Data Miners – Chapter 7

Prad pulled himself out of bed at 8:15 am. One look in the mirror confirms his worst suspicion. He looks as baked as he feels. Crunk hangover, happens when you mix weed and alcohol. Never advisable, but damn if that beer doesn’t feel so much better going down when you’re high. He has just forty-five minutes to get ready and get to work. It’s the latter part of that equation that is the greatest source of worry.

Prad has timed his morning ritual down to fifteen minutes, that’s exactly how long he needs to throw something suitable on, grab a snack bar and get to his car. He has a tube of Speed Stick in the glove compartment and his hair styles itself. He can go days without showering under this regimen. It’s just the grimy feeling that bothers him. His fine black hair requires semi-daily maintenance to avoid becoming greasy. The crotch rot is a repetitive issue as well. He can’t imagine a woman will want to come near it if even he is frightened away by the smell of his own crotch BO. In any case, he can always shower when he gets home and the office provides all the coffee he needs to amp himself up.

His Miata is waiting for him. The cover is up, so when he gets in he’s hit by the smell of contained atmosphere. The interior has lost that new car smell and now smells like fried meat and gandja smoke. But it’s cleaner, due to Tuesday nights little tantrum – if it could be described that way. Really, all he did was clean off the seats of errant wrappers and remove the CD cases that had burn marks. He was somehow unimpressed with himself that they were all still there. And he has to admit, it’s nice to get into a clean car. His Smart phone is plugged into the outlet, and he’s off from the garage by 8:32. He’ll be pulling into work at roughly 9:02, barring any serious traffic delays or tire mishaps.

This estimate is thrown into disarray when he notices the fuel gauge. He has less than an eighth of a tank left, and that might not be enough to get to the office. He could risk it, but if he runs out on the highway, he’s right fucked and will have to wait for an AAA truck. And he’s not sure if he’s paid up on his dues. Can they leave him at the side of the road if he’s behind on his payments? Surely not. Better not take the risk.

Prior to getting onto the highway that borders the Empire State’s property line, he pulls into one of the two gas stations that flank it. A quick consult of the sign lets him know that the current gas woes aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. He can remember when he was a teenager and how people feared the price would be up to four bucks a gallon in the near future. Four bucks a gallon! How trivial that sounds now!

Prepay takes a few painful seconds, then the task of pumping begins. The digital readout and the beating rhythm of the pump remind Prad that time’s against him and he’s rapidly losing this race. He’s already flirted with the idea of filling the tank only half-way and has abandoned it. Might as well expend the extra half-minute and have a full tank of gas. At this rate, he’s going to be late as it is, and thirty seconds is not going to prevent him from getting laid off.

The radio is running as he lets the tank fill. Relaxed rock and morning news, the right kind of thing to start his day off. He’s tried hip/hop and hard rock and they just don’t seem to set the mood for a day of boredom and forced professionalism.

The pump is still going, like a thirsty fucker, the car is still drinking. And all the while, the counter is still rising.

Blub, blub, blub, blub! Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching!

The sound of petrol dollars burning up in a Faustian process known as internal combustion fragment. His mind is inventing some rather interesting imagery this morning, which is probably because of the purple haze he’s got clouding his mind. He doesn’t even notice right away when the glugging stops because the little motor that powers the pump is still humming. It’s soothing vibrations reminds Prad of his bed, where he wishes he still was.

He tells the machine not to bother printing the receipt. Paper is for knuckleheads who can’t remember the passwords to their online records. Now finished, he retracts the hose, seals the cap, hops back into the front seat. His key is in standby, keeping the radio running. He turns it over just as a new story comes after a musical break.

“Congressman Dangle today was the subject of some controversy when a number of photographs surfaced showing him receiving financial contributions from white supremacists…”

“Oh, fuck me!” Prad turns up the volume and forgets about work for a moment. His every bit of attention is devoted to the radio and the report spewing from it.

“The photos surfaced from a number of anonymous sources who claimed that they retrieved the photographs from the FBI’s website. The FBI could not be reached for comment, but already there are a number of online groups calling for a full-fledged investigation into the Congressman’s alleged activities. These include financial ties to the Aryan Union and possible affiliations with the Reverend Fred Johnson, a man notorious with the families of soldiers who died in Iraq. But most damning of all, according to some sources, is the photograph of the Congressman frequenting an adult entertainment shop. No one has come forward to claim responsibility, but a number of people are wondering where these photographs came from, and whether or not the FBI was really in possession of them…”

“FUCKING FINALLY, MAN!”

