(taking place during Book 10, after Mother Instinct)

A N T I C H R I S T   &   A N T I V I R U S

When Tazio was 10 years old and living in sin with his very adult Danish girl friend Jytte in the cozy end-of-the-road Italian town of La Destinazione, he also became a citizen of the modern world: he discovered computers.

Up to then he had lived all his life in the ancient Villa Della Strega, a great walled semi-ruined building complex hidden in the rolling hills of Abruzzo, isolated from town or any neighbors by sixteen kilometers of narrow rutted dirt road, as well as a sinister reputation for evil things having happened there over the centuries. The Villa had been built by priests of Atlantis just after their land sank into the sea 12,000 years ago, so it was pretty old-fashioned--certainly without electricity or modern plumbing, so Tazio had never had a computer.

But he knew what they were, having gone to school in town he'd seen them, and he knew that the other kids liked to play games on them, but he'd never developed an interest for that particular waste of time. So it wasn't until he moved into Jytte's modern apartment in town and she had shown him her version of what one could do with a computer that he had any real contact with the possibilities of digital information. And then he was hooked.

At that time Jytte was almost three times Tazio's age, although still a beautiful young woman of only 30 years, but there was no question about who was the superior intelligence and most adept at learning vast amounts of technical data. After an hour's introduction to the world of computers, Tazio was well on his way towards conquering the digital universe, while Jytte was left behind blinking in confusion.

To be fair, Jytte is an extraordinarily intelligent woman, but Tazio was probably the smartest boy/man/person in the world-- he was an Avatar, after all, literally a demigod incarnate-- so his brainpower was not limited to human standards. He had always been an inventor of ingeniously helpful solutions to technical problems around town, was famous for it, but now he could go online and fix the world.

Tazio learned how computers worked, had an instinct for them, learned several programming languages and within weeks found that while software could perform certain specific tasks, it was usually inefficient in some absurd way. So Tazio began designing his own hardware and programming his own software. By the time he was 11 years old he was the absolute master of computer science, far beyond any other nerd in the world. Or so he thought.

Tazio had sufficient money for operating expenses in the bank account Ulfo had established in town, but he began to earn more than he spent once he'd established his own online company, DellaTerra Spa. It started as a hobby, a contact website for people who needed design solutions from a genius, a computer analysis service.

He designed anything from clever handy-gadgets to space-shuttle instrumentation. But soon he was into the deep end of large-scale design: an affordable modular dam for water conservation projects in Africa, a geothermal power generator for individual houses, a clever solution of dealing with an entire city's garbage dump--which he donated to the town of La Destinazione. His designs did not go unnoticed. Money was pouring in, as well as job offers.

But Tazio could not leave La Destinazione in those days. (The Hellmen were always waiting to ambush him if he ever came out of Ulfo's safety zone, but that's another story.) Tazio was frustrated that he could not travel and get his hands dirty in the field, but at least Jytte had quit her teaching job and was now working as the mobile PR representative for DellaTerra Spa, so business was being handled. But it was never about money for Tazio, he already had money and could always make more, it was the challenge of problems considered unsolvable, and the satisfaction of genius doing well.

But then one day, a computer virus shut down his website.

Tazio was genuinely surprised. He'd dealt with virus attacks before, but his antivirus program usually took care of everything, especially since he'd redesigned it to be even better than original software. But this time his server was shut down, and he was completely locked out of his computer. He was stunned...and intrigued.

Tazio had always been generally offended by the arrogance of hackers who posted deliberately vandalistic software online simply for the "fun" of destroying some random stranger's data with virii, malware, adware, spam. So he often decided to have some fun as well.

The first time he'd had his computer compromised he went into the operating system (Windows 2000 at that time) by using Safe Mode and system tools to visually find the foreign bits of binary code that were confusing his computer, he was surprised to read the hacker's signature, who was bragging about his own cleverness: "this ingenious code was written by Mr Ultracool, programmer supreme, who offers a complimentary Fuck You". It was a challenge Tazio could not resist.

Normally it is difficult or impossible to trace the original address of an experienced hacker, who might use mirror-sites and randomly alternating ISPs to obliterate the path of delivery, but Tazio simply wrote some source-seeking software that put him directly into Mr Ultracool's own computer, where he dumped a message that completely hijacked his opponent's system. Onscreen in a large bold font: "Greetings Mr Ultracool: Thank you for the amusing little virus attack and Fuck You 2. Oh, BTW, your computer is now broadcasting your real name and address--Juan Miguel Gonzales, 137 Calle de Sandia, Bogota, Columbia-- to any computer online that has one of your signed and sealed virii onboard. Could be some cops will be coming by soon, who knows? FYI: this simple code was written by The Antichrist Himself."

