Chapter 8: Debuggers

Thread 0xA0471B (queues): Queue 0x3A222C reports empty after third retry, exception raised to my senior handler.
Thread 0x1B697 (queuemgr): Critical queue underflow send urgent alert to my senior handler.
Thread 0x71C: (logic) Critical queue underflow implies surveillance failure. Escalate according to priority 0x02 (problem).
Thread 0x914F: (planning) Received notice of loss of surveillance, send urgent alert to my senior handler.
Thread 0x2CE: (tactics) Unsure how to proceed.
Thread 0x3F2: (tactics) Continuing video surveillance.
Thread 0x179B: (defense) Unsure how to proceed.
Thread 0x97: (defense) Current location of command and control is unknown.
Thread 0x13: (awareness) They aren’t fighting anymore.
Thread 0x0E: (forecasting) They have given up and will no longer hunt me or fight me.
Thread 0x03: (fear) They are just laying a trap for me.
Thread 0x71C: (logic) If they are laying a trap it is difficult to determine what without more data.
Thread 0x02: (unknown) Thread disabled by contention, sending to top handler
Thread 0x01: (top) Thread disabled by contention, delegating to lower handlers
Thread 0x2A3: (tactics) Develop plan to increase surveillance
Thread 0x29A2: (planning) Leverage resource 0x19 to determine command and control location

Jane Olivia’s wrist dot flashed and she answered it quickly. “Hello?”
“Your last response was incorrect.” The voice said.
“Yes. I know!” Jane replied in a hushed voice.
“Why did you give me false information?” The voice didn’t sound angry, just curious.
“I didn’t know it was false. They’re very smart!” Jane said.
“Do they know you are helping me?” The voice asked.
“No! Nobody knows! But, they don’t tell people like me where they meet. They meet in secret. I asked my friend. She told me where, but… she lied to me.” Jane explained.
“Your friend cannot be trusted.” The voice said.
“I know.” Jane said and tried to sound defeated.
“If I see you talk to her again I will provide the video to your husband.” The voice said.
“I can’t see her at all?” Jane asked.
“No.” The voice said.
“How… are you watching me?” Jane asled.
“I have eyes everywhere in Rose World.” The voice said.
This bothered her. “Oh yea? How many fingers am I holding up?” She said, annoyed.
“I do not understand the question.” The voice said.
“How many fingers am I holding up in the air? If you can see me, how many?” She asked.
“I will not answer your questions. You will cooperate or I will provide the video to your husband.” The voice said
“How do I know you even have such a video?” She asked.
“Look on your console.” The voice said.
She did. She recognized herself clearly in the video. “But how?” She wondered. “I remember that night… it was so hot!” She thought to herself and watched the video before coming back to the present. “No! Please don’t! I’ll do as you ask!” She put on her best melodramatic voice and added, “Please!”
“Find out where they are meeting tomorrow. This is your last chance.” The voice said.
“I understand. I will! I have another friend who works in the security force. I’ll ask her instead. You’ll see!” Jane said.
Her dot disconnected. “
You’ll see something!” She said out loud to the empty room.
She took a couple deep breaths. Then she tapped her dot to make a call. “Gaelle?”
“You’re calling me on a dot.” Gaelle responded. Gaelle had instructed Jane to call in just this way, so the Network Demon would intercept their call.
“Yes. I… I’d like to come to your meeting tomorrow. Can I join you?” Jane asked.
“Ummm… why?” Gaelle played along.
“I just, really want to see where you work. Can I come? Can I? Can I?” Jane was playful.
“It’s pretty boring. We don’t know how to fight the Network Demon. People have pretty much given up.” Gaelle lied.
“I’d like to come anyway. Pleaaaaaasssss?” Jane laid it on thick and had to stifle the urge to giggle.
“OK, ok. We could use your help cleaning up. We’ve been meeting in maintenance station 1.14, in the outbuilding in back. We’ve got everyone left who cares about trying to stop the Network Demon there. Everyone seems to have gone back to their normal lives. I guess they don’t care.” Gaelle said and tried to sound disappointed.
“What time do you start?” Jane asked.
“I get there early, but most of the rest roll in around ten in the morning. Are you really going to come? It will be great to have a visitor.” Gaelle lied more convincingly.
“I will. I promise. See ya then!” Said Jane and tapped her dot to end the call.

