The sun spills into the cafeteria via floor-length glass windows. It’s three, and I’ve just finished the quarterly earnings call. This means I’m ravenous—there’s something about talking to analysts for an hour straight that burns through my energy stores—and also, that I’ve spent a good sixty minutes doing my level best not to say anything off-color. That takes a lot more fucking work for me than answering analysts’ shitty questions about the projected future margin of our goddamned cloud computing services.
I actually don’t intend to do a drop-in. Not at first. Not until I’m walking to the checkout with a sandwich and a salad and a liter of water, and I hear someone say, “Shut up! He’s right here.”
I look around. Cyclone’s central cafeteria is open and sunny, and someone has opened the windows to the outdoors so there’s a bit of a breeze. In theory, the open space is supposed to encourage collaboration and/or trash talking, whichever happens to be the word of the day.
Still, there are ways to hide. Behind other people, for instance, although this late in the afternoon, it’s mostly people stocking up on coffee. I let my gaze sweep over the mostly empty tables with narrowing eyes.
Strangely enough—ha!—nobody meets my eyes. There aren’t many problems with being me. Here’s one of them: everyone looks fucking guilty if I glare at them.
That’s why it takes me a mere three seconds for me to identify the guilty party—or, in this case, the guilty parties. They’re seated at a table about ten feet away, nestled among potted baby palm trees. I identify them because unlike everyone else in this place, they’re all looking at me like they have nothing to hide.
Everyone has something to hide. Anyone who pretends otherwise is a lying bastard.
I would have known it was them anyway. If someone were to put together a team of the people at Cyclone who were capable of managing Adam Fucking Reynolds, it would be these three. Them and Peter, but Peter is still stuck upstairs. He claims to be answering a few urgent emails post earnings call, but come on—this is Peter, he’s decompressing.
George, my assistant, doesn’t look one fucking bit guilty. He’s had too many years of practice, and butter would not dare undergo a phase transition in his mouth if he didn’t want it to. He adjusts his glasses and calmly meets my gaze with a look that says, Hi, Adam, nothing to see here.
Sai, the head of programming, gives me a diffident wave. Anyone who glanced at her might initially think she was shy, perhaps even timid. She’s short, just over five feet tall, and she looks around her with sharp, crisp movements that are almost birdlike in nature. As I raise one eyebrow in her direction, she reaches up and adjusts her colorful headscarf.
Looks are deceiving. She’s been with Cyclone for over almost as long as George has, and there is nothing remotely fucking shy about her.
Martin, the head of our PR department, wouldn’t know how to look guilty if his wife caught him with two whores and a hard-on.
Yu is the only one who almost-winces when I turn to them. Underneath the table, not exactly hidden from my view, I see Sai shoving a sharp elbow in his side. Poor motherfucker.
I scan my card for the sandwich and carry my lunch over to them. There is no chair free at their table, but I appropriate one from nearby—the other table seems surprisingly grateful that I only want to steal their chair—and sit down.
“Drop in time,” I say. “What the fuck is going on?”
There is an exchange of glances.
“Why, nothing,” Martin says jovially. “Honestly.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Martin, but as a PR person, his natural instincts run completely counter to mine. He hasn’t met a simple, declarative statement that he doesn’t itch to weasel out of. Also, I make his life hell—and if you’re wondering why, maybe I should mention that during today’s earnings call, where I was questioned by a slew of important analysts and major Cyclone investors, I only dropped two fucks. That made it a good earnings call for me.
Martin and I see each other as necessary evils, except sometimes I’m not sure he thinks I’m necessary.
“Here’s the fucking thing, Martin.” I lean forward. “If you use the word ‘honestly’ to mean ‘I’m telling you lies at this very moment,’ you can’t complain that I never believe you.”
Martin sighs. “I didn’t mean that it was literally nothing. You’re a busy man. We all just want to respect your time.”
“Which you do by not answering a goddamned question when it’s put to you?”
