‘Stop! Stop!’, I heard it loud and clear behind me. But I ran madly down the seemingly endless street. The cops were after me and all because of a ridiculous virus.
There had to be some talent I had. Some people are artistically talented and can create beautiful drawings or sculptures without much effort. Others have their skills in music, language or mathematics. Everyone seemed to be good in something. When people asked me what I wanted to do and what I’m good at, I joked around by responding ‘sleep late’—the response was good enough to put a small smirk in people’s faces—and I was asking myself: What was I good at really? What skills did I actually have? What interested me? There I was and thought about it.
This new college I had entered introduced a new scholar model called the dual education system. I would have to go to work as a trainee in the same branch and study at the same time.
I had registered late for career college, and I had just a week left to find a place to start an internship. I grabbed the first vacancy at a small company called Werner’s Busy Bee Hardware. I discovered the shop on the corner of a small side street. Above the shop window, the neon sign shone in an indefinable hue. In addition, it also did not work properly, because every now and then the lower part of the B went out, so that the store could have been called Werner’s Busy Pee Hardware.
After a short interview, Mr. Werner, an old electronics technician in his seventies, decided to hire me as his new apprentice. He showed me the premises of the shop in a quick a tour. I quickly realized that he and the shop wasn’t much capable of much. A small shop with three computers, a repair shop, a small office where Ms. Werner took care of the finances, and a small sales counter. In a small storage, there was a server room in which the Linux computer, and the leased dedicated internet line that provided Internet access. Mr. Werner pointed out that no one was allowed to stay in this room without his permission.
‘Nobody has any business being here’ he scolded, as if I had already overruled his instructions.
The regular customers who came here every day bought all kinds of stuff you need in an office. Mostly printer accessories such as printer cartridges. We had a lot of that. In my hasty search for a place to work I had landed in a terribly boring family business.
I soon became friends with my fellow sufferer Marcel in the repair workshop. He was tall and sturdily built, and for his twenty-five years, his face looked quite worn out. At first glance, one might have been afraid of his colossal figure, but Marcel was calm and reserved, almost shy. I learned a lot about how to repair typewriters. He explained and showed me the differences between an Olympia SM Carrera de Luxe and a Brother SM LW 8oo IC, a so-called inkjet writing typewriter. Marcel just fixed any typewriter that came his way and told me all about the details. After a short time, I even knew about classic models, about the Ideal A Typewriter, which already had an oblique segment in the 1900s. Marcel’s absolute favorite, however, was the Albus Perkeo. A portable typewriter with two pivot levers and a front opening. The Albus was mainly made of aluminum, appeared in 1912, but was sadly replaced by the Urania Piccola after the Second World War.
I was moderately interested in all this stuff, but I listened to Marcel’s digressions. He would remember the most boring typewriter, and had a story to tell about them. In return, I explained how the internet was structured and I thought him a couple things about software development. Marcel really hadn’t a clue how to program, but he was a great listener. After just a few weeks of working together, he set up his own compiler and started programming on his own.
It was not long before Mr. Werner took care of me and put me in front of one of the computers that usually stood around as exhibits. He briefly explained what my duties were. I started to program some tools and applications he had envisioned and was hoping to sell one day. On the side, he showed me an invoice software he tried to sell to clients. I do not remember ever selling any of these programs to anybody.
Working as a programmer at Werner Busy Bee was my shield against the daily terror in the shop. Marcel, on the other hand, was enslaved to work. Add to that, that Mrs. Werner, a contentious old hag, approached Marcel at every opportunity to remind him of his incompetence. Without making a sound, Marcel took almost every chicane. Every now and then I expected Marcel would explode. But he would only nod friendly and wordlessly go back to work.
Marcel did an excellent job. Sometimes he managed half a week’s work in just one day. But his insecure demeanor alone made him a scapegoat for everything that went wrong in the store. If he wrote 610c print cartridge on the hand-written receipt instead of 601c, Mrs. Werner would take this as a reason to start a major shitstorm.
If nobody else was in the shop except us, Marcel and I would have fun. Occasionally, I would grind coins with the grinder, Marcel would randomly connect the wires of of the typewriters, so they would ghost type some nonsense, or he would burn the fuses just to see them go in flames, to fix them short later.
