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Corruptor: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Friday, September 24, 2010 21:33 EDT



    “You know, I was thinking this over,” Mike said as soon as Rodney and John entered the large man’s office. He turned around from his computer terminal and looked at Rodney. He noticed Rodney’s ashen face and shifted his eyes to John. “What’s wrong?”

    “Tell you later,” John answered. Mike nodded, accepting the answer for the time being.

    “What were you thinking?” Rodney asked tiredly as he sat down in on the large, overstuffed couch that Mike had brought in years before. The couch was comfortable, and provided Mike with a quick and ready bed on the many nights he stayed at the office.

    “Well, this is an inside job,” Mike stated as he grabbed the coffee urn from the machine behind his desk. He expertly poured some into a mug. He passed the mug to John, who handed it to Rodney.

    “We know it was an inside job,” Rodney replied unenthusiastically after sipping the hot, stale brew. “They knew how to time this attack.”

    “No Rodney, I mean, an inside job,” Mike reiterated forcefully, his tone emphasizing “inside”. Rodney stopped in mid-sip of his coffee and looked at him questioningly. Mike explained. “If I were going to take over, I’d ensure that there can be no outside communication. Now, in theory, one would sit back and wait for the payment to come, right?”

    “Right,” Rodney agreed cautiously. John sat down on one of the spare chairs in the office and nodded thanks to Mike as he grabbed another cup of coffee.

    “But say that one of the rumors of the game is true,” Mike said, his ebony face split into a malicious grin. “Say that if someone, perhaps an en finite, defeated the game…”

    “Then the rules would change and reset,” Rodney replied, his mind slowly catching up. “Wouldn’t that trigger the virus? I mean, that’s one hell of a risk. If that happened, everyone would die and no money to be had.”

    “I don’t think so,” Mike muttered, looking down at his cluttered desk at random notes he had scribbled earlier. “It would be reset from within. The virus, from what Doris tells me down in IT, is a vicious little one. It’s completely harmless according to the half dozen virus killers she’s thrown at it. If it was even the right program that’s affecting the system. Whoever did this could have given us a honey pot to look at. Or worse.”

    “True,” Rodney murmured and sipped the hot coffee. “But what about that other thing? The inside thing?”

    “Oh, that,” Mike looked down and frowned. “Now if that idea was true, and someone wanted to stop the game from resetting, then they would want someone on the inside to keep an eye on the en finites, possibly eliminate them. There are also nine Moderators who haven’t reported in since midnight, and they’re usually good about checking in every few hours. It’s been two hours since we first figured out we were under attack and say fourteen hours since we noticed something was wrong. Five days have passed within Crisis since the first report of data error. People don’t notice the faster time difference while in the game. So the Moderators should have checked in a long time ago.”

    “They took out nine Moderators?” John whistled softly. “These guys are hardcore coders if they managed that.”

    “Agreed,” Mike said. He looked at Rodney. “What do you think?”

    Rodney sighed, more exhausted than he thought was humanly possible. His mind was in a whirl. If they hurt my baby... he thought as

    he looked back down into his coffee. Nothing helpful came to mind and he knew why. He looked first at Mike, then John, before replying.

    “I think I should be removed from this,” he said. “My personal feelings are messing with my decision-making skills. There’s no way I can function while thinking of Tori.”

    John nearly jumped out of his seat. Mike merely looked at his new boss askance.

    “You can’t do that!” John protested loudly.

    “What does your daughter have to do with this?” Mike asked at the same time, confused for a second. His mind then made the obvious connection.

    “Sorry, Rodney,” he murmured. He looked at John, who motioned for him to continue. “Look, boss. We need you right now. If the junior employees saw you hiding in your office, defeated, then they won’t try. They’ll give up too. And that will ensure that the… bastards will win.”

    “He’s right, sir,” John said with a nod. “We need you. They need you, even if you look like hell. This isn’t coincidence they decided to do this on your first day here.”

    Rodney sighed. They’re right, he thought, embarrassed and defeated. Who am I to give up on them when they haven’t even considered giving up on me? He sipped the coffee thoughtfully, morosely.

    “You’re both right,” Rodney murmured into the mug after a moment. “I’m sorry.”

    Mike nodded, but John was not convinced. He glared at his boss as much as his relatively low position allowed before Rodney finally cracked a smile.

    “You know, John,” Rodney muttered as he took another pull on the cooling coffee. “You couldn’t scare a little girl with that glare.”

    “Good to know, sir, that my wife and you both agree,” John said with a smile. “Now let me get back down to IT and see if Gavin or Doris, hell, anybody can come up with any ideas.”

    John stood and left the room, leaving the two men alone. Rodney looked at Mike, who was digging through his desk for another scrap of notepaper to shred. Rodney smiled, in spite of himself.

    “I’m buying you one of those notepads,” Rodney told him, aiming for humor but falling flat. Mike shook his head as he looked up towards his boss.

    “This was a notepad.”

    “So you think this virus wouldn’t affect a reset if the game were beaten?” Rodney asked. Mike grunted noncommittally before he finally found the paper he was looking for.

    “According to Boone Johansson, one of the initial programmers of Crisis,” Mike responded smugly. “She suggested it. Said protocols should work no matter what happens. The core kernel of the program remains unaffected, which means the basics for the game are the same. She claimed that she wasn’t the designer of the final levels, though, and can’t guarantee it. That was left to--”

    “Vladimir Yuvchenko,” Rodney finished dryly. “Who died of cancer the day after Crisis was released into The Warp. He never got around to getting his design notes to the corporate office either, I heard.”

    “He did it all in his head,” Mike corrected. Rodney looked at him, surprised. “There were no notes.”

