ATSF's technosoap for the digital millennium in twelve chapplets
Steve kept checking to see if the bug fix was through every five minutes. He was happy to help Tom out. Neither of them was flavour of the month with Justin and this served to bind them together. Steve smiled at the thought of Tom tackling The Terror. He’d had trouble with him himself on one project and nothing he’d said or done had made the slightest bit of difference.
The Terror was a nickname derived for Peter Daktill by way of Pterodactyl = dinosaur = terror. Peter was one of those irritatingly brilliant programmers that didn’t relate well to time and space as we know it. You were never sure if he was an asset on your team or a millstone. Whatever, Sue, one of the team leaders, had had a run in with him this time and had decided to pass the problem up a level to Justin. He had deftly delegated to Tom.
Tom hadn’t actually worked with Peter but his reputation was as formidable as his looks. He had abundant black hair—seemingly all over his body. He was gaunt with a pallor that always looked as if he’d just risen from the grave. No one remembered seeing him smile. He had an unfortunate way of looking at you from under his eyebrows that made him seem intimidating. In fact he was quite shy. He always wore black and this, together with his other characteristics, made the nickname Terror seemed apt. It was a lot easier than Pterodactyl. The link with dinosaurs seemed to stem from a sudden change in behaviour that occurred if any aspect of Peter's work was up for discussion. He lost any shyness when protecting his code and became ferocious. He preferred working at night and although his work was excellent his erratic attendance in work hours made it difficult for the rest of the team to co-ordinate their stance on the project. Steve didn’t have a clue how he’d tackle the task and was looking forward to Tom’s description of his attempt.
Still no bug fix. There really had to be something wrong with Meg’s dispatch since other messages were coming through. Time was running out. 1.38 and still ticking.
He heard Tom’s voice moving along the corridor in the direction of the marketing section ushering his charges with promises of the goodies the marketing team would show them. Steve shook his head in admiration. Tom had wined and dined the prospective new clients in record time and had landed them back to marketing early so as to make his escape. He wasn’t going to be pleased, however.
Meg had settled into the marking. Once she was immersed in it she’d talk to herself and to the scripts as she wrote comments on them. Both cats came to watch the performance. Usually they went to their respective positions and settled down idly until she made a move to the kitchen to make tea. Then they knew they might get a snack too. But today, both were demanding attention way past the time they should have settled down. She’d expect it from Dipity given the earlier trauma but Seran was usually far more reserved. Jealousy, she decided.
“Ah! Scott Sanders,” she said bemused as she picked up the next script. “What will you have written this time?”
She sighed as she wondered. Scott could write inspired essays sometimes but other times he submitted really weak work. She’d originally thought that it depended on his application but his parents had assured her that he seemed to apply himself more on the ones he got weak marks. He was a bit of a dilemma all told. Meg read the title, sighed again and put the script down.
“Tea.” she decided. As she got up so did Seran and Dipity. All three marched into the kitchen.
As she waited for the kettle to boil she flicked on the radio and tried to avoid the four pleading eyes chanting “Tid bits, tid bits, tid bits, tid bits,” that niggling feeling hit her again. She was doing the marking. She hadn’t forgotten anything else surely. She wracked her brain in time to a Chopin Polonaise. “Bug-ug fix and ma-arking, err-unt cat and fir-uh-men ...”
She jumped when the phone rang behind her.
“This is Call Minder. You have one message. Please ring to collect it.”
“Oh! All right” she said resigned and went through the rigmarole.
“Hello Tom, This is Terri from Ethereal. Please give us a ring. I’ve tried the office as well. But with no luck so far. Really need to touch base. Soon. Ring 0207 5 ...”
Meg was amazed by the honeyed tones that seemed so false. Who was Terri then? She resented having to pass on the message when it sounded as if Terri was a receptionist at a massage parlour!
“Really. I’m turning into a PA myself!” she grumbled to the cats when she’d completed the Call Minder responses.
