GIANT FREAKIN’ ROBOTS part 15: Lamb plantations

robot 14 sm

Skip waved to Katerina as he walked up to Lumin’s office. “Hey Kat…what are you doing?”

Katerina smiled and looked up from her desk. “Yo, Skip. I finished my paperwork for the day so I’m working on this play-doh mock-up of a statue I plan on carving.”

“You’re an artist?” asked Skip. “I didn’t know that.”

“Well, not yet, but watching that interview with the Kyoto Team inspired me. They’re really going all out…keeping their eyes on the prize. If I ever hope to accomplish my own goals I gotta be laser focused just like Kengi Sato. More doing, less dreaming!”

“You’re running quite a tab on all those cliches, Kat,” said Skip. “It’s a little disturbing to see you getting so much inspiration from our competition. You should want to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of their women.”

“What?”

“It’s from Conan.”

“O’brien?”

“The Barbarian.”

“I don’t speak much nerd, sorry,” said Katerina looking confused. “Anyway, it’s not like that! Of course I want to see the lamb plantations of their women…or whatever.”

Lumin peaked her head out of her office door. “What in hell are you two talking about?”

Skip turned to Lumin, then swiveled his head back toward Katerina. “Wait, did you say carve?”

“Yeah, with a chainsaw. My dad taught me how. Trust me, this bear will look much better carved from a Douglas fir than this yellow play-doh,” said Katerina with confidence.

“Katerina, go home early. Skip, get in here,” said Lumin, rolling her eyes.

“Okay, thanks Lumin!” said Katerina, smashing the bear into a tiny plastic tub.

Skip walked in Lumin’s office and closed the door. His expression immediately changed to one of concern.

“Don’t worry, I’m not letting her get near a chainsaw,” said Lumin.

“That’s not it. I have some troubling information to share,” said Skip, sitting down.

Lumin sat at her desk. “Oh, wonderful. I was just about to get out of here. What is it?”

“Well, after that Austrian interview with the Japanese aired I had Yasamin contact a few people from the television station in Vienna. I was hoping to secure some of the raw, unedited footage from their Kyoto shoot.”

“Smart,” said Lumin.

“Unfortunately, all raw footage became the property of the Kyoto Team and was immediately destroyed. However, we did manage to get our hands on an ultra HD digital copy of the original program. I’ve spent the last couple of days skimming parts of the video frame-by-frame to see if I could glean anything useful in the background of the footage.”

Lumin leaned back and crossed her legs. “Okay, so?”

“Things got a little interesting when the interview started with that sketchy weirdo in the suit…um–”

“Hayashi?”

“Yeah, Hayashi. Before the interview begins he quickly turns off a projection of some schematic that’s in front of him.”

“I was wondering what that was,” said Lumin. “I paused that part of the video a few times myself to try and make it out, but it looked like it had been covered with a post-production blur.”

“It was definitely censored in the original broadcast, but not in the 4K copy I was given. There were no opening or closing credits either, which leads me to believe I was given a rough cut on accident. The schematic is clear as a bell on my copy. Let me show you.”

Skip pulled a laptop out of his messenger bag and opened it up on Lumin’s desk. The loud moan of a woman filled the office before Skip hurried to close an open video window. “Oops! Ignore that.”

“Oh, really nice Skip,” said Lumin, furrowing her brow. “Is this what you wanted to show me?”

“Uh, I don’t know how that got on there…anyway, here, look at this.” Skip pulled up a screenshot and enlarged it. “Seem familiar?”

“Is that really what you’re into?” asked Lumin with disgust.

“Just look!”

“I’m too scared to look at the screen again.”

Katerina poked her head through the door. “Well Lumin, I’m out of here. Enjoy your pornography!” she said with a cheery smile, before closing the door again and walking off.

“Wait! It’s not…never mind,” shouted Lumin. “Goodnight!”