“Oh, don’t bother.” Sai interrupts. She has a hint of an accent, one that at this point is more a matter of inflection and tone than pronunciation. “Do you really think you’re going to put him off? That he’s going to say, ‘Oh, well, never mind then,’ and walk away?”
“It worked that one time,” Yu puts in. “When… Ah… Um.”
I look at him and shake my head. “You think you’re going to distract me that easily? Let’s start this conversation from the fucking beginning. What’s going on?”
“I’m not a complete idiot,” Martin says to Sai a little stiffly, completely ignoring me. “I was buying time to think of a good explanation.”
By explanation, Martin means falsehood. Typical fucking public relations jackassery.
“It’s all over the internet,” Sai says. “What were we going to do, keep him from getting online the rest of the day?”
George looks suddenly—strangely—innocent. I make a mental note not to trust George for the next five hours.
But the truth is, if this were actually serious, whatever this is, they would have told me right away. My people don’t fuck around about serious shit. Whatever has knotted their collective panties into a rope is probably not urgent. It’s also something, judging from their expressions, that will make me flip my lid.
I uncap my water. “On a scale of one to fucking shark attack, this qualifies as…?”
“It’s a three,” Martin says placatingly. “A gentle three.” Slowly, he slides a tablet toward me. “It’s a parental setting application that someone has made for the tablet. It went live in the store three days ago. Now kids can surf the web without encountering…er, dangerous material. It has led to some, um, very spirited discussion online and in the tech sphere, much of it centered on amusing and unintended applications of the filter.”
I now understand the source of their wariness. I just spent the last hour trying not to think the word fuck, and public appearances are about the only times I make an effort to practice self-censorship. My views on swearing—or, rather, on not fucking swearing—are legendary. Legendary enough that my nickname among Cyclone employees is AFR—standing for Adam Fucking Reynolds. It’s seeped out into the wild, a fact that gives Martin heartburn. My views on swearing are so legendary, in fact, that two of the motherfuckers sitting at this table maintain the documentation on it.
“You mean,” I say, “it’s a fucking censor-bot.”
“Er… Yes. It costs $2.99.” He adds the last as if that price point somehow makes it better.
“We’re selling a fucking censor-bot in our goddamned store, so that we can indulge shittacularly stupid parents who think their kids can be saved from hell and fucking damnation for $2.99?”
Martin swallows. “That is one way to put it. I actually don’t think that it’s so terrible—”
“Cheap,” I say scornfully. “Eternal salvation should not cost less than a fucking cup of coffee.”
There is a long pause.
“You know,” I say thoughtfully. “That gives me an idea. We should write an app that sells indulgences.”
Yu looks at me.
“Come on, Yu,” I say. “You and I can throw it together in our spare time. It won’t take much. We just need a Deposit Cash Here button. We’ll cut Martin in—he can write the copy. We’ll split it three ways, and we’ll all get rich.”
“Adam,” Sai says thoughtfully, “what did I tell you about making fun of other people’s religions?”
“To be fair,” Yu says, “that’s offensive only to sixteenth century Catholic priests, and they’re a very small demographic for Cyclone. As a general rule, if you ever ask me to go into business with you, I’m there. But this one…” He shakes his head.
“What, were you a fucking Catholic priest in your prior sixteenth century life?”
“No,” Yu says.
“You can’t do it anyway,” Martin points out. “I’m pretty sure that stealing key Cyclone employees for a new business is a breach of your fiduciary duties. So, since we’re done here…” He reaches for his tablet.
Right. The censor-bot. I set my hand on top of the device. “I haven’t forgotten, Martin. Eternal salvation. $2.99.”
He tilts his head.
“Well? Show me how it works. Search for porn.”
Sai picks up a piece of broccoli and throws it at me. I don’t even have a chance to react, and her aim is remarkable. The vegetable bounces off my forehead in a splat of brown sauce. I frown at her and reach for my napkin.
