"That which is overdesigned, too highly specific, anticipates outcome; the anticipation of outcome guarantees, if not failure, the absence of grace."
-- William Gibson, All Tomorrow's Parties
"You could call it love."

After talking to Hinder about plot and character last night, it made me want to work on system more. One of the problems is that it's gone through so many iterations of what it was supposed to be, I really have no idea what it is any more. Another problem is that I still haven't come up with a good way of organizing files with regards to where in the story they take place.

I just found the following while digging through all these messy-ass directories. It isn't dated, but it feels like early 2004.

This happens after the narrator stumbles into an alley, his head full of the city, and stops a girl from doing her damnedest to commit suicide by rapist.

Nicole, lost in the depths of my trenchcoat, standing in front of the mirror on my closet door, hugging the leather around her like a second skin.

She says, sometimes it feels like she was supposed to meet me.

That I was supposed to show up that night.

She says, nothing in her life ever felt like it was supposed to happen before.

Staring into her own eyes, in the reflection of her eyes in the mirror, she says her life has always just been this thing that happened. A string of events like a pearl necklace that's lost its thread.

Jumping back and forth, moment to moment, and then and then and then.

I say, most peoples lives are like that.

That's why she came and found me that night. Why she leaned against all those miles of concrete and glass, waiting for me outside my office building. The burning tip of the cigarette between her lips, her fingertips, underneath her shoe.

Nothing ever felt ordained before.

All those hundreds of legal pads, their yellow pages full with my chicken-scratch, they're all surrounding her, covering the floor at her feet, and I say, you maybe aren't far off.

I step behind her and wrap my arms around her, and we're looking into each others eyes in the mirror, and neither of us really wants to go to work. Me, I have a meeting and her, she has a total eight-to-five job just a few blocks from my office. We've taken to having lunch together.

This is a sense of normalcy I've never attained.

This is us nearly becoming.

. . .

How I met Special Federal Agents Johns and Robert-Please-Call-Me-Bob from the Computer Crimes Division is that some really confidential data turned up on a disc at some sting in D.C. They were following up all the places this confindential data had been copied to, and one of those places happened to be my company, during a decryption and recovery we performed a number of months before.

Specifically, that I performed.

They don't say what was on the CD, or what sort of information it was, and I would have to go back and look. Generally speaking, though, we don't keep copies of any data from any of our customers. It comes in on the array, we burn it and open it, give it back to them in a form they can understand or deploy, and then we wipe the systems for the next customer. I explain this to them.

Only it wasn't me that did the recovery anyway, it was my henchmen. My little minions of ones and zeros.
Pushing their little buttons and pulling their little levers, and one of the little bastards fucked up.

I could vaguely remember it now. The night I had that first dream.

They say they want to ask me some questions.

I want to ask how they get the knot in their ties so good.

My eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep and my desk full of unopened bottles of aspirin that I can't force myself to swallow, they look into my eyes like it'll be give me away.

Me, I'm already thinking maybe my boss is planning a corporate defection or something. Me, I'm six steps ahead of these college-bred boys from the CCD.

Me, I probably can maybe prove I didn't do it, but it's going to be tough.

My cell phone vibrates, rattling across the tabletop, and they say no, no, don't mind us, go ahead.

It's Nicole, and she just wants to say she misses me.

Their eyes languidly boring holes in me, like maybe they switch them out for shark eyes at Quantico, I tell Nicole
I miss her too. I'm in a meeting, I'll call her back in a few minutes.

"Girlfriend?" Agent Robert-Please-Call-Me-Interested asks.

"Something like that," I say.

Agent Johns, he's maybe just transferred from Violent Crimes and he's looking around like I've hidden a couple dozen corpses in the racks. Like the ethernet cable is bound in human skin.
Think how twisted pair copper peaking out of the clean plastic RJ45 jack is actually the hundreds of miles of some poor bastards veins my commie ass cut up, that's how Agent Johns is glaring around the server room.

But maybe I'm just being overly judgemental.

"Can you think of any way that disc could have gotten out of here?" Johns ask, every part of him Elliot Ness.

He's filling my NOC with his G-man vibes.

I say, the High Security Recovery Environment isn't connected to the world; it's a single room on the ninth floor with a shielded LAN, specially so that wireless transmissions can't get into or out of the room. I say, it's got a steel door, a mechanical key lock, and a magnetic keycard, both of which have to be used to gain entrance.

I say, there's a retinal scanner to get into that wing.

Armed guards at two checkpoints who man fingerprint kiosks to get even that far.

