The Lemmings March
Kent had left a voice mail for Kathryn to call him. Some time later she returned his call. He informed her of the board’s demands.
“That’ll be a tough sell to Pytho,” replied Kathryn.
“It also means you have to continue with the data center migrations for now,” replied Kent. “The end date for the project is three months from now and we won’t have France up and running by then.”
“Can’t we migrate the U.S. And Canada now?” queried Kathryn.
“The board was very explicit, Kathryn. France is to be done first, followed by the list of countries I gave you. Because they are going by countries and not company divisions we will need many trainers who speak the native language of each country.”
“How many do you think you will need?” asked Kathryn.
“If you are planning on doing a flash cut, two for every location where people will use the system. If you are planning a rollout as resources allow, then two for each location you cut over. I don’t know how well it will work having banking being done on two separate systems. We will probably need to bring people in from each location to a central training center and train them the week before the cutover, then have some traveling people at the major sites and leave the rest to call some toll-free support center.”
The profit margin was quickly fading from this contract. Both Pytho and Big Four had planned on reaping the revenues for support from the American and Canadian portions of the banking business up front. That was going to fund the rest of the operation. This latest demand from the board was going to ensure the bank had its payback long before the vendor received any revenue. The support contract pricing was based on the number of locations using the software. By focusing on the foreign countries first, the board was ensuring it wouldn’t increase to a sizable level for at least a year. In the meantime, they were going to get rid of all their high-cost IT people in order of most expensive to least.
“I’ll talk it over with Pytho and contact you back. Can you email me the exact list of countries so I have the correct order when talking with them?”
“Sure. Sending now.”
Stacie sent Jeremy an email to let him know she had begun training.
We will have to postpone our trip to Salish Lodge for at least a month. I’m headed off to get trained on some Pytho software product, then off with their team to France to train client site staff. There are about six of us going from here to Pytho.
It should be a fun trip, but not nearly as much fun as our trip will be.
Normally Stacie wouldn’t use the “L” word in an email, but she had elected to send this email from work and needed to cover her tracks. Nobody here needed to know it wasn’t a relationship based on love, but rather one based on incredible sex between good friends and the favors they could do for each other. At least she sent it to his personal email account so it shouldn’t set off any alarms.
In truth, she had just found out this morning from Kathryn that the deal was closing. Pytho had agreed to some changes wanted by the Board of Directors at the bank and a new contract was being prepared for their signature along with a new timeline for rollout. The board had demanded France be the first country converted followed by a list of other countries they did business in. Everyone was assuming the U.S. And Canada would be the last on the list, but the timeline wasn’t going to include those for now.
Tomorrow, Stacie had to report to Pytho Corporation’s training facility along with the others from here. They were getting a phi-slamma-jamma training course on how to train bank tellers in the basic functions needed to do their jobs. She was selected because she had taken a semester of French in college. Pytho was supposedly giving about twenty of their own people in France this same crash course. The bank had agreed to send the senior tellers from each location to a one-day training seminar put on at a Pytho location. They were limiting the trip to two tellers per location and the offer was supposed to be made only to the senior tellers.
Stacie hadn’t used French in years. She and some of the other girls were hiding in a conference room with a tourist brush-up tape. Stacie planned on digging out her French book when she got home. It was one of the few books she had saved from college because she wanted to travel there someday. This wasn’t exactly the kind of travel she had in mind, though. Here Pytho would be teaching them only in English. From here they would all go to the same training seminar the bank tellers were attending. They were to be paired off with a native French-speaking Pytho employee and sent to a bank location on the day of the rollout.
What amazed Stacie was the grand assumption going on. By virtue of acquisition, Stacie found herself with an account at First Global Bank. She never changed banks. Her bank was one of those eaten by First Global. From what she had been reading in the days before, Pytho software “ass-u-me-d” there was a PC running some form of that worthless Windows operating system at each teller window. Stacie had actually ventured into her branch more than once and knew for a fact there was some great big monster terminal there with a funky-looking keyboard that had all different colored keys on it. There was a big IBM logo on it, and while it had normal typewriter-like keys in the middle of it, there were at least three other keypad-type sections built into it. In truth, it looked as though you could hold that keyboard up in front of you to stop bullets.
