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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

alas, but our legal department has reservations

A rat, held to a door by the knife of its recent demise, drips into the cracks of the wood.
“Another brilliant piece by Spencer. Can’t you just feel the eyeballs popping into your own skull? God damn he’s good. Mildred, get this thing out there. Promotional material, this one. Put it on the back of every sleeve that gets made from now until the factory collapses.” Mildred Greevil waits for the printer to finish replicating the image from her boss’s computer so she can walk it down to the tech department. She was enjoying the sound of the Hewlett-Packard Laserjet 4000, translating its drone into one of her favorite modernist compositions, when the tone of her boss again rose in volume equal to the 4000.

“Oh, and could you take this card I came up with down to the boys in the pit? I’m rather proud of it myself, I think it might be the highlight of my design career to this point.”
“Sure, I-“
“You know, they’re just not open enough to new ideas a lot of the time. Same thing happened with Return, I told them ‘you know we could do that again and it’ll be a smash hit,’ and no one listened to me, but you can’t just give up when you know, when you just know, that you have a good idea.”
“That’s certainly-“
“Just can’t let people shut you up, that’s what I’ve always says, you can’t let people keep you down like that, don’t let small minds drown out big ideas? And that was a big idea, and that set was a smash, a SMASH, and no one listened to me at the time, but they were all clamoring over each other to take credit for it afterward.”
“They really-“
“But this one, this one, I’m telling you, this is a special design right here, elegant, old-fashioned elegance like we used to make, but with a real current twist, it’ll blow their minds they didn’t think of it first, they’ll be listening to me after this.”
She takes the additional printed sheet that he hands her, the faded ink merging with a glittery hand-written series of addendums like bread that has cultivated an assortment of molds. The print, additions, strikethroughs, and re-additions are things something about numbers and “first strike” and “flying,” and she believes in her ability to successfully bring it to other people in the building, as assigned.
Mildred’s outfit today was simple, in a similar style to the one that her boss had referred to as being alluring but HR-appropriate, though she had set that particular outfit on fire immediately afterward. Her skirt was a slightly brighter red than the maroon of Alpert the Alpaca, her desk companion (squeezing his middle section in a specific way made his little legs appear to move back and forth in a run, which was a great comfort on many days).
She crossed into the darkened room of ‘Online,’ past the book on C holding the door open, and tried to attract the attention of the developers who were in some sort of violent conflict with their computers. “Come on! What a fail,” yelled one as he whacked a monitor with the fat of his hand, followed by repeated complaints that he hit a nerve. “Just turn it off and on again, dummy,” replied the other one.
“Hey, I brought the new-“
“We can’t help you,” sniffles the developer, cradling his hand, eyes peering around for bandages or painkillers, “someone took down the server. And it’s not even downtime day.”
“I was resetting it you doofus!“ and an amalgamation of scuffle and argument emerges from the two of them, encompassing debates regarding power cycling, proper coffee placement vis-à-vis computers, and who had been the originator of the ‘OFFline department’ joke.
“Okay, I’ll just leave the-“
Hey! Hey wait, uh, Greevil. Could you…” his realization seems to have been cause for a truce, as well as a similar realization within his former combatant.
“Yeah, uh, look we need help with something.”
“They guys upstairs don’t seem to like us,” the uninjured party says crossing his arms.
“Yeah! They turned off our websites.”
“We can’t, like, do anything? We used to be on them… I mean we’d do stuff on… our breaks,”
“How am I supposed to manage my NeoPets with eight hours between visits?”
“Their mobile site is just awful,” as both nod.
“Just like, could you get them to turn the filters off? Pleeeeaaaase,” and a grumbling, “even tried to hack into it.”
Mildred is remembering the wonderful time she had in her imaginary bubble; the lovely isolation, the calm, the earlier tone of the 4000. She raises her eyes back up. “Okay, but could you scan the image-“
“Well someone unplugged it without turning the computer off first,” contests a developer toward his counterpart, leading to another historical discussion with contested facts, timelines, procedures, etc. etc. When they start clawing at one another’s ‘Prerelease Judge’ shirts, she decides to fade back out of the doorway.
