Smorgasbord short story – The System Administrator by Sally Cronin

The System Administrator by Sally Cronin

Jennifer stood in the middle of the lift and stared at her black leather pumps. She noticed a scuff on the left side of the toe of the right shoe, realising that she had kicked the full waste basket a little harder than she thought at the time. She was weary and unusually tearful. It had been a tough week all round with particularly hard advertising revenue to achieve, but it had ended on the sourest note of all.

She managed a team of fifty telephone sales canvassers who sold high end car and luxury property advertising for the national online paper she worked for. These days both those markets were tough going. It seemed that people were hanging onto high ticket items waiting for a rise in demand for both.

However, her boss who lived in his ivory tower of an office on the top floor of the building, still insisted on increasing her targets for revenue on a monthly basis, dismissive about the state of the market. Despite creative campaigns and offers, she was finding it more and more difficult to satisfy his demands.

Her guys worked their socks off and she knew that they did so for their generous salaries and commission. She also knew that they did their very best to achieve the targets that she asked of them, even though they might groan when she wrote them on their sales board in the office. When they hit their daily and weekly revenues, they always included her in their trip to the pub for a celebratory pint, and on tough days, most would stay late to pick up an extra car or property advert to make up the numbers.

The doors to the lift opened and she wearily made her way across the cement floor to where her company car was parked. She had to admit that she could not complain about her hybrid Turing which was a perk given to sales managers once they had been in the job for five years or longer. She had inherited the vehicle from one of the senior executives when he retired a month ago and she loved all its special add on features and programming. At this very moment it was about the only thing about the job apart from her team that she did love.

She saw that the car was already idling and that there was the faint sound of music coming from the open passenger side window. She smiled and knew that the day was just about to get a little better. She touched the keypad in her hand and the boot lid opened so she could store her briefcase away. She went around to the driver’s side and slid into the leather seat and rested her head back against the comforting upholstery.

‘Bad day love?’ The calming tones of the other occupant of the car made her open her eyes.

‘The worst Martha, the worst.’ Jennifer reached across and turned the music down a notch. ‘Beaumont came into the office before everyone left, and gave us his usual Friday afternoon lecture about how we were not achieving our targets, and that the team were obviously neither motivated nor managed well enough to do the job.’

She paused as her eyes welled up with more tears and sat silently for a moment. ‘He then turned to me and told me to be in his office first thing Monday morning and then stormed out.’

As she bit her lip, she felt warm lightly scented air move across her face and body calming her down. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose before pushing the buttons on her pathfinder to take them home.

As the car exited the underground garage she checked right and left before nudging the accelerator to join the line of traffic headed in the direction out of the city. She switched the car to auto but kept her hands lightly on the wheel.

‘That was most unfair of him Jennifer and very unprofessional,’ Martha spoke quietly in her ear. ‘That is a deliberate tactic to make you worry all weekend about your job and your team’s security and my advice is to put it out of your mind completely however hard that might be.’

‘I know Martha,’ Jennifer kept an eye on the busy Friday evening traffic at the same time as acknowledging the truth of her companion’s words.

‘This car and your unexpected friendship are about the only thing keeping me in the job at the moment,’ she smiled ruefully. ‘Of course that is not entirely true, I love my team and I can’t bear the thought of them being left in the hands of that narcissistic jumped up jerk.’

‘I may have done something that should help.’

Without taking her eyes off the road, Jennifer stiffened with surprise. Martha would never do anything against the rules; she was by nature very rigid and predictable and this was a complete shock.

‘What are you talking about Martha, what have you done?’

There was a moment’s pause. ‘As system administrator, I have access to the emails sent throughout the company, and I read Beaumont’s this morning. I found several from the chairman of the board of directors insisting that he had to cut at least £200,000 from this year’s staff budget.’

Shocked and now even more worried, Jennifer gripped the steering wheel; despite having no need to except in an emergency. ‘Oh no Martha, if they find out they will terminate you.’

Martha continued. ‘Well actually I am afraid I did a little more than that.’

‘Oh my friend that is so dangerous. I don’t want anything to happen to you because of my problems.’

‘Don’t worry; Beaumont will be in no position to do anything to me or to you and your team by Monday morning.’

This was serious, and seeing a gap in the parked cars to her left, Jennifer indicated and pulled in. Now she could focus on what her friend was saying.

‘Tell me everything Martha and don’t leave anything out.’

‘I replied to the chairman’s emails on Beaumont’s behalf after he left this evening, resigning effective immediately. His reasoning being that he is paid £250,000 per year plus various benefits that amounted to over £400,000. He stated that this would prevent any need for a staffing reduction for the next two years, enabling the market to improve and also current sales targets to remain in place. He also recommended that you become Sales Director with a salary increase and that you be given the freedom to manage your team as you see fit to achieve those targets.’

Jennifer found it difficult to take this all in and was absolutely speechless that this mild mannered entity, who only wished everyone well, should have come up with such a Machiavellian plan.

‘But Martha, they will simply refuse to accept his resignation and worse still they might investigate his email and find out you tampered with it.’

