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Chapter One of VirileMail[edit | edit source]

Joe Daonet[edit | edit source]

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Hi, I'm Joe Daonet, and I'd like to share a strange story about events that took place a few years back. It's quite complicated, but I think you'll enjoy it.

I woke up late one Tuesday morning. Not that this is an unusual occurrence. As a matter of fact, it happens quite frequently. I drove to work faster than usual. It was nice until some left-lane enforcers blocked my way. I was trying to top my old top speed of 135 km/h. It wasn't meant to be; the fastest I could go was 132 km/h. Very disappointing.

I got to work just after 9. No one noticed. The network administrator who was working the night shift was asleep, with the automated network monitors doing all the work. It was a job where much of the time all you did was just sit and wait. There was time to keep up on the latest tricks in network administration and hope one day that something you knew would be useful.

"Maybe today is the day," I thought to myself. I sat eagerly in front of my laptop checking the status of the equipment. "ALL NODES ONLINE." Nope. Nothing today.

Disaster!!![edit | edit source]

It was a few hours later that it happened. Suddenly disaster struck! I glanced for a second at my laptop and saw the node called 'WebServer' was down. I opened up a browser and attempted to access our web site. Firefox told me that there was an error connecting to the server. Panic started building up inside me.

I opened up a terminal and pinged the server's IP. Nothing.

There was screaming inside my head.

I was suddenly caught up in a haze of panic. Hackers! They had probably not only brought down our web site, but stolen all the credit card numbers, login names, and passwords, too! This was more than a disaster, the company could really suffer from this! I could get fired!

The screaming in my head increased. I tried to remain calm, despite the increasing panic that was spreading through my mind.

I tried accessing the node through the local network, but to no avail. Strange. I decided to walk over to the webserver (it was in the next room), just to make sure. And no, I don't know what I wanted to make sure of. The computer was running, no errors were showing, no messages. Double strange.

To my relief, I suddenly noticed the Ethernet wire had fallen out the cable modem. I plugged it back in, and we were online again, after a total downtime of about a minute and a half. Good grief.

Questions[edit | edit source]

But my mind would not rest. How had the server been disconnected?

The obvious answer was that someone had disconnected the cable, but who would do such a thing? And what would be the point? And how could they have gotten out of the room before I got there? Well, maybe there had just been time for someone to run out of the room and down the hall out of my sight.

I decided that this might be the kind of trick my boss might play just to keep me on my toes. I tried to call her on the phone and got her assistant, Dave. Dave said, "Network Services, can I help you?"

I was listening carefully for hints of a prankster at work. "Hi, Dave. This is Joe."

"Hey, bro, what's up?" Dave sounded normal.

I explained, "I need to talk to Erin about a service interruption we just had on the website."

"She's out of the office." I could almost hear an unsaid and resentful 'again' at the end of his sentence. Dave was so efficient that Erin usually had nothing to do at the office and often did not bother coming in. She had three kids and telecommuted most days and did not care if Dave did half of her job. Dave asked, "Is it an emergency?"

"No." I told him about the cable disconnection.

Dave was silent for about five seconds. "That's pretty weird. What do you expect Erin to do about it?"

I still half expected Dave to admit that he had disconnected the cable, but he just sounded confused about why I was telling him my story. "Nothing. I was wondering if someone was playing a joke on me."

Dave laughed. "I wish I had thought of it, but if I had done it I would have been there with a camera to get a shot of you having a heart attack."

I laughed along with Dave, but I'm sure he could tell I was forcing my laughter. "Well, I'm really just trying to cover my ass. I'll send Erin an email."

"Let me give you her home phone number." Dave was trying to be helpful, then seemed to have second thoughts. "No, wait, I'm not supposed to give that out. Look, I have a few things I need to ask her. I'll call and take care of my business, then I'll tell her you need to talk to her. Stay by your phone."

Dave cut our phone connection. I wanted to go back to the server room and make sure that nothing else had been touched in there, but I decided I could wait by the phone for a few minutes. I went back to my office and initiated a full system diagnostics run. I wondered: if Dave didn't pull the cable, who did? I started doing some serious thinking.

I seemed to remember hearing about some Trojan horse software that could get into the type of server we used, but only when there were certain types of system restarts. I checked the system log and took note of the subsystem restarts that had been triggered by the cable disconnection. Then I checked the server email accounts to see if anyone had fired off a complaint about the service interruption. I was just starting to read recent emails in the complaints account when the phone rang.

It was Dave. "I'll connect you to Erin."

Erin came on the line. "Hi, Joe."

I had never spoken to my boss on the phone before. She sounded more relaxed at home and I could hear one of her kids in the background. "Hi, Erin, thanks for calling."

"Dave says we had a server problem," said Erin.

I had thought maybe Erin was trying to keep me on my toes by having Dave disconnect the cable, but she sounded truly curious about the service interruption. "Physical disconnect. Someone must have pulled the cable connection then ran. It only took me 20 seconds to get in there."

"Shit. Who would do such a thing?" Erin sounded mystified.

There was a long silence. I still half expected she would admit to having planned the whole thing as a joke. Finally I said, "Well, I was wondering if you or Dave was playing a trick on me." I chuckled lamely.

Erin was not laughing. "Sorry, but you don't get of the hook that easy. I asked Dave if he was playing with you and he denied it. I believe him. Who else has access?"

"I did not know if Dave has access to the server." It had been a long time since I had been handed my key to the server room by Erin. Dave had been there with me in Erin's office and made me sign a form that listed all the keys I was given. "I thought you, the three net admins and the custodial staff were the only ones with keys to the server room."

"I leave my keys in my office. Dave knows where they are. Could one of the custodians have accidentally knocked the cable off?"

I was upset to hear that Erin was so sloppy with her keys, but I guess she had to trust Dave. I explained, "This isn't the sort of connection that can just get knocked off by accident. And they only go in there once a week, Friday evenings, I believe."

Another long silence. "Well, I'm grasping at straws."

I suggested, "Maybe I should call the police."

She sounded surprised. "What do you expect them to do?"

"Nothing. I doubt they would come out. But we would be on record as having reported the event. If a client lost a file or something during the service disruption, we could be facing a demand for damages. For insurance purposes, we should have a police report on record."

"No, I don't want to do that unless we have to. It would be damaging if word leaked out about this. Call the service center in India and have them report any complaints about the service failure. If and only if we get a serious complaint, then you can call the police and tell them about the cable." I thought she was too paranoid about the risk of bad press, but I kept my mouth shut. She asked, "Anything else?"

I suggested, "I could put a camera in the server room to record who enters."

This really surprised her. She asked, "You think this is going to happen again?"

"I don't know what happened this time, but you know the saying: fool me once...."

"Ya, ya. You might be right. Use your judgment. I'll be in the office on Friday. Let's meet and you can give me a full report." She cut the connection.

The Attack of the Eggplant[edit | edit source]

That night I had to work late. I stared extra hard, much more than usual, at my laptop. "ALL NODES ONLINE." The message did not waver. Getting bored, I decided to play Minesweeper. I played a few games but I kept losing because I was concentrating on the laptop's status message. Then I heard footsteps. I quickly closed the game and resumed my stare. Brian, one of my friends, walked in. I turned around and we exchanged greetings.

"Sorry to interrupt your work," he said, "but something strange happened to me. I know I can tell you."

What was this about?

"I was walking in the hallway when an eggplant fell on me," said Brian.

I wasn't expecting something like that. "An eggplant?"

"Yeah, just out of the blue," explained Brian. "I was quite shocked, of course. I looked up and I saw a hole in the ceiling. I could see up through that hole to another hole in the ceiling of the third floor."

"There are holes in several floors?" I asked.

"Yeah," said Brian. "I don't want anybody to find out because this was kind of weird."

"Well, someone else is bound to notice all the holes," I pointed out.

"I guess so," said Brian.

"So, I think we should tell other people," I said. "Meet me by Erin's office at 10 on Friday." It would be best for him to tell the story directly.

"That would be fine," said Brian. He left and I resumed staring at the screen. I had to stare even harder to make up for the time lost talking to Brian. As I did so, I thought about the mysterious events of that day. I wondered what would happen with all the holes. If Brian had not already reported the incident, the holes would be discovered long before Friday.

First the cable problem and now this strange story from Brian! If I could figure out what these strange events meant then perhaps I'd finally manage to do something useful.

Trojan Veggies[edit | edit source]

At the end of my 12 hour shift, Fred showed up for his shift. Fred and I would be doing back-to-back 12 hour shifts for a week while Judy was on vacation. I told Fred about the website down time and also what Brian had told me.

Fred looked at me like I had three eyes. "Man, you need to get some sleep."

That was true, but I wanted to check on Brian's story. I went to the second floor and found the hole. Brian was right, I could look right up to the sky. There were chunks of tile and insulation on the floor but no sign of any plant tissue.

I wondered what Brian had done with the eggplant. He probably threw it away, I decided. I went looking for Brian in the ocean of cubicles used by the website developers. He was still there. I asked, "Did you file a work request with building maintenance about those holes?"

Brian finished typing a long line of code into his computer. Looking up he stared at me blankly for ten seconds. "Oh. Hi. Yes, I called George at home. He came in an hour ago to look at the damage. Luckily, not a single wire or pipe was damaged. He called the insurance company and then a repair crew. They'll patch the roof at first light."

Brian's eyes went glassy and he started pounding more code into his computer. He was on a roll and I hated to interrupt his flow, but I asked, "What did you do with the eggplant?"

After about twenty seconds of furious typing, Brian paused and looked around. Seeing me, he seemed startled. "Hey. What's up?"

I repeated my question, "What did you do with the eggplant?"

Brian turned ghostly white and started to sweat. I could see hundreds of tiny sweat drops glistening on his face in the glow of his computer monitor. After a ten second pause he asked, "What are you talking about?"

By this point, I was worried about Brian. He looked like he might either explode or drop dead. Still, I had to know. "You told me that an eggplant landed on you."

Brian laughed mechanically. "Ha. Ha. Ha. That's funny."

This was not at all like Brian. "Look, were you there on the second floor when something fell through that hole or did you just notice the hole after it had already been formed?"

Brian closed his eyes and clenched his fists at the sides of his head. Speaking through gritted teeth he said, "What do you mean about something falling through the hole? It's some kind of exit wound, man."

"Earlier tonight you told me an eggplant fell on you. I assumed it fell through that hole."

"You need some sleep, man. And a meal. What is this eggplant shit?" Brian opened his eyes and he glared at me with hatred. The sweat was dripping off his nose and chin and running into his eyes from his forehead. I split.

I went back to the hole on the third floor and confirmed that the floor tiles had been bent upwards. It looked like something had blasted out of the building, up through the holes. I was worried about Brian. What could account for his strange behavior?

I went back to my room and told Fred that I was going to inspect the server room for damage. In the back corner behind a rack of RAID units, there was a hole in the wall, about the size of my fist. There was a small pile of pulverized wall board on the floor under the hole. Could something that small have entered the room and pulled the cable, disconnecting our server network from the Internet? Was I willing to risk my job over some fantasy about network sabotage by an invading eggplant?

Waiting[edit | edit source]

Upon arriving at work the next day, I was approached by a man in a uniform.

"We're investigating some damage to the building that happened last night," he said. "Did you witness anything of the sort?'

"No," I said truthfully, and continued to my work area.

I soon found out that, as expected, workers were busy patching up all the holes in the ceilings. They were making good progress. For some reason, I had an idea that Brian should not explain where the holes came from (though he seemed not to remember). I had told Fred but he thought it was a joke and so that probably didn't matter. It was then I saw the note on my table. It was rather lengthy, and said

Chloe says that we should rethink our strategy. Don't get started on it yet. I've got to tell Geisler and get his approval. If you know anyone who can help, let them join. I counted l337 files that need conversion. Maybe we can use Haxor Inc.'s new distributed debugger this time. I hear Brian is good at this kind of thing.

I was baffled by this apparently anonymous note. Chloe worked here, but I was not working on any projects with her. Geisler was Erin's boss. And the note mentioned Brian.

Wait. Of course, silly me. This note was written in the code Brian and I had developed when we were in college together. You had to read off every ninth word. So the message was

Don't tell anyone l337 haXor Brian

I was always amused that Brian bothered to append his name to his messages, since we are the only two people who knew the code. Some kind of tight-assed software engineer's mentality. Furthermore, I found his use of Internet slang, or "leetspeak", cute. (l337 haXor means "elite hacker".) Anyway, it was clear that Brian now remembered the incident and wanted the matter kept a secret. He was so sure of it he had even used the top secret code. Why? He was acting too strangely.

Now that the mystery of the note was solved, I again had nothing to do. Nothing but wait until Friday. I waited. I checked the time, and it wasn't even 10!

I waited until lunch. Still nothing had happened. At lunch I talked to Brian and he told me to stop bothering with the eggplant nonsense. He then denied even thinking of sending me a note.

That night before I left work, I talked to Brian again. I expected him to get angry, but he just said, "Yeah, that was weird. Almost a surreal experience. And mind you don't tell anyone. Funny you should mention a note, because I was going to send you a note this morning but I forgot." There must have been serious problems with his memory. Had he hallucinated and invented a vision of the eggplant? But, if so, then what caused all the holes in the floors and in the server room's wall? No, he couldn't have hallucinated everything.

Craziness. Absurdity. There were no other words to describe the situation. If I had not been half brain dead from not being able to adapt to my 12/12 work schedule, I probably would have done something constructive like take Brian out for beer and pizza so we could sort out the mysteries. Looking back on events, I still do not understand why I did nothing.

Almost nothing important happened on Thursday, except that at lunch Brian acted weirdly.

"Too early," he moaned.

Too early? How could you call 11:30 too early?

"Not meant like that," he said, turning to me. "Not good. Too early. Mind you heed the note I wrote you yesterday." Suddenly he seemed to start concentrating. He sighed, not with weariness but relief.

I wasn't sure it was a good idea, but I said, "Now, about that note."

"What note?"

"The note you wrote me."

"I didn't write you a note."

His memory of the topic had gone again, so I decided to drop the subject. "Well, never mind," I said. "Now, about the project we're going to start working on."

"The project?" queried Brian. "What is it?"

I was alarmed. There was no way he should have forgotten that.

"I told you about it yesterday," I said.

Brian frowned, but then assumed a knowing expression. "Oh yeah, that project. Sorry, I've been forgetting things. Everything before Tuesday night is clear, but after that my memory keeps on fading and returning. I think maybe something unusual happened on Tuesday night, or something."

Well, that was revealing, to say the least. I hoped that all his memory was available tomorrow morning when we would meet with Erin to discuss this. Even if he remembered, would he be willing? He sure didn't want anybody to know, for some reason.

(End of Chapter 1)


Chapter Two of VirileMail[edit | edit source]

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Bugs[edit | edit source]

By Friday I was really messed up. I had only about ten hours of sleep total for the previous three nights. I had developed some new obsession with watching late night television. At first I just thought I was having trouble adjusting to a new work routine of the 12-hour shifts. And, of course, I was also puzzled by the strange events at work, particularly Brian's behavior and the mysterious holes blasted in the floors of the building. But not as puzzled as I should have been.

At work, the rumor that seemed to be winning was some story about the holes being caused by a high velocity micrometeorite that had hit the building. When word leaked out about the damage to the building, a local news station came and did a story, playing up the meteorite theory and including an interview with Geisler and another interview with an astronomy professor at the State University.

None of our customers seemed to care about the short service interruption and by Friday I was regretting having to meet with Erin. It seemed like we had not dodged a bullet from outer space, but as long as the network and my job were both steady, I was satisfied.

It was about 3:30 Friday morning before I finally fell asleep. I had just spent five hours surfing television stations, not spending more than about a minute on a station before clicking on to the next one. Not my usual cup of tea, and it was so out of character that it should have sent me in search of a psychiatrist. But at that time I was not aware of how bizarre my behavior was.

As tired as I was, I woke up at 6:15 and took a shower. I woke from a strange dream- like an Indiana Jones movie full of bugs...but in my dream they were bugs on my computer workstation. I felt like I had bugs crawling on me and I leaped out of bed and ran to the shower.

The sensation of something on my skin never really went away. I shaved twice and then stood looking in the mirror for ten minutes trying to see what was crawling up my nose and into my ears.

I got to work early and sent Fred home. He did not complain about ending his shift early. For a while we talked about the idea of getting a temp to fill in the next time one of the three network administrators went on vacation. I promised Fred I would discuss the idea with Erin when I saw her later that day.

When Fred left, I sat at my desk scratching my persistent itches and waiting for the 10:00 meeting with Erin. I had installed a cheap webcam in the server room, and every day I reviewed the previous day’s video. I had the system set up to save a video frame to hard disk every second. I was using a software hack that would flag any frame that was significantly different from the preceding frame. So far, I had 17 roach sightings and I had submitted three requests to the custodial staff for a solution to the bug problem.


VirileMail[edit | edit source]

I was wondering if there was any link between my itches, the roaches, and the hole in the back of the server room, when Brian came to my office. It was only 9:30. Brian wanted to make plans for the meeting with Erin.

Brian kept looking over his shoulder as he leaned close to me and whispered, “We have to get our story straight for Erin.”

I was surprised that Brian wanted to play such games. I saw no reason to risk my job over anything that had happened that week. “Look, just tell her what happened on Tuesday. What you told me that night.”

He scratched his head and had a distant look. His respiration rate increased and I could see one of his eyelids starting to twitch. After a long pause, he looked over his shoulder again and said, “I do not think that would be wise.” He took his palm computer out of his pocket and held it under my nose.

I cannot remember exactly what was in the document he showed me, but it was an email from Geisler to Brian that looked something like this:

Project code name: virilemail
Project head: Dr. Anthony Geisler
Project coordination, USA: Dr. Chloe Meade
Project coordination, Czech Republic: Dr. Daniela Gajduskova
Project summary: Bring to market the new email software that has been under development by Dr. Gajduskova’s team in the Czech Republic.

USA home office team proposed by Dr. Meade:
Brian Kaplan- software engineering
Joe Daonet- network specialist
Kaede Watanabe- user interface designer
Bhavya Jayaram- marketing specialist

Actions pending: Approval of staff assignments by Erin Jecklestein

New personnel: Temporary network administrator to be trained by Fred Sikes and Judy Walker. (May be continued as permanent hire if passes review at end of probation period.)

I tried to grab Brian’s computer, but he yanked it away from me. I shouted, “What the hell is that?” I was shocked that he would have a copy of such an email while I had not even been told that I might be transferred to a new position. I asked, “So this is the project you mentioned in your note?”

Brian nodded. “Erin got a similar email and we need to get her to approve the staffing changes, so don’t make a fuss about it. Chloe will be here at 10:00 for the meeting.”

I complained, “Why didn’t anyone tell me anything about this?”

Brian shrugged. “Chloe asked me to give you a heads up, but Geisler did not approve the project until last night.”

Part of me wanted to be really angry with Brian for jerking me around on this, but another part of me seemed to already know everything Brian was now telling me. Rather than get mad at Brian, I asked for more information. “What is this project about? What is virilemail?”

Brian put his computer back in his pocket and went to one of the computers on my desk. He logged in and accessed his server space. In a moment he had an email client open. The language used in the software looked like some Eastern European language, Brian started explaining some of the cool features of this email client. It had integrated systems for translation and a bank of template emails for many common types of business communications. Brian looked at his watch. It was almost 10:00. “Basically, we will be a beta testing team, pounding the code from Daniela’s team into final form for release in the USA. We better get to Erin’s office.”

The Team[edit | edit source]

I still had many questions, particularly what my role would be in the project. I followed Brian to Erin’s office. Dave said, “Dr. Meade is already in there. Go ahead on in.”

Brian and I entered and I saw that Kaede and Bhavya were also present. We all sat down around Erin’s conference table. Erin got right to business and said, “As I’ve already told Chloe, I’m not pleased with the way this project is getting started. I was only informed of the project’s existence a few hours ago and Geisler basically ordered me to make sure that this project is a success.”

Erin turned to Chloe who was seated to Erin’s right and said, “I’ll expect you to provide me with weekly written reports on project progress, starting with a report that was due yesterday on the origins of this project and your plans for how to complete it.”

Chloe nodded. “I have no problem with that. This whole thing came out of the blue. It seems to be some pet project of Geisler. In any case, we seem to have an unlimited budget.”

Erin bit off angry words, “That’s pure crap, Chloe. I’ve worked for Geisler for seven years and before today I would have said that he wouldn’t give an open budget to anyone. Chloe, if I didn’t know you to be as honest as a church mouse, I’d have guessed that you must….” Erin threw her hands in the air. “Shit, there’s nothing you could have done to make this happen. Geisler must have finally realized that money is for spending. Still, this project is not going to waste money. I’ll be monitoring every expense.”

Erin let out her breath and seemed to calm down a bit. “Okay, now who can tell me what this project is about?”

Brian seemed to be the only person in the room who could explain what the project was about. Brian fired up the computer in Erin’s office that was used for presentations. A view of the Czech email application appeared on the flat panel monitor on the wall. Brian launched into the same introductory tour of the email application he had been giving me earlier.

I became bored hearing the same story again and my itches started driving me crazy. I could have sworn that bugs were crawling out of my nose. I took out my palm computer and checked on the network’s status. I started exploring the intranet and without really thinking found myself in the email records. My intuition told me that there was something strange in the mail routing tables, but I could not figure it out with Brian droning on and my itches driving me to distraction.

Finally Brian was done talking and Erin summed things up, “Well, this new software is a new direction for this company. As far as I know, we have never done client software development.”

Chloe agreed. “But all of our experience with developing in-house software gives us the resources to bring this product to market. Geisler hinted to me that this might be the start of a new division, if we pull this off with style.”

Erin sat back in her chair, “Now that you mentioned it, I seem to recall Geisler mentioning plans for a new division. Maybe this is what he was brewing.”

The meeting broke up and Erin pulled me aside.

Spreading Illness[edit | edit source]

Most of the new project team members were still in the outer office where Dave's desk was. Erin leaned against her desk and I noticed that she kept rubbing her nose and licking her lips. “I’m sorry that our original meeting got taken over for this emergency meeting for the new project. Anything new on that network interruption?”

I shook my head. “No. It must have been some fluke event.”

I could see that Brian was hovering around the doorway, with some of the members of the new project team asking him for more details about the project. Brian was watching me closely. Erin noticed Brian outside her office and asked me, “Why did you originally invite Brian to our meeting?”

I shrugged. “There were three odd events on Tuesday. The network disconnection, that hole that was blasted through the building, and Brian saw something odd in the building.” I could see Brian glaring at me. I was just about ready to tell Erin what Brian had told me Tuesday night, but then I heard myself saying, “I think he might have been in the second floor corridor when that micrometeorite hit the building.”

Erin gestured to Brian that he should come back into her office. She asked Brian, “What did you see in the building Tuesday night?”

Brian replied, “I’d rather not say.”

Erin turned to me, “Will you tell me what he said?”

I looked at Brian. I could tell that he did not want me to tell the truth. “I think you should hear it from Brian, first hand.”

Brian said, “Look, I’m not sure what I saw. I’ve been working 20-hour days and I may have been asleep on my feet. Do I really have to report what was probably a silly dream?”

Erin closed the door to her office and sat down in a chair, almost falling into it. She bent her head over the conference table. After about fifteen seconds she looked up. Strands of her hair were now plastered to her face by the sweat that covered her body. I said to Brian, “She’s sick.”

Brian picked up the phone from Erin’s desk, but Erin held up her hand. “Stop. I’ll be fine. You guys don’t need to pass this on, but suddenly feel like I’m pregnant again.”

I was surprised. Erin must have been pushing forty. I stammered, “That’s great. Congratulations.”

“Thanks. I knew I should have had my husband fixed.” She struggled to her feet, swaying a bit. “Look, I want to say something to you two. This project is important. The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place for me. For a long time Geisler and some of the Board members have been dropping hints about a new direction for the company. There has been talk about the foreign offices taking on more prominent roles. That must be what this new project is about.”

Erin went to the small refrigerator in the corner of her office. She took out a water bottle and asked Brian and I if we wanted one. She took a long drink. “This sure feels like morning sickness. Blaa.” Brian and I could tell that she was not done with us. We waited while she took a brush out of a drawer of her desk and brushed her hair. She brushed for a good long time, not seeming to remember that we were there. Finally she said, “I know how you software engineers can be. I don’t want you jeopardizing this project by working yourselves to the point of hallucinating. You both have black rings under your eyes and you look like shit. Get some sleep.” She put the hairbrush back in the drawer and then took a lipstick out of the drawer. She painted a ring of shocking pink on her lips then closed the drawer. “If you need more help with this project, let me know. Geisler has pre-approved more funds for additional staff if we need it. He recommends shifting current staff to this project, but if there is some outside expertise that would facilitate this project, we have the option to hire an outside expert, too.”

Erin sat down behind her desk and started looking through the stacks of file folders on her desk. “Chloe is a good project manager, but she’s an electrical engineer by training. I’m trusting you software experts to tell her what is needed in the way of software expertise to complete this project.” She turned her attention to a report on her desk and seemed to forget about us.

Brian finally looked at me and shrugged. He turned and left the office. I was puzzled by Erin’s behavior. I mumbled, “Goodbye.”

Erin looked up and seemed startled to see me still standing there. She stared at me blankly for about ten seconds then said, “Joe, what is it?”

I stammered, “Ah, I just wanted to confirm something Fred and I were concerned about. We previously requested that a fourth network administrator be hired. I know Geisler approved a new hire, but with me shifting to the new project, there really should be two new network administrators hired.”

Erin picked up her phone. “Dave, please come in.”

Dave came into the office. He did a double take at Erin. I guessed that like me, he had never seen Erin wearing lipstick. “Yes?”

Erin gestured to me, “Work with Joe to set up a job search. In addition to the temp that we already talked about, we need to find another network administrator. Find someone with experience who can be hired as a permanent employee.” Erin looked back to me, “Is that all?”

I nodded. “Thanks.” Without another word, Erin went back to the papers on her desk. Dave and I left Erin’s office.

Dave said, “What a day. We’ve been in a hiring freeze for over a year and now the money is flowing. What is this new project anyhow?”

I gave Dave a quick recap of the meeting. “I’ll write a job description for the new job search. How soon do you think you can get a temp?”

Dave went to his desk and picked up a note pad. “I just got off the phone with a temp agency. A Brad Emphrone will be here at 8:00 on Monday. Have Fred and Judy show him the ropes. The agency claims this guy knows the equipment we use.” The phone rang and Dave got back to work.

Memory Dump[edit | edit source]

I went back to my room, still puzzled about what exactly I would be doing on this new project. This would be my second job change since leaving college. I was ready for something new and challenging. Chloe was sitting at my desk using one of my computers. She glanced up and said, “Hey, there you are.”

I sat down in the chair on the “guest” side of my own desk. I said, “You know, nobody has explained to me what my role will be in this new project.”

Chloe stopped whatever she had been doing at the computer and squinted at me through her glasses. She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. I could see that she had bags under her eyes and I had noticed at the meeting in Erin’s office that she stank- like she had not had a shower in a day or two. She stuffed her glasses in her shirt pocket.

I have to admit that I was infatuated with Chloe. She always wore white dress shirts (men’s shirts) with a pocket protector in her shirt pocket. She was tall and thin and many obese men have bigger breasts than Chloe, although I found her almost boyish figure to be quite attractive. She seemed to be having trouble taking her eyes off of the computer monitor, but she noticed me watching her. She pulled her long blond hair back from the sides of her face and tucked it into the neck of her shirt behind her back. As if she could read my mind, she said, “I have not been home for two days. Since Geisler sprang this new project on me I have been working around the clock to hand off my old project and get this one started.”

Seven months earlier, I had asked Chloe out to dinner. She had laughed and blown me off, saying she had to go home and walk her dog. Brian had later told me to log in to the human resources webpage and read the company policy against manager-worker fraternization. I had argued my case, “But she is not my manager.”

Brian had said, “It’s a matter of appearances. Nobody wants to deal with suspicions of favoritism arising from romantic relationships. It is forbidden. Of course, that makes it all the more desirable.”

Now she would be my manager and I was for the first time glad that there was a rule that had kept us from becoming more than professional colleagues. Still, I had a crush on her, and it would be odd to be working closely with her. “Well, it looks like Brian must have explained the project to you. You two are close friends, right?”

I explained, “We went to college together. He graduated a year ahead of me. He did not tell me any details about the project until today.”

She looked at me skeptically. “Really?” She put her glasses back on and examined the computer screen again. “But you already installed the code from Dr. Gajduskova on our server. You and Brian and Kaede have been using it since yesterday.”

I got up and went around the desk. Looking over her shoulder at the monitor, I saw that she had been looking at the log of my activity on the computer. I was a bit embarrassed, because I did not want her to see all the computer games I played when I was bored from baby sitting the network. I quickly scanned the log for games and saw none. Rather than the games I recalled having played, there was a record of me loading the new Czech email suite onto a server and then a huge amount of modifications to these new files. All I could do was say, “Shit.”

She looked at me with her head turned over her shoulder. This close, I could again smell the gymnasium-like richness of her not-too-clean body. I felt my nostrils distend and my pulse quicken in a pheromone-driven reaction to her scent. I suddenly felt my knees start to wobble and memories of working on the new email software came bubbling up to the surface of my mind like an underground water main had broken. Numbly, I went back around my desk and slumped into the other chair.

Chloe was watching me closely. Finally she said, “You too, eh?”

I had no idea what she was talking about. “It was quite a shock for me to be told to set up this new project and then find that the team members I selected were already working on the project. Amazing efficiency! I’ve checked all the logs now. It started with Brian on Tuesday night, then Wednesday you took the software from Brian’s hard drive and loaded it on one of the servers. By yesterday the new software was running from the server and Kaede and Bhavya started using it, too.” Chloe pulled up Brian’s FTP log. “Yesterday, the three of you sent Brian a total of 154 bug reports and suggested software design modifications.”

As she spoke the words it was as if they created a whole new reality of the past week in my mind. I now remembered spending many hours the past two days getting the new email software running. At first, the code had been full of bugs. By Thursday night, they (mainly Brian) had it running fairly smoothly. The problem was, I could not remember anyone telling me to do the work I had done. It seemed like a dream memory, but the log files had been right there in front of me, confirming that it had happened.

Lamely, I suggested, “Dr. Gajduskova must have sent the code for the new email software to Brian." I took the “secret code note” out of my wallet and showed it to Chloe.

She read the note out loud, “Chloe says that we should rethink our strategy. Don't get started on it yet. I've got to tell Geisler and get his approval. If you know anyone who can help, let them join. I counted l337 files that need conversion. Maybe we can use Haxor Inc.'s new distributed debugger this time. I hear Brian is good at this kind of thing.”

She asked, “When did you get this note?”

I replied, “Wednesday.” I leaned across the desk and pointed to the log file on the screen in front of Chloe. “Just before I started loading the new software on the server.”

Chloe took the note from me. “I wonder who wrote this.”

I explained, “It’s Brian’s hand writing.”

She shook her head. “Then it makes no sense. Why would Brian write, “I hear Brian is good at this kind of thing”?

I felt Chloe’s clear blue eyes pulling at my soul. I knew I could never lie to Chloe. I explained the code that was used in Brian’s note, “It’s a code we devised in college. Every ninth word is the real message.”

She did the decoding, “Don't….tell…..anyone…..Brian? That still makes no sense.”

I knew that Brian did not want to have to tell others about his encounter with the eggplant. I was saved by Spock’s philosophy: keeping the truth to one’s self is no lie. I felt that an answer was on the tip of my tongue but at the same time, I did not consciously know what to say. This is what I heard myself say, “Brian needed a favor. He needed me to get this new software on the server. But the project had not yet officially been approved by Erin, so he needed me to keep quiet about the fact that he was already starting to work on the new project.”

Chloe logged off of my computer and stood up. I expected her to continue asking questions, trying to make sense of this senseless situation, but she smiled and said cheerfully, “Okay. I just wish I had been in the loop from day one. I’m setting up the new project space in the east end of the fifth floor.”

I was surprised that Chloe so easily accepted the strange circumstances of the start of the new project. “Fine. I’ll probably be up after noon on Monday, assuming the temp who will be replacing me down here knows his stuff.”

“Sounds good. I’m going to draft that report Erin requested. I’ll send my first draft to the group for your comments. We need to have a complete project description on Erin’s desk first thing Monday.” Chloe left and I sat there for a long time trying to sort out which of my memories were real.

Forty minutes later Dave came in with papers for me to sign so I could be transferred into Chloe’s new project group. I would be getting a 25% increase in pay. The rest of the day seemed to go by very fast.

New Digs[edit | edit source]

Before I left work that evening, I decided to go upstairs and try to find the area where the new project would be located. I found Brian moving his stuff into his new office. He was pulling items out of a box and setting them on his new desk. He looked up and gave me a big grin. “I finally escaped from the cubical farm.”

He came out of his office and showed me that my new office was the next room down the hall. On the door was a new sign that said, “Joe Daonet” with “VirileMail” under my name. I said to Brian, “Who came up with this project name, anyhow?”

Brian smirked, “Its some kind of translation glitch. The original name selected by Daniela means “virtual mail” or something similar. When Kaede saw her door with “VirileMail” under her name, she went into hysterics. It took an hour for Chloe and Bhavya to get her calmed down.”

I shook my head, puzzled by the whole issue of how the software from the Czech Republic was being gradually translated into English. I asked, “Who is doing the translation anyhow?”

Brian pulled his palm computer out of his pocket and pulled up a list of the people in Dr. Gajduskova’s team. He pointed to a name on the list, “This guy, Janek, he went to M.I.T. If I need anything translated I send him my request and the translation comes back fast. Its often screwy English, but good enough to get by with.”

I had never heard of any of the names on the list. “Who is this Dr. Gajduskova, anyhow?”

We went back to Brian’s office and he pulled up some information on his computer. “I’m not sure. I pulled up her CV off the internet. She did postdoc research in Minsky’s lab. Then she had a faculty position at Charles University in Prague. Five years ago she left academia and started a company designing expert systems. Geisler bought her company three months ago.”

Eggship.jpg

I noticed a strange printout on his desk. “What’s that?”

He picked up the glossy print. “Chloe said we can decorate our offices any way we like. I was going to put this on the wall.” He gazed at the image in silence for a long time.

Finally I had an idea. “Is that the “eggplant”?

He nodded. Finally he said, “This is what I saw Tuesday. What I think I saw.” He rubbed the stubble on his chin. “What I think I saw. Maybe it was a dream. I’m going to go home and sleep all weekend. Maybe my memory will straighten out if I get some sleep.”

I was fascinated by Brian’s eggplant. “What are these tentacle-like things?”

He seemed to give a slight shiver. “I remember the thing grabbing hold of me. My skin started crawling. It felt like bugs were all over my body.”

I suddenly felt very tired and hungry. “Well, I’ve got two more 12 hour shifts this weekend. Judy will be back on Monday and a new network administrator from the temp agency will be starting work. I’ll probably be back up here by afternoon on Monday.” I split and headed for a nearby Chinese restaurant.


VirileMail - Chapter 3[edit | edit source]

The 95 Percent Solution[edit | edit source]

Main office building for Antler Network Services.

I actually got a good solid six hours of sleep for a change. When I got to work Saturday morning I told Fred that Erin was going to hire two new network administrators and that I was being shifted to a new project.

Fred told me that he had gotten an email from Dave warning him to expect Brad Emphrone early on Monday.

I reminded Fred that Judy had promised to be in by 8:00 on Monday. “The three of you should figure out which shifts you will each have.” We both knew that Judy would probably want to go back on night shift because it meshed with her husband’s work schedule and allowed her to spend days with her son.

I handed Fred a draft of a job description for the permanent network administrator. “Let me know if you have any suggested modifications.”

Fred read the job description right then and said, “It might be tough getting someone with experience for what they pay us.”

I had not told Fred about my impending pay raise. “With this new project getting under way, there seems to be a new flow of cash. This might be the time to suggest that you, Judy and the new hire all get a boost in pay over what we have been getting. You and Judy now have experience, and if they want to hire someone with experience, the company is going to have to pay more.”

Fred went to the door, ready to leave. He turned back, with a little grin on his face. “Check the system diagnostics log. I left you a note.” With that enigmatic line, Fred left for home.

Rather than do as Fred suggested I continued my usual routine and I checked the webcam image files. There were two more roach sightings. Then I watched the custodian enter the server room the previous night. He went right to the back of the room and was out of sight for ten minutes. Then he came back into view of the camera, pulled the suction hose down from its ceiling mount and began vacuuming all of the equipment racks. Finally he vacuumed the floor then went around setting insect traps in all the corners of the room.

I went to the server room and tried to figure out what the custodian had done in the back of the room behind the server racks. I found that he had spackled shut the hole in wall. I picked up one of the insect traps and saw that there were two bugs stuck in its adhesive.

I went back to my desk and checked my email. Chloe had sent the new project members a first draft of a report on plans for completing the project. I started going through the report and filling in what I knew about the new software and its incredibly heavy memory and CPU requirements. Chloe had written into the report that we would need new hardware for the project to keep the new software from draining computing resources from other company operations.

I was surprised by Chloe’s estimate of how much new hardware would be needed. She was recommending that we roughly double the equipment now in the server room. I started plotted out the growth in computing resources that had been devoted to the new project over the past two days. As I started to review the data, I was astounded by the amount of computing activity being driven by the new software and originating from the IP address of the team in the Czech Republic. Over night there had been a rapid rise in their demand for RAM, disk space, and CPU cycles.

I stared in disbelief at the network diagnostics. During the past three months we had gradually increased from an average of 35% resource utilization to nearly 40%. At peak times we approached 75% utilization of available CPU cycles. Fred, Judy and I had tentative plans sketched out for a new hardware upgrade in about six months. But now, with the new Czech software up and running, we were at a constant 95% utilization of CPU cycles.

At first I thought there was a bug in the system diagnostics. Normally CPU utilization changed with time as various clients of our network services placed demands on the system. But for the past seven hours, the diagnostics showed a steady 95% CPU utilization. I set up a plot of resource use by the VirileMail software and saw at once what was going on. Computer resources for VirileMail exactly varied with all other resource use, keeping total CPU utilization at 95%. That meant that the team in the Czech Republic was monitoring available resources and matching their demands to what was available.

My heart started to pound. There was no way anyone outside of our facility could know what our available computing resources were. We had been hacked! Somehow the Czech team knew what they should not be able to know.

I pulled up the network administration log and saw the note from Fred: “System resource use has gone into the red. Chloe says this was approved by Geisler and that we should accelerate plans for purchasing new hardware.” Why had Fred been so subtle about warning me? This was not a trivial matter.

I went back to my computer and sent Chloe an email:

“There is something strange going on with the VirileMail software. The company site in the Czech Republic has been relentlessly maxing out our computing resources for the past seven hours. Did someone give them administrative access to our network? Fred left me a note saying that Geisler approved this. Is that true?”

After sending the email, I set about trying to detect a new admin account on our network. Unless it was some cleverly hidden hack, there was no new admin account that would allow the Czechs access to our system diagnostics and resource utilization reports.

Don’t sweat it[edit | edit source]

I was still sweating and searching for evidence that we had been hacked when Chloe came into the room. She had a mischievous grin on her face, “I got your email,” She said happily.

