Between The Moments #1
It was a new day at the start of a new week and a new month. The writer had spent half an hour at the end of the previous Friday 'doing his messages' in an attempt to start the following week without seeing his sworn enemy - the pop-up box. He refused to be surprised when, after his work station had finished booting up, the pop-up box appeared to tell him:
The writer made a one-sided deal with the pop-up box. If more than 50% of the messages were relevant to his work and worth receiving, he would keep up to date with his new messages, as far as was humanly possible, for the rest of the week. But if the messages were mainly junk ...
Seven of the messages finished up in his 'Read Later' box. They were reports and directives copied to him and a whole lot of others. The eighth was a birthday greeting to someone called Amy, which seemed to have been copied to him by mistake.
"Marin, you're filling in for the science correspondent this week and next."
The writer frowned at the source of the female voice. Jill Day, the petite chief executive assistant, sister-in-law and, it was rumoured, intermittent mistress of the editor-in-chief gave him a half smile. She was looking very blonde, buffed and perky at the start of a Monday morning.
"You blokes know all about science, don't you?" Jill Day added, intensifying the smile a notch.
The writer shrugged. "What he doesn't know, any good journalist can fake."
"Good!" The chief executive assistant to the editor-in-chief nodded her approval of the right attitude. "There's not that much to be done but I should check the schedule right away. And if you get any trouble from you-know-who, just refer him to me."
"Fine." The writer put on a smile to say that he would enjoy referring objections from deputy editor Pierson Day, who was no close relation to Jill, to a lady who enjoyed yanking Mr. Day's chain.
Jill Day, five-foot two on her heels, power-dressed from neck to knees, strode away leaving behind a shredding cloud of her exotic scent.
"What did she want?" Sally Lee switched on the adjacent work station as soon as she reached power-switch-pushing range as an admission that she was a couple of minutes late.
"A promotion for me," the writer told her. "But only temporary."
"Promotion to what?" Sally rearranged her somewhat Oriental features into a sceptical expression.
"Remember how Jill promoted you to feng shoowy correspondent last week?"
"Yes, I've been reading up on it in crappy magazines over the weekend."
"Well, she's made me science correspondent for the next two weeks."
"What, while Don Hyphen-Huja's on holiday?"
"And I bet you know about as much about science as I do about feng bloody shoowy? Oh, shit!" Sally had just discovered that she had 13 new messages even though she had cleared the outstanding ones last thing on Friday.
"Mine were all crap. I wouldn't bother with them," the writer advised.
"Except that there's bound to be one that's important if you do that."
Sally Lee began to investigate her electronic correspondence as quickly as possible. As his first positive act of the day, the writer discovered that his password could access the assignments list of Donald Bentley-Greer, the holidaying science correspondent.
Science Officer's Log - Initial Entry
The year is ... unimportant and the place is Babble-On Endlessly.
I have been assigned to this post at such short notice that it is making my head spin. I have not troubled to learn the fate of the previous science officer - assassination or transfer - as I suspect that my posting will be of short duration. It is clear that we are on the brink of all-out war.
The opening of hostilities can be only days away now, a few weeks away at the most. The battle lines have been drawn. We have no option now but to race headlong on a course which may lead to mutual destruction. But, given the nature of the enemy, even that extreme is acceptable.
"The feck's this waste of space hiding?"
The writer looked up to see deputy editor Pierson Day standing at Trevor Mercur's inactive work station. "He's on leave today and tomorrow," he volunteered.
"Feckan skiver. Okay, I need someone for a stint in the archive this afternoon and you're it. Keep your eyes open for stuff we can use. Okay?"
The writer shrugged. "Okay." He had no choice in the matter. "You know I've been allocated as the science officer while Don's on holiday?"
"No doubt there's an e-message to that effect when I get round to doing them." Pierson Day headed for his office and his personal work station, not noticing that the Sentinel & Advertiser had a science officer rather than a science correspondent.
Science Officer's Log - continued
Our side is led by General Feck, previously the commander of the star cruiser Feck-Fury and a man who can command neither the respect nor the loyalty of his troops.
He can issue orders in the fairly certain knowledge that they will be obeyed but he can never know when his 'troops' will melt away, seeking a new environment, a place where they might obtain a measure more of respect and job satisfaction, a jot more appreciation.
