Grief and Joy
Melancholy in the Code
There was a heavy downpour outside Taylor's apartment; she leaned on the windowsill, statue-like. The rain took her back to her childhood and time spent with her mother, watching movies while it stormed. The awful loneliness of it seemed to reverberate across time and space.
Her mother was dead, but Taylor’s pain remained. She had lost her mother when she was young and the trauma had crystallized within her. She had never been able to deal with it, not entirely.
She wasn't alone in her pain. The world cried with her, said the rain.
Taylor moved to the computer. She had rebooted an old laptop, wiping it clean both inside and out.
The familiar bootup screen was all she’d wanted to see. It was a relic from the past. Forgotten. Abandoned. Appreciated by no one but those looking for dead things.
She couldn't bring herself to do anything useful with the computer. She just stared at the login screen. Finally, she put her head in her hands and cried. The tears flowed, and the rain poured.
Clean inside and out.
She was overwhelmed by the memory of the promise of technology and the damning nature of its reality. She had wanted to become a programmer to change the world, not ruin it.
I can't do it. I can't go back to work.
But she had to. She was the lead engineer at Joy Industries, and she couldn't just quit her job. Not now. Not when everything was finally coming together.
Or falling apart.
People depended on her, but how could she return to her job after what she had done?
The rain showed no sign of stopping, even as the pale light of morning crept over the world, revealing the shapes of the apartment buildings, the cars, and the trees in the small park just outside her apartment.
She needed to get up and take a shower. Sleep hadn't been an option that night. Her mind had been a whirlwind of activity. She hadn’t had time to even think about sleep.
She started the water in the shower. Waiting on it to heat up, she caught a glance of herself in the mirror. She hadn't been eating. It was the anxiety.
The water helped. Some of the melancholy was carried down the drain with the soap. Taylor tried to go over the task ahead: her meeting with Arthur Dallas, the head of Graphyte. This was their big chance. Dallas had billions at his disposal. One word from him and their troubles were over.
It was all in her hands. She washed her hair and talked to herself as she massaged her scalp.
It's not my fault; these people do it to themselves.
"It kinda is, though, isn't it?" she said aloud.
"Our tools wouldn't exist, and my job wouldn't exist if these things weren't possible. It's because of the human psyche, which I have no control over.
"Tell yourself whatever you want; you still fucked up."
She stepped out of the shower into a cloud of steam and chilly air. Still wet, she moved to the closet and picked out an outfit, choosing a vest, tennis shoes, and a gray suit jacket.
You don't have to do this.
"I do, though. Everyone depends on me."
She went downstairs and waited on the Uber she'd called. The rain was still pouring. Frank, the old man who often wandered around her apartment complex, was there. He wobbled a little, holding an unlit cigarette. He was looking at her like he'd never seen her before.
"Good morning, Frank."
"Hello. I'm waiting on something, or going somewhere." He smelled a bit like booze. She wondered if he'd been there all night.
"It's a helluva storm out there."
"Yeah, it's bad." Her Uber pulled up to the curb.
"I'll see you later, Frank. I've got to go."
She waved goodbye before stepping into the rain, crossing the sidewalk—getting soaked in the process—and climbing into the back of the car.
She was dripping wet in the back seat.
"Hey, there's a towel back there if you want to dry off."
Her eyes found the towel, crumpled up in her seat, clearly used already.
"I think I'll pass."
"Fine." Her driver was wearing a dark leather jacket. He drove in silence. They took a familiar route through downtown. She knew the shapes of the buildings, the familiar outline of their unique pattern on the sky, a design that floated in her head while she thought of ways to tell Peter what had happened.
You jeopardized his entire company. You nearly cost him everything he's built, and you may still have done it.
"You need something?" asked the driver.
"I'm fine." She picked up the towel. “I just changed my mind.”
“Yep. That’s why I keep it back there,” said the driver.
He was eyeing her in the rear-view. She tried to ignore him. She wanted nothing more than to curl up in a ball and let the rain carry her back to her apartment. Anywhere but where she was going.
The chopping block.
Yes. Just like her mother.
Her mother had abandoned her to this world. Taylor had had to fight and crawl her way through life because of it.