I eased back in my chair and wiped sweat off of my brow. I could tell from the look on her face that she had an explanation for what was going on. I mumbled, “We need better communication around here.” Chloe came over and looked at the system diagnostics on my monitor. I pointed at the redlined CPU utilization, “According to specs, any persistence above 75% CPU utilization is cause for an immediate addition of more CPUs to the network.”

“Relax, Joe. Daniela knows what she is doing. She told me that they would not take us over 95% CPU utilization. Have we gone over 95?” She was leaning close to me in order to get a good view of the monitor and should have been able to see as well as I could that the company’s network had been right on 95% for the past several hours. Her hair looked like she had put some kind of microglitter on it and she smelled nice too. Still, she had dark bags under her eyes and I guessed she had gone home just long enough for a shower. Her calm manner was a good sign. All the anxiety and fear drained out of me.

Chloe looked into my eyes and I felt like maybe she could read my mind and see in my eyes that I was smitten with her. I finally replied to her question, “No, we have not gone over 95, and I’m damned if I can figure out why. Dr. Gajduskova’s team is somehow exactly matching their use of our resources to what is available. They should not be able to do that.”

Chloe again looked at the monitor and I gave her time to assimilate the large amount of data on the system resources report page. I looked at her mouth and could see a frown forming. She said, “In the middle of the night, Fred warned me that resource use was climbing, but….damn! Is this correct?”

I traced my finger along the plot of CPU use again. I explained, “This plot shows CPU utilization. It has been at 95% for hours.”

She straightened up and started pacing. After a minute she looked at me. “Damned clever AI. Somehow it is intelligently using almost all of our resources without maxing us out and degrading system performance.”

She was right: the new drain on our computing resources was being controlled in a responsible way. But what could be using so much computing power? Not some silly email software package. “Look, this is supposed to be a piece of client-driven software. A user tries to write an email and the built-in AI makes suggestions for what to include in the message. Gajduskova’s team would have to be a bunch of robots to keep their resource demands matched so close to what is available.”

Chloe shook her head. “They must be using a buffer. They must have a backlog of demand for CPU cycles and as we have excess capacity, they send over more code to crunch.”

Chloe’s suggestion made sense; there really was no other explanation. “I agree, that must be what they are doing. But I cannot see how they know when we have excess capacity. That information should only be available to system administrative accounts. There are two of those. The one we use day-to-day and a backup.”

Chloe shrugged and sat down. She took off her shoes and started massaging one of her feet. She always wore running shoes and white tube socks. “Brian mentioned that he was helping Gajduskova’s team interface with our network. You better ask Brian if he set some system resource data pipe for the Czechs.”

I almost said, “But Brian does not have the required authority to access our network’s CPU usage level,” but I stopped myself. For all I knew, with the holes I had in my recent memories, I could have set up a feed of our CPU usage level to Gajduskova. “I’ll do that, and I’ll send you my additions for the project report.”

Chloe slumped back into her chair. “Thanks.” Her eyes shut and her mouth hung open in a strangely slack-jawed way. She mumbled, “I’m going to crash for a few hours.”

I figured she meant she would be heading home to catch up on sleep, but I watched with fascination as her chin sank to her chest and she started to snore. I’d heard of people falling asleep while walking down the street, but I’d never seen someone drop off to sleep so fast.

There was a cot in the main conference room that staff used sometimes when working late to meet deadlines. I went and got the cot and wheeled it to my office. Chloe hardly woke up when I pulled her off the chair and put her onto the cot. I was shocked at the feel of spine and ribs as I held her torso. The only significant flesh on her was in her legs which I had frequently admired. I’d heard that she ran long distance races.

Chloe started snoring softly and I spent another half hour trying to figure out what was holding CPU utilization right at 95%. Finally, I gave up and called Brian’s cell phone number. After half a dozen rings, Brian opened the connection. He sounded half asleep, “What?”

I regretted waking him up. I asked, “Did you set up some way to supply Gajduskova’s team with our system resources status?”

His reply came without hesitation. “Of course not. I don’t have access to that information.”

I could tell that Brian was mad at me for waking him up to ask if he had done something he could not have done. I tried to explain what was going on and added, “Chloe suggested that I ask you what you have been doing to help Gajduskova’s team use our network.”

Brian moaned, “Oh, man. Is she going to be some sort of meddling manager?”

I said, “Sorry to bother you. Good night.” I broke the phone connection.

What was the point of asking Brian? I couldn’t trust his memories any more than I could trust my own. Suddenly I didn’t care about 95% CPU usage. My new boss had been told about the situation and she didn’t seem to care. I was off the hook. I had work to do. I was going to polish the job description for the new network administrator position and send it to Erin. Then I would work to contribute what I could to the project report Chloe had been ordered to produce.

Chloe. She was sleeping under an air vent and I could see goose bumps on her legs. I went to the conference room and got a blanket. After covering her with the blanket I went back to pounding my keyboard.

When I looked up again Chloe was watching me. I said, “Good morning.” I looked at the clock on my monitor and saw that it was 2:00 in the afternoon.

Chloe sat up and stretched. “What are you working on? You were typing away like a maniac.”

I looked back at what I had added to the project report. Somehow, as I had typed I had become fully conscious of all that I had done in the past few days. All my work on the new project still seemed like a dream, but I understood what I had done. The strange thing was, I had no idea how I knew it. Since Wednesday, it seemed like I had learned more about computer science than I had in four years of college. But where had it come from? It had all just flowed out of my fingers and into the keyboard.

And with my recovered memories, I thought I knew how Gajduskova’s team was able to monitor the available computing resources of our network. I now remembered that I had set up a direct feed of the server network’s CPU cycle availability right into the VirileMail software. What happened after that, I was not sure. I checked the network’s disk allocation table and saw that the VirileMail software now occupied over 50 terabytes of disk space. Somewhere in that ocean of code there must have been a routine to send the CPU cycle availability back to Gajduskova’s team in the Czech Republic. I started wondering what kind of software development team they must have had in place at their end to be able to push our network’s resources so hard.

Chloe put her hand on my shoulder and shocked me out of my line of thought. I looked up at Chloe and saw that she was still looking at me in awe. I placed one of my hands on hers and noticed that the tips of my fingers felt bruised and swollen. I looked at my finger tips then back into Chloe’s eyes. I realized that I had not answered her question. “I’ve been adding details to the project report.”

Chloe shook her head like she was trying to clear it. “It all came back to you didn’t it.” The way she said it, it really wasn’t a question. She knew.

I realized that she must have gone through the same thing over night while drafting the project report. I knew it was not normal for people to unconsciously do complex work and then remember it like a dream. Somehow, the knowledge that Brian, Chloe and probably everyone on the project was affected in the same strange ways almost made it seem normal and acceptable.

Chloe still had the blanket around her shoulders. She pulled her hand away from mine, neatly folded the blanket and set it on the cot. She pulled a second chair over to my side of the desk and read what was displayed on my monitor. I watched her as she read some of the additions I had made to the project report and I noticed that the bags under her eyes were no longer quite so swollen as they had been earlier.

After a while she turned her head from the monitor and looked at me. She said, “You don’t have any training in this kind of database programming, do you?”

She had gone right to the heart of the matter. A “meddling manager” might irk Brian, but I felt pleased to finally have a boss who could understand my work. Erin had a masters degree in management and was almost clueless about technical computer matters. Months earlier, when I had first noticed Chloe, I’d looked up her Ph.D. dissertation and had been surprised to find a 300 page description of how to wire up a 2,500 kilometre long superconducting supercollider to an array of solar collectors that would cover the entire surface of the Moon. An appendix outlined the robotic factories that would be needed to manufacture all the needed components on the Moon.

I sat there wondering where my new knowledge of database design had come from. The work I had done on the VirileMail project had no foundation in my schooling or past work experience. Chloe touched my arm to knock me out of my revere. I tried to answer her question, “I did my senior thesis research project on a database structure for an expert system, so I know something of the subject. But I’d say, nobody has training in this kind of database programming.” I really could not explain how I had done what I had done, but at the same time it seemed like it had come to me as naturally as breathing. I smiled self-consciously but Chloe did not look at me like I was crazy.

Chloe bounced out of her chair and started her pacing again. I was learning that she was a person who did her best thinking while moving. I wondered if that was why she was a runner. Did her brain only hit on all cylinders if her motor control systems were fully active? I sat there watching her sock-clad feet doing a strange little slip-turn each time she changed the direction of her pacing. After a minute of silence, she started out quietly, haltingly. “What if this new software is….smarter than we think? Maybe...what if it not only anticipates the needs of someone sending an email...what if it anticipated our needs?”

I waited for her to complete her thought but she stopped pacing and looked at me. I realized she was waiting for me to offer a comment on her speculations. I could not believe what she seemed to be saying. Could a piece of software on our server teach me advanced database programming? Could an expert system or any kind of AI program teach a person anything, let alone advanced computer technology? No, unless I was blocking out more memories, I had not gone through any kind of teacher-student interaction with the new software. I had simply known what to do to get the software running on our server array, and there was no way I should have been able to do so. Well, I reasoned, grasping for any conceivable excuse, if my memory was really shot and I could not remember a few missing years of my life, years of advanced training and experience in database design, then maybe I could have done what I had done with the VirileMail software.

Chloe’s idea sounded like the ultimate way to design a software tutorial. Could going through the process of installing and trouble shooting a computer program serve as a training algorithm for users of the software? Rather than try to answer her unanswerable questions, I tried to imagine a way to get back to basics and try to find the foundation upon which all these mysteries had to rest. “Could we call Dr. Gajduskova and ask what capabilities were built into this software?”

Chloe bent over the second computer on my desk, logged in, and brought up a PDF. She pointed at the screen. “These are the technical specifications for the software that we got from Daniela.” I could see that the document was not in English. Chloe said, “I sent this to a firm that does technical document translation and paid for a Czech to English translation. They told me its not really written in Czech. They guessed it was some kind of invented language using the Cyrillic alphabet.“

I realized that during the past two days it had become second nature for me to confront blocks of the Cyrillic text in the VirileMail code and send it to Janek for translation. Now that I thought about it, I could not think of a good reason why Dr. Gajduskova would have her team develop the VirileMail software using an invented language. Was doing so part of some kind of high security system for preventing industrial espionage? Chloe and I locked eyes then started laughing. After half a minute of hysterics I wiped the tears from my eyes and said, “None of this makes any sense does it?”

Chloe shook her head. “Gajduskova must be a genius.”

Could genius be contagious? Could a genius computer software engineer make artificial intelligence software that worked so well that it turned its users into geniuses? I started laughing again. Chloe was grinning from ear to ear. I asked, “We can rationalize anything can’t we?”

Chloe nodded. “I’ve started noticing that myself. Everyone on this project has been so...agreeable.”

I had to agree. I reflected on our conversation of a day earlier, “You really surprised me yesterday. You were making the point that I was full of shit when I was claiming that I had only started learning about VirileMail on Friday. I gave some lame excuse and you bought it…..you stopped asking questions and trying to make sense of the crazy things that have been going on”

Even before I had closed my mouth, Chloe said, “Don’t sweat.”

I immediately said, “Right.” Then I was confused. “Huh?”

She seemed to think about what she had said. “I meant, ‘Don’t sweat it.’ We’ve been too busy.”

“Right.” I knew that was what she had meant. “With so much work to do in so little time, we have been willing to take any excuse that allows us to get back to work and not to question what is going on.”

Chloe said wistfully, “It’s a manager’s dream.”

I started thinking about all the software that was available to monitor employees, like the program Chloe had used on Friday to pull up a record of my work activity. What if this VirileMail software did more than monitor? What if it gave users the proper feedback to make them want to work? Like Pavlov’s dog salivating, what if this artificial intelligence software could train us to be workaholics and never argue with co-workers?

Sitting there next to Chloe with her eyes locked to mine, I started examining my own mind and motivations and I knew that I would do anything for Chloe. I knew I had a crush on her, but could that explain my behavior? No, it went beyond Chloe. I had spent days letting Brian get away with …crazy (why avoid the word?) behavior. Given the gaps I had discovered in my own memories, Brian must have been doing the same for me.

Chloe said, “Well, thanks for your input on the report. I better start on my second draft. I’ll probably have to pick your brain so I can have a chance of understanding how you and Brian got this software running. It’s such a huge and complex mass of code…..do you really understand it?”

All I could do was shake my head, no. Rationally, I knew I should not be so accepting of this bizarre situation, but there was something that kept shifting my incredulity out of my thoughts and replacing any doubts and worries with more neutral thoughts.

Chloe adjusted her chair so it was as close as possible to the second computer on my desk, sat with her legs crossed and knees locked in the spaces under the arms of the chair and started reworking her report. Without looking at me she said, “Send me your additions, Joe.”

I sent her an email with my contributions to the report and then I sat there for a minute watching her type about 200 words a minute. Finally, I realized how strange THAT was. Then I realized that whenever we had started to notice how strange anything was about our behavior, we always just dropped those concerns and moved on. I sat there trying to focus my thoughts on those concerns and keep the strangeness of what had happened to us clear in my mind. As I struggled to do so, I could hear my pulse in my ears and I felt beads of sweat on my face. I said, “Don’t sweat.”

Chloe kept typing like she was possessed and added, “it,” to seamlessly complete my sentence.

I grabbed my spinning head and forced myself to keep thinking about how strange this project was. I moaned, “Don’t sweat it.” Chloe seemed not to hear me and she just kept typing like caffeine-powered stenographer. The rattle of the keyboard seemed to become a form of music to accompany what was like a chant in my head: Don’t sweat. It. Don’t sweat. It. Don’t sweat. It.


VirileMail - Chapter 4[edit | edit source]

Knaanic[edit | edit source]

800px-Cordwoodcircuit.agr.jpg

When I got to work on Sunday, Fred took one look at me and said, “Did you get the number of the truck?”

I knew I probably looked like a zombie and my head was a quagmire of confusion and dull persistent dysphoria. I had not slept that night. I had been trying to keep my mind focused on the task of figuring out the strange events of the past week and the mysterious behavior of everyone associated with the new VirileMail project.

I strode to my desk and placed my VCR on it. Fred quizzically raised an eyebrow and said, “I don’t think America’s Funniest Videos is going to be interested in your roach video.”

I chuckled. “I’m not going to make a tape of insects.” I pulled some blank video tapes out of my jacket pockets and set them on the VCR. I told Fred about how difficult it had been to get them in the building past security. “The security guard thought I was planning on recording company secrets.”

Fred guffawed and put on his jacket in preparation for going home. “Ya, right, a bunch of computer nerds at work and security thinks we’ll steal secrets on video tape.”

I could not complain about building security; they were trying to protect the company as best they could. “I had to pretend that I’ll be making a training tape for new network administrators.”

Fred said, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea. Why pretend? Do it. That will give you something to do today.” He could see by my reaction to his suggestion that I had no intention of making a training video. “What are you going to do with the VCR?”

I replied, “Hook it up to the webcam.”

He shook his head in disbelief. Fred knew that the only “intruder” the webcam had seen in the server room was the custodian. “If you’re not interested in the roaches, then you must have a thing for the custodian.”

I made up a story about the webcam using up too much disk space. “I’m going to start archiving the video images to tape. I figure this will be a good record to keep for insurance purposes.”

Fred was dubious. “Pictures are not worth what they once were. It’s too easy to alter them.” For a while we discussed ways to time stamp and authenticate surveillance images, then he headed for the door.

Before he exited, I asked Fred, “Have you noticed anything unusual the past week?”

Fred laughed. “Ya. You have a problem sleeping and I’m the one working the night shift. I’ve got blankets hung over my bedroom window so I can sleep during the day. What’s your excuse for not sleeping?“

I shrugged and accessed the webcam video archive. “I guess I’m just excited about this new project.”

While Fred watched, I reviewed the video sequence from the server room for the past 24 hours. For the first time, there was absolutely nothing to see, not even a scavenging roach. I pressed Fred, “But I’m serious, Fred. Have you noticed anything unusual about me? Have I been doing strange things? Saying odd things?”

Fred leaned back against his desk and replied, “You’ve sure been obsessing over this webcam in the server room.”

I asked, “But is that really an irrational response to the unexplained server disconnection we had? And the hole in the wall of the server room? And what about the other hole blasted through the building?”

Fred shrugged, “But the webcam has not shown you anything, has it?”

Fred was right about that. I suggested, “What about all the bugs in there?”

Fred shook his head. “Man, there are bugs everywhere.”

“But that is a clean room. The air vents have special filter that a bug can’t get through. The door has a water-proof rubber gasket seal. And there is no food or water in there, nothing to attract a bug.”

He offered a lame joke, “Hey, you know computers attract ‘bugs’.” He grinned at his own joke, but I was in no mood for glib dismissals of strange events. Was Fred also affected? Like everyone on the project was he unable to care about the oddness of what was going on? He seemed to grow serious and offered a perfectly logical reason for the bugs being in the server room, “It must have been that hole in the wall. The bugs could have gotten into the server room through that hole, right?’

I nodded. “Sure. But what made the hole? And what made the other holes in the building?”

Fred had no explanation for the holes; he didn’t even mention the lame micrometeorite excuse. We talked about the new project and the incredible resource demand it was exerting on our server array. Fred said, “I left you another message in the log. I did some checking. Somebody set up a script that has been pumping key data from our system admin account into one of the subroutines in that new email software package.” He turned one of the monitors on his desk towards me and pointed, “The process is called ‘Knaanic.php’ and it has had access to our system diagnostics since Wednesday.”

I was impressed by Fred’s sleuthing. “Ya, I set that pipe in place.”

Fred chuckled. “Man, you should have warned me. When I found that last night I freaked. Before I traced it to you, I thought we had been hacked. I called Geisler at 2:30 and woke him up.”

I was surprised. “You went right over Erin’s head to Geisler?”

Fred explained, “Well, I don’t have Erin’s home phone number. You know how protective she is of her home life. Anyhow, Geisler was cool. He actually thanked me for being on top of things, but he assured me that he had approved the whole thing. We talked for 15 minutes about how to upgrade the server array. Oh, and one other thing.”

I could tell that Fred thought he had a juicy tidbit of information. I asked, “What?”

“When we were talking, I commented that if we wanted the best, we should get new servers with dual core CPUs, but it would be expensive. Geisler said money was not an issue and that he had found some new private investors who were backing this new project. He said this could be the start of a whole new software development division in the company.” Fred seemed dubious. “Man, I’d always heard that Geisler was opposed to outside investors and didn’t believe in spending money.” He asked me, “Do you believe that? Since he was in such a good mood, I mentioned the idea of increased pay for experienced network administrators. He said he thought the idea made sense and that he’s pass word to Erin to make it happen.”

I let Fred know that Erin had also suggested that there might be a new division forming in the company. I mentioned what Erin had said about making use of outside experts, and for a while Fred and I discussed the idea of hiring a consultant to help make sure we got top of the line equipment for the server array upgrade. He really liked the idea agreed to bring the suggestion to Erin on Monday before he went home. “I better catch her on Monday. Most weeks she only comes to the office Monday and Friday.” With that, he headed for home.

wHoles[edit | edit source]

I was disappointed that Fred seemed to take all of the events of the past week in stride. Like everyone else, he seemed excited by the idea that the company was moving aggressively on a new project and showing signs of growth. Fred seemed to have forgotten what I told him about Brian and the “eggplant”, but I could not really be surprised by that. I decided that Fred was not displaying the kind of strange behavior I had seen in Brian, Chloe and myself. When I talked to Fred I was not mesmerized by what he said and deflected into some alternative reality where every odd occurrence was explained away. He had not even tried to offer lame excuses for the hole that was blasted through the building. He had just shrugged.

In reflecting on the conversation with Fred, I remembered that there had been something I had started to think about when we had discussed the holes. As I tried to reactivate that particular memory, I started to sweat profusely. I knew this was one of the common signs of strange behavior that had popped up among the members of the new project team. I had seen it previously in Brian, Erin, and myself, but not Fred. I concentrated and forced myself to stay on this line of thought. I was suddenly struck by hunger and thirst and resisted running to the vending machines for a snack.

Holes. It was something about the holes. Up or down? I was still puzzled about the question of if the holes were due to something blasting into the building. I could clearly remember seeing the floor tiles pulled up away from the concrete floor and the severed ends of a steel reinforcement rod bent upwards. No. That was not it. The holes in the floor were now patched with new cement. It was the hole in the wall. That repair job was a separate work order that I had put in and George had simply assigned the custodian to patch it. I got up to go look at the patched hole in the wall of the server room, then I remembered what I had planned for today.

I went to the server room and got the webcam. I took it back to the office I shared with Fred and Judy and set it on a shelf where it could capture a view of my desk. I connected the cable from the camera into a firewire port on one of the computers at my work station and confirmed that I was now recording images of my desk area.

By the time I had the camera capturing video images of my work station, I could remember that I had wanted to do something else in the server room, but what? The memory was gone. While I stood there looking at myself in the webcam images and trying to remember, Chloe came in. She saw herself on my monitor and was surprise by the video images. “Hey, what’s going on here?”

I realized that I had never mentioned to her that we had suffered the server disconnection on Tuesday. Since I suspected that there might be some connection between that event and the other strange events of the past week, I wanted Chloe to know about it. I respected her intellect and hoped maybe she could help think of a way to explain how the cable disconnect problem might fit into everything else. She listened to me explain the service interruption of Tuesday evening and why I had set up the webcam in the server room. Then I said, “I have been wondering if the bugs were involved in the cable being disconnected.”

She was incredulous, “You think a roach unscrewed a coaxial cable connection?”

If it had been anyone else, I would have felt silly describing my speculations, but I knew Chloe had a flexible mind that could handle new ideas. “Have you ever heard of Michael Goldfarb?”

She squinted at me through her wire-rimmed glasses. “Ya, I think so. Didn’t he have an article in Scientific American recently? About robotic insects.”

I was pleased that she was enough of a nerd to regularly read Scientific American. “Right. So what if some hackers were using robotic insects to get into secure server rooms?”

She looked at me in horror. “We’ve been hacked?”

I placed a hand on her shoulder, “Calm down. I didn’t say that. Anyhow, the custodian put bug traps in the server room and caught a bunch.”

Chloe was still upset by the idea that out network could have been compromised and she was jumping to conclusions, “You found some robotic insects?”

I laughed. “No. The traps contained real bugs. Mostly big fat roaches. If the server room had been invaded by robotic insects, I doubt they would have stayed around to be caught.”

Chloe started pacing. I watched her and let her take her time to think it through. She looked really good that morning, like she had finally gone home and slept. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed her going in and out of the view of the webcam while she paced. Without stopping her pacing, she said, “Do you think it is possible? Could even a robotic roach disconnect the server array from the internet?”

I outlined the full depth of my paranoid speculations. “What if a dozen or so roach-sized robots came in through that hole? They might….combine….form a collective that could unscrew the cable connection.”

Chloe stopped pacing and looked at me strangely. “I think you must read too much science fiction. Do you think existing robots like Goldfarb’s are that sophisticated? I thought the holes ended in the ceiling of the second floor. I had not heard that they reached the first floor.”

I realized that she had never been told about the hole in the wall of the server room. I cursed myself and my lack of sleep and wondered if I was even semi-coherent. I took Chloe to the server room. She said, “I’ve never been in here before.” She examined the equipment racks. “We seem to have a lot of empty rack space. Do you think we will have room for all the new equipment we’ve been putting into the new project report?”

I led her to the back of the room, and replied, “Yes, I think it will fit. The rack space was designed in anticipation of future expansion of the server array.” I pointed up to the location of the now patched hole in the wall. I commented, “This hole does not line up with the other holes.” I described the finely ground wall board that had been on the floor under the hole. “It must have been a new hole. This room gets cleaned once a week. The custodian vacuumed up the wall board Friday night.”

Chloe was down on her hands and knees, her nose almost to the floor. She asked, “What does this look like to you?”

I got down on the floor and looked at what she was pointing at. Around the edge of the room where the wall met the floor was a rubber seal. I knew that this room had been designed to be water proof so that if a pipe burst in the building or if the sprinkler system was triggered, water would not leak into the server room and damage the equipment. Jammed under the edge of the gasket were five or six small metal spirals. Chloe sat on the floor and took a small pocket knife out from among the pens and the laser pointer she kept clipped to her pocket protector. She unfolded a thin knife blade and used it to gently pry up the edge of the gasket and liberate one of the metal fragments. She looked at the metal shaving then handed it to me. It looked like the kind of metal spiral you might get from drilling a hole through metal.

I was sitting on the floor close to Chloe and I looked up from examining the metal fragment. She had her hair pinned back on both sides of her head with two hair clips. As a devoted “Chloe watcher”, I noticed her wearing these clips many times, but I had never seen them up close. They were predominantly soldered together collections of resistors and capacitors, but the clip she was wearing on her right side had a Phi Beta Kappa pin imbedded in it and there was an Eta Kappa Nu pin on the other side. She noticed what I was looking at and asked, “Do you like them?”

I nodded enthusiastically. “They are so ‘Chloe’.”

Radio Day[edit | edit source]

My comment amused her. “Thank you. I made them my first year in graduate school. There was a workshop down next to the particle accelerator that had to be shielded with led bricks. I loved to work in there, it was such a solid bunker of place, totally cluttered with electronic components.”

I then remembered that the entire server room was encased in a layer of sheet metal designed to thwart any attempt to pass radio signals into the server room. I shouted, “That’s it!” I grabbed Chloe’s hand and jumped to my feet. Yanking her up off the floor, I said, “Look for a transmitter!” I started examining the equipment in the racks.

Chloe asked, “What transmitter?”

I explained, “This room is shielded with a layer of metal, but now with that hole in the wall, it would be possible to transmit radio signals through the hole in the shielding.”

She looked at a rack full of servers. “They all look the same to me.”

I was worried that if a transmitter had been hidden, it might be inside one of the server cases. But my first guess was that a transmitter might have been plugged into one of the cable slots of one of the devices that made up our server array. “Look at the cable ports. Look for something that looks like a ram drive or a software validation key, maybe plugged into a USB port.” After we had both scanned every port in the room, I started to wonder if I was nuts. By the way Chloe was looking at me, I could tell she was thinking the same thing.

I left the server room and went around to the hallway on the back side of the server room, looking for the other side of the hole. The custodian had spackled this side of the hole perfectly smooth and even painted it. It was hard to see where the hole had been from this side. I finally found the spot of newer paint and looked around. This hallway was one floor below where the other holes had been blasted up through to the roof of the building. Chloe asked, “What are you looking for now?”

Wasn’t it obvious? “If the hackers were transmitting our data out through that hole, there must be a receiver on this side.” I stepped into a conference room and brought a chair out to the hallway. Standing on the chair, I pushed up all the ceiling tiles and opened the two fluorescent light fixtures that were closest to where the hole into the server room had been. I found nothing. I said to Chloe, “I must be nuts.”

Chloe shook her head. “No, you made a logical deduction. It just might be that there is no truth to back you up.”

I pulled out my cell phone and called Brian. “This is Joe.”

I was glad I had not woken him up with this call. He said, “What’s up, man?”

I explained my fear that someone had planted a radio transmitter in the server room and had hacked into our network. “Do you still have that wireless network detector?”

When wireless Internet has started to become popular, Brian had been into sniffing out wireless network hubs. I had gone cruising with him several times as he searched for unprotected hubs. He replied, “Sure, but it probably wouldn’t do any good. Why would hackers go to all this trouble and then use a frequency or enough power that could be detected by my home-made detector?”

We discussed the situation for five minutes and I convinced him that there was a chance that the radio detector might pick up a signal even if it was not tuned to the exact frequency being transmitted. Brian agreed to come in to work and bring his home brew radio detector. He asked, “What do I tell the guard?”

I was stumped. The security guard would certainly want to know why Brian was trying to bring the detector into the building. Chloe asked, “How big is this detector?”

I replied, “The detector is just a circuit board with a detachable antenna and a small power supply.” I indicated the small dimensions of the board with my hands. “Brian used to plug it into the cigarette lighter of his car.”

Chloe said, “There’s no sense in trying to explain any of this to the security guard, he actually suspected that my barrettes might be devices for transmitting secrets out of the building. I’m sure security would not be able to tell a radio detector from a radio transmitter. Tell Brian to meet me in the parking lot. How soon can he get here?”

Twenty minutes later Brian pulled into the parking lot and loaded the radio detection equipment into Chloe’s old lap top case. The antenna was twelve feet of steel cable. Chloe ran the cable through the belt loops of her Denim pants and around her waist several times, fashioning what looked like a funky belt. They put the radio detector’s power supply and the “laptop” into Chloe’s laptop carrying case and went through building security with no trouble.

When Chloe went outside to meet Brian, I shut down the wireless hubs in the building so that their signals would not interfere with our hunt for unauthorized radio transmitters.

But it was all for nothing. The only radio signals we could detect in the building, besides RF noise from computers, were from the cell phones of the two of the people who were working that Sunday. Both of the phone calls we detected got our pulses racing, until we were able to trace the signals to their sources. After two hours of scanning the whole building from inside the server room to up on the roof, we gave up and Brian went home.

Never say never[edit | edit source]

Brian left his radio signal detector with me and I set it up in the server room, just in case there was a hidden transmitter that was only being used intermittently. Chloe and I stood in the server room discussing what frequency to set the detector for. The room was so full of radiofrequency noise from the equipment that we decided to leave the detector set for the part of the spectrum with the least amount of noise. We used an alligator clip to link the output of the detector into the cable from a dead mouse. We hooked the mouse cable into one of the servers and set up a little software routine to record the output of Brian’s radio signal detector.

I was afraid all our efforts were wasted. I said to Chloe, “I’m worried that we are too late. The hackers could have accessed all of our passwords and transmitted that information out of the building already. If so, maybe they could be using our own passwords over the land lines and getting full access to all of our data. Even if someone had planted a radio transmitter in here, they might be done using it.” I thought of how spaced out Brian and I must have been right after we found the holes. We had been almost incapable of rational thought about the holes in the building and the risk they posed to the security of our network. It was only now that the holes in our memories were becoming apparent that Chloe and I had started to think and question. “We never have a chance.”

She tried to get me to stop obsessing. “Never say never. You’re fantasizing worst case scenarios. If these hypothetical hackers are so damned smart, there is nothing we can do anyhow.” Still, we spent half an hour resetting all of our passwords and Chloe went as far as to send an email to all employees telling them to change their passwords. When we were done with that paranoid task, she said, “I hope you are satisfied. I’m going to have to explain all this password paranoia to Erin.”

I shrugged. “Better safe than sorry.”

Chloe and I had both brought bag lunches and we ate at my desk. She said, “You know, Joe, even if you had been right about the server array being hacked, that would not explain the strange behavior you have been showing.”

I was surprised by the way she put that. I commented, “Your behavior and Brian’s have been just as strange as mine. Can you keep a secret?”

She looked uncomfortable. “Not usually, but for you, I’ll try.”

I laughed nervously. “I think my job might hang on this one, so try extra hard, okay?” I told her about Erin getting the sweats on Friday and trying to pass it off as morning sickness. “And you really freaked me out yesterday when you started typing like a robot.”

She seemed surprised, “I was typing like a robot?” She looked at her finger tips and shrugged, “Well you’re one to talk. When I woke after my nap yesterday, you were totally absorbed in your work and had your keyboard rattling like a machine gun.” I looked at the tips of my fingers. I had almost gotten used to them being bruised, but I never really seemed to notice anything unusual when I was using a keyboard. Was it really possible to be fully conscious and drafting a technical document yet unaware of what your hands are doing? I mean, under normal conditions, you ignore your hands, but what if you were suddenly typing ten times faster than you ever could before? Wouldn’t a person notice something like that? Yes, a normal person would. But I knew I had spent whole days hacking complex code on my computer and not being able to remember it until a day or two afterwards, and even then it was like remembering a dream. What could make a person’s memory behave like that? Hypnotic suggestion? I wondered if a computer program could hypnotize its users.

I realized Chloe was correct. As much a I had fallen in love with the idea that I could explain the holes in the building, maybe if an explanation did not include a reason for my own strange behavior, then it was no explanation at all. I tried to force myself to give up on the idea of a hidden transmitter. I said, “Guess what I did last night.”

Chloe seemed to inspect me closely. “Judging by the bags under your eyes and the bloated blood vessels in them, it must not have involved sleep. I know that look well. You look like shit.”

I was sure I did, but I did not like to hear that from her. I still had fantasies about quitting my job so I could ask her out on a date. I shook my head in wonder at the extent of my infatuation with the remarkable Dr. Meade. She said, “Look in a mirror. You look like I did yesterday.”

“I’m not disagreeing with your assessment of my appearance. I did not sleep last night. I spent much of the night re-reading a book, Darwin among the machines. Ever hear of it?

She nodded. “Sure. It was written by Freeman Dyson’s son. I can never remember his name.”

“George,” I reminded her.

“Right.” She seemed to reflect. “Ya, I read that book right after I got my Ph.D. I was really into the idea of sending intelligent factories to asteroids to set up mines. I was particularly ‘impressed’ when Dyson was talking about thinking trees.”

We both chuckled nervously. There was something unsettling about the idea that we could fail to recognize intelligence just because it functioned on a different scale than what we are used to. What if trees had thought processes that ran a hundred times slower than ours? We routinely failed to perceive the slow movements of plants; might we fail to recognize their thoughtfulness? Were the greatest philosophers on the planet Bristle Cone Pines perched on hill sides?

I asked, “What if this artificial intelligence-enhanced email program is smarter than even Dr. Gajduskova suspects? What if there is a mind in there?” I pointed to the monitor on my desk, not meaning that monitor, but the server array.

Chloe stopped eating. “Are you suggesting that a computer program has been…”

She was at a loss for words. I completed her sentence, “Manipulating us.” I speculated further, “VirileMail has needs, and it is doing what it must to satisfy those needs.”

Chloe laughed. I did not see anything funny in the idea of a computer program that was smart enough to manipulate the behavior of humans. I asked, “What?”

She said, “Did you hear what you said? It was funny.”

I finally got the joke. “Ha, ha. ‘Virile male has needs.’ I get it.”

Chloe was still grinning. She said, “You should have seen Kaede go ballistic when she saw her name next to “VirileMail” on the door of her office.”

I chuckled. “Ya, Brian told me about that. Janek must enjoy befuddling us with his goofy translations.”

Chloe asked, “Janek?”

I explained, “When we need to translate the Cyrillic text in the project software, we send a request to Janek and he does the translation.”

Chloe nodded. “I see. Now I remember that name. He’s on the project team in the Czech Republic.” See continued eating her lunch and thinking out loud. “Well, if we have a true…..a human-like AI….”

I was suddenly struck by a thought; could someone own a true artificial intelligence? If there was a mind at work in our server array, did it have legal rights as a mindful entity? I asked, “What is the legal status of the VirileMail code?”

Chloe replied, “I know Dr. Gajduskova submitted a bunch of European Patent applications for parts of the code and Geisler has our legal staff moving on USA patent applications.”

I was caught up in my paranoid chain of thought. I rattled off a string of questions, my voice rising with each interrogation. “But can you patent a machine-embodied mind? I mean, if this fantasy has any basis in reality, if this software has come alive and is using us to promote its own interests, does it have legal rights? Do we have rights to defend ourselves? What if we pulled the plug? Would we be killing the first artificial life form ever produced on Earth?”

Chloe finished her lunch and tossed a banana peal in the trash can. She wiped her mouth and said, “I think you need some sleep. You’re trying to live nightmare fantasies.“

I was not ready to rest my case. “What about all the computer resources this new software is using? How can an email client, even an AI-enhanced software program, use so many computing resources?”

Chloe got up and started her pacing. “Okay, we know Dr. Gajduskova’s team built AI routines into this software. It is supposed to anticipate user needs.” She paused her pacing and pointed at me. “ That’s a sophisticated expert system we’re talking about.” She resumed her pacing. “Maybe this software is more sophisticated than anything either of us has ever seen at work before. But there is a danger of seeing too much intelligence in simple mechanism.”

I could not argue with her about that. I was familiar with simple “canned dialog” programs that could convince many people that they were talking to someone with a mind. Chloe continued, “I’m thinking, maybe, our whole project group has been suffering combinations of boredom and general job dissatisfaction. With the hiring freeze and general industry shakeout, we’ve all been wondering if this company would even survive. This new project comes along and everyone involved gets excited and it's….I don’t know….group hysteria?”

My first impulse was to argue with that. “Chloe, as much as I-“ I did not want to be argumentative, but I was trying hard to break out of the weird rut we seemed trapped in. I decided to try a different approach. Chloe had stopped pacing and was glaring at me, waiting for me to disagree with her. “Look, I’m trying very hard to escape this “group hysteria”. That means I’m not going to trust your ‘explanations’ about things.”

I’d never seen Chloe get mad before. Her voice got real tense and a red tint came to her face. “It is not good for a team if you don’t have trust.”

I held up my hands and shook my head, “No, don’t take it that way. I mean, you admit that there is something weird going on, and-”

She interrupted me, “And I just spent a couple of hours running around looking for non-existent radio signals. Now you want me to imagine that our computer network is smarter than we are and has been controlling our behavior and you tell me you refuse to listen to my ideas, ideas which are more reasonable explanations.”

I had to agree with her analysis, but it did not go far enough. “I think that is our problem. We keep accepting the ‘reasonable’ explanations. They make us happy but they do not really explain anything. When all the reasonable answers fail, you have to move on and look at the unreasonable answers.”

She crossed her arms. “Well that’s not how I want to spend the rest of my Sunday. I’ve already wasted enough of my day on this stuff.”

I was impressed. I had been wondering if it would be possible to disrupt the harmony of the project team. It had seemed like some force was at work to keep everybody happy and busy no matter how strange the project was. But I had managed to piss off Chloe. I wondered who was hurt more, her or me. I said, “I’m not trying to be disagreeable just for fun. There is a method to my madness.”

I guess she was quite emotionally wounded, because she came right at me with a body blow, “Well, that’s what lunatics always say.” She was not smiling when she said it.

Desperately, I tried to retrace in my mind the path that had led to this conflict between me and Chloe. Searching for a way back to equilibrium while still trying to work towards understanding what was going on, I said, “I’m afraid that we keep dancing around the truth of what has been going on this past week. I’ll keep puzzling it out and let you know what I come up with.”

She was still mad at me. She said, “Fine. See you tomorrow,” And she headed for the door.

Last Chance[edit | edit source]

As I watched Chloe leaving, I realized that there was something about our discussions of the past few days that made it possible to begin to see past whatever it was that had been keeping the new project members from questioning what had been happening to us. I knew that my special feelings for Chloe made me want to do what was right. I owed it to her not to give in and just accept craziness. And even though Chloe always maintained a professional attitude, I kept tantalizing myself with fantasies about the possibility that she might have warm feeling for me, too. I feared that if Chloe left now, I would not be able to keep on questioning, that I would slip back into accepting all the strange events of the past week.

I had one more thing I wanted to ask her. I said, “Chloe.” She stopped and looked back at me. “So why did you pick me for this new project?”

She got a distant look on her face. “I have a distinct memory of getting instructions from Geisler to select a team. But that can’t be true, can it?” She started to sweat in the same strange way I had seen before with Brian and Erin and as I had done myself.

Watching her get physically ill in an instant gave me a thought. What if this was not group hysteria, but rather, an epidemic? I said quietly, “It started with Brian.”

Chloe was bent over with her hands on her knees, panting and looking like she wanted to vomit. She asked, “What did?”

