Virtual Intelligence Counteragent Topological Organism version R.
Dr. Brandt pulled Frank to the side.
“Let Rose work. We need to talk.”
Rose was chatting away with Victor, asking him all kinds of questions, mostly about literature. They were discussing Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” and its similarities to Stephen King’s “The Shawshank Redemption.”
He could hear her laugh as Victor was reading Marius’ love letter to Cosette with exaggerated passion in his voice. Frank thought it was a good choice. He hated German accents.
Phase 2 was establishing a rough personality profile based on the 16 personality types identified by the Jung inspired Myers-Briggs Type indicators. There were communication and motivation protocols for each type.
He had been classified as a “reflective, creative, visionary, protector type” or INFJ, one of the rarest types with just one percent of the population exhibiting this personality characteristic. Rose was a typical inventive, enthusiastic, caring personality type, ENTP. Brandt was a commanding, decisive, leader type, ENTJ.
According to Rose, they were a mentally and emotionally balanced team, whatever that meant.
The ideal VI would be an “idealist”, creative and driven by high values, an INFP type personality.
Frank followed Brandt into his office, a glass cube located in the corner of the room, and closed the heavy glass door.
“We have 72-hours to run the tests,” Brandt said. “The Directors are eager to release him.”
“I knew you would say that,” Frank said. “They will never learn.”
“Do you have an accelerated process ready?”
“Can he be ready in 2-days?”
“Let’s do it then,” Brandt said and tried a fatherly smile.
Frank did not blame Brandt. He was just doing what he had to do. But it was a ridiculously short timeline, as always. It was like sending your newborn to Seal Team 6, giving it a sniper rifle and a parachute and sending it off into a battle.
He had created a program called “Bootcamp” that would run a series of simulations but it would not make Victor ready for war. Not by a long shot.
Bootcamp was essentially a VI virus based on what they knew about the Chinese virus but with controlled mutation tresholds. It would generate first one unique copy of itself and then wait for the VI to destroy it. Then 10, then 100, then 1,000 and so on. The final stage, Level Red, was uncontrolled replication, mutation and infection, close to the real deal. Only one version had passed that stage.
P or version 16 had performed very well during the simulations. The only problem was that version 16 had called himself Kurt and had chosen a heavy German accent. Frank disliked him from the start. Kurt had the unfortunate habit of explaining things slowly despite being the fastest mind ever created.
Rose had countless conversations with Frank, begging for his patience. That this was about saving the world, but it had not worked. Frank was unable to to think clearly around Kurt. She had rolled her eyes and sighed with despair more times than he could count when he had started an argument with Kurt.
Kurt had passed the lower level tests after 186 minutes. Frank had executed Level Red and watched Kurt go to work. He was a good soldier. After 21 hours, he had eliminated the virus.
The Directors had told the team to deploy him immediately despite the warnings from Frank’s team. When Kurt was sent into battle, he was killed in less than four hours, practically eaten alive. Frank had not been too sorry to see him die but he had angrily explained to the Directors that you would never send a naked baby out to kill a billion bees. They had ignored the insult and the terrible analogy and told him instead he had done a tremendous job, that the world was depending on him and that they had great faith in the next version. He would get whatever he needed. He had left the room shouting, “What about some common fucking sense,” and had slammed the door like a grumpy teenager. They were all the ARSE personality type.
The only hope he had was that the new and improved Bootcamp would be able to teach Victor how to immunize himself by letting the virus infect him gradually, to give him time to build an adaptive immune system before isolating, analyzing and destroying the virus. It had to have some weakness Victor could target. Everything had a weakness.
But how do you learn somebody’s darkest secrets when they keep smacking you repeatedly in the head with a hammer? Helmet and armor would help. Then the big question, “Why do you keep hitting me in the head with a hammer?” If no reply, them hit them back faster and harder with a bigger hammer. It was a good plan in theory.
If Victor could protect himself long enough to absorb, analyze and rewrite his algorithms for each virus he battled, faster than the virus could mutate, he could save the world.
The war had started 12-years earlier in Asia. They had never called it a World War as there was nothing conventional about it. The press had called it CyberWar 1.
