevator began climbing. “Only you, myself and two others have unlimited access within the building.”

    “Lowly peons like me only get to visit the floors we’re cleared for,” John explained quickly. “I get to visit the admin floor, tech support and the server floor. Although those are the best places to be.”

    “The minions love to brag about what floor they’re cleared for,” Mike clarified for Rodney. “The better access, the better your clearance.”

    “So who else has access to all floors?” Rodney asked.

    “Mr. Champion and Jorge,” Mike stated flatly.

    “Jorge?” Rodney asked.

    “The Left Hand of God,” John informed him, his tone serious. “Mr. Champion’s watchdog.”

    “Never heard of him,” Rodney admitted. Mike offered him a small smile.

    “Be thankful,” Mike said as they exited the elevator. The first thing Rodney saw was a small desk with a woman seated behind it. She typed away at the computer before her, oblivious to the elevator. The desk partially blockaded a door behind her, though Rodney doubted anyone would make it past the woman’s desk without her knowing. She reminded him of a teacher he had as a child, and the term “battle axe” quickly danced in his mind. He mentally shook off the thought. The small group strode forward and the woman, clearly a secretary, finally acknowledged their presence.

    “Nothing on your plate today, Mr. Adams,” she said before any of them had opened their mouths. “I scheduled a meeting with the employees for three o’clock next Tuesday, so if that conflicts with anything you might have scheduled in advance please let me know.”

    “Thank you, ah...” Rodney stared at her helplessly for a moment.

    “Miss Gartner,” she said stiffly. Rodney nodded politely.

    “Thank you, Miss Gartner,” he said and walked past the desk. He opened the door and walked into the room. He stopped and looked back at the two men in confusion.

    The room was cavernous, though drab and gray with no decorations to break up to monotone. Track lighting kept the plain room well lit, but it did nothing for the drabness. No furniture lay ready for anyone to sit on, nor were there any bookshelves or even a desk. The floor was a dark-colored hardwood, although without an area rug it did little for the aesthetics of the room. Rodney looked back at John and Mike for clarification.

    “What is this place?” he asked them. John grinned and pushed his new boss inside.

    “Your office,” came the accented reply.




    Rodney looked around the conference room table and sized up every participant in the room. Apparently the previous manager had decided that less is more and cut the staff back drastically. He made a silent vow to remedy that issue as soon as it was feasible. Rodney knew from hard-earned experience that someone overburdened with covering for others would fail miserably at their own job, leading to a higher turnover rate. That was something he simply would not allow.

    A formerly unused conference room was perfect for Rodney’s first meeting with his new staff, who had been called to the meeting after Rodney got over the shock of having an office the size of a gymnasium. The table was already there, though chairs had been in short supply. However, after a brief comment to John, the situation was quickly remedied as staffers brought in chairs from adjacent offices. There were now enough chairs for each division manager to sit in

    Avoiding the head of the table, Rodney preferred to sit near the middle of the table. It allowed him better access to his employees and had the added benefit of not creating the image of being a tyrant. Across from him was a familiar face who smiled at him.

    John had failed to mention to Rodney on their way in that most of the management was out for the weekend, sick with the newest strain of the Asian Bird Flu. Since John was assistant manager of the interfacing division, he sat in when his boss was out. In fact, with the exception of the hulking security officer seated next to him, John was the one of the few departments without their managers present. Rodney shook his head and looked down the table at the others who were present.

    Mike Lawrence. Rodney eyed the large, black man similar to the way a lion would eye a tiger upon initial meeting. Both the name and the face continued to jar his memory somewhat, though where and how that would be possible was beyond him. According to the papers his new human resources manager had found from previous employee evaluations, Mike was beyond capable in performing his job and ran security about as tight as the Secret Service would. Except, Rodney thought with a suppressed grin, with more money at his disposal.

    Mike had twice turned down promotions to other departments back in the States, each time giving the same response: he wanted to remain head of WarpSoft-Europe’s security division. He never responded to outside corporation queries regarding his future endeavors either, it appeared from his personal file. Rodney was dually impressed and awed by the man’s personal sense of loyalty. He was also dying to see what WarpSoft had done for the man which brought about such fanatical loyalty. Rodney looked farther down the table at the young woman near the end.

    Chelsea Whitten hailed from Swansea, a decent-sized city in Wales. Her family had lived in the Welsh city for generations, Rodney thought as he dredged his brain for more information about the young woman. She was attractive and capable, he recognized immediately, as she settled into her chair and pointedly waited for him to speak. He coughed slightly and leaned back in his chair.