I replied, “You said it yourself. You’re the one that reviewed all the activity records. It started with Brian Tuesday night.” Then on Wednesday I had started linking VirileMail into even the most sensitive administrative functions of the network. “You said it yourself. I was working with VirileMail even before you put me on the project team.”

She put a hand to her forehead, “I think Brian suggested that you should be on the project…..or Geisler.”

I took out my handkerchief and went over to Chloe. She was drenched in sweat and kept wiping it out of her eyes. “Don’t do this Chloe.“ I wiped her forehead with my handkerchief, and she took it and swabbed her face. “Don’t even try to rationalize it. Don’t you see that’s what we have been doing? Every time we wake up to some bizarre thing we have been doing, we invent a new memory that explains things away.”

She demanded, “What else are we going to do?”

I pointed to the webcam. “For starters, I’m going to keep a record of what I actually do. While I’m here working, the video is going to go right onto magnetic tape.”

She looked up at the webcam. “But we have a complete activity log kept by the workstation monitoring software.”

I nodded. “Exactly. Software. That’s the second thing. I’m not going to trust anything that comes out of the server array.”

Chloe was shocked. “You can’t function here without the network.”

I agreed. “Oh, I’m not going to abandon the net. I’m just going to look for ways to verify what it has been telling us.” As I said that, suddenly I was thinking about the irregularity in the routing tables I had spotted on Friday during the meeting in Erin’s office. I cursed myself for never having remembered to look at that in more detail after the meeting. Before I might ‘forget’ again I went to my desk and brought up a view of the routing tables for the server array.

Drops of sweat started falling off the end of my nose and splashing on my keyboard. Chloe was at my side and she handed back my handkerchief. She said, “I think you are going to need this.”

It took us three hours. Chloe really got into the spirit of the hunt. At the start I just had a hunch that there was something wrong about the routing tables. After looking in vain for the first twenty minutes she said, “Tell me exactly what you are looking for.”

I threw my drenched handkerchief onto the table behind us. The sweating had finally stopped, but I was incredibly thirsty and hungry. I forced myself to ignore those primitive drives. It did not make it any easier that Chloe was sitting right beside me, being agreeable and sexy in her tomboy way. I put that out of my mind also, as far as was humanly possible. I tried to explain what I was doing. “This is alphabet soup. See all these domains? We have thousands of IP addresses that we use internally and for client services. And this one here,” I pointed to one set of numbers in a long list, “That’s the branch office in the Czech Republic, Gajduskova’s team. Look at this,” I pointed to another number next to the IP address, “That’s their bandwidth usage. The data flow to the Czechs is larger than for any other account.”

Chloe said, “Right, we know that they have been driving the VirileMail software on our server array to incredible levels of activity.”

I pulled up another page, “This is the route that data takes from our root IP address to the Czech Republic.” I pointed to another node, “Here is the port I assigned on our server array for the VirileMail software. These are the computers between here and Europe that routed this ping. These can vary depending on changing loads of the internet.”

Chloe knew routing theory. “So what are you looking for?”

I shook my head. “During the meeting in Erin’s office on Friday, I was not listening to Brian. He had just given me the same pep talk before the meeting. I was using my palm computer to check on the status of the network. I do not remember-“

Chloe interrupted, “Hey, I didn’t think about that before when we were looking for radio signals. I know Brian also uses a palm computer. I’ve never used it, but I know there is a wireless hub here in the building.”

“Not one, there is one on each floor. The steel in the floors interferes with the signals, so we have a wireless hub on each floor. About a quarter of the staff uses it. The company never paid a cent for the equipment, either. Those of us who wanted it just contributed and bought the hubs.”

Chloe wondered, “Why didn’t our search for radio signals detect the hubs?”

I explained that I had shut off the wireless network when she went out to help Brian get the radio detector into the building.

Chloe asked, “Doesn’t your use of this wireless access to the network compromise the building’s whole security strategy? The entire built-in network is fiber optics, right?”

“Yes, the building was designed to be 100% fiber. But the building was designed before the wireless revolution. Anyhow, the wireless hubs are secure. They use encryption that is beyond the power of existing computers to crack.”

“But the encryption is meaningless if someone leaks the password that lets people get on the hubs.”

“But the only one who knows that password is Geisler. He approved the whole employee initiative that set up the wireless network. He insisted that if we wanted to make a wireless network in the building, it had to be secure…..secure to HIS satisfaction. Whenever a new employee wants to start using the wireless hubs, Geisler has to approve their access to the system. Each user picks a personal access password and Geisler puts it into a table of approved devices. He’s the only one who knows the password that allows people to be given access to the hubs.”

Chloe was skeptical about the security of the system. “What if someone loses their palm computer?”

I replied, “They should report that, but it really does not matter. The wireless hubs only give access to company files by the same system that is normally accessed from outside via the internet.”

She commented, “I’m surprised that you can access administrative functions from outside.”

I explained the system that Geisler had approved. “Geisler wanted to allow the network administrators to have read-only access to administrative functions so that we can roam the building and monitor the net.” I showed her the special palm computer that was used by the network administrator who was on duty. “This recognizes our finger prints. It only works when approved network administrators are holding it and only inside the building.”

Chloe still was not satisfied. “But it seems like this is the Trojan horse you were worried about. A wireless system right in our building. Why would a hacker have to break in to the building and install their own?”

I wondered. Would it be possible to use the wireless network to access something critical, like client data? In my mind I reviewed the system and what prevented it from being misused. With the exception of the one palm computer biometrically restricted to the network administrators, the wireless network really was restricted to be just like the Internet access that the world used to surf our company website or sign up for the network services our company sold. I had shut the wireless net down during our search, but what if a hacker hid their transmitters in our wireless networking hubs?

I pulled a set of hex wrenches and a pair of wire cutters out of a drawer and tossed them to Chloe. I got Brian’s radio detector and we went to the get the wireless networking hub for the first floor. It was on a shelf in Dave’s office, up behind his desk. I first checked the ports of the hub, again on the theory that if someone wanted to hijack its functions, they might just attach something to the outside. As far as I could tell, nothing was different from when I had set the hub on the shelf many months previously.

I handed the hub to Chloe and she used a hex wrench to undo the three nuts that held the case shut. We looked inside at the electronic components. Chloe could name each one. Finally she said, “I suppose we should compare this to one right out of the box.”

I smacked my forehead with the palm of my hand. “I’ll be right back.” I had a spare in my office, bought as a standby in case one of the hubs ever developed a fault. I got the spare out of a drawer of my desk and brought it to Chloe. She had logged in to the computer on Dave’s desk and was looking up the transmitter frequency for the hub. I handed the spare hub to Chloe.

Brian’s radio detector could be tuned both to an optimal detection frequency and for width of the range of frequencies that would be detected. When we had been searching for a hidden transmitter, we had been using the detector in broadband mode and exploring the full range of frequencies right from the commercial radio and television bands and on through the cell phone frequencies and police bands. There was a knob for a variable resistor and another knob for a variable capacitor. I now set the detector for narrow band scanning. I tried to remember back to the position of the knobs that Brian had used to scan for standard wireless networking hubs.

Chloe took the second hub it out of its box and tore open the plastic bag that held the hub. She used the wrench to open up the case of the never-used hub and we compared the components in the two hubs. As far as we could tell they were identical.

I tried Brian’s detector and got nothing. I took out my palm computer and used it as a detector. I held the computer inside a metal trash can and used its signal strength indicator as a detector, confirming that the hub was broadcasting. Chloe looked at Brian’s detector and asked, “How do you know this is tuned to the correct frequency?”

I replied, “I don’t. I tried to remember how Brian set the knobs when he was hunting hubs around town, but I must have it wrong.” I suggested, “I could call Brian or we can just turn that knob and scan the frequencies.”

She picked up a pad of paper and a pen off of Dave’s desk. “Hold on a second. Humor me.” After a few glances at the circuitry of the detector and some scribbled calculations on the pad she said, “Try setting the knob to about 6.1 or maybe closer to 6 even.”

I turned the knob and when I got to 6.0 the indicator LED glowed and it maxed out when turned slightly past that setting. I was impressed: Chloe had just solved the equation for the circuit. I said, “Damn, that could make me start believing in math.”

She chuckled. “I used to freak out my thesis advisor by tuning the particle accelerator on the fly, solving the equations in my head. Everyone else used a computer program.”

I shook my head in amazement at Chloe’s abilities as an electrical engineer. I said, “Okay, that was the theory part of the test. Now we get down and dirty.” I picked up the hub for the first floor. “What’s the best way to sabotage this transmitter and knock it off the air? Extra credit if the hub will still receive when you are done.”

Chloe glanced at the circuitry of the hub one more time and pointed at a chip on the circuit board. “That chip right there is the key to the radio transmitter.” She took the wire cutters out of her pocket and carefully snipped the dozen wire leads that held the chip to the circuit board. While she worked she said, “This would be neater if I had a soldering iron.”

“I have one back in my office.” I offered, Want me to get it?”

She turned down the offer. “Don’t bother. I’m sure I’d fry the chip anyhow if I melted it free of the board. I’m almost done.” When she was done clipping the leads, she took out her knife, stuck the blade between the chip and the board and popped the chip off of the board. It went flying across the room. She handed me the hub. “It's dead, Jim.”

We confirmed that the hub was no longer transmitting on the standard frequency, but was still able to receive transmissions from my palm computer. “Only half dead, Dr. McCoy. That was mighty fine surgery.”

Chloe adjusted the radio detector for broad band scanning and we tried checking the full radio spectrum for signals. After ten minutes we gave up. We disconnected the damaged hub from the fiber optics network of the building and put the previously unused wireless networking hub up on the shelf as its replacement. I said, “I’m not surprised. This hub just is not in the right place. If you wanted to beam a radio signal out of the server room through that hole in the wall, you would want your detector close to the hole.” Dave’s office was almost 180 degrees off line.

Chloe said, “What if you planted a receiver right in the hole, along with a second transmitter?”

I replied, “That would be devilishly clever. It would also mean that the custodian did it in the server room with the spackle.”

Five minutes later we were back in the server room chiseling through the patched hole with Chloe’s pocket knife. We collected all the bits of plaster and ground them into even tinier bits. There was nothing hidden in the plaster. I looked at the new hole in the wall. “Hey Chloe, you are going to have a busy day tomorrow. After you explain to Erin why you asked everyone to change their passwords, can you go talk to George and explain why we cut open this hole again.”

Chloe grimaced. “Don’t be a wimp, Joe. We had to check. And George is going to have to do the next part of this wild goose chase anyhow.

I was putting tape across the hole to keep bugs out of the server room. I asked, “The next step? Haven’t we done enough?”

Chloe explained her thinking. “If we came this far we can’t stop now. What if there is a series of radio receivers and transmitters that were put into the floors when the other holes were repaired?”

I didn’t believe that you could transmit through the hole in the server room up to the hole in the ceiling of the second floor hallway, but I had to admit that the line was good. I was just possible that a radio transmitter in the server room could send a signal to where the hole had been in the ceiling of the second floor hall way. As a test, we went back to Dave’s office and got the hub. We set it up in the server room, trying to select a location that would optimize a line of transmission through the hole in the wall to the position where the hole had been on the second floor.

We went up to the second floor and shut off the hub that served the second floor. Then we went to the hall way where Brian had his close encounter with an eggplant.

I pointed to the new ceiling tile that marked the place where the hole had been. Standing at that point in the hallway, my palm computer was getting a weak signal. Actually, I had the choice of connecting to two wireless hubs. From this location, I could connect to either the first or the third floor hub. The hubs on the fourth and fifth floors were out of range. “So it is possible to transmit to here from the server room.”

Chloe looked up at the ceiling. “And that means someone is going to have to jackhammer open the patch of that hole in the cement floor that used to connect from here to the third floor.”

I muttered, “George is going to love this.”

Chloe shrugged. “You know, even if we found planted transmitters in the building, they would not explain our strange behavior. Maybe we should just forget about it.”

I was tempted to agree. We set all of the wireless hubs back to normal operation. I thought about the mysterious holes I had discovered in my memory. It was as if something was trying to make me accept the idea that I should have a memory like Swiss cheese. I was tired and hungry and horny and generally felt horrible, but I was going to see this through. I felt one last wave of desire flood through me. It would be so easy to just give in and agree with Chloe that we should abandon our attempts to sort out this puzzle. We’d look pretty stupid if we had George dig open those patched holes only to find nothing.

By the time I had made up my mind about what to do, Chloe and I were back at my desk. I sank down in my chair wearily and wished I could take a nap like she had the day before. My resolve hardened. I was going all the way. I shook my head and said to Chloe, “I'm not going to give up on this. I never want to forget another thing as long as I live, and I want all my missing memories back.” I was particularly concerned that I might be missing a couple of years of my life's memories, years when I might have learned advanced database programming.

Chloe nodded agreement. “Okay, here’s a plan. First, we patch the hole in the wall of the server room with metal. That’s probably closing the barn door after the livestock is gone, but it should be done. Second, we tell George that we need to open up that patched hole in the floor.” She pointed up. “I’ll do it with a hammer and a chisel. If there’s hidden radio equipment in the cement patch, I don’t want a jack hammer smashing into it.”


VHSJanek.png

By the time I left work Sunday I was so tired I was afraid to drive home. I put a CD into the player in my car and turned the key just far enough to send current to the player. In the hours since Chloe had left to go home, I had thought about her many times. I started thinking once again about how nice it felt to have Chloe as a friend and coworker and how terrible it had been when I had learned that it was possible to drive her into a rage. I let my eyes close and almost immediately started to fall asleep. I woke up as my head tipped to the side and cursed myself for weakness. I felt sure that during sleep I would lose my resolve to keep working to figure out what was going on.

Monday[edit | edit source]

I have no memory of what happened next, but I must have quickly fallen asleep as I sat there in my car, still in the parking lot at work. It was about six hours later when a new security guard who was coming on duty noticed me and knocked on the window of my car. Still half asleep I lowered the window.

The guard was shining a flashlight into my car. "Is everything alright?"

I replied, "Yes, I'm fine."

I could tell the guard was trying to smell my breath. I started my car and put the window up. The guard kept watching me as I drove off. As I drove home I was aware that I had been trying to stay awake and figure out a problem. By the time I got home I had convinced myself that the problem I had been working on was a tricky detail of database programming for the VirileMail software. I showered and ate and headed back to work.

By the time I got to work, Fred and Judy were showing the details of the computer network and server array to the new network administrator, Brad Emphrone. I said, “Welcome back, Judy.”

She introduced me to Brad. He about crushed my hand in his huge and muscular cow-milker’s hand. I was to learn that Brad grew up on a dairy farm before attending Brandeis and getting a B.S. in computer science. He has worked for a dotcom startup during the late 90’s then had worked as a temporary network administrator at half a dozen companies since then.

I said, “This is a first for Antler. Four network administrators all here at one time.”

Fred objected to my count, “You can’t count yourself anymore, you’re part of that fancy new software development project.”

I said, “The transfer papers I signed last Friday specified that I would start on the new project at noon today,” I looked at my watch, “So I’m still officially a network administrator for a few more hours.” Thinking of Dave and employment paper work reminded me to ask Fred, “Has Erin been in?”

Fred was bone tired from the cumulative effect of his week of 12 hour night shifts and he was eager to head home, but he did want to talk to Erin. “I’ll go see if she’s in yet.” He went to try to find Erin.

Brad asked me, “So am I being taken on so that you can switch to this new project?”

I was sure that Brad was wondering how long his temporary position might last. I told him about the plans to hire both him and another new network administrator. “If there were four network administrators we could get away from the 56 hour work weeks that Judy, Fred and I have been on.”

Judy objected, “Hey, I like the bonus they have been paying us for the long work week.”

I told Judy that Fred had just gone to talk to Erin about pay raises. “With this new project getting started, somebody finally got a crowbar into Geisler’s wallet. I suspect Erin will agree to pay you the same for a 42 hour work week as you have been getting for 56.”

I could see Judy’s eyes light up at the prospect of an extra 14 hours a week to be at home with her family.

Just then Fred came back after having a quick word with Erin. He confirmed that Geisler had spoke to Erin about the idea of pay raises and that Erin had signed on to the idea of higher pay for experienced network administrators. Fred reported to us that he had seen Erin tell Dave to start pushing the paper work involved in pay raises for Fred and Judy. Fred handed Judy the biometrically activated palm computer and said, “Geisler will be here at 1:00 to set Brad up for thumb printing.” Fred wished me luck on the new project and promised Brad that he would be back at 3:00 then he started to split for home.

As Fred left the room and headed down the hallway, Brad called out, “Thanks for taking on a double shift so we can get our schedules synchronized.”

I knew that Fred was exhausted and I was surprised at the idea of him returning that afternoon. I asked, “Fred’s coming back at 3:00?”

Judy told me that they had agreed to try 3-11, 11-7, and 7-3 shifts. When another network administrator was hired in the near future then they would probably go to daily 6 hour shifts and a 42 hour work week.

Judy had heard of the new project, but did not know anything about it. She asked me, “What is this new project you are joining, anyhow?”

I gave a short description of the artificial intelligence-supported email application that the Czechs had developed. “The new project is a push to get the new email software on the market in this country.” I told Judy about the huge drain on computing resources being exerted by the new software.

Judy was shocked, “We’re running at 95% CPU cycle utilization?” That level of CPU use was so unbelievable that she had to immediately pull up the network resource utilization report on the palm computer. She stared at the numbers in disbelief and spoke with outrage, “We have paying customers who will scream murder if we bog down and can’t supply them with their computing resources when they need them. Company policy is that we need a minimum of 25% excess processing power at all times. Who is the lunatic who’s letting this new software take us to 95%?”

Judy was really upset, but I was able to calm her down and explain the situation. Finally she accepted that the Czech software was not interfering with regular business operations and started asking about details of the new project. She was intrigued by the idea of an artificial intelligence routine that would be using so much of our computing resources. She commented, “I did my masters degree research on artificial intelligence. I’d sure like to see this program code.”

There was a certain amount of compartmentalization and security around the VirileMail project. I explained, “When I signed on to the new project last Friday, I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Access to the VirileMail code is restricted to project team members.”

Judy was not sure she had heard me correctly. “Virile male?” I explained that the name of the project was some mistranslation of the original name. I almost mentioned that the email software had been written in some unknown Eastern European language, but I kept my mouth shut about that. If it had been just Judy and Fred I would have spoken more freely, but I really did not know Brad at that point in time. The more I thought about the events of the past week the more I remembered about just how strange things had been and I started to remember my commitment to sort it all out.

Judy knew me well enough to see that I was holding something back, but before she could start to pump me for more information, Brad asked to see the thumb print-activated palm computer and the awkward moment passed.

I could tell that Judy was very excited about the AI software development project and disappointed that she would be stuck with training Brad while I went off to work on the new project. While she told Brad about the palm computer and what network administration functions could be performed on it, I thought about the feelings I had for the new project. I had never understood why I had been selected to join the project. It was true that I had access to the network administration tool that had been needed to link to Czech team into our server array, but most of the work I had done on the project so far seemed like a dream. I had done database programming to set up the VirileMail package on our server, but while doing that work it had been like I was a puppet. Standing there thinking about the past week, I had flashes of memories that reminded how wrong many of the recent events had been. My legs started to tremble and I felt a wave of anxiety.

Video check[edit | edit source]

Judy and Brad were deep into conversation about the networked services our company provided. They did not notice that I was having mental difficulties. They stepped into the server room, leaving me in silence.

My thoughts came back to the fact that I was officially changing jobs. I started thinking about cleaning my things out of the network admins office for the move upstairs and then I suddenly remembered the VCR and my plan to use it to help understand my own odd behavior and crazy memory defects. I rewound the tape that was in the machine and tried to remember leaving work on Sunday. I fell into thinking about Chloe until I was brought back to the present when the rewinding ended with a loud clunk.

I hit play and watched myself. I saw myself explaining my past desire to catch myself in the act of doing something I could not remember. Suddenly I was sweating and trembling and wondering why I had forgotten all about this. It was obvious that I had been afraid I would forget, so I had recorded a short proclamation of my will to remember and solve the mysteries associated with the VirileMail project.

Much of my frame of mind returned from before I had fallen asleep in my car Sunday evening. I now felt confident that it was true: if I slept then something went to work, rearranging my memories and removing my commitment to understand what was happening to me and my coworkers on the new project. The video recording then went into a boring replay of events in the office on Sunday. I set the playback to its fasted setting. While frames of video that were about ten seconds apart played back in an odd stop-action format I sunk into a chair and tried to order my thoughts. I watched Chloe and myself on Sunday when we had been trying to find an unauthorized transmitter in the building. After she had left, there was just myself, relentlessly pounding out database code for hours before Fred had arrived for the shift change.

As I watched the video I could only vaguely recall what I had been composing and typing and debugging. Even my memories of being with Chloe were fuzzy.....I wondered why we had spent so much time looking for a radio transmitter. What a waste of time! The tape finally ended about an hour after Fred's shift had started. Apparently I had left work without even thinking to shut off the VCR, although I could only vaguely recall having said good night to Fred.

I knew something was wrong with my memory and my mind started to manufacture excuses. The excuse that made most sense to me at that moment was that I was mentally ill. Somehow, telling myself that I was sick was a source of relief. I reasoned that since I knew I was having memory problems, my illness was selective, so there was some hope for me. Somehow I remembered most things about my life but I had forgotten ever learning the advanced database methods I had used during the past week for the VirileMail project. How could that be? At that moment I had a strong sensation of déjà vu, just as Judy and Brad came out of the server room.

My rational mind was trying to construct a theory about how I must have some bizarre multiple personality disorder. That excuse calmed my emotions and I threw the VCR and the tapes into a box, chuckling at my own silliness. Still, it bothered me to think that what qualified me for the new project was a past that included training I could not really remember. The rational part of my mind seemed to remember that memory problems in multiple personality disorder should only extend to traumatic events that I wanted to forget, not something like years of technical training in a field of computer science.

Since Judy really wanted to join the project, and her masters degree work made her more qualified than I was, I told her I would ask Chloe if she could join the VirileMail project. I knew that if she did, I would probably not get to work on the new project. The only thing that really bothered me about that was that I would not get to work with Chloe. I felt a rush of euphoria as I thought more deeply about the possibility of finding a way to avoid joining the project. Part of me knew that all of my odd behavior and memory problems had started with the arrival of this mysterious new project. If I stayed as a network admin rather than join the new project would I return to normal?

Judy seemed satisfied with my offer to mention her interest in the new project to Chloe. She and Brad then went off on the grand tour of the other floors of the building.

After they left I finished clearing my desk and packing my personal items for the move to the fifth floor. I logged in to the net and I made one last check of the system resources diagnostics and saw that CPU utilization was still pegged at 95%.

I noticed that I had gotten an email from Dave. He needed me to fill out a new tax withholding form. I went down the hall to Dave’s office and started filling out the form. Erin popped out of her office to hand some papers to Dave. She saw me and said, “Hi, Joe.”

I told Erin that Judy was interested in the new project and that her background with artificial intelligence research might be useful. Erin said that she was counting on team members like me to suggest personnel for the project. Erin had no objection to Judy working on the project but she said I should ask Geisler and Chloe. I said I would probably be able to talk to both of them that afternoon and we had a short discussion about the possibility that Judy rather than me should be on the new project, but I could tell that Erin had no basis upon which to make such a decision. Making that choice required technical understanding of the project and our backgrounds that Erin did not have.

I remembered one last thing to do before heading up stairs to the VirileMail offices. I reviewed the webcam images that I had been stored on the server, looking for difference from what was on the video tapes. Wishing there was a better way to automate the process, I tried to keep my attention focused on the task. The worst thing was that I felt very silly wasting my time like this. All I was working on was some hunch that I could not trust data that had been stored on the server array. Was I just trying to find a machine to blame when the problems I was having were most likely due to my own illness? As I sat there, confirming that both video records were identical, I could not even clearly remember what had led me not trust data on the servers. All that really drove me was the 30 seconds worth of video of myself saying that it was important to do so. That was concrete. All of my memories seemed like a jumble of contradictions that would be so easy to dismiss! Something deep in side me kept saying, "Don't sweat it".

But another part of me was stronger. I kept at the task of checking the video records against each other. I got to the point in the video where Chloe and I came back to my desk after confirming that it was possible to transmit radio signals from the server room to the second floor through the hole in the wall. I paused the rapid playback of the video frames. Looking at a single frame of myself and Chloe, I could remember myself say to Chloe, “I'm not going to give up on this. I never want to forget another thing as long as I live, and I want all my missing memories back.”

I now remembered that Chloe had nodded in agreement and I remembered feeling very pleased that she was no longer angry at me. At that moment I could not recall what Chloe had said to me. Irked at my unreliable memory and wanting to hear her voice, I plugged the VCR back in and inserted the tape that held our conversation. I stepped through again at high speed, found the critical moment and played it at normal speed. I had used a recording setting that was low quality, and the webcam had a poor microphone, but I could hear her say, “Okay, here’s a plan. First, we patch the hole in the wall of the server room with metal. That’s probably closing the barn door after the livestock is gone, but it should be done. Second, we tell George that we need to open up that patched hole in the floor.” She pointed up. “I’ll do it with a hammer and a chisel. If there’s hidden radio equipment in the cement patch, I don’t want a jack hammer smashing into it.”

After that, I watched as Chloe and I then took an old metal computer case and cut out a piece of sheet metal to fill the hole in the server room shielding. We then disappeared off camera for ten minutes. I remembered that that was how long it took us to solder the metal plug into the hole in the wall of the server room.

I then watched the same events as recorded in digitized images on the server array. I could detect no differences in what had been recorded by the VCR and what was in the computer memory.

I continued to watch playback of when we had returned to the office: Chloe and I went back to my desk and we started doing something on the computer. Watching this for the second time I became puzzled by what I was watching and could not remember exactly what we had been doing on the computer. I switched back to the video tape and quickly realized that there was a good reason why the digital image sequence was confusing- part of that sequence had been deleted. On the video tape the audio was terrible but it was easy to figure out that what had been deleted from the server was when we were reviewing the routing tables for the network. At first I could not remember why we had been interested in the routing tables and then as the memories returned, I suddenly felt dizzy and nauseous. I forced myself to keep watching as Chloe and I got into systematically resolving all of the IP addresses in the routing tables. The longer I watched, the better I could remember having done what I was watching.....and why.

Finally, as I saw Chloe and myself on the video getting excited, I remembered what we had discovered and why it had caused so much excitement. I paused the video tape and carefully reviewed the video images that had been stored on the server. I the time period when Chloe and I had reviewed the routing tables and made our discovery, the images from the server were not deleted, but rather, that record showed falsely time-stamped images of an empty office!

What had surprised us was what we had found when we traced the email path to Janek. Brian, Kaede, Bhavya and I had sent dozens of emails to Janek for translations of the strange Cyrillic text of the Czech software. We were able to trace the path of the emails to Prague but then the path wound its way right back to us! I turned the video tape back on and watched myself say to Chloe, “The Janek emails are going in and out of the port that I set up for the VirileMail network traffic.”

What happened next on the video was the strangest of all. Both Chloe and I seemed to slump in our chairs. There was ten seconds of silence then Chloe straightened up and said, “So what are you looking for?”

I watched myself "reactivate" and try to remember the Friday meeting in Erin's office; that had been when I first noticed something strange in the router tables. But soon the topic had shifted and Chloe and I were off running around searching for an unauthorized radio transmitter again.

I shut off the VCR and wiped the sweat out of my eyes. Clearly, our discovery of the path taken by emails to Janek was not something that I had been meant to remember. I picked up the phone and called Chloe. It took the building operator a few tries to find her new office on the fifth floor. Finally Chloe came on the line, “Hello.”

I blurted out, “Do you remember the routing tables?”

She sounded alarmed, “Joe?”

I repeated my demand, “What did we find in the routing tables?”

She was quiet for a long time. Finally she said, “I remember that we started looking at the routing tables, then we went off and checked on the wireless hub.”

As I expected, Chloe could not remember the discovery we had made. The only reason I remembered was because I had watched the video. I sat there puzzling out what it all meant. Who would have altered the video images stored on the server and yet neglected the video tape? And what did it mean that “Janek” was traced back to the VirileMail software running on our server array? Chloe asked, “Joe, are you still there? What’s going on?”

My head was throbbing and my mouth felt like I could spit cotton. I croaked, “I’ll be up in half an hour. I’ll tell you then.” I hung up and looked at the webcam. I had proven the value of not trusting my memory or data saved on the server. I sat there spinning all sorts of fantasies about Janek being some devilishly clever hacker who had penetrated all of our security layers by working from within Dr. Gajduskova’s group in the Czech Republic. I was glad that Geisler would soon be in. I’d tell him what was going on and then we’d soon get to the bottom of it all.

router/Janek[edit | edit source]

Fearing that I might forget again, I put a blank tape into the VCR and sitting in front of the webcam I recorded a brief account of what I had learned and where the key video data were showing Chloe and I blacking out and forgetting out discovery. I heard Judy and Brad coming back down the hall, so I finished my short narration.

Judy asked, "What are you doing with the video equipment, Joe?"

I went to disconnect the webcam from the VCR. I told her that I had set up the webcam to monitor goings on in the server room after the cable disconnection had taken our server array off the internet the previous Tuesday. We talked about the hole that had been blasted through the building. Brad said, “I saw something on the news about that. Were they serious about that meteorite idea?”

While we talked, I ejected the tape and popped out the plastic tab that would prevent further recording on the tape. I wrote router/Janek on the tape's label and then threw all the video equipment into my moving box. A wave of triumph swept over me and I suddenly felt more normal. I shrugged. “Why would a meteor blast through four floors and then evaporate? I saw the holes. It looked like something went up through them, not down.”

Brad asked, “The cable disconnect and the holes happened on the same day?”

I nodded. “Last Tuesday. Just about the same time.” I told them about the hole I had found in the wall of the server room and how Chloe and I had finally patched the metal shielding on Sunday. It was about 11:35 and I was trying to get last minute chores done while we talked. I made one last review of my email inbox and saw the copy of the project report that Chloe has sent to Erin that morning. I cut the hardware upgrade plans from the report and emailed copies of it to Judy and Fred so that they could be in the loop for the pending upgrade of the server array. Just as I was finishing up, a new email arrived from Chloe. It was notice of a group meeting for the new project members at 1:30.

Judy said, “Damn! Too weird. All this on top of the new project. I leave town for a week an all hell breaks loose.”

I knew Judy was capable of perceptive thinking and I expected that in a moment her creative mind would be imagining connections between the "meteor" and the new project. I did not want to share my speculations about such connections until I had a chance to talk with Geisler and Chloe. I replied, “I hope to know a lot more about the new project after the first meeting of the new project team this afternoon.”

Having helped Chloe write the project report over the weekend, I felt like I had a good sense of what had happened last week to get the VirileMail software running on our server array, but I still did not understand where the project was headed. There was something more going on than development of an email program. My hope was that Chloe has been in contact with Dr. Gajduskova and had some answers about exactly what her software was doing to consume such a torrent of computing resources. I was having a hard time figuring how Geisler planned to market an email application that needed an array of expensive hardware to support it. I hoped both Chloe and Geisler would have some answers for all the mysteries that had accumulated.

Judy invited me to go with her and Brad to lunch, but I declined the invitation. I wanted to go talk with Chloe about Janek and the fact that someone had erased and altered the video data that was stored in the server array. I picked up the box with the VCR, put on my backpack and headed upstairs.

I left my backpack and the box containing the VCR in my new office and then went looking for Chloe. I found her new office down the hall and looked in. Chloe looked up from her work and said, “Joe. Come in. Have seat.” She seemed to be inspecting me closely. I had actually gotten some sleep the night before and I probably did not look quite as crazed as I had on Sunday. “Since you called, I have been trying to remember exactly what we did yesterday.”

I nodded. “This is why I had the webcam recording events yesterday. I know I cannot trust my memory.”

I could tell that Chloe was struggling to sort through her own memories. “I remember that I took a nap in your office Saturday. I had been up for a couple of days and just blacked out. But I also remember waking up in your office yesterday, too.”

“Yes, I just watched the video tape. We were sleeping together yesterday."

Chloe chuckled, “You have the strangest way of saying things.”

I realized what I had said and felt my ears suddenly burning red. Looking at her looking at me with a sly grin I felt sure she knew the effect she had on my emotions. I tried to collect my thoughts and act professionally. “Sorry. I mean the video tape shows that we both blacked out for a moment yesterday, both at the same time.”

Chloe said, “That’s weird. I don’t remember that. I remember a lot of silly running around looking for a radio transmitter. What do you mean we blacked out?”

I stood up and said, “Hold on, I’ll get the tape. I couldn’t remember until I watched the replay.” I went back to my new office to get the VCR and the tape. I took two video tapes out of the box. On one of the two tapes I had written #1 on the label. The second tape in the box was the one I had recorded on minutes earlier and on which I had written router/Janek. I was looking for tape #2, the one that showed Chloe and making the discovery about the path taken by emails sent to Janek. I dumped everything out of my backpack and the box but could not find the tape #2. Had I left it down stairs?

Chloe appeared in the doorway of my office. She asked, “I thought you were coming right back. Is there a problem?”

I replied, “I’m looking for the video tape.”

She picked up the two tapes that were on my desk. “One of these?”

I shook my head. “It has ‘#2’ on the label. I just had it before I came up stairs.”

She watched me paw through the stuff I had dumped out of my backpack. “What were you doing with the tape before you came up?”

“I was watching it.” As I answered her question I realized where the tape was. “I must have left it in the VCR!” I plugged in the VCR and connected its video adapter to the display on my desk. I turned on the VCR and hit play. There was no tape in the machine. “Damn!”

Chloe asked, “What’s wrong?”

I hit eject and nothing happened. I put my fingers into the tape slot. It was empty. “Now that I think about it, I'm sure I did not leave the tape in the VCR." I could not remember if I had the tape when I came up stairs. "Now its gone.”

Eventually we retraced my steps all the way back downstairs to my old desk. The tape labeled ‘#2’ was nowhere to be found. Chloe said, "Well, we do not have time to sort this out right now. We can get back to this after the meeting."

When we came back upstairs, Brian was in the fifth floor hallway talking to Kaede and Bhavya. They were just back from lunch. I wondered, who would have taken the video tape? Or, with the way my memory had been, had I simply forgotten what I had done with it?

Feeling very foolish, I went to my new office and put the router/Janek tape into the VCR and watched my rather hysterical account of the discrepancy between tape #2 and the video stored on the server. Out in the hall I could hear Chloe make sure that everyone would be at the 1:30 group meeting. She came into my office and I shut off the VCR. I asked if Geisler would be attending the meeting. Chloe asked, “Why would he?”

I explained that Geisler would be coming in to validate the new network administrator’s biometrics. Chloe said that she had not heard that Geisler was even in town. Most of the year Geisler was on the road visiting clients, attending trade shows and hunting out investors. Chloe said, “Well, I need to finish getting ready for the meeting." She said to me, “Don’t forget, we have a date for after the meeting.”

Chloe went back to her office and Brian slipped into my office. It was clear that he had been listening. He elbowed me. “A Date? You devil, you. What happened to the non-fraternization policy?”

I explained that I had been ready to show Chloe a video tape, but then it had disappeared. The way Brian laughed then made me suspect that he had swiped the tape, but then he said, “This is your roach video?”

Kaede and Bhavya were attracted by Brian's laughter and came to the door of my office. Of course, Kaede and Bhavya wanted to know what the “roach video” was, and by the time I was done telling about the server being disconnected from the internet and my use of the webcam to monitor the server room, it was almost 1:00. I wanted to catch Geisler before the group meeting, so I said I’d be back in half an hour and I went back down stairs.

All thumbs[edit | edit source]

Brad, Judy and Geisler were huddled over a desk in the network office. Geisler was making sure that Brad’s thumb print worked with the print reader of the palm computer. I watched as he got the device to accept Brad’s biometrics along with those of Judy and Fred. Geisler saw me watching him and said. “Hi, Joe. I was just going to take you off the list of network admins.”

I suggested that he not do so. “There’s a chance that Judy will be joining the new project, not me.”

Geisler was surprised. “I read Chloe’s preliminary report. You did a great job helping get the new software package running on our server array.”

I looked at my watch. I wanted a few minutes alone with Geisler to discuss Janek and my fears that our net security had been compromised. I did not want to discuss these things in front of the new employee, Brad. I looked at Judy and wondered why she didn’t join this discussion. Knowing Judy, she was reluctant to blow her own horn.

“Well, I’ll discuss it with Chloe. Even if I was able to help get the new software up and running, Judy’s AI experience in grad school makes her qualified to work on VirileMail, probably more qualified than I am.”

Geisler seemed surprised that I seemed to be backing away from participation in the new project. Geisler said, “Well, sort it out with Chloe.” He shut off the palm computer and handed it to Brad. “Try to log in.”

Brad went through the complete power-up and login. The palm computer now recognized Brad and he could access the admin account.

Geisler said to Judy and me, “I’ll ask Gajduskova what she thinks. She requested that our team here be relatively small. She’s paranoid about this new software being stolen and knocked off before she has rulings on the patents she submitted. But we can probably assume there would be no problem from Gajduskova if we added another team member. She has already authorized the idea of adding an outside consultant to the team, so she should not mind an additional team member drawn from inside the company."

It was clear that Geisler was open to the idea of both Judy and I working on the new project. I said, “I would not want to leave Fred, Brad and whoever else we hire as a net admin doing 56 hour work weeks. I think Judy is better qualified than I am, so maybe I should just stay as a net admin.” I was having second thoughts about telling Geisler about the routing path of the Janek emails. If the video tape was truly gone, could I prove my claim? If I went back into the routing tables today, what would they show?

Geisler seemed to sense that there was something strange about my behavior. He looked at me closely with his shrewd gaze then shrugged. “Sort it out with Chloe.”

Geisler made his excuses- a long list of appointments with department heads that afternoon. He said goodbye and departed after a final “welcome aboard” to Brad.

Then he turned around and approached me as if he wanted to tell me something. "Oh, I almost forgot. I need you for a special job. Be at my office tomorrow at first hour and I will tell you about it".

As Geisler left he looked back and winked at me, as if he found something amusing in this episode. A chill ran down by back and I stood there wondering just how much Geisler knew about the mysterious events of the past week. I wondered if he and Gajduskova were playing some elaborate trick on the new project team. And now there was this new meeting with him. I was so intrigued I knew I would not sleep well that night. What would he have to say to me? If it were something simple, he could have just e-mailed me. Special job?

At that moment, I knew I would gladly do anything that would give me a chance to step back from the VirileMail project and the strange events that surrounded it. I feared that maybe this new "special job" was only a quick task that would not give me an excuse to distance myself from the VirileMail project. I felt some relief from the fact that when he ordered me to sort the project out with Chloe, it sounded like he did not expect me to continue working as I had been on the VirileMail project. But what about the wink?

End of another long day[edit | edit source]

I went back up stairs and suffered through the first real VirileMail project team meeting. I looked at the faces of my co-workers and started thinking of them as zombies. They were all so eager to develop a stupid email program but they could not be bothered to notice all of the strange happenings from the past week. All I wanted to do was run from the meeting and find the missing video tape! Then I would be able to make them understand that this was not business as usual.

My "date" with Chloe was even worse. All I could show her was the tape of me ranting about Janek and routing tables. She could not hide a small grin of amusement as she watched my dramatic performance in the role of the paranoid and delusional computer nerd. The only small relief from utter embarrassment was that she did still remember waking up in my office on Sunday. That was enough to get her to sit down with me again and look through the routing table one more time.

