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Friday, 9:00AM. San Jose, California

It wasn't working and it should have been cake. Slip in the patch. Recompile. Bang. One happy customer and a few thousand more in his quarterly bonus. Instead, his own security code kept him from patching the code he'd sent to Japan. His own code. Traitor.

Tommy Lo sat at the edge of his Hermann Miller chair, back slightly arched, eyes peering through a quarter inch of polycarbonate plastic, hands at attention on the Solaris keyboard echoing the confusion that was tearing through his mind, making him forget his appointments.

It was very late in Japan. Lynda would be sleeping soundly in her tiny room at the Shin Yokohama Prince.

On the other hand, Arlen had gone on the trip. There probably wasn't much sleeping happening. He was getting the reports from his friend Takagawa who'd been with Arlen and Lynda on a couple of sales calls. She was either fending off suitors at some hostess bar Arlen would drag her to, or she was with Arlen right now.

It would serve both of them right.

Tommy dialed the Shin Yokohama Prince hotel and got Lynda's room. She answered with a groan.

"It's Tommy. Sorry if I woke you," he said, mocking repentance. There was a lot of commotion on the phone. He was sure he heard Arlen's voice.

"Do you know what time it is here?"

He didn't want to imagine what was happening in Japan so he said, "Do you know if Sony's running any unauthorized copies of Nosfaratu? I can't get in. It's like there's something else spin locking my resources and I can't find where it's coming from."

There was either a digital artifact from the echo cancellation on the phone line or a giggle that came next. The sound of someone slapping something. He knew exactly what it was. Non-technical.

"Will you call me back in the morning?"

"How's Arlen?" Tommy said, looking at his watch. He was already late for his staff meeting. What would a few more minutes mean?

"How should I know?"

Tommy decided the high road was not telling her he knew exactly where Arlen was. The pity approach might work better.

"Episode three is out. I scored tickets. It's the night you get back. Come with me?"

"Yeah. Sure."

"You just called me for that, right?" Lynda said. He imagined her long brown hair falling in strands across her face and remembered when it was him on the road, she the field tech, he the factory expert. They wow'ed customers and each other all across Asia. He took her to his home town in Taiwan. Introduced her to his parents. Slept with her on the beach in the south where she lay awake all night worrying about snakes.

"The spin locks. Something is tying up my code. I can't do the patch you promised Furui-san last night, but it's not my fault. There's something on that system that's not letting me in. I know it's getting close to the end of the quarter. If Arlen is feeding them keys under the table again, that's okay. Just tell him to have them turn them off for a second so I can do the patch. Then they can turn all their illegal copies back on again."

"I'll check on it when I go in there in the morning. Good night, T. Lo."

He could hear her moving to hang up so he shouted. "Wait--Lynda."

He hadn't realized he was holding his breath until he gulped air when he heard her voice. "What?"

"I miss you."

"Jealousy does not look good on you, T."

The line went dead.

Friday, 5:00PM San Jose, California.

"You got everyone there?"

Arlen's disembodied voice boomed from the speaker phone and filled the room like poison gas. The three developers fiddled with their mechanical pencils. Wen-Tai glared at them. When sales was angry shit rained on him. He wasn't good at keeping it off his subordinates. It wasn't his way.

"We're all here," Wen-tai said.

"Furui-san is fucking pissed. I met him for bon-gohan this morning and he nearly took my head off Japanese style. They're holding up the order and it's all the Nosfaratu bugs. That's four-point-two million in revenue for this quarter, boys and girls. What the hell is going on back there? Yesterday you told me Nosfaratu would be fixed by this morning. I know you all think Texas Instruments is more important, but need I remind you Japan is strategic--"

Wen-tai interrupted. Salesmen in quota trouble were like drowning people who took everyone else down with them and Wen-tai had bigger problems. Sony was an annoyance and Arlen Cartlan was a pain in the ass he thought he'd delegated. He said, "We're working on it," and glared at Tommy with that, "this is your problem, why-is-he-bothering-me-with-this-shit" face he wore right before someone got his ass fired.

"It's the spin locks," Tommy said.

"Explain that in English," came Arlen's voice. "Wait. No. I don't give a shit what it is. Just tell me when it's going to be fixed--for real this time."

"I can cut the patches in ten seconds if you shut off all the unpaid licenses you gave them."

