by Rob Harding

(Part 9 of a serialised prose fiction endeavour. Part 1part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8)

I stay hidden while Adil opens up again, rates the police on their app, and sends them packing. Once that’s done, Adil’s daughter nods to me. ‘You’re welcome.’ She says. ‘Now, if you don’t mind?’

I stammer my thanks and head out the front again. Adil nods to me and lets me duck under a shutter, and back out onto the street.

There’s no sign of the police, or the hijacked DeepGrey workers, or anything particular. A Community Security bot has rolled into place at the far end of the street, but if I don’t go near it it won’t ID me and do the digital equivalent of the staring-eyed pod person screech. I’ve long since resigned to having to work around the damn things, and these days I only vaguely keep track of the forum posters who fight a constant arms race with their glassy-eyed developers out in San Francisco or Vientiane, or wherever the fuck has the most reliably gullible investors this week.

I head the other way, back towards my flat. We did at least figure out a while ago that if you repeatedly knock the stupid plastic dildo-bots over and throw them into traffic they eventually mark off whole parts of the city as dead zones, which in turn prevents more DeepGrey drones from moving in, so it won’t follow me home.

I keep my bag of shopping close as I hurry back down the street, more than a little unnerved. I don’t know what those guys were hacked with – it wasn’t just DeepGrey, not unless they’ve gotten into something very weird out there in the markets. FrogCoin, 88Cash and the aftermath of the last Rare Pepes scandals left the neo-Nazi community hurting financially, and hopefully they’ll remember for long enough that it’ll be another six months before someone tries to hijack my laptop to mine memecoins (then again, I’m assuming that neo-Nazis will learn from their mistakes).

But if the online shitlord alliances aren’t trying to lure DeepGrey into investing in their latest efforts to apply blockchain to racism, where the hell did whatever got into those guys’ heads come from? I find myself looking at the office they were standing outside as I pass. Everything looks normal enough, I suppose. No banners in the windows or bloody-faced zombie workers staring out through their new swastika facial scars; the former would merely be unusual, the latter a real problem.

I really shouldn’t have to worry about this. If it is the Nazis they’ll hardly be subtle about it, and they’ll probably spread across half the street before doing something that even the police have to admit is Not On and getting brutally shut down. As long as I’m smart and not the one the aforementioned Not On happens to, I’ll be fine.

On the other hand, if they’re an unusually smart bunch of sweaty skin-flaking manchildren (or the rogue ideas thereof forcibly downloaded into the minds of otherwise decent people, or collections of random memes from the deep spawning pits of the old internet, or something weirder still) they might stay below the radar, at which point they might become a bigger problem. Besides, if they are building their own malignant botnet out of hijacked office workers, I owe it to those whose problem it might be to at least take out the local node.

I reach my flat and head upstairs, nodding to the weird guy who lives downstairs and spends his time staring out of his kitchen window at the car park. I’m actually a little glad he does, because it’s nice to do a quick visual check on the tottering stack of stripped-down games consoles and barebones mining rigs stamped with the branded logos of blockchain scammers past. I still don’t know how he powers that sucker (someone once said they saw a wall of car batteries hooked up to a grid on his wall, which didn’t exactly reassure me), but that much hardware runs very hot, and the cooler units he’s got rigged up don’t exactly look all that healthy. I still wonder what he’s mining – there’s not much left of the once all-powerful cryptocurrency industry left, and what there is has increasingly diminishing-returned itself into a loop, but there must be something out there that’s still valuable enough to pay for his habit.

(I have heard the other rumours, that he’s one of those weird motherfuckers who wired themselves up to implants that let them feel the marketing fluctuations via their prostates and had to confine themselves to rig-cluttered homes after one too many public orgasms when a new ICO splashed onto the market, but I still find it hard to believe that was even a thing in the first place. He does always have that expression on his face, but, I mean…)

I reach the flat and stick the food in the cupboard, taking my bag with me into my room and flipping off my glasses, putting them back in their soundproofed box. My headset rig and computer are still lying all over the floor, and I tidy them away as well, into their own boxes under my bed. Sure, they’re unplugged down there, but there is a backup battery built into them and you can never be too careful.

That’s still not quite enough, though. I have a window, most modern CCTV cameras have directional microphones on them, and if I’m going to be planning anything surreptitious I need to make sure no-one knows what I’m reading, watching or saying. That means booting up a couple of old laptops that I keep in my drawer, and fiddling with the missing button on the ancient boombox I keep above my bed for ‘aesthetic’ purposes until the CD player decides to work.

I like to think of what I’m doing as a kind of magic circle for the modern age. It’s entirely possible it’s all woo, and anyone with powerful enough software could cut straight through the walls of noise and Van Eck radiation I’m putting out (not to mention my multiple layers of VPN and other, subtler countermeasures), but I’d like to hope that I look like too small a target to bother with. I don’t use my VR headset, switching to a screen that’s grainy and warped through the filters I’ve put in place.

First, I need to do some recon, see what I’m actually dealing with. The company’s website is the usual cookie-cutter bland non-event, even the About page optimised so heavily for SEO that it no longer even resembles coherent English (‘Optimising for leveraged synergies’). I get a bit more from the extremely bland blog of one of its employees (a name I vaguely recognise, which means she’s probably a relatively recent convert), but still nothing of any particular use. A half-hearted attempt to hack into their internal security camera system doesn’t get very far. It’s running off a barely secured relay network built by some long-defunct IoT startup that hasn’t been updated in decades, but it’s got such pathetically short range I can’t get a lock on it.

That means I need a pair of eyes on the inside, and because it’s a DeepGrey company I can’t risk going inside myself. That means I need to go talk to a man about using the other half of his brain.



Featured image CC0 Pexels


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