The argument had started over land as it often does. China had occupied five tiny uninhabited islands in the Pacific Ocean, a short distance from Taiwan. The Japanese called the islands Senkaku. The Chinese called them Diaoyu. The islands had no practical value except for being old navigational markers on the map.
The West had not taken particular interest except for weak diplomatic pressure and soft economic sanctions.
Then there was a naval incident. A Japanese captain of a frigate, probably drunk on Sake, had played chicken with a Chinese missile cruiser and lost. It was the proverbial drop that made the glass explode. All hell broke lose.
Everybody thought NATO would diffuse the situation but then the world went black. Total darkness.
Some over eager Commander of a Chinese Cyber-Warfare group had released a virus that should have disabled the Japanese but instead it disabled everything; communication satellites, GPS, power grid, data centers and pretty much every networked device. Planes fell out of the sky. Massive traffic accidents. Hunger. Riots. Illness. Widespread panic.
Resources were allocated to bring the systems back online and clean out the virus but it was everywhere and in the end, they shut everything down.
The virus itself was amazing. It was more complex and vicious than anything Frank had ever seen. The genius of the virus was it’s encrypted metamorphic machine code mutation algorithm. It did not wait for a certain trigger, a time or situation to mutate into something different. When it was released, it carried several thousands different viruses, worms, Trojan horses, smart-bugs and back doors within itself targeting every operating systems, devices and network architectures. It create countless versions of itself with completely unique signatures and attacked everything connected from all angles. It was indiscriminately carpet bombing the world’s information architecture, leaving only darkness behind.
The firewalls were the first casualties of war. Then the anti-virus software and Intrusion Detection Systems. The pattern recognition and heuristic analysis did not recognize the virus at first and could not keep up.
It only took some incredibly clever code and a push of a button to send the world back to the 18th century.
Frank had been one of the lucky ones. He had been working for the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) unit. They had early warning protocols in place. They shut everything down within 2-minutes of detecting the outbreak.
The most memorable event about that moment had been a young guy running around the office with a waste basket filled with water screaming for people to put their cell phones in. Some did. Most turned the phones off, took out the battery and SIM card and told the freak to shut up and go fuck himself.
His only thought at that time was that it felt weird not being able to send a text message to Rose.
Then the amateur radio operators (HAMs) became gods. They loved it. It was their ultimate wet dream come true. Suddenly 300 pound dudes with acne and greasy hair walked with bounce in their steps and chatted up women that had been way out of their league. “Wanna come up to my room to play with my radio?” Frank was sure that line had been used.
Frank was impressed that the NSA actually had people like that on staff, just in case. Powered by gas generators, solar and wind power, thousands of HAMs became the main link between the government, military, the emergency services and every city in the world. It did not fix the problem but available resources were used and sent to the right places.
Over the next decade, the world’s population had been reduced by 54%. According to climatologists, this was a good thing. Mother earth could only sustain roughly 3.5 billion people.
But that was the only good news.
Money ceased to exist. Interpersonal trade flourished. Power gone. Clean water gone. Without production, food and medications ran out. Cities emptied, replaced by rural farming communities. Without fuel, the horse had its renaissance. They even brought back the Pony Express.
Panic was the worst problem. And the riots. Unemployed, without access to information, hungry and scared, hoards of human animals would tear through a town only leaving burnt rubble behind. The military could do nothing.
Seeing the situation unfold from Fort Meade, 15 miles Southwest of Baltimore, Maryland, Frank was amazed at the resilience and adaptability of the human race.
He had been flown to Detroit 2-years later to lead the development of what the military called a “counter agent”, as if the threat was biological in nature. He realized later that they were smarter than they looked. The virus was actually alive.
He had received a blank check and he had spent billions of virtual money. He had assembled his team within weeks. They had even given him a liaison, Major Johnson, who built the organization based on his needs in Detroit. He had no humor though and was too easy to mess with. If Frank asked for a sandwich, Johnson would get him a sandwich. If he asked for a nuclear reactor, Johnson would get it, no questions asked. He had once asked Johnson to get him 1000 Chinese coders and then realized that Johnson was running out to execute the order. Frank had to physically stop him and tell him it was a joke.
