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Episode 3: Two Steps Forward

Shattered Rift


The elevator was cramped with so many spambots in it, but Rift tried to put the discomfort out of his mind. It didn't bother them, and it didn't bother Sparkbot. All that really mattered was the space needed for their fifteen bodies, and Rift had designed the elevator to fit sixteen. He never expected that a day would come when there would be sixteen staff members, let alone a day when sixteen would be in the elevator at the same time, but the question when designing it had been between nine and sixteen. He could imagine a time when there would be nine staff members, and he could picture them all riding the elevator up to the Staff Room together. They might as well be comfortable, so he had prepared enough room for sixteen.

Ignoring the buttons for the three floors, he palmed a hidden panel beneath them and pressed a button to take the elevator down to the basement. No one knew about the basement besides him and now Sparkbot. It was a new addition to the Mansion, moving the Admin Control Panel to its own floor and freeing up space on the third floor for additional staff quarters. He thought it was clever, assuming the staff would think that the administrative powers were contained within his personal quarters or even that they were tied to his very account itself.

Only the floor of the elevator lowered, and invisible barriers served as walls on each side. There was no shaft to contain the elevator in the basement, merely a place where the elevator rested when it finally settled into the floor. Rift let out a small breath, grateful to be free of the confined space. The basement was composed of only a few rooms, and Rift led the way to one of the larger ones, the only one that currently had multiple doors leading into it.

Rift stopped at one of the far doors, and a blue screen sprung into life above the access panel. By resizing rectangles on the screen, he reshaped the Testing Room inside. The Holding Room he was creating for the spambots wouldn't need to be particularly large, but it would need to be separate.

The door opened and he led the way inside, ushering the spambots to the center of the room. Two rows of six faced him, and he directed the thirteenth to stand in front of the others. Red beams lit up, clasping their hands together in front of them, and each stood on a red panel that acted as their cells.

“Shattered Rift, what do you plan to do with the spambots?” Sparkbot said, turning his full attention to Rift for the first time since they had approached the front gate.

“I don't know,” Rift admitted, walking to a console that he had placed in front of the spambots. A few paces separated them, but the distance was an unnecessary precaution. “I'm hoping there's some way to salvage their member IDs.”

“What do you mean?” Sparkbot said.

“Everyone cares about snagging the low user IDs,” Rift said, navigating through the built-in member tools. “All of the members want to obtain the lowest user ID they can. It's a matter of pride to have a lower ID.”

“Sparkbot does not understand human pride,” Sparkbot said. “All member IDs are comparably functional until the potential membership range is exceeded.” Rift smiled. A month ago Sparkbot would have specified exactly how many million possible IDs fell into the 'potential membership range.'

“Member Merger Tool?” Rift said aloud, spotting a new setting. Another tap on the screen brought up an explanation. “This would let me fuse existing members with spambots and reclaim the IDs these spambots stole!” He looked up thoughtfully, but the excitement faded quickly. “But that would still leave thirteen empty IDs.” No other tool provided an answer, and he reluctantly closed the screen.

“Shattered Rift, have you failed to find a solution?” Sparkbot said. Rift nodded, frowning down at the panel. “Sparkbot suggests deleting the spambots.”

“Deleting them?” Rift said. His eyes darted to the spambots. A month ago, before upgrading the Mansion's software, he would have done exactly that. Now, during the first day of the revival, thirteen spambots had managed to successfully register despite the precautions he had in place. Their very existence taunted him, evidence that something had gotten past him. One or two spambots would have been acceptable, but thirteen was a slap in the face. “I'll take that into consideration.”

As he led Sparkbot out of the room, he knew that the suggestion was probably the right one. If the new lock was working then there wouldn't be any more spambots to follow. That was the important thing. There was always the option of reclaiming the member IDs with database queries, but that was a dangerous idea at best. Even if the Mansion looked the same, the program generating it was different, and he was still unfamiliar with it.

The elevator rose back up into the shaft, and this time it stopped at the first floor.

“Sparkbot, go ahead and make your way to General Discussion,” Rift said.