Finally Stacie had to bow out of the French language brush-up. She went in search of Kathryn and found her coming out of a conference room.
“Hello, Stacie, I thought you were brushing up on your French for your upcoming trip,” Kathryn said as she approached.
“I need to talk to you,” responded Stacie in a serious tone.
Kathryn had never really pegged Stacie as being a girl with brains. While she had been smart enough to pass French in college, Kathryn attributed the taking of the class to a young girl’s fantasy of world travel. “I have about ten minutes between meetings.”
“That should do,” responded Stacie as they walked toward Kathryn’s office.
After arriving at Kathryn’s office they entered and Stacie closed the door behind her. The closing of the door set Kathryn on edge after the dicey deal with Pytho software that might yet have her giving back her Mercedes convertible. She wondered what was up.
“I spent a good part of this weekend reading through the Pytho promotional and specification documentation you gave me. Every piece of this literature makes the assumption a teller already has a PC running some flavor of that unreliable Windows operating system. I stopped at my bank this Saturday. Like many other people, my bank was eaten by First Global when it went on an acquisition spree. There are no Pcs at the teller windows. They have some big hulking thing and a massive keyboard you could use to stop armed robberies. Granted, this isn’t France, but has anybody actually walked into one of the French locations and seen what is currently at the teller window?”
Kathryn sat there mortified. This skirt and heels was more than a sex toy to be handed over to old men buying Viagra in bulk. Most of her mortification seemed to be centered around the thought that she should have put the top down on her way in this morning because after this bomb detonated she wouldn’t have it to drive any longer. Finally she stammered, “I’m sure Kent took that into account during the presentation and determined all was well,” trying to cover the obvious problem.
“With all due respect, Kathryn, Kent couldn’t smell a stink and determine someone farted.”
Something sounded so completely out of place seeing such a sweet and innocent looking face utter the word “farted.” It was like someone with a very posh British accent suddenly dropping the F-bomb in the middle of a conversation. First there was Shock & Awe, then there was hilarity. Kathryn burst out laughing. The absurdity of the sound coupled with the correctness of the analysis allowed for no other response. Finally, when she stopped laughing she said, “I’ll get it put into the contract right now,” as she picked up the phone.
Stacie turned to leave.
She turned back around. “Yes?”
“Good catch. Really good catch.”
A warm and honest smile lit up Stacie’s face as she said, “Thanks!” then left Kathryn’s office.
That girl just saved my ass, thought Kathryn as she called the team writing up the new contract to make sure First Global Bank was responsible for ensuring Pcs running some flavor of Windows were at each teller station.
Stacie didn’t know much about technology. She had a girlfriend in college whose brother was an ubergeek. When he was cleaned up he wasn’t bad looking, if you could get past the fact he was nearly six feet tall and only about 120 pounds. He had been the one who got Stacie through her one required computer class and had always fixed her notebook so she could do her other assignments.
Her mind slipped back to that one evening at college when Ubergeek returned home from something called a “Black Hat” conference. He was exhausted and he reeked from being locked in a room all weekend without showering. Under his eyes were those big black rings you get when you’ve been up too long and taken too many NoDoz tablets. It was a look college kids understood well during midterms and finals.
Ubergeek dropped his bags, set down his laptop, opened a beer and plopped on the couch. After some severe prodding from the girls, he went to take a shower, then came back.
“So, you had a good time playing Cowboys and Indians?” Stacie had asked only a little sarcastically. He smiled and continued with a second beer. Seeing him drink beer was an oddity in itself. Stacie had only ever seen him consuming Mountain Dew or iced tea their entire time in college together.