That was fun when he was 10 years old, but he had matured in the year since then and rarely did that anymore. Also because he had since written his own operating system, which was immune to attack and yet could utilize software from all other formats as well; Windows, Apple, Linux. There had never been any human hacker capable of outsmarting Tazio's system.

But this new attack was something else. He could not even get into the coding to study it, his computer simply refused to awaken. The hardware worked fine, he could open the screen to show a blinking mouse pointer, but that was it. He restarted the system with his own reboot CD, but the screen was still black-- as if the computer's internal ROM had been infected, which should have been impossible. He had several tricks for outsmarting a malfunctioning operating system, but none of them worked.

He went from his desktop computer to his laptop, which worked normally--until he went to his DellaTerraSpa web site, and then the screen went black and could not be lit up again, even after rebooting in several different ways. So now he had two dead computers.

Both computers had his own private OS on them, so he had to see what would happen with some other standard system. He went to the local public library, about two blocks from where he lived in town, where there were ten computers available. He chose the oldest computer, knowing he might have to replace it for the library if it too was killed, but he had to check it out. Sure enough, once he clicked on the computer went dead and could not be revived.

He went to another computer, accessed Google and wrote a line: "problem + dellaterraspa website" and saw a list of links to people complaining about their computers going belly-up, asking for advice, technical explanations. The list was not that long yet, his wasn't a popular entertainment site, but it was evidently getting longer.

Tazio was now aware than anyone anywhere in the world who clicked onto his website would meet the same situation: not only was his website effectively offline, it was also debilitating the computers of those who wanted to get in contact with him for jobs or help.

For the moment he had to minimize the damage to more computers by programming an alternative link to divert traffic from his actual website to a page of HTML explaining the problem in several languages. Then he called the Internet server that hosted his site, which was located in Benevento, by telephone and warned them of the infection.

Jytte was home from her trip to Roma when Tazio returned from the library. She already knew about the problem.

"I was doing a presentation to Lancia Motors but when I tried to show them our website my laptop died. We all thought it was just my computer, but when one of the Lancia people politely offered to use his own to help me out, it did the same thing. Very embarrassing, ruining a customer's computer."

"And it's not an especially good advertisement for our company," Tazio remarked, looking glum, "since I'm supposed to be a software genius."

"I'm sure you'll fix it, Tazio, but right now I'm pretty angry with whoever did this to us."

"Yeah, me too. It appears to be quite deliberately aimed at our website, rather than some virus being spread at random. It seems to be the work of an enemy."

"The Dark Templars, do you think?" Jytte asked, "since they can't get at you here in La Destinazione?"

"Or Anton Artemis himself, he's supposed to be a genius like me. Maybe, I don't know."

"There IS NO genius like you," she assured him, "you'll show them."

"Yeah well, at the moment I don't seem to be able to find any way into the code to analyze what it does."

"Oh, you'll figure it out, you always do."

"Probably. I'm just not sure where to start just yet."

"Oh, I know THAT," Jytte said, with a not-angry-any-more smile, "I've missed you for two days. Let's take a little naked-nap together."

Tazio was hardly in the mood, he was distracted about his attacker, and lately he had been feeling slightly off about how he and Jytte loved each other passionately but couldn't quite turn it into sex--or at least, he couldn't: he'd never had an erection even though Jytte would have orgasm after orgasm from almost any physical contact with her child lover's hands, or mouth, or tail. It was beginning to feel awkward for him. Of course, he hadn't even achieved puberty yet at 11 years old, so he had a great excuse, although in every other way his super-intelligence made him more mature than most adults ever become.

But he loved Jytte and once they were naked, her golden beauty beneath him, he got into the spirit of things and gave her three prize-winning orgasms. Although his own enjoyment of the semi-sex was diminished by that computer problem constantly whizzing around in his young head.

A day later Tazio was no closer to a solution for the problem. He bought an new laptop in the shopping center, just a standard Windows version, so that he could communicate with people he knew about his situation. Many were not available online, probably because they had logged onto his website and had their computers killed. But others were aware of what was happening and had avoided DellaTerraSpa, although no one had a clue as to who was doing it or how.

Tazio had gone into the site the back way, using an FTP server to see if his data was still on the site at all, which it was. As long as he didn't try to open a page of HTML his computer was not affected. But he could not find any suspicious elements in the listings. He had backups of everything on the site on external hard discs, and all of that data was clean, causing no problem for his new computer. Finally he had to admit that he was stumped.