“You are a terrible person,” she tells me. “Nobody else here wants to look at what Martin thinks of as porn, and he doesn’t understand that you’re joking. Let the poor man alone, or I’m telling Peter.”
I wince. It’s a fucking effective threat, because I actually care what Peter thinks.
“You are terrible,” Sai repeats. “Say you’re sorry.” Her fingers twitch in the direction of another piece of broccoli.
As I said: There is nothing shy or diffident about Sai.
“I’m sorry,” I say to Martin in flat tones. “I am a terrible person.”
“You see?” She shrugs. “He’s like a dog. Terrible manners, but he’ll pretend to behave if you say no firmly enough and keep a close eye on him.”
This characterization would be offensive, except it is also entirely accurate. I decide not to call attention to it by disputing it. I unwrap my sandwich instead.
“Here,” Sai continues. “You want to see how it works? I’ll show you. Controls are enabled, yes?”
“Good. Let’s pull up a copy of the Fuck Me to English Dictionary.”
This is what I mean: It’s Sai, for God’s sake. For the last seven years, Sai and George have been the keepers of the Fuck Me to English Dictionary. They not-so-secretly pass on copies to Cyclone employees who are likely to encounter me. I’ve been told that the dictionary is hilarious, although if it’s funny, it’s only because I’m funny.
At this point, the file has grown to a multi-hundred-something page searchable document written in our help file mark-up language. One of these days, someone is going to accidentally—or not so accidentally—ship it with a product release, and Cyclone is going to have some explaining to do.
And that explains why we all need Martin.
The guide comes up on the screen.
A DICTIONARY GUIDE TO ADAM ******* REYNOLDS
The automatic versioning software has helpfully added the contact information of the guilty parties.
Keepers 1995-2003: pg, gwalsh
Keepers 2003-2005: gwalsh, blake
Keepers 2005-2006: gwalsh, blake, saint
Keepers 2006–present: gwalsh, saint
“That’s how this piece of shit censors?” I say. “The stars?”
“Yes,” Sai says.
“That’s fucking original.” I roll my eyes. “Are they charging $2.99 for a basic swap algorithm?”
“Nice work if you can get it.” I shrug and scroll on.
AARDVARK, ***********, the first entry reads.
*********** AARDVARK is a phrase that can have dual meaning (see Appendix 2.1) and must be determined from context. The expression “*********** aardvarks!” used as an interjection is an indication of frustration with excess bureaucracy, and often specifically with SEC regulations regarding forward-looking statements. When directed at a person however, as in the phrase “Aren’t you just a *********** aardvark?” it has positive connotations, praising the person’s adroitness in evading bureaucratic headaches.
“Shit,” I say, “that’s crap censorship. Anyone can tell from the context that it’s supposed to be a cocksucking aardvark.”
“Of course,” Sai says. “The point of censorship has never been to obscure what is being said, but to make sure everyone knows that you’re too righteous to think it.”
Martin stirs uncomfortably beside her.
AARDVARK, *************, starts the second entry.
Only one person has been designated a ************* AARDVARK: Former SEC Commissioner William H. Donaldson. If you are called a ************* aardvark, then you are William H. Donaldson, and we all really want to know why you’re reading this. No, actually, we don’t. Go away, William H. Donaldson.
I sigh. “Ah. Now I see the problem. This is a fucking pisser. Cyclone employees won’t be able to decode my fucking intent if they put parental controls on their devices.”
I slide the tablet across the table.
“New Cyclone policy: No parental controls on employee devices. There. Problem solved.”
Martin’s mouth drops open. Yu frowns at me like I’ve turned into a motherfucking crocodile at the table. Even Sai seems surprised. George, however, is nodding his head as if he knew better. And he probably did; he’s spent more time with me than the rest of them combined.
