Anjali’s Red Scarf Ch. 11
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Chapter 11: Meltdown
Content note: this chapter includes abusive/stalking behaviour (not within a relationship) and description of an autistic meltdown. It also contains consensual non-consent play.
It was a forty-minute taxi ride to Anjali’s place, and she fell asleep almost as soon as she’d buckled her seatbelt. I couldn’t blame her; she’d drunk much more than she was used to, and it had been quite a busy evening. I hoped she’d be able to enjoy a sleep-in next morning and not be too hungover. Meanwhile, I had a lot to process.
I had just offered the sexual services of my friend (and courtesan) to my other friend (and colleague), and she’d replied in a way I didn’t fully understand. I suspected things between us at work were going to be all kinds of weird.
My friend (and courtesan) had just casually mentioned that she planned to leave the country at the end of her doctorate, about nine months away, and that had sparked an uncomfortable twinge in me.
Both those thoughts were taking up a lot of space in my brain, whirring endlessly like the pinwheel on that application that’s never going to finish loading. But I needed to do my best to put them on hold, because the third thing couldn’t wait. The very expensive facility management system that we’d built—that I’d built the guts of—was not working.
It wouldn’t be an instant shutdown. The solver ran every half-hour, generating an updated schedule for the next twelve hours. They could work off that for a little while, but without the ability to run updates it couldn’t adjust as flights changed or owners booked new shipments. It would gradually drift further from reality until it became useless.
There was a fallback system, of course. You don’t put all your eggs in one basket with a project like this. After three hours or so they’d switch over to the fallback. But that was considerably less efficient, intended only to keep the most important activities going. It would require rejecting new contracts, which would get expensive quickly.
From what I remembered of the costs data, running on the fallback would cost something like fifty thousand dollars an hour, maybe more if we had to deal with cargo spoilage and missed deadlines.
If the cost of an outage is fifty thousand dollars an hour, and the taxi to Anjali’s takes forty minutes, calculate the—
I did my best to squelch that line of thought. Unlike Mohammed and Jaden, I wasn’t being paid to be on call. I had every right to do what I pleased with my Saturday nights, and I had a responsibility to get my friend home safely. That fifty-thousand-an-hour was Schiphol’s problem and my employer’s, not mine…or so I told myself.
It helped a little, but only a little. One’s employer’s problems have a way of becoming one’s own, and besides—I’d built the damn thing. For it to be falling over, that was a personal affront, and I could no more ignore that than Anjali had been able to ignore being called a liar.
As soon as I’d given the driver directions, I called Lincoln. I told him what I knew—not very much—and that I was on my way in to the office, but I’d be a while yet. He listened until I was done talking, then asked, “What’s your plan of attack?”
I’d been thinking about that in the shower. “Eyeball it quickly, see if there’s anything obvious, but there probably won’t be. There’s a diagnostic that will try to identify what’s causing it to fail, but that usually takes about twelve to fifteen hours to run, and the output is difficult to interpret. What I’d like to do is rent some cloud time and chunk it up into subset problems, run them in parallel on a couple of dozen instances, see if I can reproduce the issue on a simpler problem. Might cost a few thou but could save us some time.”
“If you think that’s the best option?”
“Okay then. Is there anything I can do that’s more useful than staying out of your way?”
Tell me I’m not an incompetent klutz and this isn’t my fault and I’m not going to get fired. “No… not yet. I’ll keep you informed.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll leave you to it. Call if you need anything at all, wake people up if you need to. Good luck!”
I hung up—realising too late that I’d forgotten to say good-bye, and hoping he wouldn’t be offended by that, but there was nothing to be done about it right now—and tried to work out how to translate my ad-libbed plan into specifics.
Our container facility—I thought of it as ours, although really we were just contractors—was divided into five large wings and eight smaller ones, each served by between two and twelve robot cranes that ran on rails, offloading containers from incoming trains and semis, delivering them to their temporary home within the facility, shuffling them around as necessary to make way for other containers, and then loading them back onto the outgoing haulers when their time came. Cranes that size don’t move quickly, and Schiphol is always busy.
