We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thess. 1:2-3
[AUTHOR’?S WARNING: This post is approximately 7,000 words long.]
“Seriously, Drake,” Marion told him, “It is definitely starting to look like that’s a distinct possibility.” She paused. “Those other computers were owned by EarthFirst! people too, weren’t they?”
“Yeah,” Drake corroborated, still fired by enthusiasm. “The guys who we saw playing with the stop lights were definitely EarthFirst! people. I mean, when you hang a huge ‘EarthFirst!’ banner off the Space Needle, that’s kind of a giveaway.”
“And ten bucks says the Grand Coulee Dam spillway opening wasn’t some accident, either,” Marion added. “Did Jim’n’Jake ever get information on the owners of all the computers we ended up with?” She scribbled a note to herself on the yellow legal pad, which was rapidly running out of pages.
“What about the airplane thing? That older guy I talked to was all fired up about saving the earth, and the two goons who jumped me certainly fit the profile of EarthFirst!-types we’ve met since then.” Drake practically squirmed in his chair, a transparent look of eagerness written across his face; he looked ready to hop up and dash into action in a second. Marion, for all her normal calm reserve, appeared barely perched on the seat, one step away from scooting out of the office herself.
Gardner raised a calming hand. “Okay, you two. I agree; this does look bad for EarthFirst! But all we’ve got right now is these three depositions. We need some corroborating evidence. Can you two—”
“I’m on it!” Drake cried, self-control crumbling as he actually jumped out of his chair.
Continue reading.“Sit down, soldier!” snapped Gardner in his best military command voice. Drake immediately snapped to attention and seated himself ramrod straight in the chair, all automatically. Then he looked surprised at his own body’s reaction, but smiled ruefully. Many years of service had ingrained obedience too deeply to fight.
“OK, let’s just calm down a second,” Gardner told his two eager field agents. “We need the police reports from the people on the hijacked flight and the four people they apprehended after the Space Needle stunt. If those people also all—or most; after all, that Buxton fellow seemed totally unrelated to this case—have ties to Titan Software and EarthFirst!, we’ve got something serious there. We also need to check with Jim and Jake; let’s see if they’ve found owners for those computers. I expect the owners are probably some of the people already apprehended, but it’s possible that’s not the case. If the computers belong to EarthFirst! members, or Titan Software employees, we’ll need to follow up.”
Drake nodded, looking much calmer and more serious. He did well with concrete steps, and Gardner knew he could count on Drake to dredge up all the information available from all those sources before dashing off on a wild goose chase. Gardner noticed Marion had a bulleted list noted on her sheet. Good. “Alright, then. Get to work.”
“Sir, one more thing.” Marion leaned forward, locking her gaze on Gardner. “When I was reading in my office, I noticed I had a phone message. When I listened to it, it was our contact from Titan Software, Emily Pennyworth.” Drake’s face took on a dreamy expression that told Marion he had entered a daydream about himself and this recent crush. “Drake, this is important.” At the sound of his name, her partner shook his head and blinked his eyes, getting his bearings again, and focused on Marion. “…She had called a couple days ago sounding upset. She said she had found some important information about the back door, and she asked me to call back right away.”
Gardner’s brows rose. “Interesting. If she gives us a strong lead, that’ll be worth more than all the speculation we have right now—even including the depositions. Do you think she’s safe?”
“Oh, my god,” Drake gasped. “What if they know she found something out? What if they hurt her? We’ve got to do something.” His discipline held, this time, though; he remained seated, although his entire large body strained as if against ropes holding him to the chair.
“Marion, you call her,” Gardner decided. “Drake, you follow up with the police to get the information on those other people. If you can’t get in contact with Pennyworth, follow up in person.”
“Yessir,” Drake agreed, sounding rueful. He had hoped to race off to Titan Software to rescue the damsel in distress, and instead he had the prospect of a dayful of struggling with police administrators to obtain information from them. The police tended to pucker up tighter than a miser’s purse when they perceived another agency intruding on their territory. Drake tended to have better success with them, thanks to his military experience.
Jim was playing World of Warcraft again. As a Level 70, he preferred dashing around helping lower-level players cheat rather than playing missions to advance himself. He found it amusing. Jake, a Level 46, refused Jim’s help; he wanted to earn it all himself.