    “My name is Rodney Adams, and I am the new manager of WarpSoft-Europe,” Rodney said. A few chuckled at that comment, which caused Rodney to grin. State the obvious to break the ice, he remembered from past experiences. People are comforted faster. He knew they already had seen enough about him from the newsletter and announcements that had been made over the past month. He guessed his arrival had been the source of much water cooler talk. “I’ve been with the company for only a short time, which might come as a shock to you. I actually started out with my own dot-com company, but sold out just before the market crash of ‘21. I am a single dad whose daughter is, needless to say, a very avid Warp player. One who, I might add, would give her right arm for the kind of access we have.” This caused a titter of laughter to ripple through the room. Good, he thought and smiled pleasantly. Relax them and make them comfortable around you, Rodney.

    “As you may have noticed, I’ve decided to retain what management is already in place for now, due to the simple fact that this station was running quite smoothly and efficiently before I showed up. I’m not one to rock the boat, so to speak. Now, I wish to know you better. Tell me about yourselves, something I wouldn’t find in the personnel files.” Rodney looked around the table, waiting to see who would rise and speak up first. Unsurprisingly, it was his new-old friend, John Kalishek.

    “Well, Mr. Adams,” John began in an aw-shucks voice, his deep Texan drawl evident. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the conference table. “I graduated from Texas A&M in 2005 with a masters in computer science after an undergrad in physics. Gig ‘em, Aggies! Sorry.

    “Got hired by WarpSoft two years ago and have been here ever since,” he continued sheepishly. “My wife and I have been married for a few years, and have a family, her being pregnant and all. We have two other kids, ages four and two. Eventually we’re going to have to give a try to that whole birth control thing, or try to break the two-year rule. Um, that’s about it.” A few good-natured laughs followed him as he leaned back into his seat. Rodney grinned as John blushed slightly. It was hard not to enjoy having a guy like John around, Rodney thought. Even if his driving left much to be desired.

    “Sir, I’m Gavin Thorpe,” the young man at the end of the table said as he stood. Rodney was curious to know more about the young man, given that he had no information about him. He made a little mental note to ask Chelsea to get him Gavin’s file when the meeting was over. “I’m, damn, about eighth down in the chain of command in IT. I was born in Colorado, but raised here and there as a Navy brat until I went to school. Four years at MIT and another three at Cal Tech, and there was where I met Mr. Champion at a job fair, who hired me on the spot. No family, simply because I’m not ready for that yet. My mom keeps reminding me that I’m not gettin’ any younger, but whatever. I snowboard, and I heard you do too. We should hit the slopes sometime.”

    “Sounds fun,” Rodney agreed as he made another positive mental note.

    “I’m Mike Lawrence, head of security here,” Mike said, his smile broad and bright on his dark face. He shifted his impressive bulk in the chair, which squealed in protest and threatened to fall apart. Mike did not seem to notice. “I tend to be in your hair and make life miserable for anybody who tends to break my, or the company’s, rules. Not married, but then, she'd be so jealous of all the women who couldn’t resist my sexy body that I couldn’t afford the alimony. My school also beat yours in the game my senior year. Remember?”

    Suddenly the final puzzle piece fell into place. The comment shook loose a long-buried memory of his that he had not thought about since before Tori had been born. Rodney stared at the man incredulously for a full minute before he was able to speak. Oh great, he thought as he watched the other man’s smile grow wider. I’m going to have to deal with this being brought up every year?

    “Bull,” he protested weakly. “I was only out for a little bit.”

    “The rest of the game is only ‘a little bit’?” Mike asked, his humor evident on his face.

    “You two know each other?” John asked curiously. Both Rodney and Mike smiled, although Rodney’s was not as big.

    “Oh, you can say that,” Rodney admitted after a moment of thought. He turned and argued feebly back at Mike. “I mean, I wasn’t killed or anything…”

    “The hell you weren’t!” Mike laughed uproariously as he looked around at the others. “It was a great play, I’ll give him that. But he was looking up-field and ignoring the train coming in from the side.”

    Rodney sighed. “I wasn’t even supposed to be playing that day, but the starter and second-string were both injured. Coach Rodriguez asked me if I could start, so I figured why not? It’s not every day that you get to start in the best rivalry in college football.”

    “Ohio State and Michigan,” Mike informed the others at the table. “Greatest rivalry in the history of football. Makes the Steelers-Browns one look like a farting contest.”

    “So I was in, and we saw the screen that they were running,” Rodney continued as he looked around the table. The entire room was listening intently. “We bit on it earlier in the game on purpose, so they’d get comfy running it again. So when Trice slid out to the receiver spot, we knew what they were doing. Called our play and waited for them to fall into our trap.”

