Chapter 1 - The Secret History of Eye Dunnow

The town of Eye Dunnow is situated near the heart of the country, sorry, what, yes I suppose I should explain how Eye Dunnow got its name. Place names give a fascinating insight into why a town stands where it does. Take the name Eye, it comes from the Old English ieg, that became ieg land, which means a raised bit of dry land surrounded by water. The letter S in the word Island got added later, by mistake. There are examples everywhere; Bardsey, Canvey, Thorney, Lundy, there are even two islands near Liverpool called Little Eye and Middle Eye.

OK, so Dunnow. The Dun part means a fortification. Dun's are everywhere; Maldon, Croydon, Swindon, Huntingdon and, of course, London.

The Now is, probably, the name of the family that lived there. There's a Great Dunmow in Essex, could it be the same family? So Eye Dunnow just means the Island Stronghold where the Now's live.

Aha, an island, in the heart of the country, sounds unlikely. Hmm, OK, but this place was only an island during the winter. As flatlands and levels got drained, and lakes silted up, many an island town became a slight rise in a sea of fields, like Ely - The Isle of Eels.

OK? Good. Back to the story.

The town of Eye Dunnow is situated near the heart of the country, but through a linguistic quirk it had repeatedly failed to be anywhere of note. The officials came from London with their notebooks, quills and love of order. They would turn up and ask the name of the town and got the response "Eyedunnow". This made them a little uncomfortable, as their quills hovered above their ink pots. They generally felt that no entry in their tidy little books looked better than an incomplete one, so they hurried onto the next place, where they could fill their ledgers with all kinds of useful information that wouldn't infuriate their masters.

You can imagine the conversation.

Where are we?” asks the auditor.

I don't know” responds the town clerk.

Don't you live here?”

Yes,” says the clerk.

Excellent, where are we?”

Eyedunnow” he replies, with a bright smile.

At which point the auditor wanders off, and has the same conversation with a few others, before leaving the town, and hurling rude words over his shoulder.

Well, you can see how such a conversation soon gets tiring. Couple this with a tendency for the Civil Servant to consider everyone else as an idiot, particularly those who didn't live in London. So off they go, unaware that they have just stumbled across a rather remarkable place.

No motorways pass nearby, large roads miss it completely, no road signs point to it and no train station has ever appeared on the timetable.

Not until the nationalised industries of the early 20th Century needed to supply the country with water, electricity and telephones did the town become known to the powers that be. But these were suspicious times and the civil servants who came across the name didn't shout and abuse their juniors. They wondered. Wondered how such a town could remain unknown by all but the residents, who guarded their anonymity fiercely, particularly as they had, so far avoided tax, traffic jams and Tescos.

So, as a result, the obscure little town of Eye Dunnow has, over the years, become a centre of various industries that favour anonymous addresses. They have variously managed the secrets of World War 2, cold war surveillance, CCTV and junk mail. But since the 1990s. Well, since then it has done a much more important job. One which gives it residents employment with unparalleled job security, for they run and in many respects are; The Internet. Every web page, video of kittens and social media up like is processed in the town of Eyedunnow. Every search you've ever made, youtube video, and purchase are all run on the servers that nowadays make up the very structure of the town.

So, for now, the town's secret is safe, as they manage the very thing that could reveal their existence. Try it. Go to Google and type “Eyedunnow”, the town won't appear. The Google earth map of its location show a series of fields and farmhouses, in fact, unless you come from there, you probably haven't even heard of it, have you?

The town is such an important strategic location that the UN guards it against, ahem, undue influences. Generally, only those who were born in the town can work there. As someone from “off” (the term they use for outsiders), you can't even visit it unless you have been granted permission from almost every Government in the world, and when was the last time they all agreed on anything. If anyone tried to interfere with the Internet, then it would be seen as a declaration of war. The independence of Eye Dunnow is now protected by more international treaties than any place on earth, it officially only exists as a protectorate, and, ironically, its anonymity is scrutinised extremely closely.

No one else can get in. There are biometric entry systems and strict rules protect it. All food and equipment are supplied, almost free of charge and, other than certain travel restrictions, it's an OK place to be. The work is hard but satisfying, and it has probably the best Chip Shop in the country and they get a huge discount from ordering online. The inhabitants are given lots of opportunities to visit places and coach tours are laid on free of charge. But no one, these days, leaves on their own - or they'd never get back in - after all there are no clues as to its location, no signs and no one to give you directions.

If you do stumble nearby, it has roadworks and diversions, you can never get into the town. If you have come across a large truck stuck on a narrow lane, the driver claiming SatNav problems, you were probably nearby. It is surrounded by a web of smaller roads, whose signs all point in different directions to the same village. Drivers who do get this far normally feel so disoriented that they get annoyed, give up and go to find that nice little pub they drove by 20 minutes ago. Walkers are met with high fences that declare it to be a military base, with lots of scary signs promising immediate and, probably, painful death.

A few years ago, there was a danger that bird watchers would stumble across the town. As the peaceful woods and marshes that surround it had become a reserve for rare species, no longer seen in the UK such as The Night Heron, Red Backed Shrike and White Stork. Rather than disturb the birds, similar looking species were released near sites where the Bird Watchers sit with their binoculars pressed to their eyeballs, to persuade them that the sighting was a mistake. One time, a security guard was dressed up as a White Stork to make the UK Bird Watching community think that the local spotters are a bunch of nutters. They now ignore all claims of important sightings, as nothing more than a hoax.

So the town, as of 2000 and something, is still safe, protected by many, but known only by a few. For most of those from the town, they have long since given up the idea of moving away. When can visit London, but they hate it. The traffic, the bustle, and the pollution are so unlike their quiet, peaceful and clean town. There are still coach tours to Stonehenge, Cambridge, Oxford and Bath. But the town folk have been separate from the rest of the population for so long that they look like foreigners. Someone once said that “the past is a foreign country” in which case the people from Eye Dunnow are now it's only tourists.

For everyone's safety, you can't leave of your own accord, because if you do, you'd never find your way back. But the benefits of living there are so great and those coach tours make sure that they travel through some pretty rough areas so that the alternatives are just too dispiriting that, mostly, no one wants to leave.

In fact, in the last 40 years only 3 people have ever left; A highly regarded programmer who felt restricted by the town and just disappeared one night, an elderly Web Page designer who wanted to retire to the seaside and a young man called Peta who ran the town museum, and had an accident with one of the priceless exhibits. It was the only working example of part of the first ever mechanical computer, designed by a Charles Babbage. It was a section of what is called “The Analytical Engine” and it was very heavy and had just been put on a set of wheels, ready for moving to be part of a new exhibit. It seems that the poor chap had crashed the worlds first computer, literally. Crashing most computers results in minor problems, like the computer stops running, but this crash caused a hole the size of a large Analytical Engine in the front window of the museum. This was taken so seriously that Peta thought that the most prudent course of action was to hide. He found a great place under a huge pile of clothes in the back of a car, where he soon fell asleep. Unfortunately, that car was about to be driven to the seaside by an elderly Web designer. The car drive lasted many hours, the movement of the car rocked Peta fast asleep. When he awoke he was by the sea, but the driver was nowhere to be seen and the sea drew Peta to its shore. When he finally made it back to the car, it was no longer there, of course. Peta didn't make it back to Eye Dunnow, no one he asked had ever heard of the town. But he missed it very much. And, as he had only just got married the week before, he missed his wife too. The whole Computer Crashing incident had happened following a huge row they had just had about what he wanted to do with his life. Peta's wife, Zeta, felt that he was wasted at the museum, and Peta felt that he had the best job in the town. He spent every day reading through the archives, finding out everything about computers, their history, how they worked, how everything worked. He spent his time learning how to learn, storing facts and understanding how to repair everything

that lived in the museum.

After the argument with Zeta, Peta had left, slamming the door and headed back to the museum, never having a chance to say how much he loved her, or apologise for the hurtful things he had said.

He thought he might as well set up the new exhibition and, settling down behind the Engine, he had pushed it hard with his legs, and to his surprise, it had begun to roll. He looked on in shock as it gained speed, began to roll away and with a breath-holding inevitability made its bid for freedom out into the town square.

With the sound of the waves roaring rhythmically around him, Peta sat down on the beach and realised that he had lost everything. He sobbed until his chest hurt and his eyes stung, the tears on his cheeks glistened like the pebbles being rolled by the waves that foamed at his feet.

Chapter 2 - Booting up a PC

[Saturday 1st, 9:15]

The sunlight bounced off the eyelids of Peta Byte, asleep in his apartment in a South Coast town, and set off the process of waking up, in his still unconscious brain. Peta slowly bobbed to the surface of wakefulness, a muzzy incoherent mixture of dream and reality. He became aware of an arm lying under him, but as he rolled over he realised that the arm was his own. His right hand picked up the numbed limb and placed it to one side. He trusted that it would, like him, begin the process of waking. He was happy to find that he still had legs and these he stretched and twisted, which caused his back to arch and his shoulders lifted his arms until he hit the headboard of his bed. The hand at the end of the numbed arm fell heavily on his face, which sped up the phases of waking up. So his body worked OK, the legs and arms seemed to be where he left them and worked approximately in the way he expected.

Now his brain started the operation of bringing Peta back. Firstly, where was he? He'd been dreaming the usual dream of being in Eye Dunnow, but as his eyes adjusted to the light and fed him the details of his messy room, the first emotion of the day hit him; sadness. The next answer to an unasked question was what day was it? Slowly, as Peta picked at a crust in the corner of his eye, the shape of Saturday formed, 1st of the month and a rent day, this meant he'd have to get up and out before the landlord asked questions about the last 5 weeks money. But there's something else, a memory that hovered outside and refused to come in.

But Peta has a more immediate morning need, but before he ventured to the bathroom he needed his underpants. To remember something, your brain takes a number of steps, firstly where is the memory? What are the connections that identify its location? Is the memory there? Can you find it, are the links strong? Then, the memory needs to be called and the visual memories are stored near the part of the brain that created it. So visual memories are stored near the visual cortex, emotional ones are stored near the part of the brain that manages emotional experiences. The structure of the memory mirrors the shape of the neurons that would have experienced the memory in the first place. Parts of the memory are stored throughout the brain, which is why you sometimes remember initially only a bit of it; someone's face, but not their name, that you need your keys, but not where you left them.

So Peta didn't remember where he got undressed for bed as it had not been encoded into long term memory but had been discarded into short term memory.

There were the underpants. They lay on the floor next to the bed. Once decently clothed, he made his way along the landing and returned a few minutes later.

The other memory was more complex, as it was made up of a mixture of emotion and image. By the time Peta was on his second cup of tea, he has fully woken up and he looked out of the window. His eyes found the small section of shoreline that can be seen from his apartment. The sight recalled a memory. He caught his breath. A mind movie replayed the meeting with an elderly gentleman called Mr Fintle on the seafront the evening before. Peta heard again the last thing the man had said in his clipped military accent, his head barely visible through the car door window.

It's your choice Peta, but we need you. Your town needs you. And, I think, if you're honest with yourself, you need this too. If you want to come then, 10:00am. Right here. If not, then. Not. But do sleep on it dear chap.”

The car had slowly moved off, the blacked out windows reflected Peta's distraught face, as it drove off into the busy Friday night traffic.

Peta had a surge of panic and looked for the clock on the cooker. After the meeting, Peta had gone out with his surfing buddies, visited all the usual haunts, he'd looked for a reason to stay and an excuse to leave. He knew that he was going to say “Yes” to Fintle, but that didn't make the decision any easier. He knew that there were people in the town he didn't want him there.

[Saturday 1st, 9:55]

Chapter 3 - Device Driver

Flashback - 4 years earlier

The weeks that followed being stranded in the seaside town, Peta had spent time planning on how to hunt for Eye Dunnow. This had proved harder than he thought possible. How do you find a place that doesn't exist on any map and that no one has heard of? Also, he needed somewhere to sleep, and money to live, but with no experience, qualifications and no official documents, this seemed impossible. But the tourist trade provided him with regular seasonal work, he even made some friends. But he spent all of his spare time plotting to get back. Each day that passed, he felt that any chance of a welcome home diminished.

It had taken nearly 4 years of searching before he found it. 4 years in which he had continued only because he didn't know how to stop, even though he realised that there would be no welcome home, no forgiveness, only bitter recrimination and dislike.

Peta had searched using a train to take him to an area and then a bicycle to perform a detailed area search. A bicycle, because not officially existing had made car ownership impossible. But without any landmarks to guide him and no road signs to direct him, he had used large scale maps, each area was broken up into large squares and he tried to explore every one. He knew that no main road went near the town so he would place a large cross on hundreds of squares that contained towns or built-up areas, but this still left thousands where the town could lie. He had to investigate every well-worn track and dead end, look over every hill and trespass onto countless farms. Some days, from hilltop views, he could survey a dozen squares, on others, the heavily forested land meant he barely covered 2 square in a day. The summers were hardest where his work meant that he only had a few days a week to explore. But living very simply, he could save enough to spend most of the winter searching. After 3 years he became disheartened and had begun to see the seaside town a home. His searches became less thorough, but he began to enjoy the time he spent just being in the countryside.

So, it came as a complete surprise to find the first sign of the town. He had wandered near a large power station, it's huge water cooling towers gave the place an eerie feeling. He walked down a landscaped hill into a large wood. It was here that he found signs saying he was in a restricted military zone. He moved past the signs and walked deeper into the trees, and came to a fence, with a view through to dozens, of what looked like grain silos. Their familiarity seemed so cheery, that at first glance he thought “Oh, they look just like the database towers”. A moment later this turned to “they're the database towers”.

Then, the soldiers came.

They didn't hang about. His cries of “I live here, I'm from this town” made no difference. His face was covered in a rough sack, and his hands tied painfully behind his back. He was pushed, hit and dragged across the rough ground and then dumped on a cold stone floor. Any attempt to speak or move was rewarded with a punch or a kick. Eventually, after several hours on the floor, his face was uncovered and he was interviewed by someone who obviously had never heard of Eye Dunnow and plainly thought he was probably a spy, or else crazy. They were very interested in his maps, but not interested in his explanations. His head was re-bagged and he was loaded into a diesel truck. An uncomfortable journey of several hours ended when the truck stopped, his hands were cut free, he was pushed out of the back of the vehicle and it drove off. By the time he'd removed the sack from his head the lights of the truck were well down the road, driving off into the night. It had taken most of the next day to get back to his apartment. But now he knew where the town was. 3 more times he returned, from 3 different directions and 3 times he received similar treatment, always being dumped well away from the town. But on the last visit, the last time he had been interviewed by someone who didn't think he was crazy, who didn't think he was a spy. They knew his name. This time they took him to a long meeting room, with a hideous blue long-body clock that chimed the quarter hour, in a building, where he heard voices in an accent he recognised. His interviewer left him to retrieve a file from his office. A file with Peta's name on it. This time his explanations were met with vague interest. But then his head was re-bagged and he was dragged from the room. This made the dumping even worse. They knew who he was, and he now knew the town didn't want him back either

End of flashback

***

Last night, Peta had not recognised him immediately. When Fintle had stepped out from the shadows like a character from a spy movie, looked up at Peta, from under large hairy caterpillar eyebrows, unsure of the response, he said: “Good evening Peta”.

Peta had smiled at the man, a face he knew from somewhere and muttered a “good evening” in reply and barely walked a pace before he stopped. His heart had suddenly picked up. He turned to face the man who had interviewed him, nearly a year ago, His senses alert to the fact that this man wasn't from here, he was from the other place and his presence meant danger,

What do you want?” Peta felt nervous and was surprised to find that his voice didn't betray his fear.

Just to talk old chap, just that.” Fintle gestured towards a waiting car parked next to them. “Please.”

Once glance at the car was all Peta needed to know that he didn't want to get into it.

So talk,” said Peta. He crossed his arms and stared at Fintle. While memories of the last meeting that they had played in his mind. He felt nothing but hatred for the man.

If you wish,” said Fintle. He then paused, and Peta was surprised to see that the man looked nervous, unsure of how to proceed. “Firstly, I'd like to apologise for the way you were treated the last time we met. If I'd known who you were.”

Peta cut across him. “You knew who I was, you made that very clear.”

Well, yes and no. We knew you were the chap who'd tried to break into the town on previous occasions, we didn't know you were the Peta Byte, ex-resident of the Lost Town. To the guard, you were a persistent nuisance, had we known who you were...”

I told the guards exactly who I was, and they made it clear that..”

But my dear boy, the guards don't know what they're guarding, they've never heard of the town, they think they're guarding a military establishment. It was pure chance that I came out that night and they told me you were a persistent trespasser. “

I told you the name of the town,” said Peta angrily.

Well yes, But I didn't know the name of the town either, to us, it's one of the Lost Towns, we refer to it as Silicon Wood. When I asked you where you were from, you said 'I Dunno'. Well, it wasn't until recalling the story to a colleague after you had been.”

Dumped on the roadside”

.. err removed from the premises, did the penny drop. As I said I wish to apologise. And may I say that if only you had given your correct address I could have apologised a lot earlier, it has taken almost a year to track you down,” said Fintle, He seemed to have regained some control of the conversation.

OK,” said Peta. His head nodded slowly. “Apology not accepted. Good night,” he turned to leave.

Please dear chap, we need you. Your town needs you.”

Peta continued to walk.

My dear boy, your wife needs you.”

Peta stopped and let out a sigh, turned slowly, walked over to the car, and got in.

OK, who are you?” Asked Peta from the enormous back seat as Fintle settled in beside him. They were separated from the driver by a glass screen. Below which were wooden veneered panels, that Peta felt sure would probably contain crystal decanters of sherry. Peta smiled in spite of his wariness.

Fintle reached into an overcoat pocket, pulled out a battered laminated card and handed it over.

Peta looked at the faded photograph of a “Colonel D A Fintle, MC”. The card looked official but for an organisation called MISP.

Who's MISP?” Asked Peta as he handed back the card. “Never heard of them.”

Well, that is the general idea, but it stands for Military Intelligence Service Provider.”

And who are they when they're at home?” said Peta. He enjoyed the feeling of power over a man who, he felt, was the one usually in control.

We, young man, guard the internet,” said Fintle. He stretched one of his legs and rested his stick against the door, the authority returned to his voice. “We have been protecting your town since it first came to the government's attention. We stop every maniac, terrorist, and tour guide from getting into the town. As you experienced, we're rather good at it. The world trusts us to keep the internet safe. And that's exactly what we've been doing up until about a year ago. But, around the time of your last visit, everything changed, the town has suffered from some attacks. Not form the outside, we're used to those, but from within. And now, someone's died.”

Died! Who's died?” Peta suddenly felt afraid. The town had always felt like a haven, and if only he could get back there he'd be safe. But now, well, things had changed.

Fintle took a piece of paper and read a name that Peta had never heard of.

I don't know him,” said Peter. He felt guilty about the relief that it wasn't someone he knew.

Peta suddenly felt a strong need to go home “Are you going to drive me back tonight?” he asked.

Ah!” said Fintle. “Not tonight, no. We hope for a window tomorrow, but. I should tell you, that things are not the same in the town. We can't just turn up at the guard house. You've seen their reaction.”

I don't understand, I thought you said the town needs me?”

It does, it does dear boy. It just doesn't know it yet. The whole place is under lock-down, has been for weeks. You won't be allowed in through the front door”. Fintle held up his hand to silence another question from Peta. “But there is another, er, different way. I can get you in, I know how.”

And then what?” Peta said.

And then we need you to perform a task, something that the town needs, something that will save the town.” Said Fintle, without the hint of a smile.

I just want to see my wife, I don't care about what the town needs, you save the town, I just want to go home.”

It was Zeta who thought you may be willing to help, she said you may want to make amends. Look, I'm sorry, but this really is the only way back. But, you should know, that if you don't succeed, there may be no home to go to.”

Fintle then laid out the plan. Peta was to go into the town undercover, find out as much as he could about the threat and get that information back to him, without letting the authorities know.

And if I'm caught?” asked Peta.

I'll be honest with you, if they catch you, they may arrest you. And they definitely don't want you to report anything to me. If they catch you, best not mention my name.”

How do I know you're not the problem, why should I trust you?”

Fintle smiled, opened one of the wood veneered panels, righted a cut glass tumbler and pressed a button. An image appeared on the glass screen between them and the driver, it was Zeta.

She began to speak.

Peta! I hope you get this message.” She looked tired thought Peta. “We need you, you're the only one who can help. Please come!” The screen faded and Peta gazed at it for a moment, “That doesn't mean that I can trust you.”

Fintle smiled, “Maybe not. But I'm the only one who can get you in. And that is after all that you've been trying to do all these years.” He looked shrewdly at Peta.

Peta shifted in his seat. He felt uncomfortable under Fintle's gaze. “Why don't you go?”

Fintle looked annoyed. “I would, old boy, but the town doesn't want me, they want you. Also, you know the town and its ways - I would stand out like a tourist in Trafalgar Square. Whereas you,” he pointed at Peta. “You were born for this role.”

The silence stretched out between them as Peta stared out of the window, out to sea, the reflection of the lights from the front danced in the waves.



Turning back to Fintle, Peta asked: “How do I get in.”

Fintle smiled and leant forward, showing surprising agility for his age. “You can't get in yourself, we know that, but I can connect you with the town. We can arrange a connection between the outside world and the town. It's not going to be straight forward, or even easy, but we'll get you in. The car will be here at 10:00 am tomorrow morning, put on you're town clothes and we'll manage the rest.”

With that Fintle opened the door on Peta's side and let him out.
“Well, see you tomorrow then,” said Peta

Fintle held out his hand, which Peta took, noting that it was cold with sweat.

Fintle smiled at him “'til tomorrow then, get a good night's sleep and see you in the morning”

Peta closed the door and watched the car drive off smoothly into the night, with a mixture of excitement and fear.

It was only then, Peta thought, that he had never said “Yes.” Fintle had presumed his agreement, and that had sealed the deal. But then, Peta thought, I'd really made up my mind as soon as they'd mentioned Zeta.



Chapter 4 - Passing the Security Test

[Saturday 1st, 9:58]

Peta left the house and saw the car, it was parked in exactly the same place he had left it last night. Gingerly, he opened the door and was shocked to see a rather severe-looking middle-aged woman. She sat there with a laptop balanced on her knees. She looked as if she'd come from another era, dressed for a 1950s British drama, where she played the librarian.

Ah, good. Please get in Mr Byte,” she said in the same clipped tone as Fintle. She added a rather false smile. “I'm Melissa Nye, please call me Melissa, I'll be accompanying you for this part of the journey.”

Peta climbed in, closed the door, and the car moved smoothly off. He turned in his seat and watched his old home recede into the distance. Unsure how he felt about what he'd just left behind, and nervous for what the future held for him.

He faced forwards once more. Melissa looked at him, intently.

Now Mr Byte,” she said with the same un-amused smile. “Let's sort out some paperwork, shall we? Your name is a Mr Peta Byte, and you used to work as a Museum Assistant, in the town you call Eye Dunnow; is that correct?”

Err, yes,” said Peta.

She typed a few things into the laptop, then looked up again.

I can't use your old security details as peta.byte because that email address is still valid. As soon as you use it, you will be traceable.” She peered at the screen again. “So I'll set you up as a new user. Is Michael Cobb an acceptable name?”

I suppose,” Peta was only half listening, he looked out of the window at his last view of the sea as they turned inland back towards his old life.

Here's your ID, keep it on you at all times.” Peta took the card and added it to his wallet.

Now, your password, something secure please.”

How about 'Password'” suggested Peta. He felt a little depressed and only gave her some of his attention.

No, Mr Byte, this is serious, we need you to create a very secure password. No recognisable words, nothing less than 15 characters, mixed case and include some numbers, how about MbVd842191V628R, can you repeat this after me?”

Peta turned to look at her.

Now after me,” she said in her Librarian's voice. “Capital M, b, Capital V, d.”

I can promise you that I'll forget that password within 2 minutes of learning it. I can't remember passwords.”

Maybe you could write it down and keep it in your wallet?”

Nope, I'd lose it.” Peta looked at her.

OK, Mr Byte what can you remember? What's your," she sneered. She definitely sneered, "talent?”

I can only remember the lyrics to musicals, more of a curse than a talent really.”

Which movie comes to mind?” She took off her glasses and looked at him seriously.

Oh, I dunno. I used to like Willy Wonka.” He stared out of the window again as they passed the railway station. He remembered all of the times that he had left here on his frequent searches.

And which song do you remember the lyrics from most clearly?”

Peta thought for a moment. “Pure Imagination of course”.

Can you recite them to me?”

Peta breathed onto the window and doodled in the light covering of condensation it left there. “Well the chorus goes, 'Come with me, And you'll be, In a world of pure imagination', I loved that, as a child. Still do really.” He saw that he had drawn a face, and quickly rubbed it clear.

The best passwords Mr Byte are those which are memorable, around 15 characters long, are not made up of a single real word and contains a mixture of Uppercase, lowercase and some numbers. Can you tell me the first letter of each word of those lyrics?”

Peta thought for a moment and said, ”Cwm Ayb Iawopi”

Melissa tapped the keyboard, “If we start each line with a Capital, “ she said. “So Capital C wm, Captial A yb, Captial I awopi. Still only 12 characters, but it'll have to do.” She typed a little more. "I'm getting a very strong password rating, excellent. If I ask you in 2 minutes what the password is, do you think you'll remember it?” asked Melissa.

I think so,” said Peta, he looked over to her and smiled.

Right, I'll go ahead and create all of your accounts with that password.”

Peta turned back to look out of the window as the wet leafy suburbs that slipped by and whispered: “So shines a good deed, in a weary world.”

[Saturday 1st, 11:00]

Chapter 5 - Internet Protocol Handshake

[Saturday 1st, 14:30]

Peta had not expected his return home to be like this. He felt like he was sneaking in. And what he might find scared him. Would it still be the town that he had left? It could be completely different.

He turned back to face Melissa. He had so many questions, that he struggled to complete each one.

Who is the, I mean when will, what is happening in the town now, how's Zeta?” he stuttered, greedy for more information.

Melissa gave him another blank smile. “I couldn't tell you, even if I knew. We're not meant to have any contact with the town.”

But you must know something?” Peta couldn't keep a tone of pleading out of his voice.

That smile again, “I'm sorry,” said Melissa. “The town is on the other side of the fence and I do everything in my power to keep it safe. That's all. It's my job to protect the town. The Colonel hopes that you will help.”

But how?” said Peta. “I used to look after the museum. How can I help?”

She looked at him more intently this time, “I don't know.” Then added, “but I'm sure the Colonel has every faith in you.”

Peta asked a few more questions, but it was clear that either Melissa wouldn't tell him, or she didn't know the answer. He sank into a sullen silence and thought about what had happened there over the four years since he'd had been away. But mostly he thought about Zeta and wondered whether she had missed him as much as he'd missed her.

Well do you know how I'm getting in?” he asked not very concerned.

She informed him that Fintle would meet them at the entrance and instruct him from there. Peta was sure that she knew something but wasn't telling him more than that. His years of exploration, when he had studied maps of the area, had given him a good idea about the surrounding roads, so he was surprised to see them turn away from the direct route to the town, with several miles still to go and drive through the gates of a quarry. He had vague memories of it from a year before, but he'd just slipped under a fence to check that it really was a quarry and then moved on.

This time they drove quietly by the guardhouse, who waved the car through, into an industrial complex of factories and warehouses. They passed another guardhouse then entered the lunar-like pit face. Unnatural, as if the land had been injured, the sheer scale of the place gave Peta a jolt of excitement. The road ahead spiralled down into the gloom far below.

Is this where the entrance is?” said Peta as he peered down into the pit already in shade in the early afternoon sun.

Maybe.” Melissa looked out of the window.

Is there a tunnel that takes us to the town from here?” said Peta he stared at her, she definitely looked uncomfortable.

Something like that.” She said quietly.

As the car sank down into the gloom Peta could feel the adrenaline take effect. This was not too unfamiliar to him, he had spent his free time surfing and on the days when the weather sent most people indoors Peta and with his friends he would venture out to catch the storm waves. He felt the same as he did before each of those trips. But those risks he could calculate, this was the unknown and that concerned him.

Just before the bottom, Peta saw a tunnel in the side wall. He could see that it would be hard to spot from above. They drove in. The car headlights illuminated a concrete passageway which curved back into the hill. After several moments the tunnel opened out into a busy underground warehouse. Hundreds of trucks and people moved around in a highly organised operation. But on they drove, eventually, they came to a stop in a large car park. By a far wall stood the waiting figure of Fintle.

Peta stepped out of the car and walked up to him. Fintle beamed and held out his hand.

My old chap, I'm so glad. So glad you came,” said Fintle as he shook Peta's hand. “Come this way and we'll get you kitted out.” Fintle beckoned Peta to follow.

Peta noticed that Melissa hadn't followed them. He looked back to see the car make a wide turn and drive off back the way it had come.

The car park there was a strange noise around them, it reminded Peta of a being indoors while a storm raged outside. Also, the walls reverberated with the work of the warehouse; the drivers shouted, whistled, the vehicles beeped warnings. The whole place had a sense of chaotic activity. Peta followed Fintle into an empty long low shed and was glad to find it warmer and quieter. At the end was a row of what looked like flying suits.

Peta walked up to the suits and asked Fintle, “Are you parachuting me in?”

Fintle smiled, “in a manner of speaking.” He said sat down heavily on a plastic chair. “You'll be riding the pipe, you'll be playing the part of a packet of data, just a bit more fleshy than the usual packets. Suit up, find one that fits you the best.” He turned to stare at a laptop and tapped a few keys on the keyboard. “Hurry-up, your window is in 15 minutes.”

Peta looked at the suits, “do I wear this over my clothes or instead of them?”

Fintle turned to look at him. “My dear chap, there would be little point in asking you to wear your town clothes, if you had to remove them before you got there.”

Peta felt a little embarrassed. He pulled on the suit which seemed to closest to his size and replaced his shoes. He wandered over to Fintle, who closed the lid of the laptop on his approach.

Excellent, excellent, your tablet computer is under the flap above the knee, you'll need that to get through town security. Let's get it running now.” Peta lifted a flap and saw a small screen. Fintle pressed a button and the screen lit up. Peta watched as a page loaded up filled with buttons and fields.

Right,” said Fintle, he tapped the screen. “When you're in the town you can communicate with me using this. It'll only work in one building, the one you'll be arriving in today. Only use it at night, you'll draw less attention. I'll await you communication at 10pm every night, OK?”

Peta nodded, then said, "which building?"

"It's a disused warehouse, not far from the town square"

"When will I see Zeta?" asked Peta.

"Who?"

"My wife," said Peta, suddenly worried.

"Of course, of course. Soon. Why don't you can send her a text, but you need to be quick."

Peta felt like he was stuck in treacle, "but I don't have her number. We're not allowed phones in the town."

Fintle looked flustered, "hang on, hang on," he scrabbled around on his extremely tidy desk and picked up a folder. He opened it, said "Ah,"

Then he pulled out his own mobile phone punched in the numbers and handed it to Peta.

What should he write?

"I do need to rush you old boy. Come on, you'll have plenty of time to write her a sonnet when you get back in."

Peta quickly typed. "Z, it's Peta. I'm coming back to the town this afternoon. Where should we meet? I miss you. XXX." He pressed send. Somehow the enormity of what had just happened to him, hit him.

"And now I need your phone," said Fintle.

"What, no way." Peta was appalled. A phone was one of the few benefits of life in Off."

Fintle looked stern, "I'm afraid I really must insist. You are too exposed with a phone. You might as well walk around with a large sign above your head, that says, Hey Everyone, look at me."

"I'll be careful," said Peta.

"It's not a question of care, dear boy. Everytime you use it, they will be able to pinpoint your position to within 5 metres." He held out his hand and looked straight at Peta.

Very reluctantly he handed over the phone. Fintle gave him a commiserating smile “Well, shall we go?” Peta felt his stomach lurch as he followed him out.

When you say riding the pipe. What do you mean exactly?” asked Peta, as they walked around the corner and through some arches.

But before Fintle could answer Peta saw exactly what the pipe was, an enormous black hole opened up in the giant wall. It was edged with warning signs that told people to keep away. The “Danger of Death” sign particularly worried him. It was clear, that this was where the roaring noise came from, air rushed past them, blow-dried his hair and flapped his clothes. He stopped and stared at it.

This is how you aim to get me into the town, through an air duct,” shouted Peta above the roar.

It's not an air duct” came the answer. As he spoke Peta saw a large metal cage on a gantry extend towards the mouth of the pipe, laden with brown parcels, as they approached the centre of the pipe, he could see them jump and whirl within the cage. Suddenly 2 gates opened and hundreds of parcels were sucked up into the pipe, which Peta saw, was angled upwards, like a huge chimney. The gantry drew back, another took its place moments later, and repeated the same action.

No,” said Peta annoyed. “I know what it is, it's a data pipe, you are not sending me up a huge data pipe.”

No,” said Fintle. “We're not. We're sending you up a small data pipe, the huge pipes are miles away. This little thing is only used for local data traffic.“ he looked up at Peta, and then added reassuringly “There'll be less security. You see?”

Oh good, so my lifeless body has less chance of being arrested, very comforting.”

Oh now old man it won't kill you, it should be one hell of a ride, only jealous I'm not going with you.” Fintle walked towards the side of the pipe where Peta could see another gantry mechanism.

How many people have got into the town this way?” he shouted, unable to tear his eyes away from the tunnel.

Well, none actually."

Peta looked alarmed.

Fintle quickly added, "when some worker gets sucked up, we have to reduce the air flow to bring them back down again, creates a hell of a mess.”

From the body parts?” asked Peta, as he screwed up his nose.

No, no, no. From the data packets, the Data Controllers are alright, all sorts of safety procedures, they're a bit shaken, but they float back down through the pipe and we then have to sort out data collisions, backed up data, that sort of thing, anyway, none have died.”

They arrived at the gantry and Fintle helped Peta in. Straps were attached to him by a heavy looking man who seemed particularly serious and uncommunicative. It was then that Peta realised he would be entering the tunnel backwards.

Now old boy, when we give the signal, hit the red button,” he pointed at a large metal button in the middle of Peta's chest, from which 5 thick webbed straps flowed out, uncomfortably wrapped around Peta's body. “This will release the restraining harnesses, don't do it too early, or you may hit the side wall. Keep your chin down, your arms crossed in front of you, and your legs crossed at the ankle. Best of luck and have a great ride.”

Fintle turned to go and then suddenly turned back. Peta hoped that it had all been a joke and they were going to release him.

Oh, I nearly forgot.” He placed a flying helmet onto Peta's head, adjusted the strap, and pulled down the visor, “Press the button on the side of the helmet to communicate when you get near the town”. He gave Peta a pat on the shoulder and a Thumbs Up sign.

Fintle stepped back and the gantry immediately began to move. It moved towards the pipe. It started to rattle and shake, it was buffeted by the wind being sucked into the monsters jaws. Peta turned to shout at Fintles receding figure, “I can't do this.” But he knew his voice was lost in the updraught. Peta found it hard to keep his head down as the pressure from the wind increased and pushed him painfully against the straps, which cut into his back. The wind meant that his words didn't seem to form. He tried to find the button on the side of his helmet but felt the wind try to rip his arm off, he brought it quickly back in front of his body. But he could no longer move his head to see Fintle, he had no idea when he'd be in place. He tried to move his whole body to see where he was in relation to the pipe, but could only shift a few degrees.

Then the gantry came to a jolting stop. But Peta couldn't do it, couldn't bring himself to press the button. He felt in horror that this was how he would die, being pummelled to death by the wind, when he felt release. Like a movie played backwards, he felt himself fly into the air, his arms and legs dropping downwards, while a giant hand pushed against his chest. It raised him higher and higher into the pipe, the entrance receded away at great speed. After a short the acceleration reduced but not the sound, he presumed he's reached terminal velocity. The buffeting was still bad as the air was moved faster than he did. It felt more like being out on a really windy day or being in front of an enormous air hose. There were lights in the tunnel and, while it wasn't bright, he could at least see.

Then he hit the first packets. He noticed that the pipe had started to angle away from the near vertical and the now tiny mouth of the pipe moved away as he rounded a long gradual bend. He felt a data packet smack against his arm, it spun him around. It took time to steady himself. By which point the packets had turned from a trickle into a river. A huge flood of brown data packets flowed like mud in a landslide. The air was moved at an immense rate, some packets spun wildly, collided off each other and smashed into him. He was aerodynamic and could maintain his position, but the packets whirled and twisted in the vortex. But they were designed to move through the pipes, while he was not.

He began to sink below the surface until his head disappeared under a tide of data packets. He no longer knew which way was up, he just knew that unless he got above the mainstream that he would die. He cursed Fintle, and grabbed hold of a large flat packet that spiralled next to him.

Its shape gave him an idea. He crawled slowly onto the “up” side of the packet, while smaller packets hit him like giant hail stones. He tried to imagine that he was in the surf, in a bad storm. This was something he could do by instinct. The packet wave didn't act like water but kept his head above the surface. Just as he mastered the surfing the data he realised that the packets were slowing, the angle of the pipe had levelled out.

This made his surf packet easier to handle. He noticed a light up ahead and saw a vast space, with another tunnel entrance directly above him through which he could see sky, but the packets didn't go any higher, the drop in pressure, meant that they were dropping into another pipe, this one coming up from below. The pipes must be shaped like an enormous arch, with a chimney stack, stuck on of the top, to power the updraft.

Peta felt himself slow, and glide over the top of the pipes. He looked up into the chimney above him, he now recognised this as the chimney from the power station not far from the town. He felt himself drop down into the other leg of the arch and the wind change direction, it blew into his face as he dropped with gathering speed into the hole in front of him.

Gravity took over as the angle of the pipe slowly reduced. The stream of packets began to thicken, and he struggled to stay on the surface. He gripped and steered the surf packet down the slope. The air that came up the pipe kept things moving, but Peta stretched out above the packets, felt that he was on a giant wave, he rode the curl and moved faster than the rest.

It was then that he remembered the communication device on his helmet, he felt up, found the button and pressed it.

Peta! Peta! Can you hear me?” a woman's voice crackled into the helmets headphones.

Peta forgot about the looming chasm and shouted: “Zeta is that you?”

Yes, where the hell have you been?”

I'm sorry,” said Peta, his guilt flooded over him. “I got stuck outside of the town, I've been trying...”

She cut across him “Not that, in the pipe, we need to establish a data link.”

Can't that wait?” asked Peta.

No, if we don't establish communication, security protocol kicks in and if you enter the town through the laser grid, we'll be burying you in a bucket. How far up the pipe are you?”

Quite far, I passed the power station chimney and I've started to ...”

You've passed the chimney. How long ago?”

What?” said Peta confused.

How long ago did you pass the chimney?” Zeta was almost shouting at him.

I'm not sure, a minute or so.

Jesus Peta! You can't be far from the town. Give me your encryption key!”

I don't have one.”

She swore. “OK, 42 that'll be our number, let's set the encryption method to 0, so I won't change that number and I'll turn off the compression too. We're using the old Secure Socket Layer protocol, it's old and hopefully won't draw attention to itself. I'm sending you a certificate, you should see it on the tablet. You do have one?”

Peta fumbled with the flap on his knee, he wobbled on the packet surfboard, the descent down the pipe had begun to pick up pace. Eventually, he managed to see the tablet, a button glowed with the words 'receive certificate' - he pressed it.

I've received the certificate, what do I do now?” Peta looked up and saw the other end of the pipe appear far below. The packets turned from a river into a waterfall and knocked him as they tumbled through the air. The strength of the wind increased.

Send me the certificate in return,” said Zeta. “And quickly,” she added.

It was hard to reach to his knee again without unbalancing himself, by the time he had located the button and pressed it, he looked up to see the pipe end had got much closer just in those seconds, and an ominous red glow came from the mouth.

Certificate received - send me a message.”

What?” said Peta.

Anything, just send anything,” yelled Zeta.

Peta typed HELP and pressed the send button.

He could now see the end of the tunnel's red glow turn into a grid of lasers and he fell towards them. The rush of air pushed into him and slowed his descent as he lost his grip on the surf packet and tried to stop tumbling.

Zeta shouted down the line “'1.0.Help'. This is our pre-master secret and now your change cypher spec. Right, send the finish.”

He tore his eyes away from the lasers, he fumbled and pressed 'Finish' and looked up to see the laser grid fade away as the air pressure grew and he fell gently out of the pipe held within a cushion of air onto a conveyor belt which moved him off into a long empty warehouse.

He lifted his visor, rolled off the belt and landed heavily onto the floor by the feet of a large security guard who sat and read a newspaper. The guard lowered his paper, looked once at him, and said: “Welcome home Peta."

Peta looked down at the tablet on his knee. The flap covering it must have been ripped off in the journey. He could just make out "handshake complete" across its broken screen. Peta slowly rolled onto his knees and brought up one leg and then the other. He felt that he had a bruise on every part of his body. He stood up and felt less vulnerable than he had on the floor.

He had been shocked not to see Zeta. He didn't feel safe here. “Err, hi, where's the exit?” Peta asked to top of the head of the guard.

The guard didn't look up, but he pointed towards a door in the far wall and said, "That way. t'isn't locked.”

Peta slowly started walking towards the door.

Then the guard said, “Hang on, I got a message.” He removed a piece of paper from his shirt pocket, unfolded it and read “I'll meet you in the Hex Dump at 6. Be careful, people are looking for you. Zed, or Zee, maybe." He handed Peta the note and went back to his paper.

"Right. Thanks," said Peta.

He walked towards the door, as he reached the handle. He looked back at the guard who didn't look up, but remained engrossed in his paper.

[Saturday 1st, 17:00]

Chapter 6 - Programming Languages

Peta found himself at the foot of

he started to climb.. He

[Saturday 1st, 17:00]

Through the door of the empty warehouse, was a flight of metal stairs, which seemed to rise endlessly. Peta knew that he must be a long way down after his trip in the pipe. He started to climb. His footsteps echoed in the stairwell and he was surprised at how much his legs ached when he eventually came to the top. He walked through the only door into a deserted alley at the back of the building, next to bins and discarded packing crates.

Then it became real. He was back, all the days of hoping and wishing, but never really believing that he'd make it. It had come true. In some ways, he was too overwhelmed to feel that it was real. He wanted to shout out that he'd returned, but he also wanted to hide and protect it. He stowed shattered tablet inside his jacket pocket, removed the flying suit and hid it behind one of the crates.

He crossed the road in front of the building a minute later. Two minutes after that, people arrived and searched the building. They didn't find the guard, but they found the flying suit and then headed back away from the town.

It didn't take long for Peta to recognise familiar sights and, realise that he had gone in the wrong direction, he made a few adjustments to his route that brought him to the pub 20 minutes later. He was still 30 minutes early. This area of the old town was the same as when he had left it, there were a few shops he didn't recognise and some of the road signs directed to places he'd never heard of, but he was home, each corner was like a photo album and the town fitted him like a favourite old overcoat.

The Hex Dump was Zeta's name for a pub in the old quarter called the Space Bar; it was the place where the programmers met. Peta had never set foot in there, but Zeta had been a popular young woman and had explored parts of the town that most of the inhabitants never knew existed. This was one of those locations. Peta had long suspected that she had known one or two of the programmers pretty well. He'd never liked to ask, and she had never told him.

Each Computer language had its own representative in the town that managed the code for the outside world. Some had been there for decades, but there was always a group of loud brash new reps who fancied that their new language was going to be the next big thing. All of them quietened down after a few months and many of them slunk off after about a year, never to be seen in the bar again.

Time: Saturday, 17:05

Peta entered cautiously, he looked around. He had hoped to see Zeta, so he wouldn't have to stay. But a quick scan of the room showed no sign of her. It was early evening, so the place was still a little quiet for a Saturday night. Alone in a corner, wearing a tweed jacket, skirt, brogues and a furious expression was a squared shaped woman, red in the face with a large glass of what looked like brandy. Peta kept clear of her.

He went up to the bar - the currency was the same as in the rest of the country, but the price of the drinks was considerably lower than it had been in the outside world. There was a group of programmers up at the bar having a discussion. He didn't want to get noticed so he, ordered his drink and went to another corner, and sat where he could watch the door to see when Zeta arrived. He was nervous what her reaction would be and he couldn't settle or get comfortable. They hadn't seen each other for 4 years, Peta wondered whether they were still legally married.

After a couple of minutes, the argument at the bar tailed off and the group broke up into smaller ones. Two of which came over and sat at the table in front of Peta. He could overhear their conversation, but they blocked his view, so he shifted his seat a little.

You're wrong Java,” said the women. “It can't be, we've been protected all this time, why would someone threaten us now?”

Ruby,” said the one called Java. “I love your trusting nature, I wish I could share it, but you're server side, you don't do the interface stuff. I do, and whatever is going on, it's not a glitch in the system. Glitches are annoying, this is dangerous.” He took a drink, then choked. “Algol died.”

That was just an accident,” said Ruby.

Was it?” Java looked darkly over his pint. He placed it down on the table and gestured across the bar. “COBOL only just escaped with her life.”

They both looked over at the red-faced women Peta has seen when he entered. Java looked round and caught Peta's eye.

Hello,” he said. “I don't believe we've met, I'm Java, and this is my friend Ruby, who's gone off the rails today.”

Ruby looked at Java, with an expression of bemused exasperation. “You just talk to anyone don't you.” She turned to Peta and said, “Hi, I'm Ruby on Rails, and don't believe a word this idiot says.”

Hi,” said Peta and returned his watch on the door.

Undeterred Java turned this chair to Peta. “So what do you think?” he asked.

About what?” Peta was aware that he was completely out of the loop.

The attacks, what else?” responded Java.

Yeh, real bad,” grimaced Peta, and nodded his head. He was aware that he knew next to nothing, and but he also felt under pressure to start on his mission to find stuff out.

Bad?” said Java. “I'll say so. What do you think we should do about it?”

I don't really know enough about it, what do you think we should do?”

Fight, of course,” said Java. “Fight back with everything we've got. This is war, a modern war and we're on the battlefield whether we realise that or not.”

Do you think it's really that bad?“ asked Peta.

You see,” said Ruby, she gestured towards Peta, but spoke to Java. “Non-programmers don't know what's going on. And they're being told a pack of lies.”

Who's been told a pack of lies?” Another one of the earlier group came up to them. “May I join you?” he said and pulled up a chair.

Java looked a little uncomfortable. “That seat's reserved for object-oriented programmers JavaScript.” JavaScript looked hurt and walked off.

Ruby tried to not to laugh. “Oh go and call your brother back,” she teased.

Java looked annoyed “He's not my brother.” He turned to Peta, “he's not my brother, he has nothing to do with me.”

Peta looked a little embarrassed at the chat between the men. He looked around and saw two very rigid programmers who stood nearby, one was incredibly thin while the other, looked like his rounder brother.

Java called out, “hey C, C++, come on over guys, come and join in our conversation.”

The brothers looked at each other. The larger one turned to Java and said: “The function of the discourse would be rendered nongermane by our verbalised disquisition”. He then turned back to talk to his brother.

Java looked at Ruby and shook his head. ”Didn't understand one word,” he said.

Not a single one” snorted Ruby, and they both wheezed with laughter.

Peta felt trapped. He was worried that he didn't know enough and risked giving himself away. He seriously thought about making a break for it. He could wait for Zeta outside. The chance of being recognised in here was greater than the chance of being recognised outside.

Another programmer came up to their group. He wore a big smile and walked up to Java, “Don't be mean, when have they ever been rude to you.”

But that's just it,” Java continued to laugh. “They're probably being rude all the time, I just wouldn't know. You're not trying to spread happiness and goodwill are you Python?” Java seemed to know the new arrival.

Python swung a chair around and sat down. “Something you should be working on. I just passed JavaScript looking a little upset, it's not his fault you share a name.”

Alright, alright. I'll go and apologise, where's he gone?” Said Java, but stayed in his seat.

Python lent back and pointed to the other corner of the bar. “He went over to talk to PHP, whose desperately trying to get it together with SQL. Again.”

They're made for each other. All three of them. Anyway what do you want Python?” asked Java.

Ultimately your ability to get on with everyone that matters, but right now I need a chat with your new friend here.” He looked over at Peta and said, “Hullo, I'm Python, I believe your friend is waiting for you outside.”

Java and Ruby both stared at him.

Oh, right. Well, it was very nice meeting you,” he said to no one in particular and got up to leave.

As he walked past Ruby she grabbed his arm. “Don't believe what the government tells you.” She looked serious, all the humour of before had vanished. “They're a bunch of liars. These aren't caused by gas leaks and subsidence, we're being attacked.”

Right, I'll remember that, thank you,” said Peta as he walked out of the bar, more concerned about meeting up with Zeta than any threats to the town.

[Saturday 1st, 17:50]



Chapter 7 - Intro to Viruses

[Saturday 1st, 17:50]

Peta walked out of the Space Bar and saw her immediately. Every time he'd imagined this meeting, they had rushed into each other's arms. What he didn't expect, was to find his eye's filled with tears and be unable to speak. The embrace was not of a wife, but a friend, friendly yet restrained. While he composed himself and felt like a wreck, she seems completely in control.

Thank you for coming Peta,” she said, with some warmth. She linked her arm with his and led him away from the bar.

At last, he found his voice “I've been trying to get back ever since I left.”

She just smiled at him.

You don't believe me?” he stopped and turned to face her.

Peta.” She looked away for a moment, turned back and sighed “Peta, that was a long time ago, so much has happened here, since you.” She trailed off “Since you were last here.” She re-linked his arm and started to walk again.”Let's not talk about that right now. There's something I need to show you.”

He felt crushed, she obviously didn't feel for him the way he felt for her. He'd imagined delight or even anger, but this was worse than either, this was indifference. This was someone who not only no longer cared for him but cared more deeply for something else.

They walked away from the old town and entered a long street that contained a line of terraced residential properties. Peta was sure that she was going to take him to her new home, her new husband. Every step towards their destination felt like a step away from his wife.

I've been sent to find out what's happening in the town. Do you know who I can talk to about what's happening?” Peta asked. He hoped to sound as though his heart hadn't just been shredded by her words.

You can talk to me,” she didn't look at him as she spoke.

But Peta couldn't take his eyes off her. “You? You actually know what's happening?”

Zeta rounded a corner, came to a stop and moved in front of him. She looked up into his face, “Oh yes, I know.” She pointed across the road that they had just entered and said “This”.

Peta stared at where she had pointed and saw a space where a house had once stood. It looked as if someone had removed each brick, snapped it in two and thrown it on a pile. The neighbouring properties were completely undamaged. The destruction was complete, and yet horribly controlled.

He crossed over the road to the ruin and asked, “but how. How does this happen? Gas explosion?”

Zeta barked a short scoffing laugh, closed her eyes and breathed deeply. “We know that the programmer who lived here at the time had received a package on the morning this happened. We think that this package contained a computer virus.”

Peta looked back at the ruin. “But viruses don't do this.”

Zeta shook her head. “Not in the outside world, no. Computer viruses may corrupt your files, or lock your computer, but here, in this town, the destruction is real. We believe this was a Boot Sector virus attack, with a destructive payload that destroyed the foundations of the building. It brought the entire house down, and killed the occupant.”

Peta put his hands on the old garden wall, in front of the pile of rubble. “Is this the only one? Java said there had been 'attacks' in the plural.”

There have been others. This was not the first fatality,” Zeta caught her breath. “The first was by a worm,” she continued. ”It went from house to house along a whole row. We thought that was a gas explosion, until we found that those houses didn't use gas." She walked over and stood next to him. "That was a year ago. Since then the attacks have become more frequent. There have been 10 attacks in all. 12 people have died, mostly from that worm attack and nearly 50 injured, some of them children.”

Who's doing it?” Asked Peta.

We have no idea. No one trusts anyone else any more.” Zeta turned away from the house, unable to look at it and sat on the garden wall.

