Author's note: So far, Mack's "origin story" doesn't seem to be too much about him yet—he's basically a Mack-Guffin, so to speak—in fact, it seems to be more about Andrew. When exactly will the Managerial Automaton Cracker become Mackenzie Hartford? Read on.
And a note about the name: The MA part of it (Managerial Automaton) describes what Mack supposedly is, an intelligent cell phone organizer. The "Cracker" part doesn't seem to make much sense, though, but I had to come up with a way to include a letter K in the name otherwise that'll make the app a blatant copyright infringement on Apple. "Cracker" here is used as a play on the word "chip", which describes the MACk unit as a piece of hardware; in addition it's also a play on the process of "cracking", or the manner software pirates circumvent the need for a CD when using hacked software.
One of the more iconic buildings in the San Angeles area, the Hartford Industries building soars high above the streets at 50 stories. This huge cylindrical spike of iron and glass dominated the skyline of the thriving but generally unknown Californian town, center of a huge reinvented empire built from machines and the programs that run them. From the ground floor, the company logo—a stylized compass-shaped insignia, dominated the building's entrance.
A limousine pulled over the polished stone clad frontage of the building. Spencer, still adjusting after 40 years to driving on the "wrong" side of the road, went out and opened the door to an eager Andrew Hartford. Andrew entered the building, and was almost instantly greeted warmly by just about every person in the lobby.
Andrew was rather uncomfortable with meetings—he wasn't accustomed to wearing suits, preferring the looser shirts and vests that make up his spelunker garb—and was all the more uneasy dealing with the nigh-unfeeling, cold, conformist board of directors.
What particularly vexes him about this meeting is his perpetually annoying vice-president, Collins.
Collins was a devil's advocate; a narrow-minded conservative, more interested in keeping the company afloat. He was little different from Andrew's technophobic relatives from the McAllister clan, which he acts as an unofficial representative. It wasn't really so much of the devil's advocate that irritated Andrew (better than a Yes man, he would say) but the manner in which he made his opinion known. Collins was rather young for a conservative prick, and was rather cynical and pompous.
Hartford's revenge came in the form of a particularly unlikeable intern, Russell, who was duly assigned as Collin's executive assistant.
"With all due respect, Mr. Hartford, to your programming finesse, we people of the board would like to inquire if you have, in placing a nigh-impervious antivirus into the code of the MACk project, gone completely insane!"
"Calm down, Mr. Collins."
"Oh, I'll calm down, Mr. Hartford. I'll calm down once you manage to successfully dodge a lawsuit from Norton and MacAfee. I'll calm down, if no hacker can get to our servers and steal the damn code to create a super-virus. Hartford, you idiot."
"Shut up, Wesley."
Collins was dumbstruck. He sat down, embarrassed at the extent of his outrage that bordered the unexpectedly disrespectful. Collins had traditionally held nothing against Andrew, and saw to it that his blatant complaining was absolutely necessary. His place was to put checks in balance. The company wasn't about to give in to any novel idea that comes out of Hartford's head.
"Pardon me, Mr. Hartford. Forgive me for my disrespect, but I'd like to point out that you're jeopardizing company integrity on what I personally believe is overkill. It's bad enough that you use the company's vast array of white hat hackers to break the right to privacy of people, but to develop a program that learns and evolves is far too much for a mere built-in antivirus for a cell phone application. If that isn't lunacy, sir, I don't know what it's called. And don't get me started on how this'll cause the price of the Managerial Automaton Cracker project to skyrocket, perhaps way beyond the intended market."
Hartford was silent, feeling somewhat flabbergasted by the barrage of arguments. And then the expression of his face suddenly changed.
Russell came in, carrying a file folder. He laid it on the table.
"Just in time, Nick." Hartford said, smiling at the young, grumpy-looking intern.
In the folder was a letter from the Governor of California himself, along with one from the Military Chief of Staff of the United States. All at once it became clear to the board what Andrew has been planning all along.
"Hartford Industries has been asked by the federal government to develop a nigh-impenetrable firewall to protect the US Army's servers from potential hacker activity sponsored by terrorists."
"The board has, last week, approved of joining the bidding, under heavy pressure from Governor Schwarzenegger himself, who seeks to use a similar program to protect the servers of Californian government offices. I have taken the liberty of testing a smaller version of the antivirus firewall on the MACk to ensure the safety of our own products. Imagine the resilience of the firewall-cum-antivirus on the scale of an entire network."
"I still think it's overkill. But Hartford, you're a genius." Collins said sheepishly. His embarrassing display will cost him the respect of the board, and, perhaps, the ire of his superiors, the McAllisters.
"Am I not?"
"There's still a bidder to consider. Let's assume, perhaps that your super-firewall would rake in billions, but it's likely that both the state government and the US Army would be demanding exclusivity."
"Please, Mr. Collins. When such a bidder happens, we give our priorities to whoever has the most legal authority." Collins was, at that moment, starting to look like a crazy conspiracy theorist. At any moment he could be brandishing the "government control" mantra. Hence, he decided to fall silent, and allow the board to decide for themselves. Andrew has one-upped him once again.
Andrew was more or less idealistic—a trait he found both admirable and detrimental at the same time. It was clear that Andrew's intent was positive; while not always practical.
