Sunday, October 16, 2005

 

BABEL II


"Repent and change your ways for vengeance is mine and the time is at hand. This is what our Lord had again told me last night, just like the many nights that passed. It was always the same. Repent for the time is at hand. Repent." Father Salvador's quivering voice was drowned by the loud chorus of “amen” from the small crowd of worshipers in the decrepit chapel. Upon the lector's cue, the parishioners seated themselves to listen to the venerable priest's usual homily on the dreadful side effects of technology.

"Man is getting more intelligent everyday, don't you agree? Everyone here can read, can write, can communicate pretty well. Compared to the cavemen thousands of years ago, the modern man is not just superior but a superman. Yes, we are all supermen because God did not only give us a brain, but a brilliant mind to make our life on this earth less miserable." Father Salvador drew his forefinger on his head and paused as if to catch his breath.

"From the stone implements of yore we came up with an array of wonderful inventions, different machines, gadgets and devices, all for the benefit of mankind. Is there anybody here who can survive without these innovations?" He paused again and gazed at the crowd to check for a reaction.

"I see no raised hand. So everyone agrees that we have become too dependent on these machines that provide us with unimaginable comfort and convenience. Let us use it wisely and purposely. Do you agree to that?" The people silently nodded to acknowledge the question.

"The computer is the greatest machine of all time. Although it looks like it, the computer is not really man's invention because it is a gift of God, a manna from heaven to serve the entire creation. The computer with its communications network is like a slave that serves us, obeying our commands without question. Children get their academic education via the network. Household shopping is done in the network. You pay your bills thru the network. Business is held using the network. Almost everything involves the network, from news to entertainment. Yes, network, the beneficial computer network.

"So unlike the olden times when one can only converse in the same language, now you can communicate with the rest of the world regardless of language and culture for the network provides, for your convenience, a translator function. Hah, we are a pampered lot. What if we have another Babel in our midst?"

The question sounded interesting enough. It was the first time Father Salvador mentioned the word Babel and the bible-reading parishioners instantly knew the meaning - confusion. For confusion will result in a network crack-up. But defenders of science argued that even a nuclear war, which was remote, could not wipe out the communications network that spans the globe.
Partly, yes, but not entirely.

"But wait, the list of benefits is not yet complete. Yes, I missed something. People can also use the computer network for their vices!" Some heads slowly bowed, an indication of unconscious admittance of the admonition.

"Mind if tell you - stop the obscenities! Refrain from using these devices for your whims and caprices! For your perversions! Change ways now or repent later when it's too late. Don't tell me that I didn't warn you. The time is near, very near." And Father Salvador, as always, would be waving a small envelope in his right hand. That gesture signaled the end of his speech and the obedient crowd, still with some bowed heads, would somewhat be coerced by the lector to respond with applause.

But unlike the past Sundays when Father Salvador immediately went back to the altar and continued with the holy mass, he remained standing in the pulpit, as if waiting for the noise to die down. The people were surprised when the venerable priest unzipped the small brown envelope to display a videopak.

"This is the David that will cut down to size the giant Goliath. This will bring the curse to end all curses! See here, this is the second Babel!" His tone was threatening as he waved the dark-colored videopak on top of his head. The lector was confused and didn't know what to do until Father Salvador walked to the altar and nonchalantly continued with the celebration of the Sunday mass.

It had been a while since Father Salvador started his crusade against the evils in, not of, technology, particularly the computer industry, by his biting homilies. Although the crusading priest made it clear in his speeches that "technology per se is good," people tend to misquote him, making him appear to be opposed to progress. But the smart priest was aware of the libelous media blitz against him.

Father Salvador used to be a computer scientist. He was one of the few surviving pioneers in the computer networking industry. When the destructive computer virus emerged in the limelight, he spent half his waking hours in making antidote programs which he distributed for free to protect the computer systems of home users. It came to a point when the virus programs became a craze and Father Salvador got sick and tired of formulating serum programs. His frustration with the industry brought him to the seminary where he eventually became a priest.

