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The System is Down

Chapter 2

After a long luxurious shower, Sandra finally wrapped herself in a plush terry cloth robe. Feeling nearly human, she did not even want to touch her old clothes and pushed them into a corner of the bathroom. It was time to explore her gilded cage.

As promised, the closet, a walk-in, contained a wide array of clothing– possibly more than Sandra had ever owned. One side of the closet was entirely taken up by high fashion dresses, formal dining wear, evening gowns and the accoutrement to go with them- corsets, lingerie, stockings, scarves, bags, and shoes. All this was far nicer than anything she had ever worn. These were things she has never even considered for herself as she never had occasion for such frivolity in her life.

The other side of the closet contained clothing far more in her style– jeans, cargo pants, blouses, sneakers, Doc Martins, and some simple skirts and dresses. With the exception of the top drawer, the dresser continued this theme with t-shirts, athletic socks, and plain cotton underwear. The top drawer, a third of the height of the other dresser drawers, was sectioned and lined with velvet. This drawer contained an array of jewelry– earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and other pieces she did not recognize that matched with the high-fashion items in the closet.

What to wear when she went across the hall to confront Fred suddenly appeared to be a very complicated matter. But one she would only consider once she was done with her exploration.

The nightstands on either side of the bed were empty, except for a telephone and remote control for the the TV/entertainment stack. Sandra was almost disappointed not to find a Gideon’s bible in one of the drawers to complete the hotel experience. She flipped on the television and found it connected to a rather complete satellite feed. She selected some channel at random as light background noise and continued her search.

Inside the desk was something unexpected– a new MacBook Pro, still apparently untouched, with its protective plastic wrapping still intact. Removed from the drawer with its power brick, she plugged in the machine, removed the plastic wrap, lifted the lid, and powered it on.

The computer wasn’t entirely fresh from the factory new. It had been prepared for her. After the initial boot sequence completed, her name was displayed and she was prompted for a passcode. This was odd in itself, but it gave her a hint as to how to access the machine. She went to the bathroom and rummaged through her pants to get the access fob.

Had the computer asked for her password, a normal authentication request, Sandra would’ve been at a loss as to what to enter. But here the prompt was specifically for a passcode; the same term used by the door system.

She entered her pin and the numbers currently displayed on the fob and hit enter. To her pleasant surprise, she was quickly presented with a fresh Apple desktop environment. She checked the system specs and fell in lust. Her two year old machine that she normally worked with was no slacker, but this laptop was decked out with the largest fastest hard drive, highest clocked CPUs, most RAM, and highest performing video setup that Apple currently offered. Overall, this made her normal system look like a tortoise. Only, unlike the allegory, this machine would not only sprint past her personal machine, but also outlast it with its ultra-advanced multi-day battery.

She poked around the machine, quickly, as its clock told her it was already eleven in the evening. There was little time to waste if she wished to speak with Fred before the morning. There were too many questions bouncing in her head and she would, even in her exhausted state, not be able to get any rest without some answers.

She tried to figure out, through her IP, where she might be, but she was thwarted in her cursory check. The answer she received made it clear that her packets were being filtered and shaped to appear to be coming from any number of different geographic locations. No time now for a deeper investigation, she thought.

Sandra needed to talk with Fred, even if he did not appear to be the same person with whom she had spent six months dating just a short while ago. Apparently he was not the construction worker that she thought she knew, but something different. Tonight he was stiff and formal. Or maybe these were all perceptions given by the clothes he wore.

And while he had always been a person who could lead others, now things were happening for him without an obvious words spoken or gestures made. Like the supper they had eaten. Everything was prepared before they arrived. Then a request she made was instantly fulfilled. How could that be? Let alone how he had the resources to own an island and have it stocked with all the clothing and materials she might need or desire. This was a different level power that was beyond her comprehension. It was beyond what she considered possible within her understanding of reality. All of this made her question whether she knew Fred at all. And that unknown created fear in her over what she felt she needed to do. It was time. Time to get out of the bathrobe and cross the hallway.

She picked some items from the more casual side of the closet and dresser to wear. This was no time to play dress-up and be the belle of the ball. That was not within her experience to play that part and she did not have the energy to try and act that role. Not now, maybe later, maybe never, but definitely not this instant. Better to find something as comfortable as possible, even if these were clothes she had not bought and did not own or otherwise pick out. Still, they matched her sense of relaxed style. With a bit of poking around, she found something that also fit as well.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath while she stood just before her door. Will I even be allowed out of my room, Sandra wondered during the brief interval before she grasped the door handle. With the access fob in one hand, the other she turned the door handle and freely pulled it open.

Two short strides and she stood in front of Fred’s door. She didn’t know what to expect to see on the other side of the the door. She did not trust that her fob and code would let her inside, as Fred had told her. This, too, gave her pause while she stared at the numeric display of the fob and waited for the code to cycle. Going through the same routine she had a short couple of hours earlier to enter her bedroom, she gained access to Fred’s room.

She slowly pushed the door open.

“He-hello,” she said and still stood in the hall.

She heard no reply, but she could see that the room was dimly lit. So dim that that she could not make out any details inside from the brightly illuminated hallway. Sandra took a step inside the room and turned to quietly close the door behind her.

When she turned back, Fred stood before her only a couple feet away.

“Shit,” she exclaimed, “You scared the bejeebus out of me.”

“Who’d you expect to see here,” he asked, “This is my room.”

No longer in his suit, Fred wore wide striped silk pajamas with bunny slippers on his feet. He smiled at her in a way she had seen a thousand times before, but not since she arrived at this place. It was the smile she had seen while they were dating and just fooling around. It was something that had always melted her heart, but the setting and context were too unfamiliar and made the smile almost foreign.

“Come on in, let’s talk,” he guided her into his room.

The opulence of this room was of a different era from her own. Here the walls were papered with patterned velvet and the furniture heavy dark mahogany. It’s as if she had stepped into some Victorian gentlemen’s home. If there were any pieces of modern technology in this room, they remained well hidden.

From the entrance of Fred’s suite, they entered a sitting room. Sandra caught just a glimpse beyond the sitting room into the main bed chamber. It appeared to be furnished in a similar heavy fashion, but no further details could be gleamed.

“Please sit,” Fred indicated a plush leather chair, “Can I offer you something to drink?”

“I’ll just have what you’re having,” she replied.

Fred, already at the liquor sideboard cabinet, poured Scotch into a tumbler. He poured another glass and then with tongs dropped a sphere of granite into each glass. He handed a glass to Sandra and sat himself down opposite her.

“The granite is chilled like an ice cube, and as it cools the Scotch, it won’t water it down,” he told her. “Also, you’ll notice that the tumbler is double walled. The air gap keeps the heat of your hand from transferring into the drink as well.”

Sandra just looked down at the glass in her hand, inhaling the peat of Speyside distilled in her glass. She wasn’t sure what to make of it– the glass, the cold rock sphere within the glass, the room she found herself. These were minor compared to familiar and yet unknown the person seated across from her. She focused on the sphere at the bottom of the glass and tried to center herself.

Noticing that Sandra was not ready to join the conversation, Fred continued his soliloquy, “We’ll be drinking some sixteen year old Mortlach. It was my father’s late night drink of choice. Although, he usually was lighting a cigar to go with, I think we can forego the stogie.”

“Fred?”

“Ah, there you are.”

