Endgame – A Story

Endgame – A Story

On Monday afternoon, Firstland Bank stock on the market tanked for no apparent reason. Order upon order for the stock was placed before the previous one could be fulfilled. Almost three hundred million dollars was collectively wiped out of the system within minutes. Traders lost count of how many days’ worth of effort just vanished.

It was a waking nightmare for everyone involved.

The market index went into a tailspin, and Firstland clients struggled to keep up with the bad news every TV anchor relayed at the top of their lungs. The bloodbath seemed unstoppable.

The exchange stopped trading as soon as they could, but by evening it was clear that the money was not coming back.

In the previous week, on Friday morning, Brian realised he had overslept.

After tossing back a coffee, he rushed to the office. He quickened his steps towards the meeting room as he checked the time.

As an engineer processing live customer data at Firstland, Brian had to make it to the daily team stand-up. His team discussed the critical issues to resolve that day and divided the tasks. His boss grumbled about latecomers and kept the toughest tasks for them. Brian wanted to avoid these leftovers.

Although the job kept balance in his bank and his home warm, Brian was not particularly ambitious. He did not lobby for a promotion or put in extra effort to get noticed. He was happy being an engineer — it gave him a perk no one saw.

With data security rules, Brian was not given a laptop. Rules also meant that he had to leave his phone in a locker outside the team zone. He was saved from distractions and avoided taking work home at the end of his shift. His office time was a strict 8.5 hours. If a task spilt over, his reliever took care of it in the next shift.

Every day after his shift, Brian rushed home to his side project — an automatic task-scheduling tool he had been developing for over nine months. He had suspended his social life and all distractions so that his project would take shape.

Once complete, it would be the answer to his years of struggle to automate routine tasks that ate up time. There were others like him in the world who would love to lay hands on it.

Life would stop being a roller-coaster.

Brian had adopted the universal hustler’s code to build in public but away from the eyes of his office colleagues. He regularly sought feedback about the tool on Product World, a forum he was a member of. This group had given him invaluable insights into features, code, user interface and flow when he first floated the idea. Brian knew there would be plenty of takers once his tool was ready.

A coding wizard who went by the name Terminal Stack had been most helpful. To help speed up the project, Terminal would hunt down programming libraries for Brian. These libraries provided pre-written chunks of code that Brian could copy and paste to build his tool quickly.

Brian often exchanged personal messages with Terminal for more specific questions, and Terminal always obliged.

Towards Friday evening, Brian was eager to get home. He was almost done and wanted to release an alpha version of the tool Product World. He was looking forward to Terminal Stack’s reaction.

As he hit publish close to midnight, Brian was relieved. Hours of effort, meals he had missed, and the lack of sleep had been worth it. His tool, the Schedule Box, was finally out in the world. Now, he would wait for comments to drop in.

He pulled the vodka bottle closer and poured his first peg. It was past midnight, and nothing would come between him and a celebration.

By the time Brian dragged himself out of bed, it was Saturday noon. Eager to get going, he logged in, but the forum was unusually quiet. He refreshed the page and checked the thread for comments. There was little action besides the usual cheerleading and about 60 downloads. He was looking forward to some meaty comments, but there were none.

And not a peep from Terminal Stack. That was strange, Brian thought and dropped a private note to his online mentor.

He kept checking the thread every hour for new comments or feedback from the early users. Still nothing from Terminal. He started becoming nervous.

Later that evening, much to Brian’s delight, his mentor responded and asked to clarify some points about the code. Brian sent Terminal an invite to his code hub that showed the tool’s inner workings. Terminal thanked him and promised to look it over.

When Brian logged in on Sunday morning, there was a list of suggestions from Terminal. Though it looked like a long one, Brian was happy to get started. He gobbled a takeaway breakfast and sat in front of his screen, ready to hack away.