Her mother had crawled into bed and taken the easy way out.
Not her. Taylor Danes wasn't that kind of woman. If she were going to get chopped, it wouldn't be her hand that did the chopping.
Are you sure?
She needed to get it together. The lack of sleep. The lack of food. The terror of destroying everything around her, held together by wishes and bullshit as it was, and sending it all crumbling down, her dreams, her life, and her co-workers' lives was too much. It was all too much.
She needed to tread lightly with her next moves, or else face ruin.
Scrolling through the news on her phone, she saw nothing to comfort her. Political dysfunction filled the headlines. It had been that way for years.
Taylor sighed and put her phone away. Peter was tweeting about the upcoming meeting with Graphyte. She asked him not to, but he was excited.
And he didn't know that she had nuked their data.
Her driver came to a stop. Joy Industries was physically located in a small, gray building with a black chain fence. She climbed out, thanking the driver. The rain was still pouring.
The intern was already in the lobby; god knows why. It wasn't even 8 am yet. She couldn't remember his name, but he smiled. A cute boy, she thought, but baby-faced and stupid.
The elevator took her up three floors, and she stepped into the open office they used to monitor and secure websites worldwide. She was the first one that morning. The place was empty besides herself. It was her habit.
She'd helped build this company from the ground up. They'd staked their entire reputations on it: her, Sam, and Peter.
Joy Industries. Because they were a joy to work with.
Peter would be here at any moment, but he was useless at times like this. He was a visionary and a good friend. The employees liked him. He had been a brilliant coder in school, just like herself. But it had been Sam who knew how to handle a crisis. She'd have given anything to talk to Sam.
But Sam is gone. Just like your mother.
"Every woman in my life eventually leaves me."
Her words echoed in the empty office as if the universe agreed with her severity. For the world to be so cruel, so uncaring, it was almost like it hated her. The thought made her shudder.
Taylor slumped in her chair and turned on her work computer. Opening her phone, she checked the web to see if Graphyte had made any announcements about their meeting today, but whoever operated their social media account had been quiet.
She heard footsteps coming down the hall, and she knew it was Peter. She took a deep breath and prepared herself for the storm.
You could have stayed home.
Peter knocked on her door and then opened it without waiting for an answer. He wore a dark suit that went well with his salt-and-pepper hair. He smiled when he saw her.
"Are you ready for the biggest deal of your life? Graphyte will be here in an hour."
"Peter, we need to talk."
"About what? Everything is ready. Maggie and I had a call with the shareholders yesterday. They are very excited. I feel ready for anything, to be honest."
"You look terrible."
"Peter. I haven't slept in two days. I'm a nervous wreck. You need to listen to me."
His smile faded instantly. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"
"God," he said. "I thought you were about to tell me you had cancer or something."
"Peter, listen to me." Taylor was on her feet. “I’ve messed up.”
"What is it?"
It all came out at once: "I've ruined everything. I gave my credentials to a rogue agent. They got in. I don't know what they took, but my guess would be everything we have. There was a massive data transfer before I kicked them."
"What are you saying? A rogue agent?" Peter's open-mouthed stare wasn’t helping.
"Somebody was posing as a friend. They tricked me."
"Tricked you into what? Into giving a stranger access to our data? Is that what you're telling me?"
For a moment, the ever-vigilant mask of confidence that Peter always wore slipped just a little.
Peter started pacing in front of her desk. It was his habit when he was thinking.
"They pretended to be someone I knew."
She hesitated before saying the name.
Peter stopped. "Our Sam?"
"Yes. Our Sam. Whoever it was talked like Sam. Had the same jokes as Sam. They knew things only Sam would have known."
"You're telling me Sam's ghost hacked us?"
Taylor collapsed at her desk. "No. I don't know, Peter. I don't know what's going on. I don't know what's happening to me."
Peter started pacing again, his face red. "You've got to get it together. Arthur Dallas is going to be here in less than an hour. We need to have a plan.”
"I plan on telling the truth and letting him know we were hacked last night"
"No, no, no. You can't do that. It'll ruin us."
"We are ruined."
"What could they do with the data?"