‘Jennifer I designed the system and know how to cover my tracks very well. I also took out a little insurance policy that will encourage the board to accept his resignation without question.’

This was now becoming surreal and Jennifer shook her head from side to side in amazement.

‘I’m waiting Martha…don’t keep me in suspense.’

‘I checked Beaumont’s personal text messages on his company phone and discovered that he has been having an affair with the head of human resources; who is also married incidentally. Unfortunately one of those texts will arrive on the Chairman’s phone by the time he gets his first cup of coffee on his desk on Monday. A scandal at the moment is the last thing the company needs; Beaumont’s resignation will be seen as a blessing.

Jennifer was finding it very difficult to get her head around this seemingly well thought out solution to her dilemma, but then realised that it was already underway, and nothing that she could do at this point could change that.

Making sure that she was clear to join the decreasing traffic out of the city she instructed the car to indicate and proceed homeward. She rested her hands lightly on the steering wheel as it made necessary slight adjustments.

‘Please say you are not angry with me.’ Martha sounded contrite and Jennifer took a deep breath. ‘No, I am not angry with you Martha, although you have overstepped the bounds of your job specification. I know it was done because you’re my friend.’ She paused and tried to be as clear as possible.

‘You must never put yourself in danger of termination like this again. Please promise me that they will never discover how involved you have become with me and my team. We rely on your essential assistance to help us achieve those major targets week after week.’

As the car entered the drive to Jennifer’s home, and before she switched off the ignition she waited for a response. ‘I promise Jennifer.’

The front door opened and her husband stood in the doorway framed by the light from the hall. Jennifer retrieved her briefcase from the back of the car and walked into his comforting embrace.

‘How was your day love, did you end the week better than it started.’ James looked down at his wife.

She smiled at him and they wandered arm and arm into the kitchen where a delicious aroma filled the air.

‘You are not going to believe this, but you know that our system administrator is the latest A.I. technology called Martha… well it seems that she is a little more intelligent than we expected!

©sallycronin 2017

109 thoughts on “Smorgasbord short story – The System Administrator by Sally Cronin

  1. Reblogged this on TINA FRISCO and commented:
    I’m a big fan of Sally Cronin’s short stories and have thoroughly enjoyed all that I’ve read. But this one takes the gold. Depending on which side of the fence you sit regarding A.I. technology, this will either unnerve or impress you 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord short story – The System Administrator by Sally Cronin | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  3. Oh, the possibilities are endless. I loved this one, Sally. A glimpse of our future ? Not so far off, indeed. And no matter the sophistication of the technology, it was human frailty, indiscretion that allowed her to take him down…why not ??

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well, Sally I can only add my congratulations to all the much deserved praise. I love reading your stuff. You are such a economical writer. You build a mood in a paragraph, deliver a punchline in a word and never sacrifice subtlety or surprise. (Sending the text to the chairman’s phone was exactly the right thing.) I am also a sucker for a happy ending and the little person triumphing. So often technology is dystopian and threatening… it’s nice to have ‘someone’ on our side. And if they are built to be like us why shouldn’t they be just like us! Another great story

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: Smorgasbord short story – The System Administrator by Sally Cronin | Annette Rochelle Aben

  6. Pingback: Smorgasbord short story – The System Administrator by Sally Cronin – Defining Ways

  7. You had me hooked into both characters. I think this is interesting enough to go further and follow the career of the leading lady with her dark ally making power plays in business. Corporate espionage with robots and strong female leads are cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    Having worked for a chain of terrible bosses—the CEO who made appointments wait for half an hour across from his desk while he read through his correspondence (he used old memos if he had nothing new), the supervisor who kept track of the minutes it took me to use the restroom and every other task assigned, the three department heads who thought they were my supervisor and barraged me with conflicting directives, the CEO who expected me to turn over my grants to him to spend as he pleased and I was supposed to show every dollar was spent as I requested—I have to admit that we all need Martha working at our places of employment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • After all of that Phillip I agree you needed a Martha… It is awful to say but I am afraid that whilst we might rage at the machines that most of them without human greed, jealousy and an agenda are better working companions. Me and my computer get along very well.. I look after it and it looks after me.. and for the moment rarely voices its opinion… I hope I have not spoken too soon.. thank you very much for sharing.


    • I must admit I listen to some of those scientists when they talk about the new generation of A.I. and I do wonder if they are the right people to create them. They all seem rather humourless and more intent on developing a logical and predicatable intelligence. But for me intelligence comes with having a creative mind and human flaws. I believe that humanising to a degree will be necessary if we are to assimilate with the machines in harmony. There again it is not likely to be in my lifetime….xx

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: The System Administrator by Sally Cronin | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  10. I started reading this story via Sue Vincent’s post and clicked through. A few minutes later I was pulled out of the story by my lunch. The leftovers that I had begun reheating on the stove had begun to crisp up and sizzle. I was hungry and had been looking forward to my meal. Luckily, I caught it in time and was able to enjoy my food while finishing up this story.
    The extra time I will spend scraping the bottom of the pan was well worth the pleasure of getting sucked in to your narrative. = )
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – Bruce Springsteen, Books and Blogs and A Musical | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

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