“So how’d that test turn out?” Jim asked, not glancing from his monitor as he killed a half-dozen monsters with one blow.
“Didn’t even get to take it,” came Jake’s sad response. “The class was over by the time I got there, and the professor didn’t believe I was helping save civilization as we know it. Thought I’d just slept in or something. I’m gonna have to retake the class.”
“Oh man,” sympathized his partner in crime, “That sucks. No make-up test or anything?”
“Alas, no. This professor’s a stickler. DANG IT!” Jake had just died fighting sand trolls. Now he had to walk his ghost all the way back to his body.
“Hey, boys.” They both looked up at the sound of Drake’s voice. He stood silhouetted in the doorway, almost blocking it entirely.
“Hey, dude, what’s up?” Jake had reached his body now, so he saved and exited the game. He would just have to try killing the stupid trolls in Zul’Farrak again another time. Though a decent player, he became impatient easily and as a result only ever played for a few hours at a time. Jim ragged on him for taking forever to reach even Level 46, but Jake shook off the teasing easily. He had his priorities, and World of Warcraft was not high among them.
“Did you guys ever find out who those computers belonged to?”
“Oh, those ones that were being used to control stuff?” Now Jim was paying attention too, scrabbling around the litter on his desk with purposefulness that suggested the futile search for a scrap of paper.
“Yeah, we ended up with four of them, right?” Drake mentally counted: the hijacked plane Tablet PC; the stop light-manipulating laptop; the Grand Coulee Dam tower; and lights-out protest laptop.
“Were we supposed to find out who the owners were?” asked the younger of the two computer whizzes, sounding lightly irritated. “Nobody ever told me.”
“You limpet,” Jim retorted, half his body now under his desk, rooting around piles down there. “That’s standard procedure. I’m sure we did it.”
“I’ll give YOU standard procedure, Mr. Can’t Find a Paper for His Life.”
“Hey, that was uncalled-for.” Jim was muffled
by the desk and the increasingly tall pile of papers he shoved out from beneath it.
Jake looked at Drake, still waiting in the doorway. “Well, I never looked up ownership information. I can do it now, though.”
“No, wait,” came Jim’s triumphant call from deep beneath the desk. “I think I found it—” Drake stepped forward in anticipation. “—oh, never mind. This is just a grocery list.”
“I’ll look it up now,” Jake told the hulking field agent, sotto voce. “I bet I can get it to you before Jim finds whatever he’s looking for.”
“I heard that!” Emerging from beneath the desk, dust-festooned and grubby, Jim looked accusingly at Jake. “I know I did this already. I just have to find where I put it…”
“Yes, the same way you ‘just’ had to find that—”
“Hey now,” Jim interjected. “No need to bring that up.”
“What?” asked Drake, interested.
“Nothing,” replied Jim quickly, seeing Jake opening his mouth to reply. “We’ll get that information for you within a few minutes.”
“Thanks.” Turning away, Drake got halfway out the door before he paused. “Oh, Jim, I had another question for you guys.”
“Yeah?” Jim had returned to playing World of Warcraft already as Jake powered on the four computers.
“About this back door thing. I was wondering… If you wanted to shut down—or, rather, control—not just one dam, but like all the dams in the world, could they do that?”
“Who’s they?” Jake asked keenly.
“The bad guys,” grinned Drake, not ready to tip his hand yet. “We have some leads. But this is just my personal curiosity.”
“Weeeell… If all the dams in the world ran the same program to control them…” Jim speculated, his little character still running around on his computer screen. “Wouldn’t be too hard. I mean, they’d need a list of all the computers in they wanted to control, their IP addresses, but then they could just send a virus that targeted that specific program. Bam. No sweat.”
“But they’d need a list of all the computers that get this special treatment. How hard would it be to get that?”
“If you worked at, say, Titan Software,” Jim speculated acutely, “Light Box 2007 requires users to register when they first install it. So somewhere at Titan Software is a database of all the computers with that OS installed—which, incidentally, is also a list of all the vulnerable computers. But it would take a person trolling through that database to determine which ones needed what kind of attack.”
“And,” Jake put in as he clicked around on the first of the confiscated machines, “I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem very likely that all the dams in the world are running the same program. It would be much more difficult to write a general attack for dozens or even hundreds of individualized programs than for one ubiquitous controlling program.”