The solver module was the software that figured out how best to coordinate ataşehir escort bayan all the pieces of that great big machine and decide what cranes and containers went where, when, so that everybody got their iPhones and Tommy Hilfiger on time, while ensuring that nothing collapsed or thawed. It was a beautiful machine, more intricate than the finest watch…and for some reason it had stopped working.
That was not just bad, but perplexing. I’d tested the system under a range of simulations, and it shouldn’t just stop. Put too much demand on it, or take too many cranes out of action, and it would fall behind, with containers piling up. But we had automated checks to warn for excessive demand, and even if those had failed, it shouldn’t just stop.
I tried to think of conditions that would make it fail altogether. If all the cranes in one district were out of action, that would do it, since then there was no way at all to load or unload there—but that would already have been detected by our checks. If there was cargo we’d committed to stack, and nowhere left to stack it without breaching safety limits—but again, there were supposed to be checks to warn well before we reached that kind of critical capacity. There were a few other cases I could think of, but nothing that seemed very likely. My biggest worry was that there was no real reason for the failure, that there was a bug somewhere in the fancy new algorithms I’d designed for this work. I’d tested them pretty thoroughly, but there were a lot of moving parts in there, and it was hard to be sure I hadn’t missed anything.
Still, I phoned Mohammed and asked him to check the warnings log, just in case one of those checks had raised an alarm that had somehow been missed. Then I talked to Jaden about getting the cloud environment set up. We’d used something similar for testing, but not in parallel.
When I ended my call, the taxi driver coughed. “We’re here, ma’am.”
“Oh! Sorry! I was miles away.” I had no idea how long he’d been stopped, waiting for me to finish up, and Anjali was still asleep. I shook her awake, and walked her to the door of her apartment complex. “You right from here?”
She fished out her keys. “I should be fine, thank you.” She opened the door, then turned and gave me a hug. “Good night. Thanks for seeing me home.”
“Sleep well.” I wouldn’t have said no to a good-night kiss, but she wasn’t wearing her scarf and I wasn’t sure quite what my two hundred dollars had entitled me to. Another time.
I watched until she was safely inside—the night had turned quite chilly—then hurried back to my taxi. It was another twenty minutes to my office, during which I did my best to stop trying to work out the root cause from first principles and instead focus on a methodical search strategy. It’s not easy for me to think that way; I take pride in my ability to understand a system, and it feels halfway to defeat having to take a trial-and-error approach. But I was vaguely aware that this was how a sensible adult was supposed to handle this kind of situation, and while I might not actually be a sensible adult, I’d come this far by pretending to be one.
I will skip over the next few hours and spare you the technical details; they’re probably not very interesting unless you’re working for our competition, in which case I really shouldn’t share them. Suffice it to say that we tested eleven different strategies that didn’t work, and one that did—but because we were trying all of them in parallel, it only took us about four hours to figure out the cause of the bug.
It was a stupid, simple thing, as most bugs are. Wing H was one of the smaller wings in the storage park, dedicated to containers with special customs requirements. It didn’t see a lot of business, and so it only needed two cranes. They had imaginatively been named Cranes H1 and H2. Unfortunately, due to a version control snafu, the solver module was under the impression that they were named H0 and H1.
The consequence of this was that the solver module didn’t see Crane H2 because it wasn’t looking for it. Unable to find the non-existent “Crane H0”, it assumed it only had one crane to work with and did its best with that.
This worked fine for the first week of operation, and we would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids in Engineering who’d decided to take H1 offline for a spot of preventative maintenance. As far as the check module was concerned, H2 was still operational and therefore there should be no problem, but as far as the solver module was concerned it had no cranes at all in Wing H, which made it impossible to retrieve the containers it had been instructed to retrieve.
(We had, in fact, made the same mistake in every wing of the facility, but since most of them had more than two cranes it was less of a problem to have one going unused. Presumably somebody would have noticed the idle cranes eventually, but since it was a brand-new setup, nobody knew what normal was escort kadıöy meant to look like.)
By the time we’d confirmed the cause of the bug it was three-thirty in the morning. It took us ten minutes to code the fix and then another four hours to test it to my satisfaction—I really didn’t want to fuck things up through being tired and careless—before I could let myself breathe a little easier. Mohammed and Jaden were both yawning, and I called in a couple of other staff to relieve them while we monitored the new build. I was just filling in the overtime paperwork when my phone pinged with a message from Lucy.
