When Alan woke up he knew immediately that something was missing. It was the sort of maddening half-hunch he got from time to time, the kind that usually presaged attempted security breaches and system crashes, and the kind Roy said always informed his mad ninja skills—and Alan would have said that was crazy but then Roy had demonstrated and Alan had been immediately grateful that Roy’s contract had specific clauses about security testing because if the Feds had actually caught him…
But the point was that something was missing.
Lora had already left the house even though it was eight o’clock in the morning. The military personnel she worked with were morning people to an obscene level. Given her usual schedule she had probably already headed into her lab for the day, but Alan dialed anyway on the off-chance of hearing her voice.
“Hello, this is Lieutenant Rhodes,” came the familiar voice of the switchboard operator, who sounded suspiciously like James Earl Jones.
“Good morning, Lieutenant,” Alan said politely, winding the phone cord between his fingers to have something to do with his hands. “Is Dr. Baines-Bradley available?”
“Sorry, Dr. Bradley,” Rhodes said, “She just headed into the clean lab and probably won’t come out ‘til lunch. Do you want me to leave a message for you?”
“Sure. Uh, have her call me back at the office.”
“Will do. Have a good one.”
“You too,” Alan said, hanging up the phone and frowning. The obscure sense of loss was still with him. Roy’s number was next on the speed-dial, and he hit it without thinking too hard about it.
“Mwsah? Trrrn?” came the response after the tenth ring. Alan winced a little—Roy had probably stayed up to watch the late-night creature feature. If the flex-time schedule Encom used didn’t have some restrictions Roy would honestly probably never see the sun if he could help it.
“Hey, Ram,” Alan said, using the nickname that Kevin had given the other coder. Roy was absurdly fond of it, probably not a shock given the little terror of a hacking program he’d named Ram, though how Kevin found out about that particular project Alan would never know.
“Hey, Tron,” Roy said dreamily. Alan snorted—there was a good chance Roy was still asleep and wouldn’t remember the conversation at all. It wouldn’t be the first time. He started to tell his friend to forget about it and conk out, since obviously he was fine if sleep-deprived, when Roy continued.
“Where you been, buddy? Lookin’ all over 511 for you. There’s some new punk in-system thinks he can tag me…” the words trailed off into a snore, and Alan hung up the phone. It wasn’t unusual for Roy to go on as if he was Ram when he talked in his sleep—hell, that was when Kevin got the idea to start using those stupid nicknames—but… Tron was missing?
It was ridiculous, but that didn’t stop him from bending and folding a few traffic laws on his way to Encom Tower. Tron was proprietary internal security, prototype for the new security program they were going to put on the market next week—a combined antivirus/firewall for corporate clients using the brand-new internet. A consumer version was already in the works for when internet inevitably trickled down to the average home computer user. But why would Tron be missing from the network? It was running fine when he left work that night, and Ram had even been released again on 511 to test a few tweaks to Tron’s heuristics…
Alan slid into his office chair and tapped out the command to access Tron’s files.
File not found.
“What the—Jolene!” It took an effort not to yell into the intercom when he jabbed it. It was still weird to have a secretary, let alone one parked in another room down the hall that he needed to use an intercom to talk to.
“Yes, Mr. Bradley?”
“What happened to the network last night? Tron’s missing.”
“You didn’t read the memo?”
“The security upgrade. I left it on your desk,” Jolene said in that tone she usually reserved for when Kevin was floating yet another new screwball-genius idea to the board. For someone who was supposedly retired, he still put in enough hours around the Tower to qualify for full-time benefits.
“Ah.. no. I’ll go check it,” Alan said, clicking the intercom off before he could hear the secretary’s reply.
There was a memo, all right. Buried under a stack of stocks figures and projected earnings for the next quarter and for Encom AntiVirus… both under the current Encom distribution model, Kevin’s brainchild that kept the company comfortably in the black, and under the rapid-release model that the board had been pushing for lately, which prioritized profits over quality programming. Another unsubtle hint that the board was after his proverbial head on a plate. Alan unfolded it with a sigh, skimming over the obligatory corporate doublespeak singing the praises of the unreleased Encom AntiVirus.
It was buried in paragraph five, a single line stuck between the glowing description of AntiVirus’s features and the usual reminder for all coders to back up their files prior to a major system change. Encom’s internal security was being changed over to AntiVirus at midnight.
All of Encom’s internal security was being changed over to AntiVirus at midnight. Midnight. The memo was dated yesterday. But Alan had started the heuristic test at five before his dinner-date with Lora. Midnight… Why hadn’t anyone said anything?
