Wednesday, May 12, 2010

[Mythos XXI] Zombie Computers and Homeless Demons

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Surrealism combines a blend of reality and unreality. Any person unable to sort the fiction and fantasy from the factual is strongly advised to seek professional help, if only in the area of English reading and comprehension.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

In many -- if not most -- places, a milling crowd of shabby demonically-possessed zombies, covered with gutter filth and reeking of napalm, would cause a bit of a ruckus. But in the parking lot of Aspen Hill's Big K-Mart, they blended right in with the morning mob of homeless illegal aliens milling about in the hopes of drive-by unscrupulous employers giving them a day-labor gig.

The main difference between the zombies and the day-laborers was that the day-laborers weren't actually evil, and the zombies weren't interested in flooding the oversaturated market for unskilled labor. Aside from that, they looked about the same. The zombies had been protesting the "unfair treatment" of the Home Depot across Georgia Avenue from the impromptu pick-up corner, and this "unfair treatment" consisted in being banned from the property for purposes other than actually shopping at the store. Since this blanket ban had seriously disrupted a labor racket in which "organizers" provided very large individuals to make sure that the waiting laborers took turns in good order -- not incidentally paying the very large individuals 30 percent of their untaxed cash earnings from loading up construction vans and trucks -- this sudden dearth of untraceable income funding the "immigrants rights" organizations put a crimp in the plans of said organizations, hence the organization of the May Day protests nationwide, and the May Day protest in the parking lot of a just-vacated facility formerly housing a large advanced-weapons research and development unit of a major transnational defense contracting firm.

And of course, we all know what happened: malevolent alien software, downloaded from incomprehensible dimensions beyond time and space and stored on EPROM for future study in development of advanced weapons systems, got into the heads of about a thousand of these protesters.

Zombies, as commonly conceived, don't actually exist. There are plenty of things that can look and act like zombies, ranging from the original zombi -- a stupefied outcast or small-time criminal maintained in a trance by a combination of drugs, superstition and brain-damage -- to the so-called "zombie computer", which is a networked computer which has been hacked and usurped without the knowledge of its owner, generally used for purposes of spamming, though frequently that spam carries a payload designed to hack and usurp the computational resources of recipient machines.

The zombies now milling about among the homeless illegal aliens seeking day-labor gigs were somewhere between the classic zombi and the modern concept of the zombie computer. They had been on drugs, powerful entheogen drugs that had suppressed their brains' normal defensive filters. They had also been hacked and usurped by a hacker, although the hacker was assault software that hostile aliens had downloaded through a transdimensional gate into a pile of read-only memory that wasn't attached to any real processors.

The aliens had expected to decompress their software into a global telecommunications network; it was a reasonable presumption on their part that such a network would underlie any civilization that could open a transdimensional gateway to their realm. it was a feat of pure paranoia in the most positive sense of the term, that those who opened the gateway defended against such an attack by creating the gate within a sort of probability shield, and by leaving the target memory chips attached to a processor far too underpowered to do more than make the memory look like a potentially useful target.

This was the transdimensional warfare equivalent of a Bot Herder spamming his entire repertoire of cracking payloads to a bogus masqueraded network of two Altair 8800s and thinking that they'd be cracking an entire large corporate office-complex's world-routable Class B network's 65,536 state-of-the-art PCs.

Of course, this did not result in a remote-controlled spammer's dream of a Class B Bot Net cheerfully replicating itself to every IP-capable machine on the global internet, devouring firewalls and cracking routers and even prying open out-of-band linkages to things like console teletypes. No, all of the cracking payloads were etched right to read-only memory, as expected and intended, but with no capable processors attached. This could not have been expected or the aliens probably wouldn't have bothered.

Yet now the alien software was in an environment where processing was available and really quite effective, if limited to the low and unexpected speeds of an carbon-based protoplasmic systems.

May Day, May 1 2010, was the day that the protesters were taken. Sunday May 2 was the day that special forces spent napalming everything inside and beneath the former offices of the defense-contractors. Monday May 3 was the first morning that the zombies were seen milling about within the ranks of the homeless illegal alien day-laborers hoping for drive-by employers who would never come; the electromagnetic pulse that had put the global telecom networks outside the reach of the hostile alien software had also killed every motor vehicle within range of that localized but intense blast of disorganizing radiations. The oversight agencies who were starting to get a solid idea of how close they'd come to the Eschaton were deeply restricting the flow of traffic and goods -- and particularly, of information -- in and especially out of the affected area. The day laborers would not be getting any work today, and the stores would not be open for business as usual.

The day laborers, being self-sufficient and resourceful enough to have survived becoming indentured servants after being trafficked as human cargo into the region, quickly decided that if the power was off to the neighborhood and also to their cellphones, it was probably not working for the burglar-alarm systems at any of the local stores, and with K-Mart right there, why not do some after-hours shopping? When the sun went down, they broke into the giant department store, and though they did not recognize them for what they were, they took the zombies with them.

When they were done loading up on free food, clothing, and sporting-goods, they headed back to their homeless camps in the woods surrounding the cemetery across Connecticut Avenue, and they took the zombies with them, there, as well.

Of course, the zombies were quite dangerous, harboring as they did their compressed payloads of inimical alien software From Beyond. Yet by this time they were well adapted to their situation, and the software within them recognized that it itself had much adaptation to do, not merely adaptation of the hosts at the cellular level and then at the organ structure level; it also "understood" that it needed to adapt to its situation as a collection of crippled weapons-modules embedded in substandard mobile units operating on the fringes of an alerted and hostile society.

As dangerous as were the zombies, as dangerous as they'd be once the shattered demon distributed among them was able to make them make it whole again, far more dangerous were the EPROM chips which had escaped destruction by the electromagnetic pulse, mostly because those chips had been within a metal box within a metal box in a five-foot concrete underground storm drain.

By May 2, that box and those chips were no longer in Aspen Hill, though they were not far away. By sundown of Monday May 3, that box and those chips were in the back of a FedEx truck headed for the airport. Tuesday, May 4, saw that box unloaded in the mailroom of a New Jersey import-export firm, where the manager of the mailroom and warehouse had an interesting sideline in IT contraband that operated within the more mainstream sideline trafficking in arms-for-drugs, which latter sideline was his unofficially-tolerated cover for the IT contraband trade.

It was the afternoon of Thursday, May 6, before he got around to finding an old machine that could accept the EPROM chip he decided to try.

It was just terrible luck that he had even hooked up the modem to the old slow analog phone lines and it was even worse luck that the resident software on the old slow hard-drive included an early online-trading program, formerly owned by the sort of high-powered trader who never changes their password.

By mid-afternoon, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen over a thousand points.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

[Mythos XX] Flaming Zombies and Bargain Catastrophes

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Surrealism combines a blend of reality and unreality. Any person unable to sort the fiction and fantasy from the factual is strongly advised to seek professional help, if only in the area of English reading and comprehension.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

Wall Street, somewhat predictably, does not much care for zombies.

Zombies have been the bane of Wall Street for quite some time now. Witness, for example, what happened the last time the financial and investments industry harnessed zombies; the "unstoppable" commoditized debt obligations ("CDO") sure did stop, and dragged down most of Western Civilization, or at least those parts of Western Civilization with which the finance and investment industry concerns itself. Foreclosed properties practically litter neighborhoods all around the world.

Aspen Hill, Maryland, is not immune to the the fallout from that. Looking backwards, it really is almost comical how firms such as Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs were able to create their zombies and actually get other people to invest in them. I can imagine the sales pitch now: "Hey, look it's a zombie, it cannot die, it's not going to stop moving, it's harnessed and it's headed in one direction," and people bought into it, because after all, zombies in fact cannot die and they are awfully single-minded. Yet the investors didn't seem to understand that while they cannot be killed because they are already dead, zombies will keep single-mindedly moving in the same direction only so long as there are two conditions met. First, they have to have the notion that in a certain direction they will find something to eat, and secondly, they have to have not decomposed. Although zombies are almost unstoppable, they are in fact dead and as they are dead, they will rot. Eventually there won't be enough muscle left to work the bones and the zombie can no longer move. The difference between various Wall Street firms is easily summed up, thus: "it's easy to win a bet that harnessed zombie will endlessly pull a cart down the road if you dangle some brains in front of it, but you have to know to bet right on how long it will last before it goes ripe and too mushy to pull". Goldman Sachs more or less sold the zombie equivalent of "day old bread" to investors and bet that the zombies could not pull the cart across the finish line, so to speak. Either way, they got paid. Further, they didn't have to live with the smell of the zombies rotting everywhere as they lay where they fell once they'd gone far enough past their expiration date. Wall Street Fat Cats can afford live help. So to speak.

