“Life Bytes”

ATSF's technosoap for the digital millennium in twelve chapplets

Chapplet 2

Cat eats (computer) mouse

“Brimley? How the hell do you get to Brimley?” Meg juggled with the dustpan, Seran and the remaining munchies. “You’ve had more than enough. GET OFF!” she warned as she dumped the munchies into the bin, slammed the lid down and glared at Seran. “Why didn’t you SAY something? You knew where Dipity was!” She waggled the brush at a retreating unhurried, uncaring backside. Seran’s tail gave a defiant but triumphant flick as she disappeared round the doorway.

Meg raced upstairs. “Prior-it-ise, prior-it-ise," she mumbled in time to the thumps from her feet. The progress bar really did seem to have stopped at about 90% now.

“Double shit!” she mouthed into the receiver as she frantically pounded Tom’s number into the phone pad.

“He’s in an emergency meeting and not to be disturbed. Justin’s instructions.” Connie, the secretary, said in a hushed tone so that Meg knew it was serious. “But he did say that you’d phone and to tell you to wait for further instructions. Does that make sense?”

“HOW WAIT!? Oh ... urrr ... Arrrr rrrr” strangulated gurglings seemed to turn to bestial attack sounds from the receiver.

“Are you alright, Meg?” Connie was used to passing seemingly strange messages between Tom and his other half, but this was a bit different.

“Tell him he’s not the only one with emergencies. Tell him ... where do I start! ... tell him to check his mobile for updates and I’ll be in Brimley. Sorry Connie. No time to explain now”

Meg pounded the mobile number on the keypad as she glowered at the bar on the screen.

“Was it or wasn’t it moving? It was about 90% complete.”

She’d give it till after she’d left her message and then she’d have to stop it.

“Tom, it’s me.” The rigmarole of going through the messaging instructions had seemed interminable. Seran had jumped up on the chair in front of the computer and was staring intently at the screen trying to see what she found so interesting.

“No time to explain. Dipity is up a tree in Brimley. The emails aren’t through yet because of the graphics. Oops! This new message has just popped up on the screen ... something about no response from the server within 45 seconds keep trying yes or no? Oh! I'll have to say 'No' and go. Look, I don’t know how long I’ll be. I can’t help it and ... and it’s your fault anyway, well ... your new stupid monitor’s!”

She sighed as she hit the 'No' response, closed the application and initiated the shut down.

“Which road is it to Brimley?” she asked a bewildered Seran, “And where’s the cat box?” Seran seemed to understand the second part as she leapt off the chair and shot out of the room apparently fearful of the “cat box” since it was associated with visits to the vet.

The phone rang as Meg was digging in the back of the under-stairs cupboard. She twisted herself out of the near impossible position and reached the phone panting.

“Hello. This is Call Minder. You have ... one ... message. Hear it?”

“Noooooooooo!” she shrieked back slamming the phone down.

Finally, the cat box in one hand, she stuffed bribes and bribe accessories into a plastic bag - the depleted box of munchies, a tin of cat food, a tin opener, a fork, and Dipity’s cat bowl. She glanced at the kitchen clock as she went out the back way.

“10.34 and all is not well.,” she murmured.

Tom wasn’t having a good day either. He had turned off several minutes before whilst the Managing Director droned on. The emergency meeting raised yet another problem and he had his fair share at the moment. Why had he forgotten the bug fix? He hadn’t admitted this to the others yet. He had convinced himself that he would get it through quickly and be able to implement it without too much difficulty in plenty of time for his meeting. Now he’d been landed with taking an important potential client for lunch and then giving them a presentation of the application after his other meeting. Justin, the MD, was expecting him to be able to demo the new functionality in a mock-up. The potential client had just pulled out of a deal with a rival firm and wanted assurance their firm could deliver all that they needed. Quick decisions and firm negotiating were the order of the day from Justin. Of course, he’d really give them a good impression with the application falling over! He had to get that bug fix.