“Should she call Tom and leave a message or should she get back to Scott," she pondered reaching for the kettle, joining in the polonaise.
“La la la ... La- La la la," pouring the water on the tea bag.
“ Ahhhhhhhh! Shit, and double shit! Scott ... Message ... Lawyer ... web site!”
Meg glanced at the clock and tried to estimate if the five-hour flight was still in progress. She stuck the kettle back and reached for the phone.
Tom was looking white. Steve tried to placate him but really didn’t have much to offer in the way of consolation. Only the bug fix would do.
“... and you talked her through EVERY step?” Tom cross-examined.
“Believe me, I felt so patronising and I didn’t take anything for granted.”
“I haven’t time to get home and back. The only thing I can think of is sending a courier but then Meg would have to dump it on a zip drive for me. That would be another first for her.” Tom shook his head in disbelief.
“Can’t you get Lloyd to send it through to you here? Have you thought of that way round it?”
“He’s in Aberdeen with clients all day. That’s why he emailed it through late last night from home and I tried it out to check it.” Tom was sounding more and more deflated. He looked exhausted as he continued.
“I’ll try giving him a ring and see if he can suggest anything but I can’t see what he could offer.”
Tom reached for the phone on his desk.
“He appears to be on the phone at the moment, Meg,” Connie explained. “Shall I get him to give you a ring?”
“This is REALLY urgent, Connie. Please stick a note under his eyes while he’s on the phone. I forgot to give him an urgent message from one of his clients!” Meg’s voice was contrite.
“Ahhh, yes, I see!” Connie sounded convinced. She often thought that the number of times Meg and Tom seemed to talk to each other during the day certainly wasn’t related to work and she felt a bit awkward sometimes about coming between domestic issues.
“I’ll do it now.”
In the time she took to write the note and get to the other end of the semi open plan room, Tom was no where to be seen. Steve wasn’t around either and the other desks around were empty. She placed the note on top of the most prominent work pile, secured it with his Bart Simpson novelty stapler and returned to her desk.
Tom had been called in to Justin’s office. As Tom’s fate would have it, Justin had returned from his lunch commitment early and had spied Tom at his desk. He wanted to be brought up to speed on the potential clients and check on Tom’s reaction to them.
“... so, they’re not making demands that we can’t handle?”
“Not that I came across," waffled Tom, “But they were very concerned about their image and I reckon the look and feel of the product would be more important than the functionality. We’d have to choose the graphics artists sensitively.” Tom hypothesised almost believing himself as Justin nodded sagely in agreement.
Actually, he’d spent most of the lunch discussing steam trains for some obscure reason he couldn’t remember. Or was it that the guy he’d sat next to had commented on the abstract steam train picture on the wall of the restaurant. He’d extemporised on his own two childhood excursions—courtesy of his fanatical Uncle—to the captured audience of one. He’d even managed to swap engine information. Luckily he had a retentive mind and much of what his steam train buff Uncle Ricky had said had got stored somewhere. He’d felt that the rest of the table were relieved he was engaged in conversation with the guy and as they’d politely offered the right exclamations at the right time, he’d continued extemporising.
“Did you get to the bottom of their pulling out from Wayahead?”
“Er ... not really. They were a bit cagey about that, didn’t you find?” parried Tom
“Yes. Too cagey. We need to know so that we can be prepared. Any suggestions?”
“Well, I steered away from that issue ‘cos I thought you’d got the low down already.”
“Hurr..umph!” glowered Justin. Tom thought on his feet.
“They’re due to see Sue next, aren’t they? If we prime her to try and find out, maybe she could manage to get better information.”
Justin seemed to take to this judging by his expression and Tom got in quickly as he opened his mouth to say something.
“Shall I brief her for you?” said Tom, inwardly praying to get out of the room.
“Yeah. Do that then Tom.” Justin said to a retreating back.
“Where’s Sue?” an exasperated Tom begged The Terror.
A shrug was all he got.
