The Operator Is Missing

Restore the OperatorDetails

First Appeared: Fiction On The Web
Published: July 13, 2014
Byline: Paul Hamilton
Edited by: Charlie Fish
Permanent Link: fictionontheweb.co.uk
Cost: Free
Content: Rated PG-13: Thematic Elements, Rude Language

Behind The Story

In my notebook, where I keep all the little snippets of inspiration I get and hope to get around to developing into a story at some point, I had an entry that read:

“A girl in the engineering department is ‘that guy’: the one who knows how the system fits together and has access to the deep recesses of the network hardware. Dissatisfied with her job, she considers an act of corporate sabotage as a means of revenge.”

The sample title I had written down was, “That Girl.”

Part of the concept came from wanting to do a kind of John Grisham thing where I tried to find ways to dramatize my day job as a systems administrator into something that would work as fiction. I’m not sure how successful that endeavor was, since at a certain level even this story ends up borrowing its inherent tension from the law enforcement profession. Maybe that’s because at a core level the risk inherent in the computing industry is to data and hardware. The risk in law enforcement is lives and freedom.

In either case, the earliest draft of the story was quite bland and existed almost entirely as an internal monologue by the narrator. It was also much, much shorter as a sub-1,000 word flash piece. Based on early feedback I expanded it, added the Gerhart character, and made it much more dialogue-oriented.

This was one of those difficult stories to write in which the behavior of the characters, particularly the point-of-view character, is deplorable to the author. There is a lot of advice on how to write this kind of thing such that you (the writer) don’t accidentally condone the perspectives and actions while not necessarily hedging the behaviors just because they’re uncomfortable. I’m not entirely sure I was successful in implementing these techniques. I wish I had explored a little more the notion of gender dynamics in a heavily gendered work field. The story really lends itself to this, and it’s something I’ve payed close attention to in my job—particularly in the last few years—but I missed the opportunity.

In the editing process I also changed the title. I didn’t like the way the original concept title cast Ramona as the antagonist in the readers’  minds when I always intended the “boys club” to be the real villains in the story.

It’s also worth noting that some of the technical details are generalized to the point where sharper technologists than I are likely to find some issues with how I described them. Some of that is the result of the need to convey details to an audience I can’t guarantee is going to be tech-savvy. Some is because, in spite of it being my primary career track, I’m a terrible technologist.

This is one of my most clear-cut endings of the short fiction I’ve produced in the last few years, although I worry a bit that it comes at the expense of character arc for the narrator. In fact, the character with the best arc is Ramona—who is really the protagonist—but her presence in the story is very “off-page-y” to butcher a phrase. It was an interesting challenge to write and develop, I wish perhaps I’d been more successful creating Mr Lloyd into a well-rounded character.

Then again, some reader feedback indicated it wasn’t clear which of the two was actually responsible, Ramona or Lloyd. So much for a clear-cut ending, I suppose. At the risk of spoiling some unintended ambiguity, in my mind Ramona was always sandbagging her abilities and had not only exacted her revenge but managed to frame Lloyd for it at the same time. Her reason for targeting him in particular is left as an exercise for the reader, but I like to think she was giving her crush an opportunity to prove himself worthy of her affection.

I would say he failed that particular test.

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