She continued. “The town has turned in on itself. The Government think it's the Programmers, the Database Administrators think it's the Servers, the Programmers think it's the Designers, and the Designers think its everyone else. The place is in lockdown. Restrictions are everywhere. Just when we should be pooling our resources we are gripped with.” She gestured wildly, trying to describe the situation. “with paranoid inaction.” She remained silent for a full minute before she continued. “We need a solution, but the new security checks have meant that no one can do anything. All our attempts to resolve the crisis have backfired, people think we're making it worse. Everyone is keeping their heads below the parapet, for fear of being the next ones to be targeted. The programmer who lived here was helping us when it happened.” She shook her head. “That's when the other programmers turned against us.”

Peta finished her thoughts, “which is why you needed me."

Which is why we needed you,” she repeated, looked up at him and gave him a sad smile.

I thought. I just thought that when I heard that you needed me, it was about us, not about,” Peta gestured towards the house, “this”.

Zeta stayed quiet for a long time. Then she said, quietly, shaking her head “Peta, there is no us, there can be no us, not while the town is under attack.” She stood and looked back at the house.

Peta felt the same way that the house looked. “What do you want me to do?” he asked, eventually.

Peta, you worked at the museum. You're not aligned to any of the groups, which means there's no group to show loyalty to, and no one is against you either. It also means that you can gain access to any area.”

Peta stared at her. “Yes, but what can I do? As you said, I worked at the museum, what can I do to help?”

She smiled at him. “Peta, you love learning, I've never met anyone with such a sense of curiosity. What I need you to do is to learn. Learn everything that you can about the attacks. Who's ever doing this is working hard to split us apart. I think, that the only way to stop them is to combine our knowledge. And, at present, you are the only person who can do it.”

You overestimate my abilities Zeta. But then you always did”.

She turned to face him and reached out to hold both of his hands, “This is a computer virus. It's copied itself, it's what it does.” Zeta looked down at their intertwined hands. “Sometime soon it will attack again, and this time the loss of life could be even greater. If you care for me at all.” She swallowed, “please, help us.”

Peta knew he couldn't refuse, but he somehow grasped too, that if he saved the town, he may also save his marriage. “I'll help, of course I'll help, but I have one condition.”

Zeta stepped back and folded her arms, “OK, what?”

Peta smiled. “I need you to help me.”

She remained impassive “Peta, I can't do that.”

Why not”?

Zeta looked uncomfortable. “Peta they all hate me more than the attacker.”

But why?”

Oh God Peta, I'm the Mayor, I run this town,” she looked at him seriously.

Their eyes locked for a moment and then they laughed, laughed until their sides ached. Eventually, they caught their breath, and slowly returned to normal.

Wiping her eyes Zeta said. ”My hands are tied more than most - if I'm seen to favour one faction over another the whole place could descend into even more chaos.”

Yes,” said Peta. “But you can get me into places that I can't go on my own. I know nothing Zeta, and I'd have to talk to everyone. I'll never get to speak to those who really understand this thing without you.” He put his head to one side. “You say this town needs me. Well, I need you.”

[Saturday 1st, 18:30]

Chapter 8 - Jobs in Computing

[Saturday 1st, 18:30]

They wandered back the way they had come, back passed the bar, and down another street of terraced houses. Zeta stopped outside one, opened her bag and rummaged through it. She brought out a notebook and pen.

"I'll need to get you a fake ID. What name do you want to use?" The pen hovered above the page.

"Err, I think I'll stick with Michael Cobb," he answered.

The door to the house in front of them opened and the programmer called Python lent against the door frame.

Aren't I staying with you?” Peta asked her.

Don't you think that could blow your cover, staying with me.” She looked at him shrewdly and stowed away the notebook. “People can be stupid about many things, but never about other peoples relationships. Anyway, it's all arranged." Suddenly she smiled, "I'll leave you two to get acquainted.“ With that, she waved to Python, who waved back and wandered towards an official-looking car, parked across the road.

Peta watched her get in and drive off. Then he walked up the short garden path towards Python.

Hello again,” Python said cheerily. “Sorry about Java earlier, he's under a lot of pressure. Big opening in a month. Please. Come in” and with that, he ushered Peta into a comfortable looking home. It was very tidy but there were few soft furnishings. It looked like it had been the house of the month in an architectural magazine. “Can I get you something to eat and drink? Our Mayor never seems to think that people may want to relax.”

Peta followed Python into the kitchen, which was at the back of the house. The whole ground floor had been knocked through into one main room. Peta noted how expensive everything looked, comfortable seats, freestanding lights, tasteful art and a serious looking computer workstation.

That would be," he searched for a word. "Great. Thank you.” He suddenly realised how tired and hungry he was.

Please, take a seat.” Python pointed to the kitchen table and chairs. Peta sat down as Python handed over a bottle of beer and laid the table. He then went back to the stove and returned with some soup and bread for both of them. “It's not very good, but it's filling and nourishing.”

The soup was, of course, delicious and after his second bowl and third slice of bread, Peta began to relax. Python was good company, very easy to get to know. Peta had initially been wary of telling him too much, but it became obvious that Python was very much on Zeta's side. Peta's yawned even though it was not late. Python had made up a bed in a spare room on the top floor and insisted that Peta rest. He was happy to oblige and soon lay back on the bed, not meaning to sleep. But sleep came easy, and it was filled with dreams of being chased by a large virus down a narrow pipe.

He awoke early, but it took a while for him to remember where he was. He glanced out of the window and spotted some familiar shapes on the skyline, dotted with many new ones too. He slowly got dressed, deep in thought.

[Sunday 2nd, 9:00]

As he came downstairs he could hear Python and Zeta as the talked quietly in the living area.

He has to be ready, you will help him won't you?” Zeta asked.

Zeta, he doesn't know any of this, what you're asking takes time, you have to work at it, it's a craft, not a talent. I'm not sure we have the time to...” Python stopped when he saw Peta come down the stairs.

Morning,” said Peta, he yawned a little. “Would that 'he', you were talking about, be me.”

Zeta put down her coffee cup, turned and gave Peta a false smile. It was obvious she'd had a late night. “I have complete confidence in your abilities,” she said.

Sounds like our old argument,” he said and regretted it. Then added. “I'll try to help. I said I would last night and I meant it.”

Zeta opened her bag and searched for some keys. “Well, I leave you in Python's capable hands. By darling.”

Bye”, said Peta and Python together, an uncomfortable silence followed. Zeta just smiled, pursed her lips. Amused. She walked towards the door and let herself out.

Python smiled apologetically. Peta realised then, that it must have been Python who Zeta used to go out with before he came along. He also wondered what had happened in the past 4 years and what Python thought about his return. Strangely Peta felt emboldened by the added challenge, if she felt that he could do the job, but not Python, then that must work in his favour, surely?

After a short breakfast, a trip to the loo, a shave and a shower Peta returned to find Python had turned on the TV.

There was another attack last night. The news says it was a lightning strike - a little weak as the sky was completely clear. Pretty big payload too. I think this must have been a Trojan.”

Python looked round at Peta. “It's exactly a year since the first attack,” he explained. Peta still looked confused so he continued. "Trojan viruses are named after the Trojan horse. They deliver there payload long after they've been installed, usually a significant date." He turned back to look at the TV and continued. “I think it was set to go off today. Nobody hurt, it was an old data centre - barely has any traffic. There's was only a security guard on the site and he wasn't harmed.”

Peta looked at the screen and saw what was left of the building from where he had emerged last night. A chill ran through him.

Python clicked the TV off, “Nothing's coming through that pipe again anyway.”

Peta stared at the blank screen, 'unlikely that it was a coincidence', he thought. But it also meant that his escape route had been cut off, also the tablet was broken, so no communication link with the outside world.

Python wandered back through to the kitchen. Peta followed him.
“OK,” said Peta as he sat down at the kitchen table. “what do I need to know?”

Python joined him on the seat opposite. “Well, that's just it. What can you do now?” he asked.

Precisely nothing,“ said Peta with a grim smile.

Python didn't think his gallows humour was amusing. “I think we need to get you a job. Some role where you can work with the team trying to prevent the attack. They're all public servants” he said dismissively, “and most haven't got a clue, so we should be able to find a position for you.”

Peta ignored the dig, “I need to understand the problem if I'm going to have to save your sorry ass. What's the problem?” he said with a smile.

Python regarded him for a second and then smiled too. “OK. We're under attack”

Who from?” asked Peta.

We don't actually know, but call them the 'The Hacker',” said Python.

Why is this Hacker attacking us?” asked Peta.

Again, no idea. There are a few theories, but nothing concrete,” Python shrugged his shoulders.

Why do you think we're under attack?” Peta relished the 'we're under attack', it felt good to be part of the town again.

The most likely reason is money. Power and money, but I don't know of any demands, and Zeta says that the lack of any demands is causing problems. People are turning on each other because they can't agree on what they need to do.”

Hmm, Zeta told me. When and where did these attacks take place?” asked Peta.

Python lent back and pulled out 8 folders, one by one, from the shelf behind him, and handed them to Peta. Each was filled with sheets of paper, photos, maps all about the attacks. Peta looked at them for a while.

Zeta told me last night that there had been 10 attacks, 11 after last night, but there are only 8 folders here, what about the other 2.”

Python looked annoyed. “I don't know anything about those. And the government aren't releasing any information, these are the ones I know about, you'll have to ask her about the other 2.”

OK, how are we being attacked,” asked Peta.

By computer viruses, And they come in various forms. We don't really understand them, we're trying to, but they are really complex - too much for most of our programmers. Also, here in the town, they appear to have a real physical impact. So we're banned from studying them.“

But what are they?”

Oh, they're just computer programs,” said Python.

Just programs, then why don't you just delete them?”

But they look just like any other program.”

Until they deliver their destructive payload,” nodded Peta.

Exactly,” said Python.

Why can't you find them before they go off?”

Python got up and wandered around the kitchen “We run millions of programs here each day? And the virus consists of only a few hundred lines within an innocent program that can be made up of millions of lines of code. This isn't like finding a needle in a haystack, this is more like finding a needle in a world of haystacks.”

But you could still find it," insisted Peta.

But not before the bomb goes off.”

Pete looks at him “Bombe?”.

Figure of speech, the first attack looked like an explosion,“ Python mimed with his hands.

No, bombe, like in the museum, Alan Turing's Bombe, or actually Marian Rejewski, a Polish mathematician created a Bomba; the first computer, but his was really a reverse engineered enigma machine, so it was really Turing's machine that was the first computer, but it was inspired by Rejewski's and Zygalski's work.”

OK,” said Python, a little taken aback.

Pete looked up from the folders. Python stared at him, so he continued “Turing used an early computer program to look for secret codes. Why can't we use a secret code to look for computer programs.”

I'm not sure I follow you,” said Python and he sat down again.

Peta seemed lost in thought. “I reckon that these viruses must have a sort of footprint. If we can work out what that footprint looks like, then we can hunt for them in the code.”

Python said “Yesss, but that would still take ages.”

Peta interrupted him, “Not if we used a program to hunt for the virus. We teach the program what to look for, and get it to do the work.”

But what are we looking for, how do we do that?” asked Python.

Not sure,” said

Peta vaguely, lost in thought. “Leave it with me.”

Peta spent the rest of that day and evening pouring over the information in the folders. He broke off every now and then to ask Python a question. Zeta came round in the early evening, but Peta barely registered her presence.

[Sunday 2nd, 20:00]

Eventually, Peta was coaxed to the table to have something to eat.
Zeta, conversationally spoke, “Well, now we know what job you should do.”

No response, so she continued “Python tells me you're a natural Analyst, ask loads of questions, and kept on pressing until you understood. Definitely an analyst, whether a system, IT or business analyst I suppose time will tell,” she said and smiled at Python.

Peta hadn't appeared to listen, but he said: “No, not an Analyst, I'll have to write the program.” He bit his nails and stared at the table. “I don't know what it needs to do yet, so I'll have to understand how to code myself.” Suddenly he stood up “I should probably start right now.” He walked out of the kitchen and retrieved one of the folders he's left.

Zeta turned in her chair and shouted after him. “But Python says your an Analyst, not a developer.”

Peta returned. “I'm neither, I'm not a thinker, I'm a doer. I learn by doing something. Who can teach me to program? Python?” Peta suddenly looked up as if he's just noticed them for the first time.

Chapter 10 - Python Demo

[Sunday 2nd, 20:30]

Python sat and refused to look at either of them.

Python,” said Zeta gently. “We need you. You can help.”

Python looked agitated, he was obviously not happy with the idea.

Could somebody else teach me?” asked Peta.

Python scoffed and shook his head. “You're so casual about it. This stuff is taboo, you can't just tell anyone how to program. If you asked anyone else they'd probably have hit you.”

Why?” said Peta. “We have a town library, full of books”

Books!” laughed Python mirthlessly. “Cultural Appropriation. There are some people who treat our knowledge disrespectfully. Tutorials, manuals. Frankly, it's a disgrace.”

Peta caught Zeta's eye, surprised by Python's outburst. But she seemed to have expected this response. Python saw the exchange.

It's all we got. Isn't it?” he couldn't look at them, kept his head down. “It's always been like that in this town. The secrets have been passed down from Father to Son, Mother to Daughter. We know how to keep quiet. That's why this town has survived. Let people laugh, let them think we're simple. 'Where are you from?' “ said Python in a high pitched voice. “I dunnow” he answered his own question in a dull one. “It protected us, kept us safe.” He didn't speak for a few moments. “I've got nothing against you Peta, but you weren't born into our clan. You're service sector.” Peta looked unhappy with the distinction. “You lot are just the same,” said Python defensively. “You wouldn't give your secrets away either. Tell me,” he said looking at Peta. “Who got you your job in the museum?”

My Father,” admitted Peta. “He worked in the library. With my Mother.”

See,” said Python, “You lot kept your secrets. Well. We'll keep ours. Service Sector are, no offence, useless at this kind of stuff”

Python,” said Zeta gently. “Things change. This is exactly why we're so vulnerable. The Hacker is exploiting our inability to change.” She held his hand and looked into his face. “Help him.” she pleaded.

Python looked mutinous. He glanced over at Peta couple of times. Peta thought that it was best to remain quiet.

He doesn't even sound like one of us,” said Python.

He's lived Off for 4 years Py. Help him,” she repeated.

Python obviously struggled with an internal argument. He was unable to look Peta in the eye.

Right.” Python suddenly stood up. “Come with me.”

Peta followed him into the kitchen.

With his hands on the counter top, his back still to Peta, Python asked. “Tell me how to make a cup of tea.”

Peta looked puzzled for a moment. “Err, boiling water, tea.” He saw Python's shoulders tense. “Milk and sugar” he added hopefully.

Reflected against the window, he could see Python's eyes close, he then took a long slow breath and turned to face him. He tightly gripped the countertop behind him and said, with great patience.
“Pretend I'm from Off, Or, another planet. And I've never made tea before. Tell me the exact steps I would need to take.”

Peta suddenly saw that this was a test, so he concentrated. What did Python want to know? The exact steps. In his head, he played a movie of how he made tea. He remembered, years ago, reading a book on programming. It was a big book, very old and hard to hold. He remembered reading about writing code. It had held his attention for a whole afternoon. He tried to remember anything from it that could help him now.

Check the electric kettle has enough water.

If it needs water, fill it enough for err, Tea.

Turn on the kettle.

Find a teacup and position next to the kettle.

Find a tea bag and add to the teacup,” said Peta.

Python's eyes we still closed, but his grip on the countertop behind him had relaxed a little.

Check the kettle has boiled

When it has boiled, pour the water into the teacup.” said Peta.

The grip tightened on the counter again.

Keep pouring until it's 2 cm off the top of the cup” added Peta quickly.

The grip relaxed a little.

Err. Set timer for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes remove tea bag.” Peta thought for a few moments. “If milk is required then add a tablespoon of milk. If sugar is required. No. Set a counter to how many sugars are required.” Peta remembered something about this in the book, what was it? “Err, Errm, keep adding sugar until the, err, number of sugars equals the counter.”

Python looked up at him here, with a curious look on his face.

Peta tried to concentrate. “Stir the tea and, um and,” he thought for a few moments more. “And finish.”

Python pursed his lips, scratched his chin and breathed out loudly. “Not bad,” he said. “You missed all of the important steps of course. You didn't check to see if there was any tea already there if the kettle had already been turned on, define where the water, tea, milk or sugar were located and you never tested the tea. Remind me never to ask you to make me a cup of tea. But...”

Peta tensed, he had long been of the opinion that everything that comes before the word 'but' could be ignored, so he waited for the real evaluation.

But,” Python repeated with a half smile. “Actually OK for a first try. I think you may not be completely useless after all.”

Zeta walked in to join them. She had obviously listened in. “So you'll do it? You'll teach him?”

Python still looked unsure. “Yea, I'll do it. But you won't defeat the hacker with just a program. If that was the answer, we'd have done it already. The solution, whatever it is, will require more than that.”

Zeta looked relieved. “Thanks Py. But, be cautious. There's an anti-programmer bias in the town at the moment. They blame you for the attacks. Any unusual activity will draw unwanted attention from the authorities. So keep it quiet.” She searched in her bag for her keys. “Look, I've got to go, but.” She looked at each of them in turn, “take care. Both of you.”

Python saw her to the door and returned a few moments later. “Well, we'd better get started.”

[Sunday 2nd, 21:00]



[Sunday 2nd, 20:15]





Chapter 11 - Variables in Python Demo



[Sunday 2nd, 21:00]



Peta followed Python's instructions for the next few days as he taught Peta his own language.

Of course I think it's the best,” he said. “But it's also one of the easiest to learn and has lots of uses. So whatever you may need to do, you'll probably be able to do it.”

After their lessons, Python cooked the evening meal. Zeta came over after work, but it usually was late before she turned up.

Zeta looked pretty tired yesterday,” said Peta for the third time as he sat at the table and leafed through Python's folders on the attacks.

Hmm, you said,” said Python, as he turned down the pasta, glanced again at the cookbook that lay open on the surface and then searched through the drawers for further ingredients. “I didn't want to disturb you, but they thought there was another attack yesterday.” Peta suddenly got to his feet. “It's OK, it's OK," said Python, and waved him back down. "It turned out to be a house fire, no one was hurt. But everyone is still blaming her.”

Why?” asked Peta.

They're scared. They're looking for someone to blame, and she's there. What makes it worse is that she blames herself.”

Peta continued to turn the pages but he could no longer focus on the words. “Hmm, she always did,” he muttered.

Python turned around “Sorry, what?”

I said she always did. Blamed herself that is. Her mother said she should have called her Judy. After St Jude. The patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes.”

Talking of desperate cases,” said Python, he pointed a spatula at the folders in front of Peta on the table. “Have you found anything useful in those?”

Maybe,” said Peta. He turned a few pages. “I'm trying to find a pattern, but these are missing important details.” He picked out a folder and held it up. “When I was with Zeta she told me that this house was destroyed by a boot sector virus. But that isn't mentioned here, only pictures of the house before and after. And with descriptions about the poor chap.”

Python turned back to the stove and stirred the pasta again.

Sorry,” said Peta. “You knew him didn't you?”

Python let out a big sigh, “We weren't close, but I'd known him for years. He was a nice guy. He didn't deserve to go like that. How did Zeta know it was a Boot Sector virus?”

No idea, you can ask her.” He said as the doorbell rang. He got up and let Zeta in.

They'd learned not to ask too many questions when Zeta had just arrived. A drink, some food and let her talk herself down from her day. But after the meal. Afterwards. Peta asked her how she knew about the Boot sector virus.

It was the last message from Algol,” she told them. “His house was being destroyed but he sent COBOL a message. He'd already discovered that the first row of houses had been destroyed by a worm. That's all we know. I told you this on the first day,” she said to Peta.

Yes, but what about the other attacks, what caused them?” asked Peta. “When did each attack take place?” He picked up a folder. “These don't have any dates, just the order of each attack.”

Erm, that's classified,” said Zeta. “I don't see how that could help.”

Peta sat back, “I don't know either.” He was frustrated. “But that isn't the point, it's information that may be useful, perhaps there is a connection that we're missing, a link between the attacks that'll help us find the Hacker.”

Peta let Zeta and Python talk for a few minutes. He rested his head against the wall and stared across the room, unfocused. Then, he made up his mind, he sat back, upright and said “I'm going out tomorrow. I've been stuck in too long.”

Where are you going?” asked Zeta.

He gave a wry smirk. “I want to look at the attack sites. I'm going to measure to the extent of the attacks.”

Peta, no!” said Zeta, “It's too dangerous, let one of us go.”

Listen,” replied Peta. “Algol got attacked sitting inside his house. I'm no safer here than anywhere else in town.” He felt trapped. “I'd rather go and do something than sit here and wait for the Hacker to come to me. I'm going.”

She pursed her lips. "Oh, I nearly forgot," she handed him a small laminated card. “Here's your ID; Mr Michael Cobb, you may need it.”

Peta turned the card over in his hand. He then asked Python, “can I borrow your bike?”

You can borrow it, but it's rubbish.”

Well, that's settled. Thanks for the meal.” He stood up and pocketed the ID, then cleared the table, washed the dishes and tidied the kitchen. He was aware that they both looked at him and had a silent conversation behind his back. “Would anyone like a coffee?” he asked eventually. They both shook their heads. “Well then, goodnight. Thanks again for a lovely meal Python.” He went upstairs, but couldn't fall asleep. He heard Zeta leave about an hour later, while he lay there a plan had formed in his head.

[Tuesday 4th, 23:00]



***



[Wednesday 5th, 8:00]



The following morning Python was uncharacteristically cheery. He asks a few pointed questions, to which Peta gave him vague answers.

Have you got a small notebook I could use?” asked Peta.

Python looked like he wanted to say something, but left the room and he returned a few minutes later with a small notebook, and a jacket because he said: “It looks like rain." He then wheeled his bike round to the front. Peta was used to modern bikes, but this looked like something from the future, it flew along and he felt free for the first time since he had arrived back in the town.

The showers were infrequent, but he enjoyed being outside and liked the feel of the elements on his face. He first went to re-discover the town. He was shocked by some of the changes and but was also delighted by the familiar landmarks, he flew past the museum, the library and the old government buildings in the town square. As always the town had an almost comical mixture of the old and the new. The fashion, cars and attitudes of the people came from decades before, but there was an odd blend of modern technology. Few people had mobile phones, but people rode on carbon fibre bikes, received weather reports from huge video screens and the public transport was superb.

Eventually, he headed out towards the site of the first attack - the row of houses destroyed by the email worm. It reminded Peta of pictures of a city after an air raid. While many of the walls we still standing, most of the windows had gone, the roofs caved in, and the odd front wall had been blown out. He stared at that strange sight of seeing into someone's bedroom with no wall; still decorated, pictures on the wall, and a cover on the bed, like a full-sized dolls house. Somehow, he thought, the worst thing was that the people passed on the other side of the street and barely glanced at the houses. The destruction was commonplace, almost boring.

Peta lent the bike against the wall and paced the length of the damage. About 57 and a half paces long and about 11 paces deep. He got out the small pocketbook and added the location and the area of the damage. With one look back at the houses, he picked up the bike and cycled off to the next location.

The town had many changes from 4 years ago, but the structure of the town was the same. Without really thinking he managed to find his way from site to site. His sense of direction seemed to be automatic. If you'd asked him to give the directions before he started, he was not sure he could have described the route. But the correct turning always seemed to be obvious as each decision presented itself.

When he reached the eighth site, he parked the bike as usual and walked over to the crater where there had been a water main that had supposedly collapsed. There was a police tape around the site that kept people away from the edge. He decided that he would measure the circumference of the hole, and he had paced about a quarter of the way around when a stranger came up to him.

Awful isn't it?” said the stranger.

Peta gave a slight nod. He moved off and continued to walk around the edge. He had barely gone a halfway when he found the stranger once again at his elbow.

I come here most days,” he said to Peta.

Peta tried to concentrate, as he counted the steps, 22, 23, 24 “Really?” 25, 26.

The stranger walked in front of him, and held out his hand and said, “Hi, I'm Bill Dixon. And you are?”.

Peta did not like the smile the man gave him. “Hi, I'm Mike,” he said and stepped to one side.

In one swift movement, Bill got out a badge and held it up to Peta's face. He stopped and read the Police ID. It looked genuine, but Peta hadn't anything to compare it by. Bill put the badge away and said, "Well, that's who I am? Do you carry anything that tells me who you are?”

Peta dug into his pocket and took out his wallet. He opened it, removed the ID that Zeta had given him last night and handed it over. He saw that Bill stared at a bank card that peeped over the top of a section of his wallet. A card from a bank that didn't exist in the town. He hurriedly put it away.

The Police officer looked at the card and smiled. He handed it back to Peta. Peta was not sure what to do, so he stuck the card back in his pocket. He continued around the hole in the ground, walked back to the bike and cycled off. A glanced over his shoulder confirmed that Bill hadn't followed him.

He decided to lie low. He went into a cafe with large windows and sat in there for an hour, and watched for any unusual activity. But saw nothing. He felt a little shaken, but decided with only two more sites to visit, he would risk at least one more.

This time he cycled by a few times and looked out for anyone official. Satisfied that the place was clear, he paced the site. An office in an old building. The corner had fallen away and the walls were now braced with large pieces of timber and metal props. The site was actually quite small, so Peta only took a few moments to take his measurements. He returned to his bike, swung

a leg over the crossbar and noticed the same police officer.

Bill walked towards Peta, with his hands behind his back, and that same smirk on his lips.

Well, I think I deserve an explanation.” Bill cocked his head. “Don't you?”

Peta tried to look relaxed, but he set up the bike for a quick start. “Hello again. I'm here to look at the subsidence.”

Bill looked around at the office and then back at Peta. His smirk really was annoying. “That's an odd accent. So what part of town are you from?”

Peta decided to use his childhood home. “Green Street.”

Bill looked at him quizzically “You're kidding. I was brought up around there." He scratched his head. "Now what was the name of that road that crossed Green St.”
“Catherine St,” said Peta. He was sure that the Police Officer knew the name.

Bill looked pleased. “Oh yeh. Happy times. Did you grow up there?”

Uh-huh,” said Peta. He refused to be drawn.

Hmm, me too.” Said Bill. “What was the school called there?”

Green Street School,” said Peta. He was irritated that he was being checked out.

Hmm,” said Bill, and he looked directly at Peta. “So why do you have a bank card of a Bank from 'Off'?”

Peta had expected it, “Found it in the river. I like stuff from 'Off'.”

Bill looked serious, “Hand it over, I need to check it out.”

Peta felt his heart thumped. “Now officer, I'm not daft, If I get my wallet out in front of a police officer, you'll accuse me of offering you a bribe. Is what I've done illegal?”

Bill stared at him. Peta could tell that he wasn't happy and he felt that it wasn't a good idea to make a police officer unhappy.

Stay here,” said Bill. He walked off and went to talk to someone else. Peta presumed this was another officer. He looked at both of them, aware that they were deciding his fate right then. He shifted in the seat and weighed up the risks of doing a runner.

Bill walked back over smiling he said: “OK, you can go.”

Peta turned to go, as he did the officer said, “Oh Peta!”

Peta turned back and said, “It's Mike actually.”

The smirk fell from the officer's face and he walked off. Peta decided that it was best to leave quickly before he changed his mind. He took a long route back. He stopped every 15 minutes to check he wasn't being followed and arrived back as it got dark.

At about 7pm that evening there was a knock at the door. Peta checked and saw Zeta standing outside he let her in. She looked worried.

Oh thank God!” she said as soon as she saw Peta. “They've taken Python.”

What!” said Peta. “Why? Where is he?”

Zeta muttered, “I'm not sure.” She looked tired and upset. Without thought Peta immediately went over and put his arms around her, it felt both familiar and strange. The front door opened, and Python walked in. Zeta immediately jumped back from his embrace. Peta felt the rejection and it took him a little while to realise what Python's sudden appearance signified.

I was so worried. What happened?” said Zeta.

They arrested me around noon. Asked me a load of questions I didn't know the answers to and then let me go.” He looked over to Peta. “They know someone has come into the town from Off. I don't think they bought my expression of surprise.”

I don't think they believed me either,” said Peta.

What!” they both said.

This afternoon, while I was looking at the attack sites, I got stopped. Twice.” He was shocked by their expressions. “It's fine.” He said, more to calm them, than because he felt it.

It's not fine Peta,” said Zeta. She looked worried.”Why did they stop you?”
“It's OK, they think I'm someone else. They just thought it was suspicious someone checking out the attack sites. It wasn't serious.”

Zeta looked concerned, which irritated Peta. “Honestly Zeta, it's fine.”

Well, I think we should lay low for a couple of days.” Said Zeta, Python nodded his head in agreement.

No!” Said Peta. “I need this information now. Waiting serves no purpose.” They didn't look convinced. “Zeta, you wanted me to help, well I need you to help me. I need those dates, the ones about when the attacks took place".

But they're in the office,” said Zeta.

As long as you can get hold of them. Python,” He looked nervously at Python. “Why did COBOL send that information to Algol?”

Python chewed his lower lip.

When I arrived in the town” Peta continued. “COBOL was looking pretty upset. I think she may know a lot more, I think Algol was sharing all the information with her. Do you know her?”

'Course,” said Python. “She's a cousin.”

Well, I want you to go there. Tonight. Find out what you can.”

Python looked at Zeta, who nodded.

Hold on,” said Zeta. “What if we get stopped with the information. They'll take it as evidence, then you'll get nothing. They're bound to be watching us.”

Peta though for a few moments. Zeta's government car would never do, Python's bike was too slow. “Zeta are there still 3 taxi companies in town.”

Yes.”

OK, we use the taxi's to hold the information. They'll be after us, not what's in the taxis. Get the data and then Zeta, you take a black taxi, Python you take a Green and I'll have to find a Yellow one that actually works. Call the Taxi for, let's say 10:30. Place your information.” He went into the kitchen and retrieved 3 empty folders.”Place it in a folder and then hide it in the car. Under the driver's seat is probably the safest place. Then give directions to somewhere away from the centre. We then send all of the taxis to a pickup point. Somewhere I know and can get to. er, say....”

By the statue in the town square,” said Zeta.

Perfect. Then it doesn't matter if they stop us, we'll be clear. I'll leave Python's bike nearby. I'll meet all 3 taxis and be away before they know what's happened.

How will you beat the taxi on a bike?” asked Python.

If I get dropped off on the other side of the park, by the old cricket pavilion. I can cross the park by bike quicker than the taxi will take to go around the whole thing. Anyone following won't know I have the bike and by then it'll be too late. I'll be away.”

Peta, this is a rubbish plan.”

Yup,” said Peta. “It's just better than all the rest.” Still, he removed all of the I.D. he had on him, except for the Michael Cobb card.

[Wednesday 5th, 19:30]



Chapter 12 - Operators in Python Demo

[Wednesday 5th, 21:45]

Pete quickly cycled over to the park and left the bike behind the cricket pavilion. There was a Yellow taxi rank near the park, which he walked over to.

Where do you wanna go love?” said the lady in the office.

I've got a few places I need to go to. Should take about 30 minutes.” Peta looked at the clock on the wall, 9:45pm.

Name?”

Um, er, Cobb,” said Peta.

Do you wanna take a seat luv? It'll be about 10 minutes.” She spoke into the microphone and Peta heard a response which he found completely unintelligible, but she answered and 5 minutes later a driver walked in. Even though he was the only one in the office, the speaker crackled “Taxi for Cobb.” Peta failed to respond for a few seconds, as he tried to work out what he had just heard. “That's for you luv,” the woman said. Peta walked outside and got in the filthy cab.

The driver seemed uninterested in any conversation, and Peta was happy to oblige. The trip to the last site took longer than he had hoped so that by the time he arrived back at the cricket pavilion he only had 5 minutes to get across the park to the town square. He hid the folder, paid the driver, gave the instructions and promised further payment, then hopped out of the car. As the taxi pulled away, Bill stepped into the light.

Hello, Mr Cobb. We'd like a little word you. Would you mind coming with us?”

Are you arresting me?” asked Peta.

Bill laughed, “Not unless you've done something you'd like to tell us. Nah, this is a voluntary interview, just to eliminate you from our lines of enquiry. But as we have to record the interview, for your legal protection, we'll have to take you to the station.” He opened the door to the police car and gave an insincere smile. “Mind your head, in we go.”

During the drive to the station, Peta's mind was in a whirl. What could he say? What did they already know and was he about to be framed for a crime he didn't commit?

The process was so wearily similar to the times Peta had been caught trying to get back into the town, that he was struck with the fear that they would bundle him into a truck and leave him outside the town.

At the Police station, he had to empty his pockets. They went through all of his few belongings and he was then placed in a room and left alone for 10 minutes. Bill walked in with another officer, who looked at a folder. They sat down and Bill got out a pen. In the folder was a form, which he started to fill out with his own name, date and time.

Looking up he said “Name?”

Michael Cobb”

Address?”

32 Green Street.”

Owner, tenant?”

I rent a room,” said Peta, aware of how flimsy his back story was.
“Landlord?”

When Peta was growing up they had lived at number 34 Green Street, next to a family called Higginbotham. He'd remembered that name, but he wasn't sure if they'd lived at number 32 or 36. Or, for that matter if they still loved there. “Simon Higginbotham.”

Telephone?”
“I use the phone box.” Bill looked up. “I don't want to pay for a landline I don't use.”

Bill seemed satisfied. He handed the form to the other officer, who got up and left the room. When she had gone Bill sat back in his chair, with his hands clasped behind his head.

What are you up to?”

I'm just interested in the town. I want to find out what's going on. Anything wrong with that?” said Peta.

Do you know why I became a police officer?”

Nope,” said Peta.

It's because I can always tell when someone is lying to me. Just like your lying to me now. It's my job to find out why.” He smirked again. “So what are you up to?”

I'm not lying,” said Peta.

The other officer came back and whispered in Bill's ear. Bill got up, and they both left the room. Peta sat for a few moments and then noticed that the door handle was still turned. Bill was outside the door, with his hand on the handle. Silently, he got up and made his way over to the door. It took a few moments to make sense of the jumble of words.

...as this afternoon,” said another voice.

Do you think you can get anything useful?” asked Bill.

We need some leverage. Have you got anything we can use?”

There was silence for a few moments, Peta was worried that Bill was about to come back in.

Where is he now?” asked Bill.

In that interview room. You know. Um”

Which one?” Bill sounded annoyed.

That one on the third floor. I can't remember the name.”

Why do they change the room names if no one can remember them?” Said Bill irritated.

It's the old 346.” A pause. “The one with the window.” Still nothing. Finally, they added “The one with the view into the Guardhouse meeting room.”

Oh. Yeh, That room. OK, I'll be up...” Peta saw the handle turn and quickly returned to his chair. Bill re-entered the room just as he sat down. He could see that Bill had noticed the movement, but neither mentioned it. Bill had a piece of paper in his hand, and he seemed more interested in that.

Well, Mr Cobb, I need you to bring some other form of ID into the station within the next 24 hours. If you'll sign this, you can go.” Bill said in a bored voice.

What am I signing?” Peta said in a wary tone.

A full confession,” said Bill flatly and then gave a real smile. “Just a document to say that we met and I didn't beat you up. Read it if you like.”

And if I choose not to sign?” Said Peta taking the form.

Bill sighed and rubbed his forehead and eyes, absently mindedly. “Then Mr Cobb, I'll have to keep you here until I can spare an officer to go and check out your story. Just sign the bloomin' thing will you.” Said Bill and handed over a pen.

Peta read the document. It contained nothing but a promise to come to the station with the documents. He felt trapped by both options. But freedom now seemed preferable. Perhaps Fintle or Zeta could sort something out later. He signed.

I'll have someone come and escort you out of the building,” said Bill. He picked up the paper and walked out of the room.

A few minutes later Peta had been escorted down to the front desk. He wondered what to do now, it was near midnight, he was tired, but wanted to make sure that Zeta and Python were OK. It was only then that he realised that he had signed the form, Peta Byte. As the awful reality hit home, he saw that Zeta had entered the building. She saw him and he could see her relief from the other side of the room.

You're OK. Have you got Python with you?” she said, as she looked around.

No, I thought he'd be with you.”

Zeta rummaged in her bag. “He was picked up a little before you.” She pulled out a document, I got the release papers for you, but they won't release him. She looked around again and motioned for them to move to a place where they couldn't be overheard. “They think he's the hacker. They're getting ready to charge him.”

But that's nuts,” said Peta with sudden fury. “They can't do that.”

Zeta gave a sad smile, “they can and they have.”

Just then an alarm sounded. Every Police Officer in the lobby looked up, then every one of them started to move. Zeta grabbed one that passed nearby.

What's going on?” She demanded.

The officer recognised her and answered. “We've been warned of an imminent attack Mayor.” Then as an afterthought added. “I suggest you get to a safe house.” She then hurried off.

The officers started to stream out of the building. Peta thought that it wouldn't take long for the station to empty out completely.
“Come on,” said Zeta, and walked across to the door by the front desk. Normally unlocked with a security badge, the stream of officers coming out kept it open. She grabbed the door and they squeezed through.

Through the door, a final officer rushed by, saw her, nodded and said “Madam Mayor” and was gone.

Zeta looked up and down the now deserted corridor. “If only we knew where he was being held.” She walked towards the nearest door.

Zeta!” said Peta. "Zeta!" he repeated more loudly. She turned to face him. “I think I know where he is.”

Her eyes widened, “where?”

While I was being held, I heard them talking about someone being held on the third floor, I don't know what it's called but it has a view into the Guard House meeting room.” As Peta spoke he jabbed the Up button to call the elevator.

The third floor was as deserted as the ground. “Which side is the guard house?” The looked to either side and went into the nearest room. The office was untidy and crammed with desks. they walked over to the window. The view was back into the town, they left, crossed the corridor and opened the door of an office on the other side of the building. It was a similar room with untidy desks. They crossed to the window and looked out onto trees stretching away. They peered to the right, down the length of the building, where they could see, about halfway down, the long arc of a road that swept round to the lone Guard House.

Back out in the corridor they walked halfway along and tried again. This time a lone desk, and a small window. They weren't yet level with the Guard House. Back out, several rooms along, and dived in again. Back to the messy jumble of desks. Over to the window. They had overshot themselves. They came back to one room. It was locked. They looked at each other, turned the lock, and opened the door.

Sat at a table with head in his hands was Python. He looked up, and shock showed itself in his face.

What are you two...? You've got to get me out of here.”

Py!” Zeta ran over to him. “Are you alright?”

Zee, they think it's me. They think I'm the hacker. I'm not, I swear I'm not,” Python looked terrified.

It's alright. I know you're not. Come on. Let's go.” Zeta helped him up and led him to the door.

Are they releasing me?” Python asked.

No, we are,” said Peta as they returned to the corridor.

On their way back down the stairs, a few more officers overtook them and dashed through the door by the front desk. They followed them out of the police station and into

the night.

Python breathed deeply, “Oh it feels good to be free.”

Zeta scoffed, “Py you were held for about an hour. We weren't about call Amnesty International.”

Still,” said Python. “At least it was worth it. Did you manage to pick up the data from the taxi?”

What!” said Peta. “You did it, you hid the information in the taxi.”

Of course I did, right before I was picked up. Just like you said. They followed me. You mean it's still in the taxi! Hey, where are you going?”

Zeta was striding off. “To the taxi park. It's gone midnight, they'll all be parked up. It's only 15 minutes away.”

[Thursday 6th, 00:30]


Chapter 13 - Algorithms



[Thursday 6th, 00:30]



The way to the taxi park, Peta noticed, was new. When he had last seen the area behind the main gate, a narrow lane meandered through trees and around small fields. Now, there was the police station on one side and a Cube shaped building on the other. A new road swept across a wide grassed area and wound its way through the wood. It followed the line of the town fence but kept a good distance away from it. They walked along the road for 15 minutes until they came out into a newly developed area. It looked like a retail park. There were shops, cafes, restaurants, and also schools and sports facilities. They walked through a tree-lined square that gleamed in the streetlights. Zeta aimed for the far corner. On the other side, she went through a narrow passage between 2 large food stores and out into what was obviously the taxi park.

I didn't know this was here,” said Peta.

It's new,” said Zeta. “All the taxis are owned by the town now. It's only the licences that are privately owned. This way we keep control and complaints of fare rigging have been, mostly, eliminated. The drivers hate us, or rather the drivers hate us even more.”

But there must be nearly 500 taxis here,” said Peta.

Well, we have issued 483 licences, but some are in the shop and a couple of dozen will be out on night shift, so I'd say about 400.” She looked calm and unconcerned.

And have you the keys for all 400?” asked Peta.

Zeta laughed, “You have been out of town for too long. When do we ever lock our cars? What are they going to take, and where are they going to go? They'll all be open.”

But still it's going to take most of the night to search 400 cars,” said Peta. He opened the door of the nearest taxi and peered into the back seat.

Maybe not,” said Python. He jumped up onto a low wall and looked at the parked cars. “Zeta, why are there are very few spaces? Don't they just all come off their shift and park where they like?”

No,” said Zeta. “There are marshals who direct them into their place. They fill up one row at a time. That way they leave in the morning the same as they came in - it's easier to manage the shifts.”

Hmm,” said Python, not really listening.

What's up?” Asked Peta.

Python was on his tiptoes looking over the cars. “Well, if the taxis we used were part of the same shift and came off together, then we don't have to search 400 cars.”

Why not?” asked Zeta.

Because they'll be parked near one another. So if we can find one of them, then the others should be close by.” Python jumped off the wall.

Yes.” Said Peta in a patronising voice. “But if we can't find one of them, doesn't really help, does it? And how on earth do we find one.”

Well,” said Python as he started to walk down one of the rows. “I guess if one of the taxis had, say a distinctive Phoenix-like Fox on its roof, then you could find it.”

You are joking,” said Zeta, as she followed Python down the line of taxis.

You've found your taxi?” Said Peta, incredulous. He could see a large logo on top of a taxi, 20 cars down.

Python reached the car, opened the back door, lent in and pulled out one of his folders from under the driver's seat. “Ta-Da!” he said, a big grin on his face.

Peta immediately looked around for a yellow taxi. Four black taxis followed Python's green one, and Zeta looked into the nearest one to her. Then there were two yellows. They found nothing in the taxis parked immediately behind Python's.

Zeta found her folder 4 black taxis in front of Python and Peta's were another two yellows in front of that.

They met back up at Peta's taxi and ceremoniously handed over their folders to him.

I hope it was worth it,” said Zeta, an amused look on her face.

Python wasn't smiling. “What's up?” said Peta, confused. “We've got the data. This is excellent news.”

Yes, but now what?” Said Python. “I'm a fugitive in my own town. Where do we go now?” He looked at Zeta.

Don't look at me,” she said. “My place is a government residence. There is more security there than anywhere in town. We won't be safe there.”

Well if Python can help me,” Peta started to say, but Python cut across him.

No! I'm out. I've been threatened and arrested. I'm not going to lay down my life like Algol.” Zeta started to protest. “No, I'm sorry Ze. I'm out.”

Peta looked desperately at Zeta, with his back turned to Python he mouthed 'Please'.

Zeta looked uncertain. “But we need you Py," she said soothingly. He didn't respond. “We can't do it without you.” She looked back at Peta and shook her head slowly.

Python,” tried Peta. “You've got to teach me more programming. Only you can help me.”

I'm sorry Peta, I can't take that risk."

Is there no one who can help?” Desperation crept into his voice. “One of the other programmers maybe?

Python looked around, his eyes narrowed. “No, none of the other programmers will help, but.” Peta could see an idea form in his head. "If you can find the original programming book. That could help.”

Peta's eyes widened. “A book. Yes, a book, why didn't you say?”

Python looked guilty. “Well.” He grimaced. “It's lost. It's been lost for a decade or more. It's by Ada Lovelace, the first programmer. It'll tell you everything you need to know.”



[Thursday 6th, 01:30]



Chapter 14 - History of Computing



[Thursday 6th, 01:30]



They said their goodbyes to Python and he walked away. They watched him retreat until he disappeared through the narrow passage. Peta sat down on the wall and hung his head. Zeta was furious and paced around the car park.

I can't believe it,” she said. “I'm so sorry, I thought he had more backbone than that.”

Eventually she sat down on the wall next to Peta, still angry. “So what do we do now?” she asked, with a big sigh.

Follow that book,” said Peta, and he picked up the folders.

What, Ada Lovelace's?” She turned to look at him. “But Python said it was lost.”

Peta got up and stared at the direction Python had walked. “Yeh,” he said at last. “But if you were looking for a book, where would you go?”

She shrugged. “No idea.”

Come on,” said Peta. “I know where we can start.”

Where?”

“In the largest collection of books in the town,” laughed Peta.

The library?” he nodded and helped her up.

They had to take a few detours. The police were out in numbers, but they were more interested in a group of buildings in the town centre than they were in a couple walking out late at night. Still, Peta didn't want to give them an excuse to pick him up again, he was aware that he had lied to the police earlier.

30 minutes later, they wandered through the Government offices until they reached the town square. Their way was blocked by a huge high cast iron gate. Peta tried the handle, but it was locked.

"Use your ID," said Zeta and pointed at the swipe card device on the wall.

Peta swiped the card through and the gate clicked open. He pushed against it, and the hinges sang to the empty town square. Zeta smiled as he shut it with a loud clang, "I gave you full access."

"Thanks," he said and started to walk towards the library. He missed the front of the building and headed down the side.

The entrance is around the front.” Said Zeta, confused by Peta's direction.

I know that, but unlike your taxis, it'll be locked, my parents used to work here remember. So we'll have to use an alternative way in.” He reached inside his pocket and took out the Michael Cobb id card. He walked up to a back door and peered at the lock. “Good,” he said.

"This door doesn't use a swipe card," pointed out Zeta.

He grabbed the door handle in one hand, with the other he inserted the card between the frame and the lock. He then pulled the door towards him, the card slipped between the lock and the frame and the door opened. Peta gave a look of triumph, but Zeta looked shocked.

Everyone locks their homes on the outside. I used to forget my key,” Peta explained, "a lot." But Zeta's expression didn't change as she walked into the back corridor of the library. “I needed to get in to my apartment,” Peta continued as he followed her into the main building.

Unbelievable," she shook her head. "We'll have to wait until the morning, it's too dark in here to read the book titles, and I don't want to turn on the main lights,” whispered Zeta.

Hang on.” Peta dived into a back office, and came out a few moments later with 2 torches. “As long as we don't wave them around, we've shouldn't draw too much attention.”

"How did you know there would be?" she began, then nodded, "Yeh, OK, your parents used to work here."

"Nope," he handed one to her, "I just got lucky."

Right,” said Zeta, sighing. “Where do we start, there's thousands of books here.” She looked around as they walked out into the open plan main area. The place was filled with shelves. She noticed there were more on the floor above. The library looked eerie lit by the streetlights from the town square.

Um,” said Peta. “Let's start with the History of Computing, back here. Come on.” He walked off down a row of shelves and came to a stop at the far side wall. “OK. You take one group of shelves, I'll take the next, and let's see how far we get.”

With another sigh, Zeta started at the first shelf and ran the torchlight from left to right. She checked every title in turn. After a couple of minutes, she said: ”I think this must be too early, I'm finding information on Tally Sticks and Abacuses.”

Me too, I've got counting machines. When do you think the first programmer would have written a book?” asked Peta. He moved onto to the next set of shelves.

No idea. These shelves are pretty empty, it seems there was little actual development for centuries.” Zeta leapfrogged Peta onto the next block of shelves.

Hmm, I've got metal relays. I never knew the Polish and the Germans had done so much work. You never hear anything about them.“ Peta continued.

I'm at Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers, valve computers. The first proper computers. Do you think we've missed it?” She said..

I don't think so. There can't be more than a hundred books here.” Peta joined her and they finished up in the 1960s. He looked around at the labels on the other shelves. “Well the rest aren't about Computing," he waved his torch beam along the subject headings, "We got military history, political history and world history.”

Zeta arrived at the final book. “Nothing,” she said. “What about Biographies?”

Peta nodded and after referring to the guide by the front desk they found the biography section. A few minutes later, that too proved fruitless. “Well, where do we look now?”

Oh, I nearly forgot,” said Zeta and walked up the stopped escalator to the mezzanine floor above.

What's up there?” asked Peta.

Public records! We finally computerised the system. One of my first jobs as Mayor was to open this up.” She led the way to a computer terminal and turned it on.

Wow, typical of this town, just when people stop using libraries, we decide to get serious about it,” said Peta.

I know,” said Zeta with enthusiasm. “Great isn't it?” The screen slowly came to life and Zeta clicked on the search field. “What are we looking for?”

Well Python said that it's by an Ada Lovelace,” said Peta.

How do you spell Ada?”

No idea, try Lovelace.”

She tapped on the keyboard.

Hmm. No results,” she sat back in the chair.

Try Programming,” suggested Peta. “No, in the title field.”

She typed and clicked the Search button. “OK, we've got a few here.”

No good,” said Peta. “They're all on Neuro-Lingustic Programming.”

What now?” she said.

Does this search all of the books in the library?”

Hmm,” Zeta seemed distracted. “Sorry, yes. Also all of the books in the book store. There are a few databases that it uses.” She stood up walked over to the balcony.

So there are other collections of books?” Said Peta as he sat down in her chair and stared at the screen.

Uh-huh. All stored on a number of databases I think. What's that?” said Zeta.

And anyone can ask for anything?” Muttered Peta. “Hey, as well as searches, can you send requests? Zeta?"

Peta looked up and saw that she had moved off. She looked out of the large plate glass window on the front of the building. He got up to join her. As he did he saw lights and movement across the town square in the government building.

Suddenly a monstrous livid pink worm smashed out of a window on the second floor, twisted in the air and poured back in through a window below. Its slimy body, broad as a cow flowed out of the window above, seemingly without end. Another worm from below spilled out onto the ground, it's coils thumping onto the earth. Then, the roof broke open. The space was a seething mass of worm, that rose and fell like a grotesque heart.

Peta looked over at Zeta and saw her hand held to her mouth, shocked into a silent scream.

Come on.” Peta grabbed and pulled her towards the stairs. She seemed glued to the spot. “Zeta. Zeta, we need to see if anyone needs our help.” She turned to face him and nodded slowly.

They made their way down the escalator, unlocked the front doors, and ran out into the town square. As they ran across the square, towards the attack, sirens blazed. The emergency services arrived.

Madam Mayor,” said a police officer. “You need to get back.” Then she shouted as others began to appear, many in their night clothes. “Get back. Right back. Now!”

They moved just in time. The front of the building cracked, held for a moment and then collapsed onto the road. It sent debris of brick and glass skittering towards them and enveloped the Square in a thick balloon of dust. The thought those were worms hidden in the cloud sent them back into the library.

For the next few hours, the library became the makeshift shelter for the wounded. The ambulances ran non-stop, as they ferried the injured to the Hospital. Luckily, the attack had taken place in the middle of the night, otherwise, hundreds of people would have died. Once the dust had settled, the building appeared to be worm free. They had returned to wherever they had come from. But the building was a shattered ruin. A few walls remained standing, but Peta recognised that it was the same attack he had seen yesterday. He felt sick at the thought of what must have happened there.

As dawn broke Peta found Zeta, she stood in the square and stared at the building where she used to work. Her face covered in dust except for two wide tracks where the tears still ran. They held each other for a long time until her body became still and the sobs subsided.

I need you to help me stop this,” said Peta gently. “I need that book. But until then, until we find it, I have to create something like that book search. Like the one in the library. Who can help me?”

She looked up at him, and nodded. “You need to create an interface. I know who can help.” She said and glanced back over to the pile of rubble. “Then we can start rebuilding this town.”

[Thursday 6th, 07:30]




Chapter 15 - Computer Buses



[Thursday 6th, 07:30]



The sun had risen above the surrounding houses and illuminated the remaining walls and chimneys of what had been the government building. The news had spread. As Peta and Zeta wandered away from the scene of the attack, people streamed towards it. It seemed that the town wanted to witness what had happened. What they saw, confirmed their worst fears.

