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Part 1, Chapter 1

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NICK

PART ONE

Chapter 1

Nick

I stomped grimly through the puddles, mentally cursing my boss, Nikolai Petrovich, the owner of the company "Analytics and Business". He had called me up at one o'clock in the morning and demanded that I to go to work on Saturday. I could have disabled all communications, but I just jumped out of the virtual space and still unaware of my surroundings gave my computer the command to pick up the call. Now I have to walk to work through the pouring rain, what a delightful set of circumstances.

We had finally received the servers that had been ordered last month, which now, suddenly, need to be connected to our cluster right away. Although our company's last order was processed only a couple of days ago (for which we received good bonuses), we have not had a new job yet. Why my boss couldn't just schedule the set-up to Monday, I had no idea. In any case, the company’s work wouldn’t have to be stopped and I'm already well-versed on the procedure. I had other things planned for today, but that phone call had tossed my plans out of the window.

I work as a programmer in one, now quite large company dealing with the analysis and processing of various kinds of information. We issue forecasts, most notably analyzing developing trends in a certain market niche, tracking stocks and predicting the exchange rates of various currencies, but sometimes we get interesting work from different institutions lacking their own computational resources or intelligent programmers.

Personally, I get the greatest pleasure from such orders - one often has to dig deep for the knowledge required for their completion, which allows one to learn a lot of new things. I always had an increased curiosity and craving for knowledge.

In addition, my boss turned out to be a clever and active man who is also well versed in modern technologies, even though maintaining a high level in this field is not easy. In the past, having borrowed some initial capital, he found and appealed (not only financially) to many sensible programmers, bought equipment, and set up a company for data analysis and issue forecasting based on this analysis. Some of the forecasts that we made were for people not very friendly with the law. This saved us from some major troubles, and we earned a reputation for accurate predictions. All this brought a good profit to the company.

Here I work as the lead software developer. You ask how my development work is related to these new servers? Very simple, I am also the system administrator of the computer systems. It so happened that at the initial stage of the company's development Petrovich could not find a sensible system admin for a long time. Then, unexpectedly for him, it turned out that I had good knowledge of this subject. So he put these duties on me for some extra pay, and I did not refuse.

After looking at the results of my work, he was satisfied and stopped looking for another administrator. I spent a couple of months fine-tuning the whole system - a computing cluster as well as distributed and remote work for programmers, which, rather than forcing them to sit in the office all the time, allowed them to work from home or elsewhere only appearing as needed. I also set up some good virus protection. After that everything really just worked on its own without any intervention from me, while the extra money still comes in.

Tired of mentally swearing at my boss, I put on my glasses, which are connected to my body-comp, opened an unfinished book to the left display, turned on the music, adjusted my bag containing some tools that I might need, and a powerful subnote with a bunch of admin software and staggered to the bus stop. I do not like to carry a lot of equipment with me, although it is not that heavy (all together it hardly exceeds a kilogram), there is some discomfort. In my laptop, I also store all the software developed in our company, just in case. Although if the boss were to find out - he would kill me on the spot. Everything on there is encrypted, so its impossible to extract any of the information, but the boss still better not know.

Arriving at the bus's last stop, I stepped off and made my way across the park. Our office is located on the outskirts of the city, since the boss rented an empty building in a former military plant as the office. God only knows what they used to do there. After he remodeled and arranged everything it turned out quite well. In addition, there is plenty of space to walk around, think, and smoke as well as a nice park nearby where you can relax. It is very unusual to see anyone there since it's not in a convenient location, so I sometimes go out there for a walk.

In the office I was met by the boss. He was alone.

"Hello namesake, come in!" Making a cheerful face, and waving excitedly Petrovich beckoned me inside.

What's wrong with him? I thought glumly. Is he drunk? But I didn’t let my internal monologue get the better of me, I responded immediately to his odd outburst.

"Boss! You just had to make me come in today, huh?" I exclaimed. "We could have done everything on Monday!"

We actually have a pretty good working relationship. We have deep respect for each other, sometimes even as close as friends, so informal conversations are normal for us.

"We can’t, Kolya, it's impossible."

The boss, lounging in his secretary’s chair, looked quite the picture; coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other, and smiling benignly at the ceiling. He lowered his chin and looked at me.

