The War Bug by Biff Mitchell

The War Bug

(Biff Mitchell)

The War Bug



Everything in this novel will be true. Nothing has been changed to protect the innocent, and any resemblances to persons living or dead will not occur for another two hundred years, or so.


“Personally, I like hanging from the ceiling, you know, just hanging from the ceiling and grooving on those small movements that air currents set in motion. Unlike you, I don’t spend my days worrying about the string suspending me from the ceiling. I never give it a thought.”

~Betts, the paper mache fish


“Being human is a lot easier when you’re dead.”

~A dead guy


“You will settle.”

~A Reality Law


“Why is there an ant on the cover?”

~Biff Mitchell

Chapter 1 - Cripes


"If God truly is in the details, then DNA must be God."

When Jared Friedman, the biocomputist who invented the DNA bubble computer said this, he failed to understand that it meant the details reflected God's work, not that God was just a bunch of details.

So much for details.

Maybe it was a tiny mishap in the sequencing of Jared's own DNA that caused him to misunderstand Goethe, or maybe he was just blinded by the boggling enormity of his invention: a computer that used simulated DNA structures to store information and to perform computing operations, though "computing" was not what it did in the traditional sense. Jared’s computer used strings of programming, similar to DNA codes, riding on waves of bubbles smaller than atoms, to simultaneously access enormous data warehouses and spit out results trillions of times faster than any computer before it.

Jared's computer was based on a biological entity that could replicate life, which on second thought, might make him right and Goethe wrong after all. But who really cares? They're both dead; Goethe for centuries and Jared, for, oh, about ten minutes. The details were just too much for him, so he jumped off his balcony—about an eight-foot drop—but landed on his head and broke his neck.


What drove Jared over the railing was the realization that this new computer of his—a computer that could fit into this period, but could store all the information currently contained on earth a billion trillion times over—was beyond anything he could ever hope to comprehend. Its implications were more staggering than his mind could handle.

Cripes, he thought, and jumped.

It would be a couple of hundred years before a young Virtual Code Geneticist would crack the encryption on Jared’s work and actually build a working DNA computer. And when that happened, he wouldn’t go crazy like Jared. He would keep his wits and neck intact because he would build his DNA computer for something far larger than eternity. He would build it for love.


Chapter 2

A Hundred and Fifty Years Later…


Viennese Lead Crystal


"Call me the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." Yang Yin giggled. "I am Armageddon!"

He chuckled as he clicked icons and files, copying and pasting furiously. Around him, an unsteady breeze trudged through the park, bumping into sparse trees. There were no birds in the sky.

"Nobody screws the Scourge of the Earth."

He dumped file after file into the same folder, its contents growing by tetrabytes each second.

"I am the Revelations of my Age."

He burst out laughing hard enough to skew the glasses on his nose. He reached a heavily veined hand up and righted them. With his other hand, he clicked and dumped.

"That which I have builded, so shall I tear asunder."

It would be a vast understatement to say that fire leaped in his eyes. It was more like his eyes were balls of fire spinning inside the furnace of his head, casting a baleful glow on the screen of his laptop, which many would consider an artifact of an ancient past. "An antique," the polite would say, even though the machine had been upgraded beyond anything on the market. The exterior, though, was exactly the kind of idiosyncrasy that distinguished Yang from most other humans; for he was a creator, a builder of worlds, a maker of destinies, and a juggler of the pins of fate. He was a god of sorts. And at this moment, an angry god of sorts with bursts of lightning flashing through the ramparts of his lofty self- esteem.

"They screwed me! They screwed me and my creation!"

Twenty feet in front of his park bench, a dark motionless pond struggled to be water-like. Whatever microscopic life it once supported had fled in terror from whatever the pond water had become.

"Financial Philistines! Turned my perfect world, all my beautifully programmed modules of CityWare, into a temple of false gods, a Mecca of Marketing, a corporate corruption of beauty." He didn't always talk like this, but he’d just learned he’d been royally screwed up the butt and tossed out of bed without so much as a cigarette.

