The Old Guard (2)

(part 1)

Four days after leaving the midwestern mainframe/mini company that had employed him for so many years, Zeke found himself in the middle of a desert. He’d read that it seldom rained for six months at a time, and that in mid-summer the air could be unbreathable. But there were many like himself around, and there was water and food and drink, and there were many jobs in that time, and all of the jobs were in cube farms that had replaced real farms.

The job market was on the rebound from the last cyclic crash. Zeke’s roommate called it the Hype Oscillator. “See, the lies build up. The Silly Valley tailors are always making new clothes, and venture capitalists spend money in order to cover the lies that they bought into earlier. Eventually there are VCs handing out cash on street corners to homeless guys who have a little Perl, HTML and SQL. Then, boom, suddenly there are no clothes, everyone panics, and that’s a great time to take a sabbatical.”

Zeke had found a job in thirty minutes at a job fair. He’d been collared by a company whose name included at least two Xs and a Q. He was practically dragged to an interview room, then given an offer on the spot and told to show up after lunch. He ditched the other fourty nine copies of his resume on the way out of the fair.

XXQ was located in an anonymous tilt-up underneath the airport’s flight path. Zeke parked his car and breathed deep the fumes of jet fuel. He looked at the company logo; it was so badly designed and fully of little swirly-cues that he could not tell how many Xs were in the name, but he was pretty sure about the Q. Unless it was a C married to a G.

Orientation consisted of signing some legal paperwork and being told to find an empty cubical and his manager. A cubical in back looked promising. His manager was playing darts in the lunchroom.

“I’m Zeke,” he said to his new boss, “They told me to show up and find you.”

“Great,” said his manager, who barely turned around from his game. “Go write a spec for RSpoon 1.0 and see me at four.”

“Okay,” said Zeke. He wondered where he’d find a computer. He wondered what the heck a software company was doing with spoons.

* * *

In the cube farms, the carnage never stopped.

“How can I possibly make that schedule!?” cried one engineer. Another engineer a few cubicals over was sobbing quietly. Far across the cavernous single room that XXQ occupied, Zeke could see objects flying over cube walls, sometimes getting stuck in the metal rafters far above. In his own corridor, a team of young geeks was nerfing out a design question.

“Head shot!” one called out, “We use XML!”

“No it wasn’t! Besides, XML is still lame!”

Bap, a head shot. “Now it is!”

Zeke had found a new in-the-box monitor and computer in his cube when he returned to it. He spent an hour setting it up while the XML versus something else battle continued to rage. The quiet sobbing had been replaced with rapid keystrokes.

Zeke logged in and started reading code. It was horrible. He munched an apple. An hour later he realized he’d eaten the apple’s plastic price sticker. He paged through some more code, faster and then even faster. He wanted to throw up, and it wasn’t the tag’s fault; what he was looking at was his first inkling that something was seriously, fundmentally broken at XXQ. He was starting to regret having pitched the fourty nine copies of his resume at the job fair.

I’m in a train wreck, he thought, and it’s still sliding to a halt.

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