PACKET RAT

Rat goes undercover

R. Fink

The Rat's reduction in rank has freed him to resume overseeing operations of his low-tech Internet startup, rMachines Inc.

After a slump in Internet stocks, he was advised to hold off on an initial public offering and stick to raising more venture capital.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Rat and the ratlings continue to load more predistressed PCs with the cyberrodent's patented, anorexically thin Internet operating system and ship them off to rMachines' national distribution network of flea market stands and former Tupperware dealers.

The whiskered one found it easy to attract venture capitalists. Problem was, he was spending most of their money flying out to California for his bimonthly genuflections. So when a prospective local investor emerged, the Rat was all agog.

The prospect did behave a little oddly, however. For one thing, the cyberrodent got the first call at a pay phone in a Metro station'and he hadn't been expecting a call. He was simply standing on the Red Line platform when the phone behind him rang. He picked it up out of curiosity.



'Mr. Fink,' whispered a voice, 'we'd like to discuss possible investment in your side venture. Meet us at Dupont Circle. Sit on a park bench next to the man with the pink umbrella on Wednesday at 6 a.m.'

Before the Rat could reply, the phone went dead.

Naturally, he showed up at Dupont Circle at the appointed hour. There on a bench sat a man with dark glasses, a trench coat, a pink umbrella and a steel briefcase. The bewildered rodent looked around for snipers, then strolled over and sat down.

'Morning. How are things at the George Bush Center for Intelligence?' the Rat asked.

The bench sitter looked around nervously. 'Um, fine. So you knew?'

''Who else in Washington has venture capital burning a hole in their pockets?'

'Well, we're still getting used to this public venture capital stuff. The last time one of my financial transactions went public, it was because Fawn Hall forgot to shred the evidence.'

The Rat nodded sympathetically. 'So, why am I the target of the CIA's generosity? You've obviously done due diligence on me, but I thought you guys invested in bleeding-edge technology.'

The incognito investor looked around, then whispered, 'This is strictly confidential.'

'Certainly,' the Rat nodded.

'After we put together an office, hired a chief executive officer, printed business cards and all that, we realized there wasn't a whole lot of capital left to venture. We have around $150 million to play with, and that's less than some venture capitalists spend on bathroom tissue. We can't even get reservations at Spago's in Palo Alto'the hostess just laughs at us. We're getting dissed up and down Sand Hill Road.'

The man removed his dark glasses. 'We at the agency don't like getting dissed.'

'And you came to me because ' '

Your mission, Jim

'We need a couple of guaranteed wins to establish a rep. Your little side venture looks like a real opportunity. Besides, in your case, we can supply more than seed capital. We've got 300,000 Z-248s that we bought for the Contras through our black budget and nowhere to offload them.'

The Rat rubbed his paws together. It was like Halloween, having an investor as a supplier. But if this was the treat, where was the trick?

'Of course,' continued the adventure capitalist, 'if your venture isn't successful, we would have to terminate our investment with extreme prejudice.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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