“did you really think this would fool, anyone?” the man was clearly talking to me but, just awakened, i had no idea what “this” was.
he held out an eight-by-ten glossy which i took and held under the table lamp.
“hey, it’s my desktop back home in california.” i tried to sound as gee-whiz american as i could.
“yes, well, in that case, perhaps you wouldn’t mind explaining why it’s set up to look like you’re there active, working, sending email, and playing games, when you’ve been over here in england the last ten days?”
“yeah, sure” i say, but i want a moment to clear my eyes and size up the people in the room. i would’ve killed for a cup of tea, but that was proably out of the question.
“you’re going to laugh when you understand, it’s all because of that game, that’s not subterfuge, that’s what it’s set up for, that’s what the spoofing is for!”
“and those open relays, are they part of a game, too?” it was mr. killjoy back from the undead.
“hello again,” i say brightly, “no, you’re right, they’re not part of the game, though they do help me there, but i’m happy to close ’em up toute suite, if that’s what you’d like.” i pray to god this move, this deferential nod, is seen as sincere rather than sarcastic.
“what we’d like,” said the man who had handed me the picture, “is an accounting of all spoofed activity originating from this machine since october 19.”
“okay, well, for itemized details i’d have to look at logs, but here’s the big picture and it’s pretty simple.” i’m scared and can hear it in my voice. they won’t hear it, i reassure myself. they don’t know what i’m like when not being questioned in a freezing, windowless room by a cadre of preppy-looking spooks. or is it spooky-looking preps? fear only exacerbates the interior monologue of quips.
“i play this game online and as you play you gain experience and move up in levels, accumulating skills and other valuable items and powers. if i don’t login for two weeks, it’ll cost me. i’ll not only fall behind, i’ll become vulnerable to more extreme challenges. so this is what i set up when i’m away…”
i hear the air conditioners. i hear the two women at workstations in the back of the room. i hear my heart between uneven breaths. but from mr. killjoy and the not-so-grand inquisitor, i hear nothing for quite some time.
. the silence is restful. in it i see my position more clearly. i see other cards to play.
i see, for the first time, two people seated behind me, one of whom gets up, walks around, and extends his hand to me.
“i’m samuel. how long have you been playing MMOGs?”
“awhile” i answer tersely. this guy seems very smooth.
“then, i’m sure you’re aware it’s against camelot rules to script your crafting like that.”
“true, but it’s hardly uncommon, and hardly warrants a federal investigation.”
he smiles and this turns out to be as disarming as the voice. just what i need, more excitement, another vulnerability, sheesh.
“by itself, no, of course not, but in conjunction with the security breech and trespassing you facilitated last night, i’d say it merits looking into, wouldn’t you?”
“security breech and trespassing? oh man, you’re talking about the card game, aren’t you? ”
“afraid so.” he looked genuinely concerned. but perhaps it was just my wistful, wishful thinking.
“well, now you see, it really is all a fuss over games.” i blurt as the blood rushes to my face.
what are they being so uptight about? they’re not being very friendly and i’m not even a trespasser. i was required to be here. apprehended at the train station.
“Your poker crew included four foreign nationals—three high-energy physicists and an intelligence consultant—none of whom had the clearances to be where you brought them.”
“really?” god, that did sound bad. i’d had no idea.
“well, from my point of view, it was my cousin, who teaches here, and his research buddies, who probably are all physicists, but honestly, it never came up…and given that i’m a foreigner here, i’ll admit it never crossed my mind, i mean, in this context, i have no idea what foreign means, you know…”
“he’s actually my mother’s cousin, which technically would make him my cousin once removed, just to show that i’m being totally open with you…and yes, i did sneak them all in…and yes, i understand that it looks bad, but it was only because i’d been told not to leave the complex, as i assume you know, and only for a card game.” i paused for air and tacked a little.
“i’m no trespasser, … i’m a guest worker, an invited guest who hasn’t said a peep about any so-called expectation of privacy on my home computer, or anything like that, but i’m beginning to get antsy…i mean, do i need a lawyer? it sounds like i’m being accused of something?”
“your mother’s cousin?” samuel said distractedly, clearly thinking of something else as he spoke. did he believe at least some of what i’d said?
it seemed so because after a moment he gestured and walked toward the door.
“let’s talk about this over breakfast, you seem like you could use a cup of tea.”