A loud honk from behind him. Prad sees a big red shiny pick-up making a fuss. That’s when he realizes he’s blocking the pump and is even later for work. He waves apologetically and puts his Miata in gear and heads for the highway. A quick check of the clock causes him to curse his distractibility and makes his foot all the more heavy. His rush to work is hasty but the cloud of elation he’s floating on keeps him light and lively. No need for coffee anymore, he’s got the morning news to get him wired. He just hopes Rohit and, wherever they are right now, the Society are listening in. Contrary to what he feared, he’s looking forward to their next meeting now.

Data Miners – Chapter 6

Six

Nina was about nine minutes late getting to her desk that morning. Gareth had borrowed the car again last night and casually forgotten to fill the tank up when he dropped it off. Typical Gareth behaviour, but she was forced to take some of the credit. Had she not let him sleep over, he wouldn’t have been around to disrupt her morning routine. She could have superseded him simply by setting her clock, but such behavior is for grunts. Let the new kids greet the day, she decided long ago. Now that she’s got some clout around her office, she refuses to be a slave to an alarm clock.

The drive was pleasant, if a bit rushed. It was a pristine West Virginian morning, the air nice and dewy and mildly warm. It’s the kind of morning that’s pleasant for the first few hours, before the noon sun turns it all into sweltering heat. By then the residents of the sleepy town of Clarksburg were all too happy to retire to a working environment that boasted some kind of air-conditioning. Those that did not enjoy this luxury would just have to suffer or find some other way to stay cool.

Nina had broken a bit of a sweat getting to work and was pleased with herself for making sure her desk was outfitted with a box of Kleenex that was waiting for her on arrival. Grabbing a handful of the tissues, she dabbed at her face and around her neck, letting the AC do its job and cool her down until her pores closed. She looked at her keyboard and noticed there was a note sitting there with a prescriptive message scrawled across it.

Check our surveillance files, following j-pegs:

*TBK.192.jpg

*AU.298,jpg

*ACLU.0098.jpg

Possible forgeries detected! Need to know basis.

Mark J.

Nina was about to get herself a cup of coffee and ease her way into her work, but someone obviously intended to light a fire under her. The note also seems to suggest he got here a lot earlier than her today. What could have been so important as to warrant a really early start? She hops right onto her computer and calls up their surveillance database. Entering the names of each file, she waits as the machine does a search and pulls up each one. She sends each to her desktop for eventual printing and picks up her phone. Punching in Mark’s extension, a quick call ensues. Explanations are necessary, and they better be good! No one starts their morning with something like this without a damned good reason!

Nina looks around to make sure she’s alone. One after the other, the damning photos are rolled off and set down in the printer’s tray, their fresh, glossy surfaces reflecting the room’s fluorescent lighting back at her.

The photos are on the nearest side table a second later and Nina grabs a black and a white marker. She circles the pictures in white, underlines the name at the bottom in black. Grabbing a manila envelope from the shelf, she slides the three photos in and leaves the copy room in great haste. She is at the dark mahogany door with two plaques not a moment later. One reads Dave Griswold, Deputy Director, and the other, Law Enforcement Services Branch. Without announcing herself, she walks right in and slams the envelope down on his desk. He is in the process of finishing a call and looks up at her just in time to hear her speak.

“Sir, I think we’ve been hacked. I was alerted to these forgeries this morning.”

Griswold takes the folder and opens it carefully. Years of dealing with sensitive materials has conditioned the habit in him to treat every file folder as if it were containing anthrax powder or a copy of the constitution. He lays the photos out, and immediately forgets this habit. The three photos spread out around the desk so he can see all three circles that Nina has drawn.

“What the hell are these?”

“Fakes, sir. Found in the surveillance files. Not too convincing ones either.”

“Just what are you saying here, Righetti?”

“I’m saying that Johnson reported that someone hacked into the CJIS and planted these is our files.”

“Johnson came to you with this when?”

“This morning. He says he got a call from some press agent over at the Washington Post, something about these photos being sent to him from an anonymous source within our department. They wanted confirmation that they were real.”

