The Doomsday Virus

Copyright Dr Alan Solomon (1986-1995)

It was a wild wet night - the rain was slashing down, driven by a cold
East wind.  Thunder and lightning crashed and flashed around my lonely
mansion, as I hacked on, determined to complete my latest masterpiece -
a program that would sort a million records faster even than a
Quicksort.

It was foolish of me to work during a thunderstorm, I know.  If there
had been a power cut in the middle of writing to my hard disk, I could
have lost my entire program, but I was well backed up, and I so nearly
had it working, and I didn't want to stop now - you know how it is.

Suddenly there was a great flash and a bang, and lightning lit up the
whole room.  The power dimmed, but my monitor glowed more brightly, and
its eerie green glow suffused the darkened room.  There was a break in
the clouds as they scudded across the sky;  I looked up and the rays of
the full moon blinded me temporarily.

I closed my eyes and brought my hand up to blot out the glare, and I
suddenly felt totally disoriented.  My thoughts became confused, as I
felt my mind being invaded by a strange force.  There was something very
evil about this invader, and I struggled to maintain control of my
brain, but the invader was too strong for me, and I could feel it taking
control of my limbs, my body, my brain and even my knowledge.

Soon, I was forced to retreat to a tiny corner of my brain, where it
took all my concentration to survive, while my invader laughed
triumphantly at my predicament.  "Now I can carry out my plan to destroy
the civilised world", it seemed to be thinking.

Systematically, it rifled through my memories, extracting the
information that it needed.  I could see that for some reason it seemed
to be concentrating on the MS-DOS boot process, and in the structure of
floppy and hard disks.  I couldn't see what its evil plan was, though,
nor could I see why my brain had been the one it had chosen for its foul
purposes.  I was to discover why, soon enough.

The mind-worm started off by writing a program whose intent was
obviously evil.  The program read a random sector from the hard disk,
made a random change to a random byte of that sector, then wrote it back
again.  The program seemed to have no other purpose, but I could see
that it would progressively corrupt the hard disk, and I supposed that
my attacker would include this disgusting program in some game, and put
it out via the public domain.  There are already programs like this
around, called Trojans;  usually they simply destroy a hard disk's boot
sector, FAT and directory, and exit with a gleeful laugh.  I couldn't
see how one more such program could make much difference.

I began to feel a bit queasy when it took COMMAND.COM and began to
modify it.  My mind-parasite added its program to the end of
COMMAND.COM, and replaced the jump at the beginning of COMMAND.COM with
a jump to its own nasty program.  I watched the program being tested;
every time the hard disk was booted, a random byte was randomised before
the boot process had finished.  It modified the program to include a
counter, so that the modified COMMAND.COM would behave normally for the
first 500 times it was run, but when the counter reached zero, the
program would begin its devilish work.  I watched it test the counter,
and wondered how it intended to get people to use this mutant
COMMAND.COM.  But my invader had an appalling plan for this.

It next wrote a program that searched for COMMAND.COM on the hard disk,
and corrupted the clean version into the warped version.  Satisfied that
the program would do this terrible job, my attacker then turned its
horrid attention to my defenceless diskette drive.

Sickened, I tried to understand how my brain and body had been taken
over.  I could sense the bonds around my mind, and as I struggled, I
could feel them slacken slightly.  The mind-worm was concentrating so
intently on its evil designs that it didn't notice my attempts at
freedom, until suddenly I succeeded in breaking loose from its
domination.  Pressing home my advantage, I pushed it out of my mind, but
it fought back ferociously.  At the end of the struggle, I was in
control, but I could feel an evil miasma at the back of my mind.

The first thing I did was to erase all its malevolent programs, then I
overwrote the file space to make sure that they couldn't be undeleted.
Then I jumped onto my motorbike and roared off to Wycombe General.

