As she was walking past the TV cameras and news reporters, she felt an enormous sense of relief, she was happy to be in the news again, but not as a fugitive this time, but as a hero. The media, that had treated her so harshly in the past six months, was suddenly on her side.
“Miss Hawkins! Now that the court has exonerated you, do you have any intention of suing the government?”, a reporter from New York times shouted.
She looked at the hordes of reporters that had gathered in front of the courthouse in Washington DC, took a deep breath and started making her way through them to him.
“Ms. Hawkins, what do you think would have happened if you hadn’t run away from the police?”, a reporter from CNN said putting a mic in front of Kate’s face.
She smiled at them and responded with a polite, “No comment”
Once she was off the courtroom stairs, she saw him. He was standing with the car door open for her. He looked more handsome than ever and she had never loved him more. She entered the car and sat down in the front passenger seat. He closed the door and walked over to the driving seat. She looked around at all the people gathered in front of the courthouse and wondered how close they had come to being killed.
She wondered again, how she could have pulled off something so extraordinary.
The day, she had lost everything, had begun innocently enough on the 24thof January 2019, about six months ago….
She woke up early in the morning and looked at her cellphone, there were no calls from Matt. She sighed and put the cellphone down. She looked around her empty apartment and it reminded her of Matt. Kate lived in a one bed/one bath spacious apartment in the Dupont circle in Washington DC. It had an open plan kitchen right next to the lounge and a small study that she and Matt often used for their work.
Matt and Kate had leased the apartment six months back.
Matt was everything a single woman would desire in a man. He was caring, thoughtful, dependable and steady. They were two people madly in love, the only problem was that Matt was away for more than 8 months a year.
She got off the bed and took a quick shower and fixed herself a turkey sandwich with coffee, finished them in under 5 minutes and went to work.
She worked as a senior software engineer at the Beta testing department of Kent and Cooper. She had graduated in computer sciences from Georgetown University at the age of 21, two years ahead of the other graduates. She did some internship assignments in software security before landing a job as a junior software assistant at Kent and Cooper Inc two years ago.
She climbed her way up to senior software engineer within two years. Software security was important, and Kent & Cooper believed in providing impenetrable software applications to its clients. For this purpose, they had set up two vulnerability testing departments, a Beta testing department and a Gamma testing department.
The Beta testing department provided vulnerability analysis for softwares developed for commercial clients while the Gamma testing department provided vulnerability testing for softwares developed for the government.
If and only if, there were no vulnerabilities found in the software, it was handed over to the client.
When Kate reached the Kent and Cooper Campus, she parked her car in her building’s parking lot. Although she had been working in the company for two years now, but she still couldn’t get over her amazement of how big the company was. It was spread over 300 acres of space with eleven building complexes. There were eight canteens, four diners, a grocery store, a post office, a pharmacy, a barber shop, a movie theatre, two gyms, two swimming pools and a tennis court on the campus. Kent and Cooper employed more than 30,000 employees.
Kate entered her building through the revolving doors and was greeted with a smile from Ken, the security guard at the entrance gate.
She smiled back with a “Good Morning Ken”
She then took out her employee card, swiped the card at the scanner and made her way to the elevator. The elevators at Kent and Cooper were always busy and Kate hoped that she didn’t have to wait too long to go up to her office.
She was in luck. She didn’t only find an elevator on the ground floor, but she found an empty one. She quickly pressed her floor. As the doors were about to close, she heard, “Hold it!”
She put her hand in the doors to keep them from closing and immediately regretted her decision when she saw William Jacob.
William Jacob was her co-worker in the Beta Testing department. He wanted to sleep with Kate, and he had implied it multiple times in the most indiscreet ways.
He was in his late 40s with a chubby face. He was barely 5 feet tall with a fat protruding belly that showed his love for beer. He had stained teeth and wore thick glasses. He knew women were powerless against him and Kate wasa woman.
Although Kate had told him many times that she was not interested in sleeping with him, yet Bill would not take no for an answer.
Kate pressed her floor on the elevator panel. When the doors closed, Bill took a step closer to Kate and scanned her from head to toe. He smiled baring his beer stained teeth and said, “Good morning Kate”
Kate took a step back, not because she was afraid of him but because he was reeking of a strong beer smell, “Morning Bill, how is Barbara?”
