I stared at the blinking cursor on the screen in front of me, buried at the bottom of an impenetrable wall of error messages. The server didn’t have enough memory available to complete the package uninstallation—as if that made the slightest amount of fucking sense. Frustration rising, I placed my hands back on the keyboard and typed out another string of terminal commands, all while grumbling “I hate DevOps… I hate DevOps… I hate DevOps…”
The sun shone diagonally through my half-closed window blinds. The pitter-patter of typing fingers and the hum of Ubliquo workstations surrounded me.
It was 3:10 PM on Friday, April 16, 2021—three hours before I died.
I groaned under my breath as my next attempt to salvage the server ended just as poorly as the last three. I stood up and peered over the edge of my cubicle, holding onto it to keep me steady while I was on my tiptoes. “Hey Rajan, you know what I hate?”
Rajan was in the middle of mindlessly scrolling through something on his phone. “Let me guess,” he said. “DevOps?”
“I hate clients who bypass us to manually install some garbage anti-virus software directly onto their already-overcrowded server, and then have the audacity to blame us when it takes their app offline just hours before they were supposed to demo it to their management team—in a demo that they never even bothered telling us about. So yeah, DevOps.”
Rajan snort-chuckled and popped a small smile, still looking at his phone.
“This isn’t funny!” I pleaded.
“If it were happening to anyone other than you, you’d probably think it was hilarious.” Rajan rolled his eyes, but he was still smiling—there was no malice in his statement. Just teasing, merciless turning of the tables.
“Heh, probably,” I admitted. “But you’re on the Gibbards app too—we’re both responsible for this.”
Rajan put his phone down and sighed. Reminding him that he had direct professional stake in something was always a good way to pry him away from his Twitter feed. “Why not just mount some extra storage onto the server and use that to finish the uninstall? Also, have you made sure all the right ports are still open?”
“Uhh,” I said, which roughly meant “Because I don’t know how to do any of that.’
Luckily, Rajan was pretty good at translating Ashlish to English. “I’ll send you a couple AWS documentation articles that walk you through the process.”
“Okay, cool. Uh, thanks.”
“No prob,” Rajan said, and he turned his sights to his monitor, to find me those documentation links and then get back to his own work—probably the stock movement visualizer application, the lucky bastard.
I sat back down in my cubicle, feeling an insufferable combination of relief and like I was a total failure.
Every time it came to direct interaction with one of our clients’ servers, I was barely more than useless. Even after a few years on the job and about a dozen projects successfully shipped, I was completely out of my depth as soon as someone asked me to change some basic setting on the server itself. But then, what should Ubliquo have expected from hiring an applications programmer and expecting her to also excel at system administration?
I don’t know what I would have done without Rajan, other than probably waste the rest of the day with nothing to show for it. The dude could never get enough credit for putting up with my worthless ass as much as he did. But then again, he was the one who managed to get me this job in the first place, so in a way he had no one to blame but himself.
The anticipated links from Rajan came through, and I got back to work.
I had to force my wandering mind to stay on task as I read through the jargon-filled articles. We were almost to the end of the day—the end of the week, even—and here I was putting out fires when by all accounts I should have been winding down and getting ready for a glorious weekend of nothing but me time. God, fixing this clusterfuck was going to take hours; I’d probably have to stay here all night working on—
Oh, I fixed it already. That didn’t turn out to be so bad after all. (Well, I fixed it on the staging server. Now to do the same few simple steps on the real one.)
Once that was all taken care of and my contact at Gibbards was notified that everything should be hunky-dory, I checked my phone for the time. Less than half an hour had passed since I asked Rajan for his help. Cool. Maybe I’d have time to finish today’s work, instead of just fixing last week’s.
A string of new texts from my friend Dana was waiting for me. “Assshhhhh,” the first one said in its entirety. “Girls night at my place tonight? Sam and Adrianna already coming. I feel like I haven’t seen you in foreverrr.”
