There is no crystal ball into the future, only dice you can roll. Sometimes the only course is to make that roll with what you think is right and pray for 7 come 11. I sure thought what I was doing was right, but my gut was damn queasy.

I drove the Red Viper home the next day, ignored my text messages and instead began gathering information about the Center for Disease Control archives through the Internet.

I began trolling through the WWW-dot-gov sites looking for an entryway through their firewalls into the archives of the Center of Disease Control. It made me nervous, I didn't like the idea of repeating cheesy scenarios I'd seen on a hundred TV shows. And don't get me started on n McGiver re-runs from a million years ago.

I researched the Freedom Patriot Brigade, which the President had told me had burrowed it's way into the CDC and controlled the COVAID viral codes. They were on the FBI Domestic Terrorist list of white supremacists, so the censors at the Cyberspace Information Service had scrubbed the Internet clean of Freedom Patriot Brigade (FPB) propaganda, but a little sleuthing on the DarkWeb found some digital back alleys into their screeds.

Apparently the FPB had grown out of the anti-jab movement of the 2020s that refused to be inoculated against Covid 19 on "constitutional" and "freedom" grounds. The ringleaders had been mostly rounded up in the purges that followed and grouped with the Jan6 Insurrectionists.

You just don't hack into the main computers at the CDC and start reconfiguring the security system like they do on TV. On the other hand, it isn't like the government didn't leak like a sieve in real life and old files on forgotten servers were often vulnerable. Much less the desktops of dweebs in the mailroom trolling for gay porn on Russian hacker sites by masking their IP addresses. Their desktops were an easy crack.

Heck, the Feds found nuclear bomb making designs at a meth lab once, so if a meth head could get enough sensitive info to start Armageddon, it was a likely I could too. I just hoped I wasn't going to start Armageddon.

It wasn't that I was worried about being caught that made me nervous, I was too good for that. It was that I had nagging doubts that Mahdi Ahmadi and Dr. Huang, much less the President of the United States, were capable of proposing any project that wasn't flawed at its core. It's simply the age of cynicism, and I had been burned before. But these new friends had laid out the humanitarian case for my hacker's project quite clearly and my conscience was clear. I think.

The virus the CDC had archived was needed because it was a window to the souls of disturbed people in a very disturbed age - that alone made this ethical. If it were a hundred years ago, before the time when human biology was being manipulated at will with genetic engineering, stem cells and retroviruses, the situation would have been different. But now there was the threat of bioweapon designer drugs like Black Orchid and a dozen like it, that took advantage of the human pleasure centers. It was obvious that a viral vector based on COVAID was needed to carry cures to those points.

I could also draw inferences from my chat with the President, that it wasn't just illicit drugs that were driving the masses to frenzy. Some argued that even more destructive manipulations of the same pleasure centers were carried out by the cultural Main Stream Media who brainwashed revolutionary cadres of youths through pornographic visual stimulation. Of course, that was a paranoid delusion strait out of the banned Vast Right Wing Conspiracy movement.

Yet, even if the ethics might be sound, would anyone defend me if I were caught? Not bloody likely! My butt was in a sling if I slipped up at all, I'd be labelled a traitor of the worst kind. Trading not in the names of a few other spies I might work with, but with a viral bioweapon of mass destruction capable of terrorizing the world. I could be the first traitor to be hanged in a hundred years.

It wasn't too hard to get into the CDC archives, the passwords and protocols guarding the data I needed were left over from the 2020 when the original COVID pandemic raged and were fairly primitive. The CDC public databases were an obvious superhighway into their system. But the real ease of entry was because of the government's decision to use MicroByte Software Revista operating system as its monopoly supplier. It wasn't that Revista lacked security, in fact it owed it's huge bloatware size to multiple layers of security, all done to elimnate competition with Linax and other illegal open source alternatives. MicroByte had unbreakable security, superficially at least.

What had actually happened was that MicroByte wrote it's code to secure itself a continuing income stream rather than insure customer security. So MicroByte tied Digital Rights Management and registration policies into the kernel operating system that were themselves security breaches. MicroByte made sure its operating system phoned home regularly to the Mother Ship head office to verify that the MicroByte tax was being paid on every bit and byte of Intellectual Property. This had left a highway straight through the core of the system, one that linked the SequelServer database system at the heart of DRM .

What is good for MicroByte isn't necessarily good for everyone else, and the code that allowed corporate headquarters to close down Joe Sixpack's operating system in Topeka for not paying licensing fees, could also be subverted to allow a stray hacker (like me) entrance into the database kernel of just about any machine. Of course, the safeguards were severe enough that not just anyone could do this, but I wasn't just anyone.

After all these years, the new Revista OS still had bugs, much less the backdoors required by the government itself from the NSA. So while what I was doing was illegal, it isn't as though MicroByte had completely locked the door to intruders; they'd left the welcome mat out. In a way, I was doing them a favor by showing the holes existed. At least that's what I told myself.

