Short Story Title: Time Bomb

Story Type: Fiction


This Short Story is Chapter Unknown Plus Three of "Early Microcomputer Experiences"

Date Written: June 22, 2019

Written By: Joel T. Kant

Copyright (c) June 22, 2019


Lugging my heavy backpack I went through the glass doors of the engineering lounge to hear Waldo Venter angrily declare to Zach Carr and Josh Cistern, "You're wrong, Josh! There is no such thing as a benevolent computer virus!"

I came over to the group, Zach glared at me with distrust, but to my surprise as he did not get up and leave. Either he had calmed down as time passed or he wanted to get his point in to Waldo and Josh more than he wanted to get away from me for the crime of getting rid of my pirated software. Others who loved pirating software were still treating me as if I had contracted leprosy, so it was good to have Zach getting more relaxed if I showed up.

Zach declared, "I think you two are both right, but the problem comes from your conflicting definitions of a computer virus."

Josh put me on the spot by asking, "Joel, what's the definition of a computer virus?"

I replied, "I've never encountered one, and they're not in any of our textbooks. I read an article that said it was unwanted self-replicating software."

Waldo triumphantly declared, "See? Joel described it as unwanted! That means it cannot be benevolent!"

Josh counter-argued, "If Joel had used the word unknown rather than unwanted, then it would still be a computer virus. Yet, possibly beneficial. Joel, how do you format a Commodore floppy disk?"

I had a good idea what he wanted me to say, but I decided to be annoying with the truthful answer as I stated, "Open fifteen comma eight comma fifteen comma quote capital N colon desired name comma fifteen quote colon close fifteen enter!"

Josh looked disgusted with me and defensively said, "Most people cannot remember all that!"

Zach said, "Josh, I use that program you wrote and got published that formats a disk, deletes and copies file, and so forth with a simple menu choice without having to remember all that stuff Joel can spout off."

Waldo remarked, "To format a floppy disk in MS-DOS, it's easy to remember because it's just FORMAT A COLON. The A COLON means the first floppy drive. Don't ever type FORMAT C COLON unless you really mean it, as that will reformat the hard disk. That is, if you had a hard disk like I do!"

I replied, "It's not so straightforward for disk commands on a Commodore disk drive."

Josh declared, "Which is why I wrote that little menu program for disk management. When you run it, it not only formats the new disk, but automatically copies the menu program itself onto the newly formatted disk. Therefore, it is self-replicating! The menu program is useful to most people including Zach, unless one loves to do things the hard way like Joel. Therefore, my little program is a benevolent virus!"

Zach noted, "Since I often use that menu program to format my disks, I have lots and lots of copies of that menu program now all made on disks without my thinking about it."

Waldo said, "That's not a computer virus! I doubt you could even make a real computer virus for a Commodore 64!"

Josh threw up his hands and said, "You're back to pretending Commodore 64's aren't real computers!"

Waldo replied, "Not what I am talking about. In the case of stopping the spread of computer viruses, Commodore 64's have an advantage over my MS-DOS machine."

Zach had mock astonishment on his face as he said, "Will wonders never cease? Waldo just praised the Commodore 64!"

Josh cynically declared, "You didn't listen long enough, Zach. There will be a catch."

Waldo said, "On a Commodore 64, the operating system is on a ROM chip. You can copy them to RAM, then change them. However, if you just flip the power off and on, then it reverts to the versions on the ROM chips with any changes lost. That's why when you turn on your Commodore 64's, the computer is ready nearly instantly. No matter how you screw up, just that quick flip of the power buttons brings a Commodore 64 back. What good is a virus if a simple power switch flip eradicates it? On an MS-DOS computer like mine, the operating system is not in ROM. On mine, it is on the hard disk. On floppy-only systems, it's on the floppy disk. If you change what is in the operating system on the disk, then the change is permanent! Thus, if you knew machine code well enough could change the FORMAT command to not just format a disk, but add a hidden file that does something malicious! That's a real computer virus! Real computer viruses are clever, but nasty! Joel had it right because unwanted is part of the definition of a real computer virus."

