Monday, 23 July 2012

Frankenstein's debugger

It was the summer before I went to University.  My mother had marched into my bedroom, tripped over things on the floor hidden by the stygian gloom, and pulled the curtains off the wall.  The curtain rod hit me as I tried to sit up, bleary-eyed and still hungover from the night before, and I whimpered in pain, unsure if it was the headache or the aching head.  "Why did you do that?" I managed, my voice a dry croak and my tongue feeling twice its normal size.
"I was trying to open them," said my mother, her voice loud and shrill.  "When was the last time they were opened?"
"Two weeks ago," I said, ignoring her snort.  "I told you that they'd broken then, and you said you'd get them fixed.  Two weeks ago."  Her second snort died in her throat as her memory worked.
"You need to get a job," she said after a couple of seconds of silence.  "I'm not having you sit around in your own filth in this pig-sty of a room all summer.  You go out this morning and find yourself a job, or there.  Will.  Be.  Trouble."  She turned on her heel and marched out, unaware that she was walking through the fried breakfast she'd put at the entrance to the room an hour earlier.  I sighed, knowing that it would somehow be my fault that she'd put the breakfast there and then walked it all through the house.
I never actually made it to the job centre, as I was stopped two streets away from it by a stunning young woman in a lab coat.  She was carrying a clipboard and an expensive-looking fountain pen, but her brunette hair and the way the coat clung to her were what really caught my attention.  She glanced at me and looked away, scanning the sparse crowd of people mostly shopping, but then she looked back at me again, almost as though she were doing a double-take.
"Excuse me?" Her voice was as soft as crushed velvet, and I wondered why I'd made that particular comparison.  She stepped a little closer to me than I was completely comfortable with, and I felt my scalp start sweating.  "Excuse me, but would you be looking for a job by any chance?"
"Well, yes," I said.  This didn't happen to me.  Hell, this didn't happen to anyone who wasn't in a story or a film.  Well, I say film, but we're talking internet porn really.  So the big question for me now was, was it just her, or was it her sexy friend as well?  I looked around, but I couldn't see the friend.
"Oh good," she said.  "Because I have a job that I'd like to offer you.  You look like an intelligent and strong young man.  Do you think you could pick a person up?"
"Oh yes," I said, visions of picking her up and pushing her up against a wall running in the private cinema in my head.
"And you've had experience–"
"Yes!"  Well, I wasn't going to say anything else, was I?
"– with computers?" she finished, a mischievous little smile on her face.  I deflated a little, in more senses than just one.
"Oh.  Well, yes, that too," I said, and then blushed when I heard myself.
"Excellent," she said.  "We have a debugging job for you, but there's the odd bit of heavy lifting involved too.  Would you care to come with me and I'll take you to our offices?"
The offices turned out to be next door to the morgue, which I'd never been to before either, and the fact that there appeared to be an adjoining door to the morgue intrigued me quite a lot too.  The woman running the operation was an older version of the woman who'd recruited me, and I wondered just for a moment if the debugging thing wasn't just a ploy to get me in front of the cameras, but it wasn't the case.
"We have built an open-source human," said the woman, pulling a sheet off a body on a slab.  She studied my face.  "You can scream if you like," she said, her tone light and friendly.  "I'd rather get all that out of the way up front."
"I'm fine," I said, trying not to shiver.  I didn't really have a problem with dead bodies, but this was officially my first.
"We're just trying to iron out the kinks," she said.  "There are a number of problem in there, bugs if you like, in the operating system.  We need someone to run through a number of tests and try and pin down what's causing the problems."
"Don't you need a doctor then?"  I was wondering how I could possibly help, given I knew nothing about humans worked, dead or alive.
"We've got a couple of them," she said.  "What we need now is someone who's not trying to second guess the code we're running.  Someone like you."
Code they were running?  She pointed at a computer screen with a mac-style keyboard in front of it.
"The code's there, you'll be debugging it.  Don't run anything unless one of us is here as well."
I was going to ask why, but she tapped a key on the keyboard and raised an eyebrow at me.  A dull hum I'd not paid any attention to in the background cycled up to a scream, and the body on the slab started to move.  It groaned a little as it did, and my nerve gave out and I clutched at the attractive recruiter, a low moan seeping out from between my lips.  The researcher removed my hands, and smiled at me like my mother when she was drunk.
"That's why," she said.  "Now, you'll be working nine till five...."

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