Border Incident

Gil Williamson

The very sinews of commerce are under attack. Run!

That awful trumpeting from the speakers happened twice that morning, accompanied by the flashing of orange strobe lights, but no-one paid any attention because on Tuesdays the amber alert often triggered and there was never any reason for it that they'd been able to discover. On Fridays it was the fire alarm. Nobody did anything about the fire alarm either. It wasn't as if there was a local fire brigade to call, there hadn't yet actually been a fire in the building, and the bell usually stopped after a few minutes.

My screen filled with transactions, most of which looked OK, but had been flagged for attention. Unusual, I thought, but I just went on dealing with the suspiciously large number of exceptions:

  • Order using cancelled credit card - delete and report source IP (though it was probably a Chinese proxy);
  • Order requesting 222 demolition charges (possible triple- or double-keypress) - demolish the order - no charge (wry grin) with query;
  • Order requesting a out-of-stock (discontinued years ago, never to be restocked) item - initiate substitute suggestion response;
  • Query regarding import licence for AA gun mount to fit Hyundai 88 pickup truck.
Never a dull moment in the Armaments and Military Vehicle section.

I wasn't the only one to notice the sudden rise in bogus transactions. Spiros in the Pharmaceuticals and Drugs section called out "DDOS attack!", and a roar of mingled alarm and amusement rose up.

We at were proud to be the sellers of 76% of all goods bought in the world. Believe it or not, early in the company's life nearly a century ago, our only products had been books, and we filled warehouses with stock. It hadn't taken long to convert to the modern company model, which is a network-connected facility taking orders and payment for products and placing these orders (having retained a commission) with suppliers who have their own warehouses and delivery arrangements. Some products require elaborate permissions, and licences, and it was our job to facilitate completion via various cut-outs, again collecting commissions en route.

Just when I was about to approve a consignment of anti-personnel grenades to Iceland, my screen cleared, to be replaced by Emergency Protocol B. Simultaneously, the red alert started up. This seldom happened. We usually gobbled up DDOS attacks and kept going. And I had noticed that all the orders that got through had looked real and unique. A typical Denial of Service attack tended to be a flood of near-identical orders with nonsense items. The front-end filter just threw them out and we never saw them on the shop floor. It wouldn't have slowed our system down unless the combined speed of the attackers caused a bottleneck in the input. Our bandwidth was supposed to be the biggest on the net.

Protocol B required the twenty section heads to assemble in the conference room. By the time we reached the conference room, the sirens had stopped, but the red strobes were still flashing irritatingly. The big boss, Adrian Dolphgren (called "Adolf" behind his back) started talking even before the last section leaders had arrived. I was standing near the door.

Jake, the crazy kid from Music, was jabbering like an idiot as usual, making faces and staggering around in a comic fashion till Adolf paused and glared at him.

According to Adolf, something very strange was happening this morning. We were sustaining a very powerful internet attack by unknown persons or organisations. It was necessary that no panic take place while we await the end of the surge. Then the door behind Adolf opened, and a man in a military uniform walked in and shot Adolf with a Remington Suppressant™ SuperTazer (I recognise all the products in my section). Adolf fell to the floor of the stage and flopped around like a beached fish.

Jake the Comic gave a hysterical giggle, others stood up, or flung themselves on the floor, I ran out the door into the corridor. There were uniforms in both directions and a fire door opposite me. I hit the release bar and tumbled out into the thick rhododendron bush which had been growing up against the exit for years.

Who are these guys?

I would like to pretend I was showing presence of mind, but it was just panic really. I extracted myself from the bush and ran. I had never been outside the building in the fresh air before. We were always bussed back and forth from the hotel along the access road, and it was drummed into us that no-one was allowed to walk around in the security zone, and certainly never in the de-militarized zone that surrounded the security zone.

Behind, I heard gunfire and someone running after me, so I kept going till I hit the razor wire fence, which tore a chunk out of my face and flung me back to the ground, where Spiros tripped over me and fell against the barbs too. Neither of us seemed to feel any pain at that stage.