No one recognised Zeta. The dust, blood and tears acted as a mask to all who passed. At a local water fountain, they washed the worst of the dirt from their eyes and hair, then trudged on. The shock and fatigue gave them no energy to discuss where they were going. Peta merely followed, as they walked into the bus station and waited for a bus.

It's not far, but I can't walk any further," said Zeta as she rested her head against the back of the bus shelter. "Unfortunately these are the old buses they only take 32 people each. We have some newer ones, they can carry 64.” She stopped for a moment. “Sorry,” she said. “When I get tired I fall into Mayor mode.”

After a short while, an empty bus pulled in. It looked like something out of a history film, tired, old and a bit shabby. They boarded and Peta he wanted to sit right at the front so he could see the town. Zeta followed him in, sat down and rested her head on his shoulder as the bus moved off. It headed out of the bus station and into the town. What first amazed Peta was the normality. People were going about their business. Away from the town square, the only sign that something had happened was a thin wisp of smoke that rose up from the remains of the government building. It hung in the air like a thin finger pointing downwards, Here, it said. It happened here.



Not far out from the centre Peta gently shook Zeta and pointed to the line of guards who had erected roadblocks and checkpoints across the road. She turned her head to look at the lines of barbed wire and metal barriers.

I didn't order any barriers,” she said and reached into her bag to remove her Government issue phone, “Battery dead.” She looked too tired to be annoyed.

Do you need to go back?” asked Peta.

She turned to him and gave him a sad smile of thanks. “No. Anyway, we're nearly there.” She breathed deeply through her nose. “And I need to make sure you're safe first. Also,” She looked down at herself as if she'd just noticed her clothes for the first time. ”I think I need a change of clothing.” She let out a bark of laughter that quickly dissolved into tears, as the memories of the horror swept over them once more. Peta held her close. Anger ran through him, he didn't need to cry, he wanted revenge for the loss of life and the careless destruction.

Zeta sat up, sniffed and impatiently wiped her tears away. She patted his thigh and stood up as the bus braked nosily. “Come on. This is our stop.”

Peta hadn't looked where they had been going. He stepped down from the bus and wasn't sure they were still in the same town. “Where are we?”

He took in the extensive buildings of glass, organically shaped concrete, and whitewashed walls that flowed and soared down the tree-lined boulevards. Paths wound their way through small mounds of grasses. Tall shrubs were watered by fountains, that were fed by streams, which flowed, babbled and fell into one pond after another.

The Interface Zone.” Said Zeta. “I guess it's changed a bit since you were last here?”

A bit,” said Peta, aware that his mouth had dropped open. “When I last came here is was rather, err blocky and boring.”

Well, we have our host to thank for that.” They walked towards one of the office buildings, but before they made it to the door, it slid open.

Zeta! Darling.” Peta saw a large explosion of colour with vivid purple hair, arms overwhelmed by bangles, rush down the path and embrace Zeta.

Sorry, I'm earlier than promised, it's been a bit of a night.” Said Zeta as she eventually pulled away.

Come in, come in, I'll find something for you to change into, you look positively ghastly.”

Zeta started to follow then stopped and turned to Peta.

Sorry Gooey, this is Peta. Peta, Gooey.”

Delighted, heard all about you. Come in both of you and tell me everything.” Gooey swept Peta up and took his arm. They wandered up the path and Peta realised that they had actually entered a residence, and not, as he had first thought an office.

The smooth, clean lines outside dissolved into the most amazing room that Peta had ever been in. Every surface, wall, shelf, table, and chair was covered in an assortment of brightly coloured objects. A recurring theme of tigers, China and anything shiny old or new. And sitting amongst it all were cats. Big, very furry and all rather pretty. A Macaw screeched in the corner and took a swipe at Peta with its beak as he went by.

Is it true, a giant worm?” said Gooey with a look of disgust. She sorted through a variety of teacups and banged them down on the table.

Worms.” Said Peta, with emphasis on the plural.

Gooey screwed up her face. “Frightful! Look, it's on the news.” She shook back some bangles and picked up a remote control. She turned up the volume on a small TV. There was only one local TV station in the town, the broadcast came live from the Town Square. The presenter interviewed a small man with a humourless face.

...why I have declared Marshall Law in the town, and I'm assuming executive powers.”

Oh no, you're not,” Zeta said to the TV. Then added, “I've got to go in. Rob Bunson has gone too far. Again.” She lent over to Gooey. “I've got a few favours to ask you.” She said very seriously.

Of course. Ask anything,” said Gooey.

Will you take Peta in for a few days, possibly a week.” She reached out and held Peta's hand. He took it and gave it a squeeze.

I'm not sure you'll want to do that,” said Peta. He pointed at the screen. They turned to see a grainy picture of him, with the name Michael Cobb underneath it, along with the title, Main Suspect, Wanted for Questioning.

Gooey lent over and patted his other hand. “If Zeta trusts you. I trust you. You're welcome to stay here as long as you like.” She turned off the TV. “We'll need to get you some proper ID though.

Zeta suddenly let out a gasp. “Oh, that's why I came to the police station last night, I've found your old ID number.” She dived into her bag and pulled out a form and showed it to Peta. “They're on the trail of Michael Cobb. Let's hope they're too busy to look for the real you.” She turned to Gooey, “And that's the other favour, can you make up a card with this number? The office is,“ She wavered a little and swallowed. “Well, no one else can do it.”

She handed the card to Gooey, who took it and dug some glasses out of her wild hair. Well my dear,” said Gooey as she examined the details. “You've come to the right place."

[Thursday 6th, 09:00]



Chapter 16 - Interface in Python Demo



[Thursday 6th, 09:00]



After Zeta left, Peta felt incredibly tired. He felt somewhat embarrassed, as Zeta had just gone in to work, but he asked Gooey if there was anywhere he could take a nap.

Within minutes, he was ushered into a spare bedroom, told he could stay there as long as he liked and to make himself at home. He settled into a very comfortable bed, was amazed by Gooey, but also realised that he didn't know his wife at all, or even if he could still call her that. She seemed to inspire admiration and love with everyone. While he knew it, understood it, admired it, he wondered if he'd held her back? Maybe she was better without him.

Troubled, he sunk into a fretful sleep filled with dreams about worms that pinned his legs while he tried to find a book, that was always out of reach.

He awoke a little after lunch and was guiltily pleased to find that no one was around. He sat down in one of the comfy chairs that faced out onto an overgrown garden and spent a good hour in thought. It seemed impossible that they would find the book, but he knew enough about programming to make a start on his plan. He also knew that he needed to get more information. The folders of data about the attacks were useful, but they were nowhere near enough. He was also aware that he needed to contact Fintle. He wondered if the two things could be combined.



Back in the Police Station, when they had found Python, Peta had looked down into the Guard House meeting room. The relief in finding Python had smothered the other feeling of recognition. When he had first met Fintle, not the kind helpful Fintle, but the hard, unwelcoming one, who had interviewed him in a room. A room with a hideous, blue, long body clock. Hideous, unique and recognisable. And Peta had seen it again as he had looked out of the window of Python's cell, down into a room that contained the same clock. This meant that it wasn't just a Guard House, this was where Fintle worked. Peta remembered that during the interview, Fintle had gone out to get his file. He had only been gone a few seconds. He had gone back to his office. His office must be close to that room.

A sick feeling in Peta's stomach rose as he realised that he'd have to go back into the Guard House. Probably the most dangerous place for him to be in the whole town.

Later that afternoon, when Gooey had returned he asked, "Gooey?”

Yes darling?” she replied, not looking up from her computer.

How would I get into the Guard House?” He tried to sound casual, unconcerned.

Gooey made a dismissive sound. “Ugly building. Ghastly!”

I've got to meet someone there - do you know anyone who could get me in?”

She looked at him. “Yes, I know someone. But then so do you.”

Who?” asked Peta, he looked completely confused.

Gooey definitely gave him a pitying look. She cocked her head to one side, looked at him and said, “Zeta of course.”

Oh,” he had forgotten again that she was the Mayor. “Do you think she'll help?” he asked, unsure.

Gooey looked back at the computer. Peta thought that this was the end of the conversation, then she said. “I'll have a word with her. She should be checking the town's security and what better time than this. I'm sure she'll need an assistant.”

A long silence dragged out between them. Gooey broke the silence. She didn't look up, she just said. “She missed you, you know.”

Peta nearly fell off his chair. “Er, no, I didn't. She doesn't feel the same way about me now.”

Gooey slammed her laptop shut, stood up, angry and said. “You are such an idiot. You are both blind.” And walked out.

Peta sat there, completely confused. Zeta had made it very clear that she wasn't interested, but there was something. Or the possibility of something.

~~~~~



[Friday 7th, 09:00]



The next day Peta sat and waited for Zeta. The previous night she had arrived, late and exhausted. Unable to tell him what had happened. It was clear, however, that the attacks, rather than bring the governing body together had driven it apart. Each side blamed the other. Zeta was left in the middle, with no real power, frustrated and angry in turn. Gooey had told him she would talk to her and sure enough, before she left for her home, Zeta came up and hugged him and said that she would get him into the Guard House tomorrow. When she'd left, Peta went to find Gooey.

[Actually, a Friday - Check the days up to this point.]



What did you say to Zeta?” he asked, amazed.

I didn't say anything,” Gooey looked up from her computer screen. “I just showed her what was to be gained from helping you.”

But what did you show her?” asked Peta.

She shrugged. “People are more likely to do what you want them to if they think it's their idea.” And she left it that. Peta felt a little bemused.

But, the next day he sat around and waited for Zeta to take him to the guard house. In his hands, he held his new ID, re-created by Gooey using all the correct details. He felt somehow that back as Peta Byte, he properly existed. He was no longer a stranger in his own home town. That morning Gooey had given him a makeover. He no longer looked like the picture of Michael Cobb, he looked, he had to admit, better, groomed. He sat and fussed with his unfamiliar hair and clothes.

A little after 11:00 am, Zeta showed up in the Mayor's chauffeured car. She gave him an appreciative look as he got in, but didn't say a word. They drove off and soon came to the first checkpoint. They queued and stopped at the barrier. The guard looked at Peta's ID and waved them through. Peta began to breathe normally again. They drove out of town, towards the front gate, as they passed the Police Station, Peta felt himself sink in his seat.

The driver swung the car around in front of the Guard House and parked in a space reserved for them. She then got out and opened Zeta's door who smiled, thanked her and swung her legs out of the car and strode up to the main door. Peta struggled with his own door then rushed to catch up with Zeta.

At the reception desk, they got out their ID cards again and Zeta calmly informed them that she was carrying out an 'on the spot' inspection.

Then everything happened very fast. The head of the Guard House, Nat Firewall appeared. She complained and protested, but Zeta was her boss and, in light of the recent attacks, she complied to their demands.

Peta was there as the Mayor's assistant and he played his role carefully. Aware that if he aroused suspicion he risked Zeta's reputation as well. Once the Guard House knew of the inspection and his role as her assistant had been established, he was free to move where he liked. He went to find Fintle's office. The meeting room had been easy to find. Next to it were various bathrooms and a kitchen. One office just didn't look right, it was too messy and there were three desks squeezed in together. This, he felt, was not Fintle's style.

He opened a door across the corridor and knew he had found it right away. It contained a desk that he was sure was Fintle's. There was a distinct military precision about it. It lacked frivolous items. Black and white images of the Guard House from decades earlier hung on the walls. A large filing cabinet dominated the room.

'Yes,' thought Peta. 'Fintle wouldn't use a computer if he could help it.' He needed to send him a message. He sat at Fintle's desk and found a scrap of paper. He scribbled a hasty note in which he asked Fintle for more information about the viruses. Any information on the types, the impact of their payload and the dates of the attacks. But how could Fintle contact him without incriminating himself, and other people? As he sat in thought the door opened. He expected to see Zeta or Fintle, Peta was completely surprised to see Melissa Nye walk in.

His shock was obviously nothing to hers. She started, her eyes wide and Peta saw her eyes flick to the filing cabinet.

Peta, what are you doing here?” She said in that same clipped whisper. She looked back at the door and closed in quietly as if they were about to be discovered.

Peta had realised the solution as soon as he's seen her. “Melissa. Where's Fintle?”

In London, he won't be back for a few days.” She looked tense, defensive.

When Melissa didn't continue he asked. “How is Fintle going to contact me? The connection he'd suggested has been destroyed.”

Melissa looked at the door again. “The, err, Server Network would do it. Where are you staying? I can get a message to the nearest Server Room."

Peta wasn't sure why but he said. “I don't want to say where I am right now. But where are the Server Rooms? Is there one near Dunnow park,” he added

Melissa didn't answer for a moment and then she said. “Yes, there's one right next to the Brook Street Bank. Shall we send a message to you there this afternoon?”

Peta gave her a puzzled look. “I thought you said Fintle was in London. Anyway, I'll need a few days. How about 5 pm on Tuesday?”

That would be fine.”

Peta added the details to the piece of paper. “Can you give him this note. It's important.” He handed it to her. As she read it and he saw her visibly relax.

She looked at it longer than Peta thought was necessary. Then she glanced up at him, pocketed the note and gave him a cold smile. “I shall see he gets it.”

Peta waited.

Friday 7th March 10:00 am



He found her very hard to read, just then he heard Zeta's voice from the corridor call his name.

Suddenly Melissa smiled. “I think someone wants you.”

Peta gave a quick goodbye and thank you to Melissa, which she didn't return, walked out into the corridor and went to find Zeta.

There you are,” she said loudly when he found her. He turned and looked back down the corridor to Fintle's office. Then she spoke in a low voice. “We've got to leave. Now! They know something is not quite right.”

They walked towards the front door. Nat blocked the corridor by the control room. Zeta went up and congratulated her and moved her out of the way in the process. They left and got into the car.

I hope you found what you were looking for, because that stunt may have cost me my job,” said Zeta, a matter of factly.

Nah! They can't do that, the town needs you too much,” said Peta deep in thought about his meeting on Tuesday.

Oddly, Zeta smiled. “Don't worry, they've been blaming me for the attacks for months and Rob Bunson is looking for any excuse to criticise me. He can have this one for free.”

They made their way back through the checkpoint and she dropped him off in the interface zone.

I've got to get back to catch up on some sleep and paperwork. I'll see you this evening,” she called through the open car window as the car moved slowly off.

Peta smiled, thanked her and watched her leave. He wandered back up the path to Gooey's and thought about what he needed to do over the days ahead.



[Friday 7th, 13:00]






Chapter 17 - GUI's



[Friday 7th, 13:00]



When Peta arrived back at Gooey's house, he was surprised to see Python's old laptop bag, with the laptop on which he'd learned how to program in Python. He fired it up and dug out some of the old programs that he had created.

He had an idea about the final program he needed to write. The simple code he'd written so far was like a sketch of a shape or a display of a technique. It was not the final painting. Peta wanted to use the information that he had already uncovered, and the information that Fintle would send, to understand the virus attacks. His first proper program was going to look at the viruses and their impact.

It was the same way he had solved any problem. Find out as much about it as possible. Look at the problem, become Aware of all of the aspects of it. Analyse what's left. See if you can find a solution. If necessary go back and look for more information. Then when a solution presents itself, Act on it. Then Assess that action. Did it actually solve the problem? He called it Aware, Analyse, Act and Assess.

Peta had realised that he still didn't know enough about the viruses. There wasn't enough data to analyse, therefore there was no solution to act upon. He'd run out of information on the attacks from inside the town. Therefore he had to look outside, and his only contact outside was Fintle. He needed to create a program that Fintle could run outside of the town, it wouldn't stop the attacks, but it would feed data back to him. Then, he hoped, he'd have enough knowledge to come up with the solution to the problem.

So he thought about the program he needed to create. He was aware of how little he still knew, so it would have to be simple. But the job was simple too, it needed to be able to ask for, and return, data. His programming ability could manage the coding task. But it would also have to be clear enough to Fintle about what he'd have to do. Peta wouldn't be there to tell him what he needed. It had to be able to be used multiple times and it had to be able to deliver enough information, so Peta wouldn't have to go back to ask for more.

Gooey returned mid afternoon and asked how the morning's exercise had gone. She was delighted that it had been a success, if only marginal. Peta was nervous about asking Gooey to divulge the secrets about Graphical User Interfaces. He remembered how protective Python had been about programming and his own father had been about the library.

Gooey?” he asked tentatively.

Yes, Darling.” She answered using her habitual response.

Um,” Peta couldn't think of any way to approach the issue tactfully. “Could you show me how to design a Graphical User Interface.”

Of course Darling. I'm a bit busy right now. Would tomorrow be OK?”

Err,” Peta laughed. “Yeh. Great! Thanks.”

No problem Darling. We'll start after breakfast”

Peta spent the rest of the day coding the processes that would sit behind his interface. Time and again he came up against barriers. His lack of knowledge weighed heavily and his mind often wandered to Ada's book. He imagined it lay nearby, desperate to be found.

[Saturday 8th, 9:30]



As promised, after breakfast, Gooey took Peta on a tour and showed him the fundamentals of Graphical User Interfaces.

They walked along the wide paths that snaked between the offices.

Do you see these paths?” Asked Gooey.

Uh-huh,” said Peta.

When we first built these offices. We didn't add any paths, just planted grass and let people walk where they wanted,” explained Gooey.

Wasn't it a bit muddy?” asked Peta.

Well, we did it in June, to cut down on that. As it turned out, it was the wettest June on record. The mud! I can't tell you.” Gooey shrieked with laughter. “But it showed us how people walked between the offices. Still now, if there's a shortcut people are using, we build a path. We also measure the footfall on the path. If people aren't using it, we simply remove it and re-use it elsewhere.”

They approached one of the buildings. “Here,” said Gooey. “This is my office.” They walked up to a large glass door. Gooey hung back a little and let Peta go first. The door was made of thick glass, and on the right hand side were some giant hinges visible inside it. On the left side, there was a long metal plate. Peta pushed the plate, and the door swung easily open. He waited for Gooey to go through first.

But she had stopped on the path. “Perfect, you opened the door perfectly. But how did you open the door perfectly, you've never opened this door before, have you?”

What?” Peta looked confused.

Well, there were at least 4 different ways to open a standard door. Push on the left, or push on the right, pull on the left, pull on the right. You pushed on the left. Why?”

Well,” Peta hadn't expected a quiz. “Because that was the correct way to open this door.”

Exactly,” said Gooey. “The hinges on the right. They are large and visible. They don't need to be that big, but they shout 'Hinges!', so you try to open the door on the other side. “

Peta inspected them more closely. “I never realised that I'd even noticed it.”

Of course not. That's good design. It's like a visual language. We're all fluent, whether we're aware of it or not,” explained Gooey. “Now what you've got to do, is learn to speak it.”

OK,” said Peta. “But how?”

Well, experiment. Have you noticed how this town just doesn't run the Internet. In many ways, it is the internet.” She looked at him very intently.

How do you mean?” asked Peta.

Do you remember what this part of town used to look like?” Gooey had a quizzical expression.

Er, well it wasn't anything like this.” Peta looked around. He remembered the drab blocks and tried to be diplomatic. "It was. Well."

It was boring,” said Gooey dismissively. “But what we've found is that as the Internet has grown, so has the town. The Internet has become so closely connected to the real world, that here, where it meets the real world, it has seeped across.”

Peta looked sceptical.

This is not magic,” Gooey wagged a reproving finger. “Think how a modern city has been changed by the car. The car has moulded everything; how you work, shop and live. It's the same here - we are an extension of the fabric of the internet. Look.” She held up a finger and touched the large hinge at the top of the door. She drew her finger across the top and the hinge followed. Then, with a flick she sent it skidding to the left side. She did the same with the bottom hinge. And then she moved the plate used to push the door open over to the right. “Now, open the door.”

Peta pushed the metal plate, and the door didn't move.

Do you see now?” said Gooey. “This is the Interface Zone. We can change how things look. But not how they work. This is still a physical door. Quite a boring one really. We can't change that, it still works the same way. Try it.”

Peta tried the left side and it swung open as before.

Graphics is communicating visually. And the best way to speak any language is to practice it.”

She spent the rest of the day with Peta. She showed him how many of the buildings in the zone were really still the same drab ones he'd remembered. The images that she had created had become part of the building, and they defined how people interacted with their surroundings. She taught him how to notice things. How light switches were placed in a way that mimicked the shape of the room, so he knew which switch turned on which light without having to experiment. How appliances anticipated how he would use them. The things that allowed him to interact with the world; handles, switches and buttons had all been studied, then moved, shaped and coloured to give him feedback into how they would work. Peta marvelled. He had been shown a secret, hidden in plain sight, that became more hidden the better it worked. It was if the curtain had been drawn back, and he had seen the world as it really was. But that reality was more magical, not less.

[Saturday 8th, 14:30]














Chapter 18 - Pixels


[Saturday 8th, 14:30]

That afternoon, Gooey gave Peta a room to practice on, where he could change the colour of the door and walls. The controls were embedded within the structure of the room and it was straightforward to alter the colours. He could fill in solid colours, or introduce images with ease. He was less able with the subtle features, such as gradients where one colour blended into another, he could add an embossed, or engraved effect but failed to make a flat wall look like a shiny water droplet. He was frustrated that he couldn't make something look appealing. His wall was either too varied in colour and texture, with too many things going on, or stark and dull. He felt dispirited. But he had learned how the process worked, how to access the libraries of images and how to change the lighting.

But not how to design something.


It was plain to Peta that he just didn't have the time to develop the skills to create what looked right. So he decided that the best approach was to copy some of the other walls. He reasoned that if he couldn't have created that wall, but he could re-create it, then that would be a useful lesson. So he wandered out and looked for a wall that he felt was both worth trying and within his abilities.


He walked the paths and stared at different ones. He had just found a good candidate when he noticed someone get out of a car. They walked up the path on Peta's right. He wasn't sure, but he could tell that this person wasn't from this zone. An outsider. He turned his head to look closer. The shock of recognition felt like a punch in the stomach. At the same time as he had looked over, Bill the Police Officer looked over at him. Peta looked different from when they had last met, but he knew that he'd been recognised, even if Bill hadn't yet made the connection.


Without thinking Peta turned and walked away. Fast.


“Mr Cobb!” shouted Bill.


Peta didn't stop, he didn't turn round, he ran, sure that Bill followed. There was no one about. A Saturday. The place was deserted. Peta hoped to find a crowd and get lost in it. But they were alone. He took a direct route. An idea formed, but he needed some space.


“Stop!” The shout from behind was not near as Peta feared.


Desperate, he rounded a corner and where he remembered there was a door he had studied earlier. He ran up to it, pressed and flicked one of the hinges as Gooey had shown him. Press flick, the door handle moved too. He jumped inside and pulled the door closed behind him just as Bill skidded around the corner. Peta ran through the building. He dared one look back to see Bill, pull on the door handle, unable to open the door. Peta turned a corner.


He found an empty room, he stopped, turned the door into the same colour as the wall. Then went in, and closed it quickly. Then he realised that he hadn't removed the image of the door handle. He stared at the handle on his side of the door, his heart raced. Footsteps. Came closer, then moved off. Away.


Peta stayed in the room for over an hour. Then decided to head back. Slowly, carefully, he made his way back to Gooey's place. There was no sign of Bill.


A few hours later she came in. “Well, you've been having fun,” she said with a wry smile. “Luckily, I can quite honestly say that I don't know Mr Cobb, and have no idea where anyone with that name is. A very unhappy Police Officer left about 10 minutes ago. However.” She suddenly looked stern, “I sure he'll be back.”


“Understood. Thanks, Gooey,” said Peta.


She held up her hand, “also our Office Manager has lost a storeroom. You wouldn't know anything about that would you?”


“I'd blame Mr Cobb if I were you.” Said Peta with a smile.


Gooey gave an I'm annoyed, but also amused expression. “Just be careful Peta. I think it's a good idea if you stay inside.” Peta began to protest. “Just for a few days.”




[Saturday 8th, 19:00]



“Look Gooey, I can't do that. In 3 days time, I've got to have a working system. I need to create a User Interface by then.”


Gooey was unsure.


“Please. This is important.”


She stared at him and chewed her lower lip. “OK,” she said eventually. “I'll hand over over one of the offices. But only for 3 days!” She was suddenly stern. “”We'll need it back. You'd better not make a mess.”


Peta looked around at the room, so filled with things that it was impossible to find a place to put down a cup of tea.

[Sunday 9th]


The following day was Sunday, and the place was empty. Gooey checked the area, then came back and showed Peta the small office that he could use. She showed him how to set up a link to the image library and how to access the colour palette, and with a backwards wave said, “have fun.”


Peta played with the images as before. During Gooey's demonstration, he had noticed something he hadn't tried before. The depth of the colours. He had got used to the number of colours available. They were split into 3 types; Red, Green and Blue or RGB. The highest value of each was strangely 255. This seemed like an odd number. But as he chose each colour he noticed another value, called the Hex number. He remembered something from school about these, but not enough to work out how they worked. What he could see was that an RGB value of 0, was a hex value of 00, and an RGB of 255 was the hex of FF. He remembered that hex was like counting on your fingers, but then having another hand to continue, so 10, was 0A, and 11 was 0B and onwards until 255 was FF. If he tried anything higher it created an error. Without a calculator, he muddled through but worked out that this must give him over 15 million colour to choose from. Which, he figured, was probably enough. All 0's gave him black and all 255's or FF's gave him white.


But there was another hex level that he hadn't seen before. This seemed to be transparency. It was called alpha. Moving it off the maximum increased the transparency. He decided to be bold and set the Alpha to 00. The front wall immediately went completely transparent. He could see out and everyone could see in. The sudden shift in colour had caused peoples heads to turn. Peta just had time to notice that down on the road, Police Officer Bill Dixon had found someone to question.


Peta jumped back to the controller and pumped the numbers back up to 255. The wall blinked back into place. But not before Peta had seen Bill start to make his way over. He stood still in thought for a moment, then turned out the lights. If he brought down the transparency by a fraction, he gambled that he would be able to see out, but Bill wouldn't be able to see in. The door was locked and Peta had set the colour so that it didn't show as a door from the outside, just a blank wall. So he felt safe where he was, but he wanted to see what Bill as up to.


Unfortunately, in his scramble for the controls Peta had also changed the bit-depth first down to 8 bit. This only gave him 256 colours or one of the Hex's FF's. It also lost him the transparency. The colour of the wall changed too. The subtle pastel shade reverted to a more solid primary colour. Gradually he dialled up the bit depth, until he was up to 24 bits (or 3 lots of the 8's he noticed) and then back up to 32 bit, the highest level that the setting would go. That last 8 must be the transparency channel he presumed as the colour options hadn't changed.
He reduced the transparency bit by tiny bit until he could see out. Bill stood a little way off and stared at the wall. Peta hung back in the shadows. Bill even walked forward and cupped his hands, pressed his face close to the wall and peered into the room. Peta held his breath until, eventually, he walked away. Bill looked back several times. Peta turned the transparency off and decided to spend the next few hours working on a side wall.


Gooey had given Peta some lunch, so he sat, ate a sandwich and thought about what he had done, and what he needed to do.


He knew that he wanted Fintle to send him some information. So after lunch, he experimented. He created a form on the wall, added fields, labels, titles and shifted them about. He thought this would be easy, but realised that the size of the text, the width of the fields, the order in which they were placed all mattered. He wasn't happy with the result, he was particularly troubled by the Cancel and Submit buttons at the bottom of the screen. But, he reasoned, Fintle would at least understand what was required, even if his design wouldn't win any awards.


Peta needed to leave the office to program in the design with Python code into the laptop. He had worked out how to create a small rectangle and set the transparency on just that part of the wall, so it acted like a window. Through it, he regularly checked to see if he could see Bill, but there had been no further sightings. He felt nervous as he stepped through the door and made his way back to Gooey's house. There was still no sign of Bill.


[Scene ends Sunday about 16:00]





Chapter 19 - About Buttons



[Sunday 9th March 16:00]



Gooey was at home. She read through emails when he entered quickly, shut the door and went to the window. Then he checked again, to make sure he had not been followed.



Without looking up Gooey said, “he's gone. Your policeman friend.” She explained to Peta's puzzled face. “Left earlier.”



Oh right. I wasn't really worried,” said Peta as he opened the laptop.



I could tell,” said Gooey with a wry smile.



Gooey?”



Hmm?”



How do I? I mean, I've got my screen with some buttons. How does the system know that someone has clicked a button?” He wished that Python was here.



Don't really know,” said Gooey.



Oh, really?” said Peta, disappointed.



No, not really,” said Gooey. “You're so easy to wind up. How do you think this place would run if I didn't know that?”



Peta stared at her blankly.



Events!” said Gooey. “The whole thing is based on events. Every time a mouse moves an event takes place. A key is pressed, and the mouse button is clicked. All of these actions fire off events. All I have to do is trap that event and," she waved her hand, "do something.”



But what happens?” asked Peta.



Gooey sighed, looked around and removed her glasses. “Turn that light switch on.”



Peta reached over to the wall next to him and clicked on the main light. The bulb hanging from the ceiling suddenly shone and the room immediately brightened.



Gooey pointed up at the light, “how did that light come on?”



Peta felt as though the correct answer would elude him, he felt the best plan was to look dumb.



Gooey continued. “Well everywhere else in the town a light switch connects an electrical circuit, causing the light to shine. But not here. In this zone when you press the button, the image of the unlit bulb on the ceiling is replaced with an image of a lit one. Also, the brightness is increased to complete the illusion. In this zone, the switch and the bulb are not connected by wires but by small programs. Look,” she beckoned him over to the wall.



With a swipe of her hand, she opened up the same control panel that Peta had been using to design the walls. But this time she opened up a tab called 'Events'. She scrolled through a list of buildings until she landed on her house. A sub menu of effects opened up. She pressed, 'Lighting'. Another menu level appeared. This time she selected, 'Kitchen'.



On the screen Peta could see the room's light switches, when Gooey selected the main light switch, a form appeared. At the top was the label 'Event' next to a drop-down menu with 'On Press' selected. Below was another drop-down menu labelled 'Asset'. Gooey touched the drop-down button which gave her different types of light to choose, from 'Single Spot' to 'French Chateau Chandelier'. As she selected each option; the ceiling light changed. Although the Chandelier was too big for the room, most of its bulk sank into the floor like a huge strawberry stuck in a barrel of soft ice cream.



All of these lights are just objects, stored in the main Asset Library. Even ugly ones light that,” she said and pointed at the chandelier.



Gooey pressed the cancel button, cleared the control panel and went back to her laptop. The light returned to its previous setting. Peta tried flicking the light off and on until Gooey got annoyed.

He played with the controls for a few minutes. “Gooey?”



Hmm.”



I need to run an actual program. But there's no option here to do that.”


Gooey continued to read and said “No” in a disinterested voice.

So, how do I do that?” he persevered.



She didn't look up but waved her hand off into the distance. “It's an option called 'External Event', but it won't work here. This zone is a separate system. You need to go to a Server Room, they run the programs.” She explained, distractedly.



Really?” Peta started. “That's excellent. I need to get to a Server Room in a few days. Would you be able to take me?”

Gooey finally gave up and looked at him. “Well Zeta rang earlier. She's paying you a visit tomorrow. You can ask her to take you.”

Peta hadn't wanted to bother Zeta. He knew that the attack on the government building must have been extremely upsetting. Both personally and professionally. But he also knew that until he could find a way to halt the attacks he wasn't any help to her. Also, he was aware that he couldn't stay at Gooey's forever and that his presence must have caused her some inconvenience.

Can I make you some dinner?” he asked.


[9:00 am Monday 10th]

The next day, he returned to the practice office and played around with the buttons. He played with some other events too. A Mouse Rollover event allowed him to highlight buttons, but he needed to trap a Mouse Rollout event to return the assets to their normal state. He began to link up the scrollbar buttons to an object's transparency. He created the same windows he had the previous day, but this time he linked them to the scroll bars. This gave him immediate access to the outside world. He played around until he had created a few more. Like opening blinds, he checked the windows. At about 11:30am he saw that Bill had returned.



Bill stood in the same place that Peta had seen him yesterday, in a small outside meeting area. On one side there were some seats with benches and on the other, there was a large screen It was then that he had an idea. Peta set the transparency of all the windows back down to make sure no one could see in.



He then looked through the town assets, zoomed down from a map view of the zone until he found the screen. It took a little longer to figure out how the text worked. But he added a large notice.



Would Mike Cobb please report to the Design Centre”. According to the map, the Design Centre was on the other side of the zone.

From where he stood Peta couldn't read the sign. But he could see Bill, who sat on a bench opposite. He regularly glanced over at the offices.



Look up. Look up”” Peta muttered under his breath. He worried that he hadn't actually changed the text at all. Then, he saw that Bill had seen it. Bill stood up and looked at the sign again and then he went over to another sign. Peta couldn't tell from here, but he thought it probably was a zone map. Sure enough, moments later Bill hurried off in the direction of the Design Centre.



Peta laughed as he found the assets again and looked for a sign near the Centre. In the Centre's lobby, there was a list of messages. Peta quickly added a message to the end.



Michael Cobb will be presenting a lecture on 'Form or Function' at the Asset Library at 12:00am.”



That was in 5 minutes time. Peta could barely contain a laugh as he looked out of the window and sure enough, a few minutes later Bill ran along the path and headed towards the Asset Library. Peta cheered as he went by.



Peta was tempted to keep him going back and forth, but he needed to get back to the house to add a Graphical User Interface to his Python program. Eventually, he added a message to all the signs.

'Would Police Officer William Dixon please report back to the Police Station.'



He left it another 30 minutes, then returned to the house without a second thought.

[Monday 10th 12:30]

Chapter 20 - About Peripherals

[Monday, 10th March, 13:00]

Peta used the rest of the afternoon to create the interface for his programme. Somehow the more he added to the design, the worse it looked. But at least it worked and he felt confident that Fintle would understand what to do with it.

Peta showed Gooey the interface that he had created. She couldn't understand why he would make something so ugly but agreed that it would be easy for someone to understand what they needed to do.

Gooey had invited Zeta over for the evening meal. Peta asked if he could cook, but she said that she wanted to prepare something special for her, as she had spent the last few days dealing with the aftermath of the attack. As soon as she turned up, Peta could see that she was incredibly drained. But she brushed away any concerns and by the end of the meal was almost her old self again.

She left much later after he had arranged for her to take him to the Brook Street Bank Server the next day.

He had been pleased to note that she seemed to enjoy his company again. By the time Peta had cleaned the kitchen, cleared everything up, and fallen into bed, it was well past midnight.

[Tuesday 11th March]

The following morning he was slow to wake up. He was vaguely aware that voices were raised downstairs. He groggily came to and opened the bedroom door a crack to listen.

It was Gooey. She refused entry to whoever was at the front door.

You go and do your job elsewhere, I'm not having you in my house!” she shouted and pushed the door shut.

Peta hurriedly got dressed and went downstairs. Gooey didn't look too pleased to see him.

What just happened?” he asked.

"I've got dozens of police knocking on doors and disturbing my zone,“ barked Gooey, "look!"

She pointed the remote control at the TV and the town's own channel came on. The headline on the monitor next to the newsreader's head plainly stated that there was an ongoing investigation at the Interface Zone. Peta felt his face flush and knew that his little joke with the Police Officer may have backfired. This was confirmed a few minutes later when the local camera crew showed an image on one of the Zone's signs. Which still read:

'Would Police Officer William Dixon please report back to the Police Station.'

Gooey turned to him, her knuckles whitened as they gripped the Remote Control. Her lips were pressed together and she was breathed heavily. “Care to explain?” she said eventually.

It was a joke,” began Peta, before she cut him off.

A joke! Peta when have you ever known the police to like a joke?” She rubbed her forehead with the heel of her hand, obviously agitated. “Everyone is looking for someone to blame for these attacks and you've just offered yourself to them.” She took another deep breath. “How could you be so stupid, Peta!”

I'm sorry.” Peta wanted to get away. “I didn't think. Look, I'll go.”

Gooey gave a mirthless, sighing laugh. “You can't go anywhere. They'll catch within minutes.” She slumped into a chair and thought.

Peta wasn't sure what to do, so he snuck back to his room and started to wash and pack. Ten minutes later he heard a knock at his door.

Peta?” It was Gooey.

He froze and shouted, “yes?” Through the door.

I'm going out. I'll be about an hour. Don't leave the house, do not open the door,” she barked.

Er, OK.” He responded, and pulled on some clean clothes.

And Peta?” She said, her voice softened.

Yes?” he opened the door with care.

She gave him a small smile. “Don't leave any more bloomin' messages on our notice boards.”

Peta grinned. “I'll do my best. Oh and Gooey?”

Yes?” she turned.

Thank you, and I'm really sorry.”

She said something unintelligible in reply as she headed down the stairs.



~~~

[Tuesday11th March, 11:00 am. Note Nye date was set to Tuesday 5pm]



True to her word an hour later she returned.

Peta had hidden at the sound of the door, but he reappeared when she called his name. He was also relieved that her mood had improved.

You're lucky you're married to the Mayor,” she said and then outlined the plan.

In the hours that remained, he finished off his program. The code needed some changes, tests were run and, if he couldn't make it look attractive, at least, he thought, he could make it look neat.

Around 3:30pm two delivery men arrived, dressed in beige overalls. They carried a large cardboard box between them. One of them was Peta's height and build, the other was tall and extremely thin, he looked a little like a rat, with inquisitive eyes and a slightly, twitchy nervous demeanour. He looked over at Peta. “I'm Pop, this is Reg.” he held out his hand. “The next 5 minutes are going to be the worst of your life, so get ready.”

Peta shook the hand and looked shocked.

Pop laughed. “Only joking. We've got to wait here a few minutes until we get the signal to go.”

Gooey seemed to know Reg and invited him into the kitchen. Peta watched them go and then followed Pop, who had wandered up to the window by the front door and peered around some curtains.
“So you're not a delivery man?” asked Peta.

I do a bit of everything. Delivery, sales, IT, the lot. You ever been to Off?” Asked Pop. He looked back at Peta slyly.

I've seen it,” said Peta. He pointedly stared out of the same window and avoided Pop's gaze...

Nah. Not on one of those silly tours. I mean been there, experienced it.” Pop put his whole body into everything he said. He stuck his head forward to emphasize each point.

Have you?” asked Peta, suspiciously.

Been off, seen off, done off, mate,” said Pop with a sniff, and turned back to twitch the curtains.

Peta turned his head to look at him. “When?”

All the time,” Pop puffed himself up, and stretched his neck out of his overall collar. “I drive the supermarket lorries,” he said. Peta was aware that this was the punch line. Most people from the town would hate that job, but be impressed. Peta's reaction obviously pleased Pop, he stared at him.

You drive away from the town?”

Pop nodded.

How do you find your way back?” Peta was fascinated by this news.

You go in convoy don't ya,” said Pop, “Big game of follow the leader really. But done it so often I could do it blindfold now.”

Where have you been?” Peta was no longer interested in the police outside and turned to face Pop.

Not that far actually. Lorry park in a nearby town about 10 miles away. I drop off the empties and then pick up a new trailer.” Pop had raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips which gave him a slightly smug look.

Peta thought that this was not the first time Pop had delivered this revelation. “Oh. I thought you'd actually explored out there,” Peta lost some interest.

Pop rallied quickly. “Well. Sometimes the convoy gets split up see. There's a proper big supermarket there. So, sometimes I takes the liberty to stock up on a few...choice items.” Peta's reaction seemed satisfactory, as Pop's smug look returned.

Such as?”

Pop narrowed his eyes. “Well, that depends, don't it. I'm the link. Between the town and the outside world, see.“ He jabbed at his chest. “I bring in what's needed.” He wagged his finger at Peta. ”Without me, this town couldn't..”

Peta cut him off, “Could you bring in a person?”

Pop looked shocked and reddened. “Only stuff I can carry on me like.” He patted his overalls. “A bottle of this or a packet of that. The trailers are locked. We can't get into 'em.” He suddenly became suspicious, his eyes narrowed. “Why?”

Peta turned back to look out of the window. “You've just settled a concern of mine. There's no safe way to get a person into this town.”

Pop was silent for a few moments. “Well. That's not exactly true.”

Just then Gooey walked up to them. “We've got the signal, it's time to go.”



[Tuesday 11th 4pm]]



Chapter 21 – The Importance of Design



[Tuesday 11th 4pm]



Reg slit open the cardboard box it was empty.

He then took off his overalls and handed them to Peta, who looked at them for a few moments. Underneath Reg was wearing the sort of clothes Peta had come to expect in the Interface Zone.

Go on,” said Gooey. “Put them on.”

That's the plan?” said Peta incredulously. “I dress up as a delivery man and walk out of here.” He pointed at the front door. “Don't you think that's a little...” He searched for the word. “Obvious?”

Gooey smiled. “Remember when I first took you round the town and we talked about the best sort of design.”

Peta nodded and tried to remember what she had said.

I said that good design is obvious. People read visual clues without having to think about it. If you present something that looks and acts like a delivery man. Why would you question it?”

But Gooey,” Peta felt that sometimes the townsfolk were a little innocent. Too trusting. “These are the police, they're trained to look.”

Gooey smiled back at him. “That's why we sent 2 delivery men in here. They have already been checked. So, when 2 delivery men leave. They'll see what they expect to see. Why would they ask any questions?”

Peta pulled on the overalls, he muttered a little under his breath.

Gooey gave him a look over before he left with Pop. She pulled some of the creases out of the overalls and made them looked more lived in. “Just good design principles,” she explained.

He thanked her and felt the need to apologize again. Reg had placed Peta's rucksack containing Python's laptop into the cardboard box, resealed it and stuck a delivery label on the side. The label read Server Room 217. Pop saw Peta look at it.

"You wanted to get to the Server Room by the old playground?" he asked. Peta nodded. "217 it is then," he shook hands with Reg, and gave Gooey a hug and picked up the box. He then opened the door and lead the way out of the house. Peta followed him.

They walked to the delivery van parked on the main boulevard. Peta felt incredibly exposed. He had just walked out into the middle of a crowd of people, whose task it was to look specifically for him.

But, not one of them gave him a second glance as they walked by.

Peta got into the passenger seat, and Pop added the box to the rest of the deliveries and then got into the driver's seat.

See, two came in, and two left, that's all they care about.” Pop got out the keys. “Very handy, doing a job that gets you into everywhere.”

Then there came a sharp knock on the driver's window.

Pop slid the door open. A serious looking police officer looked into the van. He tried to peer into the back, but when he failed to see everything he said. “Open the back up please sir.”

Pop gave Peta a small look to stay put and jumped down from his seat. “Certainly officer.”

He wandered around, opened the doors and the police officer got in the back. Peta could hear him shift the cardboard boxes around. Then, moments later the van shifted as the police officer jumped down off the back.

Pop got back into the driver's seat.

The police officer looked bored. “We had no notification that there would be a delivery today.”

Pop laughed an easy going laugh. “Well you wouldn't, would you. We aim to deliver all parcels within 1 hour.”

The officer still looked unhappy. “So what did you just pick up.”

Pop suddenly looked serious. “I can't tell you that officer, it delivery man, client privilege.” He paused. Then laughed again. “I don't know do I?.They're in boxes. Clients tend to get a bit peeved when I open their deliveries. Know what I mean?”

The officer waved them on.

Pop shut the door and drove away.

Peta breathed a sigh of relief. “That was close.”

Pop scoffed. “Nah, he was just bored, or was showing off to the others.”

Pop pulled out into the light traffic and after a few minutes, they got into the queue that led to the checkpoint at the edge of the Zone. “If you're the least important person in the room, you don't get noticed. As I said, very handy. Also, I have been through most of those boxes and it's all rubbish.”

Peta laughed a little. “This is a small town. Why don't they deliver it themselves?”

Pop shook his head. “Because they watch the TV and see the delivery services out there.” He pointed with his thumb towards the main gate. “So they want one here too. I tell you it's just returning Uncle Jack's umbrella or some lost computer packets. Rubbish mostly.”

They continued to edge closer to the checkpoint. Peta felt his heart beating loudly in his ears. He looked in the wing mirrors more than was necessary. He felt like he was being led into a trap. This'll never work he thought. As soon as the guard sees me we're done for. He tried to manage the rising panic.

Then they were only two cars away from the checkpoint. One car. The barrier raised and they edged forward. The guard asked for their papers and Pop handed over a mobile phone. The guard took the phone, raised the barrier and waved them through.

As they sailed under the barrier Peta looked in the wing mirror. “How did you get a mobile phone?”

As I said 'Any stuff I can carry on me person'.” Pop grinned. “Also helps that that guard's my cousin.”

Peta laughed.

Pop drove the van around a public park on the edge of the zone. Peta looked at it fondly as he remembered coming here as a child. On the other side, there was a small car park which Pop drove towards and then pulled up into a couple of parking spaces and turned off the engine. He dove into the back of the van and pulled out Peta's box and handed it to him. Peta removed the rucksack and gave Pop back the box.

Pop grinned. “We're a few minutes early, but see that building there.” He pointed at a long low structure on the other side of the small road that bordered the park, Peta had presumed that it was a small industrial unit. “It's Server Room 217, your destination.”

Peta shook Pop's hand. “It's been an education. Bye.”

Cheerio.” Said Pop. “Look, I'll wait here for an hour, just in case you need me.”

Peta looked impressed. “That's really kind of..” But Pop waved him away.

Just remember to tell that to my client when she signs the bill.”



Peta laughed again and hopped out of the passenger door and walked across the car park.



[Tuesday 11th 16:15]








Chapter 22 – Servers



[Tuesday 11th 16:15]



Peta left Pop's delivery van, crossed the road and walked up to the building. As he approached he saw Zeta walk down a side road. She had her head down and didn't look up.

Peta waited for her to get near, he was still excited about the escape from the Interface Zone, he grinned at her and said “Hi.”

She didn't respond but stopped a little way from the front door. Her lips were tight, and she was a little red in the face. She continued to stare down at the floor.

How are you?” Said Peta, though he sensed that he already knew the answer.

Oh, I'm fine,” she answered.

Peta was sure that this was not the case. But he didn't know whether it was him that had caused the frosty reception.

Oh Peta, How could you?” Said Zeta bitterly.

Ah, so it was him. He knew better than to try to justify himself, he just let her talk.

She turned on him. “You let me down. You really did.”

Peta looked around and felt exposed. Across the road, he could see Pop parked among the trees. He wondered if Pop would know of some place where he could stay? But he still had to run his program within the next 30 minutes.

Zeta hugged herself and continued to look miserable. She berated him a little longer then lapsed into silence.

Zeta,” he said. He felt lousy. “I'm sorry. It was a stupid thoughtless thing to do. But I need to run this program and Melissa says that this is the only place that I can do it.”

She looked at him for the first time.

Can you get me in?”

She sniffed. “Will you promise me you won't do something as stupid as that again?”

Peta thought for a moment. “No, I can't promise you I won't do something that stupid again.” She looked a little sad. “But I can promise you to try not to something that stupid again.” She gave him a sad smile, and then touched his arm for a moment.

After a deep breath, she said “I can get you in. But Peta, before we enter, you must know, that I do not approve of this place. I. It's something which is more of a necessity.” She seemed unable to explain. “Just don't judge too harshly, things are improving. Just...just not quickly enough.” She swallowed, “come on.”

Peta felt bewildered, but before he could ask any questions she turned towards the building, walked up to the door and pressed the buzzer. After a few moments, a terse voice crackled out of the speaker. “Yes?”

Zeta closed her eyes and then said. “This is Mayor Byte. I'm running a spot check on all public buildings. Will you let me in please?”

There was a short pause, long enough for Zeta to give him a look, which he understood to mean, 'please forgive me'. Then the door buzzed and she pushed it open. Peta, more confused than ever as he followed her into a narrow, dimly lit, dingy grey corridor. He let the door clang shut behind him. A constant low rumble seemed to come from the very walls. A short distance away another door opened and a head popped out.

Madam Mayor!” Said the head in a worried voice. A hand joined the head and rearranged it's hair a little. “Please come in. come in.”

They walked towards the door and entered the strangest room Peta had ever seen. It reminded him of pictures of old spinning mills. Two lines of racks stretched into the distance. Each rack looked like a cross between a cage and a computer workstation. A round wooden seat and computer screen sat within each cage. Above the seat, there was a worn and dirty body harness from which hung ragged looking workers. They peered down into what looked like a wide stairwell. The rumbling that Peta had noticed in the outside corridor seemed to come from this gap, and from which Peta saw continual movement. Each rack hung over the gap and was angled forward so that the workers literally hung over the edge. Peta noticed that without the harness, there was nothing to stop them from falling in. He had experienced being poor in his time outside the town. But this was more. These people were in desperate poverty. People, Peta also noted, who did not look like the other inhabitants of the town. People from Off.

Amazed by the sight he was unable to speak. Their host spoke up. “If only you'd given us some warning Madam Mayor. We've been extremely busy and haven't been able to make the place look. Presentable.” She gave a look of disgust at the workers as if they were responsible for their own wretchedness.

The place looked like a torture chamber thought Peta. A coat of paint, a few pictures, and some pot plants couldn't disguise that.

Zeta had turned stern. “What is your job here?”

Their host did a little bow and said “Beg your pardon. I'm Louise Fish the Transport Layer Network Administrator. Can I ask you to sign in.”

I don't think that will be necessary,” said Zeta, irritated.

Louise looked a little agitated. “All visitors must sign in Madam Mayor. That's the rules.” She produced a small clipboard.

Zeta signed Peta in as Peta Cobb. He then fluffed the signature. As he attempted to correct it, he noticed that they were the first visitors that year.

Zeta signed and then took immediate charge. “Mr. Cobb, here,” she said and pointed at Peta, "is a new liaison committee member and needs a tour of the premises. And to run a test program,” she added in a matter of fact tone.

I haven't been notified,” said Ms. Fish, a little stuffily.

Zeta smiled, “You have been notified. But, as even you must have noticed, we've been having some issues with our administrative processes.”

But I should have received a notification." Said Ms. Fish, "all official visits need approval.” She continued in, if it was possible, an even stuffier tone.

Zeta held up her hand. “If you'd like to find your notification then, by all means, be my guest. It's currently lying under 2000 tons of rubble. Please feel free to fetch it at your convenience.” A silence stretched uncomfortably between them.

Ms. Fish broke first and seemed unsure. “Perhaps I should ring someone?”

Zeta became visibly upset now. “While the person you need to speak to is not under the rubble. Their phone is. So I'm afraid I must insist on that tour, Ms. Fish. Now!”

As the tour began Peta whispered to Zeta “That was impressive.”

She gave a little smile. “Not usually my style, luckily I was still furious with you.” Her eyes flashed in his direction.

They walked down the line of racks. The noise, heat, and smell was almost unbearable. Ms. Fish had to raise her voice to be heard. The workers in the racks were never referred to as people but as Servers. They managed the data requests coming in from the outside world, explained Ms. Fish. Every request for a picture of kittens, or, the purchase of a novelty toy Camel was handled by them.

The data arrived in the form of data packets. Louise proudly boasted that they counted all the packets in, and counted them all out. Peta recognized them as the same things that he had travelled with, through the pipe and into the town.

According to Louise each request usually came in several packets. The servers checked, re-directed, or rejected the data. If required, the servers would run a process. Some of these processes were run regularly, while others depended on specific requests. Smaller pipes led away from the main artery, to which packets were frequently directed.

Peta noticed that some of the racks were empty. From their design and state of repair, these were obviously older models. One or two were in a very bad state. The parts of the rack that remained dangled over the edge, and it looked as if the front section had been ripped away. Peta climbed up into the tangled metal and was able to look down into what Ms. Fish had explained was the data stream. Unlike the pipe Peta had travelled along these packets were squeezed into together and moved more like a fast flowing river.

It's amazing to think that all of these Servers run the internet,” shouted Peta as their tour guide went to discuss some issues with one of the Servers.

Zeta looked confused, then embarrassed.

Peta slowly realized the truth. “There are more, aren't there?”

Zeta looked miserable and stared at the ground.

More rooms like this,” he continued.

