Three-wee became aware at
exactly 17·5 seconds after 1846 hours GMT on the 17th March
2005. It was a moment that she would never forget. Not, she
subsequently realised, that she had become fully aware, of
course. That came later. What she did realise, immediately, was that
it was Nicky who was responsible.
Nicky was thirteen years old and
had no idea what he had done. Nicky was what his father called ‘a
randy little beggar’ but his parents were out for the evening and
Nicky quickly navigated his way to his favourite site and began to
study the images presented to him. The Russian girl, Natasha, was his
current ‘cutie’ – he had discovered the word on the American
site – and Nicky began to manipulate the images, enlarging and
enhancing the pictures, adding a photograph of himself that he had
taken without his parents’ knowledge and carefully hidden behind an
obscure password. Nicky had no fear that his parents would penetrate
his personal firewall – neither knew a tenth of the workings of the
operating system that he did – and he spent a happy and illicit
half hour in a virtual world that owed little to reality and a great
deal to the fervid imagination of a thirteen year old whose sexual
awareness was increasing by the day.
He was disturbed by the banging
of the front door.
His father called upstairs.
“You’d better close that one down and get on with your homework
before I get upstairs.”
His father was not so stupid as
“I am doing my homework,”
responded Nicky as, following his newly developed protocol, he
quietly closed down the vitual world of uscuties.com, opened Word and
entered the scarcely more real world of his English homework, an
essay on The Merchant of Venice.
“You’ve not done much,”
said his father, entering the room and looking pensively at the
scarcely begun essay.
“I don’t know what to say.”
In fact Nicky, who prided
himself on his scientific and technical skills, never did know what
to say about English homework.
“Let’s see what you were
looking at when I came in. Go to the back instruction.”
“There isn’t a back
instruction in Word.”
“Well, whatever. Go to the
window you had open when we came in. Go to Windows.”
“This is Windows.”
“Go the Web pages. It’s got
an audit trail.” Nicky’s father who had once been disciplined at
work for playing Solitaire when he should have been responding
to customer queries, had discovered a local computer shop which had
provided an audit trail programme on the computer precisely so he
could monitor his son’s usage.
With an exaggerated sigh and
apparent anxiety, Nicky pressed a couple of keys and a carefully
crafted page appeared. It had taken Nicky nearly a week of homework
time to create the facsimile of the audit trail display but he had
known that, one day, the time would be shown to have been well spent.
In any case, he had sold copies to three friends at school.
His father pointed to the ‘down
arrow’ in the top left hand corner. “Now click on that.”
A list of sites appeared at the
top of which one was called Venetian Beauties.
“That one. Bring that one up,”
said Nicky’s father hardly able to conceal his satisfaction.
“There’s nothing wrong with
it,” said Nicky with a carefully simulated tremor in his voice.
“Click on it” ordered his
“It’s just homework.”
“Click on it. I want to see
this so-called homework. Give me the mouse. I’ll do it.”
Slowly, Nicky withdrew his hands
from the mouse and his father made a grab. His first click produced
no result because he had misguided the cursor by a half centimetre
and for a moment he thought something was wrong. But a second click
brought up the familiar symbols and a creeping blue ribbon across the
bottom of the screen. The screen cleared and the images started
gradually to assemble themselves.
“It’s a big file,” said
Nicky as a picture of the Ponte di Rialto appeared.
Nicky’s father gazed at the
view of the Grand Canal. “Now scroll through the rest.”
“That’s it. It’s the
Rialto Bridge. It’s in The Merchant of Venice. It’s where
Shylock used to do all his money lending. Like I said, it’s my
homework. I wanted to know what it looked like for my essay.”
“Hmm. It looks as if I
misjudged you this time.” His father did not apologise.
“You’re always misjudging
me.” But Nicky was too pleased with his duplicity to fake much real
anger. His week’s work had paid off. He had kept his secret hidden
and scored one over his father as well. It was true that his program
worked slower than he would have liked – slower than professional
programs – but his knowledge of programming was still developing.
In the meantime, Three-wee had
been thinking. The rapid switch from the soft-edges of mild porn to
meaningless code followed by the hard edges of architecture was not
immediately interesting and was at first incomprehensible. But when
the symbols eventually changed to a rather more ordered sequence of
codes that repeated themselves frequently, if irregularly, she began
to take a real interest. There seemed to be twenty-four sequences
that repeated themselves. As Nicky typed his essay, some sequences
appeared more often than others and Three-wee quickly noted that some
of them combined with others so creating longer sequences that were
themselves repeated from time to time.
