The BBP was a pharmaceutical company whose name was made up of the initials of the conglomerate of families that had founded it more than fifty years ago; Bishop, Banes and Price.
Lars and his friend, Stu, had updated this to appeal to a more modern clientele and subsequently changed the acronym to Bigger, Better, Pills.
This was abbreviated further by staffers in the loop to simply − The Pill.
It was eight am, a time when the real backbone of the company cleaned up the loose ends from the day before.
They filed their reports, planned exec meetings, and brewed coffee pots ready for another day of slowly poisoning the world.
The offices were open-plan, grey and blue fabric, the corporate colours of conformity. White-collar staff were arriving and opening their Facebook profiles, counting down the minutes to the next cigarette break or snack stop.
Julia Miller could taste the granules in her cup and was convinced that overconsumption of instant coffee was giving her rheumatoid arthritis.
Rain persisted outside.
She’d worn the open-toed sandals, a big mistake.
She could make out her own bleary image in the smudged windows of a neighbouring high rise; repetitive strain injury, a thousand Julia Millers watching the drip, drip, drip of their day.
She noticed the flashing message light and routinely pushed the answering machine button, knowing full well that another of Lars’ excuses would be cued up and ready to play.
“Hi, Julia. It’s Lars…”
She reached for her nail polish.
“Just a quick message to say that I’m running a bit late today, so if you could make sure that the morning reports are filed, that would be great. Yeah. You know how it is.[breath]
Buses.[Quick intake of air]
So please carry on with everything you’re doing. Thanks for being brilliant . . .[pause]
and, er, good luck.[pause]
I’ll see you in an hour or so. Ok then.”[Dead tone]
Working at The Pill was about as routine as it got. The fact that Lars spent most of his time absent, playing Atari Shock, chatting with Stu, or sleeping while pretending to be on a break, hadn’t gone unnoticed by the woman who was supposed to be his junior colleague.
When it came to professional reputation, Lars wasn’t top of the league.
He suffered from terminal cycle syndrome where every hour of every day was exactly the same, to the second, to the millisecond, to the nano − Collate. Save. Sigh. Syndicate. Daydream.
He would sit in the office, staring at the cheap plastic clock; a glorified librarian with nothing to read, a pen pusher with no pen to push, just an on button at the start of the day and an off button at the end.
Julia made it look like he was doing a reasonable job by taking on all of his responsibilities. Her long game was to get noticed. She would slingshot around him and eventually become manager in his place.
She was consciously keeping notes on his absence. It had become her own private game.
She’d been organising a series of international projects that had been immediately handed over. There were requests from around the globe for pharmaceutical development liaison programmes in India, Japan, the USA and Switzerland. Julia dealt with them all professionally and with precise attention to detail. She was a consistently neat person, always triple checking documents.
The programmes had been a huge success, thanks to Julia, but the international account managers at the BBP weren’t even aware of her name.
She took another glug of coffee and waggled her toes to keep the blood flowing. A quick glance at Facebook. She popped a Zomec pill, company discounts applied. She noticed that Stu was staring at her from across the office again. She washed down the pill and closed the Facebook window.
She’d been flirting with him over the past few weeks but never let him close enough for conversation.
She smiled and checked her email for the thirtieth time in as many minutes.
The BBP operated a shared Outlook system, so colleagues could send an internal message and then literally stalk the recipient to see if it had been read. This also made it easier for Julia to manage Lars’ inbox. He had gladly given her the authorisation.
She managed a system of two inboxes; a first level that received the information meant for Lars, and forwarded it on to the second level which did all the work, and then sent back to the first level for sign off.
The system worked perfectly. It suited Julia’s control-freak tendencies and allowed Lars to get away with murder.
She looked at the screen and noticed that the first level was increasing in new messages. The numbers were already beyond (56).
“Ugh, what’s going on with all this spam, Lars?”
“Remember your true self.”
“Beware the shadow animals.”
“Fulfil your life path.”
They appeared to be random self-help adverts.
“He’s so bloody useless,” she mumbled, as she selected all and clicked to move them to the trash. As she did so, the messages closed themselves and then automatically opened the next one in the chain.
“Return to Mt. Hōrai.”
“Tengu is watching.”
These messages also closed and re-opened.
The PC had taken on a life of its own.
“Erm,” she shouted aloud to the open-plan office, “my computer’s gone funny!”
More messages appeared, faster and faster, the screen mounting black lines of unread windows sent from an unknown address. She reached for her phone and hit the instant dial for IT.
It was engaged.
The keyboard wasn’t responding as her PC rocked into meltdown; a cyber spasm of bit rot fitting unread messages at the inbox, hundreds every second (505).
“What the flipping heck is going on?”
“Problem, darling?” Stu was standing by her side.
She minimised her Facebook window. “Oh, hello,” she smiled, pretending to be surprised to see him. “You don’t know anything about computers, do you?”
He pulled a chair over and sat slightly too close. “What’s up?”
Julia waved at the screen.
He stole the opportunity for a quick glance down her cleavage and then studied the messages intently. “Have you signed up to some sort of horoscope thing?”
“It’s Lars’ account, actually.”
“Well, he certainly wouldn’t use the company email for anything other than company business, right?”
Of course Stu would protect him. She knew that they were best friends who spent most of their time talking about Atari Shock. It was this fact that put her off pursuing any kind of relationship with him. She hoped that he hadn’t seen her minimise the window, and wondered if she had signed up to a dodgy horoscope.
“It looks like spam,” he said, tapping at the keyboard. He hit control, alt, delete and escape. He hit delete several times. Then he realised that he looked like he didn’t know what he was doing. “Did you call IT?”
“I suggest you turn it off and turn it back on again.”
“I don’t think I have the authority to do that,” she said.
“Allow me.” Stu flicked the off switch like he was James Bond.
The screen went black.
“Never fails.” He smiled and thought about asking her for an instant coffee break to celebrate.
There was a hum and buzz as the screen booted to life.
It whirred faster and began processing more incoming messages from an unknown sender (1,109).
The messages contained the same text.
“Return to Mt. Hōrai.”
“Tengu is watching.”
Another voice called out. “Aw, it’s so fucked.”
The Pill was on meltdown. All of the office computers were receiving the same random messages. The intensity of the emails was disturbing, hundreds of thousands of strange messages, popping up every few seconds.
Everyone looked at each other for answers and for someone to blame.
Julia’s desk phone rang. She gave Stu a fuck off or I won’t fuck you later look.
“No. He’s not here right now. I’m sorry, what?” She seemed more annoyed than usual. “Well, yes. I’ll tell him.”
She hung up, seeming utterly defeated, and turned the computer off at the wall.
Stu stood beside her like a lost dog.