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Virus of the Computing Variety

Chapter Text

Alex stared intently at the screens displayed before her. Five different video feeds played at once, and none of them showed anything good.

Traffic lights were going berserk a few streets over, local law enforcement had already been despatched to keep accidents at a minimum, but there was already one upturned van and a family of five being treated for minor injuries on the scene. A fire blazed on another feed, a company skyscraper, the entire fourteenth floor had been blown out with flames and smoke. The pit in Alex’s stomach only eased slightly when she saw Supergirl appear on the feed to help the firefighters already evacuating civilians.

A local school’s alarm had gone off and all the children had been evacuated. No injuries reported, but the swell of terrified children outside the school gates was enough to make Alex look away. She desperately sourced another feed. One of the largest banks in the city had lost its power. A few streets over, a coffee shop was closed due to the sprinklers going off without any indication of cause.

Alex sighed through her teeth. She folded her arms. “What am I looking at here?”

“Television screens,” Brainy said, pointing them out individually. “Although, I would assume you’re referring to what’s on them.”

Alex refrained from rolling her eyes. “Yes,” she said. “That’s exactly what I meant.”

“Five locations,” Brainy said, his hand resting against the tablet balanced on his left arm. “All of them completely unrelated to each other. All with sporadic electronic interference.” He pointed from the school feed to the coffee shop. “Both of these buildings suffered a security malfunction that set off fire alarms.” He tapped his tablet, and the feed of the bank was enlarged. “Power and back-up power was lost to the entire building.” The feed of the fire popped up next. “Ironically, the sprinkler system failed here, causing a minor fire to spread to catastrophic proportions before the authorities could be notified.” He glanced towards Alex. “It is fortunate that Supergirl attended that fire as quickly as she did. Without her assistance, there would have been at least six casualties.”

Alex’s arms tightened. “What’s causing all this?” she asked.

“Hard to say,” Brainy said. “I have run a few simulations, and each one brings me back to the same hypothesis.”

“Which is?”

Brainy was quiet for a moment. Barely a beat, but Alex picked up on it. She looked to him unsurely. “What is it?” she asked.

“Uh,” Brainy said. “It appears to be some sort of computer virus.”

Alex frowned. “Any idea on its source?”

“Perhaps.” Brainy closed his eyes briefly, Alex had seen him do it before when he connected with various hardware around him. He glanced up again. “The locations don’t have any connection to one another, the virus seems to be targeting security systems, but none of them were built by the same manufacturer.”

“Can we follow it?” Alex asked.

“Yes,” Brainy said, then frowned. “No. In a manner of speaking, I suppose. There should be a trace of the encryption left inside the security systems that have been targeted, something that might suggest where the virus originates.”

“Can you hack into them?”

“Already doing so,” Brainy said. He withdrew from the hub space, walking briskly to the closest computer. The screens lit up before he touched the keys, a mass of code that Alex could barely follow branched out in a fluid motion. “Security interference would infer to the likelihood of a planned attack, in which case the probability of someone manually setting the virus to link to these locations strengthens by thirty percent.”

Alex tried to follow the code on the screen with little success. “Would the virus have to already be targeted to the system for them to all go off at the same time?”

“Yes,” Brainy said, before raising a finger. “But that’s not what’s happening here. There is a small window of time between each attack, barely a few seconds, but enough to determine that these attacks are being set off one-by-one. Coding is a language, viruses are superficial, but the minds behind them are what determines their true nature. If I can determine the language that the virus uses, it should be that much easier to track it back to its original processor.”

Alex nodded mutely. “Let’s pretend I understood all of that.”

Brainy glanced at her. “I usually do.”

Alex watched Brainy work, her eyes scanning across the code that fled past on the screen. She felt tense just knowing what was going on out in the city. If someone was hacking security systems, nothing was safe. Not even…

The second the thought crossed her mind, the lights in the entire hub went out. A moment later, a low red light glowed in its place.

Alex heard murmurs spread out behind her. Several agents already had their hands to their stun guns, others were ramrod still, waiting for the danger to present itself.

