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On No NaNo

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011 at 10:59 am Written by:

The Liverpool region has about 80 participants in National Novel Writing Month. Given my background, I couldn’t pass this up.

I’m struggling to keep up, what with all the other duties that I had planned to shuffle off. And there’s the cave digging activities that tends to wipe out an entire day. No you do not have any energy afterwards to write your 1667 words target quota. All you have time for is beer.

As promised, here is the the output of Day 1. It’s all downhill from here on as I rapidly exhausted the entire plot I had dreamt up, like some cook who has run out of ingredients and only has pot and pans left in his kitchen.

As the rules state, it’s word count that matters, not quality. And this is not based on some woolly liberal inclusive everyone has something to offer concept. This is like running your first marathon; the spectators on the road might imagine there are good stylists and shambolic joggers, but the only thing that matters is the quantity of steps that take you in the right direction.

The Nanotode

Keith arrived in time for the morning stand-up meeting at Cysoft Ventures, but the Mr Otter blocked his way on the stairs. “Can I have a word with you in the meeting room?” he pointed back down.

“Sure.” Keith turned and hopped heavily on the steps two at a time in a way he knew annoyed the lady at the reception desk. The sunlight cast a sharp shadow on the doorway to Board Room 1. Keith’s key fob didn’t work to open it.

The door was opened from the inside by a gentleman in a police uniform with handcuffs on his belt.

Keith’s mouth went dry. Mr Otter’s eyes locked on to another man in the room, who had white wavy hair and a set of papers in front of him.

Keith stepped through and sat down in the closest black padded chair. The policeman had relieved him of his backpack almost without him noticing and placed it on the grey faux wood edged table in front of him. He was alone at his end of the room. The door was closed and Mr Otter was no longer with him.

The white haired man flipped over the top two sheets of paper, rereading both sides of them to himself. Keith thought, If I grabbed that now I would know what he was planning to do with me. And why.

He looked up. “Good morning, Mr Lemur,” the man said. “Please sit down. I’m Michael Jacksonite from the Espionage Agency.”

Keith pulled his hands off the table and looked towards his bag. Inside of it was his laptop with all his work on it. He steeled himself to withhold his real login and password while repeating in his mind the letters and digits of his false password, the one which would instruct his computer to scramble everything on his hard disk beyond any hope of recovery and send a signal to all of his in-the-cloud accounts and terminate and scramble all their data as well. Here was a clear-cut application of this feature if there ever was one.

Jacksonite looked into his eyes and said, “Does the word: ‘T1TSUP’ where the letter ‘I’ is the number ‘1’ mean anything to you?”

Keith covered his face with his hands, then rubbed his eyes. “No. Why should it?”

“Because that is not a word we intend to log in to any of your computers with.”

Keith shrank back into himself. This was not going well.

“Let me read a list of some of the material you have been handling in your daily work: A gcc decompiler used to recreate the source code of a variety of proprietary software products. A decompiled copy of Microsoft’s Virtuoso Operating System. Two hundred pages of your notes detailing the architecture of said Operating System. Nineteen terabytes of raw network traffic sent by the Operating System over the proprietary syrian 6 network protocol. Countless illegal home made analytical tools used to disentangle and scan data from the protocol. Two years of private chat messages with your colleagues Clara, Simeon and Adam at work sharing progress at cracking the codes.”

Keith sighed and looked down at his hands. His fingernails had black dirt under them.

“Those are the issues that matter to us. If necessary, we can include your vast collection of child pornography.”

“But I’ve never downloaded any porn!” Keith blurted.

Jacksonite held his hands together and gave him an every so perceptible wink from his left eye.

Keith looked towards the policeman, and realized he wasn’t a real policeman. He had the insignia of Blue Force on his lapel which meant that – legally – he could not be found guilty of impersonating a police officer. The fake policeman appeared to be playing a computer game on his mobile phone. “Sir,” Keith said to him. “Could I be excused from the room. I am not under arrest, am I?”

Jacksonite lifted three sheets of stapled together paper from the stack in front of him. “Could you pass these over to the gentleman, please?” he said to the fake policeman.

The pages found their way into Keith’s hands. Its title was: “Agreement signed between Keith Anders and the Espionage Agency on behalf of Microsoft Corp, dated November 18, 2018.” There was a space for his signature at the end of page three, beside that of two witness’s signatures.

“You shouldn’t lose any sleep over this. The activities detailed there are already illegal under the law and in many intellectual property treaties. They are serious enough to have you extradited abroad right away. This agreement says you promise not to carry on with it any more, and we promise not to hold what you have done against you so long as you desist. Do you have any questions?”

