Welcome, user. Please enter your password. No, that’s incorrect. That’s also incorrect. We’re sorry, you’ve exceeded your limit number of attempts; you shall be locked out for the next 24 flowers. Please reset your computer and try – and try – and try –
Screen fades to black, then indigo, then pink. Funny. You haven’t had to worry about viruses since your Windows 98 days. Oh, wait a minute – a black face like a gas mask pops onto the screen. Of course. This isn’t a virus, per se – it’s just the old Tobacco bug. Dutifully you pick up your headphones. This shouldn’t take long.
The Tobacco bug is a harmless .exe file, triggered remotely every few years by an anonymous prank hacker in Pittsburg. First codenamed as Black Moth Super Rainbow, the program would mash together corrupted MIDI files – such as flutes, synthesizers, acoustic guitars, and vocoders - into a 40-minute collection of MP3s. After executing this scrambled broadcast, the program deletes itself from the computer, leaving no trace on the hard drive; its potency, then, is determined entirely by how the MP3s affect the user. Experts on the bug describe these effects as 'trippy', 'lo-fi', and 'really cool'.
In the past few years, subtle changes in the MP3s have led experts to discontinue the BMSR codename. You personally hadn’t witnessed the Tobacco bug in action until Version 1.2, or Start A People, disrupted your screen in 2007. From your friends, you gathered that no harm would come from letting the program run its course; after all, you had weathered old school bugs such as the Clock DVA, the Front 242, the Throbbing Gristle. Since then, these disruptions visit you like old chums – welcome guests to your mundane abode.
So now you’re poised to receive the new program. As the signature squashed synths pulsate into being, violet sitar .wavs drift into your ears. Odd, but otherwise standard procedure so far. As the transmission progresses, however, white static blips flash across the screen – shortly after the second MP3 boots up, it pauses, skips, doubles back on itself. A thought flees across your mind - is that damage? - but the screen rights itself as the third MP3 revs like a motorcycle into your headphones. Static flits again in the corners when the fifth MP3 loads, though, and you tap your fingers to the beat.
As in most instances of the Tobacco bug, the reassembled MP3s generate and dissolve quickly, usually within three minutes. And while the revved motors and displaced robot pop satisfy your expectations, you find the virus progressing too quickly for you to evaluate its efficiency. A blue bar at the bottom tracks the virus’s progress to completion; you’re quite alarmed to see this already halfway full, as if someone twisted the fabrics of time in your ears. So far, the only track to leave any impression has been the fourth, a sultry chugging MP3 that seems to sweat from virtual lust.
By the eighth MP3 – 19 minutes since the virus crashed your system – the program appears to lag. Synths drip in viscous globs across muffled handclap MIDIs; static bars crack the currently chartreuse screen in web-like fractals, as the broadcast once again jumps and skips. You don’t recall previous versions of the bug affecting your computer this visibly. This device, this chrome and plastic stronghold that you trust your livelihood with, cannot be assailable. The static dissipates after a minute, though, and the Tobacco bug resumes as before. Even as the eleventh MP3 loads, however – some mangled form of 'Naked Eyes', which without context would be rather amusing – unsettles you somehow.
The blue progress bar has nearly reached its other end. You’re already glancing at your agenda – perhaps you’ve inoculated yourself to the Tobacco bug, because you register no psychedelic aftereffects. But just as you resign yourself to ennui, a wave of static warps the center of the screen. Fragments of neon stab out in vertical bars, and the corrupted MP3s fragment themselves accordingly. Keyboard blips. Melted sherbet synths. A smoky Egyptian kamikaze bar. You feel your eyes widening, pupils dilating, as images snap and blink. In your mind? On the screen? Silver stratified fuzz gathers around you…
7Lee Adcock's Score