“Confirmation…” Griswold said with a laugh. Trust the good ol’ boys at the WP to actually check first. Unlike most of their liberal counterparts, they knew how to take national security seriously. “So what have we told them?”

“Well, nothing yet sir. First thing I did was pull the photos and send them down to Criminal Investigations, asked if they knew anything about them. They said they had no idea what I was talking about, so I asked them to examine them for us. They all came back as a fake.”

“Jesus clusterfuck!”

Nina clears her throat. There’s something about a boss swearing so openly that makes her want to laugh, which she cannot allow right now. Combining religious obscenity with a compound word that strongly denotes group sex makes that especially hard. Why the hell is that word so popular with government people?

“They do look real enough, don’t they?”

“People can do some amazing things these days with Photoshop, sir.”

Griswold looks up at her. He is the first to admit that he’s not the most technologically literate person in the world. That’s why the Bureau is in the habit of hiring these young ‘uns. They do the leg work while the old workhorses do the thinking.

“Okay, so what else?

“Well, sir, I asked Johnson to start a more thorough search of our surveillance files, just to see if there’re any more fakes. In the meantime, I think we should consider giving the Post a statement.”

“Forget the Post,” Griswold replies. “A hundred papers must have their hands on these by now. There’s no way this isn’t going to be big news. We can expect to get reamed real good, real soon.”

“Yes, sir.” Nina’s stance tightens up some more. She knows this is serious. He’s using a butt metaphor. He looks down at the photos again and takes a deep breath. Reaching for the phone, he fetches it from its cradle and hits the button to connect him to the Criminal Investigations Branch. As it rings, he issues some new orders for Nina.

“I need to send these up the line. You get over to Johnson and ask him exactly who the hell contacted him at the Post. See if you can’t suck any more information out of them, like who sent them these.” A pause as the phone beeps a few times, waiting for the CIB to pick up. “I need to talk to the Cyber Division on this. Find out how in the hell those bastards let someone get into our files.”

She is about to leave when Griswold stops her for one last reminder.

“And for God sakes, keep this under your hat!”

Nina nods and is waved away as the answering service at the other end picks up his call. She can hear his bawling into the receiver just as she leaves the office.

“Andrei! I’m sending you something my grunts just brought to my attention. We’ve got a fucking leaky ship and I’m putting the blame squarely at the feet of your Cyber Division! PATCH YER FUCKING HOLES!”

The door shuts and all she can hear now are the muffled thuds of the DD’s explosive tirade. The noise follows her down the hall until she is finally back in the vicinity of her office space. Just about everyone she has passed is looking in the direction of the DD’s door.

Data Miners – Chapter 1

Hello! In anticipation for Data Miners release, I will posting chapters of the upcoming novel online for free over the next couple of days. As usual, I will be posting sample chapters over at my free ebook sites as well. So if you feel like downloading a larger text file, feel free to  visit them. Otherwise, stay tuned and enjoy the first five chapters, free of charge and hot from my own personal printing press (by which I mean my laptop!) Look for the rest, coming soon, on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, or at Kindle and Nook for iPads, tablets and other devices.

http://www.feedbooks.com/
http://www.free-ebooks.net/

Epilogue:

“Yes, I am a criminal.  My crime is that of curiosity.  My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for… I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto.  You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all… after all, we’re all alike.”

-The Mentor, “The Conscience of a Hacker”,
January 8, 1986

One
June 23rd, 2009

2:35 pm.

Yamal Pradchaphet eyes the preference line for what feels like the millionth time in the last few minutes.  It’s not an easy question and he needs to think it over for a minute or two.  His right hand poised over the keys, his left scratching at the tuft of greasy hair hanging in his face.  He looks to his right and spies the big pile of blank reports and worksheets next to his monitor.  He’ll be sure to get to those just as soon as he takes care of this little task.

“What kind of women do you want to meet?”

The undressing lady holds her pose after pushing her lace-covered chest outward.  The gentle soprano that is her voice is still ringing in his ears.  He dares not say Asian, or Filipino.  That would limit his options greatly in the latter case, and he doesn’t much trust the former.  If he wants to meet girls his mother approves of, he might as well date the girls they keep suggesting for him.  The old joke he used to tell his parents runs through his mind.

Mom, I bring home nice girls all the time.  You don’t need to.

Still, the woman is looking for an answer.  Damn she’s hot too.  Why can’t he just say he wants her?  Her black lace underwear and shapely curves are something he could wear all day.  Why doesn’t she come with the service?

