“232632, in the flesh. I’ve waited a long time.”

Matt started at the voice over his shoulder. He turned to find a college-age girl at the threshold of his borrowed cubicle, with an intense and nearly crazed look in her bloodshot, bag-laden eyes. Matt had no idea who she was.  That was true of most of the people in this office. He was a roving consultant, who had arrived earlier that morning on one of his semi-annual onsite visits for software training and support.

“Excuse me?” he prompted.

She twirled a pen at her side with a dark and deepening smile. “Go on, look it up. I’ll wait.”

The Ticket That Wouldn't Die

“That’s a ticket number?” Matt swiveled back to his laptop, accessed the site’s ticketing software, and performed a search. He frowned with confusion at the result that came back. A ticket assigned to him, still Under Investigation, opened over a year ago during his last visit?

He vaguely recalled the ticket. This had been an odd one: no user or product specified. The case detail simply stated, “A user pressed the wrong button and wants to be sure nothing bad happened.” With this shining tidbit of clarity, the IT desk had created a ticket and forwarded it to him. Matt had tried to track down more information about the ticket and who had called the IT desk to begin with, but gathered nothing more beyond the elaboration of “some lady.” This hadn’t been enough to narrow down his choices in a user base 2,000 strong. He’d wanted to close the ticket outright, only management hadn’t let him. It was their policy that all tickets, no matter how vague or frivolous, had to remain open until the users said they could be closed.

Matt had shrugged, left it Under Investigation, and gone on with his life.

“Check the case history.” The girl was much closer now, hovering over his shoulder.

Matt complied, and gaped. The normally concise trail of forwardings and status changes was three miles long. Endless scrolling revealed a history of the ticket flipping to Critical status every day, without fail, at 2 AM- a change undertaken by SYSTEM. Every day, usually not long after 2 AM, an accompanying entry showed it returned to Under Investigation by a user named THOMASC.

“You know who THOMASC is? That’s me. I’m an intern here,” the girl described as though prefacing a war tale. “Part of my ‘real-world’ work experience has been to log in remotely after 2 AM, every single night for the past- I don’t know, months now- to flip that damn case status. Your case status.”

Her hand clamped down on the back of Matt’s chair, and her voice dropped to a throaty whisper.  “I’ve missed out on a lot of sleep, 232632… but I’ve had plenty of time to decide what I’d do to you if you ever returned.”

Matt spun around in his chair before her pen could find its way somewhere unpleasant. “That’s insane! Why?” he demanded. “Why the hell does it go Critical to begin with? I’m not doing that!”

“No, you’re not.” She straightened and cast a thousand-yard stare past his shoulder. The pen had returned to her side, ever twirling amid shaking fingers. “Once a ticket is old enough, the ticketing system sets it to Critical automatically. Then a reporting tool runs at 5 AM to spit out all the current Critical cases and how long they’ve been open. If I didn’t flip your ticket to Under Investigation, there’d suddenly be a months-old Critical ticket on the books. It’d open a rift to Hell.”

Matt shook his head. “Who thinks changing tickets to Critical is a good idea? Without even asking the user?”

“Maybe someone laid off eight years ago can tell you. No one here knows, and they’re too cheap and afraid to change it.” Still staring at nothing Matt could see, the girl relaxed her grip on the pen. It dropped from her fingers and clattered onto the plastic floor mat below. “Reports, 232632. One way or another, we’re all slaves to the reports. Sometimes, deep in the middle of the night, the thought brings a sick kind of comfort- and that’s when I know my own madness is gazing back into me.”

“I’m sorry, I had no idea. I can’t believe they’d actually make anyone do that rather than just close the stupid thing.” Panic infiltrated Matt’s voice. “There’s no way for me to log into this system from my home office. I wanted to close it during my last onsite, but I didn’t have an OK. That’s your management’s policy, not mine!”

“Then it seems we’re both victims of the same stupidity. Another time, another era, we may have been friends.” Her gaze snapped back to his. The once shell-shocked face bore an evil grin. “My internship ends soon, 232632. Whenever the next intern starts, think their boss’ll remember to mention this little nightly chore?” She backed toward the threshold of the cube. “Sweet dreams.”

Alone once more, Matt reeled. A regular Critical ticket was bad enough, but a year-old one that wasn't actually a show-stopping anything? Who knew "Some lady who pressed a wrong button" could bring such suffering into the world? The haunted intern was right about the reports, too. Those spreadsheets might as well be decrees from Mount Olympus, Matt thought with mounting anxiety. They don't think about the numbers, they act on them. If he could just close the damnable ticket!  He couldn't make up a user out of thin air, though. He'd have to choose a user from a drop-down list of... Wait a minute. A lightning bolt struck, delivering an apt payload. She wouldn't be here much longer, one way or another. What would it matter? Matt opened the ticket for editing. In the User field, he scrolled through the list and found THOMASC. He selected her as the user, then clicked the Resolve button.  He even had a good non-lie for the Resolution field. "THOMASC did not need this ticket open any longer." Save. May you know peace at last, intern.