No one is too happy about working at that time of night, but at least the job pays well. And the other thing – the thing that I do not share with any of the other ones here – is that I get to work alone. No one to bother with about birthdays, how their kids are doing in school, what did you think of that show last night (the one that I did not watch and never would). No, I liked it up there at night. At least I did for a while.
Let’s see if I can paint you a picture. We are a tech company. We handle assets and sensitive data for many Fortune 500 holdings and the like and we have a good rep among them, so they keep coming back (you probably already know our name, so that isn’t something I have to share here).
Now, since we handle all that data, we gotta keep the computers running all night and make sure that any problems get handled before they cannot be handled by just our team. Usually, we have a few staff members on the night shift, but this time, in their infinite and cheap wisdom, the company decided to just keep one person up in the office when everyone else could just sleep at a normal hour.
Yes, I said that I liked the night shift. Liked it. I had already planned how I would spend my night. The main office had a monitor that could project any video game I chose and I would keep the windows open to see if anything went wrong.
And something went wrong. Very wrong.
“Old Mother Hubbard”
I saw that on the main monitor as I had a different window open.
Yeah, I better explain our system a bit. Whenever we have a technical problem, something that interferes with the processing of information, we have coded language to indicate things are screwed up. That wasn’t something that any of us came up with. That was all from the top, mainly the chief geek they put in charge of us, Bill Duncan.
I still remember that initial meeting and how most of us thought it was another joke from a rival department (and not even April Fool’s Day).
“No one likes having to look at an ‘404 error’ notice when they are at work, so the language used from now on will come from children’s books.”
We did catch each other’s eyes and then someone – think it was Jody or Anna – had to say something.
“You want us to use nursery rhymes to indicate problems with our computers.”
“Yes, I think that would be a good way for us to get through…”
“Sir, that is insane.” (Jody; definitely Jody).
Some of the others explained that it would be easy for anyone who knew about it to infiltrate our systems if they knew about this, but he explained that this is not a code that could be breaking, it was a just a signal.
And he was right. After the first month, it became easy to see when things went to hell. A “Little Jack Horner” message caught a glitch with a major money transfer; several “Little Miss Muffet” signals indicated problems with email; one “Georgie Porgie” caught a bug that would have slowed down our payouts; and “Humpty Dumpty” really saved my ass when I missed some of our outgoing messages on a bathroom break.
It is still amazing to me how normal it all became for us and then even unnatural when it did not show up on our computers at home (still wonder about that). And this was before I worked on the night shift.
“Old Mother Hubbard”
At first, I was not worried. I had seen this one before at a colleague’s desk during the day shift, and all she had to do was phone a contact at a bank to check on a deposit. There was nothing to do but wait now (too late for a call). But that is not what bothered me about that night.
“Went to her cupboard”
That was not supposed to happen. We had been told specifically that we should not hear the entire rhyme, just the first line. If we did hear the more than one line, than we had to check and see if any data had been taken.
No one had talked about what if we given the rest of the verse.
You see, I had already contacted the right people when I saw what was going on. I did not need a reminder to be told that things were now serious. But I saw more than I needed to see.
“To get her poor doggie a bone”
What the hell?
What the hell did that mean? I did not have any sort of protocol to follow now, and I was not about to call that idiot Duncan to tell him what was going on. What was he going to do, anyway?
So, I tried to figure this out myself.
One of the reasons why they chose me for the night shift – not just my choice, really – was that I knew our system better than most of the people on our floor. I did a little bit of a search and found that some files were operating without being secured, but that was not a problem. Nothing had been taken, as far as I could see.
And then, on the screen:
“When she went there,
The cupboard was bare.”
I do not want anyone to assume that I did not know where this was going. I knew all the rhymes that were appearing on our screens. I knew that there would be a threshold that should not be crossed. I knew that I had to do my best with it.
Strange thing is I never thought that I was being pranked, or that this was some sort of hazing ritual for the night shift people. I would have heard about it if there was something like that for anyone else who did this, and I would have taken care of it. Not sure Duncan and the other staff could even think of something this clever.
