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: