< Ell - Chapter 45

I had failed Sapphire in her mission. Was the world now doomed to submission to a viral drug, hidden obscenely in a vaccine? The President claimed a Transhumanist Utopia would soon be achieved in our time and peace would reign triumphant, his polling numbers were never so high. The disturbing alternative was that human souls and freedom were about to be crushed by a viral elixir that promised eternal euphoria.

Yet, the political elite embraced the President's plan. All their pet causes were suddenly possible Protection of the environment. The end of cancer as carcinogens were removed from the market. The end of corporate robber barons as the economy was brought under the control of an enlightened President. Global warming gone, riots eliminated. Unhappiness outlawed by the stroke of a pen!

The paradox was that no one seemed happy at all. While the violence of daily life ebbed for a period, hidden in an opiate stupor of benevolent dreams, there was not a content soul to be found. Perhaps the meaning of life is in the exuberant fight for survival, not in being securely maintained like livestock waiting for sacrifice.

The President ruled by executive order, diktat really, evading the protests of a still contentious congress. Congress and its staff hadn't been required to be inoculated, politicians and their staff had always been smart enough not to haphazardly apply the laws of the land to themselves. They even had the gall to seek an independent council ruling from Attorney General Jane Vegas, who stared the Congressmen down in her patriotic glory.

The only thing that kept the fight even was the DarkWeb. Freedom fighters exchanged info by nanosecond hopping servers, one step ahead of the Cyberspace Information Service. As quickly as the government's Cyber Patrols deciphered their messages and shutdown their routers, the Freedom fighters would be back in business from another node.

The President, resplendent in his White House, ever more sequestered from the people, reigned with his Evita, Laura Silvan. On Easter, the children came along with the media (what was left of them, the media and the children), so that Laura could distribute chocolates to the poor. She even sang nursery rhymes to them.

Gilbert Bates, who had inherited his position as CEO of MicroByte Software from his uncle, had once been the golden boy of the information age, but now spent his time doing a passing good Howard Hughes imitation. A trillion dollars is enough money to buy a lot of paranoia. Hidden in his Seattle mansion, Gilbert paced the floors of his retreat, its walls covered with thin film wall maps of the Linax open source software pirates and from New York to China who besieged his empire. Even worse, Gilbert was high on a guilt trip, convinced the failing ecology was the fault of his information revolution.

After all, hadn't efficient computers allowed humans to subjugate the earth at an ever more rapid rate? While Gilbert appreciated the power that came from his global digital monopoly, he also had become the most intense techno-phobe of the planet. His Bates foundation, founded with his Serbian wife, Sasha, was on a mission to fulfill the Great Reset his uncle had set in motion.

The rich and powerful mix in a strange alchemy. Howard Hughes had been a secret supporter of Richard Nixon, an affinity of the eccentric for the circles of power. Gilbert Bates was also attracted in his eccentric orbit to the Clint Williams' presidency. Not that Gilbert was willing to give money to the cause, at least not without something in return.

Rumors on the DarkWeb about the MicroByte Empire and its close ties to the administration had always run wild. Gilbert Bates had been called on by previous Presidents to encode decryption tools into the Internet browsers his company produced and Bates had readily agreed. New revisions of MicroByte's Internet Ranger browser in its Revista operating system allowed the intelligence agencies to track the stops on the Internet made by those opposed to the regime. There was no need for the decrypting of the population's email transmissions when their own computer browsers flagged any proclivity for freedom and independence. The browser produced by the world's software monopoly had been subverted by the government and now sent tracer packets into the World Wide Web looking for the politically sullen.

A collective of Montana hackers calling themselves FreePers (for Free Persons, as though they were freed slaves) took the visible brunt of MicroByte's involvement in the government crackdown on illicit Internet information. The FreePers crime against humanity was building illegal untaxed websites over satellite connections. They were visited by Cyberspace Information Service agents, based on MicroByte tips. The hackers collection of mobile homes, hidden in a gully in the mountains of Montana, was attacked by troopcarrying anti-riot tanks with teargas guns. After setting the site ablaze, inadvertently killing two small children, agents bulldozed the ramshackle structures to the ground.

Of course, there were so few Americans who had their senses intact at this point that it was hardly worth a story in the newspapers. The Cyberspace Information Service however carried the carnage from web-cams on site.

Now Gilbert Bates was called on for an even more important job than crushing untaxed websites. He was called on to find Dr. Steven Heller and cut his Internet link. He was called on, as a Patriot, to find and kill Ell.

Flown in on his private jet to a White House meeting, Gilbert fidgeted nervously in front of the President. This was incongruous enough to deserve comments from the Secret Service agents, after all, Gilbert was the richest man in the entire world.

"Gil, how long have we known each other," Clint William's looked Gilbert Bates directly in the eyes.

"I can't count the years."

"And you've enjoyed a monopoly in software products for how long?"

"About the same length of time I've known you, Mr. President."

"Oh, cut the Mr. President crap, Gil. We both know each other too well, and depend on each other too much, for formalities."

"All right, Clint."

"You know about my problems with Steve Heller? And you know about the Ell project?"

"Of course, Cyberspace Information Service agents keep me informed."

"At my direct request," the President emphasized. "Well, as you know, Steve Heller and the Ell program represent a direct threat to me. Perhaps my only threat."

"They are but a small irritation."

"Bullshit!" The President exploded in rage. "You know better than to lie to me Gil, I don't want to hear this crap from you. I'm asking you as a patriot, as a man of peace, to find the Ell routine and shut it down."

"To kill it?"

"It's software, Gil, not a human" the President brought ex-programmer Bates back to reality. "Stop it, kill it, do whatever it is you computer geeks do to software out of control. Control Alt Delete it!"

"It would be a shame to kill such intricate code, a waste." Gil thought back to the days when he actually produced innovative products.

"Come on, Gil! How long has it been since you produced anything but hack software? And now you want me to believe you're going to hesitate to unplug some geek professor's code?"

"There was a time when I believed in the inherent beauty of software. But you're right, Mr. President. Now, I don't know."

"Can you do it, Gil?" The President asked.

"We have ShadowDragon," Gil beamed with pride. "It allows the police to suck in data from social media, Internet of Bodies,and other internet sources, including Amazon and Ebay, dating apps, and the Dark Web, so they can identify persons of interest and map out their networks during investigations. We can search 120,000 different online platforms and a decade’s worth of archives. ShadowDragon can automatically adjust its monitoring and help predict violence and unrest. We will find Steve Heller, and his accomplices."

A hacker on the Internet posted an anonymous email.

"In an email dated 9/9 9:30am, Potus writes <Dr. Steven Heller is a pirate netizen, a cyber anarchist. As such, he is the greatest threat to civilization that the world has ever known."

"Gilbert writes <Agreed. We are attempting to trace his packets. Using sniffer hardware on such a global scale has posed some problems."

"Potus writes <Come now Bill. You're the king of the Internet. If you can't find Heller, no one can."

Whether this was a true hack of a Presidential transmission or not, we will never know.