But he did not completely abandon his trade for he remained engaged, though occasionally and sub rosa, in networking. Continually, he updated his knowledge on the grapevine with his antiquated laptop crudely hooked to a telephone landline.

Five years into the priesthood solidified his moral leanings, giving him enough guts to start condemning the proliferation of evil practices in the computer network with his sharp-tongued homilies and daring advertisements in major network centrals. It was his way of protesting the government's inability to regulate or impose censorship on the misguided use of some network centrals. Thanks to the so-called freedom of the press and the like. From the subtle to the most vulgar, you just name it and they have it.

For a minimal fee, pornographic reading materials, complete with lewd video illustrations in the guise of electronic novels can be had via line transmissions. Not a few network centrals offer erotic teleconferencing where one can engage in the most prurient tele-conversation and eventually land a sex partner. The perverts are indeed having a good time.

Catering to the billions of drug addicts in the whole world is made easy by the computer network. The olden mafia is no match for the daily online transactions of the present drug moguls and catching them, pinpointing actually, is easy but proving their guilt is another thing.

Gambling lords are lording it over in international style and fashion. Direct link is made ordinary to any horse bookies, casino games of any kind, sports-related gambling and any kind of betting that one could think of.

The ills are countless, according to Father Salvador, so don't bother to list them down. Business scams, mail-order brides, child trafficking, human smuggling, illegal recruitment of women and children, bogus religions and any other evil from A to Z.

It was no secret that Arthur Mendez, head of Arcturus Visuals, the holding company of ArcNet, a tiny network central dominating the smut enterprise, was the primary target of Father Salvador's campaign, relegating all other fly-by-night online companies to mere observers. Network users highly suspect Arthur to be the origin of rumors in the form of bulletin board notices in major network centrals. The latest of which was about Father Salvador, since he was known as a good computer programmer, being a party to the launching of the latest pornographic novel. It came complete with voice and erotic sound effects.

The attacks shifted from mild to serious, the reaction's subtlety turned offensive, and the mild dispute metamorphosed into a heated literary warfare of sorts between Father Salvador and Arthur Mendez at ElectroBus, the largest network central in the world, with the former hurling naked threats against the entire network industry and the latter retorting with cosmeticized insults. Spectators, mostly the home users, were treated to a new brand of debate using the most sophisticated styles and techniques.

Father Salvador's first full-screen monitor page appeared with a blinking logo of Arcturus Visuals, changing to a horned devil in a few blinks with a caption saying "I want your soul." The reprisal was a comical caricature of Father Salvador holding a small envelope with the markings of Arcturus Visuals' products and a textual caption of "I want your show." The witty ads were enhanced each day, adding luster to the colorful battle.

Little by little, curiosity got into the nerves of the users, filling the ElectroBus interchange to an all time high to witness the regular electronic combat of the most popular online gladiators on earth. Some watchers were very interested, some mildly, some were just plain observers and the rest were pranksters who enjoyed meddling in the issue with their confusing messages. The shower of side comments for the pros and cons added fuel to the fire and it was apparent that patience was getting scarcer on both sides of the conflict.

Like a thief in the night, the climax to the dispute was unexpected that Friday of December. With Father Salvador's startling proclamation at ElectroBus, reaching other network centrals in no time at all. The grapevine was abuzzed with various speculations. Ironically, the fanfare in the lines was punctuated with false messages from hard core pranksters. But majority of the users, skeptics included, appeared intimidated by the alarming full-screen textual ad in bold letters - THE NETWORK WILL SOON CEASE TO EXIST AND THE DESTRUCTION WILL BEGIN ON SUNDAY!

Saturday morning was good business for the network centrals as Line Facilitators noted a high attendance of line users. Messages filled the data queue, all about inquiries on the probability of a network disaster. Several theses came about in the afternoon, unanimously concluding the incredulity of the warning, that no such computer virus would be capable of affecting the entire network, no matter how extensive the contamination was. But apprehension was evident in each pronouncement.

