The Enormous Network

5 November 2022 19:17 GMT+0100 

Based upon The Enormous Radio, a short story by John Cheever


Jake Hutchinson pulled into the far end of the back parking lot of 70/Relay. He did not park under the eucalyptus trees, where tree sap or bird crap might mar the paint. He parked diagonally, taking up two spaces, well away from other cars. There was a warm breeze off the East bay hills, but since it would remain overcast, he left the car cover in the trunk.

His drove a 1966 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Delta. He spent three years restoring it in the barn on his father’s farm in Visalia. The car color a deep maroon, Jake polished the body with a soft cloth diaper; the chrome was silver and clean, the upholstery white leather. A black-gold license plate holder with the words California Native.

As he walked to the employee entrance at the back of the building, he was joined by Alan Horowitz, one of the marketing managers.

“That’s a beautiful car you have there, Jake.”

“Thanks man only in California. The weather, you know? Anywhere else in the country and this car would be long gone.”

“Yeah, in Mahwah my uncle had an old Thunderbird, but the winters there, that thing was rusted out.”

“Mahwah?”

“Yeah, Mahwah. New Jersey.”

“Joisey? You’re from Joisey? I’m from Joisey. What exit?” Jake laughed at his own joke. Horowitz shook his head, then walked over to marketing without saying anything else.

Jake stopped in the lunch room to get a sleeve of chocolate doughnuts from the vending machine, then walked to his cube. His desk was covered in cables: data cables for printers and external hard drives, Ethernet and phone cables, an assortment of power cables. There were parts from dismembered computers: hard drives, a power supply with a fan, a cpu housed in a heat sink, memory chips from five different manufacturers, wire ties, small screwdrivers, a pair of needle nose pliers. There were two notebook computers, loaners to be given out if someone needed a temporary computer. Off to the side was a copy of Hemmings Motor News.

As he wiggled his mouse to wake up his computer, the director of IT, Sherry DeSantis, waddled into his cube. “Hey Jake, how’s it going?”

Jake looked her up and down a moment. “I can’t believe you’re still here, Sherry. You know I’m pretty handy, but I don’t think I can deliver a baby.”

Sherry smiled and rubbed her belly. Jake had been easier to manage since she became pregnant. It was less because he was sympathetic to her condition, than because she’d be out of the office for a few months. She had replaced the previous director, Geoff, a good friend of Jake’s. Geoff was asked to leave after several women complained about his comments to them.

“Don’t worry, this is my third one, so I’m pretty good at predicting when the due date.”

Jake nodded but didn’t say anything.

“Can you take a look at the Tektronix printer over in marketing? Christine said they were trying to print some marketing collateral, but the documents came out streaked.”

Jake sighed. That Tektronix was a pig: three times the size of a regular laser printer, more suited to a print shop than a marketing department. Why couldn’t marketing have an HP printer like every other department?

“Also the two Macs we ordered for the doc group are here. Make sure finance adds the Macs to the inventory, then please set them up for Dave and Lisa.”

Sherry went to the next cube and talked to the other IT engineer, Tim, who was building out a new server for development. After repeated power outages kept crashing the build server, Sherry, declaring that California, with the rolling black-outs, was becoming a third world country, had purchased an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The UPS had battery capacity to keep the server running for up to ten hours; if for some reason the power did not come back on, the UPS could be configured to close all the programs, record all events to a log file, then properly shut down, so there would be no corrupt files. To make all this work, Tim had written some scripts for the server to communicate with the UPS, but these still needed debugging.

Jake checked his email and listened to Sherry talking; he was interested in the project Tim was working on – he wished Sherry had given it to him. After they finished Jake walked over to Tim’s cube to get the Tektronix manual and some new ink sticks that were on Tim’s shelves. Tim sat looking at his monitor, but not doing anything.

“How’s it going Tim?”

Tim looked like he’d had his dick dragged through the dirt. Jake thought he wasn’t going to say anything, but at the last moment, quietly said, “It’s going.”

“Anything I can do for you?”

After a pause, “No. But I was just talking to Sherry about the UPS for the development server. I’m working on that later today, why don’t you look over my shoulder so you’re familiar with what’s going on, okay?”