Lumin finally gave in and looked at Skip’s laptop again. Her eyes widened immediately. “Wait, I know that design…but it can’t be!” She quickly punched her password into her own computer and entered the factory’s secure database.

“Yup, it’s Bo Dozens initial design for Biz’s control scheme rendered in 3D–the same one you rejected a few weeks back. I’ve looked at it 50 times, it’s an exact match.”

“Who else knows about this?”

“Just you and me for now.”

“But, how? According to my tracking software all hard copies of our schematics have been accounted for. Once checked out, a person isn’t allowed to take design prints out of their office. As an added precaution, each page is RFID tagged and printed on dark paper with a coating that blows out the image when photographed. In other words, secure.”

“Is that why the damn things are so hard to see? I suppose if Bo sold it to the Japanese he could have simply replicated his work.”

“Wait, we don’t know it was Bo…at least not for certain.”

“Come on, Lumin,” said Skip, raising an eyebrow.

“Let’s just figure out how this happened first. Everything we devise is engineered in-house. Nothing is allowed to leave, not even notes. Kyoto would have had to offer Bo something substantial for him to go through the trouble of redesigning a schematic from scratch. How many hours do you think he put into its design?”

Skip sighed. “It was at least 40 hours–over half of that in CAD.”

Lumin shook her head. “Bo was so ahead of the curve you gave him 40 hours of busy work?”

“He had lots of other projects going on at the same time, but yeah…that’s still a lot of hours to lose. I guess I can’t blame the little piss ant for being a little butt-hurt.”

“Getting butt-hurt is part of the job,” said Lumin. “We all know half of what’s designed will never end up on Biz.”

“Bo gets pumped up with a new project but he loses interest quickly. I don’t think he’d have the fortitude to replicate anything from scratch. I’m betting he found a way to get the schematic out of the building or uploaded a digital copy…somewhere.”

“I highly doubt it got out of here on the net. Our firewall disables any attempts to transfer sensitive materials, and any attempt to bypass it would have been detected. Bo’s an engineer, not a hacker.”

“Okay, well, maybe he smuggled in a smartphone and took a picture.”

“I’m the only one allowed to have a cellphone in the building and security is pretty good about spotting outside tech with their body scanners. Plus, our work station monitors will appear jet-black when photographed by most cameras.”

Skip shook his head. “Is that why we’re saddled with these bulky, old-school CRT screens?”

“LED screens don’t refresh, but CRT monitors do–several times per second. Ours have all been calibrated to have refresh rates unfriendly to the shutter speeds of most digital cameras. Still, it’s mostly only good for thwarting a stray picture snapper, not a corporate spy.”

“Ugh, no wonder the screens give me a headache. You don’t mess around, Lumin.”

“Ryan Lumb wanted increased security in the factory after Michaels got canned. I was hired in part to make sure that happened. I actually learned a lot from the consultant we brought in.”

“Yeah, that guy was a real ray of sunshine.”

“You jerks run so wild around here you barely noticed anything had changed,” said Lumin, shaking her head. “I’m almost positive Bo is the culprit but we need to find some hard evidence before we nail him to the wall.”

“The little bastard is enamored with his own designs–I wouldn’t doubt him selling us out,” said Skip, fuming. “I’m going to drive to his condo and drag his fat ass out of bed. I’ll make him spill his guts.”

“Take it easy, Mister Bronson. We should at least find a shred of proof before you reboot Death Wish.”

“Alright, forget Bo…maybe it was you all along, Lumin,” said Skip, with a sarcastic tone.

“Yeah, right,” said Lumin, “Don’t even try to take the high ground after showing me your gross porn.”

Skip shrugged. “I’m just saying that you and Eldridge Roundstone are the only ones with direct access to everything.”

Lumin looked at Skip like he had three heads. “I doubt the guy footing the bill for our entire operation would want to jeopardize his investment.”

“Okay, maybe it was one of his boot licking toadies then.”

