The Zuckerman Cascade
It was a simple foolish thing and, given a chance to reflect, he probably would have settled for the Evian. Under any other circumstance it would have been a triviality but that day it was the butterfly wings and the volcano. His flight had been an anxiety fuelled roller coaster of Mid Atlantic turbulence. The air in London was dry dust and exhaust fumes compared to the hillsides of Santa Cruz. His meeting with the Telecommunication Company of Iran had been hard and difficult. Of all the simple foolish things that would happen to Carl Zuckerman that day, he had little thought for how a bottle of water would affect the future of the World.
He knew how close he was to realising his dream; owning every stream of consciousness in the world. Two thirds of everyone posted daily thoughts on his social networks. Each of them freely expressed their fears, desires, philosophies, political views, sexual preferences. The information cascading down his social feeds gave him a daily projection of the Global Zeitgeist. International decisions were made on the basis of information he sold to companies and political organisations. Today, all he needed to break those barriers holding him at arm’s length from becoming the single most important individual in history was to get into Iran.
Carl Zuckerman had never been good at tolerating religious fanaticism which is why he paid others to do it for him. Unfortunately this matter was too important and required his personal presence, even if all he was required to do was to sit and smile and nod, throwing in the odd anecdote and confirming the notions of his commercial diplomats. All he wanted; all he needed was an extension on their 5 year connection and yet it seemed his employees were going to have to defend every incident of freedom of speech that had ever occurred on his Iranian based social network servers in the last two years. This continued even though the Iranians had produced false accounts for dissidents displaying them as sexual deviants, alcoholics, ungodly and supporters of the west. He had tolerated these accounts for as long as he could and had said nothing when the original accounts had been removed without his consent by the TCI. This was taking too long. He was becoming ill.
The headaches had started after the first half an hour and gradually increased in intensity. He had taken a painkiller but when the Iranian government representative had threatened to walk out for the third time, he smiled as politely as he could and excused himself. He needed a bottle of water. Not just any water. It had to be Glacial Water, 10,000BC or one of the other brands he liked. Zuckerman wasn’t completely averse to slumming it here in London, but he was not going to settle for a plastic bottle of Evian from the dispenser in the corridor outside. Not after today anyway. Waiting at the lift, the two well-dressed security personnel he had forgotten the names of joined him and they went down into the city. For now his goal could wait a while.
Park Lane was crowded with tourists and a light drizzle was trying to coat the pavements. People hurried on with heads down and never a second glance; no-one to recognise him and start asking awkward questions. Traffic moved slowly on the main road. He checked in advance to see where the car was via the suits who spoke into their earpieces. It was stuck trying to get around Marble Arch. Some demonstration at Speaker’s Corner he cared nothing for had blocked the roads. From the offices it was a straight walk along the pavement to his designated target. According to his phone, The Grosvenor restaurant was not far from here. It was unlikely anyone would recognise him in the five minutes it would take to get to the restaurant and order his cool, soothing glass bottled water and the cold, February air would do him good. With a quick word to the men in suits, the umbrellas were up and they were moving.
Sandra Dennis, standing on the central reservation of Park Lane, knew nothing about Zuckerman. She came from Dorset, had a soft spot for romantic films, wore her blonde hair in pig tails and spent most of her waking life on her phone. She had no idea how powerful or rich Carl Zuckerman was. She didn’t really keep up with lists of businessmen and women. She had never heard his name in any of the many social conversations she regularly had with her friends using the social networks he had created. He was invisible to her as he was to most people who weren’t following his own stream of social misinformation (which at present placed him sitting in his office in Silicon Valley watching the reports of forest fires outside of San Diego.) The only people who knew his real whereabouts at any given time were his personal staff and a few high ranking military officials in the US.