The network centrals experienced an extremely low activity despite the heavy volume of linked users, quite unusual for a Sunday. It was apparent that everyone was eagerly anticipating an announcement of an incident or maybe just to test the lines. Conjectures came forth once in a while but pranksters held a moratorium on their irritating gigs in the evening. Everyone
seemed to be undergoing the agony of waiting for the threat to materialize.

At high noon information exchange in the lines hit a peak after the issuance of Father Salvador's advisory. No matter how incredible it appeared, users exerted even the minimal effort to verify matters. It took only thirty minutes to confirm the accuracy of the crusading priest's one-liner. ArcNet IS DOWN, GUESS WHO WILL BE NEXT?

The media picked up the story and network news centrals continually updated the public with flash reports. A fatal computer virus, code named BABEL II, was let loose in the ArcNet network central computer, inflicting a major damage to the installation of Arcturus Visuals. All files in their data storage were corrupted and some cables exploded due to the sudden voltage fluctuations. If not for their early warning mechanism, the damage could have spread to the users who were connected at that time to the network although several users swore that their computers were adversely affected.

The government, without wasting any time, launched an official query and came up with a full report before midnight. It appeared that the sly computer virus was very sophisticated as to elude ArcNet's protective software shields when the maker sent a contaminated E-mail to it. (One can surmise that the contaminated ArcNet in turn had already infected the connected users). However, the virus remained inert for an indefinite period until such time that it was activated when the maker sent another E-mail containing the trigger code.

Details were 'withheld' by the investigators to prevent putting dangerous ideas into the heads of pranksters. But the fact-finding committee was clear on their report that ArcNet was indeed devastated because countless of files were deleted and several fuses were blown up. Nothing follows. Case closed.

As in the past, there were no convictions for there were no hard evidences, only admissions, if ever, by the guilty party. That was the reason why the government used 'official query,' instead of a probe, for their investigations. Just like tape and video recordings, the courts don't allow electronic recordings as valid evidences either.

Before midnight, personal analyses and conclusions poured in and some technically-skilled users even made a convincing diagnosis to lend credibility on the unusual event. But the frightening theory, that almost every computer system around the world was contaminated and was just waiting for the right code to trigger the destruction, was doubtlessly swallowed by the jittery networking population.

Monday saw the best Monday for Father Salvador. Apologies and pledges from different network centrals filled the message queue of his E-mail bin. Network news centrals were besieged with announcements of pullouts, disclaimers and denials. Even the government came out with their own press release for an immediate formulation of guidelines in curbing, not just regulating, the evil practices in the network industry.

No more smut. No more gambling bets. No more drugs.

"Mission accomplished!" thought Father Salvador to himself as he picked up the ringing phone. "Hello? Oh, yes, it's over now, at last. Thank you, thank you very much, my dear friend. May the good Lord bless you... yes... yes. Even the media is duped into it, the government, too... Of course, how can I forget the pranksters? Our little secret will remain a secret, forever... Okay... Thanks again for your great help, my friend, you'll be in my prayers, all the time... Bye, Arthur."
Father Salvador and Arthur Mendez

As Father Salvador pressed the off button of the phone, he was beaming with genuine happiness. "How is one to know that there was no virus at all?" he muttered to himself. The crusading priest opened the drawer, took out the tiny videopak labeled Babel II and inserted it in the drive of his antiquated laptop computer. After a split second of whirring, the monitor came to life, displaying a full screen text on how to play the game called BABEL II.

Babel II was Father Salvador's favorite computer game, a mild version of chess, which he programmed many years before when the network industry was just budding, the time when he was still a young crusading programmer, when he used to create serum programs for computer viruses with Arthur Mendez, his best friend.
**** This short story was written in 1995 when internet was not in vogue yet.

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