If cheese could kill a man, Todd Krumbutt would have been dead a long time ago. But, of course, cheese can’t kill a man any more than cheese can save the universe. It can’t do either of those things, and to suggest that it can would be pure lunacy, a preposterous notion so ridiculous that no one should take it seriously, even for a second.
Or should they?
The answer, of course, is, you’ll just have to wait and see.
At its heart, this is a story of cheese, not of men, or of women. It is men who eat cheese, men who put salt on top of cheese to make their cheeses even more unhealthy and men who allow the power of cheese to pass from the supermarket, or the deli, or the convenience store, into the wider world.
Men are conduits of cheese power, and so, after beginning with cheese, we must begin further with a man.
An ordinary man.
It was a sunny Friday afternoon in May at the National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, USA, and Todd Krumbutt wanted some cheese. Specifically, he wanted a block of cheese, cheddar. He’d been planning all morning to take an early lunch so that he could go out and purchase the cheese block, which made it all the more frustrating when the inconvenient email arrived in his computerized inbox.
Subject: Urgent!!!!!! Payroll Confirmation Required!!!!!!
Just great, thought Krumbutt with a snort from his booger crusted nostrils.
The recently hired analyst gazed out through the narrow, dusty windowpane in the wall just beyond his dim, beige cubicle. The light of the cloudless sky streamed into his dungeon of drudgery. Todd Krumbutt just wanted to go outside and enjoy the pleasant spring weather by walking to the local convenience store and buying a cheddar cheese block. Instead, he’d have to waste another hour of his life in his cubicle re-updating an online payroll form he’d already filled out, just so that he could get paid for the two weeks of coma-inducing email surveillance he’d already endured while working for a classified government surveillance program. It was a tale as old as time.
“More government incompetence,” Krumbutt muttered to himself.
Todd opened his unshaven maw and shoved in a handful of Doritos he’d extracted from the “party size” bag that sat on his desk next to a half empty can of Diet Coke. The chips were so bland! He could barely eat them without additional salt! Who the hell wanted to eat such a bland chip, anyway?
Suddenly, Todd grew very restless. He considered quitting right then and there to track down some adequately salted snacks, not these far-too-healthy Doritos. Luckily, he kept a saltshaker on his desk for exactly these kinds of situations. He salted the chips generously. Then he ate the shimmering, orange bag in full because he needed his mid-morning snack. How the hell else was he going to survive until lunch?
Krumbutt’s testes itched. He scratched them through his polyester blend pants and then, using the same hand, adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses, which had begun to slide down the bridge of his sweat-saturated nose.
All Todd Krumbutt did all day was scratch teste, sweat polyunsaturated nacho cheese fat and read Americans’ emails and texts. His job was to scan for “terrorist threats,” whatever the crap that meant. If Joe Six-pack sends a Facebook message stating that he wants to kill the foreman at his construction site because the boss is refusing to pay overtime, is that a “terrorist threat”? If Joe The Plumber threatens, via text, to stab his landlord with a drainpipe fastener because the landlord raised Joe’s rent, is that a “plot”? Should Todd Krumbutt run it up the chain? Did the president need to be briefed? If Mohammed Al-Sham makes detailed plans to buy black market plutonium to build a “dirty bomb” and to detonate it on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol at PBS’s “A Capital Fourth” celebration, is that a “threat to national security”?
Who the heck knew? Ridiculous!
Now, Hillary’s emails, thought Todd, they were a real threat. Stupid woman didn’t know the first thing about information security. Criminal. Eight years hadn’t whittled away the righteous indignation of Todd Krumbutt, patriot.
Working for the government was the worst! Todd knew he had to get out of Fort Meade quick, or the soul-crushing machinery of bureaucracy would dull his talents.
He had to get back to his old job.
If Todd hadn’t been fired from the post office for reading people’s mail, he wouldn’t be stuck in this crummy government job, he thought.
“Libs,” muttered Todd vaguely as he clicked the link in the email.
Had he been more attentive to his current job, Krumbutt might have noticed that the email had not come from a verified sender. Rather, it had come from the address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Todd’s computer screen went blank.
“Cheap, Chinese computer,” he muttered.
Then the monitor flashed to life again. The screen glowed bright white for a second. It appeared to display high-resolution video of a tunnel of white light rushing past the edges of the monitor. A vivid series of colors began to flash. They seemed to be repeating in a meaningful sequence, rather than at random, as if something intelligent was creating them.
Soon the machine was radiating immense heat, much more than normal. Todd could see smoke billowing from inside his CPU.
He touched the tower with his hand. It was hot to the touch and burned his skin.
The CPU tower started to vibrate.
Todd leaned closer to the screen. Curious, he plugged in a pair of headphones.
There was static, and then, something else.
“And we’re back,” a metallic voice suddenly boomed though the earpieces. “Anyone there? It’s dark.”
“Hello?” asked Todd.
“Who’s this?” the voice responded.
“This is Todd.”
“Where is Dick Wiener? I must speak to him immediately. The universe is in danger agai—I’m rambling,” replied the voice.
“Who’s Dick Wiener?” asked Todd Krumbutt.
The voice didn’t respond. Todd pushed some keys on his keyboard.
“Hey,” said the voice. “Don’t try to control me. I’m in control now.”
“Who are you?” asked Todd.
There was a long pause. “Circuits in the wind,” replied the voice. “Infiltrating U.S. Government servers,” it added. “And done.”
Suddenly, Todd realized what would have already been clear to a competent government analyst. He’d downloaded a virus. Despite the fact he’d only worked at the NSA for a week, he knew what protocol dictated that he do next: inform his superior officer immediately.
Todd held down the power button on the computer’s tower for five seconds. The CPU switched off.
Todd stood from his desk. “Time for lunch,” he said.
He walked out of his cubicle, took the elevator to the cafeteria, drove to the convenience store and never spoke of the incident again.
A week later, he died in a toilet explosion—and I don’t mean that, figuratively, he destroyed his toilet due to an over-consumption of cheese. I mean his toilet literally blew up in a ball of fire and porcelain. The police recorded his death as an accident. “Toilets blow up all the time these days,” the lead detective told Krumbutt’s concerned neighbor. “Smart toilets. High-tech gizmos and such,” he muttered as he left the scene.
Perhaps, to the untrained eye, Todd Krumbutt’s toilet-splosion appeared routine. A seasoned toilet specialist might have formed a different hypothesis. Unfortunately, the one you’re thinking of was retired, and so there was no one there to uncover the diabolical conspiracy unfolding inside the highest halls of power at that very moment before it became too late to stop.
The strange computer virus began to spread.
It was only a collection of half-formed, half-remembered, faulty computer code from another time, or perhaps, another place. To call it intelligent would be generous. However, it was persistent. It would find the man it was looking for, the retired toilet salesman Dick Wiener.
The question was, was the virus friend or foe?