C.B. Lewis © 2019
All Rights Reserved
They said the veins of Danny Ferguson ran with coffee.
He told them to sod off as he downed his second espresso.
Cassandra snickered as she poured some milk into her own cup of tea. “Well, when you over-caffeinate and give yourself a heart attack and die, don’t come crying to me.”
“Ha!” Danny struck a dramatic pose, gazing into the distance. “I’m immortal!”
“You’re a knob,” Shiv said with a snort.
Danny ran his finger around the inside of his cup, catching the dregs, and licked them off. “Jealousy doesn’t suit you, Shiv.” He rinsed out the cup and set it down to dry. “Catch you at lunch.”
“One day,” Cassandra called after him as he headed towards the canteen door, “you’ll take your full tea break like a normal human being.”
Danny spun around. “And one day, you’ll beat my stats and get my bonus!” he called back and then widened his eyes in mock shock. “And one day, pigs’ll fly!”
“Knob!” Shiv repeated.
Danny grinned as he headed out into the hall.
The caffeine had kicked in already, giving him a nice buzz. He didn’t need it, but sometimes, a jump-start didn’t hurt when he was stuck on monitoring all day. It was the dullest part of the job, but he could hardly be on coding every day. It was only fair to give everyone else a chance to catch up.
He’d been working with IDD—International Digital Development—for nearly a decade, straight out of his PhD. They needed people with a good eye for coding and anomalies and had gotten his attention with a stupidly high salary that had exceeded all expectations.
Still, they couldn’t say he wasn’t amazing at his job.
He stopped at the door and waited for the scan to sweep his face, then held his fingertips over the sensor, tapping the pattern for the week. The door slid open, and he wandered into the sprawling office he shared with three other coders.
“What’d I miss?”
Ravi glanced up through the projection in front of him, raising his eyebrows. “In the ten minutes you were gone?”
“Rav farted,” Ekaterina said, pausing her own screen. “So much excitement.”
Ravi rolled his eyes at her. “Nothing. You missed nothing.”
Danny wasn’t surprised.
Monitoring could be bloody tedious. His quad had the week’s rotation on monitoring: a full day’s shift of sitting and auditing code for external clients, assessing for glitches and anomalies overlooked by the computers. Sometimes, there could be minor problems. Once in a while, it was a bug that could—if left alone—start a chain reaction and break everything. Mostly, it meant sitting on your arse all day, admiring the amazingly complex codes some of their clients had come up with.
He settled in his seat, reclining the chair back as far as he could.
The chair had been one of his greatest triumphs.
When he started working at IDD, he had one of the usual workstations with a standard ergonomic monstrosity of a seat—the ‘in’ thing for any office. Maybe they were scientifically good for you, but Danny hated it. He’d end up on his feet all day, pacing as he scanned the code, and, apparently, distracting people.
He had to sit, his manager had insisted because everyone else needed to concentrate too. Danny had agreed, and he’d ordered a better chair, paid for by himself. The fact that he chose the biggest, comfiest reclining armchair in the building was a minor technicality.
His boss had hit the roof about it, but Danny cheerfully argued the semantics. It ensured he worked his best; his numbers had shot up since he’d gotten it; no one was being distracted; and he’d paid for it out of his own pocket, so no harm done. He ended up winning the right to keep the chair.
Thus began a long and glorious rivalry with his line manager.
He pulled the projection of his latest project up in front of him, wrapped it around the front of the chair, and set it scrolling. This particular vast batch came from some anonymous external client. He’d worked with their stuff before. Once you were familiar with a particular style of code, you didn’t easily forget it.
Sometimes, they were told who the clients were.
Most of the time, they were left in the dark.
They could make guesses, but it was anyone’s money because unless some big news story broke as a result of something they’d uncovered, the likelihood of finding out the client’s identity fell somewhere between slim and nil.
Danny put on some Rachmaninoff in his headphones and settled back to focus on the code whirling around him. Beautiful, complex, and intricate with layer upon layer folded into it, whoever had written it had to be doing some incredibly hi-tech stuff.
Some time later, someone yanked his foot.
Through the screen, he could see Ravi.
Danny paused the scrolling screen and lifted his headphones. “Aye?”
Danny checked how much he had left on the file in front of him. “I’ll finish this off first. Half an hour, give or take.”
Ravi glanced at the clock. “Sorry, mate. I’m too hungry. I’ll catch you after.”
Danny waved him off, setting the file in motion again.
Fifteen minutes later, he realised his lunch might have to be delayed. Thirty minutes later, he was sure of it. An hour later, he was swearing the air blue as he picked apart the code and tried to work out where the anomaly had started.
Whoever had messed with it had gone in deep and hidden it well, layered in so neatly he’d almost missed it.
Four and a half hours later, his stomach growling, he sat in front of his boss as Carrigan scrutinised the file and the cascades of red-marked issues Danny had managed to find. He wasn’t certain he’d caught everything, but whatever was going on with the data, someone had manipulated the client’s system.
