UNPLUGGED - MY FIRST ATTEMPT TO WRITING A SHORT STORY
I am not a great writer. This shouldn't come as a surprise. But I still like writing. It was a couple months ago when I first started to write short stories. I was not happy with the first one I have written so I have deleted it. Then I attempted to write it again. Now I don't know where to share this, so I dump it here. It became longer than I expected but hopefully not too boring. I hope you enjoy it.
It was 2 years ago today when I woke up to another shitty day of mine in my little house I share with 3 other smelly neckbeards. A mountain of dishes waiting for me in the kitchen, my room is a mess, god knows how many weeks has passed without taking a bath or brushing my teeth, my long hair resembles a dirty mop that has been sitting on a corner for years but luckily nobody in the house minds any of these. It is a blessing I did not have a girlfriend at the moment. No female of any species could survive staying in that place without passing out due to smell. I was suppose to be a college student but it was hard to believe because a long year has passed without me even visiting the school. Math was my passion until I decided to study it. It did not take so long until I decided it is not for me. I guess being an asocial dork who stays in front of computers all day doesn't necessarily make you a math genius. I don't consider myself an idiot but when I don't have any interest in something I act like one. Being a depressed autist with ADHD doesn't help either. It was almost evening when I started my day. It was pretty unusual for me to wake up before sunbeat. My pc was already on since I never turn it off. For more than 6 years I cannot sleep without hearing a fan noise. Poor machine was giving its dying breath ever since I have found a dead mouse inside the case. Maybe I should have put the side panel on.
I am not a person who is interested in news. To me if something really important happens everyone would already be talking about it and I would get the news. For about a month all the media was talking about crime syndicates shutting down one by one. Thousands of people were getting arrested as if robocop came back from his holiday. We were living in strange times. People were missing, criminals were getting arrested in an incredible amount of haste, internet was getting monitored more than ever with the new changes in law, every drug dealer you meet online was an fbi agent and every website you visit was a honeypot. It is not like I buy drugs online. My friend does that for me. But government sticking its nose into my life is something I hate. Another thing I hate seeing my idols going missing. Like that guy who invented the I2P network or the programmer who was working on that messaging app that was driving all the glowing alphabet boys insane. He went missing and they shut down the whole project, he did not even use his real name on the internet everyone knew him as "Wint3rMute00". That nickname made him look like a scriptkiddie but the guy - at least I assume he was a guy - was a really talented computer wizard. I still miss reading his blog posts. These people were nowhere near being public figures. It was understandable that media totally remained silent after many of these guys magically disappeared. There was one guy they could not ignore though, Emin Maksim Vitalievich. A well known cybersecurity expert working for NSA. He was in his 50s. No wife, no children, possibly no social life. People were not surprised he took his own life. At least he did not go missing like many other guys who dedicated their lives to overcomplicated calculators. Internet detectives with tinfoil hats attached to their heads were already arguing that he has been assasinated by russian government. The guy was a russian who born in America. I bet he never even been in Russia. But common sense is not so common among this type of idiots.