“Fred, where are we?”

“A tiny island I inherited somewhere around Midway. Used to have some attachment to the military, until they shutdown the base on Midway itself. No one ever really lived here, but my dad figured it had some uses.”

“What about this place? I mean, the office building or whatever this is inside a warehouse? I don’t get it.”

“Call it the bunker. It’s a hiding place from the satellites. It makes the customers that run their underwater fiber through here happier. This whole island looks pretty deserted even at one centimeter resolution. It’s barely a landing strip, a few rusted-out looking warehouses, and some vegetation. There’s not even a good coral reef around here for diving.”

Shaking her head to try and clear the disbelief, “This is a transpacific fiber junction point?”

“Yup, most maps show the fiber going through Guam or Hawaii, but that’s all a rouse. Security through a bit of obscurity, I think you’d call it.”

“But, but you’re a construction guy. How, why, what’re you doing in all this?”

“You’re right, I am a construction guy,” he shrugged, “I’m not involved in, well, any of this. Not really. Like I said I inherited this. My father was whatcha might call a facilitator.”

Taking a slow sip of his scotch, he let Sandra try to process this bit of information. She took a sip herself, all the while she kept an eye on Fred over the rim of her glass. She still didn’t know what to make of all this. Each new detail begged more questions from her and just confused her more.

Fred savored the texture of the liquid as it ran over his tongue, the slight burn as it ran down his throat. He watched Sandra, tried to figure out when the frighteningly smart person inside her would stop being frightened and start being smart.

“Look, it’s like this,” he spoke, now leaning towards her, “Back before the networks and the Internet and all that shit, there was technology being invented that would come together and make all that. My dad had this knack. He could see the final puzzle before the pieces were even made. He’d poke a scientist in one direction here, quietly fund some research over there, and introduce people who would create great partnerships. He hung in the background of a hundred different tech innovations. Mostly in the Valley, but in Boston and London, Japan and Shanghai. He was always in the background, but he always took his fair share of the financials.”

“Okay, I get it, but,” Sandra paused, “No I don’t. You’re saying that your father went off and made sure that all the parts came together to make the Internet? Com’on, that shit’s all DARPA and NSF and BBN and crap like that. If he was a part of that, I’d’ve heard of him. I’ve studied my computer history.”

“Like I said, he hung in the background. It’s where he liked to be. At least that’s how he told it. He helped Noyce and Grove meet and make Intel. He nudged a professor at Stanford to suggest to some of his PhD students the idea of a multi-protocol router and Cisco was born. He’d make friends with high party officials and suddenly China is moving from manufacturing Cupie dolls to build iPhones. He never made anything. He just saw a need and figured out where to put the lever.”

“That’s crazy. No one person could’ve been involved with all that and stay hidden.”

“Look, there are ways to make it and ways to stay behind the scenes. Most of the time the people taking credit are more than happy to take center stage and conveniently forget some steps in the process to their success. My father just happened to make some of those steps. He’d make a shell company that artificially created a need and someone would fill it. In other cases, he’d build a fake company which would publicize some radical technology, and then let someone else steal the idea. About the only thing he ever did do, was see a need for significantly higher transoceanic bandwidth. So he got a company to buy the subs and ships and another to make new kinds of fiber optic cable, and took over this island for cheap to make it a hub.”

“Fine, whatever you say. I can’t say I believe you, even in the face of evidence. This just doesn’t seem like you.”

“Whadda you mean?”

“Look, maybe I’m wrong. But the Fred Jenkins I know worked with his hands and built houses and drove around in a pick-up and cared fuck-all about technology and the Internet. You were just some normal guy who worked an honest living and actually built things. How can you be that and, and this what– millionaire, billionaire?”

“I’m pretty sure we’re talking high Bees, but I don’t keep track,” Fred shrugged and took another sip, “It’s all spread in thousands of accounts and shells to make sure we are hidden from the spotlight. Besides, I’m still that guy. I’ve just taken a break from construction for a bit so I can see you.”

“What the,” she took a big swig from her glass, the granite sphere whacked her front teeth.

“You wouldn’t return my calls or emails,” Fred pleaded, “I really missed you and wanted you in my life.”

“Maybe I was upset with you and didn’t want you anymore.”

“Or was it really that you just got busy with work and couldn’t make time for us anymore.”

She looked down at her near empty glass, Sandra spoke to the rock, “Yeah, that’s really more like it. I missed you, too. But it was only a couple of weeks.”

“No, it was more than two months. But you just got so caught up in all your start-up games and new tech you forgot about me. I’m just some dumb lug you used as a release valve.”

“A month. Two? Really, maybe. Sorry. I did get pretty deep into it, but I never meant to neglect you. I really cared for you and really enjoyed being with you.”

“And I love you,” Fred threw the L-word down.

Sandra raised her head up to meet Fred’s gaze. He looked directly at her and the conviction of his words held in his expression. Those words had never been spoken between them. It had never really crossed her mind– love. What was that?

Sandra never looked for love, never expected to find it. She wasn’t sure this was it, either. The time she’d had with Fred had been good, very good indeed. They laughed and cried and played and even fought. They meshed well together. The tabs and slots and interconnects matched up well and felt right. There was no cross-talk and the signal-to-noise ratio was well above optimal. There were sparks and tension but no unease or fear. But was that love?

The long silence held while Fred’s gaze never wavered from Sandra.

“I can’t process this right now. You say you love me, but you kidnap me from my job to prove it? What the fuck is that about!”

“You never returned my calls. You never responded to the letters or the flowers. My emails and texts went straight to the void. You never went out to any of our old haunts and you were never home. After you ignored your Facebook change of status,” he paused as Sandra got up from her chair, “I couldn’t think of any other ways to get your attention.”

She threw her empty glass at him, “Fuck you, you crazy fuck. No, you stay right there. Stay the fuck away from me.” Sandra ran from the room and slammed the door behind her. She fumbled with the palm scan and entered the passcode for her door, then failed to get it to work. “Goddamnitfuck open,” she slammed her open palms against the door as tears streamed down her face. On her third attempt the magic incantation finally took and she got into her room.

Taking the chair from the desk, she barricaded the door. Then she dove under the covers and sobbed.

Sleep came at some point, but when Sandra could not tell. She awoke with a cruft of dried snot on her face and the sheets still damp from her tears. She laid there curled up, still shaking with rage.

From under the covers, Sandra groped for the phone’s handset on the nightstand. “I need water, orange juice, a grilled ham sandwich to be left at my door and no one in the hall when I get them,” she yelled down the line.

She barely heard the, “Yes, ma’am, we’ll–” response as she slammed down the phone and curled back under the covers.

A few minutes later, two quiet knocks were made against her door. Sandra got up, moved the chair barricade and opened the door. There a trolley contained all she asked. As she peered down the hall not a soul was to be seen along it, just as requested. She wheeled the cart into her room and re-barricaded the door.

There were carafes of water and orange juice, but instead of pouring them into the supplied glasses, she chugged the drinks straight from their containers. Sandra knew she was a wreck and needed to replenish the fluids and minerals she’d lost. She ate the sandwich without tasting it and found an additional shelf of food and drink under the trolley’s table cloth.

Here she found fruits, hard cheese, bread, and cold Mountain Dew. As always, her captors had gone above and beyond in fulfilling her request for nourishment.