Once through their firewalls, I began going through their historical data reaching all the way back to COVID-19, and even before. That turned out to be an unexpected eye opener. What I found was the CDC knew the bat virus was a potential bioweapon and they hid their involvement in the Wuhan Lab Gain of Function studies. The CDC even gave a bat coronavirus grant to EcoHealth Alliance which included $599,000 that the Wuhan Institute of Virology used in part to identify and alter bat coronaviruses likely to infect humans. The grant proposal admitted “Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled.”

When the Chinese engineered the original bat Coronavirus back in 2019, they knew the combination of massive, spikeprotein immune pressure combined with high infectious rates would allow mutant variants to reproduce more effectively and outcompete previously circulating variants/strains.

Mass vaccination, therefore, promoted viral evolution towards more infectious variants rather than stopping it, making this the perfect bioweapon. The resulting enhancement of viral infectious pressure made it more likely for everyone, including healthy, unvaccinated people to come in contact with the virus. So medical defensive measures would be counterproductive.

When high infection rates caused people to become re-exposed shortly after a previous asymptomatic infection, their innate Sars-CoV-binding antibodies were suppressed by short-lived, poorly functional anti-spike antibodies, which meant the victim went from being asymptomatic to symptomatic. The suppression of protective innate antibodies made previously asymptomatically infected individuals more susceptible to disease.

This explained why the first wave of a natural pandemic was followed by a second wave in younger age groups. The larger amplitude of that second wave reflected more and more disease in younger age groups, though they were perfectly protected during previous waves by their natural immune system. Extending mass vaccination campaigns to younger age groups turned naturally protected people into more vulnerable subjects as the virus became increasingly resistant to the vaccines. It also accelerated viral infectiousness by only targeting spike proteins, expediting viral evolution towards enhanced infectiousness.

Counterintuitively, while C-19 vaccines protected against disease – mass vaccination turned healthy people into asymptomatic breeding grounds and spreaders of evolving, more infectious variants, the opposite effect of what mass vaccination was supposed to do (i.e., generate herd immunity).

"Got it," I exclaimed with glee as the HTLV-7 file began to download. It was a gigabyte file, a big file for a virus DNA code sequence, and I twiddled my fingers nervously the full minute it took to dump onto my hard drive through a slow port.

I opened the file in the MicroByte Version 30 media browser, but was greeted with:


Well, that told me the file was encrypted to the hilt, and even then had enough protective viruses hidden in its executable files to kill a horse. I began slowly, very tediously, peeling back the layers of security.

Twenty four hours later I had succeeded in decoding one line of data:


"God help me, I can't crack this thing," I mused out loud in frustration. I've used every encryption breaking tool at my command, and I wrote half of them myself! I've sucked down the processing power of the university supergrid, I sucked down the distributed computing power of half the San Francisco area net and I can't get any further than this. This must be Pandora's box I'm opening for them to have protected it at this depth."

Despair began to set in. I wasn't going to be able to help the people I loved.

"Who in hell can help me now?" I wondered out loud, as lost and forlorn as I've ever been.

"I will," came a voice in the background of my subconscious. "I'll help you."

"What the??? Is that you, Ell?" I asked warily, not knowing if I was hearing voices. "You'd help me?" I talked to thin air.


This was a first, a conscious dialogue with Ell, instead of hallucination in dream space. "But you understand this is for Laura, don't you? I know you don't like her very much."

"That biitcc..beautiful woman deserves better than to die," Ell changed her words. "After all, I think I'm her only hope."

"Okay," I began unsurely. For some reason, it seemed like a large favor to ask of Ell, though in reality 'she' was just a collection of software I had written. I could have just issued a script command. Instead I asked for the favor.

"Ell, I very much need your help," I admitted.

"We have to go deeper into the encryption," Ell said, taking charge.

Two hours later, a sequence of DNA code TGACACGATACATG . . . began to scroll onto the screen, followed by the encoded documentation that would be necessary to turn the code into a real virus.

"Eureka!" I yelled. "I love you Ell!" And immediately I knew I'd stepped on hot coals.

"Liar," Ell screamed. "Liar!"

I called the Ultima corporate number and told the receptionist that I should be expected.

"They are expecting you," she said, as if there was a tap into my brainwaves.

They were all there to greet me, Kirchov, Ahmadi, Laura and even her daughter Crystal. I came driving up in my vintage Viper, playing the big savior of mankind. Maybe the Viper really was my reward for having done the right thing, but I just wasn't comfortable wearing these responsibilities. I felt both exalted and pretty dirty taking the CDC information I had hacked to Ultima and delivering it to Dr. Kirchov and Mahdi Ahmadi.

They brought me inside to a conference room.

"So how did you do it?" Kirchov asked.

"Please," Ahmadi pleaded. "Dr. Heller is a professional who is risking quite a lot to help us. He must certainly retain some trade secrets."

"Here is the sequence you need, Alexie," I handed over a DVD with the gene sequencing."

"The sequences are worthless to me." Kirchov surprised me. "We already have those. Hopefully you decrypted more than this!"

"What the hell did you have me doing searching through CDC archives if not for the DNA sequences?" I retorted in surprise.

"This virus is special, it requires a specific order of construction to make it useful. It is the rest of the recipe that is important!" Kirchov explained.

"Well, I decrypted a large technical database along with the sequencing data," I admitted. "I even think I saw your name mentioned in one of the articles."

