Jan. 8th, 2015

talonkarrde: (color)
Breaking in is a relatively simple matter: his personal network has, as usual, far fewer protections than the corporate network, and what would've taken a team, a couple of six-figure exploits, and three months takes me just over twenty minutes. With a port scanner, three programs, and a nice zero-day that I got as a favor, I'm root on his network, with more access than I would if I had the master key to his house.

Without further ado, I start downloading everything that's on his personal machine. The client requested a general dump, and a general dump is what they'll get. There's a promise of a bonus if there's specific information in the dump, and I could certainly use one — it would mean not having to worry about rent for the next four months, as well as some fun upgrades here and there for my rig.

It tells me it's going to take seven minutes, so I figure I might as well indulge my curiosity and browse around his network. The client didn't say I couldn't, after all, and it's always interesting seeing what kind of things people keep on their computers. Some people are impossible — I'm sure everyone has a friend or coworker that has a million files on their desktops, enough that you can't even see what their wallpaper is. Other people are organized to the point that you have to go five folders deep before you see any files at all, and each folder only has one file in it. What's the point in that?

This guy seems to be relatively normal, though, with some files on his desktop and some organization, but nothing too anal-retentive. I browse, looking at stock agreements and merger and acquisition docs and my eyes almost glaze over until I open a 'scratchpad.txt' file, the kind of thing that people put reminders in because they don't understand that to-do software exists. This one that starts with a reminder about Jessica's birthday and then has a schedule for wine tasting classes and turns into something that looks like twenty drafts of a letter asking for forgiveness.

It's only on the fifth letter attempt that I realize what I'm reading, and I almost fall out of my chair as I stare at the screen, now, everything else forgotten.

Sixteen minutes later, I very carefully jack out and try and figure out what the hell I'm supposed to do with what I know: one of the most trusted companies in America is hiding one of the biggest data breaches that the world has ever known. Selling information not just to a company but to the enemy. Do I give the data over to the client? I have to, I think — they'll know that I tried. And besides, maybe they won't notice the little throwaway document.

Before I sleep that night, I take a few precautions that I never thought I'd have to. I hope, more than anything, it'll just blow over, but I also realize that I have knowledge that has been very carefully hidden away, and I remember what my father the spymaster said about those that knew too much.

-

The first indication that there's trouble is from my contact who sought me out — and paid me — for the job.

Artsada, he starts, pinging me by handle on the darknet forum where job offers are made and taken. Question from the top.

Shoot, I write back. Top, in this case, would be the client, nameless for security reasons.

Top wants to know if you checked the dump.

I pause for a second. It's not a question you get very often — the job is the job, and anything I do outside of it is irrelevant.

I was waiting for dump to finish uploading and played around on his network, as usual. Didn't see everything in the dump, though. Problem?

K, he responds, and then goes silent, which doesn't quite answer my question. He doesn't disconnect, though, so I wait, curious to see what the next message is. Finally, he comes back:

Do you have a copy of the dump, outside of what you provided? he writes, and I'm starting to realize that the correct answer is 'no' — even if the truth is 'yes'.

No, I type. And then I delete it, hesitate, and type it again, and press enter.

You sure? he asks, and I frown. He shouldn't be doubting me; he never has before. Here, I get the inclination that he's not fully in control of the situation anymore.

Check my references, I offer, with more bravado than I feel.

Top says they will, he finishes and then signs off, before I can say anything else.

-

I get a letter, a day later, but instead of through the forum, it comes to my personal email.

Dear Artsada,

We believe that you may have read something that was not meant for your eyes. We apologize for the oversight on our part. We request that you delete it, if it is present on your computer. Unfortunately, it will be necessary to confirm that you will not disseminate this information. Please respond within twenty-four hours with assurances.


I get about three lines in before I realize that something's very, very wrong — they've cracked my security and know who I am, which should never, ever happen. Whoever this is wasn't playing, and I didn't have delusions that they would be willing to take any steps they found necessary to safeguard the secret I had in my head. The best way to handle it, I think, is to downplay it: I respond immediately with an assurance that I would simply like to live my life and would never speak of it, upon my reputation.

They respond, just as immediately.

Thank you for your cooperation. We unfortunately need to take steps to confirm that you will not disseminate the information, the next email reads, and as I'm reading it, my computer starts to whine, a noise that I've never heard it done. As I bring up the diagnostics, I realize that it's doing something I didn't tell it to: it's purging all information on the hard drive. It's deleting itself.

They're not just on to me, I realize with growing horror, they can see everything that I've done. Which means that they know everything. But maybe, maybe if they didn't in until now, they won't have seen the failsafe I set up, the night that I found out about it all.