Confused, I replied, "Waldo, a while back, you told me in almost the same words that this is why an MS-DOS system is superior to a Commodore 64!"

Waldo agreed, "Correct, because I can update my operating system to a new and improved one. I started with MS-DOS 3.0, later upgraded to 3.1, and recently to 3.2. Each a marked improvement. That is why there is a boot-up delay on my system as the operating system loads from either a hard disk or a floppy disk. A Commodore 64 would need the ROM chip physically swapped to do that, whereas I just have a stack of disks for the upgrade. Josh, your disk menu helper program is more like a very mild system upgrade to a Commodore 64, not at all like a real computer virus."

Josh asked, "Waldo, have you ever gotten a computer virus?"

Waldo said with relief, "Not yet. What I know about them comes from technical bulletins and computer magazines."

Josh said that computer viruses had similarities to biological viruses. He went on to describe artificial life game on a computer. It wasn't at all like the board game of Life, but instead what Josh called cellular animation. It took place on a grid. Under different sets of rules that the player set, blocks called cells get bigger or smaller in a Darwinian sense. Josh had shown a version to me that worked on his Commodore 64, and it looked like watching mold grow in a Petri dish in a biology class. I find it only mildly interesting, but Josh found it fascinating. Waldo and Zach already knew about the cellular automation and like Josh seemed more excited about it then me. The conversation drifted to having a computer program simulate living beings, and away from talk of computer viruses.

Later in the Computer Science building, I ran into Rachel. I wasn't with Josh, so she seemed to decide it was okay to speak to me. I sat at one VT-220 dumb ASCII terminal while she sat at another. She had a Computer Science course I never would take as a mere Computer Engineering minor while she was a Computer Science major, but both of our classes used exactly the same UNIX mainframe computer.

I told her, "Waldo, Zach, and Josh taught me more about computer viruses than I had ever suspected existed. Do UNIX machines get computer viruses?"

Rachel tossed back her red hair, then said, "Sure they do! It's harder to do a virus on UNIX than on that MS-DOS computer that Waldo brags about all the time. UNIX is multi-user. This means each person has an account as a user, and each user is restricted in what they can do. However, there is an account for the system administrator called a Superuser account. The person with the Superuser account is like the God of the computer! He or she can do anything at all!"

As Rachel talked, I was reminded of the scene in the Lord of the Rings books where Frodo Baggins offers Galadriel the powerful magic ring, and Galadriel gets all excited with what she would do with all that power. Galadriel turned down the temptation of the ring, but I doubted if given a chance that Rachel would turn down becoming a Superuser!

Rachel went on by asking me, "What happens when you compile a program?"

I said, "The source code file gets processed into an object file. Then, the object file is in turn converted into machine code in what is called an executable file. It is the last file that gets run."

Rachel seemed satisfied with my description, then said, "If you work in machine code, then you can add and alter the executable file. It can be nearly impossible to detect other than the file size changes. If you can do that as a Superuser on the files that make up the operating system, then you can do real damage."

I asked, "Has that happened here at Madison?"

Rachel nodded and explained, "Among the real hotshots in Computer Science, it has turned into a bragging game to break into Superuser. Most just do it for fun with a sort of ethos of doing no real damage, but sometimes somebody does something malevolent. I know one of the sys ops. They found a modification based on file size change just like I described in a system file. What saved them is they do daily backups, so got it restored to the unmodified file by going back a day or two. However, the powers that be do not like this talked about because they fear it will encourage copycats."

I said, "That makes me like my Commodore 64's operating system being in ROM where I can just flip the power back on and off to recover from anything."

Rachel remarked, "UNIX is too complicated and constantly being upgraded to allow for that! I like to be treated as one of the hotshots myself, but here is something simple and humbling. What is the last UNIX command you just used on your screen?"