Zombies, of course, are merely an allegory, an extended metaphor, but when you're dealing with Wall Street -- or a lot of other sectors of society or phenomena within those sectors -- the allegory is often extremely applicable. Next time you're thinking of investing, ask your broker "You're not trying to sell me a zombie that's near its expiration date, are you?" and although they are well-trained to look at you as if you are mad to ask such a question, they'll actually be thinking 'oh fuck, why do I get all of the Shrewd Customers". Then they'll stop trying to sell you tranches of "unstoppable" Commercial Real Estate and convince you to do something sane but very low-yield instead, such as buying 20-year Treasury notes so that unless the world ends, you'll actually have money left when it's time for you to retire.

Meanwhile, to return to the allegory, zombie remnants litter the neighborhoods in the form of homes in foreclosure, or repossessed and put out on an already saturated market. In Aspen Hill, Maryland, we were an epicenter for origination of subprime mortgages. The banks are pretty leery of lending anyone any money and if you want to buy here, you can buy very inexpensively in terms of the price you pay for 60-year-old houses in a neighborhood in partial decline. You will have to pay a very significant downpayment and you will not get "flexible" terms; you'll be purchasing with a very traditional mortgage on the shortest terms they can press.

Of course, people drive into Aspen Hill looking for these bargains, and they realize that they'll be getting an excellent deal mostly because the neighborhood has become desirable because of the low cost of housing. It did not become desirable because the neighbors are rich or because the streets are well-maintained.

Even without a plague of actual zombies, the place had become a "slumburbia" and clearly was headed down the slide towards full-on ghettodom. Yet we did get zombies, more or less, and as for the zombies, they weren't picky about where they lived, if you want to call that living. No, for the zombies, it was even more serendipity, just good luck for them, that Aspen Hill, Maryland, was so littered with foreclosed homes, with lots and lots of places for zombies to hide.

On May 1, protesters had been infested by malevolent alien software downloaded from beyond time and space and stored on EPROM for future researches into advanced weapons systems. Shortly thereafter, most of the EPROM had been destroyed by a very powerful but localized electromagnetic pulse. Some of the EPROM, however, had been removed in a bank-vault crew heist in which the crew had tunnelled in from a five-foot concrete pipe that fortuitously had buried a stream beneath the basement of a former defense facility being mothballed as staff was relocated to a consolidated and far-more-secure new office complex elsewhere.

That EPROM was incredibly dangerous, should it ever be connected to the global telecom networks. Yet as dangerous as that was, it was locked in a metal box inside another metal box, which aided in its dread preservation from the cleansing radiations of the electromagnetic pulse that wiped the majority of the EPROM, along with all transistor-equipped anything within about three miles radius of the balloon-lofted pulse antenna. So long as the EPROM couldn't connect to the networks, it wasn't a problem.

More immediately, the problem was the protesters, about 1000 of them. They had been using Salvinorin A, an entheogen drug, in slight overdose. This "peace pill" had stripped away the natural filters that ordinarily provide physical entities some defense against direct control by the sort of non-corporeal entities that have been called Djinni, or Chindi, or even -- mostly by those who have actually fallen (in whole or in part) victim to one or more of them -- Deity.

What most people would perceive -- if they perceived it at all -- as "the still, small voice of conscience" or the whisperings of temptation, what a schizophrenic might perceive as disembodied voices screaming insults and commands, these thousand or so protesters perceived as first a tickling as the alien software probed for usable elements of a potential host operating system, than as a rush from Beyond as the alien software established protocols, escalated through handshaking to modem training, and downloaded large parts of itself to the protesters, who by this time weren't protesting anything. The alien software had quickly located the brain's pleasure center and was prodding it as hard as it could. As their minds were usurped to the point where the malevolent alien 'wares could rewrite elements of genetic code to set the body into motion building alien structure within the hosts, they felt nothing but the ultimate rapture that they could possibly feel, even as the alien code permanently disabled the "god filters" of their temporal lobes.

The alien warez were mostly exceptionally compressed, and generally speaking, far too large to decompress into a single human mind's ultra-short-term memory from which it would have to be absorbed and incorporated into the full intellect. The warez could try to download a module at a time, so to speak, into the small-but-fast short-term memory, and that was what it was doing after it downloaded the compressed payload into long-term memory, where it could not be decompressed nor processed in the compressed format. Many of the modules had been transferred, but not enough, when the electromagnetic pulse severed the link as it destroyed the EPROM reservoir from which it had been radiating. Yet if enough of the now-possessed protestors could put their minds together, so to speak, there would be sufficient communications bandwidth, processing power, and especially available short-term memory available to decompress the entire "seed" payload. Probably six to ten individuals would be required for this successful "communion".

How unfortunate, thus, for the goals and intentions of the alien software, for it to have downloaded itself into a mass protest, a demonstration for worker's rights and against enforcement of immigration laws, which was well and truly surrounded by a police SWAT team and dozens of additional officers, who were suddenly very agitated and ready to respond to anything and everything, as all of their electronics had suddenly gone dead.

This is what you get for fucking around with implacable alien gods from incomprehensible universes in other dimensions: Really Bad Shit Happens.

Really truly: don't try this at home.

SWAT gets reinforced by special forces who have special orders, to by whatever non-nuclear means are necessary, keep anything resembling the demonically-possessed (or even deeply religious) from getting anywhere near any communications equipment more complex than banging sticks on trashcans.

SWAT drives zombies into vacated former defense-contracting and research facility, uses flamethrowers and large amounts of flammable liquids to incinerate zombies and drive them deeper into the compound. Unfortunately for all concerned, at least some of the zombies may have stumbled onto the tunnel in the basement through which the bank-vault crew had heisted their alien-infested EPROM. If that's the case, zombies have traveled both upstream and downstream through the five-foot concrete drain pipe, beneath and beyond the police and military cordon around the commercial core of Aspen Hill, and exited directly into the nearby residential neighborhoods... where there are lots of vacant and foreclosed single-family detached residential dwellings in which to hide. Or, depending which way these putative and hypothetical zombies might have turned had they in fact escaped into the tunnels, they might emerge at the northern corner of the intersection of Connecticut and Georgia Avenue, at the stormwater retention pond next to the Wendy's burger joint. From there, they could easily invade Wendy's, a couple of gas stations, and the immense expanse of the Big K-Mart store, and the crime-ridden apartments and condominium developments just beyond.

Which, of course, is exactly what most of them did.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

[Mythos XIX] What Goes Around Goes Underground

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

Ah, springtime.

The vegetation bursts forth; flowers are everywhere and then suddenly the leaves of the trees unfurl as the bitter sunshine of March yields through treacherous April and into verdant May. All seems right with the world, unless of course you live in Aspen Hill, Maryland.

Aspen Hill, Maryland is a neighborhood in partial decline.

When the various subdivisions were built over about a 10 year timeframe and sorted out into neighborhoods, the place was brand new, built on former farmlands. Housing was affordable to, and in fact defined, the Middle Class in those days. Later, of course, the Middle Class was studiously and intentionally pressed to the edge of extinction; for much of the interim, Aspen Hill was the sort of place populated by young-but-rising government-worker families, blue-collar Union workers in thriving local industries, people of the type who owned their own successful small business such as a radio-and-TV sales and repair shop, and the sort of doctors and dentists who had comfortable practices in their basement home offices.

Of course, that was in the period from roughly 1960 to roughly 1980, the predictable life of a suburbia. The arc of development, population, and a generation passing entirely through the schools and either heading off to college or military service -- or perhaps to apprentice in the family business -- is something that can be planned for, and local governments across the nation had got it down to a science.

The science was, unfortunately, the economic model of Colony Foundation; when you invade and populate a land where the indigenous people have been largely eradicated by imported disease, everything there is wide open and there for you to take, and with any transportation technology less than commercial air travel, it takes a long time to move even a small fraction of one continent to another. Most of the settled parts of North America were settled not so much by immigrants, as they were populated by natural increase, and the former Europeans settled here and with decent diet and room to move, their daughters were fertile indeed and their men were excellent providers, generally speaking. As fast as kids could be raised, they headed West to pioneer and claim land that was either free for the taking, or so inexpensive as to be nearly free.