Hey S, just checking you and A got back safely last night.
Yes, thanks. Saw her inside.
Up already? Thought you’d be sleeping in!
Still awake. My blood is sugar and caffeine.
Oh dear. That bad?
Took us a while but I think it’s under control.
Instead of texting back, she phoned me. After the pleasantries, during which neither of us mentioned The Incident of the previous night, she asked, “Have you had breakfast yet?”
“Yes?” I said.
She hadn’t missed my hesitation. “Just so we’re both on the same page, Sarah, chips from the vending machine don’t count as breakfast.”
“It wasn’t just chips!” She said nothing, and I felt obliged to fill the hiatus. “I had a couple of chocolate bars as well.”
“Uh huh. Well, as it happens, I’m having birthday lunch in town with Mum. If you’re still up, I was thinking I might swing by early and nab you for breakfast at that sandwich place. Proper breakfast.”
“Oh that’s a lovely thought but I really should stay and monitor things—”
“I thought it was under control?” Damn her and her lawyerly ways.
“It is but we’ve just put in the update it’s not been thoroughly tested yet I want to monitor it for a few hours and while that’s running I can write a few—”
“Sarah. How long have you been awake?”
I did the mental arithmetic. “Twenty-six hours?”
“Uh huh. What would you tell one of your staff if they’d been up for twenty-six hours working on something and hadn’t eaten a real meal in twelve hours?”
“I’d…” I grumbled. “Tell them to go eat and get some rest before they start making stupid mistakes.”
“Correct answer. So what are you going to do?”
I muttered something that might have been “go eat and get some rest”.
* * * * *
Lucy met me in the lobby and we walked to breakfast, short-cutting through a rabbit’s warren of little arcades selling second-hand fashions, crystals of dubious occult potential, and figurines of the Virgin Mary. The dour grey winter sunlight reminded me just how long I’d been awake, and suddenly I felt very tired.
Over toasted ham and cheese sandwiches I gabbled to Lucy about the outage: what had gone wrong, how we fixed it, my ideas for making sure it didn’t happen again. I was at that caffeine-powered level of sleep deprivation where I was talking quickly but a little incoherently, now and then forgetting my train of thought.
She waited patiently until I’d finished monologuing, then said, “Sarah, can we talk about last night?”
I looked at her, puzzled. For the last ten minutes I’d been talking of nothing else.
“…at my place? With you and Anjali?”
“OH! I… yeah, I guess that was last night. Sorry. Only room in my head for one thing at a time, sometimes.” My fatigue-fogged brain lurched as I remembered the other things. “Uh, I hope I didn’t—”
I trailed off, unsure how best to say “hope it’s okay that we put on a little sex show for you last night.” There are no greeting cards for that.
“Sarah. You’ve told me that I need to be really direct with you, so I’m going to take you at your word.” She was looking down at her plate, pushing crumbs around with the tip of her fork. “Obviously I’m curious about… well, how things are with you and Anjali, but that’s not my business.” Lucy looked up at me. “What I wanted to say is, I would very much like to—”
Then she trailed off, and I realised she was now staring past me.
“Hmm?” I prompted.
She paused a moment. When she spoke again, her tone was different, carefully measured. “Sarah, do you know a guy who owns a motorbike, late fifties or so, greying hair, sort of broad face?”
“Not that I can think of? Maybe?”
She fished out her phone and showed me a photo. When I saw it, I recognised the occasion: a couple of months ago at Games Pixie, when she’d interrupted our game to go take a photo of the new games display. But the display wasn’t the subject of the shot. Her camera was pointed just past the display, through the window, at a guy sitting outside a cafe across the road. He had greying hair, and a motorbike helmet sat on the table next to his coffee, and he had a phone in his hand. “This guy?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell, sorry. What’s up?”
“Don’t turn around, but the same guy just pulled up outside. I think he’s following you.”
“You…what?” I said, not very imaginatively. maltepe escort I was very tired and my day had already taken far too many twists. I wasn’t prepared for this James Bond shit and I’d used up my adrenaline reserves hours ago. I knew I should be freaking out but the sensation was just trickling in.
