The ProjectThe near future story where a computer virus threatens the world's super-internet based lifestyle.
Back to Stories To Be
by Jennifer Michelle
From the outside it looked like a normal two story house. From the inside it did too, unless a person knew exactly what to look for, and, of course, Miranda knew.
After she finished breakfast in the kitchen, she put her bowl in the sink, and went to the front door. She opened the closet next to the front door, parted the coats that hung in front of her, stepped in and closed the door behind her. She then put her right hand against the ceiling in the center and her left hand directly in front of her on the back wall. Two dim lights turned on beneath her hands and a red strip of light ran across her hands, scanning to see who she was. A green light flashed and she removed her hands as two beams began searching the closet. She stepped towards their source and let the beams scan her eyes before they became so hot that they began burning everything in the closet, including her. Once again the green light flashed and she stepped aside as part of the floor dropped open. She stepped into the opening, onto a ladder, and climbed down into a well lit room twice the size of the closet. The ceiling closed when she pushed a button at the bottom of the ladder. She then went to a keyboard and screen in one wall of the room.
ENTER YOUR NAME:
the screen read. Miranda typed her code name in and answered zero for the number of people to follow her through the closet. A series of questions and riddles appeared and Miranda answered them all from memory. One letter misplaced, or space forgotten, in any of the answers and the computer would flood the room with a literally blinding light and knock out gas. Just in case an intruder made it through all the security so far, the last thing the computer asked for was a 10-character password. One of two passwords could be entered that would not trigger the light and gas. The first would tell the computer to locate and kill everyone in the room, closet, or house except the person at the keyboard. The second would open the door in the opposite wall, which is the password Miranda used. The door opened and the computer and lights shut off. Miranda stepped into the elevator and pushed the LL button.
This is probably the most baffling part of the entire system, Miranda thought. Elevators being unheard of, except in third world countries, most people in the United Countries of America would not know how to get out of one once they got in. The only reason Miranda and her group had one was because this house used to be a secret base of operations for the U. S. military, when there used to be a United States. Now the house was perfect for Miranda's "project." Of course the security system was not as primitive as the elevator. Actually it wasn't state-of-the-art either since the Development branch of the project created and installed it.
The elevator stopped its descent and the doors opened so Miranda could step out into a hallway. She walked past doors on each side with faded signs before she came to the last four doors in the hall. Each door had a sign taped on it from years ago when the group first began using the rooms and couldn't remember which one to enter. The first read "Conference Room," the second and third read "Research" and "Development" respectively, and the last read:
Don't use unless
alarm goes off."
This door hadn’t been used since the project started, which was a little more than two years ago. That made Miranda’s project one of the newest of all the projects world-wide. The very first project had been started fifteen years before when a group of people decided to fight back against the governments of the world. They were upset at the amount of control the governments and largest private business had over the general population. Decades before, people had started giving up too many rights, such as free speech, freedom of the press, and the need of a warrant before someone or their home could be searched by the police. The people had done so in order to feel and be safer, which the governments promised would happen. And it did, but the governments, after gaining some control, wanted more and more, which they got by allying with powerful private businesses. By the time the first project had been founded, the public had almost no control over there own lives, any many didn’t even realize it. The projects’ purpose was to try and reclaim the rights of privacy and freedom of the individual that people once had, by infiltrating the powerful businesses and governments.
Miranda first checked in the Research room on her way to Development. Research wasn't actually the right word to describe what this branch of the project did. Research was made up of volunteers who wanted to help the project but had families or jobs, and therefore could not spend a great deal of time working for Miranda. But they were all dedicated and good at “Research,” which meant they searched the Internet for problems such as corrupt businesses which need to be taught a lesson, people with so much money they need help donating it to charities, or technical problems needing repair. Some of the people in Research had also set up a personal help room on the Internet where anyone could go to get advice or help with personal problems. Miranda was very supportive of the idea, since it would help people without costing them anything. Even though Miranda's project was the first to establish the personal help room, most of the other projects around the world had also set up local help rooms.
The only person in the room was a tall skinny, brown haired man staring intently at the screen of one of the eighteen computers in the room.
"Find anything, Aden?" Miranda asked.
"Oh, Miranda!" Aden said startled, "Uh, yes, yes!" he said, becoming excited now. "It's amazing what this company has been hiding in it's protected files! Look at all these cover-ups," he said as he pointed to the sheets of paper piled up in the printer. Miranda picked them out of the printer and read a few of the pages. She then skipped to the end and read the recommended punishment-"Financial Ruin," it said simply. Miranda knew Aden had just gone through a bitter divorce with the woman he still loved but did not love him back, and he probably was looking for a way to vent his feelings, but...
