What Am I Hearing?

Liam wrapped a light scarf around his neck and a light blanket around his lap before settling into his chair. It’s no one’s fault, he thought with a sniff. Half the department is out sick with this bug. Maxine would have been able to handle all of this but a daughter landing in the hospital takes precedence. I appear to be the last manager standing.

Glancing to his desk clock he read 4:13 AM. He shrugged off how unfortunate this was. I still have a low grade fever, a whopping headache and this nagging cough. But getting the time sheets approved this early should make the job go faster. The server won’t be busy..

He lifted his head to make sure he heard the hot water pot boil — No joy yet.  Really need that tea. Just the thought of a nice hot mug of tea, maybe with a cheese stick sounded so good, his stomach growled.

His laptop booted up cleanly and presented him with corporate credentialing screen where he used his personal token to enter a rotating number that was only good for 20 seconds.  Hitting Enter took him to his own login screen and more password prompts. I wonder if anyone has run the numbers for how much time we pay our employees for just to login each day? — So, what’s taking the VPN so long? It can’t be heavily used this early, but here I sit as it spins . . .

Maybe I’ll just make my tea while this thing runs in circles. As he grabbed both arm rests to stand, the VPN connected and left him at the final screen to get in and working. He entered his fourth set of login credentials for the morning, the company’s Single-Sign-On, which contrary to it’s name seemed to be the one most often needed multiple times a day, but this time it went right through and left him ready to work.

There was only this one task that was urgent. Employees would be paid their normal pay if he did not approve the time sheets but anyone who worked overtime or had any other changes would not see these on their paycheck until the next cycle the following month. All the managers knew this was so unpopular that extraordinary efforts were expected to get them approved in time.

Okay, let’s kick this out. . .  and he dug in. Liam had a strategy and he was pleased when his first step closed out most of the sheets in less than ten minutes but, this damn headache. I’m going to grab some kind of med when that pot finally . . . ?  Wait, how could that pot not have boiled already?

He pushed back from the desk and went to check and sure enough, someone had unplugged  it. He plugged it in and the light indicated that it was now working. Emma must have washed it last night – figures . . .

His stomach and brain really needed that tea.

The house was still silent with everyone else asleep, Even the cat isn’t up yet.

He was on the third time sheet of those with special projects when he heard something and paused, looking up. Was that someone speaking upstairs?  He listened without making a sound himself. Garbled words, like from way down a long hall, too soft to pick up, one speaker but I don’t hear a second voice.  

Another few words popped out and he quickly realized that this voice was not coming from his home, It’s coming from my computer, like an old Zoom meeting left open by mistake.

He quickly brought up his applications screen to verify that there was no Zoom meeting running. How could there be? I started with a fresh boot today.

The voice was back and it occurred to him that maybe someone had managed to hack his laptop and place spyware on it to listen in. It’s like some hacker got the exploit running but forgot to turn off his own mic. “If only I could make out his words. Without making a sound he made sure his speaker was turned up to full and that his own mic was off.  He didn’t know much about such hacks but, can hackers bypass your microphone switch?

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Liam, was anxious. none of the cyber-security classes they’d all taken addressed anything like this . What makes the most sense to do? Maybe I can record it and someone can pry out the words from the echos.

With the audio recording running and the sound up as high as it would go, He leaded back to consider if he could or should do anything else. The voice had gone silent for a few moments. Should have started that recording sooner.

The hot water pot beeped so he unplugged the laptop from the docking station and carried it quietly into the kitchen. With the laptop placed on one end of the counter he moved to the pot and poured the boiling water over his tea leaves. Ah – Earl Gray always smells wonderful, but what am I going to do? The voice was still silent as he watched the timer count down.

He had stepped back to check the timer, willing it to brew faster when the voice reappeared but this time, It did not come from behind him where the laptop was but it came from right in front of him – from the teapot? Impossible! The voice suddenly changed from garbled words to, what is that, a growl?

He stepped backwards not trusting any conclusions that were trying to form when it happened again, that sounded almost like a whale calling not coming from the laptop but from where?

He stood absolutely still waiting to hear it again and capture any evidence of what it was.

When it came he could barely believe it. Looking straight down, he had his answer and could not resist the urge to laugh at himself for going through such lengths to trap evidence of a hungry stomach growl.


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