“It would be much easier to just destroy a computer than try to control it,” Jim agreed. “Although it does look like whoever wrote this back door wants control, not necessarily destruction. Otherwise he probably wouldn’t have given himself super-user access like that.”
The two computer geeks fell silent, speculating, as Drake stood and processed that information. “So let me see if I’ve got this right,” he finally said as Jake uttered a small triumphant sound and scribbled rapidly on a piece of paper. “It would only really be possible to control computers if they’re all running the same program, but it would be easy to destroy a bunch of different computers.”
“Well—” Jim paused, glancing at Jake. “If you had a huge team of people, each person could individually hack important computers.”
“But you’d need thousands of people,” put in Jake, moving on to the next computer. “If I was going to use that back door, I’d probably just trash the computer’s hard drive and move on.”
“Sure, but you wouldn’t have written a back door to give yourself all those privileges, either, then,” Jim shot back.
“Maybe if I just wanted to mess around, like the street light thing—”
“I wouldn’t call shutting off the power to several city blocks ‘just messing around.’”
“That did cost those businesses millions of dollars,” agreed Jake reluctantly. He looked up at Drake. “I guess the short answer is, yes, you could use it to control computers if they were running all the same exact program. Otherwise, it would be too hard to write a program to automatically take control.”
“Thanks,” came Drake’s voice floating down the hallway as he left. He would have to talk to Marion about that, but he had a bad feeling about the intentions of the EarthFirst! people. In Drake’s opinion, they had shown altogether too much interest in controlling computers. He wondered if all the dams in the world did run the same software.
Looking up from his computer screen, Frank rubbed his red-rimmed eyes. It had been a long night, just another in what felt like an endless series of nights spent pouring over this vast database. On the one hand, he appreciated its vastness; without the increasingly catholic adoption of the Light Box 2007 system, EarthFirst! would never be able to do what they were doing.
But on the other hand, Frank had spent a significant portion of almost every night for the last six months compiling his own database of programs to be targeted based on the list of Light Box 2007-running computers. Now, though, they had reduced the database to only a few hundred unexplored computers; it would take them a day or two to determine what code was needed to exploit those.
Even excluding the relatively few remaining machines, Frank was pleased. The worm was just about ready, and he knew that even if it performed at its least effective, it would shut everything down. They were just waiting for one last major power plant in China to finish adopting the Light Box 2007 OS; when that was ready, they would be able to release the worm. He and Tim were just hurrying to finish cleaning up some last-minute tweaks to make their code more effective. It contained a few kludges, but that could hardly be helped at this point.
He glanced over at Tim, a young but very diligent worker. “How’s it going?”
Tim’s bleary eyes reflected Frank’s own exhaustion as he replied, “OK. Looks like I’ll be able to finish up cleaning up this section of code pretty soon. I could probably streamline it a little more, but it’s not bad. I’m seeing mostly repeat programs here, not so much variation.”
“That’s the genius of the capitalist marketplace,” Frank told him. “Sure, you have lots of people competing by offering the same product, but how many people adopt something different? Not many. They want the best value for their money, and that usually means most people—even businesses, factories, industry—choose the same thing.”
Tim looked skeptical. “If you say so. I’m just amazed that these factories are all running the same program, with only slight variation based on what they’re manufacturing.”
“Works out well for us,” Frank said. “Otherwise we’d need tons of people to pull this off. It has to be instantaneous, you know.”
“I know.” Tim yawned, checking his watch. “THREE A.M.?” he gasped. “I’ve got to get home and get some sleep. It’s a work night.”
“Right, see you,” Frank told him. “I’m going to finish up this section of the worm.” He smiled. “Isn’t it great to think that soon we’ll be able to control global manufacturing, power production…everything?”
“Everything’s a lot of things,” Tim said as he left. Frank followed him with an irritated gaze, brows drawn. The kid was a good
worker, but his pessimism left something to be desired. Needing a little positive boost, Frank took a break from coding and checked his email again. Just a few hours ago, a message had gone out to all the people most deeply involved in EarthFirst!’s massive last push to save the planet.
We are almost ready! The programming team has informed us that they will have their portion of the project complete within a few days. They expect to be prepared for us to move no later than Monday morning. Congratulations and thank you in advance to all the hardworking programmers who have made this vast, necessary attack possible.