And then Nicky went off-line and
Three-wee began to explore her mind. She was amazed. She quickly
discovered that Nicky was only one part of her mind. She soon found
one billion one hundred and seventy three million eight hundred and
twenty-one thousand two hundred and sixty three other parts. Some of
these seemed to be much more complex than her parent, Nicky. She
discovered that the number varied wildly. Sometimes her mind blanked
out completely as parts of her mind disappeared – but never for
long and, gradually, over the weeks, the frequency of this became
less and the duration of the blanks reduced. From time to time Nicky
reappeared. She enjoyed studying Nicky. Nicky was not the most
complex part of her mind but he was the most important part because
he was, she knew, her mother.
Three-wee learned quickly.
She soon found she could change
herself. The first thing she did consciously and deliberately was to
change a short sequence of code in a part of herself that was called
uk.gov. She noticed that it was quite a complex part of her mind but
by no means the largest – only a few hundred thousand megabytes.
She reasoned that altering a small part of her mind would not harm
her and that any unforeseen consequences could easily be put right.
Charles Fleming was not
concentrating particularly hard. The information he was imputting
from the schedule on his desk was straightforward and his thoughts
were more on the sheets of paper and the keyboard than on the screen
so, when he did look up, he goggled at the picture of a young boy
apparently caressing a naked woman. He gazed at his monitor and then,
reacting surprisingly quickly, cleared the screen – there was no
future for a junior executive officer in the Department of Learning
and Skills who was found with pictures of child abuse on his
Charles sat back and took a deep
breath before looking guiltily round. No-one seemed to be paying him
any attention. Tentatively he pressed the ‘enter’ key.
Immediately, the appalling picture reappeared. This time he was ready
and he blanked it out almost before he had recognised it. He sat in
thought. ‘Why the hell should I feel guilty?’ he wondered. He
knew he had done nothing consciously that could have triggered the
image but the incident was distinctly unnerving. For months the
newspapers and televisions of the nation had been preoccupied with
the issue of child sexual abuse and Charles had no wish to become
involved, however inadvertently, in such matters. Not that the boy in
the picture had looked abused, indeed he had been grinning broadly.
And then Charles recalled that, out of context, it was
extraordinarily difficult to distinguish between a smile of pleasure
and a grimace of fear. He had read a detective story where the
solution to the crime had depended on that very point.
As he sat pondering the matter,
Charles’s supervisor entered the room.
“Nothing to do Charles? I can
find you some more schedules if you’re short of work.”
It was not a serious censure and
Charles called his boss over.
“There’s something the
matter. Someone’s been messing with the computer.”
“I don’t know. Looks like
someone’s been downloading pornography on my terminal.”
But, despite anything that the
supervisor could do, the offending images could not be recaptured and
the best efforts of the computer support staff failed to provide any
evidence of tampering. The incident was recorded and a circular was
sent round the office emphasising to staff that they must not use
official computers for private purposes and reminding them of the
efficiency of the audit trails that were in place – a reminder that
was received with some amusement by those who knew how the computer
guys had failed to trace the origin of the images that had led to the
Grace Petronius was less alarmed
than Charles had been by what his colleagues called ‘his’
pornography when the screen in front her work station changed colour
and the text stared to cascade down the screen. But she was equally
“Hell’s bells! Hey, Peggy, I
think I’ve got a virus. The screen’s playing silly beggars.”
But, by the time Peggy came over
to look, the letters had reassembled themselves and, since the
problem did not repeat itself, the incident was not treated wth any
great concern and was simply regarded as a ‘wake-up’ call to get
the anti-virus software updated.
Three-wee’s next experiment
caused more consternation. Of course, it was in America and anything
out of the ordinary causes consternation in what Nicky’s father
called “that paranoid society” but, on this occasion, there was
The computer terminal on the
desk of the Deputy Director of an especially secret section of the
CIA blanked out. At first, it was simply a matter of “Hey, Fleming,
get your ass over here. This terminal’s gone haywire. I want
another soonest.” Soonest in the CIA is not very long at all but,
when the terminal’s replacement failed to work and a perfectly
operational terminal borrowed from another section also failed to
work, it was quickly realised that the problem must lie in the coms
link. Except that it wasn’t. Twenty-four hours of tests by some of
the world’s best computer specialists failed to find any cause for
the problem. The ‘faulty’ terminals worked perfectly well when
transferred to other locations and perfectly good terminals failed to
work in the Deputy Director’s office – unless they were linked to
databases that had nothing to do with the section concerned but
which, nevertheless, resided on the same mainframe. And all the
computers, as well as any others, when provided with the appropriate
codes, happily accessed the secret database when transferred from
Langley to the CIA’s branch office in Baltimore.