After eating and drinking her fill, she washed her face and saw the mess that was on display in perfect relief of her blotchy skin.

“They’ve given me a computer and access to the Internet. It’s time to use the tools I have,” she spoke to her mirror-self.

She actually hadn’t slept for all that long, it was just a little before four a.m. The hour didn’t matter, utilizing what time she had was what was important. She took a soda from the cart, and brought it and the laptop to the bed.

The location checks she did, again showed her to be all over the map. So Sandra still couldn’t prove that she was on some island. She’d just have to take this as a matter of faith. At least her outbound connection to the Internet did not appear to be filtered in anyway. She downloaded a number of applications to try and help her in her tasks– some anonymizing agents, a chat client, network probes and sniffers, and some tools of her own devising from her own server.

Wherever she was being held, the network connection was fast, and the software downloaded much quicker than she would have expected out the middle of the Pacific. Sandra had to remind herself, that regardless of her geography, she was theoretically sitting on a massive networking hub. Petabits worth of bandwidth were potentially at her disposal. Only the limitations due to distance should hinder her connections.

Sandra connected to the private VPN of Fugzy and fired up her chat client. It found the internal corporate jabber server and she logged in. Evan was online. In another few windows she started some network probes to run in the background and started chatting with Evan.

[You have connected with Evan]
Sandra: Evan, yt?
Evan: Y. WhereTF have you been?
Sandra: Hard to explain. Been kidnapped and am somewhere near Guam.
Evan: lolz stfu
Sandra: I’m not kidding. Was taken right as I was finishing maintenance. btw- did that go okay?
Evan: yeah maint went good. tho you never sent out end-o-maint email. What gives?
Sandra: Damnit, I was grabbed right as I was bringing everything back online. Didn’t you think to look for me or anything?
Evan: we figged you jumped after a couple of days of no responses to emails or txts. Mark did goto the colo and found it all packed up neat.
Sandra: I was taken from the colo. They drugged me and shit. What the hell are you listening to me? Did you even try and figure out what happened to me?
Evan: well your BF, Fred called a couple days after manta. Fred said you and he went ot Vegas to party. you deserve the time off, just wish you would’ve told us you were going.
Sandra: I promise you I am not in Vegas.
Evan: Whateverz. Enjoy your time off. BUt we need to do a push next week, so get back here soon. Off to do the dog and pony with some VCs.
[Evan has disconnected.]

“Fuck,” Sandra shouted. Stupid fucking kid founder was unable to listen. That was a waste of time. Everyone at work thought she was off on some romantic getaway.

In a browser window, Sandra opened her Facebook account and changes her status, “Being held captive on Midway Island. Need help. This is not a joke.”

She checked on the network probes. Nothing local had come up yet, but the scans were still running. She probed her gateway, but it came back with no reply. She tried each successive hop through the Internet on her way to a server she owned, and each probe returned nothing. At some level her probes were getting blocked and it was long before she got out the Internet. She felt alone on the LAN and could see the world, but the world was blind to her.

Maybe there was something on the machine itself which could give her some sort of clue or help.

The network configuration was simple enough and she had permissions to alter those. She noted down what the machine’s original configuration and began to make changes. She tried some common private addressing spaces and added those to her scans.

Sandra started looking through the hard drive to see what was installed on it before she received the machine. Then she spotted them– video files. A folder with thousands of videos off her home directory. She scrolled through the list of files. Each one appeared to be named in the same simple fashion– fwj-date-time. The times and dates of the file names seemed to imply that some of these videos were made years, even decades ago.

Opening one of the videos at random, Sandra watched. The movie played and she saw a young couple seated on a blanket setup for a picnic. The camera panned to a young boy, possibly four or five bouncing a red rubber ball with a middle-aged man– probably not a grandparent. The video went black and white text appeared as the playback ended, “A. Grove playing with F.W.J.”

“No. Fucking. Way,” Sandra breathed. That can’t be Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, she thought.

Checking the date on the file she had opened, the video claimed to be from the summer of 1976. “Guess he’d technically still be at Fairchild Semiconductor, then,” she continued her pondering.

She picked other videos from a later time periods, most of what she saw were just movies of F.W.J. playing and being a regular kid. The only difference between these home movies and anyone else’s was the production quality. No shaky-cam here. No battery indicator. No bad video tracking. Everything was clear and clean, as if Martin Scorsese were director of photography.

After a while, Sandra noticed something else peculiar about the movies. While she watched the child grow up, and most of videos were of him playing or studying, she never saw any other children and at some point the woman in the older films no longer appeared.

Sandra kept searching through the files, but the only characters that appeared were the people who she guessed are F.W.J’s parents and the boy himself. By the time he was in his adolescence, there was no question that these were videos of Fred growing up. Sandra tried to figure out when the woman, she guessed his mother, stopped appearing.

The phone next to the bed rang. It took four rings before Sandra could compose herself to pick up the receiver.

“Hello,” she said into the phone.

“Sandra, I’m sorry about last night,” Fred said on the other side of the line, “I was wondering if you’d like breakfast?”

“Uh, err.”

“I didn’t just wake you, did I? Geez I’m sorry.”

“No, no. Just didn’t realize what time it was,” she sputtered.

“Okay, then I’ll meet you back in the dining room,” he asked.

“Ah, sure. Just give me about ten minutes to put myself together,” Sandra replied, attempting to sound as calm and collected as possible.

She had not realized how long she had spent watching the home movies. There were literally hours of video available to watch and she had only scratched the surface. Even so, she felt there was a pattern emerging. Maybe she could get more answers and details during breakfast. She would have to make a bigger effort to remain calm.

After cleaning up and changing clothes, Sandra left her room and made sure to keep the fob on her person. She walked to the dining room door. This door did not require the same access dance as the bedrooms. She just turned the handle and found the door unlocked.

Fred, already seated, waited for her at the table. He gestured for her to join him and she sat next to him.

“Anything you would like,” he asked. On the table there were already the makings of a very good continental breakfast– slices of hard cheeses, cold cuts, various breads, and hard boiled eggs. Fred and Sandra each had a glass of water and a glass of juice.

“Hmm, pineapple,” Sandra murmured as she took a sip. “I’ll think I’ll start with this and figure it out from there on the food.”

“Works for me,” Fred replied and began to take a hard roll and some cheese.

Sandra took a slice of rustic looking French loaf, an egg, and one of each variety of meat and cheese arrayed before her. While peeling the egg, she asked, “Fred, I feel like I don’t know you very well after all of this. I think you owe me some details to fill in the blanks. Like, how you grew up?”

“True, everything is not what it appears, but what would you like to know?”

“You told me a bit about your father last night. What about any other family– brothers, sisters, your mom?”

“Only child. Mom died when I was twelve,” Fred stated, “Not much to that. My father was always busy with his work, but I was never lonely. I had plenty of tutors and people around me.”

“But what about school or other kids your age?”

“Oh, well, we lived so far out from anywhere else, that there weren’t any schools close by. Sometimes the staff had kids and I would play with them. Other times I’d go with my father on his trips and meet other kids. But that was only when I was real little. Before Mom died.”

Sandra salted and ate her egg to give her mind time to process the conversation. After another sip of juice she asked, “Can I ask what happened to your mom?”

“My parents went on some trip. I don’t know where. And when they got back, mom got real sick. The doctors came and couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t even allowed to see her she was so sick.”

