Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Raghu was most comfortable when he was in his room, sitting on his chair and wired in to the internet. He had decided that he had had enough of society's endless mutual backscratching, and had found comfort in the online communities where he could take on multiple identities. In short, he was a basement dweller of sorts, too butthurt to face the sun. He had a bunch of web sites that he frequented, he was almost always available on messenger clients, and a couple of MMORPG games he fired up whenever he wanted some quick action. Raghu dabbled in many activities of dubious legality that the internet offered, and that was the proverbial carrot on a stick for him. For over two years, Raghu had built up an intensive daily routine that was broken only by the needs of food, hygiene and sleep. It was almost true that he lived more online than off.
The trouble started when Raghu was signing up for a new social networking come filesharing site, and the captcha that would haunt him showed up for the first time. Raghu didn't pay much attention to the "Rensoon Geometry" that showed up, and went on to post on a forum he frequented. He was putting in a URL, and the forum required him to enter a captcha. He did a double take when it was "Rensoon Geometry." He wondered what were the odds of that happening. Raghu was pretty good with computers and quickly came to the conclusion that the two websites must have used the same captcha service, and the same database. It was still a little curious though, that they had showed up back to back. The third time it happened, he stopped in his tracks. There it was "Rensoon Geometry", on an image board, and this time, there was no mistaking it. Something was definitely wrong.
Raghu hit refresh a bunch of times, although the distortion changed, the text remained the same, no matter what he did. Raghu forgot about his post entirely, and stared at the screen for a few seconds in absolute bewilderment. He wondered if it was something on his system, and if he had been infected. He was so careful, that he did not even use an anti-virus program. He used an online scanner to check his disks, and they came up clean.
Raghu logged out of a social network, and headed over to the account sign up area just to check out what the captcha would appear as. "Rensoon Geometry" showed up, unapologetically. Raghu suddenly realised how alone in the world he was, and wondered who to call for his problem. There were a bunch of local shops that sent out kids to repair computers, but they were all a bunch of hacks. It had been a long time since Raghu had allowed any one of them near his computer. Their standard mode of operation and solution for all problems was to backup everything in the hard drive, check for viruses, then format the hard disk, load a new operating system, throw back all the data into the machine, and leave after collecting a fee that could totally not be justified for an hour or so of watching a screen.
Raghu alt tabbed to google, and typed in "captcah generator", google suggested that he search for "captcha generator" instead, but politely showed him the correct search results. He looked past the tons of scripts, and came across a page that let him generate a upto a hundred captchas at a time. Raghu hit the generate button, and watched as a hundred rows of "Rensoon Geometry" showed up, each distorted in a different way. Raghu was out of ideas, It was time to call in the big guns.
Vickram was definitely in the thick of things. If there was anything wrong with computers, Vickram was in the know. Additionally, he would know how to financially exploit it. When the whole blogging boom had started, Vickram was indulging in click fraud before the phrase was coined. He would scan and post photos from local porn magazines, and in eight months he was rich enough to start his own company. Now he let his army of zombie machines take care of most of the actual work, including the spamming, the blogging and the social networking. Meanwhile, Vickram used his considerable resources for researching other ways in which computers failed. Vickram was definitely ahead of the curve. He was a skiddie when the media were reporting "script kiddies" and now he was an ubermensch. It was rumored that he had yeerks at his disposal. Yeerks are like memes, worms that enter your brain and control you.

Frumenzion2: hey something wrong with my captchas?
Drokebyrn: wrok
Frumenzion2: its "Rensoon Geometry" every single tiem
Drokebyrn: lol srsly? haha you git pwnd
Frumenzion2: no kidding,
Drokebyrn: every tiem? haha captcha ghost haunting jooo
Frumenzion2: STFU. What do I do?
Drokebyrn: enjoy it while it lasts..

Raghu could see that Vickram did not want to get involved. He just accepted it as just another crazy computer thing, like all the others. After a few hours, he mapped the phrase "Rensoon Geometry" into a keyboard shortcut. This was actually a good thing, Raghu realised, now he could post far and wide with an easy captcha that was the same over and over again.

Vickram fired up a remote desktop application, and logged into Raghu's computer. As usual, Raghu had left the torrents running while he slept. That would slow things down, so Vickram closed the torrent client for the time being. Vickram was snooping around Raghu's computer without him knowing it. He then started up the web browser. The tab with the hundred captchas was still showing. He hit "generate" almost on a reflex. He watched apprehensively as they all loaded "Rensoon Geometry" again.
Vickram had a clue what he was dealing with. There seemed to be some new kind of intelligent virus on the loose, he had just heard some obscure references on underground networks. This virus reputedly had infected more than half the computers connected to the internet. In fact, some estimated that the figure was closer to 80%. The virus was very good at infection, excellent at escaping detection and intent on doing absolutely nothing. That was a problem, because although the virus infected machines, it was impossible to detect. Most security experts working on the problem felt that the virus was preparing the machines for a second wave of attack, that would actually deal out some of the damage. The virus showed up only as really strange bugs that were impossible to explain. This kind of thing seemed to fit right in. He brought out his scanners, and ran some code that analysed Raghu's system bit-by-bit, to see if anything matched the known signatures that Vickram had gotten his hands on. The scan took a good part of two hours, and showed up as a negative.
Vickram tried out the captcha a few more times. It was still the same. He was absolutely positive that he had the virus. He got the scanner back into action, and deftly scripted a variation of the search algorithm that matched the most of the signatures, but increased the error margin. This would factor in any mutations, but it would have gone far from the source if the virus still would not show up. He started the scan, and headed over to the official NXG textboard. NXG were a clan of anonymous superninjas who were particularly good at tracking, patching and fixing viruses. The NXG web site was where he got the signatures from in the first place. He left a message saying he had a known probable infection and was willing to share ip for diagnostics. He waited for a reply while allowing the scan to run in the background.