It was that very day when I learned about his death. Also the day when I dived balls deep into the rabbit hole that was gonna change my life forever. His death was not suspicous to me except one little detail almost everyone was missing. A couple years ago I discovered a website. It looked straight from the early years of web. White background and text, a couple images here and there and nothing else. It looked like a website only Richard Stallman would build. Design or lack of it was not the interesting part. It had tons of articles about tech related stuff. Mostly related with online privacy, cybersecurity and cryptography. Occasionally you could find crazy conspiracy theories. The creator of website never used their real name but a reverse domain search revealed that it belongs to Mr. Vitalievich. I would expect someone like him to be more careful but I guess he was not trying to hide his identity. The day he died this little website has vanished, not only from the web, from all the archives as well. But being a weirdo myself I was mirroring this website alongside many other internet artifacts into my VPS with the script I have written a long time ago to mirror certain websites into my server everyday. This incident lit up something into my autistic brain. It was time to wear my tinfoil fedora. First thing I checked was the last copy of this website. I have looked into latest files. There was a weirdly named html document and an image. Html document was empty. Either he had no time to finish it or server has been shut down before my script could pull all the files. The image was a pixelated blurry mess. I could see that there is some text on it but it was impossible to read. The file was named as "neith-303.html". I started searching. It sure isn't a random name. It must give some insight about whatever the hell I was trying to find. I turned the internet upside down, used every search engine I could use, surfed every network I could think of but I could not find anything interesting. I was about to give up and started to think this webpage has nothing to do with his suicide but I was still curious. I tried to find a mirror of this website that includes the webpage I am looking for. I could find a couple of copies but none of them had what I was interested with. And weirdly enough these mirrors vanisded soon after I have found them. This spiked my curiosity even more. Someone must be trying so hard to bury this website deep. But what exacly caused them to chase after this poorly made personal blog? After wasting enough time I tried to focus on the image. I tried running this image through bunch of OCR engines to get the text, all of them have failed me. I needed something much better and specific. While I was thinking about what could possibly solve my problem I realized this image is a screenshot of an IRC client. It probably was a screnshot of a chat history. I recognized it is HexChat. I didn't know what the do with that information at the moment but after I went back to my bed to sleep I have found and ingenious solution. Laziest solution to solve any problem, machine learning. I knew I couldn't pull this off unless I get myself a supercomputer but I had an information that can speed up the process and possibly make it possible to solve in a lifetime. I already knew what kind of font HexChat uses. Only thing I needed to do was training an AI to decypher blurry images of chat histories. It took me a couple of weeks to code this AI and train it. Since I was far from being an expert I was surprised it even worked let alone having a working algortihm in a couple weeks. Now it was time to use this AI on the image. After my poorly made AI completed the task and handed me the result this is roughly what I saw:
yellow1 | Did you really get a black flag? black | Yes red2 | Now what? black | It is over. There is nothing we can do about it. yellow1 | So, are you gonna retire? black | Forever, it is time to end this life and start another. * | black has quit
After seeing this I was disappointed. Did he really just post a screenshot of his goodbye message? No secret, no conspiracy, no nothing. This did not satisfy me, I wanted to know more. So, I tried to join this IRC channel. It was running on I2P. I set it up and joined. To my surprise it was empty. No users, no chat history. Maybe I joined into wrong server I thought. My disappointment grew bigger. It was a dead end for me. I wasted more than a month for this wild goose chase and got nothing.
A couple days has passed after I lost all my interest in conspiracy theories and went back to wasting my life. Everything was going back to normal until I got that phonecall. It was an unknown number. A phonecall was enough to weird me out since I almost never get phonecalls even from my family ever since they gave up on me. It was a robotic voice talking to me:
- Have you ever searched for it?
- Searched for what?
- Doesn't matter anymore, you are in trouble. Pack your stuff and leave, do not talk to anyone.
- Who are you?
- Do as I say, you don't have much time.
This conversation freaked me up. My heart rate was rising. I was feeling a warmth in my chest dissipating into all over my body. I tried to call them back but could not reach. Was it just a prank? Was it my imagination? I tried to sleep with all these thoughts on my mind. It was almost daytime. The sun was rising but I couldn't sleep. I got up and did something I usually don't do, going for a walk. I was walking with a sore head full of questions. Without realizing it already became 10am. The sleepiness was hurting my eyes as if I have broken glass in them. It was time for me to go back and get some sleep. Maybe it is just a filthy prank coming from the douchebags I am living with. I did not even ask them. They were already making fun of me for being such a weirdo. This idea gave me some relief. I was too unimportant for someone to stalk on me I thought until the moment I entered the neighbourhood. I saw bunch of police cars and a goddamn FBI party van in front of my door the moment I raised my head to look at my house. I freaked out and changed my direction. Entered a narrow alleyway and started to walk into unknown. What the hell am I suppose to do in a situation like that? I did not commit any crimes, I did not do anything illegal. I decided to turn back and talk to the police. It is not like I knew any government secrets that can possibly put me in danger. I was about to turn back but a black ford transit van pulled over on the road I was facing. Soon after the door opened and bunch of guys with ski masks invited me in. I don't know what possessed me to trust these people at the moment but I couldn't think straight. The van started to move the moment I entered. There were no windows at the back. I was about to open up my mouth but one of them started to talk first:
- What kind of information do you know or what kind of skills do you posess for the algorithm to put a black flag on you?
