Restless (Part 1)

Nothing works.

The program printed the text to the screen every time. It didn’t make sense. Thom checked his code, line by line, over and over again. The text searches always came up empty. He decided it was time to take a break. Maybe hours of work late into the evening were starting to get to him. It had to be generated by the compiler, he thought. Had some nefarious developer put it in there to prank the one millionth user of his code? He would welcome anything that would put his mind at ease. Unfortunately, he couldn’t afford another all nighter. It was time to get some sleep. Liz would wonder why he didn’t come to bed that night. The baby would wake in a hour, ready to drain another bottle, and he had never gotten around to loading those the night before.

He snuck into the bedroom as quietly as possible. Having a newborn in the house had enabled him to perfect his ability to move around unnoticed. He prided himself on the fact that he could maneuver undetected. He had long since mastered the art of whispered conversation and the act of walking along the old wooden floor without provoking a single creak or pop. He eased himself underneath the covers, careful not to wake his sleeping wife. Several minutes passed without a hint of drowsiness. He knew sleep would never find him. He had to figure out that damn message. He would waste an hour going through every scenario in his head until the sun came up, or the baby disrupted the white noise coming from the monitor. He never knew which would come first these days. Sleep would have to wait. He had to go back to the office.

Thom reversed his steps, sliding in socked feet back to his desk. He woke the computer and opened his project once more, however this time the application’s name had changed. What had once been his pet project, a mobile port of an old video game where the hero worked as a bartender, was now labeled Sanctuary. Thom felt a tingling along his scalp. Had someone hacked his system at some point? He grabbed the mouse and tried to see if his online backups were unaltered but no network connection was available. He remembered he had originally configured the machine to make an automated backup each night to an external disk. A convenience he had turned off two weeks ago since it slowed the system to a crawl during his prime coding hours. He pitied himself for a moment, but the sensation was overcome by the anger now brewing in his gut. He clicked the external drive and saw the project from two weeks ago. A project no longer called iBeerSlinger, but instead dubbed Sanctuary.

He choked back an obscenity, and sighed. Sleep deprivation could break the mind, but he had adapted. He knew there was a reasonable explanation for the insanity. Could the files have been compromised two weeks ago only for the attack to be triggered tonight? At that moment the machine rebooted, leaving him in momentary darkness. He almost let out an audible yelp, but caught himself before he could make a sound. As the screen lit once more, and the operating system began to load, he thought he caught a glimpse of something moving in the shadows beyond the monitor.