09 January 2009

"Bachelor of Science"

By Curtis C. Chen

"Brandon, can I see you in my office?"

Brandon sighed and locked his computer before standing up. The other engineers on the third floor were always eager to prank someone who hadn't properly secured his workstation.

He followed his new manager down the hall casually--without delay, but not too fast, lest anybody think he actually wanted to talk to David, who kept telling everyone to call him "Dave," as if that would make him seem like more of a pal.

David had sat down at his desk and was typing. He nodded at Brandon as he walked in.

"One second," said David. "Would you mind closing the door?"

Brandon turned around. The engineer sitting across the hall raised his hand and made a slicing motion across his throat. Brandon held up one finger and closed the door.

"Thanks," David said as Brandon sat down. "Don't worry, it's nothing bad, I just wanted to discuss a personal matter." He faked a smile, as if that would ease Brandon's concerns. "HR says you've worked here for six years, but only been promoted once. Why is that?"

Brandon rolled his eyes. "I like my job."

"Someone with your talents could have a more interesting career."

"Writing kernel code for cell phones?"

David smiled, and it was the first genuine emotion that Brandon had seen on his face. "No. I'm talking about what you can do with your mind. Your powers of persuasion."

Brandon shot to his feet, knocking his chair over, and backed into the office door.

"We don't have a name for it," David said, standing up and walking around his desk. "It's not 'telepathy,' and 'mind control' is inaccurate and cheesy."

Brandon closed his fingers around the door handle. He stared at David and concentrated.

"See, I know what you're doing." David folded his arms and leaned against the wall. "You can influence people, and right now you're trying to make me forget. It's not going to work, because I have the same power--and I've been trained."

Brandon gritted his teeth. "What do you want?"

"I'm here to recruit you."

"For what? Some government bullshit? Not interested."

David laughed. "Well, we can do this the easy way--"

He gasped and fell to his knees. Brandon ran over and caught David before he did a face plant onto the carpet.

"Here's the thing," Brandon said. "I have more than one superpower. I'm guessing you don't, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to stop your heart." He lowered David to the floor and made a show of checking his pulse. "Sorry, but I'm sure you would have killed me, or worse. And I need the head start."

He jumped up, threw open the door, and yelled, "Somebody call 911!"

People swarmed out of their cubicles. Brandon asked where he could find a first aid kit, knowing full well that the closest one was with the receptionist on the first floor. He grabbed his backpack and ran for the stairs. He didn't know when he would be able to stop running.


Audio: "Bachelor of Science"


Music: "43 After Nine" by yurigara, licensed under Creative Commons from ccMixter.

Apologies for the poor audio quality this week. My laptop died Wednesday morning, and I had to go back to using my 12-year-old Dell desktop for recording. It's a bit slow at times, but still ticking. Knock on wood.


Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta

Possibly the greatest sequence in the cinematic masterpiece Office Space features the song "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta" by Geto Boys [sic]. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but I will warn you that its rapturous beauty may bring a tear to your eye.

I worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley for almost thirteen years, and I will always be grateful for my experiences there. They provided the foundation for my most recent novel (working title EndGame, still in first draft), and I'm planning to work even more of them into a screenplay for this year's Script Frenzy.

That said, there were plenty of unpleasant things as well. Even smart people can be stupid. Below is the start of my original draft for "Bachelor of Science," which I scrapped when I found a more interesting, skiffy premise:

Brandon's manager was approaching, making his way down the labyrinth of cubicles on the third floor.

Brandon started sweating. This was new. In his experience, there were two type of managers: either they were tech-savvy but clueless about people, or competent leaders but totally ignorant about technology. The first type were usually engineers who had been promoted out of the jobs they really wanted to do, and always itched to get back into coding instead of dealing with performance reviews and other paperwork. The second type knew how to handle the occasional interpersonal crises that broke out among the ranks, but were easily fooled when it came to work estimates and engineering details.

Brandon had, over the years, developed methods to deal with both types of managers so that his own work life would go smoother. But this new guy actually seemed to be both tech-savvy and a competent supervisor. How was Brandon supposed to pull the wool over his eyes? He didn't doubt that he could figure it out--any hacker worth his salt can use social engineering to great advantage--but he was a bit miffed that he'd have to spend the extra effort. At work. He had more important things to worry about.

No, this was not a Mary Sue story. I deny everything!

On another note, I've pretty much given up on Heroes. The second season was disappointing, and D and I both found the third season premiere vastly underwhelming. I've still got a few episodes which I already paid for on Amazon Unbox, and the rest are available through Netflix Watch Instantly, but I doubt I'll get to them anytime soon. I'll consider catching up when Bryan Fuller (late of Pushing Daisies) is back on the job and I start seeing better reviews.