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 ,
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
I opened the email that had just arrived, and this is what I
To: Craig Brinkleburn <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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,
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
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
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
really. When did he die?”
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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:
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…..
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