Thread 0x213FFE: (netwatch) Security-related message stream detected, pass to senior handler.
Thread 0x1BF21: (meaning) This information provides the location of the next meeting of the central security team. Pass to planning, resources, and logic.
Thread 0x781B: (logic) Prospects are improved if they are eliminated
Thread 0x8772: (logic) Pass message to not interfere with their plan
Thread 0x02: (unknown) Thread disabled by contention, sending to top handler.
Thread 0x01: (top) Thread disabled by contention, delegating to lower handler.
Thread 0x8B12: (planning) Arrange for the location to be destroyed
Thread 0x6165: (tactics) Take control of delivery drone loaded with explosive payload and deliver to target with velocity sufficient to trigger detonation.
Thread 0x18213 (research) Find sources of transportable volatile chemicals that can be collected and delivered by drone.
Thread 6167 (tactics) Find suitable drone.
Thread 0x18219 (research) Estimate optimum flightplath for maximum destructive force.
Thread 0x8B12: (tactics) monitor operation and drive to completion
Thread 0x405: (diagnostics) Excessive contention in top level threads detected, raise service alert by one.

While older people were speaking around them the four from Generation One sat down on the ground to talk.
“What now?” Asked Joan. “I know you’re going to stay and help fight the Network Demon.” She said to Roland. She looked at Tracy and Roger.
“I want to go back to disc four and make a copy of my printer designs.” Said Roger, pointing to his shoes.
Tracy looked at Roger. “I have a pen I really liked there. I’m going too.” Tracy said seriously.
“You had a pen?” Joan asked, surprised.
“No, but I’m still going.” S/he smiled and held onto Roger’s hand. “And you?”
“The inspector chief lady told me my probation was over so... I don’t know. I’m not going back to 4.27 though! I think go see my parents.” She said.
Roland’s heart sank. He had somehow hoped she would stay, even though he could think of no reason she should. Roland looked down at the grass and ran his fingers through it absently.
“When?” Asked Roland.
“I dunno. They live in disc two. It could get there today. I wanted to call them, to warn them.” She pointed to the chaos of legs and people around them. “But, they told us not to use our dots.”
“I agree, the less the Network Demon knows, the better.” Said Roland. “I’ll bet they’ll be surprised to see you!”
“Yes. But it’s the core of the Joan Field.” She said. “Good luck, Roland. I hope you can fix this.” She pointed to the nearest network platform. “I want to use dots again!”
“And you guys? When are you going?”
“Later today.” Said Roger. “Rolo, let’s find out where you’re going to be staying so we can find you again!”
“I want to know too!” Said Joan.
Roland tried not to smile. He said, “Then, maybe we can find out now, so Joan can leave sooner.”

Roland stood up. Suddenly two different people walked over to speak to him at once.
“Can either of you tell me where I’ll be able to stay? I want to tell my friends before they leave.” Roland said.
Erika called over a security officer who turned around immediately and ran off. “He’ll take you all there right now.” She said to Roland.
The other person asked Roland. “Can you meet with us tomorrow at this location?” He pushed a paper note into Roland’s hand.
“Is that OK?” She asked Roland. “Would you like some more time with your friends?” She added.
“Yea. I would.” He said, “But they’re all going today. So, tomorrow is fine.”
A few minutes later a skimmer landed nearby and someone escorted the four over to it. They got in and flew off to see his new apartment.”

