it took over a minute for me to realize we’d come to the surface and into some sort of parking structure. dazed, i followed samuel through the wide, shallow puddles of natural light. the light had been the give-away. this space didn’t feel or smell outdoors. it was only the light and i moved toward it.
two pots of tea, a rack of toast, and a soft boiled egg later i was a new animal. no longer a timid, little reptile, i now counted myself among the primates. though not quite human, of course, next to this highly polished specimen, samuel.
he hadn’t said a word about anything other than breakfast since we’d left the cold room, now it seemed like the dining portion of my adventure would soon be coming to a close. his energy’s shifting, i noticed, knowing how new agey that sounded in this setting. he was getting a bit twitchy, so i decided to seed the cloud.
“so, what’s on your mind, anyway? i’m positive i’ve done nothing intentionally remiss, so how can i be a help to you lot, whoever you are?”
“is bruce massie really your cousin?” he asked, motioning for the check to someone i couldn’t see.
“once removed, yes, of course. and i really had no idea what our little game might look like to someone else….you, for instance. same with that silly gamebot…just games that spooked the spooks…..”
“sounds like that movie “WarGames.”
“man, i loved that movie….’shall we play a game?’…the story, the teen romance, the moral, all great, but i really, really hated that they expected us to believe you could war-dial using an acoustic modem…….”
samuel wasn’t responding, so i put down my half of the conversation and took a drink of water. after a time, he spoke.
“okay, say i believe that none of your card buddies had a clue where they were, which seems to be the case. and also about your gamebot. i understand you were in the facility as part of luddie’s team, helping out with sandstone, the project you know as professor singh’s file conversions and translations.”
“yup, that’s right, that’s what they kept me here for and then they didn’t need me for hours. and i was supposed to be at Apachecon, and that made me impatient. so i strayed from the straights and narrows of outrageous fortune right into a card game and now seem to have ended up in another fine mess.”
i’d finished my tea ages ago, but i picked up the teacup, swirled it around gently, and turned it over in my saucer.
“are you reading your tea leaves?” he smiles and once again it is disarming.
“i’m looking for any insight i can get, samuel. i honestly have no idea why i’ve been carted off, kept, and questioned, and i think i’ve been a darn good sport….i’m on the clock, after all, and i figure we’re all on the same team….but now i’m wondering.”
“well, here’s the problem.” he opened his briefcase and pulled out a thick stack of paper, a print-out on old-fashioned autofeed, perforated paper, which he put on the table between us.
“wow, i didn’t know any one still used that stuff, impressive.” i said of the paper.
“these are logs for the past two weeks of your home computer as well as the two boxes at the co-lo in fremont, california.” he turned the stack around for me to read.
“you’ll notice, about twenty pages in, we found of particular interest, a little daemon process called
imperial.msg. would you mind explaining that?”
i open the report, look down rows and across columns, trying to take it all in calmly and quickly, to see just what they’d “logged”. this is yet another kind of literacy our schools don’t teach, reading machine generated reports.
i smile at the wanderings of my mind, even in moments like these, and keep skimming through the print-out in silence, not exactly surprised by the complete transparency of my electronic life, but stunned, and sort of in awe of this brave, new universe around me. after a time i regain powers of speech.
“i understand your interest in
imperial.msg and the traffic it might conceal, but that’s not what it’s there for, and not what it’s used for, at least not by me. it’s basically just an arty network monitor that cycles through a set of diagnostics, generates and sends reports…all the dummy content, odd as it may seem to you, is……….well, art, or something like that…a game of sorts…you know.”
he looks at me, then at his watch. he’d paid the bill before taking the logs out of his briefcase, so we were free to leave. i wait for a cue, but he just looks at me skeptically, or is that disdain?”
“look, samuel, do you know the kafka short story An Imperial Message?”
“yes, i like kafka quite a bit, actually.” i’m surprised to hear him answer.
“and i’m fairly sure i’ve read that, a very short story indeed, right, only a paragraph, but i can’t recall it, other than a line or two. why? what’s the relation between that story and your daemon?”
it’s a surreal question and i laugh. kafka is always a cut-up at interrogations.
“sorry, i promise i’ll answer the question, i mean no disrespect, laughing, it’s just a reflex…sorry….but first, tell me what line of imperial message you remember?” do you remember this?:
“No one pushes his way through here, certainly not someone with a message from a dead man.”
samuel smiles, “this is all very edifying, jennifer, but would you get to the question at hand?”
“that’s got to be one of my all-time favorite lines, that, and the one right after it, the last line of the story, anyway, okay, you’re a patient guy, i’m a chatty cathy, but knowing the story is actually relevant to understanding the daemon that you’re asking about.”
i pause to make sure he understands i’m serious, then continue.
“because, as you’ll recall, in the story the emperor, from his deathbed has sent a message to you the humble subject, and the tireless messenger struggles through an infinite series of walls, crowds, and obstacles, striving to bring you this message that never arrives…so that’s what
imperial.msg is designed to mimic, the endless circuit of this message through the network…that’s the arty part, but as far as functionality goes, it’s pretty basic stuff.”
“but you see the dangers, you understand our concerns, right?” he leans in to say this as if to keep others from overhearing, but there’s no one else about.
“i do and i’m very sorry for any misunderstandings. even though i only do contract stuff for luddie’s group now and again, i have some family history here, i hope you understand i would never deliberately do anything to compromise country or company.”
“this is precisely what i’m trying to ascertain, your mum’s uncle taught here, right? an australian physicist knighted for his work with oppenheimer on the bomb, i believe. but luddie says you told him it’s your dad’s work that got you involved, so i’m a bit unclear, even after doing my homework.”
“where are you from?” i ask boldly.
i’d been wondering since he’d introduced himself where on earth to place his accent. it was so many different things at once, and yet it’s own thing entirely. he’d said “mum” just now and that was, finally, a major clue. i just had to ask.
“what?” he sounded surprised.
“where are you from? where were you born and bred?
“why do you ask?”
“because i’ve been trying to place your accent for about three hours now, and it’s defied me, and you just said ‘mum’ and i wanted to know…”
“please…” i continue in a mock plaintive voice. “it’s less awful for me if i feel there’s an exchange of information taking place here. otherwise, you know, i feel so used.” perhaps flirtatious joking would get him to talk.
“what are your guesses so far?” he asks. it seems to be working.
“well, at first i thought american, east-coast, but then i thought ah, clearly some kind of british accent i’ve not heard before, or maybe a south african who’s worked closely with americans for a long time, but every now and again, i hear something vaguely yiddish, like when you said ‘oppenheimer’ just then, so i can’t place it, i’m stumped.”
“wow, that’s damn good actually.” he laughs, takes a long, slow breath, and relents with a shy smile.
“i was born and raised here in england, in manchester, actually. my mother’s israeli, my dad’s american, both german jews, and i’ve lived in the states since i was 12, so you covered all the bases, actually, and i’m quite impressed.” he seemed genuine.
“so do I win anything?”
“no, because you gave up. you might have presented exactly those observations in a far more assertive light.”
“meanie.” i grumble, making a frowny face.
“tell you what, let’s walk and talk.” he pushed back from the table.
“i’ll have someone contact luddie, let him know how to reach you when and if he needs. you’re still on the clock and you and i, we’re just having a friendly chat, where you’ll fill me in and we’ll get you back to london as soon as possible. how does that sound?”
i watched as he stood, put on his well-made raincoat, and put the papers back in the briefcase.
“that sounds peachy” i said. and it did.
i relish few things better than a morning walk and the streets of this medieval city were as fine a place as any for such undertaking.