This story is by Greg Moberg and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“Henry,” began Karin once he had taken a seat in her office, “I want to let you know we’re going to ask you to turn down the servers. It’s time to shut them down.” Henry didn’t react. Instead he watched the dust particles float through the incoming rays of the afternoon sunshine. He let her words digest. Best, he mused, to make her the uncomfortable one instead of him.
“I know this is hard,” he forced her to continue when he didn’t speak. “I’m sorry. The service infrastructure changes and the outsourcing have put us in a new place. We simply don’t need the existing units. They’ve outlived their usefulness.”
“When do you want this done?” he asked after waiting yet a while longer. Inside, his stomach was dropping out on him as the realization sunk in: this was the end.
“Over the next two weeks. Arrange for the equipment shutdown, execute a thorough company IP backup and then schedule destruction of the in-house data stores.”
He continued to quietly ruminate. He could see Karin had thought this through. She was the careful, reliable manager he’d always known her to be. Except that her understanding only went so far.
“Okay then,” he said. Succinctness counts, after all. Getting up he wished her a good afternoon, an uncommon way to end a meeting, especially one that spelled his own job’s demise.
Treading through the little passageways of the office cube farm, he noted the scurrying of Karin’s mice. Staffers busied themselves with their iPhones and their modern thin notebooks. He passed through them relatively unseen. Most were wearing head sets and stood or sat entranced, heads and arms at odd angles as they spoke to conversations being carried on over their Bluetooth connected headgear.
A couple aisles later he reached the double gray door entrance to the lab. He stepped through and let the grey beasts swing shut and click into place behind him. He breathed and allowed himself to relax. Conditioned air swirled around him. The noises of the lab, several hundred cooling fans and yet hundreds more whirring hard drives, filled his ears. It was his realm.
Cold grey racks of server units stood like ranks of men prepared for battle. Each was loaded top to bottom with the company’s servers, routers, switches, IPS units, firewalls, and data banks. Here there was order. He and his team had built it, one rack at a time. Twenty years, two dozen men and women, and thousands of hours of detail work had been spent here, here in this room.
Pushing Karin’s orders from his mind he toured the ranks. The HPE Integrity Servers on his right were his first visit. Joyce, a member who had departed a year or two ago, had set these up with a skill he had admired. In the months since, all he had needed to do was update their HPUX11i patch levels. Seeing no trouble he moved on to check the PowerEdge server farm. These rack servers ran the Microsoft Server 2008 and 2012 images for most of the company’s departments. Or rather, they had.
And so he moved back through the lab, checking the rows for warning lights. Today, though, all seemed well. Even back through the rows where the elderly SunFireV240 servers and the T5120s yet hummed, and still farther back where Cisco Catalyst units cabled the networks together, order reigned. All the while, he grappled with the truth: the battles had all been won; he and these loyal servants stood proud on this field; yet now the war had been declared over; and he had lost.
Reaching his office he sank into his seat. Opposite him stood Bruce’s desk, now empty, and Patel’s, also empty. He sat and listed to the fans, felt the air move about him, and let time pass.
Fact was the room was his. The others, all, had departed. They had smelled the end and had moved to new tasks or to new employers. He alone was in charge of this vast, aged corporate infrastructure. He doubted, no he understood, Karin had no concept of its complexity or meaning. She certainly had no understanding of the history; he alone possessed that.
He remembered his first units in this room so long ago. They were little Sun “pizza boxes” as they called them. They used regular work benches back then, not the four legged racks that dominated the room since. On top of each Sun, he had assembled a pile of smaller hard drive units, connecting the set through a SCSI daisy chain to the base unit. Each assembly had reminded him of a Japanese pagoda; the ones he had seen in the Army while serving in Tokyo.
But that was yesterday. Yesteryear – if there might be such a word. Today he chose to sit quietly well into the evening. Let this day be without end, he wished. Yet he knew it could not be so. “Two weeks” was what she had said.
“How much do you want to have removed?” he asked her later that week.
“Everything. It all needs to be removed. Broom swept.”
“Everything,” she interrupted. He knew she didn’t want to be telling him this news. But he also knew the mistakes she was making.
She turned and did her best to be commanding. Her thirty-something countenance worked well on her mice but he was twice her age. “Henry, it all needs to go.”
“Very well then,” he responded. Very well, he would make it so.
Returning to his office he scheduled for the removal. Since he was to remove it all, the plan was simple. An agency would take away the systems. Another would handle the destruction of the hard drives, providing a written statement of work at some point thereafter. He instructed for that to be sent to Karin.
On his way out that evening he found one of the PowerEdge servers had thrown a drive on its RAID. The readout on the unit’s front panel gave him the E184 code and he knew from experience what it meant. This time, though, there’d be no need to order a replacement.
Reaching the double doors he turned. Far to the back he watched the dust particles over his desk float in the evening light. They swayed in the controlled air. Waving farewell, he imagined.
On the final Friday he arrived at H.R. as instructed. His last day. This, he found, to be less agonizing than knowing the impending demise of his realm on the floor above.
“And you’ll have to sign these here,” said Brett, marking various pages with a small ‘x’ and tagging them with a sticky note. Henry sat, read through it all, then signed. When he left he was no longer an employee. Above him, now beyond his reach, stood the ranks of machines that bore his fingerprints both inside and out. The screws that held the rails that held the server units in their rack towers had been placed by him. The cabling that moved the company’s data daily to backup services had been installed and monitored by his team. He knew it stood there for today, one last day, whirring with its disk drives and CPU cooling fans. He thought about asking to take a picture but decided against it.
Exiting onto the street he realized he had to decide what to do. He was not used to the midday sun and heat. For years the noon hours had passed with him working on a routing issue or a print server malfunction. But that was no longer to be the case.
He looked down the street. No slowly swirling dust particles here. Rather, there was the growl of car engines and the bustle of pedestrian traffic. What was he to do? He’d not thought about a plan for himself. At 63 and not far from retirement where would he find another job? Henry rubbed his head as he pondered that he’d not thought about himself for a moment. He wandered off home, not bothering to look back.
It was late on Sunday evening when the weight of the passage reached a peak. Over the weekend he had repaired the house plumbing and fixed the ceiling fan. He had fixed the mower. The doorbell worked.
Tomorrow there’d be no lab. The equipment room would be empty. The air would be turned off and the noise of the fans would be absent.
Henry went out to his back deck and sighed. Below, children streaked about the complex’s courtyard. Their time was beginning as his faded.
But wait, he could see their swing set needed repair. The struts along the long red Plexiglas slide looked worn. Like a switch that had turned on, he seized the idea forming in his mind. Back inside he searched on the brand names for playground equipment and brought up assembly manuals. It was all there. Life needed him.
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