… that I came into the open about my fugitive status. I think I’ll leak it out in episodes.
The Making of a Fugitive – Episode One.
I was working as a systems programmer for a large British company, and, as one tends to do, I was browsing the Internet on the side. My mistake was to drill a hole through my company’s firewall. I did not do this to cause harm. Nor did I do it to “see if I could”, because I knew I could, we programmers are arrogant that way. I did it in order to continue to participate in a forum about 1980s video games, a lame interest, you may believe, but one of my interests, nevertheless. If you’ve never played Pacman, Q*Bert or SuperCobra, I can see that you might not appreciate the compelling nature of these entertainments. Your life has been the poorer for it, I assure you.
In its wisdom, and I have to concede they had a point, my company could not perceive a business purpose to visiting the web forum, and they had blocked it. I knew I would not be able to convince them that it was essential to my morale and productivity that I be allowed to continue to indulge in discussions of Skill Levels in Gyruss, so I tweaked the firewall to permit it, just for me.
Some eagle-eyed guardian of the company’s morals spotted my infraction, probably whilst browsing the site himself, operating from the lofty position of firewall manager, and sent me a very sharp email, copy my manager. I expected a harsh word or two, perhaps even a formal warning. Instead, they called in the police and accused me of hacking. I had clearly broken the rules, I freely concede that. But hacking? I don’t think so. Two factors probably played a part in their decision to prosecute. There had been quite a lot of misuse of the company email system around that time – some distinctly off-colour images had appeared on desktop screens – but only the recipients of the mail could be traced, and you can hardly blame a person for receiving an unsolicited pornographic image in the mail. Nevertheless, the company was embarrassed, and they needed to make an example of someone who was monkeying with the company network. Secondly, the company was “downsizing” at the time, and it was handy to find someone you could dismiss forthwith, and not have to compensate. I was that someone.
I held my hand up in court. There was a spot of probation, not a custodial sentence, thank heavens, and I was on the job market. I remained there for eighteen months. It’s hard to get a job when there’s no way the company you’ve worked with for the last fifteen years will give you a reference. Meanwhile, I spent a lot of time on the Internet. I made a lot of friends in games forums. I made one particular friend who lived nearby. Let us call her Melancthe. We met. She was interesting and assertive, fun to be with. We kind of dated. We started by playing video games and graduated to other games.