If Olga finds those ashes on her desk she will be furious, I thought, allowing a malicious grin to pass over my face. Olga is a perfectionist and does not tolerate any disorder in the workplace. I had on occasion tried the odd casual flirt with her, but so far she has beaten all my attempts. She likes the game, but, unfortunately, I'm not sure she likes me.

"All right, lay it out," I snapped as I threw my bag on the table, and went to make myself some coffee. "What's going on?"

"You see Kolya," I hate being called by my name, usually everyone just me calls Nick, but the boss likes to annoy me. "There was a new order," he raised his index finger, "a large order. It is necessary to begin work on it immediately, maybe even tomorrow, and I don't want you to be distracted by the server configuration on Monday. So, I'm sorry, but we need to do this today. In any case, the additional computational capabilities will come in handy for the new order."

I realize now why the boss is so happy, he must have snatched this large order right from under the noses of our competitors, reveling at the success of his cunning marketing skills. Though if you really assess the situation, we have no real competitors, but the boss still loves to enjoy every victory, even the minor ones.

"I'm going to send you the information on this order," he continued. "Read it at home and send me your thoughts. Most importantly, I'm interested in how long this project will take as well as which of the developers you would like to have on your team."

The boss took his body-comp from his pocket and mumbled something into it. My computer displayed the information about the direct connection before my eyes and started downloading the information. Our body-comps were already paired to each other, so I did not have to do any unnecessary gestures to confirm the connection.

"All right," I sighed. "Did they bring exactly the hardware that we ordered, or did the same thing happen as before?"

Previously, they tried to throw us under the bus by sticking in a few old pieces of hardware, but that didn't work on us! The boss quickly made a scene, and since then he checks all of the incoming equipment himself. He likes to work with hardware, probably in order to keep his qualifications up to date.

"Not this time! Moreover, everything is already unpacked and ready to go, all that remains is to connect the blocks and configure the system.” He took another puff of his cigarette and let off rings of smoke into the ceiling.

"Where did you put the equipment?" I asked. Fact is, in some of the distant rooms the electricity did not come from the central switchboard, but went somewhere through the walls and into the basement. We tried not to put any equipment there, because power from our backup generator did not go there - the boss could not get around to renovating those rooms - and he did not want to risk the equipment.

"In the fifth office," the boss replied.

"That's what I thought! Have you forgotten about the wiring?" I was angry with all my heart, almost breaking the cup of coffee as I put it on the table. My sysadmin spirit did not tolerate disorder on my entrusted site. "What if the power goes out? You'll be angry at me for problems with the computations or, God forbid, the hardware! We have plenty free space in the existing racks!"

Nikolai smirked slyly:

"You see, Kolya, I received hardware even more advanced than we ordered, I will not go into the details, but it comes with its own racks and its own power supplies. So go and start working. By Monday everything should be in tip-top shape. I'll deal with the power next week. Don't worry, everything will be just fine."

The boss waved his hand and plunged back into his thoughts.

Still mad at him, I grabbed my bag and I went to the office with the new equipment. I was curious about what was it that the boss was so excited about. Initially we ordered some pretty powerful hardware, so I don't know what could be so much better.

Entering the office, I saw scraps of wrapping paper scattered around the room and a rack looming in the center. Opening the door, I immediately realized that the boss was fabulously lucky; this hardware was much more powerful than we ordered. The information from the identifiers, helpfully highlighted by the body-comp when looking at the hardware, showed that this equipment was almost experimental.

"I wonder where the boss got such a miracle!" I looked on in astonishment as I rolled up my sleeves and set to work. First I threw all the packaging out of the room, connected the blocks in the rack into the test configuration and plugged in the power.

"Well, let's do this," I muttered, happily rubbing my hands, as I pressed the power button.

Nothing happened.

"Come on!" I exclaimed.

Looking at the socket, I noticed that the indicator light that denotes the presence of electricity was not lit. I took my tester and I stuck it in the socket. As I expected, there was no electricity. The device showed the absence of a short circuit and that the automatic protection in the outlet was working fine, which meant that the problem is a break in the circuit elsewhere.

I spat into the corner of the room, and sent a curse through the body-comp to the boss with a message that I will be going to the basement to deal with the power supply. He ignored me.