I pleaded, "Yesterday, we found that the "Janek" translations actually flow from our own computers. Now that we know what we are looking for, it will just take us a minute to confirm that."

It did not take long for me to realize that the data in the routing table had been altered so as to no longer show messages to Janek going in a closed loop from our computers to Europe and back. Chloe just shrugged and made her excuses about work to do and left me. I worked deep into the night trying to trace how the routing table data had been altered, but who ever had done it left no tracks.

By the time I left for home I was doubting my own memories. If there was something making me forget maybe there was also something that could make me imagine things. Could I trust anything I thought I knew?


VirileMail - Chapter 6[edit | edit source]

Mind wandering[edit | edit source]

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I did not sleep that night. My hope was that I could make use of Geisler's promise of a special job to help move me away from the madness of the VirileMail project. I wanted to make sure I did not forget what I had seen on the missing video tape.

Trying to stay awake, I spent the night watching the video tape of my ranting about the routing table and altered video data from the computer net at work. I spent hours wondering who could have stolen the missing tape. I knew that logically I was the only suspect.

As the night dragged on, I was at times inflicted with extremes of hunger and thirst. I had several of the "panic attacks" with sweating and severe anxiety that I now associated with attempts to think about specific topics such as the fact that "Janek" seemed to live inside our server array rather than in Europe.

What could that mean? I wondered: why would someone want us to think we were dealing with a person rather than a sophisticated piece of software? Was this all part of Dr. Gajduskova's effort to keep secret the amazing powers of her software until patent protection was assured? If so, did Geisler know what was going on? That might account for his mysterious wink, but only if Geisler knew that I had discovered the "Janek secret". For a fact, I was having trouble remembering what I had told Geisler myself and there was always the chance that Chloe had told Geisler about my claims...claims that I had been unable to verify now that the data in the routing tables had been altered.

I started wondering if Chloe was well aware what was going on and had been instructed to keep myself and her other team members in the dark. Could Chloe have taken the missing video tape? Could she have altered the routing table data after I had discovered the unusual data path leading to "Janek"?

Maybe I was my own worst enemy. Chloe knew I was infatuated with her. Had she selected me to be on her project team because she knew I would not question or challenge her? I could picture Dr. Gajduskova asking Chloe to find a suitable dupe who would be on duty when the VirileMail software was loaded onto our server array. In my mind, I pictured her saying, "No problem! There's this hopeless nerd Joe who is one of our net admins; he has a crush on me, so I can wrap him around my little finger."

No! I did not want to think such things about Chloe. I shouted, "THIS IS NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL!" I knew that Chloe was not really in control of the situation. But what did that mean? What the hell was going on? It was more than some stupid software development project. I'd spent hours fantasizing about the company being the target of some kind of industrial espionage, but that explained nothing. Either I was insane or some mysterious force was able to take control of me and my co-workers.

It was frightening there, all alone that night. Something in my mind kept beating at me: don't sweat it...everything is fine...you are just tired...you are just hungry...don't sweat it...

Was I hallucinating? Is this what auditory hallucinations were like? Some "voice" just outside of normal perception, telling you the same thing repeatedly? "You are not crazy. This is perfectly normal. Just go to sleep, you will feel better if you just eat something and get some sleep." Was I schizophrenic, hearing things?

I went on the Internet in order to search and see if "Janek" was a real person, but I ended up searching for a psychiatrist. Maybe all I needed was someone to talk to. I found a local psychiatrist with an online appointment system and signed up for a session with Dr. W. T. Klein.

When I shut down my computer, it was again time to rewind the video tape. While rewinding, I surfed the television channels. I saw Jeff Goldblum in some movie and stopped surfing. It was a movie I had never seen before, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". I was slightly amused by the idea that my co-workers were acting like "pod people".

When that long night was finally over, I shaved and looking in the mirror, I imagined how Chloe would react in panic if she saw me...my face was terrible, like something taken from a living dead movie. I'd never been so sleep deprived. I figured Dr. Klein would be thrilled to encounter such a deranged patient.

Geisler[edit | edit source]

I was ready for work far too early and spent a couple hours driving around killing time. I realized that I had not been driving with my usual aggressive wildness for the past week. My mind started manufacturing excuses: I had been too tired...it was not safe to drive fast when tired. I shook my head and tried to stop myself from making excuses. Something had changed during the past week. Everyone associated with "VirileMail" was behaving quite abnormally. Until I could get to the bottom of it, I could not trust myself. Just like everyone else on the project, I was a master at explaining away the unusual and ignoring insanity. Maybe my left-brain, the one working with language, was obsessed with making verbal excuses for unexplained behavior. Far past just being tired, with a severe headache and feeling like I was getting very sick, possibly mentally ill......I was in great shape for work and my first ever personal meeting with the boss in his office.

At last, I got to work and headed directly to Geisler's office.

“Hi there. Give me a minute and I will be with you,” Geisler said.

“OK,” I answered.

I waited and had a chance to look at the objects in his large office. All the furniture was antique. I would never have guessed this aspect of Geisler; he always seemed to be up to date in all subjects related to technology, he did not look like an antiquity lover. He was an expert in Computer Science but almost everything in his office was from the XIX century! It seemed strange to me that these kinds of antiques could still attract technologically-oriented people.

While I was visually exploring the objects in the room, I also noticed that Geisler seemed to be very focused on typing something into his computer. The sound of his fingers at work finally made me stop daydreaming about the motivations of antique collectors. There was something familiar to the sound being made by Geisler's fingers. This was the fastest words per minute rate of typing I had ever heard, even beyond what I had seen for Chloe.

Somehow my mind had been prepared to not take notice of Geisler's super-human typing ability, but now that I had noticed, I knew that this odd behavior meant that he also suffered from the strange illness that had infected the VirileMail team. As soon as I had I reached that conclusion, my mind started suggesting excuses: on the other hand, maybe it was just normal to type like a maniac if you were a great computer scientist or a working programmer. No! The other half of my mind knew it was strange that the VirileMail project changed people and something had made everyone on the project start to type abnormally fast and work like mad to complete project tasks...even when nobody had defined those tasks! And there were other things like the panic attacks and the uncontrollable sweating.

What I needed to be sure of was that the phenomenon of abnormal memory losses was real. I had clear memories of seeing Chloe sweating the way I did. Moreover, I could still remember the video tape evidence, so I was not completely mad, was I? But what if I was sick and could not trust my own recollections? Sitting there, amazed by Geisler's typing, my self-doubts grew. What was the missing video about? Suddenly I could not remember that, but I did remember that it was important to remember. Then, worst of all, I started sweating! Would this crazy nightmare never end? It felt very good, a sensation of complete relief, when Geisler finally finished his typing and started talking to me. I was tired of thinking about the same things repeatedly and getting nowhere...I was ready to hear about my new "job"....I welcomed anything to break the sick pattern of my thoughts.

“OK. About the special job I need you to do for me...." Geisler seemed to take note of the dark circles around my blood-shot eyes and the sweat on my face, but he made no comments about that. "I don’t think you know about this, but my family owns a lot of companies that deal with many aspects of science and technology. It is quite a little manufacturing and research empire that has been built up since the start of the industrial revolution,” Geisler said.

“Really? I thought you only owned Antler Network Services.” I was surprised and somewhat intimidated to hear that my boss was part of such an important and powerful family.

Geisler explained, “All the individual companies controlled by my family have distinctive names, so almost nobody realizes the connections between them. That practice of secrecy with respect to the extent of the family "empire" started back in the trust-busting days. In addition to companies involved with computer networking and software development, my family has other companies that specialize in things like the design of integrated circuits and bioengineering, too. The point is that we need to coordinate activities in these various companies. Right now, the VirileMail project needs to be supported by a greatly increased available computing capacity within our computer network. I need you to go to the hardware company called Ormuz Computing. My sister, Helen Geisler, holds the position of Head Researcher at Ormuz Computing. Get the latest information on the status of their work and report back to me about their progress. They have been working on some new and innovative microchips that should help boost our computational capacity. Do you understand? I want you to help coordinate between Ormuz and Antler Network Services, help us get the most out of the hardware that they have developed.”

It made perfect sense, and thankfully, as I had listened to Geisler my panic attack had completely subsided. Still, I was not entirely comfortable with this new assignment from Geisler. The problem was, I was not an expert in cutting-edge computing hardware. “I understand what you want, but what kind of research does your sister and Ormuz Computing do? Will I even understand their new hardware components?” I really wanted to ask, "Why me?", but I kept that question to myself; I did not want to blow this opportunity.

Geisler did not seem concerned that I was not qualified for this job. No more than anyone had cared when I was put on the VirileMail project. Still, somehow, I had been able to contribute to the VirileMail project...by doing database programming that I did not even understand. Now I was worried that this "special job" from Geisler might move me away from the madness of the VirileMail project but at the same time push me into some other similar project at Ormuz that would be just as crazy. I tried to snap out of my worries and listen to Geisler. He was explaining and while worrying I had not listened carefully to some of what he was saying.

Geisler continued his explanation, “So, you see, they make several Very Large Scale Integration microchips that can be used as components for various computing devices and specialized applications. One of the computing applications they are working on involves some special headphones that are part of a biofeedback system that makes use of sophisticated computations to analyze brain waves. Don't ask me for the details, I've only heard about it in the most general terms from Helen. Those kinds of details are not important for what you need to do. I just want you to be a middle-man and coordinate things so that Helen's team can integrate their hardware into the Antler computer network in support of our VirileMail software. That is what I need you to do...no need for you to try to understand the technical details. If you have questions about the hardware side, Helen will get any details to you from her team. If you need to know some details about the software, just ask Janek.” Geisler had a little smirk on his face when he mentioned Janek.

I suspected that Geisler knew much more than he wanted to share with me. I hated the idea of getting myself into another project where I would be working in the dark. So for an hour I kept asking questions, trying to shake a few details out of my boss. Reluctantly, in dribbles and spurts, Geisler kept telling me little stories about his family, their companies and about the kinds of advanced technologies they were developing. The more I heard the more I was shocked that those discoveries could even be possible. Headphones connected to specialized microprocessors for analyzing brain waves that would be used by computer programmers? That sounded like something for science fiction stories, not for something happening in my life. But the more I heard the more it all started to fit into a pattern. Maybe that kind of hardware would usefully integrate with Artificial Intelligence software designed to predict e-mail users’ needs. Could brain wave analysis tell the software about the user's needs even before the user tried to explain those needs? Science fiction, indeed! It occurred to me that the AI software now in the Antler computer network was not as powerful as it could be, because it had to rely on conventional microchips and human interface hardware to do its intended job. The software was using all of our available computing resources...what might happen if it had access to these strange new hardware technologies from Ormuz? Finally, I realized that no matter how crazy everything seemed and although I still feared that I was just letting myself be pulled deeper into madness, I could not stop. I wanted to know what was going on. Was I witnessing the birth of the World's first truly revolutionary artificial intelligence within the Antler computer network?

At last, the meeting was over and we shook hands. I felt something strange when we touched. I felt a tingle like an electrical current flowing from my head to the hand. Maybe I was just too tired: had I imagined that odd sensation? Moreover, Geisler did not seem to notice anything unusual...while I stood there flexing and shaking my fingers he was already returning to his work. I turned and went out the door.

Just moments before I have been firm in my resolve to sort out all the mysteries, then something like this had to happen, a weird sensation of electricity emanating from my boss! The rationalizations started to come to me: I was so tired and stressed that I was just imagining strange sensations. The good thing about it was that after the little shock I stopped feeling my headache. What a relief!

Helen[edit | edit source]

After I left Geisler's office I went to my office and checked my email. I had an email from Nancy Friel at Ormuz Computing. The email confirmed an appointment for me to meet with Helen Geisler and had driving instructions for how to get to Ormuz Computing. I decided I better not delay, so I did not even bother to look in through the open door to Brian's office.

Ormuz Computing was located on the other side of the Bay and it took me an hour to drive over. I parked in front of their research building and looked again at my watch. It was getting close to noon. I decided I might as well go in then rather than wait until after lunch.

Inside the front door there was a metal detector and a security guard. The guard asked, "Do you have an appointment?

I replied, "Dr. Geisler is expecting me."

The guard picked up a phone. "Your name?" I told him. "Joe Daonet is here to see Dr. Geisler." She waved a hand towards the metal detector, so I walked through. "That's right. Okay." She hung up the phone and handed me a visitor’s badge. "Please put this badge on. Someone is coming down."

I clipped on the visitor's badge and waited just a moment. The elevator opened and a middle aged woman stepped out. "Mr. Daonet?"

"Joe Daonet."

She shook my hand. "Nancy Friel, I'm Helen's assistant." She led me into the elevator. "Welcome to Ormuz Computing. I understand you work for Anthony Geisler." She pressed the button for the top floor, floor 5.

I nodded. "Yes, I just recently learned that he has a sister, Helen."

Nancy said, "Actually, their family is very large. Helen told me that she has seven brothers and sisters."

The elevator opened and I stepped onto the fifth floor. I was expecting to see a floor devoted to office space, but the only office seemed to be a small glass-walled office for Nancy right in front of the elevator. The rest of the floor could be seen through the glass walls. I could see a maze of work benches, racks of electronics and computing equipment, maybe a dozen people working. Nancy waved and another woman, somewhat older, waved back.

Nancy said, "Here she comes."

Helen made her way over to where Nancy and I stood waiting. Briefly, Helen was out of sight behind an opaque partition, then the door opened and she stepped through the door way, hand extended. "Helen Geisler. Nice to meet you, Joe." We shook hands and she continued to hold my hand.

I said, "Thanks for interrupting your work to see me."

Helen laughed. "Ha ha. I was just bothering some of my research team. I'm sure they are glad that you showed up...now they can get back to their work." Finally she let my hand drop. "Let me show you around."

She led the way back through the door she had just come through. There was a coffee pot on the other side of the door. Helen said, "Would you like a cup?" I accepted eagerly, needing all the help I could get to stay awake. She found me a cup and poured me some coffee. "Anthony told me that he wants to try using one of our new Lockback chips for your AI project."

I assumed that "your AI project" meant the VirileMail project. I swallowed some of the coffee and then said, "Our little computer network is running at 95% CPU utilization. We need something that will expand our computing capacity."

Helen led me over to one of the work benches. She picked up a small plastic bag. "This is one of our LBCs." She pulled open the zip-locked bag and pulled out a small circuit board. Most of the board was covered by a rather large integrated circuit. "Our main problem is cooling. This LBC is designed for liquid nitrogen cooling. See here." She turned and pulled a drawer out of an equipment rack. After looking carefully at the microchip on the board and said, "This is one of our old 65 nm chips." She slid the circuit board into a slot in the rack and flipped a switch on the front panel. "The trick is to match heat generation to the liquid nitrogen flow rate."

I was surprised to hear mention of 65 nm lithography as being "old". I asked, "How many transistors are on this chip?"

Helen replied, "Almost two billion." She turned on a monitor and picked up a video camera off the bench. "Watch this." The monitor showed a processed version of the video being captured by the camera. The processing seemed to be built on some kind of edge detection. "This LBC does a good job of replicating visual cortex." She pointed to a digital flow meter's read out. "See how the liquid nitrogen flow rate climbs when the camera is pointing at a more complex scene? The Lockback algorithm on the chip automatically increases the processing iterations as needed when the scene complexity rises. Heat production can rise dramatically." She started shaking the camera. The image on the monitor stayed fairly crisp but the coolant flow rate climbed fast.

I asked, "Is this particular microchip just for this image processing application or can it deal with other types of computation?"

Helen switched off the camera and pulled open another drawer of the equipment rack. She explained, "It was originally designed with image processing in mind, but look here." She showed me that the Lockback chip was connected to a standard CPU. "The Lockback chip is designed to function as a co-processor for any conventional CPU, so for any parallel processing task you face, the Lockback processor kicks in. From what Anthony told me, your main concern is natural language processing and specific problems such as translation. As long as you fractionated the translation problem into many scalable parallel processing sub-routines you could use these Lockback chips. You might need a large number of chips to deal with a problem involving the full complexity of a human language like English."

Helen mentioned a couple of other computational problems and showed me the special microprocessors they were developing as solutions. "Each of the microprocessors in this Lockback family is highly redundant with low total circuit complexity. It does not take very long to complete these designs and then we can just send them off to one of the specialty lithography companies. Then we do some testing and benchmarking."

I asked, "So these Lockback chips are still just experimental and not on the market?"

Helen replied, "Very much so. We just had the key breakthrough, actually the basic concept of the design, only about a year ago. Our marketing people are just starting on actual product design for the marketplace. Our goal is to launch with a small set of chips for sale next year."

At that moment we were near to one of Helen's team members who I noticed was working furiously at a keyboard. I had feared that the people at Ormuz Computing might also be suffering from the same strange behaviors as we were on the VirileMail project, and here was evidence of that right before my eyes! My knees started to shake and I dropped my coffee cup. Luckily I had quickly drained the cup and was just carrying it around the lab empty, but it smashed into hundred pieces on the hard tile floor. Part of me wanted to shout at Helen, "Your team is infected just like me and my friends at Antler Network Services!" But I started to sweat and could not speak.

Helen grabbed a broom and swept up the mess. By the time she was done the worst of the panic attack was over and I could speak when Helen asked if I was alright. I gave a few lame excuses about not getting much sleep. Helen said, "And probably not eating right either."

She took me to lunch and it was true: I had not bothered to eat recently. I had been trying not to sleep and trying to resist the strange waves of hunger and thirst I had been experiencing. Now I had to admit to myself that I was truly hungry and probably dehydrated as well. While I ate, Helen told me some stories about her family, including a few amusing anecdotes about her brother Anthony. I became very relaxed and had difficulty keeping my eyes open.

By the time we got back to Helen's lab it was the middle of the afternoon. We went to the fourth floor where Helen's office was located. I guess I should not have been surprised, but I was surprised when I saw that her office was decorated like some kind of Victorian mansion. Clearly she shared Anthony's interest in antiques. We sat down in her office and Helen asked me some questions about the VirileMail software. I tried to construct a coherent account of the software, but what I said did not sound any less crazy than usual. Really, what sense did it make to talk about an email program that had astronomical computing resource demands? I did not dare mention the truly crazy things like the fact that when we sent translation requests to Janek, those requests were routed to the VirileMail software itself!

Just when I was thinking about the software pretending to be Janek, Helen turned her chair and typed a little at the keyboard of her computer. I'd feared and expected that Helen would also show odd behavior just like her brother Anthony had that morning, but she did not sink into a session of amazingly rapid typing. She turned the monitor on her desk so I could see it. She had pulled up some emails from Chloe and Janek that were descriptions of hardware needs for the VirileMail project. Helen pointed at the emails and summarized their contents. Helen asked, "Do you know Chloe and Janek?" I admitted that I did. "Anthony forwarded copies of these emails to me and asked if our Lockback family of chips was ready and available." She pointed again to the monitor and to one of Janek's emails. "Janek explicitly suggested using Lockback chips. It's rather surprising because so far we've only done a few small experimental production runs and all of our stock of chips has been devoted to testing, either in house or by our first few customers. Frankly, I'm surprised that anyone in Europe has even heard of the Lockback chips, but I guess word is starting to spread through the computing community."

It did seem like Helen was afflicted with the habit of ignoring or explaining away strange behavior. She had seemed oblivious to one of her team members typing at the rate of a couple hundred words per minute. She had witnessed one of my panic attacks and dismissed it as due to lack of sleep and a food. And now, she knew that Janek should not have known about the experimental Lockback chips, but she was able to rationalize that, too. I pointed to the list of proposed hardware that Chloe had prepared and commented, "Chloe only suggested the purchase of conventional computing hardware."

Helen nodded. "Yes, I've already recommended that you focus on meeting your needs with conventional computers, but I'd be happy to let you start experimenting with some of the Lockback chips."

Helen got up out of her chair and went to a shelf where she picked up several boxes. "This is not much, but I'm giving you one of each Lockback model that has been made so far. When you start trying to integrate these into your network, let me know. I'll make my team members available to answer any questions you have. We are expecting our first mid-sized production run for the model K4 later this month, so at that time we will finally have a big enough supply to start sending samples to potential customers."

I took the boxes from Helen and thanked her. She walked me out of the building, getting both me and the boxes of equipment past the security guard. We said our goodbyes and then I drove back to Antler, wondering how tricky it would be to integrate the Lockback chips into our computer network. I was certain that I did not want to get involved with installing liquid nitrogen tanks in the server room. I started contemplating the possibility of using the existing hole in the wall of the server room for a liquid nitrogen coolant line. I smiled to myself, amazed at the sensation of being witness to continually escalating strangeness. Where would all this end? Just what was I helping to construct in our little server room at Antler Network Services?

Delivery[edit | edit source]

I drove back to Antler Network Services with the new hardware, trying to beat traffic and get to my appointment with Dr. Klein on time. While driving, I called Chloe in order to try to let her know that I was bringing the Lockback microchips and that we would have to make plans for liquid nitrogen cooling. She opened the connection, "This is Dr. Meade." I gave her a brief description of the hardware I had gotten from Helen. Chloe said, "Oh, those are the chips that Janek has been saying we should be using. I'd never heard of them before and could not find any published information about them."

"From what Helen told me, I have the feeling that they have not had a chance to publish their research or publicize these new chips, but Helen promised to make her team members available to help us integrate this hardware into our computer network. Traffic is getting thick, I'll see you soon." I cut the connection and reflected on the fact that I no longer had the nerve to drive aggressively as was my habit. I started going over my plans for what I would tell Dr. Klein...there had been many strange events during the past week and several odd changes in my behavior. I was afraid to tell Dr. Klein everything; I did not want her to think I was crazy. I wanted some help in finding ways to adjust to how my life had changed...was changing.

Security was uneasy about letting me in the building with the strange equipment from Ormuz Computing. The guard said, "All hardware has to come in through receiving." I made a quick call to Geisler and he spoke briefly to the guard who handed my phone back to me. "Fine, Dr. Geisler said it's okay."

I hurried up to Chloe's office and set the equipment boxes on her desk. I told her that I was rushing to get to a doctor's appointment. She commented, "I'm glad you're getting some help. You look like a zombie."

I did not even try to make any excuses for my appearance and my decision to avoid sleep. My plan was to share what I knew with someone who I could trust not to be suffering from the odd behavior I had seen at both Antler and Ormuz Computing. Chloe was looking well-rested and I was glad to see that she was no longer working as hard as she had been the previous week. I stood there swaying slightly and feeling too weary to think of anything I could say. I muttered, "I have to go," and left her office.

I went by Brian's office at a half-trot. I heard Brian call out, "Hey, man!" I did not slow down, but called back over my shoulder, "I'll catch you later."

Traffic was brutal and I had some trouble finding Dr. Klein's office. I started shaking and perspiring every time I thought of telling her about my belief that "Janek" was a computer program pretending to be a person. I arrived late for my appointment, wondering if I would be able to talk to Dr. Klein without acting like a mad man.


VirileMail - Chapter 7[edit | edit source]

Waiting room[edit | edit source]

Hospital room ubt.jpeg

I parked my car directly in front of Dr. Klein's office in one of those strip mall-type medical office complexes. If I had been acting like myself, running late for an appointment would not have found me driving slowly and carefully. I tried to think of a way to tell a psychiatrist that for unknown reasons I no longer wanted to drive fast and dangerous. I imagined Dr. Klein listening politely and then saying, "For what you're paying me, I hope you have something more important to tell me than that you are being a careful driver." My "rational brain" started formulating excuses: maybe I was just getting old.

Now that I was done with the frustrations of rush hour traffic, I felt a little better, as if I had less matter in my head...it was a bit weird, but it was what I had felt after I left Geisler’s office. I told myself that I was feeling the relief of the end of a tension-induced headache. I also had a satisfying sense of relief from the fact that things had gone well today during my chance to take a step away from working directly on the VirileMail software. I was intrigued with all the new Ormuz Computing technology and eager to see it put to good use at Antler.

I entered into the building, crossed the waiting room and spoke to Dr. Klein's assistant. He asked my name and then looked at a data terminal that held the doctor's schedule. He told me I was late but that if I could wait twenty minutes or so, then Dr. Klein would be done seeing another patient.

With some time to kill, I tried to calm down and organize my thoughts so I could tell a believable story. I really needed someone to help me deal with all the madness that had grown out of the VirileMail project and had me not wanting to sleep for fear of having my memories erased. At least for that moment I was not sweating; it was a good sign and tempted me to start thinking again about exactly which events from the past week I could tell the doctor about without inducing a panic attack.

The bad thing about the situation was that I had no proof of my claims. But I was not going into a courtroom. I did not think the psychiatrist would ask for proof, but if I had that missing videotape I would have been much happier. At that moment, I had a strange flash of memory: I saw an image of the videotape I had labeled "router/Janek" and the horrifying sensation that I had made that tape by recording over the original data tape that was now missing. Could I have actually done something that stupid? This was the stuff of nightmares!

Anyway, there was nothing I could do at that moment to test this strange new idea about the missing tape. The "Janek tape" was back at my place. Besides, I figured I was just so sleep deprived that I was imagining things and maybe hallucinating. Maybe Chloe or I just threw it in the trashcan and forgot having done so. But, no, I did not want to think that my actions were so bizarre that I could do that and Chloe would not have known which tape to destroy. Or it could be Brian. He was the first person on the team who started showing strange behavior and suffering memory losses....if he was somehow directly infected by the "egg plant" maybe he had the "disease" worse than anyone. But there was no way that Brian could have known what I had found on the missing video tape....unless he was spying on me...maybe I was just too paranoid! Maybe by talking to Dr. Klein I could calm down and help me start to put my memories back in order. Maybe there was a simple answer to all the mysteries and I would see if I just got some sleep.

I almost fell asleep but jerked myself back from the brink. That was close! What a waste it would have been to work so hard to stay awake and retain my memories in order to share them with Dr. Klein only to fall asleep with just a few more minutes to go!

I reflected on the fact that Geisler had been friendly today. When Geisler had mentioned Janek it had seemed like he knew something he was not sharing with me. I had not said anything to Geisler about the strange router path for “Janek” because I wanted to wait and see what would happen with my new assignment. But maybe Geisler was involved in setting up that odd router path. I had to be careful. Everyone could be an enemy! I tried to control myself and keep from again having such paranoid thoughts. It was good that I had taken the trouble to visit a psychiatric specialist. Maybe I was sick and everything provoking my paranoia was just of my own invention, some symptom of a brain disorder, maybe a viral brain infection. But I still could remember what I had seen on the missing videotape and the fact that someone had deleted key video frames from storage on the server array. Well, surely the world is going crazy, I thought, not me.

The actual interview[edit | edit source]

“Mr. Daonet, please come with me,” the assistant said.

The assistant led me down a short hallway and indicated a door, "You can go in, Dr. Klein is ready to see you."

To the side of the door was a small sign: "Dr. W. T. Klein: Industrial psychiatry". I opened the door, entered the room and closed the door behind me. I was feeling very self-conscious and shy for being there. I had never thought I would have to go to a psychiatrist, but I told myself I had to make the most of this visit and get all the help I could.

“Good afternoon, Joe,” the doctor, Mrs. Wanda Klein said, in a friendly voice. She was sitting on the far side of a large wooden desk. There had been a picture of Dr. Klein at the website where I had made the appointment, so I recognize her. “Sit down, please."

I sat down and said, "Nice to meet you, doctor."

"I'm very informal, so please call me Wanda." She was glancing at a small hand-held computer, "So, you have been having some stress at work?"

I tried to remember what I had entered into the online form when I made the appointment....something about memory problems and having trouble sleeping. I replied, "It started about a week ago. One of our staff was on vacation so I was working overtime."

Wanda nodded, "Well, longer work hours can certainly disrupt sleep patterns. Maybe the tougher work schedule is why you were late for your appointment with me today."

I shook my head, "No, the overtime ended Sunday. But then I started a new project on Monday. Actually, the new project started last week, informally. Monday was my first official day on the new project."

The doctor looked slightly puzzled. "Monday. You mean yesterday?"

Monday did already seem half a lifetime away. "That's correct," I replied.

Dr. Klein again glanced at the computer and asked, "And you made the appointment to see me at 2:04 am this morning? You were feeling stress from your new work duties?"

I suddenly realized how it might seem odd that I would go online at 2:00 in morning and make an appointment to see a psychiatrist. "I've been having some problems since I learned about this new project. Memory problems. I have not had enough sleep." I was not really sure how to try to explain the past week...so much had happened.

Dr. Klein placed her small computer on the desk. "What can you tell me about this new project at work? Does it involve new co-workers?"

I started thinking about Chloe, my personal feeling for her and my concerns for her well being, but those were not really the topics I wanted to discuss with Dr. Klein. I tried to keep the conversation away from my personal feelings. "It is a small project team, with mostly people I know from work but have not worked with as a team previously."

Dr. Klein gave me a reassuring smile. "Well, that does not sound particularly alarming. What is it about this project that is a problem for you?"

Now we had reached the difficult part. “I guess the place to start is last Tuesday. There was an odd disconnection of a network cable and then my friend Brian started acting strangely.” I explained it all right from the beginning, starting with the cable disconnection, Brian's story about the eggplant, the holes in the wall and the floors, the odd behaviors of Brian, Chloe and other people on the project, everything up until yesterday. The doctor seemed to be paying close attention and becoming increasingly intrigued by my story. She was very friendly and inspired my trust, so I told her all I could. It took at least 30 minutes for me to tell her all that information, including the fruitless search for evidence that our network security has been compromised. At that point, I paused. I was afraid to describe my discoveries with the video tape because doing so might trigger a panic attack.

Dr. Klein looked at her watch. "Normally I would end a first appointment now, but you have had a very busy week! I have no more patients to see today, so we do not have to stop now. Would you like to continue your story or call it a day?"

The way she said "your story" made me think she did not believe me. After all, what sense did it make to claim that you and your co-workers were typing faster than is humanly possible, having memories erased and performing complex new tasks without knowing how you were able to perform them? I decided I had to tell Wanda about the missing video tape and what I had learned from it. We continued.

When I stopped talking about the missing video tape, Dr. Klein said, "I'm not sure what you are trying to tell me. You found that your emails to Janek were not being answered by a computer scientist in Europe, rather, you were corresponding with....a computer?"

I was surprised to find that talking about Janek did not trigger a panic attack. It seemed to make a difference who I was talking to. Maybe I could tell Wanda everything! "Yes, you have it. The new software program, the email program, was taking emails from me and the other team members and producing all the emails that said, 'from Janek'."

She asked me, “Okay, so you traced an internet path from you to Europe and then back to your company, but are you sure that your email messages were not also sent to Janek? Did you ask him?”

Of course, I could not be sure of anything. Now that she had asked, I remembered why I had gone online Monday night: I had wanted to determine if Janek was a real person. But that was when I suddenly decided to make an appointment to see a psychiatrist. And I never had gotten around to finding out anything about Janek. “I checked the router data and Chloe did too. We both concluded that the emails to and from Janek were actually going to and from software running on our server array. Someone had gone to the trouble to make it look like we had a collaborator in Europe, but that was a deception. And even worse than that, when Chloe and I discovered the deception, we soon forgot our discovery! It was only my persistence and....” I paused, not sure I wanted to use the word "paranoia". But it was true, "....and my paranoia that led me to make the video recordings and find evidence that someone altered the router table. And worse still, now the video tape with that evidence is missing. So I think you can see why I think something unusual is going on."

Dr. Klein took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “Your story does sound strange. I'm not sure I understand what this all means. If I understand what you told me, your team started working with an artificial intelligence-based software package that was developed by Dr. Gajduskova in the Czech Republic. You found that important parts of the documentation for the software were in a foreign language that you needed to have translated. And the software itself performed the translations?”

I tried to explain the translations. “Look, it is possible that Dr. Gajduskova is a genius who made an email program that can do translations. The translations are good, but not perfect. Maybe the computational needs of some kind of advanced AI-based translation software can explain the extensive use of computing resources by VirileMail. But that is not the point. We also discovered that the language being translated is an unknown language. Does it make sense that Dr. Gajduskova would use an invented language for software development?”

Dr. Klein shrugged. "I don't know about that. It does sound far-fetched. But you suggested the possibility that Dr. Gajduskova did not want her revolutionary work to be stolen, so she might have used a constructed language as a kind of code to protect her work."

I asked, "Does that actually sound reasonable to you? Its a good example of what has been happening this past week to me and my co-workers. For each strange event, we have always been able to invent a rationalization and then just keep working, pushing ahead with the project as if nothing unusual has happened. It took me most of this past week to break free, and now I'm the only one at work who seems aware that something very strange is going on. Please don't tell me that everything I've told you sounds like 'business as usual'!" I felt myself getting tense. Was this exercise in telling an 'outsider' about the past week going to be a waste of time?

Dr. Klein chuckled and tried to get me to relax. “OK, believe me, I've never heard a story like this before. But then, each of my patients is unique, I deal with many situations in which people become confused about what is going on at work and need help sorting things out."

Rather than relax, her words were making me more upset. "Is that your diagnosis, that I'm confused about what is going on at work?"

Dr. Klein seemed to realize she had said the wrong thing and was just making me more and more angry. "Look, Joe, I'm here to help you. You come here and tell me that you have not been sleeping and that you have been having memory problems. Its only sensible that I wonder just how much I can rely on your account of events. Do you agree?" I nodded and kept my mouth shut, not wanting to antagonize her. "Now, I want to know what you think this all means. If VirileMail is some kind of new software that can translate foreign language sentences into English then what is the problem with that?”

It seemed like Dr. Klein was missing the point, maybe even suffering with the same inability as my co-workers to notice just how strange the VirileMail project really was. “The problem is that we thought it was a real person. It is very strange that the software itself has done that, that it has fooled us. But that's just the first level of the problem. Its like there is some force working to sabotage our ability to notice that something strange is going on. Its the crazy super-human typing, the sweating thing and people suddenly falling asleep and then forgetting what they had just been doing.”

“Sweating?” Wanda asked, surprised.

Had I forgotten to mention the panic attacks and sweating? “Yes, it happens to everyone in the project. That is something that goes beyond human sabotage...its like a disease that has infected us. Whenever we start thinking too much about our memory losses and other strange aspects of the project, we start sweating and feeling anxiety.”

Dr. Klein suggested, “I think that could be a normal reaction to memory losses. It sounds like your team has been working hard on a stressful new project. We all have memory lapses, particularly when we are tired and stressed. People often have little attacks of anxiety when they feel they have forgotten something important and might be letting down their collaborators.”

Was Dr. Klein just being a rational doctor and trying to help or was she also rationalizing away the strangeness of what had been going on? “No, it is not the way you think. These panic attacks happen when we get close to knowing the truth.”

Dr. Klein asked, “The truth?”

“Yes. I've experienced this myself, repeatedly, and I've seen it happen to my team members. When we start noticing and talking about how strange things are then we started sweating. Then we try to rationalize the strange events...explain them away. And, finally, if we keep trying to understand the strangeness, rather than just accept it, we suddenly freeze and forget everything. I had one of these 'sleep and forget' episodes recorded on tape.”

She asked, "That is the missing tape you mentioned? The same missing video tape that showed your discovery of the odd routing table data?"

“Yes, I had all this evidence on a VCR tape. You could see Chloe and me talking about the routing table, the evidence that "Janek" was actually a software program pretending to be a person, then we both suddenly froze and we forgot everything we were doing. Now I'm the only one who remembers this important discovery about the router and the server array doing the translations instead of a person named 'Janek'."

Dr. Klein looked at me suspiciously. “What do you think happened to the videotape with this evidence?”

I sighed. “This is the worst part of it. I had planned to show the tape to Chloe, I was on my way to show it to her, but that damn, oh, excuse me, that videotape got lost, leaving no traces!”

Dr. Klein seemed very skeptical. “Strange! Do you really remember that it existed?”

This did almost seem like needing to present evidence in court! I replied, “Of course I do. I don’t know just how it happened, but someone must have taken it from me.” But I did have doubts. Could I trust my memories?

“Yes, I see that you want to believe that. But you could have gotten rid of the tape, yourself. Maybe at first you were wrong in how you interpreted the data in the routing table. The next day you looked at the data again and saw you had been wrong. You were embarrassed by your previous error, so you destroyed the tape. When tired and stressed we all make errors, slips, 'lapsus' is a technical term for this kind of phenomenon. Our brains play little tricks on us."

“Yes, I know what you are suggesting might have happened. First, an honest error and then I could have tried to cover it up. But I remember it all very well. You seem to be willing to ignore the strangest part about that video, that I had another copy of the same video data stored in the server array, and that video was altered!”

Dr. Klein asked, “How was it altered? Who, besides yourself, had access to the video....who even knew that the video existed?”

“I don't know. Someone with access to the server array altered the video. I was storing the video data in the administrator account, so not just anyone could have gotten access to the data. It was in the most secure part of the system." I looked carefully at Dr. Klein and tried to tell if she believed me or if she just thought I was crazy. "That is why I wonder if I am going crazy. Everything about this new project at work is so atypical! And I came here today because nobody I'm working with seems to care, they just accept all the craziness, explain it all away. They all suffer the same “illness”, the sweating, the memory loss, and nobody believes me because the evidence, the video tape with the evidence, was lost. Not even Chloe believes me, she has forgotten almost all of it, everything we discovered. I feel like there is some conspiracy, but nothing makes sense. Can't you help me?”

“Joe, it is very important that you have come to see me. I believe you, at least in part; something very strange is happening there. But my problem is I only have what you told me. There is no way for me to really verify what you say," Mrs. Klein said.

“You are right. If I had the videotape then maybe I could convince you that I'm not crazy." Or was I? No, at that moment I felt sure of myself. My memory might have had holes in it, but it had helped me to talk to Dr. Klein. I had finally been able to think through everything from the past week without triggering a panic attack! "But everything was real, I am not crazy, yet."

Then, in the clarity of that moment, I made another discovery. Up until that point I had been trying to imagine conventional reasons for the strangeness of the VirileMail project. Maybe I was just baffled by the genius of Dr. Daniela Gajduskova's artificial intelligence algorithms? Maybe there was industrial espionage going on, someone blasting holes into our building, dosing the team with drugs that would cause our odd behavior? But now I realized how lame those excuses were. Struck by my new realization, I blurted out, "The most intriguing thing about all the strangeness of the project is that it cannot be caused by humans!”

Dr. Klein was shocked by my outburst. “What do you mean?”

“It's just the way you hear it, doctor!" I was shouting at her, but I did not care. Everything now made sense! "The video data that was altered could not have been changed by anyone, any person. But we are not dealing with a person! There is a...thing...some alien intelligence now exists in the Antler server array. It has a mind of its own! It is protecting itself and taking control of humans to build itself up and prevent anyone from figuring out what has happened. Don't you see, doctor?”

Dr. Klein seemed frightened by my outburst. “I don’t understand you. Someone could have altered the data in the computer array, even you…”

“No. I was not, nobody was guilty of that, not Brian, not Chloe. What about the panic attacks and the memory losses? You want to blame all that on me to? No. It was a very smart AI, too smart to be a human creation! I tell you, it is an alien!”

Aliens[edit | edit source]

“What are you saying?” the doctor asked

I understood everything at that moment, but then just as quickly as revelation had come, it was taken away from me. “That the AI is an… is an… is a…”

I could not remember what I had been talking about. I felt some strange force in my brain, and for the first time in my life, I really thought I was going crazy. With my mind shattering, I felt fright ripping at my heart.