Because she’s a fucking model you idiot, and those curves are digitally enhanced!

So many years and so many kilometres separating him and his heritage, and he still can’t seem to screw up the courage to be honest, not without looking over his shoulder.  He checks once more, then clicks on the boxes he really wants.

Blonde, Brunette, Redhead.  And Caucasian just in case that’s not clear enough.  He looks at the other possibilities for a second too and selects Latina and Mediterranean.  It’s interesting how specific they can be, but preferences tend to be that way.  Those were the women he truly fantasized about, the ones he thought of whenever… you know.

“What kind of relationship are you looking for?” the woman asks, and starts to undo the hook on her bra.  Pradchaphet’s breath goes shallow and he lowers the volume to one shade above mute.  She’s on the verge of exposing her tits, the straps dropping and exposing the slip of pale flesh above the nipples.  He’s never found the nerve to go this far at his desk in his place of work.  But boredom and horniness are the fertilizers of impetuous acts.  And right now he is really, really bored… and the rest.

He clicks once on discreet relationship and again on erotic chat/email, just for good measure.  Please let this be the last step, he prays to any God that will listen, and hits Enter on his keyboard.

Her breasts are now bare.  Prad is momentarily excited, then slightly disappointed.  The fine, pink globes and the tiny brown nipples just don’t seem so thrilling now that they are out.  Perhaps it was a buildup.  Still, he’s not going to count his chickens until he sees her totally in the buff.

“What’s your name?” she asks, undoing her short skirt.  The panties match the bra, black, thin and lacy, showing just enough skin around the most sensitive areas.  But alas, a name for his account…  He really didn’t give that one any thought until now.  It’s important not to use his Society name, the one his friends see whenever privileged emails are sent. Lucky he has a family name that translates so well when it comes to internet handles.

PradChap.  No one ever uses that name.  The numbers aren’t even really necessary, just a way to meet the minimum field requirement of seven figures.

He hits Enter again and holds his breath.

The woman disappears.  Her almost naked body vanishes into the thin air of cyberspace while somewhere, a computer processes his application.  Damn you vile temptress, he thinks as he waits for the list of possible hook ups to appear.  Sure enough, they do, a new focus for his sexual frustrations.  The title line says it all.

Women In Your Area Looking for Fun and Casual Hook-ups.

He scans through the long list of grainy pics, nothing like the ones used to lure him in while he was cruising the torrent sites, looking for downloads.  Already he’s losing interest in the whole process.  Playmates just isn’t living up to its name just yet.  He looks at the clock in the lower right hand corner of his screen.  The thought of cruising some free sites suddenly seems much more appealing.  At the very least it would kill some time before he finally has to punch out.

He calls up the Candylist directory and starts right clicking on the sites he wants from the long list that Candy, the site’s hot little avatar that dances in the upper right corner, has graciously provided him with.

Busty, Teens, and what the hell, Asians.

***

3:15 pm.

The coffee has turned stale and is just hot enough to melt the three sugar cubes that are needed to mask the awful taste.  Coffee mate is available, but something about the powdered shit makes him uneasy.  He decides to raid the fridge, see if there is any fresh milk or cream in there.  An opened carton of half-and-half is all he can find.

“Don’t let Miriam catch you with that.”

Prad recognizes the voice.  It’s Rohit, his only real companion in this jungle of steel and concrete, at least the only one he truly thinks of as a friend.  He eyes the container and assumes the obvious.

“It hers?”

“Yep, and she’s not one for sharing.”

“How would she know?” Prad says.  “As if there aren’t enough people crammed into this floor as it is.”

“Yeah, I suppose.  What are you working on?”

“Fucking the dog,” Prad says, giving his coffee a stir and sip.  His appraisal of the taste comes through in a big wide grimace.  Too sweet, and kind of burnt, like honey on blackened toast.  Rohit gives him a nervous look.

“Uh-oh, I know what that means.”

“It’s not like you spend every hour at your desk working,” Prad reminds him.

“No, but Tetris and Minesweeper aren’t considered offensive.  You know they’re short-listing people for the downsizing list.  Quickest way to get on that list is to commit a sex offence.”

“Like flash my junk at the software chick with the big tits?”

