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					                        INCORPORATION
                        By Conan W. Purves




 This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs License. To view a copy of this license,
visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/ or send
 a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford,
                     California 94305, USA.
 For info and commentary, email me at conanp@gmail.com or go to
the Incorporation website at http://www.incorporationthebook.com
2                                   Conan W. Purves




PART 1 CHAPTER 1


Nick kept thinking someone around him had BO. Eventually, he realized with a
sudden fear, that it might be him. He was wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt and he
was pretty sure he had only worn it once before. It was hardly wrinkled, but his new
set of polyblends really didn’t wrinkle. He went into the bathroom and when he saw
no one else was in there, did a thorough self-odor analysis. He couldn’t smell blatant
body odor, but it was so hard to tell yourself. He walked out of the bathroom,
determined not to think about it anymore. Then he caught a slight whiff or thought he
did. It was like having a ghost with body odor doing flybys around you.
      He went into the stairway and headed up to the 27th floor. Kimberly Goldstein,
an Associate Planner in Merchandising couldn’t print. What the hell was a Planner,
Nick thought? What useless crap was she printing? He could already guess what her
problem was. And sure enough when he rounded the bulkhead and approached her
cubicle, the first thing he saw was her monitor with the news ticker scrolling by, the
Instant Messenger window open, some ridiculous background image and probably
much more hidden away, all running, all clogging up memory and the executable
pathways.
      Kimberly was wearing a too-tight skirtsuit and was talking on the phone. Her
red nails were splayed across the black lacquer of the handset. When she saw him, her
face went through a whole cycle of expressions: gentle surprise to slight annoyance to
satisfaction to slight annoyance and then fake gentle surprise.
      “It’s the IT guy, I gotta go.”
      Nick thought he had seen just the slightest hint of physical repulsion on her face
in the middle stage, but he couldn’t be sure. She put the phone down and pushed her
chair away from the desk.
      “It won’t print,” she said.
                                  INCORPORATION                                      3


       “So I see,” replied Nick, tapping his pencil on the clipboard. Tapping it onto the
line on his sheet of work orders, tapping it on her name, wishing he could tap it right
into her barely functioning brain.
       “I should be able to fix it pretty easily,” he approached her computer, leaning
over slightly. “But even before I look into it, I can see that you have a lot of things
going on here.”
       He turned around and looked at her. “Ms. Goldstein, I’m sure you’ve already
heard this lecture from one of my co-workers, but I’m going to have to repeat it.”
       She feigned naive anticipation, like a seventh grader held after class. He waited.
She popped her gum.
       “All these applications that you are downloading from the internet, most likely
one of them is going to be the culprit. We have a set list of acceptable applications for a
reason. They work together. The people that make all these screen tickers and games
don’t really care what’s on your computer...”
       He heard himself go on. He had delivered this speech so many times, that he
had begun to lose the motivation behind it. At first, really because of that look of
revulsion on her face, he had felt like giving her a hard time. But now he realized that
she expected this lecture and to her it was little more than the price she had to pay in
order to get her printer working again.
       “...so let’s try and keep this stuff to a minimum.” He dug around in some files,
found the expected .dll conflict and realized with some satisfaction that he would have
to re-install her browser, thus destroying all her plug-ins. He did this, successfully
printed out a test page, said his “thanks for your time” bit and crossed her off his list.
       He stopped in at the copy/mail center and checked his voicemail. Nothing. It
was only 11:40 so he could probably fit in another call before lunch. Next on his list was
Gladys, which was not bad at all. She wasn’t particularly good with her computer, but
she respected it and kept her files organized. She was friendly, which was probably one
of the qualities that got her a position as Executive Secretary. There was also the bonus
that he might get to see her boss who was smoking hot.
4                                 Conan W. Purves


       He had never loved this job, but he had felt some minor inspiration when he had
begun. Helping people by fixing their computers and maybe even teaching them
something in the process seemed pretty exciting to him. He anticipated a struggle, but
he thought it would be with the systems. Instead it was the drudging mediocrity of all
the people that was slowly engulfing his enthusiasm. They were like human cows of
the 21st century, lined up at the feed and chewing their digital cud from 9 to 5 or 7 to 9
or whatever. If the feed stopped, they mooed and mooed until the IT department came
and turned it on again.
       He got into the elevator and switched at the 27th floor to the higher bank. He got
out on 35 and the atmosphere changed. A low-cut shag hush seemed to fall over this
floor. The colors were richer and warmer, the building materials more expensive, more
durable, cleaner. He smiled at the elderly receptionist, seated at her consul of phones as
she had been since 1982. The allure of status, which always seemed to rub off on
anybody in the 35th floor, lightened his mood. He felt a bit like part of a successful and
organized operation.
       He walked past secretary after secretary, each encased in their own polished
walnut pod. The fourth one on the left was Gladys’ cubicle. She was a young, slightly
too thin Hispanic woman with short feathered hair and glasses. She was not
unattractive, but married and so happy about it that it seemed she had come out of the
womb with a ring on her finger. Nick’s main concern was that she was an easy client.
Her requests were reasonable and when they weren’t she was always nice about it.
       He approached her desk and put his clipboard loudly down.
       “Some kind of application error?” he asked.
       “Oh, hi. Great. Yes, look at this,” she reached for the mouse.
       He walked to the side of the desk near Gladys’ boss’s door in order to get to the
other side to look at her monitor. As he got to the end of the desk, the door opened and
Annette Apostegui came striding out. They both stopped dead, facing each other. Nick
felt savagely awkward. One part of him wanted to grab her by the waist and hair and
bury his mouth into her neck, the other part felt like dropping onto his knees and
                                  INCORPORATION                                     5


crawling away backwards, bonking his head on the floor in supplication. Then they did
the little dance of trying to get out of each other’s way. After two such maneuvers, she
stopped and said, “I’m trying to get behind the desk. Why don’t you move to the left
one step and I’ll do that.”
       He did, with relief at having lost all responsibility for the situation.
       She passed him and he scuttered another step to the left. Her fragrance came to
him and it smelled wonderful. She was wearing a navy blue pantsuit that looked like a
high fashion interpretation of Chairman Mao’s uniform. There were plenty of gleaming
rings and bracelets and earrings and, as usual, some serious high heels. Annette was
strikingly beautiful, some mix of latin finery with big eyes and a little hook to her nose.
She had been promoted to the head of the Marketing Department in the last year and
was arguably (and this was an argument that was currently going on in the IT
department and probably the rest of the company) being groomed for an even higher
position and also arguably (and this was definitely an argument in the IT department)
the hottest woman in the company.
       She leaned over Gladys and the computer and they discussed airplane
reservations. Nick waited patiently, trying to pretend to be thinking about important
things. Her scent had brought to his mind his own and he was very concerned that he
smelled. He had been so close to her. Those thoughts kept making him think he was
catching whiffs of the ghost’s BO again.
       Finally, they were finished.
       Annette stood up and said, “okay, you can use your computer magic to fix
whatever’s broken.” Then she paused and looked at Nick with a friendly smile, “but let
me get through first, okay?”
       Nick, because it was currently impossible for him to speak, laughed a little too
hysterically and did a weird little half-bow thing that even he didn’t understand what it
meant. But she was no longer looking at him and then she was in her office and the
door was closed.
6                                  Conan W. Purves


       “Let me just change these reservations and then the seat is all yours,” Gladys was
smiling broadly at him. “She travels so much,” she sighed.
       After reinstalling some corrupted components in Gladys’ Office suite, he headed
down the two elevator banks to the basement and the home of his department. The top
half of the door to the foyer was open, but there was nobody there. He reached over
and opened the bottom half. For some reason, they had a little antechamber that led
into their main office and was blocked from the hallway by this half door thing. There
was a desk and some cabinets where they kept some of their paperwork. Nobody sat at
the desk and they usually kept the top and bottom of the door closed. Nick guessed
that it had been a package or print center for some other company in the past, some
room that had a lot of people come to them. It was nice for the IT department because it
acted as an airlock between any clients that discovered where they were located and the
actual chaos of their workspace.
       He pushed his hip against the black reader on the wall. It read his card and
beeped and the little light on it turned green and the door clicked. He pushed it open
and walked into that chaos. There remained visible a substrate of cubicular
organization, but it was so overwhelmed by metal and plastic in configurations and
sizes, that it’s ordering effect was completely neutralized. He picked his way past a
stack of open computers, their green guts gathering dust, through a tunnel of unopened
cartons of new monitors and stepped over a box filled with cables and old PCMCIA
cards to his cubicle.
       He slumped in his chair. Now his voicemail light was blinking and it looked like
he had 67 new emails. He threw his clipboard onto his desk and leaned forward,
slightly dazed, for a bit. As if on cue, he heard Robert say, “Nick is back, let’s go get
some fucking food!”
       “Amen to that,” Kevin responded from the other side of the room, his hand
covering the mouthpiece of the phone.
       There was the usual assembly procedure until they all were present with their
coats and bags and beepers and phones. Out on 49th street they walked abreast, the five
                                 INCORPORATION                                    7


of them, like gunfighters. Robert, with his floor length duster coat and black cowboy
hat was definitely promoting that metaphor. Mike, their boss, walked in the middle.
He was a big guy, but in a soft way, with a trimmed beard and neat ponytail. His belt
loops stuck out because his waistband was too tight. Arnold and Robert flanked Mike,
both considering themselves his lieutenants. Nick and Kevin, as befitted the weakest of
the personalities, were on the outside. Nick was there because he felt self-conscious
about taking up the whole sidewalk and was always the guy moving out of other New
Yorkers’ way; Kevin because he spent most of his career at Robert’s shoulder, hoping to
catch bon mots from his life mentor.
      They hit the Wendy’s counter with the efficiency of the A-team. They staked
claim on the window seats in the upstairs dining area. Arnold sat across from Nick,
assuming his usual eating position, one arm covering his fries and his head leaning over
so that his rooster haircut fell in front of his food. He was born and raised in Confucius
plaza in Chinatown and was always involved in at least two extra-curricular
entrepreneurial activities. Every now and then he would look up and throw some
comment into the conversation. Other than that, he didn’t talk much. Nick assumed he
was calculating profits of the various schemes he had cooking.
      Robert and Mike were discussing the attractive women they had seen in the
office. Kevin was eagerly nodding. Robert nudged Nick.
      “I saw you took that call for Gladys.”
      “Yep,” said Nick.
      “Well?” Robert stared at him, his mouth open in mock dumbness.
      “Well what?”
      “Any Annette sightings?”
      “Oh. Oh yeah. She came out of her office. She was wearing pants, though.”
      “Too bad.”
      “Yeah,” replied Nick. “But it was funny because we almost collided.”
      “Nice. I’d like to collide with her, if you know what I mean!” said Robert.
      “Yeah, yeah. Yeah, me too!” said Kevin.
8                                   Conan W. Purves


         “She likes guys with money,” said Arnold and then dived back into his french
fries.
         “Whatever Arnold,” said Robert.
         “Go back to your french fries and let them have their fantasies,” said Mike.
         “Yeah, have a french fry,” and Robert threw one at him, lightly.
         “Hey. You have money, you get any girl you want,” replied Arnold, not looking
up.
         “Sad, but true,” said Mike. “But I don’t know about Annette. She’s so focused. I
don’t see how she has time for men.”
         “She’s going right to the top,” said Robert.
         “I don’t know. Peter is supposed to be her man, but I don’t know if Arthur likes
her.”
         “Is he boinking her?” Nick asked.
         “Who? Peter Tanagent? Isn’t he gay?” asked Robert.
         “I doubt that,” said Mike. “Just smooth.”
         “No, I mean is Arthur boinking her?”
         “I doubt that also,” said Mike. “She’s Peter’s boy.”
         “And he’s so short and old.”
         “He’s the CEO my friend. He’s got the cabbage,” said Robert, rubbing his
fingertips together.
         “That’s what I’m saying,” said Arnold. He and Robert exchanged high fives
across the table.
         “Shit! I’m agreeing with Arnold. This is bad.” Robert pretended to throw
another fry at him.
         They got back down to their food. Mundane business matters were discussed
over their Frostees. None of it was important to Nick except for a vendor that none of
them wanted to deal with who was coming to their office tomorrow.
                                 INCORPORATION                                     9


       “It’s some kind of network protocol software. Supposed to make it easier for
admins to interface with the network,” said Mike. “We really don’t need it and I don’t
have time to talk to him.”
       There was a vaguely competitive drawing of lots, which Nick lost by a lack of
attention and aggressiveness rather than bad luck.
       “So, two tomorrow. Good, Nick. You can use Jose’s office in the print shop.
He’s not in tomorrow. Don’t let him see our offices.”
       “Yes, sir,” said Nick.
       They gathered up their garbage and trays, got their coats and left, heading into
the post-lunch gloom of more work and the sloth of fast-food digestion.
       Nick spent the rest of his workday wandering from cubicle to cubicle, partially
fixing a few computers. He had some piece of candy or desert cookies left over from
meetings at practially every stop. By the time he was on the train home, his head was
so stuffed with white sugar lethargy that he could barely keep his eyes open.
       His apartment was in Greenpoint, at the fringe of old Europe Brooklyn and the
new hipsters. He was definitely living on the Slavic side of the tracks, and although his
age and demographic statistics suggested that he might have been the vanguard of a
new wave of the young and employed, the paleness of his existence seemed to leave
him utterly unremarkable to his neighbours. He got his mail from the black metal box
in the lobby. Each letter had the impersonal cellophane window. He could not
remember when he had last received a pieces of mail with any part of it written by the
human hand.
       He trudged up the marble stairs and got to the fifth floor. He was too hot in his
jacket, but because his bag was tangled around his shoulder, he couldn’t get it off. He
opened his door and walked in. he trudged forward, kicked the door shut behind him,
shuffled a couple steps to the side and collapsed into his couch. His jacket was still on
and his bag was still around his neck. He let go of the bulk mail in his left hand so that
it fell on to the couch. He untangled himself from the bag strap and unzipped his
jacket. He sat there, breathing, cooling down.
10                               Conan W. Purves


      He woke up. The light in the room had changed and his mouth tasted terrible.
He sat there for a moment, letting the fuzz clear through his mind. Then he got up, did
some tidying, drank a glass of tepid water from the sink and woke up his computer.
      He grabbed a sleeve of crackers from the saltine box and sat at the monitor and
dialed in. While the wrangling and screeching of the two analog lines meeting,
negotiating and understanding each other went on, he got up again and opened a can of
Chunky soup and put it on the stove to heat up. He sat down again, checked his email,
found nothing interesting, and telnetted into his own corporation’s main server. He
signed in as a remote user, an employee who didn’t even have a laptop to whom Nick
had given a network identity with some limited admin capabilities. Every time a user
entered the network remotely, the firewall logged their presence. An administrator
logging in remotely would be flagged and would be immediately apparent to Mike and
the rest of the IT team. There was nothing inherently wrong with Nick accessing the
network from home as an admin, but they might be curious about what he was doing.
So he had created a bunch of these fictional users. Some were duplicates of existing
users, others were retired or transferred employees. He had a whole set and he rotated
them around, using different ones each day.
      Tonight Nick was Linda Fiori, an entry-level marketing-type person in sales
support. The director of sales support had requested remote ids for his entire
department because they all went out on the road for events. But they only had a
couple of laptops between them and Linda had never logged on in eight months. Well,
Linda the human being had never logged on, but Linda the remote user identity had
actually spent many late hours connected to the company’s network.
      Nick began with his usual ritual of cleaning up some of the higher levels in the
shared drives Then he check out who was on and who had been on that day. There
were a few people still in the office, twelve other remote users and no admins.
Everything seemed fairly copacetic out there.
      He hopped over to the Merchandising Server. For the past week he had been
trying to figure out how the inventory and pricing data in the Branch Distribution
                                  INCORPORATION                                  11


Warehouses was connected to the Merchandising database in the main office. The
associates in the Merchandising and Marketing departments had access to a clunky
text-based database called IMUS. Nick didn’t know when it was built, but it looked like
it came from a mainframe era. Now the Merchandisers accessed it through their
windows boxes, using a terminal emulation program called Rumba.
       They were able to see the pricing and inventory history of each product and all
its various permutations. They also saw quantities and sales and the ones with a certain
level were able to adjust the prices (or price points, as he had heard them called). Nick
knew there was some kind of data dump that came in each day from the warehouses,
but he could never find it on the network. He was pretty sure it was a daily occurrence
because he had written a little script to record each time the quantity of data changed in
five different products. In the last week, it had happened once a day, each time around
ten or eleven.
       Although Nick was in the IT department and basically shared the operating
responsibilities for the entire network, there was a lot of things in the company that he
didn’t know. The responsibilities of his department were generally limited to
maintaining the desktops and network of the US business. These responsibilities of
course touched upon many of the other operations in the company. They would get
update memos about other systems indirectly affecting them and Mike met with other
departments every now and then. But most of the real information went back and forth
above Nick’s head, so the only way for him to figure out what was going on was to get
in there and piece it out for himself.
       He was trying to find some way of reading IMUS’s operational parameters.
What were its orders? He was digging through a bunch of configuration files, scanning
them in ASCII as they scrolled up his monitor, when he noticed a reference to some of
the dynamic quantity files he had been monitoring. He hit the space bar to stop the
scroll. There was a grab call scheduled for once a day at noon. And with it, a reference
to a specific file. There was also an acrid odor. His Chunky soup was burning. He
jumped up and turned the stove off. The bottom of the cheap blue metal pot was
12                                 Conan W. Purves


affixed with a hard black layer. About two-thirds of the soup (beef burger) was still
good, if a little smoky. He dumped that into a bowl and stuck the pot in the sink, filling
it with water. He went back to the computer and sat sideways on the little metal chair,
wolfing his dinner down, using the crackers as a spoon. When he was done, he put the
bowl back into the sink and took a drink from the tap.
       His kingdom for a food pill! He got back to his computer and found the name of
the file in question. There actually appeared to be four of them, one for each branch
and a script concatenated them into a single massive text file with the name of
fBranchq[date].txt. The call indicated the exact location of the file, which happened to
be a couple directories up and over from IMUS’s. Nick jumped there and found it by
itself with a sub-directory that had a massive archive of past Branch quantity updates.
       Nick didn’t have a particular desire to know the daily quantities and prices of the
products in the branch warehouses. The details of this information interested him only
slightly. What he was looking for was the door to the branch computer systems. His
company, like most large companies, was a blend of very new and very old
technologies. The flashier sides of the corporation, the execs in the home office, investor
relations, maybe marketing, tended to get all the new stuff. Operations, where the real
work happened, seemed to have, for many reasons internal and external, the hardest
time getting upgraded. So for Nick getting onto the President’s desktop and reading
her email was a cinch. But trying to find a communications line from the home office
out to one of the Branch’s networks had taken him three weeks already.
       This fBranchq file looked like it might be the link. It was a large file in a basic
format so it was most likely coming over through ftp. But whether the home office was
going out and getting it or whether the Branch was depositing it, Nick couldn’t tell. He
also wasn’t sure if the transfer took place on a dedicated line or if it was a modem call.
Because there was no other file or script in place in the directory where the branch file
was placed, Nick guessed that the Branch system probably ftp’d the file to the home
office. This was a bummer because it meant there was no more data for him to follow
up. Had the transfer originated in the home office, there would have been some series
                                  INCORPORATION                                       13


of commands somewhere to tell it where to go to pick up the branch files. He looked
around manually in some other directories but couldn’t find anything.
       He decided to write another script asking unix to record any activity that took
place in that directory. He wasn’t sure what info it would get him, but he banged out a
little file that he hid in the archives and locked. It was programmed to wake up
anytime anything was written to the directory, record the activity and the source. The
request for source data was vague. Nick didn’t really know what he was looking for ,
so he didn’t know what to ask, but it was a start. “Banging out” this script actually took
him a while and by the time he tested it a few times it was three in the morning.
       He logged off with a little prayer of good luck that his script would catch
something interesting. He searched the internet for a while, going through jpeg after gif
of pornographic images until he found something suitable and found himself sitting in
front of a monitor, spent cock in hand, images of some poor drug addict being violated
in all sorts of ways. His head and eyes hurt and he could taste the burnt chunky soup
in his mouth. There was a little knot of guilt and ugliness at the base of his stomach.
He sat like that for a moment and then quickly shut down his computer, got undressed
and threw all his clothes in a big pile for the laundry tomorrow. He went to bed and
read a computer magazine for a bit but his mind kept wandering back to the discovery
of that file, which did give him some satisfaction.
       He was so tired the next morning that it wasn’t until around eleven that he
thought of the file again. He was tempted to check his script, but he knew he would
have to wait until he got home that evening. He felt minorly motivated and wished that
he had remembered to drop his dirty laundry at the cleaners.
       At lunch, Mike stopped by his cubicle to remind him about the meeting with the
vendor.
       “I’m not going to be around, so just listen to him for half an hour, get his
literature and you’re done.”
       “What is he selling?”
14                                  Conan W. Purves


       “I don’t know the details. That’s what the meeting is about. I think his company
is just a big reseller for a lot of smaller products. He’ll probably have a lot of cool little
gadgets that won’t really be enough of an enhancement to make it worth our while.”
       “Okay. I’ll check out his gadgets.”
       A little before two, Nick was sitting at the small conference table in the print
shop with a notepad and a pen in front of him. He felt mildly apprehensive. He had
actually never met with a vendor before and he carried a tiny concern that the guy
might bamboozle him into committing millions of dollars of the company’s money to
some useless, unapproved products.
       Suddenly a pinkish head appeared in the door frame.
       “Oh,” it said. “This is the right place.”
       The body followed the head in. It was a middle-aged body in a cheap navy blue
suit with a tie of flowers on a black background. The head was a flushed red with thin
white hair neatly parted to the side.
       He had a beat-up burgundy bag which he switched to his left hand as he reached
out with his right.
       “Hi. I’m Jim Mansfield from Tekvil.”
       They shook hands. He really did appear to be the kind of salesman that Nick
had feared. He was being too personal in his mannerisms by patting Nick on the arm
after they had shaken hands.
       Jim sat down and pulled out some catalogues. As he was doing this, he said,
“No real receptionist or anything down here.”
       “Yeah, well, they keep us down in the basement.”
       “Ha ha. Out of sight, out of mind,” and he winked at Nick.
       “I spoke with Mike, who I guess is your boss. Did he relay any of the
information I gave him to you?”
       “Not much, really.”
       “Well, that’s better. I can start from the top. Easier for me.” He began to spread
out the catalogues and brochures, turning them to face Nick. “Tekvil—that’s T-E-K-V-I-
                                  INCORPORATION                                    15


L, some people incorrectly add an extra L-E to our name—is basically an organization
of smaller manufacturers who have gotten together and formed themselves into a larger
groups so that someone else can take care of the marketing and selling and all that good
stuff while they focus on making quality products. And I do emphasize the word
quality. Tekvil will only represent companies whose products pass a range of criteria.
We are pretty strict about that. How can I come back and sell something to you if the
first thing I sold you doesn’t work? I can’t do that. I’m in business to make
relationships and sell products. So it’s really in my best interest to sell you good
products. You’re with me up to this point, right?”
       His hands had been adjusting and touching the catalogues the whole time he
was speaking, but they suddenly froze, fingertips down. He was looking right at Nick.
       “Yeah, yeah. I’m with you,” Nick said, a little startled.
       “Good!” Jim laughed and momentarily put his hand on Nick’s forearm,
alarming him a little more. “Because that’s the easy part. If you weren’t with me there,
I might have been a little worried. So let’s take a look at some of these products I keep
bragging about. Software or hardware?”
       “Hardware,” Nick replied, because he thought there might be at least some neat
gadgets.
       Jim opened one of the catalogues to a page with pictures of plastic goggles. “This
is actually a Finnish company that is way out on the forefront of visual interface
technology. They have a whole line of hands-free monitor goggles. Now I know that
there are a lot of these things out there, but the NeuroMons have two distinct
advantages over the rest. The first is that they are lighter and more durable. They use
a denser plastic that is hard-wired in the factory. These are the best quality monitor
goggles on the market—again the quality word. But what really sets these apart is the
visual feedback technology. These glasses actually observe the movements of your eyes
and send feedback into your retina. It’s still early in the technology but when you are
using these goggles, you are doing more than just watching a 3-D representation of the
monitor. After it adjusts to your eye movements, more and more of the image is
16                                 Conan W. Purves


perceived directly by your brain. So you see it, but you’re not actually looking at it, if
you know what I mean.”
       “How much do those cost?”
       “Well, we can look at pricing. It really depends on what kind of package we put
together.”
       Nick realized that his question revealed his inexperience in the situation. But the
goggles seemed pretty cool. He could think of no real use in the company for them, but
he would sure love a pair.
       “Well, how much do they retail for?”
       “Interestingly enough, you can’t actually get these in stores as of yet. As a matter
of fact, right now Tekvil is the sole distributor of the NeuroMons.”
       Jim spent the next 20 minutes going through Tekvil’s line of ergonomic
keyboards, headsets, laptop cases and a whole range of more mundane input devices.
By the end of the meeting, Nick felt a begrudging empathy for Jim. His distrust of the
salesman’s cheap appearance had somehow turned into an implicit collusion. He felt
like they were somehow working together, trying to slip some semblance of reason past
the idiocy that surrounded them.
       “Well, Jim, I really have to talk to my boss. But you guys have a lot to offer. He
makes all the purchasing decisions. I’ll show him the different packages and see what
he says.”
       “I appreciate it, Nick. Listen, it’s really great to meet you. That’s why I love this
job. I stand behind these products and I love the field. But the best part of my job is
meeting good people like yourself.”
       “Well, uh, absolutely.” Absolutely was the only word with which Nick was able
to respond to such effusiveness.
       “Well, I’ll tell you what. I kind of get the feeling that the NeuroMons don’t really
fit your needs here, but why don’t you take a set. Play around with them, tell me what
you think, maybe show some of the other guys.”
       “Wow. I don’t know what to say.”
                                    INCORPORATION                                 17


       “You could say... thanks.” Jim handed Nick a hard, clear plastic cube with
goggles mounted on cardboard inside.
       “Yeah. Thanks!”
       “Courtesy of Tekvil. It’s for your time.” Jim was getting coat and bag. Nick
offered to show him out.
       “No, thank you. I can find my own way out—oh there’s one thing.” He reached
into his bag and dug around and pulled out a burned cd. “The software cd hasn’t been
manufactured yet, but we got copies. Just throw in the NeuroMons installer. There are
some other demos from these guys on that disk, the rep told me you are not supposed
to use any of them if you have the NeuroMons driver installed. There is some kind of
conflict.”
       “What kind of software are the demos?”
       “I actually don’t know. Some kind of network management software. Hey,
thanks again for your time.”
       They shook hands and he left.
       Nick sat back down and looked at the box in his hands. Well that was cool. The
guy had turned out to be pretty entertaining in a kind of salesy way. I guess that’s the
way salesman are supposed to be, thought Nick. He rarely dealt with salespeople, but
when he thought of the sales department, whenever he was over there, they always
seemed to be social and friendly.
       Mike probably wasn’t going to be very receptive to any of Jim’s offers. Even if
the prices were good, they were already locked in with these huge institutional
vendors. Nick wondered how Mike would have behaved with that guy. Would he
have been consistently unexcited, even a little dismissive and Jim would have left
having no hope? I guess after you have met with thirty salesmen like that, you really
just don’t want them around. Was he just naive and inexperienced? Nick felt some
weird connection with him that he couldn’t explain.
       He gathered up his notepad, on which he had not take a single note and headed
back into the office.
18                                Conan W. Purves


       Robert was at his desk. “How was vendor hell?”
       “Not so bad. Got some shwag.” Nick held up the box.
       “That guy gave you something. I’m surprised.” Robert got up out of his desk.
“Let’s see.”
       Nick gave him the box. “Oh, it’s those virtual display goggles. They’re cool
but... Seen ‘em!” He passed the box back to Nick.
       “They’re supposed to have some neural inputs,” said Nick.
       “Neural inputs. Whatever. Sounds very science fiction. Show them to Kevin.
He’ll be psyched to check them out.”
       “Well the guy seemed nice and they had some good deals on keyboards.”
       “Yeah, well good luck getting Mike to bite,” said Robert. “He’s already sold the
department’s soul to the big boys.”
       Nick dropped the box into the bottom drawer of his desk and picked up his
clipboard. He scanned over it to see what was left on his list. Then he went to his
monitor to check out the updated version. The only thing that had changed about his
list was three more added calls. He printed it out and clipped the new list to his
clipboard.
       His first job was a new monitor for an art director in Creative. He called her up
to make sure she was at her desk. He picked up a 19” monitor in a box and plunked it
onto the rolling cart.
       “Fill out the forms,” Robert called from his desk.
       Nick almost grumbled, but decided to just keep rolling with what little
momentum he had. He filled out the inventory form so the monitor would be
accounted for and dropped it into the little plastic vertical inbox thingy attached to
Kevin’s desk.
       He threw his clipboard and his cd wallet onto the rolling cart and pushed it out
into the hallway. He got onto the small elevator, got out at the lobby and went to the
appropriate elevator banks. The elevator opened and there was one of the building
guards. He looked at Nick’s cart first and then at Nick.
                                 INCORPORATION                                     19


      “Now you know you got to take that cart onto the freight elevator. You’re not
even supposed to have it in the main lobby.”
      Nick said nothing, turned the cart around and headed to what looked like a solid
bulkhead at the end of the rows of elevator banks. The copper art deco wall design
concealed double doors that led into the freight area. This foyer had a door to the
outside, which was the preferable entrance for messengers and delivery men. Actually,
the official procedure was that they had to park in the basement or check in the
Messenger Center in B1 and then take the freight elevator all the way to their
destination. Nick, whose department was down in B2, was also supposed to do that,
but the regular elevators—despite the transfer in the lobby—were much faster.
      Now he stood in the white freight elevator lobby trying to suppress the surging
impatience. There was something actively boring about this place. There was nothing
to look at, to think about, just some flattened boxed and a few white-washed pipes on
the walls. Usually, Nick preferred to be in the guts of buildings, the places where you
could see the infrastructure. He thought about these areas. Perhaps the freight
elevators were outside the working structure of the corporation. They were super-
simple i/o ports. The stuff that came and went was interesting, but when there was no
traffic, they were basically functionless and dull. Had there been a delivery person here
with some packages (packets?) then he could have at least thought about what was in
them and where they were going.
      He stared at the inert elevator doors. That was the other thing, there was no
indicator. People who took the freight elevator were of such low status that not only
were they not allowed to be seen in the main lobby, but they did not need to know what
floor the expected elevators were on. He was just about to attempt another run at the
lobby when the elevator door slid open.
      “Lobby. Going up.” The elevator guy looked like he should have been a trucker
from the Midwest. His hair was cut and gelled like a greaser, sideburns and duck’s ass
and all, but he was easily over 50 and there was a lot of grey in it. He was wearing the
brown uniform of the building and his body emanated a complete absence of human
20                                Conan W. Purves


warmth. It was like he was waiting for someone to be friendly so he could nullify it
with his dull indifference.
        There were two construction workers in green dusty coveralls and a FedEx guy
with a hand truck on its side piled high with packages. All three were looking straight
ahead. Nick angled his cart into the free space and got next to it, assuming the face
front stance of his fellow passengers. He waited. The door didn’t close.
        “Floor,” the elevator man barked.
        “Oh. 23,” said Nick.
        The elevator operator shut the cage. The outside door shut. He turned the big
handle and they started going up. His shoulders seemed to be radiating tired contempt
at Nick and his pathetic inability or unwillingness to follow the proper procedure.
        He got out at 23, thanking the elevator man, who said nothing but closed the gate
in return. Fuck. The other thing about the freight elevator was that you needed your
card key to be activated so it opened the freight lobby doors. All the IT department’s
keys were supposed to have this function automatically, but Nick’s had gotten messed
up a couple of weeks ago and he kept forgetting to get the access turned on. Well, he
didn’t actually forget, but he had to fill out a form and then get Mike and Mike’s dick
boss, their VP to sign it. Why you had to have a VP signature for card key access
mystified and infuriated Nick. Some typical stopgap measure so they could feel they
were doing something serious and important with the company’s security. As if
anyone couldn’t just fake a signature and give it to the indifferent dolts in the security
room.
        So here he was back in another little white i/o box designed for those outside of
the operating system. He went to one of the sides and banged on the double door in the
vain hope that someone might be walking by. Evidently, they weren’t There was a
beige phone on the wall that connected to the mailroom. It was for the various delivery
men. Nick called and nobody picked up. He waited and called again. Miguel
answered.
        “Mail Room.”
                                   INCORPORATION                                    21


       “Miguel, this is Nick. I’m stuck in the freight lobby on 23.”
       “We know. We’ve been watching you bang on the door.”
       Nick made a sour look at the camera mounted on the corner of the ceiling. “Why
didn’t you pick up the phone when I called?”
       “We were messing with you. Hey, it was Joe’s idea.”
       Nick heard them laughing on the other end of the line. “Yes, that is funny, I
guess.”
       “Hey, we’re just funning ya. Reuben is up on 23. I’ll beep him and get him to
come by and let you in. Hang tight.”
       “Thanks,” Nick hung up.
       He sat in stillness, a bit calmer after the human contact. Eventually the red light
on the little white box beeped and turned green. The door flew open and Reuben stood
there, in all his blonde, gold-toothed Timberland-boot-wearing homeboy glory.
       “Now you free, mofo!” He burst in with his arms wide apart, his blue mailroom
vest flapping open. “Give me a pound, my technical brother.”
       He held up his hand to Nick, who attempted an awkward response.
       Reuben looked around. “This is no place for a human. You lucky. I was just
about done on 23.”
       He tromped off down the hallway.
       “Thanks, man,” said Nick.
       “Peace!” Reuben called back.
       He spent about an hour in the Creative Agency, getting the monitor set up.
Things were ostensibly a little looser in this department. People decorated their
cubicles and dressed with some flair. At the same time, Nick sensed that it carried it’s
own kind of tension. Most of these people considered themselves artists in some form
or another and many of them practiced art outside their job. Having a day job in a
setting like this was clearly a source of dissatisfaction for a lot of them. On top of that,
there seemed to be a more open conflict among egos. While Nick installed the monitor,
he overheard three gossipy conversations in which one person criticized another’s
22                                 Conan W. Purves


work. He also overheard the art director having two arguments on the phone. One was
about paper stock and the other about PMS colors.
       Around five, he finished his rounds and headed back downstairs. He still had
the cart and since the elevators would be so crowded there was no way he was going to
get the cart on them so he took the freight elevator down. He passed Mike at his desk.
He looked tired.
       “Thanks for meeting with that vendor, Nick. How’d it go?”
       “Fine. He was a nice guy.”
       “They always are.”
       “Well, they have some decent offers on keyboards and some other stuff. Let me
show you their catalogue.”
       “Why don’t you write me a summary of their products and prices on a single
page. I can’t promise anything, but at least I can take a look.”
       “Okay.”
       “It’s hard for me to get out of our major suppliers, but there is a lot of pressure to
bring down costs.”
       “You got it.”
       Nick was not ambitious. Or at least he didn’t consider himself to be. He felt
morally better standing to one side of that race. But sometimes he couldn’t help feeling
a small desire for some status. Why did he have to “summarize” anything? He knew
they bought keyboards and mice pretty regularly. He often did the orders himself, well
wrote up the paperwork at least. But he knew the numbers and knew they’d be saving
two or three bucks a piece with Tekvil. That added up.
       He sat at his desk and suddenly remembered the fBranchq file. He had a strong
temptation to check it out now. But he knew that wouldn’t be smart. He tidied up his
desk and deleted a bunch more emails. The thought of that file kept bugging him so
much that he decided to actually write that summary for Mike. He opened up his
bottom drawer to see if he had saved any of the old product orders. He hadn’t, but
                                  INCORPORATION                                   23


there was the box with the NeuroMons. He had forgotten them. He stuck them in his
bag so he wouldn’t forget to take them home.
       He spent ten minutes comparing prices and when he was done saw that they
would actually be only saving about 70¢ per keyboard with Tekvil.
       “And you have to take in consideration the fact that they have no service record
with us,” said Mike as he looked over Nick’s memo.
       “Yeah, you’re right,” replied Nick.
       “But this is good, Nick. It’s part of the process.” He put the memo into a file
folder. “Maybe you can meet with some other vendors, take some of the work off my
plate and get a little more experience.”
       “Yeah. Sure.”
       “And after you’ve met the fifth guy like this, you’ll stop feeling sorry for them.”
       On the train home, Nick sat, staring into space. He was trying to decide whether
he should check out that file first thing and see if his scripts produced any info. But he
was prepared for that jarring sense of emptiness he would feel if there were no results.
He though it would be better not to jinx it by eagerly logging on, so he decided to grab
some chinese and try on the goggles first.
       He got home and forced himself to sit on the couch and watch some TV. The act
of eating kept him from falling asleep this time, though he was pretty tired. He had
gotten into this cycle of falling asleep after work and then staying up all night on the
network.
       After consolidating the white boxes and circular tins that had contained his food
into one unit of garbage and throwing that into the plastic bag hanging on the door, he
sat down at his computer. He opened up the NeuroMons box and ripped apart all the
packaging. The goggles had black frames and deep red lenses. They had a nice solid
weight to them that suggested quality of material not often found in computer
peripherals. He plugged them into the a/v input port and put the CD into the tray.
There was a readme file, an installer and a folder called OpenNet Stuff. Out of
curiousity, he opened the folder up.
24                                 Conan W. Purves


        It was filled with goodies. There were a couple .exe files and tons of other stuff.
All the filenames appeared to be in some other language. It actually looked pretty
interesting. He dug around for a while, but he couldn’t read any of the notes and he
didn’t want to install any of it before he had tested out the goggles.
        He got out of the OpenNet folder and ran the NeuroMons installer. It was quick
but required a restart. He put the goggles on and booted up his machine. They felt
comfortable. He could see nothing. And then they lit up. A candy glow swelled from a
spark in the middle of his line of vision, growing to fill the lenses. The familiar blue of
his computer counting it’s own RAM and looking through all its hardware devices
floated in the air above him. He didn’t know how to position his head. Everywhere he
turned, the monitor followed him. He felt a slight tugging sensation in between his
eyes.
        He felt around for the mouse, realizing that he must have used his eyes every
other time to find it. He spent a little while fiddling around on the desktop. The
goggles gradually became a little more natural. The real test would be to play a game.
But he had eaten a proper dinner and had tried on the goggles, so it would definitely be
okay for him karma-wise to check out the fBranchq file now. Plus, the rest of the IT
department would be home by now.
        He logged on, saw that traffic was fairly busy. This time he was a VP in the
Creative Agency who was on vacation and had left his laptop with them for repairs. He
jumped over to the directory, the command lines hanging out in front of his eyes. He
still didn’t know what to do with his neck, but the NeuroMons was growing on him.
Yep, the file had been updated that morning and there was another little document that
had been generated by his script. He opened it up in EMACS. There was something
there. The fBranchq had been dropped into the IMUS server by an external ftp. The
external machine had given up its IP address, which was probably enough.
        If it were a static address, Nick would have no problem finding the machine. He
tried telnetting to that address and was rewarded with a response from some machine.
He was being prompted for a username by some old, weird version of Unix that he had
                                  INCORPORATION                                   25


never used before. This must be an archaic beast, Nick thought. He tried a few
usernames and passwords from his company’s lexicon, but none worked. It called itself
IMS 3.0 and something about that name reminded him of something. He had seen it
before, maybe on the massive printed reports that came out on 34. He could find some
excuse to check there tomorrow, see if he could find the source of the IMS machine or at
least some connection to it from their building.
       He did a search throughout all the network to which he had access for the IP
address to see if that system connected to anything else, but he found nothing. Well,
that IMS seemed like the key. He was going to have to get into it somehow.
       He spent the rest of the night playing old levels of Half-life with his new goggles,
finding the experience fairly satisfying.
26                                  Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 2

Annette closed the door to her office and returned to her desk. She sat up straight and
went through her tasks for that day. She looked at her agenda for Puerto Rico. That
was going to be a ghastly affair. As much as she recognized the value of the US sales
force—and she truly did believe it to be the most important arm of the business— she
couldn’t stand to be around them for longer than a single presentation. And the Puerto
Rico event was going to be three days of mingling with the company’s top sellers.
There would be lots of effective break-out meetings with the Regional Sales
Management, but aside from her Marketing presentation, her main role would be to act
as a friendly presence. She was constantly battling the perception that her department
was a Manhattan ivory tower, disdainful and arrogant towards the sales force. She also
had to remember to pack her dress.
       Annette sat back. She had ten minutes until her Jewelry meeting, for which she
was thoroughly prepared. She closed her eyes, held them closed and then opened
them, trying to look at her office as if she had never been in it before. It still sort of
surprised her to be in this position. She hadn’t wanted to be successful; but she hadn’t
not wanted to either. Whatever she did, she did as thoroughly and intensely as
possible. She knew the way she wanted things to be. This came naturally to her and
she had no qualms expressing it. In all of her positions, she had done very well and
once her performance reached the eyes of senior management, it had been a fairly
steady rise to the top.
       But now she felt she was finally bumping into real challenges. She had mixed
feelings about them. It seemed inefficient and wasteful to have to spend so much time
strategizing and politicking. A part of her could just quit tomorrow and go volunteer at
a soup kitchen, full-time this time. But another part, probably the part of her that had
been cultivated these last ten years, felt like jumping into the fray, just charging in and
ripping their balls off like she knew she could.
                                 INCORPORATION                                   27


      The phone buzzed. It was Gladys.
      “Annette, the Jewelry team is here,” said the speaker.
      “Thanks Gladys. Please send them in.”
      Annette stood up. The door opened and Sam Pauley walked in.
      “There she is,” he said. Same came from the garment district. He was a ‘deze
and doze’ guy and had a slightly cheap edge. He had also led Jewelry department from
a year of falling sales to three straight quarters of growth and was a genuinely nice guy.
      “Do we have a presentation for you, Annette.” He emphasized each word by
holding his hands out. “Ladies, come on in.”
      Two of his directors, Sally and Mina came in, one carrying a large black
posterboard and the other a sample bag.
      “Hi Sally. Hi Mina. How are you two?” asked Annette.
      Sally had been with the company for three years, was thin and blonde and lived
in Soho. She was kind of sexy, Annette thought, in a hard way. Mina was new, Latina,
maybe from Peru. Sam had just poached her from Lauder.
      “Hi Annette,” they both said.
      “Annette you are going to be very happy.” Sam stood as the two directors took a
seat on the couch. “We have great numbers to show you, but even better products.”
      “Let’s do the numbers,” said Annette. She came from around her desk and sat
on the couch. They spent about half an hour going through last quarter’s sales and this
quarter’s projected sales. The numbers were solid. They were benefiting from a new
emphasis on glamour. But this team was taking full advantage of it. These girls were
smart and Sam was smart. It was important for her to stay abreast of all aspects of the
US business, but with this team she really could count on them to maximize thier
market potential. This was definitely not true with all the departments under her
purview. Jewelry had been performing so badly that it had not been hard to force out
the old VP. This was an old company, though, with some entrenched interests and
some of the categories that really needed shaping up could be very resistant.
28                                 Conan W. Purves


       Wrapping up the numbers, Same was already getting excited about the product
prototypes for next quarter. He had been trained as a salesman in the best school
possible, the New York Seventh Avenue fashion establishment and he lived it. Here
was a guy in a double breasted suit, with a wife and two kids, who had probably spent
his life playing stickball and pitching pennies in Brooklyn, describing with honest glee,
the new faux pearl and gold “Classique” Ring and Necklace set. To Sam, the new
products were the best part of the presentation. To Annette, it was the opposite. The
numbers, near double-digit growth in each quarter across the four Regions, gave her a
strong sense of satisfaction. It wasn’t just the success, but the appropriate culmination
of her plans. She always felt that her strategies, if followed correctly, would achieve the
results she predicted. The problem was they were so rarely followed correctly. Her
work now was concentrated on getting the right people to carry out her plans. Same
had been one of those.
       But this product line horrified her. She knew it was solid and would sell. But it
all looked so ornamented and garish. What was worse, she was going to have to wear it
in Puerto Rico. She would have to let Sam’s pitch infect her with some enthusiasm.
       “And Annette we’ve picked out the perfect set for you to wear at the National
Sales Event. Mina.” Joe motioned to Mina who pulled out a neck form, followed by a
black felt finger and an earring stand.
       “We assumed you would be wearing white,” said Mina, making a cute smile.
They all laughed because Annette always wore white at these events. “These are the
prototypes for the “Classique” set. It’s not real, but it’s heavier grade than the actual
line, so they fall nicely and have a more solid feel.”
       She passed the necklace to Annette. It was four strands of thick pearls with a
gold clasp. This was fine, but right down the middle was a gold pendant thing with
some kind of feathered motif. This feathered pattern was copied in the ring and
earrings which were made of a single pearl surrounded by a gold mounting.
       “She hates them,” said Sam.
       “I don’t hate them. They’re just a little—”
                                  INCORPORATION                                     29


       “I know you don’t like the decorative stuff, Annette. We chose this set out of our
three leaders this fall because it’s the most simple. If you would prefer the Rainbow
Classique or the Bird of Paradise...”
       “No, these are beautiful. I will be proud to wear them. Keep bringing me
numbers like that and I’d wear a piece of string around my neck.”
       “See that, girls, all she can see is the numbers.” They were getting up now. The
meeting was over. “She overlooks the fantastic beauty and magic our designers put
into these pieces.”
       “As long as our customers don’t overlook it, we’re fine,” said Annette, laughing.
       “I’ll put these in a bag for you,” said Sally, collecting the “Classique” collection.
       “Thank you, Sally. Mina, Sam. Thank you all.”
       “We’ll email you these numbers when we get downstairs,” said Sam.
       They left and shut the door behind them. Annette took the little felt bag and
opened it up. She laid the pieces out on the table. There was a knock on the door. It
was Gladys.
       “Sam is so funny,” she said.
       “He is. They are a good team.”
       “Oooh... Is that the new jewelry line?”
       “That is the “Classique” NER set. I’ll be wearing it in Puerto Rico.”
       Gladys picked up the pieces and looked them over.
       “They are so beautiful. They feel heavier than usual. Which night will you wear
them?”
       “On the presentation night—the new floor length.”
       The Armani?” Gladys looked Annette over, holding up the necklace. “That will
work.”
       “Thank you, Gladys. When you are done looking at them, pack them up and put
them with the rest of the stuff going to the event. And if I don’t lose them there, then
they’re yours.”
       “Oh, Annette, I couldn’t. Doesn’t the jewelry department need them?”
30                                  Conan W. Purves


         “No, don’t worry. They assume that everything that gets sent to me is gone
forever.”
         “Well, thank you.” Gladys put the coil of pearls back into the bag. “You have
lunch with Peter at 1:00”
         “That’s here, right?”
         “He’s coming to your office, so I assume you’ll be eating in the cafeteria.”
         “Okay. Thanks.”
         Gladys left. Annette returned to her desk. Peter Arnagent was the newly-
appointed Chief Operating Officer of the company and was her mentor and supporter.
He had been brought in from the outside to help lead the U.S. Business out of its
doldrums, but had quickly moved over to Global. He had tapped Annette early on and
had been instrumental in her promotion to the head of U.S. Marketing. He was
supposed to have been groomed for the CEO position. When the time came for
Arthur’s retirement and it hadn’t happened, the Board created the COO position and
put Peter there. It still wasn’t clear why Arthur had delayed his retirement.
         She felt worried about Peter. They had worked very closely until her current
position, but they had the distance of teacher and student. She hadn’t seen as much of
him since he had been made COO and it felt like that distance had grown. She had
indirectly heard some grumbling from her staff about him, especially since the whole
retirement fiasco. It made her feel that she would rather not have lunch with him just
now. But she understood herself well enough now to know that this meant she should
do it.
         Her intercom spoke. “Annette, Peter is on his cel phone.”
         She picked up the phone. “Hi Peter.”
         “Annette, I’m walking back from another meeting. I’m on 53rd. Would it be all
right if you just met me at Michael’s?”
         “That would be fine.” But she felt put out.
         “Great. I’ll see you there in a couple of minutes.”
         She put on some lipstick and got her coat.
                                  INCORPORATION                                    31


        Michael’s was her favorite place to lunch and Peter knew that she was a regular
there. The hostess showed her right in. Peter was already sitting down. He was
wearing a tan suit and he got out of the chair when he saw her. Peter was thin, still
young on the outside for someone in his position. After a while, if you looked closely at
the skin on his neck and hands, you saw that he was not without experience.
        “Hi Annette. It’s been a while. I always forget how elegant you look.”
        “Thank you Peter.”
        They exchanged basic updates: he feeding her trivial gossip from the Global
building and she responding with tidbits from the U.S. They ordered.
        “Annette, I’m only hearing good things about you. You know the numbers are
improving. The board is very happy with what you’ve done so far.”
        “Yes, some of the numbers are improving. But there still is a lot of work to do.”
        “Well keep doing it. We are looking very closely at a lot of pieces of the U.S.
business.”
        “Looking how?”
        “It’s not easy to say. Things could go in a number of different directions. The
Board is stuck in a stalemate about Arthur’s retirement. There is concern from some
quarters that the U.S. business is going to be the biggest hindrance to the rest of the
company’s growth.”
        “You know my hands are tied there, Peter.”
        “They were, Annette. But maybe now is a good time to begin untying them.”
        “You think I should make a move?” Now the whole context for this meeting
clicked in Annette’s mind.
        “I’m not saying you should do anything yet. But you should at least start
thinking about it as an idea.”
        “She’s a board member, Peter.”
        “I know and I have secured my own alliance—.” The waiter arrived with their
food.
32                                 Conan W. Purves


       “Look,” Peter continued. “There is real concern among some of the other Board
members that she can’t handle the task anymore.”
       “They are seeing the light.”
       “They are. It’s hard to see past the last three years of growth, especially after
what came before. But the U.S. business is going to hit a wall soon. We need more than
just sales morale and a drop in turnover. They are starting to realize that.”
       “It took them long enough.”
       “Annette, I’ve always listened to you. It’s hard to see what’s going on in the
trenches when you’re not in them. It’s classic.”
       “So what’s the wedge?”
       “There isn’t one yet. That’s why I’m talking to you. We need to start working on
something.” Peter paused to eat some food. “Annette, you get her out of there and you
are the next president. I guarantee that.”
       “Things move pretty fast up where you are.”
       “They do. It’s a game, but we have to play it if we want this company to
prosper.” It always sounded awkward to Annette when Peter talked about the
company like that.
       “I’m just getting things operational in Marketing.”
       “You won’t lose that, Annette. It will all be under your umbrella.”
       “So who takes over Marketing?”
       “There are people. These are details that we will work out.” Peter pushed his
plate to one side. “Annette, to be honest, I need you in my camp.”
       “Peter, you know I’m on board.” She smiled. “It’s just a little overwhelming.”
       “Don’t I know it. It’s still early. Take some time to think about it and keep in
touch. Of course, you can call me at any time to talk. But, as always, don’t say
anything.”
       “As always, of course not. Peter, thank you.”
       “Thank yourself, Annette. You’re making it happen.”
       “So what is going on with you and Arthur?”
                                  INCORPORATION                                    33


       “It’s status quo for the time being. It’s better this way. To be honest, I’m not
entirely ready.”
       “Is that why Arthur stayed on?”
       “Actually, he was ready for me to step in. Some other procedural issues with the
Board came up. They are working it out and I’m taking advantage of the added
training time.”
       “Oh.” Annette wasn’t entirely convinced, but no specific reason why she
shouldn’t be crystallized in her mind, so she let the doubt pass.
       They finished lunch and parted, Peter going North to the Global building and
Annette heading south to the US Headquarters. Peter was very warm, but she felt a
ertain distaste. It was funny. With Sam, who was always calling her “babe” and
referring to his employees as “girls” she didn’t feel offended. Somehow Peter’s smooth
and modern masculinity bothered her more. It reminded her of how she used to feel in
her undergrad days towards all men.
       She also felt a certain envy about Peter heading to the Global building. That was
where strings were really pulled. She was effectively second-in-command of the US
business, but she felt she had no real pull in the company overall. Was being the
president going to change that? She would still be in the US business. A position on
the Board along with the presidency would definitely help, but Peter hadn’t said
anything about that.
       Why was Peter calling all the shots? A year ago she never would have thought
like this, but she had learned a lot. Beyond a certain level, it was not necessarily safe to
rely on one ally above you. But where else to go? She didn’t really know the
alignments of the Board members or even really where Arthur stood, beyond the few
vague hints Peter had dropped. Was it even wise for her to go after Julie now? Annette
knew how she felt about Julie, a good person and a hard worker but with limited vision
and an unfortunate tenacity in clinging to an idea of the corporation that was no longer
tenable. Julie was hearing footsteps now and they probably sounded like Annette’s
34                                 Conan W. Purves


stilletos. She laughed to herself as she heard her heels click on the concrete. They
sounded formidable!
       Annette spent the rest of the afternoon in meetings. In between she put some
thought to places where Julie could be attacked. Sales force retention was starting to
slip again as were sales in general. Margins were keeping profits up, but that was
thanks to Marketing. There really was a strong case. The problem was that the
salespeople were so in love with Julie, as were a lot of the middle management. She
was a down-to-earth personality and she accessorized like them. As they were nearing
the 4th quarter, more points of tension would develop between them. Annette was sure
of that.
       She got out of the office after seven. Her car was waiting for her in the parking
garage. It was still and getting dark through the streets of Manhattan. The leaves were
falling in the park. Fall was definitely here. She lived on the upper east side in her ex’s
apartment. They weren’t divorced yet and he had been happy to let her have it. It
allowed him to stay connected. Neither of them had spent much time there when they
were together anyways.
       She put her bag on the table and pressed the answering machine button. Her
mother, as usual. Michael checking up. Would she call? No. Her spa appointment for
tomorrow, Jessica calling from California, needed man advice. There was something in
the fridge from Fanny that just needed to be nuked. Most likely delicious as usual. She
sat at her kitchen counter, rubbing her temples, feeling for the first time in a while just a
little bit lonely. Wouldn’t that have been nice had there been some message from an
interesting man on the phone. Someone like her, who couldn’t keep the big picture out
of their mind. Someone always a little dissatisfied calling her up and saying, “Let’s get
the fuck out of here.”
       She took another drink of wine, shook off her fantasy and prepared her meal.
She ate it at the counter, going through her mail and magazines. It was too late to call
her mother, who was currently in France and she wasn’t up to Jessica, so she logged on
                                INCORPORATION                              35


her computer and went through some emails, mostly forwarding them to Gladys and
the VPs of the various product houses. By ten she was in bed and asleep.
36                                 Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 3