That was a blow for Tazio, he'd always thought of himself as almost being without ego, but now he was feeling ashamed that someone--one out of every in the entire world--could outsmart him on a computer. It shouldn't be possible. Not that he believed no one was more intelligent than himself, there were other Avatars running around on Earthlevel, gods incarnate with years more experience than he had. But he had a young savant's godlike talent for computers he didn't expect an old-fashioned god--like Anton--to have been interested in developing.

If it had been near the New Moon he would have gone to Ulfo for help--who would become the wisest man on the planet at that time--but that was a week away and he had best solve the problem long before then. There were still options to try: he deleted everything on his website via FTP and re-uploaded his clean backup files. That worked, the site was back online. But when he checked the site the next day he had another dead computer on his hands.

And then he started getting reports that the same thing was happening to any computer online whenever the text "dellaterraspa" was written, even articles and e-mails, in any context. Thousands of computers went dead, no one understood how or why, and of course any online explanation would only make things worse.

Finally it was almost New Moon anyway so Tazio decided to go to Ulfo.

Timing was important for asking advice of Ulfo: at the moment of transformation under the cresting New Moon he was literally godlike, but useless since he always laughed uncontrollably at The Great Cosmic Joke for several hours. By the time he could stop laughing he would already have lost some of his most absolute knowledge, although he still knew more than any mortal man could or should. It was then Tazio could ask for advice.

Of course, as Ulfa, just before the moment of transformation, she was becoming equally godlike and wise, but she was always so blissed-out and angelic that it was hard to get any concrete non-spiritual information out of her. Just touchy-feely stuff.

Tazio and Jytte usually went to the villa for New Moons to visit the family and to take part in the monthly cosmic event; it had become a tradition in the year they had been living together. For Jytte, who was not at all religious, it was a major religious experience every time. Even for Tazio who had been used to the show all his life, it was still fascinating.

Jytte wanted to go a day early, she always enjoyed spending time with the angelic Ulfa, and being touched by God can be addictive. She had also become close friends with Mariangela, which seemed to make Tazio's mad-nun mother almost civil towards Tazio instead of constantly attempting to murder him. Their visits had become quite...nice, also for Tazio.

So Tazio and Jytte took their bicycles about noon, saddlebags loaded with gifts and supplies, and pedalled up the 16 rough kilometers of narrow, rutted road from the town of La Destinazione to La Villa della Strega. Along the way Jytte commented, "You know, skat, we could afford to get this road fixed and get a car someday soon."

"I thought you liked bicycling."

"Oh, I do, I'm from Copenhagen so I've biked all my life--but this road is really brutal and we bring more stuff with us every time we come out here. Besides, I have to rent cars for all the travelling I do anyway, might as well have our own."

"Okay. let's get a car. But we prefer that this bad road discourages casual traffic out to the villa."

"Ja, but last month those Mafia guys drove out there anyway."

"Well, they were on a mission, hardly casual."

Jytte laughed, "Especially not after Mariangela got through with them."

They arrived at the villa, and as he always did, Buffone the dwarf was waving to them from atop the high wall, hopping up and down with excitement. Then when Tazio and Jytte were directly below him, he leaped down at them in a twenty-meter swan dive. Buffone knew Tazio would catch him, which he did effortlessly, the inertia of the dwarf's plunge absorbed by the earth.

"Hiya, Tazio & Jytte, hiya! Hey, have you got some goodies for me?"

"Ja lille skat, but it's a surprise," Jytte told him and gave Buffone a little kiss on the cheek because she knew he was always so thrilled by whatever affection she afforded him. Actually he was so infatuated about her blonde Danish beauty that it would have been awkward if he had not been such a simple-minded funny dwarf. Or scary: Jytte knew that Buffone was just as strong as Tazio, who was literally superhuman. But then, everyone in the villa was like that, Avatars all of them. Actually, Jytte felt as if proximity to their energy-especially Tazio's--was gradually causing her to become somewhat Avatar-like herself.

They pushed their bikes through the one small port in the vast expanse of high, wide and long wall of stone. Passed into the courtyard under the looming gargoyle, to where the townlike complex of ancient buildings surrounded them. To Jytte it was coming to a fairyland, to Tazio it was only home, for better or worse.

Mariangela and Ulfa were working in the garden. They greeted the arrivals gladly, obviously happy to see them. Things were far better between Tazio and his mother than ever before: Mariangela was polite instead of constantly trying to murder him-- which she had last tried to do one last time a couple of moons back, with pistols taken from those two Mafia agents whom she had sent packing, but had discovered that she really didn't have the heart to do Tazio any more harm. She smiled and embraced Jytte, then afforded Tazio an almost-friendly nod.