He wrote a note and left it on her desk.
“Please make sure she reads that before she meets the people from Drewstones.”
“Humm,” grunted The Terror.
Tom turned to go, half turned back to raise the Linklite communication problem, thought better of it and headed for his desk.
Meg couldn’t settle back down to her marking. She was annoyed with herself for forgetting the message. As far as she could place it, the call had come in at about 10.15 but it had been Call Minder so the message had come in before that. It was almost 2 o’clock now and Scott could be off the plane or at least in the last stages of the flight.
“Really! It your fault,” she grumbled at Dipity, who didn’t seem to care and carried on licking, concentrating on that difficult bit between the claws. The cats had got their munchie treat and were content. Meg fretted about forgetting the message, the pile of marking waiting, the embarrassment of the Brimley episode and the ache of the deep scratches on her back.
“Oh hell! Did those graphics come through? Have I left the monster on?” she dived up the stairs. “Great! Something’s happened at last,” she mumbled, as a glance at the screen showed that the process bar had disappeared and the message about new mail had taken its place. Just as she reached to clear the message her phone rang.
“Trust him to phone the wrong line!” she wailed as she ran to the bedroom before the answer phone cut in.
Too late! As she picked up the phone the answer phone message started churning out from downstairs and this phone just didn’t cut it off as it was meant to.
“ ... reached the Fairford’s answer phone...”
“Hello, hello?” she tried to fit in over the message
“Meg? Meg? Are you there? Can - you - hear - me?” over-annunciated Tom.
“Tom hang on. This phone won’t cut it off,” shouted Meg into the cacophony.
“........... like to leave a message, please speak ...” droned the message and it didn’t help that it was Meg’s voice on the message.
“Hell! Phone me straight back.” A very curt but distant Tom’s voice reached her.
“NO! Just wait for it to ...”
“Bleeeeeeeeeep!” the message ended and the extremely loud tone cut across any form of communication.
“Tom. Tom?” Meg heard that ominous echoing of her voice recording a split second later on the answerphone downstairs.
“Are you there? Tom? You can’t have hung up! Oh! I HATE all this SHITTY technology!” she shouted into the phone and got it repeated clearly in the distance. She hung up and ran back along the corridor with the whirr of the reset of the machine in the hall accompanying her.
Meg used the other line in Tom’s study and frantically phoned the office praying his direct line would not be diverted to Connie again.
“Tom!” she was half-amazed he answered. “Finally, thank God!”
“Bleep,” wafted up the stairs and Meg cringed. Her answer phone dutifully bleated the message reminder to itself.
“Right. What’s going on, Meg? What client? What message? What’s this got to do with Rimley?” a resigned Tom sighed.
“Someone called Scott phoned this morning from some airport. He said something about the latest newsflash you put on the site. Some lawyer from one of their large clients has objected to it ...”
“... and he wants, well wanted ... it pulled immediately, and ... um ... well immediately was meaning about 4 and a half hours ago!”
“He’s incommunicado until he lands ... which is ... um ... about now ... actually!” Meg moved the receiver away from her ear expectantly.
A torrent from the receiver decipherable as a tirade related to 'head like a sieve' filtered through despite the distance!!
“Tom. I’m really sorry but the Brimley crisis put it right out of my head.” Meg forgot that Tom knew nothing about the incident.”
Tom was holding his head in his left hand, his eyes closed with the receiver held lightly in his right hand. Scott’s company was his largest account and warranted excellent service. He didn’t really hear the beginning of the next sentence.
“Tom? Tom? Honestly, it was a real crisis. Dipity was up a tree ...”
This seemed to take Tom some time to decipher as he slowly came up from the depths where he’d lodged himself.
“Dipity? Dipity in Rimley! Uh ... um Brimley. Up a tree!” This was just too much to begin to comprehend. Meg could just have well have said Dipity was in a spacecraft heading for Mars. He just knew it wouldn’t be a straightforward tale.