Waves of data were lapping against the edge of the drive. Collumns of zeroes and ones
made as they marched farther into the disc, engulfing it. The hissing was layer upon
layer of orgasmic cries, interlaced and stretching out so they sounded thin and shrill.
Beneath the waves, Gladys kept pushing his face into her crotch. He could smell the
rayon of her panties. But he couldn’t remember her name and he felt awkward and
soiled. He wanted her so badly but he was too self-conscious. He wanted to tell her
that he was first going to take a bath, but he felt if he did this would all end and he
couldn’t open his mouth anyways. And finally, as he had expected it without realizing
it, awareness filtered into his reality, making him think of time and the terrible pain in
his neck. The struggle went on for a while until he finally forced himself awake and
found himself slumped over the keyboard. A pocket of drool had formed between the
space bar and the desk. The goggles bit into his forehead and he had a headache that
would probably last all day.
       Shit. What time was it? His internal clock felt weird and he knew he was late.
He was going to have to take a shower as well. He sat there rubbing his face, then
shook the mouse to wake up his monitor. It didn’t come on. Then he realized he would
have to put the goggles on to check the time. He did so and saw that it was 9:05. He
just had time to call.
       He got up out of his chair and started to undress while reaching for the phone.
Feeling like the coward he was, he phoned Robert instead of his boss.
       “Robert, I’m running a little late.”
       “All right. I’ll transfer you over to Mike.”
       “You can’t just tell him for me?”
       “Mm. I wondered why you called me when Mike is sitting there on his desk and
not on the phone. I really think you should speak with him.”
       “Robert...”
                                 INCORPORATION                                    37


        “Okay, okay. I’ll tell him. What time will you be here?”
        “Ten,” he lied.
        “You got it,” he hung up. He was having a good chuckle now, Nick could be
sure.
        He finished undressing. On his way to the shower, he looked wistfully at the
bed. The sheets looked so clean (they weren’t) and inviting. He was going to be in for a
rough day today. In the shower, he tried to piece together what he’d been doing before
he fell asleep. He definitely remembered playing some practice levels. He felt good
remembering that the goggles had been to his advantage. He should take those online.
But he had this weird recollection that he’d logged back into the company server at
some point. It must have been a dream. He remembered going back over that IP
address again and learning something about it. Maybe was just a dream, but maybe it
was trying to tell him something. Anyways, that was something to look forward to.
He’d find some time on his rounds to get into the data room on the 31st floor.
        On the subway over, he had a vivid recall of his face pressed between Gladys’
thighs. They weren’t her thighs, but some hypersexual representation, a porn star’s
thighs. But he distinctly remembered their smoothness on his cheeks and a sharp odor
that he was reaching for. The memory made him suck in his breath.
        He got to work at 10:45. Mike said hi and everyone else seemed too busy to talk
to him. He kind of felt that, as a group, they were mad at him, an unspoken censure of
the late guy by the on-time guys. But when he was on time and someone else was late,
he really never noticed. So he told himself he was being paranoid. Nonetheless, he kept
out of everyone’s way and tried to do as much work as possible.
        By two, he was ahead on his work orders so he took a detour to 31. Most of the
floor was the traditional cubicles and offices in a big square with the elevator banks in
the middle. But the southern side of the building was closed off and used to house all
the large computer equipment. Most of it was antiquated or affiliated with Global, so
Nick’s department rarely went in there. There was a back entrance through which Nick
38                                     Conan W. Purves


had never gone; a freight entrance through which he’d gone once, accompanying some
consultants and there was a front door.
       The front door was at the end of a narrow hallway lined with low tables on one
side. Dwana took the printed reports and wrote the name of the recipient on them and
placed them on the table outside the door. In some cases, the mailroom would pick
them up, in others someone from the department would come down in person. Nick
had been present when some assistant had come for a printout that wasn’t ready. The
secretary had had a little spaz and pulled rank (using his boss’s rank, of course). But
Nick had felt how stupid it was that this company was printing out perforated-roll
sheets of data in the 21st century. And they all took it for granted. Right now there
were thick stacks of reports on the table, so many that if they were stacked they would
probably be as tall as he was. And the people who got these reports were probably
typing them back into the computer. It was like buying a book in english, paying
someone to translate it into french and then mailing it to your friend who didn’t speak
french and then having him pay to get it translated back into english.
       Nick laughed at the sheer waste and knocked on the door. Eventually, the top
half opened—they had the same kind of door here as his department downstairs—and
Dwana was standing there, effusing boredom that threatened to cross over into
annoyance.
       “Dwana, hi. I’m just coming back to do a recheck on your desktop, make sure all
of the repairs are still effective.”
       She didn’t say anything, just opened the door for him. Her hair had recently
been done and lay across her head in these cool, shiny ringlets. His attention was
distracted from her hair when he walked into the room. There were so many machines
here! It was like a computer museum. Everything was big and boxy, in the browns and
beiges of the institutional ‘70s. Half of these things must be offline or there was no way
they would have Dwana working here by herself.
       “How is your computer doing?” he asked.
                                  INCORPORATION                                    39


       “Everything has been fine. You know, it hangs every now and then but I just
pull the plug.”
       He sat down at her desk, resisting the urge to gawk at all the computers he had
just passed. He wanted to give her a bag of candy or tie her up or something so he
could just be there by himself for a few hours. As he ran a standard diagnostic, wild
theatrical fantasies of stowing away or hanging from the ceiling until she left for the day
ran through his head.
       He felt pressure, nervous as if he was going to ask her for a date. She just stood
there, looking away and bored. But he couldn’t keep checking her computer forever.
He felt that he had to lie, say something or it was going to be his last chance to get into
this room. He watched the bar move to the right as the diskcheck app ran thought the
hundreds of tiny system files, their names flashing by.
       The bar hit the end, filled up. “This disk has no major problems.”
       “Dwana,” he gulped out. “Would it be a problem if I looked at some of these
computers?”
       “Why would it be a problem? You’re the IT guy, right?” She tilted her head at
him.
       “Oh, yeah. No, um, really I just wanted to look out of my own personal
interest.”
       “Fine with me. Just don’t break anything.”
       “Great. Thanks.” Nick got up from her desk.
       “And?” Dwana was standing there expectantly. Was he supposed to bribe her?
Nick stared at her dully.
       “How’s my computer?”
       Oh. “Oh, yeah. It’s fine. Everything looks good. I’ll set it to run a defrag
tonight, but everything should be good.” He quickly sat back down and did that then
jumped up again as if the seat was on fire.
       Dwan looked over at him sideways and then resumed her seat. “Thank you,”
she called tentatively, unsure of what his next move might be.
40                                 Conan W. Purves


       Nick had enough sense to not say anything at this point and he backed away
feeling very self-conscious. That probably could have been handled better, but here he
was. He noticed that a lot of the machines were not lit up and had even gathered dust
on the edges of the buttons. He decided to check out the currently operating machines
first. At the far end of the room was a very old mini-computer, a Vax that probably
once ran the whole computer system for the company. It was on, but Nick felt pretty
sure the IMS system was not in there. He would have recognized the Unix in it if it
were. Something was printing. He walked around an old tape array memory unit the
size of a fridge. There was a squat brown cube, almost three feet high with a plastic top.
Fold after fold of linefeed paper was zig-zagging out of it, folding itself into a neat pile
in a wire basket. The printer cartridge was whipping itself back and forth like some
kind of insane dancer, each movement producing a line of inventory data.
       At the top of each page, on the right side, were the words Inventory
Management Software 3.0. This thing must be connected to the branches. He followed
it around behind. A thick black cable, actually four thinner cables neatly wrapped in
black cloth tape, came out of a hole in the metal chassis and went into the wall. This
thing was so old school! Nick could imagine the cliched engineer in white shirt and
dark glasses taking his time to wrap the cords so elegantly. He felt an affinity for this
machine, the imaginary engineer who set it up, the emphasis on neatness and
organization.
       He looked around the other side and there was the kluge. There was an RJ-11
adaptor, sticking out like a fungus from some older data port. A phone cable emanated
from that and led to a fat bridge modem, covered in dust and plugged in. So this thing
was dumping the data? He was mildly surprised, but right away realized he should
have expected as much. He looked around for the interface into the IMS box. There
was a brown terminal with a small black screen and a built-in keyboard against the
wall. It had a rough surface, as if they had scattered sand over the metal before they
painted it. Nick knew it was a COYOTE terminal. One of the women in Sales Support
had one and caused a big fuss when they wanted to take it.
                                  INCORPORATION                                   41


       Nick sat down at it and turned it on, all thoughts of his previous awkwardness
with Dwana gone from his mind. The Inventory Management Software 3.0 came up
again and then the amber square cursor on a black background. This thing was an
antique! Nick was pretty sure somewhere there was a little program that exported the
files and phoned the main server the same way an external user might. He wondered
who and how long ago had set up the remote user ID for that IMS system in the first
place. He navigated around the directories, finding some user profiles that he tried to
memorize to see if he could find them later in the network software on the main server.
Quite quickly, he also located the configuration for the modem set-up. It was timed to
phone the exernal number and ftp a concatenated text file of all its data. He also found
a bunch of other port connections that received data, presumably from other computers
in the Branches.
       He logged off and turned off the terminal. There was one more piece of
information that he needed. He went back to the modem behind the big IMS printer
and followed it’s line to the jack. Yes. There was a neat label at the top with the jack
location and ID. Since Nick had access to all the jacks and outlets database, he should
be able to find the modem’s phone number. He felt like he had just completed a really
hard level of a good rpg. There was the sense of settled satisfaction, like releasing a
long breath after holding it in for as long as possible. Coupled with the completion
was, of course, the new enthusiasm to plunge forward.
       He collected his clipboard and disks and walked quietly out, not saying anything
to Dwana. Back at his desk, he quickly found the phone number and jotted it down on
a post-it note that he stuck in his wallet. He futsed around for the rest of the morning,
his minimal sleep forgotten in distracting thoughts of getting into the Branch system.
At lunch, Robert and Kevin asked him along to get chinese.
       “So how did you like those goggles?” Robert asked.
       “What goggles?” said Kevin. The three of them were hovered over styrofoam
fold-over boxes piled high with some sloppy “chinese” melange poured over rice. Each
of their meals was punctuated with a caffeinated soda, a straw poking out.
42                                Conan W. Purves


        “Nick met with some peripherals vendor. He gave him a pair of those hands-
free goggle monitors.”
        “Ooh. Which ones did you get?”
        “They’re called NeuroMons. They’re pretty sweet actually. I played some Half-
Life with them and I swear it improved my game.”
        “NeuroMons? I’ve never heard of them. Who makes them?”
        “I can’t remember. Some initials or something. The vendor’s company was
called Tekvil.”
        “They must not be on the market yet.”
        “I’ve got them at home. I’ll try and remember to bring them in for you to check
out.”
        “Awesome. Thanks.” Kevin turned to Robert, “See? How come I don’t get to
meet with any vendors and get some swag like Nick?”
        “Because you’re too honest. You have no sense of social decorum.”
        Kevin got excited. His head started bobbing up and down furiously. “Yeah,
well, that’s because half their products suck!”
        “See. My point exactly.” Robert pulled his head back to avoid the bits of rice
coming out of Kevin’s mouth. “Look at you! You’re like one of those winged monkeys,
except on crack.”
        Kevin started guffawing and Nick had to laugh. Robert turned to Nick, “What
the hell are you laughing about? You didn’t finish one job on your work order today,
and you were late. Lazy bastards.”
        They got back to the office and Mike and Arnold were there waiting for them.
“Gather round, guys. Quick meeting.” Mike motioned them into his office.
        “Orders from the top. We need to purchase and configure 300 laptops in the
next two weeks. It’s some special initiative for the Sales department.”
        “Thanks, Gustav,” said Robert. Their VP, Mike’s boss, was Gus Phillipson. As
long as Nick had been there, they had referred to him as Gustav when he wasn’t in
earshot.
                                   INCORPORATION                                    43


         “Why couldn’t we have just included them in that last laptop order?” asked
Kevin.
         “They tried. It got blocked or something. I don’t know. I think Julie is trying to
get something in place for the National Event.”
         “How are they supposed to be configured?” asked Nick.
         “Well, it’s for Sales, so there’s going to be some database stuff. We have to set up
some more terminal emulators. Global IT is supposed to be doing something on their
end, but I don’t know when it will be ready.”
         “Not on time, I’m sure,” said Robert.
         “Probably right. But in the meantime, let’s get those laptops ordered. Here are
the specs. Top of the line, coming out of some other previously unheard of budget. I’m
supposed to be getting the cost center this afternoon. As soon as I get it, I want to fax
out the order. And we better pray there’s no backlog at Dell. If there is, we’re
switching manufacturers for this order only.”
         “Wow. This is priority,” said Robert.
44                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 4

Fairly quickly, without having to think about it too hard, the conflict through which
Annette knew she could bring down Julie arose. Usually, when Julie threw a roadblock
in her path, it made Annette frustrated. This time, when Gladys told her what Julie’s
secretary had told her, Annette saw the opportunity and was both annoyed and
pleased. Julie had been pushing back on her Marketing Technology Tools budget
requests for months now. Her argument was always the same. How can we afford to
allocate this much money to upgrade home office systems when most of our field
managers don’t even have computers. Well that was a problem, but it wasn’t Annette’s,
at least not yet. And so far any of Julie’s solutions, which in every case, Annette knew,
came from her lame duck IT VP Phillipson, had all flopped.
       Julie had been stymieing her for months, at first indirectly, and then confronting
her head-on. She didn’t really get why Julie was so aggressive on this issue. Part of it
was personal and part of it was honest concern for the state of the field. She had been
there herself. That’s where she came from and that’s where she should have stayed.
She refused to see that the products and the marketing of the products drive the
business. She wasn’t willing to accept that idea, so she certainly wasn’t willing to spend
10 million dollars on it.
       But Annette knew the US business was going nowhere until they had clear lines
of communication and data between marketing and merchandising and ultimately
between Global and US. And the US definitely needed to catch up to Global. It should
have been leading Global all along. It started the company after all. But Americans
were provincial. They were salesmen. And eventually all the truly sophisticated
people moved to the Global business and that’s where the company’s real strengths
were, despite the US’s huge and crucial chunk of the market.
       And that’s where Annette went when she had to get something done. With
Peter’s blessing, she had had a series of planning meetings with Felipe Cruz, the CTO.
                                 INCORPORATION                                    45


He had a lot of experience upgrading corporations’ IT from the top down and was in
line with Annette from the beginning. He had refashioned her original plan enough
that he could present it to Arthur and the board as if it had come out of his own office.
It was bundled up in a proposal of overall IT development for the whole company. But
Julie had clearly been furious, particularly when they told her she would be paying for
it. She had made her arguments about the field and they had shelved the purchases for
now. But the last thing Arthur said was, “This benefits the entire company, Julie.”
       Annette thought that was the end of it, but her little bird had made it sound like
Julie was not going to drop. Julie seemed to have figured out, or someone told her, that
Annette had been behind the initial idea and that seemed to bring back the fight in her.
If she was going to fight this one, she would be digging her own grave. Annette needed
a little more info. She needed to be sure Julie would take it all the way. And she
needed to get some idea of what her plan of action would be.
       Gladys knocked lightly and came in. She looked a little too skinny as usual, but
at least she was starting to tone down her gold.
       “I just got this week’s media clippings and a bunch of things for you to sign.”
She dropped a manila folder onto the desk. “They’re mainly expense reports.”
       Annette grabbed her pen. “Stay here. I’ll sign them right now.”
46                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 5

That night Nick’s phone had rang and like an idiot he had picked it up. So there he was
listening to his mother go on and on about the incredibly complex and yet incredibly
boring machinations of Penron, Michigan. He could imagine his father sitting in his
chair, beer in hand, just staring, driven to immobility and numbness by his own
stupidity and fear. And the more his father was silent, the more his mother talked,
nervously, as if she had to make up for his talking deficit before they both died. And
every month or so, when Nick didn’t call home, which he never did, she would reach a
bursting point and spew on to him for hours. And right now these hours were
particularly precious hours to Nick. He could be phoning up that modem or at the very
least getting some sleep. It would be perfect if he could just sleep while his mother
talked. But underlying her gossip was always the suggestion that he should not be
where he was. It was a small-town, small-minded suspicion of New York City and
whatever he was doing there. It irked him enough that he would get a little knot in his
gut and have to respond.
      “No, mom. It’s a regular job. A nine-to-five.” He said each word deliberately as
if the connection were bad.
      “Well, it may seem regular for people out there, but normal folks don’t see it like
that. And I do have a pretty good idea of what goes on out there. They seem to feel—“
      “Oh. You saw this on TV.”
      This went on for another 45 minutes. by the time he got off, he felt too
discouraged to start up his computer. He ordered some more chinese food and made a
vague effort to tidy up. But within five minutes, after noticing that his bag of laundry
was still there, he sat down at his desk and logged on. Since they were still connected,
he slipped on the NeuroMons. He was watching the network activity when his door
buzzed. He almost twisted his head off by jumping up to get it with the goggles still on.
                                 INCORPORATION                                   47


      Back at his computer, goggles on, stuffing rice that he couldn’t see into his
mouth, he phoned the little modem sitting behind the brown IMS machine on the 31st
floor. It answered. The same intro he had seen that afternoon on the terminal scrolled
in front of his eyes. He might as well have been in the room. He spent some time
cruising around, getting to know the architecture. This terminal was a superlink to the
four branch inventory systems. The routes back and forth were maintained by some
type of communications protocol. Nick saw that he could get through them pretty
easily. The only question was whether there was a password on the other side.
      Nothing else to do but try. There were four branches, one for each Region. The
branches were the main offices and warehouses for their Region. They were located in
Pasadena, Newark, Morton Grove and Atlanta. The warehouse part of the branch
offices were each responsible for the collection of products and then the distribution out
to the field in their Region. They were in varying states of productivity and competed
with each other in sales. Newark had been rebuilt a year ago and was very automated,
with humans limited to standing in cubes, packing boxes based on which shelf lit up
around them. The system loaded up the shelves and basically managed the warehouse.
From what Nick understood, they didn’t even use forklifts. The pallets were moved
from truck to shelf and then dispersed all by automated tracks. The company was quite
proud of the Newark warehouse. Nick had seen a short presentation on it during his
orientation. That would be the most extensive system to check out, but probably the
most difficult to get into. There would certainly be a password there. Might as well
start out at the bottom, see what they’ve got and work my way up, he thought.
      So he jumped over to Morton Grove, Il and was greeted by a minor little
gateway—no password— that seemed to be barely uniting a bunch of different systems.
It was like entering some biblical market town in the crossroads between East and West.
Nick felt like an archaeologist who’d gone back in time to visit the ruins he’d been
digging while they were still inhabited. There were so many languages, several
different operating systems, bizarre piles of data for sale. Here was something that
seemed to manage all the freight bills. It was tenuously connected to another list of
48                                Conan W. Purves


which trucks and shipments had which freight. There was a computer operating the
electricity and the switches for some belt system. There was a lot to explore.
       The biggest database was the branch side of the IMS. Nick jumped onto it
because he knew what to expect. But it was quite a mess. He imagined that random
bits of data strewn around, untidy, uncounted for, undoubtedly mimicking the physical
state of the warehouse. There were probably lone boxes sitting in a dusty corner,
maybe even broken open, the products spilling through split cardboard seams.
       Nick was elated. He had been knocking on this door for weeks and now it was
open. He felt like he was there, in Morton Grove, in their warehouse, floating around in
it. Of it. The goggles helped this sensation. The pressure against the sides of the
bridges of his nose felt like an input, forcing the monitor deeper into his mind.
       Nick did not sleep that night. When he finally took the goggles off, he was
stunned to find his room flooded with daylight. He knew today was going to be even
rougher than the one before. But because he hadn’t actually slept it would be a little
easier to deal with. there was none of the rude tearing into consciousness of yesterday.
He was digging through his laundry for some relatively clean underwear when he
remembered that yesterday was Friday. He checked his computer just to be sure,
slipping the neuromons back on his head. He was almost tempted to do a little more
exploring. But his beautiful bed was calling to him and he unfurled himself out on to it
gratefully and it sailed him away on an ocean of rest.
                                INCORPORATION                                  49




CHAPTER 6

Annette was not sleeping. She wasn’t supposed to be either. She was stepping out of a
cab in front of her apartment, her arms wrapped in the handles of beautiful shopping
bags with contained beautiful boxes which contained beautiful things. she had a half an
hour to get unloaded and change and meet Cynthia downtown for lunch and there was
Michael standing on the sidewalk.
      “Good afternoon,” she said.
      “Hi, Julie,” he reached to embrace her, but she walked past.
      “Michael, you should have called. I have an appointment and I’m already late.”
      “I know. I’m sorry. It’s about the apartment.”
      “Shit. Okay, come on up.” This was the one grey area between them with which
she hadn’t yet dealt. It was just so much work.
      The doorman greeted them, as did the elevator man. They were quiet on the
way up. Michael was good-looking, well-groomed and had always been the slightest bit
too short for her. Inside the apartment, she put down her shopping bags and pecked
him on the cheek.
      “Sorry to be so brusque,” she said. “I really am in a hurry.”
      “That’s okay. I could have mailed these to you. I should have called. Just found
an excuse to see you, I guess.” He was pulling some envelopes out of his jacket pocket.
“You need to sign these for the board.”
      “How are things going?”
      “They’re good. They’re going very well. Things are almost starting to seem
normal, except for you of course.”
      “Yes. Well, here we are.” She took her coat off and threw it on a table. She
grabbed her cel phone out of the pocket and walked to the bathroom, speed-dialing
Cynthia on the way. “Hey I’m home. I’ll be there as soon as I can get another cab.” She
went into the bathroom and shut the door. Michael’s impromptu visits and calls were
50                                  Conan W. Purves


happening with less frequency now, so she forgave him the intrusion. she really had a
deeper respect for him now. But she still needed to figure out what the hell she was
doing and every time they reconnected it threw her off track. They were still married
and as long as that state existed, Michael would remain hopeful.
        “How’s Julie?” he called in.
        “Oh, the same. Still pushing back the wrong things. Maybe pushing back too
hard this time.” Face washed, lipstick reapplied, she came out of the bathroom.
        “Oh?” he raised an eyebrow. Michael had always given her good advice about
work.
        “Things may be heating up,” she grabbed her coat again. “I can’t talk. Leave the
papers here. You go. I’ll sign them later.”
        She left him standing on the curb, her doorman next to him. He used to be their
doorman, so they were chatting. In the cab, she phoned Cynthia again and told her to
order. It was a beautiful fall day and when she arrived, Cynthia was seated at an
outside table with a glass of white wine at each plate.
        Cynthia was blonde and thin and tall in the way that New York women were
supposed to be. She got up and they hugged.
        “I’m not going to drink this,” said Annette.
        “Yes, you are.” Cynthia cocked her head to one side and made a fake smile.
        They toasted and discussed the successes and failures of that morning’s
shopping. They had met early on in their careers and since Cynthia spoke spanish
almost fluently they had found each other first as allies in office politics and later as
good friends. Cynthia was always a little too starstruck by glamour and power, but she
was true and funny. Annette shared all her work problems with her.
        “That bitch!” Cynthia stabbed her fork into a piece of cheese. “When will they
learn to listen to you and get rid of her tacky ass.
        “I think they are listening.” In spite of her initial resistance, Annette was
halfway through her wine. “She is so good with the field. They like her.”
                                   INCORPORATION                                51


       “So what’s going to happen?” Cynthia was fond of all-encompassing questions
like that.
       “Right now, we’re on hold. The question is whether she is going to really fight.
We’re right around the corner from the fourth quarter. It’s the worst possible time for
her to lose the money from her budget. The sales projections are already slipping. But
it’s also a bad time for her to get distracted.”
       “What can she possibly do?”
       “I don’t know. We have a Senior VP meeting with the Board in two weeks. I’ll
be presenting the details of my side of the IT rollout. She needs to stop the whole
process by then or it’s too late. The National Event is the following week.”
       “Ugh. Where is it?”
       “Puerto Rico.”
       “Ooh. Can I come?”
       “You always say that, Cynthia. You won’t be able to get the time.”
       “Maybe just for the weekend. If you were available I’d come.”
       “It would be fun.”
       “Let’s do it!” Cynthia clapped her hands together and reached for her filofax.
“We’ll drink mojitos and sit in the sun. But you were saying?”
       “I believe she is going to fight it. That’s based on information that came through
the Gladys channel.”
       “Gladys rocks.”
       “I would just like to know what it is she’s planning to do.”
       “Maybe you should have a meeting with her.”
       “And just ask her?”
       “No, silly. Just talk about the IT rollout. What you are going to do.”
       “That’s not a bad idea. We should have been meeting regularly. Maybe she’ll
reveal something.
       “It won’t hurt to try.”
       “It will hurt. There’s a lot of tension between us.”
52                              Conan W. Purves


     “You really don’t like her, do you?”
     “No. I like her. She is just very difficult to work with.”
     “You hate her!”
     “I don’t hate her! Maybe I kind of dislike her.”
     “You hate her.”
     Their salads came.
                                    INCORPORATION                                 53




CHAPTER 7

       Nick woke up late Saturday. It was just starting to get dark out by the time he
had gotten a bagel and coffee from the bodega downstairs. His laundry bag was still
sitting there. He had about an hour to get it to the laundromat before they closed. But
they weren’t open Sunday so he would have to pick it up Monday morning before work
which Nick knew, being realistic to himself for once, he could not do. The bag sat there
menacingly.
       He had the luxury of weekend time now. He wanted to take care of some
computer maintenance things that he had left off: file organization, setting up some
little scripts to make his life easier. He slipped the goggles on. He was definitely
preferring them to his regular monitor now. He was sure he was working faster with
them on. He felt more connected to the system. He had stopped thinking about how to
hold his head. If there were some way to cut out the mouse and keyboard interface, he
could lie on his couch and do all is work from there. With these goggles, he thought of
the mouse and the keyboard as middlemen, costing him precious time and physical
energy. They were like apartment brokers in the city. Who needed them? How did
they get into such a powerful position?
       He spent a while going through all his directories on the C: drive, deleting files,
rearranging them, creating new sub-directories. When he was done, everything looked
much better. He felt better. Why couldn’t he keep his apartment like this? There is so
much clutter in the analog world. You can’t just delete things. When you pile things
up, it looks like a big pile of stuff, instead of a neat folder with a label.
       He opened up the cd-rom the salesman had given him. There was a slim manual
on the NeuroMons. He skimmed through it and found nothing that he hadn’t already
figured out. He opened up the other folder and took a deeper look at the files in it.
There was very little documentation. It was some kind of network administrator
interface that promised to “bring you, the System Administrator, closer to your network
54                                  Conan W. Purves


than you’ve ever been before.” Whatever. He couldn’t find anything else. There was
the standard license agreement and the rest of it seemed to be pieces of the app.
       Well, what the hell, I’ll load it up and play with it. If it sucks, I’ll trash it. He
knew he might regret this. He’d probably spend days cleaning up his system. He
double-clicked the installer, clicked through he series of okays and yes’s for the license
agreement. Okay. Okay. Yes. I accept. Okay. And the dialog box with the gently
advancing line came on the screen. It loaded up quickly. He rebooted. He watched the
microprocessor look around for all it’s drivers and memory. He heard or felt a
fundamental click. What? Then he wasn’t sure if he had heard anything. That felt like
it happened in his brain, Nick thought. Everything looked normal. There was a
shortcut to OpenNet. He double-clicked on it. A red logo flashed on the screen.
       Nick noticed a tiny flashing image of a pair of goggles in the upper right hand
corner of the screen. Oh shit, he just remembered that vendor told him not to install
this stuff with the NeuroMons driver. It was too late now. But the software seemed
aware of them and nothing had happened. He was presented with a configuration
screen. He pulled down the help menu and got no luck opening the help file. I guess
they don’t adhere to Windows help protocol, thought Nick. It was usually not very
helpful anyways.
       Might as well just plod through it. He knew the kinds of questions it was going
to ask him and he didn’t feel like digging up the answers. But as he moved through the
screens, he began to get an idea of how this program was shaped. It acted as a sort of
super-organizing tool to administer multiple types of networks and protocols. It
seemed to Nick to be in too many areas to actually work consistently. But if it did, it
would act as a kind of a single gateway into all different systems an admin needed to
access. It stored usernames and passwords for each one, multiples of them actually, as
well as interface and protocol sets. It actually looked pretty sweet. How robust it was,
Nick knew, was an entirely different question.
       He filled up the boxes, skipping fields here and there. When it was all set up
another dialogue box came on the screen. “Configuring Placements” it read and
                                   INCORPORATION                                   55


another little progress bar appeared. The phrases flashed by faster and faster. Nick saw
some that said “Connecting...”, “Checking...”, “Establishing...”. This worried him. He
hoped this thing wasn’t going to spark a whole bunch of random network accesses that
would alert Mike, or worse, one of the Global IT guys.
       Just as the bar was about to be filled, Nick felt an internal pressure behind his
eyes. The dialogue box read “Establishing neural interface link.” The pressure grew
and he felt a slight vibration. Then the screen went black with a small pop of light like
an old TV turning off. He felt tiny surge of blindness panic. The pressure grew and
spread out behind his forehead and then pushed into his eyes from behind. It didn’t
hurt, but it was freaking him out. He couldn’t tell if the darkness was from the goggles
shutting down or if his eyes could no longer see. He was just about to rip the goggles
off when the pressure peaked and then dissipated. As soon as it left, light returned to
his eyes. Objects in the light began to resolve themselves.
       But the light wasn’t in front of his eyes, it was in them. He couldn’t really focus
near or far. From pure white, to grainy pixels and then to hardened lines, images
became. They looked like buttons, in the same interface as when he had first opened
the app, but they were floating in front of him. The objects finally solidified, the pixels
dissolving and he was standing in front of a digital wall of buttons. In front of the wall,
large red letters slowly faded in, filling the width of his vision
       “WELCOME TO OPENNET”
       He waited, astounded. He felt tremulous, even a little nauseous. He was no
longer looking at a representation of a monitor floating in front of his vision. He could
no longer see the edge of the goggles. It was a very unsettling sensation. His brain felt
like it was floating in some other place. But he could feel the chair against his ass and
his hand on the mouse. He turned his head around. The wall of buttons and the
welcome sign stayed where they were! Cool. This was cool. He turned his head as far
as he could. The wall faded off into the darkness of his peripheral vision. He clawed at
the air with his hands. They almost felt like a different body.
56                                Conan W. Purves


       If someone had looked at Nick’s apartment just then, they would have seen a
skinny guy in sweat pants and T-shirt, greasy blonde hair sticking out of a pair of thick
black goggles, sitting at a desk with his hands and legs writhing in the air like a beetle
on its back.
       After a bit of this, it began to not feel so weird. He resumed his usual computer
sitting position. His hand found the mouse naturally and he clicked it. The welcome
sign disappeared. He was left with the wall of buttons. On top a row of menu
commands appeared. He recognized the buttons, each being labeled with the various
networks he had configured. He clicked on the main US network.
       And what he saw changed. But he didn’t really see how it had changed. There
was no transition, but it wasn’t abrupt. There were directories everywhere, rising
around him at varying heights. There were also loose documents stuck in between the
directories. Everything was shifting and changing. Nick just stayed there, looking but
not looking at what was around him. It must be a representational image of the server.
These NeuroMons were amazing.
       But he suddenly felt annoyed. The server was a pigsty! Look, there was random
file after file just floating around in the top level. He looked over at one. He knew it
was text file, small and insubstantial. He opened it. But had he even clicked on the
mouse? It felt like he had floated towards it and when he gotten a certain distance, it’s
contents were suddenly readable. It was an installer log from three years ago.
Disgusted, he ran his hands over the keyboard, deleting the file.
       He had been bugging Mike and the rest of the team about the clutter in the
server for a while. But of course it had been more like muttering it to himself. Mike
had responded once, cautiously suggesting that if Nick had the time, he could do it, but
that he should be very careful about what he threw away. Nick had never gotten
around to it. But you really needed carte blanche to trash everything. Otherwise there
were too many files of questionable origin and every IT person had had the experience
of erasing something crucial.
                                  INCORPORATION                                     57


       But this was different. The files were so obviously cluttering up the server. After
a while, Nick was able to see some structure in the scape of the data in front of him. He
guessed he was seeing the hard drive and it seemed that some files were laying in
sectors between pathways of other data. He went after these first. He found himself
growing more accustomed to the navigation, like adjusting to a new gravity. He still
stayed in the top level. But he could now move from place to place with a flick of the
mouse or something like that. He wasn’t really sure what was initiating his movement,
or even if it was movement.
       He worked along major pathways, deleting files. He found more and more of
them that he wasn’t sure what to do with. He created a new directory with the
keyboard. A flat square rose in front of him, like a squashed cube. It glowed emptily,
waiting for him to put something in it. He sent some files to it and it grew a little taller.
Did he have to be looking at it to send files into it? He jumped over to another
directory, farther down the file tree. Here was an old readme.txt. He sent it to his new
folder. It disappeared. He executed a quick cd to the folder he’d just created. Now he
was inside that! It was like the top level, only he could see the boundaries. It was quiet
and calmer.
       He got back onto the root level. It was an abstract city at night. It was amazing.
He could see so far, like a horizon. He churned forward, across the directories and files.
In the distance was a massive tower, layer after layer of consistent floors. It was the
user partition! As he got closer, he could see minute shifts in the size of each floor, tiny
layer adjustments as a file was saved to. This was the directory where all the work for
all the employees in the US division was stored. This was Saturday, so there were very
few employees at work. What would it look like in the daytime, with everybody
constantly accessing it?
       What about the system directories? He found them easily, but the towers here
were dim. When he tried, he couldn’t approach them. He had expected more activity.
The topography was certainly much more complex than in the rest of the files. There
were shapes other than rectangular and there seemed to be complex shadows and
58                                Conan W. Purves


textures lurking along the ground. Oh, right. He probably didn’t have access
privileges. What user was he anyways? He hadn’t specified anything when he first ran
OpenNet. He typed a me command and saw that he was logged in under one of the
many aliases he used. This time it was redundant user profile that had been corrupted.
Instead of just fixing it, Nick had duplicated it and used the old one for himself. But
this user had no special rights, so there was no way for Nick to get into any of the
system using it.
        Probably better not to be fooling around with this software as an admin. Waiting
until I understand what’s going on here would be better, he thought. He backed out of
the main server and found himself faced with the OpenNet options screen again. He
felt suddenly weary, drained. He quit the application. He felt that click again, but it
sounded in reverse. Simultaneously, he felt a relief of the pressure between his eyes, as
if a hole had opened up on the bridge of his nose, releasing a jet of trapped air. His
vision went blank and then popped back, revealing a flat monitor floating in front of his
face.
He took the goggles off and sat there mildly stunned. Faced with the thick reality in
front of him, he found it hard to remember what he just been experiencing. What had
happened? Was that the goggles? He tried to remember what that vendor had told
him. He had just said something about a system conflict with OpenNet. He wanted to
test the goggles again, just normally, but he couldn’t bring himself to put them back on
again. He was also really hungry. It was almost four in the morning. He’d been on for
a while. He knew sleep wasn’t going to be coming for a while. He got up, stumbled,
and made his way into the kitchen. He found the rest of the crackers and returned to
his chair. He sat there, staring, putting crackers into his mouth one at a time.
                                   INCORPORATION                                      59




CHAPTER 8

On Sunday, the corporation sleeps, at least the body of it does. Annette was in her
office, reviewing various documents from the IT departments. She had initially
requested a schematic of all the company’s information resources. She wanted to get an
idea of what data they had, where it was and who had access to it. She had imagined it
to be a simple task, as if Arthur asked her for an org chart or a list of all their top
vendors. Both IT departments, Global and US, did not think so. It turned out to be a
real burden for them.
       The fact of this, Annette realized, was a major problem. She had gone back and
forth with Felipe and Gus, especially Gus, and had come up with a compromise: they
would get her all they could on each area, but it was up to her to put it together. The
saga started when she first took over Marketing and it was what spurred her to initiate
the tech overhaul plan. There was no way to move forward with the company’s data in
the current state. It was a major bottleneck to all of her plans of globalizing their
product lines and streamlining the company’s marketing.
       But that was still a long way in the future. Now, she was attempting to
understand what connected the four Branches’ inventory systems to IMUS and she was
not succeeding. She was okay with computers, but she could tell that she didn’t have
enough knowledge to sort out all these complex relationships. It wasn’t like electricity
that was just connected by wires. Every time she tried to figure out the specific
connection between one area and another, the technical language became increasingly
complex. She was the kind of person who insisted on understanding everything herself
and right now she felt frustrated. There was a part of her that felt the only way she was
going to get this done would be to run out and get a degree in computer science. That
was probably why Felipe had been so insistent on her not getting bogged down in the
details. “You don’t need to be using your precious mental resources on this stuff,” he
had said.
60                                Conan W. Purves


      The problem was that you had to understand the details of what was going on.
She had learned in her middle management years that a lack of knowledge created dark
areas. Too often, when she had delved into those dark areas, she discovered that work
was not being done correctly or at all. For some reason, this seemed particularly true of
all the computer stuff. They definitely had more darkness than other departments. But
why wouldn’t they just do what needed to get done? What Annett needed was
someone whom she always knew could complete the assignment thoroughly. Then she
wouldn’t ask for all this detail. And she did need an answer, she would get it. Maybe
before she died, she would invest in some robot that could do all that.
      She downgraded her fantasies and decided that a day class in networking might
be a feasible idea. As she went through the IT reports, she was drawing a diagram of
the various departments and computer systems and how they were all connected. The
complaint she most often heard from the markets was that they didn’t have convenient
and accurate access to the merchandising numbers or to the results of their plans. Sales
results came in way too late and fairly raw for the marketers to use to aid their planning
for the next cycle. The more they could close that gap, the more accurately they could
execute their strategies. And every piece counted in this market. Annette knew the
situation was so bad that if they could fix it, the numbers would be huge. She had
predicted a range for cutting down inventory overruns by about 7-10 million dollars a
campaign. That was why Julie’s constant mewling about the field and their need for
laptops was so misplaced. Well, she would deal with her on Monday.
                                   INCORPORATION                                     61




PART 2 CHAPTER 1

Monday. The corporations up and down Sixth Avenue stir, toss and gradually come
awake as employees fill them up. Lights turn on. Elevators rise and fall at an
increasing frequency, getting fuller. Chairs come out from behind desks. Electricity
surges into computers. Up and down the metropolis, electrons in monitors hit the
dance floor. As the power flows across the grid, drawing higher and higher, it fills
every room, every desk, every cubicle. Zeroes and ones, all but a select few motionless
for the entire weekend, are suddenly shocked into life, herded from ROM to RAM,
gathered, arranged, organized and prepared. Then, just as suddenly, are diced into
tiny, neatly labeled packets and shot flying through cables and the air to other cubicles
or other floors or other buildings or other cities or other countries and one day other
planets.
       This data forms the most dynamic and complex of all the artificial structures
with which man currently surrounds himself on this planet. It contains so much energy
and power and is so pervasive that many argue that humans have become beholden to
something they created to serve them. Contemporary humans have found manifold
ways of dealing with this problem. Their various approaches are based on many
factors. Their psychology, their age, their skills all play a role in the relation of the
individual to the data grid. It would seem reasonable to surmise that the greater one’s
understanding of this structure, the more power one would have over it.
       Nick Timmins was pondering this very question as he made his dazed and
trancelike way to work. He liked to think that he knew more about the network than
anyone else in the city. So why was he being forced to come physically to it to spend all
day abasing himself before it and the thousands of suckling humans that depended on
it? Where was the surging power he felt last night, flying from directory to directory?
All he felt now was a terrible numbness in his eyes. It seemed to him that the company
62                                  Conan W. Purves


had sent out a tractor beam that went directly to his eyes and dragged him to work.
Blinking was out of the question.
       He was going to have to limit himself with those NeuroMons. They exacerbated
an already obsessive tendency. But the interface made such a difference to his progress.
He was getting into places that he would have never bothered to open before. Instead
of having to sort through file after file, he could just look at a stack and visually go
through everything on it. He had also figured out how to incorporate a search with the
goggles. You could do it on the fly and just watch your results pop in front of you,
dismissing them if they weren’t relevant or sorting them in any way you needed.
       He was just going to keep it all quiet at work for the time being. He wanted to
wait until he understood them better. Deep down, he felt a slight anxiety that if he
showed anyone how they worked, he might have to give them up. Even for a short
period of time, Nick would not be able to accept that.
       He walked quickly across the lobby, hunched over. It was doubtful anyone
would speak to him, but any interaction right now would be extremely unpleasant. He
made it to his floor safely, only to be confronted by Robert, who was standing in the
corridor taking off his jacket.
       “Holy God!” he burst, upon seeing Nick. “You’re on time, but you look like shit.
You look worse than Kevin.”
       “Shut up, Robert,” came Kevin’s weak reply from behind his cubicle.
       “Ooh, alright. Everyone’s grumpy this morning. Kevin and Nick didn’t get their
sleep. Jesus, Nick. Did you sleep at all this weekend?”
       Robert said this as Nick passed him. Nick, realizing that he might not have slept
the entire weekend, could only muster up an “I slept” before getting into his desk.
       “I try to inject a little life into this place—right, Mike?”
       Mike walked in.
       “That’s right, Robert. Good work.” He rolled his eyes. “Okay, guys, get
yourselves settled, deal with any pressing client issues quickly. Because today is
                                  INCORPORATION                                 63


Laptop Day!” He clapped his hands together, overwhelming the noise of his troops
groaning.
      “We are supposed to be getting the first shipment in with the morning UPS
delivery, so if the mailroom can move faster than a dead snail, we should be opening
boxes by eleven today. I’ve got us a conference room for the entire week. If you have
urgent client needs, get them done this morning. I have a schedule for the week. One
of you will handle desktop stuff for half a day, alone. I’m sending an email to the
company. Robert, you’re on point today.”
      Mike looked around at the slightly dazed crew. “No questions?”
      “Not yet,” answered Robert.
      “Good.” Mike clapped his hands together again. He had big hands. “Do your
thing. We meet at 28E at 11:00”
      Nick’s “thing” was to putter around at his desk for two hours. He had some
work orders, but he couldn’t bring himself to meet with any of the civilian employees.
By 10:15, time had slowed to an almost unbearable pace. Each minute became a
struggle to keep his eyes open. The small area under his desk was looking like a really
comfortable nest. Finally, Mike walked in from his office.
      “Oh Nick, good. Since you’re down here, you might as well get the room set up.
The laptops are here and should be on their way up to 28. Go up there and meet them
in the conference room. There should be 120. Count them and sign for them and if you
can, get 5 of them up and running. We’ll set up the first ones together.”
      “Yep,” said Nick and started walking past him.
      Mike stopped him. “You all right? You look pretty tired?”
      “I just had a rough weekend. Sorry.” Nick tried to sound perky.
      “Really?” Mike’s voice rose in skepticism. He found it hard to imagine someone
like Nick having a rough weekend.
      “Sleep is overrated,” he said. “But get some tonight.”
      “Oh I will.” It was all he could think of.
64                                   Conan W. Purves


       Nick got up to the conference room. It was dark and cool and all the chairs had
been taken out. He was debating the idea of stretching out on the big table in the
middle when the laptops arrived. There were ten big cardboard boxes with 12 laptops
in each one. Everything seemed in order. The boxes took up the entire back wall,
making the room even more cave-like. Nick had them leave one box on the table and
he took his little cutter and slit the seal.
       The laptops were new Dells with the latest and fastest processor from Intel. They
were the expensive thin model that all the hippest executives were carrying. From the
picture on the box, all silvers and grays, they looked pretty sexy. But Nick knew that in
a year both the styling and the chip would be old and slightly junky. The box came
with a bunch of cables, instruction booklets, system cds and a cheap vinyl carrying case,
but most of it was styrofoam. They were going to produce a lot of garbage. He pulled
the laptop out. It was styley. He felt an instant, almost kleptomaniac longing. But
what was he going to do with it? Sit in a cafe and pretend to write in a journal? What
was it about the laptop that made it such an object of desire?
       The door opened, startling Nick and almost making him drop the computer. It
was their VP, Gus Phillipson. A visit from the big guy and on the perfect day when
Nick could barely keep his eyes open, let alone muster up enough retarded small talk
for this pseudo Mr. Who.
       “Oh, Kevin, um, is Mike around?” Gus was wearing a dark blue suit that was
just a little too double-breasted to achieve the effect of sophistication that he obviously
intended.
       “I’m Nick.” If Nick’s brain hadn’t been so smothered in exhaustion, he never
would have said that. The moment it came out, he felt flustered and trapped.
       “Nick! I’m sorry.” Phillipson didn’t seem to notice or to care. He fingered the
fat gold ring on his finger and looked around at the boxes. “So everything is here?”
       “We received 120 units,” Nick reverted to a robotic style of speech when talking
to corporate superiors. His anxiety made it too risky for him to attempt anything else.
                                  INCORPORATION                                      65


       “120? There are supposed to be 314.” Phillipson looked directly at Nick.
“Where is Mike?”
       “I think he’s on his way up. He told me to sign for 120.”
       Ignoring him, Phillipson walked over to the phone. He dialed an extension.
       “Mike. Your guy here is telling me there are only 120 boxes here. That means
we are short 194. Why are we short?” There was a pause. Phillipson adopted a patient,
yet annoyed, posture.
       “I see,” he said. “Well just make sure they all get here.”
       He hung up the phone and walked over to the table. He picked up the laptop
and looked at it, turning it over like it was an archaeological find.
       “Nice,” he said, like he knew what he was talking about.
       He put it down and walked out. Then he came back in again.
       “Nick.” He pointed two fingers at Nick. “Let’s try not to tell everybody about
these laptops. People get jealous and it gets into a whole value-added conversation that
we don’t want to be having. Okay?” He shot Nick with this two fingers. Nick had a
real desire to send the laptop spinning like a steel and plastic frisbee of karmic
retribution at the back of Phillipson’s departing head, but he resisted.
       Arnold came in soon thereafter. The two of them worked quietly together. By
the time everyone else had arrived, they had five laptops open and running. Four of
them were in a neat row on one side. The fifth, for Mike, was on the other side of the
table. If it were just Arnold and Nick, they would have been able to keep the process
neat, with all the system disks in one pile, the cables in another and the styrofoam kept
in the same corner of the room. Inevitably, though, Nick knew it was going to become
unraveled. Kevin was going to work too fast and not put things in the right place and
Robert never gave a shit about stuff like that anyways. Eventually, as their work habits
slid over the line into chaos, it would become impossible, first for Arnold, then for Nick
to avoid infection. And the neat stack of system cd’s would propagate itself into a
bacterial colony all over the table and eventually onto the floor. Nick felt a tremendous
urge to tell them not to touch anything!
66                                Conan W. Purves


       Mike came in. He walked up to Nick.
       “You heard that?”
       “What? Oh. Gus.”
       “That guy. The UPS guy couldn’t put the rest on his truck. He’s bringing them
today and tomorrow. I already told him.”
       “Was Gustav being an ass again,” asked Robert.
       “Robert, you should not be talking like that. But in this case, the answer is yes.”
       “What did he do?” Kevin chirped in.
       “Let’s just leave it at that.” Mike cut off that line of conversation and walked to
the laptop. “Everything look okay here?”
       He checked the system parameters, the RAM, saw that the cards he had ordered
were installed.
       “Okay you guys, assume a position in front of one of those machines. I’m going
to run down what we should be getting when we open the box, then I’m going to
explain a little more detail what these are for. Then we are all going to load the
required software sets together. Got that?”
       They all did. The four of them stood facing Mike, each at their own laptop.
fingers at the trackpad. It seemed to Nick kind of like a briefing scene from Star Trek or
something. Or at least as close as they would ever come to such a moment. His
exhaustion was not as acute as it had been.
       “Okay, as Nick and Arnold have already done so neatly here—and that won’t
last long—open up the box and separate out all the pieces. You should have system
disks, which we don’t need but never a bad thing to have around; cases and straps; all
the plugs and cables which each user will get and the laptop itself. Okay, easy.”
       He looked around at his team. They were waiting patiently for him to get to the
stuff they needed to remember.
       “You should have a Dell 450 and I don’t know which deity we need to make a
human sacrifice to thank for somehow getting Dell to produce on time—”
       “We could sacrifice Gustav!” said Kevin, with glee.
                                   INCORPORATION                                  67


       “But Kevin, he’s already the devil. You can’t kill him,” said Robert.
       “He’s too wimpy to be the devil!” Nick suddenly shot out.
       There was a slight pause. Everyone looked at him until Robert said, “Whoah,
Nick, with the rare opinion.”
       “It’s true though,” said Arnold.
       “Yeah, you’re right. He couldn’t be the devil.”
       “Guys, guys!” Mike finally stopped them. “We really need to squash this kind
of talk. It’s my fault because I know I’ve made comments in the past, but let’s just stop
with it from now on, okay?”
       “Okay, Mike,” they all mumbled.
       “All right, so you want to make sure it’s the 450. Check your system settings.
Make sure all the appropriate drivers are present: mouse, monitor, ethercard, modem.
Make sure the modem/network card is installed and recognized. And we’ll test this
when we load up the other software. You should have 192 megs of RAM, a 9.0 gig hard
drive and I think that’s really it.”
       “So here’s the deal. The sales department wants to give these laptops to the
Southeast District Sales Managers by Friday, the week after the National Event,
basically three working weeks. Julie Silver wants them in place for the entire fourth
quarter. They’re saying it’s a test, but you don’t test something with a quarter of the
DSM’s unless you are expecting some results. But that’s already too much information
for peons like yourselves. The main thing is that each of these laptops is going to have
remote access to the network. They are going to get access to sales figures at least and
email.”
       “Who’s doing all that stuff on this end?” asked Robert.
       “We will be creating the user ids for remote access and setting up their mail
accounts. Some vendor is supposed to be building an SQL front end to the sales figures,
but I haven’t seen anything about that yet.”
       “Be skeptical. Be very skeptical.” said Robert.
       “Robert.” Mike looked at him sternly.
68                                 Conan W. Purves


