Border Guard"Glory to Arstotzka!"

It was already 7pm, and Jeff was almost finished packing his things and heading home. He was looking forward to a nice can of local beer and a video chat with his girlfriend, which he had to leave a few timezones away when an unexpected government contract popped up. American at heart, but eager to explore different cultures, he agreed to provide technical support for Arstotzkan foreign affairs department – and a hefty pay helped to seal the deal.

As much as he enjoyed the job, the sight of his boss peeking into his office just when he was about to leave was never a welcomed sign.

"Yeah, hi Boss. What's the matter? Another problem at the border?"

"Umm, no, well... " – Jeff looked at the formidable, over six feet tall man and saw him almost shrinking with every word he said. Definitely not a good sign, he thought.

"You... do you remember that trade agreement with Kolechia we struck a few days back?" – he finally managed to mutter.

Unfortunately, Jeff did remember. It was quite a big piece of news – the talks lasted for months, and at stake was not only a sizable amount of national treasury, but also the already tense relationship between the two countries. Many observer nations were engaged, many threats of breaking the negotiations, or even war, were made – but finally, the two countries reached what might be called an agreement.

"Yeah. So?"

"We were just about to e-mail the last batch of papers, but we found a little... mistake."

"A... mistake."

"Yes, um, you see... there was a last minute change with the payment amount, and somebody, well... punched in a few zeroes too many."

The last sentence sent a jolt through Jeff's body. "A few zeroes too many" meant the difference between a reasonable offer and an outright mockery – and Kolechians did not take mockery lightly.

"Somebody what? Okay, okay, I'll get it fixed right now. Just give me the papers."

"Here" – said the boss, passing Jeff an USB stick. "The amount is correct here, but those are all Word documents, and we need them in PDF, that's the law. If you could just convert those..."

"Fine, don't worry, I'll get it done in no time. See you tomorrow, Boss."

"You will? Oh, that's great! Just send them over as soon as you're done, we need them by tomorrow morning. See you then!"

Jeff watched the boss leave. He might miss the Chyetiryoh Tankistov rerun on TV, but he could still get the job done in a few minutes. He just needed one thing, and knew when to find it...

* * *

"Glory to Arstotzka! Have you tried turning it off and on again?" – a stern, disciplined voice yelled at Jeff through the receiver.

Some things never change.

"Hi Ivan, it's Jeff. Quick question – can you get me a PDF converter license, stat?"

"Oh, hi Jeff!" – the voice responded, now much happier and calmer. – "Yeah, no pro... oh. I guess we run out of those. Sorry."

"Uhhh... well, I guess that's not a big deal, I'll just grab something off the net. Thanks anyway!"

"...wait, what? No, no, no, no, stop, STOP! You can't do it!" – Ivan yelled, as if Jeff had his hand on some big red button.

"What? What do you mean ‘I can't'?"

"You have to go through proper channels! You can't just use unapproved tools on department's hardware! They find out – and they will find out, with all the network sniffing – and you're done for good!"

Jeff's heart sank immediately. He knew what "going through proper channels" meant here – an enormous amount of paperwork, stamps, signatures, rejections and corrections. There was no way he could get that done by tomorrow morning – and since he also knew what being "done for good" stood for, there was no way to circumvent this.

"Sorry, Jeff... I mean, you know how it is here. Nothing short of nuclear war will save you from the bureaucracy."

"Ivan! There will be a nuclear war if I don't get those papers done!"

"Oh... oh. I don't think they actually accounted for that... Sorry. I'll let you know if I figure something out. Good luck."

"I can't believe it! That's just wrong! You're all wrong, you hear me? YOU'RE ALL DOING IT WRONG!" – Jeff slammed the receiver and buried his head in his hands. His mind was blank. He tried to find a solution desperately, but nothing came to his head – everything would either take too long, require much more human resources, or violate the laws of physics. He found himself looking around the office, searching for a way out, until suddenly, an epiphany hit him.

On a nice, polished, wooden table stood the office machine.

* * *

Jeff went to it, pushed a few buttons – and sure enough, there was an option to generate a PDF from scanned documents. It even helpfully merged them together – as long as you put every page on the scanner glass, closed the lid and hit the button.

He rushed to his laptop and plugged the USB stick in. I'll just print those documents, scan them back in and that's it! It can't be that bad, can it?

His moment of happiness didn't last long. Jeff could even pinpoint the very second it ended – right as he opened the drive and realized that trade agreements are long. And can span multiple documents. And also need to be translated to official languages of every single nation involved in the process – and by that time, probably half of the world put their hands on the negotiation.

There was no other way, though. Nothing else he could do. He opened Skype, clicked on his girlfriend's portrait and typed in:

"Honey, I'll be a little late today."

* * *

And so, he printed. And he scanned. And he merged. And he put every sheet through the shredder, doing everything by the books, saving the country of Arstotzka and its cogs and wheels of bureaucracy page by page, armed with nothing but a trusty office machine.

It wasn't until 4 AM, when he was finishing his fourth and last ream of paper, when the phone on his desk suddenly rang.

"Glory to Arstotzka! You still here, Jeff? It's Ivan, telling you we just got a fresh batch of license keys for the PDF converter! Want me to send one out?"

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