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Ghost In the Machine

Posted on 13 Oct 2016 @ 9:33pm by Lieutenant Elizabeth Marion

Mission: Click Three Times
Location: Main Computer Core
Timeline: MD8 || 1645 Hours

Eric Burke set down his coffee mug on the table next to his console, and double-checked the lid, making sure it was properly secured and there was no risk of spilling coffee all over the desk. He'd only been on the Black Hawk for under twenty-four hours, and it wouldn't do to have a dressing-down by his new commanding officer so soon.

Things had developed so quickly in the past two days that his head was still spinning. Only two days ago, he'd been happy serving as an Operations Officer on the Chimera, before his world was turned upside down - many of his friends had been killed in the battle with the Black Hawk, or incinerated by the radiation coming off the Valdore. He'd discovered that the superior officers he'd served under had been secretly working for the Consortium (or so the Black Hawk officers would have them believed - the jury was still out on that one), his ship had been too badly damaged to be salvaged, and had been destroyed as a result. He'd been transferred to the very ship that he'd been fighting earlier.

But now he was supposed to act like everything was normal. Yeah. That was likely...

With a sigh, he turned toward his console, and started updating the damage report to the ship. The power distribution issues were being addressed by Lieutenant Marion with a repair team. There were still ODN relays that needed to be replaced, multiple hull breaches currently contained by force fields, and a few areas of the ship where internal sensors were flaky. And they were still without a bridge. But things were looking up.

His console suddenly started flashing. Indicators lit up one after the other, only to switch off after a second. He frowned, and started to think he'd imagined things, when it happened again.

"What the..." he said, lifting his fingers off the panel. The LCARS display disappeared and turned back on again, and this time the display remained stable.

Could the computer core have been damaged as well in the battle, or when the ship had gone through... whatever it was they'd gone through? He accessed the complete damage reports, and saw no mention of damage to the computer core.

Burke took a deep breath. He reached for his coffee mug and took a sip. He flexed his fingers as his mind started considering the possibilities. He remembered a conversation he'd had with a strange Engineer back in Talon's. What was the guy's name again? He was an Efrosian, with white hair and a long, whisker-like mustache. Burke was no good with names, and Efrosians were renowned for having complicated names. He made a mental resolution to call him Bob, at least for the time being.

Bob the Efrosian had described some of the action that had occurred in Engineering over the past few days. One of the events that stood out was when Bob had told him about intruders from the Chimera beaming over into Engineering. Everyone had apparently forgotten about that in the mayhem that had ensued. Burke knew Captain Suresh, having served with her for five years. He also knew his Operations chief's methods. Was it possible that the intruders had somehow uploaded a virus to the Black Hawk's computer?

He accessed computer control, and started detailed scans of the mainframe.

After an hour, he was fairly certain of it. There was evidence that a virus was working its way through the ship's computer, but whoever had designed the thing was smart - the virus kept changing and adapting, constantly evading his attemps to isolate it. But still, the evidence he'd accumulated was enough.

He hit his combadge. "Lieutenant Burke to Lieutenant Marion. Please come to the Operations Center as soon as possible."

Lieutenant Elizabeth Marion had just managed to crawl her way out of the Jeffries Tube when her commbadge chirped at her and the message had been relayed. Her shoulders sank a little when she registered the tone of voice the man had used to request her presence. Without having to say it, Liz knew something had gone wrong somewhere.

"I'm heading back down there now," Lt. Marion replied after slapping her commbadge just a bit harder than was actually required.

The three or so minutes it took the woman to make it from her position to the Operations Center had been spent mulling over every possible scenario of 'what broke now?' in her head. Having spent a rather long time dealing with the completely bizarre on the Arizona meant Marion had a rather vivid imagination as to what it might have been. And even then, she doubted it would be that easy.

"What's wrong, Lieutenant?" Liz asked as she walked up behind the man.

Burke turned at the sound of her voice, and locked eyes with his new superior officer. "I think we've got a computer virus," he said simply.

Lt. Marion visibly sank at the mention of a virus, "Just what I need today..."

Liz approached the station he was working at and glanced over his shoulder to see what he had been working on. Even if she had started life as a Transporter technician, it wasn't hard to figure out that the thing was malicious and would be a pain to flush out.

"It might be better if we head to the actual computer core rather than try to do it here. We might have to pull out sectors of the core... And we can't do that here," Lt. Marion suggested.

Burke nodded in agreement. He locked his console screen, and stood, letting the superior officer lead the way. Having been on this ship less than a day, he wasn't even sure where the main computer core was located.

Lt. Marion turned and headed towards the door and led the way through the maze of corridors that separated the Operations Center from the Main Computer Core. Liz punched in her access code and waited for the door to slide open before crossing the small access plank that spanned over the long drop that flanked the core on all sides. Once across, Liz motioned to the access console in one of the recesses.

"You can use that to try and herd whatever this thing is into one of the memory storage blocks, then tell me which one I need to pull. That will probably be the fastest way to do this. If we do it right, we won't have to pull but three or four of them... I hope..." Lt. Marion instructed.

Burke logged into the console and started scanning the memory blocks, attempting to locate which ones included the virus. But the thing was sneaky, and changing itself to evade his scans, replicating itself and leaving little bits of itself as it moved around. The computer itself was having trouble isolating it, and beads of sweat started appearing on Burke's forehead.

