The Ingressor

7 Jan

Yang Zhen stopped with deep thought in front of the office door. He was considering what he was about to commit himself to.

“What is it, father?” asked his daughter, behind him. “Are you changing your mind?”

The short, spare man in argental business suit spun around. Black eyes focused themselves upon Chen, his only child. So small, so delicate even before her birth. Hair cut in an old-fashioned Mandarin style, now returning to popularity. Her pants were a gleaming canary yellow popular on all continents, in all countries of the modern planet.

“This must be done,” he whispered to her. “It is too late to turn back now.”

How white the skin of Chen is! marveled the doting parent.

The memory of his one-time wife flashed into his mind. Both females lacked the dark southern bronze that his own family line carried in their genes. His daughter resembled him very little.

Chen’s hands imperceptibly shook.

“Let’s go in and meet the man,” she said fatalistically.

The office door had no name or title on it. Who would wish to be too specific about this kind of business? Yang opened the door for her, then followed in, closing it behind them.

A square, hairy head looked out from the inner room. Then, a tall figure in powder blue shirt and pants came forward to meet the two Yangs.

“I am Pan Ling,” he announced with a twinkle in his eye. “You are here for your appointment, Mr. Yang.” His sharp eyes moved and fixed upon the daughter, Chen. “I did not know that you would bring someone with you, sir.”

This is my child, Chen,” explained the father. “She knows all my business. Especially the trouble I am in. We have no secrets between us.”

The tall man gave a bow to each of them in turn.

“Come into my sound proof workroom,” softly said Ling. “We can talk securely there about your problem, Mr. Yang.”

The three of them went into the inside sanctum to discuss what had brought about this visit.

Several oval bacterial screens were built into the top of the teak desk of Pan Ling. Books, ribbons, charts, blueprints, maps, and diagrams were piled on tables and stands around his balloon chair. Through the gigantic circular window of the outer wall one could see the wildly toothed skyline along the Huangpu River. Barges, both water and air, hauled cargoes in and out of the factories of Pudong on the opposite shore facing Shanghai.

Ling studied the new client and his daughter with shrewd, experienced eyes.

“How long have you owned your tea and spice outlet, Mr. Yang?” he began.

“About fifteen years. It has been tough, unremitting work.”

“It was a big gamble that my father took,” added Chen unexpectedly.”He put his life savings into the equipment and initial stock.”

The father spoke. “My business was surprisingly successful until early last year. It was then that he bank squeeze began.”

“Which bank is this, Mr. Yang?”

“Shanghai Biobank.”

“Yes, they are the main creditor to the small merchants in the city.”

“You are correct, Mr. Ling,” moaned the businessman.

“How great a share of your trade volume did they take at first?”

The merchant frowned. “Ten percent. But the loan officer decided I had to cover the cost of all my microbic registers and the trade connectors with the bank. The share grew to 15%. He promised that would be the maximum. But last week the bank cut increased to 25%. That’s a quarter of my turnover.I can’t go on much longer. What if the Biobank wants a bigger slice soon? There is no limit to their greed. The drain will ruin me completely.”

Ling furrowed his broad brow in concentration.

“You believe I can solve this problem for you?” he said with a small grin.

pursed his mouth. “I have heard from others what it is you can do.”

“And what is that, may I ask?”

“Figure out a way to reach a goal by any means, even if it breaks the law. Devise a method of reaching a desired aim, regardless of how you get there.”

Ling stared fixedly at his new client.

“Very well, sir, I will take you on. My fee will be the standard one for someone with a business your size. I shall need full access to your records and bacterial documents.”

“That is easily arranged,” said the merchant with a sudden grin of delight.

“It may take time. I will get in touch with you when I have completed my task.”

Ling rose and extended his hand across the teak desk for Zhen to shake. The latter rose, took the hand, then left with his daughter.

When they were gone, Pan Ling sat down again, turned on his desk screens, and began to study the available data on the man he was now working for.

Shanghai, the financial and industrial hub of the Far East, could not have functioned without its complex system of bacterial nanotubes. Thinner than any hair or fiber, these micromolecular strands of carbon facilitated instant data transfer through the microbe colonies placed inside them. These living tubes crisscrossed China in all directions, reaching further to Africa, South America, and the Middle East, wherever Shanghai enjoyed economic dominance.

This was the most bacterialized business center on the planet. It had grown to a population of thirty million as the birthplace of the microbic revolution. Bacterial products had become the primary industry of the megalopolis. It surpassed all competitors in bio-technology.

Bacterial communication had changed all of life here. No one knew this more than Pan Ling as he worked on the problems of his newest client.