Barbara was Bill’s wife. She was a very sweet woman. Kate had met her a couple of times at the office parties.
“Barb’s fine Kate. But not as fine as you. You know I have this friend who owns a yacht and he has invited me on a trip to the Hudson this weekend. Why don’t you join me, I can show you how to have a good time with a real man”
“I would rather drown myself in the Hudson first, Bill”
“Oh, come on, you are playing hard to get. Aren’t you? I can tell when a woman wants me. You know every woman wants a piece of Bill. Why are you playing hard to get? You, know I just go on and on and on and never stop”
“Bill, if you don’t stop with your shenanigans, I will report you to the human resources and I’d rather have an affair with a shower hose even if you are the last man standing on earth. Now bugger off”
The elevator door opened, and Kate got out. She could sense Bill’s angry eyes boring into her back.
Bill knew Kate would come around soon. No woman could resist his charm and sex appeal.
Kate made her way to her cubicle fuming.
She looked around trying to calm herself down and saw Alison flirting with a new employee.
Alison was Kate’s friend and was working with her in the Beta Testing department as an accountant. Unlike Kate, Alison seemed to fall in and out of love quite often and every time she fell in love, she sincerely believed that she had found her soul mate.
Alison saw Kate from the corner of her eye and reluctantly said bye to her new object of affection.
She walked over to Kate, “Oh my god Kate, have you checked out the new meat, Harry? I mean, look at that body! I wonder whether he was born with it or works out every day”
Kate looked in the direction of Harry and Alison wasn’t exaggerating. Harry was handsome and had a well-built body, “You are right Alison. So how long do you think he will be able to resist your charms?”
“From what he has told me, I don’t think he is falling for me anytime soon”
“Why? Is he gay?”, Kate asked looking in his direction again.
“No, but he might as well be. The dope says that he already has a girlfriend and it’s serious. Nothing bad about feasting my eyes on him though. Look at that body, I bet he has buns of steel. Why are all the really hot guys taken? When am I going to find a body like that? I am really desperate you know!”
“I know, honey. How’s Henry Tucson?” Kate said quickly trying to change the subject.
Alison’s face changed from the one of utter despair to an animated one and she said in a thrilled voice, “He is free again, thanks to a mistrial”
Alison had a penchant for mafia news and was an avid reader for everything mafia related. Once a week she launched a mafia breaking news at the office and continued bringing the updates until the case closed.
Kate had no interest in the mafia news but since it pleased Alison, so she pretended to listen.
“How? Wasn’t he undergoing a trial for killing those men?”
“Well the prosecution was resting its case heavily on two witnesses who conveniently disappeared to god knows where and bam, we have a mistrial and Henry Tucson is free”
“Well what can I say, some people have all the luck in the world”, Kate shrugged.
“I assure you Kate, luck had nothing to do with it. His witnesses have a history of disappearing or ending up dead”
Alison then drew in a long breath and continued, “I wonder why my life is so dull. I sometimes wish that my life was as spicy and adventurous as theirs. I mean what’s the use of this routine and this life?
You work your ass off from nine to five, go to bars hoping to meet a nice guy over the weekends, marry some bloke with a stick up his ass, have some kids, raise them and then conveniently die. I don’t want to live like this! I want adventure! I want my life to have an impact. I don’t care whether it’s a good one or bad. Don’t you just hate your dull life?”
Kate did not hate her life, she loved it, “I don’t really hate my life Alison. I mean I get my thrills from breaking into computers and softwares”
“Why don’t you hack a bank just for the fun. I mean, it wouldn’t be a problem for you. Or even better, hack into the Pentagon. That would be fun”
“It would be, but it would also be illegal. I don’t want to end up in jail”, Kate saw the sad look on Alison’s face and quickly added, “I guess I am just lame!”
Alison looked at her and they both broke out laughing, “I bet you are! I better get back to work. I have been standing near Harry all morning and I need to work on some figures and give them to Bill”
As Kate turned on her computer, she saw her manager, Nick Davies, approach her. Nick was a skeleton of a man with pale complexion.
He was not very good with people, but he was a genius when it came to computers.
