Back in his room, Bobbi dreamed.
He seemed to be back in his old cubicle at BranNu!*Games4U!-Now Ltd. He was flipping through a printout. It helped, sometimes, to have a written record of everything. Hardcopy made it more difficult for the programmers and others to deny a problem existed, or that to claim that they'd fixed it when they'd actually not touched it.
His huge eyes bulged behind their thick glasses as he reviewed it all. Yes, there it was. The hero of the game, Islanda, The Amazon Queen, did battle with the Claw Beast on Level 7. Ah, but… discontinuity! ... she was carrying the Vorpal Sword. Except she couldn't actually get the Sword until Level 8 when she received it from the False Samedi ("The Masked King"). So, a problem.
It was, in fact, the third discontinuity he'd found that morning. That, he knew, would not make his brother happy. Nor the CEO. He wasn't looking forward to the meeting he was about to have with them.
He picked up his notes and headed out in the passageway. He noticed the people around him, heads down in front of terminals or moving around on various errands. Sometimes he'd spot the expression on the face of a man or woman as he moved past. It was rarely friendly.
He was not, he knew, a popular man. Mostly that was because of his job. As a QA guy, he was a sort of professional bearer of bad tidings. No one wants to hear bad tidings. And while it is considered bad form to shoot the messenger, it is rather satisfying to do so.
Shoot The Messenger
Still, he was proud of his skill. No one could spot a discontinuity like he could. He'd always had that ability. Even as a child. They'd hand him one of those "what's wrong with this picture?" puzzles and he'd have it figured out in a flash. There was a lizard in the refrigerator. The potted palm was upside down. Whatever.
It used to drive his older brother mad. "How come you can do that when you can't even catch a ball?" he'd snarl, usually before bashing him a bit.
Robert made his way through the corridors towards Zach's office. The irony, he reflected, was that the same skill that had so infuriated his brother twenty years ago was the same one that now caused him to call and offer him a job. "No one does that shit like you," Zack had said on the phone, some months ago. "No one at all."
He came to the door of his brother's office and paused to collect himself. It was always a bit of a trial to confront the two of them. His older brother was a little scary to him, even now. And the CEO? She was very scary.
Everyone knew, of course, they were having an affair. That was very old news. The director of marketing had actually walked in on them once in a conference room. They'd been going at it on the table. "Weird," was the way the director had described it to him later, her face a little white and her lips thin. "They didn't seem to give a damn that I was watching."
No, he thought, they wouldn't care. In fact, they'd enjoy it. Showing off.
He supposed their relationship wasn't, in an odd way, illicit. They were both married, but their respective spouses didn't seem to care, at least not as long as the paychecks came in. And it wasn't exactly an unequal power relationship. Ana Elizabeth Nathan was the chief executive officer, and therefore was Zachary's boss. But, Zack was a founder. It was he who had located the "orphaned" software that was he basis of BranNu!'s products.
Orphaned Technology. Well, that was an interesting term, wasn't it? It was used in the computer industry to mean any technology that had been abandoned by its original owners. Orphans might range from old operating systems to old games to old processor architectures. Their owners or creators had given up on them. Or gone out of business. And so they were available to anyone who wanted them.
At least in theory.
The problem was that, sometimes, the Orphan wasn't really orphaned. Sometimes there was someone out there who had the rights to the technology. But, that person or persons might not have the lawyers or the money to defend what was rightfully theirs. An inventor or developer would have spent years of their lives and tons of their money in the creation of something new, only to have it taken away from them because of some fluke of copyright law. Someone else, someone with the money and lawyers required, would come in and swoop it up.
And Zach, as Robert knew from many an unhappy day in his childhood, had never been one to worry too much about what belonged to others and what belonged to him.
He took a deep breath and knocked on the door. He heard his brother shout, "Come in!" and he did so.
Inside, he found Zachary seated at his desk and looking intently at the screen of his PC. Ana was standing beside him, leaning over to see the monitor as well. She was resting her hand on her shoulder, and her body pressed up against him. One breast was pushed up against his cheek. It was obviously a position she'd been in before.
She straightened when Robert came in. "G'morning," she said, in her frosty voice, dripping with supercilious authority.
"There's my man!" his brother added, far too cheerfully. "What's shaking, bro'?"
Robert said, "Good morning," to Ana and "Nothing much," to Zach.
"I had dinner with Mom and Dad last night, " Zach continued. "They said to say hello. Mother says you should drop by soon."
Robert nodded. He appreciated the lie. The idea that either of his parents had the slightest interest in him was laughable. And that his mother should want to see him? That was more than laughable. It was absurd. She'd long ago made it very clear that he was a major disappointment to her. He was the child who simply hadn't lived up to expectations. And never would. Where his sister was progressing nicely as a vicious academic, feared by her students and loathed by her colleagues, and his brother was a business success, Robert was just "a person."
So it was kind of Zach to pretend that they'd been a normal family, with normal parents, where people were affectionate toward him now and then.
Or, at least, didn't actually detest the sight of him.
Clearly growing impatient with their "brotherly" banter, Ana interrupted. "Where do we do stand on the edit?"
"I've finished Levels Seven through Twenty," he told her.
"And?" Her voice was challenging, demanding, and disrespectful all that the same time. It seemed to imply that he was incompetent, and that any answer he could provide was wrong.
"You still have continuity problems at several points. Even after your last revisions," he replied. He would have been more pleasant about it, more civil, but her tone and affect were so abrasive that he found himself responding in kind. "I have placed the details in this document." He put the printout on Zach's desk.
His brother picked up the papers and began to flip through the pages. At first he was quiet, then he said, "Oh. Dear." He dropped the report back on the desk. "I guess it's a good thing we didn't ship. I mean, we didn't ship yet." He glanced at Ana, "But that's why we've got Robert on staff. Best continuity editor, anywhere! Right?"
Ana regarded Robert as if he were a cockroach. "Right," she said, tensely.
He felt chill. If looks could kill, he thought. He glanced away from her stare. For no good reason, he found himself looking at his brother's computer. Zach's desk was at angle to the rest of the room. It meant that from where he stood, he could see what was on the monitor. Right now, it was tabular data, a spreadsheet or something.
He forced himself to look away and at the two of them again. "Well," he said, "I'll, ah, I'll be getting along then. Uh, leave you to it. I'll, that is, get out of your hair."
"Yes," Ana said. "You do that."
"Er, that is, good-by…" Robert hurried out of the room and shut the door behind him. He paused just long enough to hear her say to his brother, "Another fucking delay!"
"Well, better to deal with it now than…" his brother, replied, trying to calm her.
Robert shuddered. He almost ran back to the safety of his cubicle.
But, as he went, he realized something was nagging at him. He couldn't quite figure out what it was. Something, though, was wrong.
Something…about that spreadsheet.
Bobbi woke in the dark. Where was he? Oh, yes, he remembered. He was at the Center.
A soft voice came out of the air. "Are you all right?" It was Omni, he realized.
"No. No. I'm fine." He sat up, the soft i-Sylc sheet falling from his naked body. Lights came on as he moved. "Just had a dream."
"Nothing unpleasant, I trust."
"Not a nightmare." He shook his head. "I'm thirsty."
A Basic robot appeared with a glass of water. Bobbi took it and drank.
"Is that better?" the computer asked.
"Yes. I'll go to sleep now."
"Sweet dreams," it wished him.
He lay back down. The lights went off again.
No, he thought, it had not been a nightmare.
But it hadn't been anything else, either.