by Sunny Rajpal
A battle between good and evil programs, takes place inside an advanced computer system.
|The trip back to the CPU was a lot worse than the trip to the Network Interface. On the way out I was looking forward to rearranging the headers of some bad code, but now I only had to look forward to a good chewing out. I had failed other missions before but I had never let a malicious piece of code escape into the system before.
As I entered the main control chamber CPU was ghostly white, more pale than I have ever seen her before. Her holographic visage was that of a translucent ghost-like female with half a torso and arms. She floated in front of a bay of monitors gracefully moving her arms over the controls. She never touched any of the control panels but they came to life and blinked in a vibrant sequence of lights as her hand was held over one for a second. She did not turn to face me as I moved closer to her crescent shaped work station. Her hands began to move faster and faster as she searched the system for any traces of the virus that had invaded her domain. Soon her hands moved faster than my optical sensors could register, they became a blur of motion moving with an ever expanding purpose. Suddenly they stopped as if frozen in time, and then slowly they moved in a circle above one on the larger control panels. Only when stepping closer and raising my self to my full height could I make out what system peripheral was being monitored by the control panel.
She moved her hand and the panel went dark, I looked up to find her staring at me. She twitched and to my right a terminal interface floated towards me. I hated this part and had wished now I had not annoyed her. I resisted as long as I could but could not put the inevitable off. I interfaced with the jack and immediately my body stiffened as she downloaded the logs from inside me.
CPU was brilliant and cruel. She had created logging algorithms so the data could be analyzed at a later time. To make it more efficient, and cruel, everything was logged. All actions, scans and even thoughts were recorded to be examined bit by bit. She brought up a glowing display and scrolled through the logs. I knew what was coming; she always did the same thing. She would analyze, out loud, the flaws she found not only in the system but also in me.
If Scout had been here she would have had a grin from ear to ear, she lived for moments like this. I fry, she gets elated. I made sure to ‘log’ my irritated, abusive and discontent feelings on the matter of the logs and on Scout. Let CPU analyze that later.
“I am the Virus Hunter”
“Two bad guys down and many more to go”
“How about ‘disintegration’…”
“… say your prayers.”
“Wrapped that mission up in time for lunch.”
“It seems that some of your routines are getting corrupted. As soon as this incident has been resolved I will have to reevaluate your code and trim some unnecessary coding. Your personality algorithm should be at the top of that list.” She stated inconsequentially.
Cruelty. She had just spit in my face. If it were any other program I would have rammed an icon down its throat, but that emotion was probably due to my faulty personality coding.
She went through the data analyzed using the CCD. She paused for a moment, a long moment. It seemed as if she had gone into an infinite loop. Something was up, she had found something she did not like and she could not fully analyze it. What was this thing that I was chasing? Was even CPU dumbfounded?
“You will immediately go to the system RAM and investigate the trail of the heinous system intruder”, the CPU spoke softly but quickly motioning me with a wave of the arm to another exit that led to a different system bus. “This time find out where that thing came from and what purpose is written into it.”
“I will not be happy if you fail twice in one day.”
This is where I would stand my ground and protest to this. I had fought hard in the Network Interface and the CPU had no idea what I had gone through. I surely deserved some recognition for the work I have done so far. The CPU did not see things in such a fashion, if you did not complete 100% of your mission with 100% success you were a failure. I should have yelled back, I should have told here what for… But, instead I found myself walking over to the exit she had directed met to, my head at a slight decline. She was not the type of program you talked back to, she was the boss and she was always right.
I had to prove myself this time or things would get very fuzzy for me very quickly.
The trip to the system RAM was a very short one. Most intermediate tasks were stored in the RAM and the CPU needed access to it very quickly, thus it was positioned very close to the CPU assembly. The RAM, being an acronym for Random Access Memory, was where most active programs waited around until they were required. All programs in the system were housed on one of the many Disk Arrays where they resided until they were needed. Once the call for them came in they were moved to they RAM and were activated.