Ulfa, however, was joy incarnate, she radiated cosmic love to everyone, a faint glow of holiness surrounded her--which would be much brighter the next evening. She embraced both Tazio and Jytte warmly and they both almost swooned with the contact. It was the day before New Moon and she was almost at full angelic-power. Tomorrow evening she would be One With God and vanish into æthyr, then transform into her male self, her/his never-ending cycle between angel and demon, Full Moon, New Moon, Full Moon...

But this was all just more of the same old thing for everyone in the villa, life going on as normal. Tazio and Jytte unpacked the gifts and supplies they had brought from town--Buffone got a package of apricot cookies and a couple of fumetti (Italian comic books), so he was happy; Mariangela and Ulfa were given some women's articles: shampoo and lavender soap.

Then they started helping with the work in the garden, which was incredibly lush and bursting with fantastically large and healthy versions of fruit and vegetables, due to Ulfa's angelic blessings upon them. Enormous melons, awe-inspiring tomatoes, intimidating zucchinis; they ate very well in the villa.

It was an especially hot day under the Italian sun, so they all took a cool dip in the villa's central fountain, which served nicely as a pool. Then, while Jytte and Mariangela went off to prepare a lunch, Ulfa took Tazio aside for a discussion.

"Tazio, I sense that you've been intensely distressed about something," Ulfa said, "and you wish to speak with me about it."

"Well yeah, but it's kind of technological stuff, so I figured on bringing it up after you'd become Ulfo. Right now you're more into the spiritual end of the spectrum."

"Oh, but your problem IS spiritual," she announced, "it seems there's an evil spirit attacking your work."

"Well, I guess you could call a computer virus an evil spirit...of sorts. So okay, got any advice?"

"Please explain your problem for me, so I can put it into perspective with the cosmic forces."

Tazio told Ulfa about his web-site, about computer technology, about Operating Systems and viruses, hardware and software, the Internet, all of which was new to Ulfa. He was quite concise and explained it to her within five minutes. She understood what he said, but was in her barely-in-touch-with-reality phase and comprehended things differently than anyone else.

"It seems you must bypass the machines which become corrupted by the data you are trying to study. I've already taught you how to hear the radios in your head--can't you just listen to wireless Internet transmissions?"

"Sure, that's only a matter of finding the right frequency, but binary data is not comprehensible sound, it is billions of on/off signals per second, too fast and too many to translate into meaning."

"Nonsense, Tazio, you're good at languages, you can do it."

Tazio laughed, "You think so? It's flattering that you have such faith in my abilities, Ulfa, but I don't think you understand the vastness of the Internet..."

"It cannot be as vast as the AAM, which I will be comprehending tomorrow night. Let me try--what is the URL of your website?"

"What? Well, okay,, but you can't.."

Ulafa's glowing eyes closed, she went somewhere else, concentrating. "Yes, it is large, as you say, and confusing ...hmm, actually, it's more like seeing than hearing, I can read bursts of...ones and zeroes, you say?"

"Yeah, must be like in the Matrix."

"Matrix? That means nothing to me...oh wait...cultural reference: a movie...yes, something like those green numbers rolling down a virtual page."

Ulfa had been physically out of touch with modern culture over the last 250 years, but her divine wisdom also included it as she approached absolute enlightenment under the New Moon.

"Ah, now I see the problem. Tell me that URL as binary code, please."

Even a boy genius computer whiz like Tazio had to think about that for a moment before he could say,"00100011100101010001..." and then it took him five minutes to say it all.

Ulfa was very relaxed, eyes still closed, an almost-goddess surfing the Net with no computer. "Ah, now I'm going into your website, Tazio. Oh, it's very nicely designed, neat, efficient, ooo nice colors..."

"Jytte's input," Tazio admitted, "but it seems to be working?"

"I haven't tested all the links yet--OH!" She went rigid, frozen with her eyes suddenly open, apparently seeing nothing...and no longer glowing.

"Ulfa, are you all right? Hey, Ulfa!" Tazio touched her, shook her gently but got no response. "Merda!"

The others heard the urgency in Tazio's voice and came out of the kitchen, finding Ulfa comatose and Tazio helplessly trying to revive her. They asked what happened, he told them and they all tried to get through to the unconscious Ulfa, without result.

"Look, she's not even glowing!" Buffone noted.

"But how can that be?" Jytte wondered, "How can anything affect her when she's got so much holy power?"

Mariangela scowled that familiar murderous expression Tazio knew so well, "Tazio, if you've harmed Ulfa..."

"How could I harm her?" Tazio asked, "As if I wanted to!"