“The Black Hat conference is a gathering of the best and brightest hackers in the world,” he responded. “Each year we gather pretty much every system known to man and attempt to exploit security vulnerabilities in them. Some attendees are professionals from software companies, some are professionals from organized crime, a few work for the government, and the rest are simply hobby hackers. People from the NSA tend to slip in just to see who is there.”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Bond!” Stacie retorted, simply dripping with sarcasm.
Ubergeek got up and went over to his backpack. Stacie began sputtering something which sounded like an apology and Uber’s sister simply had a perplexed look on her face. Ubergeek returned handing Stacie a business card and said, “He wants me to apply for a job when I graduate.”
There was absolutely no denying it now. There in Stacie’s hand was a business card from an NSA special agent. She handed the card to Uber’s sister and watched another set of eyes go wide.
“So what do you do at this conference, then?” “We play a security game called capture the flag. Each team managing each system is given a flag file. In that file is a special identification number that only the game moderators know. The file name is pretty much known to all players and posted on an overhead display. Where it is and how you get to it is up to each team.” “So,” interrupted Stacie, “you sit around trying to hack into each other’s machines and get the number from this file?” “We actually try to get the entire file,” responded Uber.
“How many flags did your team capture?” asked Uber’s sister.
“How many did it take to win?” both girls asked together.
“High score was seventy-two. We placed third.” “No wonder you are being recruited,” said Stacie.
“They make the offer to a lot of people at the conference. It is the one place they can both keep surveillance on the criminals they are after and recruit potential criminals into the agency.”
“Potential criminals?” queried Stacie.
“While a good many people get paid a lot of dollars by software vendors to do what we do, if you weren’t hired to do it, what we do isn’t legal.”
“Anything else interesting happen there? You guys all go out for lap dances or something?” asked Uber’s sister.
Uber chuckled “Few people left the room. The most sleep anyone on the team got was four hours. They did ban one system from ever coming back, though.”
“That bad, huh? Something from Microsoft? I know you are always talking about how much Microsoft products suck.”
“No, that good, and no, it isn’t a Microsoft product. Nearly 200 hackers sat there mainlining caffeine and poking at it relentlessly. It never gave up the flag, and not for the first time.”
“How is that possible?” asked the sister. “You guys know every nook and cranny there is to exploit.”
“It is the most secure operating system on the planet. The NSA and DOD use it extensively as do a lot of companies.” He looked both girls in the eye as best he could given his condition and said, “If you are serious about running a business and keeping it secured, you put it on OpenVMS because it never gives up the flag. It is designed so that if there are N machines operating in a cluster, one of the machines can be taken out via nuclear strike, and the cluster will continue without losing a single transaction. I was the most familiar with it and that is why the NSA guy asked for my résumé on the spot. He is calling on Thursday to discuss bringing me in before I graduate.”
Once again the girls had that deer-in-headlights look on their faces. The dude was only a sophomore in college. Stacie doubted he’d ever been laid by anyone his sister hadn’t begged to do the deed, yet he basically had a career-type job already lined up. When Thursday came, Uber had accepted the job. He transferred to a college close to where they wanted him to work. Stacie and his sister became roommates.
It had been five years since that day and Stacie still remembered what he had said. Yes, every place she looked seemed to use Windows, but Stacie knew it was a joke. Windows still held the world record in surrendering the flag at the annual Black Hat conference. Uber was nice enough to send her an email with the results every year. Stacie still tried to keep in touch with Uber’s sister, but now they lived so far apart it was difficult. She was glad she had never been asked to do Uber. He wasn’t a bad guy, just not a guy on Stacie’s radar. If the request had been presented, she would have been obligated. Thankfully that request shouldn’t come now. She had attended Uber’s wedding last year and heard they were expecting a child now. I Guess some guys really will marry the first girl who sleeps with them twice, she thought.
You are reading a special promotional version of “Infinite Exposure” containing only the first 18 chapters. This is the first book of the “Earth That Was” trilogy. You can obtain the entire trilogy in EPUB form from here: