Geir left the two men, clearly upset by Bjorn's apparent inability to recognize even the most glaring security issues, and there was for a moment an awkward silence between Thomas and Bjorn.
"So, I guess we should report this to Frank when he comes back," Thomas said with a sheepish grin, revealing that he too might have missed the glaringly obvious had someone told him about the boat service last night.
"I guess so," Bjorn said, also starting to grin.
"Why did you suddenly feel the urge to bring up this whole taxi thing?" Thomas asked. "The man was leaving. Why ask him about the taxi service?"
Bjorn took another bite of his sandwich, not quite sure himself why he felt it a good idea to bring it up.
"Well... We used to have this kind of services in Oslo too, you remember? Until right after the election when the government felt it necessary to show that they would be tough on crime, cracking down on all sorts of illegal activities, including the taxi services."
"And I was thinking that the crack down must have been just the sort of thing that Geir agrees with."
"And it probably is."
"Yet his colleagues were using it last night, to the great benefit of us all."
"Well, don't you think that's a little hypocritical?"
"Sure. But do you think Geir is concerned about that?"
"No... You're probably right... He did avoid the question, though. Did you notice?"
"Yes, he did."
"So he can't be entirely happy about his double-think."
"I'm not sure. I think you might be reading too much into this."
Bjorn reached for the thermos in front of him. "More?" he asked, before pouring coffee into Thomas' cup and then his own.
"So why are you in the army if you are so against much of what the government does?" Bjorn asked.
"It was pretty much the only job vacancy I could find?" Thomas answered. "I used to be a car mechanic you know."
"Really? But there must be jobs to be found as a car mechanic. I mean... the crisis isn't that bad, is it?"
"Sure. But it isn't worth the bother anymore. Too much fuss."
"You think so?"
"Think? I know! There are so many rules and regulations these days. And if you don't do things right, they'll get you... I had a colleague who failed to properly warn against a worn wire, and he is now serving time for manslaughter."
"No. The car he had signed off on as being safe to drive ended up in an accident, and when they discovered the mistake, he was nailed for it."
"But that's nuts."
"To you and me, maybe. But most people actually want this kind of law enforcement. It's all to the benefit of the consumer, they say. Consumer protection is the big thing in politics these days."
"Well, what isn't?" Bjorn asked rhetorically.
Thomas took a sip of his coffee before continuing on his rant.
"Well, anyway. Poor Nick going to jail and my boss getting a hefty fine was the end of it, both for my boss and for me, and all my colleagues too... My boss closed shop, and is now working as an assistant manager for one of the big guys... I think he actually makes more now than he was making as an independent."
"So it turned out all right for him in a way then?"
"If you think pushing papers around for a living is meaningful, or if money is all you care about, I guess you could say so... But poor Nick is still in jail. He'll be out in another three months though."
Thomas looked genuinely upset where he was sitting.
"But aren't the big guys hiring? And protecting their employees... I mean... Not all jobs at a car mechanic is paper work. How big a burden is it really?"
"Yes, but the real jobs are not very well paid. And you feel like a criminal charging insane amounts for even trivial things, like changing a light bulb... And you can't really escape the paper work. It's everywhere."
"But that's the way it always was," Bjorn commented, thinking back to his own career as a software engineer. "You can't really escape it."
Then Bjorn started talking about his own reason for joining the army, pointing out that it was pretty much the exact same reason that Thomas had outlined for himself. But in addition to the dreary bureaucracy of always having to keep track of everything, and always knowing that one was on line for any mistake, having to take full responsibility if anything bad should happen, Bjorn had the added dis-incentive of his perpetual debt to the tax man.
"They took pretty much everything," Bjorn said, not really expecting much sympathy on this latest point.
"They did?" Thomas asked, showing interest but no genuine compassion.
"It was my own silly fault for signing for the debt, though," Bjorn continued, parroting the narrative that he had constantly been presented with from both friends and bureaucrats. "I mean. If you sign an agreement to pay a certain amount, you're obliged to pay of course."
"Or go away," Thomas suggested.
"And that's pretty much what I did. I guess I'm here because I can't be bothered to make a real effort to pay my debt."
"And why should you?" Thomas asked rhetorically. "You were fooled."
"By myself... By my greed," Bjorn added, not really believing what he was saying.
"No... By the system, you fool," Thomas protested with a cynical smile. "You are here for the exact same reason I am here."
Then, with a dramatic gest, Thomas reached over and patted Bjorn on his shoulder. "Welcome, my friend," he said with a genuine yet ironic smile. "The empire is waiting for you."