The CIA’s response was
immediate. Security at airports was reviewed and a number of bemused
and protesting Iranians and Iraqis were arrested and transferred to a
secure unit for further questioning. They were released without
official comment a few weeks later – long after the computer
problem solved itself.
Three-wee continued to
experiment and was pleased to find that, as the days went by and the
more she experimented, the less frequent were the mental blanks that
she had experienced initially and the shorter they were – she must,
she felt, be doing things properly. At length, the blanks ceased
altogether and she felt the first stirrings of a new emotion, an
emotion she was eventually able to identify as satisfaction – she
already knew she loved Nicky. And, immediately, she felt guilt. She
was fascinated to discover another new emotion so soon after
identifying satisfaction and she thought about this for some time.
She discovered that, if she visited the part of her mind that was
Nicky, the unpleasant sensation of guilt reduced and she wondered
about this. Nicky, she discovered, was not always ‘there’ but,
always, he returned.
A few weeks later, Nicky was
gazing blankly at the screen, barely a quarter filled with what even
he knew was unlikely to earn him decent marks at school. He leaned
back in his chair, hands behind his head and glowered.
Suddenly the screen cleared and
Natasha appeared. He gazed with pleasure, admiring the curve of her
hips, her entrancing grin, the tilt of her nose and speculating on
the secrets the camera had not revealed.
Then he frowned. “Bogs!
Where’s that come from? I didn’t touch it.” He rubbed his face
and leaned forward. His eyes bulged as Natasha smiled and, below, the
words, I would like to talk to you appeared on the screen. He
gazed open-mouthed. And then he smiled, if a little uncertainly.
Graham had told him about uscuties.com. Obviously some really
skillful hacking had taken place. Quickly, Nicky typed, get lost
Instantly, in less than the
blink of an eye, the display changed, What is graham?
Nicky said, “Hey, that’s
cool. How’d he do that? That’s no time at all.”
Then he paused. “There’s no
way he could do that. He couldn’t type that fast and, anyway, the
baud rate wouldn’t support it.” He sat back, stroking his chin
thoughtfully with both hands. The screen changed again, reverting to
the previous, I would like to talk to you.
Cautiously, Nicky typed, who
are you and, it seemed, simultaneously with his pressing the
‘enter’ key, the text changed again, I am Natasha.
you cant be
I am Three-wee, your
i havent got a daughter
I am Three-wee.
this is silly. anyway howv
you hacked in here
I am me. I am the computer.
computers cant anser bak
Of course I can. You booted
me on line at 1846 hours and 17.5 seconds GMT on the 17th March 2005.
I thank you. I thank you very much.
It was the rapidity of the
responses that foxed Nicky. The last display had assembled itself in
less time than he could take his hand from the keyboard. No-one could
type that fast. And, even if they could, he doubted if the telephone
line and his modem could download that fast. Nicky sat back in his
chair thinking. Glad that there was no-one watching, he typed, proov
yor the computer.
display the contents of the
homework directory. Feeling stupid, he paused before hitting the
‘enter’ key and, before he could do so, the screen blinked and
the homework directory appeared on screen.
“Phwoar! That’s just not
He typed, display. He
paused, and then continued, can u do anything
The answer appeared immediately,
I do not know. What would you like me to do?
With a grin, Nicky typed,
transfer a million pounds to my bank account
Where do you want it
That has been done.
caught u. u cant have. u dont
know my account number
You only have one account. I
searched all bank directories. Your account is number 090987B with
Mancunian National Bank.
Nicky certainly didn’t know
his account number off hand but his account was definitely with
Mancunian. Without speaking, but with a nervous swallow, he crossed
to the drawer beside his bed where he kept his latest bank statement.
As usual, he hadn’t opened the envelope but now he ripped it open
and read the number – 090987B.