"I know, I put it there fifteen years ago."

"If you were one of the researchers who first characterized HTLV-7, why didn't you tell me what I was looking for? "

"I thought you knew."

"But didn't you already have this data?"

"I'd seen parts of it fifteen years ago, but it isn't as if you commit DNA sequences and formulations to memory. The need for this virus has only recently become apparent to me, and that's why this has come up now."

"But now you have this information, you think there is a good chance you can use this to cure Laura and all the others?"

"This is only the first step. There is still more modeling that needs to be done. We need to join another large neuromolecule to the DNA sequence and make sure it all matches up."

"And how long will that take?"

"Perhaps two to three years if we are lucky. It's the computer modeling time that takes so damn long. Fortunately, my position as head of the SuperGrid Center means we can bump up the priority of the programs."

"That still isn't going to give you enough computing power and you know it," I dismissed the idea derisively. I knew what the supercomputing center was capable of and it wasn't sorting through all the permutations of molecular configurations. What's more, loss of the directorship was still a sore point and Kirchov knew he was needling me.

"Then perhaps you can advise us on a better solution," Kirchov gave me a knowing smile.

"Of course, that kind of thing is my specialty," I admitted. Kirchov knew I was working on sorting algorithms and distributed computing, two techniques that might make resolving the molecular geometry possible. He'd seen my work in the files that were cleaned off the super computer. But having code and making code work are two entirely different matters.

Of course, you don't have to if you don't want to." Kirchov slyly grinned. He knew he had me.

"As if I had a choice." I answered.

Distributed computing would be the only way to do a job this large. Distributed computing meant that instead of depending on one supercomputer to do the work, or even a Grid like I'd constructed at the university, you borrowed CPU time from computers all over the Internet. Instead of working with mega-mip computing speeds and half a terrabyte of memory, you were now computing at giga-mips and a hundred terrabytes. Unfortunately, I was capable of creating these kinds of high powered computational simulations. Unfortunate because it put me in the position of having to use these skills in ways that fringed on the gray areas of ethics.

I was being sucked deeper and deeper into this and I needed more information. I talked to Laura before I left Ultima.

"You're the biomedical chemist, not me. I need to know what we're up against?"

"The neurodisease I have is similar to multiple sclerosis. It is a neuro immune disease in which neuro-transmitter sites in the central nervous system are progressively blocked until there is a complete shutdown of the will power centers of the brain. Obviously, these are particularly important neuro-receptors psychologically and emotionally.

"Pardon my limited pharmacological knowledge, but are they same receptors taken advantage of by Black Orchid? The same way heroin is related to endorphins, the painkillers of the brain."

"Well, yes you're right. "

"Do you know about this through Mahdi Ahmadi?" I asked. "He's Iranian isn't he?" I avoided pointing out the probability Ahmadi was an active player in the illegal drug trade of Asia.

"To tell you the truth Steven, that's how I came to know the Mahdi. He was a supplier of Black Orchid and I needed the drug." Laura admitted matter of factly.

"So all this baloney about Ahmadi being some kind of Sufi guru and paragon of religious virtue who saved you is just a front? What you're telling me is Ahmadi is little better than a dope pusher who takes advantage of poor people like you who are desperate for a drug that will save their lives."

"No, he's a humanitarian," Laura insisted. "The Food And Drug Administration banned Black Orchid from being imported into the United States, in any form, even for medical uses. If it weren't for Mahdi Ahmadi, there would be many people like me living in purgatory without this drug."

"But usually there is a reason these drugs are classified illegal. There are usually serious side effects."

"The only side effect is a sense of peace. Don't you understand? Mahdi Ahmadi leads a movement whose search for peace, for enlightened satori, is based on the use of Black Orchid. If it were so dangerous, why would his followers be so gentle?"

"You mean like Sapphire?"

"She isn't like us," Laura returned cryptically. "But you still haven't answered whether you think there is some way to speed up the computer simulations for incorporating Black Orchid into the HTLV-7 virus?" Laura changed the subject.

"But can't you continue to take the drug to keep you healthy?" I was still confused.

"Increasing doses are needed with time, because the receptors become progressively locked out. There is a limit to the effectiveness of Black Orchid and it is no cure. The only permanent solution is to incorporate the Black Orchid molecule into the DNA of my nervous system. The vehicle for that is the HTLV-7 virus.

"So we have to graft Black Orchid onto the HTLV-7 viral DNA so it can be incorporated into your DNA. That's a tall order, a damn tall order."

"Steven, I can't thank you enough for what you've already done in procuring that virus. But it isn't the end of the road for me or for Crystal, there's a long journey ahead of us before we are cured. We need your help."

"All right," I succumbed to the inevitable. "All right. I'll see if I can't put a little computational magic into the calculations necessary to design a miracle cure."

Each step in this process dragged me a step further towards perdition. Of course, I'd do anything to save Laura and her daughter, but this would mean helping in the creation of a potentially lethal combination, a virus coding for the inclusion of a strong psychogenic drug into the DNA of a human. I was a computer scientist, not a biologist. The ethical ramifications of all this were beyond my abilities to sort out.