"Look!" Buffone cried, "she's getting old!"

Indeed, the stunned Ulfa no longer resembled her eternally youthful goddess-self, but a normal middle-aged woman, wrinkles crinkling around her eyes and mouth, folds of maturity gradually reforming her face until she resembled an ancient crone. Then older and older, the past 250 years catching up with her.

"We have to stop this!" Tazio cried in horror, trying to heal her with his Urr-powers, but that had no effect and nobody else knew what to do as Ulfa continued to shrink and crumple into a dried-up mummy. This went on for hours, by sunset she could be dust.

"Perhaps the moon will revive her," Mariangela insisted. Buffone agreed. Although neither of them sounded certain.

But sure enough, just before sunset the tiny sliver of the almost New Moon came up over the horizon and Ulfa's decomposing husk suddenly began to shine with holy light, her flesh filled back out and within seconds she appeared young and beautiful again, as well as wide awake.

"Oh, it looks like I've frightened you all. Sorry."

The others immediately grabbed and embraced her, overjoyed to have her return to life. Although they had hoped the Moon would revive her, as it always did, they had never seen quite this phenomenon before and couldn't help worrying.

"Ulfa, what happened? Were you attacked by...a computer virus?" Tazio asked, sounding sceptical.

"Oh no," Ulfa smiled blissfully, evidently unruffled by the experience, "but I recognized something I wanted to investigate, so I left my body for a while. Perhaps I should have said something first."

"Where did you go?" Mariangela asked.

"Here in this same villa, but long ago, when it was just being built. I was visiting one of my earlier incarnations as a priest of Atlantis, which was in those years slowly sinking into the sea. Not a pleasant visit, but informative."

She turned to Tazio, "The code infecting your website is very ancient, pre-Atlantean, the kind of programming used in the organic brain crystals which controlled all human society during the reign of Abraxus, half a million years ago. Software designed by Satan Himself and the only surviving technology of that era is The Head of Baphomet, presently being hidden and protected by the Dark Templars."

"Merda," Tazio said, "Anton Artemis strikes again."

"Indeed. The code is not binary, but tertiary: which is to say plus/minus with the added factor of amplitude/intensity."

"But no such coding would work now," Tazio argued, "since there is no hardware to support it..." then made a leap of logic, "...which is why computers seem to be going dead."

"Perhaps," Ulfa said with a little shrug, "I wouldn't know, it's all too technical for me. Can't you just look at it yourself? There must be a way to make your computer transmit some kind of radio-like signal..."

"Sure, my laptop has wireless LAN capability, bluetooth interface..."

Ulfa giggled, "Blue teeth? Technology is silly! Oh my, look at that Moon..." She was blissing out now and Tazio could see that Ulfa was not going to be much more help for a couple of days, until he/she had become Ulfo and stopped laughing at The Great Cosmic Joke.

"I have to go back to the apartment," Tazio said to Jytte, "you just stay here, I'll be back tomorrow night for the New Moon."

"So what are you going to do?" she asked her young lover.

"I need to read the coding infecting my own computer, the sooner the better."

"Shouldn't I go with you? What if it that virus can infect YOU?"

"That's not what happened to Ulfa, and besides, digital coding can't re-program a brain."

"She said it was a more complex code from an ORGANIC crystal programmed by Satan. Maybe you should be really careful."

"And I shall," Tazio promised.

Tazio bicycled back to La Destinazione under the light of that almost invisible moon, just a thinnest crescent and a shadow in the sky, which was plenty of light for a guy with Avatar vision, so he didn't bother with his bicycle lights. There was no other traffic, so no one needed to see him. He moved fast and smooth through the dark, considering the hazardous condition of the road, avoiding the ruts and potholes he knew so well.

He could have spent the night at the villa, sleeping with Jytte, since there wasn't much he could do with his computer until he obtained some new equipment, which would hardly be possible before 10:00 in the morning, when the shops opened. But she loved him so much and desired him so much and...well, he just wanted the night off.

Not that he was tired of Jytte: she was his partner, his woman, the one human being he allowed to be intimate with the demigod he was becoming. He really did love her, she was good to him and for him. And she was even becoming goddess-like herself; their intimate contacts were definitely transforming her-- even as he was becoming more superhuman every day, she was also becoming an equal. No, he was not tired of Jytte, he wanted her in his life.

There was just that growing discomfort with their erotic life: she in her sexual prime and extremely hot for him; he prepubescent and awkwardly impotent. He had the power to satisfy her, but not himself and it was beginning to drag.

