Packet Rat: All orange, all the time
Michael J. Bechetti
'Well, at least we can use all this plastic and duct tape Tom Ridge told us to buy,' grumbled the Rat as he covered another window to keep out the snow instead of the anticipated cloud of anthrax spores.
With snow piling around the family burrow and liberal leave in effect, the whiskered one stayed busy so as not to worry about the nation's escalation to threat level Orange.
Mobile anti-aircraft batteries parked in view of the office had inspired a certain amount of unease at his network command bunker. The cyberrodent's younger acolytes were the first to succumb, regularly checking the fit of gas masks they'd bought on eBay during coffee breaks.
'We just want to be ready,' one masked help desk jockey mumbled. 'Just in case, you know.'
'Let me tell you something, son,' the Rat sighed. 'Way back when I was sorting punch cards at the Pentagon, we had this little thing called the Cuban missile crisis. I learned one thing from that civil defense exercise: There's a fine line between readiness and obsession. So take that blasted thing off and get back to work.'
As the tech support trooper peeled off his mask, the Rat added: 'That wouldn't do you much good anyway. It's only got training filters.'
Over the next few days, the Rat encountered more signs of what he'd taken to calling Code Orange Syndrome: increased traffic from agency PCs to survivalist Web sites and a sudden fad for belt-clip flashlights among the fashionista crowd. Plus, people once again started using tweezers to carry mail that arrived in hand-addressed envelopes.
One partly positive impact emerged from all the worry about Armageddon. The amount of work getting done at the office had slowed to a trickle, which meant that trouble calls to the network command bunker were down by nearly 50 percent.
The downside was that the Rat's staff was too anxious to enjoy the lessened work pace. What's more, the security chief had banned them from holding any folding-scooter polo matches in the subbasement hallways for the duration of Code Orange.
That was when the Rat decided to start dressing for work in the alert color of the day.
'From now until we downgrade, it's nothing but orange, folks,' he announced on Valentine's Day. He was sporting a hunting safety vest and goodies bought online from the Syracuse University bookstore.
'DayGlo, mandarin, you name it'I'll be wearing it,' he promised. 'Think of me as your walking traffic cone of vigilance.'
When the Big Snow stranded the Rat at home with his off-from-school offspring, his coworkers' eyes were spared for a few days. Instead, the Rat found himself pulling the squabbling siblings off each other, digging out the driveway and taping plastic over windows.
'OK, kids,' he roared after breaking up yet another cabin-fever fight. 'Let's do something fun. Let's go check the expiration dates on the cans in the bomb shelter.'
Sometimes, being prepared has its own rewards. The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.