The final part of the short story. A figment of my imagination, but truth can be stranger than fiction.
It was the first time a Code Red had been implemented, so it must be serious. It also meant with Geoff being away from the office Mandy wouldn’t be able to tell him about her discovery. Was it something to do with Jim? Surely not. There was a world of difference between industrial espionage and a major alert. Mandy knew the staff restaurant would be buzzing with gossip and rumours, so thought she might as well go there and keep herself informed.
‘Mandy. Come and sit with us. Someone said Geoff was involved. Do you know anything?’
‘No. He went out for a meeting this morning and got delayed. If not, he’d be here now. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with him.’
‘But Jim and Peter both worked for him. Don’t you think that’s suspicious?’
‘Not really. HR allocates who works for which director, so it was pot luck. And don’t forget I work for him too,’ Mandy added.
‘Oh, yes. So you do. Excuse me, my friend is over on the other table, so I think I’ll join her.’
Mandy noticed the sideways glance as Abby got up, and shortly afterwards the others drifted off with similar lame excuses until she was left sitting on her own. Was she now distrusted because she worked for Geoff? Perhaps he was involved, and although she believed in him, the rumour mill made her think twice about his innocence. If only she could talk to him, but there was no chance of that until they were released from the building, or if he returned to the office, which was unlikely. Although she had always been reserved, it was a shock to realise she didn’t have any particular friends amongst her work colleagues.
Nearly all the tables were now full, with groups of people sitting gossiping; she was the only one on her own. Above the hub-bub of noise she caught the sound of her own name, and several heads turned in her direction. They were obviously discussing her, and not bothered if she overheard.
‘Even if Geoff wasn’t involved, she could be.’
‘Yes. With her high-level security clearance, she’d know things no one else would.’
‘She’s been here a long while, though.’
‘All the more reason why she wouldn’t be a suspect. They’re bound to pick on the newcomers first.’
Unsure whether to confront them or return to her office, Mandy looked up to see Ben hovering. Did he think she was guilty as well? That would be the final straw.
‘Hi, Mandy. OK if I join you?’
‘Hello, Ben. Sure, if you don’t mind associating with a pariah,’ she said, in a voice loud enough for the next table to hear. She didn’t normally react to slander, but in these unusual circumstances felt the need to defend herself.
‘Everyone’s pointing the finger at everyone else,’ Ben said. ‘If we had a cat, he’d probably be accused of letting the mice interfere with the cabling.’
Mandy laughed at the image, then spent the following half hour chatting with Ben about everything except the current problem.
‘Once this is all over, it would be nice if we could go out for a meal or a drink, sometime,’ Ben said. ‘We’ve never had a chance to chat properly in the office.’
‘I’d like that,’ Mandy replied, just as a further announcement came over the loudspeakers.
‘Ladies and gentlemen. We are now on Code Amber. The restrictions on outside contact are still in place, but we hope to be able to release further news in a few hours. You will be called individually for a private meeting. Meanwhile, please return to your desks and resume your normal work. Thank you for your co-operation.’
‘Sounds as if there’s been some result,’ Ben said. ‘I suppose we’ll find out soon enough. Catch you later, Mandy, if we can.’
Mandy had started to relax, but now her insecurity returned. What had Ben meant by “if we can?” Did he think she was involved after all?
The next few hours passed slowly, and Mandy jumped every time a name was called to go to the director’s suite for their interview. Shortly before five, another announcement was made.
‘Ladies and gentlemen. We have now reverted to Code Green, and you are free to leave at your normal time, with the exception of those who have still to be interviewed. Please remember you are bound by the official secrets contract you signed when you were first employed. Nothing that happened today is to be discussed with anyone not employed by the company. Have a good evening.’
One by one the employees drifted off until only Mandy and the security night staff were left on her level. Had they forgotten her? Should she pack up and go, or wait until she was called? The shrill sound of the telephone answered her question.
‘Mandy, could you come up to the top floor, please? Sorry to have kept you late, but the directors wanted to see everyone else first before speaking to you, to save any embarrassment.’
Mandy realised she was shaking as she pressed the button for the lift. That sounded ominous. She was beginning to disbelieve her own innocence. Knocking on the door of the MD’s conference room, she took a deep breath before entering. All six members of the board were there, including Geoff.
‘Come in, Mandy. Take a seat,’ he said. ‘It must have been quite a harrowing day, but we couldn’t let you know until all our enquiries were satisfied. Before we explain in more detail, I believe you have some information about Jim? Could you tell us what you know?’
This wasn’t how she wanted to share her suspicions. She had assumed it would be a private chat with her boss, but now she felt like a snitch. After a garbled start, she quickly outlined about borrowing Jim’s computer, and seeing the name of the major opposition in their secret research into biological warfare.
‘Your suspicions were correct. Jim has been under surveillance since he joined us as we suspected he was sharing information with Blaggards. He’s been arrested and the lawyers can sort out breach of contract, but that’s not the reason for the Code Red. As you are aware, this company is only a cover screen for our true purpose which is germ warfare. I’ve no need to remind you this is top secret, and goes beyond government up to International level. Without going into too much detail, we were made aware that, shall we say “Country A” had developed a virus capable of wiping out “Country B,” and we were tasked with controlling it. Clear so far?’
‘I think so.’ Mandy was stunned. She’d had her suspicions there was another layer to the company, but hadn’t realised the extent of its involvement.
‘The point is,’ Geoff continued, ‘if it had got out of hand, whole continents would have been wiped out. We’ve already seen the effects of economies collapsing, and now have information “Country C” were the instigators of a cold war between the other two, and were sitting on the side lines waiting to assume world domination.’
‘But what is the virus?’ Mandy asked. ‘How could the country you mentioned ensure their own people would not be affected?’
‘That’s the really interesting part,’ came the reply. ‘What do you imagine I mean by a virus?’
‘Well, I’m not a scientist, but presumably some sort of air-borne bug which affects people’s health,’ Mandy suggested.
‘You’re partly right. The other meaning of the word virus is in computer technology. This combined the two. The physical infection was incorporated into a computer file, a bug if you will, that was transmitted via the Internet to phones and devices all over the world. A combination key press would destroy the protective surround, and release the actual germ via the screen to infect anyone within a fifty-yard radius. The beauty of it was the randomness of the time and circumstances when the combination was used, meaning there would be no logical pattern to help find the source.’
‘You mean a medical virus and a computer virus were combined? But how could they protect their own people?’
‘The instigators were not a major world power, but a small remote island where the population are mainly farmers or fishermen. The ruler ensured there was no Wi-Fi or smart phones. Anyone who left the island was given the antidote and quarantined when they returned. For all the advancements in technology and power, the simple peasant life dictated who would survive.’
‘Is the threat over, now? Are we safe?’ Mandy asked, stunned at the enormity of the situation.
‘Yes. The traitor has been removed, anti-virus distributed, and the computer virus made safe.’
‘So, do I need an injection or something?’
‘No, you are immune, which was why you were actually under suspicion until we could confirm the facts.’
‘But how? I don’t understand.’
‘When Ben bought you a cup of tea, did it taste a bit odd?’
‘Yes, come to think of it, I remember it was a bit bitter.’
‘That was because of the antidote in it, and your new computer was the only one not tampered with. It appears the ruler of the island had selected you as his future mate. I’d advise you to be more careful of your boyfriends in future.’
‘You don’t mean….’
‘Yes. Who better to spread the bug than an IT specialist, especially when he’s the crazed ruler of a country out to dominate the world? Ben might have appeared charming, but you’ve had a lucky escape, unless you fancied being the new Eve.’
© Voinks April 2020.
See you next week for a new experiment. 😀