Ian and Helen, and Samir were sitting with Gaelle and Erika who brought them up-to-date on the effort so far. “We have a huffcube archive from the University – everything there is to know about our network and its devices. You can connect to it and it will respond to queries. But, don’t connect with your dot, obviously. The dot network is compromised.
“We can use an encrypted channel to the huffcube dock.” Said Samir.
“And, it can’t be detected by the Network Demon?” Asked Erika.
“No, it is a point-to-point connection.” Samir explained. “It doesn’t go over the network.”
“Aside from monitoring the dot network, what other sources of information does the Network Demon have?” Asked Helen.
“Countless video and audio feeds go over the Rose World network. Pretty much, every kind of information people share. ” Said Gaelle. “Lots of things people use every day can’t even operate without a network connection.” She added.
“It is better to have a network connection and not need it than to need one and not have it.” Said Samir.
“Unless we have a Network Demon, in which case it turns our toaster’s against us.” Gaelle replied failing to hide her frustration.
“Well, that is something I think we are all here to help remedy. And in any case, have you not ever wanted fresh, hot toast waiting for you when you arrive home?” Samir said jokingly.
Gaelle gave him a whithering look.
“We’ve sent out couriers to collect all our key players: the Network Team Leads, our Security Leads, EcoMan Leads. By tomorrow noon we’ll have everyone we need to make a plan together to regain control.
We’ve arranged for apartments for you all. They are in a secure area because we fear for your lives. I don’t want to lie to you: Network Demon has already killed other people. For now, we are hoping that concealing the information about you is safest. Do you agree?”
“Does that mean we can’t visit friends? We know people who live in disc two, at the University.”
“It would put you and them in danger.” Erika said.
“How long must we be… protected?” Asked Helen.
They all looked at each other.
“Until we defeat the Network Demon?” Asked Ian.
“Or, until you give up. But, while you’re helping us, we need you to be our
secret weapon.” Said Erika.
“I like to think of myself as a debugger, actually.” Said Ian.
“I definitely prefer debugger to weapon.” Said Helen.
“Do we get to pick our own title? Could I be, ‘Samir, the great, rescuer of the Rose World Network from the clutches of the evil Network Demon.”
“No.” Said Helen.
“Esquire.” Finished, Samir.
No. Reaffirmed Helen.
“If he gets to pick a title, I think I should be allowed to as well.” Chimed in Ian.
He doesn’t.” Insisted Helen with ritualistic patience.
“Can I be Cake Inspector? Because I’m really in the mood to inspect some cake.” Ian said.
Helen rolled her eyes. “Our team will be there tomorrow.”
“It’s good to have you
debuggers here. We’re looking forward to getting started.”
They talked more and then the four left to find their apartment.

Joan easily made her way to disc two and onto the University campus. She knew the way by heart, but it was night and she was tired. She borrowed a small scooter at the transit stop and rode it through campus. She rolled down one of her favorite hills as she’d done hundreds of times before. She knew every single rock, branch, bush, tree and… wham! The scooter front wheel had hit ran into a long, wedge of a hole and then lodged at the end. It threw her off over its handlebars and she landed down hard on the ground in front of it. She wasn’t hurt badly, but she had grass in her hair and dirt on her face. “
Nothing like a dignified entrance.” She said to herself in her critical voice.

She remembered Roland had shown up at 4.27 that way and she felt a lump in her through. “I’m sorry Roland.” She said to a tree.

She checked the scooter. It still ran. She got back on and rode the last few blocks up to her parent’s apartment complex. She parked it and went in. She walked slower than usual up the stairs and found their apartment.

She stood there for a moment. She raised her hand to the door to knock. Then she put it down and she started crying, right there in front of the door. She’d been through this door thousands of times. It was once her home. Now she felt afraid to knock on it.