During the break, we always went to a local butcher, which was not far from the shop. There they had a good kitchen and sold at reasonable prices delicious, but unfortunately quite greasy meals. I sat at the computer for eight hours a day, gaining more than twenty pounds in just a few weeks.
Marcel was the victim of Mrs. Werner’s daily nagging, while I was working and focusing on my code. She would occasionally pay me a visit to blather about the ‘old times’. I even went so far as to ask Mrs. Werner out, when I was working on some complicated code. There is nothing worse than being interrupted during a difficult code. Mrs. Werner usually apologized and walked out without a comment. I felt privileged by my position as a programmer. I would not have been able to stand it there otherwise.
If you write long enough on a particular code, you will eventually get sick of it. That’s why you need a change or a little break. For me, that was the work on typewriters. So, I went to the repair shop every now and then to ease my mind. But Mr. Werner did not like the fact that I stained my hands and fiddled with the typewriters, even when there was a lot to fix. ‘Go back to work,’ he reminded me. ‘You’re a programmer, repairing typewriters is not your job.’
I spent part of my self-imposed breaks by programming something else. It had to be short programs, without complicated code and database access. Everything else would have meant too much effort and no fun. So, I programmed a screen saver or a fake operating system that would look like the cockpit of a spaceship.
Every programmer dreams of creating something special. When confronted with phrases such as ‘This can’t be done’ or ‘That’s technically not possible’, it gives a special incentive to give it a try anyways. For example, creating a data compression tool that can reduce the size of data better than any other, would be a reason to triumph. Everyone would talk about how that could’ve been possible. There is nothing better for a programmer than to be addressed by any person who recognizes him as the author of a particular program:
‘You are Thomas Leffer, the Leffer who wrote this amazing data compression tool?
With each character I typed the computer, I hoped to get closer to such a situation.
I read in a computer magazine about a guy named Chris who was celebrated as a hero of old times. He had programmed SCA, the very first virus on the classic Commodore Amiga Computer. The abbreviation SCA stood for the name of his hacking group ‘Swiss Cracking Association’. It must have been sometime in the early ’80s when a friend of Chris claimed it was impossible to put a program a virus that would survive in the memory after a computer reset. Then he actually managed to write a little untraceable piece of code, which would stay in the memory banks of the computer, after resetting it, and even without being on the harddisk anywhere. The program had the ability to settle in the computer’s memory banks and duplicating itself on any data volume inserted into the computer. After every fifteenth reboot, the virus then displayed this warning message on the screen:
The program destroyed nothing, didn’t use any resources of the system, in short: It was harmless and caused only a little surprise.
One day when I was fiddling around on my fake operating system and dreaming about how my product would conquer the market, I learned from Marcel that he still had his old Commodore Amiga computer. He told me about several rare viruses that had infested his computer and about the fact that he did not have the heart to kill them. Instead he decided to collect them. His hard drive included some other Amiga viruses he was particularly proud of. ‘This one is almost extinct,’ he said enthusiastically, as if he were talking about an endangered animal species.
It was hard to believe, but he was a fan of these viruses. He had once even tried to program a boot-block virus on the Amiga, but had already failed in the beginning as they were nobody to teach him how to program properly. And so, I spontaneously came up with the idea to program a virus for a change. Marcel was fascinated by my idea and promised to include my finished work in his collection.
I started putting my idea into action. Whenever I had the time and the desire, I tinkered with my virus. Most of the time, however, I was working on the program for Mr. Werner, which was designed to calculate routers for pharmacy couriers.
One day, I had been busy with the pharmacy program throughout the morning. Marcel was in the workshop, leafing through a typewriter supply catalog. Mr. Werner had gone to the post office to buy prepaid cards for the mailing machine. I could do what I wanted.
To give myself a little break, I stopped by at Ms. Werner’s office and listened to her gossip, which I immediately regretted. After managing to get rid of her, I decided to keep working on my virus. The time I had already spent on it slowly began to be at the expense of the pharmacy program. The source code of the virus was now the acceptable size of twenty pages, which still needed a thorough overhaul. Compiled, the file made it to only five kilobytes.
