« Peacemaker », Chapter Seven   

Chapter Seven

It was clear anti-trust actions were ineffective, at best, for industries with rapidly evolving technologies. The basic problem was swift change eliminated the offending activities before government action could be implemented. Nevertheless, the federal government pursued these cases against VPS and other elite technology companies.

----An Economic History: Computer Operating Systems, Dr. James Schultz, 2018

 

Goldman Information Systems announced today it will lay off twenty-three hundred employees over the next five months. Companion, the company’s flagship product, continues to lose market share to Atlas, driving down revenues for the seventh consecutive quarter.

---- Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2010

 

Friday, January 13, 2012

The next day, Ray continued to analyze the virus code using the Companion computer. Companion contained good simulation capabilities, so Ray felt he should be able to model the major components of the virus. However, he knew the complexity of the virus would probably limit the accuracy of the model to seventy percent or so. Not as good as he’d like. He could easily miss important capabilities, but it was the best he could do at this point.

Working intensely on the project, by mid-afternoon he possessed a good idea of the architecture of the software. Next, he investigated its defensive capabilities. The time flew by, and then his watch began to vibrate. Vaguely irritated, he looked down and asked, “What is it?”

The watch said, “Your flight to San Francisco departs in 90 minutes, at 8:15pm from Gate 12.”

Ray was surprised it was so late, but a quick glance revealed only darkness outside his window. He didn’t want to stop working. There was so much to learn. The virus code was almost perfect, unlike anything he had ever seen, yet strangely familiar. Even the language was unique; based upon the Java programming language, but highly evolved. This new language enabled the virus to detect any changes to the code and reject them, if not accompanied by the required authorizations.

He discovered the developers had built in a dangerous level of artificial intelligence, giving the virus a degree of unpredictability. It could employ a toolbox of defensive strategies, depending upon the threat. Even more frightening, Ray believed the virus could generate and execute its own code under certain situations. Tampering with the code would be dangerous, like deactivating a bomb, except this bomb could think.

Ray pushed the car hard to catch his flight. He arrived at the airport, boarded a flight to San Francisco, and pulled out his computer to respond to his daily business emails. Glancing discreetly at those seated nearby, he wondered if any of them were spies. When a short, plump woman took the seat directly across the aisle from him and placed a purse on her lap, an icon in the image of a door key began flashing in the upper right hand corner of his wallet computer. His firewall software had detected a frequency tap, and Ray just managed to catch himself before he looked around. Someone on the plane was recording his keystrokes, probably the woman across the aisle. He could have pinned down the source of the tap, but that action might have been detected by the intruder’s firewall.

Stay calm, you knew they would be watching. He continued to compose ordinary business messages.

After the flight, Ray picked up a rental car and drove north over the Golden Gate Bridge toward Paul’s home in Sausalito. He flipped open his wallet computer and checked the display. The key was flashing.

*

Ray rode the elevator to the nineteenth floor of a modern high-rise apartment building. The elevator came to a smooth stop, and he walked down the hall to Paul’s apartment.

“Ray Brown,” he responded to the security system’s question, and a moment later Paul opened the door. As usual, his friend was dressed in jeans, sneakers and an old, stained T-shirt.

Paul looked Ray over and said, “What a thrill. The king of the operating system in my very own apartment.”

Ray was familiar with Paul’s apartment, which included two bedrooms, and an office, kitchen and living room. Each room had a view of San Francisco Bay, but on a clear night, the view from the living room was truly spectacular. Usually, the bay sparkled in the night, a hint of the synergy possible between man and nature. Tonight thick clouds obscured the view and rain blew against the windows, humming steadily in the background.

He raised an index finger in front of his mouth and walked into the apartment. “Paul, let’s watch that boxing match tonight. You know, Torres is fighting Andersen for the middleweight title.”

“You want to watch the fights … now?” Paul stuttered.

Ray turned on the TV and raised the volume. The boxing match came on, with all the noise that attends a championship fight. He watched the TV and said, “Good, nice and loud.”

He faced Paul and said, “They might be listening, but the TV should mask our conversation.”

Paul still looked confused, so Ray continued, “I modified my wallet computer to scan for bugging devices. My car and my house have bugs. So did the rental car I used tonight.”

Ray pulled out his wallet computer and checked the display. No flashing key. “Your apartment is clean.”

He looked around and grimaced. As usual, the rooms were a mess with books, computer equipment, clothes, plates and glasses, bottles and toys everywhere.

