We continue our holiday break by looking back at the true gift that kept on giving, the whole year round. Original. --Remy


Jen was a few weeks into her new helpdesk job. Unlike past jobs, she started getting her own support tickets quickly—but a more veteran employee, Stanley, had been tasked with showing her the ropes. He also got notification of Jen's tickets, and they worked on them together. A new ticket had just come in, asking for someone to replace the DVI cable that'd gone missing from Conference Room 3. Such cables were the means by which coworkers connected their laptops to projectors for presentations.

Easy enough. Jen left her cube to head for the hardware "closet"—really, more of a room crammed full of cables, peripherals, and computer parts. On a dusty shelf in a remote corner, she spotted what she was looking for. The coiled cable was a bit grimy with age, but looked serviceable. She picked it up and headed to Stanley's cube, leaning against the threshold when she got there.

"That ticket that just came in? I found the cable they want. I'll go walk it down." Jen held it up and waggled it.

Stanley was seated, facing away from her at first. He swiveled to face her, eyed the cable, then went pale. "Where did you find that?"

"In the closet. What, is it—?"

"I thought they'd been purged." Stanley beckoned her forward. "Get in here!"

Jen inched deeper into the cube. As soon as he could reach it, Stanley snatched the cable out of her hand, threw it into the trash can sitting on the floor beside him, and dumped out his full mug of coffee on it for good measure.

"What the hell are you doing?" Jen blurted.

Stanley looked up at her desperately. "Have you used it already?"

"Uh, no?"

"Thank the gods!" He collapsed back in his swivel chair with relief, then feebly kicked at the trash can. The contents sloshed around inside, but the bin remained upright.

"What's this about?" Jen demanded. "What's wrong with the cable?"

Under the harsh office lighting, Stanley seemed to have aged thirty years. He motioned for Jen to take the empty chair across from his. Once she'd sat down, he continued nervously and quietly. "I don't know if you'll believe me. The powers-that-be would be angry if word were to spread. But, you've seen it. You very nearly fell victim to it. I must relate the tale, no matter how vile."

Jen frowned. "Of what?"

Stanley hesitated. "I need more coffee."

He picked up his mug and walked out, literally leaving Jen at the edge of her seat. She managed to sit back, but her mind was restless, wondering just what had her mentor so upset.

Eventually, Stanley returned with a fresh mug of coffee. Once he'd returned to his chair, he placed the mug on his desk and seemed to forget all about it. With clear reluctance, he focused on Jen. "I don't know where to start. The beginning, I suppose. It fell upon us from out of nowhere. Some say it's the spawn of a Sales meeting; others blame a code review gone horribly wrong. In the end, it matters little. It came alive and spread like fire, leaving destruction and chaos in its wake."

Jen's heart thumped with apprehension. "What? What came alive?"

Stanley's voice dropped to a whisper. "The hardware virus."

"Hardware virus?" Jen repeated, eyes wide.

Stanley glared. "You're going to tell me there's no such thing, but I tell you, I've seen it! The DVI cables ..."

He trailed off helplessly, reclining in his chair. When he straightened and resumed, his demeanor was calmer, but weary.

"At some godforsaken point in space and time, a single pin on one of our DVI cables was irrevocably bent. This was the source of the contagion," he explained. "Whenever the cable was plugged into a laptop, it cracked the plastic composing the laptop's DVI port, contorting it in a way that resisted all mortal attempt at repair. Any time another DVI cable was plugged into that laptop, its pin was bent in just the same way as with the original cable.

"That was how it spread. Cable infected laptop, laptop infected cable, all with vicious speed. There was no hope for the infected. We ... we were forced to round up and replace every single victim. I was knee-deep in the carnage, Jen. I see it in my nightmares. The waste, the despair, the endless reimaging!"

Stanley buried his head in his hands. It was a while before he raised his haunted gaze again. "I don't know how long it took, but it ran its course; the support tickets stopped coming in. Our superiors consider the matter resolved ... but I've never been able to let my guard down." He glanced warily at the trash can, then made eye contact with Jen. "Take no chances with any DVI cables you find within this building. Buy your own, and keep them with you at all times. If you see any more of those—" he pointed an accusing finger at the bin "—don't go near them, don't try taking a paperclip to them. There's everything to lose, and nothing to gain. Do you understand?"

Unable to manage words, Jen nodded instead.

"Good." The haunted expression vanished in favor of grim determination. Stanley stood, then rummaged through a desk drawer loaded with office supplies. He handed Jen a pair of scissors, and armed himself with a brassy letter opener.

"Our job now is to track down the missing cable that resulted in your support ticket," he continued. "If we're lucky, someone's absent-mindedly walked off with it. If we're not, we may find that this is step one in the virus' plan to re-invade. Off we go!"

Jen's mind reeled, but she sprang to her feet and followed Stanley out of the cubicle, telling herself to be ready for anything.

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