Tron had been uninstalled.
It was as if someone had punched him in the gut, the feeling of loss cresting until Alan’s hands were shaking and the typewritten words were blurred on the page. Five years of his life deleted from the Encom servers and no one had actually had the guts to tell him to his face?
“Backup,” he murmured, setting the paper down carefully if only to keep from ripping it to shreds and sending the sales projections into the trash with it. Backups. Yes. He had them. A box of floppy disks, updated last week when he’d finished Tron version 4.3b and updated the copy installed to the network. The updater and the full version. If Encom didn’t want it, Alan would just take it home—Tron was better than anything going into the market for at least the next four or five years as-written, especially after so many sessions of tag with Ram.
It was a short walk to the filing cabinet, and another moment or two juggling keys to find the right one and unlock the drawer where he kept the box of disks. It had been a long and difficult fight to retain rights to Tron when he had agreed to keep it installed on 511, but now it couldn’t be more worth it.
The box was gone.
“This can’t be happening,” Alan breathed, digging past the folders of other notes shoved in there to see if he hadn’t just misplaced the thing. When that turned up no box, he tore into the other cabinet drawers. And then his desk. And then the small storage closet, tossing papers and records everywhere in desperation to find his program. He wanted to weep. Or scream. Or anything but with the rest of the executives always watching like hawks for an excuse to push him out and with him the last vestiges of Kevin’s vision, he couldn’t do anything but kneel in the middle of the blizzard of paper and try to force a plan into his suddenly-blank mind. Alan dragged back to his feet and to the desk to press the intercom button.
“Jolene?” he said, brittle calm in his voice.
“Yes, Mr. Bradley?”
“I had a box of floppies in my office. Where is it?”
“Didn’t you get the CD yet?”
“CD?” Alan repeated numbly. This couldn’t be happening.
“Yeah. Everything’s going on CD for long-term storage. IT said it’s way more stable to use optical than magnetic tape. They came through a couple days ago, remember? You signed the form and then I remembered about your box so I had them take it too! I mean, who would want a game like Tron to end up getting corrupted, right? IT should have converted your stuff over by now. Want me to check on it?”
“Yes, please,” Alan said, distantly pleased with how even and reasonable his tone was. IT. He remembered IT rolling through, and the little tech who had asked over and over if he was sure that was the last of the floppies he wanted converted like a goddamn programmer wasn’t informed about how hardware worked. Hardington ran IT and with it all internal compliance, Kevin’s first hire as the upstart CEO. Kevin had had a good feeling about Hardington, but he was fast proving to be a money-obsessed little shit with Kevin gone. Hardington would have been the one behind the installation of AntiVirus in place of Tron. Hardington now had one of the few remaining copies of Tron in his greedy little clutches.
Alan felt sick, seeing the signs of history repeating itself. Oh, Hardington wasn’t stupid enough to try and pass Tron off as his own work… but making Tron disappear would certainly improve his case to the board that Alan belonged in the cube farm writing code rather than in the board room setting company policy. And the slow media assassination of a thousand cuts would get plenty of ammunition if he called Hardington out. His name was on the damn storage conversion release form.
It was happening. Had happened.
His own fault. He had been stupid and blind and lost Tron. Now the only extant copy that wasn’t the beta version stuck in the bottom of his sock drawer at home was the one he’d given Kevin for that experimental system of his.
Alan dove for his phone, hoping against hope that Kevin would pick up for a change.
“Yeah? Hey, what’s—“
“Kevin! Do you still have that copy of Tron I gave you?” Alan said, not bothering with small talk, heart hammering against his chest. If that was lost too… He didn’t want to think about it.
“Uh, yeah? Why, what’s happened?”
“Hardington happened. Listen, I’ll tell you all about it and you can tell me what an idiot I’ve been, but can you copy it over to CD for me? I know you have an optical drive on that spooky system of yours.”
“Sure thing, man. Listen, my schedule’s kinda full for the next couple days. Would Saturday work for you? I promise I’ll have him ready by then.”
“Saturday’s fine. Thanks. Seriously, I owe you.”
“No problem. Say hi to Lora and Roy for me, huh? Sam’s getting up and you know how he is before his cereal,” Kevin said, laughter buried in his voice.
“I know. Bye, Kevin.”
Alan set the handset back in the cradle with a sigh, making a weak-kneed landing in his chair. Relief felt oddly hollow, but at least he’d figured out the problem and was doing something about it. Kevin would bring Tron over and Alan was never going to let that program out of his sight again.