The back staircase: its concrete, red railing, ceilings consisting of the stairs above which become the floor below; so different in texture from the publicly-used stairs toward the front of the building, their carpets, smooth Beleren Blue paint, but serving the same practical purpose, but for a different-though-overlapping audience. The efficiency of concrete. An adopted aesthetic, meant to convince users of decision to value utility over looks? This would make it just as much of a façade as the carpeted staircase, but with an opposite agenda (unless both are part of the same agenda, to provide a dichotomy between the public and the private, the consumer and the producer). Ornamentation only in the omnipresent red EXIT, the one that makes a little house between the E and the X if one’s head turns to the side. See the little door, the center nub of the E, that is this door to go through: go through the exit, here.
She does so and is promptly knocked on her ass by the most hulking designer in the building.
“Oh jeez! Oh jeez oh jeez. Oh I’m so sorry.” One of his folders is accessorizing her blouse.
“Ow,” concludes Mildred. She attempts a balance between lack of pain and lack of sitting on concrete just outside the second-floor door.
“Oh jeez I, um…” he motions to reach down for his folder, reconsiders the trajectory of his hands, reverses course, and goes back in for round two with the modified objective of helping her up. By this time, she has already separated his folder from her person, gathered it, gathered herself, rolled onto her hands before getting on her feet, and gotten her own papers.
“It’s okay,” she says, getting some dust out of her hair and holding out the folder. “Just didn’t-“
“So sorry,” and he hurriedly takes back his offered possession, “really sorry,” and continues on his way.
She sees a crumpled paper that most have ricocheted off: she can see it’s totally blank but for the purple text, “rejection due to Shadow.” Not wanting to pick it up, she kicks it attempting to flip it over. This doesn’t work until she kicks it into the wall, it having gained a large amount of dirt in the process, but revealing its flip side as entirely blank. To pick it up or… she concludes that bending back down seems awful.
-------------
The next day, she had barely finished tolerating the taste of office coffee before her boss comes in, sweating much earlier in the day than usual.
“Hey, so… you should go see Nick Mitchell. Upstairs. In the, um…” he looks around for something on the floor to address with the rest of his statement. “…legal department.”
The legal department, taking up the entirety of the fifth floor, is the only part of the building that requires its own specialized key card to access, via stairs or elevator.
“Ah, I guess you should follow…” her boss is now looking over at the legal department courier, waiting in the doorway to escort her upstairs.
“Did I do something wrong?” Mildred is checking her recent past for anything that may have offended this department’s interpretation of the law. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t authorized to go to Online. She technically hadn’t been, but it was also, slightly less technically, her job.
“I am uninformed of the current case,” says the courier. His dress shoes are far shinier than she had imagined anyone at this company wearing. His keycard grants them entry into this floor of the building that she’d never seen: mahogany and sandalwood furnishing give the floor’s foyer a darker hue, like a mobster’s private area in the back of a casino. He leads her next into the meeting room labeled Grand Coliseum.
Facing the door are three enormous desk/table/box things, resembling raised versions of witness stands, at which sit three different men in black suits nearly identical to the one worn by the courier. For her is an empty chair in front of a plain, though solid-looking, carved wooden table. Jittering the table from underneath is the leg of the hulking designer who ran into her yesterday.
“Oh! It’s, um-“
“Mildred! Please, please, tell them that wasn’t my card. I don’t know where it came from, was it yours, I mean, was it from your papers? Like an example or something, not a design? I know I didn’t design it, I know better…” his blubbering continues, less audible, until the soft rumble of amplified speech fills the room. The right-most person facing her speaks into his microphone.
“We have come across an issue with a design,” he explains lowly, “and the designer to which its creation was presumed has relayed that it might not have been his.”
“From the hall! We ran into… I mean our papers got mixed up,” the designer says.
Mildred feels like she is actually supposed to say something here. “Yes, we did,” and after a delay, “I fell down.” Several seconds pass after this before the interviewer even moves.
“Were any designs present on your person? Card designs, that is.”
“Oh, there was… I had one to deliver to the designers, yes. I never did so, that was a mistake. I was a bit rattled and forgot.”
“And is the nature of the design at all memorable to you? That is, would you know the design?”
“Um.” Mildred attempts this. “I’d know the paper? I guess? There was some handwriting. There was something about first strike. In handwriting.”
The panel in front of her confers. “This seems to be the design in question, thank you. And as for its origin: was it, by any chance, something of yours?” The panel makes no change in facial expression, but the designer looks over at her in terror.
“What? No. I don’t… I’m not actually that familiar with the game.” She shrugs. “It was something my boss gave me, said to show it to them, that’s all.” More conferring in front. “I don’t really understand what this-“
