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Between The Moments #2

Science Officer's Log - Continued
There is an air of things happening in the command centre and I get the uncomfortable impression that there are aliens everywhere. The Kardassians, for instance, are clogging the lifts again.
   There is little to identify a citizen of the Centauri republic in mufti - other than the hair, of course; and the lack of it in the case of the females - but they are well represented, too. Their arrogance is too much of a dead giveaway.
   As I prepare for an away mission in a few hours' time, I can appreciate the chance to escape from this madhouse for a while.

"Have a good time in the archive yesterday?" Sally Lee asked from the adjacent work station.
    The writer delivered a mocking smile. "It's a bit more interesting when you're looking for stuff and reading bits and pieces. It makes the cross-indexing a lot less soul-destroying. How did you get on with your expert yesterday?"
    "Quite well, actually. She doesn't take all this feng shoowy crap totally seriously. She's prepared to admit there's a big element of psychology in it. Selling people the idea that they can be made to feel better about where they are and feel better in themselves from being there."
    "So you had a good lunch and a nice chat? And you're beginning to appreciate being made the paper's feng shoowy correspondent, despite the ethnicity aspect?"
    "Some of us are still waiting for the down-side to appear before we become too excited," Sally replied with a smile. "Oh, fung!"
    "Is that anything like, 'Oh, feck!'" laughed the writer. "Because it doesn't have anything like the required impact."
    "I've got a message here from Jill Day," said Sally. "She's got another of her jobs for me this afternoon."
    "Maybe it'll be a good one."
    "And maybe the flying pigs will arrive today." Frowning, Sally Lee flicked through the rest of her messages, consigning most of them to her Read Later Box.

You Have 4 New Messages

The writer glared at the pop-up box on his monitor screen. It had failed to put in its usual appearance when he had switched on his work station. Now, it was pretending that four new messages had come in simultaneously. Not having started anything, workwise, the writer surrendered and clicked on the 'OK' button.
   The first new message was an old one from Pierson Day - dating back to the previous day - and containing the details of his appointment for a post-lunch drink and a chat with the fire brigade expert on spontaneous human combustion. The writer printed that message after consigning the rest to his Read Later Box.
   "Marin, you need to free up some time at lunchtime," a female voice said beside him.
   The writer did not have to look at the source of the voice. He had already identified Jill Day, the chief executive assistant to the editor-in-chief, by her exotic brand of scent.
   "There's a fire brigade expert on spontaneous human combustion in town for a conference." Jill Day left no gap in her flow for a response. "You're taking him for an after-lunch drink and a chat. You'll get the details during the morning."
   "These details?" The writer retrieved Pierson Day's message.
    "Ah, you've got them. Good." Jill Day strode away to administer another underling.
   "Why is everyone called Day giving me the same job?" the writer wondered aloud. "I mean, the Feck gave me that job yesterday."
   "I think the system's cracking up," said assistant interiors correspondent Andras Ektors from his work station behind the writer's and Sally Lee's. "The messaging system is all over the place, at least. I reckon the Feck must have done something to it."
   "Have you noticed that as well?" The writer revolved his ergonomic swivelling chair. "It was doing all sorts of weird things to me yesterday afternoon when I had it switched off."
    "I think I'll send a message to the system supervisor," said Ektors.
    "What are you going to do if it doesn't get through?" said Sally Lee.
    "In that event, I'll have to decide if I want to phone him or enjoy the status quo and having a duff messaging system as an alibi for not knowing things," said Ektors.
    "The latter sounds preferable," the writer decided.

Science Officer's Log - Continued
Sabotage! I knew that no good would come of allowing so many alien species into our command headquarters. If we cannot communicate, we are lost.
    I have long suspected that General Feck has Klingon blood. Not that of the armour-headed, dark-skinned creatures of the latter years, more the genetic character one of the humanoid beings from the early Star Trek years. He is combative but totally lacking in traditions and honour.
    I suspect him of being the saboteur - and I am not alone in my suspicions.

The fire brigade officer was a grey-haired, tough-looking individual in his mid-fifties. His days of climbing ladders and rescuing people from a blazing inferno were over but he looked more than capable of filling in during an emergency.
    Piet Manning - the writer confirmed the Dutch spelling - was quite happy with one drink to go with his after-lunch coffee. He selected a brand that was new to him from the list of malt whiskys, proving that he was an adventurous sort. The writer followed his lead.
    After half an hour of discussion, the writer collected his cassette recorder and left his print-outs of the stories from ancient, archived newspapers with Piet Manning. The expert was always interested in adding new material to his collection. The writer felt that he had the makings of an interesting filler, although the expert had been quite cautious in his conclusions. The gap of over a century and the patchy reports on the cases of alleged spontaneous human combustion made providing a definitive opinion a difficult business.

Science Officer's Log - continued
While studying our records, I came across references to a weapon which can incinerate individuals while leaving their immediate surroundings untouched. Although initially sceptical, I am now wondering if such a device really existed once, in our distant past.
    After conferring with our foremost expert, I am now coming to the conclusion that this particular technology does exist and it would be of extreme value to our cause if it could be located and deployed by our forces.