It took him many hours past midnight, night after night, to break into the signal lines of the Biobank using false codes and identity numbers. Now came the hard work of introducing his own linking bacteria into the stream of day and night movement in the nanotubes. Slowly, delicately, he managed to introduce his own Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus into the unending stream of Aquaspirillum magnetotacticum without severing the continuity of the links already there. Because what he was trying to establish was the insertion of bacteria completely under his control, an ingression into established lines of signals.

Using advanced microbic equipment, he injected a series of his own into the carbon tubes of the Biobank. By dawn he succeeded in placing his ingressive invaders into the data pathway he intended to tamper with. He sent a few simple instructions to his intruders and it was accomplished.

Ling sighed with relief.

It was time to go and see the Yangs, he told himself.

The emporium was out on the Nanking Road, far beyond the downtown business district. Customers were lined up at bacterial registers. Chen, seated behind an order table, was typing lists of products desired for purchase. In the rear of the business, boxes containing requested items were being packed by a team of female clerks. Ginseng, congou tea, zingibar, papaver, and zafaran were in greatest demand among Shanghai dwellers.

Chen saw to it that each order was correlated with the right customer debit account. The Biobank was responsible for the transfer of credits to the account of the Yang enterprise. Her hands worked swiftly and efficiently. Only after a short time did she notice the presence of Pan Ling, watching her from near the entrance.

“Good morning,” she told him with a shy smile while continuing to type at the register.

“Good morning, Chen,” he said as he came closer. “How are you and your father today?”

“Busy, both of us.” She continued typing until all the customers had left for the rear to pick up their orders there.

The pair in the front eyed each other as if they were old friends.

“I bet that you have some news for father,” she finally said.

“Yes, and the news is good.”

At that moment, Yang Zhen appeared from the back storeroom, approaching them with rapid steps.

“Mr. Pan!” he called out breathlessly. “So glad to see you. I did not expect you to come here.”

“He has something to tell us, father” chirped his daughter expectantly.

Two sets of dark eyes focused on Pan, waiting for what he had to say.

“I wish you to check your position at the Biobank, sir.”

“What will I see there?” asked the owner with perplexity on his bronze face.

“The results of my ingress.”

“I’ll have to use the terminal device in my office.”

Zhen turned around and headed for the door next to the one he had come out of.

A customer came into the emporium and handed Chen an order list which she typed into the register. The man then walked to the back section to get his purchase.

“We did not expect to hear from you so soon,” she declared with a smile.

“I have not slept.”

Chen looked startled. “You work all night?”

“I am used to it,” he modestly explained. “My best results come during the hours of darkness.”

She looked at him with admiration in her black jade eyes.

Both of them turned when they heard the opening, then the closing, of the office door. Yang Zhen hurried excitedly to the order desk.

“Chen! It’s a miracle! Our account is restored to what it should have been. The business is solvent again. We are operating at a substantial profit. The Biobank no longer has a strangle hold on the emporium.”

Ling beamed victoriously at Chen. “It appears my ingressors did their job correctly.”

Zhen placed his right hand on top of Ling’s and squeezed it.

“You saved us from ruin. All accounts are as they should have been without the bank’s interference.” His breathing became fast and strenuous. “You must come to our home this evening and dine with us. Chen will fix something delicious. I will give you the address.”

As he searched the order desk for a note device, the two young people stared at each other.

Were Mai Chang not so suspicious a soul, he might not have discovered evidence of the ingress with his bacterial monitor, the Pyrodictium occultum. This happened to be a microbe with the ability to locate strangers in tube chains through its sensitivity to differences between varied strains and species.

President of the Biobank for less than six months, Chang was anxious not to endanger his high position at the financial apex. There had never before been a microbiologist at the head of this institution. But few persons anywhere had a better grasp of bacteriology than the rotund, tubby man who now held the helm. He had never trusted anyone from his earliest days forward. Everyone and everything had to be watched. All employees, all technicians. And the customers as well, especially the small, desperate Shanghai entrepreneurs and merchants.

Mr. Mai had equipped his office high above the Huangpu River with the newest, most advanced detectors and readers. This was his hobby and mania: patrolling and policing the nanotubes into and out of the bank. What spare time he had was spent in tracking down potential bacterial trouble that might cause the bank unforeseen costs.

His body shook with trepidation when he found the invaders entering from outside.

Who had succeeded in breaking into the bank’s tubing system?

Sweat covered Chang’s broad brow and its folds of fatty tissue.

He ground his teeth in anger as he rose from his reader terminal.

Pacing about his office, he considered his options.

Bacteria had long been considered more secure than the now obsolete carriers made of metal, silicon, or synthetic fiber. Silk networks were now museum pieces. Carbon tubes with their microbic streams had revolutionized all of communication. They had promised safety from intrusion. All attempts to break in had, so far, failed. Countermeasures had guaranteed security. Any would-be trespassers were given long sentences of exile to Xinjiang Province.

Was this to be the first case of successful ingression into the bacterial lines?