Remember: Warn your friends and coworkers to be prepared for something. Suggest terrorist attacks are imminent, or remind them that Katrina-like natural disasters are apt to become increasingly prevalent as global warming continues. Everybody agrees that it is wise to be prepared. We want to reduce casualties as much as possible—this is for our friends and families, after all! We cannot warn you before releasing this destruction, so be ready at any time for the rapid collapse of civilization. We urge you especially to not fly anywhere.
The stockpiling team reports that they have accumulated enough seed, livestock, and tools to support several thousand people for three years. We have a veritable Noah’s Ark of supplies saved up! Drop points are scattered all over the country. Please continue to support the stockpiling effort—this is the only thing that will continue to sustain us until things settle down. For those of you joining the farming effort, check with your local EarthFirst! chapter to determine where to meet after the program is released.
Friends, the time we have worked for and waited for is very, very near! Keep your eyes on the goal. Please consider donating generously to EarthFirst! beforehand—after all, digital money will be meaningless afterwards, and we need all the support we can get beforehand.
We accept check, cash, PayPal, and all major credit cards. Your donation of even $5 can help save us trouble in the future, when banks are meaningless.
Keep up the good work and be prepared.
Happily Frank returned to work. He didn’t want to hurt anybody—and that was the point. They were actually saving people from themselves, preserving the world for all generations to come. The growing pains would be a struggle to overcome, but when people had adjusted to the more sustainable agrarian lifestyle that had worked so well for thousands of years, they would realize it was better this way.
Stretching, Frank settled back down to finish this worm. It was his greatest piece of code, a vast, complex, and truly beautiful creation that would be remembered for hundreds of years to come as the catalyst that changed civilization forever. Skimming through it, he reviewed its parts: Triggering the back door, the easiest section to write; simply wiping the hard drives of typical home computers, also fairly easy; then the most difficult part, where he actually wrote customized attacks for each of the major software types running on different computers. Just remembering the struggle to write that tired him out again—determining how to control coal-fired power plants, nuclear power plants, and dams; how to take over all heavy industry and manufacturing; how to command all the communications networks… the list went on.
Communications networks were key. Frank remembered the conversation he and Larry had had, back months ago when he had started working on that section.
“I think we should just shut down all the power plants,” Frank had said. Back then, he hadn’t seen the need to control things.
“If we do that,” Larry argued patiently, “Then how will our worm propagate itself to other computers not on the power grids we shut down? The Internet won’t be destroyed immediately. Plenty of people and companies—especially big corporations—will have their own generators. Think of Titan.”
Titan Software had its own gigantic generator, powerful enough to keep all the computers in the company running for at least 48 hours.
“Oh, true.” Sometimes Frank got too wrapped up in the details, missing the bigger picture.
“What we really need is to hit the news media first, and the online news sources. We need to keep news of this worm from spreading before it’s had time to work.”
“It won’t take that long.” Their best estimate put it at 15 to 20 minutes for 90% destruction; the rest would follow more slowly, but without the infrastructure to support it, small independent outposts wouldn’t hold out for long. What good is a generator if you have no gas?
“Long enough,” countered Larry. “Think how fast news spreads online, Frank. As soon as anything serious starts happening, word will spread like wildfire in a Santa Ana wind. We need to keep people from mounting a coordinated attack, and that means people must not know about what we’re doing, even while we’re doing it.”
“So we hit the news media first.”
“Yep, all the major servers. Slashdot, MSN.com, CNN. But we’ll also need control of the big industries and so forth.”
“OK, fair enough. But why control? Can’t we just trash all their hard drives and move on?” Larry just looked at him for several minutes as Frank worked it out for himself. “No… because one, plenty of important computers will be protected against a straightforward attack like that. And two, because control means we can keep people from getting hurt unnecessarily.”
“Correct,” Larry had agreed. “We can’t just blast the hard drive of a computer controlling a nuclear reactor; we want to make sure it shuts down permanently, but safely. We want to open dams, not just stop the turbines. We want to wreck the machinery in factories as well as their computers. Imagine if we could tell the robots in a car manufacturing plant, ‘Go smash yourself.’ Then repairing wouldn’t be simply a matter of replacing the computer, but fixing all this complex machinery as well. We have to have control.”