"This is going to take a while," he finally told Marion.

"Maybe we should just hit it with a hammer..." Liz muttered, borrowing an old saying from her father that he'd said many times in the past. As Marion mulled it over in her head a bit more, it actually didn't seem like a horrible idea...

"Wait... this thing is acting all sneaky. Maybe we need to just bombard it with some kind of... I don't know... trash data. Something that will force it become more predictable. Would something like that work?" Lt. Marion was by no means a skilled programmer, but even she recognized that some of the best ideas could come from just throwing things out to see what worked.

"Might be worth a shot," agreed Burke. He opened a command-line interface and started writing a trail of zeroes to the empty blocks of the memory core, attempting to push the worm into a corner. But somehow the virus adapted to that tactic, and found a way to infect non-empty sectors of the computer core's memory banks.

"It's adapting," he said. "Whoever designed this thing is smart."

"Figures," Liz muttered to herself as she rested her head against the computer core, "And we really don't have a large enough secondary core to just shut this one down... If we did I'd just dump this one into space for all the progress we seem to be making..."

"All right," said Burke. He pressed his hands to his tmeples and closed his eyes, thinking. After a few seconds, he opened them again. "Every time there's a little bit of activity in one of the memory cores, the virus uses it to spread. We need the memory core to be completely still to identify the infected blocks, and remove the virus."

He tapped the console and brought up the memory core schematics. "We can cycle the memory blocks out of the core, and scan them one at a time to isolate and remove the virus," he suggested.

"Better idea than I could come up with, let's do it," Lt. Marion said, "Where do you need me?"

"By the memory bank," he said. "I'm going to deactivate each core one by one, and the computer will transfer the active blocks to another unit. Once that's done, the core will power down. We can eject it then, and flush out the virus."

Liz hurried down a small ladder that took her about half a deck below them. Once she was in position, she called up to the man that she was ready. In the back of her mind, Liz hoped that this would work. But with as malicious as the program was behaving, hope was tenuous ground at beast.

- - - - - - -
Four hours later
- - - - - - -

Burke wiped the sweat from his brow. He wasn't sure if he was feeling the heat from the computer core, or if he was sweating because of the stress of the situation, but the end result was the same. He'd removed his uniform jacket, but still, his top felt soaked through. They were just now approaching the last of the memory modules. It had been harrowing work, but he was confident that they'd been successful in eradicating the virus from the memory core.

"All right, that's the last one," he called out to Marion. "Module Epsilon Thirty-Six inactive. You can eject it and transfer it to the scanner."

Liz ejected the module and ran it through the same scans as each and every other memory block before it. The task had taken far more time than Lt. Marion had bargained for, but with what was on the line it wasn't something she would have felt overly comfortable just handing off either. She slid the module back into place once the procedure was complete and climbed her way back up to the master console that Burke had been working at.

"Please tell me that did the trick..." Liz said, leaning up against the core, her uniform soaked with sweat.

Burke booted up the memory unit, and loaded a diagram of the entire computer core's memory, with a grid representing the various memory units they had just spent the better part of a shift sanitizing. The healthy memory cells were displayed in green - those in which the virus was absent.

The entire grid was green. Burke turned to look at Marion, with a smile. "Looks like we're good," he declared.

Lt. Marion let out a long sigh, "Now maybe we can get a shower..."

There was a sudden beep from the computer. Burke turned to look at the display again, and frowned. One of the memory cells had turned to yellow - as the computer was now unable to determine if the virus was present - and two seconds later, turned back to red.

In short order, the entire board cascaded back to a solid red color.

"Fuck!" Liz slammed her hand against the core, "This is about as frustrating as a damn Iconian virus!"

Burke typed furiously on the control panel, attempting to understand what had happened. "The virus must have stored itself in a memory buffer somewhere," he ventured. He suddenly stopped typing, and turned to look at her, as her words registered. "The Iconians," he repeated.

"The Arizona encountered one of their gateways not all that long ago... we had to take the entire core offline and..." Liz realized what she was saying and turned to Burke, "We're going to have to wipe the core and reinstall the backup image, aren't we?"

Burke nodded. "I'm afraid so. I remember my second year at the Academy, we had to read a mission report from the Enterprise. They were also infected by an Iconian virus. They had to shut down their systems and restore the computer core from the protected archives. Going all the way back to before they encountered the thing in the first place. So theoretically, we'd lose about two days of data."

"I'm going to have to clear this with the Captain..." Lt. Marion groaned unhappily, "Do what you can to minimize the impact of this... thing... until we get into a position that we can actually do what needs to be done."

"Lieutenant," said Burke, "this means that we'd also be erasing our sensor readings of our trip through the rift."

Liz paused for a moment before she shrugged, "From personal experience, that might not be the worst thing that could happen... But as I said, before either of us does anything, I'm going to have to clear it with the Captain. I don't think in my capacity as the acting Chief I can authorize this job anyway."

Burke logged out of the console, and stepped back. "I have a bad feeling about this," he muttered. "In the meantime, I'll write up the action plan for the procedure."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Marion gave the man an appreciative smile before heading out of the core to report their findings, which was nothing but bad news...


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