You Have 1 New Message

The writer pushed the pop-up box almost off his screen and made a slight adjustment to his piece on SHC. Then he clicked on the OK button.

Your meeting with the fire brigade expert has been put back until tomorrow.
Pierson Day

Boggling with disbelief, the writer clicked on the Reply button and wrote:
   'Re your message just received:
   I saw the bloke an hour ago and I've finished the piece on SHC.'
   He was just about to click on the 'OK' button when he decided to add:
    'The bloke wasn't an imposter? Was he?
    Because I've got some expenses that need covering.'
    Wondering what was going on, the writer sent the message on its way then he got down to applying some final polish to his piece on spontaneous human combustion.

"The feck's going on here?" Like an evil genie, Pierson Day appeared beside the writer's work station. His neighbours suddenly became incredibly busy while wishing themselves invisible.
    "In what context?" The writer could play dumb with the best of them.
    "You feckan know what context," the Feck-Monster told him in a dangerous tone.
    The writer displayed his cassette recorder. "All I know is that you told me to meet the fire brigade bloke this lunchtime. So I met him, I've got a recording of the conversation and I've finished the piece you wanted. There it is." The writer gestured to his monitor screen.
    "The feck!" Pierson Day remarked as he scanned the article. "I've just had a fax in to say the conference has been put back a day."
   "A fax, not an internal message?" the writer asked.
   "A fax."
   "Maybe the bloke turned up anyway, even though the conference is tomorrow."
   "If you've done the interview, I guess it doesn't matter." Pierson Day shrugged his broad shoulders and scrolled up to the top of the article so that he could read it through thoroughly.
   "One thing I can't work out," the writer mentioned, "is why Jill Day was giving me this assignment this morning when you'd given it to me last night."
   "She what?" The Feck-Meister turned his head to frown at the writer.
   "Is it some multi-role management technique or what?" the writer added.
   Pierson Day shrugged. "Who the feck knows in this place. Okay, this will do nicely. It's captured Don's style. Not taking the subject too seriously but not taking the piss. Okay, get on with whatever else you have to get on with."
   "Right," said the writer, using bogus enthusiasm to tell the deputy editor that had been planning to do just that anyway.

At half-past three, the writer began to feel the need of a coffee break. A quick check of the surrounding work stations told him that he was lagging behind. Most of his neighbours had disappeared.
    The writer found sports correspondent Jeff Boon, assistant interiors correspondent Andras Ektors, travel editor Bil Viktor and Sally Lee having a group discussion near one of the coffee machines. He fed money into the machine, received a cup of hot, dark brown liquid, and joined them.
    "Whose ultimate downfall are we plotting?" the writer asked.
    "This lot are being helpful," Sally told him in a sceptical tone. "They're thinking of how to apply the feng shoowy angle in unlikely settings."
    "What about in operating theatres?" suggested Jeff Boon. "Feng shoowy as an alternative to surgery? It would probably be as effective as most alternatives to medicine."
    "I think that's supposed to be alternative medicine," Sally pointed out.
    "You could use it in the fire brigade," added Andras Ektors. "Get someone in to arrange the fire engines and the hose crews for maximum positive energy effect."
    "Fast food joints," the writer suggested with a smile at Sally. "You'd expect it in restaurants, ones that pretend to have a bit of class, but in a burger bar? That could be quite a trendy gimmick."
    "In car parks." said Jeff Boon. "They could have a whole gang of feng shoowy consultants on duty to make sure the customers put their wheels in places which create a flow of positive energy through the car park."
    "Sounds a brilliant way to bugger the customers about," laughed the writer.
    "How about at railway stations?" suggested Bil Viktor. "They could have feng shoowy consultants getting the customers to stand in areas of the platform that create maximum harmony in a crowd while they're waiting for a train that's late."
    "You could do the same thing at airports," said Andras Ektors.
    "Or the council could appoint feng shoowy consultants to do it on people waiting at bus stops," said Jeff Boon. "Preferably, ethnically challenged people in wheelchairs so no one dares to thump them."
    "Are you guys taking the piss out of me?" Sally Lee demanded.
    "No," said the writer, "we're helping you to take it out of Jill Day for giving you a duff job."
    "That's okay, then," Sally said. "But I suppose it's too much to hope that any of you lot will come up with a suggestion that's not an obvious piss-take," she added in a patient tone. "Something subtle?"
    "Taking the piss out of weird notions is a valid journalistic thing to do, Sal," the writer pointed out. "It's something you could suggest to fill up a bit of space in the paper when they give the feng shoowy job to someone else."
    "In the interests of keeping a fresh eye on the subject," said Jeff Boon.
    "Or abolish it completely as a daft idea," said Andras Ektors.
    "Maybe you have a point," Sally Lee admitted. "But probably not one that will be easy to sell."
    "How about punters on a beach?" Bil Viktor refused to let the idea go. "An official, council-appointed feng shoowy beach warden at Blackpool to make sure the punters cluster in harmony."
    "Or build sand castles in ditto," said Andras Ektors.
    "Sounds like there's a lot of column centimetres to be filled with this," Sally Lee admitted. "Until the next fad in need of promotion comes along."
    "The next thing they're going to make you will be something like the Chinese medicine correspondent," Jeff Boon decided.
    "Bollocks!" said Sally Lee.
    "Your problem is you don't recognize job security when it knocks on your door," said the writer.
    "Maybe I've caught your paranoia," laughed Sally.