“I’m not sure I can take this in at the moment, Meg.” said Tom sounding focused now.
“I’ll have to change Scott’s site before my 2 o’clock meeting. Oh! .... and by the way, the bug fix hasn’t come through and we just don’t understand it. There isn’t time to take alternative measures now so I’ll just have to face the consequences. Don’t know what time I’ll be in. I’ll let you know later. Bye, love.”
“But Tom ... Terri phoned too.” Meg trailed off as she realised there was no one there. She’d wanted to ask about the type of errors that would make the bug fix get lost in cyberspace. And she’d hoped to find out who Terri was!
“It must be somewhere!” she hypothesised. She turned to the screen and saw the New Mail message. She cleared it and scanned the new message headings as far as the box allowed. She didn’t really comprehend resizing boxes and just thought that it was yet another machine quirk of display that sometimes you could read everything and sometimes you had to scroll endlessly. She couldn’t be bothered to do that now.
“Earn an e-mill, Site pics, Web Master: Bounced, Web Master: Bounced.”
“Earn an e-mill ... um ... e-million, I suppose, yes, well some other time! Site pics ... must be Dillon’s graphics, Web Master: Bounced, Web Master: Bounced.”
“All right. Shut-up!” she shrieked at the mewing answer phone.
“Umm. Web Master ... like Ring Master or giant spider? Cyber Circus, now there’s an idea ... a new dark Comedia del arte. She switched into one of her reveries. The Web Master cracked his whip and bug fixes were launched out of canons in an attempt to get them through cyberspace to their destinations. But bungee jumping spiders attempted to catch them and deliver them to their rival masters in the illegal operations room! Ha ha! Hee Hee! If the Web Master lost too many of the bug fixes he was thrown into the cyber void by the strong man.
“Web Master Bounced because he lost my bug fix! Hum!” she conjectured as she closed the mail application and shut down the machine.
“Bleep,” bleated the answer phone tonelessly.
“No luck then?” queried Steve as Tom got off the phone.
“No luck except bad luck today” murmured Tom through his teeth, his fingers tapping frantically on the computer keys to pull the newsflash off the site. It wasn’t really his job but he didn’t have time to go through the usual channels and it was lunchtime. He’d have to send his team a message to explain.
“Ah! There it is!” he mumbled to himself. “Zap and it’s gone.” he said with relief.
Now all he had to do was upload the change onto the live site. He pressed the final key with relish thinking that he’d ring Scott and leave a message on his mobile answer phone to confirm it was off the site.
“Oh NO! Not now!” he hissed.
“Steve, have you had any problems with the server today?” he said resigned
“No. Is it down at the moment then?”
“Looks like it! I don’t believe it! When did you access it last?”
“About an hour ago, before I went to lunch.” Steve sympathised.
Tom had been checking the status report on the server.
“Well it’s down now and recently enough that there’s no information.”
Tom looked drawn as he glanced at the clock. He explained the errant newsflash to Steve.
“I’ll upload it as soon as the server is up again, don’t worry.” said Steve.
“But I need to keep Scott informed so come and haul me out of that meeting once it’s gone. All I need to do is make a quick phone call.”
“Okay. No worries” Steve responded warmly
Meg was in a race down the stairs with Seran and Dipity heading to shut the answer phone off as the doorbell rang.
“Now what!” she thought almost tripping over Seran as she changed direction.
She opened the door to two little old ladies.
“Hello dear. We’re from the Cat’s Protection League and ...”
“Oh no! I ... ah! .... well... about this morning. I can explain.” Meg blurted out guiltily into thin air—as it turned out—since the cats had squeezed past her to adoring fans that had bent down and were making a wonderful fuss of them.
“Oh! Isn’t he a beauty? A bee-aow-ty!” said the smaller of the two deftly hauling Dipity up, gently shaking him and clasping him towards her neck.
