Anatomy of a Credit Assasination - Part 1

His trip to the utility office was an escalating series of anxious moments. He arrived in the absolute dead of the early morning when the place was deserted. Since the Chronosoft Corporation had taken civil control of the Los Angeles county area as part of the bailout of the United States government in 2027, the electrical and water utilities were all contained under one subsidiary, Chronotility Energy and Water. One favorable consequence had been the removal of "banker's hours" from the utility business. One could show up at any time of the day or night and get in-person customer service as well as the usual phone and GlobalNet support.

The office itself was a nondescript brick building at least fifty years old, though remarkably well maintained. Inside, the building was incongruously modern, the foyer full of video screens repeating branding messages, greetings to the visitor and customer support instructions that would allow the visitor to transact their business without the need to meet a CSR. The room felt like a giant telephone menu given physical form. However, given the nature of his problem, Matt needed a face-to-face interaction, but gaining access to a real person was a real problem. The help desks were hidden behind locked doors, and the only way to enter was to input account information including thumbprint verification. While Matt wasn't quite sure he believed any of this credcrashing business, the police presence at his apartment made him reluctant to offer up his identity before he could actually talk to a person.

He spent a few minutes throwing nervous glances around the room, trying to spot the security. Cameras surrounded the lobby. "Hello, is anyone there?" he yelled, timidly at first, then with real authority. He waited anxiously for a response, and had almost given up when a voice crackled to life from behind him. "Can I help you?" Matt jumped a little and turned towards the sound of the voice. A rather unappealing woman had appeared on one of the video screens behind him, opposite the thumbprint scanner. She bore a set of cybernetic goggles over her eyes, and he could see the faintest glimmer of a bleached moustache on her upper lip. Her natural chestnut hair was pulled back severely into a flame-like point from the back of her head, a style that had been popular ten years ago when this lady likely had been a teenager. Her skin was the pallid color of pancake makeup, revealing her as a late-night GlobalNet operator.

"Yes, I need to check on the status of my buddy's account," Matt stammered, using the cover story he'd worked on during the train ride with shaky confidence. "His power got shut off and he wants to know why."

The pale worker was uninterested. "Your friend can submit a request through any street term, sir."

"Yeah, that's just the thing, he can't. The terms shut him out, won't even let him make a phone call. He got freaked out and came over to my place, asked me if I'd come down here for him. I told him he could just come down here and get it taken care of himself, but he's really paranoid."

Her eyebrows were raised severely, and Matt imagined her eyes had shrunk to tiny pinpoints behind the visor. Her blistering squint made him feel even more uncomfortable. That bug-eyed cybernetic stare was unsettling at the best of times. "And what is your friend's name and address?" she asked with a tinge of sarcasm dripping from her voice. Matt gave the information and fidgeted. Looking up at the video screen made him feel so small, as if he was a child begging to go to the bathroom under the harsh glare of a severe teacher. "And what is your name, sir?"

Matt tossed out a name without thinking. "Cyndal Reeves," he said, using his rival guild leader's name with a perverse thrill. "Is my name necessary?"

"We have to document any request for confidential information from someone other than the account holder, sir," she said. It sounded convincing but at the same time suspicious. The sweat began to build under Matt's arms and down his spine. He was already starting to feel the urge to bolt for the door and just run as fast and as far as he could.

"I'm sorry, sir, we have no record of a Matt Farnsworth having an account with us."

"Are you sure? He's had power for months now, I've seen it. Is it possible to check the paper billing records to verify it?"

Her surprise at the mention of the paper billing records was obvious. "Sir, we don't just grab paper billing records for anyone that asks. The account holder must submit a request in writing and email and pay a processing fee of…"

"But what if this is an emergency? Like life or death emergency?"

"Sir, unless your friend is on life support in his home, it's hardly life-or-death. Besides, we'd still need the account holder's thumbprint for verification. Perhaps if you'd like to give us your thumbprint, we can verify that you are authorized to gain access to this account."

Matt looked sideways at the thumbprint scanner and began to back away. The paranoia had infused every cell of his body by this point, and nothing short of physical violence could make him stick his thumb on that scanner. "No, that's all right," he said as he began to back away towards the door. "I'll just tell ole Matt that he can deal with it himself…"He was a step from the door when he heard two distinct sounds. The first was the door labeled "Security" to the side of the inner entry opening, the latch unlocking and the doorknob turning slowly. The second was the distant wail of sirens, most likely police sirens but far enough away that Matt couldn't be sure. Either one would have been enough for him to lose his bottle completely, but the combination of the two sent him dashing through the door to the street. He cut through multiple alleys and side streets, avoiding the desire to peer back over his shoulder at any pursuit. He had gone at least six blocks before he stopped, bending over with pain and gasping for air.

Gathering himself as best he could, Matt retrieved the antiquated cell phone from his pocket and placed a call to Stonewall. "This is Matt. You were right," he said as soon as the phone was answered. "What kind of work are we talking about?"