Bewildering Stories


Part 1

William W.

Philip Spundinsky was one hell of a programmer, and more than that, he was one hell of a human being. Most people I know -- regular people, let alone programmers -- don't give a rat's behind about the Ill'isk. They just can't get the bad taste out of their mouths from the early days after first contact. Doesn't matter that now we all know full well the Ill'isk are as human as you or me. They dream, they wonder at the universe, they feel pain and loss, they have hopes for their children (even if their family structures are a bit strange). Still, most people think of them as the local bio-trash, to be used to whatever possible advantage. But Phil didn't fall victim to that b.s. When the time came, Phil showed that there are at least a few humans around still worth something. And he showed it in a way that will blow your mind.

Phil was one of those self-exiled code-smiths. I'm not even sure where he lived exactly, but it wasn't anywhere on-planet. My guess is that he wasn't even lunar. Companies like mine treat programmers like cogs, you know, and build code factories in the cheapest, dirtiest, most miserable places that will support the operation. This is perfect Machiavellian strategy. Not only does it let us evade domestic taxes, it lets us pay the code-buggers pathetic wages. We get to bid low, get the work, and make a haul for ourselves. Of course, the turnover is high. But who cares? Every time there's a significant technology development -- a shift, say, from OBOE 6 to OBOE 6.1 -- we clean shop to a person and bring in a fresh crop of monkeys. Poor bastards. I don't necessarily agree with the system, but that's the way it is. And that's why Phil and others like him beat tracks out of here. They go to wherever the living is cheap yet the bandwidth is good. They live what most would consider lives of poverty -- they can't charge more than the monkeys cost -- but from their point of view they're living lives of opulence. They are, after all, technophilic introverts. To them, the isolation and the gadgets are bliss, pure nirvana. They get by just fine on monkey wages, and because these folks are in a different league than the monkeys, they manage the technology changes just fine, too.

Personally, I love working with the exiles. I'll take a team of three exiles over fifty Crisium hack-shop monkeys any day. Hands down. And that's basically the niche I carved for myself: I specialize in exile-only projects. I'm no programmer myself. No way, that's not my kind of living. There was money to be made on the management side of the software biz, so that's where I went. What do I do? I pull the team together, define the requirements, manage the issues, change the requirements, contain the whining, buffer the client from the folks with their bodies connected to the machines -- that sort of thing. In compensation, I live in a five bedroom Spanish-style on an oceanfront Malibu cliff, and I drive the hottest model that either the Japanese or the Germans can dream up each year. Some years I can't decide, so I take both. Like I say, the system's not fair. I'm not exactly proud of being on its good end, knowing the details of the bad, but that's how it is. Philip is a far better man than I.

Exile-only projects are usually the hot ones -- you can't waste these folks on just any old job; they're too valuable in the first place, and in the second the exiles won't take piddling crap -- and this one was hot enough, assuming you considered Ill'isk lives worth anything. I got the call in the middle of the night. Apparently, several years back the Ill'isk had traded for a custom Sterling yacht. The yacht held about fifty families, just under a couple hundred souls in total. I say it was a custom yacht; it was custom to start, but then they really made it unique after the trade. They overhauled the on-board software, changing it to meet Ill'isk needs instead of human. The job, naturally, had been done by a monkey crew, under my company's management. Some cocky, half-trained newbie manager ran the job, and guess what? Now there were bugs. Bad ones. The monkeys screwed up a date algorithm needed to convert Earth dates to Ill'isk. The problem, masked until now, was spilling and cascading and making new problems. Already, the atmosphere controls had malfunctioned, killing the captain and first officer. Who knew what else would happen? ("My god! Think of the insurance!" my boss was screaming.)

By morning, I had my team together. Virtually together, I should emphasize. None of us were anywhere physically close. To conserve bandwidth, we didn't even use video; voice-only until this one was done. Philip was the tech lead, Miguel was his code grunt, and Janissa was on network issues and testing. Downloading the yacht's software was easy enough; thankfully the monkeys hadn't hacked up the sub-ether connection routines. We got a copy into our dev environment, and Phil got his first look at it. For several minutes there was silence on the line. Then, Phil's voice came through.

"This is going to take some time."

To be continued . . .

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Copyright 2002 by William W. and Bewildering Stories.