“Uh ... I ... don’t ...” Meg tried to dissuade her from such actions, as Dipity was not that sort of cat. She wouldn’t have dared pick him up in that way. He’d have probably sunk his teeth playfully into her jugular, no problem! Meanwhile Seran was happily lying in the other lady’s arms having her chin tickled.
“Umm. Dip ... ummm,” she tailed off confused as Dipity snuggled into old lady Number 1 and began purring very audibly. She wanted to poke her tongue out at the contrary cat. He’d never do that for her in a million years.
“Do come in,” she said resignedly, opening the door wide and leading them into the hall.
Fifteen minutes later she’d agreed to store bric-a-brac for the Cats Protection League, ferry it to the church hall for their Annual Jumble sale and man the stall for a couple of hours. And all before she found out that the ladies had no knowledge of the Brimley ‘neglected cat up a tree’ incident.
In fact, Olive and Ada enjoyed her description of it immensely interjecting with glee such encouragements as “Oh naughty boy, naughty, NAUGHTY boy,” and, “Oh what a little adventurer then,” while stroking and tickling the culprit who gazed at them adoringly. Both Seran and he knew they had pockets full of munchies. They could smell them all right!
Meg had shut out the bleep from the answer phone while they were in the lounge by closing the door. The ladies suggested she answer it but she knew that it had recorded her swearing and shrieking from upstairs. She certainly didn’t want them to hear all that carry on. She’d imagined that the ladies had arrived to interrogate her on her care of cats acting on grapevine information sent by other little old ladies from Brimley! The recording would have destroyed her credibility with them completely, she feared. Driven by her shame, she’d agreed to everything they’d asked. They, of course, were delighted to have a new ‘young’ recruit.
Meg was a bit trapped now as Olive and Ada started to hint at more regular help. She felt she was on a downward slope. Then the doorbell rang.
“Ah! I’ll just get that, ladies,” she rose to her feet, thankfully. “Please excuse me,” Meg opened the lounge door to another bleep and took a large breath as she hurried across the hall.
She had no idea who to expect but she certainly didn’t expect Faith, one of her erratic sixth form students.
“Oh! Mrs. Fairford. Finally!” Faith sounded relieved. “It’s been so difficult finding you.”
“Naughty, NAUGHTY, boy,” came from the lounge accompanied with chortles of laughter.
Faith looked past her raising one eyebrow.
“Eh ... ummm. Well, hello Faith,” Meg sounded confused and apprehensive. She certainly didn’t encourage her students to cross the college/home boundaries.
“Do you have a problem?” Meg continued. As soon as she’d said it she added silently to herself “Well, if you have, it’s nothing compared with the problems I’ve got!”
Faith rummaged in her shoulder bag and pulled out a sheath of papers.
“It’s my essay, Mrs Fairford. I know it’s a few days late but I can explain and I really need the mark for my coursework average,” Faith pleaded.
“You’re so, so B ... EAUT ... I ... FUL, you rascal,” floated from the lounge with more chortles.
“Oh dear! It’s not a good time, is it?” divined Faith.
“Trapped again!” thought Meg, glancing back to the open lounge door.
“Not brilliant, Faith, but come in, come in.” Meg grabbed Faith’s elbow and hauled her in before she did a runner leaving her to volunteer herself for loads more involvement with the Cats Protection League.
Meg ushered a reluctant Faith into the lounge. Faith took a half step back at the sight of the two ladies kneeling on the floor each playing with a cat. Olive was stalking Dipity around the couch and Ada had Seran entranced on the rug. Seran was lying on her back with her four legs floppily moving in mid air while Ada tickled her chest.
“Well ladies, this is one of my students and we’ll have to get on with some work now ... so perhaps I’d better take a phone number and we can finalise these details later. Is that okay?” Meg took hold of the situation, over-riding Faith’s mumblings about coming back another time.
“Perfectly. We’ve really enjoyed our little chat. And you’re so kind to volunteer to help us out, dear.” said Olive, the more imposing of the two. They were giving nervous glances at Faith’s orange and green highlights in her spiky short hair.