“Thank you, Mildred,” says the middle panelist. “You’ve been a huge help. If you need anything from us, just ring and ask for me: Nick Mitchell. Could someone show Ms. Greevil back downstairs?”
Mildred, a bit confused, vowed to have a conversation with her boss about what just happened. She set  a goal of keeping the conversation under ten minutes. She walked up to his clean, empty desk, with only a chair neatly tucked in front of it. No scattered cards as earlier in the day, not even a computer, and certainly no loud instruction-giver.
An HR person happened to be walking by. “Hey!” She asks. “What happened to-“
“Well, he no longer works here,” was the smiling answer. He started to turn away, but Mildred’s sputtered protests gave him reason to stay.
“But he was just-“
“You know I can’t discuss personnel matters,” big theatrical wink, “but between us… it was…” Mildred held her breath for a moment. “There’s been a lot of, well, harassment complaints. You know? Sexual harassment?”
“After the-“
“Look, I’ve had a lot of training in this issue. Tons of classes. Really informative stuff. So what most people don’t know about this sort of harassment,” he elaborates, “is that it doesn’t just affect the person it’s directed at. It may not even be directed at one specific individual. What it does is create a toxic work environment. I definitely advise reading up on that, let me point you toward some books sometime.”
Mildred knows that nothing in this company ever turns around that quickly. Unless someone had complained about him last year, and they’re only now getting around to it. That’s plausible. Then she realized she didn’t have a boss any more.
“Wait wait wait!” She tries to stop the departing HR employee. “So what do I-”
“You’ll receive a memo about updated roles and responsibilities. So until then just continue as if you had a manager?”
She vowed to make lemonade out of this enormous bag of sugar. She now has that most-envied position within corporate bureaucracy: salaried freedom. There would surely come a day when people would confer amongst themselves, realize that not a single one of them knew what it was that she did, then conclude that, lacking that knowledge, the answer was that she did nothing. On this tragic day (or perhaps many weeks and months later, once knowledge somehow trickles up to the upper levels of the corporate structure), she would receive a generous compensation package for her years of service at the company. Everyone has dreams.
-------------
“What was so bad about that design, anyway?”
Ahhh! Mildred, please don’t sneak up on me like that.” The designer couldn’t have possibly started sweating this quickly; it must have been pre-existing sweat.
“Sorry.”
“...”
“So. What was wrong with the-”
“There’s certain cards we don’t print. Okay? Well they’re cards we did print, once. But we can’t any more. They’re on the Reserved List. We can’t design cards that match them, and technically you’re not really designing them if they exist already.”
“Why are those designs reserved?”
“Because they’re old. And because we decided to reserve them.”
“Oh.”
“In 1995. So they’re reserved because back then they were reserved, and they still are.”
“And the legal department-”
“They enforce it. But please don’t ask me any more? And for god’s sake don’t ask them about it.”
It’s hard to tell if a currently-nervous man is in a constant state of nervousness (whether going on a blind date or drawing a hot bath), or if it’s a temporary condition. She did witness him getting taken up to Legal over something seemingly minor, but maybe he’s just being overly sensitive about it. Designers hate going to other floors when they’re not expecting it.
Mildred didn’t have to be afraid of Legal, though. She was her own boss, and nothing could touch her. If she wanted answers, she could just call a meeting and get them, if meetings were a thing that provided answers. Were they? She’d never actually called one. They just seemed to happen of their own accord, without anyone involved in them at any point wishing for them to occur.
“Oh one more-”
“Please, Mildred, don’t get me in trouble again.”
“No no real quick, I promise. What’s Shadow?”
“What?”
“You dropped a paper, it said something about ‘rejection due to Shadow.’”
“Oh. Um. That’s… an upcoming block. Shadow/Play. We cut a card because it didn’t work with the theme of Shadow.”
Mildred attempted to get back to her isolation when she accidentally passed by Online without intending on talking to the developers. Intent, however, is irrelevant.
“Mildred! Thank you so much!”
“Yeah great job, um… girl?”
She nodded, thinking about her upcoming sandwich.
“We’re back on NeoPets like whaaaat. You totally rock.”
Nod. Tofu banh mi with a side of miso soup. She then remembers that it’s possible these men have some form of usefulness to provide.
“Right, yes. I definitely did that, for you, is why that happened, was me doing it. Hey could you help me with something?”
The developers seem to be gazing into the eyes of a gorgon. One of them finds movement again in their mouth. “Sure… well… what do you need?”
She tries to smile up to her eyes, and makes it almost a third of the way. “Do you have any information about the reserved list?”
