The vid-chat indicator flashed again and I signaled “answer” to the sensor above the console. Garcia’s bushy eyebrows and high, wide cheekbones blipped into view. While turning back to the switchboard, I felt my face stretch into a smile.
-Fucking weather… we got held up out at sea. I wanted to commandeer the gyrocopter on deck, but the captain said I wouldn’t get altitude to clear the storm in time. My bad.
-Don’t blame the weather…
-Anyways, I’m in the elevator with my gear, I’ll get dressed before making the first decompression checkpoint.
-Yayayaya. Just getting a little butt sore, you know?
-Again, my fault. By way of apology, I got broadsheets for you to read on your way back topside.
-Thanks, did I miss anything?
-Nothing major, couple of obits.
-Well, don’t spoil the news.
-Ya, wouldn’t dream of it.
-Is it storming up there now?
-No no, skies are clear, just some shit up north.
-Things pretty quiet down there?
-Ya, an agency request from Poland, but nothing really strange.
-Well I’ll be there in a couple of hours.
My smile went blank with the dropped vid-chat. Garcia and I became operators at the same time. We were recruited in the same round of hiring that occurred a couple years before the switchboards were turned on. During that time, we both had to undergo extensive surgery and training to prepare for operator work. Lung augmentation required loads of recovery and adjustment time. It took me about ten months.
After medical procedures were completed, we underwent operational training. We learned how to read call signs, understand handshakes between server protocols, and know how to spot crypto-scams that would try to bury themselves within large packet batches. It was like learning a new language of numerical arrays and cipher algorithms. After three months of operation, the job kind of became second nature, and I started to recognize patterns of signal batches between servers. There’s what I called the Five-O’clockers, people checking messages and playing casual holo-sims as they took the high-speed train home between Frankfurt and Zurich. Allnighters were the folks looking for on-demand companionship in the middle of the night. Then there were Jockeys who were making server requests all the time, like whipping a horse to speed ahead. Jockeys usually had unique IPs and other streamlined protocols developed when the first switchboards came on. Even though it was advised to run their request through scanning gateways, I usually just waved them through, daisy chaining their batches through several central servers in order to push them along. I figured at worst they were trying—clumsily—to commit electronic fraud. Catching criminals wasn’t my job anyway, I was merely directing traffic. If I were directing cars at a busy intersection, I wouldn’t stop each one to see if their insurance was up to date, even if I was supposed to. Most of the time, Jockeys were just Script Kiddies trying to impress their imaginary girlfriends, so why get in the way of simulated love?