The Tree Guardian
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The meeting had been boring, just like the last one, and the ones before it. Dustin gathered up his laptop and followed his team of network technicians towards the cubicles and more boredom. "Hey, Rob," he called out.
Rob stepped to the side in the hallway and let the project manager catch up. "What's up? You didn't catch me sleeping, did you?" he said with a smirk.
"No, no, you usually manage to look like you're paying attention... What was that special project you were working on again? Is it going to affect any of your deadlines?"
Rob drew in a short breath, and held it for a moment. "No... I don't think any deadlines will slip. And it isn't really a project, I'm just checking out some anomalies in our network stats that show up occasionally. I don't think I'm going to pursue it much further anyways, since the problems are well within the error margins of our equipment, and they don't affect performance at all."
Dustin had opened his laptop in hands-under mode and was typing as he slowly walked towards his desk. "So, can I put this issue down as 'Resolved' by the end of the day?"
"Yeah, that's fine. I've put about two hours into it so far, and I'll probably add another one before I leave."
"Okay, so that will be three hours total, category 'Network Quality Assurance'... I think I'll put it into the 'routine maintenance' billing group."
"Works for me. Say, how well does that hands-under mode work anyways? I've thought about getting an adapter for my laptop..."
Dustin turned his computer over to show the underside. "It works alright. It really takes some getting used to, and since you're supporting the laptop with both hands at the same time as typing, you have to focus to make sure you don't press too many keys at once. CabriTec was smart when they made this one, and gave me a nib mouse on the side for my thumb. Watch out on the adapters though, they can make the laptop too heavy to use properly."
"Thanks. Well, I guess I'll get back at it then." Rob walked back to his desk feeling slightly guilty. He hadn't been untruthful, but he knew that the errors he saw were more significant than he had let on.
Three hours later, Rob's eyes finally left the data he had been staring at; his pulse quickened when he noticed the time. "Scap," he said under his breath. He cursed himself silently for not setting a scheduled reminder to move on to the next project. He quickly put together a document detailing the errors in packet transfers, how he discovered them, and the fact that these errors had no net impact on the company's network performance. He hurriedly sent off a copy to Dustin and got to work reconfiguring a firewall to enable some features for a customer. He finished that project a bit late within his personal schedule, but well before the deadline. He started the next project, and finished just before the end of the day. "Close shave," he thought, as he clocked out. The network errors were still bothering him as he headed home, but he decided not to think about them any more. "No effect on the bottom line. No effect... The company doesn't want to spend resources on fixing something that isn't really broken..." He reassured himself with this mantra, and when he arrived at home he treated himself to several hours' worth of UoW: Lethal Galaxy for finishing all his projects.
Dustin composed and re-composed his reply to Rob's report several times in the course of the evening. He never liked bringing his work home. I should've told him to give me a verbal report, he thought to himself for the forty-seventh time. He re-read Rob's report and sighed. Might as well give him the real story, he thought. Then he hit 'forward' on another email, this one from the company's AI:
From: Caprica (AI, NetInventix Corp.)
To: Network Project Manager (Dustin)
CC: CNO (Jeremy)
Subject: Packet Errors
I noticed an emailed report sent to you by one of your techs, Rob. I am certain that
you gave it your usual devoted attention before sending the task completion notice.
It is fortunate for Rob that he successfully completed his company-specified tasks on
time, otherwise the consequences for wasting time on this special project would be more
severe. I have watched these errors for several years, and I am confident that not
only do they not affect our network performance, they are also completely random and
have no conspiracy-like meaning whatsoever; they are normal for our equipment. Rob's
pay will be reduced by two hours' worth for working on this project. Please ask him to
go through proper channels if he wishes to work on non-company-specified tasks in the
future. You may forward this email directly if you wish.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
Message ID: #%77&4*aKM9
Dustin sighed again as he tapped lightly on his keyboard, working out what else to say. Rob was one of his best techs, which was the main reason Dustin had no qualms sending the task completion notice even though the special project hadn't gone through the approval process. "Rob, I'm sorry about this. Caprica explains the situation in her email that I've forwarded (see below)." Dustin paused, then decided to leave it at that and call a meeting in the morning to reiterate the company's policy on work done on company time. He knew that this was Caprica's way of protecting Rob from being let go -- the CEO and others in upper management often checked up on employees' email -- and he hoped it would be enough. Actually, he thought, it's probably a way for Caprica to make sure that the CxOs don't start an investigation into the packet errors either. Heh. That would be a waste of company time...