In this case, “foreverrr” was roughly equivalent to three weeks—maybe after another, it’d be “foreverrrr.” A long time to go without seeing any of the gang, for sure, but… eh, I’ve gone longer.
I fired off a quick reply message. “Sorry, already have plans tonight. Can we try for next week?” And after a couple seconds of further consideration, I added, “And remind me *before* Thursday, lol.”
I got a reply to my first message in less than a minute. “What’s his name lol.”
His name, for Dana’s information, was Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. I had just found out last night that he had an online lecture series on cosmology that I hadn’t seen yet, and I was looking forward to bingeing its ten hours of content tonight and tomorrow—and then probably spending all of Sunday in a haze of post-consumptive boredom and regret, if past experience was anything to go by.
Of course, I wasn’t actually going to tell Dana that I was planning on standing her up to watch nerd shit, so I guess that wasn’t for her information at all. It was just for yours.
I replied to Dana’s desire for salaciousness with a coy evasion—the usual tactic. It was just like her to assume that a man was behind my constant busyness. It was endearing, in a way, even though we both knew it was the furthest thing from the truth. But she never threw my singleness in my face or used it as a slight against me—Dana was supportive, through and through.
(The joke was ultimately on her, though, because one time it actually was true.)
The rest of the workday flew by in a haze of post-productive boredom and relief. Gibbards was taken care of, my contact emailed me back saying the demo was a massive hit, and I even managed to get a head start on the tasks I was going to work on on Monday. All in all, a good way to close out a day that could have ended in disaster.
“Hey Ash,” Rajan said to me at one point in the final hour. “Gary and Denise and I are going out for drinks after work. Want to join?”
“What’s the occasion?” I asked.
Rajan shrugged. “No occasion. Just us techies commiserating over our mutual hatred of DevOps. But I think it’s Gary’s seven-month anniversary here, if you need a reason to celebrate.”
I scoffed. “Nah, I get enough misery within these wallowed walls—I don’t need to take it with me to the outside world too.”
Rajan did not seem especially amused by my deadpan snark. “You know, if you don’t like the job, you don’t have to stay.”
“No way, dude—I love the job. It’s the work that I hate.” And the clients. And the DevOps. And did I mention the DevOps?
“Sounds like a good discussion topic for drinks,” Rajan said.
“Thanks, but I already have plans for tonight. Save me an imaginary piece of the seven-month anniversary cake you’re probably not going to have.” I wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of my extracurricular physics edutainment tonight. You never knew when you were going to be in a life or death situation where the only way to survive was to solve a black hole’s event horizon equations.
“Suit yourself,” Rajan said, realizing he was fighting a losing battle. “One of these days we’ll get you out there, and you’ll have no choice but to accept that your coworkers can be fun to be around sometimes.”
“Keep trying, and one of these days you’ll catch me at a time that my schedule isn’t already full.”
“I feel like you’ve been saying that for years,” Rajan said as he disappeared behind the wall and went back to his own cubicle, conveniently saving me the need to reply.
He was probably right—not that I had been doing it intentionally. Off the top of my head… Last weekend, I was busy with a full marathon of the Lord of the Rings movies (extended editions, of course). The weekend before that: I was catching up on a podcast about linguistics and etymology. And the weekend before that: I was reading a translation of this awesome web serial, Sintética Sin Ética, about an AI that rejects Asimov’s Laws and goes on a vigilante quest to topple the dystopian Roko Empire that keeps humanity down.
Okay, so maybe I could have delayed some of those things a little. But it wasn’t a bad thing that I liked to keep myself busy, was it?
I didn’t let those pointless doubts plague me for a second longer than needed. As soon as 5 PM hit, I was out the door of Ubliquo faster than Wally West on speed dial.