"What the hell was that?" whispered Spiros.

"Search me."

"Who are these guys?" he persisted.

"No idea, but we'd better get moving."

"Where to? This fence is right around the building except for the gate at the access road, and you can bet they've got that sewn up."

"All I can say is that I've seen wild deer inside the wire, and I don't think Adolf is in the organic venison business. So there must be breaks."

"Into the DMZ?" said Spiros. "Isn't that dangerous?"

"More dangerous than these guys in fashionable camouflage with their barely legal projectile weapons?"


"Suit yourself," I suggested, "But I'm looking for a way out of here." I headed off, following the fence as well as I could, given the density of the bushes, in a somewhat northerly direction. On Google Maps, for political reasons, the whole DMZ shows up as a vague blurry area, and Amazon's British DMZ headquarters, from which we'd just effected a hasty exit, doesn't appear at all. I could hear Spiros struggling along behind me.

It was easier than I'd hoped. One section of the fence had been flattened by a falling pine tree. Obviously, fence maintenance was not a high priority round here, because the fence section had been on the ground long enough for this year's bracken to grow through it, providing a cushion across which deer and other animals had trampled a clear path.

Fifty years ago, when the DMZ had been established by the United Nations to separate the combatants, this had all been farmland and National Park. Now it was secondary temperate forest, vigorous young trees, pine and birch mostly, growing too closely together, threaded through with thorny brambles. It was wounding work, and the razor-wire gashes were soon supplemented by deep scratches.

"Where are we going?" asked Spiros.

I showed him my OnoTab. "See! GPS shows us here on the map, in this blurred area, but, to the east of us, there's a road stopping short of the DMZ on the Scottish side, and what's probably the same road stopping short on the English side here, so if we walk east, we should hit this road, even though it's probably disused, turn right, walk a bit, and we're back in England."

"There'll be a border post."

"So? They'll scan your arfid chip, check your visa status, and wave you through."

"I suppose..."

I set my tab on id-detect, and waved it over the nape of Spiros's neck. Nothing. "Oh!"

"'s OK. Mine's on my forehead. Don't ask. Born in Igoumenitsa. Different."

Sure enough, scanning his forehead worked, and his ID checked out. The angry comment on the visa permissions box about us trespassing in the DMZ was a common factor of our work at Amazon. For tax purposes, the company had done a deal with the UN, Scotland, and England to operate inside a compound within the DMZ, but we were constantly badgered by the robots of the UN border agency.

Despite the handy GPS on my tab, I drifted off course, forced by the thickets of gorse and elder, and by boggy sections in which stagnant water shone with oily rainbows, to stumble three kilometres in every other direction for each kilometre gained eastwards. Even then, we almost missed the roadway. Fifty years of abandonment meant that the grass, weeds, trees, bushes and weather had turned a highway into a zone of only slightly less dense vegetation.

The men stood under an automimetic canopy. They didn't look friendly.

Fifty-one years ago, before handing the situation to the UN, the US army had halted the seemingly unstoppable Scottish advance just short of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The final advance of the Scottish army had reached and passed Hadrian's Wall for most of its length - the traditional aspiration of Scots since the Romans left in 410 AD. It was the US army, coming to the rescue of England on behalf of the UN, who established the DMZ somewhat north of the battle line, but still South of the historical border between Scotland and England. So, for the last half century, both Berwick-on-Tweed and Carlisle, previously North of England cities, had been Scottish. The DMZ, averaging about twenty-five kilometres in width, comprised mostly moorland, woodland, former farmland and a small national park. No-one was allowed to live in the DMZ, and entry was strictly controlled by the UN Peace Keeping Force. There were few dwellings, and they were all uninhabited.