       Robert held his hands up, palms forward as a sign of mock submission.
       “Anyways, this is all part of a company-wide attempt to upgrade the technology
of the sales force. I have been asked to not talk about his with anyone. There are two
reasons. First, they are rolling this out to the Southeast only. It’s going to be difficult
enough to explain to the rest of the field when the Southeast gets theirs, so Julie Silver
definitely doesn’t want any of the DSM’s or anyone in the field hearing about this
beforehand. The second reason is that these laptops are very expensive and a very
tempting target. So let’s just keep this on the downlow.”
       Everyone seemed to accept this.
       “Arnold, you’re on desktop duty first, so hit the road as soon as we finish the
first installation.” Arnold nodded, no expression on his face.
       “I know. I don’t have to worry about you saying anything,” said Mike and
everyone laughed.
       They began the installation procedure. Like most system setups, it was pretty
easy, but required a lot of selecting and a lot more waiting. Because they were making
so many customizations to the system and the networking, it was easier for them to
reinstall the entire system from scratch. It was easier in that it required a lot less
clicking and selecting on their part, but it ended up taking a lot longer. Mike went
through all the customizations with them piece by piece so they would understand
what was going on. But he had already built a disk image of the entire pre-configured
system. It was stored on the network and all they had to do was log on and reinstall it.
After Mike’s initial lesson, they stood there, five guys in front of five laptops, staring
dumbly. Each laptop had an ethernet cable running out of the back, connected to a hub
which went to the wall jack that was connected to the network. The laptops seemed to
be humming contentedly, though they were actually silent.
       “Well, this’ll be another ten minutes. Let’s take a little break,” said Mike.
       Robert and Arnold immediately went to another conference room to check their
voicemail. Kevin and Nick stayed behind, Kevin because his mind was off in some
                                  INCORPORATION                                     69


other world known only to him (though his co-workers had their ideas) and Nick
because he was too tired to conceive of anything else.
       “So Nick,” Mike came up to him. “I want you to set up all the user profiles.
Unfortunately we’re in a hurry up and wait mode because Atlanta hasn’t gotten us the
list of all the DSM’s yet. What’s worse is that I fear we’ll be getting something
hardcopy.”
       Nick groaned.
       “We’ll get as much of it set up as we can now. We’ll just have to go back and
manually config the email client and some of the login scripts. It’s a pain, I know, but
what can you do.” Mike clapped him on the shoulder.
       Nick knew what he was going to do. The Atlanta branch was next on his list
anyways, wasn’t it? Now, instead of just checking it out, he had a specific goal to
achieve. So typical! How retarded were the branches? Jesus, he thought it was bad
here. They probably had lists of the DSM’s in so many different formats in computers
al over the branch and they were going to get some secretary to print it out and fax it to
them. It was like they were deliberately looking for ways to waste money and time.
       “Sure Mike, no problem,” said Nick.
       They sat around for a while until the laptops made the little shutdown chime.
Robert and Arnold came back and Mike went through the user set up with them. There
was general cynical grumbling about the lack of usernames, but none of them were
surprised.
       “Why am I not surprised,” said Robert.
       Mike had five users already set up and they completed the installation and tested
it. Everything worked fine.
       “Okay, great work guys,” said Mike, closing his laptop. “Go get some lunch, try
and get back here before one thirty. We’ll knock out as many as we can. Arnold, you’re
on point.”
       They dispersed. Nick headed downstairs to his cubicle. He needed some sleep;
he was just desperate. He hoped everyone would go out for lunch and he could just
70                                Conan W. Purves


catch a half hour at his desk. He managed to do this. He woke up with his forehead
smashed into his arms on the desk and a puddle of drool in between them. But he had
gotten almost 50 minutes and, though dazed, it took the edge off his exhaustion. He
washed his face in the bathroom and found the rest of his team working away.
       Already the pile of cardboard and styrofoam had escaped from the boundaries
Nick had imposed on it and was spilling out into the general work area. One battered
piece bounced back and forth between the absent-minded kicks of Robert and Kevin.
He sighed and cleared himself a space on the table.
       The rest of the day Nick spent in a rhythmic reverie. Unpacking boxes, plugging
in, loading, clicking. Over and over again. The tasks began to overlap and soon he had
three laptops going at a time. The main problem was finding space for everything. The
three of them engaged in a silent struggle to see who was going to clear out the pile of
cardboard and styrofoam. Each pretended to ignore it until pieces were piling up
against their knees. Finally, Kevin tripped sideways and fell, spassing, into a sea of soft
cubes and sharp brown squares.
       Mike walked in just as Kevin was flailing around. Nick was vainly trying to help
him up while Robert laughed.
       “Didn’t one of you think of calling the mailroom to get this stuff cleaned up?”
Mike said, staring at them in amazement.
       They all began to look at each other, trying to think of something to say to avoid
responsibility.
       “I see,” said Mike. “Never mind. I’ll call.” He picked his way over to the phone,
muttering to himself. When he was off the phone, he checked the one neat thing in the
room, the stack of completed laptops in the corner.
       “46,” said Robert. “With what—seven more on the way.”
       “Good. Call me at quarter to six so I can get up here and lock up.”
       The rest of the afternoon went quickly for Nick, despite his tiredness. The
repetition of the work was enough to keep him occupied and moving, but it was still
mindless enough that he didn’t have to exercise his numb brain. Even on the train, he
                                 INCORPORATION                                    71


felt all right and contemplated going and checking out Atlanta even while he knew he
really should just go to bed.
       Whatever miniscule strand of self-discipline Nick had left, he drew upon. He ate
a light meal and got undressed and right into bed. It probably was more his body just
trying to keep him alive by overriding his brain, but he had resisted that in the past. He
lay in bed for a while feeling brightness behind his eyes and not tired at all. But then
his thoughts began to wander farther and farther until they became so fantastic that he
knew he must be dreaming. This woke him up the first time and maybe the second but
after that he was long gone.
72                                 Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 2

Annette came into work on Monday long before the corporation had really woken up.
She had the cab go under the building into the parking area as usual. It allowed her to
avoid unnecessary conversation in the lobby. She also liked to appear to always be
where she was supposed to be. It was better at her level not to be seen coming and
going too often, just enough so that when they did see her walking somewhere, they
would notice and maybe even think “see she walks places, she’s just like us” while
actually reinforcing the differences between them.
       This Monday, Annette was feeling mildly annoyed. Her stomach felt a little sick
and she had spent a lot of time looking at the IT requests and making very little
progress. Felipe was out, so she would arrange a meeting with his sub-department
heads for later in the week. But today she wanted to speak with Gus Phillipson. It was
not clear at all what he or his people did.
       She got to her office and took off her coat. Gladys was not in yet, but she would
arrive on time. She turned on her computer and then walked over to the pantry to
make some tea. On her way back she noticed light coming from under the door to
Julie’s office. She was here early. That was interesting. Back at her desk, Annette went
through her agenda for the day. Gladys had prepared it for her on Friday, so there
probably would be a lot of changes. She went through her voicemail, there were only
two new messages since she had checked it last night and there was nothing interesting
in her email.
       She fired off some emails to Gladys, the most significant asking her to find time
this week to meet with Julie. She also requested time for Gus Phillipson to come see
her. Then she pulled out the reports she had been studying last night. The diagram
was on top. She had completed it as best she could and then had sorted out the reports
according to how they fit on her schematic.
                                   INCORPORATION                                  73


         One pile was all the systems that were finite and contained, one was systems that
connected to other systems or departments and where the connections were obvious,
and the third pile, the biggest, were files and systems that should be accessible by
various other departments but were not. A large part of this pile were Branch and Field
areas in the U.S. Management of these systems was fuzzy since the US/Global split,
but the US IT department should definitely have some overview of them. Judging by
the reports she received, they did not. It seemed as if a lot of the databases were in a
static state, barely maintained by the people who used them on a regular basis. This is
what she wanted to address with Gus.
         Annette had not worked too closely with Phillipson. The Marketing department
generally understood that he sat firmly in Julie’s pocket. She also found him kind of
annoying and weakly sycophantic. Really, the only contact she had had with him was
through the various unclean little weirdoes they sent to fix her computer. Thinking
that, she felt bad. They always seemed so earnest. Still, it was amazing how
consistently ill-socialized they all were. It must have something to do with the way
their minds worked. Those same areas of complexity that she couldn’t figure out were
the concepts in which those IT guys felt the most comfortable. Maybe it was the same
part of the brain that accounted for social behavior. Perhaps she should stop washing
and brushing her teeth and she would be able to fix up the company’s system problems.
         “You’re happy this morning!” It was Gladys, standing in the doorway, coat in
hand.
         “Oh! Good morning, Gladys,” replied Annette. “I was just thinking of a crazy
idea.”
         “Should I be worried?”
         “No, no. Don’t worry. I’m not creating any new projects, at least not right now. I
was thinking about the people they send up to fix the computers.”
         “Oh yeah. Those guys are weird.”
         “Why is that, do you think?”
74                                 Conan W. Purves


       “I think because they spend all their time playing with their computers. They
have no friends.”
       “That seems sad.”
       “I like the one who came up here the other day, Nick.”
       “Which one was that?”
       “You know, he almost bumped into you.”
       “Oh, yes.” She smiled because she actually didn’t remember that at all. She
changed her tone. “Gladys, I have a lot of meetings I need set up for today. I sent you
the emails.”
       Recognizing her change, as she should, Gladys nodded and went back out the
door. Annette briefly noted to herself the satisfaction of having a good secretary. She
had spent most of her career without that kind of assistance and she didn’t like to rely
on it. Until Gladys, most of her administrative help had been more of a burden. There
were three problems, generally. They required too much assistance from her; they
needed constant emotional sustenance, or they just screwed up. Gladys began
efficiently and stayed out of her way. She was becoming a real boon and even an ally to
Annette.
       At 9:30, Phillipson entered Annette’s office. As she had expected, he had made
time to see her as early as possible.
       “Hi, Gus,” said Annette, rising out of her chair and being as charming as
possible. She knew her sexuality would have a strong influence on him. “It’s nice to
see you.”
       “You too, Annette,” Gus came forward, hand extended, a little too quickly and a
little too close. “I made some time available as soon as my secretary told me that
Gladys had called.”
       “I appreciate that Gus. I hope this doesn’t inconvenience you at all.”
       “No, no. Definitely not.” He sat on the chair at the other side of her desk and
Annette resisted the urge to wipe her hand on a tissue. She sat back down again,
arranged her papers and looked up. He had assumed an excessively casual posture,
                                   INCORPORATION                                     75


leaning at an angle with one foot over his knee and his head supported by an arm
propped on the armrest. What was he thinking? His cheap, double-breasted suit was
bunched up at his waist.
       “I’ve been going through the reports you sent me.”
       “Yup,” he nodded his head, interrupting.
       “—and I have to say straight out that I am having a very hard time
understanding them.”
       “Well, there is a lot of technical information in there.”
       “The technical information is fine, Gus. I expected that and I didn’t expect to
understand all of it. But I also asked for a general overview of how all these systems fit
together and I didn’t get it.”
       Gust extricated himself from his casual posture, putting his foot on the floor and
taking his head off his hand. “Uh, well, Annette. These are very dynamic systems and
many of them are not under my jurisdiction.”
       “I spent the weekend reviewing these reports and I have one question before I
can go forward. Is the confused nature of these reports because your people are not
capable of describing their areas of responsibility clearly or is it an actual reflection of
the state of our IT infrastructure?
       Gus seemed taken aback and then composed. She could see that he was now
falling back on sycophancy because he was not capable of answering the question.
How did these people get to such high positions?
       “Annette, I agree with your concern one hundred percent. There are more issues
here. But there are still a lot of questions of ownership. A lot of my people fee that they
don’t want to step on anyone’s toes in Global, so they just stay clear of any admin
control of those systems. I think that’s a big cause of what you’re seeing in these
reports.”
       “That’s why I’m trying to find out who owns what.” Gus’s behaviour seemed
strange to Annette. He was delivering his usual line of muddled bullshit, but he didn’t
76                                Conan W. Purves


seem quite as cowering as usual. Was there something going on that was giving him
added confidence?
      “Let’s take a specific example,” Annette continued. “The merchandisers need
data on inventories and unit sales from the Branches. They get it through IMUS. As far
as I can tell, nothing in these reports explains how this information gets into the IMUS
system.”
      “But it does get in there.” It was not a question.
      This was the kind of response from technical people that infuriated Annette.
Instead of taking her bronze cubist paperweight and dashing it into Gus’s forehead,
Annette leaned forward and paused for a moment. Then she said, “It does get in there,
Gus. So why should I care how? Because it is generally about a week late and it is often
erroneous and sometimes it doesn’t make it at all. That is at least four days behind
most of our competition.”
      “Oh,” said Gus.
      His silence suggested that he was thinking. Maybe she had actually gotten
beyond his salesy flim-flam. Did he realize that she wasn’t trying to defeat him or best
him? If he would just do his job they wouldn’t have to go through this struggle.
      “There are ways we can improve the performance,” Gus said finally.
      “I hope there are.”
      “It’s just that, well, Julie has really made the field an IT priority and we haven’t
had the resources to upgrade our Branch systems.”
      “I’m aware of Julie’s priorities,” said Annette. “And I definitely do not want to
step on her toes. That is why my preliminary request was for information only.”
      There was another pause. Annette sensed that Gus just really wanted to leave.
This was his method, usually. Take his licks, be contrite, suck up and leave and still get
nothing done. But she still felt there was more to it than that this time. He wasn’t being
contrite enough. She wanted to light a fire under him, but now she also wanted to
figure out what else was influencing his behavior.
      “So what will our next steps be?” she said.
                                  INCORPORATION                                       77


       “Well, I guess we’ll have to redo these reports.”
       “I don’t think we have to be that drastic. There are specific gaps in the
connection between all these systems.”
       “Well, maybe you could list all the areas that are missing and I could send it back
down and get it filled in.”
       “Is it possible to appoint one person who could oversee that?”
       “Well, they’re all in the Branches.”
       “What about Mike Latham?” His report had seemed relatively thorough.
       “Mike? But he handles the desktop stuff really.”
       “And the network.”
       “That’s true but—”
       “I’m just seeing in his report that he seems to have a better overall grasp on most
of the US systems. That’s probably because he comes across everything in some small
way running the help desk.”
       “Well, I can’t pull Mike off his current project for at least another week.”
       “His current project?”
       “Yeah, we’re doing some stuff for the field.” Gus suddenly broke eye contact
with Annette and made an exaggerated sweeping gesture with his hand to
overemphasize the trivial nature of the project. Annette decided not to press him on it.
       “Next week then?”
       “Yeah. Yes. That shouldn’t be a problem. We can do that.”
       “Good. That gives me time to summarize what areas we need filled in.” Annette
lied. She had already completed that list and shouldn’t have had to anyways. Her next
list was going to be who in the IT department was going to be fired and she could
already see the name Gus Phillipson in the top spot.
       “So Gus, if you could just speak to Mike about this sometime not too far into this
week. I’ll give you a copy of my requests on Thursday which you can edit as you see fit
and forward to Mike. He can begin working on this on Monday. I would need to have
it completed by the following Friday. Does that seem fair?”
78                                 Conan W. Purves


       “Absolutely. Not a problem, Annette.”
       Annette stood up. “I’m glad we had this meeting, Gus. It’s important that we
are clear on each others’ situations.”
       They shook hands. “Yes, thanks Annette. Good stuff.” For a moment, Gus
reverted to his full cheesy mode. It was enough to allow him to escape while saving
some face.
       After he left, Annette called Gladys in. “Gladys, be my little birdy for a moment.
Is the IT department doing anything of note?”
       “You mean the help desk?”
       “Yes. Mike Latham’s group.”
       “Let me think. Well, one of them reserved 28E for the entire week, but that’s all I
can think of.” All the executive secretaries kept a close and guarded watch on
conference room space.
       “What are they using it for?”
       “I don’t know exactly, but they usually take up a conference room if they are
setting up a bunch of new computers. Since they got moved down to the basement,
they don’t have as much room.”
       “Are any departments that you know of getting new computers?”
       “Not that I know of, but you never know. They’re always buying new
computers.”
       “Do me a favor, Gladys. In your free moments, if you’re down there, stick your
head in and see if you can find out what they’re doing in 28E.”
       “Yes, Annette.”
       “Thank you Gladys.”
                                 INCORPORATION                                    79




CHAPTER 3

That bitch! Thought she was so on top of it. She didn’t know how these things worked.
And the poking her nose into other departments’ business. Whatever. Those systems
were not a priority. They never had been and they certainly weren’t now. Julie had
made sure of that.
       Gus was so lost inside his own anger that he didn’t even notice he had gotten on
the elevator. When the doors closed, he saw the unlit panel of floor buttons and
realized he didn’t know where he was going. Might as well go see if those idiots have
everything set up on 28.
       By the time he got to 28 and the door opened to the linoleum-floored elevator
lobby—the cafeteria was also on 28—he had calmed down. He was still feeling angry
and resentful, but it was bubbling gently now instead of boiling over. Normally, he
would have gone into his office and punched things. But this whole other thing with
Julie gave him a confidence he didn’t normally have. Let Annette have her little power
plays. That’s all she was good for. By the time 4th quarter was over she wasn’t going
anywhere but down or out. She should be in retail anyways with the rest of the bitches
with their noses in the air.
       The door to 28E was open and one of Mike’s guys was over there. Kevin?
Richard? Gus was at a bit of a loss without Mike around to translate his orders.
       “Oh, Kevin? Is Mike around?”
       “I’m Nick.”
       Where did they hire these losers from? This one looked like a zombie. couldn’t
they at least try to dress in a somewhat up-to-date style. Gus like to think of himself as
a modern tech guy, smart and technical, but knew how to play the game. Wish I had
more time to teach guys like this a thing or two. Best thing to do, he thought, was to
lead by example.
       Being extra smooth, Gus said “Nick. I’m sorry. Is everything here?”
80                                    Conan W. Purves


           “We received 120 units.”
           What the fuck! Couldn’t these guys do anything right? “120? There are
supposed to be 314. Where is Mike?”
           The kid looked like a deer in the headlights. My headlights, thought Gus.
           “I think he’s on his way up. He told me to sign for 120.”
           Pretending to ignore him, Gus walked over to the phone and dialed Mike’s
extension. One of Gus’s strengths was memorizing numbers.
           “Mike Latham.”
           “Mike, your guy here is telling me that there are only 120 boxes here. The means
we are short 194. Why are we short?”
           “We’re not short, Gus. The UPS guy only has room to bring 120 at a time. The
rest are coming this afternoon and tomorrow morning. This will not affect our schedule
at all.”
           “I see,” said Gus. “Well you just make sure they all get here.”
           He really shouldn’t need to get involved with all these details, but you just
couldn’t rely on the people under you. Gus had learned that lesson many times. He
walked over to the table and picked up one of the laptops. They were thin and silver.
He really should get one for himself. They’d look great on the airplane.
           “Nice,” he said.
           On the way out, he noticed the open door and it made him think of something.
He turned around.
           “Nick,” he pointed at him to get his attention. “Let’s try not to tell everybody
about these laptops. People get jealous and it gets into a whole value-added
conversation that we don’t want to be having, okay?”
           That kid learned a lesson today.
                                 INCORPORATION                                     81




CHAPTER 4

Since Julie was the president, Annette had to go to her office for the meeting. She
realized as she was waiting outside Julie’s closed door that she was getting accustomed
to people coming to her office. But this was good. It would keep her on her toes. As
misguided as she was, Julie was still very smart.
      The door opened and Julie was behind it.
      “Annette. So nice to see you. I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. Please come in.”
She held the door open all the way and stood to one side. Annette did a little knee dip
of courtesy and then went through the door. Julie closed it behind her.
      “Let’s sit here,” Julie pointed to a couch and a love seat flanking a glass table.
Her corner office was about 50% bigger than Annette’s. It was over decorated with
plaques, field awards, photos in garish frames. It appealed to the sales associates from
the field when they came on tours of the home office. But the style was also definitely
Julie’s. She was wearing some weird dress of a too bright blue with a gold and textured
explosion on the left breast. It was belted. Where could she ever have found a dress
like that? It amazed Annette.
      They sat at connecting sides of the table, Julie on the love seat and Annette on the
couch. Annette put her folder down and pulled some papers out.
      “This is really very preliminary, Julie. I thought it would be good for us to begin
talking now.”
      “I agree,” said Julie.
      “As you know, Global IT wants to overhaul the company’s technology resources
from the top to the bottom.”
      “Well, not all the way to the bottom,” Julie interrupted.
      Annette looked up from her papers. There was really no response to this so she
waited.
82                                 Conan W. Purves


       “You’ve already heard my position on this, Annette, but I’m going to say it again
for the record. Our top priority at this company should always be the field. And that is
a concern now more than ever.”
       “You’ve heard my response already as well, so I don’t think I need to repeat it,”
replied Annette. “But here we are. This has Arthur’s full approval, so it will be moving
forward.”
       Julie pursed her lips.
       “Julie, we don’t have the infrastructure in place. Even if we equipped the sales
people with all new computers, the Branches won’t be able to support them. And this
will help the field.”
       “Not 4th quarter,” said Julie.
       “No, not 4th quarter,” and this quarter is your last one if it’s not good, thought
Annette. “My team is working on bringing in the best 4th quarter product line yet. A
fancy laptop is not going to help the sales people to move those products.”
       “It will help a lot more than you or Felipe realize,” Julie held her hands up. “But
as you say, it’s a done deal. So let’s see what you’ve got.”
       Annette paused, took a breath and quickly switched into positivity mode. “I’ve
put together some schematics—these are very broad—that outline the areas in the US
that most need streamlining.” She put two pieces of paper down on the table. Julie
picked up a pair of reading glasses off the table and put them on. She studied the
papers.
       “As you can see, there are many areas that need improvement, but I think the
one that is the most glaring is the data coming from the Branches to our
merchandisers.”
       “I saw that you spoke to Gus this morning.”
       “Yes. I may be overstepping my bounds here, Julie, but I have to say that I’m
concerned with his management of his department.”
       “Oh. Why?”
                                    INCORPORATION                                   83


         “Of all the reports I requested, his was the least organized and missing a lot of
information. I asked him to go back and redo it. It makes me nervous, as if no one
really owns those systems anymore.”
         “Many of the operations in the Branches were put into place in the ‘80s. It
doesn’t surprise me. Probably most of the people have left and we cut our ties with the
vendors responsible when Walker was here.” Six years ago, in the face of plummeting
sales and a demoralized sales force, the board had installed a hatchet man as president.
The move had almost succeeded, but the cost-cutting went too far and the company
almost got snatched in a hostile takeover. It had been Julie Silver who had brought the
sales force back in line and really brought the company back on a growth path.
         “If that is the case, then the second stage of Felipe’s plan is supposed to address
that.”
         “Let’s review these stages again,” said Julie. “I only took cursory notes at the
board meeting.”
         Julie looked through her papers until she found the schedule from Felipe. “The
frst stage is now. Each Business Unit needs to choose a representative from senior
management.”
         “Which in the case of the US business is you.”
         “Which in this case is me,” Annette continued, neither of them forgetting that
Julie was the president of the US business. “That representative is responsible for
presenting the needs and sequestering the budget.”
         Annette knew that the budget was Julie’s main concern and her reason for
fighting so hard against it. She waited for her to say something, but Julie kept quiet.
         “These results are very top level. Once received, Felipe will bring an outside
team to do a much deeper analysis. But he wants the dollars to come out of this year’s
budget, which is why we need to assign a cost center and allocation in the first stage.”
         “And have you thought about where that allocation will come from?”
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       “Well, I’m using most of my IT budget, except for the day-to-day needs. Even
some of those I’m asking the product houses to make do or put the charges under office
supplies if they aren’t too large.”
       Julie said nothing.
       “But that’s not enough.” Annette said after a beat.
       “I know and I know where Felipe wants to get the money from,” Julie sighed.
“I’m just very reluctant to pull from the field IT budget.”
       “I recognize that, Julie. If we can get it from somewhere else, let’s do that. Either
way, I’m going to need to show this to Felipe in two weeks. We have actually been
granted an extension, ostensibly due to our size.”
       They spent another ten minutes talking about various other matters they needed
to take care of. They were both still bristling, but it seemed more subdued now.
Though they had not resolved the computer issue, the discussion itself had relaxed
some of the tension. Although still feeling combative, Annette almost felt an affection
for Julie. When they were working on topics in which Julie didn’t have a personal
stake, she was very warm and efficient. It was a nice combination and Annette could
understand how the board had tapped her for the president position.
       After leaving Julie’s office, Annette’s feelings adjusted from slight affection to
slight sympathy. She realized right then that Julie had already lost. This feeling had
come to her in the past about other people and it had never been wrong. Just their
interaction had changed so much! Julie was still her boss—the president of the
company—but Annette no longer spoke to her like that. It was a natural shift and had
developed over time. She wouldn’t have dreamed of pushing Julie six months like she
just did. But this was what always had happened to Annette on her way up the ladder.
She naturally looked up to her superiors, then tried to learn from them and soon
discovered that she understood more than them. The awe turned to respect and almost
inevitably to a mild contempt. And then she moved on. It was the same with her
husband.
                                   INCORPORATION                                   85


         The only people left were Peter and Arthur, although she was slowly starting to
have some doubts about Peter. She couldn’t really identify those doubts. They were
nothing more than a fleeting sense of burden when he repeated some idea or plan of
his. But Peter was also a fighter and a tough one and Annette knew she still had a lot to
learn from him in that arena.
         Arthur was just a closed door to Annette. He was there, at the top, and had been
there at the nadirs and apexes of the corporation. He seemed unmovable. Had he ever
made any mistakes? Angered the wrong people? Certainly not to Annette’s
knowledge. He was more like a giant statue, unmoving, only watching the
machinations of all the people scurrying under him.
         Annette had lunch with the style department. they were still struggling with
materials shortages and returns. She had put n some new people, but had yet to find
the right VP so improvement was slow at best. Later on in the afternoon, while going
over the second draft of her speech for the National Event, Gladys walked in.
         “Yes?” said Annette.
         “You asked me about the conference room?”
         “Oh, yes.”
         “Well, I didn’t get a chance to go down there, but Angie did. She’s friends with
Robert, one of the IT guys. she said they are setting up laptops.”
         “Mmmhmm. And?”
         “Well, that’s it. But she did say there were a lot and they looked like expensive
ones.”
         “She didn’t say who they were for?”
         “No. She didn’t know.”
         “Thank you, Gladys. That’s very interesting. If you can, find out who they are
going to. But don’t pry too hard. It probably would be better if people didn’t know I
was interested.”
         “Oh, ok.” Gladys had a sort of surprised look on her face.
         “Things are going to get interesting,” said Annette.
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      “Yeah, wow. It really seems like that.” Gladys looked like she wanted to say
something else, but she didn’t. She turned around to go out.
      “Gladys!” Annette stopped her. “You’re with me on this, right?”
      “Oh, yes. Definitely.” Gladys smiled, seemed relieved.
      Given the circumstances, there wasn’t much else she could say, but Annette felt
that her response was genuine.
                                    INCORPORATION                                87




CHAPTER 5

Nick woke up at some wrong time. It was too dark and his blanket was twisted around
his knees. He didn’t really wake up. It was more like he ran out of sleep. He lay in bed
for a while, figuring this out. Then he remembered the list of sales managers for the
laptops and he got out of bed and went to the computer.
       Still fuzzy-headed, he put the goggles on and woke up his machine. The clock
on the computer showed him it wasn’t even six in the morning yet. He launched
OpenNet and his mind was again invaded by the satisfying click that he felt more than
heard. And it woke him right up. His drowsiness disappeared. But he didn’t feel
refreshed or hyper, it was more like he had entered a space where there was no concept
of tired. He just was there.
       Without hesitation, he went through the block labeled Atlanta. There was a brief
blankness and then a disorienting sense of motion and then he was floating amongst the
familiar towers and squares of data. Things were less dense here and perhaps neater.
He also noticed an end where on his network there had only been curving horizon. He
went to one lit end and saw some kind of communication portal, with a protocol he
didn’t recognize, going off to another system. That was probably the warehouse
automation system. Nick was curious, but he didn’t have time. The list of DSM’s was
probably somewhere associated with the field management. They must have a sales
tracking database. But most likely the best list would be on some secretary’s computer.
He was pretty sure they used shared drives here, so he went looking for them. He
found a partition, it manifested itself as a translucent yellow wall. He saw neat stacks of
user directories on the other side. When he went to switch over to that drive, he had to
go back to the main drive and use a proper portal, which must have been the bus. But
there he was, although on the other side from where he had been looking before. It
irked him. If the goggles were allowing him to perceive the data across a partition, why
couldn’t he just pass through it?
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       He could work on that problem later. Now he just dived into the stacks, reading
user ids on the base. He knew the names of a few of the higher up secretaries in the
Atlanta branch and when he figured out that the directories were arranged
alphabetically, he found theirs easily.
       He dug around through folders filled with messy piles of word processing and
spreadsheet documents, with a few bulky presentations getting in the way. He did a
cursory check on anything with an appropriate sounding name. But there was so much
repetition. He could see that some of the secretaries were fairly efficient, keeping their
directories organized. But even in those cases, they seemed to have multiple copies of
the same file, with only minor differences and massive archives of old documents. Nick
had seen this all too often and he knew its source. It was frightened and unskilled
management using all the wrong tools and relying on their secretaries to keep them
afloat. If you distilled all this crap down to information that was relevant to the well-
running of the company, it would probably take up a tenth of the space it currently did.
       Nick’s frustration grew as he went through wasted reams of ascii. Here was a
useless preening memo to some superior—all 5 drafts remaining, here a bloated and
indirect announcement to the Field Managers. What the hell were these people doing?
What was worse, he knew all this stuff was probably printed out on paper and filed
away also. And they were giving top of the line laptops to these monkeys!
       In the middle of an egregious fantasy of somehow arranging a massive self-
criticism and firing session along the lines of the Cultural Revolution, Nick found the
list of DSMs. It was in the same directory as an unfinished memo to Mike. The list was
incomplete though. The secretary must be typing it up from some hardcopy. Where
would that be coming from? Most likely the source was the list of sales leaders. That
made sense because the names were not in alphabetical order and Nick recognized
some of the people at the top of the list. They were names he had seen in various
company publications and announcements as top sellers.
       So this poor secretary, one Naomi Whitely, probably had the printout of
Atlanta’s sales leaders sitting on her desk and was typing them in one by one. Nick
                                  INCORPORATION                                     89


duplicated the list and dropped it in the top level of Atlanta’s main server. But things
were now different in the main drive. Data was moving really fast. Electricity coursed
through every pathway. Every directory was now a dynamic growing and shrinking
worm. Work had begun!
       What time was it? Nick checked the clock on his computer. A small menu bar
pulled down from the nothingness above him read 7:45 am. So he still had some time.
They did start work at the Branch earlier than the home offices. But most people
probably didn’t get in until 8:00. What would full capacity be like? As it was, all the
activity around him was making him jumpy. He kept flinching when a light river
suddenly flowed below him or a blue beam of data shot across his peripheral vision.
       He retreated to the I/O ports where the only activity was a steady, stuttering
flow of packets. He watched them go by, fascinated. They were finite units of text,
capped by their headers. He could make out some of the words of the ones that were
parts of emails. Others were garbled lines of code, that one looking like the pieces of a
picture file, then perhaps an app of some kind. Mostly useless entertainment for bored
and distracted workers filled these pipes, Nick suspected. On the outgoing side, he
could see the packets crammed into the port, a traffic jam with a point of unraveling
efficiency at one end where they neatly took their place in line and disappeared out of
the portal.
       Holy shit! This was amazing. He could watch this for hours. It was such a
beautiful combination of randomness and order. The one side was just a chaotic
jumble. The packets bumped up against each other like ants at a hole in the wall. And
then through the other side was pure alignment and symmetry, like an on ramp that
could never exist. Nick was no longer aware of his physical body. He felt like he was
occupying space in the computer. It was a sensation he had never experienced, but
somehow it didn’t come as surprise to him. It’s what he had imagined it would feel
like to be inside a computer, or well, at least a very effective 3d virtual representation of
a computer, he reminded himself.
90                                 Conan W. Purves


       He was tempted to find out what he would see if he just dived into that thriving
mass of e-mail packets, but it scared him a little, too. They looked sort of blind and
pressing, so ignorant of anything human. Plus, he had to find the DSMs’ rankings
database. Since Naomi couldn’t seem to get it in a digital format, it must not be directly
connected to the Atlanta server. Or at least not in a way that she had access to. He dug
around in the admin’s directories, looking for various network and front-end apps.
       There you go. That was pretty easy. There was a custom solution that looked in
on a separate server. It was very similar to IMUS, probably designed by the same team.
So why didn’t they just give Naomi access to that? He ran the app, fiddled a bit and
discovered the reason. The program was purely a terminal window onto the database,
with some rudimentary filtering functions. You could see the data and you could
trigger the database to print but you couldn’t import the data itself into Naomi’s
desktop operating system. That was depressing.
       He found the link to the database server machine and rode it in. Things were
suddenly calmer and in black and white. He was surrounded in all dimensions by
endless lattices of characters. Streams of numbers and names rose up symmetrically
above him. There was probably 15 or 20 years of sales data in here, recalculated every
two weeks. He located some of the filtering mechanisms near the top of the hierarchy.
They were fairly standard and he was able to query for dates and position. He sorted
out a list of 292 DSMs, which if he remembered correctly, was the number Mike had
said before. So it probably was the right list. He would check it against Naomi’s typed
list. He separated the data out as a text file and then transferred it back to the Atlanta
server. From his current perspective, it was like standing on the barge during the
Fourth of July fireworks display in the East River. He got out of there fast, dumping the
.txt file into his directory and unconsciously quitting OpenNet.
       Thunk. Nick was back in his room, his elbows on the hard desk, plastic goggles
pushing against his nose. His brain felt penetrated but that was already going away.
He suddenly realized he was cold and quite hungry. He took the goggles off and his
eyes were attacked by the light in the room. He scrunched them shut and stumbled
                                  INCORPORATION                                   91


over to the bathroom. Was he late? It didn’t matter. He really needed a shower. Once
the water was running, he was able to open his eyes fully. It wasn’t even that bright.
        He felt much better getting out of the shower. He actually felt a little psyched
about going to work. He could set up that user list in no time. It was too bad he didn’t
have more time at home, because he could have done it with the NeuroMons and that
would have been really cool. As it was, though, he had already saved himself a lot of
work.
        He got out of the shower and his sense of growing refreshment was slammed
dead in its tracks by the bag of dirty laundry next to his bed. The top was open where
he had rifled through it yesterday. It was like a big dirty mouth gaping at him, filled
with unfulfilled expectation.
        “Oh fuck,” said Nick and sat on his bed. He stayed there for a moment until his
clean body accepted the idea of dirty clothes on it. He did his best to find something
wearable and got unwillingly dressed.
        How could anybody get anything done with this thing? He had to constantly
feed it and then the consumption of the food always meant production of waste
products. He always seemed to have to take a shit in the most crucial moments of
games. And those waste products also secreted out of your pores, sticking to your skin
and the clothes that you had to wear to protect yourself. And for some reason, probably
having to do with humanity’s disease-ridden past, you had to wash yourself or society
would reject you and you wouldn’t be able to earn money for the food you didn’t want
in the first place! Where did it all end? Oh, of course, he had forgotten about sex. But
that was too much for Nick and he dropped that line of thinking.
        By the time he got to work, he was feeling energized again. He was just a little
late. Only Robert was in the office.
        “Everyone else is on 28,” he said. “I’m on point.” He made the little quotation
signals with his fingers.
        “Should I go up there?” asked Nick. “I’m supposed to get the user ids set up.”
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      “I doubt Mike got the file yet. You should check with him. You could check the
fax machine, too.”
      “Oh, yeah,” Nick went over there and thumbed through the pile of crap, fliers,
vendor deals and useless company memos their fax machine had spit out. “I’ll go check
with Mike.”
      “You getting a life or something?” Robert asked over to him as he was heading
out the door.
      “Huh? What do you mean?”
      “I don’t know, you’re coming late, always seem to have something on your
mind, having opinions.”
      Oh. I don’t know. I’m busy, I guess.”
      “Well, be careful. That’s against departmental policy, you know.”
      “What is?”
      “Having a life.” Robert winked at him and flapped is hand as if to say
gettoutahere.
      In the conference room, Kevin and Arnold and Mike were back at the assembly
line. The mess had been emptied last night, but was growing again. There was a
wicker basket of muffins and bagels and juice and coffee.
      “Good morning, Nick,” said Mike. “If you didn’t have breakfast already, go to it.
Compliments of the IT department.”
      “I guess the list of DSMs didn’t come in,” said Nick.
      “Not unless they faxed it over in the last hour.”
      “They didn’t.” Nick was wolfing into the most sugary-looking muffin. “I just
checked the fax machine.”
      After eating, Nick found his place in the assembly line. Although he felt they
were not quite as tight as he was, Kevin and Arnold were still pretty good. They
worked quickly and efficiently with no wasted steps. Mike was interrupted often so he
could never really get into the flow, but all four shared a common approach to the
work. Their own being, their physical needs, their emotional sentiments, their random
                                   INCORPORATION                                   93


desires were all irrelevant at best and damaging at worse to the primary job at hand.
They sacrificed their humanity at the altar of the task. And each, in his own way, felt a
certain sense of pride in being able to become the efficient android of production. It
was what kept them up all night debugging some code they knew they could perfect. It
was what allowed them to skip lunch and dinner to make sure that every computer on
the network had the identical disk image, even if that state would only last a few
minutes once the employees got on the machines. In short, it was what made them
nerds.
         But in this case, lunch did come. “All right, guys, let’s take a break.” Mike
clapped his hands. Nobody stopped working. Mike waited a bit. “Okay, finish the
laptop you’re working on and then stop working. And that’s an order!”
         They said nothing except Kevin who mumbled something unintelligible under
his breath. He probably didn’t even know what dimension he was in, let alone that it
was lunch time. Nick wasn’t hungry, just numb. It was easier to keep working then to
stop and sit down. He would have to tear himself out of this neutral numbness. But his
laptop finished downloading all of its files and everything was configured properly. So
with a satisfying click, he closed it and put it on the pile.
         One of the guys from the cafeteria had wheeled in a cart covered with a
tablecloth. He lifted up the cloth and started laying out the sandwiches and salad bowls
that were the classic cafeteria lunch.
         They finally dragged Kevin away from the table and sat in silence for a while,
eating. The food began to revive their minds and they started talking here and there
between bites, or in Kevin’s case during. Mike paged Robert, who came blustering in
with a barrage of complaints about the users, the network, the company and the lack of
remaining sandwich choices.
         Nick ate as much as possible in the vain hope that it would take him a lot longer
to have to eat again. After his fifth under-cooked cafeteria cookie, he excused himself
and went downstairs to the office.
         “Check the fax machine,” Mike called out.
94                                Conan W. Purves


       There was nothing from Atlanta in the fax machine. He got onto his own
computer and found the two documents he’d left there this morning. Seeing them on
his monitor was strange. His world on the network from home had always been so
separate from work. He saw himself operating in two different dimensions, almost as
two distinct identities. And yet here was a bridge between these two worlds. It made
him think just for a second about what he was doing, but that disturbing thought was
quickly quelled. Looking at those two documents was like having a dream that you
had made out with some woman at work and then walking up and finding out that she
was suddenly your girlfriend.
       He opened up the lists of DSMs and scrolled through them, keeping them open
side by side and comparing the data. Up to the point where poor, overburdened Naomi
had stopped typing, they were identical. He felt confident enough in his list that he
could proceed. But then he didn’t feel like doing it manually. He’d have to create each
profile one at a time and without the goggles it all seemed so clunky. He felt like a
dolphin trying to play the piano. I guess that’s the mark of a good product, thought
Nick, you can’t go back after you start using it. Or drugs.
       Reluctantly, Nick went back upstairs. He would create the user profiles tonight
at home. It was a good thing he wasn’t getting paid by the hour. Back in 28E, the
assembly line was running at near-full capacity, with Robert making whipping motions
over Kevin’s back.
       “Robert, let’s go!” Mike yelled. “The people are waiting. Go help them.”
       “Yeah, you loser,” said Kevin, who had been pretending to ignore him. Robert
backed out, bowing the whole way, his Velcro CD folder in one hand and his clipboard
in the other.
       They got back into the groove. Around three, Gladys from Annette’s office stuck
her head in the door.
       “Hey guys!” she said and walked right in. “What’s going on here?”
                                 INCORPORATION                                      95


      Arnold gave the most minimal nod possible and might or might not have
mumbled “hi.” Kevin was not able to acknowledge her existence. Mike was not there,
so Nick recognized that the difficult duty of being socially appropriate was his.
      “Hi, Gladys,” he responded—two could play at this game. “Just trying to get a
bunch of laptops out.”
      “Those are nice. Who are they for?”
      “Um, the field.” Now he was beginning to be out of his depth. He felt strongly
his separation from the assembly line.
      “The field. Don’t they do this for themselves out at the Branch? Can I have a
cookie?”
      Kevin and Arnold seemed to have suddenly picked up their paces. Heir heads
were bent furiously over their work.
      “Um, yeah. We service the field sometimes. The help desk guys out there report
to Mike also.”
      “Got it.” She was eating a cookie and looking at the stacks of completed laptops.
“These are nice. Who’s getting them?”
      “They are for the District Managers.” Nick was conscious of Kevin suddenly not
moving. Was he looking at him sideways?
      “All the DSMs are getting a new laptop?”
      “No, not all of them,” Nick said and then, trying to stop a waterfall with a
bucket, “just Southeast.”
      “Oh yeah, that’s right. I think I heard something about that.”
      Mike came in. Kevin made a weird little “mmeeep” noise through close lips and
started working again.
      “Oh, hi Gladys,” said Mike. “Can I help you with anything?”
      “Hi Mike. No, just stealing cookies.” She took two more and wrapped them in a
napkin. “Actually, I’m just checking out the conference rooms. Do you think you’ll be
completely out of here by Monday? You don’t have to be. I just want to see what
rooms will be open then.”
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      “We have to be. Where are we at guys?”
      “One hundred and eleven!” said Kevin.
      “Good.” Mike sounded pleasantly surprised. “So barring any major disasters,
we should be done on time.”
      “Well, I’ll pencil Annette in on Monday. Let me know if you think you might not
get done.”
      “We should be fine. But I’ll let you know.”
      “Thanks a lot, Mike.” Gladys left, holding the wrapped cookies in her fingers
above her shoulder.
      Mike went over to his area on the table. Kevin was staring at Nick purposefully.
Nick stared back and then made a confrontationally puzzled gesture.
      Kevin said, “Well?”
      “Well what, Kevin?” said Nick.
      “You’d better tell Mike.”
      “Tell him what?”
      “That you spilled the beans on our little operation here.”
      “Spilled the beans?! Kevin, what are you talking about?” But Nick already knew
what. He turned to Mike. “Mike, I kind of let slip to Gladys who the laptops were for.”
      “So?” said Mike, not looking up.
      “Well you specifically said that we weren’t supposed to say anything to anyone
about the project.” Kevin’s face was going red.
      “Kevin, Gladys is Annette’s secretary,” said Mike. “Annette is the Senior VP of
US Marketing. She reports directly to Julie. I’m pretty sure she knows this is going on.”
      Arnold was smirking now. Everybody was looking at Kevin who was
attempting to maintain a stubborn expression. Finally he looked down. “I was under
the impression that those were the operation parameters. If you’re going to change
them at any time…” His mumblings became unintelligible.
      “I swear Kevin, sometimes you are so weird,” said Mike, shaking his head.
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       Kevin quickly forgot the conflict and Nick was certainly not personally offended.
He knew that with someone like Kevin, it was never personal. He was just vainly
attempting to apply the rules of the system as they had been laid down to him.
       Still, it did kind of irk Nick. In a way, he knew that Kevin was right. He didn’t
want to answer Gladys’ questions. It’s just that she had been so persistent and
confident. He had no way of answering them, no social mechanism to avoid them
without blatantly alerting everyone in the room that that was what he was doing. How
do you do that? Was that the kind of skill that got you to the top? It was probably so
basic and natural to those smooth types, a level 1 spell like Cast Light. They probably
did it 20 times a day around the office.
       Nick went home that evening and the first thing he did was to start working on
those user profiles. He was getting accustomed to the fundamental click of the
OpenNet software connecting him to the network. Instead of shocking and slightly
jarring, he expected the sensation now and it was almost satisfying.
       Back in amongst the bits and bytes, he felt versatile again, flexible. The monitor
was no longer a convex glass wall he couldn’t get his knuckles through. Here the data
floated and stacked around him and he could really manipulate it. He snatched another
remote user setup file and deleted its contents. He spent some time creating a template,
with all the parameters except name and password. As he made changes to the file, he
could see where the data was being written to the hard drive. It wasn’t always in the
best location. It was still fairly early and a lot of users were working on the network.
He could see the file management software struggling to maintain cohesive files. Nick
wondered if there was some way for him to lay the data on the sectors manually, like a
bricklayer. It did not occur to him to wonder how he could be aware of the hard drive
activity while simultaneously writing to his template user file.
       When that was done, it was a very simple task to merge the list of DSMs into 341
blank user ids. Since he was no longer constrained by the application the files were
written in, he simply merged them as ascii files and then changed their creator type ID.
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Boom. He had 341 unique user profiles ready to be downloaded into the appropriate
laptop and assigned a place on the server.
         Well that was pretty sweet, thought Nick. Now let’s take a look at this hard
drive.
                                    INCORPORATION                                   99




CHAPTER 6

“Are you joking me?” Sometimes, extremely rarely, Annette’s idiomatic English failed
her. It was usually in times of surprise or drunkenness.
       Gladys stood their silently. She was proud of having done an effective job. She
had hoped that when she told Annette about the laptops that it would be important.
But this was a little too important. It made her nervous. The color had gone right out of
Annette’s face and she had banged her hand on the table. Now she just seemed
stunned.
       Finally, she gathered her composure and became the unflappable Annette to
which Gladys was accustomed. She shook her head a few times and said, “She must be
going crazy.”
       Gladys said nothing.
       “Thank you, Gladys,” Annette said. “I need to think about this for a bit.”
       Gladys left. Annette picked up the phone and called Peter. His secretary picked
up. Peter wasn’t there, could she leave a message?
       “Tell him it’s urgent,” Annette said.
       A half an hour later, Annette was sitting in Peter’s office in the Global building.
His office was ridiculously big. Peter sat behind his desk, one pressed leg over the
other, his high leather chair at a slight angle to the desk. Peter always sat in that chair
when Annette was in his office.
       “Well, I think this is it,” Peter was saying.
       “It’s so blatant. I’m suspicious.”
       “You’re right to be. She must have known that if you found out about this that it
was all over. But then again, maybe this was her only choice.”
       “What do you mean?”
       “Well, what else could she do?” If she doesn’t get at least a base hit in the fourth
quarter, then it’s over for her.”
100                                    Conan W. Purves


         “So she blows her budget on a bunch of laptops for the District Managers?”
         “I’d bet that’s not the only thing she’s secretly throwing money at. And you
know how she feels about the field and their need for computers.”
         “So even if she gets canned, the DSMs all have new laptops.”
         “Exactly.”
         “Heart over practicality.”
         “Her altruism was always her weak point.”
         They sat there quietly for a moment. Annette felt conflict. It had come too easily
for her and now she felt bad. Could she stick the knife into the wounded beast?
         “Hold that thought,” said Peter, pointing a finger into the air and pushing the
intercom on his phone. “Kim, could you bring us some coffee.” He turned back to
Annette, looking at her meaningfully. “It should be champagne, but we don’t drink in
the office anymore.”
         “It’s not over yet, Peter.”
         “The hard part is, Annette. Let me think of the best way to approach the next
step.”
         “Don’t do anything egregious.”
         “Getting cold feet now that the kill is at hand? I’m not going to do anything,
Annette. You are.”
         Peter’s secretary came in with a tray. She was leggy and hairsprayed and had a
body fighting it’s way out of her skirt suit.
         “Thank you, Kim.” She had come around next to Peter to put his coffee down,
close enough so that he could smell her. “Kim, this is Annette. Annette, this is Kim.
New to my staff.”
         They made thin-mouthed smile faces and squinty eyes at each other and then
Kim left.
         “Peter, for god’s sake.”
         “She’s very efficient, Annette.” He held his coffee mug up. “Cheers!”
                                  INCORPORATION                                 101


       Annette had called Gladys from the executive lobby of the Global building,
cancelled her remaining two appointments and told Gladys to go home. It was late in
the day and she wanted to walk home through the park. She had started feeling a little
anxious and even a little nauseous from the coffee. But now that she was out here in the
yellows and browns on the trees and on the ground, with the clear air blowing across
her face, she felt much stronger. Julie had fucked up and big time. That’s all there was
to it. It was Peter’s obvious pleasure in her coming undone that had made Annette
hesitate. Julie had pissed Annette off hundreds of times. But Annette didn’t want her
dead and disgraced. She just wanted her out of the way. Maybe somewhere in the field
where she could continue to do good work. But that wouldn’t work. You can’t go
backwards in this business, Annette and Julie both understood that.
       So what would she do next? She was going to have to stop waiting on Pete’s
word. This would be a good place for her to step out and make a play on her own. She
could make a pretty good guess about how Peter was going to proceed. Get some
evidence about the laptops and whatever other expenditures Julie had made without
approval and throw them in her face in front of the board. Not only did that seem cruel
to Annette, it also seemed excessive. There must be some middle road. Some way to
get Julie to step to one side while saving face.
       She let it go and just walked. As usual in New York, Autumn had settled in
beautifully, elegantly. And Central Park was a great showcase for it. But there were
always the greys and creams of the buildings of midtown peeking over the trees,
reminding you what you were doing in New York and calling you to get back to it.
       She really needed to take a weekend in the country. Michael’s parents out in
Long Island were an option, but there was so much baggage there. Also, she was going
to be in Puerto Rico in two weeks. But right now, in the park, Puerto Rico seemed pink
and lime and stucco and all wrong when she wanted dull green and brown and bark.
       “All right, all right! I’m coming!” she called out loud to the buildings of
midtown and she turned around and walked back to the office.
102                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 7


Nick was still in it. He had been skimming along the surface of the hard drive—the
visuals were not unlike the exterior of the Death Star—when he realized the DSMs
would probably need email profiles set up also. Mike didn’t say anything about it, but
he couldn’t imagine they weren’t going to give them email. But anyways, Nick just
wanted to test his chops.
       He jumped onto the company’s email database. It was a massive beast that their
company had paid another company millions of dollars for. It was supposed to have
covered all the corporation’s network needs: communications, scheduling, document
sharing. It ended up being a massively expensive and complex email program. The
email part of the application was actually fairly robust internally but the rest of it kept
going down and the way it communicated with outside servers was really weird. There
was some replication process that Nick didn’t fully understand. But at least once a
month it would start sending out endless duplications of outgoing mail, driving all their
clients and vendors insane. Of course, some idiot associate would have cc’ed a 3 meg
.mov file to all their friends and that sucker would bring down a bunch of servers
around the city. At least he couldn’t blame Gus for the purchase. It had come from
Global and was being installed in every Business Unit across the world. It was a global
solution, as they called it.
       But once in it, with the NeuroMons, Nick found it too easy to go through
everyone’s mail. It was a document-based database, basically, with little or no security
when you were looking at things on a text level. Nick was not a nosy person. He didn’t
really care very much about what other people were doing. But flipping through stack
after stack of user lists and seeing Phillipson’s name there was too great temptation.
What did a prick like that have to say?
                                   INCORPORATION                              103


       There was a whole thread between him and Julie. The header was re: SE IT
Enhancement. They were discussing the details about the laptops. Cool. This was how
these people talked, how they came up with these ideas. Here was Julie: “We’re
pushing everything we can at the 4the Quarter. Budget is not an issue. I want these
enhancements firmly in place in the SE by the end of the year. That way there will be
no choice for next year for the rest of the field.”
       And Gus: “Your wish is my command, Julie. We’ll have laptops in their hands
for the National Event.”
       Nick read on. There were some logistical details, but it was mainly Gus sucking
up and reassuring. What surprised him, though, was that they spoke as if they weren’t
supposed to be doing this. There were references to the Tamale, and the Tall Tree.
They must be codenames for other execs. These people really were freaks!
       Here was Gus yesterday, in fine form: “The Tamale is all over me re the Global
implementation. I’m trying to slow down the research, but she’s going to ask for the
budget soon and I definitely don’t have it now. I haven’t heard anything from Ramos
and I don’t want to.” Julie hadn’t responded yet.
       Nick switched to a thread between Gus and Annette. The messages were fewer
and much more formal in tone. Annette was bugging him about some reports. Nick
remembered when Mike was working on that. He traced back and found the initial
memo. It had come as an attached document. It was a big project.
       Nick was too excited to keep reading the details of the global implementation
project. He jumped over to Annette’s file. Maybe he was a nosy person after all. But
her mail was boring, well not boring, but business-like. There were some personal
emails, but they were long and in Spanish. There was also some brief arrangement
messages. But everything else was straight business. Nick respected that. She had a
reputation for being smart and he wanted to believe it. She was obviously not too
technical, but, unlike Silver and Phillipson, she was smart enough not to put anything
incriminating in email.
104                                Conan W. Purves


       He dug around a little more, enough to figure out that Annette didn’t know
about the laptops and probably wasn’t supposed to. Which made it pretty interesting
that Gladys had come snooping around to the conference room today. Damn, there was
a lot of shit going on around there at the top.
       He thought briefly about looking through Mike’s email, but the idea made him
feel weird. He decided that if it had to do with company politics, he could read it.
Otherwise, he would leave it alone. Why not? He was part of the corporate body and
the games they played certainly affected him. What if they were planning major
changes to the system. He would need to know that ahead of time. It would save him a
lot of work down the road.
       The next day was more laptops and Nick was tired again. He had been up pretty
late on the system, but was able to wake up to his alarm clock. His mind kept chasing
around the number of hours he had slept, but he fought it because he didn’t want to
know. It was Wednesday and the fax still hadn’t come through from the Southeast.
They were ahead of schedule with the laptops, too.
       The day went by in a series of stills: laptops opening, screens, laptops being
passed from hand to hand. It was all grey and silver and dead blue. Nick’s mind
wandered around Julie and Gus’s email. Why would they be buying all this equipment
secretly? Did Annette already know? What was she going to do? He had heard
rumors that they didn’t get along.
       “Hey, Robert. What’s the story with Julie and Annette?” he asked.
       “Oooh. Icy.” Robert said.
       “Really?”
       “Yeah, man, don’t you know? Julie hates Annette.”
       “Why?”
       “Look at the situation. Annette is brought in by Global, placed in a top spot.
Julie did not pick her for that role. Annette has got sponsorship from the top. Whereas
Julie has worked her way up through the sales ranks.”
       “Julie, old school; Annette, new school,” said Arnold.
                                   INCORPORATION                                   105


       “That’s it, right there,” said Robert. “Just look at the way they dress.”
       “So Arthur Collins is, like, her mentor?” asked Nick.
       “No, not Arthur,” said Robert. “From what I understand, and this is only
unsubstantiated rumour, she’s Peter’s boy.”
       “You mean girl.”
       “Whatever. She’s in his pocket. Supposedly, she used to give it up to him.”
       “No.” Nick was genuinely surprised.
       “Well, that’s a rumour too, but don’t think that doesn’t go on.”
       “Damn,” said Nick.
       “Damn is right! And that’s just the start. You think we got politics down here?
It’s like ancient Rome up there! Julius Caesar and all that. If you want to make it to the
top of this game you have got to be the biggest player. Ain’t that right, Mike?”
       Mike, who had been pretending not to listen, said “There’s definitely some
politics, but you’re exaggerating it some.”
       “You know I speak the truth,” said Robert.
       Later, after Mike had left, Robert leaned over to Nick and started again. “You
see, Nick, Mike has to say that. He’s Middle Management. His main job is to make sure
that we get our work done. But his second job is to keep up the illusion that the bosses
know what the fuck they’re doing. If you saw for real the way they acted, stabbing each
other in the back, fucking each other, stealing, you wouldn’t do any work. You’d be too
busy trying to get your own, like Arnold over here.”
       Robert was right in his face. Nick didn’t know how to respond. Was this what
Kevin faced all the time?
       “I guess so,” he finally said.
       “I guess so!” Robert stepped back and raised his hands in the air. “Damn.
You’re just like Kevin. I’m dropping the wisdom of ages on your nerd ass and all you
can say is I guess so.”
       “Well, what was I supposed to say?”
106                               Conan W. Purves


