Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's Gone from Worse to Worst

It's Gone from Worse to Worst

I drive up to the stately mansion nestled in the hills around Napa Valley, right in the heart of wine country. I stare at the gate for a moment. I pull up to the speaker and push the buzzer. For a while a get no answer, so I push it again.

"Yeah," comes a voice.

"Hi, this is Alex Ross. I really need to speak to Dr. Pollack. It's really urgent."

"We're kinda in the middle of something. Can we set up something for Monday?"

I'm about to reply, and then I hear some noise in the background. "Is that the game? What's the score?"

"Damn, looks like the Rams just scored. Say, you want to come in and watch the game? You're not here to complain about some product decision are you?"

"No, no, nothing like that. Hey, I split Niners season tickets with some friends."

"Ok. Park near the fountain."

I hear a buzzer and the gate slides open. I pull up and walk up to the massive doors. I knock, but when no one answers I just open them myself. "Hello?" No one responds, so I just follow the sound of the game.

I find about a dozen guys sitting in a large home theater room. I've been to smaller commercial theaters. The game is projected in hi-def onto a 20-foot wide screen. On one side of the room sits a bar, where someone pours a dark microbeer from a tap into a large crystal mug. I also spot a nacho bar, a popcorn popper, a wine rack, a snack rack, a couple huge couches in the back, and cup holders on every seat.

The guy at the bar waves me over and hands me a cold tall one. "You'll need it for this game," he says. "Hi, I'm Henry Daley from LiveTalk." He's the owner and CEO a fast growing chat service.

"Hi, I'm Alex Ross from Infinitae."

We chat for a minute, until Dr. Pollock spots me and waves me over. During a commercial, he introduces me around the room. The attendees are a veritable who's-who of the local web companies and their friends. Dr. Pollock, who is known as Doc at Infinitae, greets me warmly, telling people that I'm a star developer even though we've never met before. I really appreciate that. He quietly lets me know that we can talk at halftime, and to enjoy the game.

Of course, there's really not much to cheer about. The 49ers are horrific. They can't run the ball and they have journeyman Trent Dilfer at QB. However the beer is pretty strong, and someone pours a round of shots as well. After a while they shrink the game and put a couple of other games up on the sides of the screen.

After an agonizing first half, halftime mercifully arrives. After a minute, Dr. Pollock waved me over to a side room.

Dr. Pollock turned his research project into one of the most successful social networking and communication sites on the web. His brother Martin had already made a small fortune on Wall Street and became the financial backer of the project. Martin Pollack has been high on our radar, but we haven't been able to find any connection between him and the plot. Doc is only a couple of years older than me, in his early thirties. He sits me down on a chair.

"So Alex, what's so important you had to come all the way over here on a weekend to talk to me?"

I gather my thoughts for a second. "I work with Carrie Park on the fingerprinting project."

"Yes, I know. Great progress. I still don't know how we're going to explain the traffic-generating machines to our clients and stockholders."

"Well, apparently we may have uncovered something not-so good during our work." I hand him a copy of the hit list. "Someone posted this internally. The last couple names were still alive when I first read this."

"Oh, god," he breathes. "We've had the authorities all over us. The accidents seemed to be strongly correlated with our business. You think this is something internal?"

"I've been questioned by both the US and Chinese authorities, and none too gently I might add. Given their complete lack of knowledge, my guess is that this is something completely internal to Infinitae. We've looked at you and your brother, among many others, but everyone seems clean. Carrie and I have been investigating this night and day."

"I never knew this. I wish you had come to me sooner."

He seems like a fairly decent guy, not like someone trying to take over the world. Of course, I've been fooled before.

"We've also stumbled across some other technologies. Carrie believes that someone has developed a technology that can transmit subliminal-type messages through the internet and other mediums, and intends to use it for some kind of disruptive purpose. This same technology can sometimes detect thought patterns in our users." I show him the list of acronym soup he had discovered.

"And you have no idea who's behind it?"

"Not a clue. The only lead we had was that rogue server farm and the murders. Oh, and we also believe that this technology is housed in Building Four, but I haven't been able to get in. What's in Building Four?"

Doc shrugs. "As far as I know, it's just a server farm. If anyone's changed that it would be news to me. And I've never heard of any of these projects. Either someone's covering their tracks real well or this stuff is all manufactured."

"Manufactured? Why? Who would make this stuff up? We have the hit list and the rogue server farm, so some of this must be real."

"I don't know. Why didn't you and Carrie come to me sooner?"

I shake my head. "I didn't know who to trust. If people are dying, then revealing this to the wrong person could be deadly."

Doc looks at the papers for a minute. "Listen Alex. I can't have you and Carrie disrupting the company with these wild theories. For all I know this is a hoax. I too have heard these rumors, and I assure you nothing is going on here. Now I'm afraid I'm going to have to terminate you and Carrie, for not bringing this to me sooner and appropriating corporate property for your wild goose chase. I've also been made aware that the two of you have been violating security protocols as well. I don't know what game you're playing, but I'm putting a stop to it. When you come in Monday, you'll be asked to clean out your desks immediately. I'm sorry Alex, but I can't have employees generating these wild theories and causing untold damage to our corporate stature."

My jaw has dropped and I can't find any words. "Please Dr. Pollock, we have to get to the bottom of this. My girlfriend is on that hit list. I've got to do everything I can to stop this plot."

He presses a button on the phone to summon security. I grab back my papers. "If this thing explodes, it will be on your head," I cry. "Whoever is behind this is extremely dangerous. You can't just sweep it under the rug."

"Please remember that your non-disclosure agreement is still in effect, as well as your non-compete. I wish you luck, and now I need to return to the game."

The guard leads me out a side door so I don't have to walk shamefully in front of the other hi-tech execs. I might need one of them for a job. I drive home and type this up.

As the theme of this blog has been, I don't know what to do. I consider calling Carrie, but I'd rather have her find out the hard way. I'm heading out, and I'm going to drink myself silly. I've lost my girl, someone who never really existed. I've lost my job, one that was never really assigned to me. And if I can't make the next couple house and car payments I'll lose those too.

I'm going out drinking. I'll have to turn in this nice laptop tomorrow and then pull out my old crappy one. And I won't have money for a new one.

I'll talk to you all later, maybe. Fuck the world.

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