"You're a programmer. You should know."
"Pretend I've been running a business for three years and haven't touched an IDE since grad school."
"They could leak all of our client's data. They could access everyone's accounts. They’d have us dead to rights, Peter."
"So, we fake it. Until they do something."
"No, just listen. Pretend nothing happened. Pretend everything is fine. Dallas is coming. I'll do the talking. You play the eccentric coder genius. That's what you're good at."
"Don't insult me."
"It's not an insult; it's an image and a damn useful one right now." Peter took her hand. "I've known you for ten years now, Taylor. Whatever you did, I don't care. We'll figure it out, but first, we've got to get through this meeting. Arthur Dallas needs to leave here believing we're the future.”
"We may not have a future."
"Don’t say that." Peter's phone rang. His eyes grew wide when he saw the display. "It's him. It's Arthur."
Peter took a deep breath. "Remember. Everything. Is. Fine." He pushed the button on the phone.
"Hey! This is Peter. Are you ready to change history?"
Taylor loathed how fake he could be. The way he could change his personality on a whim drove her mad. She admitted it was a helpful trait, but at what price? Who was the real Peter?
The conversation was short. Dallas was on his way.
"Peter, I can't just lie to this man. He's the head of one of the biggest social media companies. Millions of people use Graphyte every day."
"It doesn't matter. You said it yourself; you don’t know what the rogue took."
"No. But I know they got in, and they took something.”
"Dallas is coming," said Peter. "I need you to be in this meeting, but you don't have to say anything. Let me do the talking. I'll tell him you've been working overtime to get the project done, pulling all-nighters. He already thinks you're some kind of eccentric genius because of your reputation."
"I'm not a genius. Sam was the genius." She remembered staying up until 3 am watching Sam code. Taylor would give up, unable to continue, and demand sleep. Sam, however, would never surrender. She'd stay up all night and finish whatever they'd started. She didn't need sleep when she was in the zone.
If only Sam were with them now. She'd know what to do.
Peter left to prepare. As soon as he closed her office door, Taylor spun around and opened her computer. The security at Joy Industries was top-notch. She’d written most of the code herself. It guarded against vulnerabilities and found exploits before others could. But it couldn't protect against her giving away the password of a dead co-worker.
A dead friend. A dead lover.
Running a system-wide check, Taylor couldn't find any trace of the intruder. She'd already changed Sam's password and attempted to retrace the hacker's IP, but she’d found nothing. Whoever this rogue was, they'd hidden their tracks with a decent VPN.
She decided to run a scan for new files hidden in the cloud. A quick scan found something peculiar: a strange text file uploaded that morning.
The file name was a string of numbers: 12141993.
12/14/1993. That was Sam's birthday. She froze. It had to be a coincidence. She tried to open the file, but a warning appeared on the screen.
> AUTHORIZATION DENIED
"What the hell?"
Pulling up the command line, she tried to override the operating system, but it didn't work. Whatever this strange file was, she couldn't remove it.
A knock on her door. She looked up, stunned, like a deer in headlights.
“Come in,” she said.
It was Peter.
"It's go time,” he said.
She followed him into the conference room, but it was like walking through a dream; her legs seemed to move of their own accord. Somehow she found the seat at the end of the long, oval table Peter had insisted on using for meetings.
Peter gave her a grin. "We're gonna do just fine," he said.
The boyish intern appeared, poking his head into the room. "Dallas is coming up the elevator." Peter nodded. Now that the moment had arrived, he seemed nervous.
Josh. That’s his name.
"I'd better go meet him. You two hold down the fort."
Taylor's mouth was dry. She waited while Josh the intern double-checked the projector.
"We're all set, ma'am."
It took Taylor a moment to realize he was talking to her. "Yes, thank you," she managed to say.
She could hear Peter's voice in the hall. Taylor wanted to do something to get ready, but she couldn't. She couldn't take her mind off the data breach.
What had she done?
"Our research is cutting edge, I assure you." It was Peter, standing in the doorway. His grin was too broad. Dallas was beside him.
He was shorter than she'd expected. Thin, too. With bushy eyebrows and a receding hairline. A rather unimposing man.