Sherry had hired Tim a few months after she started at the company; they had worked together at Sherry’s previous company. Before the interview, Jake had been prepared not to like Tim, but afterwards Jake told Sherry he thought Tim would be a good addition to the team: Tim was more experienced than Jake, and knew more about networking and UNIX systems administration. They went to lunch together a couple of times a week.

Lately Tim had been distracted; Jake didn’t know Tim well enough to ask about his personal life.

He spent thirty minutes looking at the Tektronix printer; it had been turned off, causing the heated ink to cool down, then contract, which then let air into the print head. Someone had turned the printer back on, and even though the ink in the print head had warmed up, there was already air in it, causing streaks in the print outs. It was like having air in your brake lines. He’d have to put a note on the printer telling people not to turn the printer off.

Later that morning he went into the loading area, found the two new Macs, put them on a dolly and wheeled them over to finance. He waited twenty minutes while Connie opened the boxes, wrote down the model and serials numbers of each computer, then attached a company inventory label to the bottom of each computer.

The company’s two technical writers, Lisa and Dave, shared one large, double sized cube. Lisa had been with the company for three years, but this was Dave’s first week. They were both sitting together, going over one of the manuals, when Jake walked in with the two new computers.

“Hey guys, here are the new Macs. Where do you want them set up?”

Dave deferred to Lisa, who glanced at Jake just for a moment, then looking away said, “Just put them here on the desk. We can set them up.”

“Well, I need to get your guys on the network and then install some additional software.”

“Additional software?”

“Yeah, just the some anti-virus and security software.” Jake didn’t mention that additional software included Panopticon. “Also, I’ll need to install the Microsoft Office suite. You all don’t use Word, do you?”

“No, we use FrameMaker. Which reminds me, I think we need to upgrade to version 5.5.”

“Hmmm. You better check with Sherry. I mostly just do the Microsoft apps, and PCs. It’s only you guys and marketing that gotta have Macs.”

Lisa said nothing, but Dave replied, “Yeah, I hear you. But for the graphics we use in the manuals, the Macintosh apps are better.”

“Well, you know what they say: once you go Mac, you never go back.”

Both looked at Jake as he continued to unbox, and set up the computers. The writers went back to the manual.

“Dave, how do you spell your last name?” Jake had already created an account on Lisa’s computer, and was now configuring Dave’s.

As Dave spelled, Jake typed and repeated, “NAAA KAAA MU RAAA. Nakamura. Okay.”

Before he left their cube, Jake said, “Let me know if you guys want second monitors hooked up. Some of the dev guys run double monitors, because one screen doesn’t give them enough real estate. I think I can set that up for you on the Macs We have some unused monitors if you need them.”

In the mid-afternoon Jake went into the lunchroom to get coffee. Svetlana, was there; she had just poured off the last of the coffee, but had not started a new pot, and had left the empty pot on the burner. Svetlana was tall and slender, her cheekbones made her face stern; she walked out without looking at him. As he started a new pot of coffee, he wondered why the development manager had hired her: she had come in on a special work visa. What made her so special that the company had to go through all of the extra cost and effort to hire her?

As he walked back to his cube, he passed through the software quality assurance (SQA) section. He stopped in looked in on Sorn Prak; she had the top off her computer, with one hand she held a ribbon cable while with the other she screwed in the brackets to the chassis of her computer; she was installing in a new DVD drive.

“You’re pretty handy there.”

She looked up and smiled at Jake. “Handy? Yes, I guess I am.”

“Always doing everything yourselves, never waiting for us. Most of the time that’s okay.” Jake watched her work for a minute. On her desk was a picture of her husband and daughter, and next to that, another picture of an older man.

That Thursday afternoon, Jones, the company’s attorney walked by Jake’s cube, looked in Tim’s cube, then returned to Jake’s.

“Jake, have you seen Tim?”

“No, I think he had to leave early. I thought I overheard something about meeting his wife someplace.”

“Hmm, okay. Heard anything from Sherry?”

“Voice mail from her this morning saying she’d checked in to El Camino Hospital. That was it.”

“Hmm, okay.”

“Anything I can help you with?”