"Financial Ruin?" she asked quietly so as not to hurt his feelings, "Isn't that a little extreme?"
"You haven't read everything," he said still looking at the screen, "They deserve it."
"Shouldn't you be getting to work?" Miranda said, changing the subject. Aden checked the time and sighed. "I'll take this to Development," she continued. "You do a good job Aden, but work always comes before the project."
"Alright," he said putting on his wire glasses. Aden was one of the few people in the world who still wore glasses, because he, and the others, were allergic to the eye sight correcting medication.
He separated his connection with whatever company he was trying to break into.
"Your right," he said as he finished, "but I'll be back tonight. Computer off."
"I wouldn't expect anything less from you," she replied as he left the room. She closed the door behind her and watched Aden walk down the hall. She worried about him. Since his divorce he had become her best researcher, he put his heart and soul into the project, which was good for the project, but not for him. He needed to express his feelings, not hide from them on the Internet. She didn't know what to do. She wanted to move him to Development because of his determination and skills, but she didn't want to encourage his suppressive behavior. Besides he had a job which wouldn't allow him to work the time required for Development and project codes did not allow him to quit just for the project's benefit.
"Adults," she said to her self, "I'll never understand them, even when I become one."
Development not only "solved" the problems uncovered by Research, it also earned the money needed to keep the project, and the people it supported, alive and well. Miranda opened the door and was met by the sound of bickering teenagers.
"What did you do?" one accused, while frantically working on the keyboard.
"Me!" the other said shocked, "I didn't do this, YOU did!"
The development room was twice the size of Research, and had thirty computers, twelve of which were reserved for when two developers were needed to work together, in tandem, to get a job done. Ten people, including the only two adults assigned to Development, were there that morning. Besides the two bickering, two others were working in tandem.
"What are you doing now?" the first voice asked.
"Trying to save your butt from..."
"Me?" Miranda said loudly. The two jumped and became suddenly quiet.
"What's going on?" she asked the girls. She faced the one on her left, "Ashley?" The girl looked nervous but said nothing. She had shoulder length curly black hair and wasn't tall or short. Actually, Ashley had no outstanding features at all, she was what people considered "normal looking." Miranda turned to the other girl who was still working at her computer.
"Amanda?" She never looked up at Miranda, she seemed more concerned with the screen. Amanda had very long brown hair with soft curls at the end. Unlike Ashley, Amanda had very distinguishing features. She was slender, tall, and extremely beautiful. She had deep brown eyes and well defined cheek bones.
"Well," Miranda asked with a dangerous tone to her voice, "I'm waiting." Ashley looked at Amanda and was about to begin explaining whatever had happened when Amanda suddenly became alarmed and yelled,
"We're being tracked!" Everyone in the room instantly reacted. Ashley turned back to her computer and began working along with Amanda, matching her stroke for stroke, word for word. The other eight stopped what they were doing and began setting up traps and distractions on the Internet along the trail for the trackers. Ashley and Amanda tried to loose the trackers as they also tried to disconnect from whatever company they had broken into. Miranda watched as the situation slowly came under control. The now cooperative girls took all sorts of detours, running the trackers around the globe, off satellites, and under the oceans, as the others sprung their traps and set loose their distractions (more like annoyances) on the trackers. Miranda wondered why two of her four best developers could be at each other throats one moment and then work so well in unison the next. Only when it was necessary for the survival of the project could those two work together, but when they did they were a formidable team, almost impossible to stop. Every other time they could not agree on anything, it was amazing they ever got anything done together. Which brought up a question that Miranda had been thinking about for awhile. Why were the two working together?
The trackers were beginning to fall behind, but very slowly. Everyone continued working, trying to help Ashley and Amanda get the trackers off their trail. Miranda went to her special computer in one corner of the room and signed onto the Internet. She avoided all the entertainment shows, chat rooms, item promotions, tele-communications, and information boards, and headed for the Super-highway on which the chase was taking place. She located Ashley and Amanda and the trackers, but instead of trying to stop them, she tried to determine who they were. They weren't the Net Police, who would have been lost by Miranda's people minutes ago, but maybe...
Miranda left the Super-highway and went to the Net Police station.
HOW MAY WE HELP YOU?, the screen read.
PLEASE HELP! MY COMPANY IS BEING CHASED BY A PROJECT!, Miranda answered. She knew that the Net Police would jump at the chance to catch a project and therefore would skip formalities like who her company was and why was it being chased. If she was lucky, they would concentrate on catching the trackers and by the time they were caught and found not to be a project, Ashley and Amanda would be long gone.