Rohit takes a sip from his own mug of stale coffee and looks at the break room door.  He shoots Prad a look that says “watch it!”  Even joking about that sort of thing is a no-no in the workplace nowadays.  Prad rolls his eyes and tries to absorb the moral.  He will be sure to lower his voice when making such comments again.

“Alright, I get the point,” he concedes.  “So you have an idea who’s on that list?”

“Oh, you know, same old.  Temps, part-timers, and a few old people who they figure they can kick out with some severance and not have to worry about promoting.  And I hear there’s a couple who are finally getting the boot because of complaints filed against them.”

Please be O’Malley, Prad thinks.  The old prig is a constant fucking pain, disliked by the ladies and the younger gents alike, especially the ones he refers to as the “ethnic ones”.  He isn’t the only one Prad would be happy to say goodbye to, but based on Rohit’s criteria, he seems the most deserving.

“So how much time do you figure we have here?”

“We?” Rohit says incredulously.  The idea that Prad would speak about them in the same sentence is clearly a shock.  “Not sure how much time I got.  Job security isn’t exactly a solid commodity around here right now.”

Prad scoffs.  “Big execs always use that ‘bad economy’ shit to justify firing people.”

“Doesn’t make any difference to us though does it?  Laid off is laid off.”

Prad nods, conceding the point.  “So how much time do you figure?”

“Me, I’m guessing us baseline programmers got about six months before they start streamlining us.”

“Christmas?  You think they’d lay people off before the holidays?”

“Easier than waiting til after to do it.  Plus you get to spend the severance on presents and booze, helps numb the pain.”

“Still cold, man.”

“Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be getting a pink slip during the first round.”

“What about me?”

Rohit takes another sip and looks to be running Prad’s prospects in his mind.  One thing programmers were good at was statistical analysis, which also made them adept gamblers.  Not that Rohit could ever be tempted into doing any.  He was boring like that…

“Well,” he finally says with a shrug.  “I’m sure you could look forward to a big, fat holiday severance.”

“Woohoo…” Prad raises his hand in a mock victory salute.  “At least I can look forward to sleeping in, and not working for people way stupider than me.”

Rohit looks at the break room doorway again.

“Dude, you need to shut up.”

***

6:30pm.

Prad is home from work in the Empire State Towers, apartment fourteen-eleven, which is a one bedroom suite.  In point of fact, it’s floor thirteen, but due to the superstitious nature of most builders, floor thirteen does not exist.  The view provides a lovely view of the skyline.  At present, a beautiful orange hue is settling over the city, due in part to humidity, engine emissions and the fact that a stiff sea breeze hasn’t rolled in in recent days.  Prad loves the colors, but would enjoy another transfusion of ocean air soon.  The smell of smog reminds him too much of visiting family overseas.

A takeout box of fried Singapore noodles sits next to the keyboard.  A few splotches of sauce decorate his shirt, but none had reached the keyboard thanks to his chopstick handling skills.  The television plays in the background.  It’s six o’clock so there’s nothing on except for the news.  Scarcely anything that deserves attention, just more fear and controversy, people dying in the Middle East, murder and mayhem here at home.  Rummaging through Shoutwire is so much more interesting.  There are two stories that occupy his attention at the moment. One is a recent study conducted in France that is making waves, linking crime rates to ethnicity.  Apparently, the researcher contends that people of Muslim backgrounds, specifically Algerians and Moroccans are more likely to commit crimes.  He can bear reading about this study for only a few minutes before losing his cool and starts leaving harsh comments.

Everybody knows the French want to ban Muslim immigration!  This study is propaganda and nothing more.  Quit pretending like this is an issue!

The other is summed up by its title, “Facebook linked to rise in Syphilis”.  He has to admit, the link is tenuous, but makes for much more interesting reading.

Some news hits the screen that catches his attention, both ears tuning in.  A special interest story concerning a person whose name he recognizes.  He hasn’t heard it in awhile, but he’s certainly no stranger to national news.  His fame was one of the reasons Prad was proud to know Professor Germaine of MIT, a big name in the wireless world.  Prad had read about it already on all the webnews sites for days now; the mainstream media is only now getting around to talking about it.  The once proud and eccentric teacher of Data Systems Analysis at MIT is under the weather and not long for this world, the perky Asian reporter, Hillary Qin, is saying.  The investigative report takes the usual circuitous route to tell him this, going back over his life for those who did not have the benefit of knowing him.

