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The Asset
The Asset

The Asset

SubashAnjuruSubashAnjuru

/*Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.*/

The Asset

“Click…Click…Click…”

“Our deepest condolences to the family members of Mr. Jacob R who has been a part of our organization since 2011. All his services will be remembered.”

“Down…”

“Our deepest condolences to the family members of Mr. Arun Kumar who has been a part of our organization since 2010. All his services will be remembered.”

“Down”

“Our deepest condolences to the family members of Miss. Shravya Priya who has been a part of our organization since 2013. All her services will be remembered.”

“Down”

“Our deepest condolences to the family members of Mr. Chetan Bhogle who has been a part of our organization since 2012. All his services will be remembered.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

12 years in IT industry has led me nowhere. I felt suffocated since my 3rd year as a Software Engineer, working hard every day to meet the deadlines. The monotony had sucked all the energy that I once had. I always wished to get out of this job and do something else. Something, which would make me feel alive, once again. But I didn’t know what that was. I was blank and when I woke up, it has been a decade. I was still there, sitting in the same seat, in front of my computer, looking through my emails. That job, killed me every day, in bits and pieces, like some virus, some infection spreading slow and consuming everything on its way. But one fine Monday, I had decided that I would quit. Exit from the company, and move to where? I didn’t know. Cause I didn’t look for any job outside. And I never wished to land into another life-sucking job. All these years I was waiting because I was deep down in debts. That was what the job had led me to. But it was getting worse and I knew that if I allowed it to continue, I would soon end up dead. Dead, like my fellow employees whose condolence posts kept coming up in the company’s HR forum. Not exactly sure what the reasons were, but those condolence posts kept popping up every now and then. I had been observing that for the past 3 years. Sometimes 2, sometimes 3 per month. It was like birds falling from a tree, which were shot down. All those employees, in their young age. What could be the reason?....Maybe it was the stress, maybe financial problems or maybe…….

As I was lost in my thoughts, I got a ping from my manager.

“Pop..”

“Hi Sanjay..”

“Hi Harsha..”, I replied.

“What happened? Did you put down your papers?!”, he asked me..

“Ya..”, I replied

“Can we talk now? Please come to my cabin…”, he said.

“There you go again. The moment of truth. The moment of fear. The moment to confess my most inner feelings to some stranger.” I thought and I got up from my seat, went to my manager, smiled at him as I entered his cabin and sat down in front of him with my hands folded.

He looked calm, smiled at me and asked, “You got some offer? Where?”

“No Harsha…”, I replied

He looked at me doubtfully and asked, “No offers? Really?”

I looked straight at him and said, “No..”. He knew that I had always been honest so he accepted my answer.

“So, what are you going to do?”, he asked the obvious question

I was silent..

“What do you want, Sanjay?, Promotion, Onsite? Project change? Tell me frankly..”, he asked

“It’s not about those things, Harsha. I really don’t want to continue in this IT field..”, I replied with my head down..

He smiled and said, “Look Sanjay. I know exactly how you are feeling. I have been through the same phase. And I too always wanted to quit and do something else in life. But reality is different. I have got a family to feed. I couldn’t take that risk. You too have a family, an ailing mother. Have you even thought about it? How will you help them? And I suppose you have debts too. Everybody has them. How will you pay your EMI’s? The banks are not nice people you see. They send people to home. What will you do?”, he asked me.

I didn’t have any answers to those questions so I kept quiet.

“See, I don’t want to disturb your thought process. But think it through, practically. Give your decision some time. I will not accept your resignation till your last day…..”, he said.

“My last day??”, I thought, raising my head and looking at him..

“Your last working day, I meant…”, he smiled and corrected himself. “And any moment, you feel like taking it back, just ping me and I would reject it right that moment…”, he said.

Notice period of 2 months is what any company puts under its policy so that the knowledge from the quitter could be passed onto the one that comes in his position.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

A week into my notice period, as I was still lost in thoughts, sitting in my chair, looking into my computer, a voice pulled me back to my senses.

“Sanjay??”

I turned back along with my chair and found a beautiful face offering her hand towards me. I just couldn’t help looking at her pretty face. I shook her hand and offered her a seat beside me.

“I am Tanya. Harsha must have told you.”, she said as she sat down

“Y..Yeah…You will be the one taking over…”, I responded and she smiled.

“So, I will be your student and you are my master until this is done.”, she said with her gorgeous smile. For a moment, I got lost to her whole appearance and felt that something was going to happen between me and her.