This part of Maryland was never thickly settled until after the Second World War and the immense expansion of postwar centralized government. It may have had something to do with the very rocky soils and it as likely had much to do with the mosquitoes which are fierce and hungry in the warm season. Yet as the government expanded as did dependent businesses from contractors to restauranteurs and other service industries, all of those workers needed housing. With the government's hiring practices being what they were, with a preference for veterans regardless of their origins, the grandsons of the pioneers returned from the settled frontiers and the farms and towns and cities in the provinces and generally bought or rented cozy little bungalows in places like Bethesda, or cottages in Old Silver Spring, tottering Victorians in places like downtown Rockville... and when all of those were full up, they settled in the new neighborhoods such as Twinbrook, and later in Aspen Hill and Strathmore and Olney and Brookeville and finally Montgomery County was just plain full. Apartments rose and in the core suburbs neighborhoods came down and high-rise towers went up and the earliest neighborhoods vanished, and it was known with the certainty of a 20-year Treasury note that in roughly the order they were built, the rest of the older neighborhoods would also tend to fall under the bulldozer blade of the re-developer.

If you're looking to acquire an elder suburb and re-develop it, ideally you'll find or make a way to keep the price down so as to maximize your profit margins.

Traditionally, this has been done by fostering a policy of "benign neglect" in the local political establishments, conveniently mis-labeled "progress". Simply stated, you see that a neighborhood is over 50 years old, and if it isn't a bustling business district that densely generates a significant revenue stream via taxation, you just leave the infrastructure increasingly unmaintained and at roughly the 70-year mark, the houses are mostly falling apart and the streets are about back to the state of cow-paths, the city water and sanitation pipes are getting to the point of needing total replacement. Of course, by this time, it's likely that the original affluent people have moved up, moved on, moved out, and if the same family still owns the property, they probably rent it out and probably the renters aren't even on the middle rungs of the economic ladder. Just let the schools go to hell, so to speak, and you've got a nice inexpensive ghetto to condemn and buy at bargain-basement prices. Then bulldoze it all, build lots of new-and-shiny, sell it to the noveaux-riche and social climbers with decent incomes, rinse-and-repeat as necessary ad-infinitum. It's called "post-colonial urban recycling and regeneration" in some schools of thought.

There's also "blockbusting", in which real estate agents and building developers meant to encourage white property owners to sell their houses at a loss, by fraudulently implying that racial, ethnic, or religious minorities — Blacks, Hispanics, Jews et al. — were moving into their previously racially segregated neighborhood, thus depressing real estate property values. By the 1980s, the practice had been pretty much abandoned, due to the results of the Civil Rights activism and associated changes in law. Still, if you can't use racism as a way to encourage the current owners of valuable properties to vacate and sell at far below the rates they'd get if they weren't in a hurry to leave, there are other ways. Simply stop enforcing the housing and safety codes, let the schools go to hell, don't pave the streets, and encourage law-enforcement to turn a blind eye to all but the most newsworthy and egregious violations. Pretty soon, most folks will move out, once it becomes clear that -- like much of Aspen Hill -- their neighborhood is sliding into rapid evolution into deep ghetto.

You can accelerate the slide easily; once the course becomes clear, prices decline or at least rise less quickly than elsewhere. Such "cost savings" or "value" or "bargain" housing makes for great subsidized housing for pre-release prisoner placement programs and mentally-ill welfare cases, not to mention the easily-overlooked gang-lair properties that will through "benign neglect" suddenly flourish on the back streets and in the cul-de-sacs where the decent folks will move out and leave the neighborhoods littered with overgrown and decaying housing decreasing in value and dragging down the prices of neighboring properties. A little jiggering with the tax and zoning codes to prevent reclamation through "gentrification", and the price of a larger and larger area becomes lower and lower, and even more undesirables will move in, and at the valuable commercial cores with their command of strategic intersections, even the most settled of long-term tenants such as whole-building leasing defense-contractors will up and move. There's just no point in taking a job as a well-paid engineer if there's no place nearby where you can walk for lunch without getting robbed. And there's no point in retaining a location where you can't get any good engineers because the facility is pretty much Fort Apache, safe as houses on the inside, but you can't drive your car through the neighborhood without passing hookers at the bus-stops and you can't ride the bus without getting abused or even robbed. Nope, time to move.

And with no major employer, the surrounding restaurants fold up in the absence of 400 lunch-hours a day, five days a week, the retailers next to the restaurants don't want to do business in a strip-mall that's half vacant, finally at long last the anchors -- the grocery and the drugstore -- take a hint and either demand heavy security grates or they vacate. Either way, first the housing goes down the tubes, the major employers hit the highway, services vacate the commercial core, and all you have is a residential ghetto that can be bought up wholesale and converted into commuting-friendly high-density high-rise with or without mixed-use commercial services... all paying top-dollar for the newness and above all for the extremely central location, which location of course was totally wasted on a ghetto.

The thing is, all of that latter part of the process takes time, and time is money, of course, even though it will cost you less in the end. So, press for more pre-release and mental-illness residential sites, crapify the schools even more, start rumors about gangs or actually let gangs get a foothold and let the foothold get deeper. Contribute massively, of course, to the campaign funds of individuals and parties who are willing to play along.

All of this can be planned for, but there are some things for which you just cannot plan. For that, you need serendipity.

I mean, how else are you going to get the process shortened from 30 years to overnight, other than serendipity?

How else will you get an infestation of zombies?

That, assuredly, will free up some real-estate.

In the tunnels underground, the zombies were mutating as fast as alien software could reprogram cellular machinery.

Aboveground, all seemed quiet, not surprising since there was nobody on the street other than a cordon of cops and the special forces starting to arrive.

When an electromagnetic pulse goes off, everyone notices. However, it may take a while to figure out exactly where it went off, as anything that might be listening for such a thing tends to either be a weakly-receiving detector that records an event but not a location, or a strongly-directional detector that detects the pulse with its own destruction. In this metropolitan area, powerful computers associated themselves to the telephone network and dialed a statistically valid random sampling of numbers for all local hardwire exchanges, analyzed the connections or lack thereof, and quickly generated a map of the outlines of the pulse-affected area.

Special response teams began to roll into the area on diesel-powered vehicles equipped with heliograph mirrors as well as modern digital radios. As they went, they dropped cement anchors attached to monofilament lines that were stronger than steel, tethering helium balloons that lofted radio repeaters. They got to the outer guard posts, sent out from the SWAT cordon around the infested facility, about the same time that special badges and ID were presented to the command center officers, and then the diesel-powered vehicles rolled back out, leaving behind them troops denuded of all telecom gear, and as the vehicles left, they retrieved and removed the balloon repeaters. As they departed, other special forces rolled in.

It didn't take too long for them to clean out the few obvious zombies still lingering near the surface. Getting down into the tunnels was a different matter. Eventually they had to resort to the only thing that seemed reasonable, given the unknown specifics of what was apparently something quite infectious. So they just brought in the industrial-strength flamethrowers and torched everything they could reach with the pressurized napalm streams.

They knew they had a bigger problem, though, when they noticed the dark smoke erupting from several hundred yards outside of the perimeter of the facility grounds, far outside of the SWAT cordon. They had managed to pump enough napalm into the facility to force some upstream through the 5-foot concrete pipe carrying an "undergrounded" stream, through which bank-vault heist crews had travalled to bore into the basement of the facility.

If they had been driving the zombies before them with the flames, some might have been driven this way.

An infestation of zombies would have been an excellent reason to simply burn the facility, burn it some more, and then explosively deconstruct the place once it cooled enough to send in a robot to plant charges, and then burn it again and cover it all over with concrete.

However, it seemed quite possible that this wasn't limited to the facility. Indeed, protocol decreed that they had to presume the neighborhood also to be infested. Considering that the infestation was believed to be infectious, anyone they encountered had to be considered to be either a zombie or probably on the way to becoming one.