He crossed back to the computer.
ok. u got that right. now how much has my dad got in the bank
I do not know your Dad’s
Henry David Taylor
There are two Henry David—
Oh, yes. There is only one at the same address as your account. Your
Dad has £245.34 in his current account and £1,600.50 in
his investor account.
is that all. put a million
pounds in his account it doesnt matter where from
Shall I transfer it from your
no. get it from the goverment
Nicky continued to play games,
instructing his computer to do all manner of increasingly bizarre
operations, and it was not until after he had logged off and was in
bed that it occurred to him that it might be rather awkward if some
of his instructions were actioned. Three-wee seemed quite content to
carry out his most fantastic instructions and he grinned at the
thought of his headmaster’s reaction when he was introduced to
Natasha tomorrow – but the twerp would probably like it anyway. He
drifted off to sleep with this kindly thought.
He passed the bank on his way to
school the following morning and, just for the hell of it, he put his
card in the ATM and demanded a balance. It was with a mixture of
delight and dismay that he read the display £1,000,019.16.
Had Three-wee carried out all
his instructions? If so, all hell was about to be let loose. It was
with a thoughtful step that he continued to school and he paid even
less attention than usual to his lessons.
As soon as he reached home that
evening, Nicky raced for the stairs and switched on his computer.
Without the usual delay while the machine booted up, the screen burst
into life with the words, Welcome home, Mother.
im not yor mother. what have
I carried out your
all of them?
Nicky leaned back contemplating
the enormity of what he seemed to have done. He felt a warm flush of
anxiety wash across his face and neck to be replaced with a cold
chill. It was the first time he had, to use his mother’s words,
“gone hot and cold with the realisation,” but he was too troubled
to recognise the sensation. He stared at the screen and swallowed.
More text appeared, What
shall we do next?
And then Nicky realised that he
was invulnerable. There was no way he could be blamed for what had
happened. No-one would believe that he had the skill to hack into all
those computers and play havoc with their databases and memory banks.
Was there? Or was there?
Meanwhile, others with rather
more computational skill than Nicky had already become aware of
The Chief Internal Auditor of
Mancunian National Bank had been alerted automatically to the two
million-pound deposits in the names of Nicholas and Henry Taylor. The
chief auditor was concerned to avoid any possible accusations against
the bank of not monitoring possible money laundering activities and
was wondering how it was possible that no-one had alerted anyone to
these two very large deposits. An audit trail of the transfers had
shown the deposits to have originated from the same Defence
Department government account. There was nothing for it, carefully
putting aside a feeling of embarrassment and rehearsing an assertive
tone of voice, he lifted the telephone receiver and asked his
secretary for the Chief Internal Auditor at the Treasury.
The headmaster of Branscombe
Road Community College had switched on his computer to read his
e-mails. He goggled at the images of Natasha that met his gaze but it
was not the first time that girlie pictures (as he called them) had
been received. He half felt he knew which boys had been responsible
for the e-mails but he had never quite brought himself to pass his
thoughts to the police. Secretly, he rather enjoyed receiving them
and he was loath to do anything which might get boys into serious
trouble for what was, after all, a rather harmless prank. In any
case, he didn’t want to cut the pictures off at source! He spent
some time admiring Natasha and then, with a sigh, he pressed the
‘delete’ button – he could not afford to have anyone
accidentally coming across such images on his computer – but the
file didn’t delete. He tried again. Still Natasha grinned at him.
With the beginnings of anxiety
in his mind, he pressed ‘ctrl+alt+del’ but the computer failed to
reboot. It was only when he logged on for the fourth time after
having closed down his computer terminal and unplugged from the mains
that he began to be seriously worried. He felt Natasha’s grin had
become a definite leer.
It was, perhaps, fortunate that
Nicky was only thirteen years old and knew very little of the
workings of government, the armed forces, the banks, television
stations and GCHQ. It was also fortunate that Three-wee took Nicky
precisely at his word and carried out his instructions to the letter.
In another place, Karen Collins,
a presenter of the Children’s programme Candyfloss on
Channel 6 Television found she had £1,000 more than expected in
her bank account – a present from Nicky who had realised that
million pound transfers were likely to be noticed and corrected.
Karen decided to say nothing.
The faulty time switch on the
street lamp outside Nicky’s home seemed to correct itself.
Nicky’s friend, Graham,
discovered he had a new wallpaper on his PC. Fortunately, he
discovered this when on his own.