After collecting all of my tools into my bag, I began to descend the stairs. The basement, I must say, was huge - by my senses, larger than the building itself. We never even explored it completely - just near the entrance.

Having descended to the basement level, I approached a metal door with a code lock. I don't know from which power line the lock was powered, but it worked. A red LED was lit on it. After connecting to the office server through the body-comp, I quickly found the access code to the basement and typed it in. The lock was thoughtful for a couple of seconds. What’s taking so long? I wondered, is there a mechanical calculator inside it? On the door next to the lock, the indicator "Clean" lit up and the light on the lock flashed green. The internal latches opened loudly inside the door. Judging by the sound, they were quite massive and were along the entire perimeter of the door.

I shivered as I got an unpleasant feeling. The servo motors began to groan, and the door slowly began to open. I wonder what they used to store here! I can't even begin to guess why such doors would be needed in a basement. Meanwhile, the door had opened completely and it was very dark inside. "Come on!" I muttered. Obviously I forgot my flashlight. I dropped my glasses from my forehead onto my eyes and changed the body-comp to night view using the cameras on the glasses. First I saw only colored spots, but after a couple of seconds the computer set up the video processing program, and I had a good image of a small corridor, partially generated by the body-comp based on the data it received from its built-in sensors.

Right, where should I look and, more importantly, what should I be looking for? Looking around, I saw the switchboard, from which the sockets in the room had to be powered. I poked the connections inside with my tester. Strange; there is power here, but there is no light in the corridor even though it should automatically turn on when you open the door.

I scratched my head in thought. I decided to go along the power line to the next switchboard and check everything there until I find the problem. I adjusted my glasses and went on down the corridor. There was a dead silence, the only thing that I could hear was water dripping somewhere. A shiver ran down my spine and the hair on the back of my neck rose. For some reason, I really did not want to go into the dark anymore, even though the road is visible through the glasses. Silence, darkness, and the sound of water drops reflect unpleasantly on the shaken nerves of a seasoned gamer. However, there is no other choice. Slowly, peering into all the corners, I moved along the power line. After walking a few meters along the corridor, I stopped and began to look for a plan of the building and a wiring diagram on the Internet. To my surprise, I could not find anything that I could use. I had to rewind the video and copy the evacuation plan hanging on the wall at the entrance, translate it into something usable and put it in front of my eyes. On the diagram I immediately marked the already inspected switchboard, scribbling a few comments.

I worked for about an hour, moving from the switchboard to switchboard checking each of them. Around the second one, the body-comp beeped, and a message appeared on the screen about loss of communication with the network. Looks like I was very deep, indeed. I had walked, probably, around a kilometer and everything everywhere was fine. I had become very tired, and decided to check a couple more switchboards before taking a break.

Approaching the next one, I saw a flicker. Upon closer examination, the switchboard turned out to be melted, and small discharges of electricity were visible through its openings. This was obviously where the circuit had been damaged. After putting on my rubber gloves, which I had prudently kept in my bag, I opened the heavy lid with a heave and gave a long whistle. All the wires were melted. Its unclear why the automatic disconnect did not work.

I slumped against the opposite wall and let my head fall back with a quiet thud. It was so dark and damp down here I was loosing the will to even think straight. With a silent curse for my boss, sitting somewhere above me in a brightly lit, comfortable office, I pushed off the wall and began to work: carefully cutting the melted wires, making the repairs as I went. Of course, to really be safe, one would have to go to the next board and turn off the power there, but it's a long way to go, judging by the distance between the previous switchboards, so I decided against it. As the work was coming to an end, I was about to connect the last wire, when a loud sound came from behind me. I jumped up and turned around, completely forgetting about the wires I had in the pliers. I did not have time to see anything as I arched from the high voltage. Sparks sprang from my eyes from the pain, and my consciousness graciously left me.

Vocabulary:

Subnote – A newly designed, very powerful laptop built on an entirely new set of principals. No more information is available to the general public. Preferred by computer enthusiasts, and those with a lot of money

Body-comp – A minimized computer built into a small tablet, connected wirelessly to a pair of glasses. They make use of eye tracking and multi-focal lenses to display visual information to the user without disrupting normal activity. Widely available to the general public.

Sysadmin, or system administrator – A person who is responsible for the upkeep, configuration, and reliable operation of computer systems.


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