"Time to unleash my Angel of Death."

He chuckled as he clicked, copied and pasted, dumping file after file into the folder, which would have appeared to bloat and burp if he had been doing this in VR. But Yang Yin, for all his claim to being a millennium ahead of his time, loved his ancient laptop with its lifeless icons.

The folder grew with files whose extensions were unlike any ever used before. These were components in Yang’s personal language, a language that only he, in all the world, understood.

This was the one thing they'd overlooked. They'd forgotten to consider that maybe he didn't completely trust them, that maybe he'd built a little surprise feature into all those millions of lines of programming, and that maybe he'd built in a little door, a hole in the wall of the mighty citadels he'd created. Something only he knew about. Something he hoped he'd never have to use, but having at least one iota of his own godly self-absorption connected to reality, always suspected that someday he might have to use. And that little surprise was the folder into which he now dumped a staggering magnitude of information.

"Not even their best will ever find it." He laughed insanely. He tilted his sharp- nosed face up from the laptop screen and looked through metallic gray eyes at the lifeless pond liquid. "And that's what it'll all look like in time." The water was so thick it resisted waving in the wind. A pebble dropped on its serene plateau would likely bounce back without a single ripple. "But it will be slow…painful and slow."

He clicked and clicked, and copied and copied, and pasted file after file into the folder and the folder grew not just with size—but also with life.

"Fly now my Angel of Death and bring the walls crumbling down." And he dropped the last of the files into the folder called War_Bug.




Definitely does not taste like chicken, he thought as he sipped again from the crystal stemware wine glass with a delicate snowflake motif cut razor-sharp into its shiny circular surface. Only the best Viennese lead crystal when you drink a cyanide cocktail.

That was the last thing Yang Yin thought before the death pain wrestled him into his next level of being. Whatever that turned out to be.


Chapter 3

Another Fifty Years Later…


The Trouble with Kids


“I love my daughter. But she’s going to get us killed.” The Zen-rhythm sameness of four large fan blades inscribing a monotonous circle on the kitchen ceiling captured Abner Hayes’ attention. He felt like his mind was whirling with the blades, the argument going around and around, going nowhere. “They’ll delete her. They’ll delete you and I’ll be Included,” he heard himself say.

“So what are you going to do? Lock her program?” Claire sat perfectly erect in a loose white sweater and baggy gray slacks, her hands folded neatly in her lap, legs crossed at the ankles, composed, a study in defiant patience. “Maybe you could recode her behavior modules? Treat her like another piece of software…”

“Stop it! You know I wouldn’t do that.” Abner’s avatar shifted a fraction of a minipixel, a miniscule blur of anger expressed by his entire presence; what ‘liners called emotional shakin’.

Aside from the shift, he appeared calm, staring at Claire, his wide face and droopy eyes and mouth emanating serenity as always. He leaned against the counter and looked again at the rotating blades, mesmerized as a point of light winked rhythmically from the edge of one blade each time it arced in his direction. That should happen on every blade, he thought. “I just want my little girl to be safe. I don’t want to lose her.”

Claire looked at him with dark brown eyes floating in a white corneal lake surrounded by black eye shadow shores. It was this intense black and white of her eyes, contrasted with her pale skin that had first attracted Abner to her.

Even with the stark contrast, her eyes were soft when she turned them toward him. “I know you want her to be safe. So do I. But she’s not a little girl anymore, and she needs you to reach out to her like you would to a human sixteen-year- old girl. You can’t just keep on throwing her into one new domain after another. She has your DNA, Abner. Simulated or physical, what you were, she’ll repeat.”

Abner turned his gaze to the scene outside the window, a comfortable neighborhood with neat houses, careful lawns and exact shrubbery. The street stretched into a perfect horizon of early evening summer blue and suburban starched green lawn. Across the street, he watched a shrub keel over and the earth crack where the shrub's skinny little trunk uprooted itself. It’s all falling so fast now.

“I was a teenager out there.” His arm moved in an arc through the air, indicating the world they both understood to lay beyond the bandwidth. “It was different. Children weren’t tracked, at least, not as much as here.”

