When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth

The generators kicked in a minute later.

Sysadmins stampeded for the stairs. Felix grabbed Van by the arm, pulled him back.

“Maybe we should wait this out in the cage,” he said.

“What about Kelly?” Van said.

Felix felt like he was going to throw up. “We should get into the cage, now.” The cage had microparticulate air filters.

They ran upstairs to the big cage. Felix opened the door and then let it hiss shut behind him.

“Felix, you need to get home—”

“It’s a bioweapon,” Felix said. “Superbug. We’ll be OK in here, I think, so long as the filters hold out.”
“What?”

“Get on IRC,” he said.

They did. Van had Mayor McCheese and Felix used Smurfette. They skipped around the chat channels until they found one with some familiar handles.

> pentagons gone/white house too
> MY NEIGHBORS BARFING BLOOD OFF HIS BALCONY IN SAN DIEGO
> Someone knocked over the Gherkin. Bankers are fleeing the City like rats.
> I heard that the Ginza’s on fire

Felix typed:

> I’m in Toronto. We just saw the CN Tower fall. I’ve heard reports of bioweapons, something very fast.
Van read this and said, “You don’t know how fast it is, Felix. Maybe we were all exposed three days ago.”
Felix closed his eyes. “If that were so we’d be feeling some symptoms, I think.”
> Looks like an EMP took out Hong Kong and maybe Paris—realtime sat footage shows them completely dark, and all netblocks there aren’t routing
> You’re in Toronto?

It was an unfamiliar handle.

> Yes—on Front Street
> my sisters at UofT and i cnt reach her—can you call her?
> No phone service,

Felix typed, staring at NETWORK PROBLEMS.

“I have a soft phone on Mayor McCheese,” Van said, launching his voice-over-IP app. “I just remembered.”

Felix took the laptop from him and punched in his home number. It rang once, then there was a flat, blatting sound like an ambulance siren in an Italian movie.

> No phone service,

Felix typed again.

He looked up at Van, and saw that his skinny shoulders were shaking. Van said, “Holy motherfucking shit. The world is ending.”

Felix pried himself off IRC an hour later. Atlanta had burned. Manhattan was hot—radioactive enough to screw up the webcams looking out over Lincoln Plaza. Everyone blamed Islam until it became clear that Mecca was a smoking pit and the Saudi Royals had been hanged before their palaces.

His hands were shaking, and Van was quietly weeping in the far corner of the cage. He tried calling home again, and then the police. It didn’t work any better than it had the last twenty times.

He sshed into his box downstairs and grabbed his mail. Spam, spam, spam. More spam. Automated messages. There—an urgent message from the intrusion detection system in the Ardent cage.

He opened it and read quickly. Someone was crudely, repeatedly probing his routers. It didn’t match a worm’s signature, either. He followed the traceroute and discovered that the attack had originated in the same building as him, a system in a cage one floor below.

He had procedures for this. He portscanned his attacker and found that port 1337 was open—1337 was “leet” or “elite” in hacker number/letter substitution code. That was the kind of port a worm left open to slither in and out. He googled known sploits that left a listener on port 1337, narrowed this down based on the fingerprinted operating system of the compromised server, and then he had it.

It was an ancient worm, one that every box should have been patched against years before. No mind. He had the client for it, and he used it to create a root account for himself on the box, which he then logged into, and took a look around.

There was one other user logged in, “scaredy,” and he checked the process monitor and saw that scaredy had spawned all the hundreds of processes that were probing him and plenty of other boxen.

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