Instead of moving on to other work, Stan sat staring at the wall, wondering how the content had been taken from his home server, given that he’d installed the same level of security he had on the Genomica Labs server, which had never been breached. Someone would have had to access his terminal from within the house, and send content from it when he was logged in. That limited the suspect list to one of maybe five people who were regularly around the house when he was at home, including the housekeeper and gardener, occasionally Genevieve, Mary and the tech support guy from Genomica. Whoever it was would need to go in and out of his study when logged in, and would have to be quick. They’d know what to do to find and export the right files, and most of the suspects weren’t capable enough or fearless enough to do this. Genevieve and Bogdan would both be capable, but they were both completely in his circle of trust. It had to be Mary. She’d been at arm’s length from him for years, and he knew she hated him for sleeping with other people, even though she was screwing that Welsh idiot, Edwards. Identifying it as her was one thing, but working out why she took it was another. It was so premeditated, and had clearly been going on for a long time. She wouldn’t leak this stuff simply on personal grounds, because she was not shy in having ‘full and frank’ altercations with him about his lifestyle. He wondered if she’d begun to form political opinions over what Zurich was responsible for, or perhaps she had it in for him since he’d stopped her getting her job back all those years ago after Jade was born. It had required him to give a firm instruction to HR, and that might have set her off. Whatever the motives, the milk was spilt as they say in England, and Stan wasn’t about to waste time speculating about history.
Once he’d come to terms with what had happened, he began to think of how to limit the damage which news of Alistair’s bribe and others would cause within Zurich. Alistair was right, of course. It wouldn’t be what the government could do to him, or what it dared to do to Zurich, it was what public sentiment could do to the share price. There’s nothing a PLC hates more than a downturn in public sentiment. You can manage a global product recall, or the compensation after a chemical effluent problem, but public sentiment is so amorphous, so insidious. He’d have to v-mail the Board straight away, including Malcolm McBride, and get the Churchill guys onto the breach, so he could claim a violation of privacy. Of course, bribery is bribery whether it’s public knowledge or secretly negotiated. The Board could be quite sanctimonious when it wanted, even when the company had clearly benefitted enormously from the contracts he’d managed to bring in.
He’d like to know just what had been lifted, and where it had been sent, besides Downing Street. That should be easy for Churchill Digital Security to find out once they were on Mary’s Amazon account, since she was never inside his security net. He began to draft some messages to Board members, but left them in his drafts folder until he was sure he’d have to send them. There was no point in constructing a pre-emptive defence and looking weak unless the shit really was about to hit the fan. It took a while to find something appropriate to say. He tried coming over as the victim, but knew that would never wash. He tried a ‘leading into pitch battle’ speech, on the grounds that Zurich’s Board liked to stand together, but jettisoned that in favour of a straightforward ‘hands up, fair cop, but all in a good cause’ approach. It’s what they’d wanted when they took him as part of the Genomica purchase. He was notorious for getting things done, for circumventing or obliterating obstacles, and this was just another example.
When he looked up he noticed it was already nine thirty, and he needed a drink. Just as he was pouring a Stolly for himself, Genevieve came to the door and asked if he needed anything else before she left for the night.
“Join me for one?”
She stood in the doorway to his dark office, her face in shadow, as the main office lights were bright behind her. He could see the outline of her thighs through her summer dress, and he smiled. She struck that pose he found so irresistible, and she wasn’t turning to go. He stood up and carried the vodka and two glasses from his side table to the sofa. He knew she’d accept the drink. She put down her bag, turned and locked the door, took the shot glass from him and sat back, while he knelt on the floor before her, slugged down his shot and slid his hands slowly up under the skirt until he felt the silk of her knickers, which he drew down her legs and off her bare feet.
Genevieve lay on the sofa, naked from the waist down, with her head thrown back over the armrest, moaning softly. Stan was trying to empty his mind of Alistair Pringle’s voice by burying his head in her lap and his mouth in her groin. Despite his 59 years, he was still vigorous. His morning sessions in the basement gym at Hamilton Terrace were keeping him fit and energetic. He crawled back up her body and held onto the armrest either side of her head. With his feet firmly planted against the other end of the sofa, he began a slow thrusting, which gathered pace and drove out all thoughts from him. He was hyperventilating and driving harder, slapping against Gen’s young body. He had no interest in her satisfaction, because he knew she was getting what she wanted from him and he from her – that was the deal. He had no real feelings, other than the animal drive to reach an orgasm and the physical need for its aftermath. As he began to come, his Amazon started buzzing, over on the desk, as it received notification of a change to the PQ algorithm that had been approved to run. The approval had been issued from the full Board, including him, apparently. Ellen’s Amazon had uploaded the PQ patch to Zurich’s server, through the R&D department’s portal, and John had effected the Board approval process remotely. She’d left it on her desk, under some papers, and once the upload had taken place, John cleared her cache and erased the upload path, so she could pick it up the next day, or Monday, or never. As Stan’s breathing subsided and he fell back against the damp sofa, the PQ upgrade was delivered to all chips across the country from Zurich’s servers, with his authorisation.