Hospitals are great for cuts that need sewing up, and broken arms.  They
even managed to get a splinter out of my five-year-old daughter's hand,
although it took four of us to hold her down.  But have you ever tried
to explain to a doctor about demonic possession?  I got the distinct
impression that he thought I had a fatal bug in my operating system, and
the more I explained, the more I could see he wasn't listening to what I
was saying.  "Classic delusion", he said, "feelings of inferiority and
failure being compensated by ...".  I could see I was wasting my time,
so I stalked out.  By the time I'd got onto my motorbike, there were two
men in white coats rushing out into the night, but I roared off into the
pouring rain.

When I got home, I tumbled into bed and closed my eyes, but as I drifted
off to sleep, I could feel the hellish power of that malignant entity
growing stronger.  I awoke with a jerk, realising that if I once let
down my defences in sleep, I might totally lose my personality.

The next few days were a nightmarish struggle against sleep.  I started
off on black coffee and jazz, but after a couple of days of that, I
started to drowse, and switched to Coca Cola and hard rock.  Even this
didn't keep me going for more than a few days, and I could feel the
lurking presence at the back of my mind growing stronger.  So I used my
ultimate weapons, syrup of figs and Mahler.  In spite of this desperate
maneuver, I could feel myself going under, and decided that my best bet
was to put myself into the deepest possible sleep - total
unconsciousness.  So I bought three dozen crumpets, toasted them,
buttered them and ate the lot.  I immediately fell into a deep,
dreamless sleep.

I awoke abruptly feeling much refreshed, but I soon realised that it was
the sound of sirens that had awoken me.  I looked out of the window, and
saw that an ambulance had screeched to a halt outside my house, and
white-coated men were pouring out.  I guessed that they had tracked me
down from my bike's number plate, but it was too late for regrets.  I
pulled on my blue pin-stripe disguise, tucked a copy of the FT under my
arm, and nodded distantly to the white-coats as I strolled out.  They
rushed past me, looking for their maniac - I was free.  Or was I?

In my rush to escape, I had neglected to grab my Filofax, so I had no
money, and even more importantly, no plastic cards.  But I had the
presence of mind to pick up the most important thing, my hard-disk
portable Toshiba 2100, and a computer's as good as cash if you know
anything at all about the BACS system.  But that takes time, and access
to a telephone without people banging on the glass door asking what
you're doing.

So I checked into the kind of hotel that worries more about the way
you're dressed that whether you can pay, fired up the Tosh and dialled
up a number that not many people know.  And it was at that point that
the mind-worm struck, suddenly, shockingly and devastatingly.  I was
immediately dispossessed, and once again was reduced to the status of
spectator.

My attacker took no more than an hour to recreate the program that
metamorphosed an innocent COMMAND.COM into a vile corrupter of hard
disks.  Its next step was to put this foul abomination onto the floppy
disk, but not onto any normal area.  A 3 1/2 inch diskette has 80
tracks, numbered from 0 to 79 - the parasite put this nauseating object
onto track 80, side 0.  I was fascinated in spite of myself as I watched
its next actions.

On the boot sector (sector zero) of every floppy there is a program that
tries to load the system files, but this program doesn't fill the full
512 bytes and there is some empty space.  Into this empty space, the
monster put a small program that loaded a program located on track 80,
side 1.  It then intercepted the jump at the start of the boot sector in
order to call this new program, and I guessed that the program would
terminate by jumping to the original entry point.  Then my invader wrote
the program that this little loader was intended to invoke, and that
program was the most terrifying I have ever seen - I began to understand
its perverted plans.  The program that sat on track 80, side one, looked
to see if there was a diskette in another floppy drive, and if there
was, it copied its boot sector and track 80 onto the other disk.  It
then looked to see if a hard disk was present, and if it was, it
perverted COMMAND.COM into the twisted form that had already been
developed.

My stomach heaved as I pictured the consequences of this act of
vandalism.  But the parasite wasn't finished - there was more.  It added
code to the COMMAND.COM distorter, so that every time it was run, it
would make a copy of the track-80 programs and boot sector onto any
innocent floppy disk that was unfortunate enough to be in the diskette
drive.  And I could see that it had planned for 5 1/4 disks also - they
had tracks 0 to 39, and the program would be copied onto track 40.  The
hellish system was complete, and in spite of my repugnance, I had to
admire the ingenuity.  It grinned evilly, stood up, yawned and
stretched.  And in that moment, while the mind-worm's guard was down, I
struck, with all the concentrated force of my mind.