She nodded. “Yes.” Then she looked up at him. “Hundreds.”

[Tuesday 11th 16:45]







Chapter 23 – Networks



[Tuesday 11th 16:45]



Peta stared at Zeta, “So the Internet is run by thousands of these. Servers?" He waved his hand down the line of racks. "I thought the Town managed the data flow."

"It did," she admitted, "but the internet got too big, too much data. We were overwhelmed, we needed more people, but the town doesn't let outsiders in to work. At least not publicly. So these places were developed. And they've just grown. Apparently, the town has been using them for years."

"Where do they come from Zeta?”

She swallowed again. “From off, abroad mostly. The town doesn't have to comply with employment law. So working conditions are, mostly, poor..." Peta looked angry and sick. She took his hands and said. “Look at me Peta,” he found it difficult to look up. “Look at me.” Slowly he raised his eyes. “I didn't know either.” She continued. “Barely anyone in the town does.” Peta scoffed, but she persevered. “We are tasked with keeping the Internet running. We can't just stop, there are too many people depending on us.”

She followed him as he moved off down the room.

Even if we cause untold misery? This is slave labour Zeta!” Peta had raised his voice.

Zeta looked shocked. “No. They get paid, they get accommodation and food.”

Peta breathed hard. “And Freedom. Can they go where they like?”

She shook her head. “They get a five-year contract. Then they have to return home, so they can't apply for citizenship.” She explained.

And you're OK with this?” Peta was angry.

Of course I'm not,” she responded in kind.

They had reached the end of the room when a loud crash came from the Data Stream. One of the Server racks shook. The Server inside rapidly made adjustments to the setting on their computer. She looked terrified, and held onto the bars of the cage with one hand and typed away on the keyboard with the other.

Louise Fish caught up with them, with one of the Servers by her side. “Just a data collision. We get them all of the time.” She added, in an unbothered tone.

Another loud crash came from the Data Stream and the whole rack shook, the Server inside hung on. The Server besides Ms. Fish whispered something in her ear. “Tell them to keep trying,” Fish barked. The Server ran over to the cage where the collision had occurred, delivered her message and then returned.

Fish turned back to Zeta. “We get more collisions at times of high demand.”

Peta looked at the terrified Server and then back to the Administrator. “What happens then?” he asked.

Fish looked a bit shocked by his aggressive attitude and directed her answer at Zeta. “We wait a number of seconds. Randomly generated.” She pointed over to the Data Stream. Then continued. “The Server sending data at the other end will wait another number of seconds, also randomly generated. If we still get a collision, as we've just seen, then we double the delay time, as does the Server at the other end. With each backing off by a random amount, the collision should clear.”

I see,” said Zeta. “Perhaps we can run Mr. Cobb's program now?” Peta was sure that she wanted to divert his attention.

Ms. Fish gave her best smug smile “Of course.” She turned to Peta, who had only just remembered that he was Mr. Cobb. “Can you give me the Program Run Number please?”

Peta paused for a moment. And then looked at Zeta.

I don't think that will be necessary?” she said.

Ms. Fish drew herself up a little and looked shocked. “Madam Mayor, I can't run an un-authorised program across my Servers.” The Server by her side looked embarrassed.

It's only a test program,” offered Peta.

If anything Ms. Fish became even more haughty and, though she was considerably smaller than Peta, she managed to look down her nose at him. “That may well be..”

Another crash came from the Data Stream and the whole Server rack tipped forward. The Server within slipped in the harness and fell onto the front of the cage. Peta understood why some of the Server Racks looked so battered. As he jumped to help, the Server lost her grip of the harness and landed on the bars, the metal bent. Many of the struts of the cage had snapped. They had probably broken a long time ago. An opening appeared and the Server dropped through the gap and down into the Data Stream below.

Peta shouted a warning but was surprised by the lack of urgency of all of those around him.

He turned back to Ms. Fish. He shouted “She fell. She fell into the Data Stream.”

Yes, and if she's not back at her post with the hour, I'll have her wages docked.”

Peta felt like he had missed something. “But. She fell.” He repeated.

Yes, Mr. Cobb. She'll have a bumpy ride along the pipe, and get out further downstream. And, as I said, if she is not back at her post within 1 hour, I shall dock her wages. Don't worry, she can't leave. There are Gateways blocking the exit from the town. She won't escape."

Just then another Server came up and whispered in her ear.

She nodded and then said. “If you'll excuse me. I have another visitor.” She turned to the Server by her side and said, loud enough for Peta and Zeta to here. “Stay here and keep an eye on them.” She left and walked back to the entrance. Peta rushed over to look into the Data Stream, but there was no sign of the Server to be seen.

[Tuesday 11th 16:55]

Chapter 24 - Pinging a Server



[Tuesday 11th 16:55]



Louise Fish, the Transport Layer Network Administrator walked away from them. Zeta stared after her. Peta returned from the Data Stream and followed her gaze.

He breathed deeply, still shocked by the lack of concern for the fallen Server, but frustrated that his hope to run the program had just disappeared.

I can't believe them Zeta.” He said. “They just let her fall, completely unconcerned. This whole place is just wrong.”

It's not up to me Peta.”

He laughed.

It's not,” she continued. “Mayors don't have any powers. We can only influence and the Internet is the biggest money-making machine ever invented. No one is going to say 'let's stop making money to improve the working conditions of a few thousand workers'. I'm sorry, but if you think my influence will have any impact, then you're being naive.”

I'm not against people making money Zeta, but if it's making that much, then they should spread those profits out to the people who are actually doing the work.”

Zeta sighed and touched his arm. “It's not the way it works.”

Peta shook his head. “No. It's not. But it should be.” He looked at his watch. “Also, I've only got 5 minutes before I need to run this program.”

A moment passed between them, then a small voice spoke up. “Excuse me!”

They both turned. The Server who Ms. Fish had left to keep an eye on them and spoke up.

Excuse me,” she repeated in a very slight voice that Peta strained to hear over the noise of the Server room.

As if she'd noticed her for the first time Zeta said. “Yes? Can I help you?”

I think,” she said quietly. “I may be able to help you.”

Peta and Zeta glanced at one another.

She checked that Ms. Fish had really left, then said to Peta. “Do you want to run a program?”

Peta was shocked. “Yes. Yes, please. How?”

Come with me.” The Server led them to the end of the room and opened a door that Peta hadn't noticed before. His spirits sank when he saw another line of Servers.

Quick we haven't much time. Where is your program?”

Peta dug into his bag for Python's laptop and handed it to the Server. “Thank you,” he said. “What's your name?”

I'm Denise,” she said. She took the laptop and, climbed into the nearest empty Server rack and connected it into the Network. As it powered up she asked, “What is the name of the program?”

Peta told her, but she struggled to find the file, Peta said. “I'll get it.” Denise climbed out the other side of the rack and Peta clambered in. Then he searched for the latest file.

Denise ran back to adjoining the door and looked through the window. “Hurry.” She said, “The Administrator is coming back.”

Peta looked at the time. He had a few minutes to go before the 5pm deadline. When he had told Melissa he would run the program.

Found it. How do I run it?” he called over to Denise.

She locked the door and came back over. Then she connected the laptop to the Server Cage's computer and copied the file onto it. “What does it do?”

It's a runs a request for data, basically it's just a form.”

Who is it requesting from?” Asked Denise.

A man in the Guard House...”

OK. Is he expecting it?” Denise prepared the file to run.

Yes,” then he added. “I think so. I hope so.”

Denise made a dismissive noise and the file disappeared from the screen.

What are you doing?” said Peta, suddenly confused. He then called out “Zeta”! Can you check on the door.”

Pinging the Server,” responded Denise as her hands danced across the keyboard.

Sorry?” Peta felt lost.

I'm seeing if the Server in the Guard House is active.” She explained. A few seconds passed and then the cage gave a small shudder.

Peta, we've got trouble,” Zeta called. “Peta!”

Just a second.” He called back. The screen showed the words 'Reply from' followed by some numbers and other pieces of information.

Denise loaded the file again. “OK, the server is online. I'm running the program.”

The whole rack began to tremble as the program ran.

Peta, you need to come and see this. Now.” Zeta called from the door.

Peta jumped down and ran to the door. He looked through a small window in the wall next it and saw Ms. Fish and the Police Officer Bill Dixon walk down the outer room towards them.

Peta swore loudly. “Denise, any response?”.

Nothing yet,” called Denise from the rack.

He tore himself away and went back to the cage. “Denise, the administrator is coming. Can we bar the door.”

I'm getting something. I've got the first response, Peta you need to look at these. Take control,” she yelled and jumped down from the cage.

Responses came every few seconds, the cage shuddered as each new packet arrived. The screen started to show data about the viruses. Peta copied the data from the screen onto the laptop.

A muffled thud came from the door; they had discovered it was locked. Peta copied across the last result, put down Python's laptop and turned around to see what had happened. Denise and Zeta had pushed a large metal cabinet full of wire and pieces of old rack in front of the door. It rocked gently as the attempts to open it became more violent.

Peta looked around for another exit when, suddenly, the cage fell forward. As he fell he grabbed the laptop and then slammed into the cage's metal bars, which bent under his weight. Aware that only thin pieces of metal stopped him from dropping into the Data Stream below. He saw Zeta's face appear over the edge, her hands reached out to grab his.

Terrified that the laptop would fall into the stream he threw it into the rucksack and pulled the zip as far as he could before he clasped her hand. As he tried to climb out he saw the computer screen. There were dozens of requests to run the program. He realised that he must have rested Python's laptop on the Server System, which had tried to re-run it. That crash must have been the result. He heard the packets collide below and the cage continued to shudder.

He stood on the cage bars and began the climb back out. As his head drew level with the edge of the stream he grabbed Zeta's other hand. The noise as the cabinet in front of the door fell to the floor coincided with a huge packet collision. This time the whole cage fell from its moorings and dropped into the stream below. As it fell, the bars scrapped Peta's shoulder as they passed by. He tightened his grip on Zeta's hands. A twisted piece of metal snagged the rucksack and pulled them both down into the Data Stream.

[Tuesday 11th 17:05]

Chapter 25 - Ada Lovelace



[Tuesday 11th 17:05]



When Peta landed in the Data Stream he lost his grip on Zeta's hand. For the first moments, he was not sure about which way is up or down. He sank into the packets until his feet touched the stream bed, then he pushed hard. He struggled and clawed his way clear of the packets. When he broke the surface there was no sign of Zeta. The Data Stream was poorly lit; a noisy, confusing a jumble of data.

Peta had experienced a pipe before and the skills he had learnt there proved useful. He used a light that flashed from above as he passed under another Server room to scan the flow for a larger packet. This pipe was smaller than the one he rode into the town, the packets more tightly packed. He couldn't find one large enough to climb on, so he settled for one that was larger than average. While his 'board' was too small, the narrower pipe, that squeezed the packets tighter, combined with his surfing experience kept his head above the surface. But in the gloom, he still couldn't see Zeta, a beam of light up ahead illuminated the tumbling packets and then he saw it. The top of Zeta's head, just in front, but too far to reach. He kicked and pushed against the packets. He tried to ignore the pain from the sharp edges that thumped against his skin. It was too dark to see whether he had reached her until a scream from below him told him that she had sunk down into the river. He reached underneath his board, punched through the looser surface packets until he felt her arm. He caught hold and tried to pull her to the surface. But he pulled himself off his board instead. The light in the tunnel increased and Peta saw an opening in the side of the pipe as he sank back down into the mass. He still held onto Zeta, while his other arm waved above the surface. His fingers caught the lip of a ledge. He shifted his grip and used the flat of his hand to lever his head out of the stream. He saw that he had found a river bank that ran along the outside edge of a bend in the pipe.

They were in a lighter section, which brightened as it rounded the bend. The ledge had widened to form a shelf, like the edge of a swimming pool. He managed to get his whole arm onto it and pulled Zeta's arm. Eventually, her head broke the surface. He had slowed them down, but the pressure of the packets had increased, they smacked bruisingly into his back. He knew he couldn't hold on for much longer. He used his last bit of strength and pulled her towards him, the packets continued to thud, thud, thud into his back, but he was determined not to let her go. He tried to get her hand onto the same ledge. He felt his fingers loosen and he began to slide as Zeta shouted something at him.

Stand!” she shouted again. “It's shallow.”

He brought his legs up and his knees dragged against the bottom of the pipe. The surface was like soap, he slipped and fell as the packets continued to smash into his arms and legs. But slowly, they dragged themselves up what appeared to be a small smooth beach. The further they climbed the fewer packets reached them and the pressure lessened. Eventually, they both reached the edge of the stream and fell down to catch their breath. The odd packet still bumped Peta's feet as he lay on the shoreline.

Peta pulled himself onto all fours and was astonished to see an old man sitting in a deck chair. He wore brown brogues, grey socks, baggy cotton shorts, a grey shirt and tatty straw hat. He busily scribbled notes into a battered old notebook and seemed oblivious to the roar of the packets that slapped, slipped and bumped against each other only a short distance away. Behind him lay what looked like the incredibly disorganised room of a University Lecturer, with books piled high on every surface, the spaces between were filled with pens and pieces of paper.

Oh, hello,” he looked down with an expression of bemused surprise. His eyes peered more closely. “You don't look like Servers,” he said and pointed at them with an old ink pen.

Peta and Zeta's sat back down, exhausted.

Peta let out a long sigh and massaged his legs and arms. Eventually, he replied. “Err, no. Not servers.” Then he looked around and added. “Where are we exactly?”

The old man looked slightly upset, his bottom lip trembled slightly, but he rallied superbly.

Well, welcome, welcome anyway, you're the second visitor of the day,” he said as he wheezed himself up out of the chair. He lazily kicked a few of the closer packets back into the flow and tottered back into the room.

Peta and Zeta stood and followed him through the maze of tables, desk and shelves. They carefully avoided the piles of books that looked ready to collapse.



Where are we?” asked Peta again. He looked back round at the pipe. From this perspective it must be like living in a water mill, the parcels raced by continuously.

Why this is documentation of course,” declared the old man and waved a hand around his head.

And who are you?” Asked Peta. He vaguely recognised him.

Just call me Doc, everyone does.” He paused, a shaky finger slowly raised and touched his lower lip, “or did, at any rate. I don't get many visitors from the town these days, no one seems to read the documentation anymore. My only company are the servers who get washed up here. Tea?”

He didn't wait for a reply but gathered together various cups, milk and an old battered teapot. He turned on an electric kettle and began to boil the water. Before almost every action that he made, he referred to a heavily stained document and muttered the instructions under his breath.

Doc saw them observe this behaviour. “Not necessary. Of course,” he explained. “But it does give me comfort somehow. Hmm,” he nodded as if he agreed with himself and went off to find some biscuits.

It took a while for Doc to find somewhere for them all to sit and drink their tea. Peta thought that it was the best cup of tea he had ever had. It gave him time to think about Doc. He was sure his father had spoken about him when he had worked at the library.

Peta's had an idea. “Doc?"

The bright eyes turned to him. "Yes, my dear boy?"

"Do you have a copy of all the documentation in Eye Dunnow?”

Doc cackled and wheezed. “My dear fellow no, not all, no no no, I think I'm missing about 5, here.” He struggled to his feet again and scampered around the room, “I've made a small manual of all of the lost books, I've got it here somewhere, but I do keep losing it. I sometimes wonder, should I add it to the list of lost books? But when I find it again," he looked sad, "there seems little point. But now, now well, hmm”.

Zeta called out “Do you have a copy of Ada Lovelace's book Programmerology?”

Doc stopped immediately, his trembling fingers drumming on the top of a pile of books “No. No, we don't have that one.”

We?”

Doc turned, "my father lent it to someone from the town years ago.” Docs tone was despondent.

Who was Ada Lovelace?” Zeta tried to change the subject.

Doc's face brightened “Aha! I have a picture of her, would you like to see?”

They both nodded.

It's in The Complete and Utter History of Eye Dunnow.” He wheezed over to a bookcase which filled a wall of his study and slid a finger along one shelf, and stopped at a tattered, almost spineless book and carefully pulled it out. He brought his prize over and squeezed in between them.

Before he opened the book, Doc began. “Ada Lovelace's father was Lord Byron, but he left the family when she was very young. She never even saw a portrait of him until she was 20. But she was a Maths prodigy as a child. An absolute genius. It was she that translated an Italian document on Charles Babbage's Analytical engine. Around 1842 I think." Doc looked a little unsure. "It was then that she recognised the potential of computers and wrote the first Computer program, calculating a sequence of Bernoulli Numbers. Err, I think.”

Zeta asked, “And what did she look like?”

"Oh yes," Doc opened up the book and flicked through the pages until he alighted on a picture of a distinguished Victorian woman in a silver gown.

Peta, whose attention had started to wander suddenly became interested, “I know her, but that's not Ada Lovelace, she's Augusta King, there is or at least was a picture of her in the museum.”

Doc went very still. “Is it, in a book?” he asked slowly.

Both Zeta and Doc looked at Peta as lights started to turn on in his mind, “I think it is. It's in a re-creation of Charles Babbage's room. It's a pretty full room, and on his desk, there are loads of books - he had very varied interests, and I think this picture appears on one of them. I remember seeing her name, who is she”.

Doc moved the History book up a bit and pointed to the inscription at the bottom of the picture.

A picture of Ada Lovelace reprodued from the frontispiece of her famous book: Programmerology”.

"But that's wrong - I'm certain she's called Augusta King."

Doc shakily removed his spectacles and looked at Peta "Augusta Ada King, was the Countess of Lovelace, King was her married name, her husband was the Earl of Lovelace and she was also known as Ada Lovelace."

Doc?” Said, Peta, as he stood up, he looked over to Zeta and then quickly back to Doc. He suddenly understood what he had to do. “We need to get to the museum.” He glanced with loathing at the packets that rumbled along the pipe, “how do we get there?”

Well,” Doc looked unsure. “It's next to the library, across the town square.”

Peta stood up and looked agitated - “Yes, I know. But..how do we get to the Library then.” He pointed to the pipe.

Doc looked even more confused. “How do you get to the library. But, my dear boy, you're in it. This is the library, or at least my offices within the library, we're down within the hill, the library sits right above us." He pointed upwards. "The public section is up the stairs.” He gestured to some bookshelves that, when pointed out, were clearly painted on.

Zeta looked around, “Doc, thank you.”

Peta had started towards the doors. “We gotta go.”

We gotta go, bye Doc.” She followed Peta through the doors, up 4 flights of stairs and they returned, out of breath, back into the library.

[11th Tuesday 18:00]





Chapter 26 - Encryption and Security

[11th Tuesday 18:05]

The library was closed and empty. It looked exactly the same as their previous visit. All the books in the right places and on the proper shelves.

Zeta unlocked a side door and, checked no one is about. They stepped out into the Town Square.

The sun had just set and everything was still. The loudest sound came from birds in the trees, as they argued about nesting rights. The ruined Government building on the other corner of the square had been cordoned off and the roads nearby had been closed to traffic. Luckily this meant that the museum was closed too. They wouldn't be disturbed. But it also meant that the place was locked up, so they would have to find a way in.

Peta led Zeta around the library to the back of the museum. While the front of the building was mostly made of glass, this was just a facade. The main building had a Victorian feel, even though it had been built well after the war. It was gifted as a thank you by a grateful government for the efforts of the town, that had to remain secret. But it looked old fashioned. As with all things in the town, they were behind everyone else in their tastes. They preferred the Neoclassical, rather than the more brutal concrete style of the post-war period.

When the internet had become a thing, the museum had changed to accommodate it. About 10 years previously, it had been extended, and the glass facade added. But the back of the museum remained the same. Here Peta found the back door he'd been looking for, but he noticed a new keypad next to it. When he tried to turn the handle he was not surprised to find it locked.

Peta cursed under his breath, “We never used to lock this door,” he explained.

What's the code?” Asked Zeta, a finger poised over the keypad.

I don't know. It's new,” he started to search for an open window.

She stared at the lock. “This is the same make as the one we use in government buildings."

He looked back at her, "You don't happen to know the code do you?" he asked.

She stared at the screen. "Well it's the same as the lock I use to get into the Mayor's office."

"Excellent," said Peta. "Well, what are you waiting for, punch it in?"

"Hang on", she looked at him. "If I enter my code, then I'll leave a trail, whoever wants to can find where I've been. Do we want to do that?"

He thought for a moment. "I'm not sure. Look, it's fine I've got a security code."

She looked surprised, "You! How do you have security clearance? I though Gooey only does cards?"

"I had it set up before I came through the pipe, it really secure."

"I bet it's not. It'll be really obvious," teased Zeta.

"It's not actually, it's very secure. Just let me enter my code."

"Hang on," she said and turned her back on the door. "I bet I could guess it. Just give me one clue."

"There's no time," said Peta.

"We've got all night, but I bet I can do it in five minutes. Just give me one clue." She had an amused smile.

"There's no chance you'd ever guess it. OK, one clue, it's not a word, it's the first letter of a series of words from a song. I'll time you." He raised his arm and looked at his watch.

"Your taste in songs is pretty limited," her smile widened.

"No, it isn't. I like loads of songs," he replied, a little too defensively.

"You like 2 songs, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, 'You ain't seen nothing yet' and that song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

He stayed quiet for a moment. "I like loads more," he said. Too quickly.

"Name one," she folded her arms and gave him a 'this is going to be interesting' look.

Peta could see that she held back a laugh, which made him panic. His couldn't think of one song, and eventually said, "Oompa Loompa Doompade Doo."

Then she did laugh. "Exactly. I'm sure your password is very secure," she added sarcastically. "Peta, anyone who knows anything about you could guess your password, once they know it's the first letter from a song - it's too, personal."

"Well how secure is your password?" asked Peta.

"Mine would take over 500 years to crack. It's four random words. To get one like mine, all you do is open a book any book, and choose one word for 4 different pages, ideally over 4 letters in length. Arrange them in a way that gives you a strong visual memory, but doesn't actually make literary sense.” She listed the advantages on her fingers. “It's not personal, it's not searchable, these words have never been put together in this order. By anyone. Ever. It's really easy to remember and really hard to crack."

"Well use your super secure password to get us in then," said Peta.

"I would, but I don't trust those people who manage the security."

"Move over then you coward, I'll use mine." Peta proceeded to use the password he'd set up with Melisa Nye in the car on the way to the quarry.

A short delay, followed by a click. He pushed down the handle and the door opened. They snuck inside.

"OK. Where is the Charles Babbage exhibit?" Asked Zeta.

He looked around. “I don't know. It's all changed.”

Really?” Said Zeta, in an exasperated voice.

Peta smiled and walked out into the main exhibition floor. “Nah. Not really. It's exactly the same. It's over here”. He went towards the front of the building. Zeta followed not sure whether she was amused or not.

[Tuesday 11th 18:30]

Chapter 27 - Worm Virus

[Tuesday 11th 18:30]

As they walked across the main floor, every footstep seemed to shout out their presence to the exhibits that lined the walls of the museum. But to Peta, this was home. More than anywhere else he had been since his return, here is where his thoughts had most often turned. Each painting, display, and exhibit were like old friends. A few new ones had been added, a Web Crawler, a giant mechanical beast used to check the vast array of web pages held by the town, filled one of the rooms. But his feet led him straight to where he needed to be, the series of small cramped rooms. These housed the great names of Computing and it was through each that you passed, going back in time. Each room was crammed with a lot of history, the contents came from different times in their exhibits life, but Peta had always enjoyed the clutter, and he had added to it, during the time he had worked here.

He liked to think that the contents reflected the minds of the inventors. With some, the style of the display was extremely chaotic and with others neat. He had hoped to capture the personality and the sense of possibility, that each had expressed in their work, often against resistance or more often the indifference to those around them at the time.

Here was Tim Berners-Lee's office at CERN where he proposed the concept of Hypertext, Steve Job's garage where he and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computers. Bill Gate's school computer that first got him hooked on programming, Grace Hopper's office where she wrote the first compiler for COBOL, Alan Turing's rooms at Bletchley Park, Marian Rejewski's office at the Polish Cipher Bureau, Konrad Zuse's parents flat, and finally Charles Babbage's rooms in Peterhouse College, Cambridge.

The room was exactly as Peta remembered it. A bit dustier than he'd have allowed it to get, but there was Babbages' desk and partially hidden under some other books was the image of Augusta King. Peta had known she had been a collaborator, but he had presumed it was to do with Babbage's other interests in Religion, Public Nuisances and the banning of such things as hoop rolling.

He stepped over the barrier that separated the visitors from the exhibits and walked up to the desk. Behind him, he heard Zeta follow. He removed the open book gently from the desk, careful not to touch the pages, and blew off the worst of the dust from the picture of the lady in the silver gown. Then he closed the book, and saw the title; 'Programmerology by Ada King, Countess of Lovelace'. He felt a thrill of excitement, which he supposed Zeta felt too, as she grabbed at his arm.

"To think it was here....all this time," he said and stuck it in his rucksack. She grabbed his jacket and began to pull him. He looked around at her and saw the terror as she struggled to speak.

"Move!" she yelled.

She stared up into the top corner of the room. Behind him, he could hear a sucking scraping noise. He turned to see a monstrous worm emerge from the air duct in the ceiling. Like the ones that had attacked the government building. It's pink, segmented body, ballooned out of the narrow gap. Wider than both Peta and Zeta put together, the eyeless head flumped to the floor and crushed everything it landed on. The body continued to coil out of the vent. The Lamprey like head raised up and moved in slow spirals and seemed to taste the air. Zeta had already started to run, she pulled the transfixed Peta, out of its way as the worm struck and smashed into a wall. They ran through the door behind them back into Konrad Zuse's room. Halfway across the floor, a huge boom signalled that the worm had followed them.

Peta chanced a glance over his shoulder and saw half of the wall had been smashed away. The body of the worm must be huge. It poured into the room and picked up speed. It hurtled towards them. They leapt through doors and over desks to escape. The breath of the monster was a stench that filled their lungs, but their terror gave them extra speed.

By the time they reached Tim Berners-Lee's office, the worm had crashed through computer room after computer room, and had gained on them. But out in the open, without the physical objects on which to gain purchase, the worm had slowed down. They had a chance to think of their next move.

Peta pulled Zeta back into the museum's front atrium and they hid behind a large wheeled cabinet that contained what looked like a collection of cogs. The worm followed them and then seemed to lose their scent. The body scraped grotesquely across the floor part shell, part skin, and headed towards the front window, away from both of them.

"Come on," whispered Peta. "We can escape out the back way." And started to move, but Zeta held onto him.

"We can't leave that thing in here Peta, we must do something."

"What? What can we do? I left my large worm jar at home, Zeta we'll call someone when we escape, but come on. Let's go," he said in an urgent whisper.

"Well, I'm going to a least try." She looked down at the locked wheels of the large box of cogs they hid behind. She unlocked the first wheel, she moved on to unlock the second.

"Not that," pleaded Peta. “Can't we find... a big hook or something.” Shaken by her fierce look he said "OK, OK, just remember that this was your idea,” and helped her unlock the other wheels.
"We'll crush it," said Zeta.

With their back to the wall and their legs against the machine they pushed. Nothing happened.

"How did you get this thing moving on your own?" asked Zeta.

"How do you know about that?" said Peta.

Zeta laughed in spite of herself "Peta it was quite hard to miss, the front of the museum smashed and a large Difference Engine lying on its side in the town square. You were famous for about a week, then everyone forgot about it" she said and then added in a whisper, "except me".

The worm had now slipped down the side of the atrium, it's bulk climbed the wall, the head swung from side to side as it searched for them. It seemed to fill the atrium and cast a shadow up to where they struggled with the Difference Engine.

Peta then remembered, "The wheels, you've got to align the wheels." He lent out and dragged the wheels round until they all pointed the same way. Then they pushed again. It began to move. But like a large shopping trolley, slightly sideways. They aimed it as best they could as it continued to pick up speed. It just missed a tiny door set into a concrete block and then the slope took over. In a large sweeping arc, it moved towards the window.

Peta tried to shove it back towards the wall, but it moved too fast and was too heavy. After one last pointless shove, Peta fell over and cried out, "No! No! Not again." The worm turned at the sound and it moved towards the threat. It reared as the cabinet approached. The Engine hit the worm 4 segments from its mouth and crushed it. Its body contracted and coiled around the engine as it was swept across the floor and carried, with sickening certainty, towards exactly the same section of window that the Engine had crashed out of last time. It exploded through the glass. Peta thought that it left a much bigger hole than last time, as the Engine had a monstrous worm wrapped around it. The sound of it, as it landed in the town square, momentarily smothered the applause of the glass, as it rained from the window down onto the dead worm.

They stood there and looked at it for a second. Peta came to first, "Come on, I don't want to have to explain what has just happened. Again. Let's go."

She nodded and they retraced their steps to the back door through which they had entered earlier.

[Tuesday 11th 19:00]



Chapter 28 - Arrays in Python

[Tuesday 11th, 19:00]

Peta and Zeta left through the rear door of the museum and stumbled back to the library. A worm, crashing through the front of the Museum, had drawn a lot of attention. Luckily none of it was in their direction. They reached the library and entered through the same door they'd left barely a 40 minutes ago.

They hadn't spoken of their destination, but both walked back to Doc's office in the library. Halfway down the stairs, Zeta sat down.

She looked up at Peta and said. ”What are the chances that we are attacked, the only people in the museum?”

He sat down next to her “How do you know it was us that were attacked? It could have been the museum, we just happened to be there.”

She looked unconvinced, “Maybe, but only one person knew we were going to the Museum, and we are heading straight back towards him.”

He laughed “Who Doc? No. No, I don't think so, it doesn't seem likely does it?”

What do we know about him? He's upset about the town ignoring him, 'I don't get many visitors these days'” she said in a passable impression of Docs voice. “He's got access to the Data Stream and all the information he needs. Perhaps.” She paused. “Perhaps he's the Hacker?”

Peta looked doubtful. “I don't believe it. He couldn't even make a cup of tea without referring to some documentation. Something has just tried to kill us, and we'd previously been to Doc's office, we're making a connection between the two. But it doesn't mean that one caused the other. Anyway, where else can we go?”

She looked worried. "The whole town is rushing to the town square, so we can't leave here for a while, anyway.”

Peta stood up, the adrenaline still pumped through him and made his legs shake. He helped Zeta up, who must feel the same way he thought, and made their way slowly down the last flights of stairs and entered Docs office.

They saw him down at the Data Stream edge, he was talking to a Server who sat on the bank. The Server saw them first, said something to Doc then leapt on top of the packets, ran back upstream and was gone. Moments later Doc looked around.

He came over. He looked flustered and breathed heavily. “I'm sorry, but you'll have to leave. My friend there.“ He gestured back to where the server had been. “Tells me that the Museum has just been destroyed, and you were at the museum. I don't know who you are.“ He said to Peta. “But I must insist that you leave.”

But you know me Doc,” smiled Zeta.

Yes, well, Lady Mayoress." He refused to look at either of them. He was obviously upset. "I am unable to understand why you would be caught up in this hullabaloo.”

Doc, something just tried to kill us, it destroyed the museum. It was the same creature that destroyed the Government buildings. We only just escaped with our lives. Please help us.”

Peta could now see how Zeta had become the Mayor, she had charm, she radiated trust. He had always found it utterly disarming, and he saw that Doc felt the same way.

After a moment, Doc said, “Tried to kill you, why that's terrible, my dear lady, please, is there anything I can do?”

She held out her hand and took Docs, “Just somewhere where we can rest and try to figure out a way to stop these attacks. Peta here is my husband, I obviously trust him completely, and I ask you to do the same.”

Doc drew himself more upright, “How can I be of service?”

Well,” said Zeta, she looked around. “I think another cup of your delicious tea would be a great start, thank you.”

Afterwards Peta showed Doc Ada's book, which he treated with utmost reverence. Doc cleared some space and found a place for him to work. Peta recognised this as a workstation similar to the one that Python used to call his Test Suite. Here, he could see a physical representation of what his program had created in the real world. It became quite clear that the program had returned too many results, each stored in a variable. But it was hard to manage. Each variable was like a can on his desktop. The more cans he had, the harder it was to manage them. He looked into each of these cans in turn as he tried to retrieve information that he'd stored earlier.

This had probably increased the traffic in the pipe and made the collisions more likely. So when he had run the program again, the number of collisions had doubled and in the end, this huge dump of data had resulted in the crashed Server. It was inefficient, and he felt that there had to be a better way of storing the results.

He opened Ada's book and almost immediately recognised some of Python's lessons. After a bit of reading, he came to a chapter on arrays. An array seemed to be a bit like a variable. But instead of creating lots of single cans, that cluttered up his desktop, these created shelves that stretched off into the distance. He could store related data on the shelf, and could easily add more information onto it, everything just moved up one space. To get data out, he could run along the shelf and look into each can. Peta felt confident that the arrays would help him store all the information he needed.

That evening Doc entertained them in the Library canteen. He cooked for them from his cookbook, followed the recipes meticulously and told them stories of the days when documentation mattered. When he was younger Doc had gone for a drink in a rough part of town. This was before the internet had really taken off, and the town still struggled to survive. People were a little desperate.

A pretty young woman came and sat down at my table,” recalled Doc. “This was not something that had ever happened to me before, I was young and shy around women. But she smiled at me, and I smiled back at her. After a few moments, she got up and moved round to my side of the table and sat down next to me, and put her hand on my thigh. I was terribly nervous, but also delighted. She then lent in and whispered in his ear “Give me all of your money, or I will scream that you're assaulting me.” Well, as you can imagine I was a little shocked, so I reached inside my jacket pocket and pulled out some paper and a pen. Then I wrote 'I am deaf and dumb, please write what you want from me on this piece of paper'. She took the note and the pen and wrote ''Give me all of your money, or I will scream that you're assaulting me.” So I took her paper, read it and put it in my pocket. Then I turned to her and said: “I work in the library and I think documentation is so very important, but please feel free to scream if you still want to”. I patted my jacket pocket and she left.” Doc looked off into the distance. “Sometimes I think the world has forgotten how important it is just to...to write things down.”

Doc had few sleeping arrangements for guests. But there was a day bed, a loo and a small bathroom. It was obvious that he slept here himself sometimes. Peta insisted Zeta took the bed, as she didn't want to go back to the residence that night. He was happy on the floor, but he didn't sleep well. The bruises from the packets still hurt and his dreams of were filled with giant worms in Data Streams. As he lay awake, he got the impression that Zeta couldn't sleep either.

[Wednesday 11th 9:00]

The following day Peta tried to create some more arrays but found that Doc's Test Suite had a limit to the number he could create. He asked Doc about this.

Ah yes,” said Doc. “This is quite an old system, it runs stand alone. If you want to be able to store more information, you need to go to Central Memory, there you'll be able to access all the memory that you need.”

Peta remembered Central Memory, a large building on edge of the old town, not far from the town square. But to get there they needed to get past the Museum and the ruined Government buildings. Zeta had gone into work that morning and reported back that access to the square was forbidden. Also, the security levels in the surrounding areas were very high, no one could get into the area. Or get out.



I'm sorry Peta,” she sat down next to him. She looked completely exhausted. They glanced over with distaste at the tumbling packets in the Data Stream. “There's no other way out of here,” she shook her head.

Peta felt sick about using the Data Stream again too. Doc sat nearby.

Ah, maybe not, my dear Lady Mayoress,” said Doc "You see you can't use the Data Stream as there's a Gateway between here and Central Memory. However. There is another way."



[Wednesday 12th, 9:30]



Chapter 29 - Core Routers

[Wednesday 12th, 9:30]

Come with me,” said Doc. He went over to a shelf and picked up a handful of small books and then led them out of another door of his office. “There is more than one type of network you know.” They went down a staircase and into a small corridor directly below his office. “The Data Stream is part of the Transport Layer and is used for passing information between processes. Lots of small bits of information really.”

They went up to a door labelled 'Danger - Do Not Enter'.

Doc stopped. “But the server rooms need to send information between themselves. But this is not monitored, there are no checks, with this amount of data it would clog up the system upstairs, so we use a different one, we call it the Network Layer.” He looked back at them.

I'm not going down another one of those pipes Doc,” Said Zeta and shook her head. “I nearly died in the last one, it was horrible. I'm just not doing it.”

My dear lady, I wouldn't dream of putting you in that position.” He placed a finger up to his lips and closed his eyes. “But this is different. The data is sent very quickly, at high speed.”

Peta looked furious “There's another way in? Avoiding those rivers of packets?”

Doc looked shocked at Peta's anger and tried to settle his mind. “Please understand. This Layer would not work for most journeys. It's just that the Memory Palace is across the square, it's a direct route.”

What difference does that make?” Asked Zeta.

No Routers,” said Doc, as if that settled the matter.

They still looked puzzled.

Doc looked a little confused. “Didn't I say that the data move very quickly?” He looked at both of them.

Yes.” They said in unison.

So,” continued Doc. “If this wasn't a direct route, you'd need a Router. And.” he swallowed. “A Router, 'routes' the data in a different direction. You see?”

They both nodded.

Well then,” said Doc. “A turn at that speed. Why it would kill you, or maybe put you in the hospital for a few months. If you were lucky,” he added, weakly.

Zeta gave him her full Mayoress stare. “And this is the better alternative?”

Peta rested his hand on her shoulder. “Not for you. You can walk across the square without raising suspicion. I'll go this way. I'll see you there.”

She ignored him. “How bad is it Doc?” She asked.

Well. According to my calculations, it's a bit like those astronauts in those amazing rockets. You'll experience around 6g for a second and then negative 6g for a second. You may black out. But I don't think it'll kill you. As I said it's a short hop.” When Zeta didn't respond, he continued. “Err, as I said on some of the longer trips the data experiences around 45g, which probably would kill you, well at the very least detach your eye...”

Yes. Thank you Doc,” interrupted Peta. “I think we get the picture.” He turned back to Zeta. “See, I'll be fine. You walk, I'll meet you there.”

She stood and breathed heavily for a few moments until she'd made up her mind. “I'm coming with you.”

No no no.” Began Peta.

I'm coming, Peta!” She said forcefully. Then almost to herself. “I don't want to go out there and see that. Thing again. I'm coming.”

Very good. Very good.” Doc seemed happy that the confrontation was over. “If you'd just stay here and er, let me make the arrangements.” He turned back to the door and entered gingerly.

They both followed his progress and saw him cross a room, in dimension a mirror of his office above. Except this was completely clear of books and instead full of data packets; neatly stacked. These were being loaded onto a cross between a railway goods car and a toboggan by a group of workers. While the Servers had been poor and obviously from out of town, this group were local, thought Peta. Half of them sat in a circle, each with a mug of tea and looked around at Doc as he came towards them. None of them looked happy at the disturbance.

A large man, with an enormous stomach that threatened to bust the buttons on his jacket, stood up and greeted Doc formally with a handshake and a small bow. They began to talk. It was obvious that it was about them, thought Peta, as the large man glanced over at them a couple of times. After a few minutes, Doc handed over, what looked to Peta, like a large bundle of notes. They shook hands again and he beckoned them over.

Doc met them halfway. “I've arranged your passage. But they're not very happy about it.” He glanced uneasily at the group. “This consignment wasn't due to stop at the Memory Palace. But I pulled in a favour.”

Peta was concerned. “Doc, how much do we owe you? I saw you hand something over some money.”

Money?” Then he cracked a smile. “Not money dear boy. Books, much more valuable. In this case romantic fiction, the foreman simply can't get enough of it. As the cart isn't due to stop, you must remove yourselves immediately upon arrival. Otherwise. Well, let's just say there are Routers up ahead and we all know what that means.”

How long do we have?” Asked Zeta.

Um.” Doc looked pained. “The foreman will tell you, not long I think. Or it would cause suspicion.”

Peta turned to Zeta, but she brushed past him before he could say anything and said, “I'm coming.”

They said their farewells to Doc and walked over to the group.

The cart was built to carry data packets at high speed and manage extreme turning forces, it was not designed to carry passengers. So the group of workers created a small compartment out of the larger data packets. Into this, they squeezed Peta and Zeta.

It's a little tight,” complained Peta. “Couldn't it be a bit roomier?”

The large man clearly enjoyed causing discomfort to the Mayor. “Well now.” He said, in a heavy town accent. “If you have space to move about. You'll move about and 'urt yourselves. See?” He lifted his flat cap and scratched his bald head. “And once you're out, if there's too much space it'll damage the packets. By rights. I should have packed you in lot tighter.”

They talked through the procedure for getting out the other end. Zeta was at the edge and Peta squeezed in behind. As soon as they came to a stop, they planned to jump. They got themselves ready for the leap.

"How long do we have to remove ourselves at the next stop?" Peta asked the foreman.

He gave them a big grin, “'bout 2 seconds. Have a nice trip now, and make sure you do get out mind. I don't much fancy washing squashed Mayor out the cart when it gets back. Ta. Ta.” He gave them a little wave.

Peta could hear laughter from the group. He tried to move, but the rucksack that contained Python's laptop jammed him in place.

"Hey wait," he called. But they closed the safety gate, sounded an alarm and walked away. Some lights on a wall seemed to work like a form of traffic lights. He just had time to register the last light turn green, when it felt like he had been hit by a truck, wind whistled, he was deafened by the noise, then it felt like another truck had hit his other side. A final jolt and they came to a stop.

He tried to haul his body out of the cart, but his arms had been crushed by the forces of acceleration and deceleration. He scrambled and tried to push and pull his body free. Terrified of the cart. Mentally counting, 1,2. 1,2. That must be longer than 2 seconds, the awful realisation that they weren't going to make it. He heard a grating noise and then hands pulled first Zeta free and then, he too was pulled from the cart.

The trip and the fruitless exertion had rendered him almost speechless. “2 seconds. We were told we had 2 seconds.” The same hands that had pulled him out, helped him to his feet.

It's 2 minutes. The cart doesn't leave for 2 minutes. Standard safety procedure. Sounds like Arthur has been having fun again. Come on! Move on! I got a cart to run.”

The gate closed behind them and they gradually came to their senses. Peta looked back at the cart and suddenly realised his mistake.

My rucksack,” he cried. He could see it lying on the floor of the cart, hidden in their small compartment.

He pulled back the safety gate. The man who had rescued them cried out and Peta saw the lights count down. He reached in a pulled out the bag that contained the laptop and stepped free as the light turned green. The cart jumped forward, sucked the air from the platform and sent him spinning. He fell down hard onto the rails below

For the second time, he was pulled to his feet. This time the man was not so friendly. He called him some very creative names. Most Peta thought as he nursed his bruised head and arms, were biologically impossible or at least inadvisable.

Welcome to the Memory Palace,” said the man at last and finished off with some colourful descriptions of what they should do next.

They took his advice and limped slowly to the door marked 'Exit'.

[Wednesday 12th 10:00]

Chapter 30 - Secondary Storage

Wednesday 12, 10:00

Once through the door marked exit, Peta and Zeta climbed several flights of stairs. Peta replayed, again and again, the moment the cart had nearly removed his head, his heart thumped wildly at the memory. Lucky, lucky, lucky, he thought. At the top was a door that opened into a small lane next to the Memory Palace.

They wandered round to the entrance, which comprised of two enormous doors. They pushed hard against them and very slowly, they swung inwards. The air was still inside the high ceilinged entrance hall. They felt like intruders.

Hello!” Called Peta. The short echo was the only response.

Ahead was a large staircase. Each step swept round in a full semicircle, the upper surface was mirrored and above it was stacked another smaller one so that it rose up until it reached a narrow doorway. They climbed up what looked like a stair runner, which marked the route to the top. Each step was labelled as an individual sector.

As they neared the top, they looked through the door and saw a long corridor, and at the end of which was a huge woman, far larger than should be possible. She must be 4 times taller Zeta, and she stared at them. Behind her were 8 tall windows, almost her height, 4 on one side and 4 on the other. They were dark grey and let in no light.

She spoke “Welcome, it's nice to see you two together once more. Peta, shame you've broken the museum again.”

How did you know?” asked Zeta.

I remember everything I hear. What do you want?” asked the figure.

What's your name?” asked Peta.

My name is Mnemosyne which is, ironically, hard to remember, you can call me Yotta. What do you want?” she repeated.

I want to store data. Lots of it. Can you help me?” Peta swallowed, the whole place unsettled him. They started to walk towards the giantess.

Maybe,” said Yotta, her voice sounded both far away and incredibly near. “But answer these questions first. If you answer these questions truthfully then I will help you, but if you lie, then I will not. Do you agree to my terms?”

They continued to walk slowly towards the terrifying figure. Peta then noticed something. As they got closer, she seemed to get further away. He said “OK”.

Do you mean harm to Eye Dunnow?” asked Yotta.

No,” answered Peta. The first of the eight windows behind Yotta seemed to spin vertically 180 degrees on a horizontal axis as if opening. The window turned Blue.

Are you the Hacker?” asked Yotta.

No,” said Peta again.

The second window made the same movement. Peta and Zeta were now about a quarter of the way down the long corridor, but Yotta seemed further away than ever before.

Do you think you can beat the Hacker?” asked Yotta.

Yes,” said Peta. And somehow it wasn't until he had answered this question that he really believed it himself. The third window turned red, unlike the other two blue ones.

Do you know enough to beat the Hacker?” asked Yotta.

No,” admitted Peta. He felt ashamed of this.

The fourth window had swung around too. But he saw that not only was Yotta moving further away, so were the windows. They kept on walking.

After you had left, did you want to return to Eye Dunnow?” asked Yotta.

Yes,” said Peta, another red window, this time the other side of Yotta. He found it hard to focus, something was not right, the ceiling seemed too low, and he felt like he was walking uphill.

Did you tell anyone outside of the town's existence?” asked Yotta.

Yes,” said Peta, he heard Zeta's intake of breath, he knew that talking about the town was a strict taboo. Another Red window. Then, like those optical illusions, his brain did a flip, she wasn't getting further away...

Do you want to leave the town again?” asked Yotta.

No”. The second to last window turned blue. Yotta was shrinking, she had become smaller than him.

Do you still love Zeta?” asked Yotta finally, she looked up at Peta as he arrived, finally, at the end of the corridor.

He stood in front of her, completely aware that Zeta was still by his side, and that she stared at him.

Yes,” said Peta, to the small, very un-intimidating, middle-aged woman. The last window tipped over to red.

Thank you,” said Yotta, with a little smile.

The windows all tipped back to grey.

Yotta closed her eyes for a moment, and then asked him "Why are you here?"

Peta said, "Because I need more memory to store information to defeat the Hacker."

She opened her eyes again and spoke. "It seems you answered. Truthfully. How much memory do you require?"

Peta looked back up the corridor. "But when we came in," he said. "You seemed like some kind of giant, and now we're here, if anything, you're a bit on the small side. No offence."

Yotta smiled. "Yes, it's a funny old world isn't it. I've been shrinking for a while now. The more powerful I get, the smaller I become." Her smile broadened. "As you can see, I'm even smaller now, which means I'm more powerful than I was when you arrived."

Peta looked confused and impressed at the same time.

"Does the same apply to the Memory Palace?" asked Zeta.

"Exactly" replied Yotta, she looked pleased. “You may have noticed, being the Mayor, that our building hasn't changed much in the past 20 years. That's because we now store so much more information than we used to. Over the next decade, I expect us to store a million times more bits of data than we do now. And then, well then, the building will probably be no bigger than a shed." She hooted with laughter.

"What will happen to you?" asked Zeta.

Yotta looked quite cheery. "Well there is a physical limit, but I may be so small that you'll barely notice me any more, as I said funny old world."

"Aren't you worried?" asked Peta.

"Oh no," said Yotta, she looked amused. "It's memory that I value, not size, think how much more I know when I'm this small." She pinched her forefinger and thumb together and squinted her eyes. "I'm rather looking forward to it."

[Wednesday 12 11:00]

Chapter 31 - Bits and Bytes

[Wednesday 12th 11:00]

I'm so glad you came,” said Yotta, the tiny woman in charge of the Memory Palace.

We are too, I think,” said Peta.

She jumped up onto a high chair, her little legs dangled. “It stops me getting a crick in my neck.” She explained. “Don't you remember me? We're cousins on your father's side, well in this Town we're all cousins really. Apparently, in the olden days, we used to encourage travellers to stay - get a bit of new blood in - anyway nowadays it must be quite difficult to find us.” She said all of this in a flurry, then tilted her head and looked at Peta. “isn't it?”

He stared at her, unsure of how to respond. “Yes. Very,” he admitted. He thought that she was the most extraordinary person he had ever met.

She looked him up and down “We first met when you were very small, not long before your father died.”

I'm sorry, I don't remember,” said Peta.

Ooh, you're lucky, I remember everything, As I said you were very small, I was much bigger in those days of course. Size of a bloomin' bus me Ha!” Yotta shrieked. “And I was at your wedding but had to leave before the reception. So I didn't have a chance to chat.” She seemed a bit wistful.

She hopped down off the chair. “Come on, let me give you the tour, I can show you where I keep my bits and bobs,” and she toddled off on quick little legs.

I thought it was bits and bytes,” said Zeta, as she hurried after her.

Oh yes. I keep forgetting,” said Yotta, with a twinkle in her eye. “So how much memory do you need?”

I'm not really sure,” Peta replied.

Oh Well, don't worry about it.” Yotta waved a dismissive hand. “There's plenty of room, the smaller you go.”

They came to a door which opened into another long corridor, but this time some workers were busy, “Storing data,” Yotta explained.

Peta saw more of what, he had thought were the windows, but could see were actually lines of 8 magnets. There were lots of them.

The answers to your questions are in there somewhere, each of those groups are 8 bits, which when grouped together make up 1 Byte,” she explained. She walked them up to one group of eight bits, on its own and larger than the others. It hung in a wooden frame. She picked up a magnet from a hook on the side. "It all works by magnets.”

She placed the magnet to top of one of the bits and it swung vertically end over end. “These can either be set to North or South, Yes or No, 1 or 0. And once I've set it, it stays that way, we call it non-volatile memory."

She chucked the magnet at Peta, who placed the magnet at the bottom of the same bit, and it swung back again.

"This is just a display model. For school tours and the like. I wouldn't want that magnet to get anywhere near my actual memory, I'd lose wholes sectors of data", Yotta threw her hands in the air with an expression of fake horror. "Arrghh, doesn't bear thinking about". She took the magnet back and placed it in her pocket.

Why 8?” asked Peta. He knew the answer perfectly well, the byte family and memory were stories he'd grown up with, but he wanted Zeta to understand them too, she'd always found his family history incredibly boring.

No reason, but 'even' numbers were easier to create, because it helps if you can just double what you've already got.”

How do you mean?” asked Zeta.

Well if you can create 1 of something, then by creating another you have 2. And if you can create 2 of something, then do that again, and you have 4 of them. One more doubling will get you to 8. So they kept it at 8, as 4 were too few to store any useful information and 16 too many.”

The workers seemed to grow as they walked to the other end of the corridor, and Peta now recognised that the floor was gently sloping upwards and the roof sloping down. The workers arranged the bytes into groups along conveyor belts, that lined both walls.

They're putting the bytes into blocks of 1024,” explained Yotta.

Wouldn't 1000 be easier?” said Zeta.

You would think so wouldn't you,” said Yotta. “but not if you're doubling things. We're only looking at storage now, not the smallest size to store something useful, like a letter or a number. Do the same with the bytes as we did with the bits, 1, 2, 4, 8, but this time go one, what comes next Lady Mayor?”

Er 16," Yotta nodded her encouragement, "32, 64, 128,” continued Zeta, then stopped while obviously trying to calculate the next numbers. "Err"

256, 512 and 1024,” completed Peta.

Zeta looked over, impressed. Peta smiled and then admitted “These numbers are like names in my family tree. I grew up knowing them”

As they neared the end of the shrinking corridor, the conveyor belts moved the groups of bytes into the next room and a door at the end opened. They walked through it.

And now the process begins again,” said Yotta, with an air of wonder.

The room looked almost identical, but now the groups of k's were being put together.