“I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out. When I was a kid, Mum taught me a game called Spot Daddy. I had to keep my eyes open for anybody who looked like my father, and if I saw him I had to tell my mum immediately. Then we’d clear out, and later she’d give me a Mars Bar.”
“Why would you—oh.”
“Yeah, my dad’s not a great person. Reasons why I decided to go into family law. So I’m a little bit paranoid about keeping an eye on who’s around, and I’ve noticed that guy a few times now. Only ever when you’re around. I think he was at trivia once, and then I noticed him outside Games Pixie. Looked like he might have been taking pictures with his phone. So I took this, just in case.”
“And then yesterday when I went out to say good night to Pippa and Jerry and Davie, there was a guy who looked like him, sitting across the road two houses up with his lights off. I went over to check him out but he took off. If you put your phone on selfie and hold it up to look behind you, I’m pretty sure it’s him waiting across the road again.”
I did as she’d suggested. As I’ve said, I’m not much good with faces, and the selfie mode wasn’t exactly high-quality at that range, but he certainly looked similar. White, clean-shaven, fifty-ish. Sitting on his bike, helmet hanging off the bars, coffee in one hand, phone in the other. His jacket was different from the one in the photo, but the helmet looked about right. If Lucy thought it was the same guy, I believed her.
“The fuck? I have no idea who he is. Why would he be following me?”
“Ex? Somebody with a crush on you?”
“Ex, definitely not.” I reached for my glass and realised my hand was shaking. I couldn’t tell how much was exhaustion and how much was alarm. Lucy must have noticed it; she clasped my hand between both of hers, and I felt somehow grounded by her solidity. “A crush, I guess maybe I wouldn’t notice”—Lucy said “uh huh”—”but I don’t even remember ever meeting him.” Though I’d heard of stalkers latching onto women they’d never even spoken to. I tried to remember my neighbours from the brief encounters I’d had in the hallways and elevators of my apartment, but I was still drawing blanks. “You sure it’s me and not you?”
“Not absolutely certain,” she said. “Guess it could be one of my old cases. You don’t make a lot of friends doing disputed custody and restraining orders. But if it was I’m pretty sure I’d recognise him. I paid attention to those guys. I’ve only ever seen him when I was with you and Anjali, and now just with you.”
“Hang on,” I said. “Hang on. We walked here. We cut through the arcade. Even if he was sitting outside the office when I left, he couldn’t have followed us on a bike. So how did he find us here?”
“That is an excellent question.” Her grip on my hand tightened, then she released it. “Sarah, with your permission, may I check something on your phone?”
I unlocked it and passed it over. “Okay?”
Holding my phone so I could see what she was doing, Lucy flicked through my settings menus. “Had a couple of cases with guys hiding tracker apps on their partners’ phones. Let me see… location services… okay, have a look at this, see if there’s anything that shouldn’t be there.”
I scrolled through the apps that had permission to access my location. Taxi, weather, maps. “No, I think these are all legit.”
“Hmm. I don’t know if it’s possible to hide stuff, I’m not an expert, but… anybody had access to it lately?”
“Nope. I’ve had this one a year, haven’t needed a service yet.”
“Huh. Not that, then. So how…?” She handed me back my phone, and I slipped it back into my jeans.
As I did, my elbow brushed against my jacket, the one I’d been wearing since Lucy’s party. I never use my jacket pockets, not since being pickpocketed in a street market in Vienna some years back. But as I touched my side, I felt an unfamiliar lump.
“Wait up, what’s this…?”
I took it out.
It was Anjali’s phone.
At the time, I was far too tired and distracted to understand what Anjali’s phone was doing in my jacket pocket. It was only the next day that I remembered how Jacinta had knocked my things over at the spa—and evidently not just my things—and how she had tried to put them all back the way they were. Until then, that would remain a mystery to me.
But even in my exhausted state, it wasn’t hard to guess who might have put a tracker on Anjali’s phone.
“Her parents gave this to her a couple of months ago,” I told Lucy. “First time she visited me after that, they called to check where she was.”
Lucy reached over, took the phone from me, and wrapped it up in several layers of paper serviettes like some strange game of pass-the-parcel, then stashed it inside one of those fold-up shopping bags before giving it back to me. “Some spyware doesn’t just track location,” she said softly. “With the right permissions it can access audio, camera, anything that’s on the phone.”
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