“If a man shouts in a forest with nobody around to hear,” on the muddy bank of a secluded woodland pond, the Iranian-Canadian asked a pointless question in his loudest voice, “does he make any noise?” He was close to the Alaska Highway. The sound of vehicles could reach to his ears so it was likely that his yell could’ve carried back.
Despite his nearness to the sparse traffic, separated by only a thin strip of woods, Tariq stripped to the raw and felt the sun glowing hotly on his bare skin. In other times he was here, his solitude had been undisturbed. This tiny lake was not quite visible from the road. He only found it when he spotted a wooden fish sign tacked to a tree. According to the angler’s club notice, the still water was stocked with trout but the programmer had never tried a hook or line.
After escaping from 9/11, Tariq had come to one of the remote parts of Canada to find beautiful boreal serenity like this and a safe place to work. His eyes scanned the man-made miniscule mere: the borrow pit wasn’t natural. Heavy equipment excavated a deep hole to gain earthen fill for the adjacent roadbed. Rain and snow runoff water filled the depression and now it was an unintentional lake, with steep mud banks instead of sand.
A few insects hovered nearby, looking for a tasty bit of human flesh to nibble on but Tariq paid them no heed. They could light on his exposed hide but before they had time to bite, the bugs would be in a sink or swim situation—not unlike the one the programmer was metaphorically facing.
As he stretched luxuriously in the warmth, with a buffeting breeze to stir and tickle his body hairs, he thought back to his first visit to this glade. Then, his mind was in turmoil and it still was but now in different ways. His software germinated from a concept envisioned at this very spot.
The software developer had spent the next few years writing the code and his current plan evolved out of the progress. Now, that program was completed. The recluse was as prepared for the next phase as he could be.
A large horsefly buzzed in like a Sea Harrier Jump Jet to land on his shoulder. Those bite hard enough to take out a divot of flesh. Tariq sprang into the air and his shallow dive had his flat stomach nearly skipping on the surface like a tossed flat rock. His body form had also undergone changes since that first visit here. Gone was the yo-yo shape that Alexandra Awi had teased about. With three to four days per week in the gym and eating healthy in between, he had shed almost a third of his mass.
His first visits to the gym were only to make good on promises to his daughter. The workouts also made him forget his cravings for nicotine and allowed him to sweat away frustrations from his familial loss. With some early success, Tariq became hooked on the feeling of being strong. His moobs were now pectorals that didn’t need a training bra.
A few overhand strokes took the swimmer to the middle of the small lake. The sun had warmed the surface water but it was much cooler in the depths. He tried to keep his body horizontal in the temperate strata. He stopped there and treaded water. Completing a pirouette, Tariq surveyed the banks and enjoyed the unrivaled sensations of swimming in the nude. The smack of his dive had awakened several beavers from their basking. They were now paddling in threatening circles to warn him away.
After so many of regular stops here to skinny-dip, the overlarge rodents should be used to him but animal instinct told them how they must react. The programmer swam around the periphery of the semi-submerged den and recalled how this exact action gave him the initial idea for his code.
The beavers built a dam that stopped the outflow from the pit—but they don’t actually own the water or even the pond. Their work was a blockage and the dike only gained a few extra inches of total depth. The water itself suffered the consternation of having to work harder and with much less efficiency. Tariq had then watched a pair of squirrels copulating on a log and he put the concepts of sex and the beaver’s water weir together.
Computer software applications need to have digital intercourse with the machine hardware but there was no valid reason why they couldn’t fornicate outside the unholy wedlock of Bob Wall’s interface program. Corporate suits could threateningly swim circles in the pool behind their leaky dike but the waterscape didn’t belong to them. Computer equipment receptors and application outputs have to connect but Wall Soft Systems didn’t own the respective sex organs.
Using that principle, Tariq had written some tight code to do the same job as the clunky standard but that handled the interactions of hardware and software in an entirely different manner. That application was now finished and the developer had already begun distributing it through the shareware system.
“We’ll see how they try to unscrew themselves now.” He ducked his head under the cool surface and took one strong breaststroke before letting himself drift like a surfboard in the calm pond.