WHERE? came the short direct answer Miranda expected.
"Where are you?" Miranda asked, breaking the silent tension in the room.
"In the southern part of the United Countries of Africa," a voice near Miranda replied.
"Try to stay there for a bit," she told Ashley and Amanda.
SOUTHERN U.C. OF AFRICA, Miranda told the Net Police.
FOLLOW US, the Net Police replied and a police symbol appeared on the map in the corner of Miranda's computer screen. As she followed the them onto the Super-highway she realized how dangerous a chance she had just taken. Not only could the Net Police have tracked her as well as stop whoever was chasing Ashley and Amanda, but they could have used visual communication instead of typing. If the they had have seen her they would have been able to post her picture (once they realized she was the project, not the trackers) and offer a reward for finding her, and with her, the project.
Miranda and the Net Police soon connected with the southern parts of the U.C. of Africa and Miranda saw the symbols of Ashley and Amanda and the trackers on her map. She pointed out the trackers to the Net Police who then ordered the trackers to stop their pursuit and "pull over" to the side of the Super-highway. The pursuers demanded to know what was going on, why they had to stop, but of course they did what they were told. Unlike a project, the company was legitimate and most likely needed to appear to be a good, law abiding company, and therefore they would not try to escape. Miranda counted on this and, as the company tried to explain what was going on, as the Net Police traced them to check out their story, and as other people on the Internet came to see what was happening, Miranda, Ashley and Amanda quietly, but quickly, left the scene and returned home. No doubt the incident would be on the news soon, saying the Net Police once again let a project escape and accused an innocent, and powerful, company in the process. But at the moment, Miranda didn't care.
"I don't want to know why this happened, or who is to blame," she announced as she stood up to address all the people in the room. "All I know is this should never happen and will not happen again. Right?" She looked around and saw everyone nod in agreement while looking directly at her. They all knew not to contradict Miranda when she was mad, which only happened when something went terribly wrong. Every other time she was reasonable and understanding. Miranda looked at the only two not looking back at her and asked them again,
"Right?" They slowly nodded while still looking down at their hands like children just caught breaking a very expensive vase.
"And to make sure, I am splitting the two of you up."
"No! Please Miranda,..." Amanda began, but her voice faded as she saw Miranda's "don't mess with me" look on her face.
"Please, Miranda," Ashley whispered, "We'll stop fighting. I promise!"
“Chloe has needed a partner to work tandem with for awhile," Miranda said with the tone of finality in her voice, "Ashley, you will be her partner, and until another partner can be found for you, Amanda, you will work as a single."
Both girls looked almost heart broken, but they did as their leader told them. Amanda signed off the Internet and gathered her things. At the same time Chloe, a broad shouldered girl with brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, did the same. Chloe looked like what people considered a typical criminal to look like. She was well built, muscle-wise, and didn't have an "intelligent" look to her, whatever that was. Chloe and Amanda switched computers as Ashley looked on helplessly. As Miranda began to cool down she realized how sad Ashley and Amanda now were. She made a promise to herself to give the two another chance together, eventually. For now they would have to accept their punishment. Miranda did not like it when a failure was caused by non-cooperation.
The door to the room opened and a medium sized, curly dark haired teenaged boy stepped into the room. He regretted doing so as soon as every eye turned to him when the sound of the door closing broke the silence in the room. He was obviously surprised, nervous, and a bit curious. He quickly took his usual seat, which was now next to Amanda, and looked around.
"What?" he asked to all who were still looking at him. Everyone returned to their computers and Miranda sat back down in her seat.
"What did I miss?" the boy asked quietly of Amanda, who didn't reply.
"I'll tell you later Kenny" another boy sitting next to Kenny, whispered.
Weekends were usually busier than weekday mornings, and this Saturday morning was no exception. Twenty-seven of Miranda's twenty-nine developers were at their computers working hard. Chloe and Ashley had needed time to get used to each other and learn to work together, but after a couple days they were now doing nicely. Amanda was doing well on her own, too. Kenny and the others did their best to help the girls adjust but neither Amanda or Ashley were working up to their potential. Maybe it was time to give them their second chance together.
As Miranda considered pairing Ashley and Amanda once again, she quickly checked in on Research before returning to Development. She wasn't surprised to see Aden working hard, on denying his feelings, but she was surprised at the number of researchers working this morning. All but four of the eighteen computers were being used. Usually the researchers with families spent Saturdays with their spouses or children, and those who had friends outside of the project would talk with them. Well, the day was still young, people had plenty of time to leave, but it looked like a lot of work would be done today.
"How are things going?" Miranda asked from just inside the door.
"Fine," "Good," "Not bad," "Excellent!" "Eh," "Alright," came the various answers from around the room.
"Keep up the good work," Miranda said and turned to leave. She stopped just before she closed the door and turned back around. "I know I don't say this very often," she began. Half the people turned to look at her. "Thank you all. The project couldn't survive without you." Everyone, whether facing Miranda or not, smiled, some nodded, and others said, "No problem," or "You're welcome." Miranda also smiled as she left Research and went to her computer in Development.
When she arrived, there was a light blinking under the word Tele-communication on her screen and her computer was beeping.
"Answer Tele-com," she said to her computer and the light and beeping stopped. The screen read
NO DIRECT COMMUNICATION
"Play message," Miranda told her computer. No picture appeared as Miranda expected, it was only an audio message.
"Emergency meeting of all project leaders at nine hours," the monotone voice of the Leader of all the project leaders said. It was all he had to say. An emergency meeting had never before been called. Unscheduled meetings were called frequently, but an emergency meeting, that was bad. Miranda checked the timer on her computer. It was eight hours and fifty eight minutes. she left her computer and headed for the conference room. What could be wrong?
Miranda didn't know what could have happened but she kept wondering. By the time she opened the door to the conference room she was half afraid to find out and just as scared not to. The room was a little bigger than the Research room, but it had only one huge rectangular table in its center. There were enough chairs for twenty and every two chairs had one computer to share. These computers were the only ones with direct, and secured, links to every other project. Miranda went to the head of the table, the only chair with its own computer, turned on the computer, signed on to the Internet, and tele-communicated the Leader's project. Suddenly the screen was filled with the head and shoulders of the Leader.
"Right on time," he said looking at her. "One more and then we'll...ah, here we are," he said as he turned away from Miranda to another computer screen on his huge conference table. "Now that everyone is here we will begin. I called this meeting because of a very dangerous situation brought to my attention by Jeremiah's project in Australia." Australia? thought Miranda, what could be happening in such a small third world country? "I'll let him tell you all what happened." The person in Miranda's screen suddenly shifted and a very nervous and young, face appeared.
"Well," he began, almost disbelieving what he hadn't even said yet. "About an hour ago one of my Developers was suddenly cut off from a company's operations she was deep into. We had no clue what happened until we checked the map of the Internet surrounding the company, and well," he paused for a moment. "Well, it wasn't there!" he exclaimed. "It was as if the entire company had been disconnected from the Internet!"
“That’s impossible,” a girl’s voice interrupted, “The Internet is what runs the world. No company could survive without being connected to it.”
“Let him finish,” the Leader boomed.
“I know how is sounds,” Jeremiah continued. “ But not only was the company not connected, but a few dozen others, people and businesses alike, were no longer shown on the Internet. There is just a hole were they should be. Then, about ten seconds after we lost contact with the company, I lost the computer that had been in contact with it.”
“What do you mean by lost the computer?” a different voice asked.
“I mean, the computer crashed. It just stopped working and we can’t fix it!”
“Thank you, Jeremiah,” the Leader said as he once again filled Miranda’s screen. “This is not a joke,” he continued, “We have checked several different ways and times for the past half hour. The...disconnection of people from the Internet has grown. Reports of car crashes resulting from computer driving systems simply turning off have flooded Australian news room. Teachers have lost contact with half their students, and vice versa.” The Leader’s face started to look worried. “It’s as if the Internet is being dismantled piece by piece. We have to find out how and try to stop it,” the Leader finished with conviction.
“Why us?” asked the girl who had interrupted Jeremiah. “Shouldn't the Net Police figure this out?” Half the people at the conference groaned when she said that and their computers transferred the sound to all the other computers. “All I’m trying to say,” she began in defense of herself, “is that we can’t be counted on to fix everything.”
“True,” said the Leader, “but it is our job to help the general population and I believe this is a case in which the population, and ourselves, need our help.”
“That’s not the only reason for this meeting, is it?” Miranda said more as a statement than a question.
“No,” the Leader answered facing her. “Using the data we have from when Jeremiah first lost contact with the company to now, it has been determined that this hole is spreading, and as it does so it increases in its speed of spreading. It is acting like bacteria that multiplies in size every few minutes. At this rate,”
“Leader!” Jeremiah interrupted, but his voice sounded like it was breaking up. For a brief moment Jeremiah’s fearful face once again occupied Miranda’s screen before her screen went black. The Leader once again appeared in her screen.