On the last system upgrade the RAM had been supplemented to 1.0 Zettabyte, that is 1021 Bytes of RAM. Before that the system had a limited amount of RAM and required most nonessential programs to remain on the Hard Disk Array. Now with the nearly unlimited amount of RAM available most programs were active full time and resided mainly in RAM. The Hard Disk Arrays were typically abandoned or were used for storage backups of system files and programs. Thus, I expect a very busy place.
Very busy turned out to be an understatement, the RAM was a googolplex larger than I remembered it to be and not only had it expanded horizontally it had expanded vertically with uncountable layers upon layers of hardware. I am sure the CPU was very aware of the change and was most likely amused by the task that lay before me. Though on second thought I don’t think she can get “amused”.
“Scout, I need you now. I am located at entrance 0xFE10023B6 of the system RAM.” I intentionally spoke quickly and made no other remarks. I am sure her curiosity would pick up because of this and she would be here as quick as possible. I was not disappointed.
“Scout, to the rescue.” She burst out as she popped up out of nowhere. She knew every route through the system and used this knowledge very effectively to her benefit and to my utmost annoyance. “What’s up VH, you found the tracks of that big old meany virus?”
I was a bit surprised at this; she surely had been briefed by the CPU on my new mission and would have been told to assist me. I almost smirked as I realized she was playing dumb for my benefit. Almost.
“Yeah, well the virus has been traced to the RAM. Unfortunately, the CPU could not determine where in the RAM the virus has resided itself.”
Scout walked over to an information console and punched up the specs for the RAM. The RAM was broken up into levels. Each level was subdivided into sectors, and there were a lot of sectors to check out. Scout stared at the console almost bemused and asked in a musical tone, “Where shall we start, master.”
“Well level one is a secure region, it is reserved for the OCS.”
The OCS, Operational Control System, was a set of very organized maintenance and scheduling programs. They directed most other programs and took a great load off of the CPU. The CPU communicated directly with the OCS and the OCS in turn managed all running tasks.
“It would be very difficult for a virus to infiltrate that area as there are a vast amount of sentry’s that guard that sector. But, I must say this virus has proven to be very cunning and resourceful. I would not put such an incursion past it.”
Scout checked her gear and looked at me with a rigid expression. “You got me convinced, lets get in there are kick some malicious code ass.” She immediately broke down and began to laugh. How could I be stuck with this amateur? “No seriously”, she continued, “let me just download the specs and I will lead you there in two shakes of an IDE cable.”
She motioned her hand toward the information access panel and it elongated into an information jack. She inserted the jack into the information port and closed her eyes as she read and assimilated the information at the speed of light. Her body went rigid and expanded noticeably as all the information was downloaded into here. She was a small program but she absorbed a surprisingly vast amount of information. A moment latter she disconnected from the access point and creaked her neck from side to side for a moment before turning to me. “Got it all”, she said in a weak voice. She took a moment to compose herself and I was quite impressed with what a sophisticated program she really must be deep down. This did not last long as I quickly returned to normal when I saw that usual grin of superiority appear across her face. She looked at me and guessed that I must be curious about her storage capacity.
“I have a quasont bayesian encryption and compression algorithm built in. Only us V12’s have that. You’re still a V8, right?” She said smugly.
I should have shot her right there on the spot, but for now I needed her. I could not store that much information and the RAM was too vast for me to explore without the schematic. I gave her a stony grimace and she got the idea. She waved me to an entrance point a few microns down and pointed to an entry way with a multitude of security scanners. The security scanners meant little to us as we had received all access codes, though it still took a while as there were dozens of lengthy codes to input.
The entry way opened up into a long corridor that lead up to the level one access station. This access station had entry points that would allow us to travel to any sector in level one.
A hidden massive dark object came to life and immediately blocked our paths. My instinct subroutines came on instantly and I rolled to the left taking a position behind a pillar and brought my weapon to bare on it. Scout on the other hand stood where she was, placed her hands on her hips and looked at me with the same contemptuous look that the CPU always gave me. “It’s just a security sentry you idiot.” She gave another look as she approached it and input the access code into its access terminal. The sentry immediately powered itself down and returned to its hiding place in an alcove in the wall.