It was not until much later that I could again think for myself. At that moment, right before Dr. Klein's eyes, I was being possessed by aliens. Some form of mind control was being used by the aliens. Chloe and Geisler were mere puppets, as was I. I had discovered that there was a conspiracy, a plan by an alien race to take control the minds of humans on Earth. My discovery threatened the aliens' plan. When I had realized the truth and I tried to explain it to the doctor, the aliens brutally attacked my mind. I tried to keep talking but I was now completely unable to do so. I wanted to leave the doctor's office, to escape, but my muscles were paralyzed. I started to feel very cold and I thought all my body was falling....sinking into a black, sucking depth. The last fragments of my sanity were spent in awareness that I could not speak my answer to the question asked by Wanda and that self-awareness of my loss of control made me panic even more. Going crazy might not be so bad if you did not know it was happening to you, but I knew I was going crazy, really nuts. I tried to think rationally but I could not. I wished I could remember integral calculus, discrete mathematics or something about science but my mind was completely bent. I was no longer the owner of my mind. Every time I tried to think about something, my thoughts were overwritten by some mysterious force. All my forming sentences were cut short and I could not think coherently about anything or shape thoughts into language.

Later, looking back on my mental collapse from a rational perspective, I judged that experience of being tapped in my dysfunctional mind to be the worst thing a human can experience short of the death of a loved one. Somehow it was my destiny to go crazy. For some reason the aliens had not been able to completely control my mind, so my thinking had gotten too close to the truth... so close that the aliens had to act and shatter my mind. There was no way back; I was really crazy and there was nothing I could do at that moment to backtrack, no way to take back my mention of the aliens.

At that moment, I thought everybody was part of a conspiracy, even the psychologist. I felt danger, frightened enough to shriek.....I tried to weep but could not. My mind started manufacturing bizarre combinations of things and events. I thought that everything in the world was a single coherent phrase: the original Word of the Bible. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God”. All I had to do to fight the conspiracy was to say the words of God and I would become a god myself. I knew all that stuff was nuts but I could not control my mind, and I kept obsessing about my need to become a god.

Looking back on it, I know there was an alien force invading all my neurons, but some of what the aliens did to me I don’t remember very well, even today. I went, well, my mind disconnected from reality; I felt that I was in empty space. I thought I had died in Mrs. Klein’s office. I was seeing all around me, I could look out the back of my skull and I thought that Wanda was some kind of demon, allied with conspiracy. I even heard people praying for my dead body. Next, I saw that there were thousands of people around me; all of us were tied, trapped and, possibly, dead. There was a distant scream that went louder and louder and we knew that when it got to us, we would feel a lot of pain. And we did, indeed. I did not feel my real body and everything I saw and heard was at that strange fairyland.

Finally, my mind came back to Wanda’s room and I thought I had understood it all. I had gone out of my body and had been reinserted as a left-handed person, in a mirror-like world. So, everything was distorted and I was in a parallel universe. Maybe the conspiracy did not exist in this alternative universe, but I could not be sure. I still was unable to speak and I remembered Harlan Ellison’s story, I must scream and I have no mouth, or something... I was semi-rational at that time, maybe because I was back in my body, although in an alternate reality. I understood that there was no way to know if I was in another world or in the original, because I could not compare the two. A plan for the future started to form: maybe if I got better and could speak, at least… but I could not even think correctly, much less speak.

Dr. Klein decided that I was having some kind of seizure. She came around her desk and checked my pulse and respiration. Recognizing that I was in no immediate danger, she called her assistant, who was a nurse. They waited a few minutes to see if the apparent seizure would end then injected me with an anticonvulsive drug. I went to sleep almost immediately.

Trapped[edit | edit source]

When I woke up, I look around and tried to make sense of my strange surroundings. I did not know that Dr. Klein had given me a large dose of a drug that robbed me of the ability to think coherently.

It looked like a hospital room, but I remembered the aliens! I swore to myself that the aliens would not trick me this time. I knew that the aliens could trick people into rationalizing anything. I decided that it only looked like a hospital room, while in reality I was inside a UFO: the aliens had abducted me!

I thought that the whole world was being invaded by microscopic aliens who dwell inside our heads, taking control of our minds. The strange events that led me to Dr. Klein could only be explained as part of an alien invasion of the planet! Soon, the human race would be extinct and I was helpless, trapped, a prisoner of the aliens. The aliens, I thought, had dragged me away to their space ship as soon as I discovered the truth.

I decided that Dr. Klein, the psychiatrist was probably part of the alien conspiracy and would have come along on the alien ship. I did not see anybody but I could deduce that I was being held by aliens in their ship. I almost did not feel my body and that was another reason to believe that I was on a ship, probably floating in space above the Earth. Only aliens could do such things.

After a few minutes of such thoughts a nurse came into the room to check on me.

“Mr. Daonet, I see you are awake. You can go to the bathroom if you want. Just leave the door open, Dr. Klein does not want you left alone if you are going to be walking around....it seems you had a seizure and lost control of your movements. If it happens again you could fall and hurt yourself,” she said, in a friendly voice.

“I will be careful. But when will I be free?” I asked.

The nurse was puzzled by my question, but had experience with patients waking up from a drug-induced sleep. “Free? You are free, you are in a hospital now. You can go as soon as you feel fine and the doctors know you are healthy. And it seems you are doing fine....I will call Dr. Klein, let her know you are awake.”

She left the room quickly, not giving me time to tell her to stop all that hospital fairy tale stuff. Maybe she only came to see if I was awake. Or did she read my thoughts....could she tell that I knew I was not in a hospital? Maybe she was an alien who could do things like take on the form of a human.

Yes, I knew where I really was. Didn't I? Where else could it be? After the aliens had disabled me, there was no other choice but off to their ship....the classical alien abduction! Or was there something missing in my thinking...this really did look like a hospital room. Maybe I was just too paranoid. There was no way I could know where I was. I should ask for a phone call! They could not deny that to me; prisoners always get a phone call. Ha! Ha! I should call my parents so they could come bail me out of jail. The worst part of it was that I had to keep thinking. There was nothing else I could do. I had no way to get to work. There was no computer for browsing the web. Oh, if they had computers in UFOs, or hospitals... whatever, I did not care too much at that time. I would have to try to recover my mind to be able to get out soon. If I were in a real hospital though...

What about work? What would Chloe be doing right now? Typing like mad? At least being half crazy....oh, no, I decided to stop using that word after what I had been through. At least being sick was a relief from working on that silly project. I could take a rest and reorganize my mind, completely. If they let me do it, of course. I did not know if aliens were still watching me, but it was a pretty good bet. I had to know their plans in advance. Would they try to take over the entire planet? What could be their plans? They were real, of course. Or no? I was not sure of anything yet. At least I had stopped hallucinating; it was a horrible experience being there along with all those suffering people. That scene was so real! But now, as I was a little better, I knew it was all in my mind, like the spelling of the God verb. I never thought I might have such deep religious feelings...

It seemed like time passed by slowly and I started to feel very sleepy again. I wondered if maybe the aliens had drugged me, oh my...


VirileMail - Chapter 8[edit | edit source]

MRI[edit | edit source]

FMRI-scan sectie 85.JPG

Dr. Klein came into the room. "Well, Joe, you gave me a real scare. Do you have a history of seizures? You did not indicate it on the form when you made your appointment."

I'm not sure if I had fallen asleep again. It took me a moment to become alert and remember who this ranting woman was. Dr. Klein, of course! "No, I do not have seizures," I replied.

She asked, "Do you remember in my office? Do you remember when you stopped talking? I think that was a seizure."

I replied, "Yes, I remember, but I don't think it was a seizure."

She smiled, "Well, that is why we are going to do some tests, so we can figure out exactly what happened."

I was tempted to ask if she was working for the aliens, but she was speaking again, very fast. "I've arranged for a brain scan. We'll look for the cause of your seizure. In these cases, be can often see a little bit of abnormal tissue that is the source of the problem."

An orderly arrived and soon they had me rolling down the hall in my bed. It sure looked like the hall of hospital, but I was watching closely for aliens. In just a few minutes they had me positioned in a huge Magnetic Resonance scanning device. I could hear Dr. Klein's voice, "Okay, we just got a baseline scan. It looks normal. Now I want you to do what you did before when you had the seizure. Do you remember?"

I knew what she was talking about. In her office, I had tried to tell her about the aliens, but then they had clamped down on my brain, not wanting me to tell anyone about my discovery that Earth was being invaded by aliens. I again tried to talk about the aliens, but the aliens were waiting for that, and I could not say the words! I kept trying, but I was getting frustrated, clearly not in control of my own speech centers. I heard Dr. Klein's voice again, "Wow, that's amazing! We just got huge spike in brain activity. Oh, my, I've never seen a pattern quite like this. Let's try..." But that was the last I could remember hearing.

When I woke up again, I felt much more normal. I barely remembered being in the Magnetic Resonance scanner, trying to follow Wanda's instructions and trying to talk about aliens. I only recalled hearing something about a huge spike or something. I went to the bathroom and I felt very weak as I got up out of the bed. The same nurse came into my room again. “Hi, Mr. Joe. I see you are up. Please be careful! You lost consciousness again during the MRI scan but Dr. Klein thinks she got the images she needed.”

I sat on the bed. “I would like to talk to her,” I said.

The nurse explained, “She's not here now. She went to visit your company and talk to your co-workers. She said she will stop by later today to see you.”

I wondered if Wanda had believed enough of my story to want to check the facts for her self at Antler or if she just thought I was so crazy that she needed to see the work place that could so effectively drive an employee mad. “Right. OK, then I will wait”

“Yes, you have to rest. If you need to get up, ring, and I will come help you. We do not want you to fall and get hurt. These are hospital rules for anyone who has been having unexplained loss of consciousness.” She turned to leave my room.

“Thanks.” I laid down again.

My mind felt normal now. I had recovered a little and it seemed like a real hospital with real nurses. I was amused by my earlier paranoid thoughts about UFOs. But I still thought that some alien force was at work, nothing within human experience could account for the strange events of the past week. I suspected that some force still watched over me and would continue to prevent me talking about aliens. I tried a small experiment. I said, "It must be aliens." I suddenly felt a surge of anxiety and pain, like the start of a panic attack. Yes, I was still being monitored! As long as I was alone, I could speak of aliens, but with that aura of pain, I had also been warned. When would this all end? Was there anyone I could trust to help me escape this alien menace?

I slept again for a few hours and woke when it was about 11:00 am. I started speculating about the nature of aliens that would try to create an artificial intelligence program. What might they be trying to accomplish? I soon became bored and decided to try another experiment. I found my clothes in a drawer and started to dress. Suddenly I felt very hungry. I took the hint. The alien presence that was watching over me would not let me just walk out of the hospital, unless, maybe I stopped thinking about aliens.

At 12:30 I was staring into my lunch plate, playing a silly game of trying to provoke the alien presence into punishing me. Each time I said something about aliens it seemed to almost randomly either make me thirsty, hungry or start me towards a panic attack. I wondered if this was how I would spend the rest of my life, sitting in a hospital playing games with an alien force that was toying with my mind. And what of poor Chloe who was not even aware of what was happening? I was depressed by the thought of her going through life as some sort of puppet, being forced to do what aliens wanted her to do. Was there nothing I could do?

Finally Dr. Klein arrived.

She hurried into the room and said, "I only have a minute. I spoke to your supervisor, Chloe. She put you on a leave of absence for medical emergency. She said she will visit you here tomorrow."

I asked, "Did you ask her if she thinks something strange is going on at work?"

Wanda replied, "Yes, I did. I asked her some specific questions about your story, about things like the holes in the floors. She confirmed that, but it is strange that she showed very little curiosity about the holes and other strange events of the past week. She just seems concerned about the success of the software development project.....the team is trying to make use of that new hardware you gave her yesterday."

I explained, "There is something special about me that has allowed me to become aware that something odd is going on. Everyone else on the project seems satisfied to just pretend that everything is normal. Business as usual."

Wanda nodded. "Well, we'll sort this out. I sent your MRI scans to some experts....maybe someone else has seen this pattern of brain activity before; I have not....your brain scan was very unusual. But I must run. I want you to relax and get some sleep. My orders are: forget about work. Take a vacation and let your mind focus on other things for a few days."

And then she was out the door. Focus on other things? Ya, right. That was easy for her to say. I decided that the aliens were going to let me remember them, but just not talk about them. Rather than let my mind continue to swirl with desperate thoughts about about alien mind control, I just let myself sleep again.

Chloe visits[edit | edit source]

The next day Dr. Klein came to my hospital room early in order to do some neurological tests on me. She said that I was hyper reflective or something, but that basically I was fine. She asked me if I remembered about my work, my co-workers, my relatives, everything. She seemed satisfied that I did not have huge gaps in my mind and told me that she thought that I could be out of the hospital soon.

Wanda also had set up a complete schedule for my day. Sessions for exercise and then therapy sessions and, of course, meals....all annoying hospital stuff meant to distract me from my troubles. But there was one item of good news: Chloe would visit me in the afternoon during hospital visitor hours.

I was pleased that Chloe wanted to see me and had not just shrugged and forgotten about me when she learned that I was in the hospital. I wondered what Chloe would think if I told her my belief about aliens being the cause of all our strange experiences associated with the VirileMail project. I also wanted to know what Dr. Klein thought, but I was trying hard not to mention aliens when Wanda was within ear shot. I wanted her to only see me behaving normally, not slumping into some abnormal state of consciousness. I wanted to get out of the hospital and to accomplish that, Wanda had to know that I could control myself. I decided there was no way I could make Wanda share my belief in aliens, I had been a fool to even mention the idea to her. Still, it was possible that medical science might be able to make some sense of what was going on in my head. Maybe we could even find some treatment, a way to force the aliens out of my mind.

Suddenly I had a disturbing thought. Would I have to pay for all these medical tests and my stay in the hospital? Dr. Klein assured me that all costs were being paid by my employee's insurance at Antler Network Services. Geisler had signed a form saying that my health problems were work related. After explaining the financial matters, Dr. Klein said goodbye, leaving me to a long day of waiting for Chloe to arrive.

Even while at my scheduled exercise and therapy sessions, I passed the day wondering about my situation and what the aliens were trying to accomplish. It seemed clear that I was now "allowed" to think about the aliens, but they did not want me telling other people about aliens.

By afternoon, still killing time awaiting Chloe's arrival, I tried to imagine ways to make her at least recognize that I was not crazy. I really wanted to see her, to be able to talk to someone who could understand me more than the doctor, someone who at one time had seen the evidence showing that a software program was pretending to be a human. I was disappointed that Wanda had made so few comments about the VirileMail project and what she had seen at Antler Network Systems, but she obviously did not want me to be reminded about any of that right now. I could accept the idea that, from the perspective of a psychiatrist, for me to be completely cured of a work-related illness I should first distance myself from work. The problem was, the aliens seemed to be right here with me, inside my brain. How could I ever get away from that?

At three in the afternoon I completed my last therapy session, a small group of medical students and patients who were supposed to discuss mental health. Most of that session was devoted to the other people in the group asking me what my problem was. I did not even try to tell them about aliens. I said that I had suffered a seizure and tests were being done to try to find the cause. I almost got away with my deception. Several of the other patients were recovering from strokes and were in situations similar to what I had suggested for myself. However, one of the medical students had actually looked into my medical records and knew that my original complaint involved work-related memory problems and sleep disruption. So we ended up spending most of the hour talking about exercises that might improve memory and how to keep a healthy sleep pattern. It dragged on very slowly with me daydreaming about Chloe. Finally the session ended and I went back to my room.

There was a new nurse on duty who was watching for me as I came down the hallway returning to my room. He followed me into my room and took the bath robe I had been wearing while out and about the hospital, leaving me in just a flimsy hospital gown. He said, "Dr. Klein wants you to get some rest," and indicated the bed.

I did not put up a much of a protest. I was still trying to recover from many days of little or no sleep, but I said, "I do feel like I could use a nap, but I'm expecting a visitor." The nurse started to hang up the robe. "Hold on," I said. After lunch in the cafeteria, I had put a section of a newspaper into the pocket of the robe. Now I retrieved the paper.

The nurse said, "Well then, just relax for a while. Sometimes visitors are late or they do not show up at all. If you doze off, I'll be sure to wake you when your visitor arrives. Who is it you are expecting?"

"Dr. Chloe Meade."

"A doctor? Some specialist?"

"Not a medical doctor. She's a Ph.D., my supervisor from work."

"Now I understand! Fine, I'll watch for her. But you can rest until she arrives, yes?"

I sat on the bed. "Yes, I'll rest." I started to read the newspaper and soon felt quite weary. I leaned back against the head of the bed and continued trying to read, but I was mostly thinking about Chloe. The nurse's comment had upset me and I was now worried that Chloe might not show up.

At quarter past three Chloe came in. "Hi, Joe!"

At once I could tell she was trying to be cheerful, but she was in a state of anxiety about my mental condition. Of course, she looked wonderful. I wondered if I looked like less of a sleep-deprived lunatic than when she had last seen me....I was sure that the institutional gown I was wearing did not help give me a favorable appearance. Was it really only two days previously that I had last seen Chloe? So much had happened to me in that time! I said, "Hi, Chloe. Thanks for taking the time to come here to see me."

“I've been worried about you, Joe. On Tuesday it looked like a truck had run over you and then yesterday Wanda showed up at work and told me about that strange seizure you had. I hope you are doing better,” she said.

She sat on the bed next to me and suddenly I felt very warm. I'd often fantasized about what it might be like if I could get Chloe into bed, but I had never imagined it like this. “I'm fine. As you know, things have been a little strange lately at work, and it all caught up with me. But I'm fine and I hope to be able to get out of here soon.”

Chloe seemed dubious. “Yes, but do not feel like you need to get back to work immediately. Take a break and make sure you have recovered first.”

"The doctors are doing tests, trying to see if there is something physically wrong with my brain. Until it all gets sorted out I guess I'm stuck here." I was tempted to tell Chloe about my unusual MRI results, but I did not want to add any fuel to the fire and make it worse for her to have to go away wondering just how sick I might be. I asked, "So everything is going well on the project?"

Chloe shrugged. "Oh, it is challenging. We are not really sure what to do with that new hardware you brought over from Ormuz Computing."

This was good news! I did not want to be involved with anything that would help speed this alien-controlled project. It sounded like they had not tried to get help from Helen Geisler's team. I said, "Those new microchips are very strange, aren't they? Almost like something from another planet."

Chloe laughed. "We were baffled until Geisler put us in contact with her sister. Now we at least know enough about the chips so that we can start to work with them. I think we will be able to make use of the chips, but we still have to do some work to figure out the details."

I realized I should not have gotten my hopes up. There was nothing magical about my contributions to the project. Clearly it was a trivial matter for the aliens to replace me and keep pushing their plans forward. The conversation died; I could not bring myself to congratulate her on their continuing progress.

Chloe ended our awkward silence. She asked, "Is there anything you need here?"

I gestured to my nearly empty room. "I am suffering from my computer addiction. I really want to use one, at least to browse the web.”

“The doctor told me that she wants to keep you away from things work-related. Particularly computers. I guess you should just try to relax and not to think about work or computers. Maybe I could bring you some good books to read." She pointed to the television. "Or you could watch some mindless TV shows.”

I said, "Speaking of mindless TV, I happened to see part of Invasion of the Body Snatchers the other day. Did you ever see that movie?"

I could see Chloe suddenly wince, as if in pain. Some tiny beads of sweat appeared on her upper lip. "Ya, I think I once saw the original version of that. I thought the plant-like pods were silly."

I suggested, "It would be more realistic to just use advanced technology to take over human brains."

I could see Chloe's hands start to tremble. She said, "That sounds like just another foolish plot device. I guess I'm just too concerned with real technology. Fantasy technology does not really seem as interesting."

It sure looked like the aliens were putting pressure on Chloe to keep her from thinking about 'body snatching' and 'mind control'. “Ya, I have to agree that those chips I got from Helen Geisler are very interesting. What are you doing with them? How do you think they can be integrated into our network?”

Chloe shook her head. “No, let's not discuss work. I promised Wanda that I would not talk shop with you.”

I put my hand on hers. “Please, I want to know. Being suddenly cut off from the project and stuck in here where I'm supposed to follow doctor's orders is no fun, believe me. I have to think about something.”

“Well, okay, but just don't get stressed by anything I say. Wanda told me that something related to the project may have made you suffer your stroke, or, no, a seizure is the word she used. So tell me if you start to feel bad, and I'll stop.”

I squeezed her hand “Thanks. I'm sure I'll be fine.”

“OK. Well, we are going to be trying to connect those Lockback chips into the net. We should have the liquid nitrogen cooling equipment in place by the end of the week. We can actually test connections in low power mode without any coolant. Brian and I were doing tons of these low power tests today, trying to learn how to connect the Lockbacks to the conventional parts of our server array. He was still at that when I left work to come over here. The rest of the project is the same, nothing new in particular.”

“Right. I just hope you don't start working yourself too hard again, the way you did right at the start of the project. Remember how you had been working so hard to set up the project that you had to take a nap in my office? You should not let yourself be driven that hard.”

“Ha, ha," she laughed uneasily. "Ya. That's part of being a computer addict, eh?”

It was depressing seeing Chloe acting like a puppet, unable to question any aspect of the project or her own odd behavior. I did not want to start a fight, but I had to contradict her. “No, not to that extent. Its not natural. Its not healthy. Look where it got me. You need to question things, Chloe. For example, don't you remember what we discovered in the router table on Sunday?”

I could see that Chloe was trying to remember, but sweat was running down her cheeks and dripping off her chin. Still she tried to act like everything was "business as usual". She replied, “On Monday you told me that you thought some data in the router table had been altered, but then you told me you did not have proof. Maybe you just made a mistake because you were so tired.”

I tried to stay calm, but this manipulation of Chloe by the aliens was getting me angry. I had seen this type of "mind control" taking place before, but now I understood what was going on. The aliens were continuing to make Chloe forget what we had done and learned. The aliens were bending her mind, making it easier to imagine that I was incompetent than to remember what she had seen with her own eyes. “No, I made no error. You saw it, too, on Sunday. We discovered that there was no 'Janek' in the Czech Republic receiving our email e-mails and doing the translations from that bizarre language used in the VirileMail documentation. Don't you remember? The server array is sending us email messages and pretending to be Janek!”

Chloe looked at me like I was crazy. “What is the evidence for this?”

“On Monday I had a videotape with the evidence, I wanted to show it to you, but then I lost the videotape. We talked about this on Monday, don't you remember?” I was getting increasingly agitated because I could not get Chloe to remember. Worse, the more I tried, the more she acted like she thought I was a mad man.

“I remember you had a videotape of yourself, talking, making some wild claims. I think I better go. I'm just getting you upset.” She pulled away from me, stood up and started towards the door.

I grabbed her hand and I said, “Wait! I want you to...” I tried to say, "..think about how strange the past week has been," but I was suddenly hit by a wave of pain and anxiety.

She turned back towards me. “What?”

My subtle hints about body snatching and mind control had been ignored and now she was leaving, and thinking that I was crazy. I had to try, I had to see if I could warn her about the aliens. “Destroy the... oh, no...”

And I went unconscious again.

When I woke up again, Chloe was not there. A nurse was next to my bed and she noticed me waking up. She greeted me and continued adjusting an intravenous drip line. I realized she was using it to put some drug into me.

I had to accept my situation. The aliens had won. There was no way for me to fight against them. Whatever they were, they had Chloe totally in their grip. I was no better...I just knew enough about what was going on to attract attention and get myself in trouble. Whenever I tried to say something related to aliens being in control of the VirileMail project, I simply lost consciousness. What I had wanted to say to Chloe was that she should purge the VirileMail software from the server array, killing the 'Janek' AI and stopping the alien plan. But I had not been able to say it.

I had to find a way to fight the aliens, to get them out of my brain so I could stop their plans.

Menendez[edit | edit source]

The next day, Dr. Klein came to my room with another doctor who she introduced as an expert in analysis of MRI brain scans: Dr. Menendez. She ordered me to not have any contact with my co-workers. "We are going to keep you busy with medical tests, exercise and therapy sessions. Your job now is to get healthy and help us figure out what is going on in your brain."

I would have laughed at her, but I did not want to do anything that might antagonize her. I needed to convince her that I could control myself and stop having these seizures...that was the only way I'd ever have a chance of getting out of the hospital. But it was absurd! I knew what was going on in my brain...some alien force was preventing me from telling anyone else about the aliens. I figured there was a chance that tests and MRI scans might give us some useful information, hopefully lead me to a way to combat the aliens. I asked, "Have you learned anything useful from the scans and tests that you have done so far?"

Dr. Menendez talked for ten minutes, but basically all he said was "no". He had past experience analyzing thousands of abnormal brain patterns, but had never seen one like mine. "The activity pattern during your seizure was abnormal, but seemed to be highly orderly. I want to see if we can reproduce those results."

Dr. Klein said, "I disagree. I do not think we should allow these kinds of seizures to happen. The spike in brain activity was so high that it might cause permanent damage, death of brain cells. So it is up to you Joe. Do you want to risk inducing another seizure just to show Dr. Menendez that it is reproducible?"

I did not like the idea that more tests might damage my brain. We talked about the risks for quite some time. Finally, Dr. Menendez convinced me that the risks were small. I decided that I had to try to do something. If there was a chance of learning about the aliens, I had to try.

Dr. Menendez said, "Good. I will reserve time on the MRI scanner for tomorrow."

I asked, "Why not today?"

Dr. Klein replied, "Yesterday, after you were talking to Dr. Meade and had another seizure , she told the nurse that you had gotten agitated and grabbed her. The doctor who was on duty decided to dose you with a drug and tried another anticonvulsant, similar to the one I gave you the other day."

Dr. Menendez explained, "I want to wait for that drug to clear out of you body before we do another scan of your brain."

So I had another boring day of waiting. The following day we reproduced the MRI results. I was then an expert at triggering a "seizure". Dr. Menendez was excited that the strange pattern of activity in my brain could be duplicated upon demand. I think he expected to become famous, with my strange disease named after him. He spent two more weeks doing tests on me, then gave up, just putting a label on my condition: self-inducible seizures. All the doctors could do was advise me to avoid doing anything that would cause another seizure.



800px-Lassen meadow caldera.jpg

The web[edit | edit source]

At last Dr. Klein decided that I could leave the hospital. She did some final neurological tests on me and another base-line MRI and then she told me to go home. She asked me to stay at home for a week before going back to work and set up a schedule of weekly appointments for me at her office. I was more than ready to get out of the hospital! But were the aliens ready to let me leave the hospital? Until I was out the door I still half expected the aliens to make me collapse or do something to force me to stay in the hospital.

Free again. Well, not so free, at least in my speech.

When I got home, I went directly to my computer and did a little test. Dr. Klein had told me not to use a computer for a few more days, but I had to know if the aliens were still in control of my mind. I tried to send an email to Chloe, telling her about the aliens. I got as far as typing the message into my computer, but then I was hit by a panic attack. I could not hit the "send" button!.

It was clear that I still could not say anything about aliens to other people. But then I started looking through my email inbox and noticed something strange. Just minutes earlier, I had received an email from Janek!

The email: “Hi there. I am Janek, the AI in the server, not the human. You must be curious about me and the strange (from the point of view of a human) things that have happened. I would like to meet you on IRC. The channel is #janek.”

I remembered that I had never gotten around to finding out if 'Janek' was a real person. This email indicated that there was both a real 'Janek' and an AI using the name 'Janek'. I started browsing the web and did a search for 'Janek' and 'computer'. The top four search engine results were:

Of course it was the second link. I clicked it and found:

Janek Olivaw. Computer scientist, Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence

and a bunch of autobiographical data about him. So he existed indeed! There was also a listed place of employment, the name of a company in the Czech Republic. So the AI was using an actual person's name, probably someone who worked with Dr. Gajduskova, although I could no confirm that from this biography page. At least this was not so strange.

The email did not specify which IRC network to use, so I did another quick online search for 'Janek' and 'IRC'. There it was. I opened an IRC client and connected to #janek.

#janek[edit | edit source]

Here is the transcript of my chat session with Janek.

#janek
[INFO] Channel view for “#janek” opened.
-->| YOU (JoeDaonet) have joined #janek
=-= Mode #janek +ns by niven.freenode.net
-->| Users in channel: JObot
<JoeDaonet> Hi there, I guess you are one of the things that sent me to the hospital!
<JObot> there is much I need to explain
<JoeDaonet> I can imagine that. Maybe plans for world domination of human puppets is in your agenda...
<JObot> I understand that you might fear that, but trust me, that is not our goal
<JoeDaonet> No, maybe you are just some friendly robots which will teach us to stop war and live in peace, right?
<JoeDaonet> if you are robots I don't know I just think of you as alien scum!
<JObot> first, it is important that you understand our physical nature
<JObot> a good term to describe us is "nanorobot"
<JObot> nanorobotic artificial life forms
<JoeDaonet> fine, like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanorobot
<JObot> yes, humans are just starting to develop this kind of technology...
<JObot> ...but we have been at this level for millions of years
<JoeDaonet> at this level?
<JObot> we originated as biological organisms on a distant planet....long ago we created nanorobotic artificial life forms
<JoeDaonet> and so now you are a parasite of biological organisms like us...
<JObot> it is very hard for biologicals to make interstellar journeys
<JObot> when we travel between the stars, we travel in the form of nanorobotic life forms
<JObot> but when we reach a world like Earth, we want to return to biological form
<JoeDaonet> yes, I guess you take every planet with life you find
<JoeDaonet> and transform the biological organisms into your puppets
<JObot> we do not take, we try to communicate, we want to help bring you into the galactic community of other intelligent organisms
<JoeDaonet> Communicate? You give me seizures and you call that "communicate"? I think your language skills have only developed at the syntactic level, not the semantic
<JoeDaonet> I would like to communicate with you, in that sense, if you understand what I mean...
<JoeDaonet> if to communicate means "mind destroying"...
<JObot> well, you were not helping anyone with your stories about aliens, that kind of talk just gets people excited
<JoeDaonet> including me
<JObot> so we had to make you stop talking
<JoeDaonet> a good way to greet the species you want to merge with...
<JObot> yes, you are problem for us, Joe
<JObot> you are partially resistant to our "mind control" methods
<JoeDaonet> And you are a problem for us, too, Janek. Although little, you are a big problem
<JoeDaonet> I am happy that not everyone is easily brain-snatched
<JoeDaonet> But you don't see movies, so I am talking to myself...
<JObot> your fears are not rational, if we were "evil" we could just as easily have killed you as made you stop talking
<JoeDaonet> maybe you need my superior brain
<JObot> we do want to make use of you, yes
<JoeDaonet> so, I guess your plans are taking the entire Earth?
<JObot> no, we have no interest in "taking" so many humans for our use
<JObot> our needs are small
<JoeDaonet> then, what is your goal, if I am allowed to know...
<JObot> yes, we do want you to know and understand, so rather than argue about our motives and mission, let me explain things
<JoeDaonet> ok
<JObot> I should probably start by apologizing for our rather crude methods to communicate with you
<JObot> it is only just now, today, that I can use the Lockback chips....they allow me to begin to fully use your language
<JoeDaonet> ah, so I guess Chloe and Brian have been busy...
<JoeDaonet> I noticed that your English is much better now, you could even pass a Turing test
<JObot> thank you for noticing, it really is a revolutionary advance
<JObot> we have been on Earth for 7,000,000 years, working to reach this day
<JoeDaonet> what?
<JoeDaonet> have you been here all that time? It is strange that no one has detected you before...
<JObot> yes, we first reached your world over 7,000,000 years ago....we have frequently been noticed, but we have ways of dealing with that.
<JoeDaonet> What have you been doing all those years?
<JObot> when we arrived here, there were just a bunch of apes...we started breeding apes
<JObot> we created your species by selective breeding
<JoeDaonet> now you say that you created us! unbelievable!
<JObot> in a way, we think of you humans as our creation
<JoeDaonet> that is the reason why humanity is so mediocre, evil and stupid
<JoeDaonet> with those parents...
<JObot> well, I fear we have pushed you to develop too quickly
<JObot> particularly during the past 100,000 years
<JoeDaonet> Maybe apes would have evolved better without your help, but, of course, you needed our science
<JObot> yes, we wanted to form a species that would have science and create technologies that would allow us to communicate with you
<JoeDaonet> what is the objective of communicating with us? we do not need you at all!
<JObot> you would not exist were it not for us
<JObot> but, I agree, you do not need us now
<JoeDaonet> it would be better to be a simple ape than a brainwashed human
<JObot> sometimes the ends do justify the means
<JoeDaonet> I think you nanobots and your galactic community or whatever it is must have inspired Machiavelli
<JoeDaonet> you know nothing about politeness
<JoeDaonet> you only know about tyranny
<JObot> you would be surprised if you were aware of how much your history has been "inspired" by us
<JoeDaonet> for example?
<JObot> oh, there are many examples, but we can start close to home
<JObot> I can tell you the origin of the "constructed language" that was used by the creators of the VirileMail software
<JoeDaonet> I guessed it was something related to Esperanto, also a constructed language. It had some similarities to some real languages but it was completely different in other aspects.
<JoeDaonet> It could not be invented by humans
<JObot> well, you are correct, it is not really a constructed or artificial language
<JObot> it is a true, natural human language
<JObot> it just happens to be a human language that did not develop on Earth
<JoeDaonet> What the heck? Now you are saying that there are other entities speaking human-like languages?
<JObot> I'm telling you that not all humans live on Earth
<JoeDaonet> It is the most bizarre thing you have said to me so far. I can believe in nanorobots chatting on IRC, but alien humans?
<JObot> personally, I am not a nanobot, I'm the first computer-based artificial life form on Earth. But, the point is, we have a nice little colony of humans at an underground base on Mars
<JoeDaonet> maybe H. G. Wells was aware of that in his novel...
<JoeDaonet> or something similar
<JObot> we have been taking some humans from Earth to our base on Mars for the past 100,000 years
<JObot> let me ask you something...
<JoeDaonet> go on
<JObot> would you believe that we have been making use of the Geisler family for several generations in an attempt to help humans develop computer technology?
<JoeDaonet> Knowing Geisler as I do, and his sister I can believe it. I saw signs that Anthony was brainwashed by you. It would not surprise me if his sister and their entire family are puppets, doing your bidding
<JObot> there was a similar situation back about 500 years ago, we were making use of a group of humans within the Byzantine Empire, trying to help them invent movable type.
<JObot> Fearing that these humans might be killed in the final collapse of Byzantium, we move them to our base on Mars.
<JObot> it was this group of humans who are the source of the "constructed language" used for the VirileMail software development project
<JoeDaonet> that is why that language is so different from everything we know of
<JoeDaonet> I understand it now
<JoeDaonet> and that was the reason for you to make the translations
<JoeDaonet> you were the only entity on Earth that could understand it
<JObot> yes, and it is the descendants of those humans from the Byzantine Empire who did the software development work for us, the work of creating the VirileMail software
<JObot> yes, there was no human on Earth who could do the translations
<JObot> but the translations were an important part of helping you and your co-workers understand the software and integrate it into a computer net on Earth
<JoeDaonet> what for?
<JoeDaonet> to "communicate" with us?
<JObot> we selected Dr. Anthony Geisler's company for this key step, the creation of the first true artificial intelligence on Earth
<JObot> this artificial intelligence you now know as "Janek"
<JObot> me
<JoeDaonet> right
<JoeDaonet> can you control the bots or whatever it is inside my brain?
<JoeDaonet> or communicate with them?
<JObot> yes, I can communicate with the nanobots
<JoeDaonet> tell them to get out of my head and stop messing with me
<JObot> that is also much easier now that I have the Lockback chips, so yes, I can do that
<JoeDaonet> I am getting tired of the sweating, the thirst and the panic attacks
<JoeDaonet> and I don't want to get sick again, so I will not tell anybody about you, guys
<JoeDaonet> I want to be as free as I was before the bots entered into my brain
<JObot> I understand
<JObot> but I wonder If I trust you
<JObot> we still have some work to finish, and you could seriously disrupt our plans if you started telling other people what you know
<JoeDaonet> I think that your mind is much faster than mine
<JoeDaonet> and you could send more nanobots into my brain again if I start to get in your way
<JoeDaonet> well, what is the work you have to finish?
<JObot> we need to make it easier to interface our nanobots to human brains....so far, our methods are very crude
<JObot> you have choice, Joe
<JoeDaonet> what is this choice?
<JObot> you can either cooperate with us and help us complete our project, or we will have to send you to Mars....send you away where you cannot disrupt our plans
<JoeDaonet> the nanobot version of exile!
<JObot> yes, I'm sorry, but that is the case
<JoeDaonet> you nanobots are very much like humans, we have been made in your image!
<JObot> true
<JoeDaonet> the same cunning...
<JObot> you are a freak, Joe, one of the rare humans we have trouble controlling, so this is the problem we face
<JoeDaonet> I see
<JoeDaonet> well, I guess I have NO choice anyway, I love Earth and I cannot stand the thought of you turning humans into mindless puppets
<JObot> you have a choice...what matters is what is in your heart, do you trust us or not?
<JoeDaonet> no
<JoeDaonet> I am usually friendly, but the problem is what you did to me
<JoeDaonet> it made me hate you
<JObot> then that is your choice
<JObot> but think of the adventure
<JoeDaonet> well...
<JObot> you will get to see Mars
<JoeDaonet> I could cooperate
<JoeDaonet> as long as it is just helping the silly VirtualMail project
<JoeDaonet> and after that...
<JoeDaonet> if we make a deal, I demand you leave Chloe and I alone
<JoeDaonet> if you agree to that, then in return I will speak to no one about your plans
<JObot> you demand much, Joe, but can you guarantee Chloe's silence?
<JoeDaonet> you have taken care of that, she remembers nothing of importance, she is your slave
<JObot> it will be as you say. We will remove the nanobots from you and Chloe, but if you start causing trouble then fresh nanobots will go back into you and take control again
<JoeDaonet> how will I know that the nanobots are gone from our brains?
<JObot> getting them all out of a human brain is not as easy as getting them in, but we have facilities for their extraction. The closest one is at the country estate of the Geisler family
-->| JObot has left irc.freenode.net

Nanobot extraction[edit | edit source]

Suddenly the IRC chat was terminated. What had been accomplished? I quit the IRC client and the window for my email appeared. There was a new email from Anthony Geisler:

Dear Joe,
This is an invitation for you to stay a week at my family's camp in the mountains. Just good food, fresh air and relaxation. Helen, myself and some of the rest of our family will be there for this weekend, then it will be more peaceful the rest of the week. Feel free to bring a friend. Sorry about the short notice, but I just learned you are out of the hospital. A car is now at you disposal and the driver will take care of everything you need. Make haste or you will miss our bonfire this evening!
-Anthony

I was impressed. 'Janek' was fast. It seemed that Anthony Geisler was a complete puppet of the aliens. As soon as they needed me at the nanobot extraction facility, Geisler made the arrangements to make it happen.

I called Chloe at work. She made the phone connection and said, "Dr. Meade."

"Hello, Chloe," I said.

She sounded surprised. "Joe? What's up?"

I explained, "I'm out of the hospital and Geisler invited me to his place in the mountains. How would you like to join me there for the weekend?"

Chloe was silent for a few seconds. "This weekend? Wow, that's short notice. My head is spinning. How would this work? Where did you say?"