Which means—there's a knock at the door.

It doesn't surprise me, nor does the increasing insistence of the knocks, nor the sound of it being blown off its hinges. I hear footsteps down the hallway, and I know why they're here.

There's nothing left for me to do now. But I smile, spinning my chair around to meet them, as I realize this: there doesn't have to be.

-

From: Artsada <Artsada@hushmail.com>
Date: Fri, 09 Jan 2015 00:16:17 +0000
Message-ID: <CAHkKY2cvBCvs-Mpt24Zd6r=3-3MPbcFev8N5QY9Cf=vCiEpxaQ@mail.hushmail.com>
Subject: Re: Franconia
To: The Intercept <y6xjgkgwj47us5ca.onion>

If you're reading this, I'm dead. This is probably less exciting because you've never known me, but you'll want to see what I have. I set up a dead man's switch a week ago, because I figured what I was sitting on was going to get me killed, and it turns out, I was right. I wouldn't worry about avenging me, though; just get the truth out to the public, so they understand how deeply that they've been betrayed. Here are the documents that I have — you'll see how I got it, and the forensics to prove that it's been unedited.

And to quote a famous reporter, one that I hope would look upon what I've done here and approve: good night, and good luck.
talonkarrde: (color)
What do you fear more, she asks me, the long sleep or staying up with only a few others for company?

I shrug, and feel her irritation without turning around.

Come on, she says, but I shake my head, focusing on the grains of sand under my palms, on the sound of the waves seeking the beach, on the smell of— well, once, it would've been the salty, briny smell of the sea, and the cry of the seagulls, and the clicks of the crabs, but nowadays, the smell isn't one of the sea as much as it is of something else. Something artificial.

Futility, perhaps.

She catches the expression on my face.

We're leaving for a reason, you know, she says, and I mutely nod. Of course we are. The reason's been plastered on every newsnet and repeated ad nauseam by every talking head that still had a channel.

"We can't stay," she says, this time out loud, and it breaks me out of my passiveness enough to at least look up at her, standing over me. I take in the thin, tight lines around her mouth, the deeper ones across her forehead, and the small, almost imperceptible twitch of her right eye as she stares past me, at the sea, and I wonder if she's remembering the same scene I am, from so long ago, back when we were children, playing in turquoise water, on a golden beach.

"Do—" I cough, my voice cracking from disuse. "Do you remember Santa Monica Pier?"

"I never wanted something more than this," she says, an old quote from an old memory. It's no more than a whisper, one that blends into the pink waves, and I can only nod.

That was before the red tides, before the famines, before the flash freezes, so many befores that we didn't see coming.

-

A few days later, the poll comes into our homenet, beeping incessantly until every member of the family fills it out. It has two choices:

* Sleep
* Stay awake

I stare at it for a long, long time, wondering which committee argued for how long over what the choice should look like. I wonder if they sat there for hours, or days, or weeks, and until someone finally boiled it down to this two-line decision and motioned to pass and everyone obediently fell into line. I wonder if there's some intrepid designer somewhere out there who said 'oh, this will be a good capstone project', and volunteered to design it. It's certainly a captive audience, though I suspect no one will care in a month's time.

I dismiss the poll from the screen. It puts up token resistance, popping up another, longer message:

* Please select a choice. This is an important matter. All selections will be collected and decisions on placement made before the end of the week.

So important that everyone already knows all the context, that you can boil down every person's future into three words, fourteen letters, and a checkmark.

Another gesture and it finally minimizes, pulsing softly every so often to remind me that I haven't finished it yet. Instead, I tell the console to show me scenes of the Earth's remaining beauty, and it obliges. A few beaches, a few mountains, one picture of the plains. About eighteen pictures in total, despite the fact that there are cameras on just about every square corner of the globe.

It starts cycling: there are no more current pictures that the algorithm deems acceptable. It's a short slideshow — shorter than it was a month ago. Shorter than it was a year ago. At this rate, by the time we lift off, there'll be only one beach left that you could enjoy in all the world. By the time people settle into the long sleep, there may not be a single ecosystem that's still functioning on a planet that once held almost nine million species. And according to the scientists, it's still getting worse.

"It's really best not to worry about the world a hundred years from now," I remember a doctor of ecology saying in an interview, shrugging apologetically. "It'll be closer to five hundred or a thousand before we'll be back, which should be more than enough time for the biosphere to recover."

"What about the Ecological Revitalizers?" the reporter asks.

"Well, they're a long shot, at best. They're really just an idea — a bit like the old Wall-E movie from the twenty-first century, you know? We think that the Earth will fix itself, most likely," the scientist responds, and I remember that patronizing smile, that secret that he held behind his eyes: the Earth will never be habitable again.