It should have worked.  It really should have;  you're at your most
defenceless when you are yawning - primitive societies believe that this
is the time when the soul is at its most vulnerable.  I guess primitive
societies don't know everything.

The next twenty four hours were agony.  The being that controlled me put
that innocent-looking diskette into its pocket, and walked round all the
dealers.  In each one, it tried to boot off the floppy disk - the
computer wouldn't boot, of course, but in trying to do so it infected
the COMMAND.COM with that deadly virus.  It also made a 5 1/4 inch
version, on a PS2 that had both kinds of drive, and was then able to
infect all kinds of machines.  In the course of that cataclysmic day, it
must have infected over a hundred computers with the Doomsday Virus.

That was a disaster, but there was worse to come.  My knowledge of the
UK banking system was put to criminal ends, as cash dispensers were
persuaded to replace their normal bankers caution with an unusual
generosity, in order to finance a lightning round-the-world trip
stopping off at all major cities to spread the Doomsday Virus far and
wide.  Our journey ended in Hong Kong, in the infamous Golden Arcade,
where software is copied and sold for scarcely more than the price of a
diskette.  The monster infected every copying machine that was there,
and I knew that soon the virus would be an epidemic.

I knew that it was all over, and so did my captor, for it gave one last,
gloating, maniacal laugh, and I felt the bonds around my brain loosen
and disappear.

I used the return portion of my airline ticket to crawl back home.  I
was scarcely aware of my surroundings, as I used the duty free to fly
ten feet higher than the other passengers, in an attempt to blot out my
knowledge of the catastrophe that was about to overtake the world.

By the time we landed at Heathrow, I'd sobered up, and in spite of the
blinding headache that you'd expect, I'd done some serious thinking.

I couldn't see any flaws in the plan of destruction.  Every time an
infected disk is put into drive A, and a boot is attempted, instead of
the usual "Not a system disk", any other floppy disk would be infected
and the COMMAND.COM on the hard disk would be contaminated.  Then,
whenever COMMAND.COM was run, it would infect any floppy disks it would
find.  COMMAND.COM is not only run at boot-up - many programs invoke it
in order to offer a temporary gateway to DOS, or to walk the tree of
subdirectories recursively, or to run a program that could alter the
environment.  For a long time, nothing would go wrong, as the counter
slowly ticked down towards zero, and the infection would spread,
unsuspected.

But one day the first random byte on the hard disk would be randomised.
It would not be noticed, of course, but then another and another would
be corrupted.  Eventually, some program would stop running, or some
spreadsheet wouldn't load, but this would be put down to some one-off
problem, and a backup would be restored.  But then, in time, a
subdirectory would become corrupt, or even the root directory itself.
There would be no choice but to reformat the hard disk, and restore the
latest backup.  But all the backups would be corrupted by now, as they
would be simply copies of the corrupted files on the hard disk.  Worse,
the infected diskettes would re-infect the hard disk, and the problems
would continue, and get worse.  Even changing computers wouldn't help,
as the new computer would simply be re-infected by the old disks.

And the infection would spread, carried by infected floppy disks from
one computer to another;  every time someone gave a document or a
spreadsheet to a colleague.  Eventually, the infection would reach the
big disk copying services, from where it would erupt uncontrollably
throughout the world.

It seemed inevitable that the end of civilisation would come within five
years, and with it there would be chaos and anarchy unknown since the
middle ages.  My heart sank as I contemplated this dismal prospect, and
I resolved to fight it in every way I could.  The disease must be
stopped, and I was the only one who could do it.  But how?