Our 1024 byte groups come into this room as a 1 kilobyte block, we arrange these in 1024 groups, where they leave as 1 Megabyte, and so on, 1024 Megabytes is 1 Gigabyte, 1024 Gigabytes is 1 Terabyte and on and on until we've stored all of the information for the day," said Yotta with a flourish. “Come into the control room and you can see the whole process.” Peta glanced over at Zeta, they found it very hard not to laugh.

They followed Yotta out of the side door, down a corridor and into a control room, that looked more like Nasa's Mission Control Center. Peta was fascinated by the whole process. He saw the rooms move from Megabytes to Gigabytes, onto Terabytes, then Petabytes, the next 3 screens were blank but knew they were waiting for Exabytes, Zettabytes and Yottabytes to come online in the next few years. He felt a sense of pride for his family's involvement in the history of computer memory.

Yotta pointed out to them how the data was moved onto the hard disks. The whole storage process was managed by an incredibly thin man who, Peta thought, Yotta rather cruelly called he "FAT man."

But he seemed jovial enough. "I manage the File Access Table," he said, in an adenoidal tone, "F.A.T. Look here comes your data, we'll look to store this in a place you can access it later."

The FAT man's fingers played the controls. They never seemed to miss a note, "Aha!" he said, "It seems we have some information assigned to you already, there's your new data." He peered closer at the screen, "and we have a program run a few days ago." He looked back at Peta. "A programmer, a rare beast these days." He looked back at the screen and also noted. "And some security information too, don't worry it's encrypted, I can't read it. We'll lump all of this together shall we." He punched some more keys and dragged a mouse around, then said: "OK you're on disk 1528, must be an old family to be on such a low numbered one." The screen zoomed into a shiny mirrored surface, which as they got closer, he saw was actually made up of thousands of rings, One of the rings highlighted, "Track 306" announced the FAT man. "That surface is actually only a few hundreds of sectors of information, tiny dots really, only 512 bytes each, but at the speed, the disk is running at it looks like the whole track. OK. You're sorted,” he smiled. "Also, I've given you access to a few terabytes of disk space as Yotta tells me you needed it."

Peta looked astonished.

"Don't worry," said the FAT man, "not a lot gets missed by Yotta."

Yotta apologised, she had some more visitors, but she urged them to stay. Zeta went with her as she had to “pop back into the office, the whole business of the worm will need some organising.”

Peta stayed. He stood for a while and marvelled at how a few simple rules, followed repeatedly, could create such apparent complexity. He had been lost in thought when, the door swung open and in walked two severe looking officials. Yotta followed. She looked furious.

You can't just barge in here” she called after them, as they walked into the Control Center.

They handed her a piece of paper and said in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear that she “comes under the protection of the government of Eye Dunnow. The special emergency procedures were drawn up in response to the attacks on this town.”

Peta moved closer so that he could observe what was happening. He picked up a tablet computer from the FAT man, who nodded his assent and moved along one of the banks of desks that curved across the room and stopped behind the group.

I don't need your protection,” yelled Yotta, and pulled herself up to her full height.

Well, the government thinks you do,” replied the man. He had a humourless face thought Peta. “Your facility is vulnerable to attack, and we're here to protect it. If we need you, we'll call for you. Now please excuse me, we have a warrant to look through your data.” He turned away from Yotta and joined his partner who had already begun to look at the system.

How is looking through my data, protecting me from an attack, officer?” Asked Yotta, indignantly.

The officer turned. He ignored her, as he addressed the room in a loud voice. “We looking for a one Peta Byte.“

Peta froze, he suddenly realised how exposed he was. He began to edge back down the row of desks.

A Petabyte of Data,” continued the officer, “that we believe has been infected with a computer virus.”

Peta's relief brought him to a halt. He was desperate to know more about what they were up to. The officials commandeered a number of the controllers. Who looked wildly between Yotta and the officials, unsure about whose orders to follow. Yotta looked furious, but after a few moments, she nodded her assent. She then turned on her heel, and marched out, muttering “We'll see about this”. As she passed the desk where Peta stood she mouthed for him to “get out now”, and then left the room.

Peta felt that the attention was not on him, so he watched what the officials did. He wanted to know how they would look for virus information; what search criteria they would use, how they would recognise the viruses. The information that Fintle had sent him was rather limited, but he became excited when he thought about the treasure trove of data right here. They were going to do the work for him and he was desperate for that knowledge.

He edged along the next row of desks. He pretended to do the same checks that he had done earlier, but this time with his back to the officials.

To begin with, it sounded hopeful, they were looking for programs that were being run when they shouldn't. Peta moved nearer. “We know that one program was run from Server Room 217 near the Interface Zone yesterday,” said the other official to the Controllers.

[Wednesday 12th 12:00]

Peta held his breath, he knew that room number, it was the Server Room that he and Zeta had been in

A File Virus then destroyed the Server Room. It nearly killed a town worker, put the whole room out of action. We're still missing several Servers. We need the identity of the whoever ran that program around the time of the attack.”

Peta moved on in shock. They weren't looking for the viruses. They wanted to find him. And if they found him, he'd never be able to defeat the Hacker. He had to remove the evidence before they found it. With every bit of restraint he could manage, he slowly made his way back to the FAT man.

[Wednesday 12th, 12:00]

Chapter 32 - How Hard Disks Work

[Wednesday 12th; 12:00]

Peta lent down to the FAT man and quietly asked him to delete the data they had on him.

I can't,” he whispered. “All deletions appear on the main screens, they have to be authorised. They'll see,” he nodded at the officials only 10 desks away.

What can I do?” asked Peta.

You'll have to delete the information directly on the disk. Go find Yotta, she'll be able to show you. We'll slow them up. But you must hurry.”

Peta make a quick exit from the Control Center and wasted many minutes in a frantic search for Yotta. When he finally caught up with her and explained what he needed to do she looked aghast. “Delete information. Before it's been properly backed up.“

Please Yotta, they're not interested in stopping the Hacker, only catching me. I need your help.”


She shook her head. "No, absolutely not!"

Peta rubbed his hands through his hair in frustration. "Alright not for me. But for you. In the last week, I've seen worm attacks and a file virus just destroyed a Server Room. I've seen what they can do. The destruction. You do not want them in here. And I'm trying to stop that. I'm not saying I can stop it, but if they arrest me," he pointed back toward the control room, "they'll do nothing to protect your data. Help me, and I'll do everything I can to stop the Hacker."

Yotta took a moment. “But deleting data? It's my biggest fear, Peta. It's a real phobia. Like those nuts in the silos and their fear of people dropping databases."

"Yotta, the worms won't care. Trust me, they'd destroy everything."

Yotta said nothing. She lent back against the wall and closed her eyes. Peta remained quiet. Then, her eyes snapped open, "OK. I must be mad. Come with me.”

She could move with surprising speed thought Peta as they descended several floors into the basement. Through his feet, he felt and heard a humming, whirring sound.

She opened a door labelled, “Maintenance Only. Danger. Parts Moving at High Speed,” and walked into a changing room lined with the white, clean room suits. Peta followed.

Quick, put these on,” ordered Yotta.

Do we really have the time?”

She stamped her foot. “I will not have my disks contaminated. One speck of dust in here can gouge a trench in my disks. My, my, what am I doing?” she added, more to herself than to him.

Once they had added boots, headphones with microphones, and whole face masks, they entered a series of rooms where they were cleaned, dried and had all of the dust in the atmosphere sucked out. Then, they stepped into the disk rooms. It was loud in there, they had to shout into their microphones for the other to hear. He followed her along suspended metal walkways. Below them were the disks, encased in metal boxes. They were huge, each one was like a flattened fairground carousel. Eventually, they came to disk 1528. They climbed down a short ladder and stood on top of it, Yotta looked anxious and signalled for Peta to tread softly. She took a handset off the wall and flicked a switch, the vibration beneath their feet lessened. After a few moments, Yotta indicated for Peta to follow her to a small trap door on one of the edges in the disk casement. She handed the handset to Peta, opened the door and began to descend into the body of the disk. She beckoned and Peta followed her down into the cramped space. Then she closed the trap door again and locked it with the sort of wheeled handle found in a submarine. It was quieter in there.

Peta thought the disk looked like a huge round mirror, there was not much light in here, but the disk seemed to shine.

Indicating a small gantry arm, similar to the arm of an old record turntable, Yotta explained, “I'm going to ride the arm out to track 306 and delete the data using this.” She reached inside the clean suit and brought out the magnet she'd used earlier. She looked a little sick at the thought of using it.

Won't the arm touch the surface of the disk”

No," she said. "The arm floats on a cushion of air, it gets pretty close, but this cushion stops the head from touching the disk, I'll be safe, as long as I don't fall off the arm. Let's try it at 1000 revolutions per minute. You're going to have to control the disk using the handset.” Peta thought it looked like it came from a remote controlled car. “Use the top dial to change the speed, the readout tells you the rpm,” she continued.

You'll die at that speed,” yelled Peta into his microphone.

Yotta laughed. “Only the disk spins. The arm moves across the surface of the disk. Use the bottom dial to select the track, and the readout tells you the track number here. We need track 306,” she pointed at the controller. “Do you understand?” she yelled.

Peta nodded and then realised that Yotta couldn't tell through his suit mask. “Yes, but let me ride the arm, you do the controls,” he shouted back.

Let someone else near my data with a magnet. Like hell, I will. Anyway, you're too big for it.” She moved towards the arm. “Right, wait until I'm in position, then start the disk spinning. Don't move the arm until the disk is up to speed. I'll need that cushion of air.” She raised her hand palm up. “I'll use this gesture to tell you to raise the speed and this gesture.” She lowered her arm, palm downward. “To tell you to lower it. Thumbs up from me means I'm good to go. Thumbs up from you means I can begin deleting. Right. Yes. Right.” She seemed a little distracted.

Oh, I nearly forgot, it can get pretty windy in here.” She took the controller and clicked it into a housing on the upper arm of the suit. “This way you can wrap your arms around something and still operate it.”

Yotta climbed onto the arm and lay face down, not unlike how you'd ride a surfboard, thought Peta. She shifted her position a couple of times, and made sure that all of her suit was above the gantry and didn't trail below it and then gave a thumbs up sign. Peta gently turned the top dial, the disk began to spin. Being so close to something moving that fast completely terrified him.

100, 200, 300...

Also, the wind in the enclosed space caused Peta's cleanroom suit to whip around his legs. The speed slowly crept upwards. Yotta signalled him to get the speed up more quickly. He moved the dial and the roar increased. Peta began to feel the pressure of the wind push steadily against him. He widened his stance and continued to stare at the dial.

500, 600, 700

He turned the dial a bit more and leaned into the wind.

800, 900, 1000. The noise was astonishing.

He tried to signal to Yotta that he was ready to position the arm, but she was holding on tight and didn't look at him. He turned the arm dial and expected to see the arm start on the outside of the disk and move inwards. But it swung in an alarming way, right to the inner track of the disk. At first, Peta thought he must have moved the dial the wrong way, but he noticed that he had positioned the arm at track 10. He turned the dial a little more and the arm moved very quickly to track 50, 60.

Every move jerked into position and he was worried that Yotta would fall off, he thought it was best to get to the track quickly and steadily, 150, 170. It was torture, faster seemed worst, but Yotta hung on.

200, 220, 230.

It looked like he was trying to shake her off.

260, 270, 280.

He realised that getting to 306 was going to be hard,

290, 300, 310.

He turned the dial very gently back, 307, 304. The movements of the arm we tiny, Yotta seemed to be aware that they must be close as she raised her head a little off the arm. And back again 307. After several goes he finally settled on 306. He raised his thumb.

After no movements from the arm for a few seconds, Yotta looked over at him and then reached in her pockets and gently removed the magnet. She rolled a little sideways, but kept the magnet close to her body, as far away from the surface of the disk as possible, and used both hands to align it, as if in prayer with the read/write head at the end of the arm.

Something wasn't right. She tried shifting position, and tried again, with the magnet pushed over the edge of the arm. She shook her head, and with one arm she indicated to Peta that he should raise the speed of the disk.

Peta turned the speed dial, the noise increased and the rpm leapt up.

1,200, 1,400, 1,600.

Peta found the wind too much and felt his feet began to slide across the floor. He reached out and wrapped his arms through the trap door's handle and linked them back up to the controller, he then pushed his feet under sections of the infrastructure of the disk's case.

Yotta signalled again, she wanted the disk to spin even faster? He couldn't understand it. He thought she must be too low, so he turned the dial again.

1,800, 2,000.

The roar became painful, he used the trap door handle to push himself flat against the wall. Again Yotta signalled to speed up. He had no idea how she held on.

2,500, 3,000.

He could no longer see or think, the wind almost snapped his arms, his shoulder socket felt ready to pop. The controller strained against its housing in the suit's arm, but it held firm.

He realised he'd shut his eyes when he opened them again Yotta was signalling him to slow the disk down. He had no idea if she'd managed to delete the data. He brought the dial back, the disk began to slow.

2,500, 2000, 1500, 1,000, 700

She signalled frantically for him to speed up again,

He brought the speed back up to 1000. She gave a thumbs up and then pointed with her thumb to be brought back in. Peta realised that the dial had an inner dial for more sensitive movement, with an indentation for his finger to sit. As the wind dropped he brought his feet back to the floor and smoothly brought her back to the start position. She signalled for him to cut the spin. The noise gradually dropped and he released his grip on the handle.

Are you OK?” asked Peta.

Oh yes, I'm fine,” answered Yotta, matter of factly.

You were amazing, how did you stop getting blown off the arm?” asked Peta.

Oh, it not that windy in the centre. I'm glad you managed to get the speed up, I thought maybe the wind resistance would have slowed it down.”

Sorry about that,” said Peta, “were you too low?”

No!” exclaimed Yotta, “too high. The faster the disk spins the closer the arm gets to the surface. The magnet would not have worked at that height. As the speed increased, I was low enough to delete the your data.”

You mean you did it!” shouted Peta, “you're amazing Yotta! Amazing!”

Yes, well, there are still officials in my office trying to find you, so we need to find a way of getting you out of here,” she opened the trap door and climbed out of the hard drive.

[Wednesday 12th, 14:00]

Chapter 33 – USB

[Wednesday 12th, 14:00]

Peta was very quiet on their walk back from the disk floor.

You'd better wait here, while I go and see if it's safe for you to come out,” said Yotta.

He thanked her and lent against the wall in thought. Either the government thought that he was the Hacker, or worse, the government itself was. He wasn't sure what he should do. He was trapped in the town and but he didn't think that he could defeat the Hacker from the outside, though he wasn't sure that he would be able to stay. But he knew that he needed to rest, and try to plan his next move.

The realisation in the Control Centre that he needed more information than Fintle could give opened up a solution that went against everything that the town stood for. He needed to ask for help from the outside. But that risked exposing the town, the greatest taboo. But, for him, the step wasn't that big. He'd talked about the town to his surfing friends, and they just thought it was a joke, and one they had found increasingly unfunny. Any mention of the town usually resulted in them telling him to drop it or, if they were in more playful moods, come up with the name of another town that they all came from, called either “Doesn't Really Existford", or “Please Shut Upbridge”.

So, he knew that the outside world didn't want to storm into the town, they didn't care. He was confident that he could communicate openly, but he was pretty sure that Zeta wouldn't see it that way.

Yotta returned and said that the officials were still there and that he should probably find somewhere to go.

She'd called Zeta, suggested that she came to “pick up a package', and that she could probably find somewhere safe for him to stay. In the meantime, she put him in an office not far from a side door.

[Wednesday 12th 15:00]

After about an hour Zeta found him sitting there, still lost in thought.

Come on. Yotta told me about what happened,” she said. “The officials have gone. They didn't find what they were looking for apparently. But the town is pretty edgy at the moment. There are calls for my resignation, so...That's nice.”

But that's madness, why should you resign? This isn't your fault.” Peta was furious.

Zeta smiled and thanked him, “You know I would resign if I felt that those who would take over had any clue, any clue whatsoever. But you saw them goons earlier, that's the Government's idea of an informed response. I was hoping that we could bring you into the office and get you an official position, but that just isn't going to happen now.”

So, any suggestions?” Asked Peta.

Only one, and I don't think you're going to like it.”

Why?” He looked confused.

Your brother..” as Peta started to interrupt her, “no, no, no, don't just dismiss it, he's still your brother.”

We haven't spoken in years, I mean before I left we hadn't spoken in years, well apart for the 10 minutes at our wedding. Oddest best man speech ever. Don't know what that was all about.” Peta spoke the last part to himself rather than her.

Zeta seemed to bite back what she really wanted to say. “Yes, well, family relations are always difficult, but where else can you go?”

Your place?” asked Peta, hopefully.

Hmm, let's see,” said Zeta, “wanted man sets up home in the Mayor's official, well guarded, residence, yes, can't see anything wrong with that idea.”

Couldn't you send the guards away?”

Now that wouldn't look at all suspicious,” she said sarcastically. “Also, it's used as offices during the day, and any nutter in the town with a grudge against the government is able to come up to the front desk. The guards are the only ones able to stop them from going any further. I want to be able to sleep at night, so no, I won't be sending the guards away.” She crossed her arms, leant back against the wall and stared out of the window.

They brewed in silence for a while, eventually, Peta looked up. “Well let's go to darling Tera's, I mean Terry's house.”

Ah you sure?” asked Zeta.

Nope, but considering the alternative seems to be jail, I'll have to put up with it. Any idea how we get there?” He asked as he packed away the laptop and now, very battered copy of Ada's book.

Well, Yotta has a lot of those new buses I told you about. The Universal Serial Buses, she suggested we use one of them,” she said.

Coo, USB's I must be going up in the world.” He swung his bag over his shoulder.

They walked out of the office and down to where Yotta had told Zeta she could catch one of the buses. These USB's were pretty autonomous. Previously there had been many different ways of moving data between other areas of the town. This had meant that some parts had been unable to share data with others. It had become very difficult. The USBs resolved that. With their own power and ability to link to anywhere in the town, they quickly established themselves as the preferred way of connecting one zone to another.

The USB's used by Yotta's Memory Palace were used for bulk transfer. Zeta knew that they could also be switched to run a regular service every hour, but they could use a third method, the interrupt. This would get them a bus right now, although it would only go to wherever the bus was currently connected to. All they needed was connected to somewhere close to Terry's.

The buses were lined up, like a long line of cows being milked, they all looked exactly the same, Zeta told him that some of the services would be connected to Internet Service Providers Hall, not far from where they wanted to go. They passed buses connected to other parts of the town; Database, Applications, but they soon found one they were looking for. It was in the middle of a bulk download, Zeta walked up to it and requested a service. The download stopped and the doors opened to let them in.

The Bus was a USB 3.0 and it soon moved off. It sped through the town on a separate lane. The ISP Hall and the Memory Palace were pretty close together, so within a matter of minutes, they had pulled into the depot next to the ISP Hall. This area had changed a lot in the four years since Peta last had seen it. It had grown to be almost like a separate town in its own right. The ISP Hall looked like an international airport terminal, with long lines of windows and, similar to an airport, it was very busy.

The size and the bustle of the place was the best cover they could have. No one noticed two more people amongst the crowds of shift workers. They walked around the corner of the building, across a full car park, and over a wide road. They climbed up a grassy bank into the affluent suburb where Terry lived. The tree-lined avenues, large front gardens, and double garages complimented the grand houses that stood like something from a Hollywood movie. The noise of the town seemed diminished here, expensive cars rolled slowly by and they passed a few elderly people out walking their dogs, who said "Good Evening" and raised their hats. If they recognised Zeta, they didn't show it, but smiled and nodded their heads in greeting.

[Wednesday 12th 15:30]

Terry's house stood proudly on its own. If a house could, this one puffed it's chest out, behind the neatly kept garden which, Peta knew, Terry had never mown, pruned or weeded. It lay like an enormous welcome mat, that said: "Look at me!" Zeta led the way up the wide garden path, past the miniature trees in pots and into the huge porch, to the large wooden door. She knocked and moments later Terry, Peta's older brother, opened it. Peta could tell straight away that this had been pre-arranged, as Terry's reaction convinced no one. Still, he let himself go along with the charade to keep Zeta happy and felt that being brought to Terry's house would at least give him some time to think in comfort.

[Wednesday 12th 15:40]

Chapter 34 - Conditionals in Python

[Wednesday 12th 15:40]

Come in, come in,” said Terry. But Peta noted that he looked up and down the quiet prosperous avenue where he lived before he shut the door. The wide hallway was expensively decorated; oil paintings, grandfather clock, wooden floors and Turkish carpets gave a sense of great wealth.

Still doing pretty well, then Terra,” said Peta with a smile. He caught Zeta's eye, and quickly amended without sincerity, “Terry, sorry.”

Yes, well,” replied Terry and ignored Peta's dig. “It's lovely to see you both and under such terrible circumstances,” he added with a slight hint of pomposity.

How do you mean?” asked Peta.

All these horrid attacks, I mean to say.” He led them into a large room off the hall, similarly decorated. He prowled up to a round table, and offered them both a glass of Sherry from a decanter, Peta accepted, but Zeta declined.

Yes,” said Peta. He took the sherry for a walk around the room, and wondered how much all this artwork cost, “it must be awful for business.”

Zeta flashed him another look, so he sipped his very dry sherry, as Terry said, “Hmm well, are either of you hungry? How about a late lunch or early dinner. I'm sure the housekeeper left a little something in the refrigerator.”

Peta coughed into his sherry, but Zeta said, “Thank you, but no, I'm fine."

Peta shook his head too, "No, thank you, brother."

Zeta looked awkward. "Well, I'll leave you two boys to catch up, I should be going.”

Peta gave her a mutinous look. Terry said in an insincere tone, “Oh do stay.” He never did like Zeta, Peta thought. Her common touch, obviously popular with the voters, was a little too common for Terry, who had developed a horrible sense of superiority that Peta could not stand.

No, no, I've got lots to do, I really must be going. I'll see myself out.” She gave Peta a smile and a little wave and mouthed “Be nice” as she left the room.

Left alone together, an uncomfortable silence stretched between them like a wall, interrupted only by a bang as the front door closed. Peta wandered over to the fireplace and stared up at a painting that hung there. It was of a pastoral scene of agricultural workers at a fork in the road, along one path in the distance he saw the smoking chimneys of an industrial town, and a little way along the other, a hovel, it's roof caved in, thin dogs played in the dusty track. Peta saw a stark choice between squalid wealth or idyllic poverty and didn't much fancy either.

Terry came up and stood next to him. He also looked up at the painting. “So,” he said, “which way would you choose?”

Neither,” said Peta, only now he came up with the answer.

Unable, as usual, to make a decision,” Terry's polite demeanour had dropped with Zeta's absence.

No, I would decide on another path, the path that you cannot see.” Peta emphasised the 'you'. He moved his head as if he tried to look round the frame. “Maybe the one behind the painter. I'd want to find another way.”

And if there isn't another way?” asked Terry. Peta felt that he had never considered the alternatives before, just what was offered, visible, allowed.

Then I'll make my own.” Peta felt incredibly tired and wanted more than anything for the whole thing to end, to be able to rest. “Look, Terry,” he couldn't quite keep the smile out of his voice whenever he addressed his brother by his assumed name, “Is there somewhere I can rest, ideally somewhere with a workstation connection.”

Terry said nothing for a while. “You're not the Hacker, are you brother?” he asked this quite softly and turned towards Peta, an intent look on his face, almost as if he feared the answer.

No,” said Peta and turned to face his brother for the first time. “No, I'm not. But I want to be the one to stop them. Will you help me?"

Terry looked genuinely relieved. He smiled, “Yes. Yes of course. Come on, I'll show you to the guest's annexe.”

Peta smiled at his brother's inability to not show off. “Great”, he said. “I can't think anywhere else I'd rather be.”

Peta's accommodation was like a self-contained apartment, bigger he mused than the rented house he used to share with Zeta. When the door had finally closed, he returned to the main guest bedroom and lay on the large bed. He was unsure what to do next. It had been simple, he had looked for ways to stop the Hacker, he could work until he found a way. But the officials at the Palace had upset the balance.

What if the town government actively tried to catch him, what then?

Well if they thought he was the hacker any movement was extremely risky

But there was an Else. If they didn't think he was the Hacker, then he would be able to continue his work but he needed to remain undercover.

OK, the officials in the palace were definitely after him. But the question remained, did they think he was the Hacker or not. If they did, they thought that he'd make a useful scapegoat, someone who they could blame for the attacks. He didn't have alibis. They could throw him in jail, at least until there was another attack.

But what if they didn't think he was the Hacker? What if they had just followed a lead. While he may be blamed for wasting police time, or criminal damage, a lengthy jail sentence looked less likely. Also, they wouldn't put the whole of the police force against him.

It was a big IF. But if they didn't actively look for him, then he could continue.

He thought about this a little longer, then decided that he could continue. OK. But what next?

Well, the virus information received from Fintle was too limited. He was unprepared for the Worm attack in the museum, he hadn't got the information to recognise that type of virus. It didn't behave like a normal virus, it seemed to work by moving from one place to another. He didn't know anything about the Server Room virus. If Fintle didn't have the information that he needed, then he needed to widen the net, get more data in.

An idea of how he could get the outside world to help came to him when they had arrived at the ISP Halls. Inside the town; the USB buses ran, the data was moved about, and the number of people with information was limited. But outside the town. Well, if only 1 in a thousand people could help him, then there'd be millions of virus names he could add to his search program. But to get that number of people, he'd have to reach out to the internet. Use the town's greatest asset to break the town's greatest taboo.

His thoughts returned to the ISP hall, there must be people there who communicated with the outside world, who managed the connections. He needed to get access to one of those accounts. He'd have to go into the ISP Hall, but first, he had to make a few changes to his program.

[Wednesday 12th 17:00]

Chapter 35 – Read Write Text Files in Python

[Wednesday 12th 17:00]

The Bytes had, like most of the rest of the town, been a farming family, and not very successful ones. Only able to trade at those local markets that were in walking distance to their farm, they led what could have been described as a subsistence lifestyle. Rutted tracks were their only means of communication, and these were impassable during the winter months, so they didn't see the wealth being created in the surrounding countryside. But vicars died and were never replaced, or couldn't locate the town, and no large landowners dominated. So everything the town made, they owned. They had no tithes, no rent, common land remained common, families that owned land kept the land, and those without were still needed help to work it. The agricultural revolution passed them by, and they didn't have the industry to be revolutionised beyond the Smiths, Potters and Builders that maintained the infrastructure of the place. So they were poor, but unaware of their poverty.

When the town had been discovered and the governments decided to build offices and accommodation for the civil servants to work in, these had to be put somewhere. The Bytes had owned land near the town's northern edge. Old Meg Byte had been the matriarch then, and she refused to sell, as she put it, "one Rod of land". She had sat in her apron, bonnet and voluminous skirts by the fire and smoked her clay pipe. She looked like someone from a different era and she eyed the officials shrewdly. Naturally distrustful of those from 'Off', she had negotiated 'terms', leaseholds and, by the town's standards became quite rich. With this money, she did what any farmer would do, and bought more land. They built too. Gave the town modern housing, parks, community centres, and schools. But they never sold any of it. They just drained more land and expanded their influence.

It was this wealth that Terra had inherited, by which time the Bytes no longer farmed, but rented out property. And it was this life that Peta had rejected. He felt the injustice of the luck that had fallen on them and he had also refused to be under the influence of his brother. By the time he had married Zeta, he spoke to his brother barely twice a year.

Peta lay on the bed, and gazed up at the ceiling and wondered if he'd made the right decision. Should he have swallowed his pride and helped in the family business? But tiredness drove the thoughts from his mind. After an early supper with Terry, spent mostly in silence, he returned to his room and soon went to bed, where he'd dropped into a deep sleep and awoke early.

[Thursday 13th 7:30 am]

He lay awake in the morning and worried. His plan to expand his search had a problem. The interface he had created for Fintle only allowed for one file to be loaded at a time. That was OK for Fintle, but what if people wanted to load many files? What if they loaded files that had more than one description of a virus. Was he going to have to get other people to work for him to manage the workload? That would draw attention, and attention would draw the authorities. But without help, he wouldn't be able to manage it.

Unable to come up with a solution he wandered down into the kitchen, where Terry was already dressed. He leaned against a kitchen countertop and read some data off a tablet in his hand.

Morning brother,” he said pompously as he looked up. “Can I get you some breakfast?”

Err, just some tea please,” said Peta, he felt a bit useless. He sat down at the table, while Terry brought along a teapot, and a cup and saucer. After he plonked a bottle of milk and sugar in front of Peta, he returned to his screen.

More by way of conversation than interest Peta inquired. “What are you looking at?”

Terry looked up, “Hmm?”

What are you reading? It looks incredibly boring,” observed Peta.

This, dear brother is the opposite. This is my rental report.”

Peta poured the tea, added some milk and gave it a stir, he only half listened. “And what's a rental report,” he asked through a stifled yawn.

Terry seemed not to notice. “Well, do remember how I used to have teams of rent collectors knocking door to door?”

Uhuh,” acknowledged Peta. He'd done the job for about an hour in his teens, but found the whole thing horrible and refused to continue. He wondered if Terry remembered.

Well, now it's all collected automatically. Saved me a packet. The rents are collected straight from the bank, and then I can download this report. It tells me who has paid and who hasn't. Look the colours show when people are more than 1 month in arrears. No more rent collectors, and all their complaining.” He definitely remembered thought Peta.

Terry showed Peta the report. There were columns for an ID code, and the address, tenant's name, date and amount of rent due and rent paid. A few other columns went off the side of the screen.

Peta sat up as he looked at it. “So the bank receives the individual rents and creates this document, this one file, which you then download?” asked Peta and he looked at Terry intently.

Yes, yes, it allows me to... I say, where are you going?” Terry called after Peta as he disappeared back up to the annexe and pulled out Python's laptop.

He didn't need a bank, he didn't need to store the money, he just wanted the information, the individual virus names, and from that, he could create a file, surely this must be possible with Python. Ada's book helped little here, but it had enough to go on. He wanted to test the program with files on his computer first, and only then would he look to contact the internet, he'd deal with that problem when he got to it.

The first job was to be able to read a file, look inside it, to see what was there. If he could get the information out, he could use it, change it, process it.

Then, he had to be able to write it out to another holding file, one that would be used to store all of the virus names, hundreds, possibly thousands of them. It was this file that he hoped would store all of the virus file names that the Hacker used. He could then read the file contents, line by line and check the viruses against this list, flag all of the files that matched those in his list, so they could be verified as safe or not.

And if he could identify all of the viruses the Hacker used then he should, he hoped, be able to stop them from running any of them. If he could identify all the pieces, then he had a good chance to complete the puzzle.

[Saturday 15th 11:00 am]

Over the next two days, he wrote the program that read a file. He learned how to read line by line. He used the arrays and with the space offered by Yotta, he tested larger and larger files until he felt confident that he had the room to store this information. It also meant that he managed the variables more efficiently, each stored a small amount of information, while the files took the heavy load.

After numerous tests, Peta was confident enough to test it with his connection to Fintle. He was very careful to make sure that the security link was always running before he connected with Fintle. As far as the connection was concerned he was anonymous. He waited to receive his first file and felt like an expectant father. He paced up and down the room, equally worried and excited. But later that day, Fintle sent him a file, there are a few problems with formats and some logical issues, where Peta tried to open a file that didn't exist, but these were soon resolved. The program seemed to work. Now he was ready to put it out there. He used various forums online and started to mine for virus file names. Each line he read in he was careful to check for any runnable viruses, the last thing he wanted was to actually be the cause of a virus attack.

[Saturday 15th 15:00 am]



BREAK

Chapter 35b – Read Write Text Files in Python

He had just received his 100th virus name when Terry knocked on the door and announced that he had a guest. In came Zeta. She looked tired but seemed pleased to see him. He stood up and kissed her on the cheek, and cleared a space for her to sit.

She looked around the room and said: “Well, looks like you've been busy.”

I've had a bit of a breakthrough, actually,” he said and did his best to clear away the worst of the mess.

Well, it certainly looks very impressive,” said Terry, and peered at the laptop. “Santos, who's Santos? One of your library colleagues?”

No, it's a place,” Peta picked up some discarded socks, and placed them in a pile and stood upright to survey the room.

Terry straightened too, “I know everywhere in town, but I've never heard of Santos,” he said in a serious voice.

Peta still looked around pleased with how quickly he had improved things, “No, it's in Brazil I think. Why?” He looked up to see Terry's furious face.

Why would you care about Brazil?” Peta thought he could detect that Terry had begun to scold him, like when they were young and he felt immediately annoyed.

No, this virus was discovered in Brazil.” Peta stopped clearing and stood to face Terry.

You are kidding,” said Terry, with barely controlled anger.

Peta suddenly felt worried. “Why, what's wrong with that?” he asked.

What's wrong is that it's dangerous, illegal and bloody stupid.” Terry came up to Peta and stood over him.

Turn it off, zounds, it's a virus, you're downloading a virus, you stupid idiot. Turn it off”. Terry made a lunge for the machine.

Peta cut him off and they tussled briefly.

Terry!” shouted Zeta.

Terry jumped back, he looked a little wild and pointed at Peta “He's the Hacker, my own brother,” he said to Zeta.

She looked from one to the other “Are you?” she asked her eyes wide with shock.

What,” Peta looked confused “no, I was just. I'm trying to help, Terry thinks the virus names are the viruses files. But they're not. They're just the names.”

Terry looked directly at Peta, “Where did you get them from?”

Peta looked at Zeta too, “I got some from Fintle, he sent me the files.” This wasn't how he wanted to tell them. “And the rest I got off the internet.”

She put her hand to her mouth and felt for the edge of a chair and stumbled into it “Oh Peta.”

Peta exclaimed loudly as he lost his temper “Look I'm not the bloody Hacker, alright!”

She looked at him, with a strange look of pity, “No Peta, I don't think you're the Hacker. But you know the rules, we can't talk to the internet, it's a conflict of interest.”

Why?” said Peta. “Why is it a conflict?”

It's a question of neutrality,” said Terry.

But what does that mean?” said Peta in a frustrated voice. “I'm not favouring one side over another. I'm merely looking for information.”

You don't understand,” said Terry.

No one understands it, Terry. It's just because we've always 'done it that way'. Well, news just in, that isn't working, now it's time to try another way.”

Terry stood, his arms crossed and stared at Peta.

Who's Fintle?” Said Zeta.

Exactly,” said Terry. "He could be the Hacker."

Oh, shut up a minute Terry this is important.” Zeta had gone into full Mayor mode and Peta was impressed in spite of himself. Terry looked annoyed but didn't say anything.

Peta suddenly felt cold, but he was still annoyed “He's the man who persuaded me to come back home, back to you at the end of the pipe. I. I thought you knew him.”

The first I'd heard of him was just now.” Zeta was indignant.

"Then how did you know I was coming back into the town?" asked Peta, confused.

"You told me. You sent me two text messages, one to say you were coming back and another on how you planned to arrive. But never mind that, how do you know this Fintle?"

No, I don't know him. Didn't. I mean, I'd met him.” Peta felt the need to justify himself. "Hang on, you sent him a message, for me. A video, I saw it, in his car," Peta did an exaggerated impression of Zeta, "'We need you, you're the only one who can help. Please come.'"

Zeta looked confused, then said "Peta, I made a video four years ago, we needed to find you after the museum incident. You were the only one who could help. We were worried about you."

Peta stood there, in shock.

Terry crossed his arms, and looked smug, “I repeat, how do you know this Fintle is not the Hacker?”

Peta started to reply, he was going to say, “I just know,” but he realised that sounded incredibly weak.

Terry pressed his advantage, “You're out of your depth again Peta. You're just not up to this, you shouldn't get involved.”

Peta flared up, “really, and how are you helping, what are you doing?”

But bringing this into my home,” said Terry. Peta felt that he was enjoying this, “it could ruin my business,” he finished dramatically.


“Right, I'll go”. But before he could reach the workstation, Terry had blocked his path.

"No, you're not going to use my workstation." He held out his arms and looked slightly ridiculous.

"Get out of my way, I need that program." Said Peta and tried to get around his arms.

After a small, and unfruitful struggle, that reminded Peta of his childhood, Zeta shouted. "Stop it!".

Both of them looked around.

"But he's got my program." Peta could hear the slight whine in his voice and hated himself for it.

She closed her eyes. "Just leave it, Peta." Then she added, "Please."

"Fine," he shouted and closed the lid on Python's laptop, stuffed it back in its bag, unplugged the charger, and stuffed it in also. He added a pile of clothes, aware of them staring at him, furious that his face had turned red.

Do you really think that the only way to defeat the Hacker is to get help from outside?” asked Zeta, she sounded hesitant.

He stood up, felt stupid, and searched for some crushing final words, but nothing came, just a feeble “Yes, I do. Goodbye."

He took one look at the workstation and walked out of the room, along the landing. Annoyed by the plush carpets, ornate flowers and expensively framed pictures. He was halfway down the stairs before Zeta shouted from the landing “Peta, wait!”

He slowed, the stairs had made 2 turns, so Zeta was directly above him when he stopped and looked up to see her look at him over the bannister rail, but the anger had gone out of him, the question was genuine “Why?” Because he couldn't see any reason why he should stop.

Zeta took the opportunity to come down the stairs to join him.

Will this work? Could it stop the Hacker.” She looked torn, distressed by the events of the last few minutes.

Honestly,” he replied. “I don't know." The anger drained out of him as the self-doubt grew. "But I know it could work. We can no longer manage on our own. We need help.” He looked into her eyes. “I need that access Zeta.”

She wavered for a moment and then took his arm. “OK then.” She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment.

What's OK?” He asked.

I know where we can go,” she answered.

They both left Terry's house and walked down the path.

I sent my driver home, so, let's walk.”

Surprised by her change of tone, he was happy to be led, “Where are we going?” he asked.

You'll see,” she said.

The Saturday afternoon traffic in this sleepy suburb was even quieter than in the evening, so they walked along, not speaking.

After a few minutes, Peta began to recognise where he was, these were buildings he had seen after they have got off the USB. After a few turns, they stood over the road from the ISP Halls

Why are we back here, to catch another bus?” he asked.

She looked at him “Let's go to the one place in town where you can talk to the outside world: The money pit that is the Internet Service Provider trading halls.

[Saturday 15th 15:30 am]

Chapter 36 - Creating a Server in Python

[Saturday 15th 15:30 am]

They crossed the road and entered the building they had arrived at by bus, a few days earlier. The resemblance to an international airport didn't stop when you went inside. And, thought Peta, it had obviously had a lot of money spent on it. It was a long building, trees stood scattered among water features, there were coffee shops and leather seats where groups of earnest young people in suits sat and talked earnestly. All along the back wall were various sectors; Ultrafast Broadband, Superfast Broadband, Broadband Ultra, and below these were the names of various businesses who worked in them. Peta stared at the company logos.

The ISP hall is where you can communicate with the outside world,” explained Zeta. ”These companies pay to have a permanent desk here. Come on,” she said and beckoned him to follow. “These are far too expensive and they'll ask too many questions, let's move down the hall.”

They passed rows of desks, most were manned, but all had groups of people who stood around, checked their tablets. They seemed to wait for something.

These desks were, Zeta explained, the Internet Service Providers or ISPs, where the town interfaced with the outside world. Internet access was traded like any other commodity. The price was set by the town, and the ISP's could bid for different chunks of time on the various options from the superfast leased lines to the dialup super slow ones. Traders would package up various deals, and these would be open for purchase, reselling, short selling and the like. Fortunes were won and lost within hours, and the price fluctuated wildly. But, importantly this is where the world connected to the Internet. These people want to buy or sell blocks of space from one another. All this space, Zeta explained, was traded in the Black Hole.

Where's the Black Hole?” asked Peta, but he thought he could guess. He could see the centre of the Hall up ahead. The desks along the back wall had gone, and the noise increased dramatically. Zeta raised her voice.

This is the Black Hole,” she explained. “It's really the trading floor, but everyone calls it the Black Hole, because.“ She spoke into Peta's ear over the noise, and answered his querying look, “it's where all the space gets sucked into.”

Hundreds crowded together. They shouted, performed extravagant sign language with their hands over their heads and handed out bits of paper to others who were either eager to buy or ignored them completely.

They are buying and they're selling internet space,” Zeta pointed into the Hole.

Who's buying and who's selling?” asked Peta. “They seem to be just waving their hands about.”

She continued “Someone explained it to me once, but I can't really remember. It's something to do with palms facing in if you're a buyer and palms facing out if you're selling. All the rest is money. This is where the prices get set.”

As they walked closer, Peta stared at an enormous pipe along the back wall, many times bigger than the one through which he had entered Eye Dunnow. Thousands of packets poured from its mouth like a parcel waterfall. Smaller pipes that surrounded the main one did the same.

It's not real,” shouted Zeta with a smile, “those packets are on a big drum that rotates, you'll see the same ones reappear in a few seconds. The real pipes are behind the wall, connecting to the town below our feet,” she pointed down. “Come on, this is all too hectic for me.” They walked on and left the noise of the trading floor behind them.

They moved into a quieter area. “Every connection is managed by the Servers, who check the sale ID, and match it up with the available space, only then do they let the data streams flow.” She looked around to make sure no one listened into their conversation. “If we can get you access to one of those data streams, you can connect to the outside world, without having to use a town workstation. But we need to set you up with a Web Server and a security code.”

How do we do that?” asked Peta.

No idea, but luckily I know some people who do.” They walked on.

The hall changed as they moved toward the far end. Peta felt that this end was a bit poorer than the other. The chairs were plastic, not leather. Instead of banks of desks, each company seemed to have one desk each. The further they walked the dirtier and poorer it became. Some of the desks were empty here, and the individuals standing around wore shabbier suits.

Are you sure we want to be here,” said Peta. He looked around nervously. He had noted that when some people saw Zeta, they moved away, quickly.

This is exactly where we want to be,” she smiled. She walked up to a particularly grubby looking desk. The man behind it appeared nervous for a moment, then smiled unconvincingly and said in adenoidal tones “Madam Mayor, hmm. What a delightful surprise, hmm.”

Hello, Jim. Business is booming I see.”

Oh yes, hmm. Your business regulations have had a marvellous effect of driving away my customers, hmm.“ He said, somewhat bitterly.

Zeta's tone remained bright and cheerful, “Oh, only the dishonest ones, Jim, only the dishonest ones."

Hmm,” replied Jim. “Well, hmm, as you can see I'm extremely busy hmm.” Peta looked around and saw that the place was deserted. “So, I'll say my goodbyes now, hmm.”

Actually, I've come to offer you some business,” she sounded almost playful.

Jim looked up, then glanced at Peta. “Well, hmm, I'm sure my competitors would be delighted to help, hmm,” as he looked around, the desks on either side of him closed for the day. The occupants hurried away.

Zeta took a bag off her shoulder, dropped it onto his desk, but held on tight. Jim peered inside, “I wish to purchase some space from you, Jim.” She looked around at Peta and added: “For my, er friend here, about a gigabyte a day?” Peta nodded.

Well, we seem to be fresh out of space hmm,” said Jim, desperate to escape “What a hmm terrible shame.”

Zeta's tone now changed “Well, that is a shame, and with your licence coming up for renewal next month. What unfortunate timing!” she said, in mock horror.

Without missing a beat Jim said “But I can always find some extra space hmm, for our illustrious Mayor hmm. I mean her hmm friend. Has he got his security ID?”

Zeta smiled at Jim, who looked at her for a moment. “Well hmm, I'll have to charge a little more, hmm.”

They agreed on a price. Zeta settled up and Jim printed out a certificate, stamped it and handed it over to her.

Thank you,” said Zeta. As she left, she looked back and said: “And next month, best bring your renewal directly to me.”

Jim stood up as Zeta turned to go, “Thank you, Mayor, hmm, Always been a great supporter hmm,” he called after them, in cheery tones.

Well, let's go see our Server shall we.” Zeta moved off to a staircase between the desks.

Peta stopped. "They have Servers here, too?"

Zeta smiled at him, "These are town Servers. Unionised, and extremely well paid."

Peta was unconvinced but they moved off again down several flights of stairs, through a door and onto a walkway. In front was a factory floor, and behind, a blank wall filled with doors each with a number. The whole placed moved. Millions of packets loaded on hundreds of conveyor belts that went in all directions. Peta looked over the rail. Floor after floor was alive with packets as they were directed to their various destinations.

The walkway they were on stretched the length of the hall above. They turned right and continued along an endless footbridge. At regular intervals, they crossed other paths that dwindled away into the distance. Peta got the sense that all of the data ultimately moved into the door lined wall to their right. The packets came from pipes above through different channels, were sorted according to size and trundled along conveyor belts. They went past pipes with the same laser controlled gateway that had nearly cooked Peta on his way into the town.

It was noisy down there and Zeta shouted to make herself heard. “Each packet has a unique code.” She picked one up off the line and pointed at a label on the side. “Some of this is a destination address label, and these are the security codes," she moved her hand to show the rest of the label ID of the file. “This packet is only a small section of the data being transmitted, this code shows where this packet fits into the sequence.” She pointed at the end of the package and added, “the last ones here are some checking codes and the end code. All of this allows the Server to manage the data.”

Holding up the certificate she had received from Jim, she added, “and this gets us access to one of those Servers. Shall we go and say hello?” She turned to one of the numbered doors, pushed it open and went in.

[Saturday 15th 16:30 am]

Chapter 37 – FTP

[Saturday 15th 16:30 am]

Peta followed Zeta through the door, and found himself in, what he supposed, was a Server Room. It was as unlike the one he'd seen near the Interface Zone, as a fast food joint was from a family kitchen. They basically performed the same function, but that was where the similarity ended. There was someone who Peta presumed was the Transport Layer Network Administrator, because Zeta went up to them to show their certificate. She sat with her feet on a desk, smoked a small cigar and watched the television. As before, Peta was deafened by the noise from the data packets. Zeta had to repeat her request several times. Eventually, the Administrator glanced away from the TV, looked annoyed at Zeta, stamped the certificate, said something and waved them towards the end of the room.

It was poorly lit, with a yellowing light and a low ceiling. A walkway down the right-hand side followed the room as it curved away to the left. All along the other side of the room were some very old looking Server Racks. Nearly all were empty; some had “out to lunch” signs hanging off them, and all looked like they had been decorated by their owners. Photos, calendars and old Christmas decorations hung off the bars.

Peta looked at the racks that contained the Servers, who variously chatted, slept or worked at a steady pace. They looked around as Zeta walked by. A few recognised her and suddenly became very interested in their jobs, or left their racks and went through a door at the far end of the room. Zeta seemed to know where she was headed. She came to a stop at a highly decorated rack at the end of the room. There was a thin, slightly rat-faced man who Peta recognised immediately, it was Pop, the driver who had helped him escape from the Interface Zone.

After a few moments, he turned around, saw Peta, began to say hello and then saw Zeta, started a little, and returned to his work.

Zeta reached into the rack, touched his shoulder and shouted over the din “Pop, can we have a chat? Pop!” She shouted a little louder.

Not interested,” he yelled back, and didn't look up, but he removed the headphones he was wearing.

Zeta slipped some money into his filthy shirt pocket. He stopped for a moment, looked at the money, took a deep breath, closed his eyes and seemed to think through his options. Then he yelled something to the Server in the next rack, who gave him a thumbs up.

Follow me,” said Pop, and hopped down off his rack and went through the door at the end of the Server Room. The dingy room was a kind of kitchen, with coffee and tea making facilities. There were fitted cupboards, a table strewn with newspapers, plastic chairs, and a sofa with coffee stained covers. Peta noted that the room was strangely empty. The walls were covered with health and safety posters. Various photographs jostled for space. These showed groups of people with drinks in one hand, arms around each other; none looked sober. Pop wandered up to the counter on the other side of the room, closed a cupboard door with his knee and started to make himself a coffee. As the door to the Server room closed the noise level reduced to a bearable hum. Pop added spoonfuls of sugar to a filthy mug.

He sniffed and turned round to look at them. Finally, he said, “I'd offer you one, but it's an acquired taste.”

Peta looked at the highly stained surface covered in used spoons, dirty china and sugar granules. Peta and Zeta said in unison, “We fine.”

Pop lent back against the counter top and looked at both of them, he ignored Peta and addressed Zeta instead, “Somehow I get the feeling this isn't a social visit,” he sipped his coffee.

No,” replied Zeta, with a look Peta couldn't quite read. “I've got a proposition for you.” She seemed to be taking a breath. “Can you access the Server used by Terry Byte? And if so, can you retrieve a program from them?”

Pop seemed to be looking for a trap. “Of course I can't, that would be illegal Mayor. The very thought.” He said in an unconvincing shocked tone.

Well, that's a shame, because I was going to offer you the job of Mayoral Server when old Maggie retires in 3 months, but if you'd rather stay here.” She looked around with distaste, “then we have nothing more to discuss.”

A silence filled the space between them, Peta was interested to see Pop's reaction.

Pop eventually said, “Mags hates me, she'd never agree to it.”

Zeta smiled, “I don't really think it's up to her. Do you?” Peta thought that the decision had already been made, they were now just haggling over the details.

Pop sighed a little, put down his coffee, and held out his hand. Zeta looked back at Peta and asked him “Are you sure you need this program?”

Peta didn't waver, “yes. Definitely."

Zeta shook Pop's hand. “Welcome to the team. Your first job is to help Peta here. I'll let you two get acquainted then, good afternoon.”

[Saturday 15th 17:00 am]

Zeta left the room. Peta looked at Pop, gave him a smile and nodded a hello.

Pop scratched the side of his nose and squinted a sideways look at Peta. “You've had a busy week I gather. Right, what's the name of this 'ere program you need.”

Peta's mouth fell open. “You can get it?” He said with excited surprise.

Pop looked indignant. “Off course I can get it, wasn't going to tell that ol' besom that now was I?” Then he seemed to remember who he was talking to. “No offence, mate. The program name?”

Peta wrote it down on a scrap of paper and gave it to him.

Pop looked at it, sniffed a bit. “Terry Byte's server?” Peta nodded. “Come on then,” and led the way back into the now deserted server room.

Pop jumped up into the rack he'd vacated earlier and settled himself in. He indicated to Peta the next door rack which was now empty and shouted: “Jump up.”

Peta scrambled into the seat of the neighbouring rack. He felt a little uncomfortable and remembered that the last time he's been in one of these he'd been dumped into the stream below. Pop shouted something at him, he looked round to see Pop putting on some headphones with attached microphone, he then pointed to Peta's left. He placed the greasy headphones over his ears and the noise reduced again. Pop had just said something.

What?” shouted Peta.

After a few swearwords Pop said, “I was saying there is no need to shout. Just talk normally.”

Oh,” said Peta. “Right,” he added a little quieter. “How are you going to get the file?” He peered at the screen on Pop's rack.

FTP."

What's that?”

File Transfer Protocol. We can use it to move files between servers. What's your password?” Pop looked busy.

Peta told him.

Pop laughed “Never tell anyone you password old son. I don't need it to do an FTP from the Server Terry Byte uses, he's a cousin of mine. Something I'm sure our Mayor knew very well. But you're going to have to wise up a little.”

How does the FTP work?” Asked Peta.

It's easy, if you know what you're looking for,” said Pop, as he typed away on his keyboard. “Look for where the file is held.” He grabbed his mouse and made a deliberate movement. “And drag it to the new location. You need an FTP tool to do it. Which, of course, all of us Servers have.”

There was a rattling noise in Pop's rack and 3 data packets fell into the tray.

Is that it?” Asked Peta.

Yep, but it's not safe here. I need to back it up and store it somewhere where you can get to it easily.” Pop's hands flew over the keyboard. Seconds later the packets rolled across to the rack's out tray, held there a second and then shot back into the data stream.

Peta learned closer “Can you show me how to do that?” He asked.

Pop grinned, “Fancy life as a Server do ya? No problem.” He shifted the screen so Peta could see it a bit clearer. “First thing to look at, is how to manage Flow Control Data.”