“As you can all see, we have just lost contact with the Australian project. At this rate the entire Internet will be destroyed by twenty-three hours today, if not before. But not only is this destroying the Internet, it also seems to leave computers completely inoperable.” The Leader paused to let everything he said, and what they all had just witnessed, sink in.
“Katherine, Michael, and Miranda,” he said quietly. “Your projects will be the last affected since you are on the opposite side of the globe in the U.C. of America. We will all work as long as possible on trying to stop this. Hopefully we can stop it, because if we can’t, then life as we know it will drastically change, as it already has in Australia.”
“Yea,” a boy said quietly, “All Hell will break loose.”
“We don’t know how to live without computers!” another said.
“That’s why we must stop this. I want each of you to call in all your Researchers and Developers, no matter where they are. As soon as anyone discovers anything I want to know so I can inform every other project. I also want hourly updates on the hour and I will keep you all apprised of who we are still in contact with. That’s all for now.” The Leader disappeared from Miranda’s screen and she was left sitting in complete horror and disbelief at what had just occurred.
It was a full minute before she was able to collect her thoughts and get moving on her assigned task.
“Oh my God,” she whispered as she bolted from her chair and out into the hallway. She opened the door to Research .
“Everyone stop what you’re doing and join me in Development,” she ordered. She turned around and went to Development. All the researchers had puzzled looks on their faces, but they did as they were told. Soon they all had left their computers and followed her into Development. The Developers who noticed all the researchers coming in were also puzzled but curious. They stopped working and turned towards Miranda.
“Listen up,” she said and everyone turned to face her. “First of all I want everyone to stop whatever they’re working on.” As the room complied, Miranda looked around to see who was missing.
“Amy,” she said to the nearest researcher, “use my computer and tele-com Eileen, Sara, Jeff, and Kim. Tell them to get in here ASAP. We need them.” Amy also complied and within minutes Miranda had the full attention of everyone in the room. She quickly explained the situation, but with detail. When she was done the reactions ranged from disbelief to depression to outright terror, mostly from the adults.
“Look,” Miranda said, “we will be one of the last projects to be affected, so we have the most time to try to stop this.” She saw the need for encouragement and even, for some, the need for hope. “I have no doubt we can stop this with the help of the other projects, but we must work hard,” she said confidently. “First we have to determine exactly what is happening to the Internet and what is causing it. We will all work from this room. I want each researcher to pair up with a single developer. Since you each do different things, you might see something your partner doesn't. Everyone is to come at this from a different angle, a different view, but only the tandems will actually enter the affected areas of the Internet, just in case. But be careful, I don’t want to loose all my computers.” Miranda looked around and saw that the fear was dissipating as people began to work or come up with an idea that might work.
"I reached them all," Amy said to Miranda as she left her computer, "Kim's the farthest, but she'll be here in half an hour."
"O.K.," Miranda responded. "When each gets here you will fill them in on what's going on." Amy nodded and went to match up with a Developer until one of the four missing arrived.
Miranda sat down at her computer and tried to decide what to do first. She checked the world map of the Internet and saw that the dismantling had spread to the islands between Australia and the Asian continent. Something caught her eye in the corner of her screen and she saw it was on the Super-highway. By the time she reached it she realized what was happening. The public was panicking at the prospect of being disconnected from the world. She checked a news show and soon discovered that it was not helping, but actually making the panic worse. She continued to check news shows, and chat rooms and by ten hours she had a report for the Leader.
"We have to do something!" she said again. "The public is panicking and it’s not helping us solve the problem."
"What do you suggest?" he asked, "That we should try to calm them?"
"Exactly," Miranda said.
"Maybe if the researchers who run the help rooms were to start explaining in chat rooms that people are working to stop what's happening. I don't know, the researchers have good people handling skills, maybe they can keep the public occupied, and try to calm them down."
"It would help us if we didn't have to stumble around all the masses of people running around on the Internet," the Leader said thoughtfully. "Alright, but only those researchers who work the help rooms. I'll tell every project to do this too. And, Miranda, we've lost contact with the China project, if this doesn't work we might have lost time by taking these people away from working on stopping the dismantling."
"Thank you," was all Miranda said. She got up from the table and went back to Development. She found each of the seven researchers who worked in the help rooms and brought them to a corner of the room. She took four computers, including her own, gave them to the researchers, and told them what she wanted done. Most of them were relieved to be doing something else than searching for a thing that would destroy everything they ever knew, especially since this job was specifically designed for them.
By twelve hours, much of the public was under control, at least those still on the Internet. They were in the chat rooms with the researchers around the world, talking, playing games, or doing whatever else. Ever since, the rest of the project people were able to try to make progress without having to watch out for people getting in their ways. Miranda was just about to go give her hourly report when Ashley called for her.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Look at this!" Ashley replied excitedly.