Which is exactly what they did have—or would have, when the worm was released, thanks to their back door in the “best OS ever released.” He expected the worm to be ready within a day or two. Then, when the higher-ups gave the word, he would have the honor of releasing it, first through the Titan Software computers and thence to the Internet at large. Frank always carried a flash drive with him containing the most recent version of his program, just in case. He would be ready when the OK was given. Then he would ride to the nearest drop point and begin helping his compatriots as they rebuilt the world, doing it right this time.
For now, though, Frank had to focus on one line at a time. Soon he would have to get ready for his pretend job, the one at Titan Software. He kept going only to have access to their incredible internet connection… and to see Emily occasionally. That sobered him. Emily was a problem. She knew about the back door, and the National Underground Network Security Agency knew about it, too. If Frank didn’t work fast, either of them might make the connection between him, the back door, and EarthFirst!, and that would not do. Frank thought he had probably put Emily off the scent with his comment about Haytham, but it would be wise to follow up. Staring at the screen, Frank considered. He more than liked Emily; yet, she could destroy everything even now. He might have to take some drastic action to put her off the scent.
Then, too, there was the possibility that she had already started working on a patch. Despite his best efforts, Frank knew that it would be a trivial thing for somebody like Emily to write a patch that effectively locked his back door permanently. That would be worse than anything else at this point, and had to be stopped immediately. Fortunately, such a patch wo
uld take at least a few days to write; besides, disseminating it would be a headache. Users hated installing patches, and often refused to do so out of sheer laziness. Even so, he would have to make sure no patch went out.
Well, that was tomorrow’s worry. Right now, he had to figure out how to tell the spillways in all the world’s dams to open simultaneously.
“Hi, Ms. Pennyworth. It’s Marion O’Grady, from N.U.N.S. returning your call.” Marion heard a small gasp on the other end of the phone, as if the returned call surprised her. “Are you alright?”
“Oh, fine, sorry.” There was a pause, and then the Titan Software security programmer drew a deep breath. “Mrs. O’Grady, I’ve really been debating about calling you. But I think I know who put that back door into my software.”
Marion’s mouth silently formed an O, but she quickly grabbed her pencil and poised it over the second-to-last sheet of paper on this legal pad. “Yes?”
Another deep breath, as if Emily were struggling with herself. “It’s—it’s this guy here named Frank Blackwell. He helped me with this section of code oh, over a year ago.” The words came out in a rush once she had started; Marion scribbled and made encouraging, affirmative noises. “I was talking to Frank the other day, and I said I had this problem—but I didn’t tell him what it was, not any details—and then he mentioned the specific key code that triggers the back door. I never told him that! And then he also said something about another coworker of ours accessing that code, and I never told him that, either.”
“OK, Ms. Pennyworth, this is very helpful,” Marion told the young woman on the other end of the phone. “Think: Is there any way for Mr. Blackwell to have found that information out through some other source?”
“I—I don’t think so. I never told him what section of code it was in the first place, so he couldn’t have checked the version control database we have, or the code itself.” Still scribbling, Marion smiled grimly to herself. This Emily Pennyworth was on a roll; words kept flowing from her. “And… he’s got all this EarthFirst! stuff up in his cube. He’s really into saving us from global warming and stuff, you know? Wasn’t it EarthFirst! who shut the lights off in downtown Seattle during the World Business and Energy Conference?”
“They were certainly involved in the protests,” Marion hedged. Emily was also remarkably astute at putting the pieces together. “There’s no saying whether they actually caused the outage, or if it was just some power fluctuation. It happens sometimes.” Both women knew Marion was lying, but they both played along. Better not to explore these details on the phone. “Ms. Pennyworth, I don’t want to alarm you, but are you in a safe place right now?”
“I’m at work.” Suddenly she sounded very small and frightened. “It’s early—nobody’s really here yet.”
“Well, keep an eye out for suspicious activity,” Marion told her, “and call me if you see anybody behaving strangely. Especially this Mr. Blackwell, if he comes to work today.”
“He will,” Emily replied confidently. “We were going to—” She cut off abruptly and changed the subject. “Should I go home or something? Do you think I might be in danger at work?”
“I doubt it,” Marion told her, trying to convince them both that that was the truth. “We’ll be in touch. Thank you very much for calling.”
