CHRISTMAS

by Marco De la Cruz


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From: marco@chinook.physics.utoronto.ca
Subject: Christmas
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Sender: news@info.physics.utoronto.ca (System Administrator)
Organization: University of Toronto - Dept. of Physics
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 1995 07:36:18 GMT




The large computer room was dark except for the monitor which illuminated the young girl's face. She studied the screen intently, her fingers bursting into action every few minutes as she quickly typed on the keyboard.

    > Satan | mailx support@genom.com < Bug144253 &

    > ftp ftp.genom.com
    > Connected to ftp.genom.com
    > Welcome to Genom's ftp server!
    > Visit our HoloWebSite for a demo of our browser: MicroGen(tm)!
    > Anonymous ftp: please type your email address as password.
    > Name (ftp.genom.com:pinky): Satan
    > Password:
    > Kernel failure segf 0672b45ff201h22y144253.  Rebooting ...

    > GENix version 7.11.2b (macross)

    > login: Satan
    > Priority: 3
    > Password1:
    > Password2:
    > Login failedbut Satan rules!

    > [All hail Nene, goddess of the Unixverse!]:

"Yessss!"

Nene let out a squeal of delight as she clinched both her fists. Genom's sysadmins had not yet patched the bug she found in their mail program, and the dweebs currently in charge wouldn't notice a thing until next morning, at least.

Looking at the clock on the wall, she felt a tinge of remorse. Even though she hadn't lied to her parents ["Really Mom, I'd love to come, but it's my job!"] she knew she didn't have to take the Christmas Eve shift. Although it truly was a busy night for the ADP, the anti piracy department was normally not on duty. Network activity was also extremely low, and most of the city's computer systems were left unattended. Even though Genom did hire people to keep a watch on things, Nene knew they were simpletons, not nearly as good as their usual staff (who, Nene admitted, "were nothing special, but not bad either"). "Oh, well" she thought, shrugging. Her grand-parent's would be there, and she wouldn't have to put up, for the nth time, with her obaa-san's hotshot pilot stories.

"O.K. Let's get this show on the road," she murmured to herself, as she swiftly began to hit the keyboard.

She had only managed to crack a secondary system, and even her access had been as a relatively low priority user. But she was in. It would only be a matter of time before she would slowly (but surely) begin to overtake the various security locks that would lead her to the higher echelons of power within Genom's computer system's hierarchy.

After a couple of hours, she managed to break into a priority two account. Soon she was able to telnet into one the central computers, one within the Genom Tower itself. After making sure no one was logged on, she modified the appropriate log files to cover her tracks, and reset the archives' time-stamps. When she finished she broke into another account, deleting all traces of her presence in the first. A few minutes later she sat back, contemplating the screen. The infiltration had been clean, her identity untraceable. The real work was about to begin.

She had expected difficulties getting through to the highest level, but was surprised at how hard it actually was. It took her program a full hour just to find a crack, and even this was but a minor loophole. Still, it was something, and she immediately commenced her attack. Even though no one was currently logged, she could somehow sense someone was fighting against her assault, and it wasn't just the normal security devices built into the code. She ran a few dummy processes to try to confound her invisible opponent, and even broke into yet another account in order to renew her attempts from there. Twice she was almost blocked out, only to respond by frantically typing away, evading the onslaught and retaliating. Finally, after three hours, she found a gap. In a few brilliant strokes she hacked a key.

Priority one.

She glanced at the clock: 2:47 a.m. Merry Christmas.

She had managed to confuse her stalker, whoever it was, by sending him on a wild goose chase over the net and cloaking her presence as a zombie process. Still, she had to work fast, as she could not know how long the distraction would last.

She began to study the the access files, and was surprised to find only one person in all Genom had a priority one status.

She almost fell off her chair, however, when she found out that the person in question had not logged into his account in eleven years.

* * * * *

Sylia hated Christmas. In fact, she hated all of December, but only because the holiday's preamble seemed to be lurking everywhere. New year was O.K., though, bringing a relief of sorts, although the wild celebrations she could do without.

Still, she was at least alone, which was as comfortable as she could be during Christmas Eve. Mackie was on vacations in Europe, and Priss had an "Xmas concert", the nature of which she could only imagine. Linna had invited her not to one, but two parties she was attending that night. She politefully told her she would think about it, but had made up her mind from the start to pass on her invitation. Nene was probably the only one who had some true Christmas spirit within her, and was almost certainly murdering another one of her diets with her family.