Days passed by and we became very close. I am an introvert. I don’t talk to anybody much and I don’t have many friends. But I was surely opening up a lot in front of that girl. Maybe it was because of her chirpy nature. Slowly but surely I was falling for her.

A month passed by and our relationship turned from professional to personal. We started meeting outside, going to movies, malls, coffee shops, restaurants and I thought, I should stay back for this girl. Maybe this relationship would flourish more. It was definitely looking like that.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

5 days till my last working day and still I did not take back my resignation and also, I didn’t think much about that. Because I was sure that I would take it back as I was moving into a new phase in my life, with Tanya. She had proposed me in front of the short friend circle that I had got and I couldn’t help but accept her proposal. That was the most positive thing that could have ever happened in my life and I was the happiest guy. Maybe that was what I needed. Love, care, companionship, emotion, somebody who cares about me. I really had come a long way in just these 2 months. Maybe that was a sign. Maybe….

“Shall we go for lunch? Our buddies are calling…”, Tanya said. We used to go to lunch along with my friends.

“Hmm…I’ve got to do this task and send this mail in an hour. You carry on and bring something when you come back..”, I replied Tanya.

“You are so diligent. This is the reason Harsha wants you to stay back..”, she smiled and walked for lunch.

I smiled within myself, felt a bit proud and thought, “Maybe this was not so bad after all. Where else would I get this recognition…Maybe…”

I opened my resignation application on window screen and was hovering my mouse pointer on top of the “Revert” button. After couple of minutes, I decided to click on it and that very moment,

“Pop…”, A ping appeared on the screen of Tanya’s PC. She hadn’t locked it.

“How’s he doing, dear? Any progress?”, It read. And that was a message from Harsha.

I went close to her PC, with no thoughts in my mind and looking at the ping, my hands typed the reply. “He’s about to take back today…”

“That’s great Tanya. I always knew you could do it. You would get your gift as soon as I reject his resignation.”, he replied.

I moved back from the PC, came back and sat down. And tried to go back to exactly the day Tanya had met me. All of a sudden, everything began to fall in place. Everything about that girl. The way she approached me, the way she walked so close to me, asked me out all the time, and finally proposing me in front of my friends.

“Damn, I should stop watching romantic movies..”, I thought. Called Tanya and asked her to come to the coffee shop.

“Thank you for everything. It’s been a pleasure working with you. Hope you got what you wanted.”, I said when we met.

She got taken back and asked, “What happened? Why are you talking like this?”

“I am leaving this company in another 4 days.”, I said

“Are you rejecting my proposal?”, she asked me.

“Nope. When did I say that? I just want to move from this company. That was my decision.”, I replied.

“N.. No. No.. You cannot. It means you are rejecting me. I will not be with you..”, she stammered

“And why is that?”, I asked her..

“Because..because…”, she hurried and paused..

“Because I am your target to be achieved in two months. Right?”, I completed her sentence and that was that. She just stood up and ran away from there. I did not see her again.

I came back to my desk …“Damn…that was quicker than any other failed relationships I had in the past..”, I thought. But what amazed me more was how an organization could stoop down to that level, for getting back its employee. I wanted to confront my manager. But I thought it was of no use. Nobody and nothing could change my decision, and it was just 4 days that would pass at the blink of an eye, I thought…

I took my helmet, packed my bag and started back for home. It was around 4 PM in the evening. As I approached the flyover on the highway and cautiously taking turn to move onto the straight road, a dog had come in front of me and I applied a sudden brake on my bike. It crossed me and as I was in shock, the very moment a speeding van passed through a feet away from where I was standing. If it wasn’t for the dog, I would have been hit by the van and severely got injured, maybe even would have died. My heart skipped its beat and began pounding faster. I took off my helmet, parked my bike aside and stood there for some time.

After few minutes, I started driving again, onto the highway. And I was more cautious this time. Halfway towards my home, still on the highway, there were not many vehicles passing through that time. Just for one van that was behind me. As I looked at it through my rear-view, I somehow felt it was approaching me faster. I looked at my speedo and it showed 80kmph. The van must have been in the speeds of 100 and above. I tried to give it side, but what I observed had amazed me. The van was moving along with me, to the side and it showed no signs of slowing down. I applied brakes, brought my speed down, made a sharp turn to my left, getting down from the highway and the van zipped past me, right at the corner of the road and I crashed into the bushes.