    “Give you guys some credit,” Mike interjected as Rodney poured a glass of water from the pitcher situated in the middle of the table. “That was as pretty of a defensive scheme as I’ve ever seen.”

    “Anyways, instead of rushing the quarterback like last time, I ran out into a flat zone coverage scheme,” Rodney reminisced. Seeing the looks of confusion on the others around the table, he clarified. “I covered the receiver and anyone else who came near. In my little ‘zone’. Well, sure enough the ball came flying my way, and I was ready.”

    “Never saw a white guy jump that high in my life,” Mike teased him. Rodney chuckled and continued.

    “Ball in my hands, open field in front of me,” he said in a bittersweet tone. “I was going down in college lore. Can you name a defensive end, third string, who pulled a pick-six in the history of the game? Well, I had the ball in my hands, and I’m charging downfield as fast as I can when the next thing I know I’m on a cart with the trainer holding smelling salts beneath my nose. I couldn’t see straight and for some reason my head was taped down.

    “Trainer says to me, ‘Give them a thumbs up, Roddy. Let them know you’re okay’,” Rodney stated, his thoughts lost in the memory. “So I did and the crowd cheers. Cheers loud, actually. Not a roar like I expected, but hey. I had no idea if I’d scored or what, so I ask the trainer. He laughs at me and told me I had just been steamrolled by a guy who was going into the NFL the following year, and was one of the best O-linemen in the country. A young, talented, and frighteningly quick guy with the last name of Lawrence. Mike Lawrence.”

    Laughter erupted from everyone at the table, including Rodney. Mike shook his head ruefully and slapped the table with an open palm.

    “I thought I’d killed you or something,” Mike added, tears streaming down his face as he struggled to maintain his laughter. “They pulled me back from trying to carry you off the field, and the ref gave me a personal foul for taunting. They thought I was mocking you when I was trying to help you out. Stupid zebras.”

    “So yeah, that’s my story,” Rodney told the group. “Last down I ever played. The next game was a bowl game, and the starter was back. Graduated that spring and never looked back.” Everyone in the room, Mike included, applauded their new boss.

    The rest of the introductions were all short, which suited Rodney just fine. There had been a reason they were all in on a Saturday morning, after all. He had wanted to get a better feel for his new team, even if most of them were out sick. He looked at Gavin to begin the meeting proper. The young man looked nervously down at his notes on the pad of paper. He cleared his throat and finally looked up.

    “We have noticed some anomalies within The Warp in the past seventy-two hours,” Gavin stated, looking down at his paper, his face scrunched up in a quizzical expression. “Various bits of random coding are attaching themselves to primary functions within The Warp, specifically those regarding the neural pathways for the full-interfacers. Right now they appear to be benevolent, even harmless, but since we can’t identify them…” His voice trailed off. Rodney nodded in agreement at the silent statement. Better safe than sorry, he thought.

    “Do what you can to identify them and get back to me,” Rodney ordered. “If it looks like any kind of security breach, get with Mike. I need to know what this is and how badly, if at all, it can affect us. Next?” He shifted his gaze to John.

    “Interfacers are reporting no problems at the time,” John said, with a nod to Gavin. “But it appears that the VR users are unable to log onto Crisis specifically. No idea why. I can see maybe one or two, but all of them? It’s not within the servers or the programming. My department will check out all possible bugs, but right now we’re stumped. We’re too short-staffed to come up with anything original.”

    “Interfacers are having no problems?” Rodney asked, looking down and confirming his notes. John nodded. “Okay then. What else?”

    “I’m having problems locating a few of our past employees,” Mike complained after a moment’s pause. “About fifteen or so. They signed the agreements, true. But we’re not some psychotic socialist regime. Well, not yet anyways. I didn’t feel the need before to keep track of every single former employee, but with these new probes, I’m getting a bit squirrely. My gut’s telling me these probes that we’ve had mean a bit more than before.”

    “I’ll stay out of your way, Mike,” Rodney said. “Do what you need to do. Just keep me informed. Anything else going on?”

    “Other than problems in Crisis, none at the moment,” John answered for the group. Rodney nodded and stood.

    “All right then, go do that thing you do,” he instructed them. “I’ll be roaming around the building, getting a feel for things. You all have my cell number if you need anything?” The group nodded.

    “Sir?” Chelsea’s voice came from behind him.

    “Yes?” he asked as the others in the conference room began to file out.

    “Can I see you in my office?” she nervously asked. He heard the tension in her voice but mentally shrugged. He nodded and followed her down the hallway.

    Wonder what her take on everything is, he thought.

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