There was silence on the line as Arlen realized his tactical error. Wen-tai's face melted from moral indignation to confusion. When he registered what Tommy was saying, he stared at the phone.

"Arlen?" Wen-tai said, his voice sharp, "Did you know this?"

"I have no idea what he's talking about. There are no unauthorized versions on Sony's machines. Give it an hour and try again, though."

The developers grinned shiny shark's teeth. Tommy had the upper hand. Now he had to think of some way to get the bastard back for screwing his fiancee.

Wen-tai sighed. It wasn't his problem and as far as he was concerned the meeting was over.

"So you can call Thomas in an hour and tell him to do the patch?"

"Yeah," Arlen said.

"Any problems on your side, Thomas?"

Tommy shook his head and grinned along with the other developers.

Friday, 8:00PM. San Jose, California

"You seeing this, T. Lo? Who's there with you?"

Lynda's voice phased in and out with digital artifacts from the satellite echo cancellation. It made her seem farther away.

"I got Ken and Judy on this end," Tommy said. "Turn the camera. They're next to me."

Ken sucked down one of the three cans of diet coke in front of him. The video conference camera in the San Jose office yawed under Lynda's commands from Japan. Judy picked at her teeth with the sharp edge of a post-it note.

The data came up on the DLT projector feeding the computer screen from Japan. Nobody flinched.

"So?" Tommy said.

"So? That's all you can say?"

"The fucking preamble. We're supposed to be amazed or something? I'm missing the beginning of the Twilight Zone weekend festival for this? How much longer do we have to be here?" Ken said, and suppressed a belch.

"Do you guys know what you're looking at? I mean, really?" Lynda's face came into frame on the second screen. Her movements were jerky and image digital and blocky, but when she stood still she solidified to clarity like ice. It made Tommy homesick for her apartment. It made him mad she was sleeping with Arlen and expecting him to shrug it off.

"You know what time it is here?" Tommy said.

"You owe me after last night," Lynda said. Then to clarify to everyone, "He called me at 2AM. Did he tell you guys that?"

"Good thing it wasn't a video conference," Tommy said. "I think it's you who owe me."

Lynda froze for a second, then moved the cursor on the data screen.

"Let me show you something," she said.

They watched her kill the process and start another. When the program started Avatar's logo and copyright came up with Beradan's should have been.

Ken said, "What the fuck?"

Judy leaned forward, eyes wide. "Yeah, what the fuck. What the hell is this?"

"I couldn't figure out what the hell was locking your resources," Lynda said. "I went to Furui's guys and had them kill all the Beradan software on the machine and it still wouldn't unlock. Then I asked them what this other stuff was. Turns out it's an evaluation machine. They had Avatar's tools all over the place. I had to go to Furui to get them to kill the processes, but when they wiped out all the Avatar shit, Nosfaratu started working again. That got me thinking. So I started Avatar's so-called beta code and I see our preamble. I think they stole our code. That's why it's locking your code. Because it is your code."

"Oh, that's our shit all right," Judy said, watching program output scroll by on the screen. "Son of a bitch. They're competing with us with our own code."

"What do you wanna do?" Ken said.

"Arlen wants to keep it quiet. He doesn't want to wreck the relationship with Sony."

Thomas picked up his cell phone. "I'm calling Abbott. He needs to hear about this. This is too big for us. They're going to have to get lawyers involved."

"Arlen was afraid you'd do that. He didn't want me to tell you guys."

Thomas said, "Yeah. Arlen would prefer we didn't know this was happening so he could blame his blown quarter on me not fixing software I can't get to because our competition is stealing our code. I don't care what he wants or who he's fucking behind my back."

"Hey, watch your mouth. I'm on your side here," Lynda said.

Thomas stared at Lynda's digital image as his cell phone connection to the CEO began to ring in his ear. He was finally tired and starting to get mad.

"You don't have to remind me. I know the story. We're engaged in America, but not in Japan."

He hit the button on the Polycom phone. Lynda went away.

Friday, 9:00PM. San Jose, California

"So who knows about this?" Joe Abbott said. His eyes gleamed from a skull perched almost a foot above Tommy's head. Abbott could stuff a basketball without jumping or breaking a sweat, everyone had seen him do it on the court he'd had built outside his office. He was lean and good looking. Always on. Always the image of himself he wanted to project.

"Ken and Judy here. Lynda and Arlen. Lynda's flying home. She'll be here in the morning."

