You can't prepare for it. Training, simulations, all those hours on the range with only the steady clunk-clunk-clunk of the Winchester for company, it's all nothing when you see your buddy dropped in a millisecond with a goddam paper lotus unfolding on his forehead like some kind of Buddhist enlightenment, and you know there's no fucking reason but blind luck that it wasn't you. But that was later.

Sure, when I started out I was taken in by the uniform and the comradery and all that. Generate public key, verify X.509 certificate, connect to server, replicate database, all safe and secure, yeah. Even when I started getting dialog boxes, "How do you like Windows NT security? <OK>", I didn't realise it was war. Sometimes we just don't want to see. Guys going by my cube with dollies loaded with what looked like pizza boxes, coming back empty, I just never thought it had anything to do with me, you know?

When folders started disappearing, we got worried. Jiang grabbed me one day and asked if I was entirely happy with my term. Like he thought I might be sabotaging the team. "No, sir!" I think I got enough indignation in there to convince him; he never questioned my loyalty again. Like it wasn't obviously an external threat, when PVCS started spitting up Perl code where we'd checked in Delphi.

By the time we caught on to the Unixers, they'd already replicated half our data warehouse onto their own territory, and they were shutting down our systems as fast as they cleared them. I walked by an unoccupied cubicle one day and saw a shiny new Pentium II sitting on the desk, with a 21" monitor displaying the Red Hat Linux installation dialog. It wasn't pretty.

That was when my teammates started to quit. At the time I thought they were cowards; now I see they were the smart ones. Because someone had gotten to management, and I saw our groupware dissolve just like our group was dissolving. First it was an external gateway or two here and there, but pretty soon, we found that all our traffic was being tunneled across TCP/IP.

Jake and I cornered two of them in the supply room. Thinking we had the upper hand, we pulled out our install CDs, tested their edges, and kicked open the door. Inside, they'd been folding and stapling like madmen and they hit us with memobombs just as soon as they saw the whites of our eyes. I tossed my disc on my way down and took out one; the other left all three of us for dead. When I could stand again I found that Jake would never be so lucky; he just wasn't tough enough, and emptying my stapler into the remains of the Unixer wouldn't bring him back. That's when I knew War.

I filled my pockets with all the ammunition I could carry and walked out among the darkened cubicles to do whatever I still could. Away on the other side of the building I could hear yells and the slapping of paper; I moved that way and saw a laptop in one of the deserted cubes. On a hunch, I booted it up. Before the scanners caught up to it, I was able to check our databases and see that only two were still up. Just before the lap's poor little hard drive light went on, reformatting to ext2, I saw them take down Quality Assurance. Only one thing left to fight for.

As I left the cube I tripped over something - someone - and realized it was my late supervisor. I guess that made me head of NT Development, but it didn't make me very happy. I pulled the girlie calendar off the wall and covered Jiang's face with Miss September. And hoped to God he was getting some, wherever he was. The last of the overhead lights went out then, and I had to find my way to the other wing on memory and the light from the coffee machine at the atrium door.

The atrium was bad, but the potted palms were good cover and Quake is a lot better for hand-eye coordination then Nethack. I think I got one of them as I dove through the door to the west wing, but then I was so busy dodging memos that I couldn't keep track. I pulled a mouse off a Sun box and swung it around my head, bashing keyboards and entangling network cables like I was Indiana Jones or something. There was a lot of stuff flying around in the air but I couldn't see many Unixers. I made for the last server.

A toner grenade got me hard in the face by conference room 3. I whipped my mouse back and heard it smash against flesh but I had a good start and I was already half-running, half-sliding across empty red plastic report covers in the hallway. I got through the server room door and closed it a heartbeat before a bursting cartridge inked the glass cyan, magenta, and yellow. I can hear a voice outside calling someone to fetch the big stapler from Accounting, and I know the door won't keep them out for long. As my lungs wheeze black powder across the clean white of the machinery, I'm not even sure I can last as long as the door. But now I've got one hand on the UPS plug and the other on the Halon button. They will not take the Marketing backend.

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