I looked and said, "I copied a file to one of a new name so I can edit the new one with the old file as a backup. So, the cp command."

Rachel said, "Type man cp. You know what that does?"

I nodded as man was short for manual. I did as she suggested. The screen filled with a description of the cp that went on and on for many pages.

I remarked, "There are many options, most of which I had never used or even learned about. I was only taught a small subset to get my work done."

Rachel replied, "Exactly. Even for the common UNIX commands, most people don't really know what every option does. It is a flood of information. Then, when somebody does something nasty like getting into Superuser and modifying the files for system commands, the sheer complexity can make it hard to detect. Yet, what I described is malicious, but not necessarily a computer virus. It has to be self-replicating to be a virus. Our UNIX mainframes on campus are linked together through the intranet, which is great for sending e-mail to other students on campus, but not e-mail off campus. If the changed program jumps computers, then it's a virus, or if it stays on one computer but makes many copies of itself. Someday, we'll get connection to all the UNIX computers in the whole world, and that's going to change everything. When that happens, it's going to be called the internet rather than the intranet. It already is called the internet in some places. That's when viruses will become a very serious issue."

I suggested, "Maybe home computers will also hook to the internet someday."

Rachel sneered, "Never for those toys. Only real computers like UNIX mainframes will ever hook to the internet. You little boys with your toy home computers will be stuck with your little toy dial-up BBS's, while the grown-ups on UNIX mainframes do the real work on the internet!"

I replied, "Waldo told me an IBM AT personal computer can run UNIX, the real deal from AT&T. Just the operating system costs about two grand, though."

Rachel hesitated, then said, "That could change things for home computers!"

I said, "When I did my co-op, there was something called an Apollo workstation for doing computer-aided design, or CAD. It had two screens, one for color graphics and the other just for text commands. It also had this huge trackpad with this crosshair gadget. It ran Aegis as the operating system, which is not actually UNIX but has similarities. Maybe one day we'll all be able to afford graphic workstations like that, but running actual UNIX."

Rachel looked around the terminal room filled with VT-220 dumb ASCII terminals as well as a couple big printers, then said, "I'm trying to imagine this room filled with graphics workstations rather than these VT-220's. I think one day, it'll happen. You EE guys might not be as dumb as I thought. Too bad you guys have so little morality, such as considering working where Josh interviewed."

I said, "While not as exciting as the NSA, I'm flying out in a week to LA for an interview with TRW. Just a one-day trip. They were on campus doing preliminary interviews a while back, and I passed that round."

Rachel said with some sadness, "TRW does mainly defense work. You'd do that?"

I remarked, "Certainly! The pay would be excellent, and the work challenging and in the field that I trained in. Back in my home town, it seemed about a third or so of my high school graduating class went into the military. A girl I went on a few dates with in high school is in the Air Force right now. My two bicycling buddies joined the Army. My former Chemistry lab partner went with the Navy. I'm proud of them all. Even the priest at my parents' church is a former military chaplain who misses that life but gotten too old to handle it so is now a parish priest. I don't share the extreme anti-military attitude of this campus. Never did. I'd look at it as giving the military the tools to do a better job if I got the job at TRW."

Rachel stated, "Since you hang out with Josh so much, I thought that you grew up in Irate City like he did. How big is your home town?"

I said, "About sixteen thousand people. It's a papermill city."

Rachel remarked, "That explains your small-town attitude that comes with a limited small-town mind. I can see why somebody like you wouldn't appreciate the evil the military does, but Josh grew up in Irate City so should know better. For him, it's a betrayal to even consider a job with the NSA. When I graduate in about a year, I'm not interviewing at any place like that!"

I figured in for a penny, in for a pound, I said, "Josh has other job prospects. He flew out interviewed at TRW last week."

Rachel asked, "Same place as the one you are going next week?"