“Have a seat, Faith.” Meg tugged Faith’s elbow in the direction of the couch. “I’ll just see the ladies out.”
Faith watched Meg leave the room and cross the hall followed by the little old ladies, followed by the two cats. She shook her head in disbelief and glowered.
Meg scrawled Olive’s number on a pad on the hall table. While she was occupied, the cats were sneakily getting titbits from their fans. Meg closed the front door with relief and watched the backs of the cats as they tripped upstairs ignoring her completely.
“Typical,” she thought.
“Well, Faith,” Meg turned on her teacher voice, “this had better be very good!”
“It was ready in time, honestly, but when I got in to class Friday, I found that I’d put the wrong print outs into the wrong place. I could have handed you several sheets on “The Crooze,” but nothing on Golding. I did try and explain at the end of the lesson but you were called off to the phone, if you remember.”
Meg kept a blank face at the mention of The Crooze trying desperately to think of which lesson they might fit into until it dawned on her that they were the hot local group that most of her students drooled over.
Anyway, I got the right papers ready for Monday but I never made it to college. My little brother went down with flu and I had to stay home with him ‘cos both my parents work. Today and tomorrow you’re not in college and so I was stuck especially when old Parsnip, errr ... Mrs Parsons said she’d have the marks for the year processed by next week.”
Meg tried to keep her composure. Parsnip was Heather Parsons’ nickname. She’d often wondered what hers was.
“Really, Mrs Fairford, I asked everyone if they knew your email address as I could have mailed it over to you but no luck. I did a search on your name on the net but that proved useless. You’re not in the phone book either.”
This was true. Meg was ex-directory. Tom hated this but she’d had enough students phoning and calling for years.
“I even tried making up a few more obvious addresses for you and tried to email it anyway. I can show you the logs if you like.”
Meg was beginning to soften. It seemed Faith had tried to make up for her original mistake and had shown some initiative.
“Well, Faith, how did you finally find me?”
“My brother goes to the same school as your Bridget, so he got your address and phoned me lunchtime.”
“Hum!” she felt a bit ambivalent about this method but Faith had gone to a lot of bother. “I wonder what he bribed Brid with,” she thought knowingly.
“Right. Well Faith, I am not in the habit of taking in late essays as you well know. And, you will need to discipline yourself better in future to check that you have the right papers for the right class before you leave your house.”
Faith dutifully held her head down taking the onslaught.
“You will not disclose my address to anyone else ... and I mean anyone, Faith, nor describe the method you used to get the essay to me.”
She didn’t want Brid leant on too often on her behalf.
“However, I will accept it purely because I haven’t completed marking all the others. You understand that if I had, I would have rejected all pleas.”
“Sure, yeah I understand. Thanks Mrs Fairford.” Faith gratefully thrust the bundle of papers towards her as she rose quickly from the couch and headed towards the door.
Meg had got so used to the answer phone she hardly noticed it now. Faith eyed it strangely as she went past.
The idea of searching for people’s email addresses or even of trying to make them up was taking its time to get through Meg’s techno phobia. There would be lots of attachments bearing her name being attacked by bungee jumping spiders somewhere in that void, she mused, feeling a little disconcerted that her name might be linked with several illegal operations.
“So how many copies of your essay did you send into cyberspace?” she asked Faith while opening the front door. Faith went wide-eyed at the question.
“About four," she said “Thanks Mrs Fairford”
Meg watched her take a couple of steps before she turned and added,
“They were all bounced back, of course so they never went anywhere. Bye.”
“Bye,” said Meg absently as she started to close the door.
“Bounced ...” Meg echoed to herself.
“Bleep,” sounded the answer phone as some synapses inside Meg’s head suddenly fired up with recognition and she felt foreboding spread through her.
“Faith, FAITH, Wait. Come back here NOW!”
Life Bytes is written by Santa Fe and Sanity Claus