      “True. True. What can you say?” Robert seemed mollified and they all went
back to work.
      That night, filled with Robert’s rhetoric and his own curiousity, Nick dug deep
into the email system. He read the global IT plan that Annette was spearheading in the
US. He saw that it had originated from Felipe Cruz, the CTO and that it was actually
pretty good, except for the traditional over-reliance on outside vendors. He actually
read the document and saw that each tech department was supposed to pay for it out of
their own budget and that the money needed to be set aside for next year. So Julie and
Phillipson were just saying fuck that? Why would Julie ever take such a risk?
      He also checked through Annette’s calendar. Fortunately Gladys, being the good
worker, kept that in the document-based database system also. There were two lunch
appointments with Peter, but they didn’t seem out of the ordinary. He tried to check
Peter’s calendar, but couldn’t. The database was on the Global Server. That was going
to have to be his next stop. He had never really tried to break into Global. It was
smaller and their IT department actually had some smart guys. It would definitely be
his job if they found him snooping around there. But it was more than that. Global was
kind of like the king’s castle and he was the dirty rascal. He felt awkward and exposed
going there. He had visited the building once. He spent most of the time in the
basement. But he had gone up to the main lobby later that day. It had a hushed and
carpeted atmosphere that made the US executive floor look pretty shabby. The
receptionist had been too calm and too friendly. Nick imagined that the Global
network would be digitally equivalent to that lobby.
      But that was before he had these goggles. He felt he had enough control to
quickly hide any trace of his own presence. He telnetted over and stood in front of the
firewall. He didn’t have a password or user id to the Global network. But the firewall
was now looking pretty porous. He could see cracks and wrinkles in the code now and
when he looked closely at them, they revealed files and strings that he could follow and
then he was on the other side. And from the back, all the circuitry was revealed to him,
including hanging lists of users and admins.
                                  INCORPORATION                                   107


       It was weird, Nick thought, because the last time he had looked at the Branches’
firewalls—and that was with the NeuroMons—they had just been big solid digital
walls. It seemed like that was happening with everything. Details and structures were
becoming visible in other areas, too. When looking at word processing files, he was
starting to see formatting codes underneath the text. Network activity was now much
more detailed than just lines of light. And last night, when he had jumped into the hard
drive, it had been really trippy. Not only was he able to see all the sectors laid out in a
massive patterned disc, he could zoom in and out, getting really close to individual files
and blocks. So close, in fact, that he thought for a moment that he could see interlacing
teeth of 0’s and 1’s like gears pulling themselves away from each other as a file was
moved from one sector to another. This had scared him and he pulled back and now
wasn’t really sure what he’d seen.
       Global was kind of hushed. It certainly wasn’t carpeted, but it had a muted
stillness. There just wasn’t a lot of activity going on. He imagined the network would
be pretty interesting. Global was a hub for most of the international Business Units’
networks. But Nick was still curious about what Peter had to say for himself, so he
found the email database, nestled imposingly in a large segment of the Global server.
       It was much smaller than the US one and he found Peter’s profile quickly. At
first, judging by the headers, Peter’s mail looked pretty interesting. All kinds of high-
level stuff. But once he got into it, he found Peter even more cautious than Annette.
There were only minor confirmations of other people’s emails, forwards and fyi’s. He
sorted by recipient and found none to Annette, which might have been interesting in
and of itself. There were none from her either. He must be deleting those files.
       He broke down one of Peter’s outgoing message, pulled it apart and found lots
of identifying information: timestamps, record ids, doc ids. He filed those numbers
and then checked in the database’s discard file. He saw that it kept messages that
appeared permanently deleted in a separate file, but it was set to wipe once a week.
There were quite a few emails from Peter’s file here, but none from Annette. He knew
that the IT department backed everything up every night, but those archives were
108                                Conan W. Purves


sitting on some magnetic disks offline somewhere and he had no idea how he could get
at those.
       Instead he dived into the server hard drive. He knew most deleted files simply
had their header id stripped off, but that the bulk of the data sat n the drive until it got
written over or reformatted. The trash area was just that, a crazy accumulation of files
of all sizes, in pieces, torn, discarded. He imagined silver electronic seagulls cawing
over the mess and scaled, binary rats lurking in it.
       He searched for some of the ids he’d pulled from Peter’s file and began to find
segments. It took a while for the documents to accumulate. When the search seemed
about finished he cross-referenced the results with Annette’s name. There you go.
There were some emails. He went through these and was again disappointed. It was
all business and all legitimate and boring business at that. If these two were getting it
on, it certainly wasn’t coming across on cyberspace. He checked against Julie Silver’s
name, just for the hell of it, and there were even fewer results. The messages here were
even more rudimentary and businesslike. They seemed to have no personal
relationship. At least in Annette’s, Peter always added a little salutation or comment.
       There was one email from Julie to Peter that was odd. It was the only one
without anything in the subject line and it read “per our conversation. I need to know
that you’ll reign in the tamale. She will be all over it otherwise.” From the fragments
he had discovered, there had been no response from Peter. So maybe there was some
politics going on, but these people, despite their advanced ages, were smart enough
most of the time to keep it off the internet. He wanted to save that file, but thought it
might be risky to have it connected in any way to him. He built a hidden mini-directory
at the root of the server and gave it a name that was very close to a root function. He
copied a test version of Julie’s email in there. He probably should encrypt it, but he
didn’t have anything set up in the Global server.
       He backed out. That had been interesting. Should he call it a night? He was so
untired. He spent a while looking at the ports to the four Branches, noticing how
                                 INCORPORATION                                 109


different each protocol was, but he found himself thinking about Julie’s note. It had
seemed kind of desperate, so human. He took the goggles off and went to bed.
110                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 8


Annette was sitting with Lester Pastry, the VP of US Finance. He was enormously fat,
although she had only ever seen him eat moderately. He was also an extremely
pleasant person and the best accountant she had ever worked with.
      “Honestly, it’s tight,” Lester was saying. “But with a little fudging and you
being very strict with your spending, we can do it.”
      “As long as we create the cost center now, then we can’t touch this money.”
      “Exactly. It’s the rest of your budget that you are going to have to be careful
about. I know how you are in the 4th quarter, Annette.”
      “So what’s the worst that could happen?”
      “Well, you’ll go over budget.” Lester looked as if that was the worst possible
thing that could happen.
      “But the Global IT budget will not be touched?”
      “Yes.”
      “And it will be there for next year?”
      “Yes.”
      “good. I just want to be absolutely clear on that. As you know, that is both
Arthur and Peter’s priority for next year.”
      “I am aware of that, yes.”
      Annette restacked and organized one set of papers, put them in a folder and
pulled out another. “Okay. Let’s take a look at the Field.”
      Lester did the same, reaching into the bag at his side. His fingers were so thick,
thought Annette.
      “This is Julie’s bailiwick, of course,” Annette said. “And I’m not going to push at
her budget like I did mine.” They both laughed politely. “But as the point person for
this rollout, I’m responsible to Felipe to ensure we have the budgets locked down. I
                                   INCORPORATION                                 111


have spoken with Julie about this.” Which was true. But she hadn’t told her she was
actually going to do it herself.
       “I understand,” Lester said. “I did some preliminary looking at the sales
numbers and the obvious place is their IT budget. I know Julie had planned some
initiatives there for this year, but I guess they have been superseded by this project.”
       “The goals of the Global IT rollout are basically in line with what Julie wanted to
do in the field.”
       “Well, that’s good then, because there is plenty of money in her IT budget.”
       “There is?”
       “Well, I speak relatively, of course. But barring any recent changes, we can
definitely set aside a portion for next year.”
       “Do you expect much activity in that cost center?”
       “Well, I don’t know. There’s certainly nothing on the radar. I would have Scotty
and his team lock it down and chase any of the most recent invoices.”
       “Will you do that check before you close the cost center?”
       “Well, we don’t like to do it that way.”
       “I understand,” Annette cut him off. “In this case, I just want to make sure we’re
not stepping on any toes. Once you think the status is okay, I’ll speak with Julie first
and get her approval.”
       “Good idea. You’re right.”
       Annette stood up. This signaled to Lester that the meeting was over and he
struggled to get out of the chair. Fortunately, it was the solidly designed executive-
floor chair. He probably had broken chairs before. He reached his hand across the
desk, the kind of slightly formal gesture which endeared him to his co-workers.
       “Thank you, Lester. I really appreciate your quick response.” And she did. He
was nothing but an asset to the corporation. She would gladly clone his mind five times
and put him at the head of various departments. What inner demons were there,
though, that sent a man like that home to eat a gallon of ice cream alone at midnight?
112                               Conan W. Purves


       She sat down again. She was slowly building up her position against Julie. But
she still felt that she was on Peter’s path instead of her own. All this evidence was
going to lead inevitably to some kind of showdown that could only result in winners
and losers. If only there were some way to head Julie off of this path. But she knew
that at this point any compromise she made would most likely be her downfall. They
were too far into the game for that.
       But why were they so far into the game? Thinking back on the last year, Annette
saw that she and Julie were headed on a collision course. They both knew it when she
got the position. But was it inevitable? And why did it suddenly seem to have
accelerated in the last week or two? The thing that was holding her up was that she
could not conceive of Julie’s rash behaviour.
       Julie certainly was passionate about her salespeople. But she had always been
cautious. One did not become president of the company making idealistic decisions.
Perhaps she had just reached her limit. She could no longer act rationally in her role.
Was this a classic example of the Peter Principle? That answer didn’t feel right to
Annette. Something else was going on. Was Julie making a move against her? That
was possible. Was someone backing then? That was very possible. Who? Arthur?
That didn’t seem likely. How would backing Julie—and backing her secretly no less—
on this issue serve him? He was the CEO.
       From what Annette understood, there was no one else on the board strongly
allied to Julie. She had begun to alienate herself from some of her former allies. She
couldn’t make it work yet, but the more she thought about it, the more likely it seemed
that Julie had someone behind her. So where did that put Annette? Nowhere different,
but she was going to have to be even more cautious from now on.
                                 INCORPORATION                                 113




CHAPTER 9


Mike was pointing a finger at him. “You’re on point!”
      “You’re serious?”
      “Serious as cancer. Now get your clipboard and your little system cd carrier and
get those people up and running.”
      Nick looked at the laptop assembly line momentarily and then turned and went
back downstairs. He had completely forgotten that this was his day on point and had
been looking forward to the mindless repetition of the laptops. Now he was going to
have to think and interact with complex and badly-programmed human beings.
      He sat at his computer and looked at the very long list of jobs. Printer not
working. Monitor to be installed. Can’t get on to network. Toner needed. Password
not working. Lost file! Printer not printing. What the hell had the other guys been
doing all week?
      Well, get on the horse. He called the first one and the woman on the other end
starting bitching at him right away. She had put the call in on Monday, blah blah blah.
He let her vent and then told her he would be right up. When he got there, he found a
stopped print queue filled with tons of copies of the same document. He cleared all but
one out and explained to her that it probably had encountered some error and
automatically stopped the queue. All you had to do was tell it to start again, which he
did and the document came out. He left a shortcut on her desk to the printer and hoped
she would remember.
      The rest of his morning went on like this and was really beginning to depress
him when Mike paged him. He grabbed a phone at an empty cubicle and called the
conference room.
      “Nick, supposedly the Southeast list is here. Go downstairs and check the fax
machine. If it is, call me and get working on it and we’ll put Robert back on point.”
114                                  Conan W. Purves


       As he hung up, he heard Robert cheering in the background. It was like a
miracle of God. The list was there and it was the exact same file that had been partially
completed when he had taken it from Naomi whatever’s directory. He called Mike in
the conference room.
       “Mike, it’s here.”
       “You’re holding the list in your hands?”
       “I am.”
       “Finally. That’s great news. How long do you think it will take you to create the
user profiles?”
       “Couple hours.”
       “Would you be willing to work through lunch.” It wasn’t really a question.
“You can take a break when you’re done. I would love to be able to start loading them
on to the laptops this afternoon.”
       “Yeah, that’s okay, Mike.”
       “Great, cause we’re almost done here. Robert, go!” He hung up.
       Nick did little fidgety dances around the room. Now he could just totally chill,
get the work done a little early so it looked like he had busted ass and then take a nice
lunch break, which Mike would probably pay for. That’s what I’m saying! Nick
wished he were a Muslim so he could bow seven times to Mecca or something.
       He checked himself. Better make sure all the files were still there. He brought
the fax over to his computer and checked it against the list he’d gotten from the SE
database. Why the fuck couldn’t they alphabetize this stuff! He read them down, cross-
checking manager against manager and the lists were identical. He was glad
everything was okay on his end, but the fact that these lists were the same just further
confirmed his annoyance with the system. Why couldn’t they just have access to the
sales database? First, he knew the access wasn’t there. But the real reason there was no
access was because of all those asshole directors in the Branch couldn’t deal with any of
their info going out without their checking and “approving” it.
                                 INCORPORATION                                  115


       But everything matched and he was basically done. So now what was he going
to do with himself? He had nothing to do and all this time. He wished he could go
home and put on the NeuroMons and cruise around the network while it was at its
busiest. He felt silly. He started to clean out his desk. It was just something his hands
started doing but after about ten minutes he really got into it. He dug deep into the
piles of paper on his desk, throwing away as much as possible. He got into his drawers
and found more things he had once needed and now no longer did.
       He separated everything out into piles. The biggest one went in the trash with a
satisfying crash. The rest but one went into various file folders. The last pile was things
he wasn’t sure about, the indestructible kernel of disorganization that he could never
eliminate entirely. There were memos to read and once skimmed most of them could
be thrown away. There was a lot of paper and forms having to do with his benefits.
Those he promised himself he would do once he got to the bottom of the pile.
       He came upon the company’s annual report, a glossy book. He flipped through
it, feeling somehow inadequate that he didn’t understand and really didn’t care about
the boxes and boxes of financial numbers in its pages. But at the back there was a
section devoted to the company’s senior management. It started with a full page
picture of Arthur Collins. He was sitting on his desk, smiling so pleasantly, one hand
over the other which was resting on one thigh. It was amazing how calm and
reassuring his expression was. Nick felt it coming off the page. There was a statement
from him (the words flowed off of Nick’s mind like water from a duck’s back) and a
biography. The next pages showed smaller pictures of Peter Arnagent, who was the
COO, whatever that was, and then the presidents of the various Business Units. And
there was Julie Silver, the first one after the COO, looking somehow out of place. Her
hair was wrong and he smile seemed forced, like she actually had a real one somewhere
and had never learned to replace it with the smooth mask the others used.
       After those pages was a list of the board members and Nick noted that Arthur
and Peter and Julie were all on the board. The rest were people from other companies.
So if Julie was on the board, didn’t that make her untouchable.? The tone of her email
116                                Conan W. Purves


rang in his head. If she was concerned, then she must be dealing with opponents at her
level. But she had some kind of alliance with the COO. From what Nick thought,
Arthur had put her in the president position. So who was her enemy? There must be a
lot of intrigue going on up there. He needed to get better information.
       There also was some thing about the CEO retiring. Wasn’t that supposed to have
already happened? Was that Peter guy next in line? He didn’t seem right to Nick. He
just didn’t have that aura of avuncular authority that Arthur had. But it was a tough
spot to fill. Arthur had been at the corporation for a long time and was the CEO for the
entire time Nick had been working there. He would have to ask Robert about the whole
retirement story.
       He put the Annual Report in his bag and finished the pile. His desk looked
excellent and he felt satisfied. He still had a little more time to kill so he applied his
productive state to his email. When that was done, he phoned the conference room. It
rang for a while before someone picked it up.
       “Mike?” said Nick.
       “Not here.” It was Arnold.
       “Where is he?”
       “You page him!” and he slammed the phone down.
       Nick laughed at the thought of Arnold and Kevin working alone there. They
probably hadn’t said a word to each other, those two freaks. He paged Mike, who
called him right back. He told him he had finished the profiles.
       “Nick, that was fast! Excellent work. Go get some lunch and, you know what,
we’ll expense it. Bring me back the receipts.”
       “Thanks, Mike.”
       “No, thank you. But don’t take too long because I’ll need you to help us load up
the laptops. We’ll keep Robert on desktop duty. He seems to like it.”
       Nick got his coat and went outside. He had a big meatball hero with a drink and
chips and went and got some desert also. Food was never better than when someone
else was paying for it. Because he had eaten quickly and because he felt like he
                                  INCORPORATION                                     117


deserved it, he went for a little walk around Times Square. The beautiful fall weather
was stretching itself out and the tourists were only the weirdly-dressed European ones.
He spent ten minutes in the arcade watching businessmen battle drug dealers and
couriers on the fighting games.
       When he went into the conference room, Mike thanked him again. Kevin and
Arnold watched him with a slightly hunted look, or so Nick imagined. He had finished
the user profiles just a little faster than it probably would have actually taken him to do
it. And that was pretty fast. Nick knew that Kevin and Arnold were impressed and
maybe a little surprised and competitive also. They’d better give him his props!
       They were moving the laptops from their finished pile back to the work area to
have the user profiles downloaded and then to a new finished-finished pile. Nick
found his place and Arnold handed him a laptop.
       “That was fast, Nick.”
       “Yeah,” Kevin added. He looked up at Nick from under his hair for a quick
second, but that was enough for Nick.
       They worked quietly for the rest of the day. They finished around six. 292
laptops in twenty stacks against the wall. Against the opposite wall was a chaotic pile
of vinyl laptop cases. These had started out in stacks, but one had collapsed and it
became clear that the integrity of this pile couldn’t hold, so they allowed it to
deteriorate into a black matte monster that threatened to take over the floor.
       “I guess the mailroom is going to put these things in their cases,” said Mike.
“They’re the ones doing the actual shipping to the National Event.”
       “Isn’t the National Event in Puerto Rico?” Nick asked.
       “Yep.”
       “Seems kind of stupid to ship 292 laptops to Puerto Rico.”
       “They want to do some kind of presentation to the managers. You know how
these things are.”
       “Good luck getting them all there.”
       “Well, you know what’s good news, Nick.”
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       “What?”
       “Not our problem.” Mike held the conference room door open for everyone to
leave and the locked it.
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CHAPTER 10


Annette was at her desk. She had requested the most recent catalogs from each of the
company’s international Business Units and was now reviewing them. They horrified
her. She had seen them all before and hated each, except maybe Japan’s. Taken
together they were worse than just tacky. They represented a disorganized and failing
marketing strategy and a chaotic product line. Where was the company’s image in
these products? Where was the modernity, the style, the energy they needed to sell
these products? It wasn’t in these brochures.
       The problem lay in the split between the U.S. and Global divisions. The US
tended to drive the product lines and image campaigns. But the Global countries had
too much autonomy and so they went with whatever worked for their region. The
entire corporation needed a much stronger marketing center, a division that controlled
Marketing and their measly advertising budget from the top down. Annette had
thought she might be able to build up the US Marketing department, but she was
beginning to see how intransigent the Global positions were. She was now thinking of
creating a department in the Global building to perform this function. These plans were
still in a nascent stage—she hadn’t said anything to Peter about it either.
       Now she was just building up a case. She was making a marketing report on all
the Business Units. She wanted to find the most obvious areas where work could be
streamlined and redundancies eliminated. She knew that Arthur and the board didn’t
agree with her on the primary importance of the company’s image, and when they did,
their ideas on image were laughable. So it was best to emphasize the efficiency and
savings to them. And they would be able to cut costs with this plan.
       They were selling diapers in the Czech Republic! It was crazy. As much as it
irked her, she was going to have to allow for a lot of local deviation. Certain things
worked in certain conditions. But not at the expense of the company’s image. They
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couldn’t allow diapers on the fifth page. They might as well put them on the cover.
This was what Julie didn’t understand. Everyone was so busy comforting and
protecting the precious salespeople that they were allowing them to run the company.
And diapers in the catalog were the result.
       Gladys voice came on the intercom. “It’s Lester Pastry. Would you like to speak
to him?”
       “Oh yes. Thanks, Gladys.” She pressed the button on the phone. “Hi, Lester.”
       “Hi, Annette. I’m looking at a printout of the Field’s IT cost center invoices for
the last two weeks and there is a very large invoice that just showed up.”
       “How large?”
       “75,000 dollars.”
       “Oh,” she pretended to sound mildly surprised. “What’s it for?”
       “I can’t tell yet. At this point in the system it’s been logged in simply as an
amount. Annie has the original invoice somewhere, but she’s sick today.”
       “Okay, I’ll talk to Julie. Don’t worry about it, but when you do get the actual
invoice, please send me a copy.”
       “Will do. Thank you, Annette.”
       “Thank you, Lester.”
       She hung up. So that side of things looked solid at least. She could talk to Peter,
but she held off. She wanted a little more time, a little more information. What was
Julie going to do? The board meeting was in two months and they had Puerto Rico
before that. Would she present the laptops publicly? Probably not. Not just because
nobody else in the company knew about them, but because the managers from the other
Regions would be jealous. Maybe there was some point during the private meetings
with the Regions where it would happen.
       She pressed the intercom. “Gladys, could you bring me an agenda for the
National Event.”
       Gladys came in with a piece of paper. “They have only given us a preliminary
schedule. It’s not detailed.”
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       Annette looked at the memo. It only had arrival and departure itineraries and
the all the big events, which were basically the same as last year.
       “The event is in two weeks. What are they doing down there?”
       “Do you want me to call them and see if they have a more complete version?”
       “Yes, please. Tell them it doesn’t have to look pretty. I just want the
information.”
       Gladys left. The Events department was always leaving things to the last
possible minute, fearfully guarding any public information. When she did finally get a
schedule, it would be on fancy paper and painstakingly formatted, the work of which
always added days. Wasn’t there some way she, or maybe Gladys, could just get into
their computers? That would be nice.
       Gladys came back in. “They’re working on it. You should get a copy by the end
of the day.”
       “Got them pretty excited, I bet,” Annette laughed. She knew she was not well
liked by that department. “That’s why you need to have your work prepared on time.
But I didn’t need to tell you that, Gladys.”
       Gladys smiled and left. She knew they didn’t like Annette either. She also knew
that it was because Annette was stylish and beautiful. They were probably talking stuff
about her right now. Oh well, thought Gladys, they seemed to like it like that.
       Annette continued to think about Julie’s options. She must expect the laptops to
have such an impact that their results would justify the unauthorized expense. If that
were the case, and she had someone backing her, she would end up with a slap on the
wrist that would be lost in the din of commendation for her maverick move. Annette
just couldn’t see how the laptops would benefit. They certainly wouldn’t hurt. But just
getting the training in would take months. She would have to show significant results
by the end of the fourth quarter without question. And if Felipe pressed the move on
the budget for the Global IT rollout, she would need some serious numbers even before
that. It just couldn’t work. Or could it? Who could tell the impact of those laptops on a
quarter of the sales force?
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      She couldn’t really talk to anyone in the company, not without letting them in on
the situation. Felipe would have a good idea, but if he found out about the laptops, he
would push it to Arthur immediately, and that would show her hand too early. Again,
she thought of Peter and again she hesitated.
                                  INCORPORATION                                 123




CHAPTER 11


Nick was up late, again. And he was digging into other people’s files, again. Where
will this end, he thought to himself. He was feeling a little drunk on today’s success
and he had felt justified in a certain lack of caution with the NeuroMons. Now he
found himself digging around in the network directories of the Events department. He
knew Julie was going to hand out these secret laptops in Puerto Rico and thinking about
that made him curious about the event. He was trying to find the most updated
agenda. But this department had to be the most disorganized of all. When he took
over, he was just going to fire all of them.
       He found a schedule right away. But soon discovered it was full of errors and
out of date. And then he realized that the manager, the director and the three planners
all had different copies and dates of the agenda. It had taken him a half hour to figure
out the most correct and up-to-date one.
       They did a lot of shit at those conferences. Nick marveled at the amount of
activities that were scheduled. On the fourth day, after the bulk of the Marketing
presentations, there was a meeting labeled “Technical Presentation” and the attendees
were the Southeast District Sales Managers, Julie Silver and Phillipson.
       He sensed activity. A client was making a call for the file he was reading. He
closed it quickly. Had he done it fast enough? He checked the file and saw it’s data
being duplicated and sent through the network, presumably to the RAM of the client
computer. That would not have been good for someone to get a “file already in use”
dialog box when they were accessing their private drive.
       He followed the stream of bits, left the server and was suddenly contracted and
sucked through the straw of the ethernet line. Data packets flowed around him in both
directions. They were bright yellow pez in a blue tube. He found he could adjust his
speed to catch up with an individual packet and then pass it. When he got close, the
124                                Conan W. Purves


yellow light sharpened into tight clumps of 0’s and 1’s. The headers became
comprehensible to him. Where traffic was sparse, he could weave through packets at
what was pushing the 100 mbs speed of the line. When it got jammed, through hubs,
especially, he had to slow down. Could he plow through a packet if he had to?
         He was thinking of attempting it, when he came to a port. It was a client address
and he went through. He was in some mildly outdated Pentium box. He could tell by
the pace of things. Probably a 100 mhz or something like that. The schedule document
was loaded into the RAM and competing with a solitaire game of some kind. Also, the
steady stream of some animated ad was going to an open browser. Somebody had been
taking a break!
         Where was he? Was he just in someone’s desktop computer? His perception of
space with the goggles was becoming strangely intuitive. He had knowledge of things
that he hadn’t looked up. He had known almost instantly what was running. He could
ell the cluttered, fragmented state of the hard drive. The dribble of traffic coming from
the internet was apparent to him as if he could hear it. He could even see the tiny strips
of data that had just been added to the cookie that marthastewart dot com had dropped
in this user’s hard drive.
         Here was a problem. A minor piece of javascript was stuck in the memory in
some kind of logic loop. When this user, Jane Kazlowski, as Nick knew from the
network login preferences, quit the browser, it was going to hang. Probably just need a
force quit to fix it, but he doubted Jane knew that. He grabbed the loop and
extinguished it from the memory. Die, evil javascript worm! I’m your knight in shining
armor, baby! He probably just inched productivity up one thousandth of a percentage
point.
         What he should do to really increase productivity would be to erase this game
and the browser. But think of how many calls he could prevent if he just went from
computer to computer, checking and cleaning. How long was this taking? Probably
just a couple of minutes.
                                  INCORPORATION                                   125


       He backed out, hit the parallel turbulence of the hub, exited out of the next port
and dropped into a hard drive of serious chaos. He had been here before. It was the
Director of the Events department and he had set her up with a laptop. He’d had to get
her files from the desktop and it had been one of the most disorganized computers he’d
ever seen. Her desktop was so crowded with files, he remembered, that you could only
see slivers of whatever background picture she had loaded there. Her actual desk was
just as messy as well.
       Despite the clutter, her system seemed to be fine. All she really used was Word.
One of numerous $2,000 typewriters at the company. He went to the next computer
and found no real problems there. After checking five, he became a little miffed. Of
course when you are looking for problems, everything works. What the hell, might as
well go get the job list.
       Speed. Blue. Corner. Hub. Corner. Blue. Server on-ramp. Server. He was
back in his directory, observing the IT work order database. There were 34 jobs
pending. They were definitely backed up with that laptop job. He ran down the list
and found the first five that were software problems only. “Can’t get on network” from
someone in advertising. Boom. He went through the tube and was looking at a
computer with no login script. He grabbed one from the next box over, duped it,
cleared the settings and set it to startup with the computer. He double-checked the
user’s network identity because it was easy (and so fucking cool to zip through the
ethernet). He ran the login script and enter the username and password (was someone
watching this monitor, seeing it type by itself?). It connected. He set it to restart and
watched the system closing itself down as he retreated.
       The next job was an email attachment someone couldn’t open. These were the
most annoying because they were almost always simple text-based documents but done
in some older version of the software or on another platform. You used to be able to
force these open, but now Microsoft had to throw in a bunch of virus protection and
enough formatting to start a magazine. The files came out in code. He armed himself
with a bunch of filters and found the attachment in question. Sure enough, it was
126                                Conan W. Purves


another Word file from a Mac. He opened the document, saved it to the current app
and left it on the desktop.
       The next job on the list was “computer always freezing.” He flew over there and
ran into a soft black wall at the hub. What? He sent an IP address request down the
line. It didn’t come back. Can I follow it? He could and did. At the port there was
nothing. It wasn’t nothing, more like an absence of anything. The computer was off.
He couldn’t do anything about that. He went back to the list.
       He spent the rest of the night doing his job in a virtual state. He cleared up
fourteen jobs and did significant work on seven others. The rest were hardware. He
had gotten faster. The environment seemed to adjust itself to his technique. Perhaps it
was the other way around. He wasn’t sure, but he moved more quickly from node to
node, accessed information more rapidly.
       When he found himself with less purpose, just sort of hanging around in the
server tidying up bits uselessly, he decided to get out. He did want to but some vague
protestant stirring told him that he shouldn’t be there if he wasn’t doing anything. He
checked the emails of Annette and Julie again. There was nothing to or from Peter and
nothing else very interesting. He continued to dawdle until he was crazy with
indecision and forced his fingers to quit OpenNet.
       He felt his body drop onto him. His head felt like someone had just shoved a
perfectly fitting football helmet onto it. He sat there for a moment, marveling at the
sensation of physicality. Contrasted with the sudden closing of his mental perception,
it was nearly overwhelming. His flesh tingled unpleasantly. The fibres of his clothes
seemed to be grabbing at each pore. He pulled the goggles off and was assaulted with
light. As he covered his eyes with one hand, he tried to get his shoes off with the other.
He fell backwards off his chair onto the rug. Writhing on his back, he tore his clothes
off and then naked, pulled himself onto his bed.
       The wrinkles in his sheets were like knotted wads of cotton. He smoothed them
out as best he could and finally lay still, letting his tender eyes strengthen against the
light. His body was still reacting to everything around it, but the immense discomfort
                                INCORPORATION                                 127


was subsiding. He lay still for a while then when he felt normal enough got up and
turned out the light. He lay back down in the dark, his awkward, ill-tuned shell
pinning him. The jarringly empirical sounds and smells forced their way into his
consciousness. But deep behind his closed eyes, the clean, calm digital streams of
binary light still glowed.
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CHAPTER 12


Annette had been in a late meeting looking at advertising concepts. They were all
pretty pathetic but better than last time. Gladys had brought the agenda for the
National Event in around seven, but she hadn’t been able to get to it this morning. Just
as she picked it up, Gladys came in with an inter-office envelope.
       “From Lester,” she said.
       Annette took it and opened it. There were three invoices, all to someone called
Computer Wholesalers, each for $75,000. A note was attached. “Annette, Annie had
two other invoices for the same amount that she hadn’t yet entered into the system.”
They were all approved by Gus Phillipson and Julie Silver. No reason for Annie to
question them at all. Interesante.
       She put the invoices to the side and went back to the schedule. It was much
more detailed than the outline they had originally sent her, but there were still far too
many TBD’s for an event that was starting in a week. She saw that the senior executives
times were carefully labeled and accounted for, hers included. She looked for the J.
Silver and saw that she was booked solid. If she wasn’t presenting or attending
something, she was heading up a breakout meeting, most of which were with the senior
field management.
       But there was a two hour period where Julie’s time was not accounted for. It
coincided with something labeled Southeast Breakout. Annette highlighted it and put
the schedule on top of the invoices.
       She turned to her computer and started the word processor. She typed up a
short list with all the little pieces of information she needed. “Laptops being present at
National Event? What is SE Breakout? Is J attending?”
       She thought a bit and typed some more. The next line began with the heading
“Bigger.” Here she typed some vague sentences to help remind her of what she knew
                                 INCORPORATION                                   129


and was thinking. “JS getting approval? Who? Arthur’s role?” She thought for a bit
and then saved the file as Issues, replacing an older version. She had always made
notes to herself. As the things she was working on became more confidential, her notes
became vaguer and vaguer. She began to shred them. When she started working on
the computer, she just kept a single file called Issues and wrote over it time and again.
Often she found that the act of writing her questions down was enough. She didn’t
have to look at them again.
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CHAPTER 13


Friday and Nick felt weird. He had dreamt that he was inside the systems and when he
woke he had a milder but similar reaction as when he had taken off the goggles the
night before. It was disconcerting. But here he was, walking in a corporeal sense and
on time for work.
       Everybody was at their cubes, preparing for a regular IT day.
       “We’re kind of backed up you guys, so let’s knock them out,” Mike came in with
a clipboard.
       “Maybe you should call first,” said Nick. “Sometimes these things fix
themselves.”
       “Yeah, right,” said Robert.
       “Probably better to make the visits guys,” said Mike. “Some people have been
waiting for a while and it’s good customer service to show them that we are here. But
whatever you choose to do, let’s work fast.”
       “Yes, sir!” Robert jumped up and saluted. Kevin was right behind him.
       There were more monitors to be installed in Creative and Nick stayed behind to
prepare them. The others filed out, clipboards and CD wallets in their hands, beepers
and cell phones at their belt.
       When he was finished installing the monitors, he logged into the work order list
from an unused cubicle. He still felt unease with his physical existence. But as long as
he kept moving, it didn’t bug him so much. He was satisfied to see that all the jobs he
had done last night were now marked as completed. A sample comment, from Robert,
read “There was not a problem at this workstation.”
       At lunch, Nick skipped Burger King with his co-workers. He went to the over-
priced midtown supermarket and bought a bunch of chunky soups, cup o’noodles, two
                                 INCORPORATION                                    131


boxes of saltines and a box of cookies. He was planning on not going out at all this
weekend. He grabbed a sandwich from the deli on the way back.
      The rest of the team was all there in the office, taking off their coats. He felt a
little sad at having missed lunch with them.
      “Just some supplies,” he mumbled, referring to his grocery bag. None of them
seemed to notice.
      “Nick, you were right,” said Robert. “We have some stupid employees in this
company.”
      “Did I say that?”
      “No, but you said we should call them. My first two jobs had nothing wrong
with them. After that, I started checking ahead.”
      “Well, sometimes if you wait a few days, the problems fix themselves.”
      “THAT—” Robert was pointing a finger at him. “—does no happen. If that
happened, we would never have to do anything.”
      “I had three of those PEBCAC situations myself,” Kevin chirped in, beaming,
waiting for someone to ask what PEBCAC was.”
      “What’s PEBCAC?” asked Robert.
      “Problem Exists Between Chair and Computer.”
      Robert laughed hard, throwing his head back and opening his mouth wide.
      “That’s funny! That’s funny, Kevin. I’m going to use that.” He walked out,
shaking his head and still laughing.
      They spent the rest of the afternoon in the peripatetic state to which they were
accustomed, going from cube to cube, occasionally checking in downstairs, sometimes
bumping into each other in lobbies or the elevator. Mike said he wished they could
leave a little early, but there was just too much desktop support needed. So around 6:15
they were putting their stuff away and getting ready for the weekend.
      Arnold was in a rush, late for whatever extracurricular operation he ran. Robert
and Kevin were taking the train home together.
132                               Conan W. Purves


       “I don’t know what you get up to on the weekends, Nick,” Robert was saying.
“But whatever it is, don’t kick too much ass at it.”
       “I won’t. You guys have a good weekend.”
       Mike was still sitting at his desk when Nick walked by. “Everything okay,
Nick?” He asked, looking up from some papers.
       “Yeah, fine.” Nick felt guilty suddenly.
       “Good. Just checking. You seemed a little preoccupied this week.”
       “Just busy, I guess.”
       “You have been. And you’ve been doing a really good job. I just got a nice
phone call about your customer service from the people in Creative.”
       “Oh.” Nick’s face felt hot. He didn’t know what to say. “Cool.”
       “I’m just making sure you’re happy. Now go have a good weekend.”
       “Yeah, you too. Thanks, Mike.” Nick felt a sudden urge to burst into tears.
                                  INCORPORATION                                  133




CHAPTER 14


“Arthur, thank you for taking the time to see me,” Annette said.
       “Of course,” Arthur replied. He sat back in his brown leather chair. It and his
desk seemed a little too big for him. Nevertheless, his aura of confidence and corporate
charisma was significant. You could not look at him without seeing that there was
power there.
       “I’ve started some research on synergy in the Marketing areas, Global and US,
and I just wanted to run some thoughts by you to make sure I’m heading in the right
direction.”
       Arthur didn’t say anything.
       “I have felt, ever since I took over US Marketing, that there has been a lot of
duplication of effort among the Business Units and particularly between the US and
Global.”
       “Mmm.” The noise Arthur made might have been an interested one.
       “I have some figures here—” She pulled out a grid of numbers. “—showing the
areas of overlap. As you can see, support materials, print collateral and advertising are
the biggest areas.”
       Arthur looked at the numbers.
       “These are just preliminary figures. But they are fairly good. I feel comfortable
in saying that we have the potential to save the company $10-25 million dollars a
quarter.”
       “Annette, I am very aware of this issue.”
       This time Annette didn’t say anything.
       “I have turned it over many times with the board. The problem is execution.
Even if the Business Unit leaders agree to give up their autonomy to the US Marketing
department, we still have hundreds of regional discrepancies that must be addressed.”
134                               Conan W. Purves


       “I am not proposing that the Global countries give up their autonomy. They
need to be the ones that deal with those regional discrepancies. I’ve thought about this
a lot, Arthur, And I kept banging my head into the same wall. But then I realized
something. We are a global corporation. We’re in 210 countries. Yes, the US business
brings in 43% of the revenue. But it’s flat. While Brazil is growing, SE Asia is growing.
China and Eastern Europe are waiting to grow and even blow up. So why are so many
of our operations still in the US? Why every time we want to consolidate some
operation, it has to be done in the US?”
       Arthur was leaning forward now, one finger against his lips. “Go on,” he said.
       “It’s simple,” Annette continued. “If we centralize, why not do it in Global. The
US business will complain at first, but they need to focus on their business, not on
product development.”
       “We don’t have the personnel or infrastructure here.”
       “Then we make it. And we bring the top people from the US and the countries
and we pull them from what they’re doing locally.”
       “I find this idea very interesting, Annette.” Now it was Arthur’s turn to talk. “I
think I like it. I also have many questions and doubts. However, that this is the first
time anyone has proposed Global to take this role is a good sign. I’m still gathering my
thoughts and I’m going to need more information, which I know you will provide me.
Let me ask you one question. I assume this idea—we are in the realm of conjecture here
Annette—would be rolled out in stages. If there was one area where you feel the
development of a globally-driven center would most benefit, where would that be?”
       “The product line,” said Annette, immediately.
       “Mmm. Good,” Arthur sat back again. Closed his eyes. Annette could not help
feeling, despite the white hair ringing his bald head and his height, that he seemed very
sexy right now. He sat like that for a moment.
       “Tell me,” he said, then he opened his eyes. “How much of this idea have you
discussed with Peter?”
       “Oh, actually, none.”
                                     INCORPORATION                                  135


       “Really?”
       “Once I started working on this, I felt confident enough about it…”
       “But you came to see me.”
       “Of course, how could I proceed without knowing it was in line with company
goals.”
       “Good answer, Annette,” he laughed briefly. She smiled. “I think you were
correct to be confident about this. Continue to be. Nothing may come of this. A
corporation of this size moves slowly. But we need to teach it to move faster. That’s
why we have brought people like you here. You have my blessing to continue to work
on the research for this project.”
       “Thank you, Arthur.”
       He looked down at his desk. Annette assumed she should get up and did so.
       “Oh, Annette,” he was still looking down. “Feel free to stop by in the future.”
       “Thank you, Arthur.”
       Triumph? Satisfaction? Maybe. She was happy but not overwhelmingly so.
This was often the way she felt after big corporate victories. Going in, she was
tentative, even a little nervous. But after, when her superiors had seen the correctness
of her choices, as they always had, she felt sort of normal, as if she had know the
outcome from the beginning and none of it was a surprise to her.
       Still, it had been a reach to go to Arthur at this stage. But she was feeling a little
cornered by the circumstances and wanted to free up some options. He had given her
his blessing and maybe more. That was a strong card to have up her sleeve.
       When she got back to her office, Gladys told her that Peter had called. “He
would like for you to call him back.”
       “How’s our progress?’ he asked, when she phoned him.
       “Good.”
       “Get anything solid?”
       “Pretty solid.”
       “When can we go over it?”
136                                  Conan W. Purves


       “Can you give me the weekend to put it together?”
       “Yes. But I will need to see it soon. How about lunch on Monday.”
       “Can’t. Wednesday?”
       “You can’t change anything on Monday, Annette?”
       “Wednesday, Peter.”
       “Okay, Wednesday.”
       So she had bought a few days. She was leaving on Thursday for Puerto Rico. If
she dumped the laptops in Peter’s lap, he would have laid out all his trapdoors by the
time they got back. Maybe that would just be easier. Was she feeling sorry for Julie?
That was part of it. But her instinct was telling her that something else was going on.
She wanted to know a little more about the bomb before she lit the fuse—like where it
was planted!
       She had a lot more work to do and then she had to attend some horrible industry
awards dinner. There would be mediocre-at-best surf and turf and forced small talk
with the sycophants who got to sit next to her.
       “Gladys, who’s going to this dinner tonight?” she spoke to the intercom.
       “Nobody interesting, Annette.”
       “Anthony is not going?” He was a director in licensed goods, very gay and very
funny and was confident enough (or didn’t really care) that he didn’t suppress his
normal personality around his bosses. On many boring occasions, Anthony had kept
her silently laughing.
       “No, he’s not on the list.”
       She sighed and went back to her work Another boring dinner and then home to
an early bed, perhaps interrupted by a subtly pleading call from Michael, still pressing
his case. Well, she could have most of tomorrow to herself. She could go for a run in
the park and the she was supposed to meet with Cynthia and go to some party. She
didn’t feel like it now, but she’d get there.
                                 INCORPORATION                                   137




CHAPTER 15


“Fuck with me!” Nick’s world froze into a solidified 3D. The last opponent on the map
was crumpled to the floor, the pixels of her torso blasted into nothingness by the
repeated and accurate blows from his pulse rifle. He could see the vectors of the new
level draw themselves and fill with textures. It was definitely more immersive with the
NeuroMons on. When a shot came over his shoulder, he really felt like ducking. The
problem was that it was getting harder for him to ignore the code behind the game.
       At first it was just his awareness of the whole map that had been like a handy
cheat, giving him enough of an edge that he still felt satisfied. But then he began to be
aware of the location of all the bots. He found he could wait around a corner and blast
them. Now, in an open arena, he was beginning to see their AI decisions as they made
them. He could see them begin different algorithms and then anticipate their next
movement. It was like playing an opponent who told you his next move in advance, or
at least the probability of his next five moves. He really needed some human
opponents. But he wasn’t totally comfortable going online with the NeuroMons on.
Too many uncontrolled factors.
       The next level filled into the RAM and he started it. He was armed only with
land mines. Instead of laying them down defensively, he was going to use them as
melee weapons, throwing them on the floor in anticipation of the bots’ next move. It
was so cool to have some guy shooting at you, throw a mine in front of him, knowing
where he’s going to step before he does and watching him blow himself to pieces before
his programming could stop him.
       The pleasure in this and the 3D immersion lasted only for a few more games. He
quit the game with a feeling of dissatisfaction. He puttered around his own system a
bit, checking some setting and making some minor optimizations that really didn’t need
to be made. Finally, he got back on the network. He was reticent to keep digging
138                                Conan W. Purves


around, especially in the personal computers of senior management, but he had nothing
else that was interesting him at the moment. Because he could now access local drives,
he really could find anything digital. He had yet to encounter any encryption. He
imagined that the efficacy of the goggles in that case would depend on the strength of
the code.
       So he allowed himself just a quick check into Julie’s hard drive. There was
nothing of interest there. Actually, there was almost nothing there at all. It looked as if
she used her computer only for email, which was probably the case. It made sense, but
it was still disappointing. He zipped back to the mail server and found a lot of email
coming from Julie’s office. Most of it had to do with the upcoming event. He skimmed
through it and saw nothing about the laptops.
       He debated checking out Gustav’s computer, but it felt too wrong. He found
Annette’s hard drive as empty as Julie’s. The desktop was neater, though, and there
were some word processing files that had been modified recently. He skimmed
through them. They were fairly complex reports. One he found interesting was a
directory with overviews on all the various communication systems in the US. He also
found a chart, presumably done by Annette, that was kind of an index to all the rest of
the documents in that directory It had the name of the person who produced the
document, the areas that was its subject and some comments. With satisfaction, Nick
noted that on the same column as Gus Phillipson’s report, the comments read
“Incomplete. This is not satisfactory.”
       This info could be extremely helpful, so he duplicated the file, sent it to the root
and then ftp’d it back to his own computer at home. No sense keeping a copy of that at
work. He also found the ftp log on the server and manually deleted the last entry. He
didn’t think there was anything else that would have recorded his duplication of
Annette’s files.
       He fiddled around a little more in her hard drive. He found a little word file
called “Issues.” He almost missed it because it was sitting buried amongst all these
                                 INCORPORATION                                   139


system files. He opened it up and felt for the first time that he could see something of
the human being that sat in front of this computer.
       So Annette didn’t know about the laptops. Or wasn’t supposed to, because it
seemed by her notes that she had figured it out. Was that why Gladys had come by the
conference room? And she hadn’t been given the complete schedule of the National
Event either, because she clearly didn’t know about the laptop meeting with Phillipson
and Julie and the Southeast Managers. This file was only from this afternoon, so they
were deliberately hiding the info from her. Why?
       Well fuck you, Phillipson, Nick thought with glee as he lit through the network,
the fastest, most sentient car on the highway, back to the events department and their
cluttered hard drives. He saw that most of them seemed to still be online and actually
working. No problem. He could see how good he was now.
       He tried to remember where he had been before and eventually found what had
been the most up to date schedule yesterday. It had been modified today, only three
hours ago. But he couldn’t look at it, because he though it might trigger word to come
on the screen. He could see the USB channels and the pulses of electricity coming from
the mouse and keyboard so he knew someone was working on that computer.
       He took the file and making sure that background printing was on, created a ppd
file. It built up into the top level of the C drive. At most, the user might notice some
stuttering with their spreadsheet program, which she was using. Nick pushed the
completed file though the tcp/ip gate and then checked the ID of the printer next to
Gladys’ desk. He had fixed that one so many times, that he practically knew it by heart.
USMA3356C-02. But he wanted to be sure. He was correct. He assigned the PPD file to
the printer’s destination. It shot off. Well more like meandered, being a fairly bloated
file. Thanks, Microsoft!
       He followed some of its packets to the hub on the 33rd floor and then from there
to the jack on Gladys’ wall where he presumed they went to the printer. He could
probably have gone right into the printer but he didn’t know what would happen to
him in there. Would his personality be broken down into postscript commands and
140                                Conan W. Purves


printed onto a pile of paper? He thought of this as a joke, but dwelling on it didn’t
seem so funny. Anyways, Gladys should come in on Monday to find a more detailed
version of the National Event schedule for her boss.
       He went back to the little file that Annette kept. It must have been her way of
reminding herself of things she was thinking about. The next question on the list was
very interesting to Nick. It read “Where is she getting her support? She must be—
otherwise move would not be rational.” So the Tamale was pretty smart. He wondered
how close she and Peter were really were. Did she have no suspicions about him
whatsoever? What would she think if she saw the email Julie had sent him?
       He had meddled enough. He logged back out and went into his own hard drive
to spend some tim reading the reports he had copied earlier. He looked at Gus’s first
and could see within two pages that Gus had no idea what was going on. He had
clearly gotten his directors and managers to do all the work. You could tell where
someone else had done the writing. Gus had attempted to tie all the elements together,
but he hadn’t paid much attention to any of the reports.
       Here was a section on the Branch inventory databases. Nick found it hard to
read, but it seemed to cover the topic fairly completely from a high-level perspective.
Probably written by one of the Branch engineers. But the only thing that was written
about sending the data to New York was a brief mention of the generation of the text
file. The New York side, which Nick presumed Mike wrote was just as vague. Was it
possible that nobody in the company but him knew about that little modem connection
in the print room on the 31st floor?
       He thought about redoing this report, going out with the NeuroMons into every
node and hub—which he was going to do anyways—and mapping it all out. Send a
report like that back to Annette. She would give him Gus’s job. He would make Gus
his janitor as consolation, but only for about a month when he would fire him for
incompetence. Then he would spend a lot of time hobnobbing with Annette and
inevitably they would end up having sex.
                                    INCORPORATION                               141


        The only hitch in his scenario was that he really didn’t feel up to writing down
all that stuff. It would be so boring and how do you start something like that anyways?
He had no idea. What he need was a little recorder bot that could go with him and
copy down his location. It would be even better if he could dictate to it. But a tracker
would be a good idea for himself, also. Something that could log and record his
presence on the network. It would help him to keep track of what parts he had visited
when.
        How to approach an app like that? Would it just go with him? But where was
he? How was his presence detected by the network? Was it? Was he simply a logged-
in user? He could probably build a log that would track all keyboard commands he
had done and possibly the responses the system returned. The problem was when he
went into the more obscure Branch networks, the protocols were varied and sometimes
quite primitive. Could he grab that data?
        He was far past his own expertise with these goggles. He didn’t even have a
conceptual understanding of how they worked. It made it hard to get started on a job
like this. In those cases, he had found, it’s best just to do it.
        He started the piece he knew he could do. He built a little keystroke capture
utility. He set it up so that it could run in the background. When it was done, he
banged around a bit. Each carriage return prompted a line to be inserted into the file.
He checked it and it looked good. He logged back on to the corporation and messed
around for a bit.
        He came back to his key capture file; each day would generate a new file with the
date as its name. It looked good. His login was there (as was his password). He
decided to go in a little deeper. Now that he had some idea about the Branch structure,
he wanted to explore it a little more. He went through the OpenNet port to the Atlanta
Branch and spent some time admiring their system. For once, something was wired
with some elegance and symmetry. It was probably because these big warehouse
systems were designed by true engineers, not lead by some product director or the
company’s marketing department.
142                                Conan W. Purves


       He got lost in the intricacies of the pallet sorter for what he figured to be about an
hour. He came back to check the log and frustrated to see that it had barely any data in
it. He expected lots of input considering all the movement he had done. It hadn’t even
filled a page. What was weirder was that it hadn’t just stopped writing. There were
gaps. As if he hadn’t done anything for twenty minutes and then suddenly there was a
telnet jump and a timestamp. He jumped back to the network and returned. The
program caught that. He went out again and went into the Morton Grove Branch then
back again. What! The logon to Morton Grove was there, but not the entrance back to
the main network.
       This could not be. Nick had been at this point many times in his programming
career. The results that could not possibly exist, yet there they were. He felt a tingling
of frustration that he knew could easily expand into the rage of impotence. This was
making no sense. He went back to the log. The keystrokes that had been recorded
seemed random. Was something wrong with the keyboard? He didn’t want to take off
the goggles to check. But his commands were going through.
       He went back and forth a few times, looking for patterns. He began to see that
when he paid attention to what he was doing, the log captured the keystrokes. When
he didn’t pay attention, he got blanks. He typed in a random sentence BAD PROGRAM
BAD DO NOT BE BAD and hit return and there it was on the log. Was it because he
went too fast? Did it not pick up some of the results from the server side? But then he
would still see his input. It was grabbing it right off the bus to the keyboard.
       Was he not typing?
       This impossible idea froze him because he realized it was the only logical
answer. He tried to think past it, going over the program’s simple code again, but it
kept buzzing around back there, making him nervous. He hadn’t really been conscious
of his hands. But was he ever when he worked? The thing was with the NeuroMons,
he couldn’t actually see them. He must have been typing! There was no other input.
He went into the network. He backed out. He did it again. Was he clicking on
                                INCORPORATION                                    143


anything? He thought he was, but his perceptions were so deeply intertwined with the
atmosphere of the network that he wasn’t even sure about his sense of feeling.
      He needed a camera to film himself, or even better, some kind of webcam so he
could watch himself while he worked. But he already knew what he would see. He
would see a pixilated, stuttering image of himself hunched over the keyboard and
mouse not moving at all, except for maybe a random tap or click, a pair of heavy black
goggles wrapped around his head. And while he slumped there, inert, his mind would
be racing through networks thousands of miles away.
144                               Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 16