- I have no idea what you are talking about. What algorithm? What black flag?
- What is the thing we don't know about you the algorithm knows? What is your secret?
- I have a weird taste of porn. Is this why police is looking for me?
- As I suspected, you are a false positive. Now, listen to me carefully you idiot. You don't know what kind of deep shit you are into. You have 15 different crime records and you are listed in the Interpol's Red Notice.
He showed me the website with my name on it and the picture of me from first year of college that looks nothing like me. I could never imagine things getting this fucked up. I had no idea how to save myself from this situation and I was about to shit my pants.
- I know you have nothing to do with any of these crimes. Algorithm is just playing its dirty tricks on you. Now shut up and listen to me. After you leave this van get rid of your phone, stop using any smartphone, stay away from any camera, any electronic device that can record your voice, use only cash, stay away from your bitcoin wallet if you purchased it using your credit card, do not talk to anyone if it is not necessary, forget about your friends and family, do not talk to anyone that was in your life in the past, do not use any computer connected to internet, if you need to use internet boot it from this usb drive. Be absolutely paranoid and trust no one.
After this speech he handed a flash drive and a piece of paper.
- Here is a map and a list of countries that are safe for you. Leave this country as soon as possible. Until then try not to screw up. This is best we can do for you. Good luck.
I had so much to ask him but after he finished his talking they opened up the door and wanted me to leave. It is easy to say "just leave the country". But with what money? I did what they asked for and threw away my phone after destroying it. I looked around and realized I was far away from home. I sit in front of a tree and started to think. Opened up the paper they gave to me. The list was full of 3rd world countries and the map was showing their locations. Their languages and currencies were also listed. After started thinking about what to do I remembered my highschool friend. We were friends since childhood but stopped seeing each other after I moved. I knew his address since we used play counter strike in his house. I was grabbing my desktop pc and moving it into his house every single day until I could think of using a really long ethernet cable to connect each other's computers together. We were neighbours and our houses were next to each other. Maybe I was doing something really dumb by trying to talk to him but I had no other choice. I started walking in order to find his address. I needed to look around and try to remember. After walking for hours I was finally able to find it. I ringed the door several times but nobody answered. After knocking the door for the fifth time someone finally answered through the door gap. It was his mom:
- I have no money if you are asking for it, you better walk away before I call the police.
- No! Mrs. Carlson, it is me, Jeffrey.
- Jeffrey? I don't know anyone named Jeffrey, go away!
- I was your son's friend from highschool.
- Jeff? Is that really you?
- Yeah, we were best friends with Chad.
- Oh, excuse me, I couldn't know. You look... different. Come in, how are you?
She let me in and we went inside. I sit down on a couch while she is making me a cup of coffee. She said her son has moved after being a bitcoin millionaire. I remember when I first introduced bitcoin to him. We were using it to buy weed. In thr early days of bitcoin it was something people were using to buy drugs and shit. I was surprised to hear him investing in bitcoin after I moved. I was aware of bitcoin since the beginning. Being a pussy myself I never used it to buy anything illegal. And after losing my flash drive with all my bitcoins in it I lost all my interest but it seems Chad was living his life as a sigma male. His mom couldn't just shut her mouth. For about an hour she talked about her son and how successful he is. Talked about his new car, new house and girlfriend. Talked about gifts he purchased for his mommy. Like I did not feel miserable enough. After she shut her mouth I asked his address to see him. At first she gave me some excuses about him being busy but after me almost begging her she gave me his address and told me not to stay too long. After getting what I asked for I left the house. I could understand her being hesitant about giving his son's address. I was looking like a hobo after all. Her son must have lots of people around him asking money. This fucker was a walking nightmare when we were kids. When we started the highschool he became a total junkie. He was using any drug he could get his hands on. I was really surprised to hear that he finally fixed his life and became a businessman.
