This story is by Sergey Pronin and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Dima plugged in the hard drive, and the blue light flashed. “New device recognized.” The screen suddenly blinked and went out. Dima stared at the message. “Unauthorized computer for the external storage device detected. Enter the master password to authorize the device.”
Oh God, what if it is logging access attempts?
Master password? Hell, when did the boss become such a pro-user? Dima’s boss had worked for government subcontractors for ages and insisted that all employees addressed him formally at all times. At least his patronym was relatively easy to remember: Vitali Vasilievich. Such old-school top-ranking directors coming straight out of Komsomol would share their account information with three people minimum, mostly assistants and secretaries. They even wanted all the emails printed out.
Dima’s mom also liked to put a sheet of paper with all the passwords under a transparent mouse pad. Does Vitaly Vasilievich even have a mouse pad? His office is empty, so…
Dima grabbed a heap of A4 printouts and quickly paced down the corridor.
Nope. Boss didn’t have a transparent mouse pad. No flip-over calendar either. Dima yanked the top desk drawer because why not. It was locked. The office door creaked open. Dima quivered, hiccuped, and almost dropped the paper heap.
“Dima? What are you doing here?” The chief stopped in the door frame, squeezing a leather briefcase to his chest.
“I, uh, wanted to bring the mail printouts, Vitaliy… Vasilievich.” Dima tried to rearrange the paper heap on the table, but his hands shook.
“I thought we had agreed that you would leave it at Lena’s desk… It’s right outside, you know. Just by the door to my personal office. Am I clear enough? And what’s this?” The chief nodded at the hard drive, lying right in the middle of a table. What kind of idiot carries an encrypted hard drive while breaking into his boss’s office? Dima’s face went red as if hot iron touched his cheeks.
“Oh, this? It’s a.. hard drive. It seems to have started failing. I wanted to go to Sergey to check right after…”
“Is that so? Very well then, this will be all, Dima. Go take care of the hard drive.” Boss gently stroked his sparse hair.
Dima nodded, seized the hard drive off the desk, and rushed for the exit. Boss squeaked in his chair. Dima grabbed the door handle.
“Come see me tomorrow, Dima. I will need to know if everything is all right with the hard drive.”
Dima turned around briefly, nodded without looking up, and walked out. His shirt was wet under his sweater. Why had he got himself into this? Is all this needed just to make a girl like him? As he paced down the corridor, he tried to remember how she looked when they first met.
Alina had big round eyeglasses, red, slightly curly hair, and purple nail polish. Dima felt like he is wrapped in cotton candy, sitting next to her. She, on the other hand, was way too serious.
“I like you. You’re, like, a cool guy, a regular guy. But I want you to know, I’ve got my own issues. If we have political differences, we can’t be together. People can work out anything as long as their views match fundamentally.”
She said that in the second hour of their first date. Dima couldn’t smell coffee; he could only smell her perfume. He was ready to stand under any banner.
Her banners were, thankfully, very broadly defined. First came animal rights, which didn’t seem complicated. And there was even no call for an immediate revolution. Secondly, Dima needed to declare that he had started on a long way to veganism and a zero-carbon footprint. Nothing too hard there either.
Dima stopped at the coffee looked at his watch. Okay, Sergey, the head of the IT department, usually works late; it’s only 19:30. I’ll have to go to him to confirm the alibi.
The IT department was in the farthest corner of the office. Sergey was there as expected, picking at an old Nvidia video card with a screwdriver.
“Well, this drive seems to have failed.”
Dima put the drive on the table in front of Sergey, then took it back.
“So? Leave it. I’ll have a look later”. Sergei pointed his screwdriver at a box on the corner of the table.
Dima looked into the box. Inside was another hard drive with the inventory number handwritten right on the paper tape.
“State secrets and damning camera recordings?”
Dima carefully pulled the disk with the number out of the box.
“Huh? No idea. I prefer not to look into the contents. I was asked to check it as well, but that’s done now. Dima! Please put it back. I have to lock it in the safe tomorrow. You can put yours there too. I’ll take care of it.”
Dima put both disks into the box and felt dizzy, as if someone was rattling his temples.
“State secrets can wait till breakfast? Why not today?”
“Boss is here only tomorrow, and only he has the keys. As you well know.”
“You are one lucky bastard, Sergey,” – Dima scratched the magnetic card on his belt. – “Lucky that I’m not a spy. Otherwise, I would copy all our databases and run off to Cyprus!”
“There are too many of our people in Cyprus” – Sergey suddenly looked Dima straight in the eyes. – “You know what I’m saying? Don’t go to Cyprus. Go to London instead”.
Dima shrugged and went back to his desk. He had to wait. And he probably should take off his sweater if he doesn’t want to melt. His cheeks continued to burn just like a week ago…
Alina smacked him with a swing, unexpectedly. Dima froze. When a girl hits you just out of the blue, what do you do? At least the waiter pretended to look another way.
“You work for Vector-Contact LLC? IT-guy, my ass! Did you know that your company is funneling government money to some Caiman islands’ postboxes? Did you know that your guys put illegal surveillance systems in all the city’s squares and, it seems, in all the detention centers? Maybe you even worked on it yourself; what do I know! When did you plan to tell me, at the wedding? They detain people for just standing in a public square on a wrong day or protesting with a blank sheet of paper. And you’re sitting there, collecting salary and burning in dates with… stupid girls! It’s because of people like you, our country is… I don’t want to see you anymore. Ever.”
She slapped a thousand-roubles bill on the table, walked out into the rain, and didn’t look back. For some reason, it was very embarrassing.
Sergey left in two hours, and Vitaly Vasilievich in three. This time everything worked out fine. The master password was indeed written down in a notebook. He had enough time to carefully open and close the boss’s desk drawer. Clean work. To feel safe, he even turned off his phone on the way home.
At home, he went straight to his computer.
There should be a terabyte of footage from jail cells right on the tiny hard drive. How do you even store this stuff? Where do people send this? Western newspapers? The anti-corruption committee, which was recently declared a foreign agent? Call Alina and tell her everything? No. He’ll make an appointment with her and let her see it for herself. Let her understand that he is on the right side. Her side.
I’ll just give it to her, she’ll know what to do, and if she isn’t arrested, we’ll live happily ever after.
He plugged both hard drives into the computer.
I’ll make a copy, bring everything back tomorrow, and then we’ll see.
Maybe there’s nothing on that drive, and for all this fuss…
Okay, okay. Copy first, and then we’ll see what they are hiding.
“Error! The data is copy-protected!”
“Attention, you are using a data storage device owned by Vector-Contact LLC. The data contains commercial and state secrets, and the device is equipped with GPS. All data operations outside the local network are forbidden. Any attempts may result in criminal charges. Please return the device to the address on the label.”
Dima’s fingers went numb. So is that it? When did they add GPS?
They are coming! Are they coming?
Proved your loyalty to the opposition, you idiot? Is she even worth it?
Dima took out his phone, turned it on, and found a contact, barely hitting the screen.
“Federal Security Service? I want to report a possible threat to government interest.”
Anna P. Wright says
I enjoyed your story. It was exciting and unpredictable. The suspense built as the plot thickened.
Well done, Sergey. All the best in the contest.