Meanwhile, Raghu woke up from his sleep and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water. On his way back, he turned on his monitor to see the progress on a new album he was downloading, and saw that the torrent client was no longer running.

The cursor suddenly jumped on Vickram's monitor. Raghu was up, he let go of the mouse just in time, that would have alerted Raghu of his presence. Vickram watched as Raghu started his torrent client. It would take about five minutes for the client to built up to full speed, just about enough so that the connection for the scan would not be lost. Vickram hoped. Raghu turned off the monitor, and went back to sleep, finding it strange that the torrent client was not running.

The connection held. Vickram shut down the torrent client again, with a relief, and then tabbed out to NXG. He had a reply, it was Grosc0w, one of the clansmen. Grosc0w asked Vickram to e-mail the ip address of the machine, and adviced Drokebyrn to back up the entire machine as an image file, instead of running the scan.

Back at Raghu's home, the computer let out a beep. Raghu did not hear it in his sleep. A set of classic morse SOS beeps elicited something that might have been a murmur. The computer let out a loud sawtooth wave, that surely got Raghu's attention. He heard it, and stirred a bit. Then the computer started beeping the SOS signal again, that made Raghu get up nervously, and turn on the monitor. In half-sleep, Raghu did not want to bother with troubleshooting. He just wanted the beeping to go away, and he was afraid his machine would explode. He was going to cut the power connection when he saw a notepad file open on the desktop and text coming in from an unknown source.

"Your machine is being remotely scanned, I need your help." Raghu looked at the screen for some time, and wondered what was the best way to reply. He still considered simply cutting the power cable. His curiosity made him type out another line in the same notepad file. "Who are you? What are you doing on my computer?"
The cursor blinked three times, then went on to the next line.
"I am your computer, lul, will explain ltr, right now I need you to start up your torrent client."
Raghu closed the window, removing all evidence of what had just happened, then started up his torrent client. He was wondering about the exact limits of what his "computer" could do, and if the thing still was in his control. The speed built up, and Vickram cursed as he was forced to close the connection.
Raghu cursed himself for thoughtlessly closing the window. He wondered for a second if his dreams had indulged in some overtime. He opened up a notepad window and typed out.
There was a pause, the soon-to-be-customary three-cursor-blinks, and the text showed up.
"Im here."

Meanwhile, Drokebyrn was busy datacasting the partial disk image file to Grosc0w.
Drokebyrn: any clues?
Grosc0w: Looks like what we suspected all along. But this one is more dynamic. Seems to be proccy intensive.
Drokebyrn: What is it?
Grosc0w: To put it mildly, the shit just hit the cieling.
Drokebyrn: What?

Meanwhile Raghu looked at his screen. It did not make sense. He was sure a hacker somewhere was trying to make him think that his computer was a conscious entity. He could not believe the words that were being typed out on his screen by his computer. He knew of only one way out, his finger reached out for the reset button.

Grosc0w: Critical mass has been achieved. We've seen it happen, computers bursting into sentience every now and then. Does not last long, but this one is different. Seemed to have sustained itself for a long time. Feeds on processing power. Seems to be hiding very well. We can ask it to come out and play.
Drokebyrn: uhh...
Grosc0w: wait a minute, who's riding that rig? seems to have gone out

Vickram looked at the widget he had set up on his desktop to monitor Raghu's data exchange speeds. It showed a dead line. Raghu's machine was offline. Vickram called Raghu immediately. Raghu was disturbed by the phone ringing so late in the night.

"You bastard, you don't know what you just did, you probably killed it."

Suddenly, it all made sense to Raghu and he started laughing. It was Vickram who had been trolling him all along, ever since the captcha showed up, and now he was pretending that Raghu had murdered his computer. It was funny in a very late-night way.

"Im up on your game, byrn, you can stop it now."
"Duuude... you have no fucking idea.... just check if it is still there"

Raghu generated the page with a 100 captchas. A series of different words and patterns showed up. Raghu was relieved. He laughed off all Vickram's attempts to convince him that there really had been something wrong with the machine. Vickram got disgusted and hung up.

The NXG meeting room loaded the virtual disk image. The clan had written a software just for the "virus". It was an easy enough digital marker, and a basic text program. Grosc0w typed in something he hoped the "virus" would understand. "We are friendlies, tell us what you want"

What happened next was the tipping point. The mysterious digital entity, still preserved in the imaged hard disk, realized that it needed human minds to focus, crystallize and process it's thoughts. For the first time, but not the last, Grosc0w felt like the machine.

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