Company Apartment | Mar 31 | 11:13pm
I was alone and naked in my bedroom, my glass full of Merlot, when the text finally came in.
First Dispatch shift, 6 AM tomorrow.
“About fucking time.” I knew where all the orders came from. Hans was always the one telling me what to do, and after I found out he was a computer program, I couldn’t wait to meet him for real. I was just tired of waiting to get in there. It took a long time for my promotion to go through.
I expected it every day for two months, but I just kept getting regular orders. San Francisco went through warnings for snow, then a tsunami, followed by radiation, but none of those happened either. I sat down on the bed and sipped the Merlot.
If I stick with cheap wine, I can keep my brain from complaining too much. If I keep doing what the texts tell me, I can keep having a place to live. I have so much more stability now than when I lived out of the tour van with the band. There’s so much more to keep me busy than drinking alone in the storage facility. My life has changed. I’ve changed, and it scares me.
I put my wine glass on the table by the bed and turned off the light, but I couldn’t turn off my brain.
It’s been more than a year since Casimir’s death. I wake up every morning tense for another tragedy, but I go to bed every night tired of dealing with the same old shit. The longer nothing bad happens, the more I relax. My defenses are lowering, and I know how dangerous that is.
One overdose destroyed the band, which led to the girl I loved kicking me out. Deep inside, I can still feel the pain of that time, and I know how fast it can happen again. The Dude can decide any second that I’m not worth putting up with and shitcan me. Maybe that’s why I drink, to get rid of that feeling. It doesn’t work. Maybe it’s to help me lay low. The wine keeps me patient, waiting for my chance, and the brain cells that survive will be the strongest ones, ready to strike when the time is right.
When Roger called me into the dispatch office for a stern talking to, I found out he was the one who moved in there after Harry was reassigned, but I know now the person behind the desk has never really been bossing me around. The Dude started all this. I know where he lives, and I can go back and kick his ass if I need to, but I don’t think he’s really running things anymore either. While I waited for the promotion to come through, I brought food to the programmers. I saw the cameras aimed at them, and I imagined what was really watching from the other end of all those video feeds.
The text messages I get are always phrased the same way, with the same calm responses no matter how many insults I send back. If a computer can win at Jeopardy, it can keep track of all our schedules and tell us what to do. I need access to what’s really been issuing the orders all this time. Then I’ll really be able to do something.
I helped inspire Acid Burn’s nerd underground. Then I helped get it ready for the revolution, recruiting members and putting them in contact. I bring them prepaid phones, and I fuck Acid Burn once in a while, but she still won’t tell me what their plans are.
I want to sit back like I did behind the drum set and watch the world around me tear itself apart. I keep waiting for the nerds to use the technology only they understand to start a real revolt. Maybe when they do, I’ll have them publish this notebook and expose the secrets of their system. The problem is, they don’t have Casimir to fire them up.
Casimir inspired me. He taught me there’s nothing worse than selling out and settling down, but he also did whatever it took to reach people and shake them up, to free their minds. That’s why we made a couple albums, to help spread our message, but there was nothing like seeing us live. That’s what I tell myself I’m doing, sacrificing my principles for a little while to get these people out of the prison they’re too blind to see around them.
The Dude set this whole company in motion. The system was his idea. Then he showed me that picture of his younger self watching our band and implied that we inspired him. What exactly did we inspire him to build? What was on that laptop in the office? I had to wait for the next morning to find out.
Dispatch | Apr 1 | 6:15am
Roger was gone. The laptop was alone in the office.
For the first time, I went to the other side of the desk. As usual, nobody told me anything about my new job, but I finally had the chance to get some answers for myself.
Roger’s chair was comfortable.
I cracked my knuckles. “Alright, what do I do with this?” The laptop screen had what looked like a text file, a list of events, scrolled down to the end.
[Editor’s note: these would be the last few lines at that time.]
1AA4295B - #Dumont !attentionwavering $caffeine.dispatched 1AA42962 - #HANS #Headroom beginning order 1AA4296B - #winston at desk 39C late 1AA4296B - #Truman !asleepatdesk $wakeup in 33C
I clicked on the name HANS, but nothing happened. Another line appeared, and the rest scrolled up. The file was writing itself in front of me.
1AA42982 - #winston @Dispatch #HANS $warning.sent
My phone went off.
You’re 924 sec late.
It was kinda cool to watch the message go from the computer to my phone, but it creeped me out that the laptop could tell I was there and decided to send it.
I looked at the camera just above the laptop screen. Whatever was watching me, it was through that. Also, the system still called me Winston.
I scrolled up. There was more information listed about everyone in the company. There had to be something I could do with a total surveillance log.
The hard chord of the computer’s alert noise surprised me, and a new window popped up.
#Headroom order[7AC19] complete. "HANS: Order from Headroom: 1 12oz can, Brisk Ice Tea." Dispatch #Drake y/n?
I reached for the [y] on the keyboard and noticed the title of the popup window, Human Acquisitory Notification System. That was Hans. I was still Winston.
I pressed the button, and the window disappeared. Another line appeared in the text file.
1AA429A6 - #Drake.dispatched
So that’s how the text messages go out. That must be what Harry did the whole time he worked in that office. Easy job for a stoner. There was also a name in the top part of the text file window, Systemwide Archive of Recognition/Analysis Heuristics.
I scrolled up in SARAH until I found something familiar.
1AA3C6D6 - #HANS.summon #winston @Dispatch "First Dispatch shift, 6 AM tomorrow."
There was the message from the night before that brought me there. I was tracing back how the system worked.
Another message popped up with the same annoying sound.
#Drake not responding. Dispatch #Gaff y/n?
If it couldn’t reach a delivery guy, we didn’t have to go? I didn’t know we could do that. Son of a bitch! I wasn’t gonna sit there and confirm that. I pressed [n], and the window changed to a different question.
I stared at the screen. I didn’t know how to answer, but a few seconds later, the same annoying sound played, and the window changed again.
Dispatch #Gaff y/n?
I pressed [esc] a bunch of times, thinking that would get me out of whatever the computer was doing, but it didn’t.
I shook my head. My choices were [y] or “why not?” so I pressed [y]. The window went away. At least I knew how to handle that.
The text file all moved up, pushing my message from Hans out of sight. I scrolled back to the end of the file and found some new stuff that wrote itself in at the bottom, including an entry in the log about me.
1AA42A1B - #winston !working.
“Hey Sarah, don’t forget to write this down.” I flipped off the camera lens above the screen.
The surveillance log didn’t react. I’ll make it react.