"What the?" Chloe exclaimed just as her computer crashed. Miranda hurried over and Ashley became even more excited.
"Look! Look!" she said like a little child on Christmas morning. But by the time Miranda got there, Ashley's computer crashed too.
"No!" she yelled.
"What?" Miranda asked, "What was it?" What did you see?"
"I saw the virus!" she said.
"Yes! At least it looked like a virus, to me."
"It was," Chloe said, "I saw it too, on Ashley's computer."
"Yes, a virus is creating the hole in the Internet. It looked like it might have been scrambling codes and circuits so that computers couldn't interface with the Internet any more."
"How did you manage to see it if it was interfering with your computer?" Miranda asked.
"I don't know," both girls replied simultaneously.
"Well, what did you do?"
"We did just what you said," Chloe replied.
"Yes, " Ashley continued, "We came at it each from a different way, literally."
"And since the two computers are meant to act in tandem, the virus thought it was interfering with both simultaneously, but it actually only affected one, while the other was able to watch what happened!" Miranda finished happily as she understood. "Very good job you two. I'll be right back." Miranda hurried to the conference room to make her late, but potentially helpful report.
"Wonderful," the Leader said, smiling for the first time since this whole thing began. "Send me a copy of it so we all can work on a counter virus."
"I don't have a copy of it. It crashed the second computer before I could even see it."
"What?" the Leader said surprised. "Well get a copy of it, and do it now!" and he cut his end of the tele-com. Miranda went back to the Development a bit stunned.
"Ashley, Chloe, I want you to do exactly what you did before, but this time whichever one of you is not crashed first is to copy the virus onto a disk."
"Won't the virus affect the disk?" Chloe asked.
"Not if it only affects codes and connections instead of actual memory and hardware," Ashley responded.
The two girls moved to another set of tandem computers and tried to do as Miranda said, but they couldn't even duplicate what originally had happened. They tried again on another set but those crashed like the first two, without any results. No one could figure out what was wrong, and Miranda's thirteen hours report was a disappointment.
"Maybe we're not working fast enough," Ashley suggested. Miranda and others watched as Chloe and Ashley tried once again, but failed. With only two sets of tandem computers left, Miranda was reluctant to let them try again. She turned around and saw Amanda watching them. As soon as she saw Miranda looking at her, she turned back to her computer, but Miranda didn't look away. It was time. If any two could work well enough together to get just a few seconds on this virus, it was Ashley and Amanda.
"Amanda," she called, and Amanda turned to face her. "I want you and Ashley to work together. Ashley tell her exactly what you want her to do.” Both girls looked surprised but as soon as Amanda was seated next to Ashley they both smiled. Ashley told Amanda what to do and they went at the virus. This time Miranda saw on Amanda's computer a glimpse of the virus as it crashed Ashley's but just before it crashed Amanda's.
"Did you get it?" Miranda asked hopefully.
"That was it?" Amanda asked. Then she added, "No I barely saw it. I had no time to react. Sorry Miranda.'
"Don't apologize," Miranda said, "just do it again, but this time you both know exactly what to look for. You have only one shot left. Get it right." The girls looked at each other and moved to the last set of tandem computers. They discussed their plan of attack and then implemented it. This time Amanda's computer crashed first, but Ashley had a little more time than Amanda had before, and she was able to copy most of the virus onto the disk. The rest of the hour was spent trying to find a way to actually look at the virus without infecting a computer.
In Miranda's fourteen hour report she said that she believed that while the virus could crash individual computers, it couldn't interfere with the Internet connections unless it was spreading from connections already broken by the virus. Her reasoning was that she hadn't lost any more computers than the ones that were in direct contact with the virus.
"What are you suggesting now, Miranda?" the Leader asked.
"Well, we haven't found a way to safely transfer the virus to you, but it seems that if we could separate the unaffected part of the Internet from the affected, then we could stop the virus from spreading any further."
"That sounds reasonable. Miranda, you and your project keep working on the virus. The rest of us will see if we can separate the Internet," he said, this last part sounded as if it was a contradiction.
"I'll keep you updated," Miranda promised.
"Good. So far we've lost contact with all of the Asian continent except the U.C. of Europe. If we can't separate the Internet, you, Michael and Katherine will not get until twenty-three hours, it will be closer to twenty-one hours tonight."
"So much to do, too little time to do it in."