Preserved duck eggs and freshwater crabs swam in wine. Candied fruits covered steamed rice and red bean paste. The dinner proved scrumptuous. Ling complimented Chen on her fine cooking. She averted her eyes as she thanked him for the praise.

Yang Zhen intervened in a thoughtful mood.

“You cannot imagine how much we are indebted to you, dear Ling. What you did rescued me from bankruptcy. Tell me, how did you acquire such amazing skill in the bacteriological field?”

“I studied everything I could, but there were years of patient practical work in the industry. Luck may have played a large role as well.”

“You are too modest,” devilishly grinned the merchant.

Suddenly Chen thought of something. She cast her eyes downward, at the table.

“What is it?” said her father, across from her.

She looked up. “I was wondering about legality. Interference and changes in data lines is not lawful. What will happen if the intrusion is discovered?”

Pan put down the white gommic chopsticks he ate with. He looked squarely into the dark eyes of the young woman.

“That is an interesting question,” he softly replied. “I have long pondered the right and the wrong of my profession. Take this case of your father’s business, Chen. Was it ethical for Biobank to squeeze him so? It may have been legal, yet clearly immoral.

“The law is never the final standard in these matters. I believe that the ancient thinker Confucius said that final morality rested upon the inner spirit of a person, not formal or literal rules.

“My work as an ingressor in this instance was for the sake of rectification of a wrong allowed by the written law of commerce in China. It was justifiable action in defense of your father’s rights.”

Ling and Chen stared at each other for a time.

Finally, Yang Zhen spoke to their guest.

“Let me show you the flowers I grow on our balcony. There are some species imported from the West that are rarely seen here in Shanghai.”

The two men left Chen to her thoughts.

Ling arrived at his office later than usual next morning. A brilliantly blazing sun filled the Bund with a burning aura of light. Everything seemed aglow.

He found a fat man in a dragon green suit sitting in his anteroom.

“How did you get in here?” said the surprised Ling.

The intruder made a feline grin.

“I had the janitor open the office for me,” he said, slowly rising to his feet.

“You wish to speak with me, sir?”

The stranger nodded yes.

Ling took him into his private chamber. The pair sat down on carmine futons.

Mai Chang told his name, which was instantly recognized.

“You are the new president of Biobank?”

“Yes.” The rotund face no longer smiled. “I am here on very serious business, Mr. Pan. Extremely serious. Let me explain.

“I have a profound interest in the security of all our tubing. Nothing is more important to the bank’s success. It is not generally known, but I spend my free time monitoring our data streams. That is how I uncovered your scheme. You have defrauded Biobank by injecting your own bacteria into our system.”

Ling grew livid. “You located my links?”

“It took me all night to trace them here.”

The pair gazed intently at each other.

“Why haven’t you brought the police with you, Mr. Mai? Don’t you wish to have me arrested?”

The banker smiled sardonically.

“Oh, there is no need for that at this point. Not until you answer a certain question for me. Everything depends upon how you reply.”

Ling was confused. “What do you mean?” he warily demanded.

“I want you to give me the bacteria you use, Mr. Pan,” whispered the fat man. “Biobank needs it more than throwing you in prison.”

The truth dawned on Pan in a flash. “You want my operation?”

“Precisely.”

“Can I inquire what your plans are?”

“Why not? There is no need to keep it from you. I would like to have the ability to break into the data streams of any company in Shanghai, then of all China. To be in possession of everything transmitted by bacterial tube! And to enjoy the capability of altering anything I wish to! That can give Biobank control of the entire economy.

“You need not worry about your personal client. I am not interested in his tiny emporium. Not at all. Let him keep what you have obtained for him. Biobank will absorb it as a cost of taking over your wonderful bacterial strains.

“I shall make you a rich man. Your future with me is guaranteed.”

Ling pondered the situation as fast as he could.

“It will take me time to collect a colony you can use,” he said crisply. “Where do you want it delivered?”

“My office at the Biobank headquarters.”

Without shaking hands or saying good-bye, the banker abruptly left.

The Yangs were closing their emporium that night when Ling unexpectedly entered.

“So glad to see you,” smiled the store owner standing at the bacterial register.

Chen grinned at him in silence.

“I would guess that you haven’t heard the evening news,” said the young man. “There was an interesting item there that might surprise both of you.”

“What was it?” inquired Zhen.

“The President of Biobank was infected with a dangerous pathogen while working with the tubing of his own organization. It is reported that he introduced a killer variety of Treponema into several data streams. He died immediately. Biobank will have to pay for inspection and decontamination of all the infected tubes throughout Shanghai. The cost could bankrupt them in time.”

Ling and Chen looked at each other quizzically.

“Biobank deserves to go under for what it tried to do to us,” boldly said the daughter.”For me, it would be a just outcome.”

Neither of the two men present disagreed with her verdict.

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