On day, I was returning from a short outside walk, I saw Marcel sitting in front of my computer, which did not happen too often. He educated himself on the Internet about a typewriter shipment prices. Apparently, he had nothing else to do.
‘I’m almost done,’ he mumbled. ‘Just wanted to look something up.’
I told him to take his time and sat next to him until he was done.
In college, Computer sciences was understandably my favorite subject. We were regularly given tasks by our two computer science teachers, Mr. Frohlich and Mr. Kowelevski. One time we had to develop a program that would help with the handling of spreadsheets. I had completed this exercise in the first hour, while others had to chew on it the following weeks. This way, I was able to go through the ranks and look over the shoulder of other people in their first programming steps. All students had to fulfill the same task, but everyone’s approach and code was different.
A program is like a drawing. It carries the style of the artist. Some people write long and cumbersome code, and even with a longer and more elaborate effort, they are also able to reach the goal. However, a cleaner and shorter code has its advantages. It is programmed faster, works better on the system, and is easier for the programmer to understand if he resumes work on the code after a long break.
I had built up a special relationship with Mr. Frohlich. He had quickly recognized my abilities and realized that he could learn a lot from me. When I showed him how to easily put 3D objects into your own code even though the computer did not have the necessary processing power, and then flit them across the screen in real-time, he would see it as a one of the wonders of the world.
While the others were still working on their task, I showed him my virus, which he analyzed with a scientific zeal. He had only a vague idea how to viruses were made and structured, and was interested in how they looked like inside the code. Finally, he asked me for a copy of the source code. My virus was nothing special. Sure, I had invested a lot of work in it. But the virus had no creative or fancy code that would have been of any interest to anyone. So, I gave him the source code without thinking much about it.
He was naturally enthusiastic and asked me for commands that I used in the virus’ code he did not know before. I explained them to him in detail. The virus was simple. Once started, it would settle in the deepest memory banks of the system, and wouldn’t touch any of the visible or remaining memory resources. From there it monitor certain programs. When the user started to access emails on his infected machine, my virus would be triggered. It would jostle itself as an attachment to every email and every contact. With that, I had equipped my virus with an important feature: reproduction. In order to remain unrecognized, it would stay hidden between important system files, which only professionals would usually touch. It would automatically start every time with the system. Like the SCA virus, my virus did not destroy anything. Once the computer was infected, the seconds of the system clock would run backwards on the screen.
A piece of cake for every programmer. What I wanted to do with that, my teacher asked me.
‘Maybe it will eventually end up in the list of antivirus programs. Then I will print and frame the virus antivirus warning to my wall’, I responded.
It was another of those viscous days when I counted the minutes until lunch break when I sent the virus as an attachment under different wrong email accounts to anyone I could find to spread it.
My virus did not have a name yet, so I simply named the file ‘Biggest-Woman-in-the-World.jpg.exe’. Later I decided on some different names and sent the virus as ‘Future-Car.jpg.exe’ to the people who had not received it yet. And finally, I came up with the idea of calling the thing ‘Rare_UFO_Sighting.jpg.exe’ and sent it to all those who were left. After that, I browsed the web a bit and discovered some warnings from antivirus vendors like Norton Antivirus and McAfee. Wonderful, someone had already discovered my virus, disassembled it and then created a small anti-virus protection for it. I was looking forward to the next update of the other common virus protection software such as AVG Internet Security, Avast Pro Antivirus, and more.
It was not long before the first reactions to my virus reached me. I was just browsing through some websites when I happened to read a warning message on a virus information page. The readers were made aware of a so-called future-car-virus, which could appear under other aliases such as rare-ufo-sighting. The smile faded as I had to read something frightening three paragraphs later. My virus had infected thousands of systems in just a few days and caused considerable damage. Obviously, the virus deliberately destroyed systems and irretrievably deleted data.
‘That can’t be it has to be another virus,’ I thought. My virus did not destroy anything, it was harmless.
What was going on?
To prove that I could not be the author of this program, I had to see the virus first. I called Suarek, a friend who worked for a big data mining company. Even his company had received tons of emails with the virus! Suarek sent me the virus without hesitation and asking any questions. It didn’t take me long to see that this was not my virus.