“Yes,” Keith said. “Why doesn’t it mention China anywhere here? That’s what it’s about.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is about Lenovo, the Chinese company that bought Microsoft last year, sacked its few remaining American engineers, replaced them with Chinese workers who have injected spyware into every operating system and service pack in order to commit, shall we saw, espionage against every organization with the misfortune to come into contact with a computer that uses it. What are you doing about that?”

“Bill,” Jacksonite said to the fake policeman. “Could I ask you to step outside for a minute. Lock the door behind you.”

“Well?” Keith said, when they were alone.

Jacksonite crossed his hands.

“Well, what?”

“Look, you come in here, tell me that you have hacked past every security measure I thought I had in place to protect my data, and accuse me of infringing on the intellectual property rights of a foreign state owned corporation that spies on every piece of information that touches a computer – which amounts to everything in total – and you ask me to sign this agreement? Don’t I even get a lawyer?”

“Are you familiar with name Gordon Dunton?”

“No,” Keith grumbled.

“You signed a petition for his release last year, so I’ll assume you are. He is still in jail, as you know, for a crime no less than the ones you could be indicted with. You may ask yourself: How much good has this petition done for him?”


“You know the terrorist watch lists, no fly lists, credit black lists, suspicious persons lists? Or as we know it, the No-Smoke-Without-Fire zone.”

“Are you threatening to get me listed?”


Keith glowered at him.

“I’ll tell you what,” Jackstonite said. “You’re a really smart guy. You can take that contract home with you and think it over. I’ll meet you at your house in the morning and Bill and I will watch you sign it. Make sure you read it carefully. Including the pay-out offer.”

Keith stood up from the chair. “So I can go now?”

“Sure. My advice is get yourself a really good lawyer. They may be able to work with you to negotiate a bigger payment and a better deal in your favour.”

Keith swallowed. “Where should I look?”

Jackstonite smiled at naivety of the question. “Obviously you don’t expect me to make a recommendation for you. If I did, you would be advised to take no heed. Look one up in the phone book.”

Keith picked up his bag and tried the door handle. It was still locked, but Bill the fake policeman opened it for him. On seeing a nod from Jackstonite, he let Keith past and out into the open air.

He ran up the hill into open air and sat down against a tree, taking his laptop out. As soon as it booted up he typed the word ‘ T1TSUP’ into the password field and watched all the data on the disk explode and erase. When it was done, he stood up he slammed the open screen panel against the tree trunk over and over again until it broke off, then dumped the two halves in the nearest trash can. The now bent cooling fan made a horrible noise as the disk drive continued to operate its wipe, rewrite and rinse cycle repeatedly for as long as the batteries held out.

He was in tears. He hid his face from anyone looking out the windows of the office building where his old company worked. His bag now somewhat lighter, he walked down the hill into town.

At the river, he took out his mobile phone, retrieved the battery and sim card, bent the sim card against the wall until it snapped, and threw the whole lot into the water. None of it was good for anything any more.

How the hell does one find a lawyer, he asked himself.

There were offices for solicitors and accountants on the main street. Most of them were advertising for accident claims and compensation. What a racket that was, he knew. If I get crashed into by a car on the road, why should my compensation be dependent on the means and arguable responsibility of the person who can be proven to have been at the wheel? Stuff happens with a non-zero probability. You cannot avoid it. So why not disconnect the transaction that unreasonably connects punishment with compensation and establish an insurance pool properly.

After a while, Keith found that he had walked straight through to the other end of town without picking a lawyer. Unless he was looking for a car dealership or hardware store, he had better turn back.

He looked back along the road. This was futile, he thought. He decided to go to Manchester, only 30 kilometres away. A proper sized town.

What he needed was the bus station. What he needed was to get some cash.

The bank denied his card at the cash point. He almost knew that would happen. He decided he absolutely had to get out of town. It was going to get dark in three and a half hours. And all the lawyer’s offices were going to be closed for work.

He barely had any friends in this town, people he could trust. He’d moved here for the job, and the only people he really knew of were the ones who worked at Cysoft. He daren’t go back there. He had no idea if he was the fall guy, the scape goat, or if they each in turn were being hauled up and chewed over for the potential product they had been investigating on the side regarding a protection system that could be applied to the crappy Microsoft operating system to stop it from siphoning all its information back to Beijing like a leech.

“It’s Keith, is it?” the Vietnamese woman said at the door.

It was his yoga teacher. He’d signed up when he arrived and had been going to her weekly sessions which always ended with some kind of sermon or meditation about the one-ness of the universe and so on and so forth.

“Uh, yes. I’m in a spot of bother. And I need to find a lawyer. Can I borrow some money to get to Manchester so I can look one up?”

“What kind of trouble?”

He explained as best he could that it was nothing to do with violent criminals who could take retribution on her, but merely a pressing and immediate problem in an employment dispute. She gave him [St]150, of which [St]20 went on the bus fare.

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