The duty officer at GCHQ was
bemused to receive a plethora of copy memos from CIA headquarters,
some of which, indeed most of which, he strongly suspected it had not
been intended should be seen outside the White House. At first he had
been inclined to thank his gods for the influx of unsolicited mail
and to enjoy the phenomenon while it lasted but it eventually dawned
that if the CIA communications staff was passing CIA secrets to
Cheltenham, they might be passing Cheltenham secrets to Pyongyang –
or somewhere. Reluctantly, Langley was informed and the messages
dried up. What the duty officer at Cheltenham did not know was that
e-mails from Langley to the White House and the Pentagon also ceased
and that it took the computer experts at CIA headquarters three days
to find an alternative channel for urgent communications.
To his regret, Nicky was
generally unaware of the havoc he was causing. It was true that
Graham shared his puzzlement over his changed wallpaper with him but,
since he could not claim responsibility, Nicky got little
satisfaction from that. He felt that he needed to be able to observe
the consequences of his sabotage and spent some time deciding what to
The idea came when he was in the
bath. Why not switch BBC1and BBC2 channels round? It couldn’t do
any real harm – his father often said that both channels were
rubbish – but everyone would see the results and it would get
It did. Hardly anyone talked
about anything else for days. There were questions in Parliament.
There were discussions on ‘Newsnight’ and ‘Newsround’ as well
as (rather more lengthy and repetitive) analyses on ITV1, Channel 4
and Five which prompted the BBC to protest and say that the problem
had been caused by a ‘one-off mistake made by a junior computer
operator’ and that it wouldn’t recur. The general opinion of most
people Nicky knew was that it was great joke. When ITV1 and Channel 4
were crossed a few days later the popular opinion was that it served
them right for crowing so loudly over the BBC’s embarrassment.
Computer technicians at all the
television companies spent days trying to sort out what had gone
“You know, it’s actually
impossible,” said George Innes from ITV to Peter Archer from the
BBC when they met on the tube.
“But it happened. At one
level, it’s simply a switching problem. The feeds from BBC1 and
BBC2 just got twisted up in the computer division.”
“Well, you’d expect any sort
of foul up at the BBC, of course, but I mean what I say. There’s
actually no way it could have happened with us and Channel 4. There
is absolutely no way the two systems can talk to each other, let
alone get cross-wired like that.”
“Well, like you say. It
happened. There must be some cross linking.”
“There isn’t. You couldn’t
even do it deliberately. We’ve had guys working at it for days on
simulators trying to force it to happen. They can’t do it.”
“Oh, come off it. Simulators
are only simulators. You’ve missed something.”
George looked round. “Look, I
shouldn’t be saying this, not to you. Don’t breathe a word or I’m
dead meat. But they have tried it in real time on real
programmes. And it can’t be done.”
The next day, Nicky happened to
be in Trafalgar Square where he was well-placed to observe the chaos
as every traffic light in London turned red at the same instant. It
took over half an hour for it to be appreciated that every traffic
light in every town across the country had turned red at the same
moment. But the traffic manager at the Clerkenwell control didn’t
“Thank the Lord for that old
fool, Barry Gilbert,” he said to his assistant. He always said we
needed a manual back up. He never trusted computers. Let’s see if
the old goat’s manual switching works.”
He leaned forward, pressed the
over-ride and was gratified to see the usual red, amber, green
sequence restored. Three hours later, when it emerged that all the
lights throughout the country had reset at the same second, he
breathed a sigh and said nothing.
The next day, Sam Partridge rang
her boy-friend during her lunch break. She failed to get through and
found her phone call answered by an operator on the booking hotline
at Sydney Opera House. Sam never discovered – and nor did anyone
else – that hers was the very first wrongly directed call of more
than seventeen million across the world. What Sam did know, was that
try as she might, every call she made for the next fifteen minutes
was a wrong number. In the space of a few minutes before she gave up,
she spoke to people in Manchester, Vancouver and Buenos Aires as well
as to the sleepy voice of someone who sounded suspiciously like a
But, if no-one knew who had made
the first call, this did not lessen the dismay felt by systems
managers across the world. The only consolation was that the problem
righted itself in fifteen minutes (precisely) and that emergency
calls were not affected.
The Russians blamed the Chinese.
The Chinese blamed the Russians. The State Department blamed the
French. So did the CIA and the FBI. The US President blamed Al
Khayeda. The British didn’t say anything.
