VirileMail - Chapter 7[edit | edit source]
Waiting room[edit | edit source]
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...