Saturday, January 28, 2023

“Recursive Stack Overflow” • by Allan Davis Jr.



Virus? Design flaw? Sunspot interference? What about a biological virus that infected the interface and acted like a programmed virus? The list of possibilities was endless.

Greg stared at the computer as it finished the bootload procedures. He sincerely hoped he wasn’t the only wirehead working on the problem, and that someone could track it down, and quickly.  People were dying. 

People were being eaten

He swallowed hard, past the lump in his throat. 

Statistics rolled across the screen. Wireless data nodes and their status bytes scrolled by in an endless, barely organized stream. Each node represented an MMIIP—a mind-machine interface implant package—nanotech circuitry, encapsulated in a surgical steel housing and surgically attached to the bone at the base of the skull. Magnetic induction “broadcast” the nanovolt signal to the nerves in the brain, and a properly trained brain could interpret those signals into visual, or sometimes even non-visual, data.

Each node, then, also represented a person. And according to the statistical analysis his computer was generating, fully 84.673% of those people were in serious trouble. 

There were three classifiably different attack vectors at work.

The first, and possibly the most fortunate, were losing coordination. Greg had passed five traffic accidents getting home. Something was interfering with their fine motor control.

The second grouping was made up of...well, catatonics. They weren’t mobile, weren’t even responding to external stimuli. He glanced over at his girlfriend, who hadn’t moved since he returned home. She was sitting in the shadows just out of his reach, staring out the window.

And finally, the third group...


Greg shut his eyes against the blast of white light and white noise, and cursed. When four people in line at the coffee shop had started convulsing, he had shut off his implant out of sheer reflex. And when those four people started eating the catatonic ones, he had run for home.

It was the first time he had touched the steering wheel in nearly three years.

Obviously, he hadn’t been fast enough. His implant was infected too. Yes, “infected” was the right it a hunch, but he thought it was a virus. He activated the double-firewall on his computer, and reached for the wire.

Wireheads were laughed at by the rest of society. Everything was wireless, so why tether your head to a computer?  Most wireheads were serious tech geeks—interface programmers, or, like Greg, software testers, who needed to segregate the software from the interface to test it.

Of course, he never thought he’d be debugging his own interface.

Data scrolled across the screen, but it wasn't making much sense. Greg fought to remember the parameters for the optical interface, and finally looked it up. 3074 bits wide with seven parity bits; that was the data stream into the optic nerve. There, now the data was more orderly.


The blast of static hit without warning, causing his legs to spasm and fingers to go numb. He blinked away the migraine, and as soon as his eyes would focus again, scrolled back the buffer.  There it was—random data, something he could actually trace. He backtracked through the logs, trying to see the source of the garbage data, all the way back to the module it came from—the LifeWare 87C!

LifeWare chips were a godsend for EMTs. The chip monitored and recorded the last several hours of biometric data. If anything—blood sugar, blood pressure, pulse—slipped outside the normal range, it would alert the owner. Too far outside, like a heart attack, and it would alert the EMT system—and they had a custom chip that could read the LifeWare data from ten feet away.

The chip was so cool, in fact, that the government decided that one would be in every install. Tripled the cost of the system, of course, and guaranteed that everyone had one. And now his was not only interfering with his other systems, it was messing with his brain.

That was supposed to be impossible. “You can’t write to meat,” they said. “Wetware isn’t a standard I/O device.” This was a good thing. If the brain was just another piece in the system, then data could be written to it—and overwrite anything that was already there. Scientists still didn’t know enough about the deep inner workings of the brain to deal with editing data at the neural level. “Your implant can broadcast, and you can train your brain to read the signals—but that’s a ‘pull’ and not a ‘push.’” 

Greg started tracing through the LifeWare chip code, looking for the problem.


It took nearly five minutes for him to recover from the strongest burst of static yet, and nearly ten more before he regained the feeling in his fingers and toes. 

LifeWare chips were only different in data storage size, from the cheapest 2 gigabyte models all the way up to huge 10 gigabyte ones that would hold weeks’ worth of data. The virus—Greg was still sure it was a virus, though he couldn’t yet prove it—looked like it was dumping random numbers into the chip’s memory.

And there, finally, he found it. Compressed, and compressed again. A little packet of information included with every burst of static. “You slept with my wife. I’m going to destroy your company.” There it was. The program generated ten gigabytes of noise and dumped it into the 2 gigabyte storage area of the LifeWare chip. That caused…caused…he couldn’t remember the official term, it was on the tip of his tongue. Pile? Stack, that was it. Stack something.

But if it sent ten gigabytes into a two gigabyte chip…where did the extra data go? The next socket down the line was generally reserved for video games…and that was the last socket. 

The only thing after that…was meat.

Nintendo’s interface was a two gigabyte module. Loads and loads of data, dumped into the nervous system…they just shut down, trying to process it all.

PlayStation? That was four gigabytes. Less data to go into the brain. Motor neuron interference, but not catatonia.

And the ones who’d left their game slot blank? That crash of random data would mess with the whole brain.

He had the answer. He hammered out a mass email, everyone in his address book, details, quickly, got to get the word out, but fighting for the words, stack something, stack over—


The blast of energy caused his entire body to spasm, sending an overload down the wire that rebooted the computer. He sat quietly until the twitching stopped, and stared blankly around the room.

He reached out, and gently pulled his girlfriend’s hand up to his mouth.

Then he bit off her ring finger, and let the hand drop into her lap.

The nerve impact from losing her index finger had just reached her brain, but it would be another hour before the visual data would process. By then, Greg would be working on her other hand, and shock and blood loss would cause her to collapse.

Greg chewed slowly, crunching loudly.


Virus? Design flaw? Sunspot interference? What about a biological virus that infected the interface and acted like a programmed virus?

Greg stared at the computer, trying to figure out what could have caused such a disaster. He hoped he wasn’t the only wirehead working on the problem, and that someone could track it down, and quickly. People were dying. People were being eaten

He swallowed hard, past the lump in his throat.




Allan Davis Jr. is a writer, photographer, and computer geek who is currently hiding out in a cave in the arid wasteland of Central Florida. He’s been a sci-fi geek from day one—literally, his mom was watching “Shore Leave” in the hospital while she was in labor, and demanded a TV so she could see more Star Trek. When Allan is not staring through a camera, he’s doing unspeakable things to databases, as well as the computers they live on. Never let him sing after midnight...or before midnight, for that matter.


torainfor said...

Sooo...I should let the Creature play all the video game platforms he wants?