First, this thing was called ‘Parasite.exe’. I was sure that I had not chosen this alias name for my virus. Besides, the file was over fifteen kilobytes in size. My virus had just five kilobytes. Nevertheless, the characteristics were the same. The virus would attach itself to emails, and much to my surprise, it would hide in the same system folder as mine. Could someone had come up with the same idea? Surely that would have been possible, but it seemed unlikely to happen at the same time.
Programmers and hackers have monitoring programs that allow them to track every process a program goes through at every run. Since a program performs many tasks within milliseconds, it’s hard to do see this with the human eye. For this reason, hackers use so-called ‘braker tools’ in addition to a monitoring program. A braker slows the system, making it easier to observe the process accurately. The process is perhaps best compared to a slow motion video. You can exactly see when and how a villain tries to punch him the hero of an action movie and misses. I also wanted to know when and how the virus strikes. I started my real-time monitoring tool with the virus and started gazing at the screen.
The parasite would go through the same processes as my virus. That was really scary. The only difference was that it tried to destroy the most important system files. When these files are destroyed, the computer is as good as lost. Only with a lot of time and effort can an expert manage to rescue such a damaged system. My virus was mutated.
It seemed clear to me that someone had taken my virus, decompiled it and added its own bullcrap. But who could have done such a thing? My computer science teacher? After all, he was the only one I had given my source code to. Could he have processed the virus and put it into circulation? He was no more than a moderately experienced computer teacher and a lousy programmer on top. After a moment of reflection, I rejected the possibility. I could not possibly imagine this reputable guy giggling at night in his home and adding fangs into my virus. That was a completely absurd thought.
After much pondering, I came to the conclusion that I had made a few mistakes that basically made it possible for anyone to strip down the virus to its shorts. Mistake number one: I sent the virus to friends and acquaintances from the hacker scene, who were savvy programmers. Mistake number two: Part of the recipients were people who would do anything to be a part of the elite hacking scene. Lost in ideals and with misplaced ethics, they believe they can only achieve this by acts of destruction. Mistake number three: A virus programmer disguises his program to prevent it from being detected. He encrypts segments in his source code and works on it until it is almost impossible to decompile it. In my inexperience, I hadn’t made much effort to protect the code. With various tools that you can pull off the internet, every beginner or script kiddie would have been able to decompile my virus.
It struck with me that it was possible to combine mistake one, two, and three, and thus I would get a get a devastating mix mistake number four. This could also be called ‘Mix Theory Number One’. So, this is the ‘Mix Theory Number One’: I sent the virus to a skilled and experienced hacker driven by blind destructive rage. He had probably discovered that my code was not protected. Without further ado, he added pneumonia to a harmless cough. Thus, the virus had grown by more than eight kilobytes in file size.
That had to be the explanation!
I was angry, more than that—I was pissed off. Why couldn’t he program his own virus? That was my painting! He had just drawn a mustache to the Mona Lisa and put his signature underneath.
A ‘Wait a moment!’ suddenly burst into my thoughts and slowed down my indignation. Someone who understood how to hone a virus like this had definitely the ability to program his own virus. Basically, that would have been a lot easier. It takes a while to understand someone else’s programming style, and you have to study the code to change it. What if the freeloader didn’t want to take the credit for creating the virus? What if he just wanted deliberately put the blame on somebody else, like me? In my initial enthusiasm, I had completely overlooked that programming a virus wasn’t just about glory and fame but would also come with huge load of problems.
Unrest broke out in me. If, for some reason, my name became public, I would have no chance to prove my innocence. One would find out that the virus had been sent from here and that I was the author of this program. I was milling up and down in front of the computer, before I could come up with an idea.
Werner’s Busy Bee was something an internet provider on its own due to the leased and dedicated internet line. Every data connection was logged there. From the logs, I would be able to prove that I had sent nothing more than a harmless virus to a few addresses. It had to be clear that the aggressive version of the virus could not originate from me.
Since there was little traffic on the in-house Internet line, the logs were quite small and still bogged down around for days on the hard disk of the server computer, before they would automatically be deleted. I was sure that I would find something. However, I could not easily access the server room. We were strictly forbidden to enter the room and operate the server unless there was a valid reason. I had a very valid reason, but in this case, it would be wiser to keep it for myself.