“Is the cafeteria still forbidden to the members?” Sparkbot said, opening a swinging door that was just wide enough to comfortably fit one person through at a time. Only Sparkbot and the staff members knew that the so-called Broom Closet was really a door to the elevator.

“For now,” Rift said. “Part of my announcement tonight will probably need to include when forums and grounds are reopening. But don't worry, I don't have anything for you to pass along to the members right now.”

“Sparkbot understands,” Sparkbot said. “Sparkbot will see Shattered Rift later.”

“Later Sparkbot,” Rift said, and the door swung closed, leaving him alone. Letting out a long breath, he pressed the button for the third floor. Once the elevator reached the second floor, the ceiling receded above, revealing a spacious room. There was no elevator shaft here on the third floor. The platform settled into place to become part of the floor just like in the basement. Rift took a glance at the wall behind him, a one-way view of the parlor below. From the parlor, the wall appeared to be nothing more than a wall, but from the Staff Room it provided yet another impressive view built into the Mansion's design.

The Staff Room was a large rectangular room, and at the center was an oval table with seven chairs. He had meant to create a roundtable feel, but the design of the room fit an oval table better. Rather than having seats of authority reserved for the small ends, Rift's chair was in the center of the far side. It meant that, if the staff team expanded, new chairs at the short ends would unfortunately be the farthest from him. He much preferred the style now with a chair on either side of his and four directly across the table. Perhaps a circular table would be better in the long run, but for now he wondered what the composition of the staff team would even be. Several friends who had sat with him and offered counsel in the past were too busy to do so now. Was the value of their occasional advice, coupled with the privilege of transparency offered to the staff, enough of a reason to keep them on as staff in this new age? It was one question among many that needed to be answered.

Rift made his way to a far corner of the room. Each of the far corners had smaller tables, workstations for individuals or small groups. The rest of the room was empty. Even the walls were bare of the paintings found elsewhere in the Mansion recounting stories of the past.

The past was something else that weighed on Rift's mind. He had succeeded in bringing activity to Sparkbomb twice in the past, activity lasting about two years each time, but this time was different. It wasn't simply activity that was needed. It was community. It was something beyond the walls of the Mansion, beyond the walls of what had been before.

It was only the first day of a new age, and Rift was already tired. He sat at the workstation with his back to the wall, straightened his shoulders, and pulled a screen into the air in front of him. The blue outline shimmered, and after a few moments Coaster's face appeared. His face was strong and square-shaped, and his glasses created a glossy reflection over blue eyes. Most of all, it was the curly brown hair that stood out. It was much shorter than it had been in the past, and it looked strange to Rift without the long curls.

“What's up?” Coaster said.

“Not much,” Rift said automatically. The truth was that there were a dozen things, but as much as he might like to chat with an old friend, he had work to do. “I wanted to check in with you about the hosting.”

“Yeah, I haven't gotten around to it yet,” Coaster said. Rift could hear the nervous, apologetic tone in his voice. “I'll take care of it tonight.”

“Thanks,” Rift said. Coaster nodded, then Rift nodded, and Coaster's face flickered from the screen. Sagging back into his chair, Rift let his body go. Of all the possible delays, he had never expected the hosting to be one of them. It wasn't Coaster's fault. Rift hadn't mentioned much of his timetable. As cordial as their conversations had been over the past month, they had all been business. It had been over three years since they had simply had a good time as friends. Now it felt like they were two people who had gone in different directions. He had already given Coaster a heartfelt thank you, but that still didn't feel like enough. Rift had done most of the work—some would even say all of the work—to make Sparkbomb a success, but he felt that just as much credit was owed to Coaster.

Pulling up a fresh window, he reconfirmed that SparkWiki would be delayed until the hosting transfer was complete. That left SparkComic, the last thing on his to-do list, as the project he would spend the next few hours working on. After that, or more likely when he found a good stopping point, he would need to make a public appearance and give his announcement. There was no time to let his exhaustion overcome him: there was still far too much to do.

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