“No way. Roundstone’s no dummy. His security is even beefier than ours.” Lumin pulled up a database window on her computer. “Admittedly, no system is truly secure, but no crime is, either. Come on, we both know this happened in-house. The culprit had to have left a trail.”

“You’re way too into this detective stuff. So, doesn’t our software show exactly who had each schematic checked out? Digitally, I mean.”

Lumin shrugged. “It does, but Bo has been known to go around the building showing off his designs to people on their own workstations. It’s not enough to go on.”

“The little guy needs a ton of ego stroking, that’s for sure. Wait, could it have been Tenders? That bastard hates us.”

“Armond Tenders? No. He was let go weeks before Bo completed his proposal for the control scheme. Tenders was the reason we bumped up security around the building.”

“What are you doing?” asked Skip as Lumin began typing furiously.

“I’m writing a quick script to scan our security camera archives for any dead spots in the footage–places where the feed might have gone black.”

“Aren’t the cameras always on?”

“Yeah, I’d know if any of the cams lost power, but if someone obscured one of the lenses with tape or something for just a few minutes it might have been missed. If we can find a cam where the footage goes black we’ll at least know from which room the schematic was yanked.”

“You scare me,” said Skip.

“Call me Big Sister…not really, don’t call me that. Ah ha! The script just found a solid five minutes of dark grey footage captured last month.”

“Nice!” said Skip. “This is just like CSI…whatever.”

“Ugh,” said Lumin, before her face filled with dread. “No…it can’t be. The compromised footage was from the security cam in Dezzie’s office and the one on her work station. The hallways cameras leading to her office were blacked out for awhile as well.”

“No way. Dezzie may be evil, but I trust her more than anyone else in this damn place, no offense.”

Lumin sighed. “It doesn’t seem right, but sure enough, Bo’s control schematic was checked out to her machine on that night. Shit.”

“Shit. She’d have no legitimate reason to pull up those designs on her machine. Dezzie…why?”

Lumin quickly scanned the security footage after each camera’s P.O.V. had been restored. “Whoever covered up the cams tugged the tape off the lenses using some kind of monofilament to keep out of sight. Clever. None of the other cameras caught anything. The jerk just disappeared.”

“This just doesn’t seem like Dezzie,” said Skip.

“Hold on,” said Lumin, putting her hand on Skip’s shoulder. “There’s one more thing I have to check. We need to go to Dezzie’s office.”

“I think we’re probably the only ones left in the building. Alright, let’s do it.”

Lumin sent a text to the factory’s single security guard, alerting her that she and Skip would be lurking around the factory’s second floor. The pair made their way through the dark, quiet hallways until they arrived at Dezzie’s office.

“Where the hell is everyone?” asked Lumin. “Not that I’m complaining. I’m not ready to answer any questions.”

“Richard was throwing a party tonight. Sorry I didn’t tell you, I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” whispered Skip.

“You don’t have to whisper, dummy…and that’s fine. I’m fully aware no one wants to party with their boss. Lumb took me to one of his parties once and I wanted to defenestrate myself after a few minutes.”

“We all love you…but yeah, you get it,” said Skip in full volume.

Lumin laughed as she unlocked the door with her master keycard. “Sorry you’re missing the festivities.”

“It’s fine. I don’t think I’d want to be around alcohol after learning about this mess. Maybe if the facility had more than one security guard this wouldn’t have happened,” said Skip, only half-joking.

“Statistically, unarmed security guards only serve as deterrents to outside parties. A bunch of people making just over minimum wage wandering the halls at night would only lead to more problems.”

“You’re probably right,” said Skip.

Skip and Lumin waded through the effluvium of evil knick-knacks and dog toys in Dezzie’s office to get to her work station. Several hand drawn diagrams were on her desk beneath a thick book of witchcraft and a paperback titled “Astrology for Dogs.”

“Damn, I need to get her to use her CAD software. We can’t have hand written schematics laying around. She’s the only one who won’t do her initial designs digitally,” said Lumin.