“Albert Germaine was a gifted student who excelled in the maths and sciences.  From an early age, he was fascinated with computers and data systems.  In his teen years, when most boys his age were interested in cars and going to drive-in movies, Professor Germaine was at work loading punch cards into his IBM or reading up on Alan Turing.  In 1978, he was accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he furthered his studies in computer science, with a double minor in linguistics and behavioural psychology.  His doctoral thesis, entitled “The Turing Test from a Behavioural Perspective”, argued that machines, in time, would be capable of imitating basic human thought and behaviour.  His thesis drew on many seminal thinkers of his time, from Wittgenstein and Ryle to B.F. Skinner and John B. Watson.  Arguing that the human brain, in its most basic form, is essentially a series of program instructions which are formed in accordance with conditioning and experience (similar to computer algorithms) he believed that a sufficiently advanced data system would be capable of independent thought and reason.  In addition to behavioural psychologists, he also drew on noted authors, such as Philip K. Dick and Arthur Koestler, to make his point.  The human brain, he argued, had evolved to meet the challenges of life through adaptive hardware and tailored software.  Language, reasoning, routines, even philosophy could be broken down into programming language.  This sort of language, rendered in digital form, could give a machine the same capabilities.

“After a five year stint as a researcher with a private laboratory, Germaine returned to MIT where he divided his time between teaching and advancing his research.  Convinced that Alan Turning’s theories could be proven, he began using CT scans to map the brains of volunteers.  As would later be learned, he performed many scans on himself as well.  Once he had a sufficient idea of what specific human neural patterns looked like, he ventured, he would be able to design a synthetic version.  For years, his work would attract scorn and controversy from theorists and the general public who accused him of practising a sort of technological Fascism. Some went so far as to compare him with Nazi researchers who performed cruel tests on human subjects.  Others claimed that his ideas and research sought to deprive the human mind of its mystery and sacred value…

Prad had to tune out at this point, as he is already intimately familiar with most of the details of the professor’s history.  Any student of data systems analysis at MIT knew about the professor.  Anyone who was anyone in the programming world knew the name by reputation.  They all knew exactly how he viewed all that hubbub as well, so Prad didn’t need to hear it from Qin.  Germaine was as myopic as he was fucking brilliant; he believed those who didn’t understand or agree with him were small-minded or blind to simple realities.  He had little time for what he called “mind-body dualistic nonsense”, just as he had little time for Christians and other religious people.  Many of his students dropped or boycotted his courses because of this.  The campus’ Christian Coalition smeared him with pamphlets and seminars and petitioned the university to fire him.  Eventually, they got their way.  Prad smiled when he heard Qin addressing this next.  It was as if they had a direct line to his brain and he were the one giving the report:

“In 1996, Germaine was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition which had been misdiagnosed in his youth.  Like many of his generation, he grew up with various labels, some saying that he was a genius, others that he was intellectually disabled.  Germaine worked through and around these labels, and succeeded in spite of them, only to find out in his later years that his gifts and flaws were due to a common neurological disorder.  As if this wasn’t enough, MIT chose to end Germaine’s tenure due to the controversy his work attracted.  Professor Germaine retreated into isolation for a time, reappearing only on occasion as a guest lecturer at symposiums or seminars.  In time, however, a movement arose to restore the professor to his former glory.  A number of organizations and some of his former students, many of whom had risen to positions of prominence in the scientific world, agreed to mount a class-action discrimination lawsuit against MIT for their release of professor Germaine.  The suit never made it to court, as the Institute chose instead to reinstate the professor and allow him to continue his work.  Germaine returned in the fall of 2000.”

And in 2000-2001 (or was it 2001-2002? He couldn’t remember which year it was), Prad had met him.  Angie was a student of his as well, though she and Prad had not known each other until after they had finished their degrees.  It was kind of a bragging rights thing, knowing a man like Germaine.  Most people in the Society did not, something that gave Angie and him some additional prestige, but everyone knew enough about him that it didn’t really matter.  Just about all of them had read Turing, the book he wrote on his seminal mentor, or some of his later published articles. There was also the study he wrote on the next great leap, entitled “Our Silicate Future”.  Most agreed that the man talked like he wrote anyway, one was as good as the next.