Some local people gathered there and helped me stand up. Luckily, there were no major injuries and I could stand up on my feet. There were small bruises here and there, but I was fine. I called my friend and he drove me in his car to my home. As I was in his car, I remembered that the van was the same that had zipped past me when I was making the turn under the flyover. I opened my eyes wider and thought, “Is it really happening? Was I been attacked? By my manager? Really? Is this some kind of a movie? How can they kill a person? Why am I so important in an organization of 1 lakh plus employees?”...All these questions, weird connections, were whirling through my mind….But then I thought, it could just be coincidence and I was just thinking a lot and probably needed some rest. Maybe it was just a drunk, mad driver speeding on a highway…or maybe….

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

I slept in the night with these same questions in my mind and in the morning I reached office a bit late. I saw that my manager had arrived and was working at his desk as usual.

“Hi Harsha..”, I pinged him.

“Hey Sanjay..tell me..”, he replied

“Can we talk?”, I asked him

“Of course. Please come to my cabin..”, he responded

I went in, sat down in front of him, looked into his eyes and observed something.

“So, what did you think?”, he asked me doubtfully

“Hmm I think that I made a right decision..”, I said

“Well then. There’s nothing much I could do. I will complete the formalities from my end..”, he said and smiled.

I felt that to be a strange reply. I smiled back at him, without budging my head. Gave a slight pause and asked, “Aren’t you going to ask me to stay back?”

“Well Sanjay… You made your decision and I tried my best…”, he shrugged his shoulders.

“Tried your best to kill me??”, I asked him a straight question.

He paused for a moment as though he was in shock, regained quickly and replied in a stern and shaky voice, “W..What the hell are you saying? A..Are you out of your mind?”

“Well, you arranged Tanya to hold me back…so I thought you also arranged the van that was trying to hit me since I found out about you..”, I responded

“I..I really don’t know what you are talking about…I am not forcing you to stay back…Just leave if you want to..I..I will approve it right away…”, he replied hurriedly as though he wanted me real bad to get out from the company..

His facial expressions and body language were not same as before. Not the same manager that I knew from the past 6 years I was in the company. He was completely a new person. I was just shooting some questions because I didn’t want to leave the company with a doubtful mind. But he was making me more aligned to the possibility of him attacking me.

One last attempt, I told myself. Got up from my chair, went around the table, close to him, placed my hand on his shoulder, looked into his eyes and told him in a calm tone, “Look here Harsha. I am going to go straight to the HR and complain everything you have done. But if you agree to tell me everything you know, I would just leave from here silently…All I want are answers…”

He got terrified. Cleaned the sweat from his face and opened up, “It..it was not me…I…I ..just got an email yesterday…They offered a hefty sum…”

I got taken back with his reply. Didn’t expect that he would confess. I regained my senses, held his collar this time and asked him in a stern tone, “Who are they?? What did they offer?? And for what??”…

“F..Fifty lakh rupees…for killing you…I..I am sorry…”, he began shedding tears out of fear and I was blank…“I..I wanted the money…I..I am sorry..Please forgive me…”, he cried holding my hands..

“You go to the extent of killing a person?? For money?? And ask for forgiveness?? Just shut the hell up and tell me who they are that emailed you?”, I shouted at him..

“I really don’t know..It was from an unknown sender…from outside organization…”, he replied..

“Damn..YOU IDIOT...you believed in a spam mail and tried to kill me?...”

“B..But I got 5 lakh rupees cash deposited in my account after I accepted the offer…”, he replied.. ”I clicked on Accept button on the email and after about 10 mins I received the money..And the email came directly to my inbox, not a spam…”, he said…

“Show me that freaking email right now…”, I ordered him..I was feeling so strange that I was shooting orders at my manager but the situation demanded that and I was blindly following my instincts..

He opened up the email and it read,

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

“From: <unknown-sender>

To: [email protected]

Subject: Terminate the asset

Dear Harsha,

This is not a spam mail. You have been selected for a task and if you wish to Accept it and execute it, you would be rewarded with 50,00,000 INR.

Task: Terminate your resource, Sanjay Rana (Emp ID: XXXXX) by 20-Sep-2018.

As a token of acceptance, you would receive 10% in advance.

Accept Reject

Click on Accept button to be the chosen one.

Best Regards,

Anonymous “

________________________________________________________________________________________________

“20-Sep-2018, that was my last working day..”, I remembered..

I looked back at him turning my gaze from the computer screen and asked in a doubtful tone, “You got this kind of email before?”

“NO..This is the first time I received it..”, he replied confidently

“What is the probability of many people receiving such emails?”, I asked him..