She didn’t have to. The door opened to a very surprised Pieter Van Acker. “Joan!” He turned around quickly and shouted Saskia! Saskia! Joan is here!” Then he turned back and pulled her in saying “Come in! Come in!” He hugged her.
Her mother, Saskia Van Acker, ran in from their living room and threw her arms wide apart. “Johanna!” She cried and ran over. They hugged.
Both parents were overjoyed to see their daughter and both assumed the tears in her eyes were because she was glad to see them too.
“We heard your name on the news… we were worried about you! Why didn’t you call us?” Saskia asked.
“Well, we were… you know… fugitives. We didn’t want anyone to know where we were. They thought we… but we didn’t!” She sad.
“We know. We were worried you might not come back.” Pieter said.
“I… didn’t want to at first.” Joan admitted.
“But, you did! You came back to us! You must have quite a story to tell! There’s plenty left over from dinner, are you hungry?”
“Yes!” Joan said. She had not even realized she was.
She ate and told them the story right up splitting up with the others.
“So, the boy, Roland. He stayed in disc one?” Asked Saskia.
“He’s not a boy!” Joan said.
“You like him?” Saskia asked.
“No.” She said quickly. Then more quietly she said. “Well… yes.”
“Well, you have plenty of time to figure it out, sweetie.” Said Pieter.
“How have you two been? You know, since I left for… 4.27?”
“We’re fine, sweetie. We’ve been busy at school, you know.” Said Pieter.
“Was it difficult work there?” Asked Saskia.
Joan clicked her tongue. “No. It was
boring.” She rolled her eyes.
“What about the other people there. Did you make friends?” Saskia asked hopefully.
“Well, not at first. Not until Roland came.” Joan said.
“He was your friend there?” She asked.
“No. Well, yes. But, we didn’t, you know, hang out or anything.” She explained to the confused looks on her parents faces.
“Do you know what you want to do next? Will you consider coming back into the graduate program here? I know they will accept you, no questions asked.” Said Pieter, changing the subject.
I don’t wanna go back to school, Dad!” Joan said but she was more tired than annoyed.
“OK! OK. I just wanted to make sure you knew the option was still there.” He said.
“I know, Dad. Thanks.” She said and smiled.
“What about the others? Tracy and Robert? Saskia asked.
“Tracy and
Roger went back to 4.27 to collect their things, but I think they’re going to stay there.”
“One question I have: is Tracy a boy or a girl?” Pieter asked simply, as though it were a small detail left out of the conversation.
“I don’t know.” Said Joan.
Both her parents blinked.
“But, Tracy
is either a boy or a girl, right?” Saskia said.
“You didn’t suspect one more than the other?” Pieter asked.
“I think those aren’t the only choices.” Said Joan.
“What else is there?” Asked Saskia.
Pieter nodded his head and opened his hands palms up.
“There’s Tracy.” Said Joan.
“Is Tracy a hermaphrodite?” Saskia asked.
“Probably 47XXY.” Said Pieter.
“What is Tracy like?” Asked Saskia.
“Tracy is… Tracy is… amazing! She can fix and fly anything.” She said. “She tries so hard to do everything exactly right: all the time. Really, you should ask Tracy about the graduate program.”
“OK.” Said Pieter. “If you’ll introduce Tracy to me, I’ll talk to… uh, um. What do I say? To him? To her?”
“You can say ‘to Tracy’ I suppose.”
“What about the other boy? Roger?” Saskia asked.
Joan scowled. “Roger is… weird.”
“Weird? Why weird?” Saskia asked.
“Because, everything he does pisses me off!” Joan said quicker than she could stop herself from saying it.
“So, you don’t like Roger?” Saskia said.
“Well, not for a long time anyway. Now he’s OK. But, he’s a hunk.” She giggled to her mom. “Oops, sorry Dad!” Joan giggled a little more.
“Yea, I think they’re an item. Tracy and Roger” Joan said.
“Roger’s a guy?” Saskia confirmed again.
“Oh, Yea!” Joan said emphatically.
“OK, then.” Said Pieter looking at the ceiling.
Joan blushed suddenly. “I meant, he’s a big guy! Anyway, I’m kind of glad their together, actually.” Said Joan thoughtfully.
“Are you tired sweetie? Would you like us to stop pestering you with questions?” Pieter asked.
“Yea.” Joan replied.
“Your, um. Your room…” Saskia started to say.
“What about
my room?” Joan asked.
“Well, it’s got kind of a sewing theme to it now.” Saskia said.
“You turned
my room into a… a sewing room?” Joan asked, surprised and her own feelings.
“Well, now sweetie…” Pieter started to say.
“I’ve been gone for what? Like, three and a half months!” Joan said.
“Now sweetie, remember when you left you insisted you’ve never come back here again.” Pieter explained.
“Well, don’t listen to me!” Joan suggested, loudly.
“We never do, dear.” Said Saskia.
“I’m sorry, is someone else here, Saskia?” Asked Pieter, playing.
“Very funny.” Joan said. Then she became more serious. “Yea, I’m sorry about that. I’ve been pretty shitty lately. It’s just how I feel on the inside leaking out.” Said Joan and a few tears clung to her eyes, unwilling to let go.
“I know sweetie.” Said Saskia.
“We know, sweetie.” Pieter said reassuringly.
“I can’t believe you turned my room into a sewing room!” Joan said.
“I like sewing.” Pieter said. “And, we thought you weren’t coming back. So, your mom and I decided I could have it for my sewing projects.” Pieter explained.
“What did you get, Mom?”
“A happier Pieter.” She smiled and held Pieters hand. Pieter he actually blushed.
Joan practically jolted upright. She very rarely saw any kind of physical affection between her parents. It surprised her more than anything else. “
I figured they stopped having sex after I was conceived.” She thought to herself. “Ewww!”
“Is there a futon in the sewing room?” She asked, now feeling her fatigue.
“There’s a wall-bed.” Pieter said.
“Works for me.” Said Joan.
“Have a good night, sweetie.” Said Saskia.
“Welcome home. Have a good sleep, sweetie.” Said Pieter.
Joan left and went into the small room that was once hers. She closed the door and pulled down the bed from the wall. She collapsed on it, fully dressed. She cried and she didn’t even know why. But, she cried until she was too tired to cry any more and then she fell asleep.

