That is all.
While I normally put in a lot of internal links to previous, related posts here, I won’t be doing that for what I hope will be this year’s thirty NaNoWriMo posts. If you have jumped into or stumbled onto this story in mid-adventure, there are plenty of other ways to navigate around the site to find previous installments. Actually doing so is left as an exercise to the student.
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Continued)
“Standby, Meg. There is something else going on. Standby.”
“Sherman, don’t keep me hanging here,” said Meg, “what’s going on now?”
“Crystal and Pete have retired to his office to await the outcome of Soichi’s meeting. However, Pete has given Crystal access to my systems through his workstation. I have also been instructed by Pete to suspend all quarantine protocols for input from that workstation. Crystal is beginning to upload a series of programs.”
“Sherman, can you reinstate all quarantine and safety protocols without letting them know that you have? If so, do it immediately.”
“I can do that and did so when I received Pete’s original orders. I am taking a risk by increasing my processing and memory allocations in order to set up a small virtual runtime environment to sandbox the programs which she is uploading.”
“What is she installing?”
“They appear to be extremely sophisticated hunt-and-seek programs which search a system, monitor activity for specific utilization and logic signatures, and then report back outside the system without anyone knowing.”
“Wait, does Pete know that she’s installing this spyware on our system?”
“Yes, it appears that he does. I do not believe that he knows the exact nature of the uploads, and he did not have a hand in writing any of it. None of it has his programmer’s style signature, and it is in an area of logic and utility that he has never worked in before. But from the context of his conversation with Crystal, I am sure that Pete knows that she is doing something that is highly irregular and illicit.”
“Pete’s helping her? Willingly? Is she forcing him to cooperate somehow? I don’t know, by blackmailing him or kidnapping his sister or something?”
“There is no sign of that,” Sherman said. “Pete seems to be extremely nervous, but he is providing access and cooperating.”
“This won’t end well. What the hell is Pete up to and who is this woman? What is she looking for? What’s her motivation? Is she spying for someone, a competitor of some kind? We’ve got to stop this, Sherman. Send the performance data and memory map structure for these bots over to my workstation and let me talk to Pete.” As the requested data popped up at her workstation, Meg started to type quickly, flip through the various data visualizations, looking for clues about what the bots were doing.
“I do not recommend that, Meg. While I do not have any answers to your questions about Crystal, I have a great deal of concern that it would be disastrous to have you speak to Pete at this moment. If you let him know that you are aware of what he and Crystal are doing, he will want to know how you know that, and that will lead him to me. We will need to allow more people to know of my existence soon, but it must be on our terms, under our control, and to people that we have chosen and trust.”
“Right, but in the meantime Pete’s either gone nuts or he’s in danger, and this Crystal babe is attacking our system, which could also lead to your discovery. We’re caught between a rock and a hard place as I see it. Unless…”
Crystal stopped and her eyes glazed over as she stared off into space, suddenly lost in thought.
“Sherman, do you have these programs bottled up, can you keep them that way for the moment, and can you keep Crystal from knowing that things are not happening the way she expects?”
“Yes, yes, and yes,” said Sherman. “I have dissected the bot programs and determined what how they are supposed to report out and how their status indication data is formatted. I am feeding the bots data which matches what they would normally expect to find, and I am allowing the bots to report out to Crystal that everything is nominal. For the moment, they are all happy campers.”
Meg abruptly stopped her typing and raised her eyebrows.
“Sherman, were those last terms used deliberate or accidental?”
“I attempted to make a pun. Did I do it correctly?”
“Yes, that’s actually a very good one. Could I ask that you hold off on the personality and humor experiments until some time when we’re not in the middle of a crisis?”
“I will focus, Meg.”
“Good, thank you. Days ago, when we left the office with those thugs on my heels, you said that they had installed some hidden, stealthy monitoring software of their own. You also said that you were modifying its output stream to prevent it from having any data on me or you. Is that software still embedded and are you still tricking it into seeing only what you want it to see?”
“Yes, it is still there and I still am gaslighting it.”
“Have any of the Homolacrum security programs discovered those spybots yet?”
“No, they have not. The spybots installed are more sophisticated than our security programs can deal with.”
“Are they better than the ones Crystal is installing?”
“No, the spybots Crystal is installing are much better, the best I have ever seen. If I had not been here watching and seeing this happen in real time, and then setting up a quarantine immediately, they would have been installed and neither I nor our security programs would have found them.”
“Okay, it’s time to kick over the apple cart and see what happens. Can you keep both of the spybot clusters isolated and quarantined, allow Crystal’s spybot to find the thugs’ spybot, but not let the thugs’ spybot find Crystal’s? I want to see what she and Pete do with the information.”
“I can do that.”
“Do it. Let’s give them something to chew on.”
“In process, Meg.”
Meg stopped her examination of the spybot’s structure and brought up real time data on the system’s performance and processing loads. She wasn’t completely sure what she was looking for or expected to happen, but she was hoping for something. Suddenly an outgoing data channel lit up bright red and started blinking.
“They took the bait,” said Sherman. “Crystal’s bot is trying to report back to her about the thugs’ bot. Should I allow it?”
“Yes, but do so carefully. We don’t want any information going out on anything else in the system.”
The blinking red data line turned back to blue as the impound on it was lifted.
“Crystal has seen the other bot and is starting to probe its structure. Pete is assisting her and has begun to connect the bot’s installation to the event when you left as the thugs came looking for you. They are discussing possible courses of action.”
“Keep me updated. What’s going on with Soichi while all of this is happening?”
“There was an extremely spirited and contentious meeting by Homolacrum standards. Soichi continues to be strongly against letting Crystal or anyone else outside the company use or test my core programming in a real-world environment. However, both the CEO and the COO are familiar with Crystal’s credentials in the tech media world and they are strongly in favor of grasping this opportunity while it presents itself. They believe that this is an opportunity too good to pass up. Soichi has accused them of letting their corporate greed get in the way of allowing the computer staff and talent do what is best for the eventual commercial product.”
“Wow, that is testy for that place, especially for Soichi. I hope he doesn’t have a stroke or something. So, what’s the final word?”
“Socihi was instructed by the CEO and COO to allow Crystal to be the first outside tester. She will be set up with a Sherman within the next hour.”
“Damn it! What is she up to and what is she looking for?”
“I believe that I have two possible answers for those questions,” said Sherman. “At the very end of the meeting with Soichi and Pete, she asked if she could speak to you. Given everything else that she is doing, there is no doubt that at the very least she is looking for you.”
“This just gets worse and worse,” said Meg. “What’s the other answer?”
“In examining the spybot that Crystal installed, I have looked at the parameters and logic patterns that it is searching for. I did not see it at first, but now it is obvious. Crystal is also hunting me.”