I answered, "Same company and city. However, he interviewed with a division putting microcontrollers in Army tanks to create smart tanks, while I'll be interviewing with a division that has a computer that connects to a fighter jet for rapid and directed diagnosis of problems and maintenance. I may not get the job. I've been having problems with getting offers once companies discover I will be an August graduate rather than a May graduate. These places need Computer Science people just as much as EE's. Maybe you should throw a resume there as you get closer to graduation."

Rachel gave a glare at me for that, then went back to coding on her terminal without talking any more to me. She seemed to have remembered I was allergic to cats, and she was a cat-lover.

In my Computer Controls class that semester, which is an EE course and not a Computer Science course, the professor randomly assigned lab partners. I ended up working with Earl Orden. I had seen him around in the EE department, but did not know him well.

Earl and I brainstormed. We came up with a project of a stepper motor-controlled table with a drill to put holes in a printed circuit board. I decided to risk interfacing to my precious Commodore SX-64 as the brains of the device. We went to the professor with our proposal, which was heartily approved as worthy of the learning goals of this course.

To my surprise, my writing the software and building the interface circuity with modified Gray code to energize at the appropriate time the coils of the stepper motors was fairly straightforward and relatively easy. However, the mechanical aspects of motor mounts and friction in the rotating threaded rods proved difficult. Earl was better at the mechanical aspects then I was, and eager to do his part after I had the code running and motors spinning.

My Computer Science course also had a huge project due at the end of the semester.

I had to have both projects succeed to keep even my later August graduation date. These were project classes where a failed project meant a failing grade, and they were not offered during summer session. The sheer intensity made of my coursework caused me to not do well on my job interviews since I was so bloody tired all semester!

As it got to within about four weeks to the end of the semester, Earl was busy altering the motor mounts once again, so I left that to him. With two major projects determining my future, I decided to push hard now to get the Computer Science project out of the way so I could then concentrate fully on the stepper motor-controlled table without distraction.

I was therefore at the Computer Science terminal room many hours every day. Quite often, I saw Rachel there.

One day, I asked Rachel, "Taught your clever cat any new tricks?"

Rachel replied as she held out an open hand about six inches above the floor, "I taught him if I hold out my hand like this to come over and give me a high five! It's really cute."

I had never heard of a cat doing a high five. Even dogs seemed to be taught to shake, not give a high five.

Since I had broken the ice with a safe topic of her beloved cat, Rachel remarked, "I don't see Josh around campus very much."

I said, "Both he and Waldo have been doing a lot of travelling on job interviews. Both have been to both coasts. I should be travelling like that too, but have declined some trips."

Rachel asked, "Why would you not go on interviews?"

I replied, "Because it won't do any good to go on the interviews if I don't get my degree! This has been my worst semester yet for a load! Josh and Waldo are at the minimum load of thirteen credits, but I'm maxed out. That's why I couldn't possibly add Tech Writing this semester on top of it, so have to be an August graduate."

I got back to my coding. Busy with this, I hoped on the other project for the EE course that Earl got the mechanical issues solved soon.

A week or so later, I had the magic feeling of my computer program for my Computer Science class working perfectly. All the input and output files were just as they should be.

Rachel was there sitting at her own terminal, so I mentioned, "I got it done!"

She asked, "There's almost three weeks before finals week. Is it really done?"

I said, "I am supposed to have more comments in the code than I have right now, but those don't affect function. I can add those at any time. If I turned in what I have right now, then it should pass the course. Now I can go concentrate on the Computer Controls project for my EE class."

Rachel asked, "Do you know if Josh got a job yet?"

I replied, "If he did, then he didn't tell me. Waldo Venter got one and accepted it. Of all places, it is at the paper mill in my home town."

Rachel remarked, "At least one of you guys is getting a job that has nothing to do with the military. Wouldn't you know it's the married one!"

I shot back, "The paper mill is military as well!"

Rachel said, "You're pulling my leg."

I elaborated, "During the Vietnam War, since my Dad worked at the paper mill, he had an exemption from the draft. He didn't even know it had an exemption when he accepted the job because he was old enough not to need it. He discovered it did later because several of his younger co-workers did need it! Making high-gloss magazine paper was considered a war-critical industry according to the U.S. government!"