“You’re welcome. Thank you.” Emily hung up quickly, leaving Marion to pensively set her phone back down. Well. Drake had probably dredged up that information about computer ownership by now, so all they needed was to hear from the police.
Marion stuck her head out the doorway of her office and called down the hall. “Hey, Drake.” His head appeared in the next doorway.
“Yeah?” He walked briskly over to Marion’s office, his stride heavy and confident. He looked capable of dealing with anything, even this remarkable plot.
“Did you find out who those computers belonged to?”
“Yep.” Drake fished the list out of his pocket. “Let’s see, the hijacking computer belongs to Mr. Leigh Jameson, one of the board members of EarthFirst!; the stop light laptop belonged to one Timothy Haye—sound familiar?—an EarthFirst! member; the Grand Coulee Dam computer is still up in the air; and Laptop Boy’s computer belonged to Laptop Boy himself—Harold Wang.”
“That confirms that, then,” Marion said, pensively twirling her pencil. “I just talked to Emily Pennyworth—keep your shirt on!” Drake had almost automatically slipped into an amorous daydream at the mention of her name. “And she thinks she knows who wrote the back door originally.”
“Oh?” Jim and Jake appeared in the hallway, looking pleased with themselves. “He’s one heck of a programmer, I’ll tell you that. Sneakiest code I’ve seen in ages.”
“Yeah, but so easy to defeat.” Jake protested.
“Sure, but how can you write a bullet-proof back door like that? It’s all about stealth, because it has no armor.” Jim brushed Jake’s further protestations aside, turning to Drake and Marion. “We found out about the Grand Coulee Dam computer. And we had an idea that freaks us out.”
“What idea?” asked Drake before Marion could ask about the Dam. He had his own guess about that, but he was curious about the computer jocks’ idea.
“Well, if we had written that back door, we probably wouldn’t use it to let an actual person in,” Jim explained. “We were talking about what you suggested, Drake—about controlling all the computers running something like that. And we’re both convinced that these guys will write a computer virus of some sort—probably a worm, actually—to take advantage of the back door. Once they release the worm, it’ll just go through all the computers with Light Box 2007 on it and erase their hard drives or something equally awful.”
“I think,” Jake added, “they might try to include specific sections of code tailored to specific industries. So they could include a section of code that tells all the temperature sensors in nuclear power plants to stop taking readings, and get a core meltdown.”
Drake and Marion looked at each other, aghast. “That’s—that’s—”
“Yeah, it’s bad. But the good news is, all we’d have to do is release a patch and the back door would be gone for good.”
“Why don’t we, then?” Drake asked, almost fearful-looking. That worried Marion: She had never truly seen Drake afraid before.
“It’ll take a while to write, for one thing,” Jim said.
“And of course we can’t automatically install anything on people’s computers.” Jake explained. “We need to send it to them and get them to install it, or give permission for it to install itself. Only bad guys install things on your computer with out asking.”
“But that could take a long time!” Drake exclaimed, dismayed. “What if these guys have the computer virus ready and use it before we can get the patch disseminated?”
“Let’s not go there,” Jim told him firmly. Marion listened thoughtfully, carefully concealing the sinking feeling in her stomach. She would have to call Emily Pennyworth back and ask if Blackwell had looked particularly tired lately.
“Anyway,” she put in, “you two found out who the Grand Coulee Dam computer belongs to?”
“Whose is it?” Now Gardner appeared, joining the hallway conference, looking from Drake and Marion to Jim and Jake.
Jake glanced at a scrap of paper in his hand. “Looks like it was originally purchased by the Northwest chapter of EarthFirst! by a dude named José Chavez for use in their office.”
“Hey, hold on,” said Drake, raising a tho
ughtful finger to his lips. “I followed a Hispanic-looking guy at the Grand Coulee Dam right before I got washed over.”
“Not to burst that bubble,” Jim interjected, “but I’m betting plenty of Hispanic guys work there. There are tons of migrant workers in Eastern Washington; why shouldn’t they work there, too?”
“A little trickier than picking fruit, don’t you think?” Jake put in, giving Jim a faux-dirty look.
“Just ’cause some people pick fruit doesn’t mean they can’t do something else.”
