It's a slow afternoon at Mission Control when the phone rings. It's an external call, which is more welcome than the internal variety.
As luck would have it, it's my slave- trader come to take me out for the twice-yearly drink-up, food-stuff and pep-talk to guarantee my custom in the years ahead. True, I could go back to contracting direct as I used to, but this way someone else has to foot the bill for a six-monthly night of excess. The PFY and I arrange to skive off early and meet him in a local drinking establishment. The night promises to be interesting...
Sure enough, the next day, the PFY and I are somewhat slow on the uptake. Whilst the idea of doing the Monopoly-Board Pub Crawl sounded like a good idea under the influence of lager at 10 past 5, at 10 past 10 in the morning, enthusiasm has tapered off somewhat.
So much so in fact that the presence of a user in our office provokes only a minor response.
The PFY reaches half-heartedly for the power stapler, only slightly modified with extra torque on the firing spring, a 'rapid fire' setting, and the removal of the safety guard.
"Hang on!" I cry, not wanting to endure several hundred CLACKs and miscellaneous screams in my current condition. "Can I help you?" I ask the user.
"I'm after a UTP cable for my computer," the user asks, displaying an education in networking that's generally prohibited at user level. (For their own good of course.)
"How long would you like it?" I ask tiredly.
"Well, I'd like to keep it if it's all right with you," he adds, chuckling away at a joke that's so old Noah used it buying wood for the Ark.
"Sure, just grab one from the brown cardboard box in the corner."
The user contentedly wanders off with a cable and the PFY corners me.
"Are you all right?" the PFY asks in a strangely caring voice. "You helped a user?"
"By giving him one of the dud cables that we sell for copper scrap? I was just buying time till my hangover goes. Mark my words, he'll be back."
"Oh," the PFY responds, realising that even on a bad day the old CPU's still ticking over. He pauses for a moment - something plainly on his mind.
"Don't you ever worry that we lie to users too much?"
A Mid-Job Crisis. I should have seen it coming. All the symptoms were there - the care for others, the slow-draw of the stapler.
"Don't be ridiculous!" I cry, wanting to nip the surge of conscience in the bud. "Users expect to be lied to, like Insurance companies and the Inland Revenue. It's your right - no your duty - to misinform in the interests of technological advancement."
"Well, I've been thinking - I don't know if I'm really cut out for this job."
It's worse that I thought. Before the PFY can go on, I ring the helpdesk and give them his number for 'problem calls'. Surprisingly enough, they start putting users through almost immediately.
Two hours later the damage is done and the PFY's back to normal. The user who wanted to know why the 'follow-me' service wasn't working on her phone was probably the straw that broke the camel's back. It took a while for the PFY to realise she was carrying her desk phone around the building with her, but as a veteran hand at these things I expected no less.
He's back on form by the time my amateur networker returns to the office.
"That cable you gave me is broken!" he cries in a distressed manner.
"I don't think so," the PFY says calmly. "We ran a cable check on all of them."
"That's true," I respond. "Except of course we didn't do the humidity differential test because our multimeter's broken."
"Of course," the PFY gasps.
"That'll be it," our user cries, feigning knowledge.
"Tell you what," I say to our ardent amateur. "You grab one end of the cable and go into the comms corridor and just hold the plug in your mouth. You'll feel a slight tingle if the humidity differential's OK and nothing if the cable's broken."
Seconds later the silence of the comms corridor is punctuated by a scream and a series of thuds.
"Whoops," the PFY blurts. "Plugged
it into the 90V AC Phone-Bell test
transformer by mistake."
The thuds next door stop, which can only mean our user's managed to bite through the cable to disconnect himself.
"Good to have you back," I say as the PFY unplugs the evidence. I mean cable.
"Good to be back."
Isn't it funny how things work out for the best?