Last Mail

You’ve got mail’

The small icon in the task bar flashed. A flat, metallic female voice made the announcement. Wayne Jenkins opened the email program. He clicked on the ‘GET MAIL’ button, watching as 6 messages were delivered to his in-box.

Two were jokes from an overseas friend, and he deleted these without even opening them. Always the same jokes, often 5 or 6 a day. He was bored with them, but didn’t bother to tell them not to send them anymore. He didn’t want to ruin their fun. Another message was from his mother. He flagged it to answer when he had time. His mother had just discovered the joys of email, and was driving everyone in the family mad with them; group emailing everyone the most trivial titbit of family gossip. Still, he was pleased to have watched her go from technophobe to, at least, using the more basic computer applications. She was even taking lessons in Internet surfing at her local senior cits.

There were two emails from work mates, regarding some cost estimates the company was organising for a retail company. They wanted their firewalls upgraded, and some really sophisticated anti-virus programs added to their in-house systems. ‘Virtec’ stood to make a killing out of the deal.

The last email was from his friend, Alison. It was a private message. He hadn’t heard from her for a while. He noticed that the message had been forwarded from her work address, and there was an attachment. He clicked on the attachment, and his anti-virus program suddenly loaded. A window appeared on his message screen, informing him that the attachment contained a virus. It listed a number of options for dealing with the situation, including cleaning the message, deleting, or quarantining it. I small ‘ping’ sounded when the window opened, which drew the attention of George Rogerson, his supervisor. George came over, glancing at the window.

“Anything serious, Wayne?” he inquired, peering over Wayne’s shoulder.
“Nah, I don’t think so. The message is from a friend. She probably doesn’t even know it’s infected. What do you think I should do with it?” Wayne asked, looking up at the supervisor. “Clean and then delete?”

George looked serious for a second. “Naw, quarantine it, will you! And see if it has a name. Nobodies notified me of any new virus. Let’s see what the baby is made of,”, he answered, walking back to his workstation.

Wayne made sure George was intent on his monitor, and clicked the ‘FORWARD’ button on his mail program, then addressed the message to his in-box at home. A copy of the message and its attachment disappeared into cyberspace. He would check it out himself when he got home tonight. He scrolled down to the attachment, and noticed that the file name was ‘last~mail.vid’. Never heard of that one, he thought to himself. Maybe Alison had discovered some new virus, unintentionally. He shrugged his shoulders, then clicked the quarantine button. That should hold the little fucker for a while. He closed his email program, and went back to the document he had been working on.

‘You’ve got mail’.

The e-mail program at Wayne’s home had the same flat, metallic voice, only this one was male. He opened his browser, and downloaded the mail. Four messages from his mother, this time. The subject lines included ‘A messge from mum’, with the ‘a’ missing from message; ‘mickey’s cute saying’, with a small ’M’ for Mickey, his four-year-old nephew; ‘Some fun sites that Mr Nokes at the centre has found’. He couldn’t wait to see what the local 70+ brigade considered fun sites. He somehow didn’t think it would quite fit into his idea of fun. The last was headed ‘I got this from Alison’. He highlighted this message, and it opened in his browser;

‘What am I supposed to do with this’, his mother had typed, minus the question mark He really had to speak to her about using spell-check on her messages. ‘please answer by email.’ Wayne laughed. His mother was inscrutable sometimes.

The ‘last~mail.vid’ attachment was at the bottom of the email. Wayne screwed up his face. How many people had Alison sent this infected email to? He’d email her back later and warn her about what she was doing. Meantime, he’d quarantine it. He clicked on the attachment, and the anti-virus window came up. He quarantined the attachment, and went back to answering his mail, starting with his mother.

An hour later, he sent the last email. That should keep his mother quiet for a couple of hours. He swore she sat up half the night these days, surfing sites with outdated jokes, and probably checking up on the stock prices of companies running nursing homes. He wondered if she had encountered any porn sites yet! He could just see the look on her face! And he bet she never told Mr Nokes about them, either. The old blighter would probably have a heart attack at anything more blatant than a set of tits. He snickered to himself.

He was about to shut the system down, when he remembered the quarantined email. He doubted George would have remembered it at work. It’d be great if he could go in tomorrow with details of what it was about. With any luck, they would have an antidote for it by lunch time tomorrow, and have an update out to all their subscribers by late afternoon. He opened his anti-virus program, and clicked on the quarantined button.

It opened another window, with the quarantined virus attachment. His company had worked for years with this quarantine program, designing it so that any virus opened within it would be confined while they worked on dissecting it.
He clicked on the ‘last~mail.vid’ file name. It opened to reveal a teddy bear icon. The teddy bear wore a tiny tartan vest, and had his hand raised in welcome.

“Cute!” Wayne said to the monitor. He clicked on the small icon, and a specially designed anti-virus multimedia player opened within the quarantine section. His company had designed this software to cater to any contingency, and at times like this he felt sure that the millions spent on product development every year was warranted. He waited a minute for the player to load the video. The pause button was accentuated.

Wayne pushed the pause button, which turned itself into a ‘play’ arrow. There was several seconds of blue screen. The teddy bear with the tartan vest appeared on the screen. He turned his waving hand over, and stuck his thumb up in the air. Over the computer’s sound system came a small, scratchy voice:
“Sooner or later, someone, somewhere had to be a stupid fucker and open up this package. Don’t you know that last~mail means just that – last-mail!”

The screen went blank.

Wayne had a split second to see the teddy bear smile!

Tim Alderman
(Copyright ©2002)


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