“Oh, that’s not good,” Brainy said lowly.

“Tell me what’s happening,” Alex said.

Brainy leant back, running a hand through his hair. “The virus is trying to attack the DEO’s firewall. The firewall that Winn created, that I upgraded… it shouldn’t be possible for it to have even gotten this far.” He paused, hands spreading out on the keys. “Unless…”

Alex wavered. “Unless…?”

“Unless,” Brainy repeated, more confident this time. His fingers were a blur on the keys as new windows popped up on the screens. Text upon text, walls of words that might as well have been another language for all the sense they made.

Then new text appeared, words that weren’t just nonsensical to Alex, but completely incomprehensible.

The text wasn’t English, it couldn’t have been. No letters in the English language looked like that. In fact, Alex was pretty confident that no language looked like that. None she’d ever seen, at least.

“It’s alien,” she said.

“It appears so,” Brainy said, his eyes scanning the text. The letters seemed to move, new lines overlapping those that already existed in a word, in a sentence, in a whole wall of text and numerals. It was unlike anything Alex had ever seen.

“Do you know what language this is?” Alex asked.

“My knowledge is vast, but not infinite,” Brainy said, still staring intensely at the screen. “I have no idea what this is, what origin it has come from. But it’s trying to break in.”

“Can it?”

Brainy scoffed. “Hah, no. Of course not.” Then he paused. “Actually…”

Alex stared. “Brainy, is it breaking in?”

Brainy was already typing again. There was a fervent look in his eye. “Rest assured, Director Danvers, I can handle this.”

Alex’s arms tightened around herself. She raised her voice so that all the agents on the floor could hear her. “Everyone remain calm, we’re working to get the power back up. I need security detail doubled in the cells until then, any volunteers?”

Alex never thought she’d get used to the rush of power she felt when people actually did what she wanted them to, no questions asked. Four agents agreed to go down to the cells, but Alex elected two more to stand guard at the main doors out of that floor as well. She trusted Brainy to get the job done, but she couldn’t be too careful. If the virus was somehow able to get into the DEO’s firewall, it could access their security codes, codes that were shared with both the government and the Whitehouse. As well as that, if it could get inside, it could open the cells to the alien prisons. Some of their most dangerous adversaries.

Brainy made a sound of disdain, pushing the keyboard to one side. He linked his hands together, bowing his head.

The speed at which the text moved on the screen increased tenfold. The alien scripture barely stood a chance against whatever Brainy was doing from the inside. Alex had no idea what she was looking at, but it was like watching a war rage out on a cybernetic level. It was fascinating.

She would never let anyone know she thought that.

Suddenly, the screen flashed. Electric green followed by a violent splash of red. At the same time, the lights overhead flashed, the low red pulsed once, stabilising to green for just a moment before the lighting went back to its normal fluorescents.

Brainy opened his eyes, blinking experimentally. “Success,” he said, although he didn’t sound as sure as Alex had expected.

“Is it out?” Alex asked.

“It is,” Brainy said, but he was frowning. “It… it appears to have fled. But I’m not sure where.”

Alex already had a hand against her comm. “Supergirl? It’s Alex, come in.”

Kara’s voice channelled through the comm, Alex could hear shouts of people in the distance, the sounds of sirens on the ground.

“Alex, the fire’s out, everyone’s safe. I just heard the alarms at the school shut down, was that you?”

“Brainy,” Alex said. “It’s some kind of computer virus. A tough one at that. If you aren’t needed on the scene, I need you to do a wide-scale scan of the city and make sure nothing else was affected. Report back to me after, alright?”

“On it,” Kara said. “Is it still a threat?”

Alex worried her lip. She glanced to Brainy. “The virus backed out of our system, is there a chance it could still go on to infect other things in the city?”

“I wish I could say no,” Brainy said, looking towards her. “However, I am afraid I have no idea how it will react. It’s smarter than just a code, it seems to be imprinted with something.”

“Is there a way to track it?”