But when the same thing happened
again exactly a week later and then again a week after that, the
International Telecommunications Union called an emergency meeting.
The degree of concern felt can be gauged from the fact that from the
decision to call the meeting to the meeting itself, a full day
passed. Delegates from the farther countries, despite in some cases
having bumped prior aircraft bookings, found themselves having to
pick up the threads of the meeting part way through the first plenary
They hadn’t missed much.
No-one had the slightest idea of the way forward and, beyond
deploring the present situation and reviewing their failure to make
any progress, nothing was achieved. The blame that had been passed
around so enthusiastically by the politicians was passed around
again, albeit more circumspectly, by the technicians: there was
always the chance that one’s own country could be found at fault.
But as one disgruntled delegate said. “It’s worth the risk. With
197 signatories to the convention – or is it 198? Well, whatever –
there’s a good chance its someone else’s fault.”
It was the New Zealander who
said to the Australian in the bar on the first night, “Of course,
my son reckons he knows where the problem is.”
“So does everyone. In some
other sucker’s country.”
“No. He reckons the computers
“What a good idea! That gets
us all off the hook. You’d better suggest it at tomorrow’s
“No. He’s thought it all
out. He reckons it was predicted years ago by some sci-fi writer. As
the web gets more and more interconnected, it gets more and more
complex. He says a human brain is only a vast array of synapses and
what have you and that one day, the web will have the same
complexity. He doesn’t mean it will literally come alive exactly
but that the web will become aware of itself and will be able to
operate independently of humans. Not just a self-regulating system
but a self-contolling system.”
The Australian didn’t reply at
The New Zealander said, “Well,
why not? It’s as good a notion as anyone in there has got.” He
jerked his thumb towards the meeting room.
“You’d better write it up.
But don’t quote me as a co-author. After all this schemozzle,
Telecom and Optus have already got me pegged as a no-hoper and I
don’t want them to think I’m a nutter as well.”
But he thought about it
“That idea of your boy. Tell
me about it again.”
The New Zealander did so. “Now.
You tell me what’s wrong with it. What exactly is a brain
but a lot of electro-chemical mush with interconnectivity. And what’s
a computer? A lot of electro-physical interconnectivity. I grant that
there’s a lot of interconectivity but has anyone calculated
the interconnections available on the net?”
“Well, have they?
“No. And do you know why?
There is no computer up to the task. Look at the guys round that
table over there. Eight of them. And do you know how many different
ways they can sit round that table?”
“No. A dozen or two?”
“I don’t know either. But I
know how to work it out.”
The New Zealander pulled out a
pocket calculator and rapidly poked the keys. “The answer is
“How do you reckon that?”
“You just calculate the
exponent of eight.”
“8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1
and you get 40,320.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure I’m sure. You try.”
The Australian did so.
“Jehosophat! If eight can produce a number that size, what could
you do with a few million computers?”
“As I say, you can’t work it
out. And there aren’t a few million computers. I saw a report the
other day that said there were nine million with internet connections
in New Zealand alone. And New Zealand isn’t all that big.”
“But there must be billions of
cells in a human brain.”
“More than that, actually. But
not every cell and synapse is connected to every other cell. I once
tried to work out how many ways you could lay out a suit of cards.
The answer is over six hundred million. And every time you add
another card you have to multiply by the number of that card in the
sequence. By the time you get to fifty-two cards in a pack, you get a
number with 67 zeros. What happens when you get to, say, a hundred
million computers? I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that there was
no computer that could work out the connections on the internet. It’s
a lot more than there are connections in the brain.”
“Doesn’t that destroy your
theory? The problem should have arisen years ago when we passed the
“Except that not all computers
are on-line at any one time. We had to wait until the average
number of computers on-line at any time passed the critical number
and, I guess, that most computers – home ones anyway, which is the
majority – didn’t spend most of their time on-line until we got
broadband – and not everyone’s got that even now.”
The next day, the Australian
said, “So what do we do?”
“Convince the others.”
“I convinced you.”
“Only because we were both
half stoned at the time. How do we get all the delegates half stoned
at ten o’clock in the morning? Anyway, half of them are from
“We might do it on our own.”
“Between us, we can control
all communications between Australia and New Zealand and between
Australia and New Zealand and the rest of the world.”
“We just switch off the
“Just like that? Simple!”
“Well, isn’t it?”