“Ms. Hawkins, you will be transferred to Gamma Testing department tomorrow, as per the orders of Mr. Cooper”
Nick never greeted anyone, always used everyone’s last name and came straight to the point. To him the niceties of social life were illogical.
“Good morning Nick. I am sorry I didn’t catch that. Can you please repeat?”
He took a deep breath and continued “We have to provide one of our top customers with a software within 30 days and we are short of a tester engineer in the Gamma department. Since your credentials as a vulnerability analyst satisfy the criteria, Mr. Cooper has assigned you to Gamma Testing department for the next 30 days.
You will be transferred there tomorrow. I will accompany you there at 9:00 AM sharp. I want you to wrap up whatever you are working on today and handover your incomplete work to your team. Also, you will hit the ground running so you may need to work overtime. So be prepared. Have you understood?”
Little was known about the Gamma Testing department at Kent and Cooper. Only the most trusted and capable employees were allowed to work there. Gamma Testing department was also working on the vulnerability testing for the drone policing software.
“Yes, I have. I will be honored to be assigned to the gamma department”
“Don’t be, Mr. Cooper would not have sent you there if we hadn’t lost our engineer”, Nick snapped.
It was clear that Nick didn’t have any empathy.
“Thank you for making it crystal clear, Nick”
Nick glared at Kate and left.
Kate was still digesting what Nick had said when Alison scurried over again.
“What was that all about? What did Nick, the robot, want?”
Kate looked at Alison still unsure of what just happened, “I have been assigned to the Gamma Testing department for 30 days”
“Wow, that’s wonderful news Kate! Does that mean you will be working on the drone policing software? I bet you will be working with Alexander Cooper shoulder to shoulder.
Girl, I know you love Matt and all, but I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for you to hook the most eligible bachelor in the world. He is quite a catch. You know the Forbes has estimated his net worth at somewhere around $60 billion. If I were you, I will take this opportunity very seriously. It’s not every day that you get a chance to marry $60 billion”
“I am just being transferred there. I don’t even know whether I will see him or not. Let’s not get our hopes too high. How do you know they are working on the drone policing software?
“The grapevine darling, the grapevine. You should spend some time after hours in the office canteens and you will hear almost everything about every department. When these software engineer pricks, not including you of course, start talking they forget that they had ever signed a non-disclosure agreement”
“So, what do you think about the drone policing initiative Alison?”
Alison said thoughtfully, “I still cannot make up my mind about it. I mean the government has approved it and all. But wouldn’t it mean end of privacy for all. They could be watching our every move”
“If it’s a question of privacy, I assure you, Alison, that patrolling through drones wouldn’t make a difference.
The traffic cams installed all over United States are watching our every move.
The NSA has access to all our phone communications, our computer data including all our emails which are subject to government scrutiny. The companies are gathering our browsing data, our geo-location data, our likes and dislikes and last but not the least sharing it with anyone who has money.
At least the drone policing software will not be gathering our data and using it against us. It will only surveil and patrol the cities and take care of the bad guys to make us safer.
Also, the program does have its advantages when it comes to mass shootings.
Look at how the shooting incidents have increased over the last decade. Just imagine if there was an armed drone around, the shooter will be taken care of in no time and we will not have mass casualties. There will be a definitive decrease in the cases of rape, mugging, kidnapping and our streets will be safe for our kids to play in”
“Whoa! Kate, I did not know you felt so passionately about it. You may have a point there. But should we trust machines with guns. I mean look what happened in Terminator”
Kate laughed and replied, “That’s why the government trusted Kent and Cooper with the software so that the Terminator sequel does not happen”
“Ok girl, let me know whatever happens there. That is one part of the office I want to hear more gossip about. Speaking of gossips, do you know Linda is sleeping with Bill. What does she see in him?”
“I have no idea. Maybe she is desperate, lonely and hasn’t slept with a man in over a century” Kate said typing on her computer.
“Yeah”, Alison said in a thoughtful mood.
“I am supposed to finish all the work I can today, and handover the unfinished tasks to my colleagues. How about lunch tomorrow at the Food Bot?”, Kate asked.
“Ok. Sure”, Alison said making her way back to her cubicle again.
Kate tried to finish as much as she could before five and assigned all her unfinished tasks to her colleagues and headed home.