In any case, now the professor was on death’s door, diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.  He was sure some assholes in the media would say it was because of all those brain scans, but what the hell did they know?  The Christian students unions would be celebrating for sure as well, even going as far to say that it was God’s punishment for his arrogance.  God liked to punish people who tried to tear the veil of mystery away from his creations, apparently.  He was full of love, but if provoked, would get very nasty, like an abusive dad.  Who knew God was such a good imitator of human behaviour?  He looked up some recent articles on CNN.com and from The Boston Globe that mentioned where he was and how he was doing.  He was still working, they said.  Brave soul, with only a few months left at the outside, but he was carrying on.  The pictures showed him smiling bravely and being helped around by some students in their white coats.  Prad felt a tinge of jealousy.  The honour of helping the man complete his work was something only the truly skilled should be doing.  Someone like him, in other words.

Maybe when I get fired, he ventures.

The television moves onto more boring matters, crime and death in the nation.  Off it goes, and his full attention is back on his computer (or Dorothy, as he knows her).  A little first-person shooter feels right about now, or maybe some time with the blogosphere.  But then there’s the matter of his inbox which has a few new messages he hasn’t checked yet.  He decides to check these before doing anything else.  There’s one for discount boner pills, one for vitamins from the General Health Store, and one for an online dating service.  He shakes his head mournfully before deleting them all.  No matter how many spyware and adware zappers he installs on his machine, his surfing habits still end up in a database somewhere, prompting hordes of unwanted spam.  But at least the dating service offer has reminded him that he needs to check on his account with Playmates.  Despite getting bored with it earlier, he wants to see who might have earmarked him in the Playmates system, see if any of them have more attractive profiles.

Then he notices the email from the Society, the subject line saying “Meeting.”  He quickly opens this one and scans the first few lines of text.  Angela’s signature is at the bottom, her DeeMark as they refer to it.  She’s advising him that their chapter has received a challenge, a test of their mettle from the local DeePs.  Angie’s never one to turn down a challenge; as a matter of honour, she can’t abide trash talk from those bloody pirates!  As a result, she is writing to tell them that their next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, won’t be the normal online meet and greet.  This time, it will involve a mission, and a rather lucrative one at that.  The nature of it is too sensitive to talk about here, she says.  It will have to be conveyed in person.

The time and the place are written in code one line above her signature.

SCH, D-1, XVIII H-H.

Well that settles things for the evening.  Tomorrow he can look forward to his date with Angela, and whichever other Society guests are in attendance. Tonight, he has a few programs to watch but needs to eat and kill a few hours before that can happen.  He fetches his jacket and keys and decides to head for the pub.

***

8:30pm (or thereabouts).

The killing field stares back at him.  The baked bones and greasy guts are strewn about in a semicircular pile, forced to share space with a defiling mass of crumpled litter.  Prad wonders just how many animals died in this particular holocaust.  Their limbs torn from their bodies, blood gushing and bringing their steroid pumped, cage ridden, grain-fed existence to a slow, agonizing halt.  Born on a death farm, forced to wander around on broken legs, then cut down in their prime to feed the hungry barons of the inner city.  Just like those poor calves in their plastic cages, senseless and isolated until the day when a patron looking to serve up veal parmesan or scaloppini puts the wheels in motion whereby their horrible existence is mercifully ended.  Prad thinks it all over and considers becoming vegetarian until his order of potato skins arrive and he realizes the bacon bits are the best part.

He orders another Sapporo and resolves to give the subject some more thought before making any decision on the matter.  Never hurts to drown a moral decision in endless debate.  The cute underage waitress smiles at him mechanically and takes the plate of bones away.  He knows he’s too messy and bloated to flirt or be of genuine appeal to her, so he resolves to behave himself and not be that asshole who is low enough to flirt with bar staff, or stupid enough to think they are taking him seriously.

Just another Thursday night, and he’s bored, restless, kind of drunk, and aching to go on vacation.  He doesn’t have to drive home and he could find his way back to his flat blindfolded and half-dead.  The potato skins looks good, but he knows they’d be better with a little added cheer.  He makes a beeline for the men’s room and finds a stall where he can sit alone and pop the little something he slipped into his pocket back at his flat.  The tap water has a chemical taste and is way too cold, but he only needs an ounce or two to wash down the jagged pill.  He takes a deep breath and looks at himself in the mirror.  In a few minutes, his night will become a hell of a lot more interesting.