Heartbreaker

Dr. Borden exhaled and dabbed the sweat from her forehead before proceeding into the most critical part of the operation. She drew a deep, competitive breath and moved the precision mouse to aim the laser directly at the point of incision. With a click, the aorta would-

The screen went black, then a logon screen appeared.

“What the plokha budding spore?!?! What the spore just happened?”

Dr. Borden regained her composure and typed in her username and password – the patient was undergoing open heart surgery, there was no time to lose!

Agony of ages as the dots blinked in their circular path.

Username and/or password incorrect. Next login attempt in 00:05.

“SPORE SPORE BUDDING SPORE BUDDING EFFDISKING BUDDING K’CHORTU BUDDING SPORE!”

Dr. Borden didn’t want this to be the first patient she would lose on the table, but it was looking increasingly that way. He was somewhere in Alberta, wherever the meddrone landed, and she was in Atlanta, where the workstation ran in her Midtown apartment. She was doing everything to keep her mind down-to-earth and focused, but found that rage did all it could to take over.

Her mind raced – how long had it been since things went dark? Would the meddrone AI be able to abort the operation in time to save the patient’s life? Oh God, he is so effdisked if that AI doesn’t figure out there’s no doctor on the other end.

Because this was the third time Dr. Borden tried to log on to her workstation and the third time it kicked her back, this time with a caution she only had one shot left and that maybe she ought to call tech support before using that chance.

There was no way to call the meddrone, as those things were sealed off as far as comms went. There was only one way to talk to the meddrone directly, and for Dr. Borden, it was on the other side of a logon screen.

She called the number for her hospital’s tech support. Ringing. Well, at least it’s not down. Chortu, but that’s a lot of ringing. Well, let it ring, someone might die today if Dr. Borden shrugs her shoulders and becomes fatalistic in philosophy. She waits out the machine-induced stress.

And a machine answers. On an emergency line, it takes time to explain how the options may have changed recently and offers up a universe of choices, all a press of a digit away. Effdisk that, Dr. Borden presses zero. A human eventually speaks.

“Aetilus Medical Solutions help desk, this is Raj. May I get your employee username?”

“Eborden. E as in echo, b as in bravo, o as in oscar, r as in Romeo, d as in delta, e as in echo, n as in November.” Dr. Borden hated it whenever eborden sounded like edorgom. Spelling was usually faster than going over it twice.

“Dr. Elizabeth Borden, is this correct?”

“Yes. A man may be dying, please check if meddrone A as in alpha, 3447-”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Borden, I’m not able to contact meddrones. I’d have to escalate for that.”

“Please escalate, za’chortu.”

“There will be a, uh… oh, spore, a 30-minute wait.”

What the budding spore? 30 budding minutes? Might as well be 30 budding years! Even so… “Chortu, just get me in that queue.”

46 minutes later, a human spoke to Dr. Borden. “Hello, Dr. Borden? You there?”

“Yes. Contact meddrone A as in alpha, 3447-1369-0003.”

“A as in alpha, 3447-1369-0003. Got it. One moment… I’m sorry, I’m not getting a status, I’ll try again.”

“Do you know what’s going on?”

“Some kind of outage, that’s all I know.”

“Chortu… I desoxy-ed for this. All right, that meddrone number I gave you, it’s involved in a heart operation in Alberta. I need verification that it aborted the operation successfully and the patient status. Text me as soon as you got that info. I can’t log on to my workstation.”

“Yeah, none of the remote staff can log on. I’ve got the status query queued up for the drone and your number associated with it. Can I do anything else?”

“Nope. I’m needled. Cheers.” Dr. Borden touched her phone and the call ended.

Hopped up on the desoxy, Dr. Borden started to shake as she lost anything specific to focus on. Suddenly, she became aware of her heart rate and the blood being shoved pell-mell through her circulatory system. Don’t panic, Dr. Borden. You know how to ride out this part of the desoxy run.

The door opened and closed. Dr. Borden brought herself out of her trance state to see her boyfriend Teddy. “Hey babe.”

Teddy set stuff down on the table, even though he wasn’t supposed to. “Hey Lizzie. How’d the operation go?”

“Pffft.”

“Oh God.”

“No idea how the patient is, everything just cut out on me.”

Teddy pulled up a chair near Dr. Borden. The workstation screen was dark. A light blinked on Dr. Borden’s phone. Teddy didn’t know what to say. Someone, somewhere, connected to his girlfriend, could be dead.

Dr. Borden picked up her phone, but the light was just for a FriendFace notification. Apparently, one of her associates was a real slug and had gone fascist, from the content in his post. She unfriended him. “Budding fascist loser.” No word from Aetilus tech support.