Brainy considered something for a moment. “Maybe. I will look into it.” He glanced back towards the screen, but Alex could clearly see that something was bothering him, like he was waiting for the code to pop back up on his computer.

“What’s wrong?” Alex asked, her voice low.

“It’s just… strange,” Brainy said, gesturing towards the screen. “The virus, whatever it is, it was strong. Incredibly so. I wouldn’t have expected something like that to simply back down.”

“Maybe it’s biding its time,” Alex guessed. “Back up the firewall and monitor the security feedback until we have a location on the thing.”

Brainy nodded, blinking a few times as though to clear his head. “Of course.”

 


 

The city was buzzing with paranoia. Although the alarms had stopped blaring, although the fire had been all but contained, Kara could still pick up on the citizens of National City as their panic rose to a crescendo around her.

At least an alien attack could be seen, a physical foe that could be punched or arrested. But a security risk with no known cause? That was fear mongering at its finest.

Kara did as she’d been directed; she flew across the city, eyes and ears alert for any threats the DEO may not have picked up on. Aside from those five seemingly unconnected locations, Kara could find no further clues as to where this computer virus had come from. Or, for that matter, where it had gone.

Her experience with computer viruses was incredibly limited, but it didn’t take an expert to know that this could become far more dangerous at any given moment. If the virus could infect security systems, it could breach anything. Kara had already made a public appearance at the bank, assuring three local news stations that the security threat had been eliminated for the moment before taking off back into the sky.

People were afraid. Threats to their livelihood were far more terrifying to that of their lives. Money, provisions, work, education, the very building blocks to human existence. There’d been a time – what felt like forever ago, now – when Kara had tried to separate herself from the human experience. She hadn’t seen the point in trying to connect to the world, not when it kept taking from her anyway. But people fought, they fought for their rights, for their happiness. Sometimes, they fought for their own motivation, but whatever it was, they did it for themselves, for their family, for anything they had in their life that they held dear.

This wasn’t just a run of the mill human or alien with a bad attitude. This wasn’t something that the city could watch get beaten on their TV or phone. Kara had no way of dissuading the public’s fear. She would just have to find the source and destroy it.

She wasn’t sure how many sweeps she’d made before circling back to the DEO. If the city had been rife with tension, the main hub was twice as bad. Kara could almost feel it like a physical presence, and she didn’t miss the anxious glares she received from a few busy agents as she entered.

Clearly, the threat wasn’t as ‘dealt with’ as she’d hoped for.

“Alex,” Kara said, spotting her sister conferring with another agent. “There’s no new security threats. The kids are back at school, the bank is opening as normal tomorrow and I was offered free coffees for life from Java Time.” She grinned half-heartedly. “So, hey, at least something good came out of all this.”

Alex, to her credit, offered a half smile in response. She was clearly distracted, shooting off a few orders to the agent she’d been with before sending them on their way. Once the agent was out of ear shot, Alex folded her arms. “You’re positive?” she asked.

Kara blinked. “Yeah? I mean, yeah. Of course I am.” She lowered her voice. “Why? Alex, you look really worried. Did something else happen?”

Alex sighed, rolling her shoulders. “The DEO nearly got hacked.” She raised her hand before Kara could say anything. “Brainy stopped it, but since then… I don’t know. He’s been acting kind of… off, I guess.” She sighed. “Maybe it’s just all of this getting to me. I’m glad you’ve not found any more breaches, of course I am, but the way Brainy was acting… it was like he was expecting something bad to happen.”

Kara gave Alex a once-over. “And what? You’re not?” She chuckled. “Alex, you look like you’re waiting for the world to crumble.”

“I’m not!” Alex gave her an affronted look, which quickly dissolved into more worry. “Okay, fine, maybe I am.”

“Would a coffee help?”

That got Alex to laugh, which made Kara’s smile brighten. She bumped her sister’s shoulder playfully. “See? Everything’ll be okay. We just have to figure out where this virus came from, right? Stop the source, stop the whole thing?”