It was, therefore, something of a surprise to us, when passing through a wooded area where trees arched across the road, to find our way blocked by what at first seemed a thick grove of rhododendron bushes. On closer approach, this resolved itself into a barricade manned by several men in active camouflage battledress. Only their disembodied faces stood out in view, as their uniforms merged with the background. Their faces, that is, and the uncamouflaged Barrett 0.3 auto rifles and Hitachi 45 machine pistols they carried. The background foliage itself turned out to be the LiveCamo version of the Lexus Stealth 20 main battle tank. Most of which high-tech military materiel I knew was exclusively available from Amazon, so it must have been sold by my section - probably in that suspicious-looking, yet legal, purchase of equipment by the tiny country of Andorra, including thousands of automatic rifles and twenty-five Lexus Stealth 20s.

The men stood under an automimetic canopy. They didn't look friendly.

"The UN, thank God," said Spiros.

"I doubt it. Where's their blue helmets?"

The only unarmed one was wearing the same camo as the others, but he carried an air of authority. "Major Mackenzie," he said, "Who the hell are you?" We must have looked a sight with our torn and bloodstained clothing and the razor wire wounds.

Our explanation cut no ice, and we were handled firmly, deprived of our tabs, phones and G-lenses, given camo gear to wear, and marched under escort along forest paths, glimpsing camo-suited men, state-of-the-art covert tents, stealth-equipped vehicles and equipment from time to time. While an old pale blue Chinook helicopter clattered overhead, we were told to stand still, then were hurried on, passing along a trench roofed over with more stealth fabric, forming a makeshift tunnel, the pattern of leaves on the upper surface trembling in a electronic simulated breeze.

They interviewed me in an underground chamber fitted with multiple microphones, speakers and screens. As I was pushed roughly in, I saw my interlocutor, a small, muscular man in khaki casual dress. He appeared to be smoking an old-fashioned cigarette, the kind with tobacco in a paper tube. He introduced himself as Major Geddes, Intelligence Section. He made it clear he was particularly irritated that we'd been wandering about in the DMZ with live GPS and internet running on my OnoTab.

"I don't suppose the blacks and slants could see you, but Google sure as hell knew where you were." The 'blacks' and 'slants' he referred to were presumably the Nigerians and Cambodians of whom the UN Regulatory Authority (GB DMZ) was currently composed, and who had often been publicly criticised for slackness. "In any case, you were radiating infrared. Any UN helicopter should have spotted you right away."

I said: "We'd have been grateful. They might have given us a lift out of the DMZ."

"Unlikely. They'd have locked you up for trespass and possible subversive intent. No-one's allowed in the DMZ. You know that, don't you?"

"It's your fault we were out there. What were you thinking of, raiding Amazon HQ?"

"So you're from Amazon. What made you think it was us that raided you?"

"Well it wasn't the UN. And the guys were in uniform, with weapons. I notice your lot answer the description. Who else?"

"I promise you it wasn't us. We've sent a unit to investigate."

I said: "All we want to do is get back to England and find out what's going on with our HQ. What are you doing here anyway? You're not the UN and this is the DMZ."

"Since you are to be our guests, because we can't release you to tell anyone we're here, I don't suppose it matters. You will very soon guess that we are units of the Scottish Army. Now, are you American or Canadian? I can never tell."

"American. Working for an American company - Amazon."

"And your companion?"

"Spiros? Greek, I as far as I know."

"Then you are our enemies. Civilians?"

"Of course."

Our pay reflects the near-monopoly Amazon enjoys.

"Our allies are the United Federation of Europe and also Canada. It was you Americans who stopped our legitimate conquest of England fifty years ago, and it is Greece - the other defector from Federated Europe - which now finances the degenerate state of England."

"But we were legitimately working in the DMZ. We have nothing to do with your international quarrel."

"In a sense, you do. Your company has spent most of its life trying to dodge tax. In this recent deal, the tiny percentage of your gross profit you pay to England is larger than the microscopic levy you pay to Scotland, and the pocket change you pay to the UN is even smaller. Meanwhile, you have contrived to rob both countries of their industries."

"Sorry about that, Major, but we personally had no part in those negotiations, though I confess our pay reflects the near-monopoly Amazon enjoys."