Rachel wondered, "Why is magazine paper a war-critical industry?"

I said, "I think Playboy magazine uses paper from Dad's mill. Maybe that's what makes it war critical as the servicemen might like that magazine! See you around!"

For the next two weeks, Earl and I spent lots of time on the stepper-motor project. Earl found a different stepper motor for the bottom that had more torque than the original. Once we got that it, then it worked much better.

On Monday of the last week before finals week, I realized I still had not bothered to add the comments to my code and print out all the files for my Computer Science project. I walked over to the Computer Science building to do just that. The project was due in class on Friday of that week.

As I got close to the terminal room filled with VT-220 terminals, I heard shouting and profanity through the door. I opened the door to see an angry mob!

Rachel was there, glowering at her VT-220 terminal that sat there with a blank screen.

I got close to Raichel and loudly asked just to be heard over the din, "What's going on?"

Rachel explained, "The UNIX mainframe keeps going down. A self-replicating program designed only to eat up clock cycles keeps starting up. The machine gets slower and slower until one cannot even type. The sys op is responding by restoring from back-up tapes and rebooting. He's doing it for the third time."

Although the room was crowded, most of the people were standing and lots were shouting as the VT-220 terminals were not doing anything at the moment. I sat down at the terminal next to Raichel and waited. After about fifteen minutes, the VT-220 terminals sprang back to life. I logged in, which worked. In the time it took me to do that, the computer started slowing down. It was like the bad old days on the PDP mainframe at Cornfield University as I typed out my one line, "lpr final_project.pas"

The characters dribbled to the screen. lp, wait a second, r, wait a second, space fi, wait two seconds, and so on. Yet, I got the line in and hit ENTER. I made a decision not to bother with comments after all. I would just take the grade hit for inadequate comments.

To my relief, the printer went to work on my file.

I started out on my second file. It was even worse trying to type the second line. My first file came out of the printer, which did not seem as slowed as the rest of the computer, by the time I got the line to get the second file to print in. The second file started to print.

I looked over to Rachel's terminal. She was trying to edit code in the full-screen editor called vi. With the computer this slow, she was effectively getting no work done.

Then, all the VT-220's terminals screens crashed. The computer was being rebooted yet again. I went to the printer. I had one file printed, but the second only started to print before the crash. I would have to try again on the second file.

It took close to three hours, most of it waiting, but at last, I had all my files printed with the printouts in my admittedly sweating hands. Rachel looked practically in tears. So were some others, while others swore and ranted.

I was glad to get out of there!

Back with Earl Orden, we had the base of the stepper-motor controlled table working flawlessly with mechanical, electrical, and software all doing their required tasks for the x and y coordinates. However, the drill that was to put holes in the mounted printed circuit board wasn't functioning. Despite Earl and I putting in late nights, when we had to present on Thursday afternoon, the drill wasn't functioning. Despite that, the professor and his T.A. looked impressed as the stepper-motors spun and the base of the table went to wherever it was requested by the software in my Commodore SX-64.

After the professor and T.A. consulted, they handed Earl and I a sheet with the Rubrik of what they looked at in the project with a score in various categories. It had the final grade on this project as a B. For this class, the project was the final, so we were done with the course forever, in which we both also got a B.

I read it and remarked, "I can live with a B."

Earl said in surprise, "You can live with it? Getting a B is fantastic!"

I thought about it. In my yellow backpack held the printouts to turn in tomorrow for my Computer Science course. It lacked comments so would get dinged for that, but it would certainly let me pass. The hellish semester was drawing to a successful close. I found myself wishing I had gone out travelling to more job interviews like Waldo Venter and Josh Cistern had done, but then maybe I wouldn't have gotten this B in Computer Controls and the Computer Science program done at all.

I smiled at Earl and agreed, "You're right! Getting a B is fantastic! Thanks for solving so many of the mechanical issues. I've never had a lab partner that put in as much effort as you did."

