“Mister… Jacobs. Matthew,” said the woman looking up from her tablet, touching a couple of points on the screen. “Have a seat, please. Yes, just there.” She indicated a thin framed metal chair next to her, in front of the small desk they would soon share.
“You can connect just there,” she continued, indicating a moulded docking point dipped into the desk’s surface on Matthew Jacobs’ side. Matthew took his tablet from the pouch on the front of his bag and did so, the screen reacting to the light of the room and immediately syncing to the network.
“Ooooohkaythen,” she said, turning to face him, blinking away the auto-lenses that had rested just above her eyes. “My name is Shirley Martyn,” she said, smiling, “and I’ll be your auditor today.” Matthew nodded and looked away from her gaze, at his own screen, then at hers which was blurry and illegible, and then to the man blocking the door he’d just walked through.
“Do you understand why you’re here, Mister Jacobs?” Shirley asked, studying his face, still smiling. Matthew nodded. “Goooooood-oh, then. We might as well make a start. Leeeeet’s take a look aaaaaat,” she paused as the lenses flipped back in front of her eyes and she consulted her screen again, “at your article reader first, shall we?”
Matthew touched the app for his saved articles and the screen changed to a soft white and grey platform. “Scroll down please. Slowly” Shirley directed. “Slower. That’s fine, carry on please. Fine. Fine. Slower. Slowerandstop.” She looked from Matthew to the screen and back again. “Interested in politics Mister Jacobs?” she said, spitting a little. Matthew nodded again. “It’s nothing really, that piece is actually just…” he started, attempting to clarify why he’d been reading an article about the history of democracy, but Shirley looked at him again, her smile intact and so he felt it best to offer nothing further. After a few seconds of her smiling stare he looked away again, and she continued.
“Scroll again please, Mister Jacobs. Fine, fine, fineandstop. Oh, Mister Jaaaaaaaacobs,” she said, leaning closer to his machine. “Oh Matthewmatthewmatthew, I’m really trying to be on your side here, but really, what were you thinking?” she asked. The pleading tone of her voice, however, was betrayed by the unwavering smile, and the look of utter delight at finding a link to a page describing how in the past, membership of political parties was a private choice and how while the population in the main had shunned the very idea, when they did enlist they could choose between a vast array of different options. Matthew remembered reading about the Single Policy Party, the Ideologues, the Careerists, the Corporatists, the Cans, the Cants and so many large and small and niche and general parties, and how his mind had swum with the notion of the options on offer.
“Aaaaaalrighty,” said Shirley, leaning back to her side of the desk and smoothing the wrinkles on the lap of her paisley skirt. “Now let’s take a look at your Twitter, shall we Matthew.”
“Oh, I haven’t used that in years – it’s not something that we really…” Matthew stopped again, but of his own volition this time.
“Yes yes, dear, we’re quite aware that this isn’t an active channel for, um, for your type anymore, but I’d like to check it all the same, please.” Matthew nodded yet again, and swallowed deeply. Twitter had fallen into disrepair and been binned by The Forum several years ago. Since then, the few hacktivist groups that remained had periodically tried to restart it, but the secret servers that were said to still hold and operate the service even to this day, were so secure that no-one stayed in control of it for too long before everything went dark again. Matthew wondered if today would be a dark day or not, and smiled.
“The thing I don’t understand,” Shirley was saying as she’d shooed his hand away from the screen, scrolling and sliding through various pages, “is that we give you people so many areas in which you can thrive, work, play, and talk to fun, interesting and creative people. So why do you feel the need to go back to the web?” Hearing her saying the words ‘creative’ and ‘fun’ made him grimace. They clanged against his eardrums and perfectly pronounced the same feeling he got from her sick unflinching smile. “I just think that you should really be grateful that… ooooooh! HelloooomisterjacobsmatthewnowWHAT. On. Earth. Do. We. Have. Here!?”
Shirley was leaning over him again, her smile had deepened into a smug canyon dividing the bottom half of her face from the top. She clicked through a direct message and through a further dozen or so links embedded deep in the middle of boring long-read articles on gardening, music, sport and other newz items commonly available on The Forum. Matthew’s screen suddenly flickered, briefly turned a deeper grey before flitting onto a blinding royal blue screen, with ancient antiquated and blocky white text all over it.
“Now then. What do we have here?” Shirley asked, trying to clicking through to wherever the next screen might take her, but getting nowhere.
“That,” said Matthew, “is what was known as a BSOD, a long, long time ago.”
“Why is the type all so terribly designed and so square? Ugh, I hate it.” Shirley looked disgusted, but her eyes were scouring the screen greedily looking for the next link. “Where do I click next?” she asked Matthew, finally turning her head to look at him.
“You see that there,” Matthew said, pointing to a blinking cursor at the end of the very last line. “Click there.” Shirley following his instruction, leaning back across him and tapping the screen, which instantly changed to solid black. A blocky egg timer slowly appeared on the screen, but draining from the bottom half up to the top, before spinning and doing the same again.
“This really is very tiresome, Mister Jacobs.” Shirley said, leaning back in her seat as the egg timer drained and span, drained and span. “If you could just tell me what this actually…” she cut herself short as a new screen, sleek and silvery faded and pixelated into view. In the centre of the screen, a faint watermark flickered in and out of sight.
“What, w… what is that?” Shirley stuttered, the smile fallen from her face, which had greyed and shadowed as the silver on-screen glistened.
“That, Mrs Martyn, is a virus.” She turned and looked at Matthew sitting next to her. The features were the same but had seemed to harden, solidifying before her eyes. “And this,” he said, reaching over and swiping her screen “is the World Wide Web, that you have just reinstalled for everyone on the planet.”
Alarms started sounding from the building outside the door. The man in front of it drew his gun and pointed it at Matthew’s head, his hand shaking.
“DO IT!” screamed Shirley, as the alarms shrieked around the room.
“I did,” said Matthew, as the man at the door pulled the trigger.