-

A week later, the poll disappears, even though I don't make a choice. My lack of a decision doesn't make a difference after all; a few days later, I get the a message, bright and cherry, in bold and italics. 'You've been assigned to stay awake for the first decade!' it tells me, that exclamation point irritating enough that I want to punch the writer in the face.

My ship is supposed to leave in a month — it's one of the last ones, actually; the first ones head out next week. I scour the nets for projections on how long it will take to bring the Earth back, but all I can find are halfhearted suggestions of a few centuries out and repeated statements about how the biosphere was self-correcting. If it's so self-correcting, I write here and there, how did we get here in the first place, with ninety percent of the planet completely uninhabitable, and most of the ecosystem completely dead? The response I get is underwhelming: most of the time, it simply kills the thread. In the few places where the conversation continues, the posters completely ignore my post, as if they never saw it.

Eventually, after weeks of trying to find actual data, weeks of trying to find someone that cared, I realize that there is no data. No one did a study, because no one was vested in something that they wouldn't see in their lifetimes. No one, as far as I could tell, cared. The Ecological Revitalizers — Ecovites, in short — were some rich person's last hurrah, back when they thought that the Earth could be fixed in three years instead of three centuries.

What it came down to, as far as I could tell, is that humanity is leaving its motherland, this poor, dried, used husk of a world, for good. For dead.

-


The day that the ship is supposed to take off, I obediently report to the medical officer for my biological checkup, to the steward for my berth, to all of the other functionaries that would take the role of society's guardians on the United Central Fleet Ship Transcendence, and watch as we're all herded around like livestock. Or, more charitably, like evacuees. Refugees, perhaps, except we were running away from something that we ourselves had created.

It's an hour before liftoff, and we're all getting familiar with our surroundings. We find ourselves on the observation deck, one that looks down from at the land from about thirty stories up. It's lucky that there's an Ecovite below us, a voice tells us over the intercom, because we'll get to see it start churning as we leave, starting to create fresh land from the garbage, starting to change the composition of the atmosphere to be more hospitable to life.

We stare at the hulking mechanical monstrosity, something that almost looks like the spawn of a Sand Crawler and a Gundam, and wait for it to turn on.

Any minute now... the intercom booms at us, but nothing happens. And nothing continues to happen, until the intercom at last gives up. Maybe there's a mechanical malfunction, it offers. But in better news, there are desserts that are available behind you! Obediently, all of us sheep turn and go for the tasty, tasty desserts.

I don't.

Instead, I head to the elevator, slap the console, and ride down to lowest floor, the cargo bay. They're still finishing up the intake for the long haul, and it's busy enough that no one notices me until I'm halfway across the floor. No one stops me, though. There's no reason for them to — it's just one fewer person that would be taking up resources. The only call comes from the police officer assigned to watch the ramp, his voice one that appears in my head, alone.

You'll die down there, you know! We won't come back for you! If you leave you're killing yourself!


Everyone else stops and watches, this curiosity that is running away from the ark instead of towards it. All I can hear are my footsteps on the metal, each thud ringing through the bay, and then I'm on the ramp and gravity is helping and finally, I hit the dirt, trip, stumble, fall, roll, coughing and gasping and gagging in the dust.

I pick myself up slowly, and look up the ramp. The officer meets my eyes for a moment, but then shakes his head and looks away. The others — the others stare at me like I'm some kind of animal, and perhaps I am, to reject the stars for the sand, to reject steel for dust, but I can't let go so easily, as easily as they have.

I'll make sure you have something to come back to, I say to them, and see at least a glimmer of reaction in a face or two, though none step to join me.

After another moment, I turn my back on them, heading towards the Ecovite, hoping to get it started before they lift off, so that they'll see a sign that not everyone has given up. And I try not to think about the rest of my life, to be spent on a spent world.

As I walk away from the Transcendence, I hear only the sound of the wind at first, but then there's something else: another set of footsteps coming down the ramp. Someone else understands, maybe. Or they're going to haul me back up and put me on trial, just because they can. I don't know which it is, and I resolve not to turn around: even if it is someone else, I don't want them to see the relief in my face for not being alone.

I should wait, though, so I do: I stop, take a deep breath, and wait. Maybe they'll say something first.

Instead, her hand finds mine, easily, and I'm lost for what to say. I'm torn between telling her to stay, to go, to live a full life, to find that one beach that is still beautiful, to get off this rock, to stay by my side until I die, to remember me, to something.

Instead, I say this:

"The pier?"

She squeezes my hand, a promise, and we walk forward, together, without looking back.

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talonkarrde

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