To be continued next month

I retrieved my luggage from under my seat (I never let one of my
computers go through the Heathrow baggage smashing machine), and joined
the queue at passport control.  As I shuffled slowly towards the front,
I tried to make some plans.  The man at passport control seemed to be
taking longer than usual with my passport, until suddenly I realised
what was going on - he was delaying me because I was on his list.  It
was imperative that I maintain my freedom of action;  if I had to spend
precious time convincing the authorities of my sanity, the virus would
spread unchecked.  I could see security guards approaching from the
other side of the barrier, so I said something about a forgotten camera,
and ran back to the boarding areas.

As soon as I was out of sight, I stripped off my jacket and tie;  now
any description would be misleading.  I ducked into the transit lounge,
and then stepped over a rope barrier into the duty-free shop, and
mingled with the crowds.  I thought fast, and made a couple of duty-free
purchases - a hat with a feather, and a kilt (that was all they had).  I
walked into the nearest Gents and emerged looking so outlandish that
everyone stared at me - that was to be my protection.  I wrapped the
Tosh in my discarded clothes, and stuffed the lot into a carrier bag.
Then I thought about escape.

Most of the barriers at Heathrow are aimed at filtering people moving in
one particular direction.  The people who check your ticket as you go
into the departure lounge are there to make sure that no-one without a
ticket gets in.  So when a rather flamboyant Scotsman swung towards them
explaining that he'd left his passport outside and had to go and get it,
they didn't have a rule to cover the situation.  By the time they'd
worked out that they ought to have stopped me, I was sitting in the tube
pulling my trousers back on, and being stared at by an American whose
slacks were even more outrageous than my kilt.

I was free - well, I was out of Heathrow.  And now I knew that the
authorities were after me, which meant that at least I wouldn't walk
stupidly into any traps.  But I needed a base for my operations;  I
obviously couldn't go home and a hotel was a bit dicey, as they'd wonder
what I was up to.  I needed food, sleep and mains power;  I also needed
to talk to a sympathetic human being, one who would understand what I
was talking about, and who could sustain an intelligent discussion about
how to save the world.  But it had to be someone who wouldn't jump to
the immediate conclusion that I was out of my mind;  it had to be
someone who would listen to me, look at the disks and be convinced.  It
had to be Angela.

I didn't have my Filofax, and couldn't bring up Sidekick as the Tosh's
batteries were long since flat.  But I didn't need any help to remember
Angela's number, and I phoned her up and invited myself round.

I decided that even Angela shouldn't be asked to swallow tales of
demonic possession, so I simplified my story by calling it a "nervous
breakdown".  She listened, horrified, as I described the Doomsday Virus,
explained how I'd created and spread it around the world, and asked for
her help.  Angela was a good hacker, and immediately saw how dire the
situation was.  I showed her how the Virus worked, and contaminated her
IBM AT as a demonstration.  Then we sat and talked late into the night
about how to fight the contagion, and as I lay down on her settee, full
of her cocoa, I slept my first untroubled sleep since that fateful night
that seemed so long ago.

The next day was bright and sunny, and as I woke I could hear the
cheerful smell of bacon frying and eggs sizzling.  Angela knew how to
make the kind of bacon-and-egg sandwiches that would leave you willing
to tackle a 500 line Basica program, and breakfast worked its usual
magic.  I felt ready for anything, and we sat down and made specific
plans.  Angela took a copy of an infected diskette, and would contact
the authorities, while I used the underground network of bulletin boards
to spread the word as widely as possible.

The first thing I did was to dial up and log into my own Fido BBS, still
running faithfully and unattended in my own computer room, and sent a
message via Fidomail to the 2000 Fido boards around the world.  This, I
knew, would be received within 24 hours, and passed on by each Fido to
all callers;  within a couple of days there would be a million hackers
who knew about the Doomsday Virus, and how to recognise and destroy it.
They would tell their friends, and they would pass on the information,
so that within a few days every hacker in the world would be on guard,
looking for the Doomsday Virus, and destroying it wherever he found it.
But I was under no illusions about the effectiveness of this move;
hackers would now be safe, but there are many more people who just
regard a computer as something they use in their job, and these
innocent, vulnerable civilians were the real target of the Virus.