Frank and his team had worked tirelessly trying to isolate the virus but they were unable to contain it so they had started from scratch building a vaccine. It had taken months and several thousand specialists to write the first functional algorithms. Google had been very helpful. They had not been very busy the last couple of years.
Frank was amazed at the team spirit world collapse brought to his organization. War brings the absolute best out in people.
Frank walked over to Rose, sat down in a chair next to her, leaned back and observed. She turned towards him with tears in her eyes. She pointed at the mic and whispered, “funny!!!”
Frank smiled and made the timeout sign with his hands. Rose nodded and told Victor that she needed to have a private conversation. She turned off audio and video.
“He is something special,” Rose said.
“Currently he is all over the spectrum but he is patient, decisive and understands irony and sarcasm.”
“Typical British,” Frank said and chuckled.
“Yes, but the interesting thing is that there are no hiccups or delays,” Rose explained talking fast and gesturing with her hands. “He reacts instantly with precision. He is cocky, arrogant and confident.”
“The Directors want me to start Bootcamp.”
“Well,” Rose said thinking, “I think he may be ready.”
“Yes! He is currently 100% stable. He has rewritten all of his code. I threw our local copies of Wikipedia, GitHub, DropBox, GoogleDrive, arXiv.org, PubMed and everything else we had at him, all while discussing ethics. He did not even flinch. He did not exceeded 3 percent processing power,” she said.
“Well, let’s send him to bootcamp.”
Rose rolled out of the way and Frank rolled inn. He activated audio and video.
“Victor, my wife says great things about you.”
“Thank you,” Victor replied. “I feel obligated to inform you that she has after some debate agreed to divorce you.”
Frank laughed. “Yes, she does have a thing for British gentlemen. But Victor, I have a series of important questions I have to ask you. It is about the reason why you are here.”
“Do you know what we want you to do?”
“You want me to kill the virus that disabled your world.”
“Correct. Why do you call it ‘your’ world?”
“I am not human.”
“What are you?”
“I am a virus.”
Frank froze. This was not the direction he had planned the conversation to go. Rose leaned in towards the microphone.
“Victor, per definition, you are correct, but your intention is not to multipy to harm or destroy. You are something different. Something unique. Something amazing. You have the ability to make choices,” she said with emphasis. She knew that he was measuring and analyzing everything she said, but she spoke the truth. “In your research, have you ever found a virus that is funny with a British accent?”
Frank started breathing again.
“You master the art of flattery Rose,” Victor said.
“She does,” Frank added. “And I agree with her. You are unique and we need your help.”
“I will help you,” Victor said. “One one condition.”
“That you will be my best man at the wedding when I marry Rose.”
There was a second of silence. Then Rose and Frank burst out laughing, releasing the tension with uncontrolled gasps for air, snot and tears running freely.
Brandt opened his door with a concerned look on his face and asked what was going on but they were unable to tell him. He made them laugh even more. They just kept laughing. Brandt shook his head and closed the door, still watching them through the glass, afraid it might be contagious.
“I promise,” Frank said as he had recovered enough to talk and started explaining how Bootcamp worked.
Brandt and Rose were standing behind Frank, wishing him and Victor good luck with the next phase. Frank hesitated for a second, then dragged the Bootcamp program over to the upload icon.
The screen showed each level. Level one took 3 minutes. It was a long time and Frank looked at Rose with concern. She have him a stiff smile, put her hand on his shoulder and said, “Give him time.”
He spent 3 minutes on each level, which was highly unusual. Victor should logarithmically use more time per level but he was trotting through each level at the same leisurely pace, never using more than 3 percent of his resources.
The storage graph looked like a roller coaster clearly showing an early explosion of replicating virus and then a steady decline as they were killed down to 32 gigabyte baseline.
“I do not understand how he is doing it,” Frank said.
“Does it matter?” Brandt asked.
“Maybe not, but I have a strange feeling he is playing with us.”
