« Peacemaker », Chapter Fifteen   

Chapter Fifteen

Legendary criminal prosecutor Michael O’Reilly passed away yesterday in the Arbor Meadows Nursing Home in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. Mr. O’Reilly, sixty-three, became a permanent resident two years ago after suffering a mysterious stroke in his Manhattan apartment. The cause of the stroke was never determined, but Mr. O’Reilly had been confined to his bed since that time, although friends maintained that his mind remained alert and he was able to respond to yes/no questions by blinking his eyes. Best known for his interrogation of Dianne Morgan in the VantagePoint anti-trust trial of 2006, Mr. O’Reilly …

---- Associated Press, August 2, 2009

 

Vandals attacked the PeaceMaker exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute, deleting one of the few remaining original versions of the software virus. The PeaceMaker exhibit has been the object of many angry demonstrations in past years, but this time the attackers were well-organized and heavily armed.

---- washingtonpost.news, November 22, 2015

 

Saturday morning, January 28, 2012

Goldman and Carmita were sitting on the camelback sofa in Dianne’s living quarters discussing the results of the interrogations, when a voice came over the speaker.

“Sir, it’s Captain Sadowski.” The voice was beyond respectful; it was carefully subservient. As it should be, thought Goldman. “I have Linda Tidesco with me. We are ready to demonstrate the virus.”

Goldman replied, “Enter.”

The door slid open, and Sadowski walked in, followed by Tidesco. Goldman studied Sadowski, his Security Captain, who seemed to fill the room: six-foot-four and two hundred forty pounds of muscle, with closely cropped blond hair covering an oversized head shaped like a block of granite. At thirty, Sadowski was young to command a security force, but he was smart and lethal. Goldman had confidence in the young man’s abilities. Even in a suit, Sadowski was a commanding presence as he walked briskly up to the two leaders.

Linda Tidesco followed him into the room, barely visible behind Sadowski. She was a small, awkward woman pushing fifty, carelessly dressed. Goldman shook his head as he watched her walk toward him. Her appearance would most charitably be described as commonplace, with a pale, plain face perched on top of a shapeless body. He thought the only thing anyone might notice were her wire-rimmed glasses, rapidly becoming an anachronism in this day and age. She always reminded him of the old spinster librarian who had haunted the shelves of his grammar school library. However, Tidesco was a brilliant developer and the primary architect of the Companion Operating System. As always, a laptop computer dangled from her hand.

Sadowski nodded to his superiors. “Thank you for receiving us, Mr. Goldman, Ms. Ordonez.” He spoke briskly, in the manner of a military commander. “We’re ready to demonstrate the use of the virus.”

Carmita spoke up quickly. “First, we need an up-to-date status report. I gave you the names of the leaders of the development cells. Have you captured these cells?”

“We captured all the leaders yesterday. We also captured or killed all but two of the technical personnel. My soldiers are on the trail of those two and should capture them shortly.”

“What about the Domain security forces?” Goldman said.

“We have eliminated all the regional teams. Chief De Luca was killed during the capture of this facility. Consequently, we haven’t been able to identify the members of the central team.”

“Have you questioned Dianne Morgan?” Carmita asked.

Sadowski nodded. “She says she only knows the leaders of the security cells, not the members. She claims that Domain policy limits her knowledge of cell membership. The other Domain leaders have said the same thing.”

Goldman saw Carmita becoming angry. “Do you really believe she would trust De Luca as the sole contact point?” Carmita said, her voice rising. “Dianne must have a mole in the central security force.” She leaned forward. “I expect you to get that name."

Sadowski’s face turned a deathly pale. “We will continue with our interrogation of her more vigorously.”

“You realize, of course, we are vulnerable until their security force is neutralized,” Goldman said. “They may be initiating a counter attack at this moment. Even worse, what if they go to the authorities? Our plan could be exposed before we accomplish anything. Have you secured the facility?”

“We have reprogrammed the firewalls to repel any digital attacks and have secured the facility with electronic safeguards and human patrols. We are also systematically searching the facility for any threats.

“We discovered an unexpected complication,” Sadowski said, his eyes darting between Goldman and Carmita. “The Domain had two prisoners – Raymond Brown and Paul Martino. We secured Martino, but De Luca freed Brown during the attack. We believe he is somewhere in the facility.”

Sadowski seemed to shrivel as Carmita hissed, “Are you telling me Ray Brown is alive and on the loose in this facility? Ray Brown! The one man who might be able to retarget or even destroy PeaceMaker.”

Infuriated by Sadowski’s incompetence, Goldman said, “Let me be clear, Captain. I want Ray Brown dead by the end of this day. That’s your number one priority.” He considered ordering Sadowski’s death, but he wasn’t sure the next in command was better. “Are there any other complications?”

“No, sir.”