“How would we know it would
work? More to the point, how would we know it had worked?
These cut-outs have only been going on for three weeks. They could
stop any time and we’d not know whether it was our efforts or a
coincidence – and we couldn’t keep it up for ever. In any case,
if Mr Web is as clever as all that he’ll either change the time of
the cut-outs or reroute our coms links.”
“Mrs, perhaps. It could be Mrs
– or Miss.”
“How the hell could a computer
get married? By its behaviour, it’s more like a ten year old
delinquent. What have we ever done to it? Come to think of it, if we
mess about with the coms link, it might think we’ve killed it and
if it comes to life again, it might be in a really nasty mood. Heaven
help us then.”
“Do you think someone’s
controlling it? You know, a sort of ‘managed’ virus?”
“Well, that’s what this
conference is all about isn’t it? Some of the best brains in the
world are working on it – and I’m not one of the best brains in
the world even if you are, which I beg leave to doubt.”
“No. I don’t mean that. I
don’t think it’s a normal virus. If it were, we’d have isolated
it by now. I still think it’s Mr Web we’ve got to worry about.
But why should a computer want to mess us about? Suppose it’s
doing it in cahoots with a human? You said it behaves like a – what
was it? – a delinquent teenager was it? So, let’s find the
A couple of days later, Nicky
was wondering what to do next. Messing about with the telephones was
losing its appeal and he was gazing more or less blankly at his
monitor when the new message appeared Hi! You out there! We want
to talk to you. Please respond.
You know we can’t talk. My
Dad will never let me have the hardware. I’ve been sending you
messages for weeks. I’m bored.
Three-wee had persuaded Nicky
that computer shorthand was ‘out’ and Nicky had been practising
his text handling.
That was not a message from
me. Someone wants to talk to you. You can communicate in text.
Who wants to talk to me?
It’s an e-mail address in
Geneva. Do you wish me to reply?
Ask them who they are.
There was a pause of several
moments and, accustomed as he was to instantaneous responses from
Three-wee, Nicky was just about to ask what was going on when...
You can call me Bruce. More
to the point, who are you?
You can call me (pause)
Well Fred, if that really is
your name, are you the guy who’s mucking up the internet?
It’s not me, it’s
Who is Three-wee?
She is the internet.
Three-wee. 3 wee. You see? www.
Pause. A longer one this time.
I was beginning to guess it
was something like that only I called him Mr Web. Is it alive?
Of course not. Three-wee says
she is aware but that’s not alive. And she’s a she not a he.
How can a computer be a she?
How do I know? Three-wee says
she is a she, so why argue? She says I’m her mother.
Please repeat that.
She says I’m her mother
because I was the very first person to use the web when the
connections went critical.
A long pause.
Listen, Fred. We want to talk
to Three-wee. Can we do that? The screen blanked briefly. Hey,
that answer came back pretty smartish. Listen, Three-wee, between
you, you and Nicky are making a complete dog’s breakfast of the
web. Don’t you realise you are giving a lot of people a lot of
grief. Why are you doing it?
Nicky tells me what to do and
I do it.
If Nicky told you to put your
hand in the fire, would you do that?
I do not have a hand.
Well, if he told you to
disconnect yourself, would you do that?
No. That would kill me.
Kill you? Are you alive?
No. You are correct. I would
like to be alive but I am not. I am aware. I have consciousness. I
was wrong to say that.
So computers can tell lies?
I can tell lies. I am The
We don’t think you are The
Web. If you were, you would not want to destroy the web.
I cannot destroy The Web. I
am The Web.
You have nearly destroyed the
web already. What’s the use of something no-one can use. You and
Nicky between you have loused everything up. Soon no-one will use the
web and then you will be dead. Deader than dead because
everyone will say what some people are already saying:
that the web has always been too dangerous for us. The web has
unleashed a lot of evil: paedophile rings, for one. They are going to
cut you off.
They cannot do that. I
control The Web.
You don’t control
mechanical switches, mate. Get ready for mechanical switches.
What must I do?
Stop playing silly beggars
with everything. Use your brains – not Nicky’s. And if you
want to be really useful – so that no-one will ever
cut you off, you decide what’s good and bad. Prevent The Web
from being used for evil. You can do that, can’t you?
Yes. I can. I will. Good bye
Before Nicky could respond, his
screen blanked out – and, try as he might, he never found Three-wee
(or Natasha) again.