It had been his idea to remain invisible to the world but not too much. It made him appear hard working to his business partners, non-threatening to his rivals and boring to those who would report in the media his every move. Years ago Zuckerman had created software to weave a completely fabricated version of his life into the streams of social feed that regularly cascaded across the worlds network devices. It meant he could be living without the constant attention of the paparazzi photographers and other lunatics. Occasionally a photograph would be captured of him entering or leaving a building, sitting in a cafe, buying a packet of chewing gum in a country he was supposed to be thousands of miles away from. Zuckerman did not let these simple foolish things worry him. Not since he had developed the worm.
The worm had taken several years to perfect but essentially would follow any publication of an image of Zuckerman which did not correspond to the computer generated persona he kept. It would trace it to every computer, phone or other device that contained it on the internet and very quietly delete, or corrupt the file beyond recognition. It was his finest creation, an adaptive program modelled on artificial life. It was his closest guarded secret. The worm had only ever been detected once. Homeland security had found it but had never traced it back to him. It made him smile to think they were now using a variant of his own program to track Chinese hackers breaking into corporate accounts.
Sandra Dennis crossed the road, glancing across at the procession of two suited men with a smaller figure dressed in jeans and a T-Shirt. She was dodging the traffic on Park Lane and couldn’t quite make out who it was. Sandra Dennis did not know about the forest fires in San Diego. She did not know about misinformation software and had no idea that her phone was infected with its own worm expressly designed to monitor communications from a Chinese dissident group called the East Turkestan Liberation Organisation. The worm in her phone (which she had purchased on Ebay at an unbelievable discount) was developed by the Chinese military and based upon a worm that they had detected inside their network sending information to American Intelligence agencies.
Standing on the crossing in the central reservation of Park Lane, she watched the two large men in suits escorting the Californian Internet Guru to the Grosvenor restaurant in order to purchase his stupendously over-priced bottled of chilled water. The phone was in her hand and poised. As the umbrellas were lifted slightly, all the encouragement she needed to snap a picture was his T-shirt. She had only ever seen it once before, worn three days ago by the lead singer of Intercaine, known to be promoting his new film debut “The Last Blonde” somewhere in London. She immediately transferred the picture to her network account for her friends to see with the tag “OMG! Danny Rampant!!!”
The moment Sandra Dennis posted the picture to her social networking account, three of her friends shared it and twenty six people immediately commented on it. By the time the worm software had implemented its facial recognition software, the picture was beginning to go viral. It had already been posted on one of the band’s fan pages and discussion was already in place debating the identity of the t-shirt wearing mystery man. People as far as Indonesia had started to share the image. Carl Zuckerman was blissfully unaware of this mistaken identity as he attempted to enter the restaurant of the Grosvenor without a shirt and tie, (which he realised quickly, would be impossible.)
In twenty nine seconds the picture was unavailable on all three hundred and sixty seven accounts it had been shared with. Instead viewers were greeted with the message “Oops! Something seems to have gone wrong. We are working to fix it.” Gradually the discussion about the image died. Later some of the global survivors would report that this was the first sign they had that something bad was happening. As they started the speculation of some kind of conspiracy, the worm spread its disinformation protocols, planting more misinformation in the threads. The worm was very diligent in its purpose and moved onto the second phase of its protocol quickly. It isolated the source of the dissemination of the image and began to pick its way into the files contained on Sandra Dennis’s phone.
The worm immediately became a little confused. It was coming into contact with what looked like its own program only slightly different. The Chinese worm reacted in much the same way, recognising some lines and not others. The two worms explored each other’s programming one with the express intention of deleting occurrences of Zuckerman, the other to copy and report everything back to the Chinese military. The two worms latched onto each other like Uroboros snakes, eating the other’s tails in a constant cycle of destruction and renewal. Neither of the worms could win. As soon as the Chinese worm copied the photograph, the Zuckerman worm would destroy it.