On Wednesday I waited nervously for the lunch break. When there was no one left in the store, I wanted to enter the server room and quickly copy the logs to a DVD. Shortly before 1 PM nobody was in the shop anymore except Mrs. Werner. She was still sitting in her seat, typing. The server room was right behind her office. I waited a while, but apparently, she planned to spend her lunch break here. After fifteen minutes, I decided to give it a try anyway. I took a deep breath and then I went to Mrs. Werner’s office with a friendly smile.
‘I’ll go eat something,’ I said.
Mrs. Werner looked up for a moment, nodded uninvolved, and returned to her work. Instead of taking a walk out the back door, I made a quick dodge just outside the door and scurried into the server room. I had been in this room with Mr. Werner before but did not remember the room so messy. Thick cables were provisionally taped together on the floor, and you hardly knew where to step. Slips and DVDs had been carelessly thrown in the corner, and dust had formed shapes on the server computer’s casing. ‘I hope the inside of the hard drive does not look like this’, I hoped. I waited and listened if Mrs. Werner had noticed something. But my deception seemed to have worked.
When I felt reasonably safe, I unpacked a blank DVD, inserted it, and started the program to burn DVDs. I marked the logs of the last days and clicked on the ‘Burn’ icon. The red light on the DVD burner signaled that the writing process was lit up. The DVD drive was not exactly what I would consider state-of-the-art, so I had to sit and wait in this dungeon for a while. I swept up some dust with my hand and used it to make little beads, then flicked them into the room. The lunch break was almost over when the last log was burned onto the DVD. Shortly before Mr. Werner came back to the shop, I was back in front of my computer. Nobody had noticed anything.
On my workstation I opened the logs into a text editor and searched for the names under which I had sent the virus. I was able to quickly find them. As I had imagined, the byte size was indicated next to the date.
‘Hi,’ I heard a voice say behind me. I drove around. Marcel with his hands in his pockets, was standing behind me.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked with interest.
I turned my gaze back to the monitor, to elucidate his presence did not bother me. However, it would have made no sense to tell him the logs were some unimportant text files. Although Marcel was not very well-versed in internet and server technology, I got to learn to appreciate his technical understanding and skills. I was sure that even he glanced on my monitor, it was enough for him to identify these logs as internet transfer logs’.
‘I’m just looking at a few logs,’ I said casually.
‘What protocols?’ Marcel asked. He took a step toward the monitor to see better.
I explained to him what the protocols were all about, and that every action we took was in there.
‘Interesting,’ he said, ‘I did not know that.’
I closed the file and pressed the eject button on the DVD of my computer. Then, I took out the DVD and tucked it unobtrusively in a drawer under my desk.
Marcel did not ask why I was analyzing the logs. He immediately went back to work.
Thursday. That meant two more days of college, weekend, then again, the Werner family horror. The first two hours at the college were computer sciences. Everybody was eagerly typing on their computers. I already knew what would happen. I was about to start my work as well when the door opened, and Mr. Frohlich pointed his finger at me with a truly unfriendly expression implying I should accompany him to the teacher’s office.
We talked for a long time. Almost for two hours. Of course, he knew about the new virus from the news. I explained to him my precarious situation. He listened to everything thoughtfully and all I could get were ‘Hm, Hmm’ sounds, which sounded like he was quite ready to believe me. I also told him about my three mistakes and the Mix Theory Number One. He probably did not quite understand that, because the ‘Hm, Hmm’ sounds were getting quieter and changing the pitch, and in a way they suddenly sounded very skeptical. When I tried to explain my mustache analogy based on the Mona Lisa example, he interrupted me.
He told me calmly and objectively what could happen to me, regardless of whether I was guilty or not. His voice suddenly got a reassuring sound. He cleared his throat briefly and began to explain what to do. The police have certainly launched an investigation, and they started a nationwide, maybe even worldwide hunt for the perpetrator. He told me about various anti-cybercrime organizations I have not heard of before. My throat tightened, and swallowing became harder. When my face began to take on the color of the wall behind me, Mr. Frohlich finally clapped his hands together and suggested a solution. He recommended that I destroy all the evidence and hope that they will not catch me.