The board's decision came to a surprise for both Hartford and Collins; while the board did approve of taking a bidder, they were divided into whom to give product exclusivity to. Eventually, the bidding dates came, and neither the US Army nor the Californian government took the bid. The entire project was mothballed, and Hartford advised to put the firewall-antivirus on hiatus until the project had more bidders.
It seems that Collins had won after all.
"Don't beat yourself up sir, at least all the company servers would remain virus-free for the next two years and six months." Spencer said jokingly, "And it's—shall I put it—a marvelous addition to the computer in my quarters that I still find difficult to use. it's now impossible for me to screw up."
"Right…" Andrew replied sheepishly, as he slouches on a recliner while giving orders to Cameron, who was tweaking Cyber-Cam's programming code to be used for the MACk. "Well, that didn't go as expected."
"It's the law of averages, Mr.H." Said Cameron, mashing button after button of the keyboard as he speedily types the alterations of the code, "Wesley has to win sometime. Don't kick yourself too hard on the back. It could be worse."
"Well, I guess you both are right." Andrew replied.
"So, what's your progress report on the MACk's holographic image program."
"It's ready for testing."
"Whoa, that fast?'
"Like a New York minute, Mr. H., that's how fast technology advances. In time, I can program something in a split second and even that'll be considered laggy."
In what seemed like a flash even for the techno-savvy Hartford, Cam mashed the keyboard, punching in lines of code. A few clicks later, the entire code was in place.
"Did you add the chatbot?'
"Would we be having a visible avatar?"
"Well, the mesh is in place but with the lack of any other avatar to work with, you're getting Cyber-Cam's skin there. And voice."
"Will everything work well?"
"We have enough back-ups to work with, in case anything bad happens, but apart from that I'm betting my career everything will work perfectly."
"Start it up."
The interface was ready for testing. Cam pressed the launch button, enabling the programmer to see the initial interface. The screen showed a stark white screen, with a few rounded rectangles where the options would be. Below the figure of the Cyber-Cam skin was a chat box.
Hartford sailed across the room riding a swivel office chair. He gave Cameron a reassuring look (much the same with most reassuring looks which he gave people, only it was the look that he gives when he plans on giving them a big fat raise), before turning to the screen. He checked the interface—not nearly as functional as expected, but it gave him a basic idea of what the beta version would look like.
He eagerly tried a few workable commands he left functioning during the debugging process: display time options.
And then the unthinkable happened.
Almost immediately the computer screen flashed orange, (Yes, the OS used by Hartford Industries has an ORANGE SCREEN OF DEATH!) displaying an obnoxious error message wittily placed by Hartford himself in the event of something like this.
THE PROGRAM, AS YOU CAN SEE, HAS EXPERIENCED A FATAL ERROR IN THE RUNNING OF [[MACK_AVATARMESH_VIRTUALCAMERON]]
AND WHEN I MEAN FATAL, I MEAN—THIS ERROR ISN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN AND NOW YOU'RE PRETTY MUCH SCREWED AT THIS POINT. MY BEST GUESS IS THAT IT OCCURRED SOMEWHERE IN THE CODE OF THE PROGRAM ITSELF. SO, IT'S SOMETHING YOU PROBABLY CAN'T FIX.
NOW YOU CAN TRY TO REBOOT, BUT I DON'T SEE HOW THAT CAN FIX ANYTHING. CLOCK'S TICKING…
THE MANAGERIAL AUTOMATON CRACKER
Sadly, though this was not to be the easy fix as Andrew had originally planned. As he tried getting it rebooted, the same thing happened each time he tried to restart the device and the program. Soon it became apparent that the entire system was corrupted. The machine simply showed the same error message again and again, until all Andrew could do is lean his head into the screen.
Downstairs, in Spencer's quarters, the crash messed up the server's connections. The antivirus kicked in, diverting the information from Spencer's still working PC to the upstairs server. Immediately the orange screen of death lifted, only to flash into Spencer's user account at a social networking site.
And, as if to add insult to injury, the server exploded. Cameron quickly leapt out of the workstation and proceeded to get the fire extinguisher.
"I don't even know how that could happen?" Cam said as he sprayed the damaged computer with extinguisher foam while noting its similarity to pyrotechnical special effects used in some campy TV shows. "I've seen a lot of explosions in my day, but this just takes the cake. Weird things do happen in California."
"I've worked so hard… we've worked so hard. Why did this have to happen?"
"Relax, Mr. Hartford—"Cam replied, trying to comfort Andrew while hiding his true feelings of nearing tears. He has been working on the program since the early morning, having come to Hartford Manor in his pajamas. 10 hours and countless cups of coffee later, disaster struck.
"RELAX? I LOST MY GIRLFRIEND BECAUSE OF THIS DAMN PROGRAM!"
"Well, boo-hoo, I came to work in PJs."
"And now we have to put up with Spencer's social networking ID being redirected into the screen."
"Do we have to? His profile picture looks nothing like him. Hey, is that a picture of you and Orlando Bloom?"
"As a matter of fact, no. That's just Spencer in disguise. For an old army dude he sure knows how to dress up convincingly like just about anyone. "
"Is he from the MI6?"
"Royal Air Force. And yes, we don't have to put up with this."
Hartford stood up, and went towards the door.
Sparks flew as Andrew and Cam stared at the inexplicably ruined server room. What caused the crash was unclear, and how it ended in the curiously theatrical disaster is beyond comprehension, even for their genius minds.
And thus, we all know what'll happen next. Please rate, comment, but don't flame.