“Well, what do you want? Like a copy of it? It’s on our website, you know.”
Oh. And here she was imagining some grand conspiracy that unraveled everything she knew, its corruption spreading into the furthest corners of her personal reality. But there’s a website. “Well then that’s pretty easy. What’s the-”
“Oh, no, not the live website,” the other one corrects. “It’s on the archive. Not the current archive, the one that we stopped updating in 2014; the other archive. We don’t really know how to access it that well.”
“Of course we do, you dummy! It’s on the 20gb drive!”
“You threw that one away!”
“Did not, you-” and more scuffling that consumes both of them within a cloud of dust, and she backs out.
She Googles it and gets a copy from a fan-made Wiki, though. This game has the best fans in the world.
-------------
The texture of the building has changed for her. She walks around not as a subservient worker, not as one of the bottom blocks in the corporate pyramid, but as a free person with no one directly above her. She also had no one reporting to her: she had escaped structure entirely. She was no longer of the company’s workings, but orbiting it. She had no interest in commanding others to do things, anyway; mild requests, perhaps, with sincere explanations of why, exactly, she needed help with this, and it would be up to them to decide to do it rather than being commanded to. A sort of cooperation within the workplace, driven by mutual respect and cooperation.
“What? I’ll… yeah, let me uh… I’ll let you know.”
“Please, it would be a big help, it shouldn’t take-”
“I just have a lot to do right now, okay.”
There was only one possible solution: Mildred had to call a meeting.
-------------
“And as you know, our game has a predominantly male playerbase.” Mouse click to advance slide: a chart that shows graphs of income to the company via different demographics. “The blue part of the graph represents the money made by male buyers.”
“Uhh, Mildred? Those graphs are only one color.”
“Well…” Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. “The red part should be visible now.”
“Mildred, we’re all aware of the challenges that acquiring that demographic has posed. Bob, you worked on that, didn’t you?”
“Couldn’t make any progress at all, Bill. You remember that, Brendan?”
“Sure do, Bob, spent months on it. There’s just no way to do it.”
“Well,” Mildred continues, “that’s what I’ve been working on.” The other people in the room look at one another. “I’m sure you’re all familiar with…” The projected image shifts into that of a woman, hips to the side, her coloration a combination of purple and naked. Nods erupt around the room.
“One of our most popular characters,” Brendan interrupts his nodding to say. “And by far our most popular person to uh, dress up as? What’s the word for that, anyway I certainly appreciate when that happens.”
“Right. Well.” Mildred pivots on her heels back toward the screen to pause for a moment. “My idea wasn’t to replace this character, of course, but to…” as she sees furrowed brows in an orderly 3x3 formation. “Build on the success. So.” Slide advance.
A stylized sunburst appears behind the olive skin of the woman onscreen, its rays echoed in the symbol adorning her crown. One hand on her twirling metal staff, one hand on her hip, the sky behind her drifts into her armor.
The reaction of the room is heads pushed back on their necks, like dogs offered broccoli.
“We need to show the community that our women characters can be, um… different from what we’ve made before,” Mildred says. “I think we could make a big marketing push around her. Or some character like her, if this sparks any ideas for anyone?”
“Well, I’m… not really sure about this one. It just doesn’t reach out and grab me, you know? Just don’t see the appeal, personally. What do you think, Bob?”
“I’m with you, Bill. Brendan?”
“We’re on the same page, Bob. Just not really getting it. It seems like such a departure, why can’t we stick with what’s been working?”
-------------
“Of course, Ms Greevil. Wait here and I’ll get Mr. Mitchell.” Mildred skims over a magazine article about the return of pagers. Mitchell comes out a minute later.
“Great to see you again, Mildred,” he extends his hand. “We really owe you for helping us out before,” he says as they sit down in his office. The light in here is brighter than in the Grand Coliseum. There doesn’t seem to be a curved surface anywhere in the office; nothing but sleek lines of metal and wood.
“Well, I’m having difficulty gaining traction for my ideas with anyone.”
Mitchell nods solemnly in response. “I understand your frustration. This is another symptom of the larger problem in our organization: leaks.
Mildred waits for him to continue, which he does not. “The… um… what about them? I mean, what leaks?”
Mitchell leans forward slightly, interlocking his hands and looking her dead in the eye. “Well, why did people not want to go along with what you said?”
“They didn’t understand what I was saying? I guess. It didn’t connect with them.”
“But how did they get the information to dislike what you said?”
“...”
Leaks, Mildred. If they disliked something, it must have been because there was something else they liked better. And how did they get the information about that other thing? They probably weren’t supposed to.”