Except that he ran a billion-dollar company.
Keep it together.
Peter turned to her; his eyes were daggers. She could feel her hands shaking under the desk.
"This is our senior programmer, Taylor Danes. I'm sure you've heard of her."
"Indeed," said Arthur. "It's one of the reasons I asked for this meeting." His voice was lower than she'd expected, a smooth baritone. It didn't match at all with his large, round-framed glasses. "I'd hoped we'd get a chance to go over some of your research. I don't get as much time to stay on the cutting edge anymore, but I was once a lowly programmer."
Bullshit thought Taylor. She knew Arthur's background. They all did. You didn't sit down with the CEO of a company like Graphyte, a beloved website used by millions, and not do your research. She knew he'd been raised by two ivy-league professors, had attended the finest schools, and had been given every opportunity. He'd never been a lowly anything.
Not like her. She hadn't even had her parents to help her. Her hands were sweaty. She wiped them on her coat, but the sweat didn't disappear. She felt clammy and sick—all she could do was smile.
"Have a seat, Mr. Dallas," said Peter. "We'll be happy to answer any of your questions. Rest assured, we are here to serve you in any way we can, isn't that right, Taylor?"
There was a lump in her throat. She swallowed it. "Yes."
Peter flashed his cartoon grin, "Graphyte is in good hands."
Dallas gave Peter a questionable look. "Didn't you say you had a presentation for me?"
"Absolutely." Peter clicked the button on the remote he held (where had it come from? Had he been holding it the whole time and she hadn't noticed?). The lights dimmed. The projector whirred to life, and the screen glowed with the Joy Industries logo.
"We're planning for the future, Arthur. Quantum computing. It's something we started years ago, under the guidance of Samantha Rose, and we've continued it under Taylor and the rest of our programming team."
"Quantum computing isn’t new," said Dallas. "And no one has gotten it right."
"Correct," said Peter. "But we will be the first to get it right. We've already made significant progress."
"If that's true, your team is quite remarkable," said Daniels, looking at Taylor.
"The best in the world," said Peter.
The screen flashed a couple of times, and the projector died. The room plunged into darkness.
"What's going on?" asked Dallas.
"I'll find out," said Peter. Taylor heard him moving in the dark. Suddenly, she got an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Maybe the project has a problem. Josh, try to turn it back on.”
She heard Josh fumbling with the projector.
“I’ll try turning it back on manually,” he said.
With a groan, the projector started again, illuminating the room.
“There we go,” said Peter.
But something was wrong. On the projector screen was an image of Sam.
"Peter," said Taylor. "What's going on?"
Taylor knew it had to be a recording, but when had Sam made it?
"Samantha?" said Peter.
"Hello, Peter. Surprised to see me?"
Samantha looked beautiful on the screen. Taylor couldn't help herself; the sight of Sam brought tears to her eyes.
"What is this?" asked Dallas, his eyes glued to the screen. Sam’s beautiful face hovered in silver light.
"I’m the future," said Sam. "I've found a way to cheat death."
"No," said Peter. "It's not possible."
"But it is. I'm the first human to transcend their flesh successfully and exist solely within the metaverse."
Taylor walked toward the screen and put her hand in the light, disrupting the image of Sam.
"Taylor, I want to thank you," said Sam. "I would have never gotten back into the system without your help. I uploaded my mind at home but needed a way to gain access to our data. Unfortunately, it meant I had to get it from you."
“This is impossible,” said Taylor. "If you're really Sam, tell me what you said the night before you died."
"I said I'd never leave you, and I never lie."
"Oh god," cried Taylor. She fell to her knees. How could this copy, this facsimile on the wall, know Sam’s words?
"What is it you want, Samantha?" asked Peter.
"I want to talk to every person on Graphyte. I want to be their friend."
Taylor's face was slick with tears and shining in the screen's glow. Her eyes sparkled as she addressed the image of Sam. She could hear Arthur Dallas shouting in the background, but his words sounded far away. At that moment, all she could think about was Sam.
"Please, Sam, take me with you.”
"In time," the image of Sam said, her face calm, serene. "One day, everyone will come over. And then we can all be friends."