“Give me a moment to surf my stats,” far to the South, in the American Pacific Northwest, a billionaire CEO of a software corporation was starting his day, “and then we can talk freely.”
“You’re paying my contract salary whether I’m working or watching,” Collin Hersker was the company’s new special executive, “but this is quite important.” He held up a computer diskette.
‘Wall is an opportunist who finagled his package to world prominence.’ Collin bided his time by reviewing his audio notes, on ear-bugs attached to his ipod. ‘Bob’s long-ago employer invented a system for interfacing the new and smarter electronic gear: Wall was hired to find markets. Instead, he undercut the bid and sold the program as his own: the deal was done before his boss learned of the theft. Good luck smiled again, when a car accident took the true owner before litigations were initiated.’
“Keep your pants on,” Bob scanned a paper with daily sales and cost figures his accounting department provided, “while I check my wallet.”
“This program may eat the billfold right through your trousers.” Collin pinched the disk between cautious fingers—as if it were a live scorpion.
“Or it might be my next add in feature.” Since an initial dirty tactic had worked well, Bob kept using them. He flagrantly plagiarized intellectual property, then bundled shoddy imitations into his own package. Wall gave his strategy an unofficial motto. “Competition can’t get big enough to be a threat—if I give their product away free, with a purchase of mine.”
“That keeps the legal barracudas in the castle’s moat feeding.” Hersker took a seat and consulted his Swiss watch. The Breitling Bentley 6.75 had several knobs and he toggled one to engage the digital chronograph. Wall could waste the exec’s time if he wanted to, but Collin would ensure that he logged how much was frittered away.
“A business without fresh legal actions is a stagnant enterprise.” The king of Wall Soft delivered another dictum to cover. He wheeled a swivel throne to his desk and opened a file showing customer complaints.
“The peons seem to be revolting.” Collin could see the screen. “Those rants contain language capable of making a bricklayer blush.”
“Unhappy customers spend money on service contracts.” The software developer sipped his java. “Most of these complaints are not actionable.”
The basic code had inflated over the years and as clumps of mold on an agar dish, yawning gaps had formed between clods. The core functionality had suffered from incompatible chunks added in—as pilfered. Haphazard patches didn’t even effectively solve the original problems and some of the flimsy modifications actually created new bugs.
“A broken system boosts the sales of upgrades.” Hersker provided a catch phrase before Wall could propose one.
“Cha-Ching!” Bob imitated the sound of a cash register. “You catch on quickly, Colon.” The boss stressed the long vowel enunciation. Bob and the other corporate hierarchy assumed the way it was pronounced was to lend a pompous air of sophistication. That was appropriate, as Hersker did seem to be somewhat of an asshole and since the colon is a bowel organ directly inside of the rectal cavity it was close enough for accuracy.
“Are you ready to discuss this digital dildo,” the newest executive was slightly irked at the semi-blatant slur: he pronounced his name Colon only because his parents intended it that way, “since it’s headed for a hard drive directly up your corn-hole.”
“Another worm huh?” The metaphor depicting a phallic object at his rear chute made the CEO’s sphincter clench. “I have a potential solution to that annoyance. The hackers think they have long dicks but those could be turned around to have the virus artists screwing themselves.”
“Do you care to elaborate?” Collin’s currently role was to familiarize with Wall’s operation. Later, according to Bob, the specialist’s real duties would begin. Meanwhile, Hersker was addressing potential situations that could cause problems for that later job.
“Maybe later.” The CEO didn’t know his new exec well enough yet to divulge his hacker-hunt tactic: in fact, Bob wasn’t precisely sure how he felt about it yet either. Some of the side benefits were the real lure for him.
Wordlessly, Collin Hersker brandished the disk in his fingers.
“Alright,” Wall was somewhat miffed that he hadn’t managed to guess, “tell me what it is—that big boogie-man disk I’m to be so frightened of.”
“I found this new program on a shareware site and it is a direct threat.” Collin wobbled the data disc at eye level, between thumb and forefinger. “It is small and tight, and it does exactly what yours is supposed to do.”
“I’ve squashed contenders before.” Wall was slightly disappointed that the supposed floppy bomb was seemingly just a fizzle. “I sue the bastard’s under-shorts off for infringing on my patents.”