“I..I really don’t know…”, he replied…

I pointed my finger straight to his face and said, “YOU.. are going to shut your mouth about this and help me nail down these people whosoever they are and if you don’t, I am going to report you directly to the police..”, and he nodded his head in agreement..

Two things were evident from the email and about its source. It came directly to the inbox and it had the details of me and my manager, including the bank account details because the token amount was deposited into his account. These clearly showed that the email came from a known sender, a person using a system within the intranet of the company, although the sender shows as “unknown-sender”. And this sender had all the employee details, so this person was definitely an employee, maybe somebody from the top of the ladder. Maybe many such are involved. I didn’t want to go to the police because I didn’t want the culprits to get alerted and move into hiding. Also, I always held the strong belief that the organization had the capacity to manipulate and get the case closed, even before it’s opened. So, I wanted to do all I could, before I moved out of the organization. And I had only 3 days in my hand. I had to act fast.

“From which account did you receive the money?”, I asked Harsha

“It was from a local cash deposit machine..without any card details..”, he replied..

I knew that this end was going to take me nowhere and I had to trace the email back to its source, at any cost..

I tried to check the location of the IP Address of the sender and all I could get was the base location pointing to San Jose, California. I got struck there because there were no branches whatsoever, of our company in San Jose. But I was sure that there was some connection and I was clearly missing it..

I typed my company’s name and San Jose in the company’s search and it displayed the results. 11th link from the top, there was a news article from the year 2015. “Softtron aquires DigiFort, the company known for its revenue optimization platform, Headquartered in San Jose, California…”

I scrolled up one link and found one more news link which read, “Jake Adams, founder of DigiFort is fired from his own company, by Softron..”. This was in the year 2016.

I checked for any other companies associated with ours in the same area but there were none. So, I was pretty sure that the email came from there. From DigiFort. But to know more about it, I would need somebody who was working there….

I asked my colleagues whether they knew somebody who was working there. There were couple of connections in between and I was introduced to a colleague working in DigiFort. But I didn’t reveal everything to him because I wanted to be sure about all this. I had to know the details about the company and its history. I knew that I had to make a brave attempt at something. I reached out to its founder. Cause it was his creation. I searched for Jake Adams in LinkedIn and emailed him saying,

“Hello Jake,

It is very important for me to know whether the below email makes any sense to you?

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

“From: <unknown-sender>

To: [email protected]

Subject: Terminate the asset

Dear Harsha,

This is not a spam mail. You have been selected for a task and if you wish to Accept it and execute it, you would be rewarded with 50,00,000 INR.

Task: Terminate your resource, Sanjay Rana (Emp ID: XXXXX) by 20-Sep-2018.

As a token of acceptance, you would receive 10% in advance.

Accept Reject

Click on Accept button to be the chosen one.

Best Regards,

Anonymous “

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Regards,

Sanjay”

I received a reply in just 2 minutes and it read,

“Call me on this number… +XXXXXXXXXXXXX…”

I didn’t expect such quick response from him but I picked up my mobile and dialed the international number.

“Hello..”

“Hello Jake. This is Sanjay…”, I replied

“Sanjay..Tell me one thing. From where did you get this email?”, he asked me with a curious tone

“That is what I am trying to find out, Jake. But from what I could gather, this email supposedly originated from DigiFort, Sanjose..”

There was silence for a moment from the other side and I interrupted.

“Jake, are you there?..”

“Y..Ya..I am here…”

“What are you thinking? Does this email make sense to you?”, I repeated my question

“THIS email..hmm..It’s pattern, the font and the buttons make complete sense to me. But I am trying to make sense out of the content in the email..”, he said..

“Who do you think sent this email?”, I asked him curiously

There was a brief pause…and then..

“Ha…Ha….Ha…God damn…Did this really happen??!!!”, I heard him laughing and saying those words and he couldn’t stop himself..

“Jake..JAKE…”, I kept shouting from this side..

“Ahh..yeah Sanjay…huh…you really want to know who sent this email?”

“YES Please..”, I replied

“It’s my baby…The machine…The server hosting the revenue optimization platform..It’s an algorithm that did this..”, he said.

“What do you mean, Jake?”, I asked him with my eyes wide-opened

“Believe it, Sanjay. It’s the Host that pushed this email…”, he repeated.

“B..But how is this even possible?”, I asked him in awe.

“Remember you asked me whether the email made sense to me?.. Yes. Because I designed the email pattern. It’s the same pattern in which the platform pushes the revenue related decisions to the leadership teams in the organization. The algorithm is designed to make sense of the organizational data which includes everything. From employee data to the revenue figures, the sales, performance metrics, clients, the acquisitions made, etc... Basically everything under the hood. Then it uses the optimization algorithm and brings out the best possible decisions that could be made so that the overall revenue of the organization is at the optimum.. Does this make sense to you?”, he asked me..

