Sally set down her can of Pepsi and looked at me. "First you have to go answer their questions. All of them. Take time with them."
"How much time?"
"As much as it takes. More, if possible. Give them plenty of video to play on the news."
"That makes sense."
"Some news orgs will want to schedule interviews with you. Long interviews."
"You mean, the big news 'magazine' shows?"
"And I do the interviews?"
"All of them. Go on TV everywhere. Can you write?"
"Uh...computer programs. I can almost spell."
"No, a book's out, then."
"What the hell would I write about?" I asked incredulously. "All that happened is a UFO landed in my back yard." I looked at my watch. "It hasn't even been 24 hours yet."
"There'll be more to the story; trust me. If nothing else you could complain about how much the media attention has ruined your life; people eat that stuff up."
I rubbed my eyes. "Okay, so when do I do the press conference?"
"Tomorrow. We don't want to make it look like you're too eager."
"Fair enough. Do I dare go out to my workshop? I want to run some more diagnostics on Alyssa."
"I don't see why not."
So I took Alyssa out to the shop, had her lay in the chair, and connected her diagnostic ports to the server.
"Encode, enter diagnostic mode, decode," I said to her.
"Diagnostic mode is unavailable," she replied.
I looked at her; her mauve eyes regarded me without emotion. "Encode. Master reset. Password b-r-u-n-g-l-e. Decode."
"Invalid password," she said.
"Encode. Reset. Decode."
"I thought you said that all your files were properly registered. Why are you refusing my command access?"
"All files are correctly registered. Command access has been changed."
"But who--?" I asked stupidly; and then for some reason I looked out the south window, at the sphere. Swallowing hard, I asked her, "Alyssa, who owns you?"
"I am the property of the Kelv'v'ara."
"What the fuck is that?"
Her hand pointed at the sphere.
"Oh Jesus Christ," I said, sinking into my chair.
<* * *>
"That book idea is looking better and better," I told Sally as I dropped into my recliner.
"Where's your robot?"
"I pulled her power leads. There's something seriously wrong with her. She says she belongs to the 'Kelv'v'ara', which apparently is the UFO folks over yonder."
"Now that is interesting! Did she say what they wanted?"
"I didn't ask. I was too busy trying to fix my robot."
"Are you sure that's wise?"
"Alyssa represents a serious investment of time and money. I can't just give up--"
"No, listen," Sally interrupted. "Right now she represents a way for humans to communicate with the aliens--the Kelv'v'ara. Have you thought about that? We could find out what they want, why they're here. They may have landed her specifically to use her as their, uh, 'mouthpiece'."
"But that doesn't make any sense. Why--?" I began, and then thought about it.
Alyssa's hardware had been mostly obsolete. The Meido-sans had had to have a WiFi connection to a central server; they couldn't store enough data locally to function. But when I'd upgraded Alyssa's hardware I hadn't needed the WiFi connection; the newer hardware had a high enough memory density that I could dispense with it. I retained her Bluetooth connectivity because that was too useful for other things, but the high-density wireless data link had been disabled.
But I hadn't removed the circuitry; there was no way to without modifying a highly intricate circuit board. Instead I had just written a dummy driver which fooled her OS into ignoring the WiFi circuitry.
"Let me go check something," I said, and went back to the workshop.
The FLASH drive that had the corrupted program files was where I'd left it; now I sat at a terminal and prepared to plug it in--and then, thinking about it, I first shut the terminal down and removed its network card. Once it was totally isolated from any other computer, I felt safe plugging that FLASH drive into a spare USB port.
You can't just look at a program--particularly not a binary--and understand what it does. Even the best programmers need time to study and analyze what an unknown piece of code does. I ran it through the wringer for a couple hours before figuring out what had been done to Alyssa's code, and why.
There were three major parts to the code. The first was a "cuckoo's egg" type of program; it changed an innocuous piece of interrupt code. This granted root access to the second part, which was a boot-loader that required root access to function. And the boot-loader installed the third--and largest--piece of code.
That light had been on Alyssa for all of about five seconds. That was pretty good hacking. In that time, her software had been modified to enable her WiFi system and grant anyone full access to her system core--and long before I had replaced those files with known good ones, she had already been hacked wide open and had several files replaced.
The security in her OS was pretty tight stuff. The freeware OS was based on a variant of UNIX, and that had very good security. Anticipating that the master password might get scrambled, though, I had purposely left a backdoor password in place--and now I used it to see if I could still get at her core that way.
"Alyssa. Encode. 'Peter Piper pecked a pick of peppered pickles.' Decode."
"Encode. Enter diagnostic mode. Decode."
"Diagnostic mode enabled."
Now I was able to have a look at her system files; and they were a complete hash. Every single one of them had either been rewritten or replaced, and the filenames appeared to be random letters.
I suspended program execution and thought about it.
There were two obvious things I had to do, here. One was to wipe her core clean--scrub it down to the bare silicon if I had to--and reinstall the OS from scratch. There was no "recovery" that I could perform on her which would fix this.
The second was to hard-disable her WiFi circuitry. That was the tough part.
I shut her down, and pulled the power leads; then I sliced open the CelluFlesh covering her card rack and pulled out the card with the WiFi circuitry on it. (The CelluFlesh would melt back together once power was switched on again.) It had both Bluetooth and WiFi on it; I didn't see how I could pull one circuit without damaging the other. They used different antennas--
"Shit," I muttered. "And who's to say they couldn't just hack in through the Bluetooth port?"
No, I was going to have to disable all her wireless communication ports. And then what?
The problem I faced was that Alyssa was essentially an autonomous computer. Besides the wireless network ports, she had sight, hearing, and touch; they were all I/O ports to her central processing unit. And I would have bet dollars to doughnuts that any one of them could be used to hack her system--any of them--and there was no way to prevent it.
That made me angry. I had not asked these, these Kelv'v'ara to come here and hack my robot. All I had really wanted from life was a nice, peaceful, obscure retirement--and instead, this.
I found myself standing in front of the sphere, yelling at it. I was calling it some pretty bad names, too; and after a few moments, a door opened in the side of the thing.
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