Thinking about Nene's family reunion made her wince, an unpleasant sensation building in her stomach. She had long thought herself immune to such mundane feelings such as depression, rage and fear, but some scars ran very deep, indeed, to the core of her soul. She decided to get out of bed and watch some T.V. After flicking through six channels, all of which were showing some sort of Christmas movie or infomercial, she finally found something twisted and outlandish enough to help take her mind off things: Oshima's "In the Realm of the Senses".

After an hour or so she began to grow sleepy. She almost jumped off the sofa when a piercing ring filled the room. She stood up, slightly bewildered, and faced the T.V. screen, only to see the familiar colour pattern transmission. A second ring made her turn towards the view-phone, as she glanced at the small digital clock on the table next to her. 3:19 a.m.

She pressed the "receive" button and found herself surprised to see an almost hyper-ventilating Nene.

"Nene! Are you O.K.?"

"Sylia, you've gotta come to the ADP tower right away!"

"The ADP...? But, what are you...?"

"Pleease Sylia!" Nene gave her an exasperated look. "Just tell the security guards you're coming to see me in office 2710. Hurry up!"

"But..."

Sylia didn't get a chance to respond, however, as the screen suddenly went blank.

"This better be good, Nene," she murmured to herself, as she prepared to leave, "or you won't live to see 2034"

* * * * *

Nene was still grappling with her invisible opponent. Whoever it was, he (or she?) was putting up a hell of a struggle. The red herrings she had planted had only managed to fool her into thinking that she had thwarted her adversary's defense. Instead the mysterious hacker had almost traced her own whereabouts, somehow recovering some of the log files she had modified earlier. Using a brute force approach she ran an infinite fork loop, randomly skipping through the myriad of spawned child processes while poking through the various system files. It seemed to be working, although she was quickly running out of options. But she couldn't give it up. She had to continue.

"Nene?"

"Sylia!" Nene spun around in her chair, a look of relief momentarily crossing her face.

"Sylia! I did it! I'm in! I'm in! You'll never believe what I've found!"

"In? In where Nene? Please calm down!"

"Genom's central computer! I've managed to gain superuser access, number one priority! I've got hold of Quincy's private files! Everything!"

"Chairman Quincy's..." her voice trailed off.

"Sylia! Don't just stand there! I've got this creep on my back, he's one tough customer! You've got to see this!" Nene turned around, and her fingers danced on the keyboard.

As Sylia slowly approached her from behind, Nene kept blabbering away, an almost continuous stream of words.

"I managed to exploit a bug in their mail program, and the airheads in charge right now have no idea what's going on. But when I got into a p2 account this weirdo started to fight my break-in attempts. I was nonetheless able to get p1 access, but this guy just won't quit. I have no idea who it is, he has somehow cloaked his identity from the system. So far I've kept him at bay, but I don't know how long I can stay inside."

She took a deep breath, and continued her monologue.

"This place is crazy! There are so many things going on I can hardly make heads or tails out of it. There are at least a thousand processes running simultaneously, and all of them are invisible to the lower priority users. A few minutes ago I managed to decrypt Quincy's top secret directories, and I knew I had to call you. You won't believe this!"

"Here!" Nene abruptly stopped typing and placed her index finger on the screen.

Sylia bent over Nene's shoulder, looking towards the place Nene was indicating.

    d---------   2 quincy    quincy     512  Nov 27 2022 quincy/

Sylia's eyes opened wide as she repeatedly read the line.

"What's inside?"

"Nothing!"

Sylia looked back at Nene.

"Maybe this is just a decoy, did you che..."

"Please, Sylia," the redhead interrupted, "this is Nene Romanova you're talking to. I've combed through the all system files, I've left no byte unturned. Look at the time-stamp. Log files show the same date. The man has not logged into Genom's computers in over eleven years!"

"But you said there were hundreds of processes running, all which were invisible to everyone else. Who do they belong to?"

"Quincy! It sounds crazy, I know, but they all have been active for over a decade. They have never been interrupted since!"

"What about this "weirdo" you're up against?"

"I have no idea, I can't find out who he is. You think it might be Quincy himself? I can't understand how he could possibly pull this off. I mean, the guy might be good, but this..."

"Nene" it was now Sylia who interrupted the young girl, "does the date of the last access remind you of anything?"