It was 11pm on Friday May 15th 2046, as the pubs were shutting and the clubs were getting lively. The door scanners on all the clubs were checking PQs against blacklists and billing the punters their entry fees through their Amazons. The scanners guarded doorways and responded to the PQs to block entry to known trouble-makers. All clubs were fitted with double door cages which admitted one person at a time. Until the first door closed, the second wouldn’t open. These continued to block known trouble-makers, based on their last known PQs. Inside, everyone was checking out the talent on their wristbands, reading each other’s informagear or scanning rooms with their Amazons to be sure that the people they fancied hitting on were within their financial reach. Thousands of people were in restaurants across the country, choosing from electronic menus which read their PQ in order to offer appropriate selections of food, and thousands more were shopping online using their Amazons in conjunction with their PQ read-outs to select their shopping. Almost everyone else was watching Netflix.
The small night staff working shift in Zurich, like most of the staff who were working late in Whitehall, were all glued to their wall vids, soaking up the online newsfeed, which was pouring out details of several of Stan’s business meetings, and showing clips of intimate conversations with politicians and military leaders, recorded in his study, or elsewhere in the house. The ticker-tape along the bottom of the screen reported news of Alastair Pringle as having handed in his resignation, of the PM having called an emergency Cabinet meeting, of Leaders in the US and Somalia calling for explanations for the breakdown in the deportation deals they’d struck with the UK. Morgan Edwards was being interviewed outside the Houses of Parliament, barely able contain his glee over what he called the collapse of the house of cards at Zurich.
Anyone using their Amazon when the patch uploaded had their activity interrupted by a high priority v-mail coming in: ‘Don’t worry, your Amazon is not faulty. We’ve made some adjustments to your settings which are designed to improve your experience of Zurich services. PQ scores will no longer be visible but health and welfare monitoring will continue as normal… ’
The PQ read-out simply stopped functioning, and nobody could see their own or anyone else’s score, for the first time in years. The message explained that this was as a result of policy changes reducing Zurich’s dependence on the PQ for calculating insurance premiums, which would be simplified, without reducing or removing any benefits. Within two minutes, Zurich’s servers had re-programmed all 82 million chips to relay more limited biometric and geo-location data from the chip to the company, and to receive no more uploads from it. All psychographic tracking, other than for health and welfare purposes was frozen. This effectively blocked all PQ G-Match uploads, making it impossible for anyone to know anyone else’s score. Dozens of apps crashed, because their reliance on the PQ left them with no input data, but many functions continued uninterrupted. People in driverless MPVs had their bank accounts docked in the normal way for their journeys. Public order was maintained by security contracts based on chip feedback, and despite Gimme’s fears of a dramatic rise in crime or street violence, there was no immediate rush to break the law. The health services continued to react to chip feedback on medical emergencies, and to send ambulances out, but charges were levied to victims’ accounts based on their last PQ score before the upload, frozen on their Zurich files.
In maternity hospitals across the country, g-mapping newborn babies continued without interruption, but they all received upgraded chips from the mapping machines, all centrally programmed from the PQ Algorithm. None of the staff was any the wiser.
Stan’s Amazon began buzzing continuously, as members of parliament, business leaders, journalists and Board members all tried to reach him for some explanation of the outrageous material they were watching on the news. Zurich’s call centre was flooded with incoming v-mails and calls, and people even began to gather outside the offices, staring at their Amazons for guidance.
Stan lay back with his eyes closed and his hand resting on Genevieve’s breast. The sweat was cooling on her and she curled into his body for warmth. He ignored the buzzing Amazon on his desk and reached for the vodka bottle, pouring another two shots. Someone tried the door, which luckily was locked, before knocking.
“Dr Janekowski? Are you there? Sir, if you’re there, please could you … Could you check your Amazon, sir? Or turn on the vid wall, sir?”
He lay silently, waiting for the steps to retreat along the corridor. Genevieve lifted herself onto one elbow and tried to reach for the vid-wall controls, but they were out of reach, and Stan wasn’t moving to let her up. She was going to issue verbal instructions, but Stan had gently covered her mouth.
“Fuck them. Leave it, Gen. It’ll be some rubbish on the news that Pringle was calling me about. They’re a bunch of weak and ignorant cowards, and I have no interest in playing games by their rules. You should go home to your husband and avoid any work communications. Go, Go!” He pushed her gently to get up. “I have a little more vodka to finish and I will then be leaving too. I’m tired.”
He shifted his weight so that she could push herself off the sofa, retrieve her knickers and collect her bag from the floor. She unlocked the door, opened it a crack to make sure whoever had been there was gone, and stepped into the corridor, closing it quietly behind her. Stan drank from the bottle, his head resting on the arm of the sofa, and promptly fell asleep.