I was astonished to say the least. I would not have expected such a suggestion from a teacher. I thought he would advise me to turn myself in to the police and explain my innocence. I brooded. I was not quite sure of his suggestion yet. If they caught me anyway and found out that I had purposely destroyed evidence, wouldn’t arouse even more suspicion?
Mr. Frohlich shook his head vigorously.
‘You don’t understand. If you get caught, you won’t be just a suspect. You are doomed! ‘
I found this explanation somewhat exaggerated but kept that to myself. To elicit perhaps a better idea, I told him that I had burned the server logs to DVD.
‘I can easily prove my innocence.’
‘This is not a good way,’ he said. ‘The server logs are not worth a penny. You can fake something like that. You should better destroy this, too’.
The logs were simple text files. I could easily have rewritten them with the editor I used to look at them. My teacher was right, the logs couldn’t protect me. The whole thing was totally out of control. ‘Destroy evidence?’ I asked again.
Mr. Frohlich nodded:
All right then. I deleted all the data and source code of my virus on my computer at home, which took about two minutes of my time. Then I made a backup of all the important files and reformatted the hard drive. But that was not it. There were also pieces of evidence on the hard drive of my computer and on the server computer at Werner’s Pee. I had to go there as soon as possible. Only, how would I do that? Should I walk into the shop with a smirk on my face and say something like,
‘Hi Mr. Werner. I’m feeling great. My classes were cancelled today, so I thought… why not take that opportunity to destroy some evidence in your shop? How’s your day?’
That was a problem. I just could not format the hard drive on my computer at Werner’s shop, let alone the server. There were other data on these computers the company needed. In addition, it would not be enough just to delete the data. If you delete data on a hard disk, they are not really deleted. The space reserved for the deleted data is only reserved for reuse, but the deleted data still remains like a shadow on the hard disk for a while.
To understand how lost data can be restored easily, you have to imagine a box filled with junk. Imagine that the box managed by a good friend, who gives you a list of its contents of the box whenever you wish. If I want to throw something out the box, you go to the box manager and tell him:
‘The whistle should get out of the box.’
The board manager then says:
‘Why should I throw away the whistle now? Maybe it will still be needed. And there is still enough room in the box. As a box manager I’ll just say I threw the whistle out of the box, but in fact throw it away only when the space it occupies is needed for something else later.’
Now, if you ask the box manager for the contents of the box, the whistle will no longer be there, although in reality, it is still in the box. Well, it’s easy to see that the box simulates the hard drive and the whistle simulates a file—in this case, my virus. If I deleted the virus, it could easily be brought back into the realm of living bits and bytes with certain data recovery tools. So, I had to erase the data with a program that made this reincarnation impossible. That would take some time.
If I had left immediately, I would have arrived at the shop after lunch. But Mr. Werner used the days when I was not there to fiddle around on the computer and try out some tools. I could not possibly drag him away from the computer and pretend that it was vital for me to work on the pharmacy program today. If I waited until Monday, it might already be too late. I racked my brain and finally saw only one possibility. I had to walk into the shop late in the evening, when everyone was gone, and in a cloak-and-dagger operation, destroy all the evidence that could incriminate me. Fortunately, I was in possession of the key of the shop, which made me feel a little better and that I wasn’t actually doing anything criminal.
When it was getting dark outside, I worked on my plan. It was not far before midnight. Hoping that Mr. Werner was not working overtime, I took the bus to get to the store. I could still have turned back, but my decision was firm. I was dressed in light blue pants, with some cheap patent leather shoes I bought from a discount store, and a pretty ugly green shirt. Although this was not the usual burglary dress, but I wanted to avoid that I would get noticed through my clothes somehow.
From afar, I could see the glowing letters above the shop window. I made sure no one was watching me, and unlocked the front door to the shop. One glance to the left, one to the right—it was completely dark inside the shop. Only then I dared to step inside and shut the door behind me. After getting used to the darkness and the silence, I walked straight into the office where my computer was.