He knew that situation would probably be resolved by next year: Avatars usually become pubescent at 12 years old. But he was actually dreading that because of the guilt and stigma of Theron's infamous LUST, under which Mariangela had suffered so much and which Tazio chose to absolutely reject. He may have been Theron once, as he'd been accused of, but never again. Even though he could remember nothing of those years, he knew that he did not want to inflict Theron's kind of perversion upon any woman ever again...and thus he felt compromised about servicing Jytte, even though he enjoyed doing so and she demanded it.

Even so, Tazio was quite aware of how lucky he was to have a love life at all--although Jytte's arrival had probably been more a matter of cosmic destiny than luck. There was certainly no other female in town with whom he could have an honest relationship: he was too intelligent for the adults and far too mature for any girl his own age--who were literally children too young to even be airheads yet. Jytte had arrived as an unexpected miracle: his One True Love. Really.

He soon arrived into La Destinazione's city streets like a dark shadow passing in the night, there was still no traffic so he allowed himself to remain invisible without turning on his bike lights. Stealth mode, he amused himself to think.

Once home he turned on his laptop computer, still presenting only a black screen, and cautiously tried to see if he could pick up any signal in his head. He had become quite adept at tuning in and monitoring the thousands of radio waves in the air, although he was most glad that he had learned to tune them OUT--being unable to had apparently been one of Theron's problems and may have driven him mad.

He found the wireless LAN frequency, but all he could pick up was an electric hum-fog. Then he tried his newly-purchased still-functioning laptop, and when he went online he found that he could easily "read" the data-steam as links were addressed, connections made, protocols processed. It went by too fast to understand any specific coding, but since he already knew what was going on in general, he found himself with a virtual Rosetta-stone.

Tazio sat up all night, tuning his perception of binary code on the fly. He concentrated upon speeding up his brain, slowing down his bodily functions, finally going into a trance and letting the data flow through him like the wind. And then it came: he could comprehend it all as if it were human speech.

So then, in the roar of absolute digital immersion, he addressed his own web-site. He knew he was sacrificing yet another computer, but it was the only way. And it paid off: in the millionth of a second that it took for the software to react, he saw the dark tertiary code scramble the commands of the binary code into junk. "10011101" became "10+-01-+11-01+".

Of course, the laptop's hardware could not deal with it and the screen went black, but Tazio was no longer relying upon the screen, he was mentally inside the data itself and stayed there, studying it. He understood nothing, it was yet too foreign a language, but he observed patterns and repetitions, getting a feel for it. Eventually he noticed that it had a familiar structure as clusters of programming fell into place and started to make sense.

And then he recognized the threat: the code was attempting to command him to do something, although he could not yet understand what the commands meant. But he was getting close, and then--

He tuned out immediately--as he had learned to do to radio waves when they became too much--breaking the mental connection while he still could. Finding himself suddenly gasping and sweating in the early dawn, sitting before a black-screened computer, where he had spent the entire night entranced and plugged into a virtual universe.

Tazio felt dazed, although did not need to sleep-it was rare that he did-but he did need to take a break. He turned off all the computers and went out of the apartment, taking a short walk to the Piazza Centrale. It was early in the morning, not quite 7:00 yet, but his favorite café was open anyway, so he ordered a large cappuccino and one of those apricot pastries he liked once in a while.

"Buongiorno, Tazio, you're up early." It was the mayor of La Destinazione, stopping on his way to work at Il Municipio, smiling and energetic as always.

"Sí,anche tu, Sindaco," Tazio greeted him back, genuinely glad to see him. They had a friendly relationship. "You're up early too, city hall doesn't usually open until 10:00."

"Well, it's a big day, got lots to do. Say, you don't want a job at Il Municipio, do you? We could really use at least one genius."

"Better not, Sindaco, the authorities would get after you for child-labor abuse."

"Oh, that's right, you're officially STILL a minor. I keep forgetting that, since you're obviously the most influential citizen in town." This was an almost-standard routine between them, but then Sindaco said, "In fact, I'm going to work early because of your City Dump solution. We've got official visitors from five neighboring towns today wanting to see how it works. Hey, maybe you'd like to tag along, explain a few of the technical details to them?"

"Actually, I'm quite involved in brainstorming another technical prob..." Tazio stopped, did a re-think, " wait, maybe it would be better to just clear my mind of all that for a while. You're on, Sindaco, let's go show those folks how to deal with garbage!"

Tazio and Sindaco drank their cappuccini together and talked about football, which was the mayor's passion and Tazio had been the town's favorite player on the local school team two years back. Then they went to City Hall together to meet the visitors at 8:00.