“Budding what?”

Dr. Borden shook her head, “Nothing. Someone I went to high school with is now a fascist and dead to me. Hey, I did desoxy for this operation and I need something to focus on, or I’m gonna lose it.”

Teddy reached for the string of prayer beads Dr. Borden kept by her keyboard. She grabbed them and began to run them through her fingers like there was no tomorrow. Once you give a soxer something to do, they’ll do it. They just can’t give themselves something to do.

After a few minutes with the beads, Dr. Borden felt like she could talk and manipulate them at the same time. “What do you think caused the outage?” Teddy was a nerd. He knew answers to questions like that. He was a really cute nerd and fun to have around.

“Did it affect just you or a bigger group?”

“Guy said it took all the budding remote users out. No comms to meddrones.”

“Wow. That’s big.”

“You think it was terrorists?”

“Could be. More likely, it was someone stupid.”

Dr. Borden laughed. Teddy elaborated on the stupid. “So… it could be that someone turned off your time server. That would kill off your ability to log on remotely. Or maybe your computer cert expired. No, stupider, the root cert expired.”

Dr. Borden laughed even more. “I have no budding clue what that means! God, I love you!”

Yeah, she wasn’t doing any more operations today, system restoration or not. “Well, a root cert, that-”

“Shhhh! Explaining is boring! Just list off all the stupid stuff.”

Teddy knew better than to try and argue with a soxer. Last thing you want a soxer to focus on is a budding argument. “Um, OK, the VPN hub could be offline, uh… the directory service got swamped and went down… date field problem, oh spore! Do you know if your IT guys took care of your Y38 problem?”

Dr. Borden laughed harder, kinda maniacally now. It was time for the bell-1. She needed to come down off of this before she broke down.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Dr. Borden opened her eyes and looked around. There was a little drool on her cheek, which was typical of a bell-1 cooldown. She sat up on the sofa and saw the blinking light on her phone. She reached over to the desk and picked up her phone. A swipe later, then a code, then a DNA pulsecheck, and she was in. The light was for a text.

The text was from tech support Raj. Spore, it was 7 hours ago! Must have texted Dr. Borden right after Teddy gave her the bell-1 dose.

Oh, chortu. The guy died. Dr. Borden sighed and scrolled. OK, so the meddrone did shut things down gracefully, so it was just his heart failing post-op, which was always a risk, regardless of how the operation went. Poor old dude and his now-dead carcass.

Dr. Borden texted back to Raj, what was cause of outage?

Company cert expired, sorry was Raj’s response.

Dr. Borden wondered why “cert expired” made her laugh a little.

Time to even things out with some zebra and ibuprofen. And some mango juice.

Teddy was in the kitchen. “Hey, I’m up.”

“Sleep ok?”

“Pffft. That spore’s not sleep.” She got the juice and then rummaged in the cabinet for the zebra and ibuprofen.

“How did the patient do, if I could ask?”

Dr. Borden downed the drugs and took a shot of mango juice. “Operation ended OK, but he died post-op. Not my fault, still sad. I’m taking zebra to even things out.”

“You also took something for the headaches, right?”

“I’m not an idiot, Teddy.”

“Hey, just checking. They say what caused the outage?”

“Cert expired, whatever that means.” Dr. Borden laughed again and felt weird about laughing. Was she going psychotic?

“It means nobody was checking one of the most important pieces of computer security, the thing probably being used to establish your VPNs and channels back to the drones and stuff. And the time on it ran out right in the middle of your operation.”

Dr. Borden was level enough to want to understand that. “Hold on. You mean to tell me that a company that knows precisely how long I’m functional on a dose of desoxy and how long it takes to do an operation and how long it takes to run drones over seven continents can’t keep time on the one thing that’s gonna tie them all together? Holy budding spore.”

“Well, that’s how you guys make money. Nobody makes a dime watching a calendar for a cert to expire. They know when licenses are due because someone else makes money with those. But certs?”

“Pffft.”

“Yeah, Pffft. That’s when they call me up. You remember when Charleston had that power outage last month?”

“That was an expired cert?”

“Yep. So was the Athens Supermax Riot. Cert expired, all the doors opened.”

Dr. Borden shuddered at that thought. That was too close to home. She still worked remotely, but those meddrones were trauma center models, only 60 miles away. And that was just three months ago. Images of the carnage still popped up in her mind if she wasn’t vigilant about her thoughts.

Now she had a question.

“Teddy?”

“Yeah?”

“Tell me… What is a cert and how does it expire?”

Again, Dr. Borden laughed for a reason she did not know.

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