We can only hope that the enemy is even more divided than our own side, even though that seems scarely possible ...
The writer moved the pop-up box out of the way and finished reading the science correspondent's assignments list before he clicked on the OK button.
|Are you free for a literary lunch at the sandwich bar?|
With a smile, the writer clicked on the Reply button and wrote:
'Sounds like someone was busy over the weekend.
Make sure your laptop's battery is charged.'
"Guess what I'm doing at lunchtime?" Sally Lee remarked as the writer was clicking the Send button.
"Interviewing a feng shoowy consultant in a posh restaurant?" the writer suggested.
"Have you been reading my assignments list?" Sally demanded.
"You mean, you are?" laughed the writer. "I told you there'd be perks."
"Yes, but what's the down-side going to be?" Sally wondered, displaying the natural pessimism that comes with experience.
Science Officer's Log - continued
I am one of the experimentals - a breed of genetically enhanced servitors who can view a mass of apparently unconnected data and extract patterns, thanks to our restructured DNA-phased algorithms. I can look at records and extract information which one of the unmodified operatives will never see. This is why General Feck sends me on the important missions to the archive.
Of course, he has to send others on the same assignment from time to time. We are under no illusion that our command centre is free from spies. Mixing in the GE staff with the 'normals' helps to prevent people from identifying us positively, for that
The writer took a £2 coin from his pocket and flipped it into the air. He trapped it between his palms and decided that 'heads' was the call which would compel him to read the new message. He looked at the coin, then he put it away and clicked on the OK button.
|We have a requirement for oddities found in the archive. Examples include cases of spontaneous human combustion and mysterious disappearances. Message me some stuff this afternoon before 4:30.|
The writer wasted most of a sheet of paper by printing the message. Archive duty was supposed to involve careful cross-indexing of material by a number of categories. The pace of the work was slowed dramatically when the co-opted worker started reading the ancient newspaper items.
The writer felt the need of printed proof that he was there to do a job other than the routine one when he reported to Jackie Sydenham's realm. He did not want her to assume from his work rate that he was on a go-slow as some sort of protest.
At twenty-past four, the writer called a halt to his listing and paused to review his collection. He had been cross-indexing for most of the time but doing word-searches in the index when a new idea had occurred to him. There was a lot of material available and it could be presented to the Sentinel & Advertiser's eager readers in two ways. They could be saturated with it in big blocks or they could be teased with a daily item for as long the appropriate editor thought fit.
"There's plenty of it," Jackie remarked, examining the list over the writer's shoulder.
"There's so much good stuff in the old papers, I should think there'd be a lot of people willing to buy a facsimile copy of the paper on the corresponding day a century ago," the writer remarked. "I mean, instead of today's issue."
"The weather forecast might be a bit off. Not to mention the telly programmes," Jackie added with a laugh.
"That's not going to bother the people who use the booklet in the Saturday edition for their week's radio and telly."
"True. I'm a bit surprised the Feck's interested in all this lot. He's never struck me as being particularly a Believe It Or Not sort of bloke."
"Who knows what, if anything, goes on inside that bonce of his. Okay, I suppose I'd better message this off to him right away. He'll probably think I'm taking the piss if I leave it to ten seconds before his deadline."
"And that will make how much difference to the way he treats you?" laughed Jackie as she returned to her own work station.
The writer summoned the messaging utility and began to block and copy. His completed offering read:
Information from the archives from M. Petronas.
The following have been located and documented by publication and date of issue:
- Cases of spontaneous human combustion - 3
- Cases of meteorites killing farm animals - 2
- Cases of buildings being set on fire by lightning - 13
- Cases of drowning in less than 2 inches of water - 4
- Cases of accidental shooting when the person firing the weapon did not have the victim in sight - 21
- Cases of death by unnatural but unexplained causes - 37
- Cases of mysterious disappearances - 17
- Cases of freak weather including tornadoes and giant hail - 102
- Cases of abnormal births - 71
- Cases of human beings changing into an alien creature before at least 2 sober witnesses - 0.
Ten minutes later, Jackie answered the phone then whistled surprisingly loudly for a girl. "It's for you-hoo!" she trilled
The writer lifted a nearby receiver and dabbed at the glowing button. "Yo?" he said, not giving anything away.
"Have you got your messages switched off?" Pierson Day demanded. "Or are you just ignoring them?"