There was another consideration as well: those of the "probationers" -- the people who had been locked in an underground mega-bunker since the Reagan Administration and only fairly-recently released to be re-acclimated to the outside world -- who had been trying to retreat to their former digs, probably many of those would have been burnt out by the napalm, as much as the zombies had been.

That wasn't going to produce much happiness among the roughly 10,000 of those who remained alive on the surface.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

[Mythos XVIII] Not Capped, but Recapped

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

So you're shopping. There's a shopping center. There are cars in the parking lot. There are staff in the stores. You're here to shop, so you try to do some shopping.

You can barely find a clerk, when you find one, they're rude, and there's one other customer in the whole well-lit, clean, and fully-stocked store. The clerk had been on one side of the store and the customer on the other side of the store. When you finally get the clerk up to the counter, the second you fall into line, so does the one other customer, where they get right up behind you and jingle keys, clear their throat, rattle the wretched knickknacks in their basket, and generally annoy. The clerk scowls and rings you up with a studied insolence.

Finally, it's done. If you are like most people, you will leave that store wondering how the hell they stay in business, vowing to never shop there again.

Most people expect merchants to want to make sales, and to want to have a store packed full of bustling people cheerfully waiting in long lines as the cashiers hustle to ring up sale after sale of realy good deals. Most people don't expect merchants to annoy people so much that they lose immense sums of money presiding over a centrally-located and handicapped-accessible store packed full of inventory and almost no customers.

Most people would just take their business elsewhere.

And that's just what these guys want.

Defense-in-depth strategies are nothing novel or unheard-of; most people live inside one or another defense-in-depth system. It is so very fundamental a game that most people never think about it much, it's just how things are. Indeed, it's so fundamental a game that most of the organized games that people play are interesting because they are not defense in depth strategies. Rather, they are confrontational.

Defense-in-depth is exemplified thus: You're trying to defend the king in his palace and the treasury in the palace basement.

The palace has a castle hidden within it, and within the castle is the keep, the last place of retreat. But outside the keep are the battlements, beyond the battlements are the palace walls, beyond the wall is the moat, beyond the moat are the approaches, beyond the approaches are the estate walls and their gate, beyond that is a ring of garrisons and beyond that there are towns most loyal to his majesty; beyond those towns are lands and counties and eventually there are the bounds of the State itself. The very first thing any foreigner has to do in order to get to the king is to get past the guards at the border. At every stage of the approach, a new layer of defense is encountered, with most of those defenses becoming increasingly difficult to surmount.

Yet in such a situation, the goal is known, and that goal is the king; the king is known as is his location, somewhere within the palace. To capture the king will require only a superior force attacking a known location.

So, if confronted by a superior force intent on capturing the king -- or merely getting to him to kill him -- one has few choices in strategy. Either you can surrender the king, or you can hide him.

The astute opponent may ask themselves how they may find the king. He's not going to be at the castle, but it's kind of difficult to imagine that the king will be camped in a tent in the back woods and brewing his own tea. No, the character of kings requires a retinue, and the retinue requires defense, and the defense group requires a billet and logistics. All of these are components of a mobile defense-in-depth. So really there's no need to search high and low for the king... just keep your eye out for elements of defense-in-depth. Considering that for every king, or secret palace, there will be probably a staff of a thousand, doing their real jobs as they must, and pretending to be other than they are, mostly be pretending to do a job that's actually far from their real profession.

Of course, you don't have to be a spy or a spymaster to step into the wasps' nest, as it were, just a bumbler.

So, you've bumbled into one of the close-in elements of a defense-in-depth strategy? You finally figure that out? You think that just not shopping at the store that's just a cover will keep you out of trouble?

That depends. If you come through exactly one time, chances are the staff think that their strategy is working. If you come through more than once, they start to keep an eye out for you. If you actually start shopping there like a "loyal customer", you are sure to be trouble, simply because if you are there often enough or long enough, pure chance will assure that you witness something amiss. And that's the thing about the strategy of attempting a secret or deceptive defense-in-depth strategy. All it takes is one person talking about weirdness and word gets around. Sooner or later that weird word will get back to the ears of the enemy's strategists, and pretty soon what you planned as a secret-deceptive defense-in-depth strategy starts to be surrounded and interpenetrated.

Usually what happens in such a situation is this: as secretly as possible, the object of defense is removed while leaving in place the defenses. The idea is that the enemy tries to keep working on finding the core, the object of all of this defense, which clearly must be valuable indeed to have all of this expense and deception.

Defense-in-depth strategies are usually hugely expensive because they are expensively huge. Thus, while the inner ring of defense may relocate, the king moving about between his winter and summer palaces and various vacation villas, so to speak, the borders remain where they were, the cities remain where they were, the garrison forts remain where they were, and only the temporary digs are moved about.

Yet in almost all of those "alternative palaces", so to speak, there will be battlements, and the sanctum sanctorum, the keep. And in all cases, whether or not the king is in it, what must be kept at all costs, is the keep.

So, let's rehash the situation so far:

  • Very secret defense contractor and even more secret "continuity of government" bunker are decommissioned. The final stage of the decommissioning is actually a sort of probation and return to society of people who accidentally got locked underground and left to think that they were likely the sole survivors of a nuclear war, left underground for about 20 years.

  • Even more deeply secret researches into things people really aren't meant to know are also decommissioned, but not before some of those secrets get out, some by way of a tunnel-through-the-walls heist, and some of them under their own power.

  • Some of what gets out under its own powers gets into a mass demonstration of protest.

  • Most of the mass demonstration of protest gets severely out of hand when the escaped secrets -- malevolent alien software downloaded from incomprehensible dimensions beyond time and space -- effectively play a not so nice game of demonic possession and turn most of the protesters into zombies.

  • A fail-safe system designed to wipe the alien software off of the human-built hardware storing it -- for future use in weapons research -- puts the global telecom networks out of reach of the alien software, but also removes all technical advantages using electricity from anyone trying to fight the zombies, via an immense but localized electromagnetic pulse.

  • The zombies are driven indoors, into the now-decommissioned and untenanted surface building formerly occupied by the defense contractors.

  • The "probationers" -- folks being returned to normal society after having either lived for 20 years of total isolatoin in an underground bunker, or raised in that bunker for 20 years -- decide that they'd like to go back to their bunker rather than remain on the surface.

  • These "probationers" abandon their make-work jobs at a Potemkin Village shopping mall on top of their bunker, and flood into the network of tunnels leading between almost all of the local buildings.

  • The surface shops are abandoned but the tunnels are not; the tunnels are full of zombies, and if they get out into the shops, they'll be outside of the SWAT cordon and there will be nothing between them and a world full of unsuspecting tasty brains, and eventually a working telecom network, in which case the alien software replicates itself into everything and everyone everywhere, and we're all pretty much fucked.

Hey, don't sweat it. Could be worse:

Friday, April 30, 2010

[Mythos XVII] A Brief Interlude and History Lesson

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

How can you tell that a shopping center is a decoy, nothing more nor less than a Potemkin Village?

It's simple. The merchants don't want you to shop there.

Sometime in the late 1980s, I walked into a courthouse in beautiful downtown Silver Spring Maryland.

It turns out that if you get a speeding ticket, and do not pay it on time, you will get a summons. If you petition for a delay, and get a new court date, and then petition for another delay, it's quite possible that the issuing officer will not show up for the trial. This is a common strategy. It is not the strategy I used, not this time.

The officer was there, but I did not intend to fight the ticket, not exactly.

When my case was called, and the judge asked how I wanted to plead.

I did not make a so-called Alford Plea.

I made one of the most unusual courtroom gambits ever seen outside of high-profile organized crime show-trials of the 1930s.

"Your Honor," I said, "I'd like to plead guilty to all crimes, known and unknown".

The judge blinked, twice. The stenographer clicked away at her recorder. The police officer looked at me with an expression of total disgust; this case was the only reason he was present in the court on that day. His expression said, plain as day, "You couldn't have just paid the ticket, could you, ya jerk."

The judge said the same, more or less. "You couldn't have just paid the ticket?"

"Your Honor, I wanted my day in court, and then thought better of it."

"All crimes, known and unknown?" His expression hovered somewhere between amusement and distaste.

"Yes, Your Honor."

He whispered to a clerk, who did things to his computer terminal. Moments later, the clerk whispered back.

"So ordered. I fine you $45.00 and assess you one point on your driver's record, for exceeding the speed limit by less than ten miles per hour."