Although the office window was located on a rather inanimate part of the small street and no one from outside was watching me, it took a lot of courage to turn on the lights. The clicks and beeps of the uplifting computer felt like the stings of hundreds little pins on my skin. It felt like an eternity until the computer was up and running. I wondered if Mr. Frohlich had thought of such an action when he advised me to destroy all the evidence. The thought that at any moment Mr. Werner could step out of the dark to ask me what the heck I was doing here, went through my head. What would I tell him? No excuse would justify this situation. When the computer finally stopped making noises and was just waiting for my orders, I did not really know where to start.
First, I installed the deletion tool. Then I removed the virus and everything that could have been associated with it. Then I edited the hard drive so that everything was irretrievably deleted. I got up and walked through the office of Ms. Werner into the server room to destroy the transfer logs as well. This computer was never turned off, so I could get to work right away. I edited the device the same way I did with my computer. Although I could have done more mistakes here, I stayed relatively calm. With every move, a kind of routine seemed to set in. While the last pieces of evidence were still being sent to the digital afterlife, I took a deep breath and sat back for a moment.
I had become accustomed to the quiet, and I was much more comfortable now. I had just uninstalled the program with the delete function, as a loud crash at the entrance made sure that my heart exploded.
During the uninstallation, I switched off the server in a reflex, reached for the light switch and I was sitting in the dark. My heartbeat chased through my body like a techno beat. I tried to bring my breath under control but couldn’t. After some time, it occurred to me that I had completely overestimated the noise because of my overall tension. I turned back to the server and resented my panic attack.
The server computer was off. Computer systems don’t find it funny when users forcibly cancel a delete operation. Now it would take half an hour for the system to reorganize. I pressed the power button.
Suddenly—a noise—again. I drove around. This time it was clearly not my imagination. I heard it and it was loud. It sounded like glass splintering.
I casted a glance at the front door. I could hardly recognize anything. But, somebody was moving outside! A dark figure that had only now entered my field of sight. A man, strong built, black clothes. A horrifying image of a burglar! I had been working in this shop for over eight months, and now was the time for someone to break in? What a nightmare!
The man had taped the window and hit it with a heavy iron bar to prevent the broken pieces falling to the floor with a loud crash. He carefully removed tape with the shards of glass and laid them on the floor next to him. Then he reached through the hole to the handle and opened the door. I couldn’t move, my body stopped responding to my instructions. He was in the store in one leap. In complete darkness, he made his way to the cash register. He must have been here before.
Did he want money?
Did he also want to steal computers?
Was he armed?
Hundred thoughts suddenly crossed my mind. Too bad that there was no alarm system. But maybe that was my luck. Imagine the alarm would have gone off. What would I have done? The police arrive, a broken window, the burglar miles away, and a trainee with an excuse that could not have been more stupid.
Should I hide and wait until he disappeared? If yes, where? There was no place to hide in this dungeon. Hiding under the table was out of the question, because the tower computer was underneath, with cables and plugs all around that I couldn’t see in the dark. And even so, if I tried to get myself and my new acquired fat belly under the table, you’d definitely hear the noise.
But wait! Was not I responsible for the shop and had to intervene?
As I knew Mr. Werner, as a thank you he would throw me out for this heroic act. And even if such a stupid selfless thought went through my deepest mind, how could I have done that? Should I put the burglar monster down with the Spock’s vulcan nerve pinch?
I had to admit that I couldn’t come up with particularly witty ideas. But I had to do something and get out of this mess. Without further ado, I grabbed a hole puncher that lay next to the keyboard. Although the punch was made of metal and was quite large and massive, it was rather useless as a weapon.
The burglar meanwhile had taken a few bills from the cash register and tucked them in his pockets, then came slowly towards my direction. The computers and typewriters did not seem to interest him, so he passed through them.
He came closer, very determined.
He was already standing in Mrs. Werner’s office, no more than 10 feet away from me. I looked around again. The computer was diligently reorganizing. I realized that the burglar could not be here just for the money or the typewriter. He wanted to go into the server room. I could not help it anymore, I had to act. In a fraction of a second, I decided to surprise the burglar, push him to the side and run like there’s no tomorrow.
The metal punch in my left hand, I took a step forward. With wide open mouth and a loud scream, I ran out of the server room into Mrs. Werner’s office.
The burglar responded to the screeching figure with a leap, as if he had put his fingers into an electrical circuit. He dropped his iron bar to the floor, hurried to the shop’s front door, tore it open, and ran out into the street as he was hunted by wild apes.