Jones paused for a moment—something must be up. Because IT managed all the phones, email, and network accounts, they were the first to know if the company was moving to a new location or if an employee was being fired or if there was a layoff, all of which meant IT might have to disable network access, deactivate card keys, or generate a report from Panopticon.

“Well, maybe. This is very confidential: one of the engineers might be starting his own company. Possibly using company time and resources. He may be using code that was written here. I need a report. Sherry told me just she and Tim have the dashboard installed, but Sherry has her notebook computer with her, so we need to get on Tim’s computer. Can you log me in to his computer?”

The company had purchased a Panopticon site license over a year ago. It ran on every employee’s computer, and monitored a range of digital activity: internet surfing, emails sent and received, and after a recent upgrade, communication through instant messaging applications. Jake had installed Panopticon on all company computers, but he had little to do with the operation of the software. Because of the sensitive nature of the information, only Jones, Dunn, the company’s chief executive officer, and Mather, the head of Human Resources, could start an investigation into an employee’s digital activities. Jones had insisted that use of Panopticon’s dashboard and control panel, the tools that revealed an employee’s computer information, be restricted to only Sherry and Tim.

For new employees the disclosure that they would be monitored was built into their employment contract, and most of them never even noticed the clause. Existing employees were required to sign a waiver permitting the company to use Panopticon. For a while a few employees were unhappy, but no one had quit, and soon the matter was forgotten.

“Sure,” said Jake, “Tim and I have each other’s login information.”

While Jake logged in to Tim’s computer, Jones called Tim. After Jake logged in, he stepped back so Jones could operate the computer.

“Hang on, Tim. It’s still not working, can’t see what I typed. Let me put it in a text file, first.” Jones started Notepad, listened as Tim repeated the password, then Jones typed out the characters. He copied the password, pasted it into the login screen for the Panopticon dashboard, then he closed Notepad without saving the file.

Panopticon started, and Jones told Tim things were fine, thanks, and hung up. Jones looked over at Jake, who pretended to be bored with it all. Just then Jones’ cell phone rang, and to answer it he stepped out of Tim’s cube for a moment.

While Jones was out, Jake quickly restarted Notepad, pasted the password into a new file, then saved the file into an obscure location on Tim’s computer. Jones had forgotten that the password was still on the computer’s clipboard. Jake quit Notepad, then went back to his own cube. Jones returned a few minutes later and spent the next twenty minutes at Tim’s computer. After Jones left, Jake saw he had quit the Panopticon dashboard, and rebooted Tim’s computer.

For the next few days Jake thought about it, but didn’t do anything; it wasn’t right, but what harm would be done? When he was twelve years old, the next door neighbors had moved away; on their last day they had left by the street stacks of magazines and newspapers. Going through the pile, Jake had found a few issues of Playboy, which he smuggled into his garage, into the very back, in some boxes behind clothes for the Goodwill. He didn’t dare put them in his room. For days and weeks all he could think about were the magazines, the pictures of those women. Now and then he’d been able to look at one, but he always had to return the magazines to the hiding place.

No one would know. He’d be watching, it would probably all be pretty boring stuff, anyway. He’d do it just once, then leave it at that. And there would be plenty of chances if he waited for the right time: Tim was in and out of the office, and never stayed past 6:00 P.M. Sherry was out on maternity leave.

One night a week later, after the office was empty, he went into Tim’s cube, logged in to his computer, and started Panopticon. He found the text file with the password, entered that to the login screen, wondering as he did so if the software kept a record of each time someone logged in; if so, and someone reviewed the logs, he’d be fired.

The Panopticon dashboard: it was organized into a series of tabs and menus: there was a list of employees which if clicked on displayed a page about the employees, then details about the employee’s computer, software installed, files added, deleted, and copied; there was a tab for email, a tab for internet activity, and a tab for tracking instant messages.