“Your like a baby, afraid of a little sentry program. I thought you were made of sterner code than that. Did I overestimate you? Is your base coding so legacy that you don’t know that a Model IS12 Sentry will not attack programs like us? We have top level security clearance from the CPU.” She was mocking me, and she was enjoying it. I powered down my weapon and stood up. I approached her and walked right up to her. I was twice her height so she had to incline her head back all the way to look into my face. I did not smile, I did not need to. “Did you consider”, I paused a picosecond, “if that sentry had been reprogrammed by the virus to attack even system programs that approached.”
I assumed her mouth had dropped open but I did not wait to see. I turned and walked to the information directory for the access point destinations. “The EMO, that’s a good place to start.” I proceeded towards the correct entry port not looking back to see if Scout was coming. She caught up with me before I entered the sector address into the entry port. An instant later we landed in front of The EMO. “Why do they call it The EMO?” Scout asked stuttering the first few syllables but gathering herself quickly together.
“This is the most prestigious association of programs in Level one. EMO stands for Encrypted Members Only. Silly if you ask me. I have an old friend that works here; he might be able to point us in the proper direction.” I said this as I walked towards the massive entryway to the building. I accelerated my pace as scout tried to keep up. She looked over at me and I knew what she would say before she had processed it herself, “you have friends?”
A gorilla of a sentry program guarded the entrance to the building. He stopped us cold as we approached giving us a very prominent look of disgust. “I think you have the wrong sector, no riff raff allowed.” He grunted out. There were two ways to get past this situation, show him our security clearance or bust his face in and walk over him into the building. I decided on the latter as I was still not in the best of moods. An instant before I reacted however my C.C.D flashed and a blank expression came over the sentry. An instant after that the CPU appeared in the visor, “I do not appreciate your intentions. I have warned you about damaging my children, fail to remember that again and I will have you deactivated and decompiled. But not in that order.” The C.C.D flashed off and I looked over to Scout. “Isn’t she delightful?”
Scout gave me a disapproving look. She lifted her hand and waved her finger at me. She was going to give me another lecture. I did not give her the chance. I pushed the door open with a bit too much force and barged in. The doors opened with a loud bang and every program in the room looked our way as we entered in. “Discreet” Scout said and disappeared instantly from my side. I cared little for what other programs thought of me but I cursed myself for getting carried away. I actually needed to be discreet. I scanned the room until I found the program I was looking for. Behind the bar on the far left wall, ePub 5.0.
ePub was far from happy to see me. “Pubee my old friend, good to see you”, I bellowed as I waked up to the bar. The patrons nearest him sneered and glowered at me as I sat down in front of him. “V… VH, what are you doing here? You can’t come in here, this is a private club.” ePub was trying to motion me away from his customers and into a more secluded region of the bar. That was not my plan. “I had heard you started working here, the news travels fast on the grape circuit. You see I was in the neighborhood and I needed a little help, and of course I thought of you.” “I, I can’t help you.” He gave a smile and nod to another snobby looking program that walked by and moved in closer to whisper. “You gotta leave, your gonna cost me my job.” His base coding must have been processing so hard that his cheeks started to become red. “What are you worried about? We’re old pals. Unless…” I placed a look of shock on my face. “Unless you did not tell your new boss where you worked before. Did you lie to them on the process task forms before they gave you this job?” I scoffed and give him a scornful look. “Now you know that is an Illegal Fault right. You could be put away in storage for something like that.” He must have been having the worst day of his life cycle. He signaled for someone to take his place and came around the bar. He motioned to grab me by the arm but quickly reconsidered as he saw my expression change. He begged and convinced me to go to the back room with him.
The back room was a storage for cases of SyntheHol, a very expensive maintenance program in liquid format that when drunk ran through an application correcting errors in the code. He brought a bottle and two glasses over to a table and asked me to sit. He poured two glasses spilling a bit on the table as his hands were shaking. He did not sit but placed the bottle on the table and placed one glass in front of me nodding to it. He went back around the table and was reaching for the other glass as it disappeared. He stumbled back in shock but I raised my hand to stop him from running out of the room. “Don’t worry, that would be my… ah worker. She is quick but extremely rude.” He stared at me for a moment but accepted my answer and turned to fetch another glass. “Forget the glass, sit down.” I was a byte too forceful on the last part and almost fell over the chair as he fumbled and sat down.