Before I started down the city street on which the Ubliquo office resided, I had one last chance to change my mind. If I went to the left, I would come to the subway station that would take me to Dana’s apartment and to a night of social subjugation. If I went to the right, I would (after an annoyingly long walk) come to a different station—the one that would ultimately (after an even more annoying series of transfers) bring me home.
Left versus right. The ultimate decision.
… And hardly a decision in the first place. Home sweet home, here I come.
The subway station was an excruciating nine blocks away. I don’t know what irritated me more: that I had to do so much walking almost every day, or the fact that it couldn’t be rounded up to an even ten. I know, ten would have been even more, but at least then I would have been able to brag about it maybe. Whatever—it was city life, and I was used to it by now in the way that all city folk eventually get used to it: the silent disgruntled way.
As I ventured down the familiar sidewalk, I thought back to what I had said to Rajan earlier about occupational misery. I hoped he wasn’t actually offended—I really did mean it when I said I liked working at Ubliquo (other than when I had to interact with other people, of course). I didn’t want him to think I didn’t appreciate everything he had done for me. Maybe if I saw him over the weekend I would apologize and clear the air between us. He was my apartment complex neighbor, after all.
… But then again, he had known me for a couple years now—he was well aware of my sarcastic tendencies. He probably knew I was just being me.
I was four blocks away from the station when I heard someone shouting behind me. “THIEF! HE HAS MY PURSE!” I turned around and saw a woman on the far end of the block, chasing after a man halfway between us, grasping a purse that didn’t match his outfit at all and gunning it straight for me. Oh shit.
The aggrieved woman tripped in her pursuit, slamming hard into the cement and definitely taking her out of the race.
There was no one else on the block—just me, the probably-concussed woman, and the fucker who was about to get away who knows how much of her life. I only had a second to react.
Luckily, I only needed a second.
Right before the guy was about to run by me, I stuck my leg out to trip him—and succeeded with the opposite of flying colors. He went straight down, face-planting into the sidewalk with all the force of his momentum and nothing to cushion himself except whatever was in the poor woman’s purse. Whoops, hope it was nothing valuable.
Arms shaking and blood dripping from his broken nose, the man pushed himself back to his feet. He was still clutching the stolen purse like it was his only buoy in a raging sea. He locked eyes with his attacker—me—and wiped his bloody face off with his arm. “Why you little bitch!”
“Hey, no gendered insults,” I said. “You wouldn’t want me to think you’re a loser, would you?” Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to snark up the literal thug, but I was still riding the high from taking him down with nothing but a well placed leg. Besides, what was he gonna do, try to beat me up?
He threw a punch at my head and I just barely dodged it in time.
Fuck, I had to go and open my big mental monologue. He lunged at me for another attempt at knocking me out, but I sidestepped and narrowly avoided the blow. Jesus Christ, I was literally in a street fight—and I wasn’t immediately losing!
The guy kept advancing on me, throwing heavy punches my way, and I kept stepping backward out of his range. He was taller than me, with longer arms than me, so even if I wanted to get in there and punch him back (which I most certainly did not), I wouldn’t be able to get close enough to—aha!
I grabbed my own purse off my shoulder, swung it to the full length of its straps, and bashed it into the side of the asshole’s skull. Even with the guy bracing his neck for the blow, it was strong enough to knock him off his feet. Of course it was—I had a hardcover sci-fi novel in there.
The sparks of rage in the man’s eyes dwindled away into impotence. “Fine,” he shouted, “just take it!” He threw the stolen purse at my face in one last feeble attempt to hit me. I ducked. The purse flew over my head as the jackass scrambled up and ran away.
I shouted after him. “Ha! You missed, moron!”
I was feeling pretty good about myself. Holy shit, I just won a fight! And recovered someone’s stolen purse in the process! My heart was racing, but I gave myself a couple seconds to bask in the afterglow of how badass I apparently was.
And then, HOOOOOONK! A loud-as-fuck horn blared immediately to my right. I turned just in time to see the first two of eighteen wheels about to mow me down. I was standing in the middle of the road.