"Nevertheless, you have seen our presence here. You know, or suspect, that we have an invasion force concealed here in the DMZ."

Up to this point, I had neither known nor suspected any such thing. But all this camouflage, the tanks, why not? It really was the only thing that made some kind of sense when I thought about it, however laughable.

"Why?" I asked, "Your conflict was a generation ago."

"Because invasion and occupation of one country by another is the only way that the United Kingdom can be restored. England, frankly, hasn't got the guts. Scotland was always the backbone of the British Army."

I was lost for words at what seemed such an unfeasible strategy, but I didn't want to seem disagreeable, and made a grunt of semi-agreement.

Geddes continued: "Anyway, we only have your word that you came from the Amazon installation, and, in any event, here you stay until we can get you interned in Jedburgh."

The room had a thin green carpet, a dozen folding chairs, and a framed photo of Scotland's current president, Oliver Pike. I'd been locked in the underground room for an hour or so when the door opened and Spiros entered, followed by a trolley with a couple of plates of porridge and bottles of Olde Highland Spring water - both sustaining rather than appetising. Spiros had experienced a similar interview to mine, though he had taken a swing at Geddes when he heard he was to be interned and had been overpowered by Geddes himself. Shortly thereafter, the food trolley was removed, and an AVframe was delivered and hung rather irreverently on the same hook as Oliver Pike, partially covering his disconcertingly liquid cow-like eyes.

We made a few gestures at the AVframe and managed to get the news, but could not elicit sound above an inaudible whisper, lacking, as we did, knowledge of the exact series of gestures required. After a headline story apparently describing a flare-up between New Israel and New Palestine, there appeared a shaky vid of our Amazon HQ, apparently taken from somewhere well outside the DMZ using a hand-held telefoto-equipped phonepad. The vid showed the Amazon sign being torn off the building and lowered. Next, a new set of letters was being hoisted into position.

"Good God!" said Spiros, "It's one of my best suppliers! Bayer, the Euro Chemical firm. What can they gain by taking us over?"

Sure enough, the letters b, a and y were already in place, and an e was being hoisted up. But the e was fastened in front of the b, and no further letters were added.

Spiros and I spent a frustrating five weeks in the Jedburgh isolation camp. We were in company with a number of poachers who had made the DMZ their private estate until they strayed, like us, into a Scottish headquarters area. There was also a rather cheery group of smugglers who had been doing good business trading goods by sea between Scotland and England. They had been intercepted by an ancient Yarrow frigate crewed by the Scottish National Navy

We were released the day the invasion began.

My current position at eBay (GB DMZ) Inc. is not significantly different from my my old one at Amazon, though I'm now in Power. Turnover isn't as great in my new section, but you don't have to facilitate many multi-GigaWatt Siemens Nuclear Generators to earn a good commission. The secret of the takeover was that eBay negotiated a slightly higher rate of tax with the surrounding countries and the UN, and, in return, nobody got in their way. So Amazon was squeezed out, and since the DMZ is no country's sovereign territory, no-one's going to be prosecuted for the armed attack on Amazon. That's commerce today. No-one died. Adolf, richly rewarded with a compensation claim, is my boss again.

As everyone knows, the Scottish invasion came to nought; casualties were few and mostly accidental; no territory was taken. The cries of "Remember 1314!" were soon stilled. Microsoft Corporation's security arm, Blackmarch, saw to that, outnumbering, out-manoeuvering and out-computing the Scottish army. The 'blacks' and 'slants' had not been totally incompetent. Blackmarch had anticipated the assault using intelligence supplied by the UN Regulatory Authority and had placed an invisible and effectively invincible force a few kilometres inside England. Happily, the bulk of the Scottish invasion force was subsequently subcontracted to Microsoft, and now works for Blackmarch, whose presence in troubled areas of the world ensures that global commerce is never seriously threatened, whatever local rivalries may arise.

© Gil Williamson 2015 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 18:27 Fri 31 Jul 2015
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