“...”
Leaks.
“Oh. Okay.”
-------------
“Oh, hi, Bill? Just wanted to follow up on that presentation-”
“Was a great presentation, Mildred, really was, thanks for it and all, just not what we’re looking for. You know, you did a great job, taking all that messy data and making it look really nice, you have quite the talent for that.”
“Right. Yes. Well I was just chatting with Nick. Nick Mitchell? Upstairs?”
Bill would be doing a spit-take across the room if he wasn’t entirely paralyzed with fear. He regains composure after only ten seconds of trembling.
“Oh, um… how’s he… doing? I mean, I know that he’s well. Always doing well, those legal- I mean, what a bunch of great guys. And girls… women! Great people. What… were you talking with him about?”
“Well.” Mildred smiles her ‘you are a preschooler’ smile that she also uses on moderately frightened dogs. “We were wondering about your previous experience with ‘the demographic,’ as you had put it.”
“Right! Yes! Great strides we’ve made, wonderful progress, trying to, um… did he say that specifically about me?”
“Actually, there was a slight, I guess you could say ‘concern’ because you’ve never actually been on one of those teams before, have you?”
In Bill’s eyes, the abyss opens. They are windows to the soul, if his soul is starting to fill up with water.
“Well, not technically, I mean, I’ve… tried to help, no I just… heard it around the- no not that, I mean, oh, no, no, no.”
Mildred brings the smile back for a brief sequel, building on the smile’s past success for any consumers that might be nostalgic for it.
“Bill. You know how seriously the company takes…” she makes a mental note of where his body is in the chair at this moment. “...leaks.” Approximately four inches downward motion. An impressive result. “So maybe, if you didn’t have authorization for the information you were consulting, you could leave decisions regarding this demographic to-”
Bill starts nodding aggressively. “Oh, definitely, of course, of course, I’m so- please go ahead with your proposal. Please. Please?”
Mildred’s genuine smile shows through for the first time in a while. She throws out one more thing on the way out the door:
“Did this have something to do with Shadow?”
She’s unsure what the sound she hears in response is, and closes the door.
-------------
Her long-held dream, which she had started pondering several days ago, was coming true. Alpert takes a triumphant gallop across her keyboard, helping her type a press release on the company’s new initiative to reach across demographics. All that was left was to deliver the summary meeting to people who would be working on the project. Her people, now.
This time, there is barely any motion throughout the room. She can take the longest pauses she wants, looking everyone in the eye one by one, without a questioning gaze returning to her. She makes sure to reinforce this helpful new attitude on the final slide.
“This is a triumphant moment for our company,” she triumphs. “Where in the past, we incorrectly thought of this as a game, we now know it is something so much more: it is an idea. Our idea. Our intellectual property.” She looks directly at the people who designed this former-game.
“A game has people that can show up, play it, and leave for the night, to go on with the rest of their lives. But an intellectual property is so much more.
“Our customers are not players. They are part of the company. They become one with us. They will still play the game, yes, but then go home and look at our officially-commissioned ‘fan’ art. They will read our perfectly timed releases on what is coming next. Will it be a film? Another game? We already have two more games using The Property in the pipeline.” As she says that, she catches a slight nod from someone near the back.
“Though of course, that information was, before just now, highly classified. If you know someone who was aware of it previously, immediately report this information to Legal.” No more nodding now.
“We are so much more than mere gamers now, or game designers. We are owners. And nothing, no one inside the company or out, will steal that away from us. We must all be ever-vigilant of thieves coming to take that from us.

“Our branded match-three game is live now. Please familiarize yourself with it. Owners dismissed.”

7 comments:

Matus Horvath said...

I like reading your stuff about Magic. I don't play LoL. Usually I don't have any problems determining if I want to read your article (Magic) or not (LoL). But this one... tags would help :)

KillGoldfish said...

it's fiction

keratacon said...

I love this. Love it to death.

Unknown said...

In Mason's latest work, the random changes in tense serve as understated symbolism to underscore the dadaist theme. However, the metatextual kafkaesque aspects arguably lack a certain je ne sais quoi. Lo, veritably, indeed, it may be that they simply require more cowbell.

Unknown said...

I loved this more than I can express.

Unknown said...

I loved this more than I can express.

Unknown said...

Hey man, are you aware some of your reviews go to dead pages? Sup with that?

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