“Leave us now,” Goldman said.

Sadowski said, “Yes, sir,” and strode away, legs moving slightly too fast. Carmita continued to glare at his back as he hurried out the door.

Goldman glanced at Carmita and turned his attention to Tidesco. He pushed down his anger and once again sized up this dried prune of a woman. She was his best software engineer, brilliant but awkward. Tidesco had been with Goldman since the beginning, but she had never cultivated a friendship with him. Or anyone else. Not that he wanted her friendship. She was most at home developing code all by herself. A mouse, he thought, but a very smart mouse. Carmita, he noticed, seemed to be studying Tidesco carefully. Almost with respect … something he rarely saw from her.

“Have you obtained the source code and documentation for the virus?” he asked.

Tidesco coughed and then cleared her throat, adding to his irritation. “Each Domain cell maintains its own source code and documentation. We retrieved code and documentation from each cell yesterday and today. It appears comprehensive, but I don’t know if it’s one hundred percent complete and up-to-date yet. My team and I will require several days to make that determination.”

Goldman smiled sadly, as if dealing with a pleasant, but slow child. “Time we don’t have, Linda. My understanding is it takes about thirty hours to transmit a command to ninety percent of the Atlas computers and appliances in the world. Is that correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

“As you know, I want PeaceMaker to circulate a command to be executed thirty hours from now. I want each virus to shut down its machine. At that point, 90% of the Atlas computers in the world will just freeze up.” He smiled at Tidesco. “Can you make PeaceMaker do that?”

“Alan, do you have an Atlas computer available for a demonstration?”

He took out his wallet computer and tossed it on the coffee table.

“Ms. Ordonez, do you have an Atlas computer in this room I could use for the demonstration?”

Carmita nodded but did not indicate the location of the computer.

Tidesco placed her laptop computer on the coffee table and kneeled in front of it to enter commands. As Goldman watched, an odd thought popped into his mind; it seemed like she was worshipping a superior being, rather than instructing a box of hardware.

Tidesco spoke as she began to key in commands, “I am sending a command to the virus in my computer. Only PeaceMaker will understand the command. For the purpose of this demonstration, I will not shut down all the computers in the world.” She smiled awkwardly at her own joke but did not look up.

Look at her typing in the commands. So old fashioned. I may have to replace her. Soon.

“However, I will shut down all the computers in this apartment. Immediately.” She completed her data entry and looked at his wallet computer.

Goldman was also watching his computer, when it suddenly went dead. He said, “What is today’s date?”

There was no response.

Carmita, already in the bedroom, called out, “My system is dead.” She sauntered back into the living room, carrying a wallet computer.

Goldman smiled at Tidesco. “Very good.”

Still kneeling in front of the coffee table, Tidesco said, “Thank you, sir. PeaceMaker has now seized direct control of your computer. Your system has not really shut down, but the virus will ignore all requests to initiate any type of action, so it appears the system has frozen in place. Actually, PeaceMaker is waiting for specific, authorized instructions. I could instruct it to give control back to you, so your system would operate normally. I could order it to destroy all your data. I could have it play some old Beatles tunes or I could make it do just about anything I want.”

“Could you make PeaceMaker destroy itself?” Carmita asked.

Peering over her glasses at Carmita, Tidesco shook her head. “No, for two reasons. First, only a few people are authorized to send the kill command, and I certainly am not one of them. I would guess PeaceMaker would allow a kill command from Dianne Morgan and maybe two or three other Domain people. The virus can verify your identity through a retinal scan, a fingerprint, facial features, voice analysis, passwords and who knows what else they have programmed. That’s the first line of defense. It’s complex, but given some time, I could probably figure out a way to beat it.”

Tidesco, still on her knees, shifted position slightly as she spoke. “The second line of defense is much more difficult. PeaceMaker has very sophisticated code that initiates defensive actions if anyone should try to kill it, such as hiding within Atlas, creating a new persona, electrocuting its enemy, and so on. Before it will obey the termination command, it looks for some type of authorization sequence. We don’t know what it is, but it’s probably a series of passwords. If you know the authorization sequence, we believe PeaceMaker will end its life. Unfortunately, there’s no way to guess the authorization sequence – it could be anything. I’m looking through all the source code and documentation to determine if someone hid it in there. If not, then you will have to convince Dianne or someone else to tell us.”

Frowning, Goldman said, “End its life? You make it sound like a living thing. It’s just a very sophisticated computer program, nothing more.”

“You’re correct, of course. But it’s a system unlike any I have ever seen. In many ways, it seems like an artificial life form. The Domain has developed a software entity that is conceptually simple, yet complex beyond understanding. Because of their network organization, I don’t believe anyone in the Domain truly understands the scope of what they’ve accomplished. If you try to kill this virus without the proper authorization sequence, it could morph into something that would be even more dangerous.”