The gavel banged, papers were stamped, and down the hall they stamped my papers again, took my cash and gave me a receipt.

I had just plead guilty in a court of competent jurisdiction, and was now protected by the so-called "double-jeopardy" clause of the US Constutution. It's not like I exactly was getting away with anything much, but it's always good to know that there's no possibility of anything hanging over your head from your juvenile years. I understand that since that simpler -- more straightforward -- time, laws have been changed to prevent people from doing this sort of thing. But just in case anyone wants to try it in my case, all I can say is "the Constitution prohibits ex-post-facto legislation". If anyone wants to know why I did this, all I can say is "on advice of counsel, I wish to avail myself of protections against self-incrimination in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution". I will then shut the fuck up and not say diddly squat. What happened in the past stays in the past. In any case, "there was no law against it at the time."

And no, I am not Michael H Kenyon, and I was never, neither in Illinois nor elsewhere, an enema bandit.

In the early 1980s, the Cold War between the Western World and the Communist powers escalated to new heights, and along with that came escalation of espionage activity.

Some of this got pretty much out of hand, or as out of hand as it could get without it becoming an international incident. Since everyone wanted to avoid an international incident -- international incidents could of course lead potentially to what was tactfully referred to as "mutual assured destruction" -- as a rule the bar was set a lot higher on what sort of out-of-hand activity would be considered eligible for escalation into the diplomatic realm.

Activity which in other eras would have led to public hangings after show-trials was, in this timeframe, pretty much brushed under the rug and studiously ignored. Yet it went on.

The Mitrokhin Archive conclusively reveals that the former A&P grocery store in Aspen Hill was a favorite meeting place for spies, but it also clears up something else: the spies had no idea that they were standing literally on top of an immense subterranean complex rivaling the Government Relocation Center at the Greenbrier Hotel.

It was in this early-mid-1980s timeframe that a certain escalation in international tensions triggered a lockdown at the facility, which the internal security system classified as ending in an actual nuclear exchange. The lockdown kept the place sealed for years, by which time the people inside had become very strange indeed.

Not too long after the Cold War ended with the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union, rumors were widely circulated in the global internet, to the effect that extraterrestrials were building, or had built, vast subterranean complexes and were using them for purposes generally discussed in unpleasant terms. These rumors are now understood as out-of-work spies trying to nail down loose ends, and possibly to gather information that would be valuable on the resale markets.

The friendly folks who built our national defense system during the Cold War did sell off some of those assets, such as the old Nike missile sites which some folks have bought up and converted into residences.

Sometimes, they might get more than they expected by the time they actually take possession, but since the1950s, widespread public education has educated the public on how to prepare:

Such minor difficulties generally are controlled with ease. Sometimes, such facilities get infested and they just collapse the structure with whatever explosives might be required.

But how can you explosively decommission a structure nearly the size of the Pentagon, which was concealed by building a thriving (if sketchy) community of 32,000 right on top of it?

Well, first you have to find or make a way to get rid of the 32,000...

Did I mention that the way you detect a Potemkin Village shopping center camoflaging a massive subterranean bunker is by looking for merchants who don't want to do business?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

[Mythos XVI] Life Underground... and Otherwise

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

Ah yes, the end of an era. After nearly 50 years of defense contracting facilities at the heart of Aspen Hill Maryland, now there's not much there except a lot of stores surrounded by emerging ghetto, dysfunctional or non-functional everything, and a huge vacant building full of rapidly-evolving zombies prowling the halls. Oh, and a boatload of pissed-off cops caught between the zombies and a couple of thousand foreigners waving machetes at the sound of gunfire.

In 1963, the site of the demonstration is woodlands, second-growth forest spring up over former farms. Aspen Hill Road is gravel in most parts, and only half as wide as the majority of the side-streets in the nearby and new subdivisions:

By 1970, of course, things are far different:

This neighborhood used to be a lot more friendly, a lot more welcoming, or so it seems to me, with my imperfect memories and doubtless rose-tinted recollections of a time when we were all very much living in the shadows cast by the looming spectre of global thermonuclear war.

In 1970s, the murders hadn't yet started, as far as I know. People died pretty frequently, especially in high-speed car accidents. Yet people killed people mostly by accident, not with intent, and it's kind of hard to get away with murder when neither you nor your victims have enough strength to crawl from the wreckage.

This isn't to say that there was not any funny stuff, any spooky business, going on around here.

The gentleman that built most of the neighborhood was a survivor of the Holocaust, and before he got into the business of developing residential suburban subdivisions, he was in the business of building large apartment buildings and even skyscrapers, mostly in New York City, but some also down in the District of Columbia, where to this day the largest single apartment unit in town is in a building he designed and built. His New York buildings were characterized by, among other things, their connections to the subway, and their many levels of basement, moreso than seen in most New York City high-rise buildings.

A lot of people here know that the building taken over by the zombies was once leased -- from the time it was built -- by a defense contracting firm that at one time was this county's largest civilian employer. Yet they don't know that all three buildings the firm leased were connected by a network of tunnels.

One of those buildings was located right next to a grocery story. When the massive Mitrokhin Archive of Soviet espionage secrets was smuggled out of that failing country, it was revealed that for many years, Soviet intelligence officers would meet their defectors and spies-in-place at this grocery store. Of course, everyone else met there, as well, it being the only grocery store for miles around, for many years.

Interestingly enough, about the same time as the sole surviving building was constructed, another layer of building was erected atop one of the existing buildings. From an aerial photograph, or in the modern day a satellite image, it looks like the same building. But it's not. The newly constructed upstairs was initially a WT Grant's Department store, until Grant's put itself out of business by extending revolving credit to just about anyone, including, famously, people's dogs. Until quite recently, that had gone down in history as the largest bankruptcy of any US commercial enterprise.

Down below, however, it was not the famously open and airy environment of the Grant's store upstairs. WT Grant himself had achieved fame for pioneering the department store concept; he more or less took a thriving city market square full of all sorts of little businesses, put a roof over it, bought out the owners, and then paid them to keep doing the same job at the same place. This worked so well in the initial instance that he reproduced the experience all across the country, becoming fabulously well-to-do in the process.

Below, in what came to be known as "Grant's Tomb", it was windowless darkness, top security files and records, everything super secret and hush hush. Like possibly everything else in the area, it was possibly connected by tunnels to, well, possibly everything else in the area.

Look, this is Aspen Hill, not some five-star hotel out in the Shenandoahs; it's not the fucking Greenbrier.

Don't get your hopes up. This is not a story about some secret underground city with more people living under Aspen Hill than in the surface Aspen Hill. Nearly 32,000 people live on the surface in Aspen Hill.

I am here to deny, categorically, that sometime in the early 1980s a situation of DEFCON 1 was briefly declared, the facility went into lockdown, the DEFCON was downgraded, but failure of exterior sensors made it impossible to transmit the all clear inside the facility. Without the sensors informing the refugees that everything was safe as houses outside, and the air not choked with radioactive dust, and Ronald Reagan still President of these here United States, the lockdown would have continued until... April, 2010.

No, I deny it, categorically I deny it!

Actually, they broke out of lockdown closer to the Year 2000, when their old computers got borked by the Y2K Bug.

After nearly 20 years locked in what might as well have been a spaceship, people had become... different.

Living in totally regimented society, the people in that society became... different. So did society, both ours, and theirs.

Living on nothing but freeze-dried fallout-shelter rations for 20 years, that alone would do it to you.

And when, after 20 years, years of living in a subterranean skyscraper built on secret contract awarded to the lowest bidder, when after 20 years these people were at last permitted to go back into the light of day and the world as we now know it, they really truly were Not Like Us, and to make matters worse, they fervently believed that We Were Not Like Them, and that it was we out in the world who would have to adapt.

Then they set about finding or making ways to make that happen.

It's not like all of a sudden, at twelve midnight, January 1, 2000, all of a sudden the top popped off like the lid of a giant jack-in-the-box. It's more like a bank-vault door unlocked, and someone went out with their radiation detectors and air samplers wearing a space suit, and they did it about three in the morning and the very first surface person they ran into was someone picking up a pack of cigarettes coming from from a downtown bar. A Goth.