“Well, at least there aren’t any bugs.”

He pretended to look around and shook his head. “Well, no listening devices, anyway.”

“Ray! Stop. Killers are following you around, and you’re doing stand-up,” Paul shouted.

“Pissing in your pants isn’t going to help any.”

Paul seemed ready to respond angrily; then the stiffness seemed to leave his body. “Sorry,” Paul said, taking a breath. “Can they hear us from another apartment or from a nearby building?”

“Not with the TV going full blast, but I’ll leave the scanning system on, anyway.” He shook his head. “Paul, this place is a disaster, even for you.”

Ray pretended to trip over a book lying on the floor. “I swear I’ll sue you if I’m injured here. Why don’t you hire a cleaning service?”

Paul flopped down on the couch, picked up a pad from the floor and glanced through some notes. Without looking up, he said, “I actually hired a cleaning service last year. They sent over an older Russian woman who seemed nice at first, then turned surly. She looked around for about five minutes, cursed me in her native tongue and left.”

Ray was about to speak, but Paul said, “Much as I am enjoying our little chit chat, it’s late, and we have a lot to discuss. Let’s get started.”

“Yeah, let’s get started,” Ray said and sat on the couch.

“I’ve been digging into the Atlas threat, and I have an idea regarding who may be controlling the virus,” Paul said. “It’s very subjective, and I would like to get your thoughts.”

“I have to ask you this before we go any further,” Ray said. “Are you in all the way? Your life will be on the line.”

“I may regret this, but yes, I’m in all the way.”

“Thank you.”

“You think I’d trust something this important to a propeller head like you?” Paul said. “If I can keep you from completely fucking this up, we could be heroes.” He gave Ray a self-satisfied smile. “The babes will be hanging all over me.”

“Knowing the type of women you usually attract, they will probably be hanging out of trees,” Ray replied.

“I’m going to ignore that insult for two reasons. First, I am a generous man while you are just a stupid fuck. Second, we have a lot of ground to cover tonight.”

Paul glanced at his pad and then placed it down on the coffee table. “I talked to about half a dozen top level software security experts – you don’t need to know who, but these are all people I trust – in order to get an answer to something that has been bothering me since you called. Although I came at it indirectly, my basic question focused on how a software virus could infect computers across the globe without being detected. And you know what – to a person, they said it was impossible. They all swore there are so many tripwires, so many traps out there in the net it couldn’t be done.”

“But I know it has been done!” Ray thundered. “I’ll show you right now if you don’t believe me.”

Paul raised his palms defensively, saying, “Don’t have a baby. I know you well enough to be confident you wouldn’t get me involved in a wild goose chase. So tell me, big shot, how do you do something that’s impossible to do?”

Ray was stumped for a moment; then it hit him. “The bastards,” he said, amazed by the audacity of the plan. “They had to plant PeaceMaker in the operating system before it was shipped to customers.”

“Bingo,” Paul said, a self-satisfied smile sliding across his face.

“So it has to be someone from VPS,” Ray quickly added.

“You’re not as stupid as you look.”

“PeaceMaker isn’t buried in the operating system,” Ray said, almost talking to himself. “It’s part of the operating system. That’s why it was never detected.”

“Now you’re showing off.”

As Ray continued to think it through, the feeling of elation left. “If the virus is built into Atlas, Dianne is probably involved.”

“I’m sorry, Ray. I know you had a thing for her at one time.”

Fucking woman, he raged to himself, trying to hide his anger.

“Let me get right to the bottom line,” Paul said. “We can get into the details later. Dianne and her pals were sitting on top of the world. They dominated the computer industry. They were all mega-billionaires, and Dianne was a living legend. Then the federal government comes along and launches this anti-trust case – an unjustified attack, at least in her eyes. The feds treat her and her pals as if they were Mafia kingpins, and their reputations are rubbed in the dirt. The judge slams her into jail for contempt. Even worse, the feds win in court, break up her empire, and treat her like a criminal on parole.

“Dianne hates the government and decides to fight back. She and her pals hatch this plan to build a virus and recruit some of the best technical people in the company to help them. The top management and technical people from VPS form a secret organization. I don’t know what their specific plans are, but they are clearly hostile to the federal government. They’ve infected almost all of the computers on the planet with a virus that can destroy human society.”