His screen saver was operating when the writer returned to his work station. As soon as he tapped the space bar, his old friend the pop-up box appeared.

You Have 1 New Message

The writer clicked on the 'OK' button.

I have received reports of odd occurrences related to the messaging system. There may be some disruptions to the service while integrity checks are being performed.
Staff are reminded that people can still be contacted by telephone.
Colm Vigglenin, Network Supervisor

"What are we betting on, chaps?" Andras Ektors assumed that everyone else was looking at their copies of the message on his monitor. "Virus or H.I.?"
   "Most strange happenings are caused by badly written software rather than viruses," Sally Lee remarked.
   "Who told you that?" the writer asked.
   "Mike Chan," said Sally.
   "Chazzer's a bloke who'd know that," the writer acknowledged. "But I reckon H.I. is always a pretty sound bet."
   "Shouldn't the science correspondent pro-tem be preferring viruses over human intervention?" said Andras Ektors.
   "The sole duty of the science officer is to be accurate." said the writer.
   "Well, if you're be pedantic about it!" scoffed Ektors.
   "I bet you were one of the mugs who fell for the Bogus Millennium Change," the writer scoffed in his turn. "They were always going round describing accuracy as pedantry."
   "The feck! Don't get him started on that!" Sally Lee pulled a face at the writer, who had served a brief turn as the Sentinel & Advertiser's millennium correspondent before being sacked for a vigorous assault on the amount of money being wasted on a celebration one year ahead of the event.
   "Using the phone," said Ektors. "There's a novelty."
   "That's about the only thing to be said in favour of e-messages," said Sally. "You don't have phones distracting you quite so much."
   "Noise pollution correspondent," said the writer. "There's a good non-ethnic job for you."
   "I've got enough people finding jobs for me without you chipping in," Sally sighed.

Science Officer's Log - Continued
The enemy has infiltrated our command centre. The proof is clear to anyone who has tried to use the messaging system recently. A little nudge here, a little tweak there and several people are being assigned to the same command task - leaving an unknown amount of work undone because nobody realizes that no one has been assigned to do it.
    It is certainly a diabolical way of using the system against itself. And even though our communications staff are aware of what is happening, no one is entirely sure that they will be able to restore our previous harmony of tasks and people.

Your Read Later Box Is Now Full
Condense Contents?

The writer sneered at the message, knowing it to be bogus. He dismissed the box in short order.

Your Local Mail Trash Bin Is Now Full
Condense Contents?

The writer dismissed the box again. He knew that the system was just trying to harass him and he wasn't going to fall victim to such a transparent tactic.

Science Officer's Log - Continued
Part of our anxiety arises from the simple fact that no one has ever seen Communications Officer Colm Vigglenin. In fact, we would be hard pushed to find evidence that he exists.
    His name does appear in the telephonic communications directory, but that proves nothing. Our only contact with him is in the form of electronic messages which could have come from anyone. Furthermore,

You Now Have 2048 Unread Messages

"Hey, Sal, what did you say your world record for unread messages is?"
    The writer invited Sally Lee to look at his monitor. She did so, then gaped at him, lost for words. The writer zapped the pop-up box. It refused to go away and stay away.

You Now Have -11 Unread Messages

"What do you reckon, virus or H.I. for this?" the writer asked.
    "I wouldn't be surprised if it's a bit of both," Sally decided. "Some human intervening, knowing it will all be blamed on either a virus or dodgy software."
    "Don't be too sure of that," Andras Ektors remarked. "I bet they can find some way of blaming it on us lot for misusing the system. Guess how many unread messages I've got."
    "Is it more than minus eleven?" laughed Sally.
    "Or is that just the system predicting I'll choose not to make a decision on the next eleven messages I get?" said the writer.
    "If it's been making a study of your messaging habits," laughed Ektors, "that's a pretty good bet."
    "The feck are you lot up to instead of working?" Pierson Day had arrived to check up on a small gang of employees who were apparently indulging in idle chit-chat.
    "We're trying to work out how Marin can have a negative number of unread messages," said Ektors.
    Pierson Day glared at the monitor screen. "I think they'd better switch this feckan thing off or no one's going to get any work done around here. Which is a hint to you lot, by the way." He turned and headed for his office.
    "Back to the grind," laughed Sally Lee as she turned back to her work station.

Science Officer's Log - Continued
One advantage of having our messaging system disabled is that all instructions will have to come from an identifiable source - human or alien.
   In the darkness before the dawn lights up in a blaze of gunfire and a war in full, awful blossom, we shall be reminded of the faces of those around us. And as we communicate by direct personal confontation via a videolink, we shall still not know who is a friend and who a foe.
    Except in the case of General Day.
    We know for certain that he is no one's friend.

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