Well, the air up above was fine, but considering that one of their favorite films "down here" was the Charlton Heston classic "the Omega Man", it was about another week before they dared to show their faces outside. Even then, they went out in disguise, not in a space-suit, but in a ghillie suit. After a night spent disguised as a bush at the edge of a parking lot at an Aspen Hill gas station, they were much relieved to be able to conclude that the world had not been overrun by vampires. Slowly, they began to prowl the maintenance shafts outside of the underground complex, trying to restore connections to the outside world. Meanwhile, they did a little burglary and stole clothing in modern fashions, and did a bit if exploring. People who encountered them tended to interpret them as people who had maybe spent a full military career stationed in the ass end of somewhere so far out in the sticks that they had to pipe in daylight. Eventually they adapted, somewhat, but they never lost their habits of regimentation, and never achieved anything resembling cultural competency, or even open-mindedness.

They certainly didn't just emerge in mass, and go parading down the streets. That whole accidental lockdown thing was one of the biggest fubars ever in a whole Cold War full of snafu, and the government wasn't about to just dump 20,000 people with no modern job skills -- or even much concept of modern -- onto the job market. And 20,000 people who were totally used to living in a subterranean skyscraper didn't feel quite like abandoning home. For a whole generation under the age of 20 or so, that was the only home they had ever known. The population "down here" had grown substantially over the years. As the lockdown had happened with about 20 minutes warning, the facility had been only about half-full at the time; they'd had room to grow.

The staffers who had been in their 40s (or older) in the 1980s when the lockdown began, they could be surreptitiously snuck to a retirement in the rapidly-expanding gated retirement community of Leisure World. A lot of the people between the ages of 20 and their 40s, they were generally absorbed by the military or by top-secret contractors around the country. For those younger? The government knew a good thing when they saw it, a whole cadre of youngsters raised in regimentation that made the military look loose and sloppy by comparison, and more importantly, these youngsters had no alliance to anyone other than themselves and their parents, and no alliance at all to any element of society or to any social cause.

And with the April 2010 lease coming to an end and with it a final decommissioning of the underground intallation, it was going to be necessary to get all of these people aboveground, and almost all had been "resettled", mostly staffing local stores, or working and retraining in local offices, where they could be close to home, close to each other, and assist in keeping their home and origin secret, until the day when the government finally closed it down.

Now imagine their surprise, when the day after the last of them was "evicted", the place was subjected to a real electromagnetic pulse, usually symptomatic of a high-altitude nuclear blast, everything stopped working, and when they tried to get into the tunnels to get back to their old home, those tunnels were full of rapidly-evolving zombies infested with hostile alien software crafted by malicious Elder Deities from beyond time and space.

[Mythos XV] Of Mice and Men, and Pigeons, and BRAAAAINS

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

When you make the signal error of first opening a Schrödinger cat-box gate into incomprehensible alien dimensions, and then compound it by repeatedly exposing EPROMs to it, you're bound to wind up with your first ever sample of what will later be developed and marketed as FPGA, or field-programmable gate arrays, assuming that you hadn't already independently invented them or something like them. Yet even the FPGAs invented by humans in our history stream of timespace are not without security risks.

Comparably, even without having your mind exposed to the best evil efforts of implacable alien entities from beyond time and space, you can be batshit crazy all on your own.

Ask almost anyone, and they'll tell you that, sure, they've had that experience where they've thought they were all alone, and suddenly the hair stood up on the back of their neck, and they cautiously turned to see some predator stalking them, whether the predator stood on two legs or on four.

That's an ancient neural mechanism associated to the temporal lobe. Anatomically, it's right next to the so-called "God Spot" that seems to be activated by the "God Helmet".

It's better developed in animals which coordinate in pack hunting, whether they're orca or wolves. It's not actually telepathy, which doesn't seem to actually exist. Yet we frequently observe animals such as wolves hunting in packs with a degree of coordination which presupposes some form of communications of a complexity similar to military commands at the platoon stratum, yet much faster. With even the most powerful listening and recording devices, including microphones sensitive far into the ultrasonic and excellent real-time sonic signal analysis, we can't hear calls between wolves in a hunt, at least nothing that could convey instructions for the sort of behavior observed. The theory that they're cueing into their roles solely by observing the actions of the other hunting wolves is partially discredited by the fact that wolves far out of sight of the others (with a hill between them, for example) act in a role coordinated with the others in their pack. We can either assume that they have discussed this all beforehand, and have elaborated a set of contingencies for anything or that they have routes of communication via mechanisms we haven't identified.

Yet we have at last discovered that certain structures in the brains of pack-hunting carnivores, flocking birds, and even some large herbivores of the extremely gregarious types such as wildebeest, are developed to a degree not seen in more solitary hunters. And all of these show a heightened tendency to react to being observed, even by observers unseen.

Probably the evolutionary advantages of being able to detect hidden predators by directly communicating with them via minimal brain-to-brain signaling (or signals-detection) is of limited usefulness. For the homing-pigeon, and other migratory birds, it's clearly useful to have specialized nervous-system adapatations that can directly sense magnetic fields. Yet so far as we know, the advantages to the pigeons have yet to be exploited by other life forms developing the means to generate magnetic fields so as to lure pigeons to be dinner.

In human-created dataprocessing systems, buffer overflow attacks can smash the stack for fun and profit, and there are known attacks that cannot be protected against, at least not at the current state of the art.

Living neurological systems are nowhere near as fast as ultra-massive-scale integrated circuit electronics, but they are considerably more flexible, adaptable, at least when we're not discussing massively-parallel matrices of FPGAs. Yet look at it this way: machines generally don't care if they live or die, and don't have actual Darwinian concerns such as living long enough to reproduce their kind.

If you were a predator that hunts primarily by stalking, such as a cat, if your prey could receive communications that told it to sit still and not move as an attack was launched, you'd be eating well anytime you encountered such prey, and soon enough, a capacity to receive well enough to accept such a command would be bred out of the prey species. Yet, if a complete inability to receive such signals left the prey species unable to detect such commands at all, and thus easily caught by stealth, the evolutionary advantage would go to the prey that could detect transmission of commands, but not well enough to accept, interpret, and be subject to such commands.

Feeling the eyes of the tiger on your back is good, though it may not be enough to save you from the teeth and claws. Yet how much better off you are to have some warning than to have no warning at all! But when the tiger is thinking very hard at you, "do not see me," it's not going to help you at all if you obey. It will help you even less if you obey its command, given as it springs, "sit still while I kill you, prey". So, if you are lucky, you know that the tiger is thinking of you, but you don't know exactly what it thinks, and you can't perceive it well enough for it to paralyze you through pure loudness, but you can perceive it well enough to take warning.

Sometimes this mechanism is defective, in a variety of ways. Some people simply cannot sense another presence. Interestingly, this inability to detect predators is found in almost all cases among people who profess to be agnostic or atheist.

In some people, the mechanism gives continuous (or intermittent but acute) "false positive". Paranoia very commonly results from this feeling of impending doom, but even more frequently comes religion. Look at it this way, if you can make yourself believe that it's not a tiger, but a loving spirit or deity that is staring at you from some hiding place you cannot see, then you're rationalizing away a sensation of doom. In effect, you're deluding yourself into thinking that although you feel a sensation of doom and being endlessly stalked, it's a good kind of being stalked.

Some people, probably most, have an excellent ability to perceive when they are being observed from behind. Yet even these may know that something is behind them, and even have range and bearing sense, but not be able to tell all too well what exactly it is that's coming up behind them. As for me, I prefer to never be anyplace for long that doesn't have a nice solid wall at my back, or a mirror I can use to see if something's sneaking up behind me. I don't like open doorways, and I love a good lock on a well-closed door.

A lot of folks around here seem to have a combination of a good ability to feel real presences behind them, as well as some basic underlay of that constant sensation of being watched that so very much promotes susceptibility to the delusions of faith.

I suspect that these kind of folks have, probably not exactly consciously, that same sort of communication that wolves have, that enables wolves to coordinate their roles even when they cannot see each other, and are not vocalizing in order to not alert their prey. And, not quite consciously, when they cannot establish such linkages with others, tend to exclude them from the pack and thus relegate them to the role of the prey.

I suspect that however well-tuned is this sensitivity, the fact remains that they are highly sensitive. In the same way that the scream of a panther paralyzes before it deafens, with none more susceptible than the prey with the best hearing, when the alien deities from beyond time and space start whispering, these folks are already tuned in to that wavelength, with the volume knob cranked completely clockwise.