"Exactly. And Miranda, I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier. It’s just that, well...Look, we’ve been able to find the inactive virus in the very core elements of the Internet, and while we can’t access, we’ve been able to determine two things about it. First, it was created back when the Internet first started being used globally by someone in the former United States of America. Second, there were a few different ways, different sequences I should say, to set off the virus, depending on where a person wanted the virus to start. Unfortunately they all comprised of taking a tour on the Internet through the world, off satellites, and even one stop under the Atlantic ocean." He paused to see what Miranda’s reaction would be.
“You don’t mean that...,” her voice trailed off as her face went pale.
“Yes. I hate to say it, but your project is responsible for setting off the virus when you were trying to escape from some company.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said simply.
“Don’t be sorry now, the only thing we can do is fix it.” She nodded in agreement. “I’ll talk with you later,” he said, and cut the communication.
Later came sooner than anyone wanted. It was sixteen hours and no progress had been made. Everyone was becoming exasperated, cranky and fearful again. Especially the public, the researchers could no longer keep them calm. The other projects had succeeded in splitting the Internet but that didn't stop the virus. Miranda's theory was wrong. It appeared that the entire Internet had been infected before the virus began affecting it and that it was triggered throughout the entire Internet at the same time. But whoever designed the virus wanted those in the U.C. of America to be the last to be disconnected from each other.
“We can't touch it without it crashing the computer we're using," Ashley complained.
“The only thing I can think of is that the virus on the disk might not affect a computer that isn't connected to the Internet," Amanda added.
“Oh, yea," Ashley said sarcastically, “and where are we supposed to find a computer that is not connected to the Internet?"
“They don't exist anymore," Miranda said.
“Anymore?" Chloe asked.
“I remember my grandmother used to tell me about how she was one of the last people to ever get on the Internet because she had an old computer. When she got a new one, she finally was able to get onto the Internet."
“Too bad we don't have the old one," Chloe said.
“Wait a minute," Miranda said as if she was beginning to remember a forgotten dream. “I think... It's in the attic! Yes, Grandma kept it because she distrusted the Internet!"
“You're kidding, right?" Aden, who had heard the entire conversation, asked.
“No, I'm not. Mom put all of Grandma’s things in the attic when the project moved in." Miranda replied on her way out the door. I never thought I’d be so glad my family is a bunch of pack rats! Miranda thought to herself. Ashley, Amanda, Chloe, Aden, Jeff and Kenny all followed Miranda up to the house and then up to the house's attic. They all searched the old dusty boxes for what seemed like an eternity, until Jeff yelled "found it!" The six rushed to the two open boxes next to him an stared at the computer. Soon they had the entire thing down in Development and everyone was staring at it in awe. A computer not connected to the Internet! Miranda was updating the Leader who was extremely hopeful and happy, when she suddenly lost contact with him. Surprised at how suddenly, and without warning that had occurred, she wasn't sure what to do. She contacted to other two projects in the U.C. of America and updated them one everything. No one was sure exactly what to do except to try the old computer. Michael and Katherine wished Miranda good luck and asked her to keep them updated. She promised and returned to Development.
“It doesn’t work,” Jeff’s deep voice said disappointedly to Miranda as she entered.
“What?!?” Miranda said in disbelief. “After all that it doesn’t work?”
“Look,” Amy said. “Computer on.” Miranda looked at the computer, expecting it to turn on, but it didn’t.
“Great, just great,” Miranda said.
“We checked all the connections and, assuming we understand them, they should be working,” Chloe said.
“What do these do?” Aden asked pointing to two buttons on the front of the bottom of the computer.
“Push one and find out,” Miranda said, “Nothing worse could happen.” Aden pushed the first one marked “Turbo” and nothing happened. He then pushed the one marked “Power” and everyone jumped as small lights on the computer blinked and it made a weird noise.
“Is it working?” Miranda asked.
“I think so,” Amanda replied.
“Why can’t we see anything on the screen?” Ashley asked.
“Look,” Chloe said, “there’s another button on the underside of the screen.” She pushed the button, which turned out to be a switch, and the screen came on. A loud “YES!” echoed around the room and many began to laugh. Miranda gabbed the disk with the virus from her desk and went to the old computer. Everyone moved to let her sit at the computer. She was about to put the disk in when she saw there wasn’t a disk drive that would fit the disk.
“Maybe we can take one from another computer and hook it up to this one,” Kenny suggested.
“Good idea, Kenny,” Miranda said.
It took until seventeen hours and fourteen minutes for the developers to get the disk drive installed and working, but it worked! Miranda updated the other two projects, who were almost insane with worrying, while Amanda called up the file.
“It’s just one problem after another!” Ashley exclaimed as Miranda entered the room.