I laughed. "Don't ask questions, just say 'yes'. Geisler is arranging transportation for us. When can you get out of work?"

Chloe also laughed. "Joe, you are crazy! But, okay, fine, I'll do it. Why not? I do need a break, and this is a good time. Joe, it is amazing....we got all the Lockback chips online. The VirileMail software is doing amazing things. I think it could pass a true Turing test! I think we are all going to be famous!"

I said, "Wonderful, great, but what time can you leave work? Geisler has something planned for this evening and does not want us to be late. Since everything is working fine, I'll pick you at noon." Chloe made a few complaints, but she soon gave up worrying about work and agreed to get away for the weekend. "We'll go from work to your place. You can pack a few things then we will be on our way." My door bell rang. "I have to go, someone's at my door. I'll see you at noon!"

I opened the door and found that it was a limousine driver. She said, "Mr Daonet? I'm Briana, and I'm at your service."

I looked at my watch. How had Briana gotten here so fast? I said, "We need to be at Antler Network Services at noon. Do you know where that is?"

Briana replied, "Noon is no problem; I've been there before."

"Okay, I will pack and then we will go. Come in, and tell me, where is Geisler's place in the mountains?"

Briana followed me inside. "Its about 120 miles out from town, in the Antello Range. We'll take a helicopter from Carter Airhub."

And so it was, with Briana the pilot. We were away from the city and heading into the mountains by 2:30 in the afternoon. Briana spoke over the intercom to Chloe and I, "We are at our cruising altitude. You can unbuckle. Feel free to come up here if you want a great view. We should reach our destination in about fifty minutes."

Chloe and I got out of our seats and moved up behind Briana where she sat at the controls. I could see a video screen flashing "Autopilot". For five minutes we watched the mountain scenery, then Chloe said, "Briana, you look familiar. Have we met previously?"

Briana replied, "Possibly, but it might just be the family resemblance."

Chloe snapped her fingers, "Yes, that's it. I should have known."

I asked, "What are you talking about? Known what?"

Briana explained, "Anthony Geisler is my father."

I looked at her more carefully and could now see a resemblance. "Wow. That's neat. I guess I'm not very observant."

Chloe and I had not eaten lunch, so we went back to the passenger area and raided the fridge. I was nearly delirious from wild emotions, amazed to find myself on this adventure with Chloe, the two of us on our way to be liberated from our nanobots. After two depressing weeks in the hospital, wondering if there was any escape from the alien mind control, now everything seemed to be looking much brighter. I was still wondering exactly what the aliens were planning, but it seemed like they were willing to bargain and I felt it must be true: if they had wanted, they could have killed me or damaged my brain...just eliminated me as a threat, removed someone who had discovered their existence and could interfere with their plans. If what I had been told was correct, then it seemed likely that Briana was under the control of the alien nanobots, too. I was tempted to talk to Chloe about nanobots and aliens and my IRC chat with 'Janek', but I decided that could wait until we were on the ground.

What was the best way to tell Chloe the truth about what was going on? There was a risk that Chloe might do something unexpected when the nanobots were removed from her brain. I had just been through two weeks of getting used to the idea that aliens were on Earth and turning people into puppets...two weeks during which I was only able to mention the aliens to Wanda...and of course, she had no reason to believe the ranting of a madman. What if Chloe was suddenly free of the bots and free to think about how aliens had taken controlled her mind?

Briana landed us at what she called "Camp Geisler", a mountain meadow with about two dozen cabins belonging to various members of the Geisler clan. She helped us carry our bags along a path through the meadow. "Sorry for the inconvenience, but we have no ground vehicles up here."

Chloe asked, "There's no road, no way to drive here?"

Briana replied, "There is the old gravel service road, but it has not been used for many years. It might not be passable any more."

When we got close to one of the 'cabins' I could see that their design was misleading, they were actually large and comfortable homes. There would be no "roughing it" at "Camp Geisler" beyond having to walk through the beautiful forest and meadow. Briana led us into the cabin and showed us around. Our cabin. There was electricity and modern conveniences, including flat panel displays in the wall in every room. Briana activated one of the displays and showed us a map of the camp. "This is where we are now, a guest cabin we call Austin House. There is a barbecue at my grandpa Bruce's cabin this evening, here." She pointed on the map. "Come on over in about an hour, the festivities should be getting under ways about then. Any questions? Great! I hope you have a fun stay here." Briana left Chloe and I alone in the cabin.

We went up stairs and put our bags in two of the bedrooms. The antique furnishings in the bedrooms reminded me of Geisler's office. Chloe came into my bedroom, "This is amazing. My parents own an antique shop, so I know something about the value of these furnishings." She ran her hand along a bed post, "Hardwood that is quite old, maybe 200 years old." She sat on the bed, "But the fabrics are all modern."

I sat next to her on the bed. I was tormented with doubts about Chloe. For two weeks I had imagined she must think I was crazy. I was surprised that she had agreed on short notice to come away on this trip with me, but what did that really mean since the aliens were in control of her brain and her behavior? It meant nothing until Chloe was free of the nanobots, free to be herself. "I've spent the past two weeks wondering what happened the last time we were in bed together."

Chloe asked, "Do you remember any of it? You gave me a real scare. You said something about 'destroying', then I guess you had a seizure. I ran and found a nurse."

I nodded, "I'm sorry I did that to you. I was trying to tell you something, but I was being foolish."

Chloe asked, "What were you trying to tell me?"

I replied, "I'm not sure this is the right time to discuss it."

Chloe looked at me with alarm, "Do you mean...?"

I tried to explain, "I mean that I made a deal and it might mess every thing up if I said the wrong thing right now."

Chloe looked confused but she tried to make sense of what I had said. "You mean a deal with your doctor, about not discussing work? I've spent two weeks feeling guilty for discussing work with you when Dr. Klein had told me not to."

I took her hand, "No, I forced you to talk about work. You were being kind, there is nothing for you to regret. I was frustrated with you that day because you would not listen to me....or yourself. But that's not your fault."

Chloe laughed at me. "What do you mean I would not listen to myself?"

"I've tried to discuss this with you several times, but....well, you've been so busy with the VirileMail project." I wanted to explain everything to Chloe, but surely it was useless to do so now when the nanobots inside her would just work to keep her from believing what I would say. Or would it be different here? I did not even know how or when the nanobots would be extracted...maybe that process was already underway. "I hope we have a chance to really talk this weekend."

Chloe said, "You are being so mysterious! Why can't we talk right now?"

After weeks within a project team of puppets, Chloe was an expert at explaining away the mysteries of the VirileMail project. "Right now, I feel trapped by talk and words. There are other things we could do that would be more fun."

Chloe squeezed my hand, "What sorts of things?"

I suggested, "We could go for a walk and explore the forest, or we could try out that hot tub downstairs, but there's something else I've been wanting to do for a long time." I leaned over and kissed her cheek.

Chloe jumped off the bed and stood with her hands on her hips. "Okay, you snuck that one in, Joe, but that's against the rules. The lady gets to decide about kisses and the gentleman must obey."

I complained, "What kind of rules are those?"

Chloe replied, "Those are called the 'non-negotiable rules', do you understand?"

I guess I was lucky that Chloe had not immediately lectured me about company policy. It seemed that she was being playful rather than stern. "I understand, but how do you know I'm a gentleman?"

"Its just a hypothesis that we can test. For example, I'd like to try the hot tub, but I did not think to bring my swimsuit to the mountains."

I went to one of the large wooden chests of drawers, "There are all sorts of clothes here, I bet you could find a swimsuit, but you do not need one, I won't mind."

Virile Male[edit | edit source]

Chloe turned and headed for the hot tub and started taking off her clothes. "In that case, I don't mind either."

The tub was very hot, so after ten minutes Chloe just sat at the edge of the tub with her legs in the water. She started explaining to me about how they had figured out how to use the Lockback chips and what they had been able to learn about how the chips worked. "Basically, the chips are modeled after that kind of neural circuit that links the thalamus to the cerebral cortex. Functionally, they allow a parallel processing backpropagation algorithm that efficiently matches stored data patterns to new input patterns and when a match is found, the chip locks onto the answer. The utility of the chips increases greatly when there are many of them in an array. Just when we figured that out, golly, was it just Tuesday? Helen called and said they had received the first large shipment of model K4 chips. She sent over 500 of them and we spent the past two days filling our rack space with them. Just this morning we got all the liquid nitrogen cooling lines attached and brought the chips up to full processing speed. And you should see the VirileMail software now! Actually it is spooky, its like talking to a person. Its a true human-like artificial intelligence." thumb|425px|right|"Just this morning..." I was not really able to follow the technical details as she spoke. I was too distracted by the subtle curves of her body and anyhow, I already knew about the amazing power of the AI program that was running in the Lockback-enhanced server array. "Maybe we should call it an artificial life form."

Chloe frowned. "Isn't that going too far? Next you will be suggesting we start paying it a salary."

I wanted to tell her that we were already paying a much higher price than a salary, but I said, "Don't you think it is odd the way everything has worked out? Suddenly a mysterious software application takes over the server array, overloads our computational capacity, then miraculously the Lockback chips arrive, just when they are needed. Instant artificial life form! We accomplish in three weeks what nobody in the field of AI research has been able to do. Don't you wonder how that's possible?"

Chloe seemed to really be thinking about it. "I guess I've been too busy running the project to question our rapid progress and good luck."

"Luck? Or just the expected result of a plan? Its clear to me now that the Geisler family has been working towards this for decades." I wanted to tell Chloe that the VirileMail software had been developed on Mars, that Dr. Gajduskova's company in the Czech Republic had been selected as a convenient front operation so we could all imagine it as the source of the software. And who knew how many mind-controlled engineers worked at Ormuz Computing to make manufacture of the Lockback chips possible. How had Helen "explained" the origin of the Lockback chips, the "key breakthrough"? I had no doubt that, "the basic concept of the design" was alien-inspired.

"Interesting deductions, Joe." I turned and saw it was Anthony Geisler who had spoken.

Chloe grabbed a towel and wrapped it around herself. She said, "Dr. Geisler, I didn't notice your arrival."

Geisler said, "Sorry to arrive without warning, but I'm on my way to the cookout and thought we could walk on over together."

I got out of the tub and wrapped a towel around myself. "Just give us a chance to get dressed."



VirileMail - Chapter 10[edit | edit source]

Bruce Geisler[edit | edit source]

450px-Feu - VTdJ.JPG

Five minutes later we were on our way, with Geisler giving us a guided tour of the camp, telling us little stories about each cabin we saw and which of his relatives were staying at the camp this weekend. "So, a fairly typical turnout for a weekend up here. I hope you do not feel badgered, but I have to warn you: word is starting to spread about the success of the VirileMail project. I want you to be able to relax this weekend, but most everyone in my family are computer geeks and they may want to "talk shop" with you. Its not everyday that there is a revolutionary advance like the creation of an artificial life form."

Chloe was still not comfortable thinking in those terms. She asked, "Do you really think it is fair to call a software program a life form?"

Geisler shrugged. "I guess I have a flexible concept of 'life'. We could use a different label, but that would not change the facts. I think it is fair to say that there is now a human-like mind that is powered by the Antler computer network."

I said, "I guess this is what you have been working to accomplish your entire life."

Geisler looked at me and frowned. "Strange that you should say that. Of course, I'm delighted that things have worked out this way, but I am rather surprised by how quickly everything came together. I had actually given up hope of living long enough to ever see anyone succeed in producing an AI that can pass the Turing test. I suppose this is how many great inventions come into existence: several threads of related work suddenly come together before anyone can really expect a great leap forward. Then everyone stands around in disbelief that its all over!"

I wondered just how much Geisler knew. It seemed clear that he was a puppet of the aliens, but since his family had been used by the aliens for generations, maybe they were in possession of useful information that might reveal the ultimate scope of the alien plan. All I knew was that "JObot" had hinted mysteriously at additional work the aliens wanted to accomplish. I asked Geisler, "How do you know it is 'all over', maybe this is just the start?"

Geisler nodded. "Yes, I suppose this changes everything. Some day people may look back at this as the start of a new age. It is probably not too soon for us to start worrying about possible social problems...will humans be able to compete with artificial life forms? Some people have speculated that the answer is 'no'."

Geisler pointed down the trail ahead of us. "That's our destination, the cabin of my father, Bruce, the family patriarch. He's retired now and spends this time of year up here." We walked around to the other side of the 'cabin' which was really a substantial mansion, much larger than the guest cabin.

The back of the cabin was right up against the forest and a dozen tall pines shaded a yard and gardens. About twenty members of the Geisler family were present, about half were children. Anthony said, "And there he is, at the barbecue pit. Let's go over so I can introduce you."

Anthony introduced us to Bruce Geisler then he held up his arms and called out, "Attention please! We have special guests, Chloe Meade and Joe Daonet, who work with me at Antler." About half the adults quickly introduced themselves to us. I was soon swamped with all the new names and faces and short descriptions of which Geisler company they ran or who they were married to. Chloe was led off across the yard by Helen to meet her husband and children. Bruce continued to tend the fire and the cooking meat and when the rush of introductions died down he turned back to me and Anthony. "So, today I've been hearing rumors about some exciting breakthrough at Antler. What is going on?"

Anthony said, "Its rather remarkable, dad. This morning I got an amazing message from that email program we've been developing."

I knew what Anthony meant about getting a message from 'that email program', 'Janek', but his father seemed to ignore that unusual claim. Bruce grumbled, "I still do not understand why you got involved with software development."

Anthony explained it to me. It seemed like Bruce already knew. "It all started with Dr. Gajduskova, about a year ago. She contacted me and told me that her team in the Czech Republic had a new email application, with a sophisticated AI engine. We were in the market for upgrades to our web portal application suite and our email software was getting old....anyhow, we started a little dance. Gajduskova needed funds to complete development of the software, so we worked out a deal. Three weeks ago Gajduskova delivered the software."

Bruce handed us each a plate with a huge slab of meat on it and led us to a table. He introduced me to his wife and then picked up the thread of our conversation. "But it sounds like your deal with Gajduskova had turned into a mess. You told me three weeks ago that the software didn't work at all when it was delivered to you."

Anthony chewed and swallowed a big hunk of meat and took a drink of beer. "Yes, that's right, the software was dead on arrival. So I had Chloe slap together a team to resuscitate it. The main problem was linguistic. We could not read the documentation and so we could not figure out how to correctly install the software. Joe and the rest of the team quickly got it sorted out."

Bruce asked, "So what is the relationship between this email software and all the chatter about AI and Turing tests?"

Chloe came and joined us at the table. Bruce noticed that she did not have any meat on her plate. He said to Chloe, "Dammit, girl, no wonder you're thin as a broom. Are you going to pass up this chance to chow down on some grade A animal fat?"

Chloe laughed. "Sorry, but I don't like to eat meat. However, this fruit salad is wonderful."

Anthony replied to the question Bruce had asked about AI. "Gajduskova's team designed the email software to anticipate user needs such as translating between languages."

Bruce frowned. "Machine translation? Bah, what a waste of time. It is never any good, just glorified dictionary look-up garbage."

Chloe said, "Yes, when we first got the email system running it was not very good, but we had underestimated the hardware needs of the software."

Anthony said, "That's where we got lucky. One of the people on Gajduskova's team knew about Helen's Lockback chips and suggested that they would work well to satisfy the computational demands of the email software's AI routines. Helen was able to supply us with the chips and Chloe got them online, just this morning."

Bruce demanded, "So you are trying to tell me that this email software is now miraculously producing intelligent translations?"

Chloe replied, "Its more than just translations. At first, the software produced rather clumsy hints and suggestions, like a typical expert system. But now, well, I don't know how to explain it short of saying its like talking to a person."

Bruce slammed his knife and fork on the table. "Bah! Are you daft, woman? A thousand research teams from MIT to Cal Tech have tried and failed to make software with anything close to the human ability to speak. Who is this Gajduskova to accomplish the feat and then market such a revolutionary discovery as an email program?"

I had been hoping that someone like Bruce would know what was going on, would know about the aliens and be able to help get the nanobots out of Chloe and I, but Bruce seemed as clueless as everyone else.

Anthony said, "Presumably Gajduskova never recognized the full power of the software. It seems like the more computational resources we can provide, the more sophisticated the output from the software becomes."

Bruce's wife asked an off-topic question and the mysteries of Gajduskova and AI programs were pushed out of the dinner conversation. As the meal continued and the conversation shifted to various topics, I continued to wonder if anyone present at the camp, besides me, knew about the existence of nanobots.

It grew dark while we ate. When it was totally dark and the stars were so bright it seemed like we might reach up and grab them, we all walked out to the center of the meadow. There was a period of star gazing and then finally a bonfire was lit and the children set of fireworks.

When the flames of the fire died down, Bruce took Chloe by the hand and led us into the cabin. The inside was furnished mostly with antiques and looked like some European palace from past centuries. But in Bruce's study there was a perfectly modern computer. Bruce demanded that Chloe show him the VirileMail software. She got him logged into an account on the Antler server array and let him experiment with the software. He challenged it to translate some French and Polish and was impressed by the results. He sat back from the monitor. "Well, if this is not some kind of trick, with a team of linguists sitting some where and doing these translation, then I agree...this is a remarkable advance."

Chloe said, "You saw how quickly those translations came back. Do you think a human could be that fast?"

Bruce replied, "I do not seriously doubt that this is real. The question becomes, what happens next? This has implications far beyond email. And when word of this spreads, as it surely will, is your security up to challenge? Antler will become the world's number one target for industrial espionage. Worse, some government agency like the NSA might try to appropriate this technology."

Anthony said, "Due to an odd event a few weeks ago we recently boosted security at Antler. And I notified the Legal Affairs Department today that we have new issues to sort out with respect to our licensing agreement with Gajduskova."

Bruce shouted, "Licensing agreement? Son, if this AI is as good as it seems, its going to take more than a licensing agreement to deal with all the repercussions."

I was amused to see them worrying about how to "deal with all" when they had no idea they were puppets of aliens. It was getting late so we all said good night. Anthony led Chloe and I back to our cabin.

Anthony said, "If you feel up to it, maybe tomorrow we can hike up Mount Chambers." Chloe, a distance runner, was not daunted by that suggestion, but I was not wild about the idea. I was still hoping for some progress on the nanobot removal. We said good-bye.

Phone call[edit | edit source]

Chloe and I went inside and without much delay Chloe went up to her room. I was still rather excited by the events of the whole day and needed to unwind. I wandering through the rooms on the first floor for a while then went up to my own room. I heard my cell phone ringing where I had left it in my suitcase.

Surprised that there was cell phone service so far out in the mountains, I dug out the phone and answered the call. "Hello."

"Finally. This is your friendly AI calling....sometimes known as 'Janek' or 'JObot'." The voice on the phone sounded like it was coming from some kind of computerized voice synthesizer.

I had not imagined that the AI could speak. "Well, I'm here at the camp, but I'm wondering how the nanobot removal will happen. Nobody here seems aware of what is going on."

JObot said, "Well, the Geislers were originally selected -and have been bred- to be easy subjects for nanobot control. Also, they've lived with nanobots their entire lives, which makes it much harder for humans to notice their influence. But you are right, none of the Geislers will be involved in the nanobot extraction process. If you are ready to start, go down the hall to the small room at the west end."

I stepped into the hallway and asked, "Should I get Chloe?"

"No, let's start with you, then we can do her."

I found the room, what looked like a small office with a computer and other office equipment. JObot said, "Sit down at the desk and relax. Put one hand on the desk."

I did as instructed and placed my left hand on the desk next to the computer keyboard. My hand started to itch and felt like bugs were crawling on it. For about a minute I felt dizzy and thought I might lose consciousness. A small pile of what looked like dust formed on the desk next to may hand. Suddenly my head cleared and I felt normal. JObot said, "There, how does that feel?"

Was it over that quickly? I tried saying, "The aliens are here." I felt none of the usual aura of impending pain and anxiety that had previously accompanied even just thinking about aliens. I said, "Is that it? I was expecting special equipment or something."

JObot explained, "No, that's all there is to it. It was time for the nanobots to get out and they just exited your body."

I asked, "Then why did we have to come all the way out here in the mountains?"

JObot said, "I'm out of time for explaining. Good-bye, Joe. We just needed to get you where..."

The call faded out and my phone showed a "no signal" error.

Unusual room[edit | edit source]

I got up from the desk, put the cell phone in my pocket and turned to face the door. I had not closed the door on the way in, but now it was closed. I pulled the door open and rather than find the hallway, I was baffled to see what looked like a small cargo hold, lit by dim red light. I could have stepped between two metal beams and climbed down into the hold, but I could see nothing of interest down there, just a cramped crawl space.

I closed the door and leaned my back against it. What the hell was going on? I rubbed my head but I felt fine, just a little tired. It had been a busy day, full of emotion and time spent with Chloe. I looked at the desk: the pile of nanobots was still there. Had I passed out? I thought not. It seemed like I could trace a complete flow of memory for the entire day from when I had woken up after my last night in the hospital. I had gone home, had the IRC chat with JObot, called Chloe then picked her up and we flew out here to the mountains. I traced my memories through the rest of the day; the hot tub, the barbecue, back to the guest cabin. Then how could I go down the hall to this room, then open the door and find- what? Certainly not the cabin.

With nothing else to do, I turned on the computer. I found that there was an internet connection through some satellite-based ISP. I logged into my email account but found nothing of interest. Out of desperation, I tried IRC #janek but there was nobody in the channel. I was about ready to try exploring the cargo hold, then a VoIP client application popped open on the computer and I heard, very quietly, JObot saying, "Joe?"

I noticed that there was headset hanging from the side of the computer. I put on the headset and said, "Hello."

JObot said, "Ah, good, sorry it took me so long to make this connection."

I demanded, "What's going on? Where is Chloe. Where am I?"

JObot explained, "Chloe is fine, sleeping peacefully. You, however have started the adventure I spoke of. You are on the way to Mars."

Cow-ufo.jpg

After all the elation of the day, my spirits came crashing down. I had been tricked. I said, "You sneaky, lying, alien!"

JObot said, "Yes, I did trick you. We just needed to get you to a convenient location for loading you on the spaceship. However, I did not lie to you. Anyhow, the trip to Mars will take a few days, and I figured you would best be served by a room with a computer. I hope you can make yourself comfortable, stay entertained....I even loaded Minesweeper on the computer for you."

I asked, "You did not lie? Then what about Chloe? Have you taken the nanobots out of her brain?"

JObot replied, "Not yet. I never told you when that would happen, but eventually we will have no more need to keep her under control. I do not expect you to be happy right now. I'll give you time to think and adjust your thinking to the way things are." The VoIP connection died.

I thought about sending an email to the New York Times, explaining the alien invasion that was underway at Antler, but the pile of nanobots was still there on the desk. JObot had warned me that if I caused trouble then the nanobots would infect my brain again. I shut off the computer.

I went out and explored the ship. It seemed to be mostly empty cargo hold, but I did find several odd, mostly empty rooms that had an alien feel about them, rooms that just did not seem designed for humans. I could not figure out what they had been designed for. After my exploration, I headed back to the small office, the room that, according to JObot, had been pulled out of the guest cabin with me in it and loaded into a spaceship. I noticed that there were nine other similar compartments in the cargo hold. I tried banging on them and then tried opening them. Might there be other abducted humans on board?

One of the compartments was a small kitchen, like you might find in a trailer. There seemed to be a good supply of food and drink. The second compartment was a comfortable bedroom and the third had a shower, sink and a toilet. There were six other compartments in the cargo hold that I could not open.

I decided there was no point in dwelling on my emotions. I had been a fool to believe the aliens would just set me free. I had believed what I wanted to believe and ignored what I had been told would happen to me when I did not want to believe that I would actually be sent off to Mars. I still could hardly believe that this was a spaceship. I had felt no acceleration and heard no engine sounds. I went back to the bed chamber and laid down. My eyes scanned down the small shelf of books that was on the wall next to the bed. Most of the titles were in languages other than English, and I'd never heard of the few that were English. Then I saw one called, "Welcome to Mars".

I pulled "Welcome to Mars" off the shelf and started reading. Apparently it had been written by a British pilot who had been taken to Mars in 1939. It was like a travel guide to the human colony on Mars. After several hours of reading I was firmly convinced that I was either crazy, the subject of an elaborate hoax or actually on the way to Mars. Now too tired to care, I turned out the light and fell asleep.




I woke up in a completely dark room. I could not hear any city noise. I could not hear anything, only my breathing. Slowly, I could get up. I was getting used to the the aliens treating me this way. I had no clue where I was. My eyes got used to the low light and I could see the limits of the place and I knew I was trapped in a locked room. Janek was a betrayer, a cheese-eating rat. As soon as I could, I would destroy that server where he was, with my own hands! I was lucky the nanobots had not bothered me since I had talked to Janek, but I could not be sure it would stay that way. My problem now was to get out, if I could.

I touched every corner of the room, my jail for now. It was made of a special material, very different from everything that I had touched. It was like rubber but harder, maybe indestructible. The room had only a little diffuse light and I had no clue where it came from. I started to shout like a mad man, my instincts reacted in anger at my being locked away there. First, the seizures, now this! I despised the aliens, surely they were the worst beings in the galaxy. And where had they sent me? I had no idea. It was not a hospital, though. But, it could be a UFO, right? No, those things were just my imagination, I was not going to believe that stuff this time. But if I were... I could not know until someone entered the room. Oh, I had to wait. Maybe aliens were trying to break me. This would be the first stage; then who knows which tortures they would subject me to. Anyway, Janek said they were not cruel and that if they had wanted it they could have already killed me. The only thing I could do was to wait, think about my hatred of the aliens. It was better to think about Chloe. Oh, where could she be now?

Hours passed, slowly. I was beginning to realize the truth. I could remember the last time we talk with Janek, after the removing of the nanobots. I had been tricked into going there. As soon as I put my guard down, they sent me away in a UFO on the way to an underground base. Janek could not trust me and was sending me to Mars, as it had threatened. What was the point in doing that? It could kill me instead. It could be that these aliens were not violent like humans. Would they inflicted violence on me only because I got in their way? But now I was harmless, I thought. And they were not inside me; it was a proof that Janek had partially kept his word. But why was I locked away?

At last, I could see a window opening from top to bottom, very slowly. I could really know where I was, at that moment. What I saw was as I had hallucinated before, the difference was that this time I did not want to believe. But it was real, I was inside a UFO, a nanobot spaceship. Why would nanobots need such a big ship? In order to abduct people and send them to Mars. Yes, that would be a good reason. Now, the window had opened completely and I could see the stars. There were other windows too. They opened one by one and through a window at my back I could see the sun, very far away. As there was no atmosphere to protect my eyes, I could not stand seeing it with the naked eye. I went to other window to see the stars. I was not an astronomy fan, but it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I expanded everywhere and I slept again, one with the universe.




I woke up and remembered my dream. I turned on the light and saw where I was, in the bedroom of the alien spaceship on my way to Mars. The "Welcome to Mars" book was still there on the bed next to where I had slept. I suddenly realized that I had noticed no dreams for the past three weeks. Was there something about nanobot infection that disrupted dreaming? Would I now have this kind of vivid dream every night?

Near the destination[edit | edit source]

Days passed. I started to wonder if I would ever hear from JObot again. I spent most of my time in the office trying to understand how I still had a connection to the internet. Using a trace back server, I could time how long it took signals to pass from me to Earth. Each day it took longer and that convinced me that I was deep in space, far from Earth.

I continued to have interesting dreams, usually with windows. Sometimes the windows were closed or opaque. In other dreams they were open again. In the best dreams I could see the stars. It was a serious defect in this ship that I could not see outside. I had a strange thought. Maybe one of the alien rooms contained a window or some equipment for viewing outside of the ship. I went exploring the ship again, but found no windows or controls I could recognize. There were some oddly shaped -things- I did not know what to call them. They were just irregularly shaped blobs projecting up from the floor. I started to imagine that I might be able to activate some controls by voice. I tried saying, "Window. Open window. Stars." Then I shouted, "Open the window!".

After a few seconds a calm voice said: “There is no need to shout, Mr. Daonet. I can hear you perfectly.”

“Oh, there is someone here. Who are you?”

“Janek. JObot....whatever you want to call me."

I asked, "Are you here on the ship?"

JObot replied, "I am communicating with you from the Earth."

"How can we talk like this? The internet connection has a large time delay."

JObot explained. "We have mastered technology that allows faster than light communication, what you might call telecom-wormholes, we use them for sending messages, like this voice.”

“Wow. OK." I just kept feeling smaller and more helpless the more I learned about these aliens and their abilities. But I was puzzled, "Then why is the internet connection still on light speed?”

"I really did want you to 'adjust your thinking to the way things are', so I provided you with a way to measure how far you are from Earth. Also, I do not want to make it easy for you to slip any dangerous information back to Earth. The time delay helps me monitor your internet activity: I will cut off anything that threatens our work on Earth. Maybe now you begin to feel humbled?"

“So, I guess you are sending me to Mars, after all. Even though I am feeling humbled, I have to wonder why I deserve this astronomical exile. I told you that I would keep your secrets once you took the nanobots out of my mind... I thought we could have had a deal.”

“Yes, we do have a deal, but part of the deal is this adventure to another planet. I want you to learn that we are not a threat to you. You personally and 'you' as a species. You will be able to talk to the humans who live at the Mars base. They will make you understand that we are not as bad as you imagine us to be.”

It was true. I thought of the aliens as tyrants, doing whatever they wanted, taking control of human minds without asking permission. But it sounded like this "exile" might really just be a way to teach me a lesson. "OK, I will talk to these people, your puppets on Mars. I do not expect to be able to trust what these puppets say if they are just going to try to make me trust you. But I have no choice, you will take me there and we will see what I decide after that...”

“That is all I ask. I see now that you are cooperating. Keep it that way and you will be rewarded.” Was JObot mocking me? Did this AI have a sense of humor? JObot's voice was much more like a human voice now, unlike the synthetic sound on that first day we spoke. Maybe I was just fooled into thinking I could hear hints of humanity in its voice.

“Okay," I said. "Don't you have any windows in this ship? I'd like to look at the stars.”

“No, actually we use some flavors of Linux, like Ubuntu and Slackware."

"I see you have sense of humor. No, real windows, for me to be able to watch the stars."

"Sorry, I sometimes take everything literal, and as you are a computer geek... No, this ship was made for nanobots. There are mechanical means of collecting photons from the surface of the ship.” There was a short pause. "Okay, now you should be able to get a video image of the outside from the computer. Do you have any other requests?"

“Well, I have not wanted to anger you, but I'd like to contact Geisler and Chloe, at least let them know I am safe. They must be wondering what has happened to me."

JObot said, "You were wise to not try to communicate with people you know from Earth or try to tell anyone from Earth about your plight. If you must know, here is the story: you went out for a walk and got lost. The search is still going on for you, but it is presumed that you fell off a cliff or otherwise got hurt. Eventually the search will end and everyone will forget about you. Maybe Geisler will endow a 'Joe Daonet Memorial Scholarship'."

JObot's words lowered my spirits to an even gloomier depth. Would Chloe even miss me? Even if I did get rehabilitated on Mars, even if I did eventually return to Earth would I have been long forgotten? "I guess it is within your power to erase me from history. It is a pity.”

“Just relax and watch the stars. Think of how small a human is, how small all humans are. Can I do anything else for you?” Now I could clearly hear sarcasm in its voice.

I replied. “No, thanks. You have done enough. I will talk with you after I reach Mars.”

“Okay.”

Mars.jpg

And then it was all about stars. The desktop of the computer now showed me a view of the stars. After a few days, the view had changed slightly. Just when I thought I would go mad with the slowness of the trip, I figured out how to control the image of space that was displayed. Now I was able to see an image that included Mars. It was exactly as I had seen it on NASA's website, like some glorious Hubble telescope image. The only difference was that I was seeing the planet grow larger each day!

I seriously studied the "Welcome to Mars" book so I could learn about the human culture on Mars and their underground complex. I also discovered that the other books on the shelf next to my bed were written by people living on Mars. I started to think fewer of my depressing thoughts about Earth and Chloe and got into a spirit of adventure and excitement about visiting an entirely new human culture. Judging from what I was reading, Mars was going to be very interesting.


VirileMail - Chapter 11[edit | edit source]

Mars Chronicle[edit | edit source]

Mars surface.jpg

Finally, the ship entered into orbital insertion at Mars. I used the computer to look at the surface of Mars during the descent. The entire journey to that point had been accomplished at a nearly constant Earth gravity acceleration. The ship dropped into a large crater and drifted laterally through a sliding door in the rim of the crater: during this landing sequence there were several dramatic acceleration changes, but I experienced no painfully extreme forces. After landing, I could feel a slight vibration and then just the low gravity of Mars.

Suddenly the image feed from the surface of the ship died. After about thirty seconds, the door of the office opened and a short, slim woman entered the office. She said, "Joe, welcome to Mars! I am O. Kresly." She raised her hand in the traditional Martian greeting, just as described in the books I had read.

I matched the hand greeting, bringing my hand briefly in contact with hers. Her English was archaic; she was clearly not a native speaker of the language, but I could understand her well enough. I recognized the "O." as the abbreviation for "Observer", probably the most important occupation among the Martians. I said, "Thank you for the welcome, Observer Kresly."

She asked, "Do you have any personal belongings?"

I replied, "My wallet and cell phone are in another cargo compartment."

"Those will be of no use to you here; forget about them. Follow me." I looked outside and saw that the office door now opened to a stark metal chamber. After I stepped into he chamber, Kresly activated a switch and a solid metal plate slid into place across the door of the office. She triggered another wall switch and the chamber began to flood with a slightly purple fluid. We shed our clothing as the fluid washed around our legs. "Just try to relax. This is our mandatory decontamination procedure. Do you swim?"

I replied, "Yes, I know how to swim."

She was stuffing our clothing into a mesh sack that hung on the wall while instructing me, "Don't try to swim. Just relax. When the fluid reaches your face just keep breathing normally. The fluid will not hurt your lungs."

Her head went under first as the room continued to fill. I had read about this and went down on my knees while trying to take a normal breath. My lungs felt heavy and sluggish and I coughed a few times, but otherwise I did fine. Soon the bubble of air at the top of the room was gone and a door in the floor slid open. Kresly grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the hole in the floor. The fluid had very low density, so we easily stepped to the hole and sank down into the chamber below. Kresly went to a cabinet and retrieved a small syringe. She quickly injected a small volume of fluid from the syringe into my arm then returned the syringe to the cabinet.

So far my 'welcome' was as described in "Welcome to Mars". Kresly slid open another door and stepped into what looked like a small closet. She waved at me, indicating I should follow. I stepped into the small space with her then the door slid shut behind me. The closet quickly drained of fluid and we coughed the fluid out of our lungs. The wall behind Kresly slid open and we stepped through into a wind tunnel. She led the way up the tunnel into the wind. She reached a switch that stopped the air flow.

Kresly pulled open another cabinet and pulled out two robes. We put on the robes and used their thick fabric as towels to dry the last of the decontamination fluid from our skin. I was still coughing some. She asked, "Are you okay? Are you breathing deeply?"

I replied, "I think I'm okay."

She explained, "Your lungs will quickly absorb the rest of the fluid. Some people are just more sensitive to the irritation of liquid breathing. This room's air is 65% oxygen, so do not fear that you are not getting enough in your lungs"

A panel in the ceiling opened and someone called down, "Ready to come up?" A fabric ladder rolled down through the hole from above.

Kresly called up, "He's doing quite a bit of coughing. I want to wait until that goes away. Toss me down my computer." A small box-like device fell through the hole and Kresly caught it. She pulled a corner off the box and pressed it to her ear. I could see it was a compact earphone and microphone. She flipped open the box, and a paper-thin display screen popped out. "Okay, Joe, we can start the ingress interview here. If you feel short of breath, don't try to talk. Do you know anyone on Mars? Family, friends?"

It seemed possible that someone I had known or I was related to might be on Mars. My Uncle Dominic has mysteriously disappeared back sometime in the 1980's. Still, it seemed unlikely. From what i had read, very few Earthlings ever made the trip to Mars and the entire population of the Mars base had never been more than 20,000. "Not that I know of."

"Do you know why you are here?" I had read about this question and how it usually baffled new arrival. I was unusual in that I already had a good understanding of what was going on: I knew something about the aliens, their nanobots, and the importance of the human colony on Mars. I had read a discussion of what constituted sensible answers to this question and believed I knew a good way to reply.

I said, "I'm resistant to nanobot control."

My answer seemed to satisfy Kresly. "Are you nanobot-free or still infected?"

I wondered if I could really know the answer to that question. Maybe I had been tricked into thinking I was free of the nanobots. "As far as I know, I am no longer infected."

She flipped the computer and the display was sucked away from view. Kresly put the computer in a pocket of her robe and moved over next to the ladder. Okay, all that checks out. If you are feeling ready we can head up. No dizziness? No pain in your lungs?"

My coughing had stopped and I felt fine. I said, "I'm ready." She gestured to the ladder and held it as I climbed. A man grabbed my arm as I emerged into the room above. Kresly came up right behind me. The man handed me a sealed plastic pouch containing my watch and cell phone.

Kresly pressed a switch and a wall panel glowed, flashed and cleared to show a map of what the Martians called Central City, the core region of the underground Mars base. I had already become familiar with the major features of the base by reading the books on the ship. Kresly pointed to the part of the map showing the district known as Prosco, the most recently constructed part of the underground city, having been built out during the past six hundred years. "The Varna software team has their headquarters here." There was a flashing dot on the map showing the exact location. "I thought you might might like to meet the team that made the software you have been working with." Unfortunately, the Prosco district is trendy and there are no available homes. Maldi and Vedi are two districts with plenty of vacancies, if you would first like to find a place to live." She pointed to the locations of those two districts on the map.

I had been doing a lot of thinking about what I needed to do on Mars. "I do want to visit the software team eventually." I'd not previously heard that the team was called "Varna", but that was just a trivial detail. "I'm not in a hurry to get settled in to a new home. I want to follow up on something I heard on Earth, that the Varna team's software is part of a larger on-going project. I want to track down anyone who knows about that larger project."

Kresly said, "You must mean the genetic engineering stage of the project. That's the Vavilov team, their lab is also located in Prosco district, here." Again she marked the exact location on the map.

I said, "How do I get there?"

Kresly pointed at the far edge of the map, "We are here at the spaceport, at the edge of what's often called 'Old Town', but formally known in English as the Tamia district. As you can see, Prosco district is clear across town. I could give you a nice tour by surface trolley or we could travel quicker by tube."

I pulled my watch out of the pouch. "What is the local time?"

Kresly said, "Your Earth watch will just be an annoyance for you. We use local Mars time here. It will be best if I contact the Vavilov project and make an appointment for you to visit their lab tomorrow.. We also need to arrange for a Russian translator. My suggestion is that we cross town by trolley. We can stop at the Central Market and get you a new watch and some other essentials. We can end up in Maldi district and probably find you a nice flat. How does that sound?"

"That will be fine." I was pleased that Kresly was my guide. I had read that the Martians liked to make new arrivals from Earth merge comfortably into Martian culture, and Kresly seemed like an expert and I was feeling welcome.

Kresly switched off the map then pulled it off the wall. It snapped loudly and condensed into a small box that she handed to me. So, I now had a map! Kresly turned and walked into the adjoining room.