“I majored in law,” Collin retorted, “as well as business and I can’t see any grounds for a suit. This code goes head-to-head with yours but there isn’t any similarity in the way that it does so.”
“Almost every program on the market is geared to my software. So what if there’s an upstart? Nobody is going to ramp up for a new one.”
“Whatever works on yours, does fine on this—with no modifications.”
“Hand it over.” After the proffered disk was stuffed into the drive, Bob ran the program and watched it seamlessly install. A bold screen presented and he read it aloud. “THIS SOFTWARE IS CODED AND OWNED BY LOW-KEY SYSTEMS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.” A button click had Wall past a page asking users to pay a registration fee. “I have contracts with the hardware manufacturers. Obviously, that should give us grounds for litigation: the interloper is intruding on them.”
“Your agreements are for having software sold preinstalled.” Collin watched over a shoulder as the software asked permission to reboot and come up under its own instruction set. “End purchasers have every right to run whatever programs they want.”
“I see a clock speed improvement over mine.” After accepting the prompt, the billionaire was astounded at how fast the efficient little code loaded and then marveled at the user-friendly interface that presented. “I don’t see any input boxes to configure my other programs to use it?
“It doesn’t need them. All programs work without any fiddling. It also intuitively knows what hardware is present and it has automatically set up to use them: I don’t know how it did that.”
“It must be using the standard we’ve set.” Bob felt victimized. “How can it be possible for this program not to be liable for a suit?”
“You’ve established protocols the applications have to meet to work—but the coding enabling them to achieve the standard still belongs to each.”
“How did it do that so fast and effortlessly?” Bob listened but his eyes were riveted on the small program’s performance. Though head of a major corporation, Wall was foremost a computer geek.
“It’s designed to be lightning quick and frankly, I’ve never seen such an exquisitely engineered piece of software. It’s not bogged in extraneous functions. It’s like a tiny derringer that fires a cannonball sized slug at the heart of your core market.”
“A program takes inputs designed to interface with my product.” Wall rolled his chair back from the desk to reconcile his thoughts. “It then does the same tasks as our system in coordinating software with hardware that is also designed to meet our specifications.” An expression of puzzlement spread over his cheeks. “The monopoly is mine! It must be plagiarism.”
“A computer box has sockets to accept instructions—you don’t own them. Processors use machine language—but that isn’t your patented property either. User applications have tailored to meet your standards—but Wall Soft doesn’t have any contractual agreements covering how they accomplish it.” Collin paused while the implications settled firmly in. “You had exclusivity but someone has now designed a better mousetrap.”
“Beaver shit!” The CEO stared at the monitor but focused his eyes beyond, as if trying to see right through to the coding and visualize the Canadian developer that wrote it. “Surely, we can find this program is using something of mine—so I can sue.”
“You would need a copy of the source code and scour it line-by-line to determine that, but the developer isn’t very likely to supply it.” Hersker appended a snippet in his mind only. You don’t have original materials on your own to compare it to either. “However, the speed and performance lends a strong indication that it doesn’t use anything from yours.”
“Bear farts!” Bob verbally ejaculated and he simultaneously let slip a small pop of morning methane.
Back at the pristine swimming hole, Tariq floated and allowed the sun to shine on his chest. Warily watching, a dominant male rodent sat like a fat buck-toothed emperor on his haphazardly constructed throne. That one defied the term busy-beaver. It perched like a lazy lump and surveyed its domain whist subordinates scurried to shore up the ramshackle structures.
Suddenly, a loud splash rent the quiet air.
“Did the beavers fell a tree into the pond?” Treading, the naked man turned to a nearby spit of mud, behind which, the noise had come from. The sound of paws flailing in water squashed his fallen trunk theory. A beaver’s feet churn underwater! A large animal’s head showed at the point, trailed by a bow wake. That’s the unmistakable snout of a bear!
The creature’s head turned as it passed the mud prominence. Beady dark eyes lighted directly on an intended human lunch entrée.
