Episode 1 Looking back, lockdown may not have been all bad.
On the one hand we had time apart from workplace human contact – the day-to-day pleasantries that add some spice to our otherwise mundane lives – but on the other we did miss out all the pointless conversations, the endless unsolvable problems and complaints fuelled by a corporate sense of entitlement.
One of the sad things about the IT masses slowly filtering back to work is the return of the geeks and their associated stereotypical hobbies. With no one to talk to about how they converted all their model train rolling stock from narrow gauge to standard gauge, they feel that they may have a kindred spirit or two at Mission Control.
And so it is that one of the helldesk guys has cornered the PFY and is regaling him with holiday DND adventures. "...and my main character has an amethyst-encrusted enchanted Greatsword," he burbles happily. "And you know what that has?"
"A plus 6 defence against girlfriends?" the PFY asks.
"A plus 4 ability to bore strangers?" I suggest, wishing I'd said what the PFY did.
"It's the most powerful weapon!" he blurts. "Anyway, I did the 2d6 roll and you know what came up?"
"A good portion of my breakfast?" I suggest, though I'm still wishing I'd said the defence against girlfriends thing.
"No, I got a 3 and a 4 – which meant..."
I dash off quickly to answer the soundless ring of an invisible phone – in another room – leaving the PFY to it...
... whereupon my sense of inner peace was almost immediately interrupted by the Boss.
"Just thought I'd check in to see if everything started up as planned?" he asks.
"No problems. The PFY and I came in over the break to make sure all the essentials services were running correctly." (We didn't.)
I continued: "We had a couple of issues that we needed to sort out, but it was only a day's work." (We didn't – and it wasn't.)
"Anyway," the Boss says, changing the subject with his trademark subtlety, "the Director and I have been talking about sterilising."
"It's probably for the best – may as well chlorinate that particular gene pool."
"I meant keyboards, mice – that sort of thing."
"Oh right, but surely people don't share keyboards and mice?"
"Well, desks and door handles then."
"Ah, so a buildings maintenance problem?"
"They wonder if there's a technical solution?"
"You mean some automated device that would patrol the building sterilising equipment with some sort of ultraviolet lamp and hand sanitiser combo?"
"YES! Could we do that?!"
"Sure. The effectiveness would depend on the strength of both the lamp and the sanitiser."
"But if you upped the strength really high?"
"I guess you'd approach 100 per cent viral kill rate."
"Excellent – what would it cost?"
"Probably just the cost of the lamp and sanitiser. We have the bare bones of some old AI robot hardware somewhere in the basement we could repurpose."
"Make it so!" the Boss chortles.
"Are you sure you wan..."
"Indeed!" he blurts, proceeding to warp off to some other area of the department.
9 ... 8 ... 7 ... 6 ... 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... SELFTEST: OK 2 ... 1 Peripheral test Infrared: OK UltraViolent:OK Sanitiser: OK Steppers 1:OK,2:OK,3:OK,4:OK Battery OK ***BACKUP BATTERY FAIL*** SYSTEM TIME 1-JAN-1970 00:00:04 booting ...
...TWO DAYS LATER...
"In retrospect," I say to the Director, "I blame myself. I should have checked the backup battery and should not have just cut-and-pasted the word 'ultraviolent' from the Boss's email. Maybe spell checker would have picked that up."
"Surely it should have thrown up some sort of error?"
"Unfortunately, the word ULTRAVIOLENT was in the system ROM – along with ULTRAVIOLET. Whereas some of the other reserved words – like CHAINSAW, STAPLE GUN and ROTATING KNIVES were not mentioned in this particular operating code."
"So what actually happened?"
"As near as we can figure – because obviously the ROM was lost in the fire – the bot was sanitising according to plan. We had some teething issues – i.e. the full UV output being sufficient to oxidise plastic, fade carpet tiles and give you third-degree sunburn in about five minutes – but I think the real problem was the flammability of the vapourised sanitiser when combined with the heat from the lamps."
"Nyess," the Director says...
"But after that it's all supposition on our part. We assume that the AI somehow worked out a link between people with poor hygiene and – although obviously not in all cases – the transmission of the virus that it was supposed to sanitise and decided to... uh... cut out the middleman, as it were. And, uh... because of the Boss's insistence on upping the whole 'ultraviolence' thing I guess that fireballs were the, uh, an inevitable response."
"I see. But there's no need to put all of this in your report I shouldn't think."
"Well, to make changes to that finalised document without leaving what some people might call an 'audit trail', I'd need some pretty advanced Word skills – and they don't come cheap now that everyone's upskilling in their free time…"
"How much are you suggesting?"
"I don't know," I say, rolling a slightly melted d6 and getting a 4. "I think they run to about four grand – for the 'advanced' course."
I take the Director's sigh as a sign of assent.
"But on the upside..."
"There's an upside?"
"Yeah! There has been a huge drop-off in the number of people complaining that we're not letting them into the office – AND the Company's payroll liability tapered right off when I mentioned the bot had a GPS, their home address and online access to the active employees database...