"So," Robert-Please-Call-Me-Whatever says, "You're saying an outsider can't get at that room. Those machines weren't cracked by an outside source."

This is where I work, making Fort Knox look like a hot dog stand.

The data for HSRE clients arrives via cage carrier on encrypted, RAID-striped tapes. How it's set up is, you load the first tape onto a system that's already running an encrypted filesystem with the same keys, which arrive on a one-time pad via another carrier service. The first tape then decrypts a portion of what it contains and loads a bootloader which loads the rest of the tapes and clears them. If you somehow got a part of it, a single tape or disk, it'd be almost impossible to read from, because the way it spans makes the filesystem like a lock with a trillion possible combinations which require another trillion combinations, nearly ad infinitum.

I say, if the CD came from this building, it came from the HSRE. I say, if the carrier service was compromised, they should go talk to the Army, because that's who brings us the tape cages.

Even with all the processing power in the HSRE, it usually takes a full night to decrypt the tapes.
Usually the files just turn out to be some third world leader's laundry list of assassination orders and terrorist activities.

Getting that far can take up to a month, not counting the initial decryption of the tapes. I wouldn't ever see any of this stuff if the NSA hadn't already hit their heads on a wall with it.

"Why don't you just work for them, then?" Johns asks.

"They'd make me wear a tie," I say, refraining from telling him not to poke at the lights on one of the UPS'.
Robert-Call-Me-Good-Cop, he smiles, and asks who all has access to the HSRE.

I say, let me print you a list of everyone who logged through the retinal scanner since we dealt with that particular job.

Having full access to the building's security system, it maybe doesn't make me look so good.

It maybe makes me look sort of really bad.

The scanner logs and dumps to both a hardcopy that gets filed into the Vault downstairs, and spams another copy of each log attempt through a hardened, dedicated land link to HQ in NYC. I say, it wouldn't be easy to manipulate data going through that link, as it's basically hard-wired into the scanner and the box at the other end. Any tampering violates the basic premise of the system, and sets off all sorts of alarms.

You look at the thing funny, and it makes note of it.

Me, I have the scanner set up so the printer it spams its logs to is being sniffed from a machine on that same segment of the network. That way, I have a complete list of everyone who enters and leaves the HRSE as soon it happens.

I say, if they're going to want hardcopy from the security checkpoints to correlate between my version of the logs, the printed copies down in the Vault and the digital versions at corporate, they're going to have to talk to my boss, or just call Information Security at the corporate office in New York City.

I refrain from telling them they should skip talking to my boss.

If the hardcopy they get doesn't match up in all the right ways, like the still-warm paper from the laserjet I'm handing to Robert-Please-Call-Me-You-Have-the-Right-to, it maybe means I'm pretty fucked.

It was about then that I decided getting fucked when I could know all the stories might not be the smartest move on my part.

How I met Nicole is, all those months and months ago, I remember being that hopeless.

How I met Nicole is, I wanted to be someone's savior.

How I met Nicole, my head so full of the city, I was looking for a disciple.

What I found was an equal and someone who brings out a surprising amount of affection in me. Someone who calms my mind and makes me, perversely, want to stop all this emotional deconstruction bullshit and just be a better man.

You could call it love.

Agent Johns and Robert-Call-Me-Your-Executioner, they say thanks for my time and that I shouldn't leave town.
I say no problem, and when they've gone, I call Nicole and say sorry about that.

"It's okay," she says, and I can hear the sounds of a headhunter's office in the background. Nicole, she's working this receptionist job at this cattle market in Center City, and she's been there for something like a year and a half.

She says she knows that some firms, they don't operate like where she works.

Where she works, people like me get traded like meat.

"I know you work hard," she says. Agents Johns and Robert-Call-Me-Something, their G-man cologne still heavy in the air, and Nicole, she sounds tired.

. . .

Hours later, and Nicole draped over me, because I don't want the dreams tonight. I'm staring at the ceiling thinking how the scribe never gets any props.

All these piles of paper on my floor, so full of the city. I think about how the historian, he never gets the girl.
I think how maybe if you can't be Bond, James Bond you should maybe go for Dr. No.

How somewhere in that yellow land of black ink, someone like Jason was hiding. I didn't know who he was, or where, but he was there.

All those miles of yesterdays, and Nicole breathing against my neck, and I'm already thinking in terms of religion.

So like I said before, everything that happens, it's my fault.

I also found a file containing about a dozen core ideas, which explain (amusingly, to me) what it was all really about.

I have some really strange ideas sometimes.

October 29, 2004 1:09 PM