No, this was the real deal.
I spent about three hours doing a “bug hunt” on our main processors. You know what that is: you have all seen the “404 error” once, maybe on an old computer when you were playing around with code or tried to open a file that was corrupted or out of date. I had to do that with our entire system. I could do it on the main computer, but it was going to be a long night.
It was a very long night.
It was not one that I would wish on anyone else here.
It was very interesting.
I found the bug.
Anyone could have missed it. It was one simple line of code that did not match up with the other information on the page. Lucky thing that we were still using an old system (updates did not occur until the next quarter), and that I was still using it at home. All I had to do was remove and replace it and then notify the company of what I did.
That was all.
“And the poor little doggie had none”
It did not even matter that the rhyme was incorrect. From that point on, the emergency power kicked in and every other computer that had been humming on our floor shut down. Very clever, I thought. Leave the one that caused the most damage on as a signal to the next dumb fool that you cannot beat whoever it was that wanted the money. All I could do was wait and see if I could get back in.
And then I heard something that chilled me to my marrow.
“Hey, diddle, diddle.”
I said ‘heard,’ right? It was no longer on the screen. All I had to look at were lines of code that blurred and dissolved into a mush of static. But now there was a cool and large voice booming out of not just my computer, but from every speaker on all the monitors that were no longer functioning.
“The cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon.”
Weird how you take these things when they happen. As a child, there was always a part of me that hated that particular nursery rhyme. Maybe because it really made no sense next to the others.
All too appropriate now.
“The little dog laughed…TOO SEE SUCH SPORT!”
I thought I would go deaf with that one and ran to the hallway to try and get out. I ignore the elevators and then had the sickening reminder that the stairwells were both pitch black and had doors that were run on our grid. I could have been stuck in there for ages if I tried to get out.
What did I do?
And waited a whole lot more.
I really do not know what happened next. I woke up and found myself in the main conference room in Duncan’s chair. I also found myself next to Duncan.
Why was that man smiling?
“Hey, sleepyhead is up! Welcome back, hero!”
I was not sure that I was quite awake yet. I could see daylight outside and the grey light of the neon above us, but I still felt like I was in a dream.
“Yeah, hero. We are still going over the glitch from last night, but you managed to do something that saved us a lot of time and money. Congrats!”
I was going to stand up, but thought that I should probably ask more questions first.
“Listen, Bill. All I remember are the computers going nuts with a rhyme and then me looking for a bug, cleaning it up, and then having my eardrum ruptured. So, am I fired, because if that’s…”
He actually laughed as loud as the voice I heard last night.
“Fired? You think you are getting fired? I just said that you saved our skins and that we would have been in trouble without whatever you did last night. You may get promoted for this. The higher ups are talking about it now, from what I’ve heard. No, not fired. Damn… You have had a long night.”
That may have been the first time I was in total agreement with Bill.
“Yeah, pretty long.”
Bill put down a strong cup of coffee in front of me (no milk or sugar; perfect).
“Drink that, and go home. We are all glad that we had you on last night, but I think that you need to take it easy for a while. Take the weekend to think about what I said. And thanks for all the work.”
“But what about…?”
So, I did. The ones who were on my team applauded when they saw me, asking me what I did, how I caught it and what I was going to do with my raise (thanks, Jody). I just smiled, grabbed my bag and ID and tried to leave without being rude about my lack of answers.
It only happened once I was outside.
My cellphone was in my left pocket and I was finishing up that coffee when I felt the vibration. Maybe it was Bill and he had changed his mind about letting me go for the day; maybe the big bosses wanted to pick my brain about what I did; maybe Jody wanted to know more about my raise. I just smiled and looked at the screen.
No number available.
Just a text.
I thought that I had gotten a message from someone really important this time. I was at my car and threw my stuff in the back, stood up and finished my coffee as I swiped across the screen and touched the icon for messaged.
“The dish ran away with the spoon”
That is why I’m still here. I know that there is going to be trouble if I head back and cannot fix this. No one is blaming me and I could not have known who was sending me these messages. But I think I will just sit here for a while, officer. I just cannot leave.