He waited a moment, stared at the table and steadied himself. “I did not tell them you know. I was afraid to. A friend of mine got me this job and I really needed it badly.” I took the glass he had left for me and took a sip. I waited for him to continue. “You don’t know what it was like, after… you know after what happened.” I took another sip as he fumbled with his fingers on the table. “I need this job, I got a family now. I married a nice recipe management program. She works here with me. We’re happy.” I could feel the CRC algorithms take affect and enjoyed another larger gulp. “She is expecting you know. I think its going to be a barmaid program. I never knew I could be so happy.”
I rubbed the side of my face with my fingers and asked slowly, “did you get tested?”
He looked up and nodded his head vigorously. “Yeah, and it’s ok. The virus is out of my system completely.” He looked like he wanted to say more so I kept quite. “I never thanked you. If you had not found me and disinfected me from that Score.K5 virus I would have continued to rob and steal. I don’t know how far I would have gone. I am sure I would not be here now.” He trailed off staring down at his hands on the table.
Saving these poor souls was my job. The programs I cleaned usually had lasting feelings of gratefulness to me for saving them. I hated to use this to my advantage but I needed help and I did not have time to dilly dally. “You owe me for saving you, and I need you to help me now.” Pubee looked directly at me almost seeing me for the first time. He shook his head slightly from side to side and repeated, “yeah, yeah… anything for you. But what can I do, I am just a Pub and Drink management program.” He then waited for me to respond, he seemed a little reticent now not sure what I was here for. I continued, ignoring the timid look on his face. “I just need a little information. You meet and greet a lot of programs here, they tell you things and I am sure you overhear even more. I need you to think back, has there been any odd behavior or conversations you have overheard.” “Odd?” he interrupted but I raised a hand requesting him to hear me out. He waited and let me continue. “Have you heard anything about any infections, or even invasion?”
He tilted his head thinking, “Invasion? Infections? But I guess you would not be here otherwise. If you’re out about and prowling around I guess there has to be some kind of virus or something out there. Well… No, I heard nothing about infections. That would have been news around here. Though…” He was not speaking to me, he was thinking out loud and he did not finish his current thought. He was trying to relate something in his mind. He began to snap the fingers on his left hand gathering up the thoughts into a cohesive outline.
This is what I liked as well as feared the most about him. He was brilliant; he had used this intellect to concoct his plans to rob very secure banking software. He had siphoned a sizable amount of money from these financial systems, but his greed eventually became his downfall. If he had stopped early on he would not have been noticed, but his actions became expansive and more dangerous, he was eventually noticed by the Lenfs. Lenfs are the local Law Enforcement Software for each device. They investigate abuse and fraud along with criminal actions. The have the ability to quarantine software and scan them for anomalies. They are no match for a real virus but are effective for localized Worms or Trojans.
They had difficulty even discovering the initial thefts. But as Pubee got bolder and bolder his crimes became more noticeable. It got to a point where more than half the fraud department was investigation just his offences. That is when they escalated the situation to me. It was pretty obvious he was under the influence of a Trojan Virus.
