eSlaves


eSlaves by Henry Charles Mishkoff

"Your meeting's about to start," Toby reminds me.

I glance at my watch. Actually, my meeting started nearly ten minutes ago. "Somebody'll have to cover for me," I say. I yank my phone from my pocket and stare at the screen as if it might suggest the name of someone to call. When that doesn't happen, I stuff the phone back into my pocket. "The hell with it," I say, hoping that it doesn't sound like a snarl. "They won't even realize I'm not there."

"Nah, go ahead," Toby says, waving me off. "Do your meeting. Don't worry about it. I can handle it."

He must sense that I'm not going anywhere, because he actually stops staring at the monitor for a few seconds and glances back over his shoulder at me. "You'll only get in the way, boss," he points out. He gives me another backhand wave, shooing me away. "Go on, I'll message you if anything comes up."

I know that he's right, of course. I like to say that I taught Toby everything he knows, but that was more than two decades ago, and I happily admit that he's been programming rings around me for most of the time since then. And Toby is an undisputed Zen Master of the Internet, cruising through the intricacies of arcane protocols and obscure conventions with an effortless grace that I can only envy.

But still, it's nearly impossible for me to simply turn around and walk out of the Op Center when my company is under yet another savage cyberattack. I built eSlaves into a $1.2 billion enterprise in twenty years by paying intensely personal attention to every detail. I don't walk away from tricky problems and leave them for somebody else to sort out.

Toby cocks an eyebrow and waits for me to make up my mind. He's trying not to smile, but I can see that he knows he's right, and that he knows that I know it too. If we both try to fight the hackers at the same time, we'll end up stepping on each other's toes. One of us needs to get out of the way – and since Toby's considerably better at it than I am, I'm the one who needs to leave.

"You'll let me know if it starts to get out of hand." I'm trying to sound authoritative, but I suspect that it sounds more like a plea than an order.

"It won't get out of hand," Toby soothes. "But if it does," he adds, sensing that I'm not entirely placated, "I'll message you. Immediately. Now..." He slowly starts to swivel back to the keyboard.

I can take a hint. "OK, I'm outta here. Go get 'em."

But he's already back at work, squinting at the display, typing furiously and somehow shooting the mouse cursor around the screen with furious abandon at the same time. He must have three hands, because he manages to flip a dismissive wave back over his shoulder at me. "I'm on it, boss," he says, with confidence.

I force myself to turn and walk quickly out of the Op Center, desperately trying to convince myself that I don't have anything to worry about. There's no one, I remind myself, no one in the world who can repel hacker attacks half as well as Toby. He's as intense as a cobra, as cunning as lion, as tenacious as a pit bull. If I could design the perfect Net security expert... well, frankly, I don't have to design one, because I already have him, and his name is Toby Johnson.

At times like this, I'm very, very thankful that I own him.

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