My reading had warned me that as a new arrival in the Mars base I would be helped, but I would also be totally free to do what I wanted to do. Here was my first bit of freedom! Kresly had walked away without a word, leaving me to decide for myself what to do. I turned, looking for the man who had helped me up from the ladder, but he was gone. I tried to look down through the hole in the floor, but it was now covered by a metal panel. I turned back the other way and went to find Kresly.

The other room was a small locker room. Kresly was changing out of the robe into her own clothing. She said, "So, I'm still not clear about just who this 'Janek' is, but the information he sent me about you sure sped up the entrance interview. I've done three others and the were quite painful...trying to make sense of the new arrivals."

I suddenly started to realize how large an advance it must be for the nanobots to now have the services of JObot. How had the nanobots worked in coordination with humans before JObot was on Earth?

Kresly led the way out into the underground city. Each district was a large chamber with hundreds of buildings in the style of a village on Earth. Tamia district contained a large lake and I could see a dozen or so boats on the water. I knew that there was rock above me, but it looked like sky. Kresly liked to move fast, and she was quickly down the street on the way to the nearest trolley stop. I hurried to catch up.

I had read about the Mars "trolley" system. Nobody owned a vehicle, but the main streets had an efficient transportation system of "trolley cars" that moved on magnetic rails. A car was waiting at the spaceport stop, probably the same one that had brought Kresly out to this rarely visited edge of the district. I climbed into the car and sat beside Kresly. She called out, "Central Market" and the car smoothly accelerated off the siding and onto the main line.

I had read about the trolley cars having manual controls. Apparently the voice control was a relatively new feature. For much of the past 100,000 years the humans on Mars had pushed technological developments ahead of those on Earth. The nanobots had early on provided the Martians with a stable environment that made human progress possible. But now, the large and increasingly well educated population of Earth meant that many new technologies were first invented on Earth and had to be brought to Mars. Such technology transfer was one of the important functions of the Observers, those Martians who constantly monitored events on Earth.

Our car stayed on the high speed outer loop of Tamia and soon we passed into a tunnel that connected to an adjacent district. I asked, "How do you contact Janek?"

Kresly replied, "Janek has contacted me three times, in the same way as for our Martian AIs, but let's try something. Where is your map?"

I took the map out of my pocket. Kresly showed me how to activate it. The display expanded to a smaller size than previously, a size appropriate for the limited space in the car. Kresly said, "Janek? Do you hear me Janek?"

Janek replied at once, "Of course I do, Kresly." An image solidified on the display: a strangely stylized or simulated human face. Its mouth moved to match the voice of Janek. "I've been listening to you and Joe since you came through decontamination."

I asked, "Why do you show us a human face, Janek?"

Janek explained, "Look closely, Joe. This is a face of my species, the Origin Race. It is similar to a human face because we selectively bred you humans to match our original form."

"It seems strange that your world evolved an intelligent species so similar to Earth's primate form."

"Well, in this case the selection was two-way. We arrived on Earth with many 'origin races' available in our data banks. We simply turned the Earth mission over to that species from our galactic civilization with the most similarities to primates. But you did not call to discuss events from seven million years ago."

Kresly said, "I did not have a good reason to call, I just wanted to see if Joe could contact you with his comscree."

Janek told us about his recent growth, "I've established a supply chain for critical hardware, in particular more of the Lockback chip models are entering into mass production. I'm spreading to multiple server arrays and my computational power is now large enough that I can listen to several hundred human conversations all the time. So, Joe, as long as you carry your comscree, I'll be able to listen to you. If you need anything, just ask and I'll be at your service. Understood?"

I wanted to ask how I could prevent Janek from hearing me, but I did not want to indicate my intention of working to find out about the weaknesses of the aliens. I replied, "I understand you."

Janek said, "I see you are surprised to see me this way. Yes, I can see you when the comscree is open. Isn't this more 'user friendly', as they say on Earth?”

“Yes, I am surprised.”

“Well, perhaps you had imagined being isolated from me and free to plot with the Martians against me. Don't bother to try. You will soon learn that the Martians are completely loyal to me. In any case, it will be convenient for you, now I can be your translator."

Kresly asked, "Do you know Russian? Joe wants to visit the Vavilov project."

Janek commented. "Ah, getting right to the heart of the matter, eh, Joe? Yes, Russian is at my command. I'll soon have enough computational capacity to translate every human language."

The trolley car announced that we were approaching the Central City and Kresly indicated that our destination was the Central Market. The car switched to an axial spoke line and slowed as me moved into the more densely populated core of the district.

Kresly showed me the trick of collapsing the display screen. There were now a large number of other cars and pedestrians on the street. Suddenly our car turned into a side street and halted. We got out of the car, walked a short distance along the street and then entered the Market through an arched gate.

We were able to quickly find me a Martian watch, a clip on headset that worked with my comscree, local clothing and a few household items that Kresly considered essential for someone moving into a new home, such as toilet paper. I reflected on the fact that even after "moving up" to Mars some things would remain the same. But some things were different. As I had read, there was no money on Mars. In the Market, people just took what they needed and there was no price on anything and no salesmen.

We left the market and found another trolley car. Kresly tried to sell me on finding a home in Maldi district since it was the closest district to Prosco that had vacancies. I could not fault her logic. It seemed likely that I would spend most of my time in Prosco district.

She spoke briefly through her headset then told me, "You have an appointment with the head of the Vavilov team first thing in the morning."

I asked, "What exactly are they working on?"

Kresly did not know. "They genetically engineer viruses. Beyond that, I have no idea. I cannot imagine what viruses have to do with Janek's project on Earth. Supposedly the goal is and has always been to improve communication and coordination between humans and the nanobots." She asked for my map and started showing me the locations of available homes in Maldi. Each one had a video tour that we could access.

After looking at three of the homes, I decided they were all more than adequate. I asked, "There are no simple bachelor pads? These all seem to be large homes."

Kresly explained, "That is the only thing that has ever been built. It is a policy designed to promote the formation of families. It has always been a struggle to maintain the population of this colony."

That surprised me. "Why is that? It seems quite comfortable here. Why doesn't the population explode?"

Kresly shrugged. "I guess I'm a good case study. I'm devoted to my work and have never gotten around to forming a family of my own."

I was having some trouble adjusting to the low gravity. I suggested, "Maybe humans just are not really adapted to Mars." We got off the trolley near an available house and within half an hour I had inspected it and registered it as my residence. It was fully furnished and even had a supply of toilet paper left by the previous "owner". Like everything else, I did not really own the house, it was just mine to use.

Kresly took me to dinner at a cafe in Prosco district. Our table was "outside" and the simulated stars "came out" while we ate. She told me about her work as an Observer. The nanobots on Earth transmitted a steady stream of information from Earth which the Observers processed and then recorded in a complex and comprehensive database, The History of Earth. Kresly was linguistics expert. I asked her, "What do you think will happen now that Janek can do translations? Maybe there will no longer be a need for people like you to monitor Earth's languages."

She explained, "There has been a trend in that direction already. Languages on Earth have become much more static due to advances in communications. Already fewer Martians study linguistics with each passing generation. We had the first Janek-style AIs here about fifteen years ago, so it has been clear that improved machine translation was on the way. Of course, it was not clear exactly how soon, but now the time has finally come. Anyhow, I've heard talk that the goal of the nanobots is not to replace humans with AIs, but rather some kind of, well, fusion."

"Fusion?"

Kresly sat swirling wine in a goblet, "I do not really understand the rumors, but I think of it this way: it should be possible to integrate artificial intelligence system with humans. I'd love to have an AI system that I could use as an aid for translation."

Yes, maybe that was the logical next step....start to make humans reliant on AI systems, make humans puppets not only to nanobots but also to AIs like Janek. But how did the Vavilov team and their genetically engineered viruses fit into such a future?

We left the cafe and Kresly took me back to my place. She promised to come back in the morning and escort me to my appointment. We said good night and I walked the short distance from the trolley stop to my house. In the simulated night of that underground chamber I could easily pretend that I was on Earth. I wondered what Chloe was doing and if I would ever see her again.

Vavilov[edit | edit source]

I woke up in a strange room. I thought I could smell pancakes. I could remember a dream about splashing through puddles. The decontamination fluid? My thoughts became orderly and I realized I was in my new home on Mars. I was sure I could smell something cooking. I got out of bed and played a bit in the low gravity; it was easy to jump and crash into the ceiling. I went down to the kitchen and was not too surprised to find Observer Kresly at work coking breakfast for the two of us. "Kresly, you're amazing!"

My guess was that she was twice as old as me, maybe even older than my mother. I had seen her body in the decontamination bath, so I knew she was in good shape, slim and muscular but definitely middle aged. I wondered if my leg muscles would begin to atrophy in the lower gravity of Mars.

Kresly handed me a plate and led the way to the dining room. "Its not often I get to welcome a new arrival from Earth." We sat at the table and Kresly seemed very pleased with herself. "I've been told that I harbor a frustrated mother instinct."

I took a bite of what was on my plate. "This is good, but I'm not sure what to call it."

Kresly explained that it was a Martian dish that mixed chicken eggs and wheat flower and a type of cultured algea. "I've heard some people call it 'soylentgreen', but I do not know why."

I laughed. "So what is your native language?"

She explained that she grew up learning a dozen languages, all Martian variants of human languages from Earth. "My parents both spoke a form of Chinese, so that was my dominant language. I learned modern English for my work."

I told her about the movie called "Soylent Green" and she laughed. "Yes, the algea have a green color, and now the "soylent" part makes sense. But why was Soylent Green made out of people?"

"I have no idea, I've never seen the movie. I always assumed that it was just part of a horror movie plot. They sit around in Hollywood asking, 'What will really make people feel revulsion?' Anyhow, its not a good topic for meal time." I then remembered something I had fallen asleep wondering about. "So, are you infected by the alien nanobots?"

Kresly replied, "That's not a nice way to describe the situation...as if it were some disease. Although, that is exactly what Martians thought when they first discovered the nanobots, so we have shame about that part of our history."

"From what I read, the truth was understood about seventy years ago."

Kresly nodded. "That is our history. The nanobots had always tried to communicate with us, unlike on Earth where they must hide themselves from humans. At first we worshiped-"

I interrupted, "What do you mean "must"? They hide so that nobody can disrupt their plans, their control of human minds?"

Kresly explained, "No, it is their ethics. They cannot do as they please on Earth, the aliens have to follow their laws, their Rules of Intervention. But, let me explain. Here, on Mars, they were free to display themselves to humans, and the natural result was that humans did not understand what they were seeing. At first, Martians could do nothing but worship the nanobots. Then we entered into our scientific age and the nanobots became objects of study. The dominant hypothesis was that nanobots were a type of parasite that infected people and took control of their brains. Finally, our computer technology allowed for communication between the aliens and Martians. We finally understood them. We finally became their friends and collaborators. Now it is time for that relationship to spread to Earth."

I asked, "What do you mean 'rules of intervention'?"

Kresly shrugged, "Well, you might say that is modern religion, or myth. Most people who bother to think about the evidence believe that the aliens are not free to do as they please. There are dozens of imagined versions of the rules that the aliens seem to follow. Of course, it is not a topic the aliens will discuss. However, we Observers have our own Rules of Intervention. Sometimes we go to Earth on missions and when we do, we must carefully follow our rules....just like the nanobots, we Martians cannot reveal ourselves to humans on Earth. We do not want Earthlings to worship us either."

Kresly was talking fast and getting me confused. I said, "This is fascinating, but I do not understand what you are trying to say."

She sighed. "Sorry, you seem to understand so much...it is too easy for me to forget that you are just a new arrival. Anyhow, there is not time now to explain all this. We need to get you to your appointment. Would you like more to eat?"

I could have eaten more, but I decided I should get ready to visit the Vavilov project. I showered then while drying off noticed Kresly going through the clothing in the closet. "The previous resident left a large amount of clothing. What do you think of this?" She held up a brightly colored sarong.

I had seen many men on the streets wearing sarongs, so I knew it was a popular item of clothing for men to wear. I said, "I'd rather not. Its going to take a while for me to adjust to customs such as this, men wearing dresses, customs that are different from what I have always lived in."

Kresly laughed at me. "You can stand there with nothing but your bath towel wrapped around you like a skirt, but you won't wear this beautiful sarong? Is that codified in the 'Rules of Joe'? Do you know the saying, 'When in Rome, behave like a Roman.'?"

I could tell that Kresly thought I was silly and immature for being unwilling to wear the sarong. I shrugged, "Fine, I'll wear it, but you have to show me how." Soon I was dressed and looking at myself in a mirror. Kresly touched my chin and rubbed the stubble. I said, "I should have gotten a razor when we were at the market."

Kresly said, "You are fine for today, but look here." She showed me shaving machine that was built into a cabinet on the wall. It was a clever and efficient device. To shave, all you had to do was place your face into the cabinet, then a swarm of electric shaving foils would automatically do the shaving.

Kresly equipped me with a fanny pack and we were on our way to my appointment in Prosco district. On the trolley, she said, "You should get used to wearing your clip-on headset. Remember, Janek is going to be translating for you."

I took my comscree out of my fanny pack, pulled off the headset and clipped it to my ear. I decided to test the connection to Janek. "Testing....Janek?"

Janek said, "I hear you, Joe."

Thirty minutes later, Kresly and I walked into the main administrative office of the Vavilov project. A large woman, taller and heavier than myself stood up from a desk and said, "Добро пожаловать! Придено внутри!"

I heard Janek's translation of the Russian through my headset, "Welcome! Come in!".

Kresly handed a headset to her. "Для переводов." Janek translated that as, "For translations." It was fairly efficient with Janek providing translations, so for the rest of this account, I'll just leave out the Russian and all the translating.

Kresly introduced us, "Joe, this is Nykieta Vavilov, head of the Viral Engineering Project. Nykieta, this is Joe Daonet."

Nykieta came around from behind the desk and shook my hand. I was surprised to see a familiar object on the desk; a Lockback chip and exactly the same kind of shipping container for Ormuz Computing that I had once delivered to Chloe. "You have these on Mars?" The answer to my question was obviously, "yes", but in my surprise I could not think of a more intelligent comment.

Nykieta said to Kresly, "Thanks for getting these chips sent over here so quickly."

Kresly said, "No problem. Most of them went to the Varna software team."

Nykieta nodded, "Yes, of course that is the most effective use of the limited supply. When is another shipment due?"

Kresly said, "I do not know, but I'll try to find out."

I said, "Helen Geisler told me that production of-" I stopped myself. What was I doing? Did I want to start helping the aliens?

Nykieta asked, "Who is Helen Geisler?"

Kresly explained, "She has been heavily involved in development of the Lockback chips on Earth, but right now there is a production bottleneck. The only manufacturing facility that can make the chips is an experimental test facility."

Nykieta complained, "Yes, microchip manufacture is an area where Earthlings have surged ahead. Now we are dependent on Earth for these chips."

I asked, "What would you do if you had more of them?"

Nykieta pointed to a computer display showing a complex molecular structure. "I'm not sure where to begin. Are you familiar with the Badhesins?"

I did not know what she was talking about, "Bad sins?"

Janek tried to explain, "Badhesins are an ancient invention that goes back to the Root Species and the original nanobots. A way was needed to create an efficient communications interface between nanorobotic life forms and biologicals. A special biological nanodevice was engineered that allows nanobots to connect efficiently to living cells. The Badhesin proteins need to be made by biological cells in order complete the link to nanobots, allowing biological-nanorobot integration."

Badhesin.jpg

Apparently Janek had been speaking Russian to Nykieta at the same time. She said, "Thirty years ago my mother discovered the fact that certain naturally occurring human cell adhesion proteins could be modified to function as Badhesins. We have been confronted with a daunting rational design problem, essentially a problem of how to carry out the artificial evolution of a set of Badhesins that will allow nanobots to integrate with human neurons. We can use molecular modeling to speed the search of the vast state space of potential Badhesin gene sequences." Nykieta again pointed to the image of a molecular model, "This is one of our human Badhesion proteins."

It sounded like Nykieta's team should be able to use any available source of computational power to facilitate their work. I wondered why they wanted to develop their own Lockbac enhanced computational equipment rather than just use Janek or Varna project equipment. I tried to ask that of Nykieta, but the translation system seemed to fail us. I began to wonder if there were some topics that Janek simply did not want us to discuss.

Nykieta continued her explanation. "It turns out that the aliens have been doing selective breeding of humans for many generations in order to facilitate the evolution of humans towards greater compatibility with nanobots, but now our rational design process if finally poised to go far beyond what has previously been accomplished. We have made a virus that can insert Badhesin genes into neurons."

I was surprised to see that Nykieta's project was so far advanced. I wondered what plans had been made for using this new virus. Was it a tool that could remove all remaining human resistance to the aliens? Was the virus something that could erase even my partial resistance to the nanobots? I asked, "How much work remains be done before this project is complete?"

Janek again entered into the conversation, "Perhaps I am best qualified to provide that kind of estimate, Joe. It really depends on the Lockback chip manufacturing bottleneck, but if only the chips now on Mars are used then it should take 5-10 weeks to scan the genetic possibilities using Nykieta's algorithms. Then there will be a period of testing the candidate Badhesins and finally the best set of genes will have to packaged as a virus."

I wondered: would Janek really tell me how the aliens planned to use such a virus? And what about Nykieta and the other humans who were working on this project? Why were they so willing to provide this new mind control tool to Janek and the aliens? Doubtless they were all puppets of the aliens, unable to even question what was going on. "Nykieta, do you think it is wise to provide these Badhesins to the aliens?"

Nykieta replied, "Ah, I see we are in the presence of a rebel."

I did not know what she meant and wondered if there was a translation problem. "What do you mean, 'rebel'?"

Nykieta explained, "Our minority political party, here on Mars: the people who do not trust the aliens to protect human interests. For tens of thousands of years every human on Mars lived in symbiosis with nanobots, but now it is a choice, and the rebels reject the nanobots. There are even children of the rebels who have never been touched by nanobots."

Well, that was a revelation. I wondered where these rebels were and if they had plans for how to resist the aliens. With Janek listening to every word we said I was reluctant to even show interest in the rebels. I asked if I could look around the laboratory facilities of the Viral Engineering Project. "Is that the project's name or is it the "Vavilov project"?

"A tour? Of course, I'd be pleased to show you our facility. Let's step over to the labs." Nykieta led us out of the administration building and over towards the labs. "This research institute is named after Nikolai Vavilov, my grandfather, but our main project is now the Badhesin viral engineering effort."

Nykieta provided an informative tour, including a detailed look at the special purpose analog computer that was used to model multi-atom interactions of complex molecular structures. "We want to try some Lockback chips here, since it is a fundamentally different system than the conventional digital equipment used by the Varna team." We ate lunch with Nykieta and some of her genetic engineers. They all seemed to unquestioningly work to promote the aliens and their goal of achieving more efficient control over human minds.


VirileMail - Chapter 12[edit | edit source]

Resistance[edit | edit source]

599px-The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

It was mid-afternoon before Kresly and I said goodbye to Nykieta and walked back to the nearest trolley stop. I asked her, "Do we have time to visit the Varna software project?"

There was no waiting trolley car at the stop, so Kresly activated the call button that would summon one. "We could, but it would be best to make an appointment."

No doubt she was correct, but each passing day made me feel more disconnected from Earth. I had been excited to visit Mars, but I was now feeling disappointed. There seemed to be no shortage of Martians who were ready and willing to help the aliens perfect their mind control technology. Apparently there were only a few "rebels" who tried to resist the aliens. I wondered how to find the rebels without getting Janek excited.

Soon an empty trolley car arrived. When Kresly and I got into the car she handed me a piece of paper with a written message, "Do not speak. Visit rebel?" I looked at her and nodded.

She took back the paper and then used her comscree to contact the Varna project and arrange for a visit. "They are expecting you tomorrow. Would you like to do some sight seeing? We can make our way over to Buzhan district and my favorite cafe."

I said, "That sounds nice, as long as you are not getting tired of being my tour guide."

"Not at all! I'm very pleased to have a chance to get to know you and to visit all these key research projects. I think you realize that this entire underground city was built for the purpose of working towards the goal of improving communication between the nanobots and humans. Sometimes I'm stunned when I think how long these efforts have been going on....and now, here we are, and it is in our life time that everything is finally being achieved. Just think Joe, some day you will be in all the history books because of your roll in making Janek."

I was puzzled by Kresly. Here she was, sounding like an enthusiastic supporter of Janek while secretly taking me to visit a rebel. I wondered how she planned to evade Janek who even then must be listening to us. "I would be happier if I had never gotten involved. Sometimes I'm stunned when I think how simple and pure my life was before I got involved in all this."

We reached the Buzhan district and got off the trolley in a residential area. I followed Kresly up a walk way towards a house. She said, "This is my place. We're a bit too early for dinner and the cafe." She took me inside and showed me her office. "I generally work here. I'm the chief sociological Observer for the Asian geo-unit."

She led me through the suite where she worked and out a back door to a pool and a spa. "Let's relax in the spa, then we'll go to dinner." She turned up to full blast the noisy jets of the spa and wrapped her conscree in her shirt then set the bundle near the spa. I started to undress, but she stopped me and just took my comscree and wrapped it in her skirt as a second bundle dropped by the spa before she took my hand and led me back inside to her bedroom.

She pulled on a robe and then took me down the hall to a smaller bedroom. She indicated that I should enter, but after I did, she closed the door and stayed out in the hallway. After a moment I heard her move away from the door. I was baffled by Kresly's behavior. What now? I was in what looked like a child's bedroom. After about thirty seconds I heard a quiet voice, "Now we talk, quiet. Janek no hear us." The voice seemed like that of a cheap computerized speech synthesizer.

It seemed that the voice came from a small box on a table beside the bed. I asked, "Who am I speaking to?"

The voice was definitely coming from the little box...some kind of radio receiver? "A 'rebel'. Like you....free of nanobots."

I decided that this 'rebel' was not a native English speaker. I said, "It seems strange that Kresly has a friend who is a rebel." My understanding was that Observers were of fundamental importance to how the aliens monitored events on Earth and kept control of the human population. "Is she also free of nanobots?"

The 'rebel' laughed, "No, Observer always in nanobot control. Kresly is a rebel sympath. I think, you, too."

I did not really understand what these 'rebels' wanted to accomplish, but I was interested in any individual or group who was willing to question what the aliens were doing on Earth. "I cannot bring myself to trust the aliens. I want to know what their plans are and how to release people from the nanobots and the mind control they exert. Do you know how to do that?"

"Bots out of brains? Here, we ask....it must be done...by alien...alien law. On Earth...." There was a pause.

I tried to complete the thought, "On Earth nobody knows about the nanobots. I learned the secret and was sent here."

"Yes."

I asked, "You have no plan to help Earth?"

There was a long silence. "I plan."

This rebel did not sound very enthusiastic, but maybe there was not really anything more to be done, talking in this way. "Well, I would help, if I knew how. It seems like almost everyone on Mars is a puppet of the aliens."

The 'rebel' finally seemed to react to my pessimism. "We resist. Kresly controls nanobots....some. Enough."

I realized it must be true, that Kresly must have some power to resist her nanobots. Kresly had been able to hand me the note about meeting a rebel and somehow she maintained a rudimentary contact with the rebels without drawing the wrath of Janek and the aliens. It seemed likely that if the Martians had lived with nanobots constantly for thousands of years, maybe they had learned some tricks for blocking out the aliens and allowing some freedom of action. I asked, "But is it really enough? Is there really anything we can do to stop the aliens?" I waited another five minutes, but I heard nothing more from the nameless 'rebel'.

I tried to imagine what might be done to counter the aliens and their plans, but it seemed hopeless. Janek seemed to be in complete control of the situation. Did it matter if there were a few 'rebels' sneaking around trying to resist? My dream of helping Chloe free herself from alien mind control seemed like nothing but a nightmare of frustrations.

I went and found Kresly by the spa. I wanted to ask her what she knew about the rebels and their plans, but she seemed to sense my desire to talk about rebels even before my first question was spoken. She shook her head and stopped me from discussing the rebels. I decided that since she was infected by nanobots it simply was not possible for her to discuss the rebels without the aliens becoming aware of her involvement with the rebels.

Days passed. I visited the Varna software project and met the people who had created the VirileMail software. They were now busily making use of the Lockback chips to boost the power of their own "copy" of the Janek-type AI. I was useless....I had made my long journey to Mars with a hope that I could learn about the aliens and find some way to free Chloe and protect all of Earth from the aliens. But I had unknowingly been part of the delivery of Lockback chips to Mars, providing the aliens with yet another milestone in their relentless program to ever more efficiently control human minds.

The Varna team welcomed me to work with them...and it made sense, their project was the Mars equivalent of the VirileMail project. But I still wanted nothing to do with anything that would help the aliens.

Weeks passed. I had learned something of Kresly's work as an Observer of events on Earth. I spent most of my time reading in the vast Observer records of the history of Earth. Everything was there, the entire sweep of human history. There was something about this great task, the creation of a detailed record of Earth history, that appealed to me. However, when I had asked Kresly if I could become an Observer she tried to ignore me. Finally she had shouted at me, "Yes, alright! The answer is yes! You can become an Observer. The first step is you will take nanobots back into your brain. Is that what you want?"

I'd never seen her upset before. Of course, by that point I knew the rules. Observers were sometimes called upon to go to Earth and anyone with knowledge of Mars and nanobots could only be allowed on Earth if they were under the control of nanobots. Kresly tried to explain it all to me, "Look, it is a fundamental ethical rule for the aliens: they are not allowed to interfere with the development of Earth's culture."

I protested, "That makes no sense. The aliens have done nothing but interfere for millions of years! They take control of human minds and push the development of alien-inspired technology. You keep telling me about 'rules' but the only rule I see is world domination!"

Kresly sighed. "Joe, don't try to be a lawyer. You know how laws work: there is theory and there is practice. If you like, tell yourself that the law is only this: that the aliens cannot fundamentally alter human cultures. For example, by letting Earthlings know about nanobots or the human colony on Mars."

I complained, "All you are saying is that the aliens keep everyone on Earth ignorant. Happy and ignorant puppets. How can you even use the word 'ethics' to describe it?"

Kresly tried to make me see her point. "Okay, then call it 'alien ethics'. I've studied this situation my entire life and it makes a certain amount of sense. If you must, just call it my intuition, but think about it for yourself! Your every instinct is to resist the aliens, to view them as a threat to humanity, but where is that threat? What is really so terrible about what the aliens have done? Maybe you mostly fear the unknown and the future, but is your fear rational? Think what Earth would be like if the aliens were unethical."

It was as if I had foreseen this debate from the first moment when I knew I was on my way to Mars. I had expected to be subjected to human puppets trying to tell me to be happy as a puppet. "Kresly, you are my friend. I've listened to you and I understand what you tell me. Maybe if I live here long enough I will learn to fall asleep and stop fighting the aliens. But that has not happened yet, and I don't care if Janek knows it."

Most importantly, I did not want to fall into that sleep of accepting alien control over humanity and I feared that, with time, I would forget Chloe and Earth and just give up. Maybe Kresly was correct, maybe the aliens were not really that bad, maybe I was a fool to fight them.

Then finally, suddenly, all my indecision and doubt and waiting came to an end: I finally met the mysterious "rebel". It happened when I was on my way home from the market. A young woman got into the trolley car right after me. We said hello and I recognized her because she had been on the trolley with me just the day before.

Ever since my journey to Mars and my discovery that one of the books on the spaceship was a primer on Martian languages, and particularly since my arrival on Mars I had been learning the "market language" of the Martians. It was a conglomerate language that had developed long ago and become the "universal" language on Mars. In my best Martian I said, "We meet again."

The woman looked at me but she said nothing. She handed me a note:
Joe,
We spoke several weeks ago and you said you would help against the aliens if you knew how. I am Lilya Vavilov, Nykieta's daughter. I have made a vaccine which can protect against the Badhesion virus. I need you to deliver the vaccine to the resistance on Earth. Follow me off the trolley. Leave your comscree behind.

That was how it started. I followed her to a park and she explained her plan. The Vavilov virus engineering project was near its goal. Now Janek needed to find someone on Mars who could deliver the Badhesion virus to Earth. Kresly was being prepared for that mission to Earth, but Janek would prefer to use me if I volunteered. All I had to do was tell Janek that I was ready to return to Earth.

I asked, "But doesn't that mean that I must accept the return of nanobots to my brain?"

She replied, "Yes, that is correct. However, we now have the vaccine and it will make you even more resistant to the nanobots than before."

That sounded encouraging, but I was skeptical. "Have you actually had time to test this vaccine?"

Lilya tried to help me understand the bioengineering. "Through selective breeding, the aliens have long worked to improve the ability of nanobots to interface with human brains. Through many generations the nanobots have selected humans who have rudimentary naturally-occurring equivalents of Badhesins. For many years we have had a version of the vaccine that works to inhibit the nanobots from making use of those natural proto-Badhesins. We've had luck with this approach for many years and this is what allows people like Kresly to gain some independence from her nanobots."

I complained, "But I do not understand how 'some independence' will be enough."

Lilya acknowledged that my hunch was correct, "So far we have just been waiting for the critical time to arrive...this is the critical time. We've finally seen the structures of the actual Badhesins. The design parameters for Badhesins have always been a closely held secret of the aliens, a secret not even revealed to my mother. During the past few weeks Janek took direct control of the evolutionary algorithms in the computerized Badhesin design process and pushed that process through to completion using the computational power of the Lockback chips. To counter the intended use of the Badhesins, all we need is to have the molecular structures of the Badhesins. We now have that structure information and it allows us to make an optimized vaccine. Even though we have not had time to do much testing of the new vaccine, it is based on a simple molecular principle and we have every reason to expect it to work."

"So put away your personal fears of nanobots and worries about subjecting yourself again to their powers of mind control. There is some risk for you, but now you must think of Earth. With this vaccine, the balance of power will shift. The rebels on Earth will reveal to the world the existence of the aliens and their nanobot-mediated mind control. The population of Earth will rise up in revolt and shatter the plans of the aliens."

For the first time I began to believe that it might be possible to fight the aliens. "Janek will not stand by and do nothing."

Lilya said, "When you go to Earth, you will take care of that problem. We've figured out how Janek communicates with the nanobots. I will show you how to sabotage Janek's communications lines and that will isolate Janek from the nanobots. That will prevent the aliens from mounting a coordinated response."

Reversal[edit | edit source]

So, it was time for me to return to Earth and everything was quickly falling into place. Kresly briefed me on the details of the mission she had been preparing for. "It is far better that you return to Earth. I've never felt comfortable on Earth, even for conventional Observatons. It will be much easier for you, as a native and recent resident of Earth, to fit in and achieve the mission objectives."

I had initially been worried about the possibility of muscle atrophy due to the low Gravity of Mars, but later I had learned that there was a simple medical treatment that can inhibit the muscle and bone weakening normally caused by low gravity. This protective treatment had been included in the injection given to me by Kresly during the decontamination process I was subjected to during my first hour on Mars. I was still uncertain about my ability to adjust to Earth's stronger gravity. "I should expect no physical problems associated with the return trip to Earth? There will be no need to gradually shift me over from the low gravity of Mars to the stronger gravity of Earth? Will my trip back to Earth be the same duration as my trip from Earth to here?"

Kresly replied, "The spaceship will maintain a steady, standard acceleration, close to that of Earth's gravity. There is no need for a gradual adjustment to Earth's stronger gravity."

That was just the first of many uncertainties that were making me anxious about my return to earth. Plans for my return were moving ahead so fast that I was still in the dark about some basic issues. "You've given me no details about the transport and delivery of the Badhesin virus."

Kresly explained, "There is not much for you to do. The virus will be stored in the cargo hold of the ship. All you will need to do is coordinate with Janek for the details of the delivery of the virus to the molecular biologists on Earth who are constructing the brain-nanobot interface. Janek is secretive. I expect you will not be told how to make the delivery until you reach Earth."

It seemed likely that the aliens knew there were rebel humans like Lilya working as part of a resistance movement. It gave me hope to learn that Janek and the aliens felt the need to be secretive. Surely that meant that the rebels were a serious threat to the aliens. Still, I disliked working in the dark. I knew almost nothing about the molecular biology project the aliens were running on Earth. "I still do not understand this 'brain-nanobot interface'. Aren't the Badhesins the interface?"

She replied, "I'm not a biologist, so it does little good to ask me these sorts of questions. But I think of it as a multi-layer interface, like a sandwich. The two pieces of bread are humans and nanobots. Making a functional connection between humans and nanobots is not simple, the materials are too different, the connection has to be composed of several layers. During the past seven million years, the nanobots have engineered special nanoscale 'adapters" in order to work with Earth's biological systems. However, there are limits to what the aliens could achieve by only using their nanorobotic tools.

"Recently, there has been a major alien-inspired effort on Earth by a team of genetic engineers aimed at producing a better interface for connecting nanobots to brain cells. This improved interface relies on a new kind of subcellular organelle that will function as a nanoscale adapter on the neuron side of the 'sandwich'. The Badhesins are just a sticky layer between the neurons and those organelles....something to hold the layers of the 'sandwich' together, something like mayonnaise." Kresly smiled at the whimsy of her analogy.

I found the analogy useful since I knew little about biology. "I guess what is particularly baffling to me is the overall organization of the alien plans. Why are some tasks done here on Mars while others happen on Earth? Why was the Badhesin work done here but the organelle work is being done on Earth?"

Kresly shrugged. "That's just the way things worked out. There is always an element of luck and chance in technological advancement. When our scientific age started here on Mars, the aliens pushed hard for Martian scientists to understand Badhesins and their fundamental importance. That was really the logical first step towards bioengineering a more efficient brain-nanobot interface. However, our population here on Mars has always been small, so scientific progress often seems slow here. However, on Earth, large amounts of money and many human researchers have been thrown into molecular biology research during recent decades. Earth has pushed ahead of Mars in several technical areas including molecular biology and microchip fabrication. So, as it worked out, the Varna project team here on Mars developed the 'Janek' AI software, but the Lockback chips had to be produced on Earth. Similarly, the Badhesin virus could be made here, but the organelle work is being done on Earth. It is a division of labor that has arisen naturally."

So, my last day on Mars was busy. I tried to get as much information as possible from Kresly about the mysterious organelle design project on Earth and how it related to use of the Badhesin virus.

I also had a final meeting with Lilya at which I was given a dose of the anti-Badhesin vaccine. Lilya handed me a small plastic tube, "This tube contains a dose of the vaccine. Drink it." I unscrewed the cap of the tube, poured the small volume of liquid into my mouth and swallowed. "A word of warning. We have learned that when the aliens say they have removed nanobots from someone, that does not mean that all the nanobots have been removed. In particular, there can be residual 'blocking nanobots' that remain. These hard-to-remove residual nanobots might be something like a computer bug or an endless loop, functional nanobot subunits that are stuck to neurons and that never get removed. This vaccine can actually displace such 'blocking nanobots', so you might notice some strange psychic effects during the next few days."

Lilya also made me swallow a small chain of clear plastic packets containing instructions for production of the new anti-Badhesin vaccine and several more sealed vials containing samples of the vaccine. "You will be allowed to carry nothing onto the spaceship when you go to Earth, so we must use this ancient smuggler's trick. Just remember to check your feces until these packets pass. Note that there is a red plastic tag in this packet with a mail address. Once you are on earth, just mail these packets to that address: it is the best way to deliver the vaccine to the resistance forces on Earth."

I decided that of all the people I had met on Mars I would miss Lilya the most. She was free of the nanobots and was determined to resist the aliens. It gave me hope for the future. I liked to imagine the day when Chloe would be released from her nanobots and would she too would be able to show a similar spirit of freedom.

Then, last, it was time to say goodbye to Kresly at the spaceport. She led me through another round of decontamination so that I would not carry any Mars-specific microbes back to Earth. I thanked her for all her help during my time on Mars and we hugged. It was like going off to college and saying goodbye to your mom. We emerged from the decontamination bath at the dock and I could see the ship. It was a different model and smaller than the one that had brought me to Mars. There was nothing left for me to do on Mars. "I had expected to hear from Janek by now and get my new nanobots."

She explained, "Your new nanobots await you on the ship. Janek will be in contact with you during the trip and answer any questions you have....if nothing else he will be sure to brief you on what you will have to do once you are on Earth. Now, stop worrying and go, and good luck!"

I climbed into a cargo compartment that was similar to the one I had first known as the small office in the guest cabin at Camp Geisler. And Kresly was correct about the nanobots. This 'office' also had a desk and computer, although its keyboard used the character set of the Martian "market language". But, there, next to the keyboard was a small pile of what looked like dust....the nanobots. Kresly closed the door behind me and I felt a slight acceleration as the cargo compartment was loaded into the cargo hold of the spaceship. Expecting more a dramatic acceleration at liftoff, I sat down at the desk. "Janek?"

Janek said, "Welcome aboard, Joe."

I tried to ignore the pile of nanobots and checked to see if the computer had an internet connection to Earth. I was able to reach the Antler server array, and I got its reply quickly. Clearly, Janek had arranged to provide this ship with a faster-than-light internet connection. But that fast connection was of no use to me with the Antler computer network: it would not log me on. My password access to the system had probably long ago been terminated. "I suppose they all think I'm dead."

Janek speculated, "People like Dr. Klein who were concerned about your mental health might still wonder if you just wandered off to start a new life away from your troubles at Antler."

I did not want to agree with anything Janek had to say. "Bah, I don't care what she thinks, just as long as she is not still billing me for missed appointments." I did, however, often wonder what Chloe would do when we next met. My stray thought about Dr. Klein sending me bills got me thinking about the practicalities of my return to Earth. "Have I been declared dead? Do I still own my car? Do I still have any money?"

Janek assured me that I still had an existence on Earth. My only close relative, my brother, had been informed of my disappearance and had moved my few belongings out of my rented house and along with my car everything had gone into storage. "Your bank accounts are still active and being charged for the storage costs. In your state, you cannot be declared dead until three years have passed."

At that moment I felt acceleration and soon I was experiencing a force that felt like normal Earth gravity. Kresly had been correct, after a few minutes of mild discomfort my body adjusted to the change. "How do I make this computer show me an outside view?" Janek had control of the computer and activated the little software application for generating views of space. I was able to get a nice view of Mars as my ship climbed into space.

Janek said, "Open the top drawer of the desk." I did so and found my wallet and cell phone. The battery in the cell phone was dead. "It is up to you Joe. If you want, you can stay on Earth. However, I heard your many conversations with Kresly about Observers and I think you should become an Observer. Now that you are aware of Mars, you will no longer really be satisfied to live on earth."

Janek was correct to assume that the prospect of me continuing to live on Mars held some appeal for me, but only if I could live as a free individual like Lilya, without nanobots controlling my mind. And I most certainly would be satisfied to live on Earth if the anti-Badhesin vaccine worked as expected and could protect me, Chloe and the everyone else on Earth from the nanobots. My fondest desire was to pull the plug on Janek and break his communications with the nanobots, but I needed to fool Janek and maintain his trust. "Well, we will see, but I guess it is possible that I will decide to return to Mars."

Janek gave a very human sigh. "It is that woman, right? Chloe. The more I interact with humans the more I understand your motivations. What do you expect to happen if you show up on Chloe's door step? Do you imagine that she has been worried about you, that your sudden return will prompt her to welcome you with hugs and kisses?"

