Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Code of the Eight - Chapter 1

This excerpt is the first chapter of my first novel I completed fifteen years ago called The Code of the Eight

Chapter 1

"In a few minutes a computer can make a mistake so greatthat it would take many men many months to equal it."

Merle L. Meacham

October 17, 1990
Washington DC

The early morning sun filtered rays of light through the partially opened blinds. The sunlight illuminated the office above a storefront in the Georgetown section of Washington DC. The office was decorated in ornate cherry wood, with dark hunter green wallpaper accented by cherry wainscoting. Matthew Barber held the phone to his ear, leaned on the sill of the window, and looked out over the streets of old Georgetown. The shops across the square were already active. On the corner, a shop called the Banana Republic had a steady stream of traffic in and out. Several tourists wearing khaki hats and coats exited the store. Across the street, a fight had broken out between several artsy people with shaved heads and pierced body parts and a man dressed in black leather.
Matthew Barber barely noticed the commotion below as he waited impatiently for someone to answer the phone. Barber was in his early fifties and wore a conservative dark blue suit that looked as if he slept in it. Indeed, the suit had been slept in for several days in a row.
Simon LeBaron sat at a computer terminal. He was furiously tapping away at the keys. Simon was a tall, thin man in his early forties. His hair was curly brown, with just a hint of baldness. He had spent several days staring at this computer monitor, his eyes were straining to see the screen. The green letters on the black background of the mainframe emulation were becoming a blur now. He rubbed his weary eyes.
"Return code of 00," Simon said as he read the TSO environment processing messages on the computer screen. "It passed to the CPU."
"Damn it," Barber said. "Did we even slow it down?"
"No," Simon said. "It's too sophisticated for me to stop with an ad hoc COBOL routine. Whoever created this knew what they were doing. We're talking about a JCL running a proc with an imbedded routine running an encrypted COBOL program. I can't even read the code the encryption is so damn complicated."
"Damn it," Barber said again.
"What about the hardware infiltration?" Simon asked.
"No answer yet," Barber said. "I don't know what the hell is..."
Barber stopped in mid sentence, spun away from Simon, and listened intensely to the telephone receiver. "You've done it? You've got it? Good job. Now get the hell out of there."
Barber hung up the phone. "They removed the hardware from the unit. Try the program again," Barber said to Simon.
Simon pulled up a screen filled with cryptic green letters. Simon typed over several of the variables to modify the “run parameters” for the change in hardware. When he completed the necessary changes to the edit screen he typed the word "SUB" at the command line at the top of the screen. The two men impatiently leaned over the terminal, waiting for the results.
"How long should this take?" Barber asked.
"It shouldn't be too long. I adjusted the params to zero in on an anomaly that I already know will happen."
"When this is all finished, I'll ask you what that meant," Barber said.
Simon typed at the command line on the top of the screen.
The computer screen changed to display the statistics of the program Simon had just submitted. Simon continued to hit the enter key to check the progress of the program. The top of the screen displayed the total amount of the CPU utilized. "I'm at an exception count of 619. It should end around 800. My program is chewing up the CPU usage. We're at 94% right now. It shouldn't be that high. I don't think that's a good sign. That could mean the encrypted code is multiplying exponentially."
"How long will that be before it's done?"
Simon hit enter one more time and the screen went blank. A message in red text appeared at the top left hand corner of the screen:
"It's still going," Simon said.
"It can't be, the hardware is no longer in place," Barber said.
"I should have thought of that."
"It doesn't matter in this situation that the hardware has is gone. The host system has the program in resident memory in its CPU. It doesn't matter that the hardware has been removed. Nothing has happened to clear that program out of memory," Simon paused. "Because of its encryption, I can't touch the source code, nor can I touch the extract files it creates."
"Why can't you?"
"It's a production based job, that's our protection against anything in our standard jobs. We used to have problems with programmers changing programs in the IRS system to give them a lessened chance of a random audit."
"They really did that?"
"You bet, and they were getting tens of thousands of dollars back in refunds."
"Is there any other way to clear it out?" Barber asked.
"There is the way we talked about before," Simon said.
"That's dangerous."
"Yes it is," Simon said. "But so is allowing this to continue."
"Shutting down the entire system is the only solution?"
"Yes," Simon said. "Otherwise, the program will always stay resident in memory, because these CPU boxes are always running. They never get turned off. This system is unlike most others in our government main frame network. Because the banks and investment institutions rely on information from this system at all hours of the day, it never shuts completely down for daily maintenance. It simply shifts off certain modules for a few minutes at a time while it runs maintenance. It's a process that takes most of the day on and off."
"You realize the fallout, don't you," Barber said.
"I can imagine worse if we don't shut it down," Simon said.
"I can't even begin to imagine all the ramifications, the iterations, or the permutations that could result because of this. It would be chaos," Barber said.
"We have to," Simon said. "But, it's your call, Director Barber."
Barber sighed and shook his head. "Do it," he said. "Shut down the Federal Reserve System."

New York Times
October 18, 1990

Stock Market Crashes
Bloody Monday

New York (UPI) - The New York Stock Exchange plummeted to new lows yesterday. An inexplicable series of events sent investors and brokerage houses scrambling to sell stock as prices plummeted to new lows.
Not since the great depression or the market crash of 1987 has the market suffered so much in such a short time. Analysts and technicians are uncertain exactly what happened. It appears there was a glitch in some computer systems early yesterday morning. Computer systems in the large brokerage houses are set automatically to buy or sell based on certain events, such as low prices, or lack of funds within a customer's bank account. The systems had trouble accessing any of their customers account information within the Federal Reserve System. This action triggered computer systems of many brokerage house's immediately to initiate selling stock short. When all the brokerage house's system began selling, the entire stock market and other financial markets went into disarray. Stock prices began to plummet to lows seldom seen in this century, even for ultrastable stocks such as IBM, Intel, and Microsoft. All the time this was happening, the brokerage house's computer systems were still trying to sell, thus driving the prices deeper because of the surplus in the supply of stock...

Washington Post
October 18, 1990

Two Men Found Murdered in Georgetown Office

Washington, DC (UPI) - Two men were found murdered in a Georgetown Office Monday night. Both men shot at point-blank range to the throat with a .22 caliber weapon. The two men are unidentified. Authorities do not have any clues about the identities of the two men.
Police Detective Robinson said in a statement. "Fingerprints, dental records, personal belongings in the office, none of them give us a clue about whom these men were." The names in which the men used to rent the office space have also proven to be false and a dead-end. The company name that rented the office was Sarah Douglas Services, who took possession only the previous week, paying cash. There is no record anywhere of any such company. It appears that nothing was stolen from the office. The only damage noted was a destroyed personal computer.
Authorities currently do not have any suspects or motive in the killing...

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