Jake clicked around, exploring more. There was an option to set up a black word lists: if any of the words appeared in an employee’s email or instant messaging communication, Panopticon would send an email alert to Jones and Mather; Jake wondered if Panopticon scanned its own email, creating an infinite alert loop. There were several different lists. One list was of words that HR and legal would want to know about for future sensitivity training: anus, asshole, bastard, beaners, bitch, camel jockey, chink, cracker, cunt, dick, dickhead, dyke, gook, goy, fag, fob, fresh off the boat, homo, jap, jew, kike, lesbian, lesbo, nambla, nigger, nip, penis, pussy, queer, rag head, redneck, sambo, sand nigger, spics, towel head, trailer trash, wetbacks, white trash.

Another list consisted of the names of the company executives, the board of directors, the company’s investors, company products, internal project names, competitors, and a list of technologies and patents the company had developed. A third list looked similar to the first one, although Jake noted it included words you might see in the newspaper: anger, angry, arson, benefits, bomb, bullet, child, children, download, fire, girl, gun, hire, insider, interview, ipo, IRS, job, money, naked, option, pipe, pissed, pistol, police, porn, pornography, quit, raise, resume, resign, rifle, salary, secret, sex, sexy, share, spy, stock, terminate, trade, trust, whistle-blower.

Jake thought he heard someone a few aisles over, and quickly logged out of Panopticon. As he walked back to his cube, he saw it was the older Mexican couple, who came in every night after eight to clean the cubes. Jake nodded to them as the man pulled the large, silver vacuum cleaner behind him, while the woman emptied each employee’s garbage can into a much larger one, marked basura.

A few days later, Tim and Jake went to lunch at La Costena. Jake got the carnitas plate and Tim ordered the fish tacos. They both drank horchata. Jake asked Tim if he had heard anything about the investigation into one of the developers

“Yeah, but just between us, Jones was right and wrong. They’re looking into Matt Shire. He’s not starting his own company, but is going to work for a competitor. Jones is mad at Mather, because Matt was an early employee, before there was a real HR department, and Matt’s contract doesn’t have a non-compete clause in it.”

“What difference would it make if it did?”

“Matt wouldn’t be able to go to work for a year or two at a company that competes with us.”

“How can the company control where you go to work next? When I quit, I should be able to go to work wherever I want.”

Tim smiled at Jake. “I agree with you, buddy. But that’s not how employment contracts are set up.”

“Did Jones find what he was looking for using Panopticon?”

“I think so. It’s pretty interesting what goes on. Things aren’t always what they seem.”

The next night, after everyone else had gone home, and the Mexican couple was cleaning another part of the office, Jake looked at other sections of Panopticon; he rationalized that since he had not actually looked at anyone’s profile, that he had not been spying. He found an area for keeping notes; Sherry and Tim listed ideas and problems with the software. A few weeks ago Tim had noted there was a problem with something called the geo-look up. All external email addresses as well as web sites were scanned and then that information matched against a database that indicated the geographic origin of the email or website. However, when Panopticon had recently updated the software to include a new list of locations, the geo matching process had failed. Tim thought the list was in a slightly different format, which caused the look up to fail, and he had a reminder to investigate the problem.

There was another note from Sherry stating that they still did not have the capacity to capture all keystrokes, but rather only that which was typed in a browser, email, or chat application. The company would need to purchase more storage to permit full keystroke capture: everything every employee typed.

Jake found a section that tracked the most recent activity; Dave Nakamura’s name was at the top. Jake clicked on his name and selected the email tab. Most of the emails were between Dave and Lisa, and were about the technical documentation for an upcoming release. Then Jake saw an email from an outside address, AOL, from someone named Evelyn Nakamura, the subject line was re: re:442nd Reunion.

Dave,

The 50th reunion (I can’t believe it’s been so many years) will be held at Campy Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We arrive on Friday, June 16th. Dad and Uncle Mark are glad you and Emiko can make it there.

Also, sadly, I heard that Joe Matsuda was finally awarded France’s Legion of Honor for his service, although he died before receiving it, so it was given to his family.

I had a note from the Oshitas. They just came back from a family vacation to Europe, and they stopped in at the Epinal American Cemetery to see James Oshita’s grave. They showed us some pictures – it’s a lovely place. They also met the French family that adopted James’s gravesite – their name (I think) is Levac, and Marjorie said they were a very nice family.

See you next weekend!

Love,

mom

Jake closed the email, closed Panopticon, and went back to his cube.