I put the same information onto Gold, One-to-one, Janet, CIX, BIX,
Compuserve, The Source and every other mail system I could think of.  By
the time I'd finished, Angela had returned, and told me how she'd fared.
It was bad news.

She'd spent the entire day trying to talk to IBM, and being passed from
person to person.  The problem was that since the Doomsday Virus wasn't
an IBM product, no-one in IBM was willing to take any responsibility for
it, or for doing anything about it, assuming it existed, which was
subject to doubt.  The other computer manufacturers were even less
interested, once they understood that it wasn't a hardware problem, and
that it affected their competitors equally drastically.

The software houses were likewise not interested.  The major ones said
that they would be willing to supply replacement diskettes as required,
for the nominal sum of 25.  The minor software houses took a similar
line, except that the replacement charge was less.  One company
suggested that it might write a program to detect the presence of the
Doomsday Virus, and it would then sell the program for 99.

Angela summed it up neatly.  "They all say that it's Someone Else's
Problem", she said, and we sat down and planned our lines of action for
the morrow.

Even toasted bacon sandwiches with Marmite failed to cheer me up the
next morning.  I started phoning up my contacts in the industry, while
Angela talked to the major computer magazines.  My first big defeat came
when I spoke to the diskette copying bureaus.  They all took the same
attitude - their professional reputation depended on making an exact
duplicate of the master diskette supplied to them.  Detecting and
correcting for a Doomsday Virus was not something that they had any
right to do, this was the customer's problem.  I argued social
responsibility, but to no avail;  I argued enlightened self interest, I
argued self preservation; when enough computers were corrupted, there
would be no market for disk duplication.  It was all no use, and I knew
why - the profit motive is the most powerful force known to man, and
what I was suggesting might have lost them business.

Angela was not having much luck with the media, either.  No reputable
magazine would run such a scare story without incontrovertible evidence,
and all she had was my story, which was pretty implausible, and the
Doomsday Virus itself, which was pretty incomprehensible.  Furthermore,
it was not a story that the magazine readers would want to hear, nor was
it one that the advertisers would like to be associated with.  But the
overwhelming problem was the problem of lead times;  by the time any of
the magazines came out, two months would have passed.  Once again, I
spent the night curled up on Angela's settee feeling that we'd
accomplished very little.  But next day, we tried again.

The Government is very much in favour of Information Technology, but
have you ever tried to talk to someone in the Civil Service about an IT
problem?  Angela spent the day being passed from office to office,
eventually finishing up at the Home Office trying to explain to the
Serious Crimes Department that a Serious Crime was being perpetrated
even as she spoke.  I spent the day pounding the pavement, talking to
the dealers whose computers had been infected by the Doomsday Virus over
a week ago.

They were not interested.  No, more than that, they positively wanted me
to get out of their showroom and stop making allegations that there was
anything wrong with their computers.  They didn't want their customers
to get the idea that they should go somewhere else, and more than once I
was ejected from the showroom unceremoniously by a large and angry
salesman.  After being manhandled for the umpteenth time, I realised
that I wasn't going to get anywhere this way, so I trekked back
despondently to Angela's place.

We compared notes, and it was all bad news.  I felt really low;  nobody
seemed to be interested in the end of civilisation as we knew it.  But
just as I began to think that things couldn't get any worse, that's
exactly what happened.

Suddenly there was a scream of sirens, and searchlights lit up the sky.
I looked at Angela, but she was as surprised as I was, and I realised
that she must have been followed.  She showed great presence of mind,
and in three smooth motions grabbed her Filofax, stuffed it in her
handbag, and picked up her Compaq portable;  I picked up my Tosh,
grabbed her hand, and we climbed out of the side window and legged it
down the alley.

After we'd gone a couple of hundred yards, I was badly out of puff, and
Angela was looking rather rough.  We stopped and panted for a bit, and
swapped computers, as a Compaq is quite a bit heavier than a Tosh, and I
asked her why she hadn't taken her Zenith.  "5 1/4", she managed to
gasp, and I could see what she meant.