He glanced at his mobile. Three messages. He knew Meg would be one of them—at least one! It wasn’t his fault he hadn’t been able to hold on the phone. He made a mental note to rationalise their phones. The technology in the house had advanced piecemeal. They had two lines plus ISDN. One phone line was for social use—deemed ‘her’ line and the other was more for him and his business uses. Her line had Call Waiting on it and the other line had Call Minder. Most rooms had phones to cover both, except in his study and the kitchen. That was historic too since they’d had all the sockets put in before roaming phones were popular. He’d not foreseen that Meg would be using ‘his’ study or even email, and had certainly never expected to rely on her to transfer files around the country. That left them running round the house chasing calls sometimes. She had run to the bedroom to pick up ‘her’ phone. Well, he hadn’t really seen that he would begin to work from home either. Having the right files in the right place at the right time did become more of an issue when you worked in two places.

He smiled to himself as he guessed that Meg’s message would be pitched at angry tone level 3. He’d denoted 5 levels of anger to her tone of voice and gauged how to respond accordingly. Justin sensed Tom had switched off and took advantage.

“... so, who could do that then? Tom?”

“... um ... mmmmm well, y..yes, I suppose so.”

“Right, let’s get to it.” Justin gave one of his expansive artificial smiles.

“Psst. Steve. What did I just agree to do?” Tom asked from the side of his mouth as the meeting broke up.

“You nutcase! Cloud nine again! You’ve only volunteered to talk some sense into The Terror about his time-keeping jeopardising the Linklite project.”

“No ... no. No ... no. No way” Tom’s answer crescendoed up a scale as he shook his head.

“... and that’s got to be effective from... today, me old pal.” Steve teased grabbing his half-finished cup of coffee and whistling what sounded like the first few bars of the Death March as he did an exaggerated slow walk out the door.

Tom grimaced as he picked up his mobile to listen to the messages then talk Meg through sending the files again. Connie popped her head round the door and read from her notes.

“Meg says she’s in Rimley. She has her own emergency. Listen to the mobile for updates and please phone Terri of no company name but this number.”

“Where the hell is Rimley? Who’s Terri? What emergency? What company? CONNIEEeeeee?”

But she had dodged out of sight, well trained.

The kitchen clock and Meg met again at 12.49. It had been a surreal experience and already felt as if it had happened to someone else - well, in her dreams ... If only she’d remembered to change out of those ‘home only’ skimpy shorts instead of wasting time on the bribes that hadn’t worked. She’d never had anything to do with the fire brigade before. Then as her luck had it, the local paper had turned up as well.

Brimley was one of those places that was relatively close but not signposted because it was on the way to somewhere bigger. She’d missed it completely once. She hated trying to navigate and drive. It always seemed there was nowhere to stop to consult the out of date road atlas. She’d been meaning to get a new one for ages but it was one of those many little things that popped straight out of her mind as soon as the crisis was over. Meg also never remembered when the sunroof was open so pedestrians had been treated to lots of swearing mingled appropriately with strains of The Ride of the Valkeries from the radio as she struggled with the inadequate road atlas.

Next she managed to get to the wrong end of Brimley’s one-way system. More pedestrians were treated to expletives coming out of the sunroof now mixed with cannon fire from the 1812 Overture. Finally she couldn’t miss Baron’s Close because the fire engine was sticking out of it into the main road. One of the officers was directing the traffic around the engine allowing one side of the road to go at a time. Drivers were not amused.

Baron’s Close was part of old established Brimley. The houses were detached and there were mature trees on the generous verge that ran round the close. Dipity had dashed up the first tree on the left. It was a surprisingly large horse chestnut. There were several people around the base of the tree all looking upwards including Stan. Meg felt incredibly self-conscious as she clambered out of the car with all the bribe paraphernalia.