    “So we’re going on supposition and guesswork,” Rodney mused, a pit opening in the bottom of his stomach.

    “Pretty much.”

    “God hates me, doesn’t he?”

    “I wouldn’t know, Rodney,” Mike said with a chuckle. “We Episcopalians aren’t into the whole fire and brimstone stuff.”

    “No?” Rodney asked. “I thought you guys were like Catholics?” Mike laughed outright at his boss’s expense.

    “Think of us as ‘Catholic Lite’.”




    John sat at his desk while Jacques, who decided that John was the man in charge for the moment, handed him the printouts for changes within Crisis. John looked at the growing mountain of paperwork. He closed his eyes and mentally wished it away. When he opened his eyes again, though, it was still there. He glowered at the offending paperwork.

    “So much for that ‘wish your problem away’ self-help crap,” he muttered. Jacques, ever so helpful, had “borrowed” a coffee maker from the human resources department earlier while he was out and was now making an extremely powerful brew. The smell alone seemed to jolt John's senses awake. Not entirely unpleasant, he thought with another sniff.

    “Hey Jacques, what time did the Nodes server ping us again?” he asked, looking around on his desk for the original printout. Jacques’s head appeared from behind the pile of paperwork, his crooked smile beaming. He had the information memorized.

    “About ten this morning, John,” the young man replied before his head disappeared once more. “You took the printout with you, remember?”

    “Oh yeah,” John murmured thoughtfully. “So we got the ping around ten, the news release goes out at twelve or so.” He chewed on the end of his pen, his mind in turmoil. Was the time of the ping relevant to the timing of the video release, he suddenly wondered as his brain churned the thought over. Or was that purely coincidental?

    “I have the timer for the coffee set, John,” Jacques informed him from behind the pile of paper. “Once it is prepared, you shall have proper French coffee. None of your American brew.”

    John stared at the paperwork, thunderstruck as realization crashed down upon his head. The two hours delay between the ping and the video release were not coincidental. It was impossible, he thought, energized by the sudden comprehension. The video had been released exactly at noon, although the press had not shown it at the exact time. But that would only make sense if what Mike suggested was true, and it was an inside thing. The ping, he wondered as he frantically pulled up the server activity screen, was it at exactly ten or not? He scrolled up until he found the very first entry for the Nodes server.

    He cursed loudly and grabbed his headset off the desk. He clicked it and immediately it dialed Gavin from IT. Seconds later, someone else answered.

    “Diane,” a harried female voice replied. John frowned.

    “Where’s Gavin?” he asked.

    “Flu,” Diane tersely replied. “Left right after your meeting this morning. Can I help you, John?”

    “Yeah,” he said, looking down at his notes. “Do me a favor. How long would it take to send a four hundred terrabyte file across the Internet? I’m looking for a specific vid that’s been bouncing around the wires.”

    “Depends on the server that sent it and the ones that received it,” she answered carefully. “Internet doesn’t run singular, you know. Why?”

    “Just figure it out. From the best server to worst. I need something that falls into the two hour range, and fast,” he told her. He clicked the headphone off before she could reply and stared at the computer screen, nervously clicking a pen on the desktop.

    “Just wait until she gets back to you,” he murmured as Jacques poured them both a cup of coffee, his youthful face looking at John in utter perplexity. “Don’t jump to conclusions yet, cowboy.”

    Two minutes later Diane was on the phone with him.

    “The full vid at four hundred terabytes would take about two hours with one of those newer Prentice VIII servers,” she said immediately as he answered. “That seems slow, compared to our newer ones, but this is the public we’re talking about. Our old Prentice VI Elites servers ran about that speed, so that should give you an idea of what they need. Someone isn’t going to shell out what we pay for one of our new Gold Septums, or the Germans or Americans’ Cray Eight Thousands.”

    “So the ping triggered the damn vid,” he said, impressed. “They wanted it to be tripped. Damn, these guys are good.”

    “I have to get back,” Diane replied quickly. “We’re fielding about six thousand complaints an hour right now over the dozen or so worlds we’ve shut down already. I think someone dropped a malicious code into Havoc as a joke, but the virus is extremely squirrelly. We’ve already notified the police about that account. I swear, when the cat’s away, the mice will play.”

    “Sorry. Thanks for all the help Diane,” John said and disconnected. He stared at his screen for a moment longer before he decided that Mike did not need to know about his theory of the Nodes server tripping the wire yet. Instead he looked at Jacques. “Hey, got a mission for ya.”

    He leaned closer to Jacques and slowly explained. At first, the young French teen looked horrified at the thought, but as John explained, Jacques’s grin grew larger and larger. John leaned back and grinned, while Jacques looked absolutely feral.

    “Think you can handle it?”

    “Oui,” Jacques replied eagerly. His grin reminded John of the cat who had just caught his first mouse. “Attack my program? Ha! I will show them.”

    The teen turned to begin his assigned mission before stopping and looking back over his shoulder at the tall Texan.

    “What is it the Russians say? ‘Revenge is a food best served cold’?”

    “Something like that,” John said with a shrug, ignoring the fact that the young man had quoted a movie. He shooed the teen back to work.

    Jacques moved back to his own computer as John sent a quick email to Mike, outlining his idea. He smiled as Jacques began to manically laugh under his breath.

    “Oh, do I love the smell of naphtha in the morning,” he cackled wildly. John shook his head and wondered what sort of monster he had just released on the world.

    “It’s ‘napalm’, Jacques,” John corrected quietly as the teen began to type furiously on to his computer, already deep into the special assignment he had been assigned. One which, if it worked, would immensely help them in the upcoming hours. One that was based purely on supposition as well. John prayed that his guesses were correct and that fortune truly did favor the bold.

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