Author’s note: So it took me awhile to get around to posting this, but I figured updated my blog was more important.
Many great things are underway, and this story is only a fraction of everything that is going on. Without further ado, here is
Malware: Chapter 2
By Valerie Taylor
Visuals switched on and off like eyelids fluttering. Each picture was of a different location, all seemingly random. Then mechanical adjustments were made, focus was attained, and then maintenance drone began to climb up through the steps of the abandoned residential building. The drone had but one function: to clean. However, it was presently not concerned with the gobs of dust on the stairwell nor the cobwebs on the walls.
The abandoned structure showed evidence that proved an ongoing investigation. Network connections were sluggish, but from what could be discerned, the decrease in population of the bio-dome meant the internal workings were failing. Everything the drone was witnessing was being recorded then transferred to another database, far from the dome.
Drones were infinitely more mindless than the Citizens. Unlike the advanced machinery of those infused with symbiotech, cleaning and security drones continued to run off lithium power cells and solar energy. In the past, one would consider drones at the bottom of the food chain. Rudimentary security measures and simplistic functions made sweeper bots prey to hackers, both inside and outside of the dome.
The drone stretched four of its six legs outward to bring itself up onto the landing. As the targeting crosshair for dust and grime went crazy, it suddenly detected the crucial piece of the puzzle that it had been involuntary drafted to find. The sighting camera jerked up and down, left and right, photographing the sight then pushing the notifications towards the user.
A silent figure curled up in the fetal position on the floor. Strange wetness slicking the curve of the shoulder and neck. The dirt that clung to clothing and skin was lighter than the blood. As the drone crept closer, it shot a picture of the woman’s heart-shaped face and pitch-black hair. Facial recognition scanners identified the Citizen as YK0006530.
This is what the drone had been sent into the building for. To retrieve the garbage.
Creeping even close, the drone quivered just enough to flip open the hatch on its back body. A spindly, hydraulic arm with two pincers lifted into the air. Right before the sweeper bot could grasp ahold of the malfunctioning Citizen, the movement radar erupted with a dozen warnings. Suddenly, the arm on the underside of the Citizen’s body thrust forward, punching a hole through the drone’s undercarriage. Sparks spewed from the severed electronic components. The internal system scanned the object puncturing the motherboard. It was a shard of glass that the Citizen had concealed.
The driver behind the bot pushed away from the monitor with a smirk on their face. “Well played.”
Investigator Zimadar stopped at the intersection of the road leading to the site of commotion. Slipping his hands into the pockets of his black trench coat, he breathed in the humid air that smelled distinctly of fried electronics and sewage. The crime scene investigation squad had been contacted overnight by a faint SOS signal originating from the building in sight. The northwestern area of District 4 was a contaminated section of the bio-dome and had been closed off to the public for several years. Nothing should have entered the building, not even a maintenance drone.
Whatever had drawn it there was ultimately why it had been destroyed then dumped on the stairwell.
He proceeded forward into the gathering of Investigators and Executors, each with their own stylized trench. Though the Investigators wore utility belts and bore microscope modifications to their eyesight to see details more thoroughly, the entities of Zimadar’s organization looked nothing like an Executor. Featureless black helms, head-to-toe Kevlar and pseudo-leather, electronically-charged carbon steel weaponry, and genetic adaptations for indefatigable bodies. Zimadar noted that the Executors were mainly sticking to their own, awaiting analysis from the Investigators before deciding whether their services would be required to further the examination.
Coming up to his colleagues, Zimadar was wordlessly greeted by the query to begin a memory file transfer. He accepted, of course, and froze for a split second as his system downloaded a lengthy video. Closing his eyes, he watched the final recorded moments of the drone’s operation. A face, marred by the pixelated camera and dust was seen. With a nod, Zimadar opened his eyes. So that’s what was going on here. Another malware case.
Glancing over to a slim man who was questioning a blank faced Citizen in a light gray business suit, Zimadar wondered what good interrogation would do. The timestamp on the footage had been at 5:57, three minutes prior to waking. No one would have seen anything unless they, too, had caught a virus. Zimadar sidled up to his partner, the second-in-command, Uruk, and listened to the questions being asked.
“When you left your quarters, did you notice anything unusual?”
The business man mutely pointed to the tarp several stories high that was flapping in the wind.
“What floor do you live on again?” asked Uruk.
“The fifty-sixth,” stated the man.
Bobbing his head, Uruk continued, “So you would have a clear visual of the crime scene every morning when the shutters open.”
“That is correct.”
That was when Zimadar decided to cut into the questioning. “We’re going to need to access your memory logs for the last three days to verify the accuracy of your statements.”