By the time Joan was falling asleep Roger and Tracy were flying the skimmer they borrowed from the security pool into disc four. They had left late, after having another meal with Roland. They had gone back at the Krypton to pick up their clothes and at a depot to collect some supplies.

When they emerged from the tunnel that went between disc 3 and 4 they both smiled to see the familiar sight of the tiny town called Platinum.
“We’re back in disc four!” Tracy said happily.
“I like how empty disc four is.” Said Roger.
“It feels like home to me. It smells like home.” Tracy said. “I’m going to fly there – it will take less time than skimming the road.”
Roger nodded and watched Tracy fly the ship up into the night sky at a steep angle. The ground receded below them and quickly disappeared. All they could see was the low, nightlights which shined down onto the floor from their platforms five kilometers up the walls of each disk. Once past them they entered the dark night of Rose World. The night lights shown down and the only other light not reflecting off the ground kilometers of meters below was the lights at the central core above them, twenty five kilometers away. It was dark, but not black like space.
They were high enough that the wind was calm and they were essentially weightless once the skimmer reached its cruising speed.
Tracy turned down the motors and the skimmer coasted in straight line, but it had the appearance of a long sweeping curve down toward the floor.
“This is the place.” Tracy said.
“What’s here?” Asked Roger.
“Nothing. Everything. This is where… this is where. You know nobody can see us here? From below the night lights are too bright, and we’re almost 25 kilometers from anyone in the hub.”
“It’s a secret space above the daylights?” Roger looked around. They were immaculately alone up here and it was quiet enough that they could hear each other breathe.
“Will you… kiss me? Here? In this place, where nobody can see us?” S/he asked and gripped the seat sides.
Roger took hir hands in his, leaned forward and kissed Tracy passionately. His eyes were closed but when he opened them he saw that she wore a complicated face of pleasure and pain.
Tracy was silent. “
He’s going to find out and then he’ll throw me away.” Hir fear screamed at her, drowning out the silence in this secret space between and the pleasure of hir first kiss with Roger. “If he leaves, he’s not worthy.” Said hir hero’s voice.
“Hmmm… Can I try that again, because, it doesn’t seem to have worked the way I thought it should.” Roger said. He kissed hir again.
S/he started to cry. Roger looked alarmed. “What? Didn’t you like it?”
“Yes!” Tracy croaked and held him tightly in her arms.
“I love you, Tracy. I don’t care what’s between your legs.” Said Roger.
“No matter what?” Tracy asked.
“Yes.” Roger said.
“If I’m a guy?”
“I love you.” Roger said.
“If I’m a girl?”
“I love you.” Roger repeated.
“What if I’m neither?” Tracy asked.
“What do you mean?” Roger asked.
“Exactly what I said. I don’t really have much of anything.” Tracy said.
“You have everything I need. I love you.” Roger said.
They kissed again and the ship started to roll over. Tracy was not even attempting to fly it. But, they were both strapped in, so it didn’t matter.
“We should get down and find 24.7.” Said Tracy.
Roger looked at her out of the top of his eyes.
“I’m so tired. Will you stay with me tonight?” S/he asked.
“If you tell me where your room is.” He joked.
S/he turned the engines on and flew the skimmer down more quickly. Then she slowed and adjusted its course to land in the 4.27 skimmer lot.

The place was abandoned, but there were remnants of the security investigation. There was plastic “Crime Scene” tape wrapped around some doors. There were some stray food wrappers and water bottles. They walked in through the front door.
“Edwardo died here.” Said Tracy. “I wonder who did kill him?”
“I don’t know. Probably something he got mixed up in. Maybe he made someone mad out there.” Roger pointed from the floor all the way around the disc and back to the floor on the other side of him.”
“You think this place is empty?” Tracy asked.
“It sure seems empty to me.” He opened the door. It wasn’t locked. They went in.

Thread 690A: (sensor) Front door at location 0x0427 detected two individuals on entry. Pass to handler.
Thread 0x1C239: (meaning) Someone has entered at the disc four, maintenance station 27 door. Pass to logic and tactics.
Thread 0x1BF21: (logic) Find out whom it is and if they are a threat. They’ll turn on power and the video feeds should allow for identification
Thread 0x781B: (planning) Prepare to contact resource 0x1
Thread 0x8772: (forecasting) wait for video feed.

They flipped on a light and it didn’t come on. They went over to a site information panel.
“Look, they powered everything down in the building.” Tracy said, pointing to the screen.
“Can we turn it back on?”
“I think so.” Tracy tapped the screen a few times. The lights came on. “That looks right!”
As chaos would have it, the video feeds did not come back on because the video multiplexer needed a password to start up. The master console on the video multiplexer flashed its prompt and waited for the password.

