Chapter Two - Trying Times© Stephen March, May 1995
'Excuse me sir', ventured the largest of the security guards, somewhat imaginatively. 'The system has reported unauthorised access from this terminal, would you please accompany us to the system managers office ?'
Arthur got the distinct impression that his instinctive response 'Go boil your head, and don't worry I'll give you instructions', was likely to be met with what we will euphemistically call 'physical measures'. So he shut up, stood up and was meekly led away. Arthur tried to provoke some form of conversation by stating that it was all just a mistake, ha ha ha, and that they'd all sit down and laugh about this later. But the looks this engendered between the two security guards indicated that they thought this a remote possibility.
The unhappy trio arrived at the system managers office. As befits the job it was a high tech affair, all chrome and black ash, with manic uplighting that made it somewhat dis-orienting to stare at the ceiling. The system manager was seated in a high backed, black leather, swivel chair and was somewhat theatrically, turned away from them. The system manager allowed them to wait, a 'just sufficient' 30 seconds, before swivelling round to face them. The intention of making a dramatic initial contact was somewhat diminished by the fact that the chairs height adjust mechanism slipped as the chair rotated, and the system manager ended up facing the group with the desk at chin level. Arthur, never at a loss to see the funny side of things couldn't fully suppress a snort of laughter, which was unfortunately about the worst possible thing he could have done. The system manager paused while she decided the least demeaning course of action, eventually she realised that holding a disciplinary interview whilst staring someone squarely in the groin was not a 'power position'. This decided she stood up and moved to the window behind her desk and leaned back, resting on the sill. This gave Arthur a chance to see her properly, she was attractive but in a way that snakes are attractive, beautiful to look at, but you wouldn't want one living in your garden. As long as her attention was focussed on someone else, anyone else, you thought 'grrrrl' friend material, but when she looked at you, there was this sudden urge to examine your fingernails, check the time etc. Disquieting. It probably had something to do with her eyes, just the two, but like lasers, you felt them boring into your brain, certain that she could read your thoughts. Her mouth was certainly voluptuous, but not inviting. There wasn't so much the hint of a smile playing around it, as the hint that a smile had thought about it but turned up to find two SS stormtroopers with a placard saying 'no ball games allowed'.
She straightened, looked Arthur in the eye and stated 'You have been attempting to gain unauthorised access to our computer system'. Arthur was about to launch into a full explanation when he was cut off in mid breath.
'Who are you'. Arthur realised from the tone of voice that any attempt to tell the story as-it-happened would be unappreciated, so he prepared for a long and painful question and answer session.
'Arthur Fenikx', he replied. The system manager leaned over to her PC and typed in the name. 'You are not an employee of this corporation'.
'Yes I am' said Arthur.
'But your not listed on our employee database, no-one has access to the building security system unless they are listed as an employee. And if your not on the system how did you gain access to this building?'
'Because I was on the system I've been deleted by mistake, somehow the system database thinks that I'm dead and it's deleted me, that what all this is about'.
The system manager did not reply but started to type on the keyboard, after a minute or so she turned to look at Arthur. 'An Arthur Fenikx did work here, but he is deceased, it would appear that his d.o.d. was Monday of last week, but that his file was only updated today.
Arthur quickly responded, 'Yes that's right, I was working this morning when suddenly I saw this data entry for my own death and then next thing the terminal shuts down and I'm off the system'.
'So', the system manager continued, 'you expect us to believe that by some freak chance you've been erroneously entered as dead and that all this is a terrible mistake?'
Arthur got the impression that the system manager had a bad case of 'headlock', with a mind-set in concrete 'I know it sounds crazy, but that's really what's happened', pleaded Arthur.
'The odds against that happening are really quite high, don't you think?', queried the system manager in a manner that indicated that for 'quite high' you could substitute 'as astronomically high as the chance of getting an ice-cube franchise in Hell'. 'I mean the details must be exactly right in order for the computer to accept the data, not only name but address, d.o.b., social security number, the certifying doctor's code etc. etc. need I go on ?'
Arthur tried to stay calm 'Yes, I know it's totally against the odds but that really what happened'.
Ignoring him the system manager continued 'Isn't it just a little more likely, that you, whoever you are, found out about the death of one of our employees, who maybe you knew already, and have been using his identity and password to obtain illegal access to our computers ?'
'No, absolutely not, well it might be more likely, but it's not true'.
Again, completely ignoring him, the system manager continued 'It would appear from the access records that it wasn't until two days after the death that you first accessed the system and that from that date you've been logging on every day'.
Arthur tried to think back 'Yes I had two days off last week, I wasn't well' he said lamely.
'That's something of an understatement surely. I have heard some interesting euphemisms for death, but 'not being well' is certainly up there with the best of them. I suppose now you want us to believe that you "got better"?'
Arthur felt his head spinning, he tried again 'Look if you just go and ask any of the DP staff, they will confirm who I am and this whole thing can be cleared up very quickly'.
