04 October 2013

#fridayflash: protocols

Frank flipped desktop panels and refreshed the web page. No new page visits. So not exactly a hotspot of internet attention. He flipped back to the editor, added two more lines of code, and told the project to compile.

His computer had enough CPU power that he could have flipped back to the web page, but with this code he didn't want to risk anything. He checked his coffee cup and sipped back the last cold dregs. He didn't want any more, but made himself go to the kitchen and fix himself another cup from what was left in the pot. Anything to stop from thinking.

Yes, your niece's class newspaper is an amateur news outlet, but they have a publicly available web page, so it's still a news outlet. The protocols are very clear — no talking to the press in any form without permission from the Prime Minister's office. That goes for all scientists working for Canadian government posts. You've applied for permission before. You know that.

He had told the HR rep that he also knew his niece was twelve years old, as was everyone else in her class, but she'd just said rules were rules.

Frank sighed and filled his coffee cup three-quarters of the way, leaving space for milk and sugar. It wouldn't have bothered him so much — with his skill set, he had opportunities in the private sector — except that they had also stopped funding for his project without even checking on the status.

"Goddamn bureaucrats," he muttered. He took a sip of coffee, burned his tongue, and spat it back into the cup. Who cancelled a weather satellite programme just after it was launched, anyhow? The big money had already been spent. Now the satellite was orbiting the earth, and the HR rep had told him no-one was going to try to collect its data or communicate with it, just because the government had decided to spend the money elsewhere.

Holding the coffee cup with his fingertips, he returned to his office. His code was almost compiled.

Frank set the coffee cup down and picked up his phone. His finger hovered over the e-mail icon. There were already some job offers in his inbox. He tapped the web browser icon instead and navigated to his niece's class newspaper site and the article she'd written, interviewing him about the Alouette satellite Canada had launched in 1962.

Fifty-six page hits, according to the old-fashioned counter at the bottom of the page. Probably the teacher who had set up the site had last learned about web page design in the 1990s.

At least half those page hits were from Frank himself. The rest had cost him his job and the five-year satellite project.

His computer chimed, and he turned his attention to the code project. He made himself take another cautious sip of coffee.

The satellite was supposed to send back photos and data on the effects of climate change over northern Canada. To do that, it had to be turned on from the ground. Only someone who knew the initial settings and passwords could do that.

If a government employee tried to talk to the satellite, they'd be in breach of their terms of employment for working on a programme officially declared dead.

But Frank wasn't a government employee anymore.

He executed the code and made himself take another sip of coffee, reminding himself that the satellite would need a few seconds to receive and transmit.

The computer screen flashed, and Frank hurriedly set down the coffee cup and read the response.

Hey. I can see my house from here.

Frank smiled and told the communications module to only respond to his messages.

7 comments:

  1. Hi, Katherine--I just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your story, particularly the references to Frank's niece and the class newspaper. I especially admire the clarity and crispness of your language: it is very easy to picture Frank as he executes his plan. Thanks!

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  2. Nice, his own personal satellite! =)

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  3. Who needs a job when you have your own satellite? Imagine the possibilities!

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  4. I liked all the echo-chamber details, like that half of the page views were his own. It lent a personality to his scheming code.

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  5. Interesting... particularly since I used to design satellites ;) Nice crisp, clear voice, as always.

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  6. Well, it was just going to waste, someone may as well get some use out of it. :-)

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  7. I liked the fact half the hits were his too. I've been reading several of your flashes back to back and there's a really nice range of tone and subjects here.

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