Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Corruptor: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Friday, September 10, 2010 19:17 EDT



    “What the hell?” John muttered, looking at his computer screen as the ping came through the system. He rubbed his tired eyes and looked back, sure he had been mistaken. He realized that he had not been mistaken. There it was, plain as day and easily explained in the “data error” message on the screen. He also noted the priority flag next to the message. He turned to look at the miniscule young man seated nearby. “Hey Jacques, got a moment?”

    “Oui,” the French teen said and wheeled his chair over to John’s workstation. He peered over John’s shoulder and froze as he read the data on the screen. “What is that?” he asked in slightly accented English.

    “That’s a ping from the node upload server, my young friend,” John explained, reaching above the monitor to the bookshelf above. He grabbed the Large, Red Book of Doom and Despair and pulled it down. He flipped to the back and quickly looked through the index. He found the proper page for the server note and flipped back through the book. “There you are, little bastard. Now let’s see where you’re at and what you’re telling me. Hmm...”

    John flipped the book back towards the middle and, with Jacques looking on in confusion, pointed towards an entry. Jacques looked at the entry for a moment, confused, before the light bulb went off in his own head. He breathed a curse and looked back at John.

    “That is what we call a complete and utter train wreck in America,” John explained as his stomach flipped. If this was some sort of sick joke being played on him by someone, heads would roll. And I’ll be the executioner.

    “Oh. Oh,” Jacques muttered softly, his eyes wide as he realized what had happened. “Ingenious.”

    “Yep,” John said. He pressed the “Print Screen” button and waited for the laser printer to copy down the message and details to paper. He gave a pointed look at his coworker. “Boss is gonna want to see this. Watch this mainframe, okay? Make sure nobody touches this at all, unless it’s Mike, me or the boss, okay? Nobody, Jacques.”

    “Oui,” Jacques said in agreement. He took John’s seat as soon as it was vacated and watched as every five minutes a ping query came through. He watched as data from each ping trickled through. He also noticed that the newer mainframes, from later versions and had been updated recently, were ignoring the pings from the smaller server. He shook his head and grimaced. Whoever had set this up, he thought, was both a genius and a merde jetant le singe.

    John hurried down the corridor towards Rodney’s office, concerned. If he had read the paper correctly, then a lot of mysterious occurrences would be explained. It also answered one that had bothered him since before they had noticed the other problems. He suddenly had a thought and clicked his headset. Instantly the phone dialed.

    “Security,” Mike answered. John nodded to himself. It was Mike who needed to know this as much as his new boss did, he realized belatedly.

    “Hey Mike, it’s John,” John stated. He cleared his throat, suddenly unsure. “Got a moment?”

    “Yeah, what’s up?” Mike replied. He sounded bored to John. That was about to change, he figured.

    “I figured out why we’re being probed,” he said, wondering if it would have the effect on Mike that he thought it would. It did.

    “What? Great!” Mike exclaimed, grabbing a pen and pad of paper. “Details.”

    “Meet me in Mr. Adams’s office in three minutes, and I’ll have everything,” John informed him. There was a long pause on the other end of the phone before the other man agreed. John terminated the connection and next dialed up Rodney’s office. It was answered as fast as Mike’s.

    “Rodney,” the gruff voice came.

    “Sir, it’s John,” he said. “We might have a bigger problem here than we thought.”



    “So basically, we have some servers who noticed this ping and deliberately ignored it?” Rodney asked as he paced around the conference room table, his face creased with concern.

    They had moved the meeting from his office to the conference room opposite him since his office was still bereft of furniture. Rodney had also waited to start the meeting until Chelsea could arrive as well, which ensured that everyone who was in senior management and not home sick was present for the meeting.

    “Yep,” John said as he pushed the four pages from his printer over to his boss. “This is crafty programming. Wouldn’t have caught it if not for the node server.”

    Rodney glanced over the pages before he frowned. The coding was almost beyond him, although he could see a pattern developing in the lines the longer he looked. He glanced over to Mike.

    “What do you think?” he asked his head of security. The large man shrugged.

    “Shut them down,” Mike offered, his voice flat. “Shut down all worlds except Crisis. Use an esxcuse with a maintenance issue and focus on Crisis. I don’t want to shut it down, not yet. If we do, we could lose whatever traces we have of the code. No, leave Crisis running.”

    “Chelsea?” Rodney asked as he looked at the younger woman, who was clearly flustered.

    “I... don’t know,” she admitted. “Publicity-wise, this is going to murder us. If this is isolated to us or to the other substations, who knows? If we recommend a complete shutdown to Chicago, then they’ll follow suit, I can guarantee that. But the amount of hate mail and potential customer loss is daunting.”

    “Something to consider,” Rodney admitted quietly. He looked at the other men in the room. “What about the probes?”