Earl modestly pointed out, "Having your Commodore computer control it impressed the professor as well."

I smiled and said, "And we never fried a chip in my Commodore doing it."

With this out of the way, I decided to go to the Computer Science building and put in the missing comments to improve my grade in that class. As I got close to the terminal room, I saw a huge crowd spilling out of the hallway. I had thought I had heard a lot of yelling and profanity on Monday, but it was far worse now! I beat a hasty retreat! This was late Thursday afternoon, and the problem had started Monday. It was unheard of for a UNIX mainframe to be out of action for four days straight!

Friday morning at eleven am, I was in my Computer Science class. There were about thirty students. The professor came into the room. Immediately, there were shouts about needing an extension.

The professor finally got people to quiet down, then said, "Those who have their project done, please turn it in now."

I went up and turned mine in. I was not alone. So did four others. As the five of us did this, the rest of the class broke into shouting once more. It was mostly about needing an extension.

It was harder for the professor to get the angry crowd to quiet down. With patience, the professor finally could be heard.

The professor explained, "As many of you know, the mainframe computer was down much of this week. It was due to a particularly nasty computer virus. It's now been cleared out. As of nine am this morning, the mainframe has been working fine again. Because this has happened, I will be more generous with partial credit than previous semesters. However, next week is finals week. I do not accept work during finals week, and still won't. Your extension is until five pm today. I will leave my office at five pm, and if your program is not in, it's a zero. Whatever you have to turn in, turn it in by then."

We were supposed to be getting a lecture on this Friday class to review for the final exam next week as unlike Computer Controls, this class did have a final exam. Clearly, that review was not going to happen. Many students clearly were displeased with the deadline being at five pm today. I didn't like the mood of this crowd. I left the room. I noticed the other four who had turned in their projects left the room with me.

As I headed out of the building, I saw Rachel in the hallway.

I asked her, "Did you hear what was done to the mainframe with the virus?"

"Yes, but it isn't really what I would call a computer virus. I'm heading to the terminal room to get to work. Our professor gave an extension until Monday at five pm. I'm not going to be getting much sleep this weekend, but I think I can pull it off."

I remarked, "Our professor only gave an extension until five pm today! He said that he'll take into account what happened and give more partial credit than usual, though."

Rachel asked, "You're done with your program, though, aren't you?"

I confirmed, "My code lacks comments, but it worked flawlessly. I already turned it in. I could just as easily have concentrated on my Computer Controls project first, then this program, and been in big trouble. It is mainly dumb luck that I worked the other order around, so am coming out of this smelling like a rose."

I accompanied Rachel to the terminal room despite it being out of my way. Every terminal was occupied and a line spilled out the door. This also reminded me of the bad old days at Cornfield University with the PDP mainframe. This was the only time I saw that kind of huge crowd at the terminal room in the Computer Science building at Bill-of-Rights University. Those the angriest seemed those from my class who had not turned anything in as they trickled in after failing to change the professor's mind about the deadline being five pm today. I sympathized with them as it was now around noon, so five pm would come very fast!

Rachel suggested, "My deadline is not until Monday, and there's nothing I can do here with this mob around. Let's go to the cafeteria and have some lunch."

As we ate, I told Rachel, "My professor was vague about what happened with the mainframe, just calling it a virus. You said that you knew a sys op. Do you know any more?"

Rachel said, "Back in the first week of January, somebody managed to get into the Superuser account. He or she modified one of the system files to read the calendar function. It would wait until the last Monday before finals week before activating. That is, this week in May."

I remarked, "That means this was planned almost a full semester in advance!"

Rachel agreed, "Yes. It took very little computer processing power to just check the calendar every so often. It went unnoticed for months. This is what is called a computer time bomb."

I said, "Back on Monday of this week, you said that the sys op was restoring the system files from backup tapes."