“Oh, no,” she said with worry, “What now? Or do I not want to know?”
“You don’t want to know,” Chloe answered.
“We’re missing part of the virus,” Amanda said, “We’ll have to try to rebuild it before we can create a counter virus.” Miranda let out a sigh, sat down and they all set to work.
By twenty hours the developers believed they had completed the virus correctly, but they weren’t sure. While they tested it on three of the computers connected to the Internet, Miranda tele-commed Michael and Katherine before they lost contact.
“This waiting is killing me and my people,” Katherine said sadly.
“I wish we could help you,” Michael added. “but keep working, please tell us as soon as you have anything, and good luck.”
“You’ll know as soon as we create a counter virus because we’ll let it loose. Until then I probably won’t contact you again,” Miranda said.
“I hope,” Katherine began but her voice sounded as if it was breaking up. She looked scared and sad as she said, “Good-bye and goo...” The screen went black. Miranda returned to Michael but didn’t say anything.
“And good luck,” he finished. Miranda nodded and broke her connection with him.
She wasted no time in the Conference room, but went back to Development and sat down at the old computer.
“Doesn’t work?” she asked as she began to write a counter-virus.
“Yes, it does,” Ashley began. Miranda closed her eyes and braced for disappointment, she felt a “but” coming.
“But,” Amanda finished, “any counter-virus will have to be introduced into the Internet itself, not just on one computer.”
“That gives us about an hour,” Miranda said, “before we are disconnected from the Internet.” She continued working on the counter-virus and the others made suggestions at times but only watched. The only sound anyone could hear for half an hour was Miranda’s voice as she dictated to the computer. Aden was periodically checking to see how close the virus was to the project and now he broke the tension.
“It’s almost here, Miranda,” he said quietly. Everyone watched her intently, but she didn’t respond to him. Minutes slowly ticked by as she continued to work on the counter-virus. Then she suddenly stopped.
“That’s it!” Amanda exclaimed. Everyone held their breath as Miranda quickly copied the counter-virus to the disk.
“There’s no time to test it,” she said, “I hope it works.”
She took the disk to one of the computers and retrieved the counter-virus.
“Cross your fingers and pray to God this works,” someone said as she installed the counter-virus on the Internet. Suddenly all the computers crashed in the room except the old one. All the lights, and the old computer, went out since they were run by computers at the electric company.
“Miranda?” someone else asked timidly.
“I don’t know if it was fully installed,” she answered. They all watched the blank screen in the now dark room for what seemed like an eternity. A few people began to cry. Miranda turned away from the computer and face the people of her former project.
Suddenly the lights came back on and the computers began to work, one by one. Everyone was stunned. Miranda turned back to the computer to check the map of the Internet. Tears of sadness turned to tears of joy as everyone saw the map. It looked like the Internet was rebuilding itself! Miranda’s computer in the corner of the room beep and she went to answer the incoming tele-com.
“Answer tele-com” she said to her computer with a shaky voice. Michael appeared on her screen with a smile from one ear to the other.
“You did it!” he said happily. “We were just about to be disconnected when the virus stopped and began to retreat!” At hearing this everyone in the room stopped holding their breath.
By seven hours the next morning the entire world was back on the Internet. All the developers were either sleeping in their rooms in the house upstairs, eating in the kitchen, or on a computer talking with a friend. All the researchers had gone home to their families hours ago. Many different news shows were on, talking about what happened to the Internet, talking with officials of governments around the world about, or reporting on the tragedies that had occurred during the “Internet blackout.” But the question on most people’s minds was how could the virus have been hidden in the recesses of the Internet for so long without anyone knowing?
To Miranda’s surprise, Aden had tele-commed her soon after the Leader had made a world-wide statement giving credit to one of the projects in the U.C. of America for stopping the virus. He said that his ex-wife wanted him back, that she realized how much she still cared for him after she was unable to contact him.
On this day of good news, the only bad news for the project was that the Net Police were blaming all the projects for the release of the virus. At least the weren’t blaming the projects for the creation of it.
“Oh well,” the Leader said at the unscheduled conference he called. “It’s back to work as usual.”
“Not quite,” Katherine said. “My researchers have told me that there are a lot of people who want to join the Project.”
“Really?” the Leader asked surprised.
“Yes,” Jeremiah answered, “My researchers have discovered the same. It seems that they are impressed because we stopped the virus and (are beginning to realize) have realized how much control the governments actually have over them. They want to help us with what we do.”
“But there are still many who do not approve of us, including the Net Police, the companies, and much of the public,” Miranda pointed out.
“Very true,” the Leader agreed.