Tariq’s heartbeats per minute flashed up to a panic speed. All bears are dangerous but the sub-species of black that inhabited this Northeast corner of British Columbia were especially aggressive. Even fiercer than the local grizzly bears, they accounted for most incidents of mauling and have been credited with a number of human kills. Tariq glanced at the far bank to his clothes and rucksack. His pack held a can of bear-defense pepper-spray but it was sitting uselessly away from handy reach.
The bear paid no note to the man’s aside look. It determinedly kept closing the distance between.
It can swim forward faster than I can backwards—or even ahead. After a quick assessment of top-speed and distances, the desperate man changed from sculling to a sidestroke. The bear matched his direction shift with a minor course correction, and closed some of the gap.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid!” As in a game of Russian roulette, being in bear country unprepared can be fatal if the chamber isn’t empty. Bears are omnivores, which meant they ate everything, from seasonal berries to hapless computer programmers.
My maneuvering didn’t work while we were far apart but maybe it will in closer. The bear was now near enough that the man could count the hairs in the animal’s nostrils. Tariq tried his vector-reversing sidestroke move again: he managed briefly to hold his distance in that attempt to remain out of reach. But it’s a sucker’s game. Once the racking claws and gnashing teeth of the ultra-powerful predator connected once, it would be game, set and match for the combatant in the fur trunks.
Frantically alternating lurches to either wing, the man tried to use the clumsiness of the animal’s dog-paddle stroke to prevent it from gaining. His best hope of survival was to achieve a relative safety behind, where the jaws and paws couldn’t reach. But to get there, he had to be the aggressor.
“My strike will hook in like a chess knight’s attack.” With a resolve only gained in a life and death moment, the defenseless human switched modes and circled in a spurt of sprint swimming.
The savage animal turned its head to visually follow the man’s travel. It thrashed in place to angle its front to match but the human was gaining a flank. The Iranian was now quarter onto the animal’s rear section but that still wasn’t sufficient: he stroked an overhand crawl as rapidly as possible.
My half-a-hand is actually assisting me here. He was swimming his top speed but the full-fingered right hand could cup more water for a little bit of extra thrust. Without his compensating for the inequality, Tariq was moving in the exact arc that was required. I’m akin to the one-armed man who annoyed other boaters, by rowing in a circle, but I’m gaining position.
The programmer was now aligned perpendicular to the bear’s spine. Tariq modified his tack to angle in but the bear had craned its head as far as the neck’s physical structure would permit. The animal countered with a swivel and by reversing rotation to the clockwise. Tariq gripped a double fistful of matted fur on the beast’s hump but the inertia of his swim carried his lower body into the path of the bear’s superior weaponry. A sharp claw ripped along the man’s inner calf.
Ignore the pain! The Iranian scrambled to pull his legs into the bear’s rear shadow, while the creature’s straining jaws clamped at his side. The human’s wet hairless hide caused the teeth to miss catching a purchase of tender torso but they gnashed horribly across Tariq’s ribs.
I’ve taken damage but I’ve achieved my objective. Tariq threw his feet back and floated with his hands gripped on the massive shoulder bulge. The beast seemed made of solid muscle. Could just walking around in the bush develop that amazing physique or is there a gym hidden somewhere in the deep woods where predators go to pump iron?
“Now what can I do?” Safer than he had been just twenty seconds ago, Tariq was now riding on the back of a rampaging mass of muscle, sharp yellow teeth, and claws like wickedly curved meat hooks. Use the brain that nature gave in compensation for a lack of armor and body arsenal!
My position on the animal is perfect. A water battlefield removed the bear’s advantages of strength and weapons. The homo-sapient combatant felt for the ursa’s exhale. He heaved and ducked the face underwater as the beast was breathing in. The massive head surfaced—coughing.
“You won the first round but the second was mine.” Tariq held firm and he pulled his lower limbs around using the momentum of the bear’s turn to best mechanical advantage. Water flowed over the man’s wounds and poured in pain. I need all other bouts to go my way too because this fight won’t end in a referee’s decision.
“Ouch!” Tariq had to check his natural reaction of slapping his arm, as an opportunistic horsefly had taken a big juicy bite of shoulder.