“I don’t intend to kill the virus,” Goldman said. “I just want to shut down all the Atlas computers for a few days and start them up again. Over the next couple of years, we will replace all the Atlas software with Companion. Fear of the virus will be the driving force. Companion will be the operating system that powers the world, not Atlas. That’s how it should be, anyhow. Companion is the superior operating system.”

“I assume you can restart our computers,” Carmita said.

“Of course.” Tidesco turned to Goldman, “Shall I restart your systems now?”

Before Goldman could say anything, Carmita said, “If what you say is accurate, which I am sure it is, you should be able to restart our systems using my computer.”

Tidesco looked at Goldman, who nodded. She held out the palm of her hand to Carmita. When Tidesco received Carmita’s wallet computer, she quickly entered a command, and both computers came back to life.

“I’m satisfied,” Goldman said, leaning back in his chair. “Instruct the virus to shut down all the Atlas computers on Sunday, January 29, beginning at 5 pm Eastern Time.” He smiled. “Except for our computers in this facility, of course.”

Tidesco coughed and said, “Alan, I could exempt, uh, certain types of systems from the shutdown. For example, we could allow hospitals to keep running without interruption.”

Goldman looked at her, smiled wistfully and shook his head. “Life is always such a surprise. I’ll answer your question in two ways, Linda. First, my plan requires the virus inflict maximum damage. The greater the damage, the greater the hero I become when I stop the nasty Domain. The second reason is even more important than the first.” Measuring his words carefully, he said, “The second reason is I decided to do it this way.” He was no longer smiling. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Tidesco looked at him and then dropped her eyes. “Yes, sir,” she sighed. She turned her computer so he could see the display and began to enter instructions. At the same time, Carmita walked around the table and stood between him and Tidesco.

The display turned dark red, and the image of a young man emerged. He felt Carmita lean against his shoulder as they stared into a cold-blooded, emaciated face. Although he knew it was just software, it felt like a killer had entered the room.

“You are not authorized to activate my code across the Internet, Linda Tidesco,” PeaceMaker said.

Tidesco turned to Goldman and said, “I added you to the authorization file – just you.” Tidesco glanced briefly at Carmita and said, “Alan, you are the only person who can command the virus to shut down all the computers across the Internet.”

Now PeaceMaker was staring at him. “Do you order the shutdown?”

Tidesco eyes were focused on him, her thoughts impossible to read. Carmita was much easier: envy and a touch of anger were there. Now I have the power, he thought, emotions surging.

“Yes, do as you have been instructed.”

PeaceMaker disappeared, and the normal Atlas screen returned. It’s obeying my command. All those damn Atlas computers will shut down. Laughing in triumph, he turned and grabbed Carmita, pulled her down across his lap and kissed her hard. She returned his passion, clawing the back of his neck.

He barely heard Tidesco leave.

*

From his hiding place, Ray spied on Goldman and Carmita until Tidesco left. He was sore all over from De Luca’s torture, and his nose was broken. After killing the soldier, he had escaped to the warehouse. Recalling De Luca’s hint about a secret spot to hide, he pulled up a map of the warehouse from De Luca’s computer and discovered a secret room built into one of the walls. He hid there moments before Goldman’s killers searched the warehouse.

The room was a four by ten, essentially a windowless storage closet, but it saved his life. One corner was stacked with containers of food and water, stored opposite the toilet. De Luca had placed a chair and floor lamp in the room, and a sleeping bag was wedged behind the chair.

Not exactly the comforts of home, but I’m alive.

Ray discovered he could tap into the Domain’s surveillance systems using De Luca’s wallet computer. Once he figured out how to use their systems, he was able to monitor the discussions taking place in Dianne’s apartment. De Luca, that sick pervert, had concealed microcameras in her living room and bedroom, which could be turned on from his computer. His skin crawled as he realized De Luca might have watched him make love to Dianne.

Ray was appalled by Goldman’s plan. This was his worst nightmare, setting free PeaceMaker on an unwary world. The consequences in loss of life and property would be staggering. Even if he were able to send out a termination command to the virus immediately, he wouldn’t be able to prevent all the computers from shutting down. The built-in time delay meant many computers would shut down before the termination command eliminated PeaceMaker. Every minute that passed made the situation worse.

Ray knew the virus would never accept a termination command from him. Tidesco was right; only a very small number of people were authorized to destroy the virus, and most of them were probably dead. Dianne could do it. She was the one person who must know both the termination command and the authorization sequence. How could he find her?

The only way to do that would be to use the facility’s surveillance system, which could spy on virtually all the rooms and halls. Ray would have to look into each room until he located Dianne, which could take several hours.

Another thought kept forcing its way upon him. Sadowski said they had secured Paul. Would he find his friend’s body as he searched for Dianne?