What was the 442nd? What did a Japanese man have to do with a French award, a French family?

The next day Jake went to Albert Chamber’s cube. Albert looked like the engineer that he was: grey hair and glasses, he wore jeans with a plaid button down shirt, tucked in, and always had a pocket protector with several pens and a mechanical pencil. He was the company’s firmware engineer, had served in the army, and three years ago bought a Cessna after 70/Relay bought his start up. Like Jake, Albert was from the Central Valley, Turlock, and both were part of a trivia team that competed at the Britannia Arms Pub in Cupertino every Tuesday night; more often than not, Albert was responsible for most of their points.

“Albert, have you heard of the 442nd?”

As always, Albert paused before answering. “You said the, so I assume you are not referring to an Oldsmobile Cutlass, which has a 442 engine, but instead a military unit?”

“Yeah, that’s a sweet car. But no, yeah, I guess I mean an Army brigade or regiment. Something like that.”

“I believe that was the World War II Army regiment, made up of Nisei Japanese, the children of immigrants. I don’t much about them. They were forbidden to fight in the Pacific theatre, so they fought in Europe. They were pretty tough and had it tough—I think they were one of the most decorated combat units.”

Jake didn’t say anything as Albert explained how growing up he had heard about Japanese families who worked farms in the Central Valley being forced to relocate to internment camps in Wyoming. Almost all of the younger men had volunteered for military service.

Jake noticed a new picture pinned to the cube wall.

“That? My nephew started at West Point and sent me that. He knows I didn’t like it there very much, well some aspects of it. It’s his sort of joke. Anyway, that’s an excerpt from the cadet prayer, which although I’m not at all religious, I do like that particular part.”

Jake looked closer. The photo was of a granite block etched with the text: Make us chose the harder right instead of the easier wrong and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.

“It’s a little corny, I admit,” said Albert, “but corny things are often true. And it’s not a bad thing to think about now and then.”

For the next few nights Jake stayed out of Tim’s cube, until he noticed Svetlana was either at work late or already in the office early in the morning. The next night he looked at her Panopticon email profile. As with the other employees, there was a great deal of internal email, in her case with the other developers, then a long thread with Don in technical support: she was helping him debug a customer problem. There was a series of emails with files attached, from a law firm. Jake opened the last one in the series.

Ms. Tselner,

Pursuant to our conversation, please find attached the Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution. Print, sign, and return however you feel necessary.

Upon receipt, I will further process with the court. Originals will be mailed to your home address.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Poli
Paralegal to Adam Scott
Law Offices of Roberts, Jacobs, and Scott

Jake had seen her at the company holiday party with her now ex-husband. She was tall and slender, while he was a short, fat faced guy nearly bald, and looked to be twenty years older. She must dumping Nikita Krushchev for some nice American guy.

There was another email for Svetlana from Dunn, the CEO.

Svetlana,

I want to thank you for all the hard work you did working with Don in trouble shooting the problems at Siemens. I know it’s especially difficult when the customer is in a different time zone (nine hours!) and you need to schedule a support call. I heard from Mattias Doettling, their general manager, and he said they are planning to upgrade to our latest version when we release next month. This is an important contract – Mather will be talking to you about a raise and promotion. Again, well done and thanks so much. Kudos!!

Sincerely,

John Dunn
CEO 70/Relay

Jake forced himself to stay away for two days, then one evening logged into Panopticon, and chose the tab for Christine Reynolds, the babe in marketing. He clicked on the tab for chat messages, two weeks ago there was a message from one of the sales managers, Mark Hurly.

Mark: So are we on for Friday night?
Christine: Yes!! Everyone thinks I’m at a conference in the city until late, and that because there’s a meeting the next morning I need to stay overnight. And you?
Mark: Yeah, pretty much the same story.
Mark: What are you wearing underneath right now?
Christine: That would be telling, but it’s much more than I’ll have on Friday night!!
Christine: Actually I got something special to wear, but I’m not going to give it away.
Mark: Oh man, I’ve got such a boner now…
Christine: Better save it up!!

Those fools—didn’t they know? He clicked on their most recent instant messaging dialog:

Christine: Do you know ANYTHING about communicating with someone? Hello?
Mark: Hi
Christine: I haven’t heard from you since the weekend. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?
Mark: Coming over to talk now.