“That’s terrible. I’m so sorry.”

Fred did not reply, but sat there and stared into space. Unsure of what was going on in his head, Sandra cautiously continued eating her breakfast. She watched for any sign of Fred’s return to this world. She was not sure if he was upset or just lost in thought.

“Momma was very pretty,” Fred spoke to the room, “Momma would hold me when I was scared and make everything better. Momma said I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up. Momma didn’t care if my homework got done. Momma didn’t care what the tutors said. Momma always told me she loved me no matter what.”

Sandra sat very still not sure what to make of Fred’s utterance. She tried to become silent and invisible. But as quickly as it began, his speech was over.

Fred, suddenly returned from his mental trip and asked Sandra, “I think I’d like some scrambled eggs. Would you like some?”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Sandra replied, trying to act like she was not weirded out. And as instantly as the previous evening, a server entered the dining room with a tray. He placed a large bowl of scrambled eggs on the table and left the room.

“No, you go first,” Sandra said and gestured for Fred to take his share of the eggs. “So where was this, where you grew up?”

“Oh, we had this ranch. A couple thousand acres near some California forest land, something Burns State Park.”

“Where’s that?”

“We were basically east of Big Sur. Really out in the middle of nowhere.”

“So, did you have like cows and stuff on the ranch,” Sandra prodded.

“No. I mean, I had some dogs and cats. Chickens, a couple of goats, and a few horses. There really wasn’t much prairie or grazing land. Mostly hills and forests. We just called it the ranch,” Fred answered.

“That still sounds like fun.”

“Oh, yes. And when I was thirteen, I started building a treehouse. That’s how I got into construction.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, first I started the treehouse. Taking wood and tools from one of the work sheds. And that just kept getting bigger. And then one day while I was working on the next level, a guy comes over and starts showing me how to do framing and how to make a level platform with proper supports.”

“Just some guy,” Sandra asked.

“Well, my father sent him to teach me how to build. My father always said that if you want to do something, you must learn to do it properly.” Fred shrugged, “That’s just the way things happened. I’d start messing with something and someone would show up to teach me the proper way of doing whatever it was.”

“That’s cool. That means you got to set your own curriculum for school. Forget the boring stuff, I want to learn this. And then it would happen.”

“I guess so,” Fred said, “That’s not how school works?”

“Ah, no, far from it. Each year there is a dictated set of things to learn. No choices until at least high school.”

“Well, I didn’t always get to choose. Father always had someone around trying to teach me math, sciences, and electronics, but I hated those. Father figured he’d at least make me an engineer when he made me build my first car.”

“He made you build your first car?”

“When I turned sixteen, I was taken to the garage and there in the far bay was this stack of parts. I wasn’t allowed to drive any of the other cars until I put that one together. I had help, though. But it took forever.”

“And I guess you didn’t want to be an engineer after that, either,” Sandra added.

“Nope, but it made me an okay mechanic,” Fred said with a smile. “I’m done. Do you want anymore,” Fred asked indicating the food.

Sandra took a final bite of ham and drink of pineapple juice before replying, “I think I’m full, too.”

“Cool. Well, I need to take care of some things,” Fred said, while pushing away from the table, “but I want to show you around and see if I can get you to help me with a project I have.”

“What’s the project,” Sandra asked and remained seated.

“I’ll let you know this afternoon,” Fred replied, “I’ll come by your room in a few hours, okay?” And he left the dining room through the servant’s door.

Alone, Sandra jumped from her seat and tried the doors. Only the door that lead to her bedroom would open. The other two were locked.

Going the only way she could from the dining room, she stood between the bedrooms. She tried her fob on Fred’s door, but the system denied her access. This was the same access sequence that let her in last night, but her permissions had been revoked.

The fob and passcode still allowed her into her room at least.

Sandra opened up the computer and checked her email and Facebook. A few messages from head hunters and some spam were all that waited in her inbox. Forty-six people liked her status update and the comments all thought she was joking.

Of course the tone was set when the first comment to her status was from Fred and read, “Just landed in Vegas and someone’s already sauced.”

Going back to the home movies, Sandra found a walk-through of the treehouse that Fred had mentioned during breakfast. Treehouse really did no justice to what she saw– more like a tree fortress.

There was a dry moat with a draw-bridge and stone abutments. A rope ladder led up one tree with various platform levels. From this tree, rope bridges connected to two other trees with fully enclosed multi-level rooms. Finally, it appeared that Fred had built a brick tower connected to the trees with zip-lines.

From the top of the brick tower the teenaged Fred spoke to the camera, “This is my castle. This is my home. No one can approach against my will. Nothing can harm me here. I am safe again.”

What could possibly be threatening to that boy in that environment, Sandra wondered. She watched the movies that precede this castle walk-through working her way back in time. Then she came across a funeral.

It’s a sunny day around the platinum colored casket suspended above the grave. A priest stands at the head of the casket while just a handful of mourners gather around it– Fred, his father, and an elderly couple. Fred’s father stand beside him like a soldier at attention. His gaze not directed at anyone or anything. The elderly couple console each other opposite from Fred and his father. A party apart, they are tearful and expressive in their sadness.

Fred’s eyes are fixated on the casket. There are no tears in his eyes while the priest gives his benediction. Without warning or pretext, Fred jumps onto the casket and starts wailing, “No momma don’t go! You can’t be dead. Who will keep me–” And the movie ended.

“Safe,” Sandra completed the young Fred’s cry as her skin crawled. Sandra felt that her safety was now really at risk. She shut the laptop and put it aside.

Laying under the covers of the bed, she closed her eyes to replayed all the interactions and conversations she’d had with Fred. She tried to piece together this new background information into the fabric of the whole. What was the pattern in the patchwork quilt? What was the meaning and the purpose? What did Fred need to be made safe from and wow could she stay safe around this unstable individual? And how could she get out of here?

A firm rap on the door jolted Sandra awake. She did not recall falling asleep, but it was obvious that she had dozed off.

“Who is it,” she bellowed at the door.

“It’s me, Fred. May I come in?”

“Give me a minute,” she replied as she jumped out of the bed. She ran to the bathroom and checked herself in the mirror. A quick brush of her hair to return it to a pony-tail and a swish of mouthwash were all the time she gave herself.

She opened the door half way to see Fred standing there.

“How ya doing,” he asked.

“Little groggy, but mostly functional,” replied Sandra.

“If you’re ready, let’s go for a tour,” Fred said and half-turned away from the door.

Checking her pockets to make sure she had the key fob, she followed Fred. They passed through the dining room and through and office of empty cubicles.

“Does anyone work here,” Sandra asked indicating all the empty desks.

“Not so much right now,” and Fred left it at that.

Through another series of doors and they were back at the lobby. No asian receptionist click-clacked at the keyboard behind the desk this time. They crossed the lobby, passed the optically challenged glass partition, and passed through a man-trap.

Out of the man-trap and Sandra found that they have entered the datacenter. The rows of two post open racks were full of every imaginable type of server and network device. It gave Sandra the impression of this being more of a testing lab rather than a traditional datacenter for serving websites or even telecom.

“Is this equipment for the transoceanic links,” Sandra asked.

“No, but we’ll see that soon,” Fred answered as they started heading through a row of machines towards the far end of the room. “These are for a project of mine that I’ll hope you’ll help me with.”

“What’s this project you keep talking about?”

