This story is by B. O’ree Williams and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Oh no, NO! DAMMIT! This can’t be happening,” I scream as I realize that the click I just heard was the locking of the door to the server room. Have you ever had one of those seminal moments where a series of events culminates in the realization that you are well and truly screwed? Well, this is one of those moments. I am locked in the anteroom of the server farm at Dyson, Dyson, and Holcomb, watching my future go up in flames. This upgrade is supposed to be finished by midnight because at 12:01 AM the backups kick off, and then network replication starts, which means not only one server will be hosed but all fifty of them. It’s 11:28 PM.
“How did this happen?” you ask. That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? It just so happens that I am here on behalf of my coworker, Nick Payne, performing what is supposed to be a routine upgrade of the client’s file server. I am supposed to be standing in front of the server, not 15 feet from me, not locked in the anteroom just outside. And as I look through the window, I can only stand here and watch the destruction being wrought in real-time by what I presume is a trojan-horse virus. But to be honest, I have no idea. I’ve never seen this kind of code before. Regardless, it can’t be good.
Staring at the monitor, I curse myself for the umpteenth time for leaving my software kit at home. “Nothing to it,” Nick said, “Everything’s set, just run the executable.” Why didn’t I look at that ‘upgrade01.exe’ more closely?
It started when I got a call from Nick yesterday asking me if I could cover for him as he was supposed to take his girlfriend out for a celebration. How could I say no? He’s always been a rockstar in my eyes and made me feel like a part of the team. I suppose I should have been more skeptical of his character, but it was difficult to see exactly how much of a jackal the man was when he stroked my ego by suggesting I be made a lead systems engineer after only two months with the company.
I turn away from the window and spot the object I originally sought when I first came into the anteroom. I pick up the phone and dial Nick’s number. What am I going to say? “Hey Nick, that was a great prank you played on me. You really got me with that fake trojan-horse. Haha.” The line rings: Once, twice, three times. On the fourth ring, I slam the receiver back down onto the base set, overwhelmed by my anger.
I begin to pace the small room, frantically wracking my brain over what to do next. Call security, that’s probably a good start. Lifting the receiver again, I stab the number for security. After a few rings, a gruff voice mumbles, “Security. Jenkins.”
Swallowing my panic, I reply, “Yeah, this is Max Brightwell and I’m with Cochran Consulting Group. I’m doing an upgrade of the firm’s file server, and I accidentally got locked out of the server room. Can you send someone over here to let me back in?”
There’s a pause and I can hear Jenkins covering the receiver. I hear him say in a muffled tone, “Base to thirteen,” followed by an inaudible answer. He then lifts his hand and says, “It’s gonna be a bit. Our closest guard is dealing with something on the other side of campus. Probably going to be about forty-five minutes before he can get there.”
The statement sends an icicle shooting into my chest. Trying to not let my panic show, I say, “Well, ok. If you could tell him to step on it, I’d sure appreciate it.” The man grumbles something incoherent but I think I hear him say, “Jerk!” before the line goes dead.
I turn to look at the server and stare in horror as I can see the progress of the destruction tearing its way through the file system. GODDAMN YOU, NICK! Pressing on the glass, a thought crosses my mind: I could break the glass. If, in the very least, I could kill the server. At most, it’d bring the rent-a-pigs running. I let the thought pass.
Clutching the receiver, I dial Nick’s number again and let it ring. On the fifth ring, the line clicks. “NICK! Nick, what the…” I trail off as I hear the message begin to play.
“You’ve reached Nick Payne of Polaris Networking. I’m afraid I can’t come to the phone right now, but…”
Did I hear that right? ‘Polaris Networking?’ That can’t be right. We work for Cochran Consulting Group; why would his message say that? But the meaning is plain. He’s not celebrating something for his girlfriend. He’s celebrating his new job. Oh shit! But if he’s working for them, then… Everything suddenly becomes clear. Hadn’t he stormed out of a meeting with the partners the other day? I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I start to put the pieces together.
The meeting. It had been his review, and I think he was expecting to be made a partner. I had asked him about it and he just sort of shrugged me off. But before that, there had been that incident at Perihelion Communications where he and I argued over a technicality. I guess Ihad rubbed his nose in it. But I hadn’t thought it all that big a deal. Then again, making him look sort of stupid in the meeting with the Dyson partners the other day was a bit of a dick move on my part.
Without thinking, I glance back at the server, and a different thought occurs to me. I’m going to take the fall for this. That was the bastard’s plan all along, while he walks away scot-free. Oh MAN, Why didn’t I see this coming? I had been so gullible. And, of course, what better way to take his revenge than with the very same customer I made him look like an idiot in front of?
The realization pushes my panic over the edge and that’s when I see the clock on the wall. 11:40. Christ! I’ve got to do SOMETHING! Out of habit, I pull my cell phone out and begin scrolling through the pages, desperately searching for anything to get me out of this disaster. On the last page, I spot my remote connectivity app. I open the app, relieved to have this slimmest of potential lifelines. Then I recall that this is how this all started. No cell signal in the server room. I glance up at the clock again. 11:47 PM. SHIT!
There has to be a signal somewhere in this Godforsaken prison. Deciding I have nothing to lose, I begin to scour the room searching for a signal. After a couple of minutes, my efforts pay off. Practically huddling under a desk in the far corner of the room, my phone’s signal jumps to three bars. YES!
In an instant, I’ve got the app opened and am scrolling through my connections until I find my laptop with a green dot next to it. I cross my fingers and tap on the connection. There’s a brief pause as the screen goes blank, then shows a miniature version of my desktop. Not wasting any time, I open a remote link and access the dying server. Again, there’s a pause and a moment I am staring at the demise of my career with Cochran Consulting Group. The malicious program has been rewriting the files, replacing them with encrypted gibberish. It looks to be a little over three quarters through the file system. Christ, all those client files — just gone.
I shake my head, snapping myself out of it. I’ve got one chance to make this right. But who am I kidding? I don’t even know where to begin. 11:55 PM.
My eyes dart back and forth between the clock and the malicious code scrolling like acid rain down the screen. Two more minutes go by. Dammit, three more minutes before the backup… And then it comes to me. I navigate through the menus until I find the backup agent. With a double click, the program kicks off and I scroll through the menus looking for the restore button. Sweat beads on my brow and falls in a large plop onto the surface of my phone. I glance up and just happen to notice my battery which is almost non-existent. My eyes flare as the realization that I’ve run out of time hammers in my chest. I tap the restore button in the very same moment my phone dies.