“First things first. After all, there’s a chance Dezzie won’t be designing anything else for us,” said Skip, woefully. “What are we doing here, exactly?”

Lumin logged into Dezzie’s machine as an administrator and began typing into the console. “I know it seems like there’s no USB ports on these hard-wired boxes, but every work station still has them, they’re just covered up by the shell. Someone must have finally figured that out. Transferring files using a USB memory stick would be one of the only ways to sneak a schematic out of the building.”

“Out of sight out of mind huh? You really thought a plastic covering would hide your little USB secret? Those casings aren’t that hard to pop off.”

“Lumb didn’t want to hamstring future functionality by removing the USB ports entirely, so this was our compromise. At the time it seemed good enough. Or almost good enough. Even if someone exploited the USB slots they probably didn’t realize there’s a sneaky little program running in the background of each workstation. Once a memory stick is plugged in the program copies any files found on it to a partition on the hard drive. The program will copy them again if any files are updated or altered. The duplicate files can’t be accessed through the network though, that’s why we’re accessing them locally.”

Skip puffed his cheeks. “Goddamn, your evilness gives Dezzie’s a run for her money. Well, find anything?”

“Jackpot! The partition is full to bursting.” Lumin opened a window and began browsing the contents of the files. “Yup, here it is. Bo’s fucking control scheme for Biz. It was downloaded to a memory stick at the exact same time the cameras were obscured.”

“But, we still don’t know Dezzie did this for sure,” said Skip.

“Who else could have gotten into her off–wait, that’s right!”

“What?”

“Her door! She blew her door of its hinges around the same time! Her office was wide open for at least two days. Shit!”

“Alright! But that means we’re back to square one.”

“No, there was lots more data copied from the stick. The thing wasn’t empty when it was plugged in.” Lumin kept scrolling through the duplicated contents on the partition then opened up an Excel document she discovered.

Rainbow Dash Target Exclusive? Pinky Pie Anniversary Collection? What is this shit?” asked Skip, looking over Lumin’s shoulder.

Lumin smiled. “Who do you know around here who has My Little Pony figures in their office?”

“Bo’s the only ‘brony’ around here! His workstation is covered with those damn things!”

“He must use this spreadsheet to keep track of his toys. Pretty impressive collection.”

“So, he broke into Dezzie’s office to get the schematic onto a memory stick and out of the building.”

“Yup. Pretty good idea…but not good enough.”

“At least it was just the schematic of an outdated control system. Your one-to-one setup is much better than his. Was there anything else on there? Please let there be some naked picks of him covered in plastic ponies for me to put online. I can’t wait to run him through the ringer.”

“We have Bo dead to rights; his name is all over this spreadsheet plus his credit card info. We have enough information here to prove he violated the non-disclosure clause of his contract and nail him to the wall with corporate espionage charges. I…oh no… goddamn it! No!” yelled Lumin.

“What’s wrong?”

Lumin was shaking as she enlarged a jpeg file of a photo from Bo’s thumb drive.

Skip took a step back. “Oh fuck.”

“I told her to lock her work up while the office was being worked on! I told her!”

“Jesus, look at that. Bo took pictures of some of Dezzie’s hand-drawn prototype schematics, didn’t he? Do you think the Japanese–”

Lumin slumped in her seat. “Absolutely. If they haven’t built their own version of the quantum vibration blade by now, they’re definitely going to.”

“Mother f–”

“Skip, was everyone going to that party?”

“Yeah. All the engineers. Katerina and Yasamin were invited too. Why?”

“Do you think everyone’s drunk by now?”

“Probably,” said Skip, still boiling with anger. “Wait, what are we talking about?”

“Let’s crash.”


Part 16: 7 Minutes

What is this? I started this “serial” as a way to bring some fun and immediacy to my writing routine. Each chapter is written, edited and posted in a single day (I will do some additional editing if I find a glaring mistake). Chapters are released on an irregular basis.
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