“What?” I say. “Am I supposed to go on a rampage because some fucking idiots out there think their children’s eardrums are made of 14 carat marshmallows? A stupid find and replace isn’t going to stop the kids from discovering the internet. It might, though, make their parents feel safe enough to let the kids read shit without further fucked-up supervision. Win/win.”
“The search and replace is not entirely stupid,” Sai says. “It gets all the usual variants and some unusual ones. We have been testing.”
“So kids have to get creative in response,” I said. “I have no fucking problem with an app that encourages creativity. It won’t stop anyone. I bet I could come up with three statements in the next three minutes that would belong in the Fuck Me to English Dictionary and would also get through the filter.”
George takes out his wallet and slams a dollar bill on the table. “I take that bet.”
I look at my assistant and put a hand over my heart in a stabbing motion. “Et tu, Walsh? After all these years? Fuck me. You, of all people, should have more faith than that.”
George looks hurt. “Adam. Adam. Nobody on this planet could have more faith in your foul mouth than me. It’s just worth a dollar to hear you do it.”
Martin sighs and looks up.
I grin. “You’re on. First—”
“Wait.” Sai holds up a hand. “Let me bring up a separate document. We have to make sure that these get past the filter… Okay. Start the clock, George.”
“First,” I say. “French-kiss a donkey’s cloaca.”
“Donkey’s cloaca,” Sai says, typing. “That one got through. One for Adam.”
“Fucking fantastic.” I steeple my fingers. “Second. Make a five-course meal from Grandma’s menstrual blood.”
“Jesus, Adam.” Martin looks away.
“Hey,” I say. “I’m just running through the standard social taboos here. It’s not like this is fucking hard or anything.”
Martin just shakes his head.
I grin. “More taboos… Hm.” There aren’t all that many taboos, honestly. Fewer and fewer every day. “Son of a syphilitic rattlesnake.”
“Son of a…” Sai shakes her head. “No good. ‘Syphilitic’ stars out.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? How are kids supposed to get on WebMD to find out which STDs they’ve acquired? What a piece of shit.”
“I think the parents are hoping their children don’t get STDs in the first place.”
“Denial.” I snort. “The least effective form of birth control.”
“Thirty seconds left, Adam,” George warns.
“Fuck. If they’re censoring syphilis, they’ve probably got necrophilia covered. Corpse…intimacy…shit, not dirty enough. Let’s just go with the tried and true. Choke on my semen.”
“I don’t know.” Sai is typing. “That’s a pretty bold move on your part… no, you’re right. Semen goes through. Semen, but not syphilis? Who wrote this?”
“Doesn’t matter,” I say. “If semen didn’t work, I had enough time to switch to a synonym. Like ejaculate. This piece of shit can’t distinguish between ejaculate, the verb meaning to exclaim, and ejaculate, the noun meaning jizz. If they were smart enough to detect context and parts of speech, they wouldn’t be wasting their time with fucking censorship. They’d be data-mining with the best of them.”
“Okay. You have your three,” Sai says. “Time?”
George glances down. “He got it with fifteen seconds.”
I pick up George’s dollar and take out my wallet. “Eat shit and die, George,” I say. “I hope it was fucking worth it.”
“Adam,” says a voice behind me. “What are you doing?”
I don’t turn. I don’t have to. I know precisely who is talking to me—and I know precisely why he has that note of warning in his voice.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” I say. Now it’s my turn to pretend innocence. “I’m swearing up a shitstorm and taking money from Cyclone’s most loyal employees. That’s fucking obvious, asshole.”
Peter Georgiacodis pulls up a chair next to me and sets his soup on the table. “I answer three lousy emails,” he says with an aggrieved shake of his head. “It takes me ten minutes, and this is what I find? I can’t leave you alone.”
I look over at Peter. Someone who didn’t know him as well as I did would think that he was mad. He’s tapping his spoon against his bowl, shaking his head, and giving me a severe look. I, however, have seen him fucking angry, and when he’s enraged, his skin turns pale—well, paler—and he gets really quiet.
