Email Delivery Delayed (Revised May 2012)

 

I remember very clearly the day my life changed for ever.  It was early on New Year’s Day, 2001.  There’d been one heck of a party down the road.  Dad as usual had had too much to drink, and been horrible to everyone.  Mum had somehow got him home safely, but the mood had been poisonous.  I heard them come in, but kept my head low.

I should explain that I’m not much of a party animal myself.  I prefer sitting at my computer, really – I suppose you could say that I’m a bit of a geek.  Our council house was pretty small, and my bedroom was the only place I felt safe when Mum and Dad were having one of their frequent shouting matches, so I spent quite a bit of my time there.

Anyway, at about 3am, things had quietened down, and I was just about to shut my system down and go to sleep, when the little “You have mail” icon appeared in the corner, with its characteristic bleep.

I opened the email that had just arrived, and this is what I saw:

 

To:  Craig Brinkleburn <craig.brinkleburn@hotmail.com>

From:  System < 09567352167@inarpa.com>

Sender:  UMail-360

Sent: 23-Feb-1970

Subject:  Message 1

Dear Craig,

Do not delete this message!  It has taken a very long time to get to you.  Please reply to the above address.  There is no need to say anything.  This will trigger a further electronic mail message with more information.

Yours in trust,

Peter Brinkleburn

 

Well, this was a surprise!  Immediately, I was wide awake, with this new challenge to solve.  I had no idea who Peter Brinkleburn was, though presumably he was a relative.  But surely, the send date was some kind of system error – it was long before I was born!

I replied immediately, but nothing happened.  I waited impatiently for an hour, but eventually went to bed.  As you can imagine, I had trouble getting to sleep, trying to think through what this meant, and I was up early, checking my emails again, but nothing came in.

Around lunchtime, Mum appeared, and I asked her who Peter Brinkleburn was.

            “He was your granddad – though we never had much to do with him.  He was some kind of computer boffin – a bit like you, really.  Why do you want to know?”

            “Nothing really.  When did he die?”

            “Oh, it must be thirty years ago, at least.”

So, how did someone who died thirty years ago send an email to a named someone who was only born 14 years after he died?

I checked my email every half hour, all through the day.  Eventually, when Mum and Dad had settled down to watch TV for the evening, the reply came, not just once, but over a thousand times – my Inbox was really creaking!  This is what all the messages said:

 

To:  Craig Brinkleburn <craig.brinkleburn@hotmail.com>

From:  System < 09567352167@inarpa.com>

Sender:  UMail-360

Sent: 23-Feb-1972

Subject:  Message 2

Dear Craig,

Thank you for your reply.  Although this electronic message is sent to you personally, I do not know who you are, or anything about you.  However, you must be someone in the future who shares my unusual surname.  On the balance of probability, you will be a grandson or just possibly great-grandson (since girls seem less interested in computers than boys).

The remainder of this message is in code, which I am confident you will (perhaps with a little assistance) be able to decipher.

Yours again,

Peter Brinkleburn

 

There followed a large block of hexadecimal digits.  This was the kind of challenge I love!  For a week, I scarcely left my bedroom at all. 

I quickly established that the hex was a compiled program, originally written in IBM-360 Fortran-II, plus a block of data.  After some serious searching with Google, I found an old, old OS-360 disassembler, which could run under my version of Linux.  I disassembled the code, which as expected was for deciphering the data block.  Of course, I didn’t have a computer able to compile and run Fortran-II, but a quick bit of C++ coding, and I was there.  This is what the code produced:

 

Dear <name>,

I have cancer.  I also have a secret to unburden myself of, which concerns my descendants, but which I do not wish to tell my only son, who it saddens me immeasurably as his parent to say is a waster and good-for-nothing.  He is too young to have any children.  However, I have recently been working on a system for sending electronic messages via ARPANET, and this suggests a method whereby this information can be passed on to his descendants, if any.

I have placed this program on all the ARPANET servers.  To protect itself against the many system upgrades that are bound to happen over time, it will replicate itself on any other top-level servers it finds.  It will monitor the searching methods used on those servers, and will exploit any searching programs it observes being used.  It will use these programs to search for electronic messaging addresses that include my surname, which is very unusual.  When it finds one of these, it will trigger an electronic message to that address.

To be sure that my son doesn’t receive the message, it will wait for thirty years, before sending the first message……

 

Well, I had recently posted a blog on the Demon Warrior II bulletin board, about a new cheat I had discovered, and yes, I’d given my email address.  Putting my name into Google produced just this one hit, so that must have been what the program found.

The data went on to say:

 

My secret is this.

I recently discovered a large quantity of bonds which my grandfather bought in the early days of railroad expansion.  They were still valid, and now priced at several thousand dollars each.  I have cashed these in, and therefore have a very considerable amount of cash. 

I do not wish my only son to have access to this – it will surely destroy him.  However, I would like this good fortune to benefit at least one of my descendants.

I have put this money in a secret trust.  This will pay an income for life to the first person who presents the administering bank with the correct numerical keys.

Please respond to this message just with the following key, and I will know that you are blessed with the intelligence at least to decipher computer code, and therefore you must be a descendant who may be able to use this money sensibly.

The key is: 6382611932.

Best wishes,

Peter Brinkleburn. 

I need hardly say that I immediately responded with the key, and within 24hours had received a second encrypted message.  Using the decoding algorithm I'd already got, I found this was the address of a bank in Switzerland, along with details of how to present myself to them with the appropriate numerical key.  The mechanism my grandfather had put in place thirty years previously worked perfectly.  Within a month, I had a regular substantial monthly payment into my personal bank account.

And what of life since?  Before my seventeenth birthday, I had put my dysfunctional family behind me and found myself the best education money could buy.  I now have a degree, a house and a family, and life is good.  For this I thank my grandfather from the bottom of my heart.

I hardly ever look back, except when either of my now divorced parents comes pleading to me for financial help.

I’ve never heard of anyone else having the same experience as me, but it set me thinking that perhaps there are lots of programs out there, just waiting for something specific to appear on the Internet, before they release their secret.  There might even be one with your name…..


Feedback

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This is great, you should find a publisher!

I enjoyed this, and it has made me think anew about something. The style's good.

It's stylistically OK, but don't give up the day job!

It needs quite a bit of work, and I think you should probably stick to engineering!

It was a waste of my time to read this rubbish. Don't waste your time writing it!

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