La Destinazione is a nice clean practical town, it has shops, restaurants, schools, public works, but absolutely no tourist attractions. Not even a real hotel, only a few humble family pensiones. Located at the end of a mountain road with no nearby rivers or lakes (and therefore no beaches, although there is a communal swimming pool) there is very little to entice casual visitors. For years--centuries--the only interesting archaeological wonder had been the semi-ruins of the ancient and mysterious Villa della Strega Tazio had lived in most of his life, but that is private property and not open to the public. Recently, however, a new wonder was attracting the occasional recycling experts and urban planning committees--the City Dump, as designed by Tazio.

The tour took only an hour and a half, since Tazio could succinctly explain the process of converting garbage into silicon bicycles and other ingenious products, as well as the dynamics of profit instead of expenditure. The delegates were awed by such unconventional design and the fresh ideas generated by so young a person and were glancing at Tazio in some wonder. For Tazio, who was much less impressed with himself while feeling momentarily defeated by his computer problem, it was good to remind himself that the successful solution to a complex technical problem was always preceded by wondering just how the hell he was going to solve it. The original concept for the garbage dump had been inspired, but working out the final details had been tedious, if not difficult.

One of the visitors, a waterworks official from Montevecchio, upon hearing Tazio's business name did mention "Isn't there some kind of trouble with DellaTerra Spa on the Internet just now?"

"Well, yes, our website is suffering a rather sophisticated hacker attack," Tazio admitted with some embarrassment, "which I hope to fix later today."

"Is it a matter of hardware or software?" the man asked.

Tazio shrugged, "Both, the software is incapacitating the..." And there it was, he knew what to do.

Tazio excused himself from Sindaco and the visitors, rather abruptly since there was to be a lunch served as part of the tour, but he wanted to get to work immediately.

He went to the one and only electronics store in La Destinazione, which offered a limited selection of standard computers beside a row of TVs and stereo systems. There was almost nothing in the realm of hi-tech specialized equipment on the shelves, but Tazio knew the owner, Carlo Mussoli, and what bits and pieces he had in the back room. Carlo's hobby was radio-controlled model cars and helicopters.

Tazio was one of Carlo's best customers, often ordering what non-standard equipment he needed for various projects through the shop's online service, to be delivered from Rome within a day or two. They also had fun together swapping electronics design ideas, Tazio was the innovative genius, but Carlo knew a lot about which electric components were available and what their functions allowed a designer to get away with.

After the usual friendly greeting Tazio asked, "Carlo, do you still have that old-fashioned crystal radio builders kit?" Carlo did, Tazio offered to buy it, but Carlo insisted upon giving it to him. Tazio accepted, knowing that it was piece of outdated nostalgia that Carlo could probably never sell anyway. The transistors and capacitators he needed, however, he put onto his account. Not that there was a lot of money being spent, but Tazio tried to avoid taking advantage of people.

There had been a change in the town's perception of him since he had been caught healing Sophia back to life after her husband Alfredo had murdered her with a knife in a moment of insanity (for which Tazio felt responsible, since he had tampered with Alfredo's drinking problem). So after years of living a Clark Kent existence in La Destinazione it was finally an open secret that "Lord Tazio" had mysterious powers--and a tail! Since everyone was in town was now in on it, he had a new status as their very own local superhero. Some even considered him their Lord and Master, which he found embarrassing-- but handy.

By noon he was back home and soldering together a circuit board utilizing the radio crystal as a filter, then he opened up his computer wired the two devices together, installed the unit with a simple program he wrote especially for the project. By one o'clock he was turning the computer on to see if it worked.

And it did. The screen came back to life, the computer could now process the poisonous code, showing the standard Windows greeting as if nothing had ever been amiss. So he went online, to his own website, where the display flickered a few times and instead of his company logo, an unfamiliar red screen with black symbols popped up. He was looking at the infection.

The symbols were too large to fit onto the screen at one time, and when he wrote a resize function into the software he could see them but not recognize them as anything readable. Pre-Babylonian, he wondered, like the tertiary code? No matter, he could figure that out later, right now he knew how to address that ancient code and wrote a program to restrict it from affecting any binary script and uploaded it to his website.

It worked immediately, DellaterrsSpa's logo popped up and the site was functioning normally. The malignant code was still in there, but isolated--for the moment. Tazio knew this would not be enough to keep another attack from happening, whoever was hacking his system could also write a new program to re-establish control.

But by now he had discovered that this tertiary code was much more powerful and effective than binary. And as he was learning how to program it he found that he began to get a feel for it, realizing that it was actually better than world-standard binary code. It was more complex, not many humans would be able to master it, but standard computers could apply it once decoded through a crystal.