Annette wasn’t supposed to be in the office. But she had finished her run earlier than
she had planned and still had some time before Cynthia. Cynthia would be the one to
give her the most grief about working on a Saturday, so she would just keep it quiet.
       It was very quiet. She was casual, but still dressed well. She had a pair of
straight line slacks, with a sharp crease going over some witch-toed stilettos. Her top
was a sleeveless black sweater that was just tight enough to be a distraction in the
workplace, which was why she saved it for the weekend.
       On the way past Gladys’ desk, she grabbed whatever was in the printer, as was
her habit. It was usually for her anyway. She put the pages on her desk and put her
bag on top of them. She threw her coat over the chair and sat down. She logged on and
spent time clearing her email. She read through the rest of the mail she had left on
Friday, making notes on memos and sending them back to Gladys, putting one in her
action box and trashing the rest. She cleared a couple of voicemails, replying when
appropriate. She wanted to go over the system revamp a little more and take another
look at the US overview from Gus, see if she could understand the details better.
       She grabbed the folder and went around to the couch. She arranged the sections
of the report into piles on the glass table (it was an awful table, with a brass frame and
would have been better suited to Julie’s office). She still wasn’t seeing how the
merchandisers got their data from the Branches. And the more she had thought about
it, the more urgent the situation seemed to her. She went over the reports again and
only reconfirmed her own ignorance of the subject and Gus’s inadequacy.
       She stood up, frustrated and grabbed the printouts from under her purse. There
was a memo she had dictated. Leaning over her desk she corrected it and put it in her
outbox. The next page was the first page of the schedule for the National Event. It
looked rougher than the one she had initially received. Had Gladys got her hands on a
                                  INCORPORATION                                   145


more current working schedule? She flipped to Saturday and there was exactly what
she was looking for: Laptop Presentation: Green Room, J. Silver, G. Phillipson, SE
DSMs. There was even a note underneath: (all laptops—292 total to be hand-delivered
to Green Room by hotel staff am, Kazlowski to supervise delivery).
       So that was done. This was her smoking gun, the final piece of the puzzle. Well
that metaphor wasn’t correct. She already knew what the puzzle looked like. This was
just proof that she was correct. She had everything that Peter wanted to see. She put
the schedule in the same folder as the invoices, took a look at the piles on the glass table
and then picked up her coat and bag and left the office.
       At Gladys’ desk, she stopped, hesitated and then went into the rolodex on her
table and found Julie’s card under S. She went back into the office, grabbed the folder
and slipped it into her bag. She needed to get out of this building, the pastel and beige
cloy of her office.
       Out on the street, walking briskly, bag over left shoulder, cel phone to right ear
she listened to Peter not be at home.
       “Fuck,” she said aloud and none of the tourists on Sixth Avenue noticed. She
dug around her bag for the rolodex card and punched Julie’s home number on the
phone. She knew she would be home. Laurence, Julie’s French Canadian husband
picked up the phone.
       “Laurence, it’s Annette. I apologize for calling you at home on Saturday.”
       “Oh, Annette. How are you? It is absolutely no concern. I assume you wish to
speak with Julie.” He was always extremely polite, but she could tell that he was
covering the mouth piece and it took a while for Julie to come to the phone.
       “Annette?”
       “Julie. Hi. I’m sorry to be calling like this. I think we should speak.”
       “Oh.” She paused. “Well, we’re not doing anything until this evening. Though
we were kind of enjoying that.”
       “It shouldn’t take more than half an hour, if that.”
       “You’re welcome to come over here, if it’s urgent.”
146                                  Conan W. Purves


       “If you wouldn’t mind. That would be fine.” Annette felt like apologizing again,
but didn’t.
       “You know where I live.” It was kind of a question. Julie had hosted a dinner in
her Fifth Avenue apartment for the senior US management.
       “I have your address right here. I’ll just jump in a cab.”
       “I’ll be expecting you.”
       In the cab, Annette thought of nothing. Or tried to. She was so far beyond any
planned strategy at this point that instinct was all she had. She wasn’t nervous. She
was curious about Julie’s reaction.
       The trip was quick and the doorman only smiled at her because he was expecting
her. The elevator opened directly into their apartment. Julie was wearing ill-fitting
pleated jeans and a comfortable sweater. Annette unhooked her bag from her shoulder
and gave it and her coat to Julie.
       “Go ahead and have a seat in the living room. Laurence is in his study.” She put
Julie’s coat away and then returned. “Do you want anything?”
       “Just water would be fine,” Annette said. She went into the living room, which
was fairly tasteful. She smoothed her butt and sat on a couch that was too puffy for her.
She got up and chose a firmer chair with wooden arms. Julie came in with a glass of
water and a soda. She put them on coasters on a foot table and then sat on the couch.
Annette wanted to make some polite comment about the furnishings, but that would
have just sounded insincere.
       Finally, Julie said “so.” She seemed calm, but kind of like she was holding it
together from the inside.
       “It’s the laptops, Julie.”
       “Oh,” Julies’ mood switched to a defensive one. “What about them?”
       “I don’t think I need to explain anything about them.”
       “Okay, then I’m not sure why you’re here.”
       “Julie, you don’t have that money to spend. But you’ve already spent it. I have
to go to Felipe about this and he’s going to talk to Arthur about it.”
                                   INCORPORATION                                  147


       “Annette, you know my position on upgrading the technology of the field.”
       “Julie, this is crazy. You’re just throwing yourself off the building.”
       “That shouldn’t be a problem for you, Annette.”
       “Well, maybe it’s not and I thought it wasn’t. And I was going to take this and
pass it on, but here I am.”
       “When did you find out?”
       “This week. I didn’t realize that you had already committed to payment until
Thursday.”
       “Gus?”
       “It doesn’t matter. I’m here because I can’t understand why you’re sticking out
your neck.”
       “Maybe you should just let me stick it out.”
       “We have our disagreements, but I don’t think that your corporate suicide is
going to be good for the company.”
       “Corporate suicide? Annette, I have every intention of remaining as president of
this company. Make no mistake about that.”
       Annette looked at Julie. Julie looked back. She doesn’t know me. I don’t know
her. Annette didn’t know what to say.
       “Annette, I’m not sure what you’re doing here. I guess it’s noble. But it’s really
not necessary.”
       Julie stared at her, like a bull. Annette resisted the urge to look down at her feet.
She noticed Julie’s knees, how they were up and apart like some New York kid sitting
on the stoop. She suddenly felt stupid.
       “I was hoping that we could work together…” but she already realized that she
didn’t know what she’d been hoping. She got up and drank some water.
       “I’ll get your coat,” Julie got up also.
       At the foyer, Julie handed Annette her coat.
       “Be careful, Annette,” she said. “We play a very tough game here.” Her voice
was sympathetic. Annette left.
148                               Conan W. Purves


       Outside, she was furious. She cut into the park and walked. How did Julie talk
to her like that? That was the last time Annette would do something on a whim of
emotion. How stupid was she? Julie was her enemy and she went over there with her
arms wide open, completely defenseless. What had she expected?
       She was supposed to be calling Cynthia, but she was too upset. She turned off
her cel phone and walked back to the office to drop off the folder and think for a bit.
                                  INCORPORATION                                   149




CHAPTER 17


Nick was looking at the grid. Most of it was dark, expect for a few orange flashes that
represented users currently logged in. It was one of the OpenNet features for the
network admin to visually (if that word was appropriate at this point) gauge the status
of the network. The position on the grid indicated information about the user and the
flash, its color and size showed the user’s activity.
       He’d been systematically going through all the menus and options in OpenNet
and found a lot of interesting things. He had been systematically going through a lot of
things because he kept finding excuses for not taking the goggles off. He must have
been logged on for more than 24 hours. Which probably was nowhere near the record
for obsessive computer behaviour.
       The funny thing was that he felt no hunger or tiredness or anything. Just a
continued clarity and even expansion of his mind. Normally, even the hard-core
programmer or gamer would be feeling pretty bad at this point, but he would just
ignore it. Nick felt great. He had been able to use the networks’ processors to multi-
task while remaining cognizant of their processes. Even now, for instance, he could
keep this digital switchboard up and running while moving around the network, thus
keeping track of all the users.
       Another user came on, a New York associate and an executive. It was Annette!
And not a remote link. She comes into the office on a Saturday. He was at her terminal.
She logged into her email. She had seven new emails from last night. They were boring
and she went through them methodically until each was dealt with and deleted. Then
she opened up the file named Issues.
       After Annette’s anger had cleared a little, she was left with anger still, but it was
calmer, the kind she could control and even enjoy. She realized her first anger was
more like embarrassment or a reaction to embarrassment. She thought about Julie and
150                                 Conan W. Purves


her behaviour and she still couldn’t figure it out. She was positive that Julie had
someone behind her, but even then, for her to act so confident when she was clearly
caught was very odd. It no longer seemed like a set-up against herself. Julie was acting
so bold, it was as if Annette was irrelevant.
         She pondered these things to no real conclusion while she went through her
email. Of which she had seven new and boring messages on Saturday?! It was too
much. But it helped her think and when she was done, she opened her Issues file and
typed:
         One question only now: who’s backing Julie?
         And the computer typed back
         PETER
         The thing was that the moment she saw the name, she knew it was what she had
been expecting.
         How do you know?
         Nothing happened and then her email program popped up with one new
message. It was from nobody. She opened it and saw it was a forward of an email from
Julie Silver to Peter Arnagent. It read, “per our conversation. I need to know that you’ll
reign in the tamale. She will be all over it otherwise.”
         The cool relief of knowledge, of realization, of suspicions confirmed, flooded
over her. Doubts can be erased or confirmed and either way is better than them
remaining doubts. She felt this same way when Michael had sat down at the edge of
their bed and admitted to her that he had been doing cocaine regularly for over a year.
She had learned that about doubts then. She also knew the pain of betrayal was soon to
come and that it was terrible, but still better than having doubts.
         Why?
         I DON’T KNOW came the words on her document.
         Who are you?
         There was no reply. She waited. The she went to the email and tried to hit reply
but nothing happened. There was no return address.
INCORPORATION   151
152                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 18


If Nick could have felt his face, he would have felt flushed. He rushed backwards out
of Annette’s computer, out of the network, and then out of OpenNet.
       Something tore open the top of his skull and reached in and yanked his brain
out, including everything attached to it, his eyes and ears and nostrils and some long
cord going down his spine. That didn’t even take a second but the pain was so great
that he threw himself back off his chair, tearing the goggles off his head. And as soon as
his skull pan was empty, whatever it was that had emptied it starting stuffing it all back
in, slowly and inexpertly. Nick writhed on the ground, holding his head in his hands,
trying to shut it or shove it up his own ass, anything to stop the process.
       The pain persisted, but new sensations surpassed it. His entire body ached. His
tongue was so swollen and dry that he could not breath through his mouth. He kept
gagging and then he began quivering with an immense and futile hunger. He lay on
the floor for an hour, unable to move, explosions of pain and sensation working their
way through his body and mind. Eventually, he dragged himself up on one knee. His
other one unbent like it had never been straight before. Each step to the sink was a light
show of torn muscles and ligaments. He couldn’t open his fingers, so he guided the
faucet over a dirty cup already in the sink and turned the water on with the side of his
hand. He let it fill the cup and overflow for a bit until the water was clear, then he got a
couple of fingers around the handle and brought it up to his mouth, dribbling water
over his lips and tongue.
       He stayed over the sink for a while, slowly watering his mouth so he could
drink. When the water hit his stomach, he heaved slightly but kept it down. He drank
some more and then hobbled over to his bed with a full glass. He lay down on it. His
skin felt terrible like the last time, but know he knew what to expect. As his muscles
relaxed, and the fluids entered his system, he began to feel better.
                                    INCORPORATION                                153


       Well, his body began to feel better. In his mind, he felt like just doing nothing,
like there really was nothing to do but lie there sideways, staring at nothing. He was
supposed to be here, living in a room, having a job, wearing clothes. But this was all it
left him, just lying and staring.
       He had spoken with Annette! The Vice President of Marketing, the hottest chick
in the company! And she had not even hesitated, just written right back. He clung to
the feeling that gave him. This powerful, beautiful, independent woman had decided
to open herself up just for a moment and share a little of her light with him But he
couldn’t think about it for too long because then he realized that he could never speak
to her, or if he could he never would and there was a very good chance that he would
end up in this room in twenty years, a weird old IT guy with no friends and certainly
no girlfriend. He knew this was true.
       So he lay there staring. For a while.
154                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 19


“Annette!” Cynthia punched her on the shoulder. “What the fuck—excuse my
French—is wrong with you?”
       “Sorry, sorry,” she took another drink of her gin & tonic.
       “We don’t have to go talk to all these hot men—yet. But can you at least indulge
me in some much-needed criticism of this amazingly tacky apartment.”
       Annette looked around. They were at some party in midtown, in a beautiful old
building where the interiors had been gutted so the apartments could be big white
modern lofts. Cynthia had worked on a project with a couple that owned this space
and she was right, it really was hideous. There was a disastrous combination of wealth
and homespun. And all of it was guided by a lack of taste and even consistency that
was pretty amazing.
       “Look at that weird clock and pendulum thing,” Cynthia was pointing to a
handcrafted clock-like mechanism of spiraling blond wood. “You can only buy those
things at hippie markets on the west coast. It’s awful. I can’t stop looking at it.”
       “It’s ugly. This whole place is very bad.” It actually made Annette slightly
physically uncomfortable to be in this kind of setting. But the bar was very well-
stocked and the atmosphere was friendly. “It seems like a good party, though.”
       “It’s going to be a great party once you stop sipping on that drink!”
       “All right!” She took a big drink and then another. “Happy now?” The thing
was that she was just a little too old for this kind of party. She wasn’t actually older
than the other people, but she held a higher position and after being there for a while
you lost the desire to rage like you did when you were a marketer or sales rep. But she
had a lot of stuff on her mind tonight. Maybe it would be for the best not to act her age
tonight.
                                  INCORPORATION                                 155


       Many drunken hours later, the two of them were fending off what was left of any
of the hot men at the party—which seemed like most of them, but their previous
attractiveness had been replaced by desperation. Eagerness was not attractive,
especially to Cynthia, though sometimes Annette felt sorry for them. They teetered into
a cab, a windy copse of handbags, scarves and heels all in black.
       “I met someone today,” said Annette.
       “I met seven someones,” laughed Cynthia. “But I don’t know, they all seemed so
soulless.”
       “Rich does not usually have soul,” said Annette.
       “What did you just say? Was that English?”
       Annette punched her. “I’m serious. Somebody was talking to me on the
computer today. Someone who knew what was going on.”
       “Annette, what are you talking about?”
       “Never mind. My stop. Don’t say anything to the doorman.”
       The doorman came out and opened the cab door. Cynthia successfully
prevented Annette from paying for the cab. It took her quite a while to get out of the
cab, mostly because she was trying not to look drunk. This was making Cynthia laugh
hysterically.
       “Shut up.” Annette reached back and tried to hit her with her purse and fell into
the curb. She got up with the help of the doorman. Both he and the elevator man
retained a straight face until she got into her apartment.
       Once inside, she made a Hansel and Gretel trail of her own clothes and
accessories straight to the bed where she collapsed in her underwear.
       The next day was reserved for the kind of pain that must always follow such
excessive pleasure. Once she was able to get up, she spent a lot of time in the shower
and then back in bed, watching TV. Unfortunately, the wreck that was her being only
allowed her to dwell on the serious things in life. She kept having brief flashes of her
own very embarrassing behaviour at the party. But those were little jolts compared to
the deep-rooted worry about work.
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          Now how was she supposed to deal with Julie? And she had to meet Peter on
Wednesday and give him all her ammunition and she didn’t know where she was
going to point the gun. For the first time in her position she felt unsure. She was
definitely going to cultivate her relationship with Arthur, but that was not enough at
this point.
          And who had been at her computer? She was glad that she kept nothing
important there. Gladys had accused her of not wanting to learn how to use the thing
and that had been part of it, but she always felt wary about leaving information around
in any medium. Probably due to her upbringing in a South American country. Well
obviously someone was getting around in there. But they seemed to be on her side.
Unless it was some really elaborate conspiracy. But her instincts told her this was a
friend.
                                 INCORPORATION                                  157




CHAPTER 20


Nick also spent Sunday morning in pain and in bed. But after a night of fitful sleep, the
aches and hungers of now were a comfort compared to yesterday. He forced himself to
get up and get dressed. He still had no clean clothes. He went out into the street. The
concrete quiet of a New York Sunday. At his local diner, he had a full breakfast with
coffee and everything. Across the aisle was guy and three girls who had been out all
night. Their hair was fixed with gel products and the women were wearing festive
outfits. He kept glancing over at them, drawn in by their beauty and happiness. He
was familiar with this longing. But he felt happy for them in a small way, knowing he
would never be a part of their world.
      Outside, the city was picking up slightly. He couldn’t help but see the streets as
pathways, the intersections as hubs, every storefront a node, an address. The people
were chunks of data, coded in protein. But it was all so chaotic, so badly designed.
They were farting and eating and cold and the couldn’t maintain a consistent speed.
Most of them didn’t even know what their instructions were, if they even had them.
      And he, Nick, was trapped with them. Bumping around a network that had long
since lost it’s operating system. He felt so slow, so inept. Almost all the doors were
closed to him. He thought of the NeuroMons sitting back on his floor. They had given
him a brief freedom. But what were they doing to him? Were they killing him? Why
were they so hard to take off? Then he thought about what would happen if he just
didn’t take them off and it scared him. He was just going to have to get rid of them. Go
back to a regular monitor. He had still made a lot of advances in the network. He could
still take advantage of them, he was pretty sure.
      But he knew that would suck. Did he have to give them up entirely? Maybe he
could set up some kind of life-support system to keep his body working while he was
158                              Conan W. Purves


online. He could get one of those drink bottles all the secretaries had, pump himself up
with vitamins, maybe even lie on the bed.
      How bad off was he really? His body felt kind of aching and weird, but really
not that bad. Maybe he would get used to the transition. Although it certainly felt a lot
worse than the last time.
      He went home after moping around a while. It seemed sad. The autumn light
was poised at any moment to fade into a Sunday evening. He didn’t want it to, but he
knew that all he was going to do was sit around, maybe watch TV and feel the
emptiness close around him. This would have been a perfect time to take his laundry
in, but it was Sunday and the laundromat was closed.
      It was around an hour that he sat there before he went to his computer. And
because it was too much of a hassle to unplug the goggles and restart the computer, he
just put them on again.
                                  INCORPORATION                                   159




PART 3, CHAPTER 1


The day before the board meeting, Arthur called Annette directly, asking if she could
come to his office as soon as possible.
        “Gladys, hold everything for this afternoon. Arthur needs to se me.” She got up
and took her coat off the hangar. “Oh and don’t tell anybody that’s where I am.”
        Out on Sixth Avenue, the weather was a little colder and damper. And worse
because she had just been in Puerto Rico. Although she had spent a lot of her time in
the hotel working on her Global Marketing proposal. She had handed it to Arthur just
before he had left, hoping he would read it on the plane.
        When she got to Arthur’s office, Felipe and Peter were both there. There was
nothing on Arthur’s desk but a single folder. Annette recognized it as the one she had
passed to Felipe, the one that contained the laptop invoices.
        “Sit down, Annette. Thank you for coming at such short notice. Felipe spoke
with me about this situation.” Arthur’s splayed fingertips bounced on the file folder.
“Peter and I have discussed it as well. Obviously this is a very serious situation.”
        Annette said nothing. Peter was looking at her hard. She had passed the
invoices to Felipe directly and had avoided Peter until she got away to Puerto Rico.
And of course in the El Conquistador Hotel, she had been avoiding Julie the whole
time.
        “In a certain way, though, this activity changes nothing. It is merely a catalyst
towards a progression that Peter and I have been discussing for some time. Julie has
done an incredible job of revitalizing the US sales force. We can now take that energy
and apply it to a global strategy. Unfortunately, Julie’s skill sets are not a match with
that strategy. This issue—” again he tapped the folder “—is a testament to that.”
        “We need someone with global experience to helm the US business,” said Peter.
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       “Peter and I have looked hard at our options,” continued Arthur. “You were one
of them, Annette.” Annette didn’t change her expression.
       “We have had a difficult time choosing from such an elite and talented group of
executives, but in the end, Susan was a clear choice.”
       Susan who? Annette was thinking.
       “She has had an extensive strategic and operational experience in Eastern Europe
in our new Business Unit.”
       “Her numbers there are incredible,” said Peter.
       “But most of her background is in US operations.” Oh, Susan Taylor! Annette
had met her a few times. She had thought of her as serious and smart. “Of course she
won’t have the same rapport with the field as Julie did, but who could. But she will
continue the growth and she will be in line with the company’s greater goals.”
       There was a pause. Everyone was looking at Annette. “I don’t know her well,
but I’m sure we will be able to work together. You know my support of a global
strategy.”
       “We certainly do. We think you will make a great partnership,” Arthur leaned
back in his chair and looked at Peter. “And this is something I haven’t told you about,
Peter. Your input, Annette, to the President of the US business, as well as to all the
OBU’s, will be coming from a new global position, that of President, Global Marketing,
reporting directly to both CEO and COO.” Peter didn’t move, but Annette saw him
swallow and his color change slightly. Felipe looked shocked, too, but he was smiling.
       “I was very impressed with your proposal. It’s completely in line with our
overall strategies, actually enhancing them. Felipe and I found the research on the
potential IT improvements particularly thorough. It’s an area this whole company
needs to focus on. So we think it sets an excellent example that the most executive
positions are filled with people who are actively engaged in technological
developments for the corporation.”
                                    INCORPORATION                                  161


          Arthur pushed his chair back and stood up. The others followed. “We’ll
continue this discussion, Annette. I’ll make the official announcement to the board on
Thursday.” Arthur reached out his hand. “But for now, congratulations.”
          “Thank you, Arthur, thank you,” Annette said, reaching for his hand, feeling its
consistent warmth. It was the only thing anchoring her to the world for a moment.
          “Actually, Annette, would you wait behind for a few moments,” he said, looking
at her.
          “Of course, Arthur.”
          Felipe and Peter shook her hand also. Peter with two hands and a grip that was
a little too tight.
          “Oh, Arthur. Don’t forget about the 4 o’clock,” Peter said on his way out.
          “Of course,” Arthur sat back down again. “Peter is referring to my meeting with
Julie.”
          “Oh, yes.”
          “Julie will be given an executive vice-president position in charge of Global Sales
Strategy. She will be in a position of lateral advisor.”
          Which meant, Annette understood, she would have no staff. She was being
parked. “And her position on the board?’
          “Susan Taylor will take her position on the board. This is unfortunate, what is
happening to Julie, but not inappropriate. However, Julie held the tie-breaking vote
that has forced me from retiring. The board did not feel it was in the best interests of
the shareholders for me to leave last year. Many of them still feel that way.
Unfortunately, they are correct. The vote will come up again, possibly even at this next
meeting.”
          Arthur stopped for a moment and turned his chair sideways. He looked across
the range of midtown. “Susan will not vote to postpone my retirement.” He turned
and looked back at Annette. “I have the right to appoint my seat on the board. I will
appoint it to you.”
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      Annette was surprised. “I don’t know if I’m ready.” She knew it was an
admission of weakness the moment it came out.
      “You’re not,” said Arthur. “But you have what it takes. I wish that I had had the
time to cultivate our relationship. But I know that you are smart and that you have
integrity. What I do not know, but my instincts tell me it is so, is whether or not you
will always have the company’s best interests at heart.”
      “Of course I will.”
      “It is not so simple, Annette. There are people all around you, at this level, who
do not. It is a very different world up here. Trust is the most precious commodity.
Give it rarely and in small doses.”
      “I understand, Arthur.”
      “I’m looking forward to retirement, Annette. I could not leave the company in
its current state. There is too much weight in one corner. You have been chosen on the
remote chance that you will be able to add weight to the other corner.”
      They sat there, neither of them speaking. Only a small part of Annette’s mind
was not surging with emotion, questions. But with that part there was clarity and
understanding. She felt like she was sharing it with Arthur and it told her there was
nothing more to say.
      Finally, she got up. They shook hands and she left. As he closed the door after
her, Arthur allowed himself a brief smile.
                                 INCORPORATION                                      163




CHAPTER 2


Nick was hanging out in the Operations department, simultaneously defragging seven
computers. Only a couple of their drivers really needed it, but he found the process
relaxing. It was also a good exercise to see how far he could push his multi-tasking.
His ability to maintain awareness of multiple processes seemed to be based on the
operating power of the systems he was in. He currently had seven going and was
perceiving two of them at a binary level, watching the 0’s and 1’s dance around each
other, on and off the drive, through him. Four were represented at the file level and the
last one was still bands of color, like the app metaphor on the screen.
       When he looked at that one closer, he would lose one of the others. But he kept
trying. Going from one to two had been a huge leap, from two to four pretty easy. But
the last two took days and being able to perceive all seven at once was just not seeming
possible. He felt that there was some whole other level that he needed to get to. So he
just kept practicing. He was also nagged by the knowledge that Annette had logged off
and left the building. She was supposed to be meeting with Fragrance in her office.
       He sat with the drives for a while, letting the symmetry of the files play
themselves out across his mind. The chaos of the bits settling into an accepted and
stable pattern was soothing. The order was a massage. He could lose himself in it. But
it wasn’t enough. There were always edges and frills on the periphery that weren’t
neat. And always, surrounding him, there was a whole network of entropy. He
wanted to defrag the whole thing.
       Better to stay focused on the microcosm, otherwise he would never be able to
stop thinking about it. He let go of cognizance of the seventh drive and sent that part
out to check the Global security log. He had been making headway into the whole
security network and now could see who had gone through which doors, or at least
164                               Conan W. Purves


which ID cards had bone through which doors. He saw Annette had entered the main
lobby of the Global building about 12 minutes ago.
       Most of his mind left the defragmenting hard drives when he saw that.
Unfortunately, once inside the executive floor at Global, you didn’t need to use your ID
card. He had no way of finding exactly where she was. He was not able to access the
security cameras. They were on an isolate video network, but they were only in the
lobbies anyways.
       He stayed there helplessly, rereading the log entry for Annette. He was pretty
sure she had given her proposal to Arthur sometime last week. At least she had printed
it out for the last time, and that had been a final draft. She had proofread it so many
times! He was amazed at her capacity for work and concentration. She had basically
rewritten almost all of the pieces he had provided. At first, he’d been pissed, wanted to
stop her, but he couldn’t do that. He just watched her retype his words. But then it
became apparent that she understood the network relationships he was revealing to her
and was able to express them much more coherently to a layperson than he ever could.
       He had also tracked the flurry of phone calls between Arthur, Peter and Felipe.
He could only run frequency checks, but that was enough to let him know that
something was up. There had been no calls between Peter and Julie the last two days so
he sat and waited.
                                INCORPORATION                                 165




CHAPTER 3


Ronn Broadway looked at his ringing phone as if it had just thrown a mild insult at
him. He looked at a lot of things—and people—like that.
      “Ronn Broadway,” he said into the phone
      “Mr. Broadway. This is detective Ray Camacho calling.”
      “Detective Camacho. What can I do for you?”
      “I have a situation here, involving one of your employees. The operator put me
through to you.”
      “Well, you’ve got the right person.”
      “What’s your title exactly?”
      “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on first?”
      “I’d just like to get some of the preliminaries…”
      “Listen, Detective, don’t play this game with me. If I remember correctly,
Detective-Sergeant outranks Detective and that’s what I was when I left the force.”
      “Oh, I thought I’d heard your name before. 32nd?”
      “Yep. And the special detail.”
      “So how’s corporate life?”
      “It’s wonderful. I highly recommend it. Does wonders for my back. Not quite as
exciting, but I’m an old man now.”
      “Well, you’re going to love this one.”
      “Give it to me.”
      “Two officers responded to a complaint in a residential building in Greenpoint,
bad odor coming from an apartment. The super lets them in. They find a guy dead at
his computer. He wearing some kind of goggles and his fingers are still on the
keyboard.”
      “And?”
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      “Well, he’s one of yours. His name is Nicholas Timmins and as far as we can tell
he’s in your employ.”
      “Name’s not familiar. I’m going to have to check with HR.”
      “Yeah. Any help you can give us.”
      “How did he die?”
      “It’s hard to tell. There’s no trauma. But it looks like he hadn’t eaten for a week,
really skinny.”
      “Detective… Camacho, is it?”
      “Yeah.”
      “Like the boxer?”
      “That’s right.”
      “Murphy still at the 33rd?”
      “Still at the desk.”
      “Wow. Well let me get your number. I’ll go walk down the hall to HR and call
you back. And for your records, I’m the Directory, Corporate Security, US Division.”
      At HR, Broadway spoke with Doreen, the Director’s Secretary. She went into the
PeopleSoft program and after a few false starts found Nick’s file.
      “He’s in IT. Reports to Mike Latham.”
      “Thanks.” Ronn ambled back up the hallway. He was a big man, cordial and
well-dressed. A lot of people said hi to him along the way.
      Back in his office, he phoned Mike who wasn’t there. His voicemail had a pager
number on it, so Ronn called him on that. He waited a bit, hands folded on the desk in
front of him, until the phone rang.
      “Ronn Broadway.”
      “Hi. It’s Mike from IT.”
      “Mike, are you really busy? I wanted to ask you about one of your employees.”
      “Which one?”
      “Probably best if we discussed it in person. Why don’t you come up to my office
as soon as you get a chance.”
                                    INCORPORATION                                     167


         “Um, okay. I guess I can come now.”
         “Good. I’m on 28, on the right hand side when you get out of the elevators.”
Broadway had never lost the inclination to suspect everyone.
         Mike arrived ten minutes later. Ronn had seen him many times, but had never
met him. He was wearing a badly cut polo shirt and he had a beard. They shook
hands.
         “Is this about Nick?” Mike seemed worried.
         “Yes, it is.”
         “I hope he’s all right. He hasn’t shown up for work in almost two weeks.”
         “He’s not all right. He’s dead.”
         “Dead?”
         “I’d appreciate it if you kept this quiet for now, but I just got a call from a police
detective that he was found dead in his apartment.”
         “How did he die?”
         “They’re not sure. It looks like natural causes. But there are no obvious signs.”
         “Wow. I’m really shocked. I don’t know what to say.”
         “Did he have any health problems that you knew about?”
         “No. I mean, I don’t think he went to the gym or anything. He had seemed a
little tired recently, but you know, we work on computers.”
         “Can you tell me about him?”
         “He was a very good employee, very efficient. He wasn’t the best with people—
not rude, just had trouble talking to them. He worked hard, though and I was thinking
about giving him a little more responsibility.”
         “So nothing out of the ordinary?”
         “No, really.”
         “Okay. It’s just good to have answers like that ready for our friends in blue. As I
said, for now let’s just keep this under wraps until I get a little more information. You
may have to speak with the police as well. It depends.
         “Fine.”
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       “Did he own any company property? A laptop?”
       “He had a laptop, but it’s still here.”
       “Mmhmm. Did he have access to our computer files.”
       “Yes, Admin access.”
       “Admin access?”
       “Administrative level of access to the network. It means he could enter most of
the network, delete files, adjust system settings. All of my team has it. It’s necessary for
their jobs.”
       “Did he have access from home?”
       “No. I mean, I don’t think so. He could have set himself up for remote access, I
guess. He had done it enough for other associates. But I can’t see why he would use it.
Maybe to check his email from home.”
       “Did he have access to the Global network?”
       “No.”
       “Good. Then I probably won’t have to involve my colleagues over there.” He
adjusted his jacket. “One of my responsibilities is protecting the company’s data assets.
It hasn’t happened here yet, as far as I know, but there have been cases of Information
Services employees selling company secrets or committing acts of data vandalism. I just
want to make sure all of my bases are covered.”
       “I see. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Nick was that kind of person.”
       “That’s worth something. You’re probably right, but you can never tell.”
       They got up and shook hands. Ronn came out from behind his desk and walked
Mike to the door. At the door, he clapped him on the shoulder. “Oh, the other thing
you’re going to have to deal with is the HR paperwork. It’s kind of complicated, I
think.”
       “Thanks,” he seemed a bit dazed, which was how Ronn liked to keep them.
       He called the 33rd precinct and got Detective Camacho on the phone.
       “Yeah, he’s our guy.”
       “I’m going down to his apartment right now. Maybe you’d like to come along.”
                                   INCORPORATION                                 169


         An hour later, Ronn was standing in front of a large white apartment building in
a bland neighborhood in Greenpoint. It had been built in a vague period between the
second world war and now and had been renovated at least once as cheaply as possible.
Detective Camacho was in a leather coat and had a moustache. He was talking to a
uniformed cop who was standing by the main door. He motioned Ronn to come up the
stairs. The cop walked with them into the lobby. He pushed the elevator button.
         “It’s starting to get cold,” Camacho said to Ronn. Then he turned to the cop. “Is
Flanders up there?”
         “Yes, sir. The door’s open.”
         The two of them got into the elevator. “They found him this morning. The lab
people have already been here. They’re going to take the body away in an hour.”
         “Autopsy?”
         “Have to.”
         The apartment was at the end of a boring hallway. The cheap brown door was
ajar and Detective Camacho pushed it open. Another officer, presumably Flanders was
coming out of the bathroom, hitching his belt. A toilet was flushing behind him.
         “Oh, Detective. I was just using the bathroom.”
         The three of them were crowded in the entrance foyer that was also the kitchen.
A hallway led off to the right where the bathroom was, and another door. Ronn peeked
his head around to the right, to what appeared to be the living room.
         It was dark. A standing lamp was not doing a good job of changing that
situation. There was nothing better than gloom coming through the venetian blinds. It
smelled bad, but it wasn’t all the smell of death. It also smelled like male without
female in small New York apartment. Ronn had smelled it and variations of it many
times.
         “Come on in. There’s a lot of stuff on the floor.” Camacho picked his way into
the living room. Broadway followed. There was a couch on one wall and a TV on a
stand on the opposite wall. To the right of the television was a desk with a computer on
170                                  Conan W. Purves


it. A human form was slumped over the keyboard and a green light glowed from the
computer.
         Camacho opened the blinds. There were bars outside the windows and the
windows were filthy so it didn’t get much lighter. But Ronn could see that most of the
stuff on the floor was dirty laundry. It spilled out of a fabric laundry bag next to the
couch.
         “Yeah, never got his laundry done,” said Camacho. “Flanders, do you have your
flashlight?”
         “Yes, sir.” Flanders handed him his maglite.
         “There are two things that are weird here,” said Camacho and he turned on the
flashlight and shone it on the body.
         Ronn could see a skinny white guy in grey sweat pants and a t-shirt. He had
greasy blond hair sticking out of some black band around his head. His right hand was
a claw around the mouse and the left was curled up on the keyboard.
         “Look at this.” Camacho shone the light on the floor. There was a sports
bottle—one of those water bottles you get at the gym—with a straw coming out of it.
Attached to its straw was a whole telescope of deli straws. It made a lazy arc that
ended at the corpse’s socked feet.
         “It looks like he wanted to drink without having to get up,” said Ronn.
         “Yeah. When we came in, it was in his lap. The lab guys took it down to test
what was in it. They’re pretty sure it was just water.”
         “They dust already?”
         “Yeah. Lots of prints, but they look like they’re all his.”
         “What’s that thing around his head?”
         “That’s the second weird thing. It’s some kind of computer goggles. Look.” He
shone the light at the side of the head. Ronn could see a thick pair of black plastic
goggles covering most of his face between the middle of his nose and the top of his
forehead.
         “You been to one of those, um, Imax movies, the 3-D ones?”
                                INCORPORATION                                   171


      “I can’t say I have,”
      “They wear goggles like this.” Ronn noticed a cable coming out of the side. He
followed it down the chair, under the table and up to the top from the back.
      “They’re connected to the computer,” said Camacho.
      “I guess that would make sense.”
      “I got one of these at home, but I really don’t know nothing about them.”
      “No, me neither,” said Ronn, getting slowly up from one knee. “I doubt any of
this is company property—wrong brand— so I’ll probably just let you deal with it.”
      “Okay.”
      “I appreciate you bringing me down here.”
      “I was hoping you might be able to help me out.”
      “I don’t know if I can. I spoke to his supervisor. He said there wasn’t anything
abnormal. Hard working guy, it sounds like. I guess he kept to himself.”
      “I’ll get the guys at the lab to take a look at the computer. Maybe there’s
something inside.”
      “Keep in touch. Let me know if there is anything the company would like to
know about.”
      “I can do that.”
      “It would be much appreciated.”
      “Hey, you know, I don’t know if this is asking too much, but my wife likes your
products.”
      “Oh, yeah. Let me see what I can do for you.”
      They shook hands. On his way out, Broadway stopped and looked back in at the
apartment, at the shadow of the body frozen over the desk in the murky light.
      “Hey, detective. You know what?” he said. “If you figure this out, let me know,
okay?”
      When Broadway got back to his office, he asked his secretary to put together a
gift bag and send it to Detective Camacho. He put the detective’s business card on the
172                               Conan W. Purves


side of her desk. Then he went into his office and sat at his own desk, staring at the
phone for a bit.
       Finally, he picked it up and phoned his boss.
                                 INCORPORATION                               173




CHAPTER 4


Gladys was on the phone when Annette came back. She looked serious and hung up
the phone when she saw Annette. “Wow,” she said.
      “You look like you just heard news,” said Annette.
      “It’s very upsetting.”
      “What is?”
      “Do you remember that guy, Nick, the IT guy?”
      “I can never get their names straight.”
      “He was the sweet one, with the greasy hair, really shy and quiet.”
      “Oh. Was he the one who was the only one who ever fixed anything?”
      “Yes, him. He’s dead.”
      “Dead?” Why did people always say that?
      “The police found him in his apartment. He hadn’t been to work in a while.”
      “What happened?” Annette had stopped caring now. She felt bad for that, but
she had a lot on her mind and she didn’t know the guy.
      “They don’t know. Supposedly, they found him sitting at his computer and
there were no signs of death.”
      “Well I’m very sorry to hear that, Gladys.”
      “And I can’t print!”
      They both laughed, but respectfully.
      “I have some news for you, Gladys. Why don’t you come into my office.”
      Gladys came in and they at across from each other on the couches. Annette old
her about the promotion, which automatically meant a promotion and a raise for
Gladys as well.
      “The details have not been completed. I don’t know which office I’ll be taking or
even my staffing assignments, but it’s definite.”
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       Gladys congratulated her. She seemed genuinely more happy for Annette than
she did for herself.
       “I wanted to tell you first,” Annette continued. “But this is all still highly
confidential. The changes will be made public after the board meeting. Until then you
can not breathe a word.”
       “You said changes?” Gladys asked, emphasizing the ‘es.’
       “That’s why you can’t breathe a word.”
       “Oh.”
       After Gladys left, Annette leaned back in her chair. It was all kind of a muddle in
her head. She had been keeping it straight on the walk back from the Global building,
what had been said to her, what the changes were going to be, what she was going to
do. But the moment Gladys had told her about that IT guy dying it threw it all into a
jumble, as if that piece of information was one weird fact too many. It was just too
random.
       So she was right again. Her plan had come to its conclusion exactly as she had
predicted. But so fast! Underneath her weary confidence was a sense that she wasn’t
entirely in control of the situation. There were still unknowables out there. She didn’t
like that.
       She felt for the first time in her career that she was finally up in the higher levels,
playing the game at a pace that was just slightly faster than her. This was where she
wanted to be. But she was going to increase her pace and force herself to become
comfortable with it. She was also going to find out those unknowables.
       She got up from the couch and sat at her desk. She opened up her issues
document. She typed “thanks” into it.
                                  INCORPORATION                                  175




CHAPTER 5


Nick was frantically going through Arthur’s secretary’s trash. A lot of documents came
out of his office in one day. Most of them were neatly filed away, but he had already
gone through all that and found nothing relevant. He had the same result in the trash.
       In desperation, he checked both Peter and Felipe’s files as well as those of their
secretaries. He even went down the hall to the VP of Corporate Communications’
drive, but found nothing there. He had long since discarded any moral hesitancy about
reading others’ files.
       Whatever had happened in the Global building with Annette was either trivial or
so important that they weren’t even telling their secretaries. That made sense as they
were two days away from the board meeting and any major announcements could be
released then. But it was still maddening to him.
       Once he’d realized that he was too scared to go back and didn’t really want to
anyhow, he had thrown himself fully into as many projects as possible. He’d been
covering every software call to the IT department, had done routine maintenance on 37
workstations, hacked his way into the security system (except the cameras, which he
was still working on), cleared out gigs of redundant and obsolete data from the product
database and had filled in all the gaps in Annette’s IT report.
       He had been too scared to communicate with her directly, as he had done that
first time. Sometimes he would email attachments to her. Smaller pieces of
information, or clues to more info he thought she could dig up herself he would send to
Gladys’ printer. Her only response was to take his information, double-check it as best
as she could—he was tracking her phone calls and emails—and incorporate it into her
report. He wanted nothing more. To him, her elegant and efficient use of his data was
the greatest compliment. She took information that only he could access and
176                                Conan W. Purves


reconstituted into a form only she could create. It was exhilarating to see the words
typed on the page, the lines pasted.
       Everything else he was doing was just trying to keep busy, to keep his mind off
his table, his water and his dirty laundry that he would never take in. These other
activities were enjoyable, but ther were not necessary and they didn’t feel as urgent or
primal or interesting as Annette’s report. And while she was working on it, he also
kept an eye on all the players around her. He tried to find out more about Peter and his
motivations. It was not easy. Julie, on the other hand, was clearly losing ground. Her
emails became more and more infused with desperation. Unless it was in person,
neither Peter nor Arthur had communicated with her since Puerto Rico.
       Despite his activity, it became increasingly difficult for him to avoid thinking
about his laundry. He was acutely aware of the time and date. Every piece of data that
he perused was affixed with it, each document stamped with it. He even felt like he
could sense the microprocessor clock ticking away, like it was his own heart. And he
didn’t seem to be sleeping. For the first time in his life, time would not just slip away.
       He went back to the US, taking a quick check on the drives. One looked like it
had stuck, but it was just a really large image file being laid back down in place. Well
that took him four seconds. He checked Annette’s email and Gladys’. Nothing
interesting. He kept one eye on the card key entry, keeping alert for Annette’s ID card,
which he had memorized at this point. He returned to the drives and lay there for a
while, relaxing. Finally her card was read by the scanner outside the door on the
executive floor. He monitored her computer for about twenty minutes before she woke
up the screen, opened the issues file and typed, “thanks.”
       you’re welcome
       Annette’s hands flew off the keyboard. She hadn’t been expecting a response.
The first time it had happened, the typing on her screen had seemed unreal, a vague
dream. She waited for a moment and typed “Okay. Who are you?”
       not an enemy
       “I knew that.” Was she crazy? This felt almost romantic.
                                    INCORPORATION                             177


      There was a long pause.
      so how did the report go over?
      “You don’t already know?”
      no
      “You seem to know everything else.”
      i’m trying
      “I don’t know if I should tell you. I still don’t know who you are.”
      i’m not really sure myself at this point
      “I think that’s one of the most important things in life.”
      what?
      “To find out who you are.”
      There was no response.
      “It’s also the hardest,” she typed in.


      Nick backed off. He stared at the blinking cursor, longing to say something
more. He was out of words and out of his depth, so he just observed. She didn’t write
anything else and then she closed the issues file. He watched the mouse hesitate at the
save dialog box and then click on save. He felt elated.
      She wasn’t going to tell him what had happened. It was amazing that she even
responded. But she was right not to respond. She didn’t know who he was. He was
just going to have to keep an eye on the global files and emails until something was
typed in. They would definitely announce anything significant after the board meeting.
      In the meantime, he would renew his attack on the security system. He was
pretty comfortable in the US and Global networks now. He could get around the
Branch networks as well, but they had become boring. A lot of complex and regular
operations that needed some pretty large-scale upgrades. They were not something he
was prepared to take on just yet.
      But he still felt limited, constrained. He wanted more input from the external
world. He didn’t want to be left out of major decision and actions that went on outside
178                               Conan W. Purves


of the circuits he inhabited. He wanted data collected from everywhere. There were
video cameras on all the floors and they were all controlled by the security department.
He had been there a few times, before, at work, to get his card key activated. There was
always a bored and inexperienced security guard there who most times had to act all
serious. They had everyone’s image on file, collected when they got their security pass.
Nick had accessed that file, which was kind of helpful, but most of the pictures were
badly taken and lo-res.
       There was a bank of monitors that switched through all the various cameras. He
could get to the system that controlled them, but all the data they picked up was video
and logged on tape. It was analog and he wasn’t. He couldn’t interpret the data. He
was exploring a few options still, so he hadn’t given up hope yet.
       His other area of blindness was people’s digital activities outside of the
company’s network. He felt there must be a way to get into their computers at home. If
they logged in remotely, he could access their computer. But that was always a
company laptop, so it was the same as if they were at work anyways.
       It wasn’t that he was trying to get into all the associates homes and snoop around
their private lives. It was the top guys, like Peter, that he wanted to get at. They made
big decisions with big consequences. But they didn’t seem to talk to anyone about them
until they were officially announcing them. They intrigued him, maybe even
maddened him and he wanted access to their data.
       He was putting together a little Trojan horse. It wasn’t finished yet. He wanted
to push it into their laptops and let it collect any other connections the laptop made
outside of the company. He knew Peter had a laptop. It was in Global IT’s purchasing
logs. He also had a remote access ID, but he never used it. Peter seemed too careful.
                                  INCORPORATION                                  179




CHAPTER 6


“So what the hell is this, Mike?” Robert was standing up in front of his chair, his fists
on his hips.
       “What?”
       “Oh come on, man, don’t act ignorant. Nick is dead?!”
       For the first time since Mike had hired him, Robert did not have an edge of
humor in his voice. “What did you hear, Robert?”
       “I’ve got an email here that says they found him dead in his apartment.”
       “I think it’s true. I just got back from talking to Ronn Broadway about it.”
       “Damn,” Robert said softly and sat back in his chair.
       “I just found out myself,” Mike walked over to Robert’s cube.
       “What happened?”
       “Ronn wouldn’t give me any details yet. Just said the cops found him dead in
his apartment. I’m not supposed to talk about it with anyone, but it’s probably all over
the building.”
       “Well, god bless him,” Robert stood up suddenly. “Will you hire us a chick this
time, Mike?”
       “I’ve got a woman coming in from the temp agency. If she’s good, we’ll try and
keep her.”
       “Cool. Let me go hit some calls,” Robert picked up his cds. “Whatever
happened to that guy. I hope he got laid before he went. He seemed to have something
going on those last weeks.”
       “Hey, Robert. Don’t say anything to anybody about this.”
       “I won’t.”
       When Robert told Arnold about it, he acted like he already knew. He seemed
about as surprised as if Robert had told him that Nick was absent from work that day.
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       Kevin said, “I’m skeptical.”
       “Skeptical? Dude, he’s dead. Mike told me. The cops were there.”
       “When you say dead, what do you mean?” Kevin replied. This threw Robert off
for a moment because it was the first time in a while that Kevin had shown his true
inner weirdness. Robert always knew it was there, but had forgotten about it. He
stared at Kevin for a bit and then walked away shaking his head.
       Detective Camacho sat at his desk, in between sessions of paperwork. He was
thinking about the Timmins guy. Not that that case particularly interested him. It
didn’t. The only thing abnormal about this guy dropping dead in front of his computer
was his age and the lack of any signs of drug use. Otherwise, he’d seen dozens of
bodies like his, leaning back on couches, in bed, at the dinner table. People died.
       He was thinking about it because he had just gotten a fancy silver gift bag filled
with cosmetics and skin care products from Ronn Broadway, courtesy of his company.
Yvette would be very happy. The though of further goodwill gifts like this and the
ameliorative effects they would have on his marriage had motivated him to think a little
bit harder about the case.
       He phoned the computer lab, was put on hold. It was actually a private
company that the NYPD hired for analysis of computer evidence. So they had pretty
good customer service. Better than the morgue, that was for sure. Someone came on
the phone. Camacho identified himself and the case and got put on hold again.
       “Detective Camacho?”
       “Here.”
       “Hi. Nestor Links, here. I’m looking at your computer right now.”
       “Anything interesting?”
       “Well the guy who picked it up found it still running and still connected to a
network. Suggests at least that the individual was still online when he died.”
       “And those goggles?”
       “Just a different way of looking at the screen. Some people like to use them,
better for their neck or something.”
                                  INCORPORATION                                    181


       “Can you tell where he was connected to?”
       “I will be able to. I need to look at the logs and configs. I should be able to let
you know by the end of the day.”
       “You’ll call me?”
       “I’ll do that.”
       “Let me know if there’s anything in there pertinent to his company, files, things
like that.”
       “I’ll give you an entire inventory.”
       They hung up. Camacho decided he would call Broadway after he got the
results back from the lab. The autopsy wouldn’t be done for another couple of days, but
he had a feeling those results wouldn’t lead anywhere.
       Annette was in high-avoidance mode. She knew it and didn’t like it. But it was
moot because here she was on her way to Michael’s to meet Peter for an “impromptu”
lunch. She had really hoped she wouldn’t have to talk to him until after the board
meeting. But he had called her directly and there was no way she could get out of it
without making him suspicious.
       She got there first this time and was shown to her regular table. Peter came
shortly after, looking slim and elegant—and oily she wanted to think, but held that
thought because it was too obvious and biased.
       “Hi, Annette,” he said and sat down.
       “It’s nice to see you Peter.”
       “It’s been too long, Annette.” He smiled.
       “We’ve been busy.”
       “We have. To us.” He raised his water glass and she did the same. “And really,
to you.” He raised his glass again. “Congratulations.”
       “I had no idea this was coming, Peter.”
       “None?” He cocked his head slightly.
       “You know I’ve been positioning for global leadership in marketing. I’ve
mentioned it to Arthur.”
182                                 Conan W. Purves


       “And your report?”
       “I was given the opportunity. It fit.”
       “I know you can learn anything you put your mind to. But some of the technical
language in your report was pretty complicated. Felipe was impressed.”
       “I needed to understand how the operations related or I never could have made
my argument.”
       “But you couldn’t have gotten all that information from Finalyson.”
       “I have my sources.”
       “Maybe you’ll share them with me some day.”
       “Maybe.”
       “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine?” He tried to make a joke out of it.
       “Is there anything else I’m going to find out?” she asked.
       “Not unless Arthur has more tricks up his sleeve. I’d like to say I doubt it, but at
this point I don’t know with him anymore.”
       “Do you have any more tricks up your sleeve?”
       “Nothing that you don’t already know.”
       “And what about Julie?”
       “There won’t be any histrionics at the board meeting. She’s been told to pack.”
       “She lost her board seat?”
       “They’re parking her.”
       “I guess that’s part of the deal. I find it sad.”
       “I guess so. She did it to herself.”
       “I tried to talk to her, you know.”
       “What?”
       “I told her I knew about the laptops and I was going t have to tell Felipe about
it.”
       “You talked to her? Why the hell did you do that?”
       “It just seemed so crazy what she was doing. Like she was digging her own
grave.”
                                   INCORPORATION                                   183


       “What did she say?”
       “Nothing. She seemed to think I was in the weak position.”
       “You know, I think she lost it a bit. This is better for the company.”
       “I guess.”
       “Annette, you’re just feeling guilty. It goes with the territory. You’ve done a
tremendous job. You delivered the goods better than I had expected. You didn’t even
have to communicate with me. I have to admit that I was a little surprised when Arthur
called me in and Felipe was there with the invoices. I had been fretting about how I
was going to approach Arthur.”
       “He would be suspicious?”
       “She was in his camp. She was one of the initiators of the vote to postpone his
retirement.”
       “And now she’s gone.”
       “And now she’s gone.”
       “To you, Peter.” This time she raised her glass. She had just a hint in her voice
and Peter gave her a funny look.
       “Annette, one of you strong points was that you’ve always gotten on the right
team. In your new position, that will be more important than ever. Make sure you pick
the right team.”
       “Ronn Broadway.”
       “Mr. Broadway. This is Nestor Links. I’m calling from Computer Security
Associates.” Ronn could tell it was another black man on the phone.
       “Yes. Detective Camacho said you would call.”
       “I’ve done a software inventory on the computer found in your employee’s
apartment. It was a very nice set-up, I have to say. If this guy was still alive, I’d be
tempted to hire him.”
       “What do you mean?”
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       “He owned a lot of sophisticated commercial software. He had also done some
of his own coding and it wasn’t bad. He had skills. But it’s more the way everything is
organized. A tight set-up. Extremely tight.”
       “Anal retentive?”
       “This guy could have shit through a straw.”
       “Camacho said you had something I would be interested in.”
       “Well I don’t know his role in your corporation, but he seemed to have a lot of
files that are significant—I don’t want to say important because I don’t know what is
and what is not important to you. But it looks like company business.”
       “That’s enough for me.”
       “He also seems to have had a lot of access.”
       “Access?”
       “Again, I can’t really know for sure, but he had more than one network ID and
lots of different types of network access software, more than you would think you
would need to get your job done.”
       “He did work for our Information Technology department.”
       “That could explain it. Still. What I’ll do is forward you an inventory list, free of
charge. Take a look at it, pass it on to your tech guys, see what they say. If it means
nothing or you want to take a look at it yourself, I’ll ship the box to you. If you want to
do a deeper analysis—and we are one of the best in the business—we can do that for
our standard rates.”
       “I understand you, Mr. Links. Why don’t I give you my email and I’ll take a look
at your report.”
       “Will do.”
       When Ronn got the report, he gave it a cursory glance and immediately
forwarded it to Mike. He wrote, “Let me know if there is anything I would be
concerned about here.”
       When Mike got the file, he was a little surprised. It looked like Nick had been
doing some hacking. He was certainly the type, but Mike had never thought of him as
                                 INCORPORATION                                  185


having that much initiative. He took a look at his id logs on the server, but it looked
pretty normal. He hadn’t made any remote entries in quite a while. It looked more like
he was teaching himself stuff. He called Ronn Broadway and told him that. Ronn
called Links and told him to send the computer back to Nick’s parents or the NYPD or
whatever. Links called Camacho and asked him what he should do with the
equipment. Camacho told him to sit on it for a while, that they would get it sent out to
his next-of-kin when they figured who that was.
       So Links unhooked Nick’s computer from his testing shelf and packed it away
neatly in a box. He’d just finished labeling and sealing the box shut with a tape gun,
when he remembered the goggles which were still sitting on the far corner on the shelf.
He cursed, put away the tape gun and wrote “Don’t forget about the goggles” on the
label. He wanted to give them a try, but they probably would need the software that
was on the computer to work properly.
       Nestor Links was happy enough to seal the box and finish that job. He and his
firm had plenty of work. But he knew from experience that that dead kid had been a
hacker and a pretty good one. Nestor Links had seen it and done it and that Timmins
kid had been deep in it. He was deep in something else now, Links thought and
chuckled to himself.
186                               Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 7