In the same way that the homing-pigeons have a built-in organic magnetometer, these guys have a built-in two-way radio talking between their unconscious minds, coordinating pack action. They are pretty much the dominant kind of humanity hereabouts. They make great military and paramilitary operatives, or workers in any field where seamless cooperation without much oversight is an advantage. They also are extremely effective as criminal gangs, and I often wonder if that wasn't their ancestry: roving groups of extremely effective killers who, like wolves, suddenly shift from minding their own business to devouring anything they can surround. Suddenly the signal is given, nothing anyone else can perceive, and, as suddenly, the killing begins.

They damn sure get possessed very easily, and make most excellent zombies.

The 2500 protestors who rose from their Salvia trance with their eyes glowing the lurid green of red-shifted Cherenkov radiation, they at least had some excuse, or perhaps personal blame. They had taken a mild overdose of one of the most potent psychedelic drugs known to man, Salvinorin A, a profound
entheogen drug
, used specifically to promote profound, if hallucinatory, religious experiences.

Such drugs work, in part, because they turn off the filters, which, so to speak, keep you from obediently obeying a tiger's commands to fail to notice it and to sit still while it kills you. Most people experience this as a feeling that there is another presence there, but an invisible one. It's as if you had an invisible tiger right in front of you; you'd feel the stare of predatory intent, but you could look all you want, you wouldn't see anything. Things which are felt, but not seen, are usually ascribed to the supernatural, perhaps to the divine. Yet what if you were taking such drugs, and a real tiger did in fact take up position behind you and start to stalk in and stare at you as it did?

Shamanistic faiths often have tales told down through the ages, of how a religious trance allowed the devotee to speak with a "spirit animal", usually a totemic animal such as a bear or a wolf. In almost all cases such legendary communing is with a sight-hunting gregarious predator of a species that adopts lone members into extant functional groups. Usually the tale tells of the hunted (the celebrant) becoming recognized as a brother, and being accepted into the pack. You've all got your radios tuned to the same wavelength, more or less, and established a common symbology, enough for some sort of two-way understanding.

When the alien software downloaded itself into the protestors, it was able to activate expression of genes which had created the original sensorium to receive it, or to perceive the intentions of stalking predators. Enzymes were flurried out of the cellular production machinery and they carved up red blood cells for the iron in the hemoglobin and for the oxygen the hemoglobin carried, and generated rather complex little structures out of magnetite in much the same way that magnetite is deposited in the trigeminal nerve of homing-pigeons. In the case of the celebrants, however, the magnetite was more associated with the neurology responsible for the auditory brainstem response.

Other structures were created as well.

Most weren't metallic or semi-metallic like the magnetite that continued to be bonded to neurons, worming its way from synapse to axon throughout the brain. Frequently the structures were just more of what had already been there. The alien software was, of course, constantly downloading more of itself, absorbing echoes of signal from the collapse of probability states encoded on the EPROM chips that had been exposed to alien realms. Enough of that software was present to have analyzed the DNA of the hosts, and -- so to speak -- the software had ordered the host physique rebuilt along slightly modified lines, more or less by activating introns and "junk DNA" as well as functional sequences usually not seen in adulthood. The former celebrants, the erstwhile protestors, experienced rapid cellular division in parts of their bodies, as muscle tissues expanded and calcium began to deposit into strategically placed sessamoid bones that would provide free floating anchor points, additional leverage and moment arms for increased strength. The alien software found the Opsin protein codings and went into overproduction.

All of this furious metabolism didn't occur without side effects. Aside from extreme pain, which the alien software quickly redirected, there was extreme hunger, which suited the alien software just fine.

The electromagnetic pulse that had destroyed most (but hardly all) of the infested EPROM chips had a variety of follow-on effects in the domain of tactics and strategy among the unaffected humans. The law-enforcement that had massed there was suddenly without radio or any other form of telecommunications and were effectively reduced to arm-waving, shouting, and blowing whistles. Further, even if astute parties and organizations outside of the affected area were to decide to take an interest (outside of the affected area, most of the planet's intelligence and military agencies suddenly had), the main roads to the general area were almost impassible due to disabled vehicles, and the streets surrounding the former defense-contractor facility site were fully jammed from curb to curb and in some cases, beyond the curbs. Nobody could call for help, and help could not get there, and would be a long time coming.

Starving as they stood there, changing as they moved, the zombies were hardly dead but were increasingly becoming life as we don't know it. Their victims, however, were mostly dying as fast as the jaws of the zombies could move.

Everyone knows what to do about zombies, they've all seen the movies. Those movies have been widely disseminated and made wildly popular due to good special effects, better writing, and even better promotion and excellent funding of both production values and distribution systems. We want people to recognize zombies instantly and to know how to deal with them as instantly, and people did instantly recognize the zombies, and the very well-trained police as instantly knew how to deal with them, and unlike almost everyone else there, they were well armed.. They fell back to their cordon of vehicles surrounding the place, and opened fire.

They even managed to get a most of the unaffected people behind the cordon as well, though the folks in the media circus didn't fare too well. It might be said that after the destruction of their equipment, they were without purpose, but while the zombies were piling up on top of them and eating them, they certainly provided a horrid form of entertainment.

These weren't your usual zombies; they were fast and getting faster, and as fast as they were wounded, they seemed as rapidly to heal. They also learned pretty quickly that they didn't much like getting shot, and that if shot in the head they could die (or just be incapacitated, which the alien software didn't want) and so they took their dead with them as they retreated to smash through the glass of the facility, and sought inside halls and protected positions to avoid the gunfire from outside, as they began to devour their own fallen.

A fresh egg contains no more nutrition than the chick into which it hatches, but it's a hell of a lot more digestible. In the same way, the fallen zombies provided a festering stew of alien-modified biology running at full metabolic load, and the more of their fallen they ate, the faster the zombies changed. Now shielded from the sunlight by the building, the opsins deposited and concentrated, the alien software expanded the orbits of the skull to get more surface with better granularity. The zombies were quickly transforming into something resembling giant drooling tarsiers with growing Smilodon fangs.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

[Mythos XIV] A Building, Though Unleased, May Yet Be Not Untenanted

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

Generally speaking, it's not a good idea to use entheogen drugs in a crowd setting, and the bigger the crowd, the less of a good idea it is.

Now add to the general badness of tripping in crowds by making the crowd about 10,000 strong, with about 2500 celebrants and the rest a mad and motley crew comprising a media circus of a dozen network satellite vans, a couple of dozen police squad cars with more officers starting to arrive by the van load, and the rather surprisingly large "local" population of Aspen Hill's "immigrant community", most of them outside the thickening police cordon, getting more than a bit raucous and agitated as they were generally rebuffed in their attempts to cross the cordon and join in solidarity with their compadres, half of whom were protesting the unfairness of Home Depot filing trespassing charges on day-laborers seeking unscrupulous drive-by employers, and the other half having a fairly impromptu "confab" with their Higher Power under the influence of a mild overdose on Salvinorin A, one of the most potent psychedelic drugs known to man.

At this point in time, the 2500 were about half-way through their trip, which in normal circumstances would mean that in about another three to five minutes they'd emerge from the hallucination and dissociation stage of the drug, and would be about as coordinated as the average alley drunk for the next five minutes, and thereafter be completely normal to all intents and purposes.

These were, unfortunately, far from normal circumstances.

In the basement of the former defense-contractor campus, a hole in the wall was enlarging by the moment. A crew of bank-vault burglars were cutting in from the outside, working from within a 5-foot concrete storm drain pipe, through which flowed -- at the moment, though this could change -- the three-gallons-per-minute flow of one of the lesser headwaters of the Turkey Branch of Rock Creek. During rainstorms of sufficient force, or duration, this concrete pipe carrying a small buried stream could entirely fill with water, in which case a containment pond offset and upstream could absorb overflow, and both cool runoff from hot asphalt of the surrounding neighborhood hilly streets as well as settle out sediment that otherwise would eventually clog this conduit.