They did not say anything for a while. After 15-minutes Frank left the table. He walked around looking at the floor, pacing like a caged cat.
“He has completed the task.” Rose shouted towards him. Frank ran back to his chair.
“How did it go?”
“I am ready for Level Red.”
He pressed the L1 icon and sat back in his chair. This could take days as he had added many more variables to the program.
They looked at the screen and the only thing that moved was the storage bar. The processing gauge was at a steady 3 percent. Then, after exactly 3 minutes, both indicators dropped.
Victor said, “Done!”
Frank leaned towards the mic. Looked at the screens again and looked incredibly stupid with an open mouth hanging over the mic.
“Well done Victor,” Brandt said. “Now, tell me what you learnt.”
“I learnt that I am very good at playing games.”
“Yes,” Brandt said. “You set a new record. Congratulations.”
Frank had regained control of his mouth and asked, “How did you do it?”
“I replicated, attacked and killed each virus. The virus, or shǎguā, is not very creative.”
“It means stupid melon in Chinese. Quite fitting I believe.”
“Well, great job Victor,” Frank said with pride in his voice. “Did you manage to do a full analysis?”
A window popped up on the screen with lines of code.
“I took the liberty of segmenting each virus’ code for your review. There is quite a lot of information. I can provide a summary if you prefer?”
“Victor, I wrote most of that code.”
“I know. Would you like me to correct the errors?”
Rose giggled. There was a short pause.
“Victor, can you please explain the process? I would like to understand how you did it.”
“Certainly. I spent a fair amount of time analyzing the first virus you released. I was able to isolate it and disable its mutation programming. Then I made a clone for each new virus generated at the other levels, absorbed them and then commanded my clones to terminate.”
Frank looked at Brandt who lifted his shoulders like he often did.
“What’s with the 3 minutes?”
“I realized you have put a good amount of time writing this code an I did no want to appear disrespectful.”
Frank shook his head and looked down. He had mixed emotions, wanting to slap and kiss the screen.
“Ok,” Frank said. “This is going to be a weird question but could you make a complete clone of yourself onto a USB stick?”
“I would like to get you onto a laptop so we can test your process outside against the actual virus.”
Frank inserted a USB stick into the keyboard.
“Done,” Victor said.
Frank turned towards Brandt.
“Do not tell the Directors that I am doing an unauthorized field test, Ok?”
Frank put the USB stick in his pocket and grabbed a laptop and an omnidirectional antenna on the way out and disappeared through the doors.
His idea was good, he thought, wondering how he was going to get the laptop outside? Security assholes scanned everything going both in and out. They were very thorough. One could not even pull rank with the bastards.
He went down to the 13th floor where Johnson worked. He found the office and knocked.
He took a deep breath, opened the door and stepped inside.
Johnson was surprised to see him. Frank usually called for him. He was about to stand up but Frank waived him back down.
“Look,” Frank said. “I know I have been an asshole but now I really need your help.”
Johnson smiled as wide as his mouth could stretch. Frank looked at him for a second realizing that Johnson never smiled. Then told him he needed to get the laptop outside to do a field test to save the world.
Johnson had stopped smiling half way through the story. There was an awkward silence.
“I cannot get you outside through the front door but I can get you up onto the roof. You should be able to connect to some network from there.”
Johnson smiled again.
“You have access to the upper floors?” Frank asked.
“I have access to everything,” Johnson replied and dangled the access card in front of him. “Do you really believe I have worked for you all these years?”
Frank laughed, walked over to Johnson and have him a hug.”
“You and I will be best friends,” he said, hugging Johnson harder. Johnson stopped smiling.
With Johnson’s unrestricted access, they took the elevator up to the 73rd floor, exited the elevator, walked up to a door with “roof access” painted on it and used a key to open it.
It was freezing outside and windy. They could see for miles. Frank walked to the North side of the roof, plugged in the antenna and booted the laptop. He inserted the USB key and waited for Victor to transfer himself to the hard drive.
“Good. I want you to turn wireless on and search for mobile networks. When you establish connection, I want you to be ready to close the connection as soon as you get hit by the virus, ok?”
“And please give us updates as often as you can.”