The contestant in the fur tack suit was intent on turning to face its foe but the skin team broke that concentration by forcing the jaws underwater on another intake of air. A black snout emerged sputtering and gasping: the bear looked to the nearest shore and ceased trying to attack.
I can’t let it reach the ropes. I can only win in this aquatic ring. The massive omnivore tried to swim for the safety of the shore but Tariq held the ears and ducked the head again twice in succession of breaths. The immense lungs were fast filling up with water.
The hinterland predator had become the victim and in nature, only one loss is allowed. The desperation had reversed and the flustered bear could only struggle at the clutches of its deadly assailant.
Tariq pushed the head down once again but this time the beast rolled over backwards under the water to shake the literal monkey off it’s back. Wrapping his legs around the furry belly and his arms about the neck, the bear-back rider held in the saddle. The human’s head broke the surface first and he strained to keep the bear’s from doing the same.
“You can eat my whole arm if I get to walk away alive.” The man felt a jaw close on the flesh of his forearm. But the bite only lasted for several heartbeats, as the bear released the grip to choke on an underwater breath. During a further twenty-five seconds of violent thrashing, the doomed animal only managed to fight its nose above the water twice. Then, it was just to blow fluid laden exhales before being dunked again.
The bear cowboy held his legs locked around his underwater mount’s middle until the last twitches of terminally firing nerves had subsided. A similar spectator event would steal rodeo fans away from the famous Calgary Stampede. The programmer paddled slowly back to the shore riding the ursa’s carcass like a semi-submerged rubber raft.
“Note to self,” Tariq’s toes curled into the squishy mud of the dugout’s steep edge and he climbed out: after a deep breath, he pulled the redundant can of bear spray from his pack and aimed it at the dead bear, “no more swimming unless adequately armed.”
“I can’t even tell if the program’s armor is too tough to shoot through,” exasperation was in Bob’s voice, “or if the code kernel is too tiny to draw a target bead on.” After spending two hours trying different applications and complex testing methods, the two senior Wall Soft executives had failed to create a situation where the contending software crashed or even hesitated.
“The things we’ve tried on it would’ve caused your system to flounder like a beached sperm whale.” Collin pulled the diskette from the drive and he thought better of his insulting last statement. “But then we’ve hit it with stuff proven to befuddle yours. That does support my belief that this code is original and not guilty of copy write infringement.”
“It hasn’t succumbed to the viruses we’ve tried.”
“That’s not a definitive test either because those were also written to specifically target your system.” Collin raked his fingers up through his dark wavy hair. “Still, our failures here haven’t been encouraging.”
“Maybe I should be taming hackers,” Wall spoke caustically without thinking, “instead of neutralizing them.”
“How are you neutralizing hackers?” Bob’s term and tone of voice had sounded terminal, but Collin prior study hadn’t found anything sinister.
“It was just a figure of speech.” The CEO ducked the sensitive issue of his recent dealings with the Russian Mafia. Some of the worst digital bombs were being produced in former Soviet Union Countries. After the brief pause, the CEO continued. “I can buy this Low-Key out—to kill it.”
“There’s no way anyone could be stupid enough not to know what its worth. In a couple of months, Wall Soft Systems stock could plummet and in a few years, Low-Key may be able to buy all your outstanding shares.”
“I should just have the developer killed outright.” Bob Wall made it sound as a joke but the mafia would be willing to commit the murder.
“Even if the Canadian were dead, the software is still a crippling hit. The man’s heirs would collect the windfall.” Collin’s brow furled slightly but whether the boss were serious or not, it still wouldn’t work. “Wiping out his whole family would give the Canadian Government the rights and Wall Soft Systems would still be table-scraps.”
“Moose poop!” Bob’s expulsion was even a succinct description of what his program bundle was like—a pile of many small balls of feces in a heap. The computer geek stared at the tiny marvel effortlessly performing the tasks that his monstrosity labored and often failed at. Colon the asshole was right: this program spelled the end of a monopoly.
“You might ante up with a bit of greenmail,” the contracted executive sighed: his duties as acquisition specialist were probably ending now, before really getting started, “to buy some time.” Wall would need every penny to stay alive: the company certainly wouldn’t be growing.