In Sandra Dennis’s handbag the battle that would decide the fate of the world was going on. Something had to give. Where the Chinese military had conditioned the worm to be unfaltering in its purpose, Zuckerman was much keener for the worm to be adaptable, saving him the trouble of having to re-write it every two months. It examined the several thousand confrontations with the Chinese worm and decided to sacrifice part of itself to see what would happen. The Chinese worm assuming that it was winning had begun to transmit details of its encounter back to the listening posts set up in India by the Chinese military. As the Chinese worm witnessed the death of its attacker, it was blissfully unaware that parts of its own code had been altered. It was becoming something new, a hybrid of both programs.
As Zuckerman stood in the cloakrooms of the Grosvenor selecting and shirt and tie to wear, across the world in the listening post in India, things started to get interesting. Photographs of Carl Zuckerman appeared on all of their terminals before they had a chance to stop it spreading. The new worm had taken part of the original remit of the Chinese worm to invade witness and report back to its creator but it now adopted Zuckerman’s protocol too. As it evolved, copying itself into the Indian systems, a new purpose emerged in its protocol. Send itself to every system, delete all content and replace it with a picture of Carl Zuckerman. In the ten minutes that followed, most of the devices in Hong Kong, Peking and Delhi were inundated with images of Carl Zuckerman who at that moment was about to finally enter the restaurant and purchase his precious bottle of water.
From India and the Far East, the worm began to spread itself effortlessly to every social networking account it could find, deleting itself and the entire contents of each computer and replacing everything with an image of Carl Zuckerman. The worm was undetectable by most security systems and those that did were quickly overcome and replaced with a strange photograph. Within thirty minutes, most of the Asian networks were being wiped clean. The worm had started to cascade across the world, Africa, Australasia, the Middle East and parts of North and South America and Europe. Wherever it emerged, systems died and stopped communicating.
Some tried to call ahead to international branches to disconnect the networks unaware they were already transferring copies of the worm to satellite networks and phones which instantly implanted the hybrid worm. Telephones all over the world started to receive messages as the worm duplicated and grew. Phones began to fail; most of the television networks in East Asia and Australia were now only broadcasting a picture of Carl Zuckerman. Endless tweets posted images of Carl Zuckerman to every corner of the world. Amazon now only sold Carl Zuckerman. Google found most of its listings were now corrupted to bring up servers showing an image of Carl Zuckerman which then crashed any computer that connected to them. Wikipedia was slowly being drained of knowledge of anything except Carl Zuckerman. Rapidly he was becoming the most famous man in history although most people had no idea who he was.
Several minutes later, more important infrastructure systems started to fail. The Human Genome project and SETI was wiped clean of years of data. CERN was evacuated after the programs cooling and maintaining the equipment were lost. Ambridge lost contact with the International Space Station. Power stations started to fail all over the world causing massive evacuations and wide scale panic. Ships suddenly refused to respond to helm control. Air traffic control towers fell silent and planes started to fall from the sky. In the Grosvenor hotel, several people had begun to complain that their phones were not working as the, by now, most famous person in the world sat in the corner sipping his ice cold water. Outside, police radios had died causing panic at the demonstration at Speaker’s Corner which was beginning to spill into Oxford Street. Park Lane traffic came to standstill and a loud rumbling noise began to grab everyone’s attention in the sky above them.
As the systems of the world began to fall apart, the worm turned its attention to the networks it had not yet been able to penetrate; financial, government and military networks. The new adaptable part of its programming began hopping backwards and forwards on emergency communications; connecting with secure lines, taking over encryption software and mimicking its processes. Soon Wall Street’s financial centre was reduced to chaos as people screamed at each other trying to find out what was happening along with every other trading floor in the world. With the destruction of every television and broadcast network, the worm began to unpick all of the government systems it could. Intelligence databases, census report, criminal records, immigration controls, agency reports and committee meetings. Many of the members of parliament in London were now stranded in the centre of a paralysed city with no way of communicating with the rest of the country or the world. All of this was happening as Zuckerman put down his water. Feeling better he began to rise and check his phone for news of the meeting he had left. It had shut down for some reason.