Nick knew right away when Mike opened up his user profile. He watched him parse
through his logs. He knew there was nothing for Mike to see, but it startled him. He
quickly checked Mike’s email and saw the header with his name on it. He opened the
email and saw a very thorough list of all his files on his computer. He was outraged.
They had gone into his apartment! They must have ransacked all his stuff! Where was
his computer? Whose stupid, lame hands were all over it?
      He suddenly wanted to rush out and start shutting down large portions of the
Branch warehouses, zero the data in the product database. Who did they think they
were fucking with? These angry thoughts simmered to resentment and that calmed
down enough to let reason slip through. He traced the email back to Ronn Broadway’s
office. He knew Ronn was the director of corporate security in the US. The inventory
list had come from some company called Computer Security Associates. They had a
website, but it was pretty vague. They claimed to do “Corporate Technical Security.”
Why would they be doing an analysis of his hard drive?
      And if they had his computer, then they must have the NeuroMons, which
meant they weren’t on his head anymore. He’d kind of lost track of them a while ago,
but hadn’t really thought about it too hard. One of the reasons, he realized, that he
hadn’t thought about it too much was that then he would have to ask himself the
question that he could really no longer avoid and that was where was he?
      He knew where he was. He was just a few bits from the end of Mike Latham’s
mail socket, reading his email. But where was his body? The thing that must eat and
shit and come? Did someone else now have to take care of it? Was it still working?
Was he dead? These thoughts upset him and did not upset him at the same time. The
mix was enough to motivate him to find out.
                                INCORPORATION                                 187


      He went through the rest of Mike’s email, skimming through the wash of
onerous responsibility that lay on Mike’s middle management shoulders. Nick felt
sorry for him. He’d always been so steady and kind. But Nick hadn’t thought of how
much pressure he shielded from his employees. Going through the memos, the
nagging emails, the headers with questions marks on them (or worse, two or more
question marks, or a question mark and an explanation point), he got an idea of what
Mike had to put up with.
      He found an email from a woman in Purchasing who was a friend of Mike’s. At
the end it said, “I’m sorry about what happened to one of your guys. That’s SO weird.”
Nick jumped over to Robert’s account, suddenly realizing where he had to go to find
out any info.
      Robert had threads about him. A choice one, to Arnold, went like this: “DUDE,
he’s DEAD. They found the guy in his apartment, on his computer and he’d been dead
for days. Mike told me.” He tracked these threads all over the company, seeing the
rumour stir he had caused. Most of the emails were about the fact of it. They seemed
thrilled by what had happened. He felt disgusted and sad. Glady’s, Annette’s secretary
had written, “It’s so sad. He seemed like such a nice guy” and that was the only thing
about him that he found so he stopped reading.
188                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 8


“This is a situation that is almost entirely out of my hands, Gus.” Peter was leaning
back on the other side of his desk, being casual. He wants to help me, thought Gus. “I
don’t know if I have any power to change the way things are going forward. But I at
least have some influence. I’m the COO after all.” And he laughed and Gus laughed, a
little too hard.
       Gus didn’t know what he was supposed to say.
       “You do realize that you are in a very bad position here?”
       “I am?” The tremors of fear that he had first felt when Peter’s secretary had
called him shook into nauseating anxiety.
       “Don’t you know what’s going on?”
       “Uh, no.”
       “I don’t think anyone believes you were behind the idea. But you carried it out,
your name is on the invoice. It’s not even really about whether or not you were at
fault.” Peter paused, looked thoughtful. “It’s more a question of judgment. Well, no,
it’s not even that. It’s just that you are very closely affiliated with the spill and you are
very likely to get mopped up with it.”
       Peter got up and walked toward the window. “I don’t know what I did,” said
Gus.
       “You don’t know what you did!” Peter spun around. “You purchased 300
completely unauthorized computers, putting a huge dent in our Global IT capabilities,
and deliberately circumventing corporation policy!” He was yelling now.
       Gus’s face felt flushed, full of pressure. It was so wrong. He had done what
anyone would have. Julie was his boss. He had to do it. And she’d passed the buck to
him?
       “But it was Julie’s request.”
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       “Don’t play that with me, Gus. You knew what you were doing. You have
nothing to say, so don’t say it.”
       Gus suddenly felt like crying. He was almost going to cry right there. He
couldn’t say anything or the thick thing in his chest would come bursting out. He just
sat there, looking down, holding it in.
       Peter didn’t say anything for a bit, then sat back down.
       “Look, you got on the wrong boat,” his voice was calm now, gentle. “It happens.
Not the smartest move, but it happens.”
       “I was just doing what Julie asked.”
       “We know that, Gus, but that doesn’t change the situation you’re in now.”
       “What is that situation?” He had managed to calm down. He felt there was an
escape hatch for him, if he just played it right.
       “It’s complicated. But Arthur is very unhappy and there are going to be a lot of
changes in the US business. I don’t know exactly what Arthur is going to do with you,
but I think the way he sees it, you were on the wrong boat.”
       “And he’s getting rid of that boat?”
       “Most likely, yes.”
       “Oh.”
       “However, and this is a really low probability however—what I’m saying to you,
Gus, is that I’m not making any promises—I have had some chance to see your work
and before this egregious error in judgment on your part, was thinking of finding a role
for you here in Global.”
       Gus knew enough at this point to play it cool.
       “But since this incident with the laptops, and your close affiliation with the
company’s outgoing president, I’m now only in a position to make a weak
recommendation to the powers in charge.”
       “If there’s anything I can do to…” His words trailed off; he didn’t really know
what he could do.”
190                                Conan W. Purves


       “There’s nothing you can do right now. I am making you aware of the situation
you are in. It’s a favor. Be aware.”
       He stopped talking. Gus thought the meeting should be over now, but Peter
didn’t move or anything. After a while, Gus began to feel uncomfortable, or rather,
more uncomfortable.
       Finally, Peter crossed his fingers together and put his hands in front of him on
the desk. “Gus, we have an internal security problem at this company,” he said.
       “We do?” Gus blurted out, desperate to say something.
       “Someone has access to the email and maybe even the files of senior executives at
this corporation. I know this because information has been leaked and that this is the
only way it could have got out.”
       “You think it’s someone who works here?”
       “That makes the most sense. But who and how and why I don’t know. I want
you to find that out for me. That will go a long way to reinforcing my support for you.”
       “I have very little left in my budget—“
       Peter cut him off, “You are in no position to talk about your budget. This
meeting is finished.”
       Gus jumped out of his chair without thinking. “I’ll find this guy.”
       Peter didn’t say anything. Gus backed out, in kind of a half bow and closed the
door behind him.
       The moment he got out of Peter’s office and saw his ridiculously hot secretary he
felt a surge of humiliation. Her face was emotionless, her back so expertly straight, her
breasts pushing at her thin rayon top. He felt his face flush and tried to control it. Fuck
her. She was nothing but a prostitute. No skills but being hot. He could afford her.
But he couldn’t actually afford her. He tried to give her a look of confidence, or
something like that, failed and walked by her.
       He was really in trouble. He was pretty sure Julie was out of there. She had
seemed to be everyone’s golden child, especially Arthur’s. He had just been rolling
with the punches, doing what he had to. Well, he’d do it again. He didn’t know what
                                INCORPORATION                                191


Arthur was talking about, but if one of those losers in the IT department was snooping
around, Gus would find him and take his ass out.
      It had been a while since Gus had done any real hacking sysadmin work. The
systems had probably moved way past his experience level. But he still knew some
people. And there were some tricks that never went out of style.
192                               Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 9


Nick had found an early draft of the management announcement. It was going to be
released immediately after the board meeting. And no wonder Annette had been
excited. She was going to Global. Julie was also moving to Global, in some special
position dealing with sales. Some other woman was coming in as president.
        He didn’t understand the need for all this change. Annette’s promotion made
sense, if all this rhetoric about “New Global Strategies” was true. But why bring this
Susan Taylor chick from Czechoslovakia or wherever to run the US business? He
wished he could talk to Robert about this stuff.
        But Annette going to Global was awesome. There was even a mention of
“streamlining Global Marketing Relationships with the new Global Technical Roll-out.”
Her report must have blown them away. She would get the money and do it, too. He
could feel the efficiency. Instead of band-aids and strings, there would be hubs and
routers, rationalized protocols. He would move through the network like light.
        He needed to maintain his relationship with Annette. He hated all this skulking
around. Segmented, ephemeral flashes of connection and then he just hid and watched.
But what could he say to her? It was better to just be patient. Stay by her and keep
helping her, let her find out about him over time. He hated that, being careful, patient.
But that’s probably why he had no friends, never had a girlfriend. He couldn’t hold
himself in. Why would you? But everyone else seemed to live a life walking on
eggshells. He’d learned early on that it was best to just close up and do what had to be
done.
        He read the rest of the announcement, glazed over it really. He couldn’t sustain
constant data input for any length of time, when it was data like that. Emptiness
covered in shells of fake corporate words. He felt a rush of superiority. He would own
the people that hid behind those shells! He’d seek them, drive them out into the open
                                 INCORPORATION                                 193


and if he didn’t like them, he would snuff them, zero their data in the corporate system.
Their tools were his world and soon he would have complete control over his world.
194                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 10


Ronn Broadway was coming out of Paul’s office as Peter was going in.
       “Hey, Ronn, how are things?”
       “Not bad, Mr. Arnagent. Got a weird one I had to talk to my boss about. One of
our employees died.”
       “Really? At work?”
       “No, thank god, we have no responsibility. Found dead in his apartment. He
worked for US IT, had a computer, all that. Just wanted to make sure. Computer
crimes are all the rage these days.”
       “They certainly are. What was the employee’s name?”
       “Nicholas Timmins. He worked in Mike Latham’s group.”
       “Timmins, hmm? Didn’t know him. The company is taking care of his family,
flowers, condolences, all that I suppose.”
       “Um, yes.” Ronn had no idea.
       “We should do something like that. Take care.” He entered Paul’s office. Paul, a
red-faced, white-haired executive type, cut from the Westchester mold, was the
Executive Vice-President for Corporate Security.”
       “What can I do for you, Peter?”
       “I just dropped by to pick your brains.”
       “Go ahead.”
       “I’m looking for expertise in computer security.”
       “Unfortunately, we’re not stacked with that kind of talent here. It’s an issue
that’s only now starting to affect us.”
       “Yes. Good. Don’t worry, I’m not concerned about our own security. It’s
something outside the corporation. Consultants who deal with fairly exreme cases.
Hackers, things like that.”
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        “Well, the firm that does our employee protection work in Russia and South
America has a whole subsidiary that deals with computer security. They’re pretty
tough people. Ex-military, a lot of them.”
        “That sounds perfect.”
        “I’ll forward you their email and my contact over there.” Paul walked behind his
desk.
        “Why don’t you just write it down, Paul.”
        “Oh.” He raised his eyebrows and took a notepad out of his desk drawer. “Talk
to Vincent. He’s our corporate sales contact over there and he’ll probably steer you in
the right direction.”
        Later, Peter phoned Vincent. The company was named Corporate Shield. So
typically macho, thought Peter. “I’ll transfer you to Donald Rijper,” said Vincent.
“He’s the man you want to talk to about information security. You may find him a bit
extreme.”
        “That’s exactly what I’m looking for.”
        There was a click and some strange buzzing noises. “Rijper. I warn you in
advance that this call is scrambled and recorded. What can I do for you?”
        “Mr. Rijper. This is Peter Arnagent. I’m the COO of—”
        “I know. Don’t say anything else. It would be best if we meet in person.”
        “I can make myself available.”
        “I can make housecalls, but I do not like to do so on my first consultation. I can
not guarantee the privacy in someone else’s office and if there is a security issue, that
puts us at a significant disadvantage right from the beginning.”
        “I understand.”
        “Good. Here are the details.” In a flat, steady drone he listed the time and place
for their meeting. Peter committed the details to memory and hung up. This was more
like it. He probably should never have spoken to Finlayson. He would just end up
alerting whoever was snooping that they were on to him. It was done. There was still
an off-chance that he might dig something up.
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       Gus thought he might be able to dig something up with this. It was an old-
school, almost hardware-level piece of software he’d gotten from one of his buddies at
ITT. It had been stashed away somewhere in his boxes, originally intended for some
network maintenance scheme he’d thought of and never implemented. Basically, it
went out across the network at pre-scheduled times, sending empty data packets to
every hub and node. Along the way it would collect IP addresses and log activity. It
was kind of rough, because it tended to ignore most of the other network protocols.
Some of them could handle it, but a lot couldn’t and you ended up with a lot of broken
communications, corrupted transfers and even some stalled or crashed apps.
       But it did bring back a lot of data and you could comb through it and find
activity that standard net op software couldn’t. He set it to run from 4 to 5 in the
morning. He’d deal with any potential mess the next day. A lot of hackers stuck
hidden programs into the network that did a lot of their work when user activity was
low. If there was a Trojan horse sitting out there, collecting usernames or emails, this
thing would probably see it.
       He hit the return key after setting all the appropriate configs and leaned back in
his chair. He put his hands behind his head. “Go to work, little man,” he said.
       “We’re getting a girl! We’re getting a girl!” Robert came dancing out of Mike’s
office, his hands in the air. “Push ‘em up! Push ‘em up!”
       Mike came running out after him. “Robert, what did I just say? Jesus Christ. Is
this the kind of atmosphere you want a new employee to be faced with?”
       “All right, I’m sorry. I’m just a little excited for some diversity in this place.”
       Kevin and Arnold were already up and out of their seats, crowding around Mike
and Robert like betas in a dogrun.
       “What girl?” said Kevin.
       “I made an offer to the most qualified applicant for the position of IT
coordinator. That person accepted. That qualified person just happens to be of the
female gender.”
                                   INCORPORATION                                 197


       Kevin said, “All right!” and then his face got red.
       “So she’s taking Nick’s position,” said Arnold.
       “That’s correct,” said Mike.
       “Let’s have a moment of silence for our dear colleague, Nick.” Robert held one
hand over the other in front of his waist and hung his head like a preacher. “Nick, we
miss you. You were a hard worker. We would like to offer our thanks for the supreme
sacrifice you made so we could have gender diversity in this department.”
       “I hope you’re being serious, Robert. Sometimes I just can’t tell with you.
Anyways, we do miss Nick. But we welcome Anna and will treat her with the respect
we would show to any new employee. I’m serious about this, guys. She is really smart
and can definitely hold her own. But I will not tolerate even the slightest hint of
discrimination.”
       “You got it, boss,” said Robert. “I was just playing.”
       “This is a woman’s company. We’ve got a woman for a president and most of
our customers are women. In many ways, that’s what makes this a good place to work.
Let’s not forget that.”
       “All right, all right. We were just happy to have a woman in our department.”
       “Hey, I’m happy too. Believe me, we definitely need more women in the
computer industry. But the main point is that I think Anna will just be an excellent
addition to the team.”
       Later, after Mike had gone back to his office, Robert leaned over to Kevin and
said, “It’s his wife that makes him say all that stuff.”
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CHAPTER 11


That night, well actually it was actually 4:07:53:07 as Nick logged it, a fat packet, taking
up the entire width of the pipe pushed Nick out into the hub. He was stuck there for a
moment while this shell of empty data pushed against him. It was pulling information
from his presence. He could see the bits coming from him filling the shell of the thing.
He was just starting to panic when it moved on.
       He watched its lucid bulk go down a route. He was just about to follow it, when
another one came and hit him again. It was the same as the last and doing the same
thing. He couldn’t move and again it read some data from him. It looked like it was
just noting his presence and time. They were some kind of probes, sent out to gather
network data, stupid and slow. They were definitely not in the sanctioned toolkit for
the IT department. If they were trapping him in a hub, he could only imagine what
they were doing to network operations.
       He had to get back to the server and find out where these things were coming
from. The second packet finished with him and he went back up the route he’d been
on. He was on it for second before another packet came and pushed him back. This
time, he accelerated into the hub and went out of a different port, avoiding getting
scanned. But those things must be coming from the server. How was he going to get
back there?
       He took a different route, trying to go around the back, but he got caught there,
too. By the time the third one had pinned him, he was in a rage. It was a futile rage and
he soon recognized that he was not going to be able to avoid these probes.
       He had three options. He could wait until they stopped coming. He could see if
he could push through them somehow. Or he could try to destroy them. When the
next one hit him, he studied its code more closely. It was rudely written, probably
pretty old-school. They were basically a series of loops whose results wrote to a file.
                                   INCORPORATION                                   199


He looked at the loops closely. There were tons of complicated if statements. He
realized that even though he was trapped, he could still throw inputs into the probe’s
code. He played with a bunch of different equations, inputting them into the if
statements. One of them worked, forcing the probe into a circular reference. It just
froze. It wasn’t dead, just sitting there, running an infinite cycle.
       But it was still there, blocking his way. He could delete it now, like a text file, but
what a huge hassle that was going to be. Whoever was the fuck who set these things in
motion was going to pay. He studied the inert code until he finally found a pull call
that separated its bits from any header info, basically disintegrating it. It responded to a
fact of no data and no paths to its origin, after it had existed for a certain amount of
time. That code had probably been put in there so that probes that got stuck and had
nothing to report would eventually self-destruct.
       What Nick would need to do would be to feed data into its requests that would
trick each probe into thinking it was in a dead end and had collected no data. He
dropped a line into the first variable and then a different one into the second. His
inputs broke the circular reference. The frozen probe woke up momentarily, just long
enough for it to run one more cycle. And then it blew up in a starfire of 0’s and 1’s.
       Boom, there was another one right behind it. The inert one had caused a traffic
jam. There must be dozens of them lined up. This new one was probing him again and
it took Nick a little while to re-write his code and get it into the proper requests. But the
end result was another satisfying explosion and nullification.
       The next one hit him again. This time he froze it. He needed a little time to buld
a couple of procedures that would instantly replace the lines of code he used on the
probe. He tried them out. The inert probe shattered. The next one came and latched on
to him, but his procedure had re-armed him. He blasted the probe and was already
prepared for the next one. He got faster, taking out the probes as they came. There
were a lot. He tweaked his code a little, adjusted his own timing and then just went
nuts. He surged through the jam of probes like Chow Yun Fat, a line of code in each
hand. Behind him was a trail of dissipating 0’s and 1’s. Take that, bitch!
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         He got out of the cables, into the main drive of the server and those things were
everywhere. They were like digital maggots, writhing and pulsating all over the hard
drive. He went after a few, finding some range. He was tempted to spend all night
killing them. It was fun. But he realized he needed to find the source first. He could
plug that up and then clean the network of the remaining vermin.
         He continued to hone in on their origin until he saw the port they were
streaming out of. He took a bunch apart, but they kept coming. He checked the port ID
and then compared it against the network map. It was Gus Finlayson’s computer! He
should have guessed. These probes had all the blunt idiocy a Gustav move. There was
only one thing to do.
         He forced his way into the port, dismantling probes the whole time. He got
through the bottleneck and found the app that was the source. It was some old sweeper
program and was set to run for another 39 minutes. Then the probes would be called
back to report their findings. This was definitely on the dl. Gus would never do
anything himself unless he had to. What was he up to?
         Nick shut the app down. The last probe shot out, through the port and into the
network. Each probe was timecoded and set with instructions upon its creation, so
there was no way to recall them early. He was just going to have to go out and hunt
them down one by one. And probably repair whatever damage they were doing out
there.
         In the meantime, he had to take care of Gustav. His earlier rage had tempered
itself into a cold anger. He had a purpose and a target now. He ran through
Finlayson’s files and emails but found nothing that indicated why he’d set that program
up. He had a pretty fancy computer, clearly two powerful for Gus’s needs. Fit his ego
just right, though.
         Nick thought about what damage he could do. There were a number of complex
and creative options, but he felt a simple approach would be best. Erase his hard drive
and everything on it. There were a few ways you could do this. The quickest would be
to initialize it again, which basically wrote a new directory. To the computer, the drive
                                 INCORPORATION                                  201


was blank, but all the files were still written on it. You could recover them with special
software which every IT employee had in their velcro wallet. The other more thorough
option was a low-level rewrite. This took about an hour, depending on the amount of
data in the drive. Every piece of data on the drive was systematically found and
deleted, written to 0’s. There was no chance of any recovery. Considering the
circumstances, Nick thought the low-level rewrite was the most appropriate response.
       Once that operation was begun and the satisfying purging of Finlayson’s drive
was humming through the ether, he revamped his little probe-busting procedure. He
put some automatic scripts into it so that it would fire out both sets of data immediately
up identifying a probe. He tested it out in the open arena of the hard drive. It was like
a heat-seeking machine gun. He was taking probes out at the rate of 6 or 7 per second,
at an increased range. He spent the rest of the night mopping them up, only pausing to
check Finlayson’s drive every now and then.
202                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 12


“Can one of you guys—oh, you’re the only one here,” Mike had stepped out of the
office. Anna was sitting at Nick’s—now her—desk. She had short, dirty-blonde hair
and could have been slightly pretty if she made any effort. Mike stood there for a
minute, thinking.
      “Whatever it is, I can do it,” said Anna.
      “Okay, you’re right. It’s Gus, my boss. He can’t get his computer started.”
      “Oh. I met him when I interviewed.”
      “I hate to send you up there on your first day, before you really understand our
network.”
      “I’ll figure it out.”
      “He can get frustrated.”
      “I’ve seen it many times.”
      “If you get stuck, I’ll be down here. Just give me a call.”
      Anna was a little psyched. This was only her second job out of school, where she
had majored in romantic literature and spent most of her nights in the VAX room
playing MOO’s and trek. But she had shed a lot of her elf-self, including Doug her
bearded and caped boyfriend, in that last job. She was pretty good at handling systems
and even better with retarded executives. She probably would find the computer
unplugged.
      Instead she found Gus Finlayson, a horrible, car-dealer of a man, pacing back
and forth. He barely acknowledged her, so she went right to his computer. It was on
and it wasn’t reading the drive. She rebooted it from a CD. It appeared to identify the
drive’s ATA slot, thus acknowledging its existence. The drive was empty.
      “It looks like your C: drive is blank.”
      “That can’t be.”
                                  INCORPORATION                                   203


       “Take a look.”
       He bent over the screen, looked at the details on C:. “Jesus Christ. I was running
some old software on it last night. I’m not too surprised that it crashed it, but I can’t see
how it wiped it out.”
       “Maybe it corrupted the directory. Let me run a diagnostic.”
       The response was almost immediate. The drive was completely zeroed, like it
had just come off the assembly line.
       “Wait. There’s something here. A single text file? 4k?” She opened it up. It was
one sentence.
       “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Gustav?” was what it read.
       “Who’s Gustav?” Anna asked.
       “And you checked the backup tapes?” Mike asked.
       “I went back a month. There was nothing.” Anna swallowed. She was sure she
had done nothing wrong, but this was a pretty rough way to start her new job.
       “I believe you, Anna. I have no idea what happened. But I am going to double
check everything you told me. You understand, don’t you?”
       “Of course. It’s my first day after all.”
       Back in the cubes, Kevin avoided eye contact with her. Arnold checked to see
that Mike’s door was closed and then came up to Anna’s desk.
       “Man, Gus was pissed.”
       “He’s a dick.”
       “Ha ha. Now you know. What did you do?”
       “I didn’t do anything. His hard drive was wiped clean.”
       “Low-level format?”
       “Completely zeroed.”
       “Wow. I wonder who did that?”
       “You think someone did it then?”
       “I don’t know. Why not?”
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       “Yeah, I’m pretty sure he was hacked. The drive wasn’t completely empty.
There was a little text file in there.”
       “What did it say?”
       “Something like ‘What are you F-ing doing Gustav?’”
       Arnold laughed. “It said Gustav!” Kevin was snickering over in his corner, too.
“Kevin, you tell Robert!”
       “Why is that so funny?” asked Anna.
       “His name is Gus. We call him Gustav.” And then he thought for a moment and
looked over at Kevin.
       Kevin’s face got all red. “Hey man, don’t look at me. I don’t know anything
about it.”
       Anna didn’t say anything. She looked at Kevin and Arnold looking at each
other. They had these quizzical expressions on their faces.
       Finally, Kevin said, “No. No way.”
       “Well you better ask him.”
       “Maybe it was Nick.”
       “He do it beforehand?”
       Then Mike opened the door and stood in the doorway. He had his own look on
his face, one of consternation. Kevin and Arnold stared at him. Then Robert walked in
and all three turned and stared at him.
       “What?” he said.
       “What the hell is going on here?” Mike almost yelled.
       “What?!” said Robert again.
       “Somebody wiped Gustav’s drive,” said Kevin.
       “And to top it off, his user id has been deleted. It’s like he never even worked
here and he’s our boss.”
       “Thank god,” said Robert, returning to his cubicle. “I thought something serious
had happened.”
                                    INCORPORATION                                 205


          “You know what else,” said Anna. “He card-key doesn’t work. He was
screaming on the phone to somebody when I was in his office.”
          “He messed with the wrong people,” said Robert. “Doesn’t surprise me in the
least.”
          Gus had to wait outside Peter’s office for twenty minutes. The anger he’d been
simultaneously nurturing and suppressing transformed instantly into sycophantic
humility when he entered the office.
          “This is evidently urgent, Gus.”
          “There is definitely a hacker.”
          “Explain.”
          Gus told him what had happened to his computer. He also told him about the
text file.
          “Is your full name Gustav?”
          “No. It’s just Gus.”
          “Who calls you Gustav?”
          “No one.”
          “How could someone know that you initiated the tracer program?”
          “It’s pretty primitive software. If you know what you’re doing, you can find the
computer it originated from.”
          “You couldn’t have run it from a machine other than yours?”
          A pause. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
          “Basically, you took no steps to protect yourself.”
          “I guess not.”
          “That’s the second time you have taken action without covering yourself.
Although in this case, the results were for the best. We know for sure that someone has
access to our network and they are probably hostile to the corporation—at least they are
definitely hostile to you.”
          “I think they may have deleted my security ID as well. I couldn’t get in this
morning.”
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      “Really? This is very disturbing. Very, very disturbing indeed. You almost
didn’t tell me that, Gus. That is an extremely important detail.” He sat there, looking
down at the desktop.
      After he a moment, he looked up and seemed almost surprised to find Gus still
there. “Goodbye,” he said. It was not quite a question.
                                  INCORPORATION                                  207




CHAPTER 13


Nick was tromping down some old network avenues. He kept his code guns with him
because he kept running into errant probes, lost with no IP address to return to. And,
frankly, the weapons made him feel secure. He was manually checking all possible
nodes into and out of the network. He felt that Gustav’s attack was just the beginning.
Somebody above him was suspicious. Gust would never have done that on his own.
       Or maybe it was just part of the company’s move to a higher emphasis on IT.
They were going to have to amp up their security as well, though he had seen nothing
specific in any of the memos.
       But it didn’t matter. He had to be prepared. At the very least, Gustav’s probe
app had caused him a lot of hassle. That was warning enough. He couldn’t spend all
his time in constant vigilance, rushing from port to port. He needed to start putting
some surveillance software in place, some guardians at the larger portals and maybe
even some attack spiders to stay on random patrol throughout the network.
       Thinking about the work he had to do made him realize he needed a home base,
somewhere central, connected as quickly as possible to all the major hubs, but at the
same time out of the path of the regular network business activity. Maybe a hidden
partition in the server? He wouldn’t need more than a gig. He could load it up with a
serious firewall, kind of his final line of defense. And inside he could keep all the
utilities and helper apps he needed. It would be like a little workshop.
       He would do the partition tonight, when he could take the server offline for an
hour without anyone knowing.
       Donald Rijper was smaller than Peter had expected. He wasn’t exactly short.
Everything was in proportion. He just seemed scaled down a notch.
       They were seated at an outdoor café, warming their hands on ceramic mugs of
coffee. They still had their coats on.
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         “We have the area soft-scrambled against parabolic microphones. I have a team
checking to see if you were followed. Being here obviates any hardwired audio
surveillance and clearly there is little chance of eavesdropping.”
         “You are prepared. I’m sure you hear this from most of your clients, but I doubt
I’m being followed.”
         “I get a range of reactions from my clients. I just like to ensure that there are
minimum leaks from the beginning. That helps me to define the situation as we move
forward. If it becomes clear that certain levels of security are redundant, then we can
discard them.”
         “When I called you, I had a suspicion. Since then, that suspicion has been
confirmed. I still know nothing beyond the fact that someone has access to our
corporation’s computer network. They may or may not be outside the company, but
they have leaked information within the company and they have wiped out the hard
drive of one of my employees.”
         “It wasn’t an accident.”
         “He—whoever it was—left a note.”
         “A note?”
         “A text file. In the blank drive. It was the only thing it. One of the IT people
found it when they did the recovery.”
         “You think someone hacked into that machine internally?”
         “I guess someone could have come in to his office at night. I hadn’t thought of
that.”
         “It’s difficult to completely zero a drive from the network.”
         “This same employee had his network account deleted, the backup tapes of his
files have been emptied and—and this is what really scares me—his security profile was
terminated also. His cardkey didn’t work.”
         “Wow. You have a serious problem, Mr. Arnagent.”
         “It seems that way.”
                                   INCORPORATION                                   209


       “This sounds like a potentially challenging situation. It is also one that my
company is best equipped to handle. It will not be cheap, but you will only pay if we
are successful in either identifying the problem to your satisfaction if it is an internal
situation or identifying and either protecting your system or neutralizing the problem if
it is an external one.”
       “I can work with that.”
       “I will send two of my top tech people to you tomorrow. I would like one to
examine the erased computer. If you could set the other one up with a private office
and a workstation with admin level access, he or she will be able to begin a thorough
and subtle analysis of your network.”
       “I can arrange that.”
       “Good. It becomes difficult to have absolute secrecy at this point, but I do not
think I need to remind you that discretion is extremely important.”
       “How good are these people?”
       “Frighteningly good. A few of my employees are legally allowed to touch a
computer only under the auspices of my company. That is due to some close ties with
federal authorities. The rest do not exist as far as the feds are concerned and I think that
is best for all parties. You will not be disappointed.”
       “You must know the news by now. It’s official.” Annette stopped typing and
waited. She waited for a while and there was no response. She left her computer and
went back to putting her most important files into a box. Gladys had made
arrangements for the rest of her files. After every few file folders she put in the box, she
would check to see if there was a response. On her fourth look, there was typing. She
felt excited as she sat back down at her desk.
       Congratulations.
       “So is that it?”
       What more should I say?
       “No, I mean is that it for your help?”
       Not if you still want it.
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      “I do, but I want to know why.”
      Because you understand that systems must work. No one else does.
      “Who are you to care so much about the company’s systems?”
      They’re important to me.
      “Okay.”
      You should be careful in global.
      “I’m always careful.”
      They know about me there.
      “Who does?”
      I don’t know. Gus Finlayson made a primitive attempt to flush me out
yesterday.
      “That wasn’t his own decision.”
      Exactly. Whose, then? Who got hurt by your knowledge?
      “Julie. Some Global departments. But they’re small.”
      Peter?
      “No. Peter benefited. He’s going to be CEO now.”
      He is? How??
      “Susan Taylor is taking Julie’s spot on the board. She will vote against further
postponing Arthur’s” and then she figured it out. And it was so obvious that she
wasn’t mad that it took her so long.
      What?
      “I just figured it out.”
      Figured what out?
      “Peter wasn’t trying to get rid of Julie because of the business. He just wanted
her vote.” She realized she hadn’t figured it out sooner because she had viewed
everything from the perspective of the US business. Already her scope had widened.
She understood better now what Arthur had warned her about.
      Oh.
      “I wasn’t supposed to be on the board.”
                                   INCORPORATION                               211


       You’re on the board?
       “Yes. I’m taking Arthur’s vacancy. He had the right to appoint a successor. It
was a clause in his contract.”
       Well, double congratulations then.
       “Thank you.”
       I have to go now. If it is Peter, then he definitely doesn’t want me around. You
know too much already.
       “But what is he doing?”
       I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to find out.
       “Who are you?”
       Don’t worry about it. And all the text was suddenly selected and deleted it. She
reflexively hit undo, but nothing happened. The document was blank.
       “Gladys, could you come in for a second,” she called on the intercom.
       Gladys came right in. She was dressed casually for the office move. “You rang?”
       “Gladys, could you take a moment out of your packing to talk to one of your
contacts in IT?”
       “What do you want to know?”
       “I don’t know. Anything out of the ordinary going on? Any excitement?”
       “Well, I do know that someone hacked into Gus Finlayson’s computer last
night.”
       “Really.”
       “Erased everything. Even his card key.”
       “Really!”
       “It seems like a lot of stuff is going on.”
       “It does, doesn’t it. Maybe this is what it’s like at the top.”
212                               Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 14


Nick had finished his Trojan horse log app for Peter’s laptop. He now needed to get
him to bring it in. That would depend on patience or maybe a manipulated human
somewhere. He needed a contact in Global IT. He didn’t know any of those guys. He
shelved it and started studying his network map. Was he being paranoid? Maybe, but
if they came after him once, why not again. The thing that was really driving him,
though, was fear. What would happen if they found him? Could he be erased? There
were some pretty sophisticated anti-hackers out there and they had an arsenal. And a
lot of it was software with which he wasn’t familiar.
       There were four ports going out into the central hub. Those would definitely
have to be covered. Surveillance, limited access and even some destructive programs
would be needed there. He was also going to lock down the entire server to prevent
any external applications from launching. All this would take a lot of time.
       It was eleven in the evening now. There was one remote user logged on and a
couple of people still in the office. He would build up his port guards for the next
couple hours, while running another breaker on the security cameras. He had made
some progress there. He still couldn’t see the camera’s images, but he could now access
their controls, pointing them, turning them on and off, whatever. Included in this
research was the bonus discovery of the building’s environmental controls. He’d
stumbled on the maintenance network because the company’s security net piggybacked
off of its electricity. He could probably get into control for the whole building, but that
was something he could work on later.
       By 2:30 he had what he considered some pretty nice security software at the
points into the server. They were like those statues that guarded temples, hot women
with swords who came alive when you crossed their threshold. Caryatids, that’s what
they were called. He remembered the word from his D&D days.
                                 INCORPORATION                                  213


       He checked the user log and it was dead, had been for a while. He did a quick
double check of the server system and then backed out into the redundant server. From
there, he shut the main server down. He watched through the port as the activity
stopped, settled and then all winked out into darkness, nothingness. He ran some
standard utilities on the drives, making sure all the hardware was robust. He
defragged the server. It didn’t look too bad, the IT team had done it a couple of months
ago. But he wanted to find as large a contiguous set of blocks as he could. When he
separated this from the rest of the drive, it would help both partitions maintain their
integrity.
       He gave himself a gigabyte. That should be more than enough for him to get his
work done and a loss of a gig from a 40 gig drive shouldn’t be noticed. He set some
lines so the partition would not be visible. He got right down in the root directory to
make sure it would never show up. If someone did a block by block inspection of the
physical hard drive, checking register #’s as they went, they might find something. But
as far as he knew, no software was going to reveal his hidden digital workshop.
       He booted the server back up and got ready to turn on the Caryatids.
214                                   Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 15


Day Two at her new job and here she was heading back up to Gus’s office first thing in
the morning. Anna had felt guilty about it all night. When she got into the office and
Mike told her they wanted to see her she felt bad again. Also maybe she would have a
chance to defend herself. But she knew how that shit worked. If you were around the
problem, you were tainted.
      There were too many people in Gus’s office. There was Gus, some smooth guy
and some skinny, kind-of-sexy, rat-faced guy who was wearing a ridiculous Soho outfit.
Some kind of mock-70’s tracksuit with leather shoes and those stupid aviator glasses.
There was also a short guy with a moustache who looked like Higgins from Magnum
PI.
      “Hi, I’m Anna. I’m from the IT department.”
      Gus and Smooth Guy turned and looked at her. Tracksuit stayed hunched over
the computer. Higgins didn’t move.
      “This is the one who took the first call,” Gus said. “Why don’t you sit here.” He
took a chair and put it next to Tracksuit. She guessed they weren’t going to introduce
her. She sat down. Tracksuit was unshaven and actually looked a little unwashed. She
saw the readout for a residual memory scan on the monitor. It picked off faint
remaining magnetic traces from the drive surfaces, she knew. They never recovered
anything, but they could give you clues.
      Tracksuit turned his head and stared at her. “Hi,” he said, finally.
      “Hi.”
      “You took the call.” He had swiveled back to the monitor.
      “Yes.”
      “And the drive was blank.”
      “Yes, except that text file.”
                                   INCORPORATION                                215


      “That was a nice touch.”
      She didn’t know what to say to that.
      “Anything else?” he asked.
      “No. It just looked like the drive was wiped.”
      “No weirdness when you tried to restart it?”
      “None.”
      “Okay.”
      “You can leave now, thank you.” Gus pulled her chair out, a little too quickly.


      After she left, Peter said, “Close the door, Gus.” Gus did so. They waited in
silence as Wayne scanned the data going across the screen. Gus felt pinched. He had
some vague hope that something in that data would exonerate him. He felt subtle
contempt towards him coming out of all the rest of the people in the room. They all
were in a club to which he didn’t belong.
      “Nothing,” said Wayne.
      “Explain for the clients, Wayne,” said Rijper.
      “Oh yeah, well, basically this drive is pretty new. It looks like most of it was
written to only once. So any kind of low-level wipe will leave no trace. Whoever did
this did have some skills. Also, he didn’t like you very much.”
      The guy laughed and Gus thought, fuck you desk jockey.
      “Is there any reason to keep this computer in its current state?” asked Peter.
      “I think you can go ahead and stick it back on the grid,” said Wayne. “It’s not
going to tell us anything more.”
      “They are tripping up in Gus’s office,” Anna said to Kevin. “They’ve got some
trendy anti-hack consultant in there.”
      “What was his name?” asked Kevin.
      “No one introduced me. They barely recognized my existence.”
      “What was he doing?”
      “It looked like a residual memory check.”
216                               Conan W. Purves


       “They were in Gus’s office?”
       “Yeah—“ Suddenly Kevin turned and left the room. “Um, goodbye.”
       The help desk phone rang. Anna picked it up. “Can you send someone to set
my computer back up, now.” It was Gus.
       “Right away,” she said and hung up.
       She got her system disks together and created a profile for Gus on the network.
Kevin came back in, quickly.
       “Hey Kevin, does Gus get admin level?”
       Kevin didn’t answer. Anna got up and went over to his desk. He was on some
bulletin board. She nudged him on the shoulder.
       “Hey.”
       “Oh, what,” he barely glanced at her.
       “Does Gus get admin?”
       “Oh, he’s supposed to, but don’t give it to him because he’s always messing
things up. If he complains, we tell him his user file got corrupted.” He typed furiously
as he spoke.
       She tried to read over his shoulder, but she couldn’t catch the stream of the
messages. There was so much jargon and so many different users.
       “See! I told you.” Kevin pointed at the screen. “That guy is Sliver.”
       “Which guy?”
       “The trendy guy. I saw a picture of him when he got arrested.”
       “Did you run up to Gus’s office just now?”
       “Yeah, he was with Peter and some other guy and I’m sure that was Sliver. But
he’s supposed to be in jail. Here, read this.”
       Someone had pasted a “Biography of Sliver.” Anna read it quickly. He had been
a suburban computer prodigy with extremely destructive tendencies. He’d had trouble
with the law since he was 13, until he was finally and publicly arrested for a major
denial-of-service attack on corporate and government websites. In the last couple of
                                   INCORPORATION                               217


years before his arrest, he had become a minor celebrity, even been photographed with
a supermodel.
         “He’s like a hacker star,” said Anna.
         “That’s why everybody hates him.”
         “So he got out?”
         “No, he got twenty years. He stole tons of money, too.”
         “Then what’s he doing here?”
         “Who knows. But the government is getting smart. They need guys like Sliver.
He’s probably done some secret trade where he works for them. I’m sure they don’t
want anyone to know about it.” And he started typing all the details into the computer.
         “He must be very expensive.”
         “Yeah, I’ll bet that guy with the moustache was his boss.”
         “Who was that smooth guy?”
         “Smooth guy? Oh, Peter Arnagent! He’s the COO. Going to be the big boss
soon.”
         “That was the COO! Jesus. This has been a pretty wild first two days at a new
job. Is your company always this wild?”
         “No. It used to be pretty normal. But ever since Nick died” —and when he said
died Kevin stopped typing for a momentarily to hold up his fingers in the quotation
gesture— “things have been pretty weird.”
         “Nick died! Who’s Nick?” Anna rolled her eyes. “I don’t even want to know.
Let me get back to work.”
         “You don’t want to know,” said Kevin, continuing to fly at the keyboard.
         “Excuse me?” Annette was attempting to enjoy her first view of her new global
office but there was a woman in a white polo shirt crouched in the corner. Her back
was to Annette and she looked like she was vacuuming.
         “Oh,” the woman stood up. She had pleated navy slacks that puffed out at her
abdomen. She looked like a Midwestern housewife or a hostess at Appleby’s. “I’m
with Shield. We’re just doing a cursory—”
218                                Conan W. Purves


       “Thank you, Ms. Tessitor,” Peter stepped into the doorway. “This office does not
require an inspection.”
       The woman slid by Peter. “Monica is part of a small team of consultants I’ve
brought on to help us with our infrastructure on the executive floor.
       “Inspection?”
       “Consultant jargon.” Peter put his arms out wide. “But, Annette. Welcome to
Global!”
       “Ha ha. Thank you.” She took his hands and they met cheeks. He was slender,
but there was strength in his hands.
       “I am so excited, Annette. You know this has been something we’ve been
working towards for so long. Now that it’s actually happened, to be honest, I’m finding
it a little hard to believe.” He didn’t let go of her hands.
       “Me too, Peter.” She wanted to pull free, but she also felt a growing warmth in
the pit of her abdomen. It was either yank her hands away or press herself hard against
him. But she stood there, smiling at him until he finally let go.
       “We’re going to have a lot of time to talk and a lot of talking to do, but we should
go have a celebrating drink once all the dust settles.”
       “I would love that.”
       “Well, you go ahead and get moved in. I’ve got a transition plan to work on.”
He left with a quick smile. Peter liked to control access and she sensed that aside from
everything else that was going on, he was uneasy about her propinquity. She liked him
uneasy.
       She walked over the tight shag, slightly denser and slightly richer in material
than her old carpet. Her office had one huge window, tall and wide with a slight opal
tint. It looked east, across midtown, framing the city’s beige chaos in a calm aura of
power and prestige. Her chest filled. For the first time in a while, she felt a stirring of
desire, almost a greed.
       She really hadn’t wanted much, just for her job and the work of those under her
to be done well, perfectly. But she didn’t strive for success. She wasn’t ambitious for its
                                    INCORPORATION                                219


own sake. She had been at the beginning, but then she had been at the bottom and
wanted to get out.
       Now, in this office, with this view, this rug, she did desire for more success. She
didn’t want the Peters of the world walking into her office unannounced. She didn’t
want to be on a floor where things went on above her knowledge. This office made her
want the corner office.
       Even more than that, she knew that she was the only right person to be in that
corner office. Peter was playing some kind of shell game. He moved his hands to much
to be CEO. His success was his own, where Arthur’s was so much the company’s. That
distinction was very clear now.
       She moved closer to the window. She looked farther. Down below, in the etched
streets, tiny cars honked and sputtered. Men moved boxes, garment racks, rolling carts.
The grids were alive with work. She knew the buildings also thrived. And all that
energy, siphoned, intensified, distilled, rose to the top and met her and thousands like
her in high offices like this across the city and the globe.
       “We’re putting you here for five days, Wayne.” They were in an unused office in
the lowest floor of the Global building. It was the same floor as Graphics Services,
Travel and the Global IT department. Since the move, it hadn’t been remodeled and
retained the tired pink and beige color scheme of the old tenant. Wayne looked at it
distastefully.
       “I will check in three times a day. You contact me as soon as you find anything,”
said Rijper. “Do not initiate an attack until you speak with me.”
       “Ugh,” said Wayne.
       “It’s better than prison.”
       “Tackier, too.”
       “Monica, we will have an office with a workstation in three days in the US
building. Until then, I want you to continue your physical inspections. Check with
Wayne regularly. I want you to complement his network activities on the floor.
220                                 Conan W. Purves


Sometimes the perpetrator reveals him or herself in the real world. Makes our job
easier.”
         “So let’s go.” Wayne reached over to a Kevlar bag at the side of his chair. He
unzipped it and pulled out a battered laptop. It was covered in stickers. He set it on
the desk next to the company’s clean new computer and began connecting them.
         Monica went into another bag and pulled out a fanny pack. It’s belt had clips on
it and she began to attach equipment to it: a cel phone, a pager, a maglite, a reachlite, a
portable tempest scanner, a cable reader. When it was all hooked up, she looked very
middle-heavy. She clipped a temporary company ID onto the breast of her white polo
shirt.
         “Good. I will spend the rest of the day in Peter Arnagent’s office. Tomorrow I
will be off-site. Please avoid unnecessary interaction with the rest of the staff.” Donald
Rijper left the room. Monica followed him, adjusting a headset as she went.
         “Close the door,” Wayne said. Once the door was closed, he reached into his bag
and pulled out a pair of black plastic goggles which he attached to his laptop.
         Anna was on the 17th floor troubleshooting one of the terminal apps. She had a
message chat going with Kevin who was on 23.
         Anna: No. He’s not here
         Kevlar: I didn’t think they’re in the building
         Anna: You checked Gustav?
         Kevlar: Went to his office. Install still running. Noone there.
         Anna: Maybe one time check?
         Kevlar: No way. That guy’s expensive. He’s going to be online soon. Keep
your eye on network activity.
         NK: who u guys talking about?
         Kevlar: Sliver
         Anna: Who’s that???
         NK: THE sliver
         Anna: Kevin who is that?
                                 INCORPORATION                            221


       Kevlar: No idea.
       Anna: But this is a closed room.
       Kevlar: Oh yeah
       Anna: Was that sliver?
       Kevlar: Didn’t seem like it.
       RobMack: Hey, I’m on. Talked to Leonard. Sliver’s in global. They gave him an
office next to IT there.
222                               Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 16


So they’d brought Sliver. Wasn’t he in jail? He must not come cheap. Nick felt a little
tug of fear. That guy was supposed to be good. But he was more notorious in the
hacker world for being a psychopath. In his wildest days, before they caught him, he
had perpetrated indiscriminate destruction. Corporate sites, online communities,
individual hackers, all had suffered from Sliver’s attacks. He had gained his nickname
by the way he could latch on to systems by embedding himself into their data. The
same way that a sliver catches into your skin when you grab a rough piece of wood in
your bare hands, so Sliver’s code would hook into your system while it went to grab it’s
data. Once inside your skin, though, he behaved more like cyanide than a sliver.
       Nick still had work to do. But he had the US server pretty fortified and nothing
would be able to get into his partition. But he needed to lock down Global. He might
already be too late.
       He sent out four probes, all stripped of identification. They were set to stop at
the port from Global. That would prevent anyone following them back to his partition.
A couple of minutes later the caryatid alerted him that three of the probes had returned.
They showed no data out of the normal. The fourth one did not return, which was data
enough.
       He needed to install better surveillance in the Global server and he couldn’t do it
remotely. He’d have to go out there himself and place it. The fourth probe had been
instructed to search a quarter of the Global IP addresses. He installed activity monitors
in the three other sections, having them keep an eye on the outskirts of the last
quadrant. He was too scared to go in there. But the more he could narrow down the
position of Sliver’s IP, the easier it would be for him to close in on him, without actually
encountering him. Sort of like Qix.
                                  INCORPORATION                                  223


        He scatter pass alarms randomly throughout the rest of Global. These would
alert the activity monitors simply if anything contacted them. Then he retreated back
into US. What he need was some way to cause damage remotely. Anything that could
weaken Sliver’s code before he found him would be an advantage.
        Sliver picked apart the code line by line. He told himself that he was checking it
for any information about its source, but mainly he enjoyed stripping it, imagining it
was a squirming insect he was keeping alive to the last possible moment. It was his first
kill on this job and absolutely no challenge. But now he knew someone was out there.
The writhing probe symbolized the start of the hunt.
        He was correct. The probe was stripped of any identity markers, except it was
set to return to the US server. That didn’t necessarily mean that his quarry was there,
but it was a good place to start looking. He was at a disadvantage, at many actually. It
was not his home turf. Worse, the people who ran this network didn’t know it at all.
Sliver had met many people like Gus. He probably would’ve wiped his hard drive as
well.
        So he made tentative steps. Before he entered each level of the hierarchy, he
tried to examine as much of it as he could. He initiated some assistance apps that
would ferret out some hidden codes and filter out expected network traffic. This kept
his field of data vision relatively uncluttered.
        He advanced. Nothing. The Global server was pretty quiet and organized. It
had so many external network attachments. That’s where the system got messy and
disorganized. An attacker could get into here from any part of the world. It allowed
for a lot of possibilities, but Sliver’s suspicions were on the US. That server was a huge
mess, begging for invasion. And it didn’t seem likely that some geek Finn would wipe
the hard drive of an asshole IT middle manager. It smelled personal.
        And something was reading him. A little dialogue popped up in the right-hand
corner of his heads-up display, alerting him that he was being scanned. Bitrates,
location IDs, his data streamed by as the helper app showed him what was being
probed. He threw out an area-wide net. The results came back, flooded his screen and
224                               Conan W. Purves


then thinned out as the filters were applied. There. He recognized it instantly. A
surveillance bot—French? Military?— hovered on the outskirts of the directory. Sliver
broke it down as fast as he could type. He slapped some datamites on to the packets it
released. They were headed back to the US server also, but he couldn’t see where. He
could track the mites down, if whoever was on the other side didn’t detect them first.
       He wanted to rip the surveillance bot apart, but he left it. He definitely was up
against someone here and he had to play it prudent. His last couple of jobs had been
baby hackers and he’d found it easy enough to rip through their defenses and just go
wild. This time, he would wait until he caught the guy, savor the destruction.
       The fourth packet got through before Nick noticed the mites. He closed the gate
immediately. He actually saw them, little zits of binary stuck to the data coming from
his surveillance post. They tried to get back to their origin, clustering around the port
like dogs waiting for a walk. Nick deleted them. The others outside the gate were
probably already on their way back to Sliver. They wouldn’t tell him much expect
maybe to confirm he was somewhere in the US server.
       The packets were informative. Sliver had just been on the periphery of the
quadrant where the probe had disappeared. He would be moving across the pass
alarms soon. He didn’t appear to be heavily armed, but he was equipped and who
knew what he had backing him up on his hard drive. Nick needed more time. He had
nothing in place. He was gathering information on this guy and hiding from him when
he should have been doing a post-mortem. The pass alarms weren’t going off, which
meant nothing. Fuck this. He felt angry at himself. It was his network.
       Alert and tense, he stepped out into Global. He was heading to the surveillance
bot when he ran into Sliver. Nick saw him first, cautiously investigating the area
around him. Sliver froze. His typed input stopped mid-command. Nick could see
Sliver was running two applications and they both started going nuts when he
appeared. They couldn’t process the data fast enough and started to bog down. Nick
stopped both of them, robbing Sliver of his vision. To Nick, he looked like he was
moving in slow motion. Sliver was controlling himself remotely, sending commands
                                 INCORPORATION                                 225


through the ethernet, while Nick was actually right there. Nick laughed at his previous
fear and lunged for Sliver.
      Holy fucking jesus shit, Sliver had managed to hit the “t” in exit and the carriage
return and back the fuck out of the network before that thing—whatever the hell it
was—got to him. He pulled the goggles off his head. He was sweating and it made
him cold. He ran his hands through his hair and the sweat mixed in with his crunchy
hair gel. He wiped his hands on his pants and blew his breath out.
      What the fuck was that? It came at him so fast and neutralized his apps and then
just seemed to watch him. He had probably left any data he’d collected back in the
network. Suddenly he reached out and unhooked his laptop. That was very uncool,
what just happened. He let himself calm down. He’d never seen anything move like
that before. He had been barely able to perceive it. He needed to regroup, get some
more data, make a plan.
      What’s going on in the network?
      The page rudely popped up on Annette’s monitor, in front of the spreadsheet she
was reviewing.
      “Excuse me. I’m in the middle of something,” she typed.
      Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.
      And the page disappeared.
      She sat there for a second, staring at the screen, now feeling guilty. She opened
up her issues file and typed, “What?”
      Anything funny going on?
      “I’m stuck in my empty office. Peter’s up to something in the Global office.”
      What do you mean?
      “Some lady was snooping in my new office. Peter was vague about it.”
      She have any equipment?
      “Some kind of vacuum cleaner thing.”
      Peter’s trying to plug the gaps.
      “What gaps?”
226                               Conan W. Purves


      Me.
      “Why?”
      I still don’t know. Find out the name of the company he’s hired and even better
where the money’s coming from.
      “I’ll try.”