Still attempting to hide his anger, Ray stood up and walked toward the window, but Paul’s voice followed him. “Ray, don’t you see what we’re facing? The most powerful technology corporation in the world has become a global terrorist. They’ve been building their forces for most of a decade, and now they’re ready to strike. The globe will be torn apart by a silicon blitzkrieg unlike anything before.” Paul was quiet for a moment, but then said, “And guess who the first casualties will be?”

“That must have been when she snapped … when she went over the line,” Ray said, his back to Paul. “She sat in that jail cell for six weeks… thinking. Sitting in that stinking cell just simmering and thinking. She probably came up with this whole demented plan while she was sitting in that cell.”

Ray stood in front of the window, staring into the rain. Paul got off the couch and stood next to him.

“What is it?” Paul asked.

“Something about this whole situation doesn’t feel right. Dianne has a bad streak, but I don’t believe she is some crazed Nazi trying to destroy the world. Maybe she’s the leader of this organization that created the virus, but I don’t think we understand their motives yet. I don’t believe her organization is built purely on hatred for the federal government.” He glanced at Paul. “She wants to change the world, not destroy it.”

“You may be right. I don’t know for sure,” Paul said. “The one thing I’m sure of is I am scared to death of this virus and their fucking organization. Don’t forget about Richard Kim. Whatever they’re planning to do to the country will be a nightmare.”

“Tell me more about their organization,” Ray said.

“After the anti-trust trial, the court breaks VPS into several businesses,” Paul said. “VPS remains in control of Atlas but is forbidden from engaging in any other business. What remains of VPS becomes VPS Laboratories, the R&D function for Atlas. Dianne continues to run VPS Laboratories but reports to a Board of Directors composed of the Attorney General, Secretary of Commerce and several other bureaucrats. They have to approve just about every major decision Dianne makes. I understand she hates reporting to a bunch of bureaucrats.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Ray said. “She has to meet with them every month and get their approval on just about everything.” He shook his head. “You don’t want to be near her when she has to meet with them.”

Paul walked back to the couch and Ray followed him. Ray admitted to himself that he had always retained a sliver of hope that he could rekindle the relationship with Dianne. Now that faint hope had been snuffed out.

“The Court splits the rest of VPS into five overlapping sales and service corporations in order to encourage competition, they claim,” he heard Paul say. “The three original owners and two other senior VPS execs are placed in charge of these corporations. Each of these five corporations can license Atlas and all other VPS software at the same prices. They can sell the VPS software in any market they desire, as well as other software, services, even computer hardware. In this way, the government says it could force competition while controlling VPS.” Paul shrugged. “At least, that’s what they claim.”

Paul was interrupted by a chirping sound coming from Ray’s wallet computer. He signaled for Paul to be quiet and picked up the computer. The key was flashing. Ray touched the key icon and a map popped up, showing a red circle on the street below Paul’s apartment.

Paul leaned toward Ray to see the map. “They’re scanning the apartment from the street,” Ray said. “Since the television is the loudest sound, their scanner will hone in on it.” He shrugged. “Hope they like boxing.”

“Maybe we should stop,” Paul whispered.

Ray shook his head. “Get used to it. They are going to know every time you pass wind. We just have to pick our spots. With the television going, this location is as good as any.”

Paul said under his breath, “Fucking A.” He leaned back in the couch but glanced at the flashing key again. Ray set down his computer and turned back toward Paul. Then, in a strained voice, Paul picked up the thread. “Over time, the five companies came to be known as the Atlas Sales Companies. Each ASC became a huge, powerful organization.”

“So what do we have now?” Paul asked, his voice growing stronger. “VPS develops Atlas and the five sales companies sell it into just about every conceivable market and support it. If you consider VPS and the five ASC’s as one organization, there is more power consolidated there than when VPS was a monopoly! They have a stranglehold on the Internet and virtually all the computer systems used by corporations and individuals across the globe.”

“But I’m there every day,” Ray said. “I haven’t heard squat about VPS and the sales companies forming some sort of joint organization.”

He noticed that Paul seemed uncomfortable. Then the fog lifted. “It’s because I’m a drunk, isn’t it? They don’t trust me.”

“It’s more than that,” Paul quickly added. “You’re a decent human being. The people who developed this virus are terrorists. You could never be one of them.”

“All these years, she played me for a damn fool,” Ray said. “I built all these capabilities, all these controls into Atlas. The whole time, she is building this perversion, this virus that can turn Atlas into a weapon.” He uttered a short, unpleasant laugh. “And I thought …”

“Dianne uses people,” Paul said. “It’s not your fault.”