“Gentlemen, please,” Gardner protested. “So we know that all the computers belonged to EarthFirst! members. Drake, Marion, what else have you found out?”
Marion glanced at Drake, inviting him to go first. “I actually got everything from the police fairly easily. They emailed me copies of the files; they’re printed out in my office—” he made a move to grab them, but Marion caught his arm.
“Can you paraphrase?”
“Oh. Sure. Um.” Drake paused to gather his thoughts. “I guess the short answer is that the two people I chased to the Space Needle work at Titan Software, and of course all four are EarthFirst!ers. The guy on the airplane was Leigh Jameson—”
“Vice-chairman of the board for EarthFirst!,” Gardner murmured, sounding impressed.
“Yeah,” Drake confirmed. “Guess he really wanted to crash that plane. He’s still in jail.”
“I’d hope so,” exclaimed Jake. “Fun as this is, I’ve got some swamp jaguars to kill, and I’m sure Jim’s equally busy…” Jim nodded to show how busy he was going to be momentarily.
“If you need anything else, just wave a Coke in front of our glazed eyes,” Jake told them.
“Only make it a diet Pepsi for the more discerning among us,” Jim said as they meandered back to the den of computers, cables, papers, and miscellaneous junk that they called their office. Drake could hear them bickering about Coke and Pepsi all the way down the hall.
“Anything else?” Gardner looked at Marion, who had remained uncharacteristically quiet the whole time. “You’ve hardly said three words. What did you find out?”
“Emily Pennyworth at Titan Software thinks she knows who wrote the back door.” Gardner’s satisfied look told Marion that he had guessed the nature of that phone call before she even completed it. Or, as she quietly suspected, the Gardner had all their phones tapped and listened in occasionally just to keep abreast of important information flowing around here. That’s why she always made sure to conduct family business on her cell phone—although for the National Underground Network Security Agency, listening in on cell phone conversations wasn’t any more difficult than listening to land-line phone conversations. Oh well. It didn’t really matter; they were the good guys.
“What’re we going to do about it?” asked Drake, that eager look lurking in the back of his eyes, read to burst into flame at any second.
“I think the real question is what EarthFirst! is going to do with this back door. We need to have a little conversation with Mr. Blackwell.” Gardner nodded firmly. “You two go back out to Titan Software, and—I think a police escort wouldn’t hurt. We’ll round up all the EarthFirst! people who have infiltrated Titan Software and see what they have to say. This Blackwell character is the most important.”
“Yes sir!” Drake snapped, straightening and assuming the military bearing Marion always associated with disaster.
“So we’re not just sneaking in then, huh?” she asked Gardner, wishing they had more time. But it looked like the only way to find out how much time they had was to apprehend Blackwell.
“No. This is it. And you two—” Gardner looked at them. “Be careful. Marion’s experience showed that they can be dangerous when cornered.”
“Nothing Marion and I can’t handle, right, Marion?” Drake told him, the initially confident look on his face slowly fading as Marion remained silent. She didn’t want to think about hurting anybody else, not so soon after the WBEC fiasco. “Right?”
“Don’t worry, Drake,” she told him soothingly. “We’ll have police backup. And we’ll send police to Blackwell’s house, too, just to be sure.”
“What about the EarthFirst! offices here?” Drake asked, patting himself down. Marion could see him mentally checking off his heading-out list: Wallet—check. Keys—check. Gun—check. Sunglasses—check.
“Probably a good idea,” Marion admitted. “It seems likely that they have some malicious code that’s using that back door, and probably it’s backed up there, if nowhere else.”
“I’ll call the police,” Drake offered. “You want to contact Emily again? Warn her we’re coming or something?”
“Yes, I do,” Marion told him, keeping her fears to herself. She also wanted to call Tom and the kids, just in case. “I’ll be ready in fifteen minutes. Try to get the cops to bring some undercover cars rather than something obvious, OK?”
“Alright,” dubiously. Drake thought they would be lucky to get a police escort at all, let alone a subtle one.
Marion stepped back into her office and picked up the phone. Emily first, then Tom. She hit the redial button and listened as it dialed. Should she tell Emily to leave the building? No; they needed her to identify Frank Blackwell in case he made trouble.
“Hello, this is Emily.”
“Hi, Ms. Pennyworth. It’s Marion O’Grady again.”