Right now, Peter is amused.
He’s been CFO at Cyclone for… well, not as long as George has been my assistant, but it’s up there. Along with Sai and George, he’s one of the few people at Cyclone who will actually tell me when I’m full of shit. He’s the only one I always listen to. If I’m the necessary evil at Cyclone, he’s the necessary good.
“Aw, Georgiacodis,” I say with pretend sheepishness. “I know I’m not supposed to swear at Cyclone employees, but in my defense, I spent all afternoon on the earnings call and also in my defense, it was Sai and George and Yu. They hardly count.”
“Your excuse is pitiful,” he says. “I got asked more questions on the earnings call than you did, and you didn’t have to answer that annoying guy from Deutsche Bank who wanted me to project currency issues over the next years. You don’t get to complain. As to the other, Martin is here, and he counts twice.”
“Thank you,” Martin says.
I ignore this.
“Besides,” I say in conciliatory tones, “I wasn’t really swearing at them. I was swearing with them. You know that’s a crucial distinction.”
The corner of his mouth tilts up, but he catches himself before he actually smiles. “Not good enough. Try again.”
“And,” I say, playing my trump card, “I wasn’t even swearing. That was the whole fucking point. I was explicitly saying things that would pass through a family-friendly child-safe filter.”
Peter finally laughs. “Adam, nothing you say could ever be child-safe.”
“It’s true,” Sai says, holding up the tablet. “I only had to throw food at him once. George bet Adam that he could come up with three Fuck Me to English entries in three minutes. They had to get past the child filter.”
Peter takes the tablet from Sai and reads through my efforts, shaking his head sadly.
He’s not sad, whatever fake mournful shit he’s putting on. He’s on the verge of cracking up.
He gets to the end and then looks up at us. “Are your three minutes up?”
“Long ago,” George says, checking his phone.
Peter sets the tablet down. “You lose, Adam.”
“What? No fucking way! There are three statements there. They got past the child filter. They could go in the Fuck Me to English dictionary.”
“No, they couldn’t.”
“Fuck me,” I say. “Do you think those aren’t dirty enough?”
“Oh, they’re bad. But they’re not all you.”
“You might tell someone to french a donkey’s cloaca, but you would never tell someone to choke on your semen. I invented the Fuck Me to English Dictionary. And you know what? It’s the Fuck Me to English Dictionary, not the Fuck You to English Dictionary. You say a lot of terrible crap, but you’ve never—once—said anything with that level of aggressive nonconsensual sexuality. Your filthiness has standards. Well, one of them, anyway.”
George slaps the table. “You’re right. You’re motherfucking right.”
I consider this for a long moment. “Fuck me,” I finally say. “That’s what I get. I let the clock get to me. I should have worked the necrophilia angle.”
Sai gets out her phone. “Overheard at Cyclone,” she narrates. “Adam Reynolds: ‘I should have worked the necrophilia angle.’ And… Tweeted.”
She didn’t actually tweet that. I think. I ignore her, and then I hand George back his dollar and fish in my wallet for a one.
But when I take it out, Peter shakes his head. “Are you kidding? George bet against you on a matter of dirty language, and you’re giving him one-to-one odds? That’s cheap, and you know it.”
“He didn’t negotiate for better.”
“He didn’t have to. Properly-calculated odds are the default in any bet.”
“Fucking accountant.” But I take a twenty from my wallet and hand it over.
Peter picks up his spoon. “Speak to me with the respect I deserve. That’s motherfucking accountant to you.”
And it is. It’s even in the Fuck Me to English Dictionary.
ACCOUNTANT, MOTHERFUCKING. An expression of annoyance after being corrected on mathematical matters, directed at the person who is doing the correction so long as that person is Peter Georgiacodis.
It’s the only definition in the entire thing that I wrote myself. It’s also the only one that is dead wrong.
But that is another story entirely.