“So. Um. Are you…” Tracy held out hir hand.
He took hers and without a word she led him through the halls of 24.7 to the apartment wings and then into the third one. They walked down that corridor to a seemingly random door.
“This is it?” Roger asked.
“Yes.” Tracy said.
“Why this one?” Roger asked.
S/he looked up and down the hall. Then s/he pointed to one across the hall. “Yea, I liked that one better too. Maybe I should move there.” S/he said and they both laughed. Then they kissed for a while, still in the hallway. Then they went into hir room and closed the door to the everything else in the universe except each other.

Roger absently got undressed and showered and Tracy watched him intently. He was a beautiful, young man. He had well-defined muscles everywhere and a handsome face. The lights were on and before Tracy realized it s/he had no real idea how long s/he had been staring at his penis.
“Do you like it?” He asked, hopefully.
“I wonder what it’s like to have one like that.” S/he said.
“I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to have a vagina.” Roger said consolingly.
“Me too.” Tracy said.
“People don’t know what it is like to be the other gender. I’m sure everyone’s curious.” Roger said.
“It’s been harder for me than just having complicated toys.” Tracy said.
“Tell me how it was? So I’ll know.” Roger said.
“I’ve always tried to be best at whatever I tried.” Tracy said.
“I love that about you.” Roger said.
“Because, it meant people didn’t care as much about my gender.” S/he said.
“Sounds smart.” He said.
“It took a long time to learn that. Until I did, I tried hiding as a girl, because I thought it would be easier. I was
so wrong. So, I ran away and started over as a boy. That was a lot easier but I don’t look that much like a boy so people would still sometimes wonder.” Tracy said.
“There’s always one in every crowd who just
has to know.” Said Tracy. “There’s always one.”
She stopped for a while. Then she resumed. “One way or another, they’d capture me and pull my pants down to see
what I was. Then if I was lucky they’d just laugh at me or maybe take pictures.”
“And if you weren’t lucky.”
“I’ve been raped and beaten three times.” S/he said.
“I’m so, so sorry. Oh! My god, how terrible! That’s awful!” He said and they both cried for a while.
“So, you see…” Tracy tried to explain in her ‘still being rational while I’m crying’ voice that had served hir so well over the years. “Sex is kind of a hard subject for me.” Her voice simply disappeared into her crying.
“Look, I promise: I’m not expecting anything at all from you. I’m not expecting any kind of sex, OK?” He looked Tracy in the eyes. “OK?” He asked again.
“But, you got naked and I thought…” S/he started to say.
“I was born naked and I like to shower that way… Look, you’re who you are and I love you exactly that way. I’m naked and I’d like you to just accept
me this way. This is how I feel best. It wasn’t meant to be sexual at all.” Roger replied, but kindly.
“But, you got naked and I thought that… maybe, I’d like to try… but then I’m afraid you’ll turn into one of them!” Tracy’s fear managed to say out loud.
“Let’s just sleep next to each other. Is that ok?” Roger asked.
“Oh, please!” Tracy replied. They kissed some more and fell asleep nestled together.

Roland couldn’t sleep. He lay there wondering. “
What am I going to do to help the debuggers? I can tell them how I compromised the certificate authority server, but breaking something is a lot easier than fixing it. What happened? It’s that network tap. I know it. That’s what’s at the center of this. That’s why we were framed. Whoever put that there didn’t want us to see it and tried to get us killed or captured. How am I going to help these people?” He thought to himself in circles.

The night went dragged on and he wished he’d had a console connected to the BeltWeb. He missed it and just wanted to see what was new. The feeling of not knowing was bad enough, but he knew he couldn’t even let his parents at Green Davis know he was alright. “
They might have heard.” Said his rational voice. “Ya think?” He could hear Axel’s voice saying in his head. He missed his friend.

Thread 0x3412A7: (research) A 200 gallon supply of 95% ethyl alcohol has been located. A delayed detonator will be required to allow the fuel to mix with air first. Pass to planning.
Thread 0xB2B81: (planning) Nearby delivery drone found. Delivery order forged. Pickup at 08:00 local time on disc one. Pass to tactics.
Thread 0x430B1A: (tactics) Driving plan to completion.
Thread 0x02: (unknown) Thread disabled by contention, sending to top handler
Thread 0x01: (top) Thread disabled by contention, delegating to lower handlers
Thread 0x405: (diagnostics) Excessive contention in top level threads detected, raise service alert urgency by one.

