deus ex machina

The click of Maya’s heels echoed in the corridors as they walked towards the server room on the third floor. Jerry scanned his access card and pushed the door at the sound of it unlocking. “Make sure you tag in and tag out, otherwise security will think someone unauthorised is in the room.”

Maya nodded, passing her own card over the panel. No response. She tried again, and the red light flashed twice. Jerry glanced at it. “I told Adrian to add your—” He broke off when it beeped and the light flicked green. “Huh. Never done that before. I’ll ask Adrian to take a look later.”

She gave the scanner a dubious look before following him in. The drop in temperature made her shudder. “I guess I should’ve brought my jacket.” The hum of the air conditioning system was almost as loud as the servers.

“It’s not too bad,” Jerry said, digging his hands into his pockets, his shoulders hunched against the cold. “Just a few degrees above absolute zero.” He headed towards the racks near the back of the room. “So, the server is over there. All the remote access precautions apply — in fact, be even more careful here.”

She made a face. “Yeah, yeah. I make a mistake once and you go on about it forever.”

Jerry grinned. “Well, at least you only made it once, even though you almost killed the OS.” His phone buzzed and he grimaced at the message. “They need me in that meeting with QA. You okay if I leave?”

“Sure, it’s just a patch. I’ll holler if I need help.” He hurried away with a muttered thanks. The door shut after him and she rubbed her arms, feeling a touch apprehensive.

She shook herself and slid out the keyboard, pulling up the command-line interface and plugging in her USB stick. Jerry had never explained why this machine had no remote access. Even the programmers didn’t seem sure what they were coding — they just checked their work in for her to compile, and she compiled the patches without fully understanding what the code did, and she didn’t even know who did the unit testing. Jerry told her not to worry about it. Whatever the secret was, it was responsible for her being stuck in a freezing server room in a creepy wing, trying to get the system up to date.

The work was routine, even if it was taking longer than usual. The cold air left her fingertips numb and her throat dry, and she watched impatiently as the lines spooled down the terminal, surprisingly error-free and without the need of her intervention.

She heard the door unlock, then lock again, and the access panel beeping. She peered around the racks, frowning. “Jerry, is that you?” Silence, except for the gush of the air-conditioning. Shaking her head, she turned back to the screen and froze in surprise as several terminals popped open briefly, the commands too fast for her to follow, before closing themselves.

The rest of the computers came to life at the same time with an ominous whirring. Cursors blinked in empty screens before spitting out a message.

Maya, get out. Now.

She stared at it, wide-eyed, before the sharp, distant ringing of the fire alarm filled the building. Habit made her automatically press the keys to log out of the system, and she ran towards the door. She scanned her pass. Once. Twice. Thrice. The access panel trilled at her, mocking.

She fumbled with her phone, losing precious seconds trying to find Jerry’s name and dialling it. “Get out of the server room, Maya!” Jerry shouted before she could say anything. “The floor below you is on fire, and they’re not letting me go back there.”

“It won’t read my access card,” she cried, scanning it again.

“Calm down, I’ll find someone to override it,” he said, but she could hear the strain in his voice and the commotion around him. The lights on the access panel winked at her, almost a taunt. Behind her, the computer displayed a terminal with the numbers 495364.

She’d be terrified if she wasn’t already half-dazed with desperation. She keyed the numbers in and the lights turned green and then red again before she could pull open the door. The digits on the screen changed. She bit down a cry and punched them in, yanking at the door even before it unlocked. She stumbled out of the room, chest heaving, and ran down the corridor towards the fire exit. Outside, the acrid smell of smoke filled the air.

Jerry was standing by the main entrance behind a security cordon, gesturing wildly, his phone still to his ear. He sagged in relief when he saw her. “You’re all right!” he said, voice cracking, draping an arm across her shoulders. They stood together and watched as the fire engine arrived, listening to a befuddled security guard telling a police officer how both the smoke alarm and the fire suppression system hadn’t kicked in until the fire was well underway.

She looked up at him. “What’s on that server, Jerry?”

He regarded her for a moment before guiding her away from the crowd, from the watching eyes both human and electronic. He took a breath and kept his voice low. “Twelve years ago, when I was starting as a junior programmer . . .”

Yeah, sorry, I ended that with an ellipsis. Feel free to make up your own backstory. I’m not even sure what the story is really about. Someone is trying to kill Maya and an AI intervenes? Why is Maya important? Unfortunately only Maya (and maybe Jerry) knows.

Maybe I should have tried to fit in more technical details, but who really cares what she inputs in Bash anyway.

I blame today’s daily prompt, artificial.


2 thoughts on “deus ex machina

  1. sarahbruso 26 October 2016 / 5:52 am

    That must be where Jerry hides all the picture of his anime waifus. Clearly he didn’t want Maya to know his shame.
    I like your writing and I like your blog. Both feel clean and professional.

    • rain 26 October 2016 / 12:32 pm

      Now I am curious and feel like I have to dig and find all of Jerry’s waifus. Maybe they come to life when he’s all alone in the room?

      Thank you for the comments! I’ve been worrying that the layout was too plain; glad to see someone else thinks it works, too.

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