We must have made a curious picture as we wandered the streets of London
together, carrying our computers, hiding in doorways whenever we heard a
car come by.  Eventually, physically and emotionally exhausted we
reached our resting place for the night - Charing Cross railway arches.
I reasoned that we would be fairly inconspicuous there;  we huddled
together to keep out the cold, and eventually fell asleep.

The next day dawned cold and miserable;  the damp and rain seemed to
penetrate everything.  Angela was shivering uncontrollably, and I was
very worried about her Compaq.  There seemed to be no-one who would
listen, no-one who would take action, no-one who was interested.  We
were underneath the Arches, amongst the most hopeless of humanity;  we
were without a home, without resources and without hope.  The Doomsday
Virus was spreading, and we were powerless to stop it.  Soon the first
modified COMMAND.COM will have counted down to zero, and would begin
destroying its host.

I looked down at Angela;  her head was on my arm, which was completely
numb.  She was awake, and she regarded me solemnly, trustingly - "You'll
think of something", she said.  But I couldn't think of anyone else to
try - everyone thought it was Someone Else's Problem.

To be concluded next month.

Suddenly, I realised that I was doing exactly the same thing.  It wasn't
Someone Else's Problem, it was My Problem.  It was the knowledge in my
brain that had caused this disaster, and it would have to be the
knowledge in my brain that would save the world.  Excitedly, I explained
my idea to Angela;  we had our computers with us, my hard disk contained
all the tools I needed, and I would work without manuals if I had to.  I
would write an Anti-virus, a program whose purposes would be to
reproduce itself, and to seek out and destroy the Doomsday Virus.  But
first, we needed power.

Have you ever tried to find power?  I tried going Underground first -
they have power points everywhere.  But they use a differently shaped
earth pin, and without a hacksaw I couldn't make up a plug that would
fit.  I thought of electric razor points in public washrooms, and then I
thought about people asking me what I was doing, and the police being
called.  "Angela", I said, "where can we get power?" "And light", she
said, "We'll need light to work by." Light, I thought.  Traffic lights.
We walked down to Trafalgar Square, and under the one-eyed gaze of Lord
Nelson (who I am sure would have approved), Angela used her nail file to
open up a traffic light controller box, triggered the overload cut-out,
bared the wire with her nail clippers, connected our power cable, and
powered up again.  Then we squatted by the traffic lights, and while I
wrote the new modification for COMMAND.COM, Angela designed the
replacement for track 40 on the floppy disk.  We worked well together,
scarcely needing words to communicate;  we both knew what needed to be
done.

We couldn't simply wipe out the Doomsday Virus wherever we detected it.
We had to create our own virus that would multiply and spread faster and
more virulently than the Doomsday Virus.  I decided to make my virus
more active;  instead of reproducing only when COMMAND.COM was loaded, I
intercepted interrupt 21 hex, and whenever DOS tried to open or close a
file, the Anti-virus would reproduce.  So the Anti-virus population
would rapidly catch up with the Doomsday Virus, and whenever the
Doomsday Virus tried to attack a new computer, it would find the
Anti-virus already in place, and would be over-written.

We worked all through that day, through the night, and into the next
day.  After 19 hours of hard, grinding work, we had it completed;  I had
finished the COMMAND.COM modification, and Angela had done the floppy
disk work.  Bringing it all together was a bit of a problem, as her
computer had 5 1/4 drives, and mine were 3 1/2, but naturally we both
had Kermit on our hard disks, and there was plenty of wire inside the
traffic light controller that we could use to make up a crossed RS-232
cable.  As the dawn came up through Admiralty Arch, Angela and I sat on
the cold pavement, sending files to each other's computers over the
cable that connected us together.  Eventually we sat back, exhausted,
but the job was complete.

