FICTION

Alphabet: A Short Story

Early 1990s. Pre-World Wide Web. Somewhere USA.

Marketing Director Ervin Curtis was so excited his lips quivered. His proposal had been accepted at the manager’s meeting and would be implemented. A coup for him on two counts. He got credit for an initiative that he believed would bring him recognition and secure his position as a farsighted leader. And second, it would wrest control of the Internet Gateway away from the marketing services team, whom he secretly despised for beating him to the information highway in the first place.

All four of the communications players were online in one way or another. Victor Wells, head of the group, had been utilizing BBSes for near a decade and had even taken a short course at the university on the Internet. Wells, however, had argued that for a company their size, incurring the expense of setting up a SLIP/PPP Access was unnecessary until they had determined what they would use it for. When Curtis suggested getting a dedicated line and setting up a LAN site at the cost of more than twenty grand a year, Wells knew the marketing director knew nothing whereof he spoke.

“Where is your customer base? Where are the players in our industry. No offense, but they are gathering on America On Line. AOL is easy and accessible,” Wells explained. “It costs little, and we have a presence there already.”

But Curtis was adamant. “We need to make a bigger play for leadership and here’s our opportunity.”

Wells brought up one more concern. “Aren’t we taking an unnecessary risk by placing our whole operating system and database on the Net?”

“I have been assured that security is not an issue,” Curtis countered.

“Security is very much an issue,” Wells explained, and he went on the cite examples like the fourteen year old hacker who moved an IT&T telecommunications satellite so that 90% of all doctors lost their pager signals.

Curtis succeeded in convincing Dexter Manufacturing’s top management that Wells was only bitter because Curtis had taken control of the Gateway. A press release announcing the Internet connection appeared in the local newspapers the following week, with a smiling Curtis showing a photographer how gingerly he can hold a mouse.

Eddie Capetta dropped out of school in February. He was bored with just about everything except computer lab. A geek from the word go, he was frequently beaten up and called a queer because he had no interest in sports. His parents had been furious about the school’s inability to provide a safe learning environment for their son. After numerous meetings with counselors and school administrators failed to bring relief from the abuse, Eddie took matters into his own hands and quit. His parents vowed to help him get into a good college in the fall in spite of the obviously bad academic move, but he never showed interest in college. He said he planned to get a diploma the more fashionable “new” way: he’d hack for it.

“I’ll have an Ivy League diploma before summer’s through,” he promised.

His parents believed he was joking with them.

Computers were his game, and now he had found the time to lock in, to stay wired from dark till dawn. He felt himself to have a higher calling than college.

“How can anyone spend so much time in front of a terminal?” his father said one evening when he came home late and learned that Eddie had not left his room since an early start of six a.m. — with the exception of a bathroom break.

His mother frowned. “Surely he is learning something. He’s not playing games,” she said. “That has to be worth something.”

And he wasn’t playing games.

The program he had been developing would be a counterstroke to the school system that had done him wrong. For a dozen years schools sort and categorize, systematize and paralyze every facet of a child’s life. Beginning with A, B and C to X, Y and Z. It seemed bizarre to him that had he been a failing student but a football star, he would have been adored by cheerleaders and a valued asset to the administration. These very jocks who had left him traumatized and insecure in the great halls of learning were the heroes of his school. Sandberg, Nelson, Gordon and Winchester… the bastards.

No, he didn’t hate them. Not the students. He pitied them. They would go to college on football and hockey scholarships, bust their knees up and get their teeth knocked out. They would end up with scarred faces and broken marriages, paying alimony from meager salaries stripped to the bone by union dues. He was only seventeen, but he knew that much. He didn’t hate them, but he wondered who had taught them to hate him? The
schools? The whole of society was reflected in these halls of learning. Today he would even the score.

The virus Eddie Capetta had conceived had a two-fold mission. First, it must effectively bore through or bypass the school’s internet firewall, the defense barricades designed to keep predators and unwanted trespassers from their vitals. Once inside, Eddie’s worm would burrow into the heart of the system’s database and, at a preconceived moment, rearrange every byte of data into alphanumeric code beginning with aaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB cccccccccccccCCCCCCCCCCCC. He called his virus “Alphabet.”

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ1234567890!@#$%^&*(){}[]<>?:;

A computer printout that recorded a tabulation total of the quantities of each number, letter, etc. in the database would be left in the tray of the school’s laser printer along with a Smiley Face. He wished he could print the face yellow.

The Alphabet virus was a relatively easy program to develop. He had actually tried it out on his dad’s computer once. He made a hard drive backup tape first, of course. He would have tried it on his own system, but he did not have a tape backup and his father’s machine did.

A more perplexing problem was finding a way to burrow through the firewall. Then, one night he hit on the notion that the school was surely on line with the National Education Association. He would find a way to emulate incoming NEA signals and, in that way, fool the school’s Greeter, an internal handshake that preceded any incoming reception. It took exactly seven days to reconstruct the NEA Internet Protocol. A trial spoof was attempted and the school’s Greeter gave Eddie’s pseudonymous Mr. Pincher a handshake.

The connect signal sent him through the ceiling.

His first experiment complete, he would wait. Would there be a trace? Was there any danger of having been detected making contact like that? He didn’t see any point in risking discovery. On the established day he would find a jack somewhere else, plug in and release the worm from a line that had no connection to the Capetta home. He wished he had a portable laptop system, but alas, this inconvenience was the least of his problems.

END OF PART ONE

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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