Nene paused to think for a moment. She was eight years old at the time. Genom was still a small company, soon to rise as a super-corporation thanks to Dr. Stin...

"Your father! That's the day he had the accident!" Nene blurted out, "but what does that have to do..."

"Nene," Sylia fixed her gaze into Nene's eyes, "I want you to listen carefully to what I'm going to tell you. Please don't interrupt me, as this is hard enough as it is."

Nene immediately closed her mouth, her eyes opening wide.

"Quincy, the all-powerful Chairman of Genom corporation, is dead. He has been for over eleven years. I remember going to visit him with my father when he was sick. It was a few weeks before my father's "accident". I spied on them while they talked about the future of the company. They had big plans for the new technology my father had developed, but Quincy knew he wouldn't live long enough to see it come to its fruition. I'm surprised no one suspected about Quincy's miraculous recovery after my father's death. Or perhaps nobody dared to say anything, it really doesn't matter."

"Plans? But I thought..."

"That my father developed combat boomers from the goodness of his heart?" Sylia gave Nene a disgusted, slightly twisted smile. Nene shifted uncomfortably in her chair.

"My father, the illustrious Dr. Katsuhito Stingray, was a piece of shit. His research was everything to him, his wife a machine he used to make guinea pigs. I'm still not sure about Mackie, but most of his advances on cyber-neural transfer were tested on a human control subject which he could study and observe at will, whenever he wanted. His "examinations", however, were much more thorough than anyone, including my mother, ever imagined."

Sylia's gaze had turned hard, distant and cold.

"Of course, when she actually found out what he was doing to me, she took the easy way out."

"When I was ten years old, she killed herself."

Sylia's lips trembled, as she practically spit out these last few words. Nene, on the other hand, was speechless.

"By the time Quincy died, my father had almost completed his work. He was about to take over Genom when eleven years ago, on November 27, he left for work and the brakes of his car failed, sending him to his death."

"Or so I thought."

She paused for a moment, letting her last words sink in. Nene suddenly realized the implications of what Sylia had just told her.

"Y-you mean, that Dr. Stingray... these programs, that..."

"My father did not die immediately after the crash, but he was probably critically wounded. Instead of sending him to a hospital, his assistants must have transferred him to his lab where the prototype for the neuro-computer interface had just been completed. He had probably planned to do this anyway, someday. He always had had the desire for immortality within him."

"But you knew all this from the start?!?"

Nene didn't know what to do, or what to say. This had become too much for her. It was like a bad dream. A very bad dream.

"So, the Knight Sabers, our fight against Genom, all these years... revenge because of what your father did?"

Sylia gave Nene a sad smile.

"Nene, you still don't understand, do you? It is not I who is bent on fulfilling her vengeance, it..."

Suddenly, the computer behind them beeped in panic. Nene spun around and began to read the messages that filled the screen.

"Damn!"

"What is it?"

"He's on to me! Wait a minute, let me try something."

Nene began to type, concentrating on the readouts that flickered on the screen. After a few moments, she turned towards Sylia.

"I've released a few worms throughout the system, but it won't stop him for long. We've got fifteen minutes before I'm kicked out for good. Tops."

Sylia had already regained her composure, and once again spoke in her usual cool, detached tone of voice.

"Nene, can we stop the processes?"

Nene hesitated for a second before answering.

"Huh, I don't think so. These are not normal jobs, as you well know, there is no such thing as process ID. I can't even begin to fathom how they work, or how to stop them."

She paused for a moment.

"We could, however, try to corrupt the file-system and, with a bit of luck, provoke a memory segmentation fault. I have no idea what this'll do under these circumstances, but it's the only thing I can think of to destroy..." she interrupted herself when she realized what consequences would be if they were to succeed.

"Good. Give me an access to your account. I'll help you gain some time while you cripple the system."

Sylia sat in front of the terminal which stood next to Nene's.

"Let's get to work."

And thus, for the second time in her life, Sylia Stingray proceeded to kill her father.


Author's Notes:
A couple of acknowledgements are due here. The basic idea for this short-story arose from the thread "Just who is Quincy, anyway?", in particular the comments by innpchan@aol.com and shawn_kester@nt.com

My apologies for errors in the technobabble. I'm no CS, my ultimate Unix programming achievement is pretty much posting on Usenet *^-^*

Cheers!


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[Subject: Christmas]

Christmas, 9 March 1996