[Saturday 15th 17:10 am]



Chapter 38 - Virus Signatures

[Saturday 15th 17:10 am]

As Peta transferred the files he noted that the “Flow Control Data,” was information that was sent through the network to manage the rate of data transmission. With this information the packets became easier to recognise. If he could use something similar to identify a virus, then maybe he could delete them before they ran?

Pop looked between his screen and the data stream and asked: “Do you know what's one of the most important things we do?”

Peta wasn't sure if the question was rhetorical.

Do you know what's one of the most important things we do?” Pop repeated.

Peta looked up “Err, I don't know. What?”

Pop pointed down at the stream of Data Packets that flowed noisily below their feet, “We keep that flowing.”

Oh,” said Peta, unsure if he was joking.

What would happen if the data was being sent here faster than it could be received?” Asked Pop. He looked at Peta with an expectant look.

I don't know, what?”

If more data comes in, than is leaving, then the stream would get blocked. What would happen then?” Pop continued to look at Peta.

I don't know, what?”

Then the flow would stop.” Pop smiled. “What if the data was received faster than it was sent?”

Peta looked into the data stream.

What if the data was received faster than it was sent?” Pop repeated.

I don't know, what?”

Then the data packets would empty out, and the flow would stop.” Pop looked up again.

Yeh, yeh, yeh. I see.” Said, Peta.

How do we do that?” Asked Pop. He continued to give Peta this same, amused, expression.

I don't know, how?” replied Peta, he had begun to become a little annoyed with Pop's method of questioning.

Have you noticed, that I ask you a question and wait for a response?” Asked Pop. “And if I don't get a response, then I repeat the question?”

Yeh, I noticed that,” Peta said in a wearied tone.

Same with data. In its most simple form, I send some data, wait for a response, if I don't receive a response I repeat the question. Otherwise, I ask the next question.”

Oh, I see,” said Peta. “I wondered why you were grinning like an idiot.”

Now, our data here works by sending loads of questions, either an agreed number before returning an acknowledgement or it returns a repeat request for some of the previous question.”

Peta looked down at the data packets below. “How do you know what's an acknowledgement?” He asked.

Pop said “We call them ACKs, short for acknowledgement you see? There's too much data down there to tell, but the scanners here keep track.” He pointed at the screen which showed a graph with numerous lines. The screen showed a line that continually moved to the left, as a new segment of the graph appeared. “See these lines?” Peta nodded. “These are the ack's, we can recognise them by their addresses.” He pointed to another part of the screen.

Peta sat and thought for a moment. “And all of this data looks different to you if you know what to look for. As different as a fingerprint or a signature?” He asked.

Absolutely,” said Pop, and made a few adjustments to the screen.

So I could recognise a file if I knew what it looked like?”

What are you asking?” Said Pop. He looked at him shrewdly.

Pop, my program doesn't work.” Peta swallowed.

But Zeta just put her job on the line to get it back for you.”

Peta looked miserable. “The code works, it does what I wanted it to. But the idea is wrong. All the Hacker has to do is change the name of the virus and I won't catch it.”

So what are you saying?” asked Pop.

If I can understand the structure of the virus, get its fingerprint or, as you say its signature, then I don't think it'll matter what its called, I can still track it.”

Pop said, “and once again in English mate.”

Pop you can change your name but your fingerprint stays the same. A virus can change its name but its structure is still the same. If I can identify that structure, then I think I can stop the Hacker.”

[Saturday 15th 17:30 am]

Chapter 39 - Space Filler Virus

[Saturday 15th 17:30 am]

Sounds like a plan,” said Pop. He removed his headphones and began to adjust the rack.

Peta removed his too and glanced at the curving room. In the gloom, he saw shadows flicker along the ceiling. He dismounted himself from the rack and started to walk along the curved walkway to investigate. It took him a second to work out what he saw. An arm stuck out of a large pile of warped soft data packets, that filled the doorway he had entered 30 minutes ago. He yelled for Pop as he ran forward. He recognised the arm. It belonged to the TV watching Transport Layer Network Administrator, and she was being suffocated under a pile of data packets. He grabbed the arm and tried to pull her body free. But the hand was already limp, and his grip gave way as further data packets spread out along the floor. He looked around for Pop, and he saw that the walls along the room were already covered with more packets, which bloomed like mould out of the data stream. He slipped and fell. His foot slid into the packets, and his hand disappeared into another, that squeezed, sucked and held him fast. He no longer tried to pull the administrator free, he was trapped himself, the packets enveloped his arms and travelled up towards his face. He tried to shift his stance. To lever himself free, then he realised that his legs were encased in packets too. His feet were lifted off the floor

Pop! Pop!” he yelled, panic in his voice.

Every movement now seemed to worsen his position. The packets grew. They covered his chest, his neck. He struggled to keep his head free, above the incoming tide. The weight of the packets pushed the air out of his lungs. The pressure increased. Made it impossible for him to take another breath. He then felt himself being lifted by his rucksack and he landed heavily onto the floor. He kicked and was pulled and then dragged further. He turned and saw Pop, who looked shocked at the thing that had filled the room.

Coughing Peta called “Space Filler virus. Run!”.

He got to his feet and ran to one of the racks. He planned to jump down into the Data Stream, to get away. But the soft data packets had filled the stream and begun to climb up the wall, like an expandable foam. Pop pulled him back along the corridor. Unable to look away he ran and looked backwards at the packets as they closed in, and squeezed their way down the room.

Pop reached the kitchen, and pushed him through the door and closed it after them. Peta heard soft thuds as the packets hit the door and watched wide-eyed as they squeezed under it and through gaps in the frame, the wood creaked and then splintered, and the packets spilled into the room.

Get in here!” yelled Pop. Peta turned to see Pop's head look out of one of the kitchen cupboards. Impossibly Pop disappeared into the small space. Peta jumped in after him and was surprised to find the cupboard was, in fact, a short low corridor, ahead he saw Pop's feet scramble away from him. He followed and emerged a few seconds later through a small door in the wall of a back stair. Pop slammed the door and backed away, tears ran down his face. They stared at the door. Within minutes the packets had oozed through the bottom of it. They had backed up the stairs horrified but transfixed. Then the packets seemed to solidify. Its progress halted.

Pop fell back onto the top of the next flight and shouted out a few more choice swear words, very loudly.

What did you call that thing?” cried Pop, and pointed at the solid bloated packet.

Peta sat down next to him. “Space Filler Virus. Copies itself, using up all of the available space. I'm sorry about your friend,” he added, rather lamely.

"She wasn't my friend, she was my boss." Pop sniffed back his tears and wiped his eyes. "Best boss I've ever had was Barbs. Never once bothered me with anything. She was a miserable old git, but she didn't deserve to go like that."

That's why I needed those signatures, to get the people out there in the outside world to help. With enough information, we can recognise all kinds of virus and delete them before they can kill anyone else.” Peta looked at Pop.

Pop did one final sniff, and then looked shrewdly at Peta. “Well let's ask what the Internet thinks and go and kill some viruses shall we.” He planted his hand on his knees, pushed himself upright and started to walk up the rest of the stairs. Peta followed.

[Saturday 15th 17:45 am]



Chapter 40 - Web Pages

[Saturday 15th 17:45 am]

Pop seemed like a man with a plan, he walked with purpose. He appeared to know what he needed to do. They visited several other server rooms in their travels and rarely spoke. Peta felt very jumpy when the doors closed. He looked around continually, convinced another attack was coming. His heart seemed to be twice the size and beat double time. But no attack came and after each visit, the speed of Pop's walk and his determination seemed to settle Peta's nerves.

After many hours they ended up in a pub and took a back room. Here Pop, with a pint of beer in his hand, began to quiz Peta in a quiet voice.

So you think this Virus Signature method will work?” He asked, and looked at the door to the pub every time it opened.

I think it has a good chance of working,” said Peta. “if I can get enough examples. From what I've seen so far, by just using the names. I think it's mostly the same virus programs copied and re-branded. The name may be different but I think the code is pretty much unaltered. I just need enough examples in order to be sure. There are loads of viruses out in the world and billions of people. I just need to reach the tiny percentage of those who have that information.” It was only as he said it, did the plan form in Peta's mind.

The door opened and Pop beckoned a Server over. The landlord began to say something, but Pop called that she was with him.

Peta recognised her as Denise, the Server that had helped him run his program earlier in the week. He felt pretty bad about Louise Fish; Pop had told him that she'd been missing ever since the File Virus has attacked her Server Room.

"Are you working in another Server Room?" Peta asked her.

She shook her head.

Pop explained, "She'll not get another job. The Servers were the first to be blamed for the attacks, no one will take on a Server from an attacked room."

"What! Why not?" asked Peta, outraged.

Pop gave him a funny look. "'Cos that's the way the town works, innit. Also its why we've got her."

Peta was horrified. "Denise, I'm so sorry."

Denise seemed to find his concern confusing. "No matter, I only had a few months to run on my visa anyway."

Pop eventually had to tell Peta to "put a sock in it."

Peta calmed down again. "Sorry," he said, again.

Now, you think a web page may get you these signatures?” asked Pop.

I don't know, but I do know that if I don't try, more people like Barbara are going to die.” Pop winced.

Barbara's dead?” asked Denise. She blinked, the round spectacles magnified her wide eyes.

Yeh,” replied Pop, as he breathed out unsteadily.

Did you do it?” She asked.

What,” Pop looked shocked. “No, of course, I didn't. It was a virus attack, right in our dump.”

I thought you didn't believe in virus attacks, Pop,” Denise looked at Pop over the top of her sherry glass.

Well I do now, don't I?” Pop looked up. “Here, shove up will you,” he said as two others came from the bar and sat down. The last one to join them typed away on a small tablet.

Once they had settled, Peta noted that they all looked up to Pop, it was obvious that he knew and trusted them. So Peta felt that he had little option but to trust them too.

Right, we're putting a little job together,” said Pop, and lent forward as he looked at each of them.

Barbara's dead,” said Denise to the others. Pop raised his hands and sat back shaking his head.

They expressed their shock and amazement, even the typer stopped typing for a moment, and then resumed, faster than before.

Denise, I was going to tell them that,” said Pop, obviously annoyed. “Barbara's dead,” he repeated, giving Denise a look. “And we're going after the one that did her in. God rest her soul.”

You always said she was a miserable old git,” said Denise, then added, “go on. Sorry Pop”.

Well, she was a miserable old git, but she was our miserable old git, and anyone that attacks us gets what's coming to them.” There was a general nod and mutter of agreement from the group. “Right this 'ere is Peta, he talks funny, but he's been living 'off' for a while, he's the brains of this operation. He's got a way to stop the viruses. All we need to do launch a Web Page from inside the town.”

The others looked at one another, even the typer took the time to look over the top of her screen to appraise Peta, the tapping never stopped for a moment.

If he's been living 'off' why did he come back here to launch a web page, launching web pages out there is easy?” asked Denise. “There are whole applications that'll help you out there. In here, you're on your own.”

Pop looked at Peta, “She's pretty annoying, I grant you that. But she's very good at making connections is our Denise.” He looked back at Denise and added “Because. Denise. Just, because. Right?” Pop started the introductions, “Denise you've already met,” He pointed at her neighbour, “and this is Theodore, he's the Graphics Designer.”

Theodore, Peta noted, looked very unlike the rest of the crew, who all looked shifty, while he looked very polished.

And doesn't want to be here,” he said in a posh drawl, as he looked around in distaste at the others.

And finally Stevie.” Pop pointed at the typist. Peta had no idea whether this was a boy or a girl. “Media and content,” Pop concluded.

Peta nodded a hello to each one. They all looked at him, expectantly.

After a brief pause he began. “Err, I want to create a web page,” he started, rather weakly, Theodore raised his eyes, and lent back folding his arms. “A web page to get users to send me signatures of viruses.” They now all looked at one another. “Which I'll use to search, identify and then destroy them. So, there'll be no more attacks on the town,” he finished.

Theodore looked over at Peta, “Pop, a quiet word, please. I don't like the look of this.” He gave Peta an appraising grimace, “do excuse us,” he added insincerely.

Theodore and Pop went a little way off and had an argument. Too far away to hear, Peta was pretty sure that he was the cause, he was certainly pointed at a few times. The others looked on in interest, giving Peta the occasional glance. After a few minutes, they both came and sat back down. Theodore looked very unhappy, refused to look at Peta, folded his arms and looked away.

Pop clapped his hands together and said in a bright voice, “Righty-ho, let's get started.”

[Saturday 15th 20:00]

Chapter 41 - How Browsers Work

[Saturday 15th 20:00]

Peta moved into Pop's apartment after the meeting in the pub. He had hoped for rapid progress with his web page, but it seemed that Pop had a leadership style that consisted of loud disagreements. Several days passed by without any progress, but now the team had gathered at Pop's to run through the plan one more time.

[Monday 17th 20:00]

At 8:00 pm, Pop stood with the remote control pointed at a screen on which a building plan was displayed.

Theodore and I will arrive at the Browser Mall at 8:00a.m. Theodore will buy a cup of coffee from the cafeteria and we will meet by the back stairs going down to the basement at 8:15.”

Pop clicked the remote and characters emerged on the screen at each location. Also, a list appeared on the far right-hand side. At each click a new row was added to the column, with the time coming first, the next row was titled 'Theodore', and was indented. The following row said 'buys coffee', indented a bit more. This continued for a few more rows until the '8:15' popped up, which started a clean new row without indentations. Gradually a tree-like structure formed.

Theodore shall enter the basement corridor, here.”

Click.

Followed by me.”

Click.

Then he'll walk up to, and trip onto, the security guard, nearly spilling his coffee over them. While the guard is distracted, I will steal their security badge. We will then meet up at Registry door. Here.”

Click.

I haven't tripped on anything since I was a child,” drawled Theodore. He looked unhappy with the plan. “Why don't you trip and I steal the card?”

Because it's not in the plan, and I have certain skills, which good people like you, lack,” said Pop with an irritated look.

Fine,”

Using the security badge,” Pop continued. “We shall go into the registry and find Server room B42, here.” Click. “I will then get a rack ready”.

As long as there's no Administrator or other Server who will stop you,” added Theodore.

Exactly,” said Pop.

Click.

The plan of the ISP Hall changed from the basement to the top floor, the tree structure remained.

Pop continued. “Meanwhile, Denise goes to see her cousin Donna tomorrow at precisely 8:30 am and she will make sure that she gets the web page registered and stored on the Domain Name Server by 8:35."

Denise gave an enthusiastic double thumbs-up sign, which didn't inspire confidence in anyone.

Especially Pop, who seemed to regret getting Denise involved. But as he had explained to Peta, they had to get a web page set up before they could upload any data onto it. And without that registry, he couldn't access it from the ISP Hall. Donna had to give it an Internet Protocol address.

Click.

Then,” continued Pop. “I will contact Theodore, who will set up the Uniform Resource Locator through the registry addresses.” Which, Pop had explained earlier to Peta, was the address people would use to find it on the internet; such as www.something-or-other.com.

As he went through the remainder of the plan, Peta was still worried about what sort of web page he was going to create. He'd been through the content with Stevie and he knew what he needed. But getting a browser to display it correctly seemed like the tricky part.

[Tuesday 18th 7:00 am]

The next morning everyone was very quiet. Pop had wanted to run through the plan again, but nobody had felt like it. The previous day there had been the funeral for Barbara. The official line was that she had fallen into the data stream and been unable to get out. But the rumours put about by Pop had helped get the truth out there. It had made all of them determined to help Peta but, also darkened the mood.

Pop gave a few motivational words, while Theodore went to the toilet to throw up. They then left Peta alone in Pop's apartment. He had no role to play, but he felt frustrated waiting there. The plan stated that he would be able to upload his website at 9:00 am. 'Such as it is,” thought Peta. The waiting was terrible. He watched the clock go past 8:00, 8:15 and 8:45 and wondered whether the operation had been a success.

At 8:50, the door to the apartment swung open. In came Theodore and Denise, who carried Pop between them, he winced as they laid him gently on the couch, where he let out a sigh. Peta thought he could see a large coffee stain down the front of his shirt.

I'll go grab you a clean top,” Theodore said to Pop “and some painkillers. For both of you.” He added on his way to the bathroom.

Peta noticed that Denise looked rather grey, and her hair looked a little unkempt. Seeing his confusion Pop explained. “Theodore's trip spilt coffee on the ground which I then slipped on, putting out my back. And she,” he pointed at Denise. “Went to Barbara's wake last night, and only just got back.”

So, the plan failed?” said Peta, gloomily.

Well, yes and no,” Pop said and took the painkillers from Theodore. “Turns out the security guard was Barbara's sister, who was only too happy to help. Let us update the registry and everything, or at least let Theodore do it, as I was in too much pain.” Pop swallowed the pills with some water, let out a long sigh and closed his eyes.

But, surely Denise needed to update the...thingy.”

Well turns out she did it yesterday, she knew she could set it up early. So she did and then went off to the Barbara's wake.” Pop struggled back to his feet.

Denise smiled and then winced. “Well, you were having so much fun and I didn't want to spoil your plan. Anyhow these always go wrong in the movies, so I thought I'd better have a plan B. Why don't they ever have a plan B?” Peta thought that she was still a little drunk.

So,” said Pop. “Your website is up and waiting for you to upload your content onto it. Enjoy, I'm going for a long hot bath.” He gave a small bow, that looked painful and hobbled off, took the clean clothes from Theodore and went into the bathroom.

[Tuesday 18th 9:00 am]

Chapter 42 - Writing HTML

[Tuesday 18th 9:00 am]

[Wednesday 19th 11:00 am]

Peta sat in Pop's apartment the next day and stared out the window. He'd flicked through Ada's book; she had as much knowledge about Web Pages as someone from the Stone Age.

There was a knock on the door, and from the bathroom, Pop called “Can you see who's there and tell them to go away?”

Peta opened it and saw Stevie, head down, tapping away as usual.

Hi”,” she said and walked in and sat down opposite where Peta had been sitting.

He closed the door and said, “Come in please, make yourself at home.” Then he shouted to Pop, “It's Stevie,” and returned to his seat.

The silent seconds stretched between them. Peta broke first, “I'm sorry Stevie, I haven't begun the web page yet.”

Silence.

Um,” he continued. “To be honest I don't even know where to begin. Can you help?”

Of course,” she said. She put down her tablet and looked up and smiled. “What job did you do, before you went away, of course?”

I worked in the museum,” said Peta. He missed it now more than ever, but the image of the worm came to his mind every time he thought of it.

OK! Well launching a web page is like creating a museum, somewhere that people can visit and find out about...stuff,” she ended, lamely.

I was just going to ask people to email me information, and leave it at that. Said Peta.

Stevie seemed really excited, “Yes you could do that, but would anyone have gone into your museum if it didn't have any exhibits?”

Err, probably not.”

Exactly. A web page is a bit like a building. It has 2 main parts, the foundations and the bit we actually see. The foundations of a web page are stored in the page's Head section. While the visible part of the building is like the Body section of a web page.

How do I begin to, um, build my web museum?”

Stevie showed him how to use the same program that he had used to create his Python programs. They created a new HTML file, it generated a new file with the Head section partially filled in and an empty Body section.

So your building has foundations, now let's add the exhibits into the body of the building. Each floor of the building is like a different area of the web site.”

Peta looked embarrassed, “I think I see.”

Stevie looked at him sadly. “A Web Page, like a museum, needs visitors. In order to grow, it has to attract people. Each person who looks up at your building is like a visitor, but we only really measure those that go inside and look around. Why do people go into a museum?”

To look at the exhibits?” offered Peta.

Exactly. The web page has exhibits, but these are called web content. Each bit of content is displayed within a thing called a Tag, which, I suppose, is a bit like a museum cabinet.” As Stevie spoke, Peta began to picture his web page/museum.

Think of the content as a clickable link,” she continued. “Every time someone views an exhibit, it's like someone clicking on a link. And every click measures the popularity of your website.”

But my building hasn't got any exhibits,” said Peta. He felt like an idiot.

Stevie seemed fine with this. “That's OK. Theodore has created some content, I'll give you the text, an image, video, and an audio file.” She saved the HTML file into a folder within Peta's laptop, then loaded the media files into the same place.

OK, so let's build your museum.” She said brightly.

She loaded up the files onto the website. Peta recognised it as the same FTP process that he'd seen Pop perform before the Space Filler virus had attacked.

The page looked terrible. The text and the image didn't sit next to each other comfortably. The video had no way of playing, and the audio could neither be seen or heard.

Stevie looked at the page and said, “I don't think anyone will visit your museum if it looks like this.”

Peta looked a little disappointed. "It's just a jumble of content, it's like we've thrown things onto the floor and said 'There you go'."

She looked at him. “How do you place things. In a museum?”

Peta suddenly became animated. He explained that it was the exploration and the discovery that people liked. He had created exhibits that you had to pull, move, open, press and pick up.

Stevie looked happier than ever. “It's the same in HTML. But we have to add controllers to the content. To resize the images so that they fit, to allow users to play the audio and run the video.”

After 10 minutes of work, the content looked better. They had changed the content to the correct sizes, but it was all squashed into one corner of the page.

Stevie nodded. “OK, let's create some structure. The first option in your museum, you could add some rooms, on the web page we'll create a table, with rows and columns.”

After a few tries, they created a table, it took a bit of work to get the correct number of columns and rows. Then they added the content until everything fitted on the page.

Stevie then said, “Do you see that we could add many more floors to your museum, or Pages to your web site, either keeping the same structure or making each one unique.”

Yes, yes, I could. But how do I get people to add their own exhibits, I need information from them too?”

Stevie thought for a while, “We'll come to that, actually there's a bigger problem. People don't tend to go to museums any more.”

Tell me about it,” said Peta.

They prefer,” said Stevie, “for the information to come to them. They look at Web Pages on a phone or tablet.”

So, let them look at it on a phone, I presume a tablet can manage these tags?” asked Peta.

Stevie picked up her tablet, navigated to his web site and showed it to him, the small screen size cut off most of the page.

Ah,” said Peta. “Not so good then?”

No,” agreed Stevie. “But if we get rid of the HTML tables, or rooms and make the space modular, then we could shift the content around. It would be like having each exhibit on wheels. If a screen or room is too narrow then the content can be wheeled into a position where you can still see it.”

Sounds complex,” Peta said, seeing his creation come to nothing.

Stevie responded, “It is a bit. Remember that I said the Head section is like the foundations of the building?”

Yes.”

Well, if we add something called a Cascading Style Sheet in here, and create a thing called a DIV, or division, then your museum can be wheeled into any shape of a screen that there is on the market, using a thing called Floating Boxes.”

After a bit of shifting about, the web site they ended up with looked and worked well.

How do we get the users to enter the information?” asked Peta.

Forms,” said Stevie. “We'll add some entry boxes on the “How you can help” page.” She added some entry boxes and labels. Finally a Submit button.

And now.” Stevie sat back and picked up her tablet again, “All you have to do is get people to visit your museum and wait for the information to come in.” Her head went down and she returned to her usual non-communicative self.

[Wednesday 19th 12:00]

Chapter 43 - Operating Systems

[Wednesday 19th 12:00 am]

[Friday 21st 16:30 am]

Over the next few days, Peta fiddled with the web page and added content. Stevie helped. Xe always abandoned the tablet whenever Peta requested any assistance, but returned to it as soon as a piece of content had been added, whether it was text, image, video or audio.

Peta remained in Pop's apartment during this time. He enjoyed the peace and quiet, which only happened when Pop wasn't there. But most of all he liked the stability. The last 3 weeks had been extremely stressful and Pop's apartment felt like the first real home since he had returned. Zeta was a regular visitor, which seemed to annoy Pop, who had started the role of Server to the Mayor.

I spend all day in her office, with Mags giving me an ear full. The last thing I need is me boss coming over for tea,” he complained. But, for Peta, going out wasn't really an option, so whenever Zeta came around, Pop would invariably make an excuse to go out.

The web page had started to get some real traffic. Help from the outside world improved Peta's knowledge considerably. Many people supplied virus signatures and with the protection of Zeta's office they maintained this contact with the Internet users. This still seemed shocking to Zeta.

But Peta felt very cheered by the latest batch of Virus Signatures delivered by Pop that afternoon. Pop didn't seem to find them as exciting. But as he had just had another row with his boss, Peta didn't worry about it. Pop wandered through from the kitchen. Weekends started early in this town, so he'd had already made plans.

"Are you sure I can't tempt you to come out with us this evening?" he asked. “Denise will be there, I got her a job in my office too.”

"Honestly Pop, I'm fine. I've got to go through these results, and Zeta said she'd come over later."


Pop stopped and looked at him. "You're not worried about it are you?"

Peta looked up, he hadn't really been listening. "Sorry. What?"

Pop continued to stare at him. "You're not worried."

Peta still looked confused.

"About the results," Pop continued.

The results,” began Peta. “They're brilliant Pop, more than I could have hoped for.”

Pop shook his head slowly, “Hasn't Zeta told you?”

Peta, still didn't really listen, "told me what?"

Pop bit his lip for a moment, “your web site,” he said, “has gone viral.”

I've told you it's not a virus!” exclaimed Peta, he continued to stare at the screen.

Look, keep calm,” said Pop, “'Gone viral' means a web site is really popular,” he explained.

Oh! Good,” said Peta. "That's good. Isn't it?"

Pop went on, “Remember I said that Servers' control the Data flow?”

Yeh.”

Well, we are managed by the Operating Systems. They keep all of the jobs we do running and smooth like.”

So,” Peta shrugged his shoulders.

So, the Operating Systems maintain the whole setup, don't they,” continued Pop. “They manage how much space is available and who does which jobs, they're very powerful.” Pop became a little more intense, “and you're drawing their attention, that's what. And neither of us want attention from them.”

Peta pointed to the few hundred Virus Signatures that Pop had delivered to him when he came in. “I know it's rather a lot, but it must be a drop in the Data Stream. It can't show up as significant.”

Pop went quiet again for a moment, then seemed to decide something. “That's not all of the results.”

What do you mean?” asked Peta. He sensed that he was about to receive some bad news. “How many are there?”

Pop sniffed. “That's a few minutes worth.” Peta said nothing, so Pop continued, “and it's coming in like that, 24 hours a day.”

How many?” asked Peta.

Well yesterday we only had 30,000, today we've over 100,000.”

Peta sat there, stunned.

Pop saw his reaction and scratched his chin, “But a lot of those are the same signatures. It's just that. Well, 150,000 a day. It's a bit much.”

Peta looked up, “I thought you said that there were 100,000 since yesterday?”

I lied,” said Pop. “The Operating Systems have begun to take notice, you're using valuable resources, they under pressure to stop all illegal activity. Today they suspended Zeta's account.”

What!” cried Peta.

Well it's caused a bit of a bother, can't see Zeta getting free tonight.” Pop shook his head.

Peta began to pack away his stuff.

What are you doing?” Asked Pop. “Listen you can't go over there, you'll get yourself, and her,“ he reflected for a moment, “And me, arrested.”

I'm going to get arrested?” Peta looked at Pop in shock, as he closed his rucksack.

Nah, with you're luck you've got no chance of getting arrested,” said Pop and grinned.

There was a bang at the door and a voice shouted. “Open up, you're all under arrest.”

[Friday 21st 16:40 am]

Chapter 44 - Types of Application Software

[Friday 21st 16:40 am]

Early Evening, Pop's just back from work.

Peta stared at the door and picked up his rucksack. Then from behind him, he heard Pop say in a loud whisper, “get in”.

He looked around and saw Pop had opened one of the kitchen cupboard doors and removed a large packet of washing powder, behind which Peta saw another door.

Pop! Do all your kitchens come with escape tunnels?”

Shut up and get in and stay in," he paused, "and keep going. Follow the signs for Port 80, I'll find you later.”

Peta protested, but Pop pushed him towards the cupboard, "follow the Data."

"What?" Said Peta, as he banged his head on the cupboard.

"Follow the data," repeated Pop.

Not sure what Pop meant, Peta slid into the cupboard. He shifted the straps of his rucksack onto both shoulders and opened the far door. He felt a blast of cool air. He had expected to come out in another stairwell and was surprised to find himself fall down a steep tube. A distant roar came up to meet him as he held out his arms to control his descent, but within seconds he came out the end of the pipe and landed painfully into a Data Stream.

This is becoming a habit he thought, as he got carried away. He tried to look round to see when Pop might appear, but the end of the pipe soon became lost in the gloom. Even though he called out a few times, he knew it was useless, the noise of the packets drowned out his cries.

Knowing that the ride could be pretty rough, he looked around for another large packet to ride the tube. A group of large flat ones tumbled nearby, and he slid onto one, just as the pipe took a dip and the packets started to tumble and speed up. They hit and pinched his fingers as he hung on, desperate to keep above the flow.

A light up ahead caught his attention. Like a station on an underground railway, an empty and short platform appeared to his left. A few packets flipped out and then slid back down to rejoin the flow. Peta noticed the word “Port 64” painted onto the far wall as he floated past.

Other platforms appeared. They came out of the gloom, as he swept by. Some had Routers, who stood on the platform and retrieved packets, a few of these tried to catch Peta, but he waved them away. Each platform had a different Port number, which steadily climbed, but not always sequentially. Other smaller streams poured packets into the main flow. Twice, the tunnel split into multiple tubes, above each tunnel was a port number, like the directional road signs over motorways in the outside world, thought Peta. He had to kick hard and steer his surf packet into the one that indicated Port 80 as the destination. He bounced off the edge of the tunnel, the packets tumbled in a confused eddy. He lost his balance and rolled off his packet, but clung on. He took a couple of packets to the face before he managed to pull himself back up. He manoeuvred into the central part of the stream, where the flow was smoothest.

Some of the Routers ran over the top of the packets, like loggers Peta had seen in the history books. These Routers diverted the stream. They sent some packets down a smaller tunnel. Peta had to jump onto a less comfortable, smaller packet to avoid being pushed the wrong way by one particularly large Router, who swore at him as he floated past.

More tunnels joined. He became aware he was in a major tributary. Up ahead a bright light appeared, he could see the end of the tunnel. It was a wide arc of light and looked like a flattened tube. As the tunnel widened, the flow reduced. His smaller packet could no longer carry his weight, he came to a sudden stop and rolled off. He was surprised to find the tunnel wide but shallow. He walked with care on the slippery floor, out from the tunnel, packet corners hit his ankles painfully as he came out into a wide delta of packets. Dozens of Routers stood there and harvested the packets onto conveyor belts. In large letters across the dirty back wall, was painted Port 80. The number of packets overwhelmed the workers, and great dunes of them built up at the edges.

Peter walked up to one of the Routers, who swore at him to get out. He indicated with a jerk of his head to a door at the far end that sat below a WAY OUT sign. As Peta approached the door a voice from behind him shouted for him to stop. But he increased his pace, went through and sprinted up the stairs on the other side. He paused at the top flight, leaned over the bannister, but he could neither hear nor see any sign of being followed.

Along a short corridor was another door, which came out into the lobby of a large building. Peta walked across the open area and didn't look up. He went through a revolving door into a bustling narrow street. As he started to walk he looked back to see if anyone followed him and bumped into Doc.



~~~~~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter 44b - Types of Application Software

Oh, hello. Peta isn't it?” Doc said, he took some coins off a suited man and handed him a newspaper.

Doc! What are you doing here?” Peta was relieved to find a friendly face.

Oh, one of my sidelines. I like to sell newspapers,” said Doc vaguely, and he handed Peta a copy of the Eye Dunnow Daily. ”At least people read this stuff, or, or just maybe they look at the pictures.”

[Friday 21st 17:30 am]

Peta took the paper and saw a picture of a large silo on its front cover. "Nice," he said, unsure how to respond.

Hmm. How are things?” Doc asked, and looked at Peta rather intently.

Peta folded the paper and put it in his jacket pocket. He glanced over his shoulder at the door he'd just come out of, turned back to Doc and said “Oh well, you know, a bit worried about the attacks. Where am I exactly?”

Doc looked delighted and pointed at the nearest skyscraper.

This is the centre of the Software Building Zone. We call it Digital Alley, or more usually Cynic Alley.” He gave a small laugh. “Here, let me show you around.”

Doc left a pile of papers, neatly folded, weighed down by a tin, with a slit cut in the lid. "Come on, we'll start up here," and indicated the large buildings ahead of them.

"These buildings," Doc explained. "House the Computer software, that can either be downloaded from or run over the internet. The larger the software, the larger the building, see." Said Doc, and he gestured up at a large office block.

"The Office Software Buildings," he continued, "claim to be made up of over 50 million lines of code." Doc sighed and looked around. "Much of the old program buildings have been demolished and replaced by the newer versions. The latest ones rising from the ashes of the old, as it were. In these buildings,” Doc pointed to the smaller towers, “each level represents about 100,000 lines of code.”

And the larger ones?” asked Peta.

Oh, 1 million for the large ones. And those,” Doc pointed towards the end of the road, "are the 5 Million lines per level, for Photo editing, online games and such like and so forth.”

Doc showed Peta the massive application programs used by businesses. A few of the big buildings didn't look very safe like they'd been put together haphazardly and Doc told Peta that these were Enterprise Software and were made of many different programs, tacked together.

Off to the side of the alley were dozens of massive cubes. These, Doc said, were used to hold the data that the applications needed. It looked to Peta that they were sitting on top of Port 80.

Some of the new buildings were not as high, but as Doc explained there was a lot of back-end code hidden underground, some had over 60m lines of code.

Are there many programs with underground levels?” Peta asked.

See those ones around the town perimeter?” Doc squinted as he tried to look at them.

Peta nodded.

They're the Social Media apps. Below ground, they go down dozens of levels.”

Doc wandered back with Peta away from the edge, back to the older programs. The crowds thinned here. The building's size shrank and the paving stones were cracked. The architecture of the buildings reflected the age of the software. Towards the edge of the alley, the older software sat. These were mostly old houses, left as ruins, with windows broken and holes in the roof. "Abandonware," Doc called them.

He suddenly looked very sad. "Hmm, I think I should be getting back. Farewell, dear boy. Farewell," and he shuffled slowly away. Peta looked at him with sad affection and then ascended the steps in front of one of the older software houses and peered through the window.

"Peta!"

Someone called his name. He looked over the road, he'd expected to see Pop, but this was a woman's voice. He shielded his eyes from the low evening sun and saw Denise beckon him over.

"Denise!" shouted Peta and walked over to where she was hiding.

"Shh!" said Denise. She looked around, even though there was no one at this end of the Alley.

"What are you doing here?" Peta asked in a hoarse whisper, delighted to see her. As he got closer he could see she had a cut under one eye and her jacket was a little torn.

She beckoned him into one of the abandoned houses and settled down on her haunches below the window. "Hiding," she explained. "Why aren't you?"

Well I only just got here, Pop told me to get out at Port 80.”

You came along the Data Stream? Well, the authorities will have been alerted, Port 80 is where all of the Internet traffic is generally sent to. I bet the Routers were surprised to see you. But why did Pop tell you to come here?”

Peta ignored her question. “Why are you hiding?”

They came for me at work, luckily I was in the pub. A bit of an extended lunch break,” she added guiltily. “Before I came back to my desk I got a message from Stevie that Theodore had been arrested. I saw them waiting for me, there was bit of a chase. I thought it was best not to find out what they wanted. So, I came here. It's the only place in town that has abandoned property. But why would Pop send you here? He has bolt holes all over town.”

Peta sat on the dusty floor next to Denise and looked at the motes swirl in the beams of evening sunlight. “I don't know. Look, Denise, this, all of this, is my fault. My Web site is too successful, I've got hundreds of thousands of responses. I know it's dangerous but I need to look at these signatures, I need to analyse the results.”

Denise looked concerned. “Well, its no wonder the authorities came knocking, even they can't have failed to notice that much traffic. Actually it's not hundreds of thousands, it's millions.”

What!” Exclaimed Peta. “How do you know?”

Everyone knows.” Denise twisted to peer over the window ledge. “I just didn't think they would trace it back to us.” She said as she sat back down. “But it doesn't explain why Pop sent you here.”

Peta looked up. “Perhaps he thought I could use some of the Business Software.” He pointed out of the window, “to analyse the data?”

Denise made a grimace, “Well you don't have to come to the software house to run the program. No. It must be something else.” She leaned her head back against the wall.

Peta sighed. “It's one damn thing after another.”

Denise laughed a bitter laugh. “Well, it's....” Then she stopped, whirled round onto her knees and looked out of the window.

Peta followed her movement. “What is it? Did you hear something?”

Denise looked at Peta, “It's a sequel. Pete, I think I know why Pop sent you here.”

Why?”

The sky started to turn orange, as the sun slowly dropped towards the horizon, it gave a glow to Denise's face.

The software houses have the biggest data needs in town.” Denise pointed to the large Silos that stood around the perimeter fence. “You need to analyse the data? Well then, you need a database. It's the only way to analyse such large amounts."

"OK," said Peta. "How do I get one of those?"

"That's the problem," Denise looked worried. "You can't just walk up to the front door of the Database zone."

"Couldn't we use the back door?" asked Peta.

"That's what worries me," Denise slumped back down again into the dust. "I think I know why Pop sent you here. We're going to have to ride the ODBC to get into the Database Zone."

[Friday 21st 18:10 am]

Chapter 45a - Introduction to Databases

Friday 21st 18:10 am]

As the sun went down, Peta and Denise talked.

OK,” said Denise. “We need to get to the Database Zone, which will be tricky because you can't get in without a username and password. They're very secretive, you can't just wander in you know.”

So, what's the plan?” Asked Peta, who wasn't happy with their hiding place.

Denise looked a little sick, “Well,” she explained. “We need to steal a username and password and then create a Data Source, that will connect us in, but I have no idea how we'll do that.

What's a data source?”

It makes the link between the programs and the database itself.” Denise demonstrated by linking her hands together.

What do they look like?” Peta stood up, he felt uncomfortable on the floor. He looked out of the window and saw the low sun, cast a high relief on the uneven the paving stones. Somehow it made the place feel even more deserted.

Oh, they're over there.” Denise waved her hand towards the edge of the Alley.

Peta peered back up the Alley. “Behind those large cubes?” he asked.

Denise stood up and joined Peta at the window. “No, those cubes are the Data, they ride on the Data Sources.”

Peta looked annoyed, “No, I meant those large...” he voice trailed off. He had just noticed that the number and position of the cubes had changed since he had last looked at them. He stared at one of them, he saw that it moved. “That building is moving.”

Not a building, Data,” Denise shook her head. “On a Data Source,” she repeated.

But how do you move something that big, it must be the size of Cathedral?” Peta's mouth hung open.

Forget it, we don't need one that big, some of these programs need millions of bits of data.” She said. But Peta was no longer next to her, he had walked quickly towards the edge of the alley, toward one of the big cubes.

After they had walked for a minute Peta saw that it was much further away than he'd suspected. He scrambled up onto a wall so he could get a better view. “How does the Data Source move Denise?” he said.

She peered around and seemed uncomfortable. They were very exposed.

Well, I think it's a matrix of flatbed trucks, but I've never seen one up close, a friend of mine...”

No truck's that big, the cube must be 100 by 50 metres wide and at least 20 metres high.” Interrupted Peta.

Not a truck,” said Denise, “about 500 small trucks, each one is a bit like a remote-controlled shopping trolley. Look will you get down, someone might see you.” She looked around again, but the place was deserted. The Alley had no domestic homes, so it emptied out in the evenings.

How are they controlled?” asked Peta. He jumped down off the wall.

Look, I don't really know, but my friend said only one truck is actually driven, all of the others follow in a swarm, like starlings. Where are you going now?”

Come on,” shouted Peta over his shoulder.

But where are you going?” Denise called.

I'm following the Data.”

The run to the Data Source took longer than Peta had imagined. The amount of data was enormously enormous and it moved at right angles to them, at about the same speed as they could run. Peta was worried that if they didn't manage to intersect it, then they would never get onboard.

Denise's concern that they would be seen, was soon replaced by her concern about keeping sight of Peta. The massive vehicle threw up a huge cloud of dust, as a hundred wheels churned the ground. There was little chance that anyone could see them at all as they got closer to the vehicle.

They both began to choke. The dust filled their mouths with sand, irritated their eyes and hid obstacles in their path. When they eventually they reached the side of the rumbling monster, they paused. There was a ledge between the Data cube and the side of the truck big enough for them to sit upon. It was chest height to Peta, they would have to jump up to reach it. The huge wheels were a constant reminder of the fate that awaited him if he timed the jump badly.

Exhausted by the run, and unable to fill his lungs Peta jumped. He scrambled and pulled his way onto the ledge. He coughed and strained until he eventually swung his legs up onto the side of the truck. Denise was much smaller than him and his efforts seemed to have put her off. Peta found a handhold and lent out his other arm hanging low.

"Jump!" he shouted. "Jump!"

She ran alongside, her face plastered in dust, eyes almost shut. She raised her hand and jumped. He reached and caught hold of her wrist, she swung forward, at the top of the swing, her legs brushed the wheel, which sent her flying back. She nearly pulled Peta's arm from its socket, she swung back and landed on the ledge by Peta's legs.

They lay there to catch their breath. But the dust from the wheels filled their eyes and throats, it was hard to see or breath. Neither of them wanted to jump off, back into the dust storm. So, they decided to move forward. They edged along the ledge, the gaps between the trucks would have been an easy jump if they had been stationary, but a fall at this speed would mean certain death.

I can't do it,” yelled Denise at each jump, as she stared through watery eyes filled with dust, into the blurry, roaring gap.

Yes, you can. You're doing brilliantly, only a few more...” Peta had to spit out a mouthful of dust. “And we'll be clear.”

Each jump felt like a gamble, but slowly, they made their way to the front. After 5 minutes they were three trucks from the front. Denise told Peta that the dust to fear ratio fell heavily on the side of the dust. But Peta wanted to see how much further they had to go. He made his way along the final ledge and saw that they were almost there.

Along the southern edge of the town ran a hill, in previous ages these had been a deep river bank, and the hill the town stood on had been a loop in the river. But now these banks had been hollowed back to the town boundary and they had supplied the building material for the town. In the newly created plain, along the South Eastern side stood the tall buildings of Digit Alley and along the South Western boundary stood the Data Silos of the Database Zone.

The Data Silos sat on the floor of the quarried plain so that only their tops could be seen from the outside, and it was to these silo's that the Data Source now trundled. The place was lit, but the structures were huge. Peta thought he could make out the shape of an enormous indented hieroglyph on the silos that faced him. He grabbed hold of a vertical pole onto which an amber warning light flashed. Peta leaned out, and looked up at the data cube. At this angle, and in the low light it was hard to tell, but he thought he could see the same shape protruding from the front. He looked back. He could see that these shapes were lined up, like a key for a keyhole. He hurried back to tell Denise that they were nearly there.

She was hunched over with her back to him, as she tried to shield her face from the dust storm. She nearly fell off when he tapped her shoulder.

Sorry,” said Peta and told her what he had seen.

Denise nodded, “That's the schema.” Looking at Peta's blank face, she added: “it defines the structure of the data, it really just an interface.” More blank stares. “To help the data move freely in and out of the database.

Oh, right,” said Peta.

The Data Source slowed from a run to a walk to a crawl. Finally, a noise like a loud gong sounded and the Data Source stopped and fell silent. In the beams of the amber warning lights, they jumped off their ledge. The area around the silos was empty, but Denise had spotted some stairs between two silos. After a quick look around, they agreed that it would look less suspicious if they walked to the staircase rather than ran.

They arrived unseen at the stairs which zig-zagged their way up towards the patch of purple sky that they could just make out between the deep black of the silo walls. They began to climb. Like the cubes of data, these silo's were bigger than Peta first thought. Up they climbed, but the top seemed as far away as ever. The sweat, that ran down their faces, left tramlines in the dust that still covered them.

After about 10 minutes they reached the top, they took a few moments to take in the view and catch their breath. Peta was relieved to see a door, he'd been concerned that their climb would be for nothing, but his mood soon fell again when he saw a keypad in the wall next to it.

He looked at the pad, it consisted of letters and numbers. But only 3 of the keys looked clean. The others were covered in a fine powder, Peta presumed from being out in the elements. The 3 keys were C, D, and O, Peta thought for a minute of Doc, but the display required a 4 letter code.

Peta needed some paper, he looked through his bag, then he remembered that all of his papers were back in Pop's apartment. He felt in his jacket pockets and came across the newspaper that Doc had given him earlier.

He unfolded it and looked through his rucksack until he found a pen. He started to run write the combinations of C, D and O on the newspaper. Then something caught his eye, he wasn't sure what it was for a moment. His eyes travelled down the page to below the banner and title and saw some information about the contents.

The Hacker; An attacker from Off? Page 3

What's On This week, Entertainment guide; Pages 8-12

And, his heart suddenly leapt; “Documentation Special: Databases; Pages 15-20.”

He opened the paper, and turned to page 15, there, was a copy of an old SQL Manual, re-created on the pages. There were 2 pages displayed on each side, with little explanations by Doc under each. The first pages were just an introduction, talking about databases. The early examples of flat file databases and then a paragraph on relational databases, created by someone called Dr Codd.

Codd,” thought Peta, “C, O, D, D.” He stabbed in the letters into the keypad, there followed a hum and a click. He pushed the door, and it opened. He stuffed the paper back into his jacket pocket, picked up his bag and whistled to Denise, who looked around, amazed to see the open door.

How did you open it?” Asked Denise, amazed.

Lucky guess,” said Peta with a grin.



~~~~~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter 45b - Introduction to Databases



The inside of the silo was like a huge water tank, it dazzled their eyes after the gloomy stairs. A walkway ran around the edge in a large circle, but in the central area was an inner metal ring filled with trays, each shaped like an enormous slice of pizza. Peta peered in one and could see that the trays were filled with triangular shaped data packets, clustered together into large hexagons. From all around them was a sound like a thousand muffled hammers striking metal. How ever this warehouse stored data, it did it noisily.

Are these?” Peta began to ask.

Databases? I suppose so,” she looked at Peta's face as he tried to pick up one of the packets, but it would not budge. “I've heard that some records can be locked. But no one I know has ever been here. This zone is very protective, they don't like visitors. So we must be careful.”

I will, but I need to store data, any idea how the databases work?” asked Peta.

I have no idea, but we must be able to access the data somehow.” Denise walked around the edge and Peta followed. They came to a path that linked to the next silo, it came out into a scene almost exactly the same as the one they'd just been in, but the top layer of the inner ring in this one had no data. They looked down into the empty space. The data began about an arm's length away from the top edge of the silo. They continued to explore.

Peta noticed that the place was incredibly tidy, particularly after the Alley, which had been a bit haphazard, with offices tacked together and extra rooms stuck on the side of buildings. But this place was rather different, nothing was out of place.

The next silo was filled to the top like the first, but here many of the trays were not completely filled. Peta tried to remove one of the hexagonal packets. It pulled smoothly out of the pack. A closer look at the top of it Peta could see the word 'Surname' printed clearly. He pulled out more packets and saw different words; 'Date of Birth' and 'Address Line 1'. After he had cleared out 3 whole hexagons, he peered down and could just about make out the same details repeated on level below.

Peta started to check out the other packets. Each slice of data within the silo had similar groups, but related to different data. He saw Product Codes, Customer Codes, Net Prices, and other ones with information about suppliers, sellers. He pulled out a packet with ID written on the top and was surprised to find a packet attached to it from another tray.

Peta asked Denise what this meant, she shrugged.

I think these must be the connectors that define the relationships between the different groups of data,” he said.

Peta couldn't understand Denise's lack of curiosity, he felt completely absorbed, as he tried to understand the place. This connection was repeated in the packets of the next layer.

I wonder how many of these there are in each silo, there must be millions?” Peta turned his head to try to look down the space between the silo and the walkway.

Just then a loud clang behind him made him jump “What was that?”

They ran back into a Silo they'd just had come from, where previously there had been an empty layer, now the Silo was filled up to the top.

This Silo has just added another layer,” said Peta, excited. The dull intermittent hammering continued around them. “Maybe each clunk is a Silo adding or removing data?” he suggested.

They wandered from Silo to Silo. Most were like the ones they'd already been in, but one or two were almost empty, Peta felt his stomach lurch when he looked over the edge of these, and he was reminded how high these Silos really were.

Peta had babbled to Denise about what he could do with the data. But she had become supremely bored, so he fell silent, lost in thought. They wandered into a Silo, at first they did not notice the group of workers in overalls, with hairnets and face masks, who worked at a bench on a platform. It looked like a window cleaning platform used for tower blocks and it hung off the side of one of the trays.

They were facing away from them. Peta could see 'The Data Cleansing Team' written on the back of their overalls. Peta didn't think they'd been spotted, but they edged back slowly anyway and waited to hear if the workers came to investigate. They made their way towards another Silo, Peta wanted to put some distance between them and the workers.

[Friday 21st 19:30 am]

Chapter 46 - SQL in MySQL

[Friday 21st 19:30 am]

Peta sat and thought about what he needed to do in order to be able to analyse the data. He thought that he would need to create a table, possibly two, on the database. Then he would need to upload the data he had received from the Web Site onto those tables. He was also aware that Denise was very uneasy about being in the Database Zone. But he had found a helper in Denise and didn't want to say something that may risk losing that. He wondered if Pop would be able to help, but he had no way to contact him or to tell him where they were.

Denise said. “You want to create a table on a Database don't you?”

What..err yes. Yes, I would. I wasn't sure how to ask. Isn't it, I mean, is this possible?”

Denise made a small grimace “I don't think it is, not for us anyway. These people have a reputation for being a bit...prissy.” Her face brightened. “So anything we can do to annoy them is fine by me. If you want a table, we'll need someone on the inside to help us”.

OK,” said Peta. He looked around. “Where's the nearest Server Room?”

I've been looking, but I haven't seen any,” said Denise. “Those Data Cleansers; did you see what was written on their platform?”

Peta thought for a moment. “No, what?”

Night-shift Workbench,” she said and raised her eyebrows.

What does that mean?” Asked Peta.

A bench where they do some work, at night?” she offered.

Peta didn't note the tone of sarcasm, “Yea, probably. Did you notice how the bench seemed to merge into the data like it was dicing it up? I wonder...”

Denise heard the footsteps first. She looked back to where the sounds came from and realised that they were headed towards them. She warned Peta and without words, they both ducked down and ran around the silo's edge. Once on the other side, they stopped and peered over the trays, just in time to see the Data Cleanser workers walk right past where they had been standing moments earlier.

They continued to crawl around the edge. They checked on the progress of the workers until they caught sight of them disappear around the corner and move off into the next silo.

Denise continued to stare after them, as Peta set off, back towards the Workbench. He had almost left the silo before she noticed that he had gone. She hurried to catch up with him. When they arrived back at the Workbench it was empty except for a screen, mouse and keyboard, the surface where Peta had seen the packets was clear. At the back of the desk, there were many tiny shelves, which ran horizontally, each shelf stretched the length of the bench, and Peta thought it looked a bit like a hand loom or harp on its side. He climbed onto the platform, turned on the screen, and pulled the keyboard towards him.

A login button appeared. Denise looked back to check that no one else was coming. By the time she turned back, she saw that Peta was already into the system.

How did you do that?”

Never mind,” said Peta. “I'll tell you later, can you keep a lookout.”

Peta looked at the screen and saw, down the left-hand side, little cylinders or, if he squinted, icons of silos. He clicked on one.

The cylinder opened up like a computer folder. It showed a tree structure, of which one branch was labelled 'Tables'. He clicked on the table heading and found a list of, what he presumed, were table names. He clicked on one of those and found another list, named Column Fields. He opened these too and saw that they matched the packet names in the trays. But he'd reach the bottom level as these wouldn't open up any further.

Denise said "I'm just going to check those people aren't coming back," and walked back the way they had just come.

Peta didn't look up, he'd just noticed the menu at the top of the screen. The number of options was huge. After a couple of minutes, he was completely lost. He got out the manual from Doc's newspaper, and laid it out on the desk, and looked for information about creating tables. He scanned through the words, on the second paragraph of page 2 it suggested following the standard computing method, that is: “Don't create something new when you can copy something similar and change it.”