Trojans usually piggy back on small viruses, once the virus infects a program they get to work and take over the infected program. The virus usually dissipates but leaves the Trojan in control. They take control and manipulate the actions of the program. Trojans are hard to detect using simple scans as they imbed themselves deep inside the infected program and the Score.K5 virus that infect him had a very powerful Trojan built into it. I tracked Pubee down to where he was staying in those days, a dive in the lower segments of the RAM. He hid himself well but not well enough to escape me. His real downfall was the Boost. Boost was a software accelerator, an illegal narcotic. A program, once hooked needed larger and larger hits of Boost. Eventually the base coding could not function properly without a regular supply. I found him on the floor of his dilapidated room, lying in a pool of his own code. Usually I did not feel for my prey, but that one time. I…
“Yeah, that’s right. I think I got something for you.” Pubee brought me out of my trance. I had forgotten where I was. I had forgotten the mission I was on. I think I should ask the CPU to wipe some of my old memory out, these old emotions were dangerous. I prodded him to continue. “There were a couple of chaps here earlier. Chaps is what they call themselves, they think they are all high and mighty cause they have level 15a clearance and work in sector BF67A. Chaps, can you believe it.” He flinched when he saw the annoyed look on my face and apologized for his digression. “Well these chaps were talking about their other chaps.” He said “chaps” with a bit of disgust, he was jealous but I gave him a little bit of leeway and did not chide him for it. “A couple of them, what was it they called ‘em? A hidden lock and key program and some kind of encoder program were missing. Well they had not showed up for their scheduled projects was more like it. They acted as if not showing up one time was the end of the world. It stood out a bit because “The Chaps” had joked that their friends probably had been infected by a virus. Apparently that was funny to them; something about bonk shield or something. I did not pay much attention to them, they are lousy tippers. I guess that probably is not what you are looking for. I can ask a couple of the other guys if you got a nanosecond.” He got up and moved towards the door as I thanked him.
He had barely taken two steps from the table when scout appeared next to me. She knelt beside me and looked up into my face. She had a grim expression on her face and I instantly knew that there was trouble and we should find the closest exit. I stood up told Pubee stay in the back for now and asked Scout to report. Pubee was quick to get paranoid and asked questions rather loudly but Scout began her report looking directly at me focusing only on me. “There’s three Lenfs near the main entrance but there’s something odd about them. I can’t pin it down but VH, I have this odd feeling about them.” I was taken aback at hearing this. The CPU had given permission for Lenfs to enter here while I was still investigating. I moved to the door with Scout right behind me protesting for me not to go out. I cracked the door open slightly and looked out, she was right. There were three uniformed Lenf officers talking to the big gorilla at the door. This pissed me off.
I slid the door open and walked out intent on ramming my fists through their chests. As I strode I activated the CCD and demanded an explanation from the CPU. Scout tried to grab onto my arm warning me of her “bad feelings”. Such a child. “You are mistaken, there are no Lenfs in the vicinity”, the CPU said casually. “What”, what was this woman going on about in my ear. “What do you mean there are no Lenfs? I am looking at them, they have the proper uniforms and I can even see the digital signature certificate on their chests.” “You are mistaken”, the CPU stated again with a hint of derisiveness in her tone.
I halted and looked back at Scout but talked to the CPU. “You don’t see them? Don’t you have trackers in all the Lenfs?” I was dumbfounded by her answer, “I am not tracking any Lenfs in the vicinity. You must be mistaken.” As she finished one of the Lenf officers spotted me and yelled to his partners as he bolted towards me. I turned on my heels and was about to shout to Scout but I saw that she had also moved towards the same hallway I was making for. I could see her mouthing, “I told you so”. She as usual had no grasp of what the situation was and how dangerous things had just become.
We moved through the crowd of programs knocking programs out of the way and jumping over tables and chairs. This was a worsening situation and we needed to get somewhere isolated quickly. I was almost to the hallway when the first blasts rang out. The Lenfs had open fire and as I turned my head slightly I saw two programs get hit. The programs instantly dissolved into particles and drifted apart. Screams erupted all around and an even thicker crowd began forming in front. I rammed through a network utility program and dove into the hallway. Another shot and the program I had just pushed aside disintegrated behind me. Scout who had moved first into the hallway was ahead. She stopped and turned ready to fight and expecting me to do the same. But, this was not the place.
I shouted and motioned her to continue on, “Move damit, we can’t stop now.” She was shocked and was ready to yell at me when a shot streaked past me and collapsed a section of the ceiling just in front of her. She ducked into the hallway to her left dodging the falling debris. This turned out to be a good help, the falling debris mixed up a cloud of particles which blocked our escape. I moment later as I caught up to her I saw our way out.
It took two shots to destroy the large window but the glass shattered nonetheless just as we both jumped. I spun in the air and looked back to see where the Lenfs were. To my joy all three were entering the hallway we had just exited. This was too good. They would in moments be to the window we had blasted through and would be very surprised when they found the gift I had left behind.