“You don’t understand what I enabled them to create. This virus – they call it PeaceMaker, if you can believe that – is a very nasty piece of code.” He had to get past the anger, too much was at stake. Forcing himself to concentrate on the problem at hand, Ray said, “The damn thing can take control of any Atlas computer and destroy or change any data on the machine. A new version can travel over the net and overlay an older version, so even older releases of Atlas have the latest, most powerful virus. Then this updated version replicates itself and travels across the net to another old version that needs to be updated. There’s no way to stop it.

“It gets worse,” he said, almost to himself. “All the PeaceMaker copies can coordinate their activities on a massive scale. The virus can talk to its brethren on other computers. Dianne could send out a single message, which would be propagated from one Atlas computer to another. For example, she could have all medical data on Atlas computers destroyed.” “Netwar,” Paul whispered.

Ray said, “If she turns it loose, I don’t think anything could stop it.”

They stared at each other for a moment. Finally, Paul stood up. “Want another cup of coffee?”

Ray nodded his head. “Sure.”

He listened to Paul’s everyday sounds in the kitchen, but he was too restless to sit and wait. Ray padded across the room to the window, again staring into the thick, dark clouds. Knew there was danger … never thought she would foul our software … make it into a weapon. Have to stop her… have to see her clearly, now.

Paul came back with two steaming cups and placed them on the coffee table. They sat for a time and sipped the coffee, speaking little, with the sounds of the boxing match dominating the room.

Finally, Ray said, “There’s one more thing I need to tell you. But first, I have to make a summary of our conversation.”

Ray picked his wallet computer off the coffee table and adopted the Jim Smith identity. He recorded a concise summary of what they had learned about the virus and what they suspected. He mentioned Richard but kept Paul out of it. He smiled slightly as he thought about his trump card – a simple but very active email virus he had created.

Fight fire with fire.

“We need a backup plan,” Ray said. “In case things don’t work out, we have to warn everyone about PeaceMaker, so I developed a package of software called the Revere Virus to spread the word.”

“Whether we’re dead or alive – that’s what you’re talking about,” Paul said.

He nodded. “Yeah.”

“You think we’re going to die, don’t you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Revere Virus, fucking A.”

They sat without talking for a moment, then Ray said to his computer, “Debbie, attach the recording I just made to the Revere Virus. In exactly forty-eight hours, email the Revere Virus to the list of recipients I created earlier.”

“So your Revere Virus delivers a summary of everything we know about PeaceMaker to the people on the list,” Paul said.

“That’s right.”

“Who’s on this list?”

“People who will take the warning seriously and can do something about it – government officials, scientists, even a few people from VPS. The audio clip will be played as soon as they open this email. In addition, Revere would send a message to everyone in their address book and attach itself to the email. Revere is a simple virus but fast spreading. It will reach millions of people in less than a day. The secret would be out before our enemy can stop it.”

“So if we are dead forty-eight hours from now, Revere spreads the warning,” Paul said.

“Yeah, unless I postpone the message before then,” Ray said. “I’ll keep postponing Revere every day as long as I’m free. If I’m captured or killed, Revere would not be postponed and PeaceMaker would be exposed.”

Paul shrugged and leaned back on the couch. Ray waited for a moment and then walked to the TV and turned it off. At Paul’s glance, he said, “Enough boxing for tonight. I’m going over to see Nancy and the kids tomorrow. She invited me over for dinner.”

Without looking at his friend, Paul said, “Great, give her my best.”

Maybe it was because he was so tired and stressed, but he needed to talk. “You know, Paul, I’m a horse’s ass.”

“That’s true. Any reason in particular or you just talking in general terms?”

“I’m serious. I had a good wife, and I drove her away. Two great kids, too.” He shook his head and said, “Because I could not stay away from the bottle.”

Paul seemed about to say something, then leaned back on the couch. Stop kidding yourself, Ray thought. It was much more than that, and you’re still not over Dianne.

“Sorry. I carry on too much,” Ray said. “I’ll be fine. I’m going to get some sleep – busy day coming up.”

As Ray plodded toward the guestroom, Paul said, “There are extra pillows and blankets in the closet. By the way, feel free to use the shower. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you’re not exactly a spring breeze in the rose garden.”

Ray forced a smile as he closed the door.