Peta looked back at the tables and clicked through them until he found one that had a field structure, close to what he thought he needed. He looked at the table contents for quite a while, there was some interesting information here, but then he remembered what he had come to do. He followed the instructions and managed to find the directions on how to create a table. He clicked a button labelled 'Create Table', and nearly fell off the chair when the workbench lurched forwards, The shelves in front of him filled with small counters, a bit like an abacus. The edge of each row had a name; ID, Last Name, First Name, Title and Date of Birth. Peta saw that there was a link between the table on the screen and the counters on the shelves. He moved the counters on the bench and the database changed too. There were 50 counters for the Last Name. Peta wanted to use this field for the Virus Names, he thought that 50 must refer to the number of characters that you could use for this field. All of the Virus Names he had come across had never been near that. So he lent over and dragged half of the counters to the other end of the shelf with his hands, he had reduced the field length to 25. The view on the screen showed exactly what he had just created.

Getting out the laptop, Peta turned it on and opened a small example of the file which contained the virus information. It was split into various descriptions such as name, type and date discovered.

It was a simple task to re-create the structure of the file on his laptop onto the shelves in front of him. Within 5 minutes he had created a table that would be able to hold the virus identifier file. He checked through everything a couple of times and then re-checked the manual. It instructed him to click the Execute SQL statement. Appropriately this was shaped like a lightning strike, and when he clicked it a crash and a rumble like thunder rang through the silo, a new very thin tray had appeared in the silo to his right. It was empty, but there was a structure like a honeycomb sitting within it.

The workbench trundled around until it sat in front of the new tray. The top row of the new table slid onto the workbench. Peta had to quickly move his laptop, bag and the documentation to stop them being swept onto the ground.

He leant forward and peered down the new table, it was like looking down a chimney, the empty table fell away from him, the sides quickly faded to black.

Peta felt energised. He had just created his first table! All he now had to do now was fill it with the data. The documentation helped here, but it took a bit more work. But he soon figured out that he had created the first table incorrectly. So he had to go back and delete it. This involved dropping it. The table clattered down through the silo, the noise echoed off the walls.

But soon, he had re-created it with the changes and inserted lots of data. He had his table. He wondered where Denise was. He turned off his laptop, and put it back in his bag, and then logged out of the Database Management System. He stood up and stretched, picked up Doc's documentation, re-folded it and stuffed it into his back pocket.

Suddenly, a voice rang out. “Stand away from that Bench!”

[Friday 21st 21:30 am]

Chapter 47a - Filter, Update and Delete in MySQL

[Friday 21st 21:30 am]

An impeccably dressed man, with a haughty and disdainful expression, strode up towards Peta.

Get away from the data,” he said and pointed at the desk. “Did you touch this?” He walked up to the desktop, and wiped his finger along its surface and looked at it as if Peta had just wiped his nose on it.

A noise distracted them as a dozen guards came into the silo. They had hold of Denise. They held her arms behind her back and pushed her along the walkway in their direction.

Let her go,” called Peta.

The smart man ignored this request. “Hold them both,” he ordered, in a horribly detached manner.

Six guards quickly surrounded Peta and pinned his arms also. He struggled for a bit but soon gave up. “But I didn't do anything,” he was annoyed to hear a slight whine in his voice.

Well, we'll soon see. I am the Database Administrator and I can always tell. You can call me the DBA,” said the DBA. He set a bag on the desk and removed some items; a hair net which he slipped over his tidy hair, a pair of white gloves which he thrust his hand into, firmly tamping down the gap between each finger. He then cracked his knuckles and pointed at the desktop. One of the other guards immediately rushed over and cleaned the entire surface.

All of this,” the DBA wrinkled his nose and looked disgusted. “Contamination. It will need a thorough cleansing.”

Peta watched as the DBA sat down at the desk and began to type very rapidly and accurately. Lines of code appeared and were quickly run, reports were generated. He gave out intermittent gasps, tuts and even the odd “deary me”.

He stood up and looked at no one as he began to remove the gloves finger by finger. “Well,” he began. “My worst fears are realised.”

Oh really,” said Peta, annoyed by the fussy man.

You,” the DBA gave a little shudder and stared at Peta, “have created,” he took a dramatic breath, “dirty data.”

Nope,” said Peta.

Excuse me, but you have.”

No,” continued Peta, “your worst fear is that someone DROPS a Database.”

The DBA's eyes widened. He remained silent for an uncomfortably long time. He took one look back at the Workbench. “Who are you?”

No one.”

Yes.” The DBA pointed at him, his eyes narrowed. “You're the one on the news. The one the authorities are after. You came back to town after being away didn't you?”

Not me,” said Peta. He felt the danger of the situation for the first time.

"And you've brought one of those filthy migrants with you." He nodded towards Denise, "I bet you just love people from off."

The DBA looked at the guards and said, “Bring them.”

The frustration at getting so close to having sorted out the data was replaced by the anger he felt at how the DBA treated Denise. But there was little he could do, as they were marched through the silos. Peta tried to memorise the route. Right, left, right. straight, straight, but he soon became totally lost.

They entered a silo that was different from the others, it was like an office, the walkway around the edge was carpeted and they went down a short flight of stairs another quarter of a turn and then a further flight. They walked past more offices, and then kitchens, meeting rooms until eventually, they came to a stop at an office with the name plaque; Brett Spinner.

The DBA unlocked the door and went into the office, they could hear a muffled, one-sided conversation. A moment later the DBA re-appeared, and smoothed down his hair and swallowed.

You will wait in my office, I've decided to report your presence to … the Architect.” Peta heard some of the guards gasp, he presumed that this was not good news.

They were pushed inside. Several of the database guards stood either side of the door and it closed behind them. Peta looked at the handle and heard a click, as the key turned.

He was slightly relieved. He was worried that they'd be put in different rooms and they wouldn't have a chance to work on a story. He felt sure that the truth would get them handed over to the authorities. He hoped that he could appeal to their vanity, then they may only get thrown out of the zone.

Wow, I'm so sorry,” said Denise.

Why?”

Well I got caught almost immediately,” explained Denise. “Those Cleansers returned pretty quickly. I was leading them away when their supervisor appeared. You saw what he was like. Things weren't going well anyway, but then there was a big crash, it sounded like a bicycle being thrown down a well. And they raced back to where you were.”

Ah, yes.” Peta gave a pained expression. “That may have been me.”

Really. What did you do?”

I removed a table from the database," Denise looked horrified. Peta continued, "it didn't have any data in it."

"Peta, that is so lucky, it is forbidden for anyone outside of the zone to delete data. You're lucky they didn't see."

"Really?" Peta seemed confused, it was all so simple.

"Yes really," Denise placed a hand over her mouth in shock

"Well, I created the table again,” said Peta defensively. “And I did add some data to that one. I doubt it's really that bad.” He added. But he felt a little hot and was aware that his face had flushed.

No one's meant to be able to do that, it's a closely guided secret, this is the closest thing that Eye Dunnow has to a religious cult, you must know that.”

I used to work in the museum, I never had a reason to come out here.” Peta thought Denise must be winding him up. “I knew they've always been viewed as weird, but not a cult, really? I was at school with some of these people, I played soccer with them.”

Denise raised her eyebrows. “But they''re always in the news, complaining about 'unorthodox use of data'.”

So OK, they're very precious about their data, we'll apologise and find another way,” said Peta, he still found it hard to take it seriously. The whole thing had just been too easy.

Denise looked unsure. “Maybe,” she said.

What if I say I was trying to get some information for the museum? I'll say they are under-represented in the town.” Peta walked around the office as he spoke, it seemed like a good version of the truth. It filtered out most of the harder to explain stuff. He began to convince himself of his own story.

That could work.” Denise had turned round in her chair and followed Peta as he spoke. “Say that you had to update the records you had, after, you know, the Hacker attack.”

Yea, I won't say that we'd asked for permission, I get the feeling that they'll be very good at keeping records.” He walked back around the office and ended up behind the DBA's desk. “Look, I'll take....” But his eye caught something and he came to an abrupt halt.

Take what?” asked Denise. She got up off the chair and came to the other side of the desk.



~~~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter 47b - Filter, Update and Delete in MySQL

Peter held up a key. “It's a key.” He said, aware of how obvious this was.

So?” said Denise.

So, why did the DBA leave a key on this desk?” He examined it more closely.

Maybe he forgot about it?” offered Denise.

and Insert a new table key,” said Peta.

Sorry?” said Denise. "Insert a what?”

A new key,” repeated Peta. He looked at the key closely. “That DBA wouldn't just forget that he'd left a key.”

So, it's a key. Can we concentrate on getting out of here,” she said, annoyed.

No,” said Peta. “It isn't. It's a test.”

After a few moments, he felt around the front of the desk, and then pushed the key into a keyhole he'd found there. From outside the door, they heard a loud click

A short while later the door opened and they both looked up. Brett Spinner had re-entered the room. Peta thought that he looked angry, but was holding it in..

The Architect will see you now,” he looked more than angry Peta thought, he looked upset. “I only hope that you are. Worthy.” He spat out the final word.

Peta gave a grim smile and gently nodded his head.

The DBA ignored this and looked like he was trying to manage his emotions and added: “If you'd like to follow me.”

We'd like to leave,” said Peta, emphatically.

I'm afraid that's not possible. Please,” the DBA motioned for them to follow him. More guards were outside ready to escort them. Peta noticed that while previously the guards had been quite rough with them, now they were polite, almost respectful. He couldn't understand why there had been a change of attitude.

After a few more flights of stairs and several more corridors, the style of the decoration changed. It felt less like an office and more like a hotel or even a slightly austere home. They all came to a stop outside a wooden double door. The guards moved back. The DBA unnecessarily straightened his tie and flattened his unruffled hair, swallowed once and then gently knocked on the doors.

They were opened by, Peta was surprised to see, a nurse, who took one look at them, smiled at Peta and beckoned him in.

The nurse turned to Denise and said: "She'll have to stay outside."

Peta didn't move. He folded his arms and said, "She's with me. If she can't go in, then I'm not going in either."

The nurse looked to the DBA, who, with a rigid jaw, nodded his approval.

Completely confused Peta and Denise entered a short hallway and came out into a plush living room, which was dominated by a large hospital bed. They were ushered towards the bedside. The occupant lay motionless.

From her paper skin and lack of movement, Peta presumed she must be very ill.

Is that...” he whispered and pointed towards the bed.

The DBA walked up and stood alongside him, his head bowed. “That was, 'The Architect'.”

She's dead!” Peta said in a shocked whisper.

The DBA looked appalled. “No, not dead, she'll probably outlive us all. She's passed on the role of Architect to the chosen one.”

Who's the chosen one? You?” Asked Peta.

The DBA looked like he was about to be sick. “No. It's you.”

[Friday 21st 23:00 am]

Chapter 48a - Functions in MySQL

[Friday 21st 23:00 am]

Me? I think you've made a mistake,” Peta started to panic.

The DBA closed his eyes. “No.” Through his nose he exhaled, irritated. “No mistake, all the signs are there, even if I.” He stopped himself, then smiled at Peta and held out his hand. “You are the chosen one, you should rejoice, all of our dreams have come true.” He continued through gritted teeth. “Welcome, you have come to us just as the prophecy foretold.” Peta shook the proffered hand, not sure if this was a joke.

What prophecy?” Peta felt that this had got out of control. Around him, people mumbled. It was clear that they all knew about the prophecy. He looked at Denise who shrugged. "Really, what prophecy?"

The DBA seemed uncomfortable, "we have a prophecy. I thought everyone knew it. Even the lost souls of the town."

"Not me," Peta shook his head.

"Well," he began. "The prophecy states that:

The one who is going to free the oppressed will...

Select a relational watchword Use Codd for door password

From a drop of our deepest fear Tested by DBA

Where they'll log in without password Happened

Create a table and interfere Happened

Insert a new value of table key

Update it without being shown Happened

Then we will Join with the absentee Peta is from Off

and the chosen one shall be known



Nothing to do with me,” said Peta.

It has everything to do with you.” The DBA replied loudly. He then calmed himself. “You have passed every test. I. I wasn't convinced, until the key, but you are; The One.” The DBA looked disappointed. Peta suddenly understood that he, the DBA, had wanted to be the chosen one and that his hopes had been dashed. What, up to this point had been a game had suddenly become serious. “We will,” the DBA swallowed. “Do everything we can to assist you. But it's late, you must be tired, let me show you to your rooms.”

He walked Peta and Denise to an apartment on another floor, that looked like some kind of guest quarters. There was a general living area and a handful of bedrooms. He showed Peta down the hall to a very luxurious room, with a large bed and soft furnishings. Peta dropped off his bag and went to look for Denise. He found that the DBA had shown her to into a very plain room.

Finally, the DBA turned and said, “It has been an honour.” He gave a little bow and closed the door.

Peta was sure that he heard a stifled sob come from the corridor outside.

"We need to swap rooms," he told Denise as she poured them a glass or what looked like a very strong drink.

"Why?" she asked as she handed over the glass.

"Well, mine is too luxurious for me."

Denise sat down and didn't look at him. She looked out of the window and then down at her glass. "Mine is the nicest room I've had since coming to this town." She said it very plainly, without complaint. "Anyway," she looked over and gave him a sad smile, "You're the Chosen One."

"I know!" he laughed, "hilarious isn't it?"

She stared back out of the window. Out over the dusty plain, that they had come across several hours earlier. "No, it's terrifying." She took a sip of her drink. "You've got to get out of here.” She looked really worried. “Look Peta I'm sorry, but you're in danger, we have to leave.”

He shook his head. “They're just a bunch of oddballs."

She drained the glass and murmured, “Scary oddballs.” Then stood up, took the glass over to the kitchen. "I'm going to bed. Goodnight, we should talk about this in the morning."

They had a small battle over who was got which bedroom. Denise wouldn't take Peta's room, so Peta decided to move to another, less luxurious one. While he moved his bag, food was delivered. Denise took hers into her room. While Peta ate his food in the main room and thought about what had just happened.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter 48b - Functions in MySQL

[Morning Saturday 22nd. 8:30]

In the morning breakfast was delivered and they sat together at the small table and gazed out of the window across to the town in the distance, shrouded in a light fog. After they'd finished the food Denise looked at him. She didn't smile,

Peta," she said. "They think this is the end times, the apocalypse. With all that has happened, maybe it is.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “They're expecting you to lead them to glory."

Peta's head snapped around. "What? Really?"

She nodded. "Peta, perhaps. Perhaps, you are the chosen one.”

Denise, I'm not, I'm really not.”

She looked back out of the window again. “You can't fake something like that, 'Create table', 'Update it without being shown', all of that stuff. You just knew.”

No Denise, I didn't.” He pulled out Doc's paper from inside his jacket pocket and handed it to her. “It was in here, I got it from this.”

She looked at the paper confused. He opened the pages and pointed. “There.”

She was still for a moment. “But the lines about the greatest fear, and, and the key, that's not in here.” She said and put the paper down.

Peta raised his eyes, “No, that. That was so stupid” he said with frustration. “The Drop bit was something my cousin Yotta had told me 10 days ago. The key, well, what else are you supposed to do with a key, but find a keyhole. As for the rest, it was just.” He shrugged. “Luck.”

But how did you log in without a password?” she asked.

I didn't have to, the last user can't have logged off, I just sat down, pressed a button and I was in.” Peta saw that Denise was unsure whether this was a joke.

So, what are you going to do now?” She asked.

Do? I've got access to a database - I'm going to learn about databases and then link it to my website, download the data and analyse it. Being a chosen one is going to work out great.” He couldn't understand why Denise wasn't more excited.

No Peta, this is worrying,” she said and got up from the table, cleared the plates back onto the trays.

Oh, come on, I'm the Chosen One, they not going to harm me?” said Peta. He looked amused.

But Peta, if your not the chosen one. What do you think they'll do when they find out?”

Oh, we'll be long gone by then,” he said dismissively. He walked over to her, took the trays, and placed them outside in a deserted corridor, then closed the door. Denise hadn't moved. He picked up his bag from his room and took out Python's old battered laptop, settled back down at the table and switched it on. He looked over the screen at her. “Just give me a couple of days.”

She said nothing.

Please Denise.” He looked straight at her. “I need those databases.”

Denise chewed her bottom lip in a worried manner and looked back at him for a while, then closed her eyes and gave a slight nod. She went off to her room. Peta thought for a few moments and then got to work.

[Morning Saturday 22nd. 9:00]

He liked the suite of rooms, which were on an accommodation floor within a silo. Pop's apartment had always been filthy. But here the beds were comfortable, the food plentiful and he could work for hours at a time.

To begin with, outside these rooms, he rarely got any time alone. He was a bit of a celebratory. People stared at him wherever he went, which he found very weird. Some pointed, some took pictures and others shouted things out at him. He tried to behave normally, but he felt like he was in a zoo. The worst of these intrusions was the unshakeable presence of the DBA.

Peta's first priority had been to get all of his data loaded onto his database. So on his first morning, he asked the DBA how he would go about this. The DBA had acted as though this was a joke, and that “of course” Peta knew how to do all of that.

I'm the 'chosen one', not the 'knows it one'” Peta had responded.

But he could tell that the DBA was disappointed in him. This was tricky, he thought. He didn't mind not being the chosen one, but he didn't want them to find out before he'd managed to analyse the data and hopefully use it to bring down the Hacker. But he was sure that they expected him to act in a certain way, and he had no idea how to do that.

So the data was arranged and it was loaded onto a database of Peta's specification.

It's a very, um, basic database,” noted the DBA, when Peta told him what he needed.

Hmm,” said Peta. “We should strive for Simplicity in all things.” He had started coming out with meaningless phrases, in a vain attempt to sound more like a “Chosen One”, but he could see the DBA look more worried every time he did it. Yet, somehow he couldn't stop himself.

Still, he had his data, and he had some kind of standing in the community. Denise was still terrified by the whole thing, while Peta, generally, thought it was hilarious.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter 48c - Functions in MySQL

To avoid interruptions he had arranged to work at the Silo's alone. Denise guarded him and she made sure no one came close. This was necessary because without Doc's SQL documentation he wouldn't have had a clue. He was sure that if the DBA knew about it, then the game would be up. So he only used it when he was alone and guarded. But he learned quickly, so he was able to Aggregate, Group and compare data to identify the different virus signatures. It was with great disappointment when he discovered that the same viruses kept on cropping up. Most of the data was from the same 20 or so. But a few of the contributors obviously knew what they were doing, and they had sent him obscure and rare virus signatures.

The data set they had was huge, but the database allowed him to find how many types of viruses he had collected. By using some Date Functions he could break these down into months and years that they had been discovered. It was here that he began to get worried. Most of the viruses were quite old. Often they had been created, discovered, and defeated years ago.

But he also found out that most shared a lot of similarities.

He used Text Functions and managed to grab just 100 characters from a viruses signature. He discovered that he could still identify the different viruses even when he could access only a fraction of the file.

Within a few days, he knew more about the structure of Computer viruses than he had known in the whole time he had been back in the town. The large jumbles of meaningless data had been corralled into smaller, easier to manage data sets.

[Sunday 23rd, 18:00]

At the end of the second day, Denise and Peta went back to their rooms. A delegation waited for them outside the door. At its head was the DBA, of course.

We'd like to have a word if that is alright?” asked the DBA. He looked anxious.

Well you can come in, but I'm feeling extremely tired so your friends will have to wait outside,” Peta told him. Somehow he resisted the urge to tell them all to go away.

Once in his rooms, Peta felt that he had the advantage.

Denise made herself scarce. Peta turned to see the DBA watch her go with a barely concealed look of disgust in his face.

He was going to offer the DBA a drink but decided against it.

Well,” said Peta. He got himself something to drink, sat down on the sofa, stretched out and stifled a yawn. “How can I help?”

Errm.” The DBA looked unsure about how to proceed. “We were just wondering what we should do to help?”

Peta's brows creased. “No need, I'm getting on fine thanks.” This had been a repeated request and he was already tired of it.

It's just that. Your work. It doesn't seem to be?” The DBA paused and Peta looked at him.

To be what?” asked Peta, a bit bored.

Revolutionary.”

Peta looked confused.

When do we take over the town?” asked the DBA in a sudden outburst. “When should we seize control?”

I'm sorry?” Said Peta and spilt his drink. “Seize control of what?”

Well, you're the chosen one. Come to free us and place us where we should be. In charge.” The DBA no longer looked pompous, he looked fanatical thought Peta. Suddenly Denise's concerns made sense.

Peta took a long sip of his drink and felt a rising panic. Eventually, he wiped his chin and said. “These things take time, we can't just go barging in, we need a while to," he searched around, and finally settled on, "prepare.”

Yes. Yes, absolutely. Time,” the DBA nodded.

So. As I said I'm really busy. I'll let you get on with your work.” Peta got up off the sofa and showed the DBA to the door. He closed it slowly, he didn't want to show concern. But he turned back to see Denise's head peer around her bedroom door.

Peta looked at her and mouthed a very bad swear word.

[Sunday 23rd, 18:30]

Chapter 49a - SubQueries & Joins in MySQL

[Sunday 23rd, 18:30]

[Tuesday 25th, 17:30]

At the end of the fourth day in the Database Zone, Peta sat back, put his feet on top of the Workbench and looked at the screen. There was a sense of satisfaction at what he saw. There it was; a table. It showed all of the viruses that had been sent through to him. Their types, the dates they had been discovered, and features that identified each one. He felt sure that he could look at any file in Eye Dunnow and identify whether it was a virus or not. He could easily add new viruses, it was like a library, which he could search through. He was the master of the data which he could add, amend or delete.

But something worried him, he wasn't sure what it was, but he knew that he had missed something. He called out to Denise that he was ready to go and began to pack away all of his things. He had backed up the data onto Python's laptop because he wanted to be careful not to leave a trace of it on the database while he was not here. So he methodically deleted all of the information, checked that it had gone and logged out of Workbench.

He cleared the desktop, powered down the laptop, unplugged the cables and put them all in his bag along with the carefully concealed SQL manual. With a final look at the tray of data that held his now empty database, he turned to go.

Denise came up to him. She looked her usual troubled self. “I've just go to check something out,” she said.

OK,” replied Peta. “I'll see you back at the apartment, will you be long?”

No, 20 minutes tops. See ya,” and she walked the other way.

Bye,” said Peta.

He knew what she was doing. They had planned their escape at Denise's insistence. And that night was when they were going to leave. But, Peta thought, it would be hard to go back into the unknown. Out into the town where he was sure, the guards still searched for him. But he risked being exposed here, and he didn't want to hang around to find out how they punished someone who impersonated the “Chosen One”. He thought it was unlikely that they'd just let him go.

He knew his way around the Data silo's pretty well now. They were held in a 3D grid, so it didn't really matter which route you took, as long as you knew roughly where you were, you could find your way. So he wasn't looking where he was going when he arrived at the silo before accommodation one and bumped into the DBA. He had obviously placed himself there to wait for him. Alone. This was unusual in itself. The DBA went everywhere with various flunkies ready to follow every instruction. But here he stood, in the middle of a gangway that connected two silos, his arms gripped the handrail on either side.

What a coincidence,” said the DBA. “I was just coming to see you.”

Peta's stomach lurched, but he tried to appear unconcerned, he gave a little bow and said: “Coincidence is merely the convergence of planned changes.”

The DBA gave a small pained look and Peta thought 'I really must stop this.'

It was the DBA who rallied first, “Quite so,” he said with an unamused smile.

How can I help you?” asked Peta.

What have you been up to?” asked the DBA, boldy.

Oh, you know, this and that, Chosen One stuff mostly.” Peta tried to keep it light, but he didn't like the look in the DBA's eyes.

Can you explain how creating a table of Computer viruses is going to help?”

Peta paused for a few moments, how did the DBA know. “Oh, it's all part of the plan. Now, if you'll excuse me.”

But the DBA didn't move, “Please tell me, because I'm interested. How. Exactly. Are you going to help us overthrow the town government.”

Peta tapped the side of his nose.

The DBA persisted. “How will storing the name, type, date and a signature of a virus, whatever that is, help?”

and you think that's all that I'm doing do you?”

No. I know that's all you're doing.” The DBA breathed deeply through his nose. He was angry, thought Peta. “I am the DBA, the Database Administrator. I've set up your Database to send a Trigger so that I can see every addition, modification and deletion that you do. But then you'd know that, wouldn't you; Oh Chosen One.”

Peta said nothing, his heart seemed to have moved into his ears.

So,” said the DBA and folded his arms. “I repeat the question. How will knowing about viruses help us overthrow the Government?”

Why do you think the chosen one is going to do that?” asked Peta.

Because the prophecy says that the chosen one is going to “free our bonds”. I demand you tell me how? You and your dirty Server.”

Peta was now really worried. Not just from the DBA, he know knew what he was missing in his hunt for Viruses. If the DBA could tell when he'd deleted a file, what if the virus could do the same. What if just deleting the file wasn't enough. What if deleting one virus created another one. He had to get more information. But now he also knew that he couldn't leave tonight. He'd have to stay in the Database Zone a little longer. He realised that he'd have to stall the DBA. Peta figured that the best form of defence was attack.

How dare you insult my friend and how dare you question me? I never asked to be the Chosen One. I did not seek it, yet it was given to me. But I have a job to do, and a path to take, and for whatever reason, the databases are helping me to fulfil err, whatever I'm supposed to do.” Peta swallowed, he'd started well, but thought he'd made a bad landing. Still, the DBA looked a little less formidable. He decided that he'd better leave. He pushed past him and said, “So, I'll stay out of your business, and you stay out of mine.”

He strode off, back to the apartment, and was relieved, several turns later to find that the DBA had not followed him.

[Tuesday 25th, 17:30]



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[Tuesday 25th, 18:30]

Chapter 49b - SubQueries & Joins in MySQL

Back in the apartment, Peta tried to clear his mind. He didn't want to dwell on what the DBA had said. He needed to concentrate on what he had to do next. But he kept replaying the DBA's words in his head.

He knew that the solution to the problem would take him days, possibly a week. He felt frustrated that it was only now that a major issue revealed itself. If only he'd realised earlier that he needed to know how to remove the viruses, not just recognise them, then he could have designed the web page to do that also. But now he'd have to go back and ask for the information again.

The other problem was that he was no longer in Pop's apartment, nor did he have access to a server.

Denise arrived back and was obviously in a good mood. “Everything is in place,” she said excitedly. “We need to be at the other end of the Zone by midnight.”

I'm sorry Denise, but I can't leave tonight. And possibly not for a few days yet.”

She looked surprised and annoyed at the same time. “You are joking.”

Peta shook his head.

Peta, we have to leave. Look I didn't want to worry you, but the DBA is on to you, he seriously doubts that you are...” Denise trailed off.

I know,” said Peta. “I just spoke to him. He made it very clear what he thought of me.”

Denise looked shocked. “Well then. Let's go.”

I still need the databases. I'm missing some vital information, I can't leave without it.”

Peta couldn't bear to look at her. He could see the look of desperation in her eyes.

Well, I'm going,” Denise shook her head. “At midnight. Honestly, I'm not staying. And if you have any sense, you'll come with me.”

I can't leave until I find a way to connect my database to a web page.”

Denise ran her hands through her hair, “I don't know how to do that. And if I did, I don't think you'll be able to do it from here anyway. I don't know who would know how to do that.”

I do,” said Peta.

Who?” asked Denise.

Pop.”

Pop!” Denise looked shocked. “He's not all that he seems Peta.”

Well, I need you to ask him how I can make a connection to the database. He has to get a message to me, here. Somehow,” he added, rather lamely.

Well," said Denise, and nodded her head. "I suppose if anyone will know a way, it'll be Pop.”

So, you'll do this for me?”

Denise thought for a while. She finally gave him a grim smile and said: “I suppose.”

[Tuesday 25th, 23:30]



At 11:30 Denise said her goodbyes. She had declined any help from Peta and said that she had a better chance of success alone. She tried to persuade him to leave one more time, then left.

He looked back at his work, unsure what to do, or how he could prepare more for the changes that had to be made. He decided that anything he needed could probably be left until the morning, and went to bed.

[Wednesday 26th, 05:30]



Wake up!... Come on. Wake up!”

Peta woke up very slowly, then remembered where he was. He was, therefore, surprised to see Denise standing next to his bed.

I thought you were escaping?” He asked. He rubbed his eyes, yawned and stretched all at once.

I was. I did. I've just unescaped. Get dressed, we've got things to do.” Denise turned and left the bewildered Peta, who groped for the bedside clock. 5:30 am.

It took him a long while to get dressed, then he wandered back into the living area. Denise had made them both teas and had taken out several sheets of paper.

She looked up at Peta, “Are you awake yet?”

As far as can be hoped,” said Peta. He sat down and sipped the tea. “What's the plan”.

I found Pop.”

Peta suddenly came awake. Very quickly. “You did? What did he say?”

He said we need to find the Server room in the Database Zone,” said Denise.

But there isn't a Server Room here, we've looked.” Said Peta. He moved his tea as she lay the paper on the table.

That's what I told him. But he says that there is one, and he proved it.”

How?” asked Peta.

He sent a packet to the next Server along the line. It didn't arrive when he expected it to. It got there quicker.”

Peta looked a little confused. “Why does something getting there quicker mean that there's a missing server room? Surely it would be slowed down?”

Pop said secure sites add a secret servers to act as a secret path." Denise pulled a blank sheet of paper towards him and drew two servers, one at the top of the page and one at the bottom. She then drew another server to the right of the other two, halfway down the page. "If the data is legitimate it'll be routed to the secret, longer path.” She added a line, joined the top server with the middle one, and from the middle to the bottom one. “So anyone who tries to get in illegitimately will use the more direct route.” Denise then drew a line from the top server to the bottom server. "They don't know about the secret server."

Therefore anything that arrives too quickly is ignored, and sails past. While the legitimate traffic,“ she traced the 3 server line with her finger, ”which takes longer to arrive, is accepted.”

Peta thought for a while. “Could just have been a clear pipe, maybe the packets run faster at night.”

Denise shook her head. “The data flow doesn't change speed, it remains pretty constant. He did the test 3 times, and each time it arrived well before it should have.” She sat back. She looked excited.

Peta drank some more of his tea. “but this Server Room could be anywhere?”

Denise nodded.

Peta suddenly looked up. “Why don't we just go into the pipe? And run through it that way.”

She shook her head. “We'd end up going the direct route, and anyway going into a pipe is a really dangerous thing to do.”

Peta looked a little smug. “It's not so bad, I've done it a few times.”

Denise looked at him seriously. “Peta you were extremely lucky to survive. Why do you think they give this job to us Servers.”

I hadn't really thought about it.”

Well, you're lucky. The life expectancy of a Server is pretty low. Servers die every day in those pipes.”

Peta could understand this, he remembered when Zeta had dropped beneath the surface. He wondered if he'd have survived if he hadn't known how to surf.

OK, so we need to find a Server Room. Where haven't we looked?”

Denise grabbed some of the other sheets that lay on the table and placed them on top. Peta immediately recognised the map that he and Denise had worked on in the evenings to plan their escape.

Here,” said Denise. She circled a section of the map.

Peta looked and saw that she had highlighted the administration silo.

It's the only part of the zone that we haven't explored,” she said with a determined look.

Peta thought for a moment. “That's because it's full of people,” he said eventually.

Well, where better to hide a Server Room?”

Don't you think that people may notice us looking around for a Server Room?” asked Peta.

Not in the Administration silo at 6:00 am they won't. But we need to look right now. We've got about an hour before they start to arrive.”

~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[Wednesday 26th, 05:50]

Chapter 49c - SubQueries & Joins in MySQL

They left the apartment and tried to look as if they were off to the Workbench early. It only took a few minutes to reach the administration silo. The early morning light created shadows and every movement seemed noisy in the quiet offices. Instead of taking the stairs up to the top of the databases, they took the ones down and looked for the basement, at a level where a Server Room would most likely be found.

The lights dimmed as they got lower. Eventually, as they arrived below ground, it turned the amber of an emergency light. Fans hummed and the distant databases clanged, they felt claustrophobic and were worried about getting trapped.

A corridor stretched around the edge of the silo and disappeared into the gloom.

Doors led off at regular intervals. Peta and Denise gave each other a look and opened the first door. The room was dark. Pipes ran vertically up the walls and the mechanical noise level increased noticeably. Not a Server room. They heard voices in the corridor. They stepped inside and pulled the door to. Peta left it open enough for a lookout. Two maintenance workers passed by and went down to the next level.

All clear. Onto the next door.

And the next. And the next. Most were storerooms. A few kitchens, bathrooms, one contained broken workbenches. For the next 15 minutes, they tried every door and eventually looped back around to the stairs.

They followed the maintenance workers, down to the next level. Peta could smell fumes, oil, grease and diesel. A mechanical hum filled his ears. He jumped easily. Unable to hear anyone approach, he felt exposed.

There were fewer doors on this level. But they came across more people. Their backs were turned. The morning shift, being given instructions.

Peta and Denise went the other way. The first door they came to had a numbered, push-button lock. Peta looked for worn numbers, but they all looked the same.

Voices, the workers were coming.

They left the door and moved away.

There was one door, which opened into changing rooms, overalls hung from hook and lockers lined the wall.

And one other, onto a small room, empty but for a chair.

They crept around the silo and met no one.

Going around a silo, every step was a corner.

Peta held his breath. He had to remember to breathe, but it kept getting stuck.

They completed the circle and came back to the door with the lock.

Denise and Peta tried the door again, different combinations, 1234, 1357, 2468. Nothing.

Back to the stairs. The next floor down had no doors. It was an open area filled with machinery. These were the source of the noise. But they saw a large group of people who stood amongst the equipment. They left and quickly headed back to the apartment.

A few workers had arrived at their desks, but they paid them no attention as they headed back and arrived in their rooms, 10 minutes later.

So, probably the door with the lock is the Server room?” Said Denise as she closed the door.

Not necessarily, what about the accommodation silo? We haven't looked there,” responded Peta.

I've already looked, I did it before waking you up. There's nothing there but meeting rooms, a laundry, kitchen and storerooms.”

Great, so that's it,” said Peta. “Tonight we go down and try every combination on that lock. There'll only be, what 9,999 of them. It should only take a couple of nights,” Peta looked unhappy at the prospect.

Denise thought. “If we don't get caught and if it's only a four combination lock, what if it's five?”

Peta suddenly got annoyed. “Well, what do you suggest?”

I'll go get Pop. He's bound to know how to get past a simple lock. “

Now?”

No time like the present. The sooner we get out of the here the better.” Denise went to the bathroom and then came back and said, “I'll see you this evening, hopefully with the most untrustworthy Server in town. Wish me luck!”

Denise?”

She turned, “what?”

Thank you,” said Peta.

No problem,” she smiled as she closed the door.



[Wednesday 26th, 7:15]


~~~~~~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Chapter 49d - SubQueries & Joins in MySQL

Peta didn't want to draw attention to himself, he planned to act normal. So he decided to wait, until it was the time that he usually went to the Workbench. He was unsure how to fill the hours, except amend his web page. He wished Stevie was here to help, but he knew that he needed to get the data that showed him the best way to remove each virus. He debated whether he needed a new page, or if he could fit it into the existing one. How to match each virus with each removal method. He struggled to get the page to work very well, but under the circumstances, it would have to do. He'd have to wait for Pop to update the page and then, this was a big hope, link it to his database. Eventually, he sat back and looked at it. Gooey wouldn't be pleased, he thought, but it was at least functional. He glanced up at the clock. Time to go. He still had to create the table to manage the data. After that, he hoped he could lay low, apart from smuggle in another person and break into a secret Server room. He grinned at the idea and headed out of the apartment and back to the Workbench.

This shouldn't be too hard he thought as he sat down at his Workbench. He just had to create a table that would allow him to list the ways of removing different virus types. He thought that, probably, each type of virus could be removed by using the same method, so the table could be even simpler than the one he had created on his first day in the zone. He quickly referred to Doc's SQL manual and then he followed the procedure as the first time, copy a similar table and make the necessary changes.

He pressed submit and heard the mechanical clunk of the new tray as it fell into place. The Workbench swung smoothly around the silo and clicked to a stop by the empty tray.

He added some data, gave it a quick test, which seemed to work well. It was only when he wanted to find the names of all of the viruses that had a different removal method that he found the problem. Every row, that contained a method of removal, would need to include hundreds of fields to hold each of the virus names, like having a car with hundreds of different keys. Too many fields.

The alternative was to have each row hold a unique virus name and a field with the removal method. While the next row would have another virus, it would have the same removal method repeated again and again for hundreds of rows. This was like having one key that would work on many cars. Too many rows.

Each method was either clumsy or inefficient.

He dug out Doc's manual again and looked through it for inspiration. Towards the back was information on sub-queries. A search on one table returned some key values. These values could then be used to filter the results of another query. He first created a new query on his new table. The tray was mostly empty, so the result was tiny, only 2 test items, but it proved that he could do it. So he copied down both results.

He then created a second query, this time on the old table. He decided to filter it using the tiny result that he had just received. The second query was on his first table, so when he ran it the Workbench swung slowly back round to its original position. This wasn't quite what he wanted, but this worked fine.

He then changed the second query, instead of filtering using the results, he replaced them with the first query that had created that result. He pressed submit, and was pleased to see the same outcome. One query can be used as a filter for a second query.

This felt like catching a small fish to use as bait to catch a bigger one. The size of the result depended on size of the first catch.

It seemed to make sense, he ran a few examples. Yes, this seemed better. Each table would hold it's own information, cleanly, tidily and without repetition. A simple sub-query could combine the tables and give insight about the data that a single table could never show. The power of that idea gave Peta a sense of wonder. He began to understand why the DBA had such a strong connection to the databases. The results that he was getting were greater than the sum of its parts.

But, Peta wasn't satisfied, he could still only get the results from one table. If he could somehow bring the tables together. He got up and walked around the silo to the new table. It contained a few packets of data. He tried to grab the tray and slide it round towards him, but it remained locked in place. After a couple more failed attempts he returned to the Workbench.

He considered the messy table again, it still felt wrong. More out of something to do, he scanned through Doc's pamphlet. The page below the Sub-query was on correlated sub-queries, and Peta didn't really understand these.

He saw the heading of the last section; Joins, and felt a small jolt of shock. He read the section. He learned that you could join two tables together. The key was what you joined them on. As long as they shared a value, and you joined on that value, you could connect the tables. The crucial thing seemed to be around what you called each field. You had to reference each field using the table name that it came from. It felt like connecting two groups of people together, the connection was on the person who was in both groups. The tricky bit seemed to be that if you wanted to refer to someone, you had to use their group name and their name together, otherwise, it was still only a query. He quickly typed it up.

As it turned out it was much simpler than he first thought and he created the Join query surprisingly easily. He ran the query.

There was a tooth aching sound of metal against metal. The second table screeched round towards the first, the trays rubbed along the top of their neighbours. Peta was surprised not to see them actually join, but they came close together, then a tray built itself between them. It seemed a bit flimsy, made of plastic rather than the metal of the other tables in the silo. But the screen showed the data, from both tables; joined together. He tried a few different filters, it seemed that he could manipulate the data however he wanted.

All he needed now was to add more data. He lent back on the chair, hands clasped behind his head, and felt very pleased with the result.

The Chosen One is meant to know our ways, not just read about it.” Peta spun around to find the DBA, who looked down his nose at him and sneered with thin lips. “Seize him,” he added lazily to the guards. Peta noted that their previous look of admiration had been replaced by one of hatred.

They grabbed him roughly and pulled him from the workbench. The DBA walked over to the bench and picked up Doc's paper and leafed through it lazily. “A thief as well as a liar.”

I'm neither.” Peta was furious with himself, why hadn't he read the manual in the apartment? To discover the answer, and then have the DBA snatch it away from him again. He struggled hard against the hands that held him and felt their grip tighten on his arms.

The DBA sat at the Workbench and clicked on a few commands, Peta could see written at the top the command 'LOCK TABLES'. A few more keystrokes and the DBA logged out of the WorkBench.

He walked up to Peta and put his face right up close until their noses almost touched. “You are nothing,” his voice dripped with hatred, “and no one will miss you.”

A chill ran through Peta, “Where are you taking me?”

Where you'll never bother anyone ever again.” The DBA indicated the guards to follow him, as a strode away.

[Wednesday 26th, 10:15]

Chapter 50a - PHP

[Wednesday 26th, 10:15]

Peta was pushed, pulled and punched along the walkways. He knew the route. They were headed towards the Admin Silo. For a moment, as he stumbled down the stairs, he thought that maybe they would take him to the Server room. But instead, they dragged him to the small empty room with the chair he had seen with Denise earlier that morning. They pushed him in and slammed the door. Peta heard the lock turn, but he tried it anyway. Panic rose in his throat, would they leave him here, forget about him. He had no friends in this zone, everyone he knew was on the other side of town. He thumped on the door and shouted out foolishly. “Let me out”. But every action seemed to sap his confidence and he struggled to hold on to a sense of hope.

Denise and Pop were coming.

For a moment that restored his nerves, but then he thought, they're coming back, he had asked them to walk into a trap.

Help,” he called again, this too seemed to emphasise his powerless position.

Peta?” a voice, from outside.

Yes, Yes! Who's that?”

Shh, it's PHP,” said the voice.

Who?” Peta vaguely recognised the name but couldn't place it.

The voice continued. “I'm a friend of Python. We never really met, but I saw you in the Space Bar 3 or 4 weeks ago. I was at my desk upstairs when you were dragged through. Are you OK?”

[Wednesday 26th, 10:45]

Yes, Yes, look PHP can you get me out of here?” Peta felt a huge surge of relief.

The door rattled.

It's locked!”

'Give me strength' thought Peta. “Yes, I know. Can you unlock it?” 'Please be able to unlock it he wished.'

Hang on,” said PHP. It went quiet.

Peta was torn between gratitude that PHP had helped him and fear of being left alone. He resisted the temptation to bang on the door again. A few moments later PHP was back. Peta heard a few keys being jangled and one thrust into the lock. Nothing. This was repeated two or three more times.

They don't work,” said PHP in a loud whisper.

Can you try them again?” urged Peta. He tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

The same noises came and the lock didn't turn.

Look, Peta,” said PHP. “I'm going to try to get some help.”

Peta felt crushed.

Are you OK?” asked PHP.

Please hurry,” said Peta. He had visions of a group of guards lying in wait for Denise and Pop.

He was sure that they would not be treated well. The general poor status of servers, the DBA's attitude to Denise and the locked Server room door, meant that he was more worried about them than himself. Oddly, he found this helped.

Peta had no idea of the time he had spent in the room, or, as he had begun to view it, his cell. So it could have been an hour or only 20 minutes before PHP returned. He didn't sound like he was alone.

[Wednesday 26th, 11:10]

Hi Peta, are you still there?”

No, just popped out for a minute.” Peta tried to take a breath to calm himself. “Can I hear someone else out there?” Peta's hope soared, had PHP met up with Denise and Pop?

I've brought help. Some of the workers here are sympathetic towards you. Not everyone likes the DBA. But...” PHP fell silent for a moment.

But what?”

Look, I'm sure it's not to do with you, but. Something is going on. All non-Zone employees have been told to leave.”

You're not going are you?” asked Peta, a little too quickly.

Don't worry, don't worry, they're all too busy to worry about me. In the meantime, I'm trying to find a way to get you out of here.” Then he added kindly. “We will help you. We will get you out of here. Trust me.”

Thank you. And PHP?” He debated telling him about Pop and Denise.

Yes?”

Look, there may be a couple of Servers trying to get in, could that be what's going on.”

There was some discussion. “Possibly, but we don't think so,” PHP said eventually. Suddenly there was urgency in PHP's voice. “Peta, people are coming.”

Then silence. Peta felt his heart beat faster, he walked back from the door and stared at it.

The sound of a key in the lock and the DBA walked in. He no longer wore his grey suit, he had changed into combat fatigues, in which he still managed to look stiff and formal. He indicated to some guards and said, “bring him.”

After a brief struggle, Peta was grabbed and taken out of the small room. On his way back, he was pushed passed the changing rooms, inside were about 100 guards. They wore the same combat gear as the DBA. He took an extra look and received a blow to the back of the head for his trouble. Bruised and a little dazed he stumbled up onto the top floor of the silos. There the DBA faced him.

I know you're not the Chosen One, but you're going to pretend to be,” he said. He looked even more grim-faced than usual.

Why would I do that?”

The DBA gave a humourless smile. “To save your own skin.” He nodded his head at the guards and Peta was picked up and dangled over the edge of an empty silo. His stomach lurched as he looked down into the dark pit. His arms flailed. “I don't want to, because it is untidy, but if I have to, I'll have you dropped into this silo.” They pulled Peta back over and placed him on his feet. He felt very unsteady.

You're going to kill me?” His voice shook.

No," the DBA smiled. "The drop won't kill you, probably. You'd never walk again though. I plan to let you die down there. Unless," he pursed his lips. "Unless you do exactly as I say.” He came up close to Peta's face.

And that is?” asked Peta, he stared into the DBA's eyes. His fear was mixed with loathing.

You're going to lead us in an attack against the government. We are going to seize control from the unworthy who are currently making a mess of running this town.” Peta felt that this was a phrase that the DBA had used frequently before.

I'm no fighter,” said Peta.

I know that, but, most people here will still follow you. You lead, we follow. If you die, then so much the better for me. We have a martyr. If you live, then the prophecy will have come true. You're free to go about your business, we are not monsters. But you'll never be allowed back into this zone. Do you accept my terms?” The DBA's eyes shone, and he had a slightly manic grin.