“Mrs Fairford, what kept you?” Stan pulled her into the circle. She was relieved to hear his voice back to normal as she’d half expected to find he’d collapsed from his allergic reaction and had had to be carted off the scene. She sensed the curiosity of the crowd and felt she’d either been labelled ‘car boot reject of the year’ from the surrounding well-dressed ‘normal’ people, or she would be reported to the RSPCA as obviously not being a fit person to keep one cat, let alone two.

“I err, ummm don’t know Brimley. I got a bit ...”

“Up ‘ere, luv. Quick as you can. He’s pretty frantic and keeps going higher.” There was a real hulk of a fireman beckoning to her to go up the ladder to the small platform at the top.

“Oh no!” she groaned inwardly imagining the awful sight of her cellulite on display as she wobbled up the rungs struggling with one hand because of the tin of cat food and a fork in the other.

They’d tried everything and Dipity just meowed pitifully back at them. He’d reached the point of no return since the branches were just getting too thin to support him. The ladder couldn’t manoeuvre well in the foliage either. The other smaller engine that would have been better suited for tree refugees was trying to free a child who had got his head stuck in some bridge railings—so Danny, her fireman hulk explained.

If they tried to move the platform nearer the distressed cat, Dipity just started panicking more and the branches swayed dangerously. Meg felt so stupid banging the tin of cat food and sweet-talking tree leaves. Dipity hardly stopped yowling enough to hear anything. It had been at that point that the local paper had turned up.

Meg suggested withdrawing completely and then sending the ladder up at the side of Dipity to get him to move back towards the trunk and the stronger branches. She just didn’t recognise this pitiful feline at all and what was worse, he didn’t seem to know her either. She had a sneaking suspicion that the crowd were developing their theory of her neglect because the cat wouldn’t respond to her. Dipity was so confident even arrogant usually. Was it really her cat she wondered?

So at the point that the ladder started to withdraw, Meg turned away from the tree self-consciously holding down an end of her oldest pair of shorts. She couldn't face what she supposed were accusing eyes staring up at her from the crowd below. The hulk started to put one arm protectively round her saying,

“Never mind, luv, we’ll ... Yeowwwww! ----ing hell!”

“Ahh .. .oww! Double sh---t!”

Their synchronised howls of surprise and pain brought gasps from the audience and a flash from the local photographer.

As they started to turn away, Dipity decided that he was being abandoned and finally made the decision to join them. He launched himself towards Meg’s shoulder and met Danny’s encircling arm with his front claws and Meg’s side with his back claws before clambering precariously onto Danny’s shoulder before Meg managed to grab him securely in her arms.

Even now a good half hour later, her side was still killing her. She’d refused first aid at the scene. She’d thought that enough of her flesh had been on display for one day. However, Danny had stripped off to admiring glances and more flashes from the reporter, which thankfully took the attention off her for a little. Danny hadn’t been wearing full gear for a cat rescue so he had very convincing scratches that were doused in disinfectant and dressed at the scene. The reporter insisted on a shot of her with Danny, Stan and Dipity peering out suspiciously from the cat carrier, before she’d managed to escape.

“12.49,” Meg sighed then groaned as she heard the ‘peep’ of her answer phone. She ignored it as she opened the door of the cat carrier and Dipity raced across the kitchen and out the cat flap to find a favoured place to regain his composure. She’d have to find him and console him shortly but she would have to see to her gouged flesh first. She headed for the bathroom.

Ten minutes later she was back in the kitchen, cleaned up and changed. She pressed the answer phone expecting an irate Tom.

“You have three messages,” said the mechanical voice and the tape rewinding whirred, clunked and sure enough there was Tom.

“Meg, you never mentioned Rimley or even Brimley which is a bit more likely. Connie swears it’s Rimley. Anyway, I can’t imagine how anything there could be more urgent than getting the file to me but I suppose an emergency IS an emergency, whatever it is.”

He didn’t sound totally convinced and Meg winced with each movement as her side smarted. She was determined to grab a sandwich before anything else!

“However,” Tom went on. “That file. My career depends on it, Meg, so please, please put it top of your list when you get back.”

“Message timed at ... eleven ... o ... two.”