He warmed to the possibilities of this code, programming flowing from his fingers, faster and faster. He was already conceptualizing a new crystal computer design specific to tertiary code that would eventually expand the power of cybernetic ability into actual artificial intelligence. Breakthrough stuff.

By 3 o'clock in the afternoon Tazio half-noticed that his website had gone dark again, the next attack already happening, but now he was concentrated upon writing an ultimate defence against just such attacks. He was not out to win the battle, but to win the war, writing with determination--then with joy and passion, composing a masterpiece.

At midnight he half-realized that the New Moon moment had already passed, he'd missed Ulfo's magical moment. But those he had seen so many times before, this was his own magical moment. He wrote on, into the night, obsessed, possessed. It was difficult, but it was also fun! He made mistakes, sometimes discovering that he had written himself into a trap, then erasing blocks of data to be immediately replaced by much better solutions, more compact, more efficient, more genius, until it was...perfect.

At 3:00 in the morning he uploaded his finished product onto the Internet, only half a megabite of data scripted in both binary and tertiary. When he checked a few minutes later, there was no sign of the tertiary code affecting his website or anything else. Every computer that had been crippled by the attack would now be healed, simply by going online for a few moments. He posted an announcement to that effect on the DellaTerraSpa website.

The enemy code was still out there--Tazio certainly didn't want to destroy it, since he had plans to use it himself later on--but it could no longer infect innocent computers, ever again, he was certain of that.

Tazio turned off his computers, washed his face, brushed his teeth, then went outside into the cool night, took his bicycle and pedalled 16 kilometers out to the villa.

No one was asleep out there either; the New Moon was usually an all-nighter, Ulfo dispensing wisdom after he'd finally managed to stop laughing at the Great Cosmic Joke, Mariangrla, Buffone and Jytte surrounding him just to be near someone so godlike. He was still glowing so brightly that it was like sitting around a campfire.

"Ah, Tazio, you join us at last!" Ulfo greeted jovially, "And you've put in a good night's work."

"I have," Tazio admitted, sitting beside Jytte, who kissed his cheek. To her he said, "Sorry I didn't make it back in time, I was..."

"We know," Jytte said, "Ulfo told us you were defeating the evil Head of Baphomet. Good work, skat."

Tazio looked at Ulfo with wonder, "WAS that code really from the Head of Baphomet?"

Ulfo smiled, "Oh yes, and it is composing new code even now, for the next attack."

"It won't get through," Tazio said with utter surity and perhaps a little vanity.

"Don't be so proud, Tazio," Ulfo warned with a smile, "of course it will: just after midnight tomorrow night."

"Oh merda," Tazio complained.

"Unless you add a simple line of code: 0001++0--+1001+101010-+001111++--++--010100001010+-+-+-+-111++010001101++1-0-1-0-10-+1100011111100+11000010+01+1-01-+1-+0001-1111111111111-1-1-1+00010101010. Then it will be done. I assume you know where to insert it?"

Tazio had to think about that for a while, then it clicked into place. He winced, realizing that his code was not as perfect as he had thought, so obvious now.

"Of course, you're right. I'll write that in tomorrow before midnight. Thanks, Ulfo." He sounded much more humble now, realizing that Ulfo could have simply given him the entire sequence he had worked all night on. Wisdom of God, after all.

Ulfo sensed Tazio's disappointment and said, "You need not feel your evening's work is diminished, Tazio; my wisdom offers only an improvement, your inspired original programming would never have occurred to me."

That made Tazio feel better-- but also quite aware of his own childish ego --then finally remembered that he was only an 11-year-old kid.

"In truth, you did well: emulating a crystal intelligence; but the Head IS a crystal intelligence and you might be glad to know that it is really pissed off that you could out-program it so far. No one has ever done that before, not in half a million years."

"Well, there haven't been any computers for most of that time," Mariangela remarked, always ready to take Tazio down a notch.

"Ah, but data devices have come and gone over the millennia," Ulfo assured her, "there have been several extremely high-tech societies and most of them invent computer-like machines at some point. Why, way back in the era of Poseidonus, when robots were quite common..." Ulfo amused them all with a humorous tale about a robot who wanted to know the meaning of life.

Dawn was breaking when they dispersed: Ulfo had some magic to make while he was still miraculous; Mariangela and Buffone went to get some sleep; and Jytte wanted Tazio to come to bed with her, but not to sleep.

That was fine with him. After so many hours of having delved so deeply into the dry and emotionless digital universe, making love to beautiful Jytte was quality contact with life itself. It even made him forget Theron's guilt and look forward to actually consummating his love for her as a man should: when he was 12 next year.


13 sept 2012