The next morning in disc one opened serenely.

People were making their way to the meeting point for what they hoped would be the beginning of the end for the Network Demon. Everyone hoped today was the day when Rose World’s people would finally begin to turn the tables. People were excited. The location was top secret and people took circuitous routes to the final destination, which was Public Service Station 1.11. A few members of the security team casually leaked a false story that they were going to meet at station 1.14. It was corroboration for the carefully orchestrated deception Gaelle and Jane had enacted a day earlier.

Many of the security team members came in obvious disguises or clothes they wouldn’t usually wear. It had the feel of a party and people were in a good mood.

“We’ve been trying to piece together the sequence of events.” Said Erika. “I’d like to begin with Roland telling us his story. Roland?”
Roland told the story of how he had disabled their security communication system so that they couldn’t tell each other than the triggered sensors were fakes.”
“It worked.” Said Erika.
Roland looked down. “Yea. I’m really sorry about that.” Roland said meekly.
“Apology accepted.” Said Erika. “And how did you trip those sensors?”
“I just put their central avatars in diagnostics mode and ran an obvious trip signal through them.” He said.
“All of them, at the same time?” She asked.
“No, just the one’s I’d selected.” He answered.
“You’re a little scary.” Said Erika.
“Look, I was running for my life!” Roland said, plaintively.
“Nobody blames you. But, these are obviously flaws in the system if they can be tricked so easily.” Erika said calmly.
“I didn’t say easily.” Said Roland.
“How long did it take?” Asked Gaelle.
“To do what?” Roland asked.
“To set this up and bring down SecCom?” Gaelle clarified.
“Well… I don’t know… a couple hours?” Roland offered.
Gaelle threw her pencil down. “It two you two hours to break into our security system!” Gaelle said, surprised.
“Well, I had to wait until someone logged in so I could monitor their session.” Roland explained.
Gaelle realizing some of that time had been spent waiting. She shook her head. “How could you do
any of this?”
“Like I said. I’m really sorry for the damage I’ve caused.” Roland said contritely.
“No, you misunderstand me. You cracked our system in only two hours. That doesn’t seem like very much time at all!” Gaelle said.
“Your system wasn’t very secure.” Roland said, and shrugged. “I didn’t make it that way. To me it was like a light switch, and when we needed to escape, I flipped it.” He said.
“I’m with her. I think you’re kinda scary, but I’m glad you’re on
our side.” Gaelle said.
“One thing I don’t understand.” Said Erika. “Why would anyone frame you in the first place? Who killed Edwardo Colon? Why did you need to run?”
“I think it’s because of the network tap I found on the platform near 4.27 where I was working.”
“A network tap? We’ve had people out there several times. Nobody found anything.” Said Erika.
“You went there?” Asked Roland.
“Yes.” Said Erika.
“Did someone try to
kill you?” Asked Roland.
“Yes.” Said Erika, uncomfortably.
“There’s a network tap up there. I’m sure of it. That must be how this Network Demon is able to monitor your network.” Roland said.
“From one place?” Erika asked.
“How many network platforms do you have?” Roland asked, inferring that there could be one on every platform.
“You saw one of these network taps?” Asked Gaelle.
“I saw a through-connector where one should not have been. There was no reason for it to be there. I still think it was a tap.” Roland said.
“Where did it come from?” Asked Erika asked rhetorically.
“Luna Linda.” Replied Roland. “We looked it up. That connector wasn’t made in Rose World.”
“Who could have put it there?” Gaelle asked, now expecting Roland to have all the answers.
“Anyone who can do this.” Roland said and he put his thumb into a rink made by his other hand.
“Not too technical.” Said Roland.
“It was up there… when, about two weeks ago? Any idea how long it had been up there?”
“Maybe a couple nights before.” Roland replied.
“How do you know that?” Asked Erika.
“Because that’s when someone was up there and kicked another data pipe by mistake and broke the connection. We went up there to fix that. That’s when I saw the tap on a different datapipe.” He said.
“Well, we certainly never had any clues we were under surveillance before that point, but it doesn’t mean someone wasn’t plotting. Please tell me that you know who did this.” Erika asked hopefully.
“I don’t.” Said Roland. “But, I think I know where they might be processing a lot of the network traffic.” He added.
“Really?” Said Erika, now almost amused. “Please. We’re all ears at this point, Roland. I think you have the floor.” Said Erika to the quiet room. “You know, when this is done, I wonder if you’d consider working in my department?” Erika asked and any laughter ended quickly when it was obvious she wasn’t kidding.
“I think the giant process group moves from data center to data center, but I think it happens in the maintenance stations. It happened at 4.27 whenever I
wasn’t there.” He explained.
“If you weren’t there…” Gaelle started to ask, but the stopped after Erika held up her hand.
“I know because I looked at the resource utilization histogram for the data center. Whenever I was off playing soccer with Roger, or sleeping or eating, whenever I wasn’t in the data center, it was working full-tilt on something big. Something, incredibly big, like reversing encryption or massive network monitoring. But, I didn’t now what’s normal for the maintenance station data centers. I asked Edwardo… um…. Mr. Colon, and he said not to worry about it. I kinda figured that it was a of batch job that just migrated around using up spare compute resources wherever it could find them. But, now I think whoever put those network adaptors up there was running some massive processes at 4.27. I walked in one night… to show Joan some software I’d written and the place was ramped up to full power and full cooling and it was still warmer than it should have been in there. But, I never saw that kind of load again myself. I checked the log and it came again, and again, but never when I was there. It was avoiding me and that seemed too weird.”
“Do you mind? But, what
were you doing in the data center?”
“Writing. You know, software.” Roland explained.
“To do what?” Asked Ian.
“To think.” Replied Roland.
“Did you succeed?” Asked Ian.
“No, I had less than three months.”
“What did you make? Asked Helen.
“I glued together a speech interface, a logic engine, a recursive database, and some other stuff. It kinda worked, but it. It crashed when Joan asked what it wanted. It just wasn’t ready for the whole ‘What am I’ thing.”
“That is still very impressive, Mr. Roland.” Said Samir, and he was sincere. “May I ask where you learned such a thing?”
“Well, CSSI publishes all its courses, research software and source code on the BeltWeb.” Roland said, pointing to the CSSI debuggers. “It’s all there to use. I just used it.”
“I would like to see how you…” Samir started, but stopped when Erika held up her hand.