    “Best as I can tell, someone was testing the server responses to uploads,” John responded. “They wanted to see how it would respond. Now someone has triggered this…” He left the comment unfinished. Everyone in the room nodded in agreement.

    “What about internal reports? Anything from Moderators who might have noticed something? Or gamers?” Rodney asked Mike.

    “Two Moderators,” Mike answered, looking at his notepad for names. “Both were kicked offline around 16:30 local time with ‘Server Timed Out’ messages. Since that’s impossible in VR mode, they called me immediately.”

    “Both hook up around here?” Rodney asked. Mike shook his head negatively.

    “Both are from the New York area,” Mike replied. “Former military, both excellent players, well-thought of by the guys in Chicago. I thought for a bit that it might be a localized problem in New York, until I found this.”

    Mike dug through his notes until he found what he was looking for. He tugged it out of the notebook and handed it to the still-pacing Rodney. Rodney took it and his face blanched. He looked down at Mike, who was seated uncomfortably in his chair.

    “This true?” Rodney asked. Mike shrugged.

    “Hard to say,” he said. “It has the right indicators, but it just seemed wrong. But if this is true, then we need to act fast. The nodes might not stay up forever.”

    “Let’s go to our homes, get clothes, and meet back here,” Rodney commanded. “I’m locking us down the minute we get back. No one in or out. In the meantime, let it churn in your heads and think about Mike’s data as well. Combined, it means that someone did something to our latest upgrade version. Separate, we have a bug and... issues. Both are bad. Combined, they’re a nightmare.” Everybody except Mike nodded. Rodney looked at him questioningly.

    “I have clothes here,” Mike stated simply, ignoring the look Rodney gave him. “Go ahead and call me when you’re on your way back.”

    “I’ll drive,” John said as everyone stood up. Rodney shuddered at John’s declaration. With the tall Texan in the lead, the three of them walked to the elevator.

    Mike headed back to his office, his head swimming at the possibility that not only had someone attacked his system but had defeated a portion of it. He cracked his meaty knuckles and promised himself that there would be a painful end to this for somebody out there. If, he amended as he punched in his code for the door and leaned towards the eye scanner, I get my hands on them.

    The elevator ride was short and smooth. The three moved quickly through the lobby, ignoring the look from the lone security guard as they went past him. Chelsea and Rodney followed John to his car, and Rodney hopped in the back seat, his knees nearly pressing against his chest in the tiny space. He leaned back and closed his eyes as John, once Chelsea was in and had grabbed a hold of something, gunned the engine and accelerated rapidly away from the large building.

    Pushing the accelerator nearly to the floor, John’s car rocketed away from the gate once he was cleared by security. They quickly reached John’s smaller home just off base. It was a larger apartment style as the owner had combined two apartments to make a larger, more comfortable home for a family. John was definitely a family man, Rodney noticed as John quickly grabbed a few changes of clothes and threw them into a duffel bag with a Dallas Cowboys logo. Rodney avoided stepping on the squeaky toys scattered throughout the living room. John smiled apologetically.

    “Sorry about the mess,” was all he said. He was extremely thankful his kids were not home; his wife had taken them back to the States to see their grandparents the week before.

    Chelsea’s home, although neater, was definitely what one could call spartan. She already had a bag packed for emergencies and had thrown in some snack bars and bottled water as well. It was painfully obvious to Rodney that the younger woman was very much alone in Germany, and he felt more than a little sorry for her. He wondered briefly if Chelsea had many friends as well. Rodney said nothing, however, and soon they were on their way to his house.

    His house was empty, minus the furniture some thoughtful staff at WarpSoft had provided. In the living room he spotted Tori, and he smiled.

    “You online, Piglet?” he asked as he approached. She didn’t reply, so Rodney assumed that meant “yes” in teenage speak and went to his bedroom upstairs, where his clothes still laid in unpacked suitcases. He decided that instead of rifling through the entire suitcase for something, he might as well just take the suitcase itself. He snagged his toothbrush and toothpaste from the bathroom. After a moment’s thought, he reached for his deodorant stick as well. One could never be too prepared, he always believed.

    Satisfied, he walked back downstairs, where he found Chelsea looking around in the small kitchen next to the base of the stairs. He watched quietly as the young woman looked in his cabinet curiously. He coughed gently and she jumped, startled. She smiled sheepishly when she saw Rodney.

    “This used to be a colonel’s house, right?” Rodney asked in an attempt to put the young woman at ease after a few seconds of awkward silence. Chelsea smiled and nodded. Rodney noticed, for the first time, that she had dimples. Cute, he thought before ruthlessly clamping down on the thought.

