By Trevor Kroger
Luis swore he could feel the dull glow of the Rosen Robotics sign high overhead as he scurried into the building, nearly twenty minutes late for work. The whole of Metro-North had been backed up that morning thanks to some out-of-work banker jumping on the tracks, ensuring no one got to work on time, but not even that would placate Campbell if he spotted Luis sitting down at his desk any time after 8:30. Though a fine project manager in every other respect, Campbell placed an almost fetishistic emphasis on punctuality — an utterly alien experience to most developers.
Luis, having worked his way through college with early morning barista jobs, found the demand manageable. Usually.
Hurrying across the shiny black floor of the lobby, Luis nearly ran into Sady as both rushed to catch the same elevator. The angry reprimand died before it could pass his lips when he saw the pretty young analyst. “Oh, hey!” he said before recovering and offering her a proper “Good morning.”
Sady gave a tired smiled. “Hi,” she said sweetly in that husky voice of hers. “The trains got you too, huh?”
Luis nodded. “Yeah. Damned MTA… Not that I’ve got anything against the MTA in general, you know, just doing their jobs…”
The elevator dinged open in the middle of Luis’s anxious babbling. He retained the presence of mind to chivalrously wave Sady in first. She rewarded him with another smile, this one a little less tired.
As they rode up together, Luis tried to think of something else to say. Just as it was forming in his mind, the doors dinged open again on their floor. “Have a good one,” Sady said as she hurried out.
The doors nearly shut on Luis as he lingered, watching the girl rush down the narrow lane between cubicles to her spot with the Analytics Team. Aardvark, as they’d been dubbed during the last restructuring. Luis ducked his head down as he traveled to his own team, Dark Dungeons. So named by another developer as a roundabout way of naming themselves after his favorite hobby and as “Double Ds.” Just as he came within view of his workstation, he heard the familiar, nasally voice –
“I was just looking for you,” said Campbell, as he swooped in. Though nearly a whole head shorter than Luis, he always felt like the tallest man in the room. “You didn’t just get in, did you?”
Luis, feeling the conspicuousness of his backpack and still damp umbrella replied, “No.”
“Good, good,” Campbell said, not giving it a second thought. “Listen, I’m gonna need the whole team — but you especially — I’m gonna need you all to double down on the AGI project.”
God, not that boondoggle again… “Sure thing.”
Campbell did that thing that looked like a very happy chipmunk. “Great to hear! You’re my man, Luis!”
Luis nodded, smiling with great effort. “Yes, I am.”
He let his face droop back to normal once Campbell turned around and sauntered away. That damned AGI project… Luis had initially thought they’d misspelled “API,” but no, it really was some grand stab at Artificial General Intelligence. A computer consciousness that could play chess, contemplate philosophy, and laugh at Campbell’s awful jokes.
The sort of no-end project that signaled the company was looking to trim fat from the budget. Luis spent the first hour that morning sending out resumes on Indeed.
By the time lunch rolled around, Luis hadn’t done much with the AGI other than check out the branch. The code looked like so many strings of spaghetti, what little parts made sense just appearing to be recursive. Luis got up from his desk and trudged back to the elevators, thinking of that food cart one block away with the good falafel. His back ached from sitting, and his eyes ached from screen glare, and he was so busy feeling sorry for himself that he nearly collided with Sady again. “Aw, damn! I’m sorry!” he said, chuckling a little from embarrassment.
Sady, not looking so tired anymore, said kindly, “Just one of those days.”
They rode back down together, Luis again puzzling over an icebreaker despite having one still unused from that morning. Despite the ice having been thoroughly broken from crashing into each other twice already, if not the five months working in the same office. “You going to lunch too?” he finally asked, just one floor from the lobby.
Sady shook her head. “Going for a quick walk. Stretch my legs, you know?”
“Yeah! Me too!” Luis agreed without really thinking.
He followed Sady back out through the lobby, the great big Phantom Drone swaying some over their head from the rush of air going back and forth, the front doors to the street swinging back and forth, as the many people at Rosen came and went for the lunch hour. Luis could smell a panini there, a large cup of bisque there, carried by in take-out bags. His stomach growled in protest, as he stuck beside Sady on the way out the building.
“So where do you usually walk?” Sady asked once they were outside, a chill gray sky overhead.
“Oh, you know, around,” Luis lied.
It seemed to satisfy Sady though. More than Satisfy, judging by the warm smile she gave him. “I usually go up 8th Street and loop back down Hawthorne.”
“Let’s do that, then,” Luis said much too readily.
The route proved longer than Luis expected for the meager lunch break allowed by Rosen. At the pace Sady kept, he didn’t even have time to worry over his growling stomach…
They talked mostly about the walk and walking, at first. Luis felt like an imbecile. Then, a third of the way down the much longer than expected Hawthorne, “How’s your end of the project going?” she asked.
Luis had to stop himself from reflexively saying “Great!” Instead, he tried to explain, “It’s going about as well as it can, considering it’ll never work.”
Sady cocked her head, almost like a cat. “You think so?”
“I mean, I guess it could work in theory, but even if we get the code right, it would need way more processing power than we have.”
Sady looked thoughtful. “I don’t know… Those autocabs they put out last year are pretty sophisticated.”
“It’s just a GPS attached to a steering wheel,” Luis scoffed. Seeing her face fall some, he elaborated, “I mean, yeah, it’s a big step, but it’s still really far from, you know, consciousness.”
She still looked disagreeable. “I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.”
Luis laughed bitterly. “Campbell wouldn’t like to hear that…”
Sady looked at him sharply. “What do you mean?”
Speaking more freely than he knew he should, Luis said, “Oh, you know how he is. ‘Retro’ this, ‘Kanban’ that, all that Agile jargon that makes managers feel special and creative.” He chuckled some, more bitterly than even he expected. The past three months of project stress just rolled right out. “He thinks we can do anything in a day just by saying we can. It’s all smiles and optimism, and then he turns into a raging asshole when it turns out there are actual limits on what can be done…”
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