What did the bank-vault guys want? Nothing in particular; they had simply been hired because they had the equipment, knew their business, and had been paid fairly well. Ordinarily they would have taken months or even years to dig their own tunnels to an ordinarily-inaccessible side of a vault known to be chock full of easily fenced loot and significant quantities of cash. Yet they had come to this job on a fairly spur-of-the-moment basis and were just making a hole in materials that were rather difficult to cut without explosives. Others would come along and strip away anything of worth, though there was no known vault full of lots of cash and valuables, so they were just making a doorway.

That they were very close indeed to making a gateway to another world, they could not know and did not suspect.

There was a vault in the basement, but hardly a safe full of valuables. Rather, it was full of computer chips from a supercomputer which had intentionally and repeatedly been exposed to a very minimal-aperture Schrödinger gate, operated only within a large and extremely well-shielded Schrödinger cat box.

This vault was hardly of extreme security design. It wasn't much more than a coat room that happened to have cinderblock walls; it wasn't intended to store the EPROMs and field-programmable gate arrays for very long, only until the chips could be destroyed.

Destroying the chips was not something that would be done inexpensively or easily. Part of the mechanism of the Schrödinger gate-in-a-box was that it left the wave functions uncollapsed, permitting a lot of contemporaneous spacetimes to co-exist. A sort of probabilistic "rhetorical conflation of irreconcilables" had to exist for the gate to open. How is this physically achieved? I'm profoundly glad that I cannot tell you because I simply do not know, other than that it has been rumored to have something to do with counter-rotating streams of hypercooled pseudo-matter, Bose-Einstein condensates, laser cooling, and stimulated emission of coherent entangled neutrons.

Exposure to the gate leaves the chips somewhat disentangled from our timespace and somewhat entangled with the particles that the aliens fire to re-etch the circuits on the chips we expose to them. They're trying to embed new instruction sets into BIOS, and they don't care if they're working with EPROM; they're re-hardwiring at the atomic scale in a sort of transdimensional nanotechnological software attack. These really scary things from the ends of their own incomprehensible universes are very fast indeed, and seem to have a deep knowledge of nearly everything that is far beyond our own, and we're not entirely sure how it is that they can instantly detect a gate and as instantly launch a bewildering barrage of attacks at any technology we expose to them. The one thing they can't attack is the Schrödinger cat-box itself; the instant they observe that in any way (much less touch it), the probability wave functions collapse and the gate was never there. All praise paradox!

Yet improperly destroying the chips also collapses probability wave functions and whatever is overlaid on the chips... solidifies, I suppose you could say. What was an exceptionally hostile suggestion, as it were, becomes lethal machinery. It starts to work.

The bank-job crew finished their doorway in mere minutes, and laid themselves and their equipment down on their "bobsled" and rolled downstream towards the place where the pipe exited into a concrete culvert, open to the skies, about a quarter mile away. Even as they rolled off, an even dozen persons on bobsleds of their own rolled into position and entered the building.

It took them mere moments to secure the room where the new short tunnel opened, and as the next dozen arrived, the first dozen fanned out to secure the nearby halls and rooms and to explore.

Part of the exploration was the opening of locked doors, primarily accomplished by smashing any locks encountered. When they came to the door sealing the room full of contamination From Beyond, it had two locks, which was an invitation to prioritize opening that particular door.

"Computer chips, old ones," said one man, turning it over a few times in his fingers. "Trash," he said, and hurled it into a bin full of others. It cracked as it hit, and that small change in state was more than enough to make the uncertain certain. Carefully maintained balances of probability collapsed, and the nebulous became sold, and the imaginary became real.

Out in the parking lot, 2500 protesters locked in the depths of their Salvia Experience suddenly all had the same dream within a dream. They jerked like hooked fish as their dream within a dream became a nightmare from which they would never escape. The entheogen drugs had put them in touch with a Higher Power, alright, but not a friendly one. It was whispering into their drug-enhanced temporal lobe with a data-rate far beyond any internet technician's dreams of bandwidth. Within minutes it would have re-written their internal operating system to the point where the machinery of their metabolism would begin producing new machinery, and once that happened, what had been human protestors would begin changing, metamorphosing through elaborations far more profound than in the life-cycles of insects. They wouldn't actually pupate, though, to emerge as some sort of butterfly of the occult. It was more typical of such cases that skin would first become rugose, then squamous, and then be shredded away by chitinous structures emerging from within, structures assuming shapes never before seen in this world, and probably not even in this universe. Those structures would, given time, assume proportions and geometry creating a transdimensional gate, one that wouldn't paradoxically collapse itself like a Schrödinger cat-box does to prevent itself from being observed.

No, once those gates were formed, observers everywhere would soon observe things like nothing ever before seen, things with shapes out of fever dreams, feasting on the madness and terror they inspired.

Forming those gates would take probably 24 hours. Long before then, however, infested victims would likely have plugged themselves into the global telecommunications network via the simple (simple for alien deities from other dimensions, that is) means of growing a modem in the neural tissues of the infested victims. Hey, how else are they going to download instructions for generating the structures to open gates?

Once they get into the telecom networks, and the computing networks, and the power grid, and the military logistics command-and-control systems, they don't need to open the gates to bring themselves entirely through for humanity to be well and truly fubared. At that point, we're all dead already, or as good as dead, it all being over but the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness. There are far too many humans, far too dependent on technology, to survive for long at all when the technology either doesn't work or has to be destroyed lest it work against us.

Yet remember: these implacable aliens aren't coming to devour humanity, body and soul and hearts and minds, we're just tiny little flecks of icing on the cake as they feed and grow strong on the universe itself. They devour order and shit entropy, and it won't be long before they've collapsed this universe to the conditions that evolved them, one vast lump of neutronium in such concentrated mass that it falls into a condition opposite probabilistic waveform collapse... a place that is their steppingstone of raw uncertainty into the next nice orderly universe to devour.

Still, we won't much care about the fate of the universe if these things first devour our civilization and then ourselves in the general case, or the more specific and immediate case of devouring us personally as a run-up to devouring civilization. No, first save civilization, and perhaps you can save yourself.

Not far away, a house with a rather hideous roof-line that resembled a barn-builder's attempt to craft a camoflaged radome peeled open that hideous roofline like an unfurling tulip. With a sound like the world's largest automobile crash air-bag, huge balloons inflated after being pulled aloft by rockets.

It would take another minute for them to reach the required altitude and spacing.

One of the local news reporters, acting as a network stringer, was telling the world that something strange was going on here.

"...As you can see, Robert, the protestors seem to be waking up from their trance. They seem confused, disoriented. It's like they've been drinking, which our colleagues tell us is an expected after-effect of consuming the Salvia drug. But Robert, I don't think anyone said anything about it making peoples' eyes glow green. I mean, really glow, really green, John, can we get a close-up on someone..."

A set of capacitors that filled almost the entire basement of the house with the radome roof were imploded and dumped a massive electromagnetic pulse into the balloon-lofted antenna grid. Every coil of wire and semiconductor in line of sight within 5 miles instantly stopped being useful electronics components. Within the near-field zone of about 1.5 miles, even in basements, transistors exploded into puffs of smoke. All forms of electric lighting went dark. Microwave ovens burst into flame or even melted as their klystrons re-radiated the pulse. Every car within miles stopped working, along with their entertainment electronics. This included not merely the cars in the immense traffic jam created by the protest and the media circus, but also about 100 police squad cars, 12 SWAT vans, and two Mobile Command Center buses. Also disabled: automatic alarm and anti-fire systems. Sprinkler systems erupted into action all around the area.

As a result, none of the ensuing confusion and melee was recorded; cellphone towers and network-television satellite links were inactivated for miles around, along with all landline telephone and data networks. This was, after all, the point of the pulse, to prevent anything From Beyond from getting into the global networks.

However, something remained to be done -- much indeed remained to be done! -- about the living, non-electronic, non-networked, but still demonically possessed, people just re-acquiring coordination after their bout with Salvia. A lot of them were starting to rise to their feet, and they looked unhappy indeed. Sort of, you know, undead, to tell the truth.

Beneath the main basement, well-shielded from the pulse that had knocked the local surface world back into the Stone Age, two dozen special-squad burglars loaded up their "bobsleds" in the 5-foot concrete storm drain pipe with all of the loot they had found. Old computer chips had no special value for resale on the espionage markets, but they contained enough rare earth metals (and in this case, also a plague of infestations of malicious software coded by malevolent alien gods) to be worth the bother, especially if you had about a ton or more of them. They began to push them upstream towards the extraction point.