« Peacemaker », Prologue   

Prologue

Monday, January 23, 2012

It all seemed so ordinary – the muted lights of his office, the silver-framed picture of his sons running on the beach, the computer waiting patiently on his desk – same as always. He had sat in front of a computer like this all his life, developing software, doing what he was born to do.

Nothing would be the same after today.

Ray Brown knew it was finally time to confront PeaceMaker. The computer virus was lurking in the Atlas operating system – software he had led the way in developing.

Spreading throughout the Internet and around the world, PeaceMaker had eluded discovery for nearly a decade, but today he would destroy the beast.

Ray stood in the dim glow of his computer, trying to anticipate PeaceMaker’s defenses. He stepped up to his desk and gently lifted the picture of his sons. Would he see them again? Brian was a beautiful boy of eight with sandy hair and a toothy grin. Could have played the Beaver in that old TV show. David, eleven, possessed his mother’s good looks and his father’s passion for software. Maybe that software thing will work out better for him than it had for me.

Reluctantly, he put the picture back in its place on the desk. Time was running out, enemies were closing in. He had isolated the beast from the net, dug into the bowels of its code, and finally found the termination command. If I can kill this one, I can go back on-line and kill all of them. Clean the net for good.

Still, he hesitated. He didn’t want this; being a hero wasn’t in his plans. Ray Brown a hero … right. He knew a lot of people who would laugh at that.

Dammit, stop stalling. It’s too late to lose your nerve.

Sliding his husky frame into a chair, he called out to the enemy, “PeaceMaker, eliminate all control points to Atlas and delete your code. Domain Command 5-173.”

The computer display turned dark red, and the image of a harsh young man emerged. The thin layering of skin over bone failed to disguise a cold-blooded, emaciated face.

Short bristles of brown hair and dead eyes completed the nightmare. This was the thing named PeaceMaker.

The eyes reached something deep within Ray, triggering an ancient impulse to flee. Get control of yourself. It’s only software… isn’t it?

PeaceMaker’s cold voice pierced Ray’s self-assurances. “Please enter the authorization sequence, Raymond Brown.”

What authorization sequence?

The virus was waiting … patient … unfathomable. Think, man – you can fool it. He decided to gamble.

“Override the authorization sequence.”

The dead eyes seemed to probe his soul, searching for a weakness.

“Repeat, enter the authorization sequence,” PeaceMaker said.

He began to sweat. “I feel pretty stupid,” he said, trying to sound apologetic. “I misplaced the slip of paper with the authorization sequence. Please use the default sequence.”

Ray was surprised to see the image smile at him, as if it had suddenly discovered an old friend. Its face appeared much friendlier, and the eyes seemed to sparkle with new life.

“No problem, Ray,” said the voice, now soft and helpful. “Anyone could misplace a little slip of paper. Not to worry. Please connect me to the network, and I will get the proper authorization sequence for you.”

Shit! He had activated the virus’s self-defense system. If he connected it to the network, it would immediately send a warning to its masters. That would be my death, Ray thought. PeaceMaker would never reveal the authorization sequence unless he changed the rules. There was only one person the virus would obey.

Ray fixed his eyes on the now gentle image. “I am Dianne Morgan, not Ray Brown. Tell me the authorization sequence.”

A flash of red, and the original, cruel image returned. “You are not Dianne Morgan. Your appearance and voice correspond with Raymond Brown.”

“The visual and voice data were entered incorrectly. I am Dianne Morgan. Exchange the Raymond Brown and Dianne Morgan information.”

PeaceMaker adopted the soft appearance once again. “I can get the authorization sequence over the net, Ray. Please allow me to connect.”

Stalemate. Cut off from the net and facing an intruder, he feared the virus would self-destruct if it did not receive the authorization sequence soon. That’s the way I would have designed it. Sacrifice one copy of the virus, but don’t allow anyone to figure out the authorization sequence and wipe them all out.

He decided to play a long shot. By gaining access to the virus debugger code, he might be able to take control.

“I am Dianne Morgan. You are defective – display your debugger so I can repair you.”

Appearing reasonable once again, PeaceMaker said, “Hmm … perhaps the data was interchanged and you are Dianne Morgan. Forgive me, Dianne, but my code insists on a simple test.”

PeaceMaker’s image on the screen was overlaid with ten different social security numbers. Ray could still see the friendly image behind the numbers, and the voice seemed to be embarrassed.

“This is silly. I’m mortified to mention it. Just touch Dianne Morgan’s social security number, if it is on this list. When you choose the right number, I’ll tell you the authorization sequence.”

If Ray didn’t get it right, he knew the virus would terminate itself. But maybe it didn’t matter. If he guessed wrong, he could always find out Dianne’s social security number,

get another computer, and hack away at the virus to reach this point again.

Taking a breath, Ray reached out and touched a number at random. The moment his fingertip made contact with the computer display, a surge of electricity blasted through his body and threw him back against the wall. As he collapsed to the floor, his body shook with agony – a murderous discharge of energy had seared every nerve, every

fiber. He looked up to see smoke rising from the burned-out wreck of his computer. Suicide attack, he realized too late.

Then the darkness took him.