The system manager paused before replying 'Yes, that's certainly an option. But you see we have a bit of a problem in the DP suite at the moment, we are pursuing certain related enquiries and it would be inconvenient to pursue minor level breaches at present. Now if I were to bring staff in to identify you, it might drive our main target underground? And the mere fact of identifying you as a suspect might be significant. So I'm afraid that I will have to tackle the problem differently. The system manager was getting into her stride now, after a sticky start she had quickly recovered her composure and was now well into her 'I reject 2 million years of human development and claim societal dominance on behalf of the world-wide sisterhood of women' bit. Arthur who'd had some experience of domineering women had learnt to flow with it because fighting only makes it worse. He adopted the 'poor me' posture, shoulders hunched, head down, hang-dog look - which come to think of it was his normal posture.
The system manager droned on. 'We sell information, the value of our product is based on the accuracy of that information. Anything that compromises that accuracy must be dealt with.'
Arthur began to feel distinctly queasy. The corporation had only recently been devolved from government control, and in the past it had always been rumoured that links with government security organisations had been useful in dealing with 'problems'. In fact Arthur could himself remember the attempt to set up a trade union, which, somehow, had failed to make any progress as key movers had mysteriously lost interest. There had likewise been little media interest in the corporations activities, even though there had been monumental IT failures and compromises of the system by hackers etc. As Arthur thought about this it somehow seemed altogether too convenient. Arthur was snapped out of his private contemplations by the system managers voice.
'This corporations policy is not to publicly prosecute hackers, this would be counter productive and only the more widely publicise any system compromise.' The system manager nodded to the two security guards and Arthur felt both his arms being grabbed as he was quickly half dragged from the room. Arthur was tempted to shout over his shoulder 'You're making a big mistake.' But that's what everybody says. So he didn't.
Within a matter of seconds Arthur found himself 'location engineered' out of the building and standing somewhat forlornly on the pavement, at the rear entrance. With nowhere else in particular to go, Arthur decided to go home. It began to rain, which definitely put the icing on the cake of Arthurs day. And it wasn't even eleven o'clock. In less than a morning Arthur had been killed, made redundant (effectively) and thrown out of his workplace, 'That's not bad going', thought Arthur, 'an ordinary person could take a whole week to do all that.' Arthur considered his options as he walked home. He could write trying to get his employers to believe his story, but the letters would all be passed to the system managers office, as it would be a security issue. So there was little hope there. He could write to the press, it would make a good human interest story. But after the implicit threats from the system manager and the previous 'situation management' activities undertaken by the security branch, he wasn't sure that was such a good idea. Not if you wanted to stay unhassled.' 'I suppose that I'll just have to look for another job', thought Arthur. 'Well, at least I can have a few days off, a chance to recharge the old batteries and do all the stuff that I never seem to get the time to do'.
Anyway the short term activity would be to 'phone Bob. Bob would enjoy Arthurs predicament, and Arthur could do with Bob's sideways view of life. Well, not so much sideways as upside down and back to front. Bob was Arthurs closest friend, they'd been friends for longer than they hadn't and were very comfortable with each other. It wasn't by any means a demonstrative relationship, there wasn't much male bonding type stuff. In actual fact they were often merciless with each other in terms of their verbal duels, (usually for the benefit of female third parties). But both of them knew that when the chips were down, curry sauce would follow.
They were in many ways an odd mixture, Arthur was a bit of a fitness freak, while Bob's idea of a workout was to use his tv remote control to channel hop really quickly. Bob's attitude to physical activity stemmed from his personal theory of life that stated that we're all born with a fixed number of heartbeats - you use them up and that's your lot. This naturally led him to regard joggers as total nutters. Bob's personal mottoes were 'Death is natures way of telling you to slow down' and 'Gravity is natures way of telling you to lie down', neither of which impressed Arthur. But in actual fact Bob's theory of heartbeats has some scientific basis. It has recently been calculated that, heartbeat for heartbeat, an elephant lives as long as a shrew. It's just that an elephants heart beats about once an hour and a shrews heart beats about as fast as a middle aged member of the judging panel at a Miss World contest during the swimsuit section.
Bob wasn't overweight, but this wasn't for lack of trying. He ate about the same as a family of four and all the wrong types of food: bacon rolls, fried eggs, chips, chocolate. In fact a nutritionists nightmare. And yet Bob never put on any significant amount of weight, he obviously had a horrendously inefficient metabolism. Arthur consoled himself with the fact that one day it would all catch up with him, one day, one day. Finally the last egg, bacon and black pudding roll would block up the last remaining unclogged artery and it would be blue lights and nipple zappers all the way to intensive care. In a perfect world Arthur would happen to be jogging along the route and would be able to smile smugly through the window as the ambulance passed. Though this was probably idle fantasy and Bob would live to be a 100, never a days illness and die in front of the tv just as his favourite program ended. Cold, wet, demoralised, disoriented and generally not-a-happy-bunny Arthur arrived home.