Chapter 32:


Grime in the Gears: Create, Read, Update, Delete

Conor knew there was something up when he walked into the office and was the first one there. Frank followed in after him.

"Syd?" Conor called. "Jeannie, did Syd take the day off?"

No response.

Conor walked over to the lamp and pushed the buttons on it, but Jeannie didn't materialize. He looked over at Frank, who shrugged.

Conor went to Syd's office. The only unusual thing was that there was no Syd sitting at his desk. All the posters and figurines and light sources were exactly where they should be.

"Mr. Rayl?" he heard Boxter say.

Conor went into the server room. Boxter's face looked worried. "Oh, nobody's shown up, and now Jeannie won't respond. Do you know what's going on?"

Conor shook his head. Frank stepped into the room.

"Mr. Conchobhar!" said Boxter. "It's true. You're alive."

"Mostly," said Frank. "What's going on?" He walked over to the server rack and saw that there was a blade missing. "Did someone steal Jeannie?"

"I'm not sure. I was in sleep mode all night."

Frank looked at Boxter. "You're sure you don't know anything?"

Boxter shrugged. "I'm just an accountant AI," he said.

Frank interfaced with the server. His eyes turned into little monitors. Conor watched on the big screen. "It looks like you were here last night, Frank," he said, looking at the access logs.

"I can't even open doors without someone's help," he said. "So it's unlikely it was me."

"Didn't Cammie say she had a shadow copy of you?" Conor asked.

Frank blinked. His eyes were his again. "Are you suggesting that I have some mirror-dimension doppelganger running around stealing servers?"

Conor shrugged.

"And how did I get it out of the rack? And army of Taskrottas?"

"Oh!" said Boxter. "It was Syd. He did it!"

Conor and Frank looked at Boxter. "What happened?"

"Syd broke in. He stole Jeannie. He offered to take me too, but I declined. I much prefer it here."

"Did he say why?"

Boxter shook his head.

"So," said Frank. "He just broke into the building and took Jeannie and said, 'Come with me,' and you were like, 'Nope'?"

"Oh!" said Boxter again. "He said that you were going to sell the business and that all the AIs were going to be wiped!"

Conor crouched down next to Boxter's monitor. "Well, he was right," he said. "We are going to sell. But we'll see what we can do about not decommissioning you."

Boxter blinked. "Thank you," he said. "I have rights, you know."

Conor patted the monitor. "Of course you do." He got up and led Frank into the conference room where they hammered out their counter offer. When they were ready, Conor dialed Akira's number and they sat around the phone, ready to negotiate.

Akira was amicable toward their suggestions, even if they had lost an employee and an AI under mysterious circumstances. They asked for an increase, considering that Frank wasn't actually dead, and he wouldn't sell for one namero less. The new figure took into consideration Frank's outstanding debt with LifeBack, which he'd pay once the money cleared. In addition, they got Akira to agree to not decommission Boxter. If they didn't need him at Araiguma, they'd guarantee a new career for him at his current rate.

When they hung up, Conor gave a sigh of relief. "That was easy," he said. 

"A little too easy," said Frank.

When the papers came, they pored over them, made sure all their agreed to terms were still present, and signed them before sending them back. A few hours later, they got an official welcome message from Araiguma.

"Welcome to the team," Arai-kun said from their computer screen. "We have plenty of wonderful opportunities for you. Please report to your regional office to be properly briefed. We will handle the transfer of all the assets, physical, digital, or otherwise."

Both their phones dinged. They looked at them at the same time.

"Looks like we need to report in at the office," Conor said.

Frank nodded. 

Before they left, they bid Boxter a goodbye. "Keep in touch," he said. "I'll let you know how things go for me."

"We will," said Conor.

At the door to the office, they both looked back at the place where their little business took flight. Frank looked at the door. "If I get my own office, I want them to replace the door with this one," he said, pointing to the illustration drawn by Gloria.

Conor nodded.

They left the building and stepped out out onto the sidewalk. They followed the directions on Conor's phone, finding the strange door that led to Araiguma's headquarters. Frank walked all the way around it.

"Do we knock?" he asked.

Conor knocked. The door slid open to a bright, white light. 

"After you," Frank said.

Conor stepped into the light. It was a strange sensation, as he knew he should have walked through the door into the space behind the door, but he wasn't in the space behind the door. He was in the lobby of an impressive building. He looked back at Frank who was just then stepping through.

"Whoa," said Frank.

"You could say that again," said Conor.

"Whoa," said Frank. He wasn't looking at the lobby this time. He was looking at his hands.

Conor looked back at him. "What?" he said.

"Check this out," Frank said. He waved his hands in front of Conor, then smacked him on the forehead.

"Hey," said Conor, hand to the forehead where he'd been smacked. "What was that about?" Then he realized what had happened. "Frank?" he said. "Did you just smack me?"

"Yeah," said Frank. "There's something about this place," he said. "It makes me real or something." His hand started to blink orange. "Whoa, better get my steps in." He chuckled.

Conor looked at his phone again. "We're supposed to see a Mr. Eremiya," he said. He walked up to the guard at the lobby desk and showed him the instructions. The guard let them both past.

They stepped up to the elevator, where Frank hit the button, eager to make use of his newfound physicality. The elevator door slid open and they stepped inside. No music played as they rose to the top floor.

Frank kept looking at his hands. "I wonder if it's a here thing, or if I'll be a real boy when I leave this place as well."

Conor didn't know the answer.

"You know," Frank said, "this place kinda reminds me of when I was in the Bin, only less terrible in every imaginable way."

The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. They stepped out onto the floor. They walked past a display that had a lot of daruma dolls on it, all with both eyes filled out. At least the ones they could see while walking past. At the end of the hallway were a series of offices. On one it said EREMIYA.

Frank knocked.

"Just a moment," said the voice behind the door. A silhouette stepped up to the frosted glass window and started opening the door. "Unfortunately, Mr. Taito is away on urgent business and couldn't welcome you himself, so you'll have to deal with me." Eremiya opened the door and put a pocket watch in his vest pocket.

Both Frank and Conor gasped.

"Jeremy?" they both said.

"In the flesh," he said. "And boy do I have big plans for you!"

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