Rachel acknowledged, "That they were. Once activated, the time bomb set up high-priority computer jobs automatically one after the other just to slow the computer to a crawl. At that point, I might call it a virus, but not before activation since only one copy existed until that date. Other than a time bomb, I am not sure quite what to call it. This stuff is so new that terms for it are still not clear. However, nobody guessed for days that the time bomb was placed all the way back in the first week of January! When the backup tapes went back two weeks and the problem still wasn't solved, the powers-that-be tried many other things, none of which worked. Eventually, they went back to trying earlier and earlier back-up tapes. It took days before what actually was done was solved."

I remarked, "I'm not used to a powerful mainframe like this being down for more than an hour, much less four days!"

Rachel agreed, "It is atypical. The attack is very ingenious. Nasty, but ingenious! I wish I was as clever at computers as the guy or gal who came up with this time bomb attack."

I said, "You told me you'll hardly get any sleep this weekend finishing the final program for your class by Monday at five pm. I assume that is time you should instead be studying for final exams."

Rachel nodded at that.

I continued, "Yet you express admiration for the person who did this much damage to you? Even more damage was done to many of the students in my class that only got an extension of a mere five hours. How can you admire that?"

Rachel explained, "I admire the technical accomplishment, not the harm that was done. I'm done eating, so I'm off to brave the terminal room again. See you around."

I asked, "I'm only around until August because I'll be on campus taking the Technical Writing course, then I graduate. Are you in summer school?"

Rachel replied, "No. Well, if I don't see you around during finals week, I guess this is goodbye. I won't be seeing you around after all."

I responded, "I suppose so. I do have a trick that I used a couple years ago for getting computer programs done with an overcrowded terminal room as long as it is open 24 hours a day."

Rachel asked, "What's that?"

I explained, "Most students try to power their way through with all-nighters. Some will give up around three or four am. Instead of doing that, I would go get some sleep, but set my alarm to five am. I found from about five am until about nine am gets the least use of the computer, so the best time to work."

Rachel said, "Interesting approach. I'll think about it."

As Rachel wandered away to go back into the madhouse of that terminal room, I felt odd as I realized despite how I was coming to summer school, I would likely never see her and many others as well. Earl Orden still had a semester left, but he wasn't going to summer school either so I would likely never see Earl again either.

I was never as confident about passing final exams as I was now. I would still study this weekend, but I had not the slightest doubt I would perform adequately on all of them. That should have me feeling good, but I kept thinking of how Rachel had explained and admired the computer time bomb attack. I did not feel the same admiration for the technical cleverness of it. I felt that if I had been the sys op, I might still not have figured out the attack. When I had dumped my pirated games, I had also mostly lost contact with the subculture of Irate City that knew and talked the most about cracking and viruses, and probably time bombs as well. I feared if it had been my responsibility, the UNIX mainframe would still be down. What happened with this time bomb had me feeling as stupid about computers as ever before despite that my transcript would show otherwise. I felt as tired and limp as a wet dishrag. This was not a good gung-ho, rah-rah-rah attitude for going to job interviews! I hoped I would regain my enthusiasm and good cheer during the easy summer to come because at this moment, I doubt I could make working on computers seem fun-fun-fun no matter how hard I tried!

As I thought these gloomy thoughts while still sitting at the cafeteria table, Waldo broke my reverie by calling out, "Mind if I join you, Joel?"

Although I had finished my meal, I was in no hurry to go anywhere and felt a need to talk, "Sure, have a seat."

I told Waldo what had happened with the computer time bomb. Like Rachel, he expressed admiration for the technical aspect.

Waldo looked around the cafeteria and said, "Hard to believe it's all over in a week. At least I'll still be seeing you around since I took a job in your home town."

I replied, "Until I get a job who knows where. And I'll be back here in Irate City to finish up that Tech Writing course this summer."

Waldo said, "I expect you to visit my wife and me for years to come. You'll surely come see your parents for Christmas or Thanksgiving or something. Stop on by when you do."

"I will," I promised, feeling slightly better.


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