Brandon Melendez awakes to the sounds of birds and cicadas outside his window. The hot Florida air fills his room as he removes his light sheet and stands from his bed. His alarm clock has been decommissioned as the recent high school graduate is taking a summer to decide on what he wants his future to be. He begins his daily routine of brushing his teeth and getting dressed before walking downstairs to the kitchen. He notices that the television was left on static, and though odd, thinks nothing of it. He grabs bread from the cupboard and attempts to toast it, as the toaster refuses to let the lever be pushed down. As he begins to fiddle with the mechanism, the lever goes down and begins to heat the bread. He stands back, feeling successful, for merely a few moments before the toaster begins to spit fiery, burnt chips and crumbs of old bread at him.
“What the hell?!” Brandon exclaims as he leaves the kitchen, brushing off the debris from the toasty onslaught. Brandon, now in the living room, flicks the wall switch to turn the ceiling fans on. As they increase their speed, they rapidly begin to spin out of control. They click and clang before suddenly flying off the ceiling, directing themselves towards Brandon. He narrowly dodges out of the way and runs outside. Brandon’s feet stick to his front porch as he sees the destruction on the road in front of his house. Multiple cars are in flames, some rolling and some speeding by almost by themselves with no driver, and many of his uninjured neighbors attempt to get the injured ones out of the street. As he tries to call his mother, he notices he has no signal. The longer he holds onto his phone, the more it begins to heat and eventually sting his hand, so he decides to leave it in his pocket. He remembers his mother was working at a nearby office recently, aiding them in their efforts to fix their computer systems, and begins to make his relatively short walk there.
He reaches the office and stands baffled at the pure chaos in the office. He sees many of the office worker’s yelling and scrambling to save their work as printers, copiers, fax machines, and computers spit papers incessantly. He finally makes his way through the mess, and as he runs through one of the hallways, he collides with Paul Hardwick. He recognizes Paul as a friend and coworker of his mother, he being an intelligent computer engineer, and asks if he has seen his mother. Paul states that he has not, but leads Brandon to where he might be. Paul takes Brandon to the basement of the building, where the computer main servers are held. He sees his mother Emilia frantically attempting to fix the servers, as a spark leaps towards her. She exasperatedly steps back and notices her son and coworker watching her from the doorway. She runs to hug Brandon, ecstatic to see him.
“Mom, what is going on? Everything is just falling apart!” Brandon exclaims.
“I don’t know mijo, I am trying to figure it out here but I am getting nowhere.” Emilia says tiredly.
“I think I have an idea.” Paul interjects. “Follow me,” as he leads them further into the basement to a small hidden room containing a computer laboratory with a curious looking chair with multiple wires and sensors attached to it.
“This computer here is separate from any other server. It has never once even been used to access the internet.” Paul says. “I have been observing an unknown virus slowly making its way into different servers, but I had no idea that it would reach the magnitude that it has. The fact that it has been able to transfer to other pieces of technology on the same system is baffling and unheard of. I was trying to find some way to stop it or slow it down, but I wasn’t able to in time.”
“So that’s what this chair and computer are?” Brandon asks.
“Yes! I have been able to successfully, hopefully, transfer someone’s consciousness into the computer. With this technology I can connect the computer to the other systems and allow someone to travel through the currents!” Paul smiles in excitement as Brandon and Emilia turn to look at each other.
Brandon turns back to Paul, asking “I mean that’s cool but why do you have to do that for this virus? Why can’t you just use an antivirus?”
“Good question. Because this virus, though I suppose a more accurate term for it is ‘worm’ rather than ‘virus’ but that just gives me the heebie-jeebies, can’t be accessed like a normal virus. There is absolutely no conceivable way to even find this virus by normal means through your computer files.” Paul explains. “You have to find it yourself.”
“That’s awful excessive, don’t you think?” Emilia says.
“Excessive, yes, but also genius! The fact that this piece of malware is hidden so well is remarkable!” Paul begins to rant on about the worm until Brandon cuts him off.
“Okay that’s great, but how are we going to do this?”
“Well, that’s the less fun part to talk about. The technology is very… sensitive, and requires a brain with high plasticity and healthy neuronal connections. My middle-age brain is too old to handle the process, but yours…” Paul does not get a chance to finish his statement before Emilia chimes in.
“Nope! No way Paul! I am not letting my son stick his head into that thing!”
“Now Emilia I know it’s not the best option but it’s what we have right now. I can try to find someone young enough if you want but then we are wasting time when people are getting hurt. Neither you nor I are capable of handling this type of technology.” Paul says rationally.
“Well have you even tested it yet?!” Emilia says.
“Err, not quite. But-!” Paul is cut off.
“No ‘buts’ Paul! He is not doing it!”
“Yes I am.” Brandon interjects. “If there is a way that I can help fix this situation, I am going to do it.”
“But-!” Emilia is cut off.
“No mom, I want to do this! I have to try at least.” Brandon says, ending the discussion against Emilia’s complaints.
“Well, great!” Paul says as he sits down in the normal chair meant for the computer operator. “Take a seat in that chair right there Brandon, and I will get you all hooked up in a minute.”
Brandon sits down as Paul begins to attach multiple wires with pads on the ends of them to multiple parts of his head, neck, and back.
“Okay, your mom and I will be monitoring your status while you’re under and we will pull you out when you’re done or if it’s too much, okay?” Paul says to Brandon.