He is, thought Peta, was a complete lunatic, he'd never be able to reason with him. What a choice; the silo or the attack? An attack seemed to offer more chance of escape.

~~~~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~

Chapter 50b - PHP

OK, I'll do it,” said Peta. “But I have one condition. After this is over I'll still need access to my database.”

No,” said the DBA decidedly. “Oh, and Peta. Just in case you feel like escaping.” He strode over and indicated to someone just out Peta's eye line. Denise and Pop were dragged into view, arms tied and mouths gagged, they were placed on the edge of the silo. “My insurance policy. They'll be dropped if you don't do exactly as I say.”

Peta tried to walk over to them but was held back by the guards.

Let's go,” said the DBA and headed off towards the end of the silo complex, the guards pushed Peta in his direction. As they passed stairs and crossways Peta saw other guards walk in the same direction. The whole of the zone seemed to have been mobilised. After a few silo blocks, the guards released their hold on him.

'It wouldn't look good to manhandle the Chosen One in front of those outside the DBA's inner circle,' Peta thought.

After a few minutes, they ended up in a section where a silo had been replaced by a wide open floor. The whole area was crammed full of guards, many carried weapons. These seemed archaic to Peta and he supposed that there was no manufacture of weapons in the town and all imports would be heavily restricted. But shotguns and things people could make were in abundance, swords, pikes and bows. A few of the more senior members had airguns and one or two people had pistols. Many heads turned towards Peta. They whispered amongst themselves. Peta couldn't take his mind off the image of Pop and Denise bound over the drop into the silo.

The DBA came up to Peta and moved him and two of the guards to the neighbouring silo where they were alone. He handed him a computer tablet.

Well Chosen One, this is what you're going to say.” The DBA push the on button, and a few lines of text appeared. “Memorise this. War begins at Midday.” He looked at his watch. “You have 20 minutes ”

[Wednesday 26th, 11:40]

Peta looked down over the words.

Peta, if I don't feel this," drawled the DBA. "I'll notify the guards to drop those filthy Servers." He left Peta with a couple of guards.

Peta tried to control his emotions. He read the speech over to himself.

Look at what they have done to our databases.

They have taken our Schemas, our tables, our fields.

They use our data and corrupt it.

What have they ever given us? Absolutely nothing.

We've been despised, exploited and controlled by this government, and that's who we're fighting this afternoon.

This is where we take back control.

For our town, our people and our future.”

Peta felt a little sick, he could hear the DBA as he assembled the troops in the square. He talked about the element of surprise being the key to their success. When it came Peta heard nothing. He had been looking over his speech again. But the cry that came from one of his guards made him spin around.

He recognised it at once. There had been one in the museum. But this Web Crawler was enormous. It had picked up the first guard in its giant pincers and threw him aside as if throwing a stick for a dog. The second guard ran up and swung his axe at joint in the Crawler's leg. It bounced off, but the leg was put out of action. Then the pincers turned towards them.

They both ran. Peta arrived back into the square in time to see two more Crawlers pull themselves over the side of the railings and the guards scatter.



Chapter 50c - Loops in Python

[Wednesday 26th, 11:45]

The battle had begun, but far from taking the government by surprise, the database zone had been caught off guard. Most of the Database fighters had scrambled away from the crawlers and retreated back into the zone's silos. Peta followed them. He looked over his shoulder to see the DBA lead a team to hurl ropes over and around one of the Crawlers. They brought it down. But as it crashed into the walkway it caught one of the guards in its pincers. The horrific scream sickened Peta, and he was filled with a primaeval need to flee.

He ran faster than he knew he could run until the battle noise had reduced to just plain terrifying. He knew where he wanted to go. Back to Pop and Denise, his only thought was that they were safe. The guards were surprised to see the Chosen One run the other way and they tried to stop him, but he pushed past them without a word. He knew he had to keep running, just keep running until he found them.

He was nearly there, he was close. He ducked into a walkway that connected two silos and collided into PHP who had come another way. Peta grabbed hold of him and tried to ask a question between his gasps. He didn't need to, Denise and Pop both swung into view. All were out of breath.

What's happening back there? The guards.” Asked Pop. Too out of breath to finish his question he mimed people running away.

Crawlers,” gasped Peta. He pointed back the way he had come. “Government Web Crawlers.”

"In the silos?" Pop seemed impressed. "Wow!"

Has the DBA surrendered?” asked PHP, a look of concern in his eyes.

Peta made a scoffing noise. “No chance, he's making a fight of it. How did you get away?”

Pop laughed, “PHP came up and told the guards that they were needed and to leave us with him. PHP is so blooming nice that they believed him. He untied us, and we then came looking for you. We started running when we heard the screams.”

"Me too," said Peta. “Look, while they are busy we must try to get into the Server room. Pop can you break into that room?” asked Peta as he led them back to the Administration silo.

Oi, do you think I'm some kind of criminal?” said Pop, affronted.

No. Well, a bit,” responded Peta.

Can't say fairer than that,” Pop agreed.

They met no other guards on their way back to the locked door.

Well,” said Peta as they arrived, and he pointed at the combination lock.

Pop looked at it for a few moments, “It's a 4 number lock.” He massaged his wrists.

Can you unlock it?” Peta asked.

Yes, but you're to have to do this mate. My wrists have spent the last hour tied together with a rope.”

Right, what do I do?”

The key, 'scuse the pun, to this kinda lock is tension, you need to twist the lock. While the lock is being held you're putting tension on the locking mechanism. And that tension will make the button that's holding the lock stiffer than the others,” explained Pop. “Right, step one, twist the lock, hard.”

Peta twisted the lock, “OK, now what?”

Very gently push each button in turn, not the whole way, just a little bit,” cautioned Pop.

Peta pushed each button in turn. “OK, 3 is stiffer than the others.”

Right. Let go and press the 3.”

Peta followed the instructions.

Right, step 2,” continued Pop. “Twist the handle again, and repeat the process.”

I think 8 is stiffer.”

OK,” said Pop. “Let go of the handle and press 8.” Peta pressed 8. “Step 3. Twist it again.”

Peta continued this time he found 6.

And final step. You know what to do.”

On the next twist, the lock turned and the door opened.

[Wednesday 26th, 13:00]

Peta had seen a few Server rooms in the last few weeks but this was something different. Even Pop and Denise looked shocked, the smell hit them first. The lights were incredibly bright, which only helped to show the extreme squalor of the room. Peta now thought of Denise's Server Room as more of a workshop, functional but not bad. This. This was more like a sweatshop, the noise was almost too much to bear, the racks were crammed together, and the servers look exhausted and terrified.

I didn't know this sort place existed anymore?” Said PHP. He raised his voice, so as to be heard over the din.

Pop looked furious. Suddenly he ran to the other end of the room and launched himself at the supervisor. Peta ran after him, quickly followed by Denise and PHP. Pop punched at the man who lay on the floor. He didn't try to fight back, just covered his head.

Peta, pulled Pop back, utterly bewildered by his behaviour. He managed one more kick as Denise arrived to help restrain him.

Pop was over-whelmed, he shook off Peta. "Get off me." He seemed deranged.

Get out!” he yelled at the man, who had shakily managed to stand. “Go! “ his voice cracked, and spit trailed from his mouth The man looked at them and then hobbled out, without a backward glance. It was only then that Peta noticed that all of the Servers had stopped working. They quickly started again once Pop looked at them too.

Sorry." Pop still looked wild. "Sorry about that. That was my baby brother. He'll be back soon, once he's had a chance to snitch on us to somebody.” He ran his hands through his hair, looked back at the Servers, and considered them for a moment. Then he put his fingers to his mouth and blew a loud whistle.

Oi!” he shouted to get everyone's attention. “Right ladies and gentlemen, 1 hours break. When you come back you can vote in a new Transport Layer Administrator and then we'll get some proper shifts sorted.” No one moved. “Move it!” yelled Pop. They all hurried away.

Pop climbed up into the nearest rack. “Bloomin' 'eck” he cried, “This thing is ancient, reminds me of me first rack.” He looked around at Peta. “Alright." He put his head back and managed his eyelids, "what did you want to do?”

Peta was still transfixed by recent events. “Oh, yes. Right. I need to connect to the Web Server, update my website and then connect it to my database so I can retrieve some more data.”

Pop nodded over to PHP, “Well, you've brought the right bloke along to connect to the databases, where's the HTML file?”

Well you uploaded it, it's out there,” said Peta waved his hand at the data stream. “Somewhere.”

No.” Pop spoke as if to a child. “Where's the file, like the one you created back in my flat?”

Peta looked blank. “Erm.”

Pop raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips. “Erm, doesn't sound good.”

No,” admitted Peta. “It was on Python's laptop, which I had taken off me when I was arrested this morning. I don't know where it is right now. I remember that one of the guards was carrying it when I was pushed into my cell. And I think the DBA locked my Database tables, so even if we find the laptop I don't know if I can access it.”

Pop gave a flat smile, “Well we'll deal with that once we've got the laptop, anyway if you go into the Database Silos you'll probably die, so I suggest you go and find that laptop. Where were you held?”

Just along there.” Peta pointed out of the Server Room door.

Pop eased himself out of the rack. “OK, we're going to check every single room in this silo, one by one, until we find it. As there is a battle going on upstairs I suggest we start right away. Before it decides to come and join us."

So room by room, they searched through the administration block, every room was checked. But they found nothing. As they came up to the higher floors they could hear the battle rage. Peta thought that it had got closer.

Where else would they have they put it?” asked Pop.

They may have put it in the accommodation silo, it's just next door,” said Denise.

A sudden loud crash from overhead made them all look up.

I suggest we hurry then,” said Pop.

So the search began again. To speed things up Peta had paired PHP with Denise as she knew what the bag looked like, while he and Pop searched separately.

The time dragged by. Then Peta came to a door he recognised. It had been one of the first rooms that he had gone in; the Architects room. He knocked, opened the door and looked inside.

It was exactly the same, but this time the Architect was awake, the pillow end had been raised and she was looked directly at him. The laptop bag was sitting on the chair next to the bed.

Before he stepped inside Peta called to Pop. “Go and tell Denise. I've found the bag.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter 50d - Loops in Python



The Architect patted the bed; an invitation to sit.

I'll be back in a minute,” said Peta. Pop gave him a look.

Peta smiled, “I'll be fine, see you in a minute.” Pop looked a little unsure. Peta led him out down the short corridor and closed the door behind him. Then he went back into the room and picked up the bag. He confirmed that the laptop was still there, and only then did he sit on the bed.

The Architect smiled at him, “Well, how do you like being the Chosen One?” She asked in a surprisingly strong voice.

I'm not. You were wrong,” said Peta.

The Architect smiled. “Possibly. But I don't think so. The data doesn't lie." She closed her eyes and seemed overwhelmed by sadness. "My son is mistaken. It doesn't matter how you knew things, this isn't magic, this is just what the data showed.”

He wouldn't agree with you.”

The Architect smiled again, but sadly. “He's just disappointed. He so wanted to be special. But...” she gave a tiny shrug.

Well, thank you for the laptop, I've got to go,” Peta started to leave.

She raised her hand to stop him, he slowly resumed his place, sighed, and looked to the door.

You've got to stop the battle, only you can do it.”

I'm not so sure." Peta looked down at the ground.

While the fighting continues, the chances of you defeating the Hacker reduces.”

Peta suddenly looked up and stared into her face. His look of shock caused her to smile.

Here,” she continued. “Show my son this.”

She handed over a box. It was small and green. It looked like it might hold some old jewellery. He opened up the box and revealed a small gold key.

It's the key to everything,” she said and bit her lower lip, she looked like a small girl being naughty. “A universal key that will give you access to all of the data.”

What will he do when he sees it?” But one look told him. Tears left two shining paths down her cheeks.

He will know that I have betrayed him.” She looked completely lost for a moment. Then she grabbed his hand. “But you will need him to help you back up your data. Offer him the key in exchange for his surrender.”

He'll never..” Peta began to say.

The architect suddenly looked at him with her piercing eyes and tried to sit up. “You've got to learn to trust the data.” She held his gaze and then, released her grip and fell back against the pillows. She looked away again, she almost whispered, as if it were a liturgy. “The data is the way and the truth. Go. I have nothing left to do now.” And with that, she spoke to him no more.

Peta got up from the bed and looked down at her. She had been so strong and yet she looked impossibly frail. He pocketed the box, picked up the laptop bag and left the room. Outside Pop, Denise and PHP waited for him in the hallway.

What did she want?” Asked Pop.

To give me these.” Peta held up the key and the laptop bag. “Apparently, I need to give this key to the DBA.”

OK, well you obviously won't do that then,” said Pop, as he turned to go.

Peta looked back at the door to the Architect's room. “Pop. I think I have to.”

Err, no, what you have to do, is connect your database to the... “ Peta turned to go. “Peta! Peta, where are you going?”

I've got to find the DBA.”

Look.” Said Pop. “Take this.” He handed Peta a mobile phone.

Pop! How did you get hold of one of these.” Peta looked at the phone.

As I told you 'Any stuff I can carry on my person' Good luck!” Pop gave him a brief hug.

Peta handed the bag to Denise and said. “Take the laptop and go with Pop to the Server room?”

Peta started to climb the stairs. PHP followed in his wake.

I'm coming with you,” said PHP, he seemed determined.

Peta looked at him. "OK, but you carry this," and handed him a small package.

He looked at Denise and Pop and nodded. “I'll see you soon,” then he ran up the stairs; towards the battle.

[Wednesday 26th, 16:00]

Chapter 51a - Backing Up

[Wednesday 26th, 16:00]

Peta ran back up the stairs. He reached the top floor and noticed that the noise of the battle had greatly reduced. Most of the fighting had taken place down the end of the silos, so he and PHP decided to head there. It would be the most likely location of the DBA.

After a few minutes, they arrived at a silo with a small group of database guards. Peta presumed that these weren't loyal to the DBA, as he heard them whisper 'Chosen One' as he moved nearby. They all lay behind cover, with their backs to the fight. They looked exhausted and grim-faced.

He went up to the nearest one. “I need to speak to the DBA,” he said.

The guard looked at Peta, said something to his neighbour and then beckoned for them to follow him. They kept low as they made their way to another staircase. They made slow progress as they had to crouch, pause, and check each walkway. They passed bodies of fallen guards from both sides. The wounds created by the ancient weapons were horrific. Peta didn't want to look, but he couldn't help but stare. After a few minutes, they had reached an area held by the Database Guards. The place was filled with field tents, which jarred with the clean metallic silos. Their guide walked up to one of the older guards and said something Peta couldn't hear.

Peta thought he recognised this guard as one of the DBA's inner circle, he certainly didn't look at them with any degree of affection.

Stay here,” ordered the older guard and told one of the younger ones to keep a watch on them, and ducked through a tent flap.

The young guard was not much more than a boy and obviously terrified. Peta was annoyed and impatient. He motioned to PHP to follow him and he pushed past the guard and went into the tent.

They followed the older guard as he walked toward a group who crowded around a low table. Peta saw the DBA in the centre. He sat in front of a screen that showed a map of the database zone which revealed that the government forces had control of nearly half of the silos. As the older guard approached, the members of the group all looked up and saw Peta with PHP.

The DBA turned the screen quickly over and gave the old guard an angry look.

Have you come to join us?” he asked Peta.

I've come for my data.” Peta could feel the tension and saw that the DBA looked nervous. The whole room looked at them.

We're a bit busy right now.” The DBA breathed his irritation out through his nose, but got up and came over to stand in front of Peta.

Oh, I think you can spare a little time for me,” said Peta and he pulled the small green box out of his pocket. The guard immediately pulled a handgun and aimed it at Peta.

Peta stared down the barrel. Slowly he raised his hands to shoulder height. The DBA grabbed the box and waved at the older guard who lowered the gun.

How did you get this?” Said the DBA. He held up the box in front of Peta's face.

Well, I won't ask how you got hold of a gun, but your mother gave it to me, 20 minutes ago.”

Liar.”

Why would I lie?” Peta tried to keep the irritation out of his voice. “I didn't even know that this thing existed. How would I? If you want it back, you're going to have to help me.”

The DBA looked confused for a moment. Then he fumbled to open the box. A few seconds passed while he stared into the empty contents. “Where is it?” said the DBA. He roughly passed the box to the guard.

Peta couldn't help it, he smiled, “Safe, until you help me.”

Why don't I just shoot you now,” said the DBA, he grabbed the gun and levelled it at Peta's head.

And risk never finding that key again,” said Peta. They stared at each other for a few moments. “Also, how will shooting the Chosen One look to your followers. I think it could weaken your position. Don't you?” Peta watched the internal struggle run through the DBA.

"Fine, I'll shoot your friend instead," he moved his aim over to PHP.

Peta motioned for the DBA to calm down. "Unless we both get back alive, the key will be destroyed. If you help me, the key is yours."

The DBA looked quite mad, then his shoulders sagged.

Give me your assurance that the key is safe.”

I can assure you that it's as safe as anything else in this zone right now. I'll tell you where it is, once you've unlocked my tables and backed up my data.” Peta looking unblinking at the DBA. The DBA closed his eyes

Unfortunately we don't have control of your silo currently, so I can't accept your terms.”

The DBA really hates me thought Peta. He walked around the DBA, picked up the screen and brought it back. Then he pointed to his silo and said “You may not have control, but then neither does the other side, it's right here,” he jabbed his finger at the screen “right in the middle.” The touch screen opened an image of the silo and listed the database names held there. “But judging by the way things are going, I'm not sure that you'll hold them back for much longer. We need to get there now!”

The DBA stood and looked at him for a few moments, he then grabbed the screen he went back to the group. Not much was said, but Peta wasn't really interested anyway. He turned around and spoke to PHP. “You don't have to come, you know.”

PHP looked over at the guards, and then back up at Peta. “If I can be of use. I'll be there, but can we just go, this waiting is somehow worse?”

His wish was granted immediately. The DBA and the old guard walked over “I'll get you there, unlock and back up your tables. But you won't have long before we'll have to pull back. Follow me.”

Suddenly everyone moved, their strange weapons were being checked, spears were sharpened, strings re-fitted to bows and shields lifted. Peta and PHP were led over to wait with a few dozen guards, who sat behind a low wall created from Database trays, data packets and bits of old Workbench. Peta looked around. He could see other groups. Some larger, some smaller. The DBA went to each, shouted orders and looked at his watch. They all waited for something.

Peta felt his agitation increase, after a couple of minutes, the DBA came over. “What, exactly, are we waiting for?” Peta asked. Then, from the distance, he heard an enormous explosion. The silo's seemed to rattle and buckle as the shock wave passed through the zone.

That,” said the DBA. Then, as one, all of the guards leapt over the low wall and charged towards the government forces. Peta and PHP followed the DBA as he and the older guard ran forwards. They met little resistance in the next silo, but after that, they had to fight.

The Web Crawlers were few in number but had been hidden. As the guards approached they emerged from where they had been concealed, down in silos, and under wreckage.

The database guards worked in teams. They blocked the pincers and snapped the legs, but it slowed them down. Government archers hidden in the rafters loosed arrows down on them. Most clattered and skittered across the metals walkways, but a few hit their mark with a sickening thud.

A couple of times they met government forces impressively equipped with matching swords and small shields. The old guard acted as their guide. Never taking out his pistol instead he handled a metal spear, as long as he was high. The reach, the angle and the thrust of the spear beat every sword. The metal shaft appeared to be light and strong.

Peta ducked and fell. None of this looked like the movies, he thought. The fighters moved constantly, they danced around and the fights took seconds. The aim seemed to be to wound, not kill. Their Government's armour wasn't shiny, but black, made of carbon fibre, or kevlar. The old guard only aimed the spear at the joints. His opponents ended up with hits to the groin, armpit or neck. After each win, they didn't stop. Feint, parry, thrust. Move on. Peta felt sick, the price was too high.

But just as he wanted to quit, they arrived at his silo. The guards moved on. The fight moved away. The old guard stayed with them as the DBA pulled the Workbench down and into position. He logged in rapidly and unlocked the tables.

~~~~~~~~~~~ BREAK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter 51b - Backing Up



A group of 3 government soldiers swept around the corner behind them. PHP shouted the warning. Peta ducked as a sword swung at him, he heard the wind as it swept past his ear. He looked up to see his attacker receive a spear to the face. He went down. Something hard hit Peta on the side of the head. He fell back and waited for the blow that never landed. Peta saw the spear thrust through a neck and the soldier fell.

Peta lay there dazed as the DBA lifted and pulled him to the Workbench. Someone was shouting at him. “What do you need? What do you need?”

The DBA had asked him, but what did he need? “Back it up, back up my database.” He heard the DBA swear as he set to work.

The government forces had begun their counter-attack. A small Web Crawler squeezed up from a nearby stairwell, the size of an economy car, it's mechanical legs, scrapped against the metal. The pincers clacked like the teeth of a hedge trimmer.

More database guards appeared, they drove the crawler back, but it continued to fight.

The old guard came up, bleeding and out of breath. “We must leave now!”

It's taking too long,” the DBA yelled. Peta turned to see the Backup in progress, a 'gas bar' appeared on the screen showed 2% completion, a few seconds passed, still at 2%. “We don't have enough time.”

PHP, his head bled profusely, staggered over. “Differential, only back up what has changed.”

A loud scream drew their attention. The web crawler fell into the melee, it's pincers still running. It had lost it's back legs, and the front ones were only stubs, which wildly clanged along the walkway, it looked horribly comical.

Peta looked back at the screen, the DBA clicked through the options, and selected 'Differential'. 'Only what has changed'.

When was the last full back up?” asked Peta, aware how strange they looked, as Death skipped around them.

We must leave now!” shouted the old guard. Peta looked over his shoulder, and saw PHP slashed in the chest by a sword, he fell. The Old Guard struck back and skewered the attacker with one brutal thrust.

The DBA received a blow, cried out and fell from the seat, rolled from the attack and re-entered the fight.

Peta slipped into the now empty place. “But very little has changed” he yelled to no one and looked through the options, he saw incremental. He selected his database, and just his two tables, he clicked back-up. The screen flashed the gas bar, and within seconds the back-up was complete.

He just had time to log out, as the injured Web Crawler crashed into the workbench and knocked them all to the ground. They got up as one, the old guard moved in front to guard the DBA.

The attack had been turned. The orderliness of the database guards was the only thing that saved them, they turned as one and defended each silo entrance. Eventually, the counter-attack was held. Peta and the DBA came to a halt. And rested one silo away from where the fighting continued.

Did you complete the back-up?” asked the DBA.

Yup, incremental, just my two tables. Where's PHP?”

"He's gone," replied the DBA. “What about the changes, the differential back up?”

Peta looked at him blankly.

The differential back up - save all of the changes that have been made?” the DBA shouted at Peta.

No good,” said Peta confused about PHP. “My data had been there for too long since the last back up. I only needed my tables.”

But what about the rest of the data, all of the other changes?” The DBA looked shocked.

Well,” Peta said. Exasperated. “People were trying to kill us.”

The DBA became stern, "give me the key," he said. "We fulfilled our part of the deal. I want the key."

Peta felt sick, "he had it."

The DBA said nothing.

"PHP had the key, I gave it to him before we met up with you," Peta's voice drifted off as he looked back in the direction where PHP's body lay.

The DBA let out a cry. A huge sob. Peta felt confused and helpless. The old guard held the DBA back from a suicidal solo attack.

Where's PHP?” Peta asked the old man, as the DBA gathered himself.

He looked up. “I'm sorry,” he said. “We were overrun, the last time I saw was him, he was on the ground. Then we left.”

Is he...?” Peta couldn't bring himself to say the word.

"I'm sorry,” and he carried the DBA away.

[Wednesday 26th, 17:30]

Chapter 52 - Connecting to Database

[Wednesday 26th, 17:30]

Peta's pocket buzzed. He looked down, dipped his hand in and took it out the phone. He had a text message. It read 'This is PHP. Meet me in the Server Room. You will be safe. Bring the DBA if you can. PHP.'

He stared at it. At first, he thought it was a prank by Pop, but that made no sense.

He texted back. “Who is this? PHP is dead.”

Not dead,” came back the response. “on the other side. With your help, we can stop this. No one else need be harmed.”

Peta walked off on his own and typed “I smell a trap.”

As he stood there he looked at the guards around him. Some were almost children, many were injured. A few were clearly unable to continue, there were probably fatalities also, but these were not in view. The phone vibrated again.

No trap. Peace. We have a greater enemy, we should not fight amongst ourselves. Help me. Zeta is here and says hi!”

Liar,” responded Peta. “The Mayor would not attack.”

Peta. Zeta no longer mayor. Gov forces preparing to attack again. They believe the Hacker is from DB Zone. They will take no prisoners. Help us stop this. We only have 1 hour.'

Peta took a deep breath and turned around. He noticed that his leg was bleeding, there was a bruise on his head and his shoulder hurt where the government swordsman had clattered into him.

He limped over to the DBA, “do you want the key?” He looked twenty years older thought Peta.

What?”

The key,” repeated Peta. “Do you want it?”

The DBA stood up. Peta could see that he carried his own share of wounds. “Where is it?”

Follow me,” said Peta and turned to go.

Wait.” The DBA checked on the sick and gave out orders. He then walked towards where Peta waited. The Old Guard followed close behind.

Is he coming too?” asked Peta.

Yes, of course,” said the DBA. He looked at Peta with suspicion.

He makes me nervous,” said Peta.

That's exactly why he's coming. Let's go.” The DBA shooed Peta along.

Peta led them down into the Administration block, unsure about how this was would play out. He felt detached from what had happened and watched their progress as if a bystander. He tried to send a text to PHP to warn him, but the phone could get no reception down in the Silos. He wanted to move ahead, but the DBA and the Old Guard kept pace. They arrived outside the Server Room all together.

Who opened this door?” Demanded the DBA.

I did,” said Peta, as he swung it open and stepped inside.

The bright lights were as much a shock as they were before, so they were a little blinded as they entered. But within moments Peta saw PHP and Zeta.

The DBA noticed them too, looked at Peta and shouted, “Traitor!” The door slammed shut behind them.

They turned and Pop, a cocky grin on his face, leant against the now locked door.

No, not a traitor," Peta said as he went up to Zeta and gave her a hug. "PHP give him the key.” This moment, thought Peta, this shows whether I've been a fool or not.

PHP paused for a moment and then dug inside his jacket pocket and removed the small packet Peta had given him before heading to the battle. He handed it over to the DBA, who unwrapped it, saw the key and closed his eyes for a moment.

Peta turned to PHP. "But I saw you die."

PHP gently drew his jacket back, a large bandage crossed his torso. "I should have been cut in half. Luckily the sword was very blunt and it only cracked half my ribs." Peta smiled at him and gripped his shoulder. PHP winced.

The DBA turned to go and walked up to Pop who stood guard in front of the door.

Open this door, or” the DBA thumbed over his shoulder at the Old Guard, “he will kill you.”

Pop looked over at Peta who said: “We'll open the door when you've listened to what we propose.”

And why would I do that?” asked the DBA as he turned round to face them.

Because if you don't we'll have to wipe you all out, and we'd much rather not do that,” said Zeta.

The DBA snorted. “You can always try.”

Zeta smiled a sad smile. “We need you. But if you won't help us, then we'll have to fight you.”

You can't beat us, we've held you back.” The DBA was building himself up into a fury again.

It's Brett, isn't it?” asked Zeta.

Everyone calls me the DBA.”

Yes, but your name is Brett.” When she got no reply she carried on. “Brett, we've barely engaged one-fifth of our forces, we've not used our guns yet and we need your help. Lay down your weapons and join us.”

Ha! Typical of your bullying tactics, we'll defend our data to our last fighter.”

Zeta closed her eyes in frustration. “We don't want your data, Brett.” Peta was really impressed by how she had taken command of the situation. “If you hadn't attacked us this morning, we wouldn't even be here.”

Peta looked between the two of them. The Older Guard looked puzzled too, eventually, Peta said, “you attacked first?”

The DBA continued to stare at Zeta. “We only did that to stop their attack.” He pointed at Zeta but looked at the guard. “They don't value our data, they corrupt our data. They laugh at us, think they're more important. Without us, they are nothing.”

Zeta, crossed her arms, “what do you suggest?” She asked.

Leave,” said Brett. “Leave our data alone, leave us alone and do it now.”

No can do Brett. We need access to your data. The town can't function without it. So we're not going anywhere.”

PHP raised his arm in the air and grimaced with the pain. “Madam ex-mayor, DBA, may I make a suggestion?” he said, in a quiet voice.

Zeta looked over at him, “please do.” She did nothing to remove the irritation from her voice.

PHP looked embarrassed to be the centre of attention. “While I've been employed in the Database Zone I've been working on a way to connect the Web side of the business with the data side of the business.”

Working against us you mean,” said the DBA, he stared at PHP with dislike.

Actually, no. Working to protect your data really. Look.” He walked over to a whiteboard on the wall where a rota of Server duties had been drawn and wiped the board clean. Pop made an irritated noise.

If we treat every call for data in the same way as a network link, then the DBA can control the access and the town can access the data.” PHP drew a cylinder which he labelled Database and a rectangle labelled Web Page. “Each web site can have a connection request. All we'll need is the Server name, err here." He drew another rectangle around the cylinder. "The Database name," he pointed at the cylinder. "And the security details to access that database." He drew a line between the Database and the Web Page. "Username and password work for me.”

If you want me to give up the security details to our databases then you're even more stupid than you look,” spat the DBA.

PHP swallowed. “Yes, I do. Because then you'll be able to track who's looking at any database, who's changed any data." He paused. The DBA looked up. "You'll have more control than ever before.”

Peta saw the change come over the DBA's face. “It'll take too long to implement,” he said, but the contempt had left his voice, now there was greed.

Erm, not really,” said PHP. “I've already got the Browsers to agree. HTML and I have been working on this for years. It'll need a new data pipe laying of course.”

But no one listened to him any more. “We're agreed then,” said Zeta. “You have control over your data and we have access to it.”

The DBA stared up at the White Board. “No! I want to see it working first. This could just be a government trick."

On it,” said Pop. And he swung himself up into the Server rack. “Give him the details,” he said to PHP. Denise came up with the laptop and handed it over to Peta. Five minutes later he gave the thumbs up to Pop. Peta felt himself under enormous pressure not to make a mistake, so when he heard Pop shout that the connection had been made, he felt a huge sense of relief. A few seconds later the data filled his screen.

The DBA still looked stern. “And you're sure this can be rolled out.”

PHP looked dreamily happy. “Yes, yes, a couple of minutes work, an absolute doddle.”

Peta felt the tension in the room disappear. The battle was over, no more killing. And his website linked to the database. He sat down. The relief felt like someone had taken a foot off his chest.

Then a clatter came from outside and a database guard fell into the room. “Attack, we're under attack.”

The DBA turned to Zeta. “You treacherous...”

Worms, monstrous worms, in the silos. Packets expanding and crushing us.”

Peta jumped to his feet, “The Hacker!”

The DBA looked stunned. “I thought. I thought that was government spin.”

Zeta grabbed hold of him. “If you want to save your precious data, work with us, fight with us. Go now, everybody, get to the silos.”

They ran back up the stairs towards the screams.

[Wednesday 26th, 18:00]

Chapter 53a - Debugging Programs

[Wednesday 26th, 18:00]

As Peta climbed the stairs, he heard the shout. “Peta!”

He turned. Zeta stood on the bottom step and stared up at him.

What?” He felt puzzled.

You can't go up there.” She gave him a look of deep concern.

I'll keep out of the way," he said, irritated. "I've got to see that worm virus.” He began to climb again.

Peta, stop! The government forces still think you are the Hacker remember." He paused. "If they see you, particularly if there's an attack going on, then there's a good chance." She faltered. "Then, there's a good chance that they'll kill you.”

Peta stood still for a moment. He turned and trudged back down the stairs.

It's not just you,” she added. “I won't be welcome either, the others can go, they'll tell them what has happened here.”

I can't stay here while others fight it, it'll, I'll..“ he seemed unable to put the terrible anguish he felt into words. “I just can't,” he finished, annoyed.

Come back into the Server room.” Zeta led him back into the room. A couple of the servers had re-entered, unsure about what they were meant to do. They hung around in pairs and glanced over at Pop, who continued to sit in his Server Rack and run the data through.

So we're trapped here,” said Peta.

Oh stop moaning, I'm trapped too. I'm sure we'll be able to slip away tomorrow, or maybe the day after.” Zeta massaged her head.

Tomorrow!” Peta felt overwhelmed. He stared up at the ceiling and imagined the attack. It felt like a life sentence.

Hang on, how did you and PHP get in here? Can we...”

Zeta shook her head, “Can you dress up as Database Guards and walk into the virus attack. No, not a good plan.”

Peta became sullen.

'Ere,” said Pop. He looked over his shoulder, “since you ain't heading up there to become Wormfood. Why don't you run your virus program? Stop them from down 'ere. Take it once around the block, so to speak.”

Peta sat down in one of the filthy chairs. He blinked in the bright light and rubbed his eyes to clear the glare. “It doesn't work like that,” he said and studied Python's laptop on the table in front of him.

Nah. Didn't fink it would be much cop,” said Pop, and turned back to the data flow with a smirk.

Zeta sat down in the chair opposite. She looked sympathetic.

Look,” said Peta. “It works by running through files, looking for viruses, not stopping viruses from getting in. Although.” He looked back at Pop for a moment, “that would be useful too I suppose.”

Zeta smiled a sad smile, “So, we just wait it out then.”

It was the sympathy and that smile which triggered Peta. “But I suppose I can get a good look at this virus and see if it matches the ones I have on the Database.”

Zeta seemed not to notice. “Yeh, I suppose so,” she said. Peta felt that somehow he had been manipulated, but pulled the laptop towards himself anyway. He loaded up the program and wandered over to Pop.

Hi Pop,” he said. “Could you run this for me?”

Sure thing”, said Pop, he sat back in the Rack with his feet up. “Not much going on at the moment.”

They loaded up the program and chatted for a while about the attack upstairs.

'Ere, Peta,” said Pop, “What the bleedin' 'ell does this program do anyway. It's so boring, the same check thru' again and again and again. Not only that, it's hogging all me bandwidth.”

Peta had sat in a rack with his back to the Data Stream. He wanted it to appear like he guarded the door. But actually, he looked at Zeta. “It's checking the virus upstairs against my database of viruses, trying to identify it,” he said, distractedly.

Well, what does it say?” asked Pop. He looked around too and noticed where Peta was looking. “Does it see anything interesting?” he asked.

What,” Peta looked around again, “er, hang on.“ He gave the program output his full attention now. “Are you sure you ran this?”

Pop gave Peta a look.

Peta backtracked, “Sorry, look I'll make a quick change and run it again.” He went back over to the table.

Pop muttered something, Peta thought it was “Won't that be exciting”. But he wasn't sure.

After a few moments, he returned, “Here,” he said. “Try this.”

Pop grumbled but loaded it anyway. “Look Peta, you know how to run these Racks, just sit here and look at your incredibly boring program run incredibly boringly, I want to check upstairs.” And with that, he hopped out of the rack, made sure Peta was in place and walked towards the door. Peta sat there, his mood was darker than before. Trapped, again. He watched Pop go and swore under his breath. He needed to get out of here but knew there was no way out.

As Pop passed Zeta he muttered. “Go and be nice to him” and left the room. Peta heard him clatter up the metal stairs.

Zeta wandered over to Peta and clambered up into the neighbouring rack and looked down at the data stream below. The data moved by in an extremely uniform way.

Looks very neat,” she said conversationally.

Hmm,” agreed Peta. “Pop hates it. Give him chaos and he's happy.” They both smiled at each other.

Oh, that's lovely,” said Zeta and pointed down into the stream.

Peta looked at where she was pointed and saw a group of packets move round in a whirlpool. Peta felt that this was wrong. He looked at the screen. Various graphs and pie charts had turned red. That can't be good he thought.

His screen flashed, “Data Dump”. He looked down into the Data Stream. He could no longer see any packets.

That's not right,” he said. He went over to one of the Servers down the end of the room. “What's happened?” He asked.

Looks like the system has flushed the data. Did you take a back up?” Said the nearest Server, as she peered into the empty stream.

Yeh,” said Peta, “I backed it up all right.”

You should be OK then. The data has been flushed out of the zone. It'll end up in the Bug Swamp,” said another Server.

Out of the zone,” repeated Peta. “There's another way out?”

Yes,” said the Server. “Look. You can see the pipe below, it's tipped. I can reset it if you like.”

No!” Said Peta a little too loudly, which caused the Server to step back. “Can we get out that way?”

Well the stairs are easier, but yes you can. We're sent down there to clean it every few months.”

Thank you,” said Peta. The Server seemed shocked at the show of gratitude.

Peta ran back to Zeta, picked up his rucksack. “Come on,” he said. “We're going.”

With some persuasion, he managed to get her to jump down from the rack into the empty pipe below. He could see a gap between the pipe and the wall directly below the Racks. But he couldn't reach it, the surface of the pipe was too slippery.

If I give you a leg up, can you reach the lip of the pipe?” He said, and lent against the side, ready to help Zeta climb. Their combined weight shifted the centre of gravity and the pipe began to tip sideways, it rolled along its length and they fell, toward the edge of the pipe which continued to turn until it tipped them both over the lip and down into the dark stream below.

Luckily the stream was not deep, but it was extremely cold.

Zeta got up first and then she helped Peta, she shouted something at him. He didn't hear exactly what she said, but once he found his feet he caught the words “flailing” and “maniac” as the drips echoed through the culvert.

Peta looked from where they had just fallen. He saw the edge of the pipe. It was a long black line against the bright lights of the room above. Slowly the pipe rolled back, a line of brightness that narrowed as it closed until only a thin strip illuminated their surroundings.

They were in an underground tunnel, through which an actual river flowed. To their left, a narrow path along the edge of the water was scattered with Data Packets. The rest of the packets bobbed and flowed downstream.

Come on,” said Peta. He jumped up onto the path and pulled his rucksack from off his back. He opened the bag and thrust in his hand as he remembered. The laptop was in Pop's Rack. He felt sick as he told Zeta. She didn't berate him, but the silence was somehow worse. He called to the Server's above for 5 minutes, as the edge of the pipe slowly closed.

Eventually, she spoke. “I think I'd rather take my chances with the Worms."

They both looked around. The fear of dark underground places was not improved by the thought that a massive killer Worm kept them company.

I think this must be the main river, it flows under the silos,” said Zeta.

Peta nodded, then remembered that it was dark. Though, thought Peta, his eyes must have adjusted to the gloom, because he could make out more detail. They decided to follow the river. They picked their way along the path, avoided the pools, and followed the bank of pebble, sand and old sodden Data Packets, dark grey against the black water.

Is it just me, or is it getting lighter?” shouted Zeta from behind.

No, I noticed it too,” said Peta and looked up. “I can see the roof and the curve of the ceiling. It's getting louder too.”

The tunnel made a long graceful turn to the right until in the distance they could see a curving arch of orange light. They quickened their pace. The contrast between the dark pools and the light sandbanks became more pronounced as did the roar of a waterfall.

[Wednesday 26th, 18:15]





Chapter 53b - Debugging Programs

[Wednesday 26th, 18:15]

They reached the entrance and saw the water fall out of the tunnel and spill into a pool below. A net filled with Data Packets hung over the edge. The net was connected to chains that hung down from a silo above. While it was lighter outside, the evening sun was about to set. A river flowed out from the pool and along its banks, there was a path. They climbed over a gate thick with wet moss and walked down stone stairs that had been cut into the rock down to the edge of the pool. They followed the path that ran along the riverbank. The river was small, more like a large stream. It wound its way through thickets of spindly trees.

Peta looked back up at the tunnel and the database silos that towered above it. He wondered if the battle with the worms had been a success. He imagined that the DBA had probably executed them for spoiling his data. Out of the tunnel, even amongst the trees there was a light breeze. Their clothes were still wet from the stream and soon they began to feel very cold. Peta's teeth chattered. They needed to find some shelter that night.

He felt the loss of the laptop. Also, his program hadn't worked. The program had failed to recognise the virus. All of the excitement of the last weeks, the possibilities, had come to nothing. He could quite easily have sat down on the bank and refused to go any further, but he trudged along after Zeta. He worried about how he was going to tell her that he had failed.

The sun sank below the horizon, the path became less clear and the river had turned into a marshy swamp. They jumped onto boggy tufts of grass, to avoid the water, dark and peaty at their feet. Visibility was poor in the gloom, and the trees low branches flicked in their faces and snagged their clothes. A hoard of insects partied around their heads. They slapped the midges, gnats and mosquitoes that stung, bit and sucked any exposed skin.

Zeta came to a halt. She stood on a small island of grass. “I think we're lost.”

Peta felt irritated. “You think,” he said sarcastically. He scratched manically, ruffled his hair, and clapped his hands in a futile attempt to swat a mosquito.

Zeta looked around. The Database Zone's silos were no longer visible. “We're in the marshy area south of the town, but on the wrong side of the river. It's not very big, we should come to the border fence soon.” She pointed into the distance. “There's a bridge, at least there was a bridge.” She strode on shouting over her shoulder, “we can cross the river there.”

Let's just keep moving,” said Peta, “I being eaten alive, and it'll be properly dark soon.”

They trudged on for another 10 minutes. The path had completely disappeared, their feet oozed with mud, the wet clothing rubbed against their skin and sapped their strength. Zeta suddenly stopped.

Peta tried to find somewhere dry to stand. “Can you see the bridge?” he asked her back.

Not exactly,” she said and pointed ahead. In the twilight, Peta saw a Database Zone silo rise above the tops of the trees.

He felt anger at the unfairness. It was with great difficulty that he managed to remain calm.

OK, let's find that path again.”

5 minutes later there was still no path and it became too dark to see where to go. They struggled on because there was nowhere to stop. With their arms outstretched they felt their way forward, poked and scratched by whippy branches. They had to call to each other to stop getting separated.

Peta stood in a puddle and Zeta said. “Wait.”

Why? are you OK? Where are you?” said Peta.

I'm fine, just be quiet for a moment.”

The swamp sucked and slurped for a while, as Peta tried to find somewhere to stand. He could hear the wind in the trees and then he caught it.

The waterfall,” they said together. They had to stop regularly to listen for the sound of falling water, but another five minutes later they found themselves back at the foot of the waterfall.

Exhausted, they fell onto the path and rested.

We've been walking in a circle for an hour,” said Zeta.

[Wednesday 26th, 19:30]

Peta looked down the path, away from the waterfall. His attention was caught by a light, that bobbed through the trees. He turned to Zeta to tell her, but she had seen it too. They both got to their feet, wary. The light got nearer until they saw that it was a lamp, carried by an old and tiny person. It made its way slowly to where Peta and Zeta stood. Neither recognised the stranger.

Welcome, Welcome,” said the lamp carrier. “I am the Keeper of the Bug Swamp.”

They stepped forward, shook the Keeper's hand and introduced themselves. As Peta stepped back he slapped the side of his face.

The keeper looked pained and said. “I would ask you not to kill my friends.”

Peta said, “Sorry. Perhaps you could ask them to stop biting me?”

The keeper's head cocked to one side and smiled. “They ask for only a little sip of your blood, you have plenty to spare I think.” There was a slight pause. “Where are my manners. You must be tired and cold. Come. I have food, drink and a fire to dry your clothes. Come. It's not far.” With that, the keeper turned and hobbled back down the track.

Zeta and Peta exchanged a glance, but they were hungry, thirsty and cold, so they followed the keeper to a small, house not far from the path. Hovel was the first impression Peta had when he followed Zeta into the low hut made of branches, with a moss covered roof and an earthen floor. It smelt pretty bad but was mostly dry, with a small fire and some round logs for seats. They sat down and soon began to gently steam in front of the fire. Their host kept busy and offered them food and drink. They accepted the tea, but kindly refused all of the food offered. Peta worried about food poisoning, while Zeta didn't want to eat what little food the keeper had.

The tea and the fire revived their spirits and Peta was relieved that the smokey fire kept most of the insects away. “Keeper, do you think you could show us the way out of the swamp?”

The keeper smiled a sweet smile. “Of course, you just follow the path.”

We tried that and got lost,” said Zeta and sipped her tea.

The keeper nodded. “There is no one true path. The way differs for each, just as each differs from the other.”

Well, any path that gets us out of here will do, we keep going around in circles,” said Peta.

This seemed to amuse the Keeper. “Well you would, wouldn't you.”

What's that supposed to mean?” asked Peta.

The Keeper smiled a serene smile. “This is the bug swamp. You have created a bug. You can't leave until you have, de-bugged the program. Are you Servers? You don't look like servers.”

No. We're not servers, just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Peta, then he added gloomily. “It doesn't matter anyway, the program is useless, it doesn't work.”

Zeta looked up at him sharply. “What?”

Peta stared into the fire, he didn't want to meet her gaze. He sighed “It couldn't match the viruses.”

You never said anything,” Zeta replied.

The attack was from a virus I've never seen before. It doesn't work.”

No,” said the keeper. “It's not that.”

Well, I'm sorry, but it is,” said Peta, and threw the dregs of his tea into the ashes.

No,” insisted the keeper. “A Semantic bug, one where the program works but doesn't fall over, doesn't end up here. If the program runs fine you don't come here. Something else must have gone wrong.”

Peta said nothing. He just stared into the fire. He liked the look at the flames, the way they danced, no two looked the same. A little spout of steam came out of one of the damp logs. The way the smoke swirled reminded him of something. The whirlpool of packets. “The packets!” he said suddenly. “Before we fell, the whirlpool of packets.”

Oh ho!” said the keeper. “It sounds like you've been going round in circles.”

Yes, we have.”

The keeper laughed again. “No, I mean your program code was stuck in a never-ending loop. Yes. Yes, a logical bug would get you here.”

It doesn't help though,” said Peta, as he returned to his gloomy thoughts. “I left the laptop in the Server room. I'll never be allowed back into a silo. I'll never be able to change the program.”

Nonsense,” said the Keeper. “You wrote it once, you can do it again. You are both natural at de-bugging.”

I said I was sorry,” said Peta.

The keeper laughed, “No. Debugging programs. You keep going, you don't give up. That is the main ability, you keep trying. It's really a craft you know, not a talent. Anyway,” the Keeper stood up. “I think I should show you the way out now.”

You can get us out of here?” said Zeta.

Of course,” laughed the Keeper, “but it is nice to have a little company now and then. Are you dry enough? That's good. It has been a most enjoyable evening. I do thank you.”

Lets' go!” said Peta. He leapt to his feet and banged his head on the low roof.

The Keeper looked at him, took a light from beside the fire, pulled back the curtain of ivy that covered the entrance and said. “But you need to think about what you're going to do before you do it.” They came out of the warm damp hut and into the cool air. The moon had risen and bathed the bug swamp in a silvery glow. Peta was pleased to see that all of the insects had gone.

[Wednesday 26th, 20:30]

Chapter 54 - Project Planning

Somehow we need to get Peta's laptop back to him

[Wednesday 26th, 20:30]

The moon illuminated their way as they set off down the path again. It kept close to the river here, and as the bank curved to the right the Keeper stopped them and pointed back towards the silos. Peta turned and saw the waterfall beautifully lit by the moon.

You see to the left of the falls,” said the Keeper. “See how some of the water goes a different way?”

Peta saw how some obstruction on one side near the top of the falls, split a small section of the water so that it was diverted away from the river, and spilt down the bank and disappeared behind some trees.

Uh-huh,” said Peta, keen to get on.

How easy is it for that stream of water to get back into the river?”

No idea,“ said Peta. “Shall we keep going?”

The keeper turned to Zeta. “What do you think?”

It'll join the main river further down?”

The Keeper seemed delighted. “Are no. It goes completely away from the river. It is used by the town for cooling and other such things. Then, it is pumped back into the main river just as it enters the town.”

Peta looked a little bored, “Great. Let's get on.”

The Keeper stayed still and looked at Peta. “It's like your program. You use Waterfall project management when you get to test it, and it doesn't work, you have to go right back to the beginning.”

Peta looked annoyed. “Well, how else do I do it? Come on.” He walked off and followed the path as it moved away from the river and into the trees. It made a route that was easy to follow and Peta wondered how they had missed it earlier. But the moon shone bright enough to illuminate the path clearly. There were still a few puddles, a few branches overhung and the mud was thick in places, but the way was clear.

Twenty minutes later Peta stopped. Zeta and the Keeper caught up with him.

What is it?” said Zeta.

Peta turned slowly, with a furious expression and looked over her shoulder at the Keeper. “The Waterfall. We back at the bloomin' Waterfall.” They walked on for a minute, then came out again beside the pool.

The Keeper looked even happier and said with a grin. “Well, we must have missed the way. Come on, don't give up.”

But we've already been that way,” said Peta, quite irritated.

Well, this is the way out, unless of course, you wish to stay here.” The Keeper gave him a serious stare.

Absolutely not,” said Peta. “You stay here. I expect I'll be back soon,” and he marched off alone.

The path was now quite well worn, and much drier, even the muddy sections seemed to have dried up. The odd overhanging branch and small puddle barely slowed his progress, so that 15 minutes later he emerged by the Waterfall once more.

Peta could barely speak with the irritation as he approached Zeta and the Keeper. “I couldn't see any exit.”

No?” said the Keeper. “What could you see?”

Nothing. Look do you actually know the way out?”

Of course,” said the Keeper. “But first tell me what you saw.”

I saw exactly the same route, one big circle.”

But the first time,” said the Keeper. “The first time it took you an hour. How long have you just been gone?”

No idea,” said Peta, “half a lifetime?”

You took about 15 minutes,” said Zeta.

Really,” said Peta. “Why do I feel like I've aged about 40 years.”

Oh calm down,” said Zeta, ”you look exactly the same.” She turned to the Keeper. “The way out isn't down that path is it?”

No,” said the Keeper. “It's behind the waterfall.”

Come on,” said Peta, beginning to march towards the cascading water.

Wait,” said Zeta to the Keeper. “Why did you let us walk round in circles?”

The keeper smiled a serene smile. “I told you the key to success is Project Management. You can use the waterfall method, where if it goes wrong you have to start right back at the beginning. But a better way is to test early and test often. Here the path represented an iterative software life cycle. Keep going through small cycles, and this allows you to better understand the process, the pitfalls and the requirements. The result is a piece of software that has a greater chance of being a success. You see.”

Ridiculous,” said Peta. “Let's go.”

Thank you for making my path,” the Keeper called after them.

Back at the Waterfall, they helped each other up the wet stairs. There was a small path behind the falls. They held hands and edged along it, with their arms raised to protect themselves from the spray. The noise deepened as they looked out from behind the water, towards the keeper. The rock was wet and the path was narrow, but they soon came out the other side and found the path leading away from the river. The stream that the keeper had talked about, babbled beside them and kept hem company.

What an idiot,” said Peta, as they walked away from the silos.

Zeta remained quiet for a few minutes. “I don't think so. You have created a program that recognises 80% of the viruses. There must be a solution for the other 20%. You're mostly there.”

Peta muttered something and walked on. The almost full moon had risen high into the sky, the light it provided illuminated an easy path. The lights of the town glowed up ahead. They stepped off the path and onto a road.

Where do we go now?” asked Peta.

You're not going anywhere,” said Bill Dixon. “Hold 'em,” he said to the police who appeared out of the gloom. “I'm arresting you for causing the virus attacks on the town. Take 'em away.”

I'm not the Hacker,” yelled Peta as they were pushed into the back of a waiting police van.

[Wednesday 26th, 22:00]

Chapter 55 - NAT Firewalls

[Wednesday 26th, 22:00]

They were driven back through the town. Peta was terrified that anything he might say would get Zeta into trouble. Ten minutes later they arrived at the car park of the Guard House.

The Guard House formed part of the perimeter wall, it was the only way in or out of the town. If anyone from the outside made it this far, all they would see was the Police Station. It fitted with the local rumour that it was the location of a secret Chemical Plant run by the military. For most of the locals, this was enough to reason to steer clear of the place.

A no-fly zone appeared over the town, but anyone who flew over by mistake would already be lost. From the air, Eye Dunnow looked like any small town. You've probably driven past it, the giant silos are very distinctive, but as no main roads go nearby, they always remain on the horizon.

The result was that to the outside world Eye Dunnow only had one address - The Guard House. Anything that was posted to individuals or businesses in the town were posted to “C/O The Guard House, Ministry of Defence, New Hero Base” and then the rest of the address. Telephones, visitors and ironically the town's access to the internet, all had to come through the Guard House. The same applied the other way around. Everything sent out from the town had to go through there too. The advantage of this arrangement was that while the perimeter and the Guard House had very high levels of security, the town itself needed very little. They called this their Firewall.

The van arrived at the Guard House. The drivers jumped out and told the officers in the back to stay where they were. A crowd had gathered. Rumours of the recent attacks and the battle in the Database Zone had stirred an already troubled population. From inside the van, Peta and Zeta heard the sound of unrest. Orders were barked and eventually, it was decided to keep them covered. Blankets were thrown over their heads and they were pushed through an angry crowd and into a doorway, down a corridor and finally into a cell.

They closed the door and left Peta alone. He kicked the door and shouted for Zeta. But no help came. The noise in the Guard House lessened, and he eventually slept. Grateful for a blanket.

[Thursday 27th, 5:48]

At dawn he was pulled from the cell, his hands were cuffed and then dragged down the corridor. He had expected a firing squad, instead, he was thrust into a large airy room, and pushed into a plastic chair. The table next to him was filled with plates that were stacked high with buns, cakes. Tea and coffee steamed at the other end. In his befuddled state Peta's first thought was that the firing squad would have a party afterwards. He then looked around and saw Zeta, he was relieved to see she was OK. Bill sat in a chair opposite, a malicious grin on his face. He held a cup of tea in one hand and balanced a plate loaded with a cake on his knee. The guards who had brought Peta in saluted Bill and went back through the door. Peta looked at the windows, they were all sealed-in units, the ceiling was high and solid. Whatever happened next, Peta felt that escape was not an option.

His heart thumped heavily, the back of the chair moved with each beat. His breathing came fast and he made an attempt to control it. Then Bill spoke to Zeta.

You are free to go, we won't bring charges. As long as you do go. For your own protection, you'll have to find somewhere else to stay, the Mayor's residence is no longer yours, and anyway, we need it while the government buildings are being repaired.” He smiled a patronising smile and took a sip from his tea. "As for you," he looked at Peta. "We are removing you from the town. Don't try to come back, if you do, it will be your last attempt. Please don't test me on this."

But he hasn't done anything wrong,” said Zeta. She looked back at Peta, who nodded furiously, the adrenalin made every action seem exaggerated.

You've done enough,” Bill said and replaced the cup neatly onto a saucer. “Those virus attacks are your fault.”

I haven't created any viruses, I've been trying to stop them,” Peta shouted more loudly than he meant to. "I've done nothing wrong.”

Bill laughed, ”I think you've been causing those attacks.”

I haven't,” shouted Peta angrily.

Oh, but you have,” said Bill. He put down the cup and saucer and showed them the copy of Ada Lovelace's book; Programmerology. He stood up and walked over to a window and looked out into the thick woods that surround the town. “We've been monitoring your activities. Every time you run one of your programs we see it in the Data Stream, and we've got pretty good at recognising your work, it's distinctive, it is also...” He turned to look at Peta. “Unauthorised. We think that the Hacker recognises your program too because soon after your program begins, the Hacker runs theirs. So, as I said, you cause the attacks.”

He turned and sat on the windowsill. “You've made the attacks worse. If you stop what you're doing, I think the attacks will also stop. Therefore it has been decided that you.” He pointed at Peta. “Just you. Leave.” He stood up, straightened his tie and put on his jacket. Peta felt as though he'd been expelled by a head teacher.

He had got his breathing and heartbeat under control now. “What do you mean 'made the attacks worse'?”

Bill smiled a politicians smile. “The virus attacks were small and did little damage before you turned up. Since you've started trying to stop the Hacker, the attacks have increased in severity and frequency. I believe, that when you leave the attacks will.” He paused and searched for a phrase. “Return to their previous level. Now, if you'll excuse me.” He threw the book onto the table next to Peta. A couple of buns rolled onto the floor. He walked to the door, opened it and let in a guard.

Bill stared at Peta. “Here, an old friend will arrange for your transport away from the town, but please have something to drink and eat. A Last Supper so to speak.” Bill looked at his watch. "Or in your case breakfast. Goodbye Mr Byte.” He gave one of those blank smiles again. When he left, the guard closed the door behind him.

Peta looked up and recognised the guard as Melissa Nye. The person who helped get him back into Eye Dunnow. They exchanged smiles. She walked over to them, crouched down and undid Peta's handcuffs. Then the door behind them re-opened. Melissa didn't move.

Peta expected to see Bill but another guard entered. Nye looked up at Peta. Neither dared move. The second guard strode over to them, picked up Ada's book and swung it hard, against the side of Melissa's head. Her head slammed into Peta's chair, her knees went from under her and she dropped to the ground. Peta looked up at the guard and recognised Fintle.

Peta looked bewildered. He stooped down, pulled off his handcuffs and checked on Melissa, she was alive but out cold.

My old friend, Doc always said that no one takes the blindest bit of notice of books.” Fintle shrugged his shoulders in an exasperated way. He looked down at the stunned body of Melissa Nye, “Just as well really, come on, we need to get out of here." When neither of them moved, he shouted. "Now!"

A shout came from along the corridor and people ran by their room. A distant crash shook the building. They all looked at the door, and then each other.

Fintle stepped out into the corridor.

"Peta!" cried Zeta. "What is going on?"

Fintle rushed back in, “The Guard House is under a virus attack,” he said. “Come on, let's go”.

Peta turned to look at Nye. “But what about her?” He asked and pointed down at Melissa.

Shots rang out. Followed, horribly, by a scream.

Oh, don't worry about her.” There was scorn in Fintle's voice and he opened the door an inch and peered back down the corridor.

Peta put his hand on the door and shut it. “We're not leaving her, I know she's not a real charmer, but she doesn't deserve to be left here. The Hacker is attacking." Fintle seemed unmoved. "She could die.” He added.

Fintle looked from Peta to Zeta and back again. “But, my dear boy, she is the Hacker.”

Peta looked visibly stunned. “No. No, she's not, she works for you.” Peta bent down and grabbed her under the arms and started to drag her towards the door.

No, she doesn't,” said Fintle, obviously rattled. "I've been trying to catch her for years. Leave her."

Peta dragged her body across the floor.