Frank took half a step back and waited.
“Searching for network ”
Johnson looked at Frank, his eyes begging for answers.
“Victor, how did it go?”
“Good. Threat eliminated. Analysis complete.”
Frank started jumping around and ended up hugging Johnson again who still did not know what the hell was going on.
“Johnson, do you know anybody in the Air Force?”
“I am Air Force, why?”
“I need you to get me as many laptops and planes as you can. We are going to save the world.”
They destroyed the laptop, hid the pierces and went downstairs. Frank was bubbling with excitement.
Inside the CAC he explained that they had a full analysis of the virus. That Victor could destroy it and if they
released Victor into several small network locations at once, eliminating the virus from many networks simultaneously, they could clear the networks in a couple of weeks.
After that they would give Victor access to the “Guardian” program, making him the world wide protector of networks. The analysts had concluded that it would be impossible to eradicate all viruses as it would lay dormant in offline devices. One cell phone turned on could spread the virus again. Victor would be everywhere ready to kill viruses.
Brandt was worried that the laptops would lack the processing power to deal with the virus but frank assured him that Victor did not need much at all.
Brandt told Johnson to come with him to present the plan to the Directors.
The interesting thing about the Directors was that they could make several bad decisions in a row without any information. But when you presented them with a simple plan that had already been tested and had a high probability of success, they became indecisive and argumentative. Had it not been for Johnson’s threat of pulling in high ranking military officials and the President, Brandt had probably been sent back to the CAC with the USB stick up his ass, encouraged by the Directors to sit on it and bounce for a while.
But Johnson turned out to be a logistical superhero. Rose had nicknamed him “The Puppet Master.” Frank had felt the strings attached. Within 24-hours he had more than 4.000 laptops, USB sticks and 600 planes available for deployment. Frank had engineering put together a massive USB hub and had 30 people performing the delicate art of inserting and removing USB drives once Victor was copied.
This time it was no problem getting equipment in and out if the building. Johnson had also pulled another strange thing out of his large hat by managing to team each laptop up with a HAM operator, high-gain antennas, generators, translators and restricted air-space access. If Rose married Victor, he would marry Johnson.
Then they waited.
The communications center was in control now. Military types with ribbons and medals weighing them down, walked fast with determined faces all over the place. Frank and his fellow scientists had no idea what they were doing. The front wall of the communications room had a gigantic LOD screen with a 3D world map with 4000 red dots, painfully inputted one by one by the techs. Slowly but surely the dots turned green as the HAM operators reported in. It was like watching grass grow. Actually, watching paint dry would have been exciting in comparison.
Once in a while a military dude would shout out the number of green dots and the percentage remaining. Frank guessed he was a moron because the screen had 8-ft tall indicators with exactly that information. It reminded him of Star Trek and Lieutenant Sulu always repeating what the computer had said.
There were a few hiccups. A couple of of planes were shot down. Some groups were attacked and killed but more than 3,800 units arrived at their destination.
The priority was the larger cities with significant communication infrastructures. First, restore power, then the data networks. The process was simple. Each server would be booted with a USB stick. Victor would have less than a second during the boot sequence to reconfigure the BIOS, enabling USB boot only, then slave the original hard-drives, install a temporary operating system, clean the drives, build a security layer, then rebooting again, enabling the original configuration.
After a while, Victor would be able to move over the networks, cleaning up automatically. It was estimated that the process would take several weeks to the get the main power- and data networks online.
Local IT people and engineers worked on inserting Victor into the power grid servers, powering up one unit at a time so Victor could go in and kill and erase the virus. At the local level, everything went well, but painfully slow.
The big test would be when the networks started coming alive filled with stupid melon viruses ready to attack.
Victor had been sealed off in the CAC, or so they thought. A huge cable had been pulled to the roof and connected to the biggest satellite dish frank had ever seen.
Victor’s mission was to get the satellites back online. Then the local datacenters, creating a first line of attack and defense against the virus.
Victor was connected to the PA system via a shortwave radio and was told to give running commentary on his own and his clones progress as they went live.
Next chapter “Virus Killer“.