“All things in due time,” Fred paused as they reached a set of large elevator doors. “But it’s security work. I think you’ll like it,” he added as the freight elevator opened.

Once inside the elevator, Fred pressed a button. The doors closed and the elevator started going down.

A minute passed in silence. Sandra stared down at her feet, concentrating on the skull pattern on her Vans to keep her mind distracted.

After another minute Sandra asked, “How far down are we going?”

“Oh,” and Fred thought for a few seconds, “Somewhere around a thousand feet, if I remember correctly. Pretty far down and below sea level in any case.”

With a slight jolt, the elevator came to a halt and the doors opened. Their destination might’ve been their departure, the rooms were so similar. At least structurally and superficially, this datacenter space appeared identical to the one they had just come. But as they walked through, Sandra noticed a far more homogeneous set of equipment. Additionally, each of these racks had a lead-acid battery pack at its base.

“This is the node of the Pacific,” Fred gestured with wide open arms as they arrived at the center of the expansive room. “Eighty-five percent of all the transit between Asia and the Americas passes through this room. Sixty percent of all the transit between the Korea, Japan, Malaysia and the other South Pacific islands goes through here. And a good bit of the Africa to Asia connections also go through here, but that’s almost not worth mentioning.”

“What’s with the batteries,” Sandra asked, pointing to one of the racks.

“This is serious telco here, so everything is forty-eight volt DC,” Fred started by way of reply, “The batteries in each rack act as a third level of power redundancy after the generators and building wide battery system.”

“Being this deep underground must make the cooling that much easier,” Sandra commented after considering the elevator ride they had just taken.

“Sure. First we have lower cooling requirements because of the DC power, and then our depth means we’re at a constant temperature. Plus it helps to hide the thermal signature of the place from those who might be looking.”

“But doesn’t your project room throw off a lot of heat?”

“It does, but we divert it down here and out into the ocean. So, we stay pretty invisible. Plus with the depths we are at, we are self-sustaining on electrical with geothermal power.”

Sandra looked around and felt sadly underwhelmed by what she saw. This should have been very impressive, especially to someone with her background and understanding of networking, but it wasn’t. Even with her trained eyes and experience, this kind of room was dull. Unlike the ancient telephone systems of the pre-integrated circuit era which clacked and clattered with the motion of mechanical relays, there were no sounds. Even less sound in this space because there were nearly no fans. Unlike every other datacenter she had ever been, this one was eerily silent by comparison. She heard only the slightest hum from the room cooling system. But just like every other datacenter, the raised floor tile started to make Sandra’s feet ache almost immediately.

She shuffled from side to side, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Uncomfortable and fidgeting, Sandra tried to patiently wait for the punch-line.

“It’s time to shut it all down,” Fred announced.

A good punch-line alright. “Shut what all down,” Sandra asked, “This room and all those interconnects?”

“No, all of it. Not just this room, but the other one we run in the Atlantic and then all routers and switches around the world,” Fred finished his joke.

Sandra stifled a chuckle. She could see Fred was serious. “How can you possibly do that?”

“All those little connections my father made mean I now have access to all these pieces of code and controls. But I’m no computer person, so this is where I need your help.”

“You want me to help you, what, shutdown the Internet,” Sandra asked and turned to stare at Fred.

“Yeah, shut it down. All of it, for good,” he said.

“Bu, but why,” she sputtered.

Fred turned away from Sandra and said, “So that we can be together and safe. All those bad things that distract you from us will go away. We’ll be together again. And we’ll be safe again.”

“You mean this,” Sandra asked and walked around Fred to stand in front of him, “You really want to bring down all the networks just so we can be together.”

Looking directly into her eyes and replied, “Yes.”

Sandra stood there and pondered her next move. Startling herself she answered, “Okay, let’s do this. What can I do to help.”

They headed back up and out of the datacenter. Fred explained, “What we’ve been working on has been built up over the history of computing and the Internet. Hell, this history of long distance communications. Stealing and decoding diplomatic mail in the Renaissance. Cutting telegraph lines during the Civil War. Sending false intelligence to the Nazis before the Normandy invasion. Tapping transoceanic lines during the Cold War. These were all precursors to what was to come with the Internet. Before the entire world was connected. These were all focused on small targets, nothing global. Then the first attack on a global scale, the Morris Worm opened up pandora’s box. A mistake that knocked out the nascent Internet and got people thinking about how to militarize the network. Corporate attacks on security for espionage are a common occurrence. Botnets became the device of organized crime and extortion for protection from massive DDOS attacks. Governments even started to get involved more than a decade ago. DARPA, in theory, just does research, but the NSA has the real teeth. The Chinese and the Russian mafia have whole divisions of hackers working to gain Western military and corporate secrets. And Stuxnet from the US and Israelis attacking Iran to damage nuclear enrichment equipment was an early publicized trial run. A few countries have their own shut-off switch which would knock out their connection from the rest of the world. But no one has thought to try to bring it all down. This is different. We are going to take it all down. Stop all the networks. Stop all the communications. Bring everything to a halt so that we can refocus. It’s time to stop being so interconnected and always rushing. That’s what all this over-connectivity brings. It makes people feel the need to always be rushing around. It causes them to stop paying attention to the important details. And when they stop paying attention, when they are constantly distracted, they make mistakes. Mistakes which cost lives and make us all unsafe.”

Sandra listened to Fred’s rant without it really letting it penetrate her mind. Back in the cube farm, Fred led her to sit at one of the desks, while he remained standing. A young dark Indian man walked up to the cube and seated himself into a desk chair next to Sandra.

“This is Vinod,” announced Fred by way of introduction, “He’ll show you all the code and such he’s put together for this project. We need you to plan the implementation.”

As Fred walked away to leave the two seated in the cube alone, Sandra swiveled and extended her hand, “Hi, I’m Sandra.”

They shook hands, and he replied, “Vinod. I am pleased to be meeting you. Shall I drive?”

His sing-song cadence and trilled d’s threw Sandra for a second. But she quickly regained her composure. After working in the Valley for so many years, she’d become a near expert in Southeast Asian English accents.

Passing the keyboard and mouse over to Vinod, she said, “Delhi?”

“Same provence,” Vinod replied curtly and started rapidly typing, “Let us start with the Cisco router penetration code.”

On the thirty-two inch wide-screen display, multiple text windows opened and a stream of code flowed onto them.

“So, these routines,” Vinod pointed to a particular section of the screen, “are responsible for injecting the our replacement OS through the BGP protocol. The new OS gets swapped in hot without any noticeable packet loss. So no one will notice. Our OS has some special features which let us find more nodes within the network, but also control the chassis.”

“What do you mean about chassis control,” asked Sandra.

Vinod hit a few keys to scroll the code to a new section and described, “With this code, we can spin down the cooling fans while announcing a false fan speed to any monitoring services. Also, we add a few routines which push the CPUs load to increase the heat.”

“So, you’re pushing for a catastrophic hardware failure in the router,” Sandra said with some admiration.

“Yes.”

“But, will that be enough to make the routers melt? What about the A/C of the datacenter,” she questioned.

“Well, the other routines are meant to probe the networks that the routers are connected,” Vinod started. “See, it re-reads the configuration,” he brought up a new subroutine on the screen, “and uses that information to find probably administrative networks. Then we can probe for the power distribution units and possibly the HVAC controllers.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Sandra admitted.