The sun started dipping over the trees he could see from his window when Brian peeled his eyes away from the screen. He was about 3/4th through the list but felt weak with hunger and exhaustion. It was time for a break.

Many of Terminal Stack’s suggestions were valid, and Brian scrambled to incorporate them. The code from the programming library Terminal had suggested was a boon.

Brian was determined to upload a beta version of the tool that night. He ate some fruit and slept with an alarm for an hour later. He had to finish it.

By 8 PM, Brian was back at his desk, concentrating hard. Terminal was online, encouraging Brian as he uploaded new code into the hub. The mysterious online mentor had a ringside view.

By 11:30 PM, Brian, who had been typing away for three and a half hours straight, could hardly keep his eyes open. He feared messing up the code in this stupor and logged off. So much for a weekend launch, he thought as he stumbled to his bed.

At 7:00 AM on Monday, Brian woke with a start and took a minute to get his bearings. His tool, yes, the unfinished code, the wait for the launch, he reminded himself. Ugh, it would be another day later, he thought.

What if, he said almost to himself, grinning, he managed to finish it at work?

He knew access to the code hub would be challenging in the bank’s secure environment, but he knew the systems well enough to swing it. After all, they used a similar hub at work too. No one would suspect it, and Schedule Box was just 2 hours’ effort from launch. Go for it, his mind said.

He managed to get in on time to the daily stand-up and snagged a task he could do in three hours flat. Leaving that aside, he managed to find a way to access his code and give final touches to his tool.

At 12.37 pm, elated, Brian tested the code and the workflow for the last time and hit publish. It was a flawless marvel, this tool that could schedule almost everything you asked it to. He had begged off his lunch break with colleagues to be able to continue working, and it had paid off.

Schedule Box was live. Brian locked his system and went to the cafeteria. On his way out, he retrieved his phone and dropped a message to Terminal. “Changes made, Schedule Box, my dream project, is live!” it said.

At 2 PM, hell broke loose.

Schedule Box initiated a self-start on Brian’s system and began executing a prefilled list of tasks.

It gained access to the client database and started sending line upon line of orders to the server. Transactions started getting performed in real-time on the exchange.

Brian’s system started beeping with every new command Schedule Box placed, and everyone turned to look. Someone ran out of the team bay and placed a call to Brian, who was still at the cafeteria.

He rushed back and took about 2 minutes to understand what his system was up to, and he desperately tried to end the mad cycle the tool had unleashed.

Brian’s desktop screen became a hypnotic display of rapidly scrolling lines. It was a nightmare of the worst kind. Brian punched buttons and closed windows, only for them to restart. Finally, in desperation, he pulled the plug on his system.

He thought he had finally killed it after the system fell silent. Within a few seconds, the central server started emitting shrill beeps, signalling a deluge of transactions. His systems guy rushed to the server room to find that Schedule Box had taken it over entirely.

Transactions fast began spreading to the trading terminals attached to the server. Node after node fell to it as if the tool had a map to follow. Firstland’s trading team watched, horrified and helpless, as their terminals were invaded.

The first call came twenty minutes after Brian’s computer started acting strangely. An angry client called, wondering why his wealth was diminishing by the minute. The next instant, the company switchboard was inundated with similar calls.

Everyone was at their wit’s end. No one knew what was happening or what could stop the madness. Firstland was bleeding money, and clients were demanding an explanation. It was a bloodbath at the exchange.

By 3 PM, the regulators had decided to suspend trading en mass. The transactions finally ceased, and everyone started breathing again. Brian managed to sneak out of the team zone and opened his phone. He clicked this code hub app icon and checked if Terminal Stack was online. Perhaps his mentor could help him understand what had just happened.

Terminal was offline.

Brian located his tool launch thread after nervous scrolling and checked the comments section to see if anyone had similar experiences to share.

The last message was a single-worded comment from Terminal Stack.

“Endgame”, it simply said, followed by a smiling face.

If you liked this story, you will love my other fiction stories.

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