He looked back at Claire, at her wide mouth with its rich redness contrasting with her pale skin. There was something so irresistibly sensual in those flat, lazy red lips. “Out there, they don’t delete you.”

Claire stood up, a relaxed, easy movement. Her straw-blond hair shifted in a slow rhythmic wave over her shoulders. Her walk was a smooth glide toward him, her wide Mondrian eyes and wide red lips filled him with her presence as though she were a red, black and gold panorama stretching across the horizons of Abner’s being. She draped her arms loosely over his shoulders, her hands flopping down in the air behind him. He could actually feel her lips as she brushed his mouth lightly with hers. She wrapped her arms around his back and pressed herself against him.

“I love you, Abner Hayes. I’ve loved you ever since I met you, before I could even feel love for what it is, before you gave me this gift, and before you gave me Cassie.

“But lately, you’ve been far away from us, even when you’re right here, and we don’t do the things we used to do. It’s always…”

“It’s what I have to do now.” Abner pulled his face away from hers. Her arms were still around his neck, and his long brown ponytail, sprouting from the bottom of an otherwise hairless head, draped over them. “I have to make the bubble safe for you and Cass. This is all collapsing and I don’t know when that’s going to happen. We have to be ready to get you and Cass into the bubble or you’ll both go down with it.”

“But, we can pull into the bubble computer from…”

“No, Claire. There’re no ‘buts’ anymore. Atlantiscity and the other citystates can’t last much longer. God, it’ll likely be the entire Net.”

“Then we’ll be safe in the chaos.”

“Nobody will be safe! I don’t even know if you’ll be safe in the bubble. I don’t know if that’s going to cut off essential parts of your sentience, or not. That’s why I don’t want all of yours and Cassie’s components in there until it’s absolutely necessary. And that’s what makes it important we not draw attention to ourselves, not this close. If I lose my Net access now, you and Cass will die!”

“But we can just make our own way to the bubble computer, store ourselves.”

“No, Claire, it’s more complicated than that. Cassie has to start acting more responsibly. No more boyfriends! Especially human boyfriends. What was she thinking!”

Claire pulled away from him. Her arms flopped by her sides. “She was thinking what any other teenage girl was thinking, a good looking boy, and a harmless date.”

“A date that could have gotten her killed! She tried to pass herself off as an avatar. She could have been traced!”


“I’m going to be late.”

Claire looked at the Cheshire cat clock on the wall and sighed. “What about Cass? Aren’t you going to talk to her before you leave?”

“I’ll talk to her when I get back. I have to leave now.”




Abner opened his eyes.

He faced a dirty cracked ceiling. He wore a breathable blue Net-suit. Its chip- embedded material covered every inch of his body surface for complete Net immersion. A chip implanted in his brain linked his central nervous system to the suit and re-created him online exactly as he was offline. With the suit on, and the chip set to ‘lining, the real world was illusion and the online world was reality, complete with everything but smell and taste. And this only because the Reality Laws outlawed simulated feeding online.

Within seconds of being offline, Abner missed Claire. He could still feel her arms around his neck. He wished he could have stayed longer so he could talk to Cassie and try to smooth things over…if that were possible. He flexed the muscles in his arms and legs, rotated his head gently, and felt the sensations of the real world return slowly. Making contact with his real body was always a drag, a process of accepting cramped muscles and aching joints. He hated coming back to the real world. He hated the real world.

He sat up on his ‘liner’s lounger. He forced himself to not look around the squalor that was his real world. For Abner Hayes, the real world was on the Net in the biggest of the online citystates, Atlantiscity, where he worked as a Virtual

Code Geneticist. He studied DNA from plants and animals, and then simulated its biological code with programming code, which was used to make products in the real world. Like billions of other ‘liners, he not only worked online, he played and lived online. He had an online home that was more real to him than the barren room in which he lay. He had an online family who were more real to him than anyone in the real world.

But now it was time to venture out there, into the real world, the world he hated more than anything he could think of.