There had been no more instant messaging between Mark and Christina. That one would be circling the drain. Mark was married, but he didn’t think Christine was. Mark might be getting a visit from HR soon, and maybe he would need Svetlana’s lawyer.

The next Tuesday night Jake was at the Britannia Arms trivia night with Albert, Eric, and Tony. Tony had used to work at 70/Relay, but left a few months ago to join a start up. Eric had worked with Albert at Hewlett Packard. They had all ordered the fish and chips, were on their second beers, and after two trivia rounds were near the bottom, in fourth place out of five teams. There had been too many questions about British soccer teams (they always wrote down Manchester United) and Shakespeare characters. On a bonus question, Albert had been the only one of all the teams to guess the name of a movie Jake had never heard of: How Green Was My Valley.

Between trivia rounds Jake and Albert talked.

“I heard Matt Shire is going to resign,” said Albert, paused, then asked, “You ever involved in any of those investigations, the monitoring software?”

Jake shifted. “Not very much. Jones keeps a tight lid on things. I just install and configure it. Tim and Sherry are the only ones with access to the dashboard.”

“That’s good, that’s how it should be. Anyway, I heard that Matt was in the clear. And you know what’s funny? You know how Jones first found out about Matt?”

“Mmm, something from his email triggered an alert to Jones?”

“Well, that might have happened, too. But it turned out that someone at the company where he was interviewing knew Don, you know the lead over in technical support? And Don told Mather, and that was how it all started.”

*

A few days later Jake clicked on the Panopticon activity log. The most recent event was an email to Sorn.

Ms. Prak,

Your agent, Heidi Grey, asked me to send the jacket copy for your approval. This is what we are proposing for the back cover; a slightly longer version for the inside cover sleeves will be sent to you later for review.

<<story byline>>
The story of a family’s survival under the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge.

<<back cover>>
Sorn Prak and her family lived a cosmopolitan, progressive life in Phenom Penn until the rise of Pol Pot and his authoritarian, brutal regime, the Khmer Rouge. Forcibly relocated to the country for indoctrination and hard labor, the family endured beatings, disease, and starvation until the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam gave them their one chance to escape. With the help of smugglers, they travelled hundreds of miles through dense jungle and minefields, before finally escaping into Thailand.

After two years in a refugee camp in Thailand, Sorn Prak’s family was granted asylum in the United States, and they moved to Stockton, California. While working jobs at Jiffy Lube, Walmart, and Dunk’n Doughnuts, the Praks learned English and integrated themselves into American society. Today they live in Sunnyvale; Ms. Prak works for a software firm in Silicon Valley and has two children.

Regards,

Jill Dobson
Production Editor
A Common Reader Publishers

Friday night Jake drove to Visalia for his grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. He drove down the 99, top down, not hurried, taking in another California: long sweeps of grape vines and nut trees and citrus, ramp and loader equipment rentals, pallet supplies, and milling services. On the west side of the highway, rust red train cars waited on the tracks.

When he arrived late that night, on the back lawn at his parents’ house was a large white tent, wooden floor, and stage. Saturday morning he helped his parents set up tables and chairs, putting out pictures of his grandparents, placing dishes, silverware, and glasses. Afterwards he ran white lights around the perimeter of the tent.

On Saturday evening there were more than two hundred guests. A band played on the stage; if the song was newer, there were more dancers, but if the song was from his grandparents’ time, only the older couples were on the floor, dancing together in a style that required touching, coordination, timing, and footwork unknown to the young.

He sat with Aunt Leone at one of the large round tables under the tent; they both sipped Manhattans, which she insisted he try.

“Jake, how things up in…ah, there they go again.” Aunt Leone looked towards another table. Jake could only catch fragments of the conversation.

“…clear that these people are a burden…”

“…studies that show they have a net..”

“…filling up the emergency…”

“…or one from India who starts…”

“They never stop, do they? Dave just moved to Orange County, did you hear? Joan’s in her last year at Berkeley. Anyway, tell me, how are things up there in that den of iniquity, Caen’s Baghdad by the bay?” Aunt Leone nodded at Dave and Joan, “What do you think of all this?”