“ Meg, I can’t believe you’re not there. Brimley’s only ten to twelve minutes away, surely. What IS going on? Please phone me as soon as you get back? This really is urgent, you know. If this turns out to be one of your lame duck students throwing a wobbly again and the parents expecting you to counsel them and him, I’ll ... I’ll ... well ... I’ll really be pissed off. That was what constituted your last emergency, if you remember! Please phone ... soon.

“Message timed at ... eleven ... forty ... six.”


“This is awful Meg. Where are you? I’m getting worried about you now. I’m sorry about the ranting. It’s probably going to be too late now ‘cos Justin has landed me with taking clients out for lunch. So you won’t be able to get me till 2ish. I’ve no idea if I’ll be able to implement the changes by 4. Steve says he’ll talk you through sending the file if you phone him. Do hope you’re all right.”

The last message made her feel a bit better about things so she grabbed a forbidden chocolate biscuit and headed upstairs to try to send the file. She felt embarrassed enough about her computer literacy level compared to Tom's or even her daughter, Bridget, without having to expose it to a professional like Steve. But needs must.

Dipity was at the top of the stairs. As she headed up he ran for it into the unknown corners of the spare room.

“It’ll take some special salmon munchies to get him to forgive me,” she thought, “but hang on a minute. Shouldn’t it be him making up to me? Cats! They always get things their way whatever the circumstances.”

Meg managed to fire up ‘the beast’ as she referred to it.

“Hell! I suppose I’d better ask Steve what to do. There’s all that graphics stuff waiting to delay me if I check the email again,” she mumbled to herself.

Grudgingly she rang the office and asked for Steve. She started her biscuit bar while waiting for him to come to the phone holding it in her left hand to free her other hand for the agonising one fingered typing that was her limit.

“Meg. Wonderful. Tom was so worried about the file ... ah ... errrrr and about you too, of course. Emergency all over now? Should I mention it or not?”

“Not unless you’re ready for a convoluted saga involving the fire brigade.” Meg said in a warning tone chomping as quietly as she could on the chocolate mouthful.

“Not mention it. Righto. Now about the file, where are we?” Steve tactfully moved on as quickly as possible. Didn’t really sound like Meg at all. He thought she sounded distant, upset maybe.

“Tom said you sent it to him about 10 this morning but nothing had come through. Ummm. Perhaps there’s trouble with the connection but we haven’t had problems. Have you downloaded the email okay?”

“We started to do that but there are some graphics coming through, Tom thinks, and they slowed up the process. He reckons those will take about 20 minutes. That’s where we aborted the attempt this morning so no messages have got through here.”

Meg pulled a face and half mused about ‘aborting’ procedures and if these were legal or illegal operations. Were there moral bounds in this strange digital ether? Steve’s voice pulled her back from her tangential daydreams.

“Sounds as if the connection is fine then. Perhaps we’d better just resend the file- umm err checking the address ... and things.” Steve added hastily not wanting to sound patronising but failing miserably.

Seran slipped into Meg’s view. She padded up to the chair and looked as if she was going to jump up on Meg’s lap. Seran loved the clicking of the keys and the fiddling of fingers. It had to be a game she could join in. Meg had got the email up on screen by this time and had opened the last message sent. There it was as far as she could judge. She started to bite into her next mouthful of chocolate biscuit decisively but had to move her stomach forward towards the keyboard to counter Seran jumping up. She winced in pain from the slash across her back. The biscuit started to crumble. Meg took her eye off screen and her right hand off the keyboard to catch the crumbs. Seran looked hopeful. She moved one paw towards Meg’s thigh.

Steve was intoning their office email address at one syllable a second as if he was talking to a five year old. She chucked the crumbs into her mouth. Tom would have a fit if there were chocolate bits all over his keys. She caught up with Steve just as he was asking,

“... and there is a file attachment icon there too, isn’t there? ... and it is the one from the right message isn’t it?”