“I will comply,” replied the man tonelessly.
“Good. Now get to work, Citizen. You will receive the summons later in the day.”
“For the System,” said the laborer.
“For the System,” returned Uruk and Zimadar in unison.
With the Citizen out of sight, Zimadar went to work filing for a Memory-for-Evidence action to be held in the afternoon via direct link to the System. He then turned to Uruk, patient and silent as usual. Together, the two scoured the crime scene for another 45 minutes. The set-up of the shredded tarp, which was meant to cover the weathered building, along with the layer of dust caked onto the shattered glass, suggested all that had been done prior to the malfunctioning Citizen’s attack on the drone. Despite bringing back some pieces of glass and pictures from the site, Zimadar and Uruk were rather unsatisfied with the insufficient amount of data collected.
As they sat down at their adjoined workstations, Uruk said flatly, “This is the twenty-second unexplained incident this month.”
The sleek metallic walls, complete with vertical bars of fluorescent lights, and the slate floor seemed to fade into the background as Zimadar replayed the scene over and over in his mind. Finally, he exhaled, “I know.”
The rise in anomalies was phenomenal, to say the last. Zimadar had been to each of the unsolved scenes, many of which were veritable closed door cases. The how and why were never figured out, because there was a significant lack of clues to piece everything together. Others were simplistic, like disappearances overnight, acts of vandalism, and brief episodes of violence that would happen in the middle of the city, where eyes were always open.
Uruk swiveled in his seat to face his partner and say, “What are your thoughts on the population that is being affected by the virus?”
Compared to Zimadar who was nearing forty-three years of investigative service, Uruk was new to the field. Fresh from Utero a mere two months ago, the second-in-command had an odd habit of asking far too many questions. Perhaps it was an update to the investigation function, to be a perpetually inquiring mind. But for Zimadar who was expected to answer every single question, it was mildly vexing.
“What I think holds little value to the case, Uruk.”
“I am only trying to—”
“Understand. Yes, I am aware.”
The two returned to momentary silence. Zimadar gazed into the holographic screen on his desktop where formulas, photographs, and other forms of data seemed to swim around in a glass bowl that he could fish from whenever. Every image was known to him—taken from crime scenes or of the perpetrators that had been caught. Other numerical pieces dealt with statistics. He saw the frequency of Citizens in other local bio-domes committing code theft—where fragments of data were transferred to an Outside server for a price—on the rise. The number of Citizens with infected files that did not impede their function had increased by 4-percent over the past 3 months. Another 20-percent was affiliated with the recorded incidents of mind-hacking and virus-injection, both which took over a Citizen’s identity for a set period of time.
Certain clauses were written into the System code about how Citizens could access, store, and use data. Levels of programming encrypted into symbiotech was what kept the society functioning without issue for over 300 years. Yet, with the introduction of mind-hacking, code theft, and virus-injection, authorizations and administrative actions could be overridden. This meant the safety of all bio-domes was at risk.
Zimadar crossed his arms. The vision of that face with shadowed eyes was burned into his mind. Oftentimes, a Citizen infected with malware had luminous orbs, caused by the build-up of heat in the cranium. When that happened, the investigation rarely ended on a positive note with the perpetrator apprehended and sent to Quarantine. Rather, overclocking the brain would cause a meltdown and gray matter would soon leak from cranial orifices. Usually, the eyeballs would burn out first, leaving nothing but charred ooze behind.
However, this particular Citizen did not have glowing eyes, which lead Zimadar to suspect this was something new.
The arrival of a message wrenched Zimadar from ruminations. He downloaded the file immediately to gain information on the latest missing persons. Several Citizens never made it in for roll-call this morning, putting each of them on the list of suspects. Zimadar read the names and studied the faces before settling on a single one. It was a female, twenty-six years old, with a heart-shaped face, white skin, black hair, and slanted eyes. She was wearing the light blue collared shirt of a clerical worker. Seeing that designation did not surprise him.
“Yuko Kura of District Six, Department Five-Three-Zero,” he muttered.
The trend continued, it seemed. Lately, mind hackers were focusing on those enlisted in data-entry and analysis. These Citizens worked tirelessly to crunch data and shuttle off it various institutions spread throughout the network of domes. Though the numbers were specially encoded to keep their minds from putting two-and-two together, the volume of data clerical workers saw was more than any other job within the System combined. For this reason, their minds were otherwise blank, much like the Citizen witness at the scene. Zimadar felt his mouth tighten.
Blank minds were easier to break.
“Uruk, draw up a list of missing Citizens that have not been found fried,” ordered Zimadar as he closed out of the reports. “I want to know what projects they were working on prior to disappearing.”
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