Jake paused. “I’m not so sure. It’s….complicated.”

“That reminds me, can you stop by tomorrow and take a look at my computer? Dave said there was some sort of bad software installed. He tried uninstalling it, but it seems to be still there. He didn’t have any more time to help me, but suggested since you were in town, you could take a look.”

Jake said he’d be happy to stop by before heading back north.

“Thank you. Dave read that this program collected credit card and all sorts of personal information. It’s scary to think that someone can be on your computer like that, getting at your personal information and doing who knows what with it.”

*

What would he say if he got caught? At best his story would be that because Sherry was out on maternity leave, and Tim was not around much, he was just trying to familiarize himself with the system. It wouldn’t stand up to questioning from Jones, and if anyone reviewed the logs of how often Jake had used Panopticon, he’d be out the door immediately, and there might even be legal consequences.

Yet as much as tried to control himself, he could not keep away for more than one night. Several times he almost came in over the weekend just to see what was going on.

Finally, he stayed an entire night, sitting at Tim’s computer, clicking, reading, clicking some more, peering and prying into the lives of the employees, reading their emails they thought were personal, following all their internet searches, their chats.

Blaine in sales was searching for cheap airline tickets to Maui. According to the search log, he’d spent over three hours looking for tickets and had been to fifteen different airline ticket sites.

Will in technical support had visited porn sites, favoring those with Asian girls. Jake thought the report indicated Will had downloaded some images.

Susan in legal researched laws about bringing in an adopted baby boy from the Czech Republic. She was also looking into a report from an employee claiming sexual harassment by one of the inside sales representatives.

Cindy at the front desk sent a daily instant message, at the same time every morning, to Dunn’s secretary, Helen, about meeting out back for a smoke. One time she asked Helen if she had an extra tampon.

Dan in the test group had mailed Frank on the development team: he thought Susan, also in the test team, was wearing a thong.

Mather had emailed Pradeep, one of the database programmers. Pradeep had accumulated only three weeks’ vacation, and since he was going back to India to get married, he’d need to clear the extra week, unpaid, with his boss.

Alan emailed family in Mahwah about a trip for the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

There were emails about home purchases, tickets to Giants’ games, about starting a pool to buy lottery tickets now that the jackpot was up to almost $100 million; someone wanted to be a writer, another employee was about to quit, and another doing work for Habitat for Humanity in Redwood City.

Finally, Jake clicked on Tim’s profile. Why not? In the email tab Jake noticed numerous emails between Tim and Mather, the title was re:re:re:re:personal-confidential. For a moment Jake feared he had been discovered, that Tim had emailed Mather about Jake. He was wrong.

Mather,

What the fuck? Everyone has a pre-existing condition: it’s called being born and being alive. Linda has breast cancer, not a cold. Her doctor said it’s treatable because we caught it early, but we must start now. Because the treatments are so expensive, there’s no way we can pay for these ourselves.

If our insurance company is unwilling to provide us coverage, then I’m going to accept the offer from Northern Micro; they are owned by a Canadian company, their coverage for both of us starts on my first day at the job, and their benefits are very generous (there’s no pre-existing condition clause).

Tim

>Tim,

>I’m very sorry but I again talked to our insurance company and we cannot add your wife to your policy. It’s >the same answer: they will not accept anyone if there is a pre-existing condition.

>Let’s talk about this when you’re free, and again I’m sorry there’s nothing I can do.

>Mather

Jake sat for a long time looking at the email. Then he closed the tab with Tim’s profile, closed Panopticon, and shut down Tim’s computer.

He went into Albert’s cube, looked at the words etched on the granite block in the photo pinned to the wall.

When Mather got in that morning, he found Jake in his office. In front of Jake on Mather’s desk was a cup of coffee and an unopened sleeve of doughnuts. Next to the doughnuts were Jake’s employee identification, his card key to the building, keys for the various rooms in the building, a company cell phone, and Jake’s notebook computer.

“Morning Jake, you’re in early or did you pull an all nighter? Anything I can do for you?” Jake looked exhausted. “What’s going on?”

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