“Thank you,” Vinod said genuinely pleased.

Then Sandra asked, “Will the PDU and HVAC systems also output false data to the monitoring systems?”

“Verdy astute. Yes. We want there to be no warning of something wrong for as long as possible. Until it is too late, if we can help it,” Vinod replied while he brought up a few more windows with more source code.

“Wait, is that,” Sandra paused, examined the code on the screen and then continued, “Does that inject code into the boot loader of the router?”

“Yes. In case someone tries to shutdown or reboot the router, we want to make sure that it remains compromised and under our control. The replacement boot loader forces our OS to always be loaded and breaks the ability of the router to boot off of a network source. So the only way to fix the machine is to physically install a clean OS.”

“Why are you doing this,” Sandra asked and turned away from the screen to face Vinod.

“What has the world given me,” Vinod replied, “Technology is pushing the divide between the wealthy and the poor. Without technology, the wealthy will be brought down to our level. Then we can start again on the same level.”

“You’re Dalit aren’t,” Sandra started, but embarrassed herself for bringing up caste.

“Yes, I am untouchable no matter what the constitution and the government say,” Vinod answered with a head wobble and downcast eyes.

“I get it, at least superficially,” Sandra tried to recover, “I have no idea what you’ve been through, but I still don’t understand what you need me for. This is brilliant work. This will wreak serious, probably permanent, havoc. How do I fit in?”

“These are just blunt instruments,” Vinod indicated the code on the screen, “You have a better understanding and knowledge of a great number of data centers. We need to carefully probe those entry nodes to find the best approach in order to get the greatest spread.”

“You’re looking for optimal yields on this nuke, is what you’re telling me.”

“Precisely. Once this code is set off, it will, as you say, nuke the datacenter it attacks. If we do this properly, we can cascade through all the major networks and disconnect everything from everyone. If we do not, then one network provider goes down and has a bad day, but the rest of the world marches on.” Vinod sighed, “I can not have it just be a bad day. It must be complete destruction.”

“May I have a closer look?”

“Certainly,” Vinod handed Sandra the mouse and keyboard.

She skimmed through the code that was on display and got a better idea of the probe and infection methodologies being employed. What she saw, she thought would be extremely effective, but it was a fast burn. She needed to figure out a way to slow the process down, if it was supposed to be an Internet wide attack. Too fast and it would burn itself out. Too slow and the other networks would just isolate themselves from the attack.

“What’s this,” Sandra asked, opening up a previously unreviewed file.

“That is for the ess ess seven network.”

“You’re going to bring down the phone networks, too,” she asked in amazement.

“We need to shut it all down,” was the simple reply.

“Isn’t that dangerous. What about emergency services, like fire and police?”

“I am not worried about that. The police are nothing more than a means the rich use to control the poor. If they are ineffective, so be it. All the networks must be shutdown,” Vinod stated. “Here open this file.”

Sandra opened up the file indicated by Vinod and centers it on the screen.

“This will shut down most satellite communications, primarily focusing on military, telecommunications, and television links. We must have a complete refresh of the system.”

“Wow, you wrote all of this code,” Sandra asked.

“Yes,” Vinod replied, “And there is code to do the same penetration for all the major network equipment manufacturers. Each have their own vulnerabilities. Some share their vulnerabilities. I exploit the ones which will help me most.”

“This is a lot to take in, Vinod,” Sandra said. “I’m going to need some time to look through all of this code to figure out how to make a scalpel from your swords. Is there a repository I can access this from my laptop? That would be most efficient for me.”

“I understand,” Vinod said with some apprehension. “I should not have expected you to be able to take this all in in one sitting. Here is the version repository access information you will need.”

Vinod pulled a small scrap of paper from his pocket and handed it to Sandra. On it were the network address and path information she needed to check out the code on her laptop.

Sandra stood and backed away from the desk holding the paper in her hand. “Vinod, you understand that you’ve done some amazing amazing work. Some of the code you’ve shown me is beyond brilliant. Beyond elegant. I just hope I can give you something which will be worthy of your efforts to complete this project.”

“You honor me with your praise,” Vinod bowed his head slightly while he swiveled his chair to face the departing Sandra.

As Sandra approached the door towards the direction of her room, it opened. Before she reached the door, Fred entered the cubical farm.

“Ready to head back to your room,” Fred asked.

“Yeah, I need to study,” Sandra replied.

“Let me escort you back. But don’t work too hard. I want to have a nice dinner with you in a couple hours.”

Sandra nodded in numb agreement and followed Fred through the maze of hallways back to her room.

With the door to her room opened, Sandra turned to Fred and said, “I love you, you know. You don’t have to shut the Internet down. It has some wonderful things.”

“No,” Fred answered flatly, “It’s the only way to be safe, if it all goes away.”

“Okay,” Sandra gulped, “Then I will finish this project for you. And when everything is shut down, can we go to your ranch?”

“Yes.”

Sandra reached up, kissed Fred on the lips and entered her room, leaving him in the hall way.

Fuck, she thought as the door closed behind her. How am I going to get out of this now? She looked at the paper in her trembling hand– there’s no way I can wipe this code. They’ll have backups. Am I just going to have to go along with it?

Opening her laptop, she started a console window and entered the command to check the code out from the repository. She watched as the list of files being copied to her machine streamed along the screen. Tears quietly flowed from her eyes as she considered the consequences of a world without the Internet or even just phone service.

Everyday it seemed like the world was more and more connected. All of those connections being made possible by various communications technologies. The pace of change and globalization seemed to be ever increasing. And while at times those changes were overwhelming, Sandra admitted to herself that without those changes she would not be able to make the living she did. In a world without the Internet and other communications technologies, she wondered, what skills did she have which would be useful in a non-techno-centric economy. For that matter, would there be any economy to speak of without all the technology?

Dinner was another multi-course affair with gourmet foods and drinks. Sandra remained quiet for most of the meal. She had no desire to find out more of Fred’s history. Her thoughts focused more on the code she had seen and the audacity of the attack that was being planned. She hardly kept up any semblance of small talk or chit-chat during the dinner.

“Honey, why are you so distracted,” Fred asked Sandra.

“There’s just too much to process right now,” she responded while she pushed around the various bits of fish course around her plate. It was an honest answer. There was too much filling her head to really properly grasp it all.

“Are you afraid you won’t be successful in planning the implementation,” Fred asked.

“Have you tested any of Vinod’s code? It all looks like it’ll work, but will it really melt the routers,” Sandra asked and looked up from her plate.

“We have in the lab and it works in most situations.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, ambient temperature is a big factor. So, in the old datacenters, we know that if the A/C cuts out, the temperatures can jump from sixty to over a hundred in a matter of minutes,” Fred started explaining.

“I’ve seen that firsthand back at Netscape, but that was in the middle of the summer and it was well around ninety outside.”

“Yeah, so the newer datacenters and those closer to the poles are less reliant on A/C to keep them cool are going to be more difficult to melt. And we aren’t going to be able to power down any of the cabinet fans in the individual cabinets, because those are almost all dumb fans. Even so, if we can get ambient temperature in the rooms to be like eighty, then we can get the routers to melt. Especially the big iron core routers.”

“So really, you’re going to want this attack staggered across the globe so that the HVAC systems are all screwed up at the height of the day at each locale.”

“Yup,” Fred nodded in agreement.