The shop door slammed back violently and like a thunder against the stopper, and the last large pieces of glass on the door finally shattered loudly into a thousand individual pieces.
Immediately, dogs were barking outside. I also wanted to run away, but my knees trembled like jelly. So, I walked cautiously to the exit, looked down the empty street to see where the burglar had fled. I chose to walk down the opposite direction.
On the left corner I heard a loud squeak. A police car. Two officers jumped out and ran to the shop with their flashlights drawn out. They could recognize my shadow, but not me.
‘Stop! Stop!’, I heard it loud and clear behind me.
But I ran madly down the seemingly endless street, without wasting any thoughts of stopping.
The officers did not even chase me on foot. I was too far away from them already. They ran back to their car and then resumed their pursuit. On this long road, they would surely laugh at me from the car window after a short while.
My new big belly wiggled from one side to the other. I made only moderate progress. A fat crazy burglar runs down the street with a stolen hole punch. It must have been a grotesque sight.
Then, it went from bad to worse. I twisted my foot because of my patent-leather shoes, and landed on the sidewalk distorted with pain.
Some voice inside me said I should get up. Moreover, I heard it as an order:
‘Get up, you fatso and keep running!’.
I jumped up and wanted to run. But I clearly felt the pain in my foot as I put it on the ground.
‘Maybe not,’ I thought, limping along at a snail’s pace.
In my hand still holding the hole punch, and I tried to stow it somewhere in my pockets, but it was too big. It never occurred to me to simply throw the useless thing away into the bush. The police car stopped to my left, two officers looked over at me hastily. I looked back in horror and stopped breathless.
One of the officers looked at my clothes, which did not look like a burglar’s outfit, then he looked at the hole punch I was holding. ‘You called?’ He asked me. I nodded and held up the punch.
‘Do not worry, man!’ the officer said. ‘We’ll get him!’
With screeching tires the police car raced off. I stood on the street like a complete moron, looking back once more, then back in the direction of the police car, hobbling on.
After a while, several police cars roamed the surrounding streets. Officers were seeking around and continued driving on around the blocks. They were looking for the burglar. Lost in thought, I hobbled on to the next intersection, none of the officers paid attention to me. I made it to the next bus stop. The bus came immediately. That never happened before.
During the week I realized something, besides that my guardian angel could not have come from this world. Someone had seen the burglar and reported it to the police before the break-in. The police were not looking for a limping beer-bellied moron hobbling in patent-leather shoes, green shirt, and a hole punch in his hand. Maybe they even though the punch was a cell phone, so they came to ask me if I had contacted the police. Anyway, they were looking for a strong-built, big burglar in black clothes. Surely the police would have had to stop to question me at least as a witness. But I think they were just too eager to catch the perpetrator with the description they had.
I hobbled a full week after the incident. Of course, to everyone else I said that I had sustained the injury during the sport. The burglary caused a big claptrap in the company. It was hard for me to listen to the wild speculations of my boss, without throwing my own thoughts on the matter.
My mission was not over. There was one more piece of evidence that I almost forgot. The burned DVD with the logs was still lying in the drawer under my desk. I would simply break it in the middle and then finally have my peace.
Exceptionally, this time I decided to do this during regular working hours.
I told Mr. Werner that I had to concentrate and not want to be disturbed. ‘Sure… sure,’ he nodded.
It was a bit of a hunch, as I pushed the DVD into the drive again. I started the text editor, chose the Find feature in the menu, and typed in the seven letters that were responsible for this mess. After a few seconds, the message appeared on the screen: ‘Search term Parasite.exe found’ The byte size and the date made it all clear to me know. The mutated virus had been sent from here as well. The burglar had to be responsible for it. He wanted to do the same thing with the burglary as I. It was all about the destruction of evidence.
‘Just too bad that he didn’t just let me do it,’ I thought.
I would have erased the data without much fuzz and perhaps never gotten to know his identity. I was annoyed that I underestimated him.
I heard someone hawking behind me. I took the DVD out of the drive and held it over my right shoulder.
‘Here, Marcel,’ I said without turning around, ‘Are you looking for this?’.