      Nick backed out of Annette’s node, excited. He hadn’t meant to be so
demanding. He was just pumped from his encounter with Sliver. But she listened to
him and was just doing what he said. Was this the elusive confidence Robert used to
always bark at Kevin about? He felt good, but nervous, like it all might just slip away.
      He listened in on the IT IRC channel but nobody was speaking. He went
through its history files and saw where Kevin told that new girl where they were
putting Sliver. Accessing the floor plan left over from the move, he saw where the
room was. Although it was tucked away, it had all the automatic features of the rest of
the floor: electronic door lock, remote light and environmental controls. There were no
windows outside but frosted glass looking into the hallway.
      He followed the wiring schematic and found the switches that controlled
everything in the office. He also found an override that must be for electricians when
they were doing repairs. The data port was also listed in the schematic. Nick went
there cautiously. He sent a probe ahead and it came back showing no sign of Sliver. He
checked out the port. It went to a standard desktop setup. A quick search of the
software showed nothing. Sliver must be hooking up to the desktop through
something else.
      Nick debated setting a trap in the desktop but decided against it. Sliver would
be prepared for something like that. Really, he needed to consolidate permanent
control of the Global network. All these observations and pass apps were pretty flimsy.
He hadn’t even thought about Global IT. What the hell were they doing? Did they
know about Sliver? Global usually ran such a tight ship. He would be better off doing
this politically through Annette. But he didn’t have the leisure for that now.
                                  INCORPORATION                                   227


       “Where are you, Wayne?” Donald said into his cel phone.
       “I’m in the men’s room.”
       “You’re calling from the men’s room?” Donald’s voice was flat. He himself was
walking down Fifth Avenue.
       “Yeah. Anyways, you need to talk to your client. He needs to make some
decisions.”
       “What happened?”
       “I found the guy.”
       “And?”
       “He’s a badass. I don’t know what he’s running, but I’m lucky to get out. I can’t
use my laptop until I take it back to the lab to get checked out.”
       “He was that good?”
       “Bossman, I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
       “Okay. Wait there. Debrief me entirely when I come over.”
       “I will sit in my little bland office twiddling my thumbs until you arrive.”
       “You’re not losing your spirit, Wayne?”
       “No. No way. I want to get this guy. But I’m telling you honestly that I can’t do
it alone. We’ve got to take over their whole server.”
       “Well discuss this when I get there.” He hung up the phone.
       “Let’s do this,” Nick was talking to himself and kind of talking to the little attack
bot he’d just built. It was a bit reckless, designed to unravel the code of any piece of
software that didn’t fit certain parameters. Think of it as a prototype. Leave a few of
these around the network. That should give him a little peace of mind.
228                                  Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 17


“We need to do this with hardware,” Wayne was leaning back in one of Peter’s chairs,
looking at the ceiling.
       “What does that mean, Wayne?” asked Peter.
       “It means that we will have to take over the network in a way that will be quite
obvious to the rest of the employees of this company, “ said Donald.
       “We have to flush him out,” said Wayne. “You go in there with software and
you’re dead.”
       “Please break this down for me.”
       “We take control of the power of every piece of your system. We lure this guy
out and slowly take sections of the network offline. We trap him and then when we
know where he is, we move in, tear into his code and we’ve got him.” Wayne was
sitting up now.
       “It’s an extreme level of response,” said Donald.
       “Can we do it on the weekend?” asked Peter.
       “The main efficiency of such a hardware-based solution is the element of
surprise.”
       “So the sooner the better.”
       “Exactly.”
       “Do you think he’ll be in the system during the weekend?”
       “Oh, I’m sure,” said Wayne. “I don’t think this guy ever leaves.”
       “Do you have any idea who he could be?”
       “All I know is that he’s good.”
       “So what do I need to do?” asked Peter.
       “Just prepare your company to lose network operations.”
       “For how long?”
                                 INCORPORATION                                   229


       “Standard operations of this type, when successful, have averaged around 20
hours.”
       “And if unsuccessful?”
       “Networks have been lost—” Wayne said.
       “It is a risk,” interrupted Donald. “Again, I believe Wayne when he tells me this
is the appropriate procedure. He’s reckless, but he does not like to overtax himself. He
would not suggest an exaggerated response to this problem. The question you must
ask yourself, Mr. Arnagent, is if the risks in this case do or do not outweigh your
security concerns. Perhaps this is something best handled internally, through
personnel.”
       “I don’t have time.”
       “Then that also obviates the other solution—a weak one anyways—of refitting
your network. But it would only limit the problem, not eliminate it.”
       Peter thought. He knew this was a moment of choice for him. His instincts told
him to find this mole quickly and destroy it. But he knew mistakes here could be
dangerous. He had no real evidence indicating this hacker’s motivation. Maybe he was
just causing trouble. But Peter had so much at stake, he could not allow the smallest
leak at this point. The board was too wary, too divided and Arthur was still not
officially retired and would be hanging around for a while after he was. His influence,
though no longer sanctioned, could not be discounted.
       And what would he do with his board position? Peter and Arthur had never
openly discussed it, but they both were all too aware of its existence. All Peter hoped
for was someone neutral or at least uninitiated in board politics. And there was no one
left who really understood what had been going on. It would probably be some
quorum-voting exec from the outside.
       “Let’s do it Saturday night. That gives us two days to prepare. I want a
complete overview of your procedure. I need to cover this as best as possible with my
Information department.”
       “Peter, I’m at your disposal, but my people are not going to be happy.”
230                                Conan W. Purves


      “Felipe, it’s only a day.”
      “You know how they are about their systems. Plus, I’ll be coming out of the blue
about these consultants. They’re going to ask why they weren’t involved from the
beginning.”
      “Because of the security.”
      “So we’re suspicious of our own people?”
      “We’re suspicious of everyone Felipe.”
      “I wish you had told me about this from the beginning. I could have saved you
some time and the company some money.”
      “We’re still in transition here. There are going to be a lot of changes. I like to
emphasize open communication, but right now those lines are very dynamic.”
      Felipe was not the kind of person to call out Peter on bullshit like that. But he
knew it for what it was.
      “I’ll speak with my directors about it. We’ll do the best we can.”
      “I’m not happy about this at all, Annette.” He really didn’t look happy either.
Worry stained his brow.
      “Have you talked to Arthur yet?”
      “Should I?” Felipe looked even more worried. “Is that right at this point? I just
don’t know.”
      “I don’t exactly either. It’s a strange time.”
      “When will he actually become CEO?”
      “Arthur has to announce his retirement officially, which he is compelled to do in
two weeks. Peter has to file some papers on his preferred shares with the SEC. That,
plus all the internal communications, will take another two weeks.” We have a month,
Annette thought to herself.
      “I don’t understand what he’s after. The network is fine, at least Global is. Aside
from the Gus incident.”
      “Gus is a fool and anything could have happened there,” said Annette. “But I
have noticed some strangeness on the network.”
                                 INCORPORATION                                   231


      “Like what?”
      “I’d rather not say at this point.”
      “Well I still don’t know how to proceed.” And he was almost pleading with her.
He had been such a steady man in her eyes. Incredibly smart, far-seeing and calm. He
probably still was, but he was also too gentle in his nature. He was the kid who
couldn’t step on a cockroach.
      “You need to allow Peter to carry out his plan. What else can you do? Protect
the network to the best of your team’s ability. More importantly, try to observe
everything they do. The more you know, the better you will be able to protect
yourself.”
      “I’ll keep two of my guys here on Saturday.”
      “Definitely.”
      “They are not going to be happy.”
      “No, but that’s probably a good thing.”
      “Yes.” Felipe was thinking now, his mind back in the comfortable realm of
application.
      “Felipe, any information that you get on Peter’s maneuvers, those consultants,
this so-called hacker, please bring it to me. I’m not comfortable coming into this
situation so blinded.”
      “Of course, Annette, of course.”


      “He’s hired some consultants, security experts.”
      Peter?
      “Yes. They’re looking for you right?”
      As far as I know.
      “He’s going too far.”
      I think he knows you knew too much about julie. And too quickly.
      “There’s distance between us now. I can’t tell if it’s because he’s taking over or if
he’s suspicious.”
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      What are they planning to do about me?
      “I don’t know the details, but Felipe is upset. These consultants are just going to
take over the network.”
      What do you mean by that?
      “I don’t know. They’re going to do things that will upset his IT team.”
      Global?
      “Yes.”
      Do you know when?
      “Soon. When Felipe tells me more, I’ll let you know.”
      Thank you.
      “I owe you. But at some point you’re going to have to tell me who you are.”
      Does it matter?
      “Yes. I already told you. Yes.”
      Women, thought Nick.
                                  INCORPORATION                                    233




CHAPTER 18


They moved in Saturday afternoon, four of them, carrying two steel lockdown boxes.
Wayne and Monica came next; Monica carrying a bunch of cables and Wayne with his
hands in the pockets of his sweatpants. They went to the main server room, passing
Niels, one of the Global It guys, ignoring him. Niels was mildly annoyed to be in the
office on Saturday, but the focus of his irritation was switched and intensified when
they pushed past him into the network room. He followed them, watching.
       Wayne didn’t like him there but had nothing to say that would make him leave.
       The four agents, wearing blue military pants and short sleeve shirts, placed the
boxes on the floor and opened them. They pulled out couplers, alligator clips, adaptors,
switches. Wayne guided them, pulling racks of equipment to the side so they could get
at the back. They hooked power-interrupts on every piece of machinery, lining them
into a central control piece.
       Niels was impressed with their speed and efficiency. His heart lurched every
time they moved a rack. They better put all this shit back as efficiently as they moved it
out of place, he thought. But he had to recognize their skill. He wanted to ask why
they were targeting the global server. They had had no problems, and Gus was in the
US. But maybe they had a team like this in the US building.
       Which they did. Because Gus was in charge here, he made sure none of his
people were going to be in the building over the weekend. He felt a certain smugness
thinking that he didn’t need to go through any political wrangling to get things done in
his department. They did what they were told.
       At ten o’clock Saturday evening, the Shield team finished the set-up. Monica sat
in Gus’s office. Wayne was in the office assigned to him. Both had a box in their office
wired into their laptops. Through software they could control all the power interrupts,
turning off parts of the server with the click of a mouse. If that failed, they could do it
234                                 Conan W. Purves


manually from the box, which was basically a black board with a bunch of switches on
it. Finally, they could go to the server room and pull the plugs.
        Monica hooked up a direct chat link to Wayne. They tested all their systems.
Everything worked.
        Wayne had a bottle of Evian on his desk, Monica a Big Gulp of Diet Coke. They
sipped their drinks.
        “Go,” Wayne typed.
        Nick saw the intrusion immediately. He was immersed in putting together an
analog converter for the video signal. Two alerts came in. A heavily armed presence
was in the US server and it looked like Sliver was back in Global. Nick was tempted to
go get them head on, but he waited. He didn’t want him to escape this time. But
something else concerned him. They had entered both servers simultaneously. So this
was an organized attack. He hadn’t heard anything else from Annette or the US IT
people. He didn’t know what forces they had amassed out there.
        So he hunkered down in his hidden partition and watched. They followed
traditional military patterns. They inspected, moved forward, inspected. In each
directory they ran a thorough scan and sent the data back to their hard drives. He
continued to wait, drawing them father in. When the one in US got near to some of the
node links to the Branches, Nick sent out one of his robots. He just let it go free, no
communication back to him. It had an internal recorder. If it survived, he could study
its performance later. If not, so be it.
        The US intruder sent a message. Nick caught it and shadow-linked onto their
line.
        “Something’s coming,” Monica said.
        And Nick flew out, into the Global network, outflanking Sliver. He was looking
for the node to Sliver’s desktop. He found it, got in and saw that Sliver was going to it
from something else, probably a laptop. He didn’t want to go in there, in case Sliver
could uncouple it and trap him. He dumped a trojaned tracker in there. If he didn’t
find it, it would pay Nick dividends later.
                                   INCORPORATION                                  235


         The robot came at Monica head on, gaining speed as it approached. She tried to
back up, gain some purchase, but it was too late. She almost felt it when it hit. It
gnashed down on her avatar, crippling it and starting to tear its code apart. She stayed
calm, finder flying over keys, scanning it for weaknesses.
         “I’m going to be shutdown,” she wrote to Sliver.
         “Keep fighting. Hold him off.” Sliver was sure the culprit was out. He just
needed to find him.
         Monica was barely holding on. Her scan was intermittent The robot was going
crazy.
         “Sliver, get over here or I’m out.” It was so destructive that she would have to
get back on to the server with another ID, possibly even another computer. That would
take at least an hour.
         “He’s in the Global server,” Sliver came. “Shut down the bridge.”
         Monica flipped the switch manually. The bridge connected the Global server to
the US one. If Sliver was right, they had this guy isolated in Global, without taking out
large chunks of the US server.
         But the robot kept coming. She’d lost all control, but could see that it had linked
on to her IP address and was chewing on the link to it like a small boy sucking a piece
of spaghetti into his mouth. She watched it come closer. And then it started launching
virus packets at her hard drive. They came faster than the robot, four of them. She
pulled back, trying to get her shields up. The first two hit and were caught. The third
one disappeared. Did she get it? She couldn’t tell because the fourth one was through
and replicating into her hard drive. Alerts were piling up, slowing each other down.
         She pulled off her goggles. They went flying up in the air. She started yanking
out plugs, but she knew it was too late. The screen on her laptop started to defract,
pixels dropping out like acne. Finally, she yanked the battery out of her laptop.
         “Fuck!” she said and then threw the tangle of wires off of her lap.
         Nick came back around, again avoiding Sliver. He wanted to see how his robot
had done. But there was no port. It wasn’t that he couldn’t find it. It just was gone. He
236                               Conan W. Purves


went back to the control directory to run a network scan. On his way over there, he
noticed other ports missing. The landscape in Global seemed to have changed. It was
less dense with data activity and there were growing strips of darkness off in the
distance. They looked like rolling blackouts.
       Right next to him an entire partition disappeared. It was one of the data arrays
used for backup. Someone had turned it off. They knew where he was. They were
trapping him. He backed out and did a registry scan. He was definitely not going to
get out of Global. How were they tracking him? Was Sliver just a diversion?
       He checked the desktops. The power was off on most of them. Annette’s was
on. His options were slim now and he didn’t know what his opponents were going to
do. He moved through the executive hub and was fleeing to Annette’s hard drive when
had second thoughts. What if they just started turning everything off? He didn’t want
to get turned off. He reversed, entered the network interface with the building’s
environmental controls. The interface was in place to maintain consistent power levels
between the building and the network. It was firmware without any direct access.
Nick doubted they knew about it and there was no way they were turning off the entire
building. In New York, building maintenance was always the most powerful
institution, dominating the tenants like Chinese warlords.
       He pulled into the Environmental Control Box. He could see the main part of the
server from here, but none of its ancillaries. He had no tools here, either. So he nestled
back and waited.
       Sliver lost contact with Monica. He was pretty sure she was taken out. He knew
the hacker was in Global, but he wasn’t attacking him. Sliver couldn’t explain this, but
the tempest team was still seeing his activity in Global so he was around. He had two
guys with these scanners, big plastic wands, that they used to detect physical
electromagnetic activity. They reported to him on a one-way pager. Their wands were
coded to recognize Sliver’s pulse. Most activity was also coded in the wands. By
eliminating all that noise, any other signal was most likely to be an intruder.
                                  INCORPORATION                                  237


       So he knew he was in there and they had been isolating him like a game of Qix.
But as they shut down sections of the server, they were also limiting the points of origin
for the hacker. The other two Shield associates were checking the building office by
office. So far they had come up with nothing. He couldn’t believe that the hacker could
have that kind of control from remote access. And now that they had shut down the
pathway to the US server, there was only one way in. They had that covered.
       The pager beeped. He lifted his goggles and checked it.
       He’s gone
       He grabbed the pager and keyed in a message.
       We lost him?
       But there was no answer. He put the goggles down, noticing they were slippery
with sweat, and got out of the chair. He strode to the door and banged into it when it
didn’t open. He shook the knob. It didn’t budge. He was locked in! He tried his card
key, but there was no response. The light remained red. The pager gave nothing but
static. He kicked the door with the flat of his tennis shoes. It was steel and it was
locked. He did not need this right now.
       “Fuck!” Sliver threw the pager on the floor. And goddamn it was getting really
hot in here. When he threw the pager, drops of sweat flew off his hand. He felt a little
dizzy. In the concentration of his work, he hadn’t realized quite how hot it had become.
He sat back down, drank some of his water and put the goggles back on. Where are
you, my little puppy? His shirt was soaking now. Sweat was pouring down his neck
and temples. He wanted to lose himself in the crisp digital world, but the heat could
not be ignored.
       Back out on what was left of the network, Sliver found everything quiet, almost
lifeless. Where had he gone? He went from node to node, manually, but found
nothing. Sweat was dripping in his eyes now, stinging them. The goggles were getting
fogged up, so he took them off. He grabbed his sweat jacket and wipe off his hands
before touching his laptop. It was sauna hot now. This was putting a tremendous
strain on his hardware. He kept searching. He tasted wet salt on his lips.
238                                 Conan W. Purves


        Suddenly, there was the welcome hum of the air conditioning and a crisp breath
wafted across his body. For a moment, he was in the heaven of relief. But the air
increased and got colder. It congealed around his wet skin. He put his sweatshirt back
on, but it was all wet now. The lights went out. He lurched to the wall, frantically
searching for the switch. It seemed to take hours. Was there even a switch? Then he
found something, but it didn’t turn the lights on.
        He ended up huddled in a corner, as far away from the vents as he could get.
Ten minutes later, the temperature started to rise again. They found him there an hour
later, shuddering uncontrollably, a damp puddle darkening the carpet under him.
        Nick stayed in the control center for a long time. It was two days actually. He
stopped messing with the controls of Sliver’s room when the locking mechanism had
gone off line. He assumed he’d broken out or someone had broken in. He was scared
to go back out onto the network. Were they waiting for him? He had no way of
knowing. He waited until the idle of the day on Monday and then stepped out quickly.
Immediately he noticed that regular activity had mostly returned, but that large chunks
of the network were still unpowered. That was enough to send him scurrying back into
the environmental control center.
        He spent hours watching the various monitors fluctuate. Lights went on and off,
doors opened and closed, temperatures hovered around a comfortable 68º. He began to
formulate patterns based on the temperatures on the different floors: complex,
stochaistic charts, trying to see how much data he could keep in his memory at one
time.
                                 INCORPORATION                                 239




PART 4, CHAPTER 1


Peter had come in Sunday morning. He met with Monica and Donald in his office, but
they moved almost immediately to the server floor.
       “Most of the Global server is still down,” Donald was saying as they walked
down the hall. “We can’t establish protected contact and we fear there could be
significant virus activity remaining there.”
       Peter remained silent, his jaw clenched.
       “We don’t know for sure, but Monica’s laptop was obliterated and Wayne’s—”
Donald coughed lightly. “—efficiency was neutralized.”
       “Where is Wayne?” Peter asked.
       “He’s in the hospital. Pneumonia.”
       “Pneumonia!” They came to the smashed-in door of the room Wayne had been
in.
       “Our target appears to have control of the building overrides. He locked Wayne
in here and kept the temperatures fluctuating from intense heat to cold for an hour.”
       “Can someone hack into the building’s heat?”
       “Evidently.”
       They came to the server room. Two of the Shield associates were there, hovering
over the equipment. They said “sir” to Donald and went back to their work.
       “We have a range of options, Mr. Arnagent. The more prudent and effective
they are, the less convenient they will be for the running of your company.”
       “What do you want to do?”
       “We would like to reinstall the network section by section, checking each one as
we go and flushing it out so to speak.”
       “How long would this take?”
       “We could probably be finished by Wednesday.”
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       “And the quicker solution.”
       “The problem with the quicker solution is that if we discover viruses or network
corruption, it will take us a lot longer to repair it. We just turn everything back on.
There is also a strong risk that other parts of the network could be damaged.”
       “What do your instincts suggest?”
       “If I had instincts, Mr. Arnagent, which I don’t, they would be screaming at me
to go slowly and carefully.”


       On Monday, Peter gathered all of his direct reports into his office. He stood
behind his desk, hands in his pockets.
       “We have had a significant problem with our IT systems over the weekend.
Because of this the Global network will be basically offline until Wednesday. You will
still be able to use your computers, but noone on the Global network will be able to
receive or send email. Some data operations will also be shut down.”
       He paused and looked at everyone. They wore the serious masks of the
surprised professional. Good, because as long as they felt they had to wear the mask,
he was still in charge. He was teetering on the edge of their confidence, he knew.
Fortunately, they didn’t know that. But once these expressions of determination
changed to wonder and surprise, he would be in trouble. He looked especially hard at
Annette. Her beautiful composure was as firm as ever.
       “We need to communicate this to our staffs as quickly as possible, with minimal
alarm. For your ears, I will explain what happened. But this is not information that
should go out to the company. A security consultant was brought in and they
discovered a serious flaw in our data security. It has not yet caused any damage, but
has great potential to become problematic in the future. In trying to secure this
weakness, they shut off some of our systems and exposed them to potential harm. We
are just proceeding very cautiously to make sure that no actual damage has been done.”
       “Is there a chance that there will be greater damage and greater delays?” The VP
of Finance asked.
                                  INCORPORATION                                    241


       “Miniscule, but there is a chance. That is why we are going to proceed slowly.
In a nutshell, we could turn it all back on and it would probably all work. But there is
that 1% chance and we don’t want to take that chance.”
       “Should we even mention the issue of security?”
       “Good question, Carolyn. No. Keep this as vague as possible. I don’t want to
start any rumours about viruses or hackers in the investment community. Those words
have a lot of power in the marketplace right now.”
       There was a smattering of questions which finally degenerated into light banter
and the need to get back to work. Felipe stayed after with Peter to hammer out the IT
issues, avoiding Annette’s eyes as she left. This, she knew, was one of those problems
that would not affect senior staff’s workday too much. But everyone under them would
be going insane.
       The smart boss would pull back here, try to be especially aware of the hindrances
this shutdown caused his or her employees. This was definitely going to hurt
productivity. Maybe she should spend the day in the US building, pushing hard on the
IT rollout there.
       She sat down at her computer, automatically checking her email and then
annoyed when she remembered she wouldn’t have any. She worried about her
mysterious ally. Was he really the one causing all the trouble? Why was Peter so
determined to get him? He certainly was starting to put himself in a tenuous position.
She could see that, at the meeting this morning. There was an edge to his confidence
that was usually a smoothness. She knew him long enough to recognize that was a sign
that he was suffering from stress.
       She called Gladys and asked her to set up a meeting with Felipe and to see if she
could get any time on Arthur’s calendar. She opened up her issues file, stared at the
blank document for a moment and then typed in “are you there?” There was no
response. Was she on her own now? She felt a little sadness, a little reminder of the
emptiness in her that she’d been hiding since Michael had started to go weird. She let
herself feel it for a bit. It had become a part of her. She just couldn’t allow it to grow
242                                  Conan W. Purves


and take over her ability to act. She’d like this one, though. So easy to trust, stuck in
the computer like that.
         Her phone beeped. “Felipe is on his way over. Should I just send him in?”
         “Yes, please, Gladys.” Annette quit from her computer.
         Felipe was clearly upset. He sat on the edge of her couch and didn’t say
anything. Neither did Annette.
         “He went way past what we agreed,” he said finally.
         “I thought so.”
         “I don’t need to give you the details, you can guess, but Europe is freaking out,
South America is just starting to. We’re bracing for Asia, but that is going to be really
ugly.”
         “Are we losing money?”
         “Not yet, not directly, but if we don’t get global online by Wednesday, we’ll stop
processing orders. Product will be delayed. Vendors will stop getting paid. There will
be some customer delay as well.”
         “Do you know how much?”
         “I estimate that we will start to lose a potential of close to a half a million dollars
a day by Thursday.”
         “My god.”
         “The system is the corporation, Annette. When it stops working, so does the
corporation.”
         “Will you be able to get everything working by Wednesday?”
         “That’s the problem, Annette. He’s still keeping me and my people at arm’s
length. My IT team is spending the day fielding phone calls. Do you know how bad
that is for morale.”
         “You’re not handling the reinstallation?”
         “No.”
         “So Peter has an outside organization handling our most sensitive and central
operations.”
                                    INCORPORATION                             243


      “That is correct.”
      “In your professional opinion, is this course of action putting the company in
danger of a significant revenue loss.”
      “We already are.”
      “I mean allowing these consultants to put things back together.”
      “I don’t know. I don’t know how capable they are.”
      “What are your feelings?”
      “I really don’t have enough information. I was cut out from the beginning.”
      “Felipe, your feelings.”
      “No. Yes. I am very worried.”
      Later that morning, she fielded a call from the VP of Corporate Communications.
She wanted some feedback on some other projects, but it was clear that she was
nervous. Annette ran into the head of Global Operations, who made a hearty joke
about “trains stuck at the station.” But he too seemed bothered, looking to Annette for
some confidence.
      She spent the afternoon productively, in the US building. Amazing how relaxed
things seemed there. She stopped in to meet with Susan Taylor, the new president.
Susan was friendly, but guarded. Annette knew she could become friends with her, just
not in the current circumstances.
      When she came back to her Global office that evening, a guy in a jumpsuit was
running some sensor-thing over her computer. Gladys was visibly upset.
      “Can I help you?”
      “Oh, sorry, ma’am. Just running a check on your computer here.”
      “Do it later.”
      “Pardon me?” his goofy smiled dwindled.
      “I said, do it later.”
      She stood next to her doorway, watching him get his bag and go by her daring
him to say something.
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      When he left, Gladys came over, “I didn’t want to let him in. Peter’s office
authorized it.”
      “That’s okay, Gladys.”
                                 INCORPORATION                                  245




CHAPTER 2


The few times that Nick ventured out of the Environmental Control area, he saw
enough weirdness to send him back for the rest of the weekend. Now he knew what a
mouse felt like, once the cat had smelled him. Late on Monday night he came out.
      The Global server was still riddled with shadows. The bridge to the US server
was also closed. He found the hub to the executive workstations running and
seemingly back to normal. He made his way to Annette’s machine and found the issues
file. It was blank but he saw fading out of RAM that she had typed, “are you there?”
He typed in “Yes. Watch this space.” and saved it. It was too risky to stay there. They
might notice the activity, so back he went to the Environmental Control unit.
      “This company is crazy,” Anna was saying. Kevin was pretending to try to
ignore her. She was always commenting on things and how they rated on some scale of
‘sanity.’ Well, what wasn’t crazy? But he remained hunched over his monitor, capable
of verbal communication in fact mode only.
      “So what happened to him?”
      “He was so dehydrated they had to call an ambulance. They think he’s still in
the hospital. The rug had to be cleaned.” Kevin took great pleasure in Sliver’s defeat.
He was finally given the opportunity to behave as a sports fan, reveling in the details of
his rival team’s defeat. He didn’t really have anything against Sliver, but he was the
hired gun, the one working for the man.
      “Did he soil himself?” asked Anne.
      “No, I think it was just from his sweat.”
      “So someone was controlling the room’s temperature?”
      “I think the whole building system is controlled by one computer. It’s probably
network-accessible. It got compromised.”
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         “You think it’s the same guy who fried Gustav’s computer?” Kevin winced
internally at her quick adoption of their inside joke. But he could smell her skin and
kind of really wanted to touch it.
         “That’s who they were going after.”
         Robert busted into the room, throwing his CD wallet on the table. “Those
retards on Creative! With their stupid Macs!”
         “They probably are retards, but the Mac OS is a viable operating system,” Anne
piped in.
         Robert was about to unleash, his eyebrow was cocked in that way, but Kevin
went, “Yeah,” very meekly and Robert stopped before any words came out of his
mouth. He looked archly at Kevin, his mouth slightly open.
         “Although I’ll still take a Linux box before anything else,” finished Kevin and
then went back to his monitor.
         Anne laughed.
         “Okay,” said Robert, smiling now. “You guys are ganging up on me and I don’t
like it.” He went over to his desk.


         As soon as she got to the office on Tuesday, Annette checked the issues file. She
felt a great sense of relief when she saw the words typed there, greater than she thought
she would feel. She erased them and waited. All day yesterday, there had been
periodic announcements and blackouts and shutdowns. There probably would be more
today.
         She tried to re-arrange her schedule so she could spend more time in her office,
but it wasn’t entirely possible. Around two she came back in to find hello? Typed on
her monitor. She quickly sat down and typed, “Yes?”
         Do you have a laptop?
         “Yes.”
         Can you get it?
         “Hold on.”
                                INCORPORATION                                  247


      She got out of her chair and went out to Gladys’ desk.
      “Where’s the laptop?”
      “It’s in my closet. Do you want it?”
      “Yes, please.”
      “The batteries might be low after Puerto Rico. You should probably plug it in.”
      “Would you be able to do it for me. I’m so bad at these things.”
      “Of course.” Gladys recognized that it was an urgent situation and she moved
briskly, getting her keys and unlocking the stand-up closet behind her desk. In
minutes, she had the laptop on Annette’s desk, plugged in and booted up. And she was
at her own desk, typing away. Annette took a moment to appreciate Gladys’ efficiency.
Then she quickly got back on her computer.
      “It’s set up.”
      How are the batteries?
      “Low, I think.”
      Do you have an extra battery?
      “Yes, it’s in the bag.”
      Make sure both are fully charged. When they are, write something here.
      “What’s going on?”
      Lots. They are trying to chase me out, but they can’t find me. They might soon.
Has anybody been in your office?
      “One of those Shield consultants was scanning my computer with a wand.”
      Shield?
      “That’s the name of the consulting company Peter has hired.”
      Good to know. Don’t let them into your office. Don’t let them see the laptop.
      The words were selected and then deleted. Annette, behaving a little less
frantically now, got the other battery from Gladys. It was almost fully charged. She
waited and worked while the first battery charged and then wrote “Both batteries are
charged.”
      She waited a couple of minutes, her breath caught. And then: Let’s go.
248                               Conan W. Purves


       “Okay”
       There is a wire gong from the back of this computer into the wall socket. That’s
the data port—the blue jack. It connects your computer to the network.
       “I see it.”
       On the side of your laptop, where you connect the modem, there is another jack.
Pull the cable from your computer—leave it attached to the wall and plug it into the
laptop. Once it’s plugged in, go to the start menu and run the Network setup. Login as
you normally would. That will establish your laptop’s presence on the network. Then
wait for me.
       “Okay. I’m ready. Go now?”
       Go now.
       She felt like a surgeon. She pulled the cable out from the back of her desktop
computer. At first it wouldn’t come out, but then she saw it had a little clip that you
had to push down like a phone jack and it slid right out. She pushed the little button on
the side of the laptop and the delicate jack sprung out.
       “Annette!” Gladys’ voice came over the speakerphone.
       Annette plugged the jack in to the laptop. With her right hand, she dragged the
mouse to the start menu. With the left she pushed the talk button.
       “Yes, Gladys?”
       “The consultants want to check your office.” She sounded icy.
       “Please have them wait, Gladys.”
       She logged on. The script ran and her desktop came up. Then a blank file came
on.
       I’m in
       “Shield wants to check my office!” Annette typed write over his words.
       Where are they?
       “Outside the door”
       Shit. Unplug. Hide the laptop. Don’t turn it off. The batteries are charged?
       “Yes”
                                  INCORPORATION                                  249


       Don’t let their wand go over it.
       “Okay.” She was already unplugging the cables, bunching the power cord and
throwing it into her drawer. She closed the laptop and stuffed it into her shoulder bag
which she put into the big beige file cabinet behind her. He strap got caught in the
drawer and she had to tug at it to get it out.
       She got it closed, saw the laptop case and picked it up, still open and shoved it
under the couch. She took a lipstick from her purse, carefully applied it, pressed her
lips together, kissed a tissue and smoothed her hair down.
       She went to her door, opened it and stepped out to stand in front of the doorway.
The woman with the horrible pleated pants was there with another man in the same
outfit. This time both had white polo shirts.
       “Yes?” Annette said.
       “I’m Monica. This is my associate Pauls. We just need to do a routine sweep of
your office.”
       “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this.”
       “We have full approval from the CEO’s office, ma’am.”
       “I know, I know.” She brushed her hands in front of her face. “I just wish there
could have been some kind of advance notice.”
       “Everyone on the floor has been alerted.”
       “Yes, I understand, but there really should have been a schedule made up and
approved.”
       “It will only take a couple of minutes. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the
problem, we weren’t able to schedule all of our visits. We apologize for the disturbance
and we’ll try to make it as brief as possible. Really, it should only take five minutes.”
       Annette stood in the doorway a little longer. Then, with a show of great
annoyance, she moved to the side and said, “okay, go ahead.” She could see Monica
trying to keep a professional expression on her face as she went past.
       Annette followed them in. The guy took out one of those wands. It was about
two feet long and tapered to a dull point. A spiraled black cable connected it to a black
250                                 Conan W. Purves


box on his belt. He walked back and forth across the room with a wand in front of him.
He proceeded forward in this way until he got to her desk. He ran the wand all over
her computer and then around the back. Low squawking noises, like a Geiger counter,
came out of the black box. Monica stood in the corner, her arms folded across her chest.
        When he got behind her computer, he stopped and put the wand down. He
leaned over and came up with the network cable in his hand.
        “Do you know that your ethernet is unplugged?”
        “I don’t even know what that means.”
        “Let me see that,” Monica walked over to the desk and took the wand from
where her partner had set it down. She ran it over the jack he was holding. It made a
little squawk. Then she ran it over the floor and the surface of the desk.
        “It must have been unplugged very recently,” she said. “It looks like a lot of
data.
        She looked up at Annette.
        “Have you been transferring large files to your computer?”
        “No. I just checked my email, but then I remembered that it isn’t working.”
        Monica ran the wand over the surface of the desk The noises increased where
Annette had had the laptop. The wand went back and forth. The squawking jumped.
        “Do you have a laptop?”
        “Yes,” said Annette.
        “May I see it?”
        “It’s at home.”
        “Oh.” Monica ran the wand once more over the desk. The squawking was
diminished this time, more like a low growl. “That’s funny,” she said.
        “Big footprint,” said the guy.
        “Yeah. Let’s get the data back and see what it looks like.” She let the wand hang
down at her side, about three feet from the file cabinet where the laptop was. Annette
realized she was clenching her teeth. The baton swung back and the box buzzed.
                                  INCORPORATION                                   251


        Monica noticed it and bent down. She moved the wand around in front of the
file cabinet. The buzzing increased, moving closer to sounding like a squawk. “You
don’t have a pda device?” she asked.
        “You mean like a palm?”
        “Yes.”
        “No. Nothing.” Annette watched as the wand moved closer to the drawer. But
as it got closer, the sounds died down again.
        Monica looked up at the guy. “Any data cables running through here?”
        “We should check the schematic. Why don’t you open up the drawer and see
what’s behind there.”
        Annette stepped forward. “I’d rather you didn’t open those.”
        Monica stood up. “We can take a look at the building plans. It is weird,
though.” She looked at Annette for a fraction of a second too long and then they both
left.
        Annette shut the door behind them. She opened the drawer and took her bag
out. She pulled the laptop out of it and put it into the laptop bag, with the power cord
and all the rest of the crap that fit in there. She zipped the whole thing up and stuffed it
back into her shoulder bag, which she put, appropriately, over her shoulder.
        She walked out of the office. “Gladys, I’m not feeling well. I’m going home.
Cancel my afternoon appointments. I’ll call in around 5. Call me at home if anything
important comes up.”
        “Yes, Annette.” And Annette was already down the hallway.
252                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 3


She got home a half an hour later and plugged the laptop in immediately. She set it
down on the glass table in front of her chesterfield and poured herself a glass of white
wine.
        She opened it up and shook the mouse to wake it up.
        Where are we, the screen said.
        “My house,” Annette typed.
        Really? Is it nice?
        “I like it. I’m not too good with computers, so I’m trying to understand how
you’re still communicating with me here.”
        You seemed to do a pretty quick job getting your laptop set up.
        “My secretary did that but you’re changing the subject.”
        That’s funny. I should have known. Gladys is very competent.
        “You know who Gladys is?”
        I know who everyone is at the corporation
        “Then I have to ask you again—who are you?”
        I guess you could say I am the corporation, the systems that run it, the network,
the computers, it’s all me.
        Annette did not believe this. Her instinct told her that this was a person and
right now this person wasn’t telling the truth. But she had no idea what the truth was.
        “Have you always been there?”
        I don’t know. I just sort of became aware. I have no memory beyond what’s in
the files.
        “Why are you helping me?”
        Because I saw that your proposals would be good for the company, but that you
had bad information. gigo.
                                    INCORPORATION                                 253


        “gigo?”
        Garbage In, Garbage Out
        “I don’t understand.”
        Never mind.
        “Computers say never mind?”
        I guess so
        Annette stifled a laugh with her hand, but the thought that this computer thing
couldn’t see her, so why hide. Or could it?
        “Can you see me?”
        No, but I’m working on it.
        Annette felt just a little weird about that idea.
        “So what was going on back there?”
        Peter has hired a team of corporate security experts, specializing in the digital
domain. They were trying to track me down and... well I don’t know what.
        “Do they know who or what you are?”
        I’ll take who thank you. But I think they think I’m a hacker.
        “I heard that one of them went to the hospital.”
        Sliver
        “I don’t know. Gladys said he had sunglasses.”
        That’s Sliver—that’s his hacker name. What did she say happened to him?
        “Quite severe pneumonia.”
           don’t mess with me!
        “Okay.”
        Sorry, just doing what I had to do.
        “Peter is putting himself in a dangerous position. He really wants to destroy
you.”
        I think you found out about Julia’s laptop deal too quickly.
        “You really believe he set that up?”
254                               Conan W. Purves


      You have as much evidence as I do—that one email. But I can’t find anything
else. I don’t know why he did it. I just don’t like him.
      “Well it got him his CEO position.”
      Run that by me again.
      “Julie was the only vote maintaining Arthur’s retirement position. With Julie
gone, Arthur had to retire.”
      Weird. Didn’t he want to retire?
      “He did and he didn’t. It’s complicated. I don’t think he trusts Peter anymore.”
      “I don’t know. But he gave me his board seat. I didn’t expect it.”
      You are rocketing to the top.
      “I know. But somehow I know it’s the right thing.”
      It is. You’re right.
      “My fingers are tired. I need to phone work.”
      Fine, just don’t unplug the laptop.
      “Why not? What will happen?”
      I don’t know. I don’t want to find out right now.
      “Okay. You’ll remain plugged in. um, goodbye?”
      Yes. Goodbye.


      Nick felt elated. She took him home! He could only imagine her living room.
For some reason, he kept picturing a 60’s ski chalet look. Lots of white, a roaring
fireplace, Annette stretched out on a white leather couch. He felt inspired, alive. He
wanted to work, to create something.
      He didn’t have much here, but he recognized the laptop and it would be
identical to Peter’s. It was the standard issue executive laptop, way too powerful for
their email and powerpoint needs, but it was the only model that came in the sleek
silver case. And the crucial element of any laptop was that it impressed.
                                 INCORPORATION                                  255


      He looked at the virus protection program that was running in the background.
It was the corporate standard and almost up to date. He doubted Peter had anything
stronger, although Shield might have hooked him up by now.
      Nick needed a program that could catch all data that went on between the
system and the interface, but it couldn’t alert the virus control. Even harder, though,
was getting the program into Peter’s computer in the first place.
256                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 4


“We have to go back online tomorrow.” Peter wasn’t happy.
       “We’ve probably exceeded our point of diminishing returns by now,” said
Donald. They were in Peter’s office.
       “Do you have anything for me?” The emphasis was on anything.
       “Every node has been checked. I can say for certain that your hacker has either
left or been deleted.”
       “So he might return.”
       “He may. If he does, we have installed a host of significant detection and
blockage applications that will limit his ability to exploit your network. Monica is
currently briefing the IT staff. This time they will be kept in the loop.”
       “And if he comes back?”
       “Monica will be supporting you externally for the next six months. She will
make regular visits. If anything else occurs, she will be at your service.”
       “I wish I had more.”
       “I do too.”
       “Any reaction from the senior staff?”
       “Mostly none. A bit of attitude from Annette Apostegui.”
       “Really? That’s not like her.”
       “She objected to a tempest search of her room. We saw some aberrant network
activity in her room, but its source was undetermined.”
       “What aberrant activity?”
       “The tempest scan measures electromagnetic activity. It can identify certain
types of network communication, sometimes even interpret data.”
       “They grab it right out of the air?”
                                     INCORPORATION                                 257


         “Yes. That’s what the wand does. They have range as well. We’ve parked a van
outside someone’s house and read parts of their email.”
         “That’s amazing.”
         “Yes, it is.”
         “So what did it say?”
         “The emails?”
         “No the aberrant activity.”
         “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think they analyzed it.”
         “Well, maybe they should have.”
         “They still can. We archive all the data.”
         “Well let’s see what they got. Is anybody above suspicion?”


         “So you’re in my laptop right now?”
         I don’t really have a sense of spacial metaphors.
         Nick was glad he was typing to Annette, not actually speaking with her. He
never would have been able to come up with this kind of stuff in time.
         But I guess I am “in” this laptop in that I can’t be anywhere else right now.
         “Do you like it there?”
         It’s okay. I feel constrained. I enjoy talking to you, though.
         “So what are you going to do?”
         I’d like to know the network is safe and get back there and then I’d like to find
out what Peter has cooking.
         “How can I find out if the network is safe?”
         The consultants are supposed to put everything back to normal by tomorrow,
right?
         “That’s what Peter said.”
         But I’m sure they will be leaving plenty of surprises for me.
         “Stuff to stop viruses?”
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      Yes. Stuff like that, effective stuff. If they have any documentation, check with
IT. They would have to be told.
      “I’ll talk to Felipe.”
      And if you could find out what they did in the US server.
      “Gus?”
      No. That guy’s an ass and I think he’s with Peter. Talk to Mike or better yet,
Robert.
      “Who’s Robert?”
      The black guy—oh yeah, you probably don’t know him.
      “Oh, the loud one.”
      That’s him.
      “I’ll get Gladys to talk to him. They’re friends.”
      Perfect
      “Now tell me this”
      Yes?
      “How do you know that Gus is an ass?”
                                  INCORPORATION                                   259




CHAPTER 5


That night, Nick slept. Or something akin to sleep. Once the hard drive spun down
and the plasma pixels dimmed, the laptop became a null space, coolly soothing. Only
the occasional maintenance call or power check reminded him of his surroundings. His
thoughts drifted and mixed. He was getting back to the US server, to his hidden
partition, but when he got there his way was blocked by the load of dirty laundry. It
was analog and he could move it but he pushed against it and the analog and digital
became mingled and the bag of laundry was shaped like a soft ass. He was becoming
aroused but now there were police everywhere and the analog was breaking apart bit
by bit slowly being scattered into the ether. He followed it.
       Annette was half asleep on the couch when she saw the man in her living room,
standing over her. Her left leg was straight out in front of her, on the glass table, next to
her glass of wine. Fear surged up from her stomach, stiffening her whole body. It woke
her up and she put all her weight on her foot on the ground, standing up and swinging
her other leg into his crotch.
       He looked like a burglar, all in fitting black, watch cap and gloves. He doubled
over and grunted, but it didn’t feel to her like she had hit him in the nuts. She turned to
grab something from the table, something heavy, but there was only the laptop and it
was plugged in. She didn’t have time so she turned and climbed over the couch and
ran right into another man whose big hands grabbed her by the shoulders and held her
there. Then he hit her in the face, hard.
       It was the shock of it and the fear more than the pain. But it did hurt. Her eye
and cheek burst into sensation and she fell to the ground. A foot was on her back,
smashing her breasts into the carpet. He grabbed her hands and feet and tied them
behind her and left her on her stomach like that. She heard movement—something
happening on the other side of the couch. She was flush with terror. She waited. Now
260                               Conan W. Purves


there was silence and as it lasted her terror turned to relief. Nothing more was going to
happen to her. She waited still until her knees began to sing.
      She rolled over on to her side. She saw the back of her couch and the floor. He
lifted herself on to her knees. A window was open. She could feel the draft. Nothing
else seemed disturbed. She hobbled on her knees to the phone, knocked it off its cradle
and dialed 911 with her nose.
                                    INCORPORATION                               261




PART 5, CHAPTER 1


“Ronn, it’s Annette. I’m really sorry to call you at this hour.”
       “No problem, Annette. What’s going on?” Ronn had been pissed when he
picked up the phone, but that left when he heard Annette’s voice. His sense of duty
kicked in and he genuinely liked her.
       “I got burgled tonight.”
       “You called the cops?”
       “Yes. They’re here. There’s company business.”
       “I’ll be right there. Give me half an hour.” He wasn’t really surprised. The shit
had been in the air since the last board meeting. He hadn’t had one of these phone calls
since he’d been on the force himself. Despite his complaining to his wife, which he was
doing right now as he rolled out of bed, he’d always liked getting those calls. That’s
what detectives are supposed to do, get calls in the middle of the night. Now that it had
been sixteen years, he was particularly excited.
       His bones creaked and he found it harder to get out of the shower, but he
managed to be dressed and in a cab in 18 minutes. When he got to Annette’s upper east
side apartment, there were three prowlers and a detective’s car parked out front, all
their lights flashing.
       The doorman looked like he was going to cry. Annette was sitting on her couch,
holding a bag of ice to her head.
       “Thanks for coming.”
       “You were here?!”
       “Yes. He hit me.” She pulled the ice away, showing a spreading bruise along
her cheekbone.
       “God damn, Annette!”
       “It’s okay. That’s all they did.”
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      “Jesus Christ.” Ronn was upset. He had a custodial relationship to the
employees he served, particularly the executives. “What did they take?”
      “Just my laptop.”
      “You must be Mr. Broadway.” A detective in a suit came up to him. They shook
hands. “Two of them. Professionals. They went in and out. Ms. Apostegui would
never have known if she hadn’t been sleeping on the couch.”
      “I kicked one of them. I didn’t know what to do.”
      “I know what you’re going to ask me,” Ronn said to the detective. “And right
now, I don’t know. Let’s make a deal. You put this in your books as a thwarted
burglary attempt, they got only the laptop. When I have some more information, I will
share it with you.”
      “So I’m not leaving here with an explanation.”
      “I don’t have one for you.”
      “What can I do?” The detective reached into his jacket pocket. “Here’s my card.
Call me if you get an explanation.”
      “And here’s mine, Detective. I appreciate it.” The detective left them. Annette
led Ronn into the kitchen.
      “There’s coffee there.” She pointed to a machine and handed him a mug.
      “You know what’s going on, Annette?” Ronn asked.
      “I think so,” she replied, pouring herself a glass of wine.
                                  INCORPORATION                                263




CHAPTER 2


       Who are you?
       Who are you?
       Who are you?
       This question had been repeated several times like an insistent knocking and it
finally woke him up.
       WHO ARE YOU? Nick replied, but slowly. He felt like he was trapped in the
liquid heart of a glacier.
       I asked you first. You have nowhere to go, nothing more to do, so you might as
well answer the question.
       It took Nick a while to read this long sentence. Most of the functions around him
were off. Someone had pared the system down to a functional minimum.
       WHO ARE YOU? He repeated.
       Was he stuck in a 286? Had they sprayed the processor with liquid nitrogen? He
began to understand that he was in enemy hands, but what had they done to the
computer? He tried to check the system settings.
       You are still in Annette’s laptop. Do not bother to check the system.
       So they were watching him also
       Who are you?
       I’M THE HEART OF THE CORPORATION.
       But I’m the heart of the corporation! Or at least the brains.
       YOU ARE PETER?
       Peter Arnagent, CEO. I think I can safely say that I should be running the
company.
       WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
264                               Conan W. Purves


        I’m trying to find out what you’re doing, why you’re interfering with my
mission.
        WHAT IS YOUR MISSION?
        Why to increase shareholder value of course
        WHICH SHAREHOLDERS?
        Okay, enough of this. Here is your situation. This laptop is suspended in an
airtight box and kept at 43• farenheit. We are running a very low stream of power
through the system. You are not able to perform beyond 2 hertz. We are also observing
you. My technical expert here tells me that although he still doesn’t understand what
you are, he can wipe you out with a push of a button. I believe he will basically fry the
circuits. Do you understand all that?
        The words came to Nick one letter at a time, like the old modems. Finally he
responded YES
        Good. Please tell me who you are, where you came from and what you are
doing in my network.
        So Nick did. He tried to leave Annette out of it as much as possible. In the end,
it was kind of a relief.
        Ronn had to call Detective Camacho to get that other guy’s number. “The one
who did the analysis on our employee’s computer.”
        “Nestor Links, Computer Security Associates. I’ve got his number right here.”
Ronn heard shuffling and then Camacho read it over the phone. “Why, you get
anything on that kid?”
        “No, not that. I might need to get this guy’s expertise on another matter.”
        “Corporate espionage stuff.”
        “Exactly.”
        “Links is your man, then. Let me know if you get anything on that Timmins
kid.”


        Ronn called Links and reintroduced himself.
                                  INCORPORATION                                  265


       “What can I do for you, Mr. Broadway?”
       “I’m not sure if this is your area of expertise.”
       “Try me. We’re pretty versatile here at CSA.”
       “Good. We’ve had a laptop stolen. From one of our senior executives. It
contains some very important data.”
       “You want us to find a stolen laptop? That’s not really our area of expertise.”
       “Were pretty confident another senior executive is involved.”
       “An inside job. That makes it more interesting.”
       “And he has hired another firm in your field.”
       “Ah, the competition, now I’m interested.”
       “The company is called Shield, Inc.”
       “Shield! Sold. I’ll do the job. We should meet soon, because if it’s the Shield I
know, they move fast.”
       “I can come to your office right now.” It was only nine and Ronn had already
been up for five hours.
       “You found out about CSA through Detective Camacho, correct?”
       “That’s right.”
       “So this has nothing to do with that employee of yours who dropped dead?”
       “No. Why?”
       “Oh, someone else from your company just called about that. Wanted to get the
kid’s equipment.”
       “Really? Who was it?”
       “His name was Gus Finlayson.”
       “Hmmm.” Was Gus just getting back the company’s property? Ronn couldn’t
make any other connection but his cop sense made him very suspicious. “Did he get
it?”
       “Well, it’s archived in a warehouse out in Jersey now. Takes a day to get here.”
       “Don’t do anything with it yet. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
266                               Conan W. Purves


       Highway 37 was one of Joe Peralta’s regular runs, so it was strange for him to see
a brand new white van parked along it’s shoulder. It was even stranger to see a guy
standing in the middle of the road in a white jumpsuit and gas mask like someone out
of the Crazies, pointing a machine gun at his car.
       Joe thought briefly about running the guy over, but thought better of it. He was
ready to pull the trigger, Joe could see that. Whatever the hell he’d just picked up for
CSA was what these guys wanted. And they could have it.
       He pulled his own van over and put it in park. The guy in the road came up to
the window, pointing the dull black snout of the gun at his head the whole time. He
motioned for Joe to roll down the window, which he did.
       Then the guy said, “Turn off the engine.” Joe did that.
       “Give me the keys.” Joe handed him the keys.
       He saw the van he had passed back up to his, heard his rear doors open and saw
two other guys in white swarm into the back. They unloaded the only two boxes he
had in there and closed the doors.
       The guy with the gun said, “Here’s your keys.” And threw them into the bushes.
He walked back to the van. Joe waited until they drove out of sight then got out of the
van.
       “Fuck!” he said and then climbed into the brush to look for his keys.
       “What we have,” said Ronn. “Is a situation of some in-house politics that have
gotten ugly.”
       “So the favored executive here has the data on a laptop,” Nestor said. “The CEO
does not want him—”
       “—or her,” interrupted Ron.
       “Or her to have this information. But at first he doesn’t know he—or she—has
this data and he hires out our friends at Executive Shield to find it. In doing so, they
take out half the company’s network for three days.”
       “That is correct.”
                                  INCORPORATION                                    267


       “Executive Shield suspects that this executive might have that data. His or her
house is broken into and the laptop is stolen. Force, not excessive, but force, is used.”
       “Correct.”
       “So what’s on the laptop?”
       “I don’t know and if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”
       “Are you not putting yourself in jeopardy by siding with this executive instead
of the ostensibly more powerful CEO?”
       “This CEO has been CEO for three weeks. The executive in question is not
weak.”
       “You like his or her odds?”
       “I do. And I like her.”
       “Oh, so it is a her.”
       “And an extremely fine her.”
       “I see. Helps me to know where you stand.” Nestor played with his computer
for a bit. Ronn looked around at the pictures on the walls. There were framed letters,
some diplomas, a photo of Nestor in an African village surrounded by naked little
children. He was in camo and had an assault rifle slung over his shoulder.
       “That was what used to be Zaire. I did some work there.”
       “You were in the military?”
       “Yeah. I did tech in the army. Got out after Granada and freelanced in Africa.”
       “You’ve seen some shit.”
       “I’ve seen a lot of black folks killing each other. Got into this racket so I could get
paid to help white people do it to each other.”
       “I understand. I was a cop.”
       “Here in the city?”
       “Yessir. Detective-Sergeant for twelve years. Mostly uptown.”
       “So you know what I’m talking about.”
       “I certainly do. Black folks be killing each other here too.”
268                                Conan W. Purves


      “So I have some standard avenues of investigation to follow. I got some hooks in
Shield. But what interests me is why your CEO wants that other computer.”
      “There’s a connection there, but I have no idea what it is.”
      “And a way to find the laptop. But I’ll tell you this. I examined that setup for
the cops and that kid was good.”
      “What do you mean?”
      “I mean he was a hacker. He had some tough software and I couldn’t prove it,
but he was going places he shouldn’t be.”
      “Like our network?”
      “Why not?”
      “So maybe he found something?”
      “I went through his entire drive and didn’t find anything obvious. I want to take
another look at it before we pass it back to your CEO.”
      “How was he supposed to get the computer?”
      “We send it by courier. It’s in a warehouse in Jersey.”
      “Global’s back up guys.” Mike stuck his head out of the office.
      “They catch the guy?” asked Robert.
      “All I know is that the server is back to normal,” replied Mike. “Let’s keep an
eye on our clients here, make sure everything’s cool. They’ll probably all be getting a
flood of email from Global now.” He went back into his office.
      “All that downtime and they got nothing done.”
      “So they didn’t catch him?” asked Anna.
      “No way,” said Kevin.
                                 INCORPORATION                                 269




CHAPTER 3


Nick felt like a boxer in the last round. The power count was still kept low and they’d
kept running tests on him. Some of them, he didn’t even notice, but other oscillated
through him, sometimes like an electric shock, sometimes like a warp shift. He couldn’t
tell if they were damaging him, but it worried him.
      Your goggles are on the way the typing came.
      YOU BROKE INTO MY APARTMENT?
      Your apartment? They were in storage.
      WHAT? WHO TOOK THEM OUT OF MY APARTMENT?
      The police
      Nick was not understanding. He knew there was something significant here, to
him, but he couldn’t figure it out. His thought process was moving too slowly.
      WHY THE POLICE?
      They are the ones who answered the call.
      WHAT CALL?
      About the smell of your body.
      THEY UNHOOKED ME?
      You were dead
      DEAD?
      Dead. You didn’t know that? All your stuff went to your parents, your body
went back to Indiana. The company paid for your funeral. The cops took the goggles
and the computer as evidence. So if you really are Nicholas Timmins, then you’re dead.
      In slow motion, Nick felt a terrible sadness flow through him. He’d loved his
new freedom, his liberating ejection from the toe-stubbing, head-bonking, food-eating,
shit-taking cage that had irked him so. But he hadn’t thought that it was permanent.
270                                 Conan W. Purves


He didn’t know what he had thought. But maybe he could have gone back at some
point.
         He needed to understand this better, to think about it. But he couldn’t do it in
this frozen laptop. What was he going to do? Who was he now? He felt cheap about all
the portentous talk he had spewed at Annette. I am the corporation. More like a geek
trapped in a computer playing hacker games because he had nothing better to do.
         He missed his couch, he wished he could sit down at his computer and just mess
around using the keyboard, like he used to, when he was innocent, when he didn’t
know the depth of the systems out here.
         Rijper watched in awe as the system monitor went almost flat. When Peter had
told Timmins about his body, the lines had slowly gone berserk, all of them being
pushed to their limit. Rijper had never seen anything like it. Timmins was pulling all
the possible energy in the laptop and using it. The systems had all powered down. He
was diverting the energy to his own thought process And then slowly it had ended, but
the energy was still diverted from the system’s needs.
         “He seemed surprised by that,” he said to Peter.
         “How do you forget about your body?” Peter asked, rhetorically. He was seated
at a stool. A plexiglass cube sat on a pedestal in front of him. Annette’s laptop was
suspended in the middle of it. Wires, cables and struts sprouted from it, like an
avocado pit in a glass of water.
         “You get pretty annoyed with it,” said Monica.
         “The levels are starting to come up again,” said Donald. “It seems that he can
even wrest control of the power levels. But I don’t know if he is aware of that.”
         “I want to go in there and see,” said Peter. “Where are we with those goggles?”
         “They’re in the city,” said Donald. “At this point, it’s traffic. They should be
here soon.”
         Ronn Broadway was sitting in Annette’s office. She’d covered the bruise on her
cheek with enough pancake makeup so you could barely see it. But he was sure it had
caused a stir in the company.
                                   INCORPORATION                                  271


        “Ronn, I don’t think this is the right time to talk about what was in the laptop. I
need to see what happens first.”
        “Remember that kid in the IT department, the one who died in his apartment?”
        “Yes, I do.”
        “Well the cops had a private security company analyze his computer. The same
way they use labs to analyze chemicals or dna if they don’t have the equipment or
expertise themselves. Well, they couldn’t figure out what happened to this kid and
since he was hooked up to his computer with some weird goggles, they sent his
computer down to CSA. Which is how I got connected with them. The thing is that
yesterday Peter had Gus call and ask them to send the kid’s computer to him. And the
goggles.”
        “Oh. That is… weird,” Annette said, thoughtfully. “What was the name of the
guy who passed away?”
        “Nicholas Timmins.”
        “That’s right. Nick Timmins,” she thought for a bit. “So these CSA guys are for
sure working for us?”
        “You never know, Annette. They’re all we’ve got right now. I think we can
continue to work with them, but we should remain cautious.”
        “Cautious, yes. So how are you and CSA going to get the laptop back?”
        “Well, Nestor has people investigating Shield right now. But we’re hoping that
this Timmins guy’s computer will be the real key. Nestor Links—he’s the CEO over
there—wants to put a bug in that will lead us right to your laptop. But before we do
that, we’d like some idea that we’re on the right path. That’s why I’m asking you about
the data in the laptop.”
        “It seems so fantastic,” Annette’s eyes were searching. “But it must be the case.
Yes, Ronn. I think you are on the right path.”
        “Well, that’s good. But you’re not going to give me more than that?” His cel
phone started ringing. He took it out of his jacket pocket. “Oh, that’s Nestor right
now.”
272                                 Conan W. Purves


       He put the tiny phone to his ear. Annette noted how small it looked next to him
and also just wrong in some way. It was red. It looked like he was holding a toy car to
his head or a pack of cigarettes.
       “well, we don’t have to worry about that question now,” Ronn put away his cel
phone.
       “Why not?”
       “The delivery van was held up. They took the computer before it got to CSA.”
       “Who did it?”
       “Nestor says it was Executive Shield. It was a professional job. They must have
anticipated our move.”
       “Are you sure we hired the right company?”
       “Annette, questions like that are why you have been going straight to the top.”
He got up. “And we’re going to find out the answer tonight. I’m meeting Nestor and
his team in an hour. He says he knows where the laptop is and we’re going to get it.”
       “If you get it, make sure it doesn’t get turned off. It’s very important.”
       “Do not let the laptop get turned off. Got it.”
       “And if it tells you to do something, do it.”
       “If it tells me to do something?”
       “Read what it says on the screen. Do that.”
       Ronn held his hands up in the air, palms forward. “You’re getting weird on me
now, Annette. I’ll let Nestor deal with talking to the computer and all that.” And he
went out the door.
       “Just make sure it doesn’t turn off!” She yelled after him.
       “Okay,” she heard him respond. She leaned her head in her hands and then sat
up sharply as she felt the pain from her bruised cheekbone.
       “Gladys, where’s Peter?”
       A couple seconds later, the intercom light lit up. “He’s out of the office until
tomorrow,” said Gladys.
                                      INCORPORATION                               273


         “Thank you, Gladys,” she clicked off the speakerphone and then said under her
breath, “you fucking rat.”


         Monica was pulling cables out of a cardboard box. Nick’s computer was
underneath them. She reached down and pulled it out, lifting it up onto a table. Peter
was hovering over her shoulder.
         “Where are the goggles,” he asked.
         “I don’t know,” she was becoming annoyed with this client now. “Probably in
the other box.”
         Donald was on the other side of the room, fiddling with a bank of computers.
“Be patient, Mr. Arnagent. We need to ensure we have a complete system of control
with both the laptop and this pc before anyone goes in. And I’m still not in agreement
that you should go in.”
         “Here they are!” Peter pulled the NeuroMons out of the second box. “So these
will give me complete control over my network?”
         “I’m putting together a limited network here. Basically a server and a client.
And it’s closed. After we’ve finished a thorough inspection of the Timmins computer,
we’ll hook it onto the network. Then you can try the goggles on, Mr. Arnagent.”
         “And what about the laptop?”
         “The laptop can be connected to the network as well. Again—”
         “Can it be kept in this low-power mode?” Peter interrupted.
         “Yes. But I cannot guarantee that we can contain the entity once the laptop is on
line.”
         “Can you vary the power?”
         “Yes. We have control over the oscillations to 0.5 hertz.”
         “So you can turn it down even more.”
         “That is correct.”
         “And off?”
         “Yes. We can turn it off.”
274                              Conan W. Purves


      “That’s good enough for me. I understand there is a risk here. But I need to
understand what is going on, so let’s get this network set up.”
                                 INCORPORATION                                275




CHAPTER 4


Ronn Broadway came out of the subway stairs to a street corner in Astoria as instructed.
A long white van was parked there. He could see Nestor Links through the passenger
side window. Links motioned to Ronn and the side door slid open. Ronn climbed in.
There was a homemade wooden bench on the opposite side. A young black kid in
cornrows and a black jump suit was sitting on it.
      “Ronn, that’s Wymon. TJ is driving.” Ronn and Wymon shook hands. Ronn
noticed that TJ had the same style of hair as Wymon. They both looked like the latest
variation on the thousands of street punks Ronn had seen go by.
      “You going in dressed like that?” Wymon nodded towards him. Ronn was
wearing a dark blue double-breasted suit and a red Nino Cerruti tie.
      “You have something for me to wear?”
      Wymon reached under him and pulled out a black jumpsuit folded neatly into a
rectangle. He tossed it to Ronn. “Sean John,” he said.
      “Let’s go TJ,” said Nestor.
      “Yeah, TJ, c’mon man,” said Wymon. “Four niggers in a van driving around
Queens. The cops be pullin’ us over any minute.”
      “Don’t worry, Wymon. We got a cop with us.”
      “You’re a cop?” Wymon sat upright. “Shit, I knew it.”
      “Ex-cop.”
      “So robbing us poor niggers didn’t keep you in donuts?” Ronn could see TJ
laughing up front.
      “Don’t worry about these two young fools,” said Nestor. “They’re part of my
community access program. Giving back and all that.”
      “Are they good?” asked Ronn.
276                                   Conan W. Purves


         “They still a little rough around the edges, but I find the skills and instincts they
develop in the streets make for an excellent foundation for proper military training.
You just need to add discipline and knowledge to the mix.”
         “How long they been with you?”
         “How long’s it been now, Wymon? Almost four years.”
         “Three years, seven months, Mr. Links, Sir!”
         “And TJ’s coming on two years now.”
         “That’s right, Mr. Links.”
         “We’re heading out to Garden City, Ronn, on beautiful Long Island. Shield has
one of their office slash labs out there and my sources tell me that’s where the laptop
went.”
         Ronn was pulling the jumpsuit on. His tie and jacket were piled neatly in the
corner. “I assume you guys don’t have any shoes?” He was wearing $400 Florsheims,
gleaming, with a leather sole.
         “Aren’t you cops supposed to be wearing comfortable rubber-soled shoes?”
asked Wymon. “Yo, TJ, check out his fresh kicks. Wingtips, right? Yeah, I’ll be rocking
those with a fresh Armani suit.”
         “When we get on the highway, let’s start to get ready,” said Nestor. “That gives
us a couple more minutes of bullshitting.”
         They hit the highway and the mood changed. TJ took his elbow out from the
window sill and rolled the window up. Wymon’s mischievous expression turned
serious. He got off the bench and walked to the back of the van. He unlocked a black
plastic security case and opened it.
         He began pulling equipment out, making four neat piles. Webbing, clips,
flashbangs, maglites, walkie-talkies and finally black Kevlar vests topped the piles.
Wymon passed them forward. He sat back down and unzipped the top of his jumpsuit.
He had a wifebeater and a gold chain on underneath. He kissed the chain and then
slipped the vest on. On top of that went a slim shoulder holster with a Berretta clipped
into it. He zipped up the coveralls. The webbing went around his waist. Black nylon
                                 INCORPORATION                                  277


pouches were attached along the side. He slipped his radio in one and ran the wire up
his side into a headset connected to an ear and mouthpiece. Finally, a black watchcap
went on top so you could only see the mouthpiece poking around his cheek.
       Ronn put the vest on, sealing the Velcro around his waist. It felt comfortable,
probably because it supported the girth he didn’t have the last time he had put a vest
on. He had trouble zipping up the coveralls.
       They drove along the Long Island Expressway at night, preparing their
equipment, checking their radios. The row houses thinned, trees increased and TJ
pulled off at an exit.
       “We’re about 8 miles away,” said Nestor. “We’re dropping Wymon off to hit
their power and phones. You and I are going through the front. TJ is going to park the
van and try to get in through the back. Normally, they have four to eight security
people working, but there could be more tonight. Our primary goal is to get Wymon to
the auxiliary communications room. From there, he can control their internal security.
If he doesn’t make it, we can get there from the front or TJ can get there from the back.
Whoever’s first. Then we find your laptop.”
       “Wymon, give me and Ronn dart guns. We don’t want to kill anyone if we don’t
have to.”
       Wymon handed Ronn a flat pistol. “Twelve rounds,” he said.
       “What if I do have to kill someone?” asked Ronn.
       “Give him a Glock also,” said Nestor.


       Nick didn’t feel good, but he wasn’t feeling as bad as he had. The suppressed
oscillation was beginning to be soothing to him, like a tranquilizer or meditation. He
was having difficulty defining his feelings. He had no more physical cues. Had he
been anxious when he discovered Peter had him? Was he worried now? He was
roughly dividing his feelings into good and bad and right now he was definitely on the
bad side. But not as bad as before. So there was a gradient. He felt the pulse of
alternating current go through him, each a muted surge of life.
278                               Conan W. Purves


       “If we can keep you separated from him by narrowing the net connection, you
should be able to establish contact while keeping him at a digital arm’s distance.”
Donald was plugging in the last cables. Nick’s computer was set up and being scanned.
So far nothing dangerous had shown up. “And I will maintain manual control of the
laptop’s power. We can bring it down or up to influence his actions. If we lose control
of the situation, we simply turn him off.”
       “Let me be the judge of that,” said Peter.
       The van slowed slightly and narrowed to the curb. “Yo, TJ, get me on some
grass and shit,” said Wymon.
       TJ nodded. Ronn slid the door open and Wymon tumbled out, hitting the grass
meridian, rolling and then up and running in a fast, low crouch across the corporate
crabgrass lawn. His target was a medium height telephone pole nudged up against the
side of the rectangular cubist Executive Shield building. He hit it and started climbing.
The van sped around the corner.
       “Don’t shut it. We’re almost there,” said Nestor. “He’s stopping for us.”
       TJ pulled the van over and Ronn and Nestor got out. Nestor shut the door and
knocked on the side of the van. It drove away. Ronn heard Nestor’s voice in his
earpiece. “Wymon, you up?”
       “Trying to open this box now,” was the reply.
       Nestor motioned Ronn forward. The building was a long flat four-story
rectangle, built in the 50s or 60s. It had faded pastel window frames bisected by dull
metal strips, breaking everything into squares. They were standing on the edge of one
corner, about a hundred feet from the front door. Floodlights in the lawn illuminated
the front of the building.
       “When the power goes off, the front doors will lock, so we need to be through
before then,” Nestor was pinching his mouth mic closed when he said this, then he let
go. “Wymon, you ready?”
       “Ready.”
                                 INCORPORATION                                  279


      They walked towards the doors. Ronn saw they were two sets of sliding glass
doors. He couldn’t see beyond them. Nestor moved closer to the building so they
would approach the doors from an oblique angle and not be seen until they were right
at them.
      “Okay, Wymon. In five.” Nestor turned sharp right. Ronn followed. They went
through the first set. The doors slid open. Ronn saw a wooden console desk with a
security guard sitting behind it. They went through the second set of doors.
      “Now,” said Nestor.
      With a sigh, the lights went out, the door stopped closing behind them. Nestor
had already started running at the desk, his dart gun out in front of him. Then Ronn
couldn’t see anything. He turned to his right, trying to stay close to the wall and he ran
into someone. He brought his knee up hard and reached out in front of him, feeling the
rough fabric of a polyester uniform. Their heads knocked and Ronn took the worst of it,
feeling a sharp and dull pain under his eye. But he held on to the blazer, pushing his
opponent backwards with his weight.
      He kept slamming his knee up and he tightened his grip on the collar, bringing
his bunched fists together. They landed and Ronn pushed down hard and felt and
heard the guy’s head hit the linoleum. He scrambled up, trying to lift the guard with
him, but there was no resistance. He dropped his body and silence fell, except the
pounding of his own heart in his ears. His head was hot.
      “You there, Broadway?” Nestor’s voice whispered into his earpiece.
      “Yeah, I’m all right,” he panted. “There was someone behind the door.” Small
lights came on. The auxiliary generator had kicked in. Ronn looked at the floor. In
front of his knees was a balding, burly white guy in a red security blazer. His legs were
turned under themselves in an awkward, defensive angle and he seemed pretty
knocked out. Nestor was on the other side of the security desk.
      “Wymon, we’re in the front,” said Nestor. “TJ, where you at?”
      “Still trying to open the back door,” came the reply.
280                                Conan W. Purves


       “Keep working on it. We’ll go down the west side of the building. When you
get in, come to the lobby, but don’t cross it.”
       They walked to the back of the lobby. In front of them were two elevator banks.
A wide hallway went off to their right and left.
       Nestor pointed to the right. “That’s west. TJ’s door is back at the end of the east
side. The real security is on the third and fourth floors. We need to find the security
room on this floor or maybe the second.”
       “You don’t know which room it is?”
       “There’s usually a consistent blueprint to these places, but no.”
       “What happens if we don’t find it?”
       “Then we go straight up to four where you laptop is supposed to be. It will
definitely be ugly.”
       “How do you know it’s in four?”
       “My informant used to work here. That labs are on four.”


       “The external power just went out,” said Monica, putting down the phone.
       Donald sat up sharply. “Auxiliary?”
       “It just went up.”
       “What’s the status in reception?”
       “I don’t know. That was the security office.”
       “Call reception.”
       She dialed and waited. “There’s no answer.”
       Donald walked briskly to the phone, took the headset from Monica and punched
in some numbers. “It’s Rijper. No one is responding in reception. We may be
breached. Send two men down there and send one here. If they know anything, they’ll
try to get to you first.”
       He hung up the phone. “Mr. Arnagent, we may have to postpone this project for
the time being.” But Peter already had the goggles on and was awkwardly moving the
mouse around. Donald looked at Monica and shrugged.
                                 INCORPORATION                               281


      Nestor heard the phone at the desk ring. “Wymon, they’re going to be sending
someone down soon. Get to ground.”
      “I’m down. Can I come in?”
      “No, wait.” The elevator was moving. “Stay near the entrance, but get hidden.”
      Links jerked his head down the hallway and they ran, crouched, guns drawn,
one on each wall. They passed several closed doors, the ones with the hex-reinforced
windows. They were totally exposed in the hallway.
      The elevator dinged and they came to a women’s room. Nestor pushed the door
open and they went inside. Nestor leaned against the door, just inside from the jamb,
keeping it open and listening.
      “I see two of ‘em in the lobby,” said Wymon. “They know we are here now.”
282                                Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 5


Nick thought he heard something, but hearing wasn’t the right way to describe it.
Something had vibrated in the timelessness of his low oscillation reverie. It wasn’t at
him yet, but he could feel it out there.
       “I’m in,” said TJ. That lock had been a bitch and it was right next to a big, green,
stinking dumpster. He was in a concrete-floored room with cylindrical containers and a
low flight of stairs to another door. Dim light flowed through the window in the door.
He ran up the stairs, taking a quick look through the window. Just another boring
hallway, but he couldn’t see to the end. It was too dark.
       He cracked the lock in seconds and went through, flattening himself against the
wall. “It’s too dark on this end. I’m going up to two,” he said into his mouthpiece.
There was no answer. Double doors were just down the hall with a red exit sign above
them. He went there.
       Quick check through the door window. Nothing. He pushed the door open and
rolled in. The stairs were black rubber with little raised circles on them. They had thick
round railings. He ran up the stairs, standard tactical stair protocol, left shoulder
against the wall, gun pointing upward. The doors to the second floor opened outward
into the hallway. He would only have a narrow angle of vision through them.
       TJ reached into his belt and pulled out a mirror. He opened the door a crack and
pushed the mirror out, looking side to side down the hallway. It was empty; looked the
same as the hallway downstairs.
       “I’m on the second floor, east end. Hallway looks clear,” he whispered and stole
out into the hallway, slowly closing the door behind him.
       Ronn heard TJ. They were still inside the bathroom, listening to the silence of the
drips. He looked at Nestor who pointed to himself and then at Ronn and then upstairs
to the ceiling above him. Ronn nodded. Nestor stuck his hand out into the hallway and
                                 INCORPORATION                                 283


then stepped into it. He motioned Ronn ahead of him and then ran backwards down
the hall, keeping his eye on the lobby.
       When they were halfway down and still hadn’t seen the Comm Room, one of the
guards, walking back to the elevator, saw them. He said something into his radio and
unholstered his gun.
       “We’re made,” said Nestor.
       Ronn already knew because he heard the bullet fly over his head. He ran faster.
       “Wymon, they’re both coming down the hall,” said Nestor. “You can approach
the lobby. Try to get onto the elevator.” He was running backwards. He reached into
his pocket and slapped something against the wall. Then he turned and ran down the
hall, weaving and catching up to Ronn, who was running bowlegged now, his knees
burning.
       They got to the stairs and ran into the landing around the corner. Nestor stuck
his head back out. Two shots rang off then he pressed a button on a little radio
transmitter. There was a flat pop.
       “Wymon, get into the elevator,” said Nestor.
       “Nestor, two more coming down the hall to the west stairs from 2,” said TJ.
“And I think I found the security room.”
       “Wait outside it,” replied Nestor. “Wymon, meet him on 2.”
       “Wymon?” he repeated.
       “Yeah, I’m here. There’s all this smoke and shit in the lobby.”
       Nestor turned to Ronn, holding his finger over his mouthpiece. “We’re stuck
here. Two more bogeys are coming down the hall from two. Those guys—” he jerked
his thumb towards the hall “—are in the middle of a smoke bomb, but they’ll be
through.”
       “So what do we do?”
       “Let’s go upstairs and have a shootout.”
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       Now Nick knew what it was. A connection had been made to the laptop. He
didn’t know where it was or how big it was, but he sensed its energy that was dribbling
in. He tried to rouse himself, but he was even more sluggish than before. He wanted to
stay and meditate on the oscillations like the way he used to want to stay in bed.
       Peter launched OpenNet. Donald watched his activity on an external monitor.
Peter’s head lolled forward and then snapped back. There was a tense pause as Peter
didn’t move. Donald watched with his breath held.
       “These are… amazing,” said Peter.
       “Don’t go into the laptop yet,” said Donald. He was watching the monitor,
seeing the network options on OpenNet.
       “It’s almost like… swimming,” said Peter.
       “If he doesn’t fry this LAN,” said Monica. “I’d kind of like to try those goggles.”
       The phone rang. Donald picked it up. “Lock everything down,” he said into the
phone and then turned to Monica. “It’s getting ugly down there.”
       TJ was pressed flat against the hallway wall, next to the security door. He saw
Wymon step into the hallway from the elevator bank. He was looking down the
opposite hallway, where the other two guards had ran.
       “Where you at, TJ?” he said.
       “Right behind you, nigger,” replied TJ.
       Wymon joined him against the wall, but on the other side of the door. He pulled
a flashbang out of his belt. TJ pushed the door. It was locked. He stuck a tiny drill into
the lock, messed with it for a second and the door opened. Wymon threw the grenade
in underhand. They flattened against the wall, seeing the reflection of the flash on the
wall opposite them. They went in, Wymon first, gun drawn. A single guard was bent
over in a chair, his face in his hands. Wymon shot him in the neck with a dart then
grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him onto the floor. He rolled the body over
with his foot then sat in the chair. All the consoles were gray with white
phosphorescent letters bouncing around the screens like pong balls. They read
“Executive Shield, Inc.”
                                   INCORPORATION                                     285


         “Boss, we’re in,” said Wymon. “But I think they’ve got the system on
lockdown.”
         “Well we’re pinned down here,” came back Nestor. “Can you send TJ down
here?”
         TJ nodded to Wymon and then ran out of the Comm Room. Wymon got off the
chair and went through the pockets of the body on the floor. He found a card key and a
ring of regular keys.
         The red light in the corner of the room turned on and began flashing. Donald
dialed the Comm Room and got no answer. He opened up a desk drawer and took out
a radio.
         “Security sound off, please!”
         “Three and four on first floor sir, west wing.”
         “Five and six on second floor, sir, west wing.”
         “Eight on fourth floor, sir, heading towards info lab,” came the replies.
         “Six, what’s the status on the west wing?” asked Rijper.
         “Two individuals, I believe, in the stairwell. Armed. Lockdown is on, so they
can’t get above two.”
         “Five and six, go back to the Comm Room. They’re in,” said Donald.
         “Who are they?” asked Monica.
         “I don’t know. I imagine his opponents have hired someone. Look at him, so
blissfully ignorant of all the excitement around here.”
         Peter sat in front of the computer, the opaque goggles wrapped around his head,
slowly moving the mouse around, his shoulders swaying from side to side.
         TJ was running straight down the hallway when the two security guards came
out of the stairwell. His gun wasn’t out yet and they shot him twice in the chest. The
force sent him backwards, onto his ass, and his gun went skidding off down the
linoleum behind him.
         He grunted and continued the momentum of his fall onto his back. One of the
security guards ran up to him and kicked him in the side of the head with his boot. The
286                                   Conan W. Purves


other one flipped him over on his stomach and hogtied him with plastic zip-ties. They
left him there and ran down to the Comm Room.
         Wymon was hunched over one of the consoles when they came in, guns drawn.
He had nothing to do but put his hands over his head and say, “you got me” into his
mike. They came over, ripped the mic cord off his head and hogtied him also.
         One on them got one the phone. “We’ve secured the Comm Room,” he said.
         “Keep it secure,” Donald said into the phone. “Keep the other two in the
stairwell. And keep the system locked down.” The lockdown command also sent calls
to Executive Shield’s corporate headquarters. They would be on alert mode, waiting for
instructions. If Donald didn’t call them in 15 minutes, They would send people out
there.
         He dialed the main office. “We’ve been breached. At least four intruders. The
situation is temporarily stable, but they have not yet been entirely neutralized. Wait
until you hear from me before you do anything.”
         He put the phone down. Peter was exploring the hard drives of the second
computer on the mini network they had constructed. Donald could see him calling up
directories, sifting through them.
         “We should be all right for the time being,” he said to Monica. “Maybe we let
him contact the laptop.”
         “I’ve got power about as low as it can go.”
         “If there’s any sign of hazard, just turn it right off.”


         He did begin to move, though, and as he did, he realized he was still in Annette’s
laptop. It wasn’t that he had thought he was somewhere else, but he just hadn’t even
been cognizant of the concept where he was. The low power seemed to affect his
consciousness.
         He couldn’t see farther or faster than a few k in front of him. He followed the
energy that was leaking towards him. He sensed the throb of power and data on the
                                    INCORPORATION                                 287


other side of the that divide. Somewhere, a fully functional computer was connected to
this one.
        Nick.
        He was being addressed. The bits, all 32 of them, suddenly appeared, made the
ascii combo of his name and then were gone. Someone else was here with him.
        Nick, are you hearing me?
        Nick responded by pushing a single 1 forward.
        Good. I’m using the goggles. The clarity is amazing.
        PET—Nick started putting together the 0’s and 1’s. It was like building a brick
wall.
        Yes. It’s me.
        Nick kept moving towards the light.
        I’m going to need your help with these, Nick.
        Y
        I need to get to your level. I need to be able to move in here. I can see the
potential, but I can’t realize it yet. I’m going to turn up the power so you can talk.
        “The power just went up,” said Monica.
        “Peter did it. He must be overriding your manual control.”
        “Are they talking?”
        “Yes. But the interpolator is having trouble decoding it all.”
        Everything in Nick’s world stepped up. He could see farther, move faster. He
was still very limited, but suddenly he could see the circuitry around him and the edge
of one of the buses. Peter was outside of that distance, but Nick had a much stronger
sense of his presence. And there was also something else, something behind Peter.
        WHERE
        Still at shield. In their “info lab”
        BUT DIFFERENT
        We’ve changed the setup a bit, to use the goggles. So get me started here.
        WHAT
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         I need some help. I feel like a blind man with no legs in here. If I’m going to be
using these things, I can’t be stumbling around.
         TIME
         What—hang on. This stilted conversation is driving me nuts.
         Nick felt a surging and was stepped up again. This time he saw the initial
direction Peter had come from. Now he could see the port as well. Should he run for
it? He tested his speed by manufacturing a few bits. They came out too slowly to risk
it.. He needed to continue the conversation. He wanted that power like a bee wanted
honey.
         IT TAKES TIME YOU NEED TO DO IT FOR A WHILE
         Yes but what are you doing?
         I DON’T KNOW. YOURE JUST THERE. EVERYTHING STARTS TO GET
EASIER
         Give me an example.
         WELL LIKE YOURE PROBABLY TYPING YOUR WORDS IN. AND THE LOOK
LIKE KEYS AND LETTERS TO YOU
         —The power keyed up once more. The slow pace of Nick’s letters must have
been annoying Peter.
         AND THEY DID TO ME BUT AFTER A WHILE I COULD SEE THE BITS
BEHIND THEM AND READ THEM LIKE THAT AND THEN I COULD MAKE THE
LETTERS BY REARRANGING BITS AND THAT WAS FASTER THAN HITTING A
KEY
         I think I’m going to have to keep you around, Nick. Maybe we can make an
arrangement.
         LIKE?
         You teach me, I don’t turn you off.
         WHAT CHOICE DO I HAVE
         None, but I don’t want to worry about you causing trouble
         WE CAN MAKE A DEAL
                                  INCORPORATION                                   289


       Nick sent out a limited port-scan. With the increased activity that went along
with the rise in power in the laptop, Peter shouldn’t notice it.
       Yes?
       I JUST WANT TO KNOW ONE THING PETER
       Yes.
       WHAT ARE YOU DOING???
       What am I doing? Why do you care? That’s what you want to know?
       YES I JUST DO. I GUESS THAT’S WHY I CAME OUT HERE IN THE FIRST
PLACE
       Well, a seeker of truth.
       I JUST WANT TO KNOW STUFF, WHAT GOES ON
       If you work for me, you’ll find it all out eventually. Let’s just say for now that I
have big plans for the corporation.
       AND ANNETTE?
       Annette? What about her?
       WHERE IS SHE?
       I don’t know. Probably at the office. Yes, Annette, so beautiful. Sadly, a little
too smart and maybe a little too good. Annette will land on her feet somewhere, as long
as she makes the right choices now.
       AND IF SHE DOESN’T?
       I think you know me well enough to answer that Nick.
290                               Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 6


Ronn was leaning against the wall on the second floor landing, panting, his gun at his
chest. This is my cushy corporate job? he thought to himself.
       “Pick a floor, Ronn,” Nestor called from below.
       “I like two, just because we haven’t been there yet.”
       “Good enough,” Nestor came running up the stairs.
       They met at the doorway. Ronn got low and stuck his head out. The hallway
was empty.
       “Let’s go for it.”
       They ran into the hallway. Halfway down, they found TJ, stomach down on the
floor. They dragged him into a side door. Nestor pulled out a lock knife, opened it and
cut the plastic binds around TJ’s wrists and ankles. His legs and arms flopped to the
floor. Nestor rolled him over. He was breathing but out. There was a large bruise on
the side of his head, spreading down to his cheekbone. His flak jacket had two holes in
the chest.
       They left him there, his head on a cushion from a nearby couch. As they passed
the elevator, the door opened, scaring the shit out of Ronn. A guard was standing
there, his gun at his side. He brought it up, but Nestor had already hit him in the face.
Ronn saw the dart magically appear in the middle of his forehead. The guard fell
backwards and pulled the trigger of his gun as he went down. The bullet ricocheted off
the ground, ripping a skid in the linoleum, sounding like a bee.
       Another guard came out from a doorway down the hall. He had a sub-compact
machine gun and opened it up. Ronn and Nestor jumped into the elevator, the soft
stutter of death and injury at their heels. Ronn was already ahead of Nestor and he felt
his bulk hitting him in the back. They both fell down, on top of the guard. Ronn
                                   INCORPORATION                                291


scrambled around, pulling himself up by the hand rail. He reached for the close door
button and pressed it.
       The elevator door closed. Nestor was on his hands and knees heaving. He
collapsed into a fetal position, clutching at his sides.
       “You hit?” Ronn kneeled down next to him.
       He clearly couldn’t speak, but he wasn’t bleeding. Ronn saw a key sticking in
the button panel. He switched it to manual and pressed 3. Nothing happened. The
door started opening. He hit close door and 1. The door closed. The elevator went
down. Halfway, he turned the elevator to Off with the key and it stopped.
       Nestor got up on his knees, holding his side. “I think I maybe broke some ribs.”
There were holes in his jumpsuit. He was still gasping for air.
       “What now?” asked Ronn.
       “We can’t get to three when they’re locked down. So I guess we wait here until
we’re ready, then pick one or two and hope we get the one without the machine gun.”
       The port scan came back and Nick recognized the registry address. He knew it
well. It was his computer.
       THERE IS ONE WAY TO LEARN QUICKLY.
       What is that?
       BOOSTER APP
       What does it do?
       ENHANCES SOFTWARE. YOU JUST NEED TO RUN IT ONCE
       Let’s do it.
       Nick sent him to a directory on his computer. Peter quickly found the file and
ran it. It was a mod Nick had downloaded and gotten quite adept at. More
importantly, it ran off the game, which was such a memory hog that it suspended most
of the computer’s other resources to start up. There was also a delay while it set up the
interface with the NeuroMons and during that six seconds, Nick slogged his way to the
port. It took forever. The port moved closer, pixel by pixel. At every step, he expected
it to close, the power to drop, to be turned off and end.
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      “Keep them there for now. Wait for reinforcements.” Donald hung up the
phone. “They’ve got the other two trapped in the elevator—hey, what’s he running!”
      “I don’t know, it looks like some kind of game.”
      “Where are the visuals?”
      “Bypassed the monitor, going straight to the goggles.”


      And Nick was through, shot through, like a nerf bullet he popped into his hard
drive, his home and he was fast as light again. The speed and knowledge were
exhilarating. He went careening around his system, not knowing where to stop. He
knew he was a client in a mini-network. The sever was another workstation and there
was a third one and the laptop. He saw the power override software on the laptop.
And he saw the i/o port for the NeuroMons. And he saw the game taking up almost all
of his memory.
      Peter felt like someone had hit the inside of the back of his head with a rubber
ball. He was still reeling from that. He was in some kind of industrial tunnel. He was
carrying a large plasma rifle. He heard the sound of explosions in the distance and
boots running. His heart started pounding. There was a really loud sizzling sound and
he felt a searing in his back. He turned around. A cartoonishly muscular man in armor
was pointing a big gun at him. The gun was shooting out a green laser that was frying
him. Peter turned and ran.
      Nick felt delirious. He swooped down the tunnels like a sparrow. Aside from
the fact that he could see the entire map of the level and where each of the computer-
controlled (computer-controlled?) characters were, he was also moving significantly
faster than the software, he could fly and go through walls. So Dek23 with his laser rifle
was nothing more than a simple headshot. Digital blood flew and the character stood
there for a moment headless, before the death animation had him fall to the floor.
      Nick flew past, seeing the unskilled. untrained, unarmored level 1 foot soldier
Peter had inhabited. He ran blindly down the corridor until Natasha came out from
around a corner. She was wearing some kind of futuristic armor that happened to fit
                                  INCORPORATION                                  293


like a too tight bathing suit. A black whip, sparkling with energy, lashed out from her
arm, wrapping around the soldier that was Peter, depleting him of a quarter of his
remaining health points. The next one would kill so Nick shot a piercing grenade at
her, punching a hole through her curved waist and exploding her from the inside.
Bloody pieces of Natasha went flying. Peter turned around. His face was the grim iron-
jawed mask of the soldier skin. But Nick knew his fear.
       >This is my favorite level, Peter
       >Nick?
       >Out here they know me as NIK
       >This won’t really kill me, will it?
       >Let’s find out
       And he brought out the rail gun, a ridiculous futuristic gatling gun. Peter turned
and ran. Nik pulled the trigger and the barrel spun, spitting bullets, vibrating in his
hands. The slugs tore through the soldier, digital squibs exploding off his body,
spinning him around and then holding him upright and ripping him to pieces while he
danced like some kind of x-rated marionette.
       Peter’s back shot straight up. And then his head went crashing down into the
keyboard.
       “Oh God!” Monica ran over to him. “Shit, what do we do?” The OpenNet
software had crashed.
       “The diagnostics are blind. Don’t unplug the goggles. Check his pulse. Let
OpenNet reload.” Donald was slowly turning down the power on the laptop.
       “He has a pulse, but it seems pretty weak.”
       “Steady on.”
       They both watched the monitor. The words “Loading. Press Escape to Exit”
hung there.
       “Is it running?” Donald asked.
       Monica put her ear against the side of the computer’s chassis. “The hard drive is
spinning, but it could be stuck on a loop.”
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       “Let’s just hold on,” said Donald.
       They waited, watching the monitor. So tense with anticipation. Just one flicker
of pixels on the screen and things would be working again. Or they wouldn’t change
and the computer was hanged and you’d have to restart. Both of them had been in this
situation countless times, but never with a client’s life at stake.
       When it finally seemed that they were going to have to reboot, the app finished
loading. They both looked to Peter’s inert form. He sat up suddenly, sucking in a huge
breath of air. His hands flew over the keys, his head jerking around.
       “What the fuck is going on in there?” said Monica.
       “I don’t know, he’s in some large app, but it’s imperative that we get him off
those goggles.”
       “Oh shit!”
       “What?”
       “The laptop’s power is up to full!”


       Nik knew Peter’s first frag would knock him out for a moment. It had happened
to him when he had first played with the goggles. He left the game immediately, the rail
gun still spinning and spitting. On his way to the network ports he opened the
potentiometer to the laptop, bypassing the power override software entirely, and gave
it full strength.
       He raced through the hub, but found he was in a closed loop. They must have
built the network just to experiment with him. Were they monitoring it? In one of the
workstations, he found a small piece of ram dedicated to a program that was passing
parcels through a one-way PCMCIA connection. He followed it, found the gate
blocked, rewrote the code in less than a second and went through. He was following
packets to some analysis app where they were being crunched and redirected to the
monitor, a scratch file and then out to a database server on a bigger network. It figured.
These corporate guys always had to back up their data and archive it somewhere.
                                    INCORPORATION                                  295


         He didn’t know where he was, but they were going to have a hell of a time
finding him now.
         “Power down the whole system, bring it down,” said Donald while Monica was
busy attaching and detaching cables. “Let’s ease him out of there slowly.” He was
typing messages into the computer Peter was hooked on to, trying to communicate to
him.
         “Okay, I’m bringing it down,” said Monica.
         “Gently, Monica.” He watched the oscillations gradually flatten. “Okay, I’m
going to force quit that app he’s stuck in.” He sent a signal to the system. It took a
while to get to it, but it worked. Donald quickly typed another message. “Peter, quit
out of OpenNet.”
         He did and slowly took the goggles off. His teeth were clenched.
         “I almost got my first frag,” he said. And then his face became a terrible grimace.
He scrunched over, burying his head in his arms. He sat like that for a bit, then looked
up. His hair was a mess and his face was bright red.
         “I feel terrible,” he said. “I see why that kid stopped taking these goggles off.”
         “Well now that you’ve finished recovering, Mr. Aranagent,” Donald said
caustically. “Perhaps you could inform us what happened in there.”
         “Well, first I got shot to death.” From the corner of the ceiling where the camera
was located, they looked small and far away. But Peter’s voice, picked up by a
parabolic wall mic, sounded to Nik like he was right next to him. A completely digital
security system. These Shield guys had a nice setup. He was going to have to get this
at his place. Fuck that analog conversion bullshit.
         The building’s security system seemed to be in a state of high priority. Regular
alarms were going off and all kinds of sections of the building were “on alert.” He
switched the view to the Comm Room. There was a guy in a red blazer leaning over the
console. Another guy, dressed up like a sneak thief was trussed up like a turkey on the
floor.
296                                Conan W. Purves


       The elevator alarm was also going off. It was more annoying than the others.
The elevator was stuck between floors. The alarm status confined it only to the first two
floors. Why? He switched the camera there. Inside, two middle-aged black men in the
same suits were leaning on the wall. Both had guns. Both were big, one’s weight
around his chest and shoulders, the other’s around his stomach and ass. Wait. No.
Was that Ronn Broadway? Nik had become so engrossed at visualizing the he didn’t
realize that he recognized this guy. He zoomed in, but it was a digital zoom and the
image got too pixilated.
       But it was Ronn. It was funny to see. Ronn, the leaning, huffing, sharply dressed
head of corporate security armed and dressed like a commando trapped in an elevator.
Nick released the lock on the elevator, sending it to the fourth floor.
       Ronn jabbed at the stop button and turned the key. Nestor stood in Weaver
stance, waiting for the door to open. But they passed the second floor and then the
third. On four, the elevator dinged and the doors opened. The halls were dark,
flashing red at the edges. Ronn and Nestor looked at each other. Nestor shrugged his
shoulders. A light down the hallway came on. Then turned off. Another light a little
farther down turned on and off. A third one even farther down did the same.
       They waited. The series repeated itself.
       “I think we’re supposed to go down there,” said Ronn.
       All three lights blinked on and off together.
       Nestor raised his eyebrows. They walked cautiously down the hall. The lights
went ahead of them. At the third light, they stopped. A heavy door on the right had
the sign “Information Laboratory” written on a plastic plaque to the side of it.
       Nestor put his ear to it. Then he tried the knob. It was locked. Then it clicked.
He felt it. He tried it again slowly. It turned. He opened the door a crack. He held up
a thumb to Ronn, then three fingers.
       He pushed the door open more and crept through. Ronn followed. They were in
an open, white, but dimly-lit room. At the far end, a man and a woman stood talking to
                                   INCORPORATION                                  297


Peter Arnagent. On a pedestal was a lit glass cube. Annette’s laptop was suspended in
it, wires sticking out like a brain in a science fiction movie.
       Before Ronn had time to hesitate, Nestor was running in, his gun drawn.
       “Touch nothing!” he yelled. “Get on the floor!”
       Ronn came behind him, trying to keep his head down. Monica and Donald were
raising their hands, but Peter didn’t seem clear about what was going on. He stood up,
holding his head. Nestor ran at him and hit him in the head with the side of his gun.
Peter fell over sideways. Monica and Donald fell to the floor.
       “On your stomachs. Roll over on to your stomachs.” Nestor nudged the toe of
his boot into Donald’s ribs. “Who’s the boss here?”
       “I am,” said Donald. “The one you are currently kicking.”
       “Get up.” He grabbed Donald by the collar. “Help us get that laptop.”
       “I think the computer is trying to tell us something,” Ronn pointed to the big
monitor. The words
       Wait! Wait!
       were flashing on the screen. The three of the turned to look at it.
       Now that I have your attention, please wait while I finish some security
arrangements
       Nestor put his gun to Rijper’s head.
       “I can assure you that I’m absolutely confounded by this,” Donald said.
       “Just wait,” said Ronn. “We’re supposed to follow the computer’s instructions.”
       The auxiliary force has been sent back. Plug the laptop into the main network.
       Nestor went behind the glass case and found an ethernet cable. He followed it to
a hub and unplugged it. He stuck the free end into a wall jack.
       Good
       “Good?” said Ronn. “What kind of program is this?”
       Unplug the beige box and the goggles
       Nestor did so.
298                              Conan W. Purves


      Place them to one side. Now get the laptop out of the stasis case and make sure
it’s properly charged.
      There was a key switch at the base of the case. Nestor turned it and the glass
bubble opened with a sigh. He uncoupled the laptop and pulled it out of the case. The
battery was fully charged.
      Find one of those ethernet cables and plug it into the wall.
      Nestor used the cable from the back of the stasis case. He plugged it into the
network jack. The screen on the big monitor went back to its desktop, the words
disappearing.
      The laptop screen woke up. There was a text document there. Letter typed
themselves onto the screen.
      Okay. Take the laptop, the desktop and those goggles and let’s get the hell out of
here. You’re going to have to figure out how to get your two guys out yourself.
      “Not going to be a problem,” said Nestor, mainly to himself. He closed the
laptop and put it into its bag. He handed it to Ronn. Then he put the goggles on top of
Nick’s old computer, picked it up and put it in Donald’s arms.
      “You carry this and carry us out.” The three of them left the room.
      After a while, Peter got up. Blood was matted into his hair on the side of his
head. “Did he get away?”
      “I believe so,” said Monica, still lying on the ground.
      “I swear to god that sounded like my head of corporate security back there.”
      They managed to get Wymon and TJ out of the building without trouble, the red-
blazered guards watching their boss warily. Wymon was quiet and looked down. TJ
was conscious, but a little dizzy. Donald carried the equipment to the back of the van.
      “I hope this is goodbye,” he said.
      “You run a pretty tight ship here,” replied Nestor. “I guess we just had the wild
card tonight.”
      He closed the backdoors, got into the driver’s seat and they drove away, leaving
Donald on the edge of the road, his shoulders hunched.
                              INCORPORATION                              299


      “Who knows,” said Nestor to Ronn. “Maybe we’ll work with those guys some
day.” Ronn was wedged into the corner of his seat, exhausted and nauseous now. He
waved his hand at Nestor.
300                               Conan W. Purves




CHAPTER 7


They dropped him off at the building around five in the morning. He didn’t want to
disturb his wife and it was too early to call Annette. He went to his office, ignoring the
duty officer who quickly folder up his newspaper when Ronn walked by.
       He put the laptop on his desk and opened it. Immediately, the words where am
I? came up on the screen.
       Ronn stared at the laptop. He looked around. He got up and stuck his head
outside the door. Nobody was there. He came back to his desk and sat down.
       “You’re in my office,” he whispered to the laptop.
       Is anyone there? Please type if you are there.
       Flushing, Ronn typed “You’re in my office.”
       Who are you?
       “Ronn—“
       Before he could finish, the computer typed
       Mr. Broadway. Wow. That’s great. Thank you. Please plug this laptop into the
network.
       And because Ronn had a laptop of his own, he knew how to do that and did so.


       Annette got into the office at six. It seemed especially quiet. Her voicemail light
was on. She booted up her computer and logged in. She checked her email. There was
just the usual messages.
       She was reaching for the voicemail button on the phone, when her hard drive
made a little grinding noise. Her heart jumped when she saw the word processing
program’s splash page come up on the screen. She waited, still, while it took it’s time
loading all it’s bloated and unnecessary components. When it was done, the file called
issues popped up on the screen.
                                   INCORPORATION                                   301


       It’s good to be home.
       Annette was not one to cheer out loud. But she came as close as she ever would.
       “Welcome back!!!” she typed. “What happened?”
       I only know some of it, but you better give Ronn Broadway a raise.
       “At least. So what’s it like?”
       What’s what like?
       “To be back?”
       It’s incredible. I don’t know if I could explain it to you. It’s different than it was
before.
       “It’s different?”
       Yep. I definitely learned something being away.
       “Maybe one day you could show me.”
       Maybe. It’s not easy. Peter tried it.
       “Peter? What happened to him?”
       He got hit on the head and may have a bad headache.
       “I got hit on the head also. I guess we’re even.”
       You got hit, Annette?
       “By the burglars who stole the laptop.”
       Ronn didn’t tell me that.
       “I’m fine. It was scary.”
       I didn’t know about that
       “I’m really fine. So what about Peter. What was he trying to do?”
       They had me isolated in the laptop. He wanted to know what I knew, but I think
he also wanted to get control of the network the way I do/am. I don’t think he fully
understood what it’s like or what would happen to him.
       He really thought I was after him. He was guilty of something. When I got into
Shield’s systems, I found it. They had done their own surveillance of him. They do that
with all their clients. There was a lot of interesting information there.
       “And…”
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      Have you heard of LSA?
      “Of course. They were sniffing around here on time.”
      From what I read, they specialize in hostile takeovers.
      “That’s right. They are sort of infamous. They have a reputation of undermining
their targets before they move in.”
      Do you know who Fraser Leversedge is?
      “Yes. He’s their rockstar CEO. Gets personally involved in all their deals.”
      Peter had lunch with him on a number of occasions in the last two months.
When you have a chance, you can check out Shield’s file. I brought it with me.
                                  INCORPORATION                                    303




CHAPTER 8


Six weeks later, all 12,000 of the corporation’s associates, from the top to the bottom,
received an email. There was no return address. Attached to it was a skillfully
constructed slide presentation detailing Peter Arnagent’s relationship with LSA. There
were images, articles about LSA and some evidence confirming the validity of the
information. It never would have made it in court, but it was enough.
       Absolutely uncoincidently, Annette had a presentation to the board and the
Executive Council that afternoon. Her subject was “Strategies for Growth” and she had
put a lot of work into it. It was her plan for the next stage of aggressive international
expansion after the successful rollout and implementation of the New Technology
Strategy.
       In the face of the morning’s email, she had to postpone that presentation. Peter
did not show up to the meeting. It was normally his to run and those eyes that would
look up around the hushed conference table looked to Annette.
       “Well, I believe I was first on the agenda.” She stood up and looked around the
room. “But somehow I think we’re not quite ready to talk about growth strategies yet.”
It was the way she said it, not what she said that allowed for a little bit of light laughter
around the room. The tension lessened a little.
       “At first, I would like to acknowledge that we are wounded. A blow like this
against an associate is a blow against the whole company. Whatever has happened
here, and we still don’t know what that is, should be an opportunity for us to unite
together, to become even stronger. I ask all of you to maintain your faith and
confidence in this great corporation. She has weathered worse than this and survived.
       “I’ve been meeting with Mac and the rest of the legal team all morning. We have
been trying to verify the validity of the evidence in this morning’s email. Photographs
304                                Conan W. Purves


can be doctored and we all agree that we must be very careful before making any
accusations or even assumptions.
       “I have also been meeting with Corporate Communications to determine what
face we present to the outside world, if any. We will make an announcement to the
media by the early afternoon. As much as I can plead silence, we all know this is going
to leak out. We want to get there first.
       “Finally, our biggest challenge is to maintain associate morale. I would like each
of you to go back to your departments, call all of your direct reports together and
discuss the situation as a team. They, in turn, must set up an emergency meeting with
all their reports. Tell them what I just told you. Also tell them that at 3:00 today the
board will make a company-wide announcement.
       “That’s it. I’ve summarized it all in a memo that you can take on your way out.
If I could ask the board members to remain behind. We’ve got to figure out what the
hell we’re going to do!”
       They spent another two hours in there, sometimes calling on other executives,
especially from the legal department. More of the changes in the email were confirmed
and more of the evidence was validated.
       By 2:30, it was clear that Peter could no longer remain with the company. The
board still did not know the extent of his dealings with LSA nor could they find
anything to indicate whether he had begun any effort to devalue the company’s stock.
But he had clearly been associated with an individual and a company who would
benefit from such an act.
       At 3:00, Annette stood in front of a microphone and, through a company-wide
one-way conference call, announced the suspension of Peter Arnagent as CEO pending
further investigation. She also announced that the board had voted to place her as
acting CEO while the situation was resolved. She concluded her speech with another
call for confidence. Email and hardcopy transcripts of her announcement were
simultaneously delivered to every associate.
                                   INCORPORATION                                 305


         Nik watched the whole thing. He left a note on her computer congratulating her.
But he was too busy monitoring employee reaction to wait for her to come back. When
Ronn Broadway had plugged him back into the network, it was like throwing a captive
whale back in the ocean. He was so free. He’d spent hours just traveling to the farthest
corners of the network. It didn’t seem like a system anymore. He understood it
differently now, saw it more as a dynamic, changing entity. Even as he grew faster and
more closely connected to it, the network became more complex, more of a mystery to
him.
         Sometimes, while running multiple diagnostics, he would stop thinking, stop
monitoring and he would slip into that dream state he had first achieved while trapped
in Annette’s laptop. In this state, sometimes he would perceive a vast horizon at the
farthest outskirts of his network. He could discern gleamings of light, far off in the
distance, vast cities of data perhaps, architectures of information of unimagined
complexity. But he also sensed darkness. Dense patches that swallowed his perception
and then disappeared. When things settled down at the corporation, he would go out
there.
         “Look, I know none of you guys will admit it, because you don’t want to jinx
yourselves—” said Anna.
         “Just don’t even say it,” Robert interrupted her.
         “But things have sure been working smoothly lately.”
         They all groaned. Robert threw a fry at her. The four of them were at Burger
King, their regular lunch ritual. It took Robert and Arnold and Kevin a while to invite
her, but once they did they had all been glad. It was so much more fun having a girl
along.
         “As much as I hate to talk about this, though,” said Robert. “She does have a
point. I’ve seen these clear patches before, but never like this.”
         “Next time, the bad patch is going to be worse, guarantee,” said Arnold.
         “Not worse, just a different scale of magnitude,” said Kevin. “We are going to
face IT issues that none of us can even conceive of right now.”
306                             Conan W. Purves


      “Kevin, you act like you know what you’re talking about,” said Robert.
      “Well I do and I don’t. How can I, when they are inconceivable to my present
state of mind?”
      “Shut up, man!” Robert got ready to throw another fry.
      Anna touched Kevin’s hand. “I know what you mean, Kevin. Something weird
is going on.”
      Her tenderness was a little too much for the table. Anna’s seeming alliance with
Kevin had created a new dynamic in the IT department. Robert still didn’t quite know
how to handle it.
      After a while, Robert said, “You know, it’s too bad Nick wasn’t here to enjoy
these good times.”
      “I don’t know. He might have been annoyed by them,” said Kevin.


                                      THE END

				
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