    “Yes, sir,” she replied as she traced a finger along the delicate carving within the wood. “I love the woodwork. My uncle used to hire artisans to produce something like this. But this looks exquisite, almost antique.”

    “I wouldn’t know,” Rodney admitted. “My knowledge of wood ends when it burns in my fireplace. I’d like to find out, though.”

    “Rodney!” John called out suddenly from the living room, interrupting their conversation. “Quick! Come here!”

    Rodney turned away from Chelsea and hurried into the living room where John stood staring at a small portable device situated on the coffee table next to his daughter’s game system. Rodney recognized the portable vidscreen immediately, including the news station that it was attuned to. He blinked suddenly as he recognized the backdrop behind the reporter. It was downtown Chicago, he realized. WarpSoft’s company headquarters. John quickly turned up the volume as Chelsea reached into her small purse and withdrew her cell phone.

    “While reports are still unconfirmed,” the news reporter was saying, her hair flying about in the windy Chicago morning. “Initial reports coming from within WarpSoft is that they are having major technical issues, which is at odds with what our own sources are claiming. Our sources claim that there has been a deliberate attack upon the systems at WarpSoft, and that not only are people’s identities at risk, their persons are as well. WarpSoft is insisting it is a major technical glitch and the claims by our sources is, and I quote, ‘simply preposterous’.”

    Rodney glanced at his watch and did some quick mental math.

    “Seven in the morning, Chicago time,” he muttered.

    “What the hell?” Rodney exploded. Behind him, he could hear Chelsea talking to someone. He hoped it was Mike.

    The reporter suddenly pressed a finger against her ear dramatically, playing up the sudden relay of information she was receiving. Rodney identified the act and yet found himself holding his breath as he waited for the woman to speak.

    “I’m sorry, Tom,” the female reporter said, cutting off the dry voice of the anchorman. “But I have just received word from within WarpSoft that it was definitely an attack on them, and our own news studio in New York has just received a tape from the attackers. We will, of course, be airing the tape as soon as possible.”

    “I wonder if Tori notices any problems in there,” John idly mused. Rodney looked at him, confused for a moment. “You know, in The Warp?” It suddenly dawned on him. Or rather, crashed upon him like a tidal wave of bricks.

    “Oh my God...” he whispered thickly as he turned to look at his one and only child sitting peacefully on the couch, oblivious to everything. He slowly reached out and touched her hair gently, almost afraid that if he were to press too hard, she would shatter. “The servers... the malicious codes. They aren’t probing the system, John. This is a full-on attack!”

    The view on the screen changed to another woman, this one from a separate news station. The angle of downtown Chicago also changed slightly, showing less glare from the rapidly rising sun in the background.

    “This is Gin Marie with Channel Eleven news,” the woman began, her blouse buffeted by the breeze. Her blonde hair, however, stayed perfect and her smile dazzling. It made Rodney sick. “We have just received initial reports that there is a problem within WarpSoft Systems, and our initial efforts at confirmation have been ignored. In spite of this official lack of confirmation from within, our sources have confirmed that terrorists have taken over the neural relays set up within WarpSoft’s online gaming community known as The Warp and are holding roughly four thousand players’ minds hostage, specifically in one realm alone. We also have received a tape from the terrorists to be played in approximately fifteen minutes which has their demands. As you know, WarpSoft is the world’s largest software producer and is also the most popular gaming community in the world. Numbering over ten million gamers, they recently--”

    “Shut it off,” Rodney ordered, his throat dry and rough. “Why haven’t we heard about this yet?”

    “No clue, sir,” John responded. He made a gesture back to the screen on the table. “Leaves a bad taste in the mouth, though.”

    Rodney rubbed his temples, thinking. “Call corporate?” He asked himself out loud.

    “That’s what I would do,” John answered needlessly.

    “I’ll do it when we get back to base,” Rodney agreed.

    “I just got off the phone with Mike,” Chelsea said when Rodney finished. “He’s locking us down. Nobody in or out after we get back. So far, he’s only had one minor problem. Gate’s going to go on lockdown as well, so we can control the German press better. Only one way in, and they’re not getting past the boys at the front gate.”

    “Any demands, crank calls saying they will overthrow the system?” Rodney asked her. Chelsea shrugged.

    “Didn’t ask, sir,” she admitted. “Didn’t think about it.”

    “Okay, forget it then,” he said and looked back at John. “Do you think they know? Inside the game, I mean. Do they know what’s going on?”

    John pursed his lips and thought for a moment before he responded.

    “No,” he answered quietly. “They’re probably having the time of their lives in there, not even aware of what’s going on.”

    Rodney nodded slowly and gently smoothed his daughter’s hair once more.

    “I wish I were in your shoes, Piglet,” he whispered. “Bet you’re just having a grand old time playing your game.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image