Shall We P1Ay a Game

Dispatch | Apr 2 | 9:27am

Last Saturday, as I scrolled up on the computer, I kept thinking I had to be getting close to the very first thing the SARAH surveillance log saw and wrote down, close to figuring out how it was all set up, but every time I got to the top of what Sarah displayed, it asked me if I wanted to load previous entries, I pressed [y] and a bunch more stuff would show up.

There was a block of letters and numbers at the start of every line in the log. It felt like the numbers got lower when I scrolled up, kinda counting down or something but in a pattern I just didn’t understand. Maybe they had something to do with time, because the bottom of the log was the most recent stuff. That meant it was counting up as time went on. Counting up from what?

Most of the log I understood. People ordered food, and dispatches sent guys like me to deliver it. The programmers ate, fell asleep, woke up and worked again, and it was all written down. There were hella lines of that stuff, like that’s all they ever did, but the more I stared at the list of bathroom breaks and sleeping schedules, the more I noticed the odd times when the log wrote down things like someone scratching their nose or someone humming to themselves. Where did those come from?

I’m in there too. The log file has a record of every delivery I made and a note for every night I went to bed or woke up in the company apartment. The system watches me every second of every day, but I’m only paid for the time I spend in the office. That’s not fair.

I stopped scrolling when a line in the log said someone’s food was getting cold. Did a human being write that in, or is the computer really able to tell stuff like that? What else can it tell? Is there a way to keep it from writing about me? There have to be times when people scratch their noses and it’s not written down, but looking at the log, it seems random what the system notices. Maybe Sarah just doesn’t find the rest of the stuff that interesting.

An alert popped up with the hard chord sound that was really getting on my nerves. Hans had another dispatch for my approval. If I didn’t agree, he’d just ask why not. What if I didn’t press anything? Would the programmers starve? That would be mean. They’re as much victims as I am. Anyway, I couldn’t wait and find out. The only way to close the popup was to press [y].

At the end of the log, a new block of text must have shown up about what I just did. Maybe Sarah would write how cooperative I was being. There was so much information there and more coming in all the time, I couldn’t keep up. I had to stop reading. I just had to scroll up and keep saying yes, dispatch whoever. Yes, I want to load previous entries.

154 min later

At some point, I scrolled to the top of the window and pressed [y] in answer to nothing. The computer wasn’t asking me to confirm loading previous entries because there weren’t any. I was at the beginning. I read the first thing the system wrote down.

186FEB95 - "Jello world!"

I wrote that down on my hand to make sure I could get it exactly right in this notebook. I thought for a second the code at the start of it was a date, like some time in February, but the next line, something about fixing a typo, started with 186FEC22, and there’s no month of Fecuary.

So that’s how Sarah started, whoever’s reading this. I hope that helps.

It doesn’t.

I moved the window with the Sarah file to the side, and I knew even less of what I was doing. The rest of the computer was even weirder. It didn’t look like anything I ever used before. I would have googled some instructions or just searched for porn, but the computer didn’t even have Internet Explorer.

I couldn’t find programs anywhere, and the files I clicked all said I didn’t have access to open them, but they could go fuck themselves. I was getting payed by the hour, and I wasn’t going anywhere.

32 min later

I rubbed my eyes. “What’s this?”

Another program came up, which must have been running hidden in the background — For Requisitioning Edibles to Dispatch, FRED. So there’s a pattern these guys have for naming their software, but I don’t think that gets me anywhere either.

I clicked it, and a new window popped up with a bunch of lists. Each list had things I could click on that looked like menu items from different restaurants. I realized I was starving. I clicked something.

35 min later

The pizza guy knocked. I smiled. I wasn’t the delivery guy anymore. I had my own office, with a program that ordered my own meals.

577 min later

“I found you, asshole.” The hours of wandering through the hard drive while sending messages for strangers to bring food to other strangers finally seemed to be paying off. I found something in the “Dispatch” folder, inside a sub-sub-folder of “Operation Files” that was going to make it all worth it.


The box for my pepperoni mushroom large was on the floor near my feet. My brain was fried from working with the computer, and I didn’t know where to throw it away, so I didn’t. It didn’t matter, because there he was, the one sending out all the messages, one little file on a laptop in an office downtown, trying to run my life. Was Harry ever really the one on the other end of that line? Was it ever a person at all or just the program? Whatever Hans really was, the answer was in that file.