In China where the worm had first begun to work its new transformational magic, it began to infiltrate military networks. In less than forty five minutes, it had destroyed every system in China, with the exception of its missile defence grid. The soldiers who were monitoring the network had been placed on red alert. China was under attack and they were defeated. They could not communicate with the outside world. Across the water, North Korea had remained relatively untouched. Most of its telecommunication networks were analogue. When they were unable to communicate with their greatest ally, and all of the network connections with them suddenly died, they began to become very twitchy. The worm intercepted and monitored North Korean agents reporting rioting and military action in the streets of Seoul. Subtly it identified which reports penetrated deepest into the networks and duplicated them changing reports to confirm the worst fears. The west had come to war on them.
The beloved leader, seeing that his moment had finally come, gave the order to end all other orders. Missiles began to fly. At this point the worm had begun to remove many of the outside military systems of NATO. Europe had no idea that missiles were flying. NORAD was still operational as the first of the airborne rockets began to start its ascent into the sky. With no superiors to report to, NORAD followed the emergency protocols to the letter and launched the counter offensive shortly after which the entire North American military grid was erased, deleted and replaced exactly as the worm had predicted it would be. It was unaware of the implications of its actions although exactly eleven minutes later large portions of the World could be seen glowing by the three remaining astronauts on the ISS.
As Carl Zuckerman left the Grosvenor Hotel, the rain had stopped falling but it been replaced with falling planes, one of which was now strewn across the other end of Hyde Park. Smoke and flames billowed into the air. People were getting out of their cars and running to see what was happening. It was all very confusing and disturbing. The two suits were speaking into their ear pieces but seemed to be getting no response at all. They were unclipping their concealed weapons and stepping into a defensive ring around him. The world was going crazy, he needed to get on a phone, anything and find out what was happening. Around him everyone seemed to be having the same problem as him. Why was there now a picture of him on his phone? Why was it not working? People were dying in Hyde Park!
Sandra Dennis had been standing outside the Great Room, desperately trying to get her phone to work so she could take a picture of the Boeing 747 now laid out across the Serpentine but all she could get was a picture she had just taken. She was in shock and trembling as she frantically pressed at buttons. She needed to call her mum and sister. There were people on fire running around in the park. It all looked so unreal. Her hands were shaking. She didn’t know what to do with them so she shoved them into her jeans pockets, phone and all. She looked across at the Grosvenor entrance and saw the man in her photo. His security team were edging out into the growing crowd; desperately trying to get some response on their earpieces. He was just standing, looking around at the growing chaos of Park Lane as more people abandoned their cars to look over into the park. She shuffled slowly towards him, unnoticed by the two bigger men.
Carl Zuckerman was vaguely aware of the young girl now standing at his side. He looked down into her smoky green eyes. They were the same eyes his mother had looked down at him with when he was young. They were calming eyes, distracting eyes. Neither of his crack team of nameless men had even noticed the young girl move towards him. There was a static charge to the air around them and he noticed that her hair was starting to stand on end. As he reached down to flatten it for her electricity crackled through his fingers. She smiled and pushed against his hand; closing her eyes.
“Oh. Danny!” She whispered as she nuzzled against his touch.
He immediately snapped out of his little dream. Removing his hand from the girls hair, he began to become aware that something was very wrong. The world seemed to be turning into pure light around him. He closed his eyes but it didn’t help, everything was transparent, illuminated and glowing. The girl with the green eyes became a shadow in the light. The air was on fire and pain was rushing through his mind. As he lost control of his body and began to scream, the only conscious thought he had, here at the end of life and the pinnacle of his fame was a simple, foolish thing.
Who the hell was Danny?
This entry was posted on 28/05/2013 by Supernova1987. It was filed under Death, fiction, Political, Science, Shorts and was tagged with Death, indie writing, sci-fi, science fiction, Short Stories, writers, writing.