“K..Kind of…But what you are saying is that the algorithm has the code to make decisions to even kill people, if need be?”, I asked…

“Never in my life would I build something like that, Sanjay. Please take my word..”, he said..

“But then how did it send out such a chaotic email?”, I asked him

“IT did by itself.”, he replied..

“Again, can you please explain how?”, I was almost blank in my mind when I asked him that question…

“The machine has learned the ways of the organization. The platform is capable. With all the data it received over the years, the way the employees behaved and from the various trends it gathered, it has sensed the basic behavior of the organization and it has incorporated that behavior unto itself in making the decisions..”, he said..

“And that behavior would be?”, I asked him

He took a pause and said, “Greed..” he replied..“Greed, for money, for power, neglecting every other human trait. That’s what the machine has learned from us..And we cannot even blame it..”, he said and I felt the emotion in his shaky voice.

“It has treated you just as an asset, Sanjay. And it sensed that termination of the asset would generate optimum revenue. It has offered money because it has sensed that many dealings within the organization have been sorted out with money. And it has selected you as an Asset because you seem to be an outstanding performer..are you not Sanjay?”, he asked me.

I broke my silence and replied, “Yes..for 5 years in a row..”

“5 years in your lead role, you would have known every darn secret about your company by now. The bids it makes, the cost with which it delivers, its IPs etc…All that which is classified as confidential information…And losing you to some other company is the last thing your company wants. Congratulations. You have been marked as an ASSET…”, he said…

“B..But I am just one employee…..wait a sec….are you saying that there could be many emails like this that are being pushed every quarter?”

“Exactly…”, he replied in a rather calm tone..

“It’s people’s lives, Jake. Are you going to stay calm about this?”..I asked him with an emotional tone

“No..I am not going to stay calm..I am going to bring this down…no matter what it takes…”, he replied…

“Thank you so much… You are such a great soul..”, I replied..

“I should Thank you Sanjay. You have found the roots of this before it resulted in chaos..”, he said..

“One last question. Why did Softron fire you?”..I asked him..

“It was not Softron. It was DigiFort that made the decision. Softron just implemented it. Because I had feared something of this kind would happen in near future and wanted to take it down. It didn’t terminate me that time as it wasn’t evolved to make that decision. It was still a child. It’s so funny when your own child betrays you and kicks you out of your home, isn’t it?”, he smiled.

“Thank you again..”, I said and disconnected the call.

I then made a call to the colleague working in DigiFort and asked him for some information. I asked him whether he could get the server statistics of the code base of DigiFort from its inception in 2015. He just checked the code base and told me that from 2017 till 2018, in just one year, the size of the code base has garnered steep increase. Increase in the order of 1000 fold. And it would take at least 10000-12000 personnel to write that volume of code in that time period. And when I asked him about the current strength of DigiFort, he replied approx...1300. It was clear that the machine has evolved, and at a rapid pace. It must have written millions of logical conditions depending upon the data it sensed over the years. It was moving forward with the intent of developing its own mind, just like ours and the basic behavior it learned from and followed was, Greed…____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Next Day (In the news)..

“Jake Adams, founder of DigiFort, moves legally to close down his brainchild DigiFort. Says he has shocking evidence that the platform is a real threat to the lives of people working in the organization…”

A week later (In the news):

“Softron shuts down its DigiFort operations as it is convinced by Jake Adam’s explanation.”

I held onto my decision and moved out from the company. Still didn’t know what to do and where to go from there.

One fine Monday, as I was sleeping at my home, I received a call…

“Hello…Sanjay..”

“Yes please?..”

“Jake here. We need to talk…”, he said..

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Machines, they are things of beauty. And they are only as good or bad as their creators.

2 years down the line I am still in IT industry, but working on something great. Jake had offered to work with him in identifying the vulnerabilities similar to that of DigiFort, across the industry, with the main purpose of saving human lives and to restore balance in the machine’s behavior. Thanks to him, I now feel that I have found my purpose…

But one question still haunts me,

”What does it take to balance our own behavior? To curb our greed and replace it with something called ‘Love’?”………..

***********************************THE END***********************************

Story conceived & written by,

Subash Anjuru

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About The Author
SubashAnjuru
SubashAnjuru
About This Story
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Posted
10 Jun, 2018
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