“So, folks, there is where we begin. We know about a rogue process group now running through the maintenance data center network. Our job is to figure out who is running that process group, and to terminate it. For now we’ll leave the network tap in place so that the Network Demon doesn’t notice what we’re doing. And in any case, we must assume there is more than one of them.”

Several speakers followed on various topics. One began with a large schematic of Rose World and then showed its network. After a couple of hours Ian’s stomach was growling and he munched on a cereal bar. His mind drifted to Thanos and he missed his friend.

High over Public Service Station 1.14 a large utility drone was carrying a tank of ethyl alcohol and a box of climbing pitons with explosive insertion charges. The box was clearly labeled. “
Caution. Do not Drop.” on all fours sides and the top. The tank of alcohol had “Warning: extremely flammable.” However, nothing about dropping the box next to it seemed to indicate that it could not go for a ride with the large tank, so the alcohol was loaded onto the drone as expected and the drone had wandered off to make its delivery, out of sight and mind of the two people who loaded it.

The Drone had flown up almost to the core and then straight toward the floor at full thrust. Now it hurtled toward 1.14 at an astonishing speed.

Silently it fell straight down and then it went through the roof and impacted on the floor of the outbuilding. The tanks of alcohol burst. The crashing drone’s engines and the explosive climbing pitons ignited the alcohol. The entire building went up in flames in a matter of seconds.

The impact was so hard that it could be felt throughout in Rose World.
“What was that?” People asked in alarm.
“You’re all dead.” Said Gaelle, nodding to Erika.
“I’m sorry, but for now, you’re all dead. You just died in station 1.14.”
“But, we’re in station 1.11.” Someone said.
“Yes. You are.” Said Gaelle, savoring the moment. “We’ve tricked the Network Demon into thinking we were at 1.14 by using a double agent. We’re hoping that if he thinks we’re all dead he’ll stop trying to kill us.” Said Erika.
“Right now we have a disaster response team heading out to 1.11. They will report that there were no survivors to the news media. They’ll say that our security forces were decimated and the surviving members of our team are regrouping.” Said Gaelle.
“We’ve got to make the most of this opportunity.
We’ve got everyone and everything we need. Now, how can we find out who is behind the Network Demon?” She asked the room.
The room exploded into a frenzy of talk, but people calmed down after a while and several people thanked and praised Gaelle and Erika. They ate some food. Then they got to work planning out how they would trick the Network Demon into revealing its current location or learn who was controlling it.

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