I double clicked, and an error message came up.

Not authorized to access.

“Fuck!” I slammed my fist on the desk. “Fuck you, Hans.”

In another world, I was a fucking badass. I was a part of the band that inspired the company. Now I couldn’t even figure out how to use a computer.

I needed a drink. Why didn’t I bring wine to work? My whole body felt weak. Why don’t I drink when I wake up anymore? I checked the desk drawers. Was there any weed left from Harry smoking in the office?

Not after Roger flexed his authority on the place.

The harsh alert noise of another dispatch message approval sent me over the edge. I couldn’t take it anymore. I picked up the laptop and threw it against the wall.

When it hit the ground, the case around the screen split open, and the keys on the keyboard sprayed across the floor, but the screen still showed the order Hans wanted to send out. Hans was still alive.

Apr 3 | 10:45am

I was stuck in the tiny office with the half-shattered computer that still told me when to leave and when to come back to work the next morning, the computer which fed all the people who didn’t have the awareness to feed themselves, and I didn’t know what the hell else to do but say yes to it.

Harry could help me. He spent more time in that place than anyone, even split orders between two people to trick me into meeting Tinkerbell, but I didn’t know where he was.

I had a phone number for Roger in my company phone, but I didn’t want to ask him. What did he ever do but agree with everything the system asked? I knew how to do that. Maybe he was back out there driving. I was almost jealous.

I flinched when the computer alert popped up another dispatch order. It was for “#Dade.” Maybe that was him. I never saw orders for “#Roger,” so that wasn’t his code name. Or he was just gone.

I pressed the nub where the [y] key used to be.

Company apartment | Apr 4 | 11:12pm

I sat in my apartment after work, watching Die Hard again to see if I could find some clue from the original Hans, knowing the recording devices were there with me, logging everything I did as points of information in an endless list.

I practiced my vocabulary to talk to the Dude, repeating after a Die Hard character, but not with his intensity. “I need backup assistance now. Now, goddamn it, now.” Maybe there was a line I could use to get him to shut the whole thing down.

Then Dickless came on the screen, and I thought I was back in Ghostbusters for a second. Then I remembered he was a low-rent asshole in that movie too. I needed sleep.

Dispatch | Apr 5 | 4:24pm

A FedEx guy knocked on the door. An entire company of computer experts and delivery drivers, and the system sent me the new laptop via FedEx.

He handed me his pad.

I nodded. “You know, I used to be a delivery guy.”

He nodded back. “Awesome. Sign, please.”

It’s the same with the food, always the restaurant’s people making those deliveries. A different face shows up each time, drops off the food and disappears. Nobody wants to talk.

I signed.

“Last name?”

I looked at the jagged lines on the electronic pad that were nothing like a name. I shrugged. “Winston.”

After that, the old laptop stopped doing anything. All the same programs were already on the new one, and those taking over somehow made the other computer junk. Wherever Hans is, he’s not just that one file in that one laptop.

Apr 8 | 6:45am

With my head on the desk, pretending to sleep, the computer couldn’t see that my eyes were open.

The flavor of plum lingered in my mouth from the wine bottle, which was on the desk just out of the webcam’s view. I inhaled the scent from my lips, ignoring the odor of my takeout containers that were piling up and the weed skunk in the office that would never totally go away, and I picked out a hint of cherry from the wine. That’s the first time I was ever able to name two different flavors from the same bottle.

I have time. They don’t really need me there. Maybe when Harry worked in that office, the system was a baby like Lanning said, but all I did was sit there and say it was doing fine.

There’s evil computers in all those movies. They always want to take over the world and wipe out the humans. I don’t want to fall for thinking any made up shit like that is reality, but this is the Dude’s project. He calls it SkyNet, and that’s how he thinks. I wonder if HANS and SARAH and FRED have a friend built to be like the real SkyNet. They could call it ARNIE.

The way I see it, I’m the only sane one left who even knows the project exists. I can do what Casimir sent Harry to do, keep an eye on things and find a way to stop them when they get out of control. I need to stay where I am, drinking to stay patient.

I lifted my head to sip from the bottle, then went back to “sleep,” but my name came up on the screen. Sarah saw what I was doing.

1AAD6AFC - #winston !drinking

“Yeah, but it’s not as much fun as it used to be.”

One reference to Shall We P1Ay a Game