Brandon gives the “okay” as he is sent into unconsciousness. When his mind awakes he sees platforms of black and white with buses all around them crumbling, and little drone-like entities ripping them apart and implanting new buses. He hears a voice that sounds like Paul.
“Hey bud, how is it going?”
Brandon wonders how to respond back and attempts thinking a sentence directed towards Paul.
“Well I just got here, and it looks like a metaphorical hurricane came through.” Brandon thinks.
“Interesting! And also impressive that you were able to respond back so effortlessly, that’s a good sign!” Paul says excitedly. “Anyway, you are now in the main servers. What you need to do is go to the source of the worm. That means you need to travel to the original computer that it came from, not the first computer infected though. We need the original source files of code for the worm in order to delete it.”
“Okay so how do I do that?” Brandon responds.
“What do you see around you?” Paul says.
“I see buses and little parts of the virus.”
“That’s great. Those buses should be exactly what you need to follow.” Paul says.
“Should be?” Brandon responds warily.
“Do you think I travel through the internet using my conscious often? The answer is no, I don’t. But it’s essentially like being data on a computer. It also might be helpful to follow those little viruses… viri… worms. If you see a lot of those around, you’re probably going in the right direction.” Paul says.
As Brandon travels through the buses he rushes past thousands of files being corrupted and figures he is on the right path. After what felt like ages of what could only be described as falling horizontally, he sees a large mass of malware similar almost to a beehive, with drone-like agents of the virus flying out as if they were honey bees in search of pollen.
“Uh, hey Paul. I think I found the source.” Brandon says cautiously.
“Awesome! Send me the IP address so we can get started.”
“Uh, how do you expect me to do that?” Brandon asks as he carefully begins to approach the malware.
“Just go on and stand next to it, we should be able to pick it up from that. But do not touch it yet, okay? The last thing we need is your hardware getting messed with.” Paul explains.
“Don’t worry honey, I will make sure nothing happens to you. I have been working on a little something while Paul has been monitoring you. Just give me a little more time, mijo.” Emilia pipes in, comforting the anxious Brandon. He makes his way closer to the malware and slowly begins to feel a pulse of energy from it. A random group of numbers appears in his mind and he forwards it to Paul and his mother.
“Perfect! Now we can get started on our end. We are going to hack into the database that this IP address is from and see what we can get from it. Hang tight bud.” Paul tells Brandon. Brandon continues to examine the “hive” before finally hearing back from Paul.
“Okay so, there’s actually not that much we can do. This address is pretty protected and even when you sent it to us it kept changing and was really tough to pin down, but we were able to at least decrypt almost all of the code. We are going to need you to look through some files to see what you can find.” Paul tells Brandon.
“Also, I finally established the VPN, so any information you find will be sent directly to us and should protect you from the malware.” Emilia says.
“A VPN mom? That’s all? How will that work?” Brandon questions.
“Trust your mother, huh? I know what I am doing. This is some pretty serious technology I am working with right now and I have a lot of experience under my belt.” She explains. “you can go ahead and connect to it now.”
Brandon’s consciousness intertwines with the hive’s files as he is immediately flooded with information.
“William Clement. 272 Peach Drive. It’s only, like, an hour away from our house mom.” Brandon reads off.
“William Clement? That can’t be right.” Paul says. “We went to college together. We were really good friends, but he started shutting himself away from everyone and I never found out why.”
Brandon continued to search through the files and found megabytes worth of plans for the virus, as well as journal entries from William.
“I found the plans and some writing from him. He says that he was tired of seeing everyone dependent on technology. He says it makes people lose touch with others, like what happened with him. He says he never recovered socially and doesn’t have anyone left close to him because of it.” Brandon summarizes for Paul and his mother.
“Damn. That is a lot to deal with, but we don’t have much time. I am going to need you to send me those files. The police are going to need them for evidence.” Paul responds. After some time, he still has not received the files. “Brandon?”
“Should I? I feel bad for him.” Brandon says.
“We all have our issues Brandon. Some people just don’t handle them right, and they need to feel the consequences.” Emilia says. Brandon sends the files over for Paul to send to the police and deletes all traces of the virus from William’s personal server. He slowly feels himself slip back into his body as his mother reaches over to him to hug him close.
“Ay dios mio! I am so glad that you’re back honey! Are you okay?” Emilia says, frantically.
“Yeah mom, I am okay.” Brandon replies.
“I just sent the files over to the police and they should be on their way to get William now. All systems are back to normal and are operational. You did a really good job Brandon.” Paul says, beaming.
After some time, the national news stations cover the incident and the three people responsible for the return to normalcy. Reports reveal that hundreds of thousands of people were injured due to the incident, and hundreds of deaths were reported and confirmed, as well as many missing persons cases. William’s trial is broadcasted on national television, and he receives dozens of life sentences with no chance of parole. Paul’s technology is heralded as a remarkable innovation in science, and he receives a Nobel Prize for its invention and application. Paul, Emilia, and Brandon are honored by the United States government for stopping an instance of domestic and international terrorism. Though Emilia decides to stay with her small IT company, Brandon is invited to begin training and education to become a special agent by the leader of the FBI’s Cyber Division, and he devotes his life to stopping cyber crime and from preventing an incident such as the one started by William from happening again.
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Henry Jurgiewicz is a Sophomore at Wilkes University. He is majoring in Psychology, Criminology, and Sociology. He is the Psychology Club Parliamentarian and is an active member of both the Wilkes College Democrats and GSA.