Into Gold, By Russ Bickerstaff
Editor's note: This amazing mashup of "Rumpelstiltskin" and data was a winner from the moment I read it.
he data was impossibly complicated. She saw all of the data. She saw how it could be combined to make something more than it was. Raw numbers and readings and things. And she could spin it all into raw profit. She could turn all of that data into gold. This was what she had discovered she could do. The problem was that the head of the department found out that she could do it. The department was really just there to process information. the fact that she could turn into a huge profit for the corporation was something that could be a valuable asset to the company.
You might think that this would be a great opportunity for her. The difficulty with this was inherent in the system. She reported to her supervisor. Her supervisor oversaw the entire department. Her supervisor was always looking for ways to impress upper management. And so he ended up taking credit for her talent. He always had a tendency to get carried away with what he promised--which had gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion. Not this time, though. This time was going to be different. He had someone who could turn raw data into pure gold. And he was going to work her like a machine. She was locked away in her own suite and promised money that she would never be officially contracted to receive so long as she kept spinning the data into gold. She knew that she would never see any of what was promised to her. That was the way these sorts of things always went.
Of course, she didn’t like this situation at all. Not that she really had much of a choice. She was contracted to work for the company. If she left because of unfair work conditions, she wouldn’t be able to get a decent job in her field for another five years due to the contract that they’d made her sign. What was worse, the demands were impossibly high. She had fun working with the data. It kind of reminded her of working on puzzles with her father as a little girl. The rate at which she was expected to produce robbed her of the fun she’d had with it. And there was honestly no way that she could have been expected to make her first deadline.
She was distraught as she worked through the data as quickly as possible. The stress was killing her until a strange, little window popped-up. Evidently it was an Information Mapping Protocol application. The IMP queried as to whether or not it could be of service. She explained her situation. The IMP app told her that it could help her out in exchange for a few rather obscure music files that were nestled in her personal device. (They were from an obscure indie band that could not be found in any online store.) She agreed to copy the files into the database that the IMP designated in exchange for the IMPs help. The IMP went to work. In half hour it had finished processing all of the information and turning all of the raw data into profit. She was elated.
The next day, her supervisor WAS pleased. And so he gave her an even larger packet of data to work with, once again demanding a ridiculously large amount of information be processed by the following morning. The IMP agreed to help her out in exchange for some obscure movies she had on her portable device. She transferred the old art house indie films to the designated database and it processed the data for her. The following day the head of the department was so pleased with her that he left her in charge of ALL the rest of the data that was currently on the department’s mainframe. He told her to turn all that data into raw profit by the next morning. If she did not, she would be terminated. If she was able to do as he asked, however, she would be given her own department to oversee that would allow her to develop applications that would do for the company what she and the IMP had been doing all along. By this time, the IMP had grown tired of media files, so she didn’t have much hope of keeping her job. It was willing to work with her, though. She had made a deal with the IMP: if it helped her out on this one last project, she would agree to give the full copyright on the first application that her department developed. She agreed to it. The IMP did its thing.
The department head stuck to his agreement, even though it was a verbal one made behind closed doors with no written documentation of any kind. Sometime in the next fiscal quarter, the first app was developed. It was ready to go live when the IMP came by requesting the official copyright on the app. Of course, the app in question was a labor of love that had been developed in fond memory of her father. It was actually something that he’d started work on. The completion of that application was the final realizations of a dream that her father had. She didn’t want to give it up. She had offered to give the IMP anything else that it wanted so long as she was allowed to keep the copyright on the app.
The IMP needed nothing more, but it offered to relinquish claim over the copyright if she was able to correctly guess its true name in three days or less. Over the course of the next several days, she’d texted numerous guesses off to the IMP, but they all proved to be false. As she was an excellent hacker, she was able to follow a trail of information that lead right to the name of the IMP. Odd that it ended up being her father’s name. He had passed away over a decade ago. It felt strange entering the name of her father as a password. Correctly entering her fathers name as the true name of the IMP caused it to open an encrypted video file. There he was. She hadn’t seen him in ages but there he was in high definition letting her know how proud he was of her. No longer of any real use, the IMP tumbled whimsically around on her desktop. She’s kept it there ever since.
Russ Bickerstaff is a theatre critic and aspiring author living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife and two daughters.