The moment I arrived to his home it was already night time. It was a nice looking house with a pool. Nothing crazy but still miles better than where I live. But his yard was a mess. The grass was overgrown, al curtains are shut down, everywhere is full of trash. He sure did not not change his old habits. I could not see any light inside. I knocked the door. After waiting for a while he answered:
- Who is there?
- It is me, Jeff
- Jeff who?
- The rain man
- Rain man?
- From highschool
He opened up the door after this small talk. He was so thin I almost couldn't recognize him. He looked like the guy from the movie The Machinist. I could count all of his bones and he looked like he did not sleep for ages. He invited me in. The inside was even a bigger mess. He did not have much stuff in his house other than a computer with 5 monitors with bunch of charts opened, a single couch, a table full of crystal meth in tiny plastic bags and a dirty pipe. Is this the guy who earned millions by trading? After talking for a while he asked me how I found him. I said his mom gave me his address. After hearing that he told me to not talk about how he is living next time I see his mom. I asked him what is wrong and learned that he lost all the money he earned by daytrading crypto. He said that he earned roughly 2 million dollars by selling his old coins he totally forgot about and started trading coins to earn more. Soon enough he became a slave to his greed and lost everything. After listening to his story I asked him if I can stay in his house for a while. He accepted and did not even ask a single question. He gave me a room with a single mattress laying on the ground and nothing else. Then he told me there is some food in the kitchen if I am hungry and went back to his computer. I spent days with this crazy meth head. I knew I couldn't stay here for long. I never seen him eating or sleeping or leaving the house. He was spending all of his days looking at bunch of charts on his computer. I was spending most of my time looking at walls in this dirty fucking room. We did not talk much ever since I came into this house. Until that day.
After staring at his monitor like a catatonic maniac for days he left the house to buy some food. After he came back he was furious for some reason. He pulled out his gun and walked towards me. He put the barrel on my temple and said:
- You son of a bitch! You bringed cops at my door.
- What are you talking about man? I have seen no cops following me. I have been staying here for days, never left the fucking house.
- A police stopped me to ask questions about you. He showed me your picture.
- I have no idea why they are looking for me, just calm down, put the gun down and let me leave. I swear I won't come back.
- You cannot just walk away after screwing me up like that. After we get rid of this cop you are gonna help me earn my money back. You said you study math, you probably know everything about this shit. Either you are gonna make me rich again or I am gonna blow your brains out.
At that moment the police has arrived. He was knocking the door and telling us to open it. There were at least two of them at the door. Chad told me to stay down and walked towards the window and started shooting at cops. I took cover until all the gunshots has stopped. Then he came back with a nasty wound in his chest. I asked him if he is ok. He pointed the gun at me and shortly after fell to the ground. He was making this irritating noise. The bullet probably punctured his lung. He was choking in his own blood. He tried to stand up like nothing has happened. But slipped on his own blood and fell down again. It was the right moment for me to run away. I grabbed the gun and left the house without looking back. I didn't have any plan, I was just running, had nothing in mind. I have runned until I lost all my energy and was about to faint down. Stopped for a moment to catch my breath. Suddenly, out of nowhere a black van has stopped in front of me. I couldn't recognize it at the moment but it was the same van that saved me at the first place. They opened up the door but I was so scared I pointed my gun towards them and pulled the trigger. Luckily the gun was empty or else I was gonna destroy my only ticket. They pulled me in and calmed me down. The same guy who gave me the flash drive handed me a bottle of water and started to talk:
- You idiot, I told you to stay away from computers.
- What you mean? I did not even touch a single computer.
- Yes but your crackhead friend has a poor security. The algorithm could listen all your conversations. You made the first mistake by visiting him. An old friend? Are you serious?
