As line after line of code scrolled up the little screen, Miles felt the weight of Ken’s hand on the back of his chair.
“What did you want to show me? Carol’s retirement party starts in 15 minutes. Gloria’s is catering,” Ken reminded him, scuffing the carpet impatiently with a leather-soled shoe. Gloria’s was a sub shop down the street. It was a crowd favorite, but they went a little heavy on the mayo, in Miles’ opinion.
“Here… It’s here.” Miles pointed at the offending lines with a jagged fingernail.
If(Ksum>.042 & Dsum<.08)
“Explain what I’m looking at, please.” Ken’s voice rose just enough to pointedly remind Miles that he no longer dirtied his hands with mundane technical details. In the shadow of that second, Miles remembered Ken’s bare desk when he started here, almost twenty years earlier. Devoid of the stacks of random hardware and wires, post-it notes covered with scrawls, family photos or even Dilbert cartoons that were ubiquitous throughout the office. Ken had been management material, even then.
“Dsum… you know, the composite NO-GO factor. I think we need to change it.”
“Why?” The flatness of Ken’s tone disoriented him, and it took Miles a moment to regain his train of thought.
“We… didn’t factor in Surface Luminosity. We thought it didn’t matter. But if we had, Dsum would have been lower. It would have been—” he consulted his notes, “—.078. That’s why…”
“Miles, no.” Ken reached down over Miles’ shoulder and closed the laptop with a click.
“But Ken, don’t you see? If we don’t adjust the… Kill Algorithm,” he choked out the words, “it’ll fail again.”
“Fail. Fail? Miles, are you listening to yourself right now? The preliminary statistics show us at 93%! I know you’re going through a lot right now, you and your family…”
“But the statistics are…”
“Miles, we’ve been working on this for so long. It seems like years ago that we put in all-nighters, almost every night. Did your wife almost divorce you? Because mine sure did! Then we sweated it out and said our Hail Marys during the approval process. Now we’re finally there, making the world a better place, getting rid of the bad guys.”
“But the sample size isn’t big enough, and they still haven’t corroborated all the reports from the ground…”
“Miles, the team was out of their AO. You read the same report I did.” Ken’s voice was low now, and stern. It was a trick he’d picked up from some seminar, but Miles subsided. Ken picked up the framed picture on the corner of Miles’ desk. The photo was a few years old. Jacob was still a Lance Corporal then. Ken’s voice softened as he continued, “He would have wanted this, you know. All he ever wanted was to serve. He’s a hero now, you know.”
Miles said nothing, but clenched a fist under his desk.
Ken returned the picture. “He didn’t suffer, you know. All of our data supports that. According to our data, they never even saw it coming.”
Miles understood that it was his role to graciously accept this lie like it was another sagging bouquet of mums at Jake’s funeral. Instead, he swallowed hard. “It’s just… we could get approval to run some sims with the new value…”
Ken put his hand on Miles’ shoulder. It was a gentle hand, but when their eyes met, Miles saw steel. “There’s nothing more to say.” Ken’s hand grew heavier for a moment before he lifted it and moved to the door of the cramped office. “And hurry up. Accounting will take all the cookies if they get there first.”
V. Gould writes in Ogden, Utah, in the United States.