Off by One

Tischer inhaled deeply as he picked up the next case's folder. It was an old habit his mentor had taught him.

Clear your mind before you begin a new case,' he'd say. 'Your experience may help you-- but you must remember that each system has its own sublties... its own signature.'

He placed the folder in front of himself, closed his eyes and exhaled. The ritual finished, he opened the file.

Clipped to the front of the folder was a holo picture of the 'victim' - 17 year old Marret Vincent, aka "CarniVore'. He started skimming the other side of the folder-- getting a feel for the particulars.

The morgue reported all the classic symptoms of a bad encounter with Black IC-- that was pretty much a given since the research had been assigned to him. He was the Star's computer forensics specialist and as such he got two kinds of cases-- deceased wannabee system crashers and doublely-encrypted ultra-sensitive material that will really mess up someone's life if it ever gets decrypted...

He liked decryption-- but those cases were few and far between...

Besides "CarniVore" fell rather neatly into the first pile. Still, he had to review the case-- there was always the possibility that an apparent 'decking accident' could turn out to be a well staged murder.

He typed in the request for Vincent's deck, and when it finally arrived, he hooked it up to 'monster', his analysis machine, and began the recovery routine. He looked at his watch and headed home. If he was lucky-- it would be finished by the time he came in in the morning.

0900, still processing. Two cups of coffee later, it was on the last leg of the process. He got a copy of what had been recovered so far and began looking through it.

He found bits of code, and partial routines-- all of them looked solid... no sign of sloppy code. If anything Mr. CarniVore had been a little on the retentive side when it came to files and upgrades-- always the latest... fresh compiles if you believed the date time stamp.

He thought about that for a minute and then checked the time of death. Some of the routines had been compiled less than 10 minutes before the system, and CarniVore had their final system crash..

By lunch time the process was done. He looked at the clock, grabbed something out of the snack tray and continued to catalog the recovered data and files list.

Three Ork-a-Cola's later he found the read-me file that the victim had missed.

Several pages of the document were missing, but it was easy enough for him to deck into the matrix and download the files from the compiler's manufacturers.

When he finished he just shook his head.

It all added up though: aspiring decker wannabe, hottest/latest releases, patches applied religously... and a small timing error in the messaging routines due to be fixed in the next release.

With a red pen, he wrote his findings, and sent it on to the investigaing officer. He knew he'd be getting a call once the officer had a chance to read it-- but he couldn't help himself.

Detective Sara McFarren smiled as the folder from forensics arrived. She opened it up and frowned. Shaking her head she called down to Tischer's world.

When the computer specialist answered he was smiling. "Sara! How can I help you?"

She sighed and shook her head. "Tischer... care to explain this 'Fatal off by one error?' "

Copyright 2001 - M.T. Decker

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