We had two copies of the Anti-virus and an explanation of what it was on
3 1/2 disks, and two copies on 5 1/4, and all we needed to do was
distribute them.  "All we need to do is distribute them", I said, taking
one of each size of disk and handing the others to Angela, "I'll call
round all the big dealers." Angela touched my cheek, and I realised that
with my three-day stubble and crumpled appearance, they probably
wouldn't let me through the front door.  Angela also looked like she'd
been sleeping rough, but she grinned and said "Watch this", and
disappeared into the Charing Cross Ladies.  Angela can look quite fluffy
when she wants to, and when she came out, she looked just like someone
who might be persuaded to buy a computer.  But as she was about to cross
the road, a police car drew up, and two very large policemen got out and
headed purposefully towards me.

I thought of trying to explain why I was sitting in the middle of
Trafalgar Square, unshaved, unwashed and surrounded by six thousand
pounds worth of computers, but I didn't think for very long. I turned
control over to my primeval instincts, and legged it Westwards.  I left
the machines behind;  I didn't fancy my chances of outrunning the cops
in the first place, but weighed down with forty pounds of hardware, I
wouldn't have got ten yards.  Police always chase anything that runs,
and as I sprinted towards Canada House, I could hear their feet pounding
in pursuit.  I could also hear that wretched Panda car, and I knew that
unless I could shake that off, I'd had it.

I swerved left, across the Zebra on the south of Trafalgar Square, and
dived into an alley;  at least here the Panda couldn't follow.  I ran
past the British Council, past Lower Regent Street and into Carlton
Gardens, home of the Foreign office.  By that time, the Panda had picked
up the two other police and was screeching up towards me.  I turned and
dashed down the steps behind the Duke of York's statue, knowing that
there was no way they could follow me there, and ran straight into the
arms of the policeman who must have been directed there by radio to wait
for me.

Before I had a chance to struggle, I was bundled into the back of a
Panda.  There were three rather large policemen;  one driving and one
sitting on either side of me, so there didn't seem to be much point in
trying to escape.

Down at Vine Street Police station, I was asked to make a statement.  I
thought about this - I tried to think of something I could usefully say.
I couldn't think of anything that wouldn't get me deeper into trouble,
so I asked what I was being charged with.  To my surprise, they didn't
seem to have a charge, but seemed to think that it was my job to tell
them what I'd done wrong.  I could think of several things.  But I
didn't think they'd have a category called "Causing the end of
civilisation as we know it." Eventually, they produced the two
computers, and asked me who I'd stolen them from.  I explained that one
of them was mine, and that back home I had the receipt to prove it, and
that the other was borrowed from a friend, who was currently away on
business.  I knew I could prove ownership of the Tosh, at least.  They
asked me if I had the owner's written permission, and I said that I did
not, and what of it?  They seemed to accept my story that I had run
because I'd been chased.

They concentrated on the most easily checkable part of my story - the
Tosh.  I explained that we'd have to go to my home to get the receipt,
and after they'd been over my story a couple more times, and it didn't
seem to change, they decided to call my bluff on the Tosh. So they
took me back home.

This was the first time I'd seen my computer room for an eternity.  It
looked exactly the same;  a complex shambles of wires and cables, with
Fido chuntering away in the corner.  I explained I'd have to look up the
necessary data, and they watched, not understanding what I was doing,
while I took the 5 1/4 out of my pocket, and Fidomailed the Anti-virus,
with its documentation, to 2000 Fidos.  Then I dug the Toshiba receipts
out of my filing cabinet, and gave it to the detective.  I suppose I
should have really expected that it would be more complicated than that,
as he seemed to think that I'd have to go down to the cop-shop again
with him, to clear up a few other irregularities.  I agreed to help the
police with their enquiries, as I knew that at 3 AM, Fido would send out
the Anti-virus to all the main nodes, and from there it would be spread
around the world.  But as we left the house, I could hear the phone
ringing, and ringing, and not being answered, and I knew that Fido was
having one of his fits of temperament again.  Communications is the most
unreliable part of computing, and it is well known that all comms
hardware and software has a User Stress Detector, designed to break down
at the time of greatest need.

