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Betrayed by Software

Cappy Jack ©2007

            The Captain didn’t take the anomaly seriously at first. He switched off the automatic pilot and hit reset. Nothing happened. The airliner continued its banking turn almost an about face that made the co-pilot look at the Captain and ask, “What the?”

“Try yours”, he meant the reset but the co-pilot misunderstood the Captain’s command, thinking he meant the yoke, the auto function was cut off after all. But the Captain had tried his controls and knew he wasn’t flying the airplane yet.

“No, no, the reset, mine is sticking.” The co-pilot punched and punched but the screen showed no change. The big passenger plane was no longer headed for Los Angeles, but the pilots didn’t know why. The Captain picked up his mike.

“Kennedy control tower. Do you read?” No static, no answer, he repeated his call.

“Switch to basic frequency.” His monotone alarmed the co-pilot who jumped to it.

“Kennedy control, mayday, mayday.” Again greeted with silence, the Captain cursed softly, said, “I’m going to walk back and check for any interference.” That meant a lot to the co-pilot who heard this man in the left seat mock the rules for turning off electronic devices. He knew to keep trying to raise someone with the radio, hands on the yoke, feet on the rudders waiting for some response.

            The devout young man sat in first class. He saw the pilot come out first, saw the fear in his face, heard his commanding voice ask everyone to check their electronic devices and, please, turn them off. Mohamed was on this flight to learn why his road was chosen, why he must become an Imam, having turned away from this chaotic world where complexity ruled. His attempts with his money did nothing to convince him that any further contact would be good. This quick trip to Los Angeles would be his last before returning, God be blessed, to his home land. His thick nit eye brows furrowed with the thought. The Captain noticed only his clasped hands, no harm from these quarters, he bellowed out his request to the next ten rows, keeping going. When he reached the end of the plane he informed the stewards that he thought some electronic device was interfering with the control of the plane. This frightened them so much that he back pedaled.

“I want you to stay calm and check all your seats for electronic devices. Ask to see any to be sure they are off. The plane is fine. We just want to be sure. That’s all.” The damage to their psyches was done and the weak woman and the hyper active male became testy, demanding results from their passengers, and NOW! Their barking followed the Captain back to the cockpit. He closed the door and locked it.

            “Any Luck?” he seated himself, looking at a strained individual, one who had lost control of his fate.

“I’ve been able to look at emergency procedures but without this scenario, we’re fucked.” His harshness clouded the Captain’s face for a moment. He hadn’t given up. They were still flying just headed in the wrong direction. What had sunk into the co-pilot, that they had no control, wasn’t registering with the captain, he punched his reset button, craining his neck to look directly at his screen, not out side, looking for the guts of this airplane.

“What have we got to take control?” He was right that the co-pilot had tried everything to regain control. A look of anguish came back before the words, “The only procedure I haven’t tried, no warnings, no feedback from any so far, is the main breaker. We are too low for that one.” The main was an ultimate reset, done in the air from a minimum altitude. “We are below minimum now.”

“Where are we headed?”

New York city

 “Try it now.”

“Nah, everything is functioning, don’t risk it.” That he was so familiar with the pilot meant a lot to his refusal of an order. The pilot repeated himself.

“Toggle it. I want to see if we can scare some sense into the air controllers.” Deeply suspicious, the Captain risked all to regain control. The co-pilot balked again. “I’ll do it my self.” The Captain rose, flipped the main breaker after wrenching away the safety cover, and looked. The screen didn’t change, the lights didn’t go off momentarily, it didn’t work. “Is the main under software control?” His question scrambled the co-pilot into action, looking for a schematic; his sense of urgency sharpened his remembrance of EE training. Moments later he disturbed the blank face of the Captain with, “Yes, everything is accessed by software control.” The Captain’s right index finger toyed with the yoke back and forth, playing out the helplessness he felt trying to figure out this glitch.

            The skyline of New York was beautiful. They descended so low they saw people look up at them. There was wonder of what they were doing but a trusting when you have surrendered all control to one person, the pilot, they were entertained. The wag and sharp thrust forward as the engines went to full power, set many back to enjoy the ride. They plowed into the world trade center without even knowing, interrupted in a joy ride. Only the pilot and co-pilot saw where they were headed, felt deeply betrayed by the always docile software that let them have control before but not now. The Captain threw himself towards he windscreen just before they made impact. Not all the planes were the same.

            The worm that riddled four airplane computers didn’t stem from one source. It was made of bits and pieces of things people wrote as ‘what if’s’, those meaningless exercises that fascinated one’s mind when one was thinking the absurd. Combined into an atrocity, so many people died at the hands of these complex objects that none complained at the simplicity of what happened. No one questioned that suicides couldn’t be stopped, that they would prevail, succeed in a primitive way, not birth control, but death nonetheless. Mohamed and his cohorts took control and suicidally flew these jet airliners into something, a surprise for almost anyone on the planes. The message sent out was false, they had surrendered, like the rest of the passengers, their fate to the pilots, sitting now in stupor as the targets got closer. The co-pilot screamed, his scent of fear sent over the cabin, over and over until impact

            The program that did in those planes on 9/11 was never meant to do harm, it was a harmless exercise into absurd recursive iterations, descending the path to a logical conclusion. No one thought to exclude death. So be it.

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