the revised devil’s dictionary 

from ESP Fiction

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Prologue

Providence, Rhode Island, April 11, 1995

 

Manuel Azaña was a hacker’s hacker. During the day he ran one of Southern California’s biggest computer bulletin boards, keeping the network up, checking on modems, basically trouble-shooting the entire system. He was well paid for his services, too; he hadn’t hurt for money for years. With an income of six figures plus, he could pick his hours. By night, he haunted the Web and various BBS’s across the country, looking, for what he was never sure. And tonight, he’d found it.

It was the finest piece of programming he’d ever come across. Absolutely clean graphics, everything he wished he could write. The sucker literally screamed along.

It was also a game, somewhat akin to Doom but more advanced. Mannie wasn’t a big fan of shoot-em-ups, but this one was different. Five minutes convinced him that this code was really something special.

Mannie unlocked the access to some highly efficient software he had written for cracking code and got down to business. Using his software, it was but a matter of minutes till he had the guts opened up and was deep into the mechanics of the program itself.

Interesting. The sucker had been too big, just as he’d thought. The program, a shareware product that was being marketed as a teaser for regular commercial shelfware, was actually the complete product, with several software switches thrown. Without a moment’s hesitation, Mannie made the necessary changes, reran the program and sat back to watch the opening screen on the monitor. He glanced over at the second monitor that was showing how the program was running and so it was that he missed the first few seconds when the warning message flashed on.

The program got to the point where he was to press the mouse button to proceed, which he did. But instead of the screen showing configuration options, he was presented with a single face, staring back at him.

 
   

 

It was, he thought, one of the most beautiful pieces of coding he’d ever seen. That face looked alive—the eyes moved, the mouth worked itself and the tongue—a great red pointed thing—ran twice over the lips. A demon’s face and it was superb.

He thought he heard a few soft sounds and realized that he had the sound turned down. The demon seemed to pause and watch as he turned the sound up and then it grinned at him with a malevolence that took Mannie’s breath away. Fantastic.

He listened as it began to speak. "Ah, that’s better. Now you can hear me. You getting all this?"

Mannie found himself nodding. This was great.

"Far fucking out," the demon said, "let’s get down to business. You have sprung a trap by messing around with the internal contents of this program." Manuel nodded to himself, glumly. He should have figured that anyone who could program like this would put some sort of watchdog for cracking into it. He began to reach for the power switch, unwilling to take a chance of the damn thing scrambling his drives, when the demon shook his head. "Too late by half."

Mannie scowled. True. By now, he could have lost his entire FAT. There was really no harm in letting the thing continue. He’d have to clean up later. He slumped back and the demon nodded, a fiendish look to him. Jesus, this was good programming. Must have taken them weeks. Months.

"Good, you seem to have a bit of sense about you. Okay, to business. You have a choice here. Either you can call, right now, the number that’s appearing on the screen and pay the fine that will be imposed . . ."

"Not bloody likely, you twit." Mannie growled.

"Or you can take Column B, which is what you’ve just chosen, sight unseen. Good," the demon sneered, his face growing larger in the screen. "I really like column B." With that, two arms came through the screen and grabbed Manuel Azaña by the head. The left hand sank six claws into the back of his head while the right enfolded his face.

Mannie had enough time to scream once, to the demon’s satisfaction, before his face was pulled from his head with a wet, snapping sound. What was left of his head was released and the demon pulled his hands back into the screen and popped the red dripping ruin into its vast maw. At that point, there was a whine from the computer and a stench of brimstone and ozone.

 

   

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updated 11/04/02