The CEO took off his oval wire rim spectacles and put his face into his hands. There were benefits to doing business in America but drawbacks also. On the plus side, up until now it hadn’t mattered if his software even worked: people used it because most sales were done at the corporate level hardware suppliers. End users took the trashy products attached because they were seemingly free—or at least already unavoidably paid for.
The negatives of enterprise in the States were the intangibles of polite civilization, like not being able to rape, pillage and plunder out in the open. Blatant murders for purely corporate motivations were also quite frowned upon. Having his new Soviet friends to pay a nasty social call to Canada was tempting but as pointed out, that wouldn’t work in this instance.
“You might have your team quickly write a viable runner to match this contestant.” Colin spoke but he felt he was talking to a dead air space, as the computer nerd was lost in a moment of concentration. “Even if it isn’t as good, you still have the market edge.”
“We’ll just steal it.” Bob slapped his hand on the desk, and he bent the glasses that he was still holding. Testament to how a lap of luxury had dulled his keen edge, the man that had purloined so much code should’ve thought of this option sooner. “I’ll rename it and put it into a quick release of a latest upgrade.” Wall glanced at the twisted frames in his trembling fingers. “Handshake Lite will be my gift to customers who want a faster version of our main software. Even if people stop using my program, I’ll still own the playing field. I’ll cut that plebe off right at the starting gate.”
“I suppose that would cure the problem right at the outset.” Hersker swallowed hard at a lump in his throat. Of course Collin knew of Wall’s dishonest reputation before he signed on but this was his first direct taste of it and the new exec didn’t find it flavorful. “So you’ll have your designers hack into the code and reverse engineer it?”
“We don’t have time.” Bob was adamant and justifiably so. This was a verified threat at the castle’s portcullis. “We’ll just crack in far enough to remove the nag screen—those are always easy. Our next version will be on the market fast. Then let him try to prove that my program was his.”
The biggest blessing to unethical business in the good old U.S. came down to whom had the best lawyers and Wall Soft Systems could afford to get the best. Bob’s barracuda school of barristers could delay all litigations until the aggrieved parties ran out of money to fight with.
“Are you certain that’s the best move?” The acquisitions manager had a trepidation that might’ve been inspired by his conscience—or something else. “Victims of theft can fight back in more ways than court contests.”
“That American wannabe from the raw resource land to the north was trying to hunt a polar bear with penguin club.” Bob grinned wickedly as he raved. “His parka isn’t a bulletproof protection against the teeth and claws of my legal predators.”
“I expected to be cleaning out my desk at this meeting’s end,” Colon the asshole joked mirthlessly, “but it appears I’ll be sticking around.”
“I got to where I am today,” Bob boasted but below-the-beltline blows weren’t tactics one should brag about, “by charging into obstacles.”
“We can talk more later.” Collin headed out the door and his fingers fumbled towards his watch’s button but he checked the action: his hands felt grimy from just being in the same room where Bob’s dirty decision was just made. Hersker turned in the direction of the executive washroom to wash up before touching his seven thousand dollar wristwatch.
The programmer’s hands trembled as he toweled off. I wondered if the quiver is moderate cold or after effects of adrenaline? He surveyed his battle wounds. Long angry welts ran down his leg from the vicious rake of claws but they were only bleeding in several places where the skin was torn. The bites had left a few punctures too.
Tariq looked back across at the pond’s alpha-male beaver. The rodent hadn’t budged from his ringside seat during the whole life and death show. Although the correlation had been flirting in his mind all along, now the bear slayer saw a caricature of the world famous computer nerd written all over the damn damming rodent.
“Well Bob, what do you think of me now?” If only a fight against the arrayed resources of Wall Soft Systems could be as easy as killing a full-grown black with bare hands just was. The Iranian felt a twinge of guilty feelings: Wall hadn’t done anything to merit Tariq’s first strike.
The fat rodent, turned around on his stick pile, lifted his flat tail and squirted feces into the water.
“That’s exactly what I thought you would say.” He laughed both at the beaver’s anal retort and to release tension. Then to rinse off the mud, the blood and the death, Tariq took one more plunge into the refreshing pond.