Back at Vine Street, they had checked up with the Central Crime Registry
and come up with something new - illegal entry into the country.  This
was a fair cop, and I couldn't wriggle out of it as easily as the charge
of theft.  I cursed all government-owned computers, and wondered what
else they'd think of.  Sure enough, it seemed that I was also wanted by
Wycombe General Hospital, for my own safety.

Have you ever spent the night in Vine Street cells?  It's the most
depressing place imaginable, especially when you know that every hour
wasted there is an hour closer to the end of the world.  The maniac in
the next cell held interminable discussions with himself, and seemed to
be under the impression that the whole world was against him in a
massive conspiracy.  I kept thinking about everything I'd done, and
wondering whether Fido would send out the Anti-Virus in spite of seeming
to be off-line.  I thought about the Batch file that controlled Fido,
and tried to remember exactly what would happen at 3 AM.  Several times
I managed to convince myself that the Batch file would restart Fido the
way it was supposed to when Fido crashed, and several times I convinced
myself that it wouldn't.  By the time morning came, I was a bag of
nerves, and wished I could be as care-free as the paranoid in the next
cell.

The nice thing about British law is that you're innocent until proven
guilty.  The bad news is that the police aren't so naive as to really
assume that you are innocent, and I began to experience at first hand
the fact that Habeus Corpus doesn't apply to illegal immigrants.  You
could see their point.  If I was really an illegal immigrant, I wouldn't
have a fixed abode, and so would be likely to disappear if given bail.
So I found myself remanded in custody pending a hearing.

Justice is blind, which perhaps explains why she moves so slowly.  It
was three weeks before my case came up;  three weeks during which I
lived in an agony of uncertainty about whether Fido could possibly have
done his job.  When my case came up, I pleaded guilty to illegal entry,
but I had a British passport, so instead of being deported to somewhere
hot, East and populous, I was fined 25 pounds.

I rushed out, a free man at last.  Back home, the first thing I did was
look at Fido - he was sitting there looking remarkably passive, and
saying C> and I feared the worst.  Sure enough, when I looked at the
FIDOMAIL log, nothing had been sent out.  The Doomsday Virus had had
four weeks now to wreak havoc on unsuspecting users, and I feared that
it must already be too late for some computers.  I started Fido up, and
got him ready to send out the Anti-virus again.  Then I peeled a load of
potatoes, put on the chip-pan, stuffed the fridge full of 6X home-brew
beer, and prepared to eat and drink myself silly.

After the third plateful of egg-and-chips and the second bottle of 6X, I
was past caring.  Who cared if millions of people couldn't use their
computer because it kept corrupting their data?  Who cared if everyone
started using Ataris and Macs, and all the other machines that would be
immune to this DOS-specific Doomsday Virus?  Who cared if hundreds of
hardware manufacturers, thousands of software houses and millions of
small businesses went bankrupt?  Slowly, my conscience drowned in a sea
of 6X and chips.

I was close to blessed oblivion, when I heard the front door bell ring.
I ignored it;  I didn't care about anything any more.  The bell rang a
few more times, and then I heard the door open and close.  I only knew
one person who could pick my lock so quickly, and by the time I'd
struggled up into a sitting position, there was Angela looking extremely
fluffy.

"Go away", I greeted her.  She sat down, and said "It's working."
"What's working?" "The Anti-virus." Suddenly I cared quite a lot.  "But
my Fido didn't get it out;  it crashed." "But mine did", said Angela.

She'd done exactly what I'd done;  put it out over Fidonet. She had then
followed up by going around all the big dealers and booting their
computers off her Anti-Virus diskettes.  She'd then tried to get me out
on bail, seen that it was hopeless, and did a round-the-world trip
instead, spreading Anti-virus like Johnny Appleseed.  "We've saved the
world!", I shouted, and Angela smiled.  "There's just one problem", she
said.  My face fell.  "You could get taken over again." I hadn't thought
of that.  "Actually, Angela, we're both at risk now, because your brain
also has the knowledge to create a Doomsday Virus." "That's true", she
said.  "I guess we're going to have to look after each other from now
on."

Somehow, I couldn't really see that as a problem.

THE END