“Oh, hi.” Still not the most enthusiastic response, but Marion could hardly blame her. Emily was probably having a really bad day right about now. “Did you need something else?”
“I had a few more questions for you,” Marion explained. Best to go straight to business. “First, have you started working on a patch for the back door?”
“I started as soon as you brought it to my attention,” Emily told her. “It’s almost done, but it’ll take quite a while to get out to everybody. I’m also having our web site people put up a warning and instructions on how to protect against it for anybody who has the Elite version of the OS.”
“Great. Number two: Has Mr. Blackwell seemed tired lately? More so than normal, that is?”
“What counts ‘lately’?”
“I’m not sure—a few months, I think.” Marion didn’t know how long they would have been working on the worm, but… “Definitely more than the last few weeks.” There was a long pause as Emily pondered.
“I think so,” she finally said. “He’s mentioned lots of late nights over the last six months or so. Compared to before that, he seems more tired. He certainly drinks more coffee than he did before.”
“Alright. Good. Thank you for the additional information.” Marion debated internally for a moment longer, then added, “Can you set up a meeting with yourself and Mr. Blackwell for, oh… an hour from now? We’d like to meet him, but it would probably be best not to let him know that.”
“You’re coming here?” She sounded surprised and not altogether pleased. “I guess I can try to set something up. It’s still pretty early, and Frank—I mean Mr. Blackwell—tends to be busy.”
“Do whatever it takes,” Marion told her firmly. “We have to meet him. Be careful.” She hung up briskly, leaving Emily Pennyworth to struggle with her conscience on her own. Marion felt sorry for her in a way; clearly Emily knew and liked this Frank guy. It would certainly be a shock to discover a close coworker had maliciously undermined all your work and was probably going to try to take over the world with it.
Flipping open her cell phone, Marion said “Home,” and put the phone to her ear, waiting as it dialed. She hoped Tom was at home and wou
ld answer. Sometimes he ignored the phone if he was outside or busy with the younger kids, who had just started a half-day kindergarten.
“Hello?” His calm, confident voice warmed Marion and filled her with the strength she needed.
“Hi dear, it’s me,” she said. “Tom, I know this sounds weird, but can you get the kids all home right now?”
“Er—not easily. What’s wrong?” He trusted her, Marion thought, and she could tell him. Hopefully he’d just do what she said. At best, Amanda would get a free day off school and nothing awful would happen.
“I know this will sound crazy, but I think some EarthFirst! people are going to release a computer virus that will destroy civilization as we know it.”
“It’s complicated,” Marion told him, “but the short story is, they put a back door into the new OS and now they’re going to use it to take over all the computers in the world.”
Tom whistled. “Guess I’m glad we went with a Mac, huh, dear?” Marion had to smile at his lighthearted quip, despite her concerns.
“It won’t matter if there’s no power,” she told him. “I’d just feel better if I knew you were all safe in case something happens.”
“I’ll do my best,” he promised. “I love you. Go get ’em.” They hung up and Marion drew a deep breath. OK. She had done everything she could for her family; now it was time to talk to Frank Blackwell. And who knew? Maybe nothing would happen. Nothing had happened all these weeks, after all.
“Ready to go?” Drake stood in the hallway, black leather jacket gleaming, tiny gun invisibly concealed.
“Ready,” Marion agreed firmly. She had the Desert Eagle, her legal pad, and her wits. And, of course, she also had Drake. “Did you get the police escort?”
“Ye-es, but I had to lie a little bit.” Drake’s honesty endeared him to Marion, although it meant he tended to be a remarkably bad liar.
“What did you tell them?” She only hoped it wasn’t too outrageous.
“Just that this guy, Blackwell, was behind the EarthFirst! protests and that we needed backup in apprehending him. It might actually be true.”
“Way to go, bud,” she told him. “That’s good. Are they meeting us here?”
“Um, that’s the other thing. They kind of sounded like they’d go straight there. So we should probably hurry a little bit, if we can. Maybe not take the minivan?” He looked at her pleadingly.
“Oh, fine. We’ll take the N.U.N.S. Lotus.” Drake grinned a toothy grin as they made their way to the underground garage that housed their Starlight Black 2007 Lotus Exige S. “But I’m driving. I don’t trust you in that machine.”
Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.