"Okay. I'm going to have someone talk to Ken and Judy and Lynda and I'll talk to Arlen myself. Between us, not a word of this leaks out. Okay? This is big stuff. Criminal. You don't want to be around when the shit starts flying. Okay? You go on like nothing's happening. If we need you, we'll call you."

Tommy nodded. Joe put down his beer, untouched. He picked up his cell phone and muttered a couple of words. Then he closed it and took an invisible sip from his beer glass.

"Now we've got the bastards," Abbott said. "We had some evidence that when Tim and Limen went over to Avatar they tarred off all the code they could before they left. And then Avatar came out with that product in lightning speed. It's impossible. I knew they couldn't have done it that fast. It took us two years and fifty people to get that product out. I don't care how good their guys are--they couldn't do it with ten people in two months. Shit--five of their guys were our guys, the same ones who took two years.

"I put private investigators on it but we kept turning up squat. But this is it. The smoking gun. Just wait till tomorrow. Tom, this company owes you a debt of gratitude for your service, and believe me, we'll show it. I won't forget what you did for the company."

Joe slapped a beefsteak of a hand on Tommy's shoulder.

Tommy smiled. Pride was his best feature.

Sunday, 2:47AM. Los Altos, California

The first time Tim Smith realized something was wrong was when he opened his eyes and the screaming didn't stop. The dream had seeped into his reality.

His children needed help.

He burst from his bed, feet pounding the floor as a bright light nearly forced his head backward.

"Freeze." The command woke up his wife. Another light by her. Guns. Men with guns. His children were screaming.

"Who are you?" he stammered. His wife screamed when she saw the dark form standing over her. He couldn't help but move. He had to go to the children. He lunged.

The bedroom lights went on flooding the room. The bedroom carpet rose up and met him in the face. There was a foot on his neck, and then another in his back.

His heart raced. He was sure he'd be killed. They would kill his family. They pulled his arms backward so hard it hurt his shoulders. They bound his hands.

The fear erased him. He heard yelling. Something high-pitched and animal. It wasn't until the blow to his head made it stop that he realized it was coming from him.

When the men with the flashlights and guns pulled him to his feet the shoved a badge in his face. A man slid a trifold of paper between his arm and his body. Said it was a search warrant and a warrant for his arrest.

Men began to tear apart his home office. He watched his computer and files carried past by men with badges.

Tim Smith, lead programmer for Avatar had been arrested for grand larceny and violation of international trade laws.

Except for television, he'd never seen the inside of a jail or a cell. When they shut the door behind him he began to cry. He had no idea what was happening to him, or how he could make it stop.

Monday, 8:00AM. San Jose, California

Tommy put down the newspaper and saw Lynda at the entrance of his cube, staring at him.

"You've got to talk to me. This is ridiculous."

"They arrested Tim Smith," Tommy said, pointing to the lead story in the business section. The guy they'd both worked with for four years was on the page in his pajamas and handcuffs.

"That's awful," Lynda said. "I was afraid this would happen."

"He brought it upon himself," Tommy said. "He knew what he was doing."

"But he's in jail. What if something happens to him in there?" Lynda said.

"You miss him?" Tommy said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Lynda said, as Tommy pushed passed her and kept walking. She took a few quick steps to catch up.

"You know what it means," Tommy said. When he got to the break room he poured himself a cup of hot water. He thought twice about tossing in a teabag, and decided to stick with plain water.

"We had an agreement," Lynda said when she was sure nobody was listening.

"Well I can't take it. Call it my fault. All my fault but I can't be engaged to you and have you off sleeping with whoever you want."

"Nobody's telling you to be monogamous," she said as he walked by her.

She caught up to him again. "This is juvenile, you know. You have to talk to me. Just talk to me."

"We put Tim Smith in jail. They closed Avatar this morning. The FBI is in there searching for evidence. Abbott's got a notice out to all Avatar's customers that if they're using Avatar software they're to cease or Beradan will sue them for misuse of stolen property. The world as we know it is coming apart, and mine is too, in my own special private hell of a way. Now I have work to do. Okay?"

He went back to his cube. Lynda shouted down the corridor of cubes, and a couple of people poked up their heads. But everyone knew what was going on. Nobody was surprised.

"I love you," she yelled again. She added, "Asshole," before going back to her office.

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