Alex glanced away. “I guess, but it’s not that easy. It’s alien, and it’s not in our database. There’s no method for tracking something like this. I have Brainy as well as other agents looking into it, but so far we’ve found nothing. Our firewall is backed up, so another breach is less likely. But as for the rest of the city…”

“We’ll find it,” Kara assured her. “If you need me to do another sweep, I can. Maybe I missed something that could help or-”

Alex’s smile was gentle. “It’s fine. We have it handled for now. I’ll let you know if anything changes, okay?”

Kara nodded. “Okay.”

 


 

Brainy’s eyes scanned the information on his screen for the fifth consecutive time. There were no variances, he hadn’t expected there to be, but he had hoped that the information might make sense this time.

It didn’t.

The virus worked like nothing he’d ever seen, the way it infected systems so precisely, as though it just slipped in and out with no one being the wiser. It was effortless code, a string of information that appeared to shift and learn from its surroundings. Brainy had read into as much of it as he could when pushing it back from the DEO’s security override, but he hadn’t had the time to get a detailed reference. The virus was strong, it was quick, and it had nearly broken in.

Brainy still hadn’t admitted to Alex just how close a call it had really been. There was no use worrying her more than she already was.

At least, that’s what he told himself.

This was impossible. He rubbed at his face, fingers curling in agitation. There was no trace left in any corner of the DEO’s firewall. It was like the virus had never been there at all. That shouldn’t have been possible. If the virus had backed out of the system, there would be proof of that, a trace of the encryption. If it was still lurking somewhere within the system, he would have found it by now.

Brainy had scanned inside and out of the firewall, he’d spent hours looking for anything that might lead to where the virus went. And there was nothing.

It wasn’t possible. The virus must have gone somewhere. He’d been right there with it, he knew just what it was capable of.

But nothing could disappear like it never existed. Certainly nothing this destructive.

Brainy sighed, running a hand through his hair. He’d been focusing so much that it was starting to weigh on him. An incessant pressure was beginning to mount in his head, clouding his judgement, sending a jarring ache through his…

Brainy’s eyes shot open. A headache. He was getting a headache. Except, he didn’t get headaches. He had a hundred rudimentary functions he could output immediately to target an inflammation before it even started.

So, why was he…?

No. No that couldn’t possibly be it.

…Could it?

The virus wasn’t in the system, that was true. And there was no sign it had left the system the way it entered, either. But what if it hadn’t? What if the virus hadn’t fled from the system, hadn’t taken a back door out? What if, instead, it had latched onto another interface? One that had been right there, an easy target considering it would have never thought for a second that the virus could be that clever.

Brainy stood from his chair, staring blankly at the information gathered on the screen.

Now it all made sense.

And he wished with unparalleled certainty that it didn’t.

 


 

Alex walked to keep her mind busy. She felt useless, waiting for more information on the possible city-wide outbreak of an alien computer virus like any other civilian out there. She was sure Kara felt the same; she’d sent her back to CatCo, and although her sister was already working on an article detailing the recent security attack, it was never quite the same as being out in the field.

Doing anything to help mattered, but when you had superpowers or the full backing of a government organisation at your beck and call, doing the minimum felt like nothing at all. All Alex could do was advise her agents, keep an eye on matters and pretend that she wasn’t on the brink of a full-scale mental breakdown.

If they didn’t find the virus, another attack wasn’t just likely, it was unavoidable. It didn’t matter that Brainy had backed up the DEO’s firewall, what about everything else? The whole city was in danger. And, if this virus managed to reach out further than that, what could they do then?

“Director Danvers, can I speak with you?”

Alex started, nearly tripping over her own feet. She turned to find Brainy stood behind her. He looked like a kid who was about to admit to breaking his parent’s favourite vase. He twisted his Legion ring unthinkingly, looking anywhere but directly at her.

Thrown by the whole situation, Alex nodded wordlessly. Then she shook her head. “Of course, Brainy. What is it?”