“But it still has to infect as much as possible as quickly as possible so that there can be no counter measures.”

“Yuppers. Which is what I want you to work on,” Fred said, “Vinod is brilliant with the infection and disruptions, but he doesn’t know how to handle the distribution or scale the project. You have the experience in projects of this scale.”

“I guess so,” Sandra shrugged, “But it’s usually about building out the networks instead of tearing them down.”

“I’m confident that you can get this done in the next week,” Fred stated, “So that we can strike at the peak heat of the summer.”

“A week,” Sandra gasped, “I’ve hardly had a chance to get my brain around the project let alone Vinod’s code. I’m no where close to even coming up with an idea of a plan about deployment and implementation. I can’t do this in a week.”

“We only have a few week window at this point for peak northern hemisphere temperatures,” Fred explained, “And while it’s winter for the southern hemisphere, their network presence isn’t as critical as Asia, Europe and the US.”

“But still, I’m not sure I can do it with that little time.”

“How about you take a few days to think and work on the problem and then you come back to me with a realistic estimate,” Fred said and reached out to hold Sandra’s hand.

“Okay, I’ll do that,” Sandra squeezed Fred’s hand, “I’m just afraid.”

“I know, but there is no need to be afraid of failing,” Fred tried to reassure Sandra, but mistook her fear, “I trust in your abilities to pull this off and make us safe.”

Sandra saw no reason to correct Fred about her fear. Her fear was of what would happen to all the billions of people as their electronic connections were severed, not her ability to orchestrate such an attack. The virtual umbilicus intertwined all those individuals and corporations suddenly without warning cut. The quiet of the sudden silence, followed by the wails of confusion.

“Have you seen the code which Vinod wrote to de-orbit all the communications satellites,” Fred asked, startling Sandra out of her revere.

“Wha–”

“Yeah, it’s neat stuff,” Fred said with a wicked grin on his face, “Although, satellites are woefully unprotected from attack. They just figure it’s difficult to call them up if you don’t have a base station.”

“Wow,” was all Sandra could get out of her mouth. Her brain cut into overdrive considering the hundreds or thousands of satellites all come crashing down through the atmosphere. Much of the hardware would probably burn up on reentry, but who knew where it would all land in an uncontrolled de-orbit. Surely there would be physical destruction and casualties from that.

“Ah, aren’t you worried that those things will hit someone on the way down,” Sandra finally managed to ask.

“Eh, I guess, but what are the odds?”

Sandra did not answer for a while. She sat, ate, and let the idea of thousands of falling satellites smolder in her head. No longer able to really continue the conversation in a civil manner, Sandra announced, “I’m going to go back to my room. I have a lot of work I need to do if I’m going to be able to finish this project in the next week.”

She immediately got up from the table and walked out of the dining room before Fred had a chance to respond or stop her. She was thankful that he did not chase her. She laid in her bed with all the lights off for several minutes and was equally glad when she heard the door for Fred’s room open and close. She needed to be alone. What she really needed was to get out of there, but if she was going to be held in this cage, at least she was being left alone for the moment.

Time to try and sleep, she realized, maybe some solution or idea would come in my dreams. Often enough, this had been the case for Sandra. When stuck with a particularly intractable problem, her dreams had often given her a clue. Letting some other part of her brain chew and work on the problem, seemed to make a solution present itself in a way that her conscious mind could not attain.

At some approximation of morning, Sandra woke up, picked up the phone, and ordered breakfast and snacks to tide her over for the day. She was far more polite on the phone this time than her previous order, but no less specific. She did not check the time, as time was irrelevant to her. She didn’t move from the bed until she heard the two soft knocks on her door that announced the arrival of the food cart.

She brought in the cart and ate her breakfast with only the dimmest of lights on in the room. In the near darkness, she hid from her incarceration. By not being able to make out her surroundings, she lied to herself into thinking that for the moment she was on vacation. She made believe that this was all a dream and that where she had awoken was some trendy hotel in Scandinavia.

Checking the lower shelf of the tray, she found her snacks. She removed them from the cart and stashed the sodas in the mini-fridge. She took the cart out of the room, left it in the hallway, and turned the lights back off. In near complete darkness, only the throbbing LED indicator of her sleeping laptop cast any light in the room. Sandra shoved the laptop into a drawer to shut out all lights. She climbed into bed and buried herself under the covers.

Nothing from her previous night’s sleep had brought her any ideas. The only things coursing through her mind were the apocalyptic visions of a communications-free world. It wouldn’t stay that way, but how long would it take to diagnose and then fix the problems. If the hardware melt-down routines actually worked, would there be enough equipment available to replace the broken routers and switches and servers in a reasonable enough time.

Forget the hypothetical results, Sandra thought, getting frustrated with herself. This was a distribution problem, nothing more.

She threw off the bed covers. Sandra grabbed the laptop from the side table drawer and placed it on the desk. She grabbed a Mountain Dew from the mini-fridge, took a big swig of caffeinated sugar water as she sat down.

With the laptop opened, Sandra wrote an email to try and formulate her thoughts. She left the To field blank she wrote:

Subject: Project Meltdown planningIn order to get the greatest affect for this project and to have the highest probability of success, a good deal of planning and certain controls will need to be put into place. If we just try to infect and virally bring things down, then there will be large opportunities to isolate the attack and to bring about counter measures. If instead stealth and coordination are put into place, then in a 24 hour window, most if not all network systems will be shutdown.Here are the problems that I perceive and the possible plan of implementation to order to make this all work.Problems:1. distribution
2. timing
3. command and control
1a. Utilize a pre-existing network infrastructure to facilitate distribution. I would take control one (or few) of the many botnets and use their probe mechanism to sneak the router infection code into as many networks as possible.
1b. Infect as many routers and distribution nodes as possible without detection and without actually causing any outages.
2a. Once we have assurance of infection, the we cycle the melt-down code to follow the midday sun. I would suggest starting the melt-down in Asia. Really focusing on the governmental systems. The closed governments of China, Pakistan, and India will never announce they are having trouble. The western nations will just think they are having normal connectivity issues in those poor infrastructure regions.
2b. The EU suffers together pretty well being basically two time zones, but that will be a warning to the Americas due to such strong ties (especially US-UK).
2c. North America will be most problematic because of the wide range of time-zones, but also the higher number of high efficiency datacenters that utilize natural cooling. But it should still be the final strike point because if the US is hit first, then places like China and India will just shutdown their networks before full implementation can be completed causing only a partial meltdown.
3a. The existing botnet structure already provides some command-and-control structures. Taking over the botnet, though, maybe too overt and create too much visibility to the network providers and security organization that monitor the botnets.
3b. It would be better to create a separate C&C structure from the botnet distribution. Limited set of commands and responses. Some method of authenticating commands.
3c. C&C needs to have a method of obfuscation to keep the source from being tracked down before project completion. After completion, it shouldn’t matter, but always plan for worst case scenario.
Other thoughts: If we can also infect equipment which will not be directly affected by the meltdown (switches and servers), then those nodes can infect new replacement hardware as it comes online. This secondary infection should probably just have a time-delay fuse for setting off the next meltdown, not requiring any C&C to be in place to initiate.Comments and questions welcome.
— SH

Sandra reviewed and revised the plan in her draft email. She stepped away from the desk for a shower to consider what she had written. Back at the computer, she made a few more revisions. She grazed through the snacks and sodas that were on the service tray. When she was ready to hit send, she realized, this needs to go to Vinod, but I don’t have an address for him.