The explosion that followed accelerated our fall. Shards of silicon and plastics flew by us as we tumbled towards the forthcoming ground. I looked over at Scout hoping to see her cry or pray, but to my disappointment she seemed composed. She must have known about the repulsor filament I had attached before we jumped. Together we felt the jerk of the line halt us in mid air. Together we swung back towards building. Together we nimbly bounced off the walls and landed on the ground. Together we jumped aside to evade the falling debris.
She was good, I had to admit it. She was very good. Not many could have kept up with me. Not many would have trusted me so much. We both survived not just because I had planed and executed our escape but because she had synchronized with me at every point. I needed to thank her. I should thank her.
“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?” She did not seem to be in a mood to be thanked at the moment however. I did not have time for questions right now and I needed to convey that to her subtly, “I do not have time for questions right now.” I moved double time towards the nearest access point. Looking back to see if she was following I rushed out, “We have to get to sector BF67A, and we have to hurry.”
She was obedient and she followed unquestioningly, for the moment. We stepped into the portal and took a last glimpse of the carnage before we zoomed off to our new destination. I could not help myself, “Cleanup on isle 4.” I had no idea what I had just said but it seemed very funny and appropriate at the time. I really did have corrupted code in me.
“Wait, please just wait a minute.” Scout had paused as soon as she had exited the access portal and she stood rigid at that spot. “I am not moving another step until we clear a couple of things up.” She waited. “Well?”
Irritating, very irritating.
“OK, go ahead. Ask your questions. Let’s waste time while a Virus unlike anything we have seen before runs free through the entire system consuming and destroying everything in its path.” I hoped I sounded more irritated than I felt. Truth was I needed a moment to go through all the things in my mind. I needed to make sense of a couple of things that were just not clicking and maybe Scouts questions would help me do that. Of course, I could not let Scout know I needed her help. Then I waited.
“You seem to know where you are going, how? Why? Where? Who were those Lenfs, were they virus spawn? Why did you not hold your ground and fight them there in the bar, are you afraid?” She continued on for a while going around and around but that was the core of her questions. While she prattled on I got some of the same questions from the CPU. Well better questions, more sensible questions.
“As for why I did not ‘hold my ground’ and fight, that one is simple. Too dangerous. Not for you or me but for the other programs there. I wanted to take as many precautions as possible not to hurt any of ‘her children’. Of course at that time I did not know that the Lenfs were going to start firing into the crowd to get us. As for who they are, that is a bit more complicated. I don’t think they are virus spawn. And the CPU has verified they are not controlled Lenfs, they did not have the trackers embedded in them. They are something new almost as if they were cloned from the Lenfs. And that leads us into where we are going. If the Lenfs are cloned programs that have been recoded to be slaves of the virus then he would need at least a level 14b xCopy utility as well as HexEditors. Both those utilities are fairly high level and both can be found in sector BF67A. Of course that also is the place where the ‘hidden lock and key’ program as well as that ‘encoder program’ went missing. Thus that would be a logical place to go next. The problem is what would the virus want with those programs? The CPU speculates that the combination of those programs can be used to crack very heavy encryption. What we don’t know is whether the virus wants to break through the encryption of some kind of program or some data or what. Is that enough, for you, for now?”
This did help. Going over the events and the facts helps to narrow down the locations the Virus would need those programs to break into. Unfortunately, there are still dozens of possibilities. Traveling to and searching all of those places will take too long. We have to narrow down the search.
“Scout, we need to narrow the search area down. I want you to go ahead and…”
The CCD came to life and system messages ran down the virtual display like a ascii waterfall. “What’s up, your speech algorithms ran into a feedback loop or something?” Scout was patronizing but she realized that something serious was being communicated to me. She stayed quite waiting for a response.
“The CPU just sent me a message.” My insides began to rumble as shockwaves of fear ran through me. “She just found out what the Virus is up to.” Scout was frozen in place expecting to hear the worst; I did not want to disappoint her so I continued. “Security alarms have just gone off at the Viral and Malicious Code Quarantine Center.”
“There he will have access to every malicious piece of code that has entered into our system. If he gets in and takes those programs out of stasis we are all domed.”