Lemmings by Jay Butkowski

The <CLACK> <CLACK> of keyboard strokes was putting Dimitry into a trance.

There wasn’t much else to focus on inside the data center.  Except for the sounds of typing and the occasional whirring of a CPU fan trying to cool down an overburdened processor, there wasn’t much by way of audio-sensory stimulus.  They weren’t even allowed music when the computer jockeys were “in the zone.”

There wasn’t much to look at—the room was small, windowless, with yellowed walls, ratty second-hand furniture, and a stained popcorn ceiling.  Dimitry’s uncle Garri hadn’t exactly hired Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition models to staff the terminals, either.  But what these trolls lacked in looks and basic hygiene, they more than made up for in sheer screen time stamina.

The smells—now those were interesting, though not altogether pleasant.  But at least it broke the monotony when one of these ugly little gremlins silently broke wind.

Dimitry was just there to bark the occasional order and make sure the coffee breaks weren’t too frequent or long.  Uncle Garri ran a tight ship; Dimitry less so, but he had to put on a show to make his Uncle happy.  Uncle Garri’s happiness notwithstanding, the job was boring for a big shot like Dimitry.  He explained to his uncle that he should be overseeing operations at the docks, or running numbers at the off-track betting parlor.  Hell, even walking the Old Neighborhood streets and shaking down shop owners for protection money would have been a step up from this.  Babysitting these Geek Squad nerds was beneath him.

“My boy, nothing is beneath you when it comes to money,” Uncle Garri said.

So Dimitry sat, swiveled restlessly back and forth in his office chair, and let his mind wander as he counted the craters in the popcorn ceiling.  He imagined the <CLACKETY> <CLACK> was instead the <CHI-CHING> of a giant, old-timey cash register that sprung open whenever he walked past, allowing him to dig his grubby little fingers into wads of other people’s cash.

At least that’s what he hoped for.  In all honesty, Dimitry had no clue how what they were doing was going to translate to more cash in his pocket.

Uncle Garri didn’t allow much by way of creature comforts inside the data center, but he made a couple allowances.  They could smoke, and they all smoked; and they could drink coffee, and they all reported to their shifts with a steaming hot thermos, ready for the work ahead.  Between the steam lifting up from the dark brew in their thermoses, and the cloud of stale smoke hanging in the air—and the blue light of the computer screens bouncing between the two—the computer operators took on the appearance of ghosts in a Japanese horror import, forever damned to stare blankly at screens while their fingers flew effortlessly and meaninglessly over their keyboards.

Dimitry was in that space where his own snores would occasionally jostle him momentarily back to consciousness when paydirt was finally hit.

“Holy shit… Holy fucking shit…”

It was Danny, one of the new guys on the crew.  Fresh out of college, in his early twenties but looked to be middle-aged.  He was incredulously staring at the screen.

“Whu?” asked Dimitry, wiping spittle from his chin.

“Holy fuck… Dude, we got a… wait… I think we got a Congressman.”

“Legit?”

“It’s checking out.  And he’s telling his followers…”

A cheer went up through their small crew.  Vodka got poured.  One of the team, a balding guy named Randall, made a pass at Meghan, who looked repulsed.

Dimitry didn’t think it was going to work.  Hours, days, weeks, months consumed in contracted data centers around the country, with endless campaigns of social media misinformation.  Unfounded accusations and conspiracy theories slipped like a hot knife into right-wing political chatrooms, and the seemingly innocuous suggestion—“have you heard about the new free speech platform, Talk-a-Bout?” 

It’s free, but it takes a credit card number and SSN to verify your identity.

An identity they could steal and sell at data centers just like Dimitry’s.

And now the conservative political elite were leading their sheep to the slaughter.

They were all about to become extraordinarily rich.