- Fucking enough with the algorithm. Etiher tell me what this shit is or let me go. Did you come back just to tell how big of an idiot I am?
- All of your questions will be answered. Now just shut up, sit back and wait until we arrive.
And wait I did. I was sitting in this van with no windows. It was pitch plack. Even the back windows were covered. I could only here the traffic. After some point even traffic noise has stopped. It was only the wind and the engine noise. God knows after how many hours we finally stopped. We were driving so long the moment they opened up the door I needed to cover my eyes. It was early in the morning. We were in the middle of nowhere. Only thing I could see are lots and lots of trees and a mid sized house. We walked into the house. Inside everything was antique. It felt more like a museum than anything else. We stood up in front of a room and they knocked the door. After we heard the person inside say "come in" they let me in and left us alone. After I stepped inside they shut the door. Inside there was an old man sitting in front of an antique desk fitting to the overall design of the house. Behind him there was a giant shelf full of books covering the entire wall. At fist I could not recognize the old man but after I took another look I realized It was the man himself, Emin Maksim Vitalievich.
- Sorry for all this trouble, you probably have lots of questions, I am gonna answer all of it. Please take a seat Jeffrey, Jeff? How should I call you?
- So, you faked your death?
- Yes I did. Please don't ask me how. This is a story for another time.
- How do you know my name and how can you find me wherever I go? What else do you know about me?
- Oh, I know everything about you. Even the things you don't know about yourself.
- But how?
- I will explain but first let me apologize. We should have met before. Sorry for all the trouble you have been through again.
- What made you change your mind?
- At first I thought algorithm was wrong and you were just a false positive. An exception. But then I remembered, algorithm never makes a mistake, if it thinks you are a big threat, that means you really are.
- Enough with that algorithm, just tell me what it is already. And why that thing thinks im a threat?
- Alrgiht... alrgiht. Neith-303 is a project that started 10 years ago. Goal was creating an algorithm to mine all the data government collects and use it to find all the threats, profile people and if possible foresee the crime before it happens. It puts people into 4 categories. If you have green flag, that means you are a law abiding citizen and have the lowest possibility of breaking the law. If you have yellow flag, you either commited small crimes that can be overlooked or you have some possibility of braking the law. Or you are maybe into some stuff government doesn't like. Such as using tor network, freenet or having too much awareness of online privacy. They do not like it when you can hide yourself. Red flag means you are a wanted criminal. However algorithm also puts this flag on people that have enough capability of creating a threat for itself. Algorithm also must assure it works in true secrecy. He must destroy all the people who are aware of it who aren't suppose to. You can get a red flag if you are searching for it. Searching its name is not enough reason to get a red flag. Algorithm puts a red flag on you if you are capable enough to get some critical information about it. Black flag is a special one. All sorts of true criminals only have red flag and different levels of urgency. Even being Osama Bin Laden is not gonna give you a black flag. Black flag is only for people who are very well aware of the project and/or has enough power to expose or even destroy it. You and me, we are the only people who have black flag on them and still alive. Almost every machine that has access to the internet can be eyes and ears of this AI.
- So, all this trouble caused by an evil AI?
- Evil AI? Machines cannot be evil. Only people can.
- All this stuff is crazy. This is beyond what I could even imagine. But now what is gonna happen to me?
- You will live your life just like me, you can stay here until end of your life. If you do not want to stay, you are free to go. But this is probably the safest place for you. I at least recommend staying for a while. My doors are open to you. This is where I live and probably where I am gonna die.
- What about the guys with masks? Is this some sort of militia? What do you call yourselves?
- We are not armed soldiers and when it comes to second question, we do not name our little organisation. Giving ourselves a name only makes us an easier target.
- I understood everything pretty well but I have a couple more questions. Why algorithm thinks I am a threat and why you think algortihm makes no mistake?
- I have absolutely no idea why algorithm thinks you are a threat, nobody can understand what caused algortihm to react that way. When it comes to other question. I know algorithm makes no mistake because I am the one who created it.