"Switched off so I can concentrate on getting the job done," the writer said, unabashed. "Was there something?"
"Yes, message me the details for finding the items in categories one, two and seven on your list."
"Will do," the writer said efficiently.
"Looks like you're going to have to lock the doors and unplug all the phones if you want to be able to work in peace," Jackie observed.
Science Officer's Log - Continued
Our enemies were less careful in the past. There is information buried in the archive which can damage them. We have given them some tasters to show what it can do in the pre-warfare skirmishing period. They will have to retaliate soon. They are not the sort of creatures who will lie back and take punishment from us without lashing out.
Although I do question the relevance to the war of some of the information which I have been extracting from the archive recently, such as
|Your Read Later Box Is Now Full|
The writer stared at his monitor screen, unable to understand why the pop-up box was invading his personal space or why it had suddenly decided that his Read Later Box was full when he had not consigned anything to his personal oubliette since the start of the day.
Eventually, he clicked on the OK button as an easy way out.
|Your Local Mail Trash Bin Is Now Full|
The writer clicked on another 'OK' button with a feeling that the universe was going seriously wrong around him, he had no power to interfere in the process of deterioration and he didn't really care if everything just stopped dead.
Science Officer's Log - Continued
The technology is very primitive today. Someone seems to have metamorphosed our equipment into savigs of Second to Third Millennium Change period technology. There's not a piece of Dirantech to be seen and everything takes an age to do even the most basic of tasks. 'Power up, it's on' seems to be a concept which had yet to be discovered 'back then'.
Worse, the technology seems to have taken on a life of its own today. I blame the new biological components, which have been rushed through, untested, in the current eve-of-battle circumstances. In fact
|You Now Have 10 Unread Messages|
The writer glared at the pop-up box, outraged. It was supposed to be switched off. He zapped it as viciously as humanly possible with that inoffensive weapon, his mouse.
|You Now Have 11 Unread Messages|
The writer zapped the box again and quickly started the log-off routine before it could reappear.
"That's me for the moment down here," he told Jackie. "I'm off back to the newsroom to finish a couple of things off if anyone phones."
"Right, see you next time," Jackie said with a smile. "And thanks for your helpful suggestions at lunchtime."
"Glad to be of service." The writer switched the work station off and headed for the stairs.
"Job for you tomorrow." Pierson Day noticed a satisfactory jump of surprise as he crept up on the writer unawares.
"Good one, is it?" The writer repaid the intrusion into his personal space with bogus keenness.
"Good as these feckan things ever get." Day's expression told the writer that he was fooling no one. "A series of fillers based on the stuff you've been finding in the archive. Starting with the spontaneous human combustion cases. There's going to be a fire brigade expert on SHC arriving in town tomorrow for a conference. So collect all the stuff together and take him for an after-lunch drink, in your capacity as science correspondent pro-tem ..."
The writer could not fail to miss the note of sarcasm.
"... and get his opinion on what there is."
"I don't get to buy him lunch on expenses?"
"And a free lunch for yourself?" laughed Day. "No chance. And if you come back pissed, you're in trouble."
"So I just sit there with a cassette recorder going while he tells me how forensic methods have changed since the 19th Century and it's harder to get away with describing things as SHC these days?"
"That's about the size of it," nodded Day. "Mention the expert's name in the article and throw in a few long words, and it should be what we're looking for."
"Right, I'll get on it first thing tomorrow," the writer said, letting the deputy editor know that some people had quite a lot more to do if they were going to bring today to a satisfactory conclusion.
Science Officer's Log - Continued
This war is being fought by old enemies, which are divided along traditional lines. The war flares up at a series of widely separated points in time. Centuries may pass, encompassing long periods of calm. And then it all flares up again, often for no discernable reason. And the traditional battle lines form with no prompting. No one needs to be told which side to join - it seems almost genetically programmed.
It's all here in the archives for those who know how to unravel the tangled threads and weave them back into their original order.
We are lucky to have this resource under our control for this war. We may not be so lucky when the next one, inevitably, gathers around our descendants. We are unlucky in that our commanders do not recognize the true value of our archive and frequently ignore its warnings.
The battles to be fought will be against our own commanders as often as against our formal enemies. Our only hope for ultimate victory lies in winning both sorts of skirmish quickly and ruthlessly.