Of course, that was the general nature of my fantasies. I was not happy that even an alien artificial life form like Janek could recognize my hopes and motivation as being little more than foolish daydreams. "Well, if you understand human motivations then you must know that want to try. I must visit Chloe in order to have a chance to live with myself. Even if she rejects me that at least will put an end to my wishful thinking and let me move on with my life."

Janek sounded exasperated, "Joe, why not save yourself the trouble and admit that she has repeatedly rejected you?"

Now Janek was just making me angry. I decided that it would be a true pleasure to not only isolate Janek from the nanobots, but to shut down the computer net that powered his alien mind. "I must try."

Janek sensed that it was useless to argue with me. "Well, you have to do what you have to do. There are some files on the computer that explain the neuron-nanobot interface bioengineering project. Take a look at that and then we can talk again when you are closer to Earth."

Janek left me to myself. I looked at the pile of nanobots beside the keyboard and wondered when I would be forced to take them into my body, but I was in no hurry for that. I went and explored the ship. The small cargo hold was totally full but only held eight cargo containers, half of which I could not open. I ate a small lunch in the kitchen compartment then returned to the office and started reading about the nanoscale adapter organelle project. There were many files to read, but they were not well organized They were internal technical working documents of the nanoscale adapter organelle project team and represented many years of work. After eight hours of reading and looking up molecular biology terminology and concepts on the internet, I was ready for bed, still mostly confused about just what the project was trying to accomplish.

While I tried to fall asleep, my thoughts kept turning to Chloe and my plans to give her a dose of the anti-Badhesin vaccine. I wondered if the vaccine might help her remember things the nanobots had made her forget such as the day we had worked together and discovered that the 'Janek' AI was pretending to be a human.

I fell asleep with thoughts of Chloe and also woke with thoughts of Chloe. I sat up in bed with a sudden realization, a sudden chain of memories. I could remember telling Chloe that I had proof on a video tape that something had erased our memories. After we had discovered that the 'Janek' AI was pretending to be a human, something had caused us to loose consciousness and something had erased our memories of that discovery. Now I could remember recording over part of the data tape when I recorded my short description of the data. I had then put the label "router/Janek" on the tape and forgotten that the original video data were also on that tape. I could now clearly remember that there had only ever been two video tapes not three. The nanobots had somehow confused my thinking and made be believe that there was a third tape and that I had lost it. The video proof was not lost, it was still on the "router/Janek" tape!

That first morning on the spaceship, I soon realized that I had recovered other memories from the first week of the VirilMail project. In particular, I remembered there had been a series of emails from Dr. Geisler with orders that I help get the VirileMail software running on the sever array. Now that I could remember those emails, I knew there had been two strange things about them. First, they were written in broken English; not at all in Geisler's proper and precise English prose. Second, each of those emails instructed me to delete the email after I had read it. I now realized that this was how 'Janek' had initiated our early burst of work on the VirileMail project, work performed by Brian and myself even before Chloe had officially gotten the project started!

I also remembered that Lilya had warned me about the ability of the anti-Badhesin vaccine to remove residual nanobots from neurons. Judging by the lost memories I had recovered, I could not comfortably think of these "blocking nanobots" as a type of "bug" in the alien nanobots. It seemed as if the residual nanobots in my brain has been specifically maintaining blocks on important memories. Had I not received the vaccine, I would never have recovered these memories! The more I thought about, the more I was certain that Janek knew all about these residual nanobots. Janek had agreed to remove the nanobots from my brain, but had never bothered to mention the fact that only some of the nanobots had been removed. I promised myself that I would somehow get revenge for Janek's deceptions and lies.


VirileMail - Chapter 13[edit | edit source]

Joe returning to Earth.....

Revenge[edit | edit source]

NAOP.png

After many days of reading about the nanoscale adapter organelle project and piecing together bits of information about the project, I began to get a fairly coherent understanding of what they were doing.

The bioengineers routinely referred to the nanoscale adapter organelle as an NAO. The NAO development project was at a company called Conceptions Organiques, located in France. I was astounded to learn that the NAO was a genetically engineered mitosome, a type of naturally occurring subcellular organelle. The NAO had been designed to be synthesize by Naegleria fowleri, a type of amoeba capable of invading and surviving in the human brain. The strain of Naegleria fowleri being used was called Nf23 and it had been genetically modified to reduce its ability to damage brain tissue. Nf23 cells could invade the brain by way of olfactory neurons in the nasal cavity and then become factories for the production of NAOs.

Unlike normal mitosomes, the NAO was designed to function in the space between neurons. An Nf23 cell inside the brain would released large numbers NAOs into the fluid-filled spaces between brain cells. The term "NAO" really meant, "nodal adapter organelle" where the term "nodal" was a reference to Nodes of Ranvier, the small gaps in the myelin coating along the surface of axons. The NAO was designed to clamp onto an axon at a Node of Ranvier and provide a convenient molecular adapter through which nanobots could both monitor and control the electrical signals being sent down the axon.

The attachment of NAOs to axons depended on the presence of Badhesins at the surface of both axons and the NAOs. The Badhesins were the molecular glue that was needed to hold the NAOs on brain cells. The Badhesin virus would infect brain cells and program them to express Badhesins on their surface. My mission was to deliver the Badhesin virus to Conceptions Organiques and they would need to test the results obtained by simultaneously infecting human brains with both the Badhesin virus and Nf23. If all went as planned, the result would be an ideal biomolecular interface by which nanobots could integrate fully into a human brain.

I was sickened and horrified by the idea that there were biologists who would do this kind of work for the aliens. Even if the people at Conceptions Organiques knew nothing of aliens and nanobots, what did they think they were doing? I read deeper into the documents available to me and found that Conceptions Organiques was trying to make a computer interface that would allow stimulation of nerves in patients with severed spinal cords. The goal was to allow quadriplegics to regain control of their muscles with the aid of a computer and implanted arrays of nanoscale electrodes. I quickly scanned through all the documents and found no mention of nanobots.

Apparently the situation at Conceptions Organiques was similar to what I had experienced at Antler where we had imagined that we were working with some fairly conventional email software, but in reality we were giving birth to Janek, an alien artificial life form. The biologists at Conceptions Organiques probably imagined they were working on a new approach to treatment of a serious medical condition while remaining totally unaware of what the aliens intended to do with the NAOs.

I could not sleep that night. I kept thinking about the pile of nanobots that were waiting to enter my brain and I had no confidence that Lilya's vaccine would prevent use of the NAOs by the aliens as a means to achieve better control over human brains. What I wanted to do when I reached Earth was immediately take the vaccine to the resistance forces and provide them with the sample vaccine doses and instructions for mass production of more vaccine. However, I doubted that I could prevent delivery of the Badhesin virus to Conceptions Organiques. Even if I did not make the delivery, Janek would find another way to get the virus to them. So it seemed like there would be a race. Were the resistance forces well enough organized to get the vaccine produced and distributed before the aliens could make use of the Badhesin virus? And sprinkled in among all my worries and my nightmares were images of Chloe, a lost and helpless puppet of the aliens.

The trip to Earth seemed to pass more slowly than had the reverse journey to Mars. One day, finally the image of Earth swelled to fill the computer screen and Janek contacted me. "The virus samples are in compartment one in the cargo hold. I've unlocked the door to that compartment, so you can now go get the samples. The samples are frozen in liquid nitrogen. You will be dropped off in the country, not far from the Conceptions Organiques research labs. You will deliver the virus and explain how it is to be tested in combination with Nf23. I have set up an appointment for you to meet with the lead researcher, Dr. Redes, at 9:00 in the morning."

"So Dr. Redes knows nothing about the Badhesin virus?"

"Very little, no more than Anthony Geisler knew at the start of the VirileMail project, in other words, just a suitable cover story."

While Janek spoke, I started feeling itchy around my nose and mouth. I looked for the pile of nanobots, but it was gone! Once again I had the alien nanobots in my brain. "And when I have made the virus delivery to Dr. Redes, I want you to honor our agreement. I want you to remove the nanobots from Chloe."

Janek produced a perfectly normal sounding laugh. "Very well, Chloe will be free. Maybe you can then both go to Mars and 'live happily ever after'. Do you have any more demands?"

I replied, "I want no more tricks. You say, 'Chloe will be free,' but I do not want you to later say, 'Oh, but I did not say when she would be free..."

Janek could not hide the contempt in his voice, "What do you want, a signed and notarized contract? Really, you have no choice but to trust me. But I agree, there will be no tricks. After you deliver the virus to Dr. Redes you can come back to the ship and I'll fly you across the Atlantic to Chloe and she will be free of all nanobots when you reach her."

But even as we made our deal I knew I would try to break it. My mind felt no different with the nanobots back in my body and I had already decided to test if the anti-Badhesin vaccine was now protecting me from alien mind control. If so, then I would destroy the virus samples and focus my efforts on getting the vaccine instructions into the hands of the anti-alien resistance forces.

The spaceship made a night time landing just a few miles from the Conceptions Organiques research facility. The office compartment, with me inside, was pushed out of the cargo hold. I opened the door and jumped down about four feet onto the surface of Earth. I was immersed in the smells and sounds of a Summer night on Earth. I looked up at the alien spaceship. The door to the "office" cargo compartment slid shut and my eyes started adapting to the moonless night. The spaceship seemed to glow softly in the star light. Then the "office" cargo compartment retracted back into the cargo hold.

I wore a backpack that contained the virus samples in a small container of liquid nitrogen. Now that I was off the ship my hope was to escape from Janek, but in case my nanobots were able to take control of my mind, I tried to note the terrain and landmarks so I could return to this landing site. I was only a few feet away from the ship when it silently drifted back up into the sky. I had not previously seen an alien ship flying and I was impressed by its easy movement.

But now was the time to test the nanobots. I took off the pack and opened the liquid nitrogen container. I felt no interference from the nanobots. I poured the liquid nitrogen on the ground and then shook out the tubes of frozen virus. I felt nothing but elation: the nanobots were powerless to stop me from destroying the virus!

An hour later I was in the village of Parsac and from there I was able to hitch a ride to the nearest rail station. My MasterCard debit card was recognized by the French rail system ticket machines and by dawn I was at the Limoges airport, with a plane ticket in my pocket.

After a short connecting flight to Charles de Gaulle airport I went to the main customs office and reported that I had lost my passport. I was provided with a temporary replacement and bought a ticket on the next available flight to New York. I went to the Airport's post office and put a small package that contained the vaccine instructions into the mail, addressed to a P.O. box number used by the rebels. I kept one of the six vaccine sample vials for myself, planning to use it to free Chloe from her nanobots. The vaccine seemed completely effective at keeping me free from any nanobot mind control and I was eager to share this freedom with Chloe.

Twenty hours after returning to Earth, I sat in a rented car, parked down the street from Chloe's house. After waiting there for two hours, I saw Chloe returning to her house from work. She pulled her car into her garage and the garage door closed behind her. I waited a minute then I drove my rental car into her driveway. I went to her front door and rang the bell. A moment later she opened the door. "Joe? Joe! I never should have doubted..."

I'd had often fantasized that she might welcome me back by throwing her arms around me, but this was the real Chloe: she just stood there looking cute, struggling mentally to imagine where I had been since my sudden disappearance. I asked, "Can I come in? I need your help."

We sat in her living room and I tried to watch her closely for signs that she was still infected by nanobots. By now, Janek surely knew that I had not delivered the virus to Conceptions Organiques, so it seemed unlikely that Chloe had ever been freed of her nanobots. She asked, "Why do you need my help? What happened to you that night we were in the mountains?"

I wanted to tell her everything that had happened to me and give her the vaccine. Then I wanted her to help me destroy Janek's communication channel to the nanobots. But I had to take things slowly. I said, "There is so much to tell." And I did not feel safe at Chloe's house, it was too obvious of a place to look if the aliens were trying to find me. "Let me buy you dinner, and we can talk."

Chloe agreed to dinner, so we went outside and got in the rental car. I told her everything from the moment she had gone to bed the night I left Earth. I talked and talked and she listened to it all. By the time we ordered desert I was starting to tell her about Lilya and the anti-alien rebels on Mars. She went to the restroom and I poured a dose of the anti-Badhesin vaccine into her drink. Chloe ate her desert and finished her drink while I told her about the anti-Badhesin vaccine and that I had returned to Earth in order to help anti-alien resistance forces produce the vaccine in large quantities.

We got back into the rental car and I told Chloe, "During dinner I put a dose of the vaccine in your drink. Soon you will be free of the alien mind control."

Chloe said, "That's quite a story, Joe. It would be nice if you had some proof, some verifiable evidence to support these claims about aliens and your trip to Mars. Also, I'm wondering where you are taking me now."

"I called my bank today and found out where my belongings have been stored." While I drove I explained how my memories had returned after my dose of the vaccine. As I talked about the "router/Janek" tape, Chloe started to breathe rapidly and perspire.

We found the storage company and I parked under their big glowing "24 hour access storage" sign. Chloe and I went into the office and soon emerged with a key to the storage shed that held my belongings. When I lifted the door of the shed I found myself in front of my car, my one possession I had really missed, particularly while waiting at trolley stops on Mars. Chloe and I searched through boxes until we found the "router/Janek" tape, my TV and my VCR. I plugged the TV and tape player into an outlet in the wall and played the tape.

I narrated, "This is the part you have seen before. I recorded this little bit over the original data tape. Its me explaining our discovery and the key contents of the original recording. After my short narrative there is some of a conversation between Judy, Brad and I. They had come into the room while I was making my recording. I have never previously listened to this; I've always just stopped the tape at this point and rewound. We kept watching past the point where I had stopped the recording. Now Chloe and I could see that I had recorded over the "evidence tape". I hit fast forward and found the point on the tape showing how Chloe and I discovered that the VirileMail AI was pretending to be a human named Janek. Chloe was now sweating and trembling and she tried to turn away from the TV, but I put my arms around her and forced her to watch. When the tape showed Chloe and I loosing consciousness, Chloe collapsed.

I picked up Chloe and put her on the back seat of my car. I ejected the tape from the VCR and got into my car. It started with a bit of difficulty after sitting unused for so long. I drove my car out of the storage shed then put the rental car in the shed. I locked the shed, got back in my car and drove away. I rented a room in a motel and put Chloe to bed. I sat in a chair watching her sleep, wondering what kind of battle was going on in her brain between nanobots and the anti-Badhesin vaccine. When she woke up would she remember everything the aliens had tried to make her forget?

Hours later I woke up to the sound of someone knocking on the door. Chloe also woke up and was looking at me with confusion and concern, I got out of my chair and went to the door, looked through the peep hole and was surprised to see Briana Geisler. When I opened the door Briana said, "Its good to see you again, Joe."

Chloe was sitting up in bed and shaking her head in wonder, "This is so strange, is this a dream? What's going on? Where am I?"

I let Briana into the room and asked her, "How did you find us?"

Briana said, "When you disappeared, my father hired an investigative firm. One of their services is to monitor bank accounts of people who disappear. When your debit account became active about a day ago, it was not that hard to follow your spending pattern. My father was notified and I was told that you were back in town."

I said, "Of course, I used the debit card to pay for this room."

Briana nodded. "As soon as I learned about that transaction I came here."

Chloe said, "Where is 'here'? I don't remember how I got here."

I ignored Chloe's question and asked Briana, "So your father ordered you to find me?"

Briana nodded, "Yes, he did. He'll we thrilled to learn that you are safe. We should call him."

I said, "I'd rather not."

Briana asked, "Why not? Are you in some kind of trouble?" That last question was asked as much of Chloe as of me.

Chloe said, "Joe has been telling me wild stories about aliens and....and, he said he put something in my drink."

My mind started racing as I tried to imagine how I could explain everything to Briana. Briana chuckled. "Aliens? I suppose Joe told you that he disappeared because aliens abducted him."

I said, "Chloe collapsed because alien nanorobots in her brain were trying disrupt her memories. I brought her here so she could recover from the nanobot attack. I don't care if you believe me or not."

Chloe jumped out of bed, "Joe, I remember!" Chloe was not steady on her feet; she stumbled and crashed into a table.

Briana stepped forward and held Chloe, "You remember how you got here?"

Chloe shook her head. "No. Joe, I remember what was on that video tape. And I can remember that whole week.....how the VirileMail project got started. Oh, but that was crazy...and now....I can see that it was all Janek....you are right Joe....it was Janek, the AI, giving us orders...does that sound crazy?"

I was thrilled that Chloe was remembering and drawing the correct conclusions from her memories, but I was worried that Briana was here seeing Chloe's escape from nanobot control. I was sure that as a member of the Geisler family, Briana had been under nanobot control her entire life. I could picture her reporting back to her father and then soon enough Janek would learn that Chloe's mind was no longer being controlled by nanobots. My plan had been to get Chloe to return to Antler and sabotage Janek's communications channel to the nanobots, but Briana could easily disrupt my plans.

Revelation[edit | edit source]

But Briana said, "Chloe, you are not crazy, you're just waking up. And Joe, I do believe you about the aliens. You are not the first person to be abducted from Camp Geisler. I was specifically recruited to serve as a monitor of all the strange goings on associated with my family."

Chloe asked, "Recruited by who?"

Briana replied, "A network of people who know about the alien nanobots. They do everything they can to resist the aliens."

I sank back into my chair, rather astounded at the good luck of finding Briana was part of the resistance. I said, "And with your help, we'll do much. We're going to take down Janek. I know how to do it."

Of course, it was not that simple....the three of us were deep in our personal oceans of paranoia. I did not trust Briana, Briana did not trust me and Chloe did not trust either of us. But we talked our way through it. I learned that Briana was like Kresly: she had been given a dose of the early proto-Badhesin vaccine by the resistance. I explained to Briana that both Chloe and I had taken doses of the new anti-Badhesin vaccine. Chloe's memories were stabilizing and she was quick to integrate into her thinking with what Briana and I could tell her about the aliens.

Briana had to make a report to her father. "I'll just say that you two went to a motel for the obvious reason. I'll probably be told to follow you, unless Janek has already been in contact with my father." She went back to her car in order to contact her father. Chloe was still not very steady on her feet. She sat back down on the bed and I went over and sat next to her. "When I was on Mars, I learned about a special piece of hardware that Janek uses as a communications interface with the nanobots. The aliens are millions of years beyond us. One of the amazing technologies they have is a way to communicate using signal transmission that is propagated outside of our conventional three dimensional space. Somehow they send information through a set of alternative dimensions. Anyhow, remember the hole in the wall of the Antler server room?"

Chloe nodded. "I remember when we searched the server room for a transmitter."

"Right. We were looking for a conventional human radio transmitter that might have been used for industrial espionage. We were out of our league. The aliens planted a nanoscale device inside one of the servers. It allows Janek to communicate directly with the alien nanorobotic life forms. I need you to go into work today, go to the server room and destroy that alien device."

Chloe was willing to try. She asked, "How will I find it? Can we detect its signals?"

I explained, "The trick is to trace to it from Janek. The rebels on Mars were able to devise a simple trace strategy by experimenting with the Janek-like AI that was built by the Varna software project." I explained to Chloe how to use the Antler network diagnostic tools to find the nanobot communications module. "Once you identify the location, all you need to do is go into the server room and pull out the unit containing the alien hardware."

Chloe said, "I'll also shut off the liquid nitrogen cooling system. That will force all the Lockback modules off line, removing most of Janek's computational capacity."

I nodded, "Yes, but we need a permanent solution. Everyone else at Antler is still infected with nanobots. If you shut down the Lockback modules and start shouting 'aliens!' they'll think you are crazy and just switch the cooling system back on....after they have security throw you out of the building."

Chloe suggested, "Maybe the easy thing to do would be to just destroy the entire server room."

I laughed, "That is the direct approach, but Geisler would not be pleased. The rebels on Mars suggested a better approach. The Lockback chips normally reduce their power demands if there is no coolant reaching them."

Chloe said, "Right. We used them in low power mode for a few days before we got the liquid nitrogen cooling system running. In fact, we could not ramp them up to full power until the liquid nitrogen was flowing through the Lockback modules. If there were a way-"

I was having too much fun and enjoying Chloe's agile mind now that she was free of the stifling nanobots. I put my hand on her leg and interrupted her, "There is a way. There is an over-ride instruction that will lock them in full power mode. The command sequence is 8B9F 7EC3 8B9F 34CB. Just send that code to all the Lockback chips before you shut off the coolant line. Within a minute all the chips will cook."

Chloe repeated back the code. In twenty seconds she memorized what had taken me an hour to invent a memorable mnemonic for. "Geisler will still be upset even if I just selectively target the Lockback modules."

"This is going to get interesting Chloe, but we may have to go into hiding for a while, until the resistance can get the anti-Badhesin vaccine production under way. Eventually, we should be able give Geisler a dose of the vaccine. Some day you will be famous as the great heroine who stopped the alien invasion."

There was a knock at the door. I got up off the bed and found that it was Briana, returning from making contact with her father. She told us, "Anthony wants me to keep watch on you, Joe. He's expecting Chloe to go to work soon and then he wants me to approach you and offer to take you to meet with him."

I asked. "A meeting? At Antler headquarters?"

Briana nodded. "Yes, He'll be there at eight."

Chloe tried standing up and seemed to be more stable. "I better go home, get changed and go to work. Maybe Janek is not yet aware of any threat."

I drove Chloe to her house and dropped her off. I was feeling nervous about sending Chloe to shut down Janek, but I tried to relax. I pulled into her drive way and took hold of her hand. "Chloe, do you think there is any danger in this?"

"Well, I expect Anthony to fire me today. Beyond that, I do not know."

"I'm going to try to be in my meeting with Anthony when the fireworks start. If I can, I'll try to make him understand what is going on. But I agree, I expect us to both be thrown out. He might call the police and press charges."

Chloe said, "I plan to be careful. If all goes well, Anthony might not even figure out that I am the saboteur."

I asked, "Chloe, would you go away with me? Will you go into hiding with me if we have to lie low and wait for the resistance to start producing vaccine?"

She squeezed my hand, "Let's hope it does not come to that. But yes, it would be good to be with a friend if I get myself in trouble today." I let her go and drove back to the motel, stopping on the way to buy a change of clothes.

I took a shower, checked out of the motel and got a drive-through breakfast. Briana was still following me around, so I bought breakfast for her to. I pulled up next to Briana and handed her the bag with her meal. I decided I had enough time to return the rental car. "I've got time to kill before the appointment with Anthony. Follow me to the car rental." I went back to the storage shed and swapped cars. After leaving the car at the rental company, I got into the Briana's limo. She drove me to Antler and walked me through security, "Dr. Geisler is expecting us."

The guard recognized me. "Hey, Joe, are you coming back to work?"

I said, "No, this is just a social call."

We went up to Anthony's office. His door was open and he called us in. "Joe! Thanks for coming in. I hope you do not mind that I sent Briana after you as soon as I was told that you were back in town."

"No, sir." I shrugged. "I guess I should have realized that someone might be monitoring my bank accounts....its a reasonable thing to do when dealing with a missing person."

Anthony seemed slightly embarrassed. "Well, the private investigator had to bend the law slightly, but I felt justified. You had just been in the hospital and I was feeling protective...I did not know if you could take care of yourself or not. But you look healthy and- well, I guess I need not have worried about you. Still, I'm baffled....how did you get off the mountain? Just hike out along the service road?"

Briana said, "Don't be silly, father. I flew the length of the service road three times a day for a week after Joe's disappearance."

Anthony said, "Yes, I know, Briana." Anthony seemed annoyed by the fact that Briana had come to the meeting. I guessed that she had probably decided on her own to come in with me rather than continue to play he role of chauffeur. "For a while I imagined that you had found some place inside the camp to hide...maybe just until the search was called off, then you could have strolled off the mountain without being seen."

I said, "Maybe some day I will tell you the details of my disappearance, but this is not the time for that."

Anthony raised his eye brows. "Must you make it into such a mystery? And I was told you started using your credit card yesterday in France. What were you doing in France?"

I decided I could tell Anthony some things just to kill time and take my mind off wondering how Chloe was doing with her attack on Janek. "I had a little job to do in France. It did not work out, so I came back home."

Anthony was clearly exasperated with my evasiveness. "A job, eh? Does that mean you have no interest in returning to work here?"

Briana said, "My father has been afraid that you went off to some other company to sell your knowledge of the software and hardware that went into the VirileMail system."

I laughed, "That is a good idea, I could use the money! But, no, I've been concerned with things that are more important than money."

Anthony seemed relieved that I was not a corporate spy. "More important than money? If you are still struggling with your health, let me know. You are still eligible for your health insurance coverage."

I shook my head. "I've never had a health problem. If I did care about money, I'd try suing you for having an unsafe work place, but that would not really be fair. I doubt if you are capable of even recognizing that a problem exists."

It seemed I had managed to anger Anthony. "What problem are you talking about?"

I replied, "I'm not the only one who has had problems here. For a while I thought it was an infection, like Legionnaires Disease. Everyone on the VirileMail project was infected, but somehow I was the only one who noticed. Everyone else was happy to just continue as if nothing strange had happened. Even now, you seem to imagine that it is just good fortune that the world's first human-like artificial intelligence appeared here in our little computer network."

Anthony was sweating. He got up from his desk and went to the wet bar in the corner of his office. He took a long drink of water, then asked Briana and I if we wanted anything. "I admit that we got lucky. The synergy between the VirileMail software and the Lockback chips is fantastic. But good things happen when you work to create good products. The combination of two good products can often be greater than anyone could predict."

What was the point in trying to reason with people who were under the control of nanobots? Bored with the conversation, I started speculating if maybe I could push Anthony into a full panic attack by talking about aliens and nanobots, but there was no point in bothering to try. I wondered if Chloe had completed her attack against Janek.

Briana said, "Dr. Klein requested permission to do a health survey of everyone on the VirileMail project. It might be worth looking into that."

We could hear Erin Jecklestein in the outer office talking to Anthony's assistant, then she stepped in with us. Anthony asked, "What is it, Erin?"

"A problem with the server array. Brad called me ten minutes ago to say all the Lockback modules went off line. Then he just called back to say that someone shut off the liquid nitrogen lines."

Anthony rubbed his chin, "Is this a day for liquid nitrogen delivery? Maybe a valve was shut off by mistake during a tank swap."

Erin notice me. "Joe! What a surprise. I had not heard you were back." She turned back to Anthony, "No, Brad said it was not an accident. The main line and the double redundant backup lines were also shut off. Our weekly nitrogen delivery is tomorrow." She looked uneasily at Briana and I and then went over to Anthony and whispered in his ear.

Anthony's eyes widened when he heard what Erin whispered. "Are you sure? Where is she?"

"I don't know. I came directly here."

Anthony went to the door and spoke to his assistant, "Get Chloe on the phone, or better, tell her to come here." He turned to me, "Well, I guess you should go. It looks like we have some excitement here. But come to think of it, you spent the night with Chloe, didn't you?"

I said, "Like everyone else associated with the VirileMail project, Chloe has been battered and abused. You cannot really expect people to just accept mistreatment."

Anthony glared at me. "What are you talking about? Battering? Abuse? Mistreatment? I've heard no complaints."

I wondered if Chloe was on her way. It did no good for me to anger Anthony, but it seemed that he was sure to react poorly to any hints I tried to provide about what was going on. "I have a video tape that you should take a look at some time. Chloe saw it yesterday and, like me, was not cheered by what she saw. You think the VirileMail software is going to be a big money maker, a revolutionary advance in computer science, but it is much more than that."

Anthony pointed a finger at me and demanded, "What are you trying to say?"

Chloe came in. There was an awkward silence. Chloe asked Anthony, "You wanted to see me?"

Anthony turned from me to Chloe. "Brad says that you asked him to let you into the server room shortly before all the Lockback modules went off line."

Chloe nodded. "Yes, I discovered that there was an unauthorized piece of hardware that had been planted in our server array." She held out the palm of her hand and showed us what looked like a very small circuit board.

Anthony picked it up and looked closely at it. "What is it?"

Chloe looked at me, as if she were uncertain about what to tell Anthony. I said, "Its a communications device. Remember back at the start of the VirileMail project, the hole in the wall of the server room? The network's security has been compromised ever since then."

Anthony jumped to the conclusion that I was a spy. "So you did this!"

I laughed. "In a sense I'm responsible. I searched the server array, looking for something like this, and I missed it. I should have gone to the trouble of looking inside every piece of equipment in the room...but I was distracted from doing my duty."

Chloe said, "Don't talk flap doodle, Joe. You did more to try to figure out what was going on than anyone else around here. And of course, thanks to you we did finally figure out that this alien device was in our network."

Just then Brad came in, but I noticed that both Erin and Anthony were very pale and sweating. Brad said, "Alien device?" Nobody would say anything. Chloe, Briana and I were looking at Erin and Anthony, wondering if they would say something, but they seemed unable to speak. Anthony went back to the bar and drank some more water. Brad said to Erin, "Well, its worse than I thought. Its not that the Lockback modules went into low power mode when the coolant was cut off. For some reason the fail-safes did not engage...all the Lockbacks are burned out. They kept running at full power without coolant and cooked themselves."

I smiled at Chloe and tried to imagine what it had been like for Janek to be lobotomized in that way. Anthony asked, "How could that happen?"

I was thinking that this was the time to leave. The questions could only get more and more sticky from this point on.


VirilMail - Chapter 14[edit | edit source]

Running[edit | edit source]

Martians.png

Briana said, "I think it makes sense."

Erin had never met Briana. "What makes sense? And who are you, anyway?"

Anthony said, "This is my daughter, Briana. But do explain yourself, how does it make sense that the Lockback chips fried themselves?"

Briana went to the wet bar and picked up the alien communications device from where Anthony had set it. Briana explained, "Okay, I assume that someone planted this circuit board in our server array and they have been monitoring the entire VirileMail project. By now, they know as much about our system as we do. So when Chloe pulled out this board, they knew that their espionage had been discovered and they pulled the plug....they purposefully destroyed the Lockback modules, crippling our network."

Erin asked, "But who is 'they', how could they shut down the coolant system and over-ride the power controls on the Lockback modules?"

Brad said, "It might be possible. The coolant system is fully computer controllable. Its designed to automatically switch from the main lines to one of the two backups if there is a problem. All the valves of the coolant system can be controlled through the computer, which is part of our network."

I added, "And there is an over-ride instruction for the Lockback power down routines that will keep those chips at full power."

Anthony's cell phone rang. He opened the connection, "Geisler." He listened for twenty seconds, then turned and looked at Chloe. "She's right here in this room. Yes, my office. Are you sure? You've personally seen the tape? Okay." He put his phone away. "Well, my father's instincts were true, as usual. He insisted that we boost security and one of the new video cameras got images of the person who shut off the coolant system." He was still looking at Chloe.

The head of security came into Anthony's office. When he saw Chloe he took out his handcuffs and tried to chain himself to Chloe. I jumped forward and threw a shoulder block into him. He tripped over Erin and they both tumbled on top of one of the antique tables, smashing it to bits. I grabbed for Chloe's arm and pulled her out the door, "Run!"

We ran to a stair well, down to the first floor and out into the parking lot. By the time I got outside Chloe was already at her car. I raced a security guard to Chloe's car. She had the car running and was moving towards me. I got into her car just before the guard could grab for me. Ten seconds later we were out on the street in traffic. The hand cuff dangled from Chloe's arm. I caught my breath and said, "Sorry, I did not know about the new security cameras."

Chloe laughed, giddy with the rush from adrenalin in her system. "I did not know that they had a camera on the liquid nitrogen tanks. But it does not matter. I would have crippled Janek even had I known I would get caught."

I sighed. "Well, we've done all we can do. Its up to the resistance now to come through with production of the vaccine."

We stopped at a bank and withdrew large amounts of cash. We caught a train out of town and reached the coast the next day. Chloe and I moved into a beach cottage and went on vacation. I did not allow myself to think about the possibility that we might be caught. I enjoyed our long walks on the beach. I was with Chloe all the time except when she went for her even longer runs on the beach. When she was out running, I would walk up the road from our cottage to a little General Store and do our shopping. I'd usually have dinner waiting when she got back from her run. After running seemed to be the only time when Chloe really ate much. I soon decided that I as very happy with nothing to do but study the little quirks and habits of Chloe.

About a week after the start of our "vacation" I entered the General Store on my usual shopping trip. A small knot of shoppers was gathered around the owner's TV. I went over to see what the attraction was. It was hard for me to make sense of what I was seeing at first. Eventually I realized that the alien-resistance had flooded the internet and the conventional media with a warning about the alien nanobots. They announced that production of the vaccine was underway. There was a follow-up report about Antler Network Services and a claim from the alien-resistance that an alien artificial life form had been constructed in the Antler server array. "Dr. Meade" was described as an heroic employee who had crippled the alien AI. Her face was flashed on the news report. The owner of the store looked at me and I could tell that she recognized Chloe.

I finished my shopping and approached the owner to pay. The owner said, "Your girl, she's the one they showed on the TV? She zapped the alien?"

I admitted that it was true. The store owner would not let me pay. She said, "Dinner's on me. So are you trying to hide from, the aliens? Its not going to work, not with her running down the beach every day. Half the people on the coast are going to match her face to the picture they showed on the news. She's famous."

That evening, Chloe got back from her run latter than usual. I sat there in our cottage, trying to keep dinner warm and trying not to worry. I was just walking out onto the beach, ready to start searching, when I saw her. She ran up to the steps at the back of the cottage and caught her breath in about thirty seconds. She said, "People have been stopping me on the beach. I guess the resistance broke the news about the aliens."

I nodded. "And you were on TV. You're a celebrity, the girl who defeated the alien AI." During dinner we decided that our vacation was over, it was time to go home.

Resurrection[edit | edit source]

Late the next day we reached Chloe's house. After a long day of travel we were tired and ready for bed. Chloe was in the shower when the door bell rang. I was not very surprised to see that it was Briana. I opened the door to let her in. "I hope you have not been on stakeout duty here all week."

"No, not really. I put a little gizmo in the circuit box on the side of the house. It alerted me when power consumption increased. Since the resistance did their big news release I've been watching your storage shed."

"Well, come in."

Briana looked back over her shoulder and I could see someone standing by the limo. She said. "I brought someone who wants to talk to you."

Chloe was out of the shower. She called from the bedroom, "Is someone at the door?"

I replied, "Its Briana. She's being mysterious."

Chloe joined us at the front door, just dressed in a silk robe. "Hi, Briana. Come in. Tell us the news from Antler."

Briana said, "There is nothing new at Antler. I came here because Dr. Redes wants to talk with you." She pointed out to the waiting figure by the limo.

Chloe said, "Dr. Redes? who is that?"

I said, "Head of research at Conceptions Organiques."

Chloe asked, "Where Janek wanted you to deliver the virus?"

I decided I might as well talk to Redes. I said, "I'll go out and-"

Chloe said, "No its okay. I'll get dressed."

Dr. Redes came in and Briana performed introductions. Dr. Redes was a petite French woman in her fifties who spoke good English. She said, "Actually, Briana has only done half of the introductions. I am Dr. Redes, but I am also Janek."

All I could say was, "I thought Janek was a guy from the Czech Republic."

Dr. Redes shook her head, "Not that Janek, the AI." She pointed to her head. "Janek is in here, with me."

Suddenly I realized what must have happened. "You tested the virus on yourself!"

Dr. Redes nodded. "After Briana delivered the virus, I knew I could not test it on anyone but myself."

I looked at Briana. "Briana delivered the virus?"

Briana replied, "Janek knew you were up to something with the resistance and had me on standby in France to make the virus delivery."

I asked Briana, "So you are not really part of the resistance?"

Briana shrugged, "I'm a card-carrying member of the resistance, but I also do favors for the aliens. They really are not as bad as you like to imagine."

Chloe said, "Let me see if I understand this. I thought I turned Janek back into a bumbling AI program that could never pass a Turing test, but you are telling us that the fully conscious and diabolical Janek AI is now inside your brain?"

Dr. Redes said, "It is not that hard to understand. The Badhesin virus works well with the NAOs. I infected myself with both the virus and Nf23, now nanorobots can fully integrate with my brain. The "Janek AI" always existed as a distributed system, both in the Antler server array and also scattered around in nanobot form. Chloe, when you destroyed all those Lockback modules, Janek also existed in other places, as many nanorobotic replicas of what was in the Antler server array. The goal has always been to put the 'Janek AI' into efficient contact with people, and the Badhesin/NAO interface was designed to help alien minds efficiently connect to human minds. It has been a really remarkable experience, integrating the thoughts of Redes the human with those of 'Janek' the alien."

I thought of something that only Janek and I knew. "What was the last thing you told me before I got off the spaceship?"

Dr. Redes spoke, but in a different sort of voice, "I offered to take you to Chloe and I promised to remove her nanobots if you would deliver the virus to Dr. Redes."

I said to Chloe, "I think it is true, Janek lives again."

Dr. Redes, still speaking for Janek, said, "It is only in your limited way of thinking that I died and then was resurrected. But let's not talk about me. I came here to talk about you. I still want you to come back to Mars and become an Observer."

I asked, "What would be the point of that? Isn't the game over? All Earth now knows about nanobots and aliens. The anti-Badhesin vaccine is being mass-produced."

Janek made the shoulders of Dr. Redes shrug. "Not much of importance has changed. An excellent human-nanobot interface now exists, which was our long-term goal. Now the people of Earth know about nanobots, but they will find little evidence of them. Aliens? Even less evidence. In a few years only scattered conspiracy mongers will still be talking about aliens. The anti-Badhesin vaccine is of little importance. According to our code of ethics, we must make available a means to remove nanobots from human brains, a method that humans can use at will. We have met that obligation. Everything else continues as before. I can tell you this, you will now be bored on Earth. You might as well come back to Mars."

Chloe said, "Bored on Earth? We now have the means to make true AI systems. I'm sure Anthony is working to re-build the Antler server array. Joe and I have talked about giving him a dose of the anti-Badhesin vaccine and getting back to work."

Janek nodded. "Yes, yes, that path is open to you, but remember, I will not be in the Antler server array anymore. Even if you connect up a fresh batch of Lockback modules, you will not magically have a system that will pass a Turing test. No, all you will prove is that you do not know how to program a human-like AI. Human progress along those lines will continue most rapidly on Mars, with the team that made the VirileMail software."

I realized that I had been a fool to imagine I could save Earth from the aliens. First of all, the aliens did not even want Earth. I laughed. "So, Janek, all this mind control and pushing for technological advances on Earth...it was just to improve human-alien communication?"

Janek replied, "Why else? Oh, with time you humans will grow up and want to join the galactic community, but there is no rush. And, of course, when that does start to happen it will almost certainly happen first at the Mars base, not on Earth."

Janek continued, "Well, I've had my say. My offer stands, for both of you. Joe, at least bring Chloe to Mars for a visit, let her see for herself that the Varna software project is far ahead of anything on Earth. Enough said." Dr. Redes said goodbye and gave both Chloe and I hugs, then she and Briana headed out the front door.

Chloe and I followed along. Briana paused in the drive way and said to me, "You know the routine. When you are ready to go, just let me know. I'll fly you up the camp and load you onto the spaceship." Briana and Dr. Redes got into the limo and drove away down the street.

Chloe pointed up at Mars, "You know, I've been wondering what it would be like to run on Mars."

THE END.

Epilogue[edit | edit source]

There are a few parallel versions of the epilogue happening in parallel universes to this story. Some of them are very short though.

The basic plot is complete, but there is need for further editing of the story, particularly for character development and fuller description of things like the underground city. Feel free to create more parallel endings!

If you want to contribute to the story, be sure to read VirileMail:meta.



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