The Pr15oner’s Dilemma

Can you come to the dispatch office, please?

Dispatch | Jan 30 | 2:21pm

After ignoring my insults and complaints for months, dispatch suddenly wanted to talk. Unplugging the programmers was paying off.

There was plenty of space to park in the financial district on a Sunday. Then I walked through the spotless lobby and rode the elevator up to dispatch to visit my old pal Hans.

Except it wasn’t my old pal. I could smell the change of leadership from the hallway, Pine-Sol trying to cover all the months Harry spent getting baked in there.

I opened the door, and it didn’t wedge against a pile of pizza boxes. Everything was different. The takeout containers were gone. The furniture was new. So was the blue carpet and the beige paint on the walls. Even Harry’s rubber seal around the door frame was gone. It was the right office, but the only two things I recognized were the laptop on the desk and the guy behind it wearing a suit.


Roger gave me his usual smile. He was the new Hans. “Ah, good. Come in, Winston.” His extra large coffee mug was on the desk next to the laptop.

I gave him my fake smile. “Moving up in the world, I see.”

“That’s funny, because it’s the twenty-first floor.” He kept smiling but didn’t laugh. “Have a seat.”

I sat, staring him down. The new chair in front of the desk was uncomfortable. So was I.

“I don’t like having these conversations, but we need to talk about your recent behavior. You’ve been disrupting productivity.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m still making all my deliveries.”

“We know what to expect from you, and we’re all very amused, but I’m not talking about your productivity. The development team has important work to do.”

“I know.” I wanted to come around that desk and beat the crap out of him, but I still had a job to lose. If he fired me, that wouldn’t be holding me back anymore. “They’re helping the Dude write software to spy on people. I don’t trust that guy.”

He laughed. “Hey, I don’t trust him either, but he is my friend.” His voice sounded funny.

“Is that from something?”

“Of course. Star Wars.” He gave another chuckle. “How do you think I got this job?”

I still didn’t know why Harry didn’t have it. “What about my friend, the guy you replaced?” Why was I getting chewed out by this tool? Hell, I could do his job.

“Stop asking questions.” His voice got louder. “I’m your boss now. There aren’t many rules I need to enforce, but I can’t put up with any more of your bullshit.” His voice cracked. I never heard Roger swear. I saw in his eyes it made him uncomfortable too.

I smiled for real. Messing with him through text messages he ignores was to get me through the day, but there in the room, I was getting to him for real.

He called me in there to prove he’s the boss, but it wouldn’t work. I leaned forward in the chair. “How can you say that? All you do is sit in here, sending me on all those runs, constantly telling me I’m going too slow.”

He stood up, really struggling to keep himself from shouting. “I have to send those messages. That’s my job now. You should be out there doing yours.”

I put my hands on the desk and did the shouting he was holding back. “Maybe I should be doing yours.”

His job looks easy and probably pays more money. I don’t care if Roger deserves it more than me. We were both drivers until he got this promotion, but I’m still out there, putting up with the same old shit.

Roger calmed down a little. “Your sad devotion to that ancient musical organization hasn’t given you the understanding to rise in this organization.”

“What?” Was he talking about the band?

The laptop made a noise. Roger leaned down with a serious face to read it. He mumbled. “Yes, of course.” He pressed a button. Another noise played, and he sat down again, his attention back on me. “Winston, I’ve tried to be nice to you, but I feel like every contact we’ve ever had, you’re filled with this unmotivated hostility.” His voice was even, but he was distracted. “Come on, I’m not the only one watching.” He gave another nervous look at the computer, his smile less sure of itself.

I leaned forward all the way. I could barely see from the far side of the desk, but that screen didn’t have a video chat like the last time I was there.

What if it wasn’t the Dude watching him? There’s also the program Lanning told me about. I went out on a limb. “Yeah, but that software still has lots of errors, doesn’t it?”

Roger gave me a suspicious look. “I’m not supposed to talk about it. That’s the first rule.”

“No, that’s the first rule of Fight Club. I know we have a non-disclosure agreement, but that only applies if I don’t already know what you’re talking about.” I made a guess about what was on that screen. I whispered. “Is it watching you now, trying to figure out what’s going on?”

He was shocked for a second, then looked down and tried to hide it. “Who told you?”

“It’s pretty obvious we’re being watched.”

“Who told you about the program?” He wasn’t going to let this go.

I didn’t want to give Lanning away, so I shrugged and gave the next name I thought of. “Tinkerbell.”

He shook his head, but there was worry in his eyes again. “Tinkerbell talked to you?” That scared him for some reason.

I pushed forward. “Yup. We talk all the time.”

There was nothing left of his polite smile. “What did you tell Tink about SkyNet?”

I thought I heard him wrong. Even after everything else I saw in the Dude’s world, I couldn’t believe anyone would pick the name from Terminator for their experimental computer project. “SkyNet?” I repeated the word with the straightest face I could.

Roger was totally serious, and for some reason, he wanted to keep Tinkerbell from knowing about it — a weakness. I rubbed my hands together. “Well, I haven’t told her anything yet. Not yet. Have you?”

He shook his head. “You know what it would cost if either one of us told.”

I didn’t, but I grinned. “Okay. Let’s both keep not telling her. Then neither of us get in trouble, right?”

He frowned. He sighed. He bit his lip. Then he smiled, but he was still nervous. The coffee from that mug on his desk made him edgy, pushed his emotions close to the surface. The wine in my system killed my emotions, and I was feeling no pain.

He made a decision. “Look, Winston, I’m not allowed to fire you, and I’m not going to discipline you.” I was surprised how much of a relief it was to hear that. “I’m going to ask you, man to man, no more power outages, no more unplugging.”

With the computer system watching him, he didn’t even have the freedom punish me in any way. He was just another gear in the machine, and I felt sorry for him for a second. Then I got over it.

“I can do that.” I leaned back. “And the girl doesn’t have to hear a thing, but I want one thing from you, mister dispatch. I want the Dude’s address.”