“This is all one issue?”
“Looks like it.” Danny confirmed. “Whoever did it wanted to hide in plain sight—made dozens of little adjustments, easy to overlook because they didn’t stand out individually. But put them all together, and that’s what we’ve got.”
Carrigan shook her head in disbelief. “They’re not going to be happy about this.” She glanced up at Danny. “You’ve worked with this company’s files before. I’m guessing you figured out that much.”
“I spotted it,” Danny agreed. “Three months back, aye?”
“Is it possible you overlooked anything like this in those files? Something you missed?”
Danny gave Carrigan a look. “Really? You have to ask?”
Carrigan snorted. “So, that’s a no?”
“If there was anything to be found, I would have found it.” Danny’s stomach growled. He pressed his hand to it. “Mind if I bugger off to the canteen while you’re catching up? I’m starving.”
Carrigan waved towards the door. “I’ll contact the client and let them know. Be back here in half an hour.”
Danny gratefully headed out of the office. First stop was the loo, then the canteen, which was deserted since the evening staff were on their way in and the morning staff were leaving. Most people didn’t hang about for dinner.
He stacked a tray and claimed one of the seats by the window. The three chocolate mousses—a private reward for a shitload of work—were balanced out by the chicken salad and fruit juice. He’d started with the mousses, and if anyone judged him for it…well, sod them.
Outside, the sunset cast stretching shadows over the London skyline, pale beams of light breaking through the heavy grey clouds that said it’d be pissing down soon.
He pensively licked chocolate off the spoon. At least he’d be heading home soon. Carrigan could talk to the client and give Danny an update before he left, but it wasn’t as if there was any more he could do tonight.
He’d get back to the flat, nip down the gym for a bit, and then do anything but stare at a screen all night.
When he got back to Carrigan’s office, the woman had a call open. Audio only, but Danny wasn’t surprised. The poor old bat already had a dozen screens projected over her desk, and from the sound of it, she’d sent them on to their client to spread the shit around.
“Right.” Carrigan frowned, her grey-salted brows pulling together. “That’s…unorthodox.”
“Given the circumstances, I consider it necessary.” A man with a soft-spoken American-accented voice said. “Discuss the matter with your colleague, and if he’s amenable, I’ll make the arrangements.”
Carrigan terminated the call and glanced across the desk at Danny. “Well, you’re either going to love me or hate me for this.”
“The client wants you to go up there and work in-house for a few days. Weeks if necessary.”
Danny gaped at her. “Eh?”
“My thoughts exactly.” Carrigan pushed her fingers through her sandy hair. “If there’s a security issue, they want to clear it up in-house. The CO believes that if you can access all their coding data, you may be able to pinpoint a source.”
“But we don’t go in-house,” Danny said, and then a horrible sneaking suspicion crept up on him. “Have you got me working on government stuff?”
Carrigan looked shifty. “Not exactly, but it’s…complicated.”
Danny scratched his cheek. “And this would be monitoring for as long as I’m there?”
“As far as I know,” Carrigan said with a sigh. “Look, I know it’s a terrible assignment, but you’re the one who spotted the anomaly, and you’re the one they want there.”
Danny leaned back in the chair. “They really want me, eh?” He folded his arms over his chest. “So what do I get?”
Carrigan gave him a look. “If this is about the bloody chair again, do you want me to promise I won’t touch it?”
Danny inclined his head. “It’s a start. What about travel? Will I have a commute? Is it far? Do I get compensated for any extra travel? Do I get put up somewhere if it’s not nearby?”
“Ah.” Carrigan frowned. “I can’t tell you exactly where but…”
Danny groaned. “So it’s in the backside of nowhere then?”
“Just a minute.” Carrigan’s fingers flew across one of the screens, and she sent off a message. “Can’t hurt to ask.”
“Do I even get to know who I’d be working for?”
“Not until you get there.”
“Sounds like I’m joining spies.” He made his accent stronger as he said, “The name’s Fergushon, Danny Fergushon. Shaken not shtirred.”
“This isn’t a laughing matter, Danny.” The screen blinked with an incoming message. Carrigan flicked it open, and Danny read it—backwards—through the transparent projection.
“Manchester?” He swung forward to study it more closely. “Not a chance in hell! If I wanted to stay up north, I would have stayed in Paisley!”
“Look, tell him he can take anyone else. I’m not going all the way back up there.”
“No! He can’t expect me to—”
“Danny!” Carrigan rotated the projection and scaled up the bottom half of the message and the lump sum he would receive if he could temporarily relocate and identify the problem in-house.
Danny stared at it. There were a lot of zeros. “Fuck me…”
“Does it change things?”
“Aye…” Danny counted the zeroes again and then met Carrigan’s eyes through the projection. “What the hell have you got me into?”