“Uh.” Brainy glanced about himself, he appeared suddenly very aware of any listening ears. When it was clear no one else was within earshot, he continued, voice lowered, “Alex, do you remember when I said that the virus had disappeared from the server?”

 “Yeah?”

Brainy continued to play with his ring, it was very quickly becoming a nervous habit. “My theory may have been slightly… off.” He paused. “It didn’t disappear, rather, it jumped.”

Alex’s stomach lurched. “Jumped?”

“Uh, moved.” Brainy made a brief gesture with his hands. “From one server to another. My server.” He leaned forward, almost conspiratorially. “The virus is inside of me.”

Alex’s mouth opened, but no words came out. She cleared her throat, trying desperately to understand what she’d just been told. “I- hang on, what? What does that even mean?” Another thought occurred to her suddenly. “Are you alright?”

Brainy straightened, linking his fingers together. “I’m running diagnostics as we have this conversation. I should have a more accurate probability in a few moments, although the likelihood of this becoming anything severe is very low.”

“And if it does?”

“Hm?” Brainy glanced up at her with a frown. “Oh, I imagine it would not be… good.”

A lot of thoughts raced through Alex’s mind all at once. What kind of virus could jump into different servers, or for that matter sentient, half-biological beings? Was it dangerous, or did this make their job easier? Could Brainy learn from it if it was inside the computer part of his system, or would it damage him in the process? What did any of this mean?

Then she noticed it, and her heart sank with belated realisation.

Small beads of moisture had formed across Brainy’s forehead, locking with strands of his hair. She swallowed. “You’re sweating,” she noted, trying to keep her voice level.

In the months Brainy had been working for the DEO and the close-to year he’d been living in and out of this time period, Alex had never seen Brainy get sick. A part of her hadn’t even thought he could.

Brainy stared at her in confusion. He wiped at his brow experimentally, and Alex watched as that same realisation hit him as well.

“Admittedly, I thought I would have more time than this,” he muttered. “Nevertheless, I should explain. As the virus attacks my computer half, it is likely to cause my biological half to present symptoms as a means of defence.” He linked his hands together again. “I have already begun to compartmentalise crucial thought processing roles so that I have the desired energy to keep working on countermeasures. In the meantime, I’m still trying to devise a shutdown code for the virus itself and the branches that it’s used already to interact with the city.”

Alex resisted the urge to gape at him. “Brainy, if this thing is making you sick, surely this isn’t a good idea?”

“There is no other way around it,” Brainy said with a dismissive shrug. “So long as I can keep the virus contained, I should be able to continue as normal. In theory, at least. I’ve not had to host a virus within my system for a long time. The last was not… pleasant.”

“You’re filling me with confidence,” Alex deadpanned. “Are you sure about this?”

“Not particularly,” Brainy said with the same offhanded tone, “but there really is no alternative. Nothing from your time has the processing power to hold something like this. I can learn more from the virus with it in close-proximity, anyway. I should hope to have countermeasures available in the next couple of hours.”

Alex didn’t have anything she could say against him. It was true, they were fighting a computer virus that seemed to have clear connections to an alien origin. They had no one in the DEO quite like Brainy when it came to hacking or coding. He had a unique outlook, an ability to coexist with technology, to work on it from the inside. Alex trusted Brainy, but she was also worried for him. Despite his assurance that he would be okay to do this, he already looked worse for wear. A little tired, not quite steady on his feet.

“Let me know if you need anything,” Alex said seriously. “If this gets too much, I need you to tell me. Your wellbeing comes first, not this mission. Got it?”

Brainy nodded. “Understood.”

Before Alex could say anything more on the subject, an agent hurriedly rounded the corner. Alex recognised her from the team she’d put on surveillance.

“Director Danvers,” the agent said, a slight tremor in her voice. “We need you in the hub, three more buildings have been targeted by the virus.”

Alex stiffened. “Of course, I’ll be right there.”

As the agent turned to leave, Alex caught Brainy’s eye. “I thought you said the virus was inside you?”

Brainy sighed. "Let me explain..."