She started to scan Tom’s name and address, turned away momentarily to brush Seran’s clawing paw from her thigh, before she focused on the file attachment icon.

“Ummm. Wait a sec and I’ll just get the original message up to check. Yes.... that’s the same file attached.”

As far as she was concerned the file not arriving wasn’t anything to do with her. It was the black hole’s fault. The nearest she understood about sending things by email was the equivalent of shouting a message into a pothole. You had no idea what went on down there, what lurked there—well there were viruses, of course, and bugs, so there were bound to be beasts as well. She couldn’t care less about mixing astronomical concepts with the bowels of the earth. They shared a lot in common as far as she was concerned.

She mechanically followed Steve’s instructions. Meanwhile she fantasised about meeting mythical beasts around corners of potholes, dropping into vast chasms and landing on the back of some flying furry thing passing by. Perhaps that lurching feeling in her stomach had more to do with hunger than dropping a couple of hundred feet in a second. Perhaps Seran rubbing against the back of her legs added to the furry sensation. Tom had got used to her half listening. Her weird imagination was something he really quite liked. He never knew if she was part of this reality or not. He found it winsome. Others weren’t as tolerant of her daydreaming.

“Right, there it goes. How long should it take to get to you?” Meg gently pushed Seran away from the chair.

“Depends. It could be a few minutes or about 15 minutes but sometimes there’s a bottleneck. I’ll check how the server’s doing from this end and check it’s arrived on Tom’s machine a bit later. I’m sure it’ll be fine now.” Steve sounded relieved; his good deed was over and Tom could buy him a drink for it.

“Thanks, Steve. Wish Tom good luck from me for this meeting. I hope the bug fix works.”

“Yeah! We’re hoping so too. Take care.”

Meg popped the last mouthful of chocolate biscuit into her mouth, closed her eyes, enjoyed the moment as the chocolate melted, then crunched hard on the biscuit. She really was tempted to have another. Seran took the opportunity to leap onto her lap and there was a struggle mixed with gurgles as she half choked on tail fur and chocolate desperately trying to keep Seran off the keyboard. She got the cat under control by pinning her under one arm and tickling her under the chin until she purred loudly. Then Meg deftly swooped Seran up and threw her gently towards the door. Seran half turned. They glowered at one another in mock defiance. Sometimes Meg won. Sometimes she didn’t. This time Seran headed to the doorway sat down and surveyed her from the distance.

It occurred to Meg that she ought to check the email and download those graphics since they would have to come through sometime. It would save Tom a bit of time later too. She always took a guess at how many messages there would be and was disappointed if there weren’t at least the same or more than she thought. Not that they were for her - well not many. She guessed three and gave a little gasp of glee when there were four.

“But will they make it through the mire?” she conjectured playfully.

Dillon’s graphics started coming through again. Meg had to force herself away from the very slow moving progress bar. It was mesmerising. Was it or wasn’t it moving? Were the graphics getting through or were they getting corrupted on the way?

“Ah! Corruption,” she murmured to herself knowingly. That was another weapon the beast had. She felt completely justified in the way she felt towards computers and the internet. It was a constant struggle against evil forces. She had a glimpse of nasty looking claws slashing out at the digits as they tried to pass through in a stream. Her back twinged in recognition.

“Fight the fight," she said at the progress bar as she stood up and came back to reality.

Was that hunger or what? She had a distinct feeling that there was something she should be doing or something she’d forgotten. Seran was looking at her with her head on one side in that way again.

“Bloody hell! The marking!”

Meg screwed her face up at the thought of the 14 scripts on “Lord of the Flies” and rushed downstairs to the screened off corner in the dining room that was her work area.

That message from the client—will Meg remember it? Does Tom get the bug fix? Don’t miss The Terror story. Yes, you bet there’s office politics! Who is Terri and what is she to Tom? And then ... Faith turns up on the doorstep. All in the next enriching instalment of 'Life Bytes'. Tell your friends!

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Life Bytes is written by Santa Fe and Sanity Claus