Sandra picked up the phone, “I need Vinod’s email address.”

“One moment, please,” replied the female voice on the other end of the line. “There is an email in your mailbox now with his contact information. Is there anything else you require?”

“No, thank you,” answered Sandra as she hung up the phone. When she returned to her desk, a new message waited for her.

Sandra stared at the message in her inbox with the information she needed in order to spread her plan. The plan on taking out not just the Internet, but most of the modern communications infrastructure that the world relied. Maybe this was an opportunity to level the playing field and be able to put things back together from scratch. The idea of taking everything learned from the organic growth that created the modern interconnected world and to make it anew– fixing the problems and limitations, ensuring that control remained decentralized, put into place measures to keep the flow of information free and yet have a greater level of security. It was a tempting series of justifications that Sandra contemplated. If, with these programs, she had been given the power to destroy the existing Internet, could she then use that power to recreate it from scratch?

“You’re just fooling yourself,” Sandra muttered as she closed the lid of her laptop and pushed herself away from the desk.

“This isn’t right,” she mumbled and crawled back under the covers of the bed. “There is no rebuilding after this. There is only more destruction.”

In her drafts folder sat a plan to bring down the Internet, but the real heavy lifting had already been done. It didn’t matter what she did, because Fred and Vinod and whomever else had worked on this would set this in motion. Maybe she could warn folks, but would they believe her.

“Arrgh,” Sandra again threw off the covers, “I’m being so stupid.”

She jumped out of the bed and back at the desk, she flipped open the computer and opened several new windows. She pulled up the code for the various router infection routines and in a browser window found a secure anonymous mailing service. Maybe she could get a warning out quietly enough that some systems could be fixed and protected.

Subject: Critical Router VulnerabilityI have come in contact with some individuals who are intent on causing major disruptions to the routing infrastructure of the Internet. While I can not verify the code myself, I do believe in the veracity of the individuals in question. I have included the code in question. Please review it to validate this claim. I implore you to spend whatever resources necessary to come up with a fix as quickly as possible as I believe these people plan on launching their attack as early as next week. From my understanding of the code and their plans, the only protection will be physical disconnection from the Internet and other major communications networks.Code follows:

Sandra did not sign the email, but wrote a dozen similar ones for each of the major manufacturers. Hopefully, her mail would not go to junk. Each message contained a snippet of infection code relevant for the particular manufacturer. She couldn’t attach all the software because she worried about how much her traffic was being monitored. Too much of the code being exposed and it was possible her messages would be blocked. If the messages were short enough, maybe they could fly under the radar. She hoped they would listen even if she could not give them the entire code stack. The last message she sent went to a number of White and Grey Hat hacker groups she tangentially knew. Her message to them was slightly different.

Subject: Ignore at your own perilThe following code will in theory infect and take control of just about any router. Check it out and protect yourself. The serious asshats are planning on launching this in a few days. If you hear about any weird outages, then you better unplug if you don’t find a fix, because there is no protection.Code follows:

Sandra figured that most of the people on these lists would ignore the message as spam, but possibly a few people would read it. And those people might be able to figure out a defense or at least be prepared to handle the worst. Maybe these messages would go out and be able to mitigate the damage. A few more plans began to form in Sandra’s mind on how to subvert Fred’s plan from her side of the screen, but she needed to continue to appear to be cooperating.

She returned to her drafts folder and pulled up the message with her plan of attack. She decided to leave it as is, afraid that anything she might add to the message now would tip their hand to her true plans. Sandra addressed the email to Fred and Vinod and clicked the send button.

For a time, she sat and just stared at the screen. Torn between cooperating and desires to subvert her own plans, Sandra sat and tried to maintain an inner calm. She needed to fail at the task which Fred had given her. But in her mind, she had already solved the problem he had put before her. There was little that could cause it to fail as the plan and the code stood right now. Her only hope of failing was that some people would listen to the email warning that she had sent out and take action before the attack launched.

Sandra stood and paced the room. Her mind wrestled to come up with other ways to sabotage the attack. In her own way, she saw some merit it shutting down the networks. But these ideas were simplified ideals of people taking the opportunity to be unshackled from the computers to do something worthwhile. Sandra would like to think that people would not panic, that they would not be afraid of the network shutdown. But she knew that people were stupid and fearful. Individuals could be smart, but as groups and as masses they were dumb.

Maybe the early years of her career working tech support phones had jaded Sandra. She wanted to think of people as smart. But those calls day in and day out only reinforced the idea that most people were just occupying space and consuming. Most people never even attempted to have a thought, let alone want to do anything that required thinking. People just wanted to get by and be distracted from their person miseries with the latest shiny product.

Thoughts like these made Sandra almost believe that Vinod was right in his thinking. But, again, she felt he was being simplistic. The panic that would follow the network shutdown would be insane. Once you have those connections, you could not just break away from them so easily. It would be a massive shock to the system for many millions of people. And they would not be able to handle the sudden disconnect.

“Yer going to wear a groove in the carpet,” Fred said as he stood in the entryway.

“Holy shit,” Sandra jumped, “Don’t you fucking knock!”

“Actually, I did knock,” Fred shrugged, “But you didn’t seem to hear. I could hear you pacing when I pressed my ear against the door.”

Sandra just stared at Fred from across the room. She tried to make the emotional torrents in her mind to calm down. If she did not stay calm she felt she may expose her duplicity. Find your happy place, Sandra thought, a quiet still water pond. Clear and clean. Be like Spock. Unflappable, precise, calculating, under control of your emotions.

“Anyway,” continued Fred, “Your plan looks great. Vinod has already starting on the command and control systems, along with some of the other suggested modifications.”

“Really,” Sandra asked, “Uh, when will they be done?”

“Vinod thinks they’ll have something ready in a couple of days.”

“I’d really like to review what they’ve got before we launch,” Sandra said while she unconsciously rubbed her palms against her thighs.

“Your nervous that they won’t get it right?”

“Wha- Uh, yeah, that’s it. I just want to uh, review it to make sure that what they put together matches the plan,” Sandra stuttered. There was no way Fred believes me now, she fretted. But she soldiered on, “I mean, I just gave a high level overview of what I think needs to be done. I didn’t really give any serious details to some of the features and functions we’ll need.”

“Oh, well, he’s taken what you’ve given him and is running with it. He’s a pretty smart guy, I’m sure he’ll cover most of the bases. But I’ll make sure Vinod gives you an update soon.”

Sandra stood in front of Fred not sure what to say. Thankfully, Fred broke the silence for her, “Would you like to have a late supper with me?”

“No, please go,” Sandra replied, “I’m really tired. I want to make sure I’m rested when Vinod is done.”

“Sure,” Fred said as he turned to leave the room. He peered at her over his shoulder before closing the door, Fred told Sandra, “You really shouldn’t cloister yourself in here so much. But I understand. Just give me a ring whenever you want to go out and have some company.”

Now alone in her room, Sandra took a chair and wedged it under the door knob. What little sanctuary Sandra felt she had in her gilded cage had been violated by Fred. Every time she thought she had fallen into a rhythm with any sort of comfort, her foundation got shaken.

To Chapter 3

Written by

Dot-com survivor, technologist, automobile enthusiast, and covered in cat fur.

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