The safest way to kill a democracy is to hide the actions of the leaders from the people. Once nobody’s watching, the leaders will kill their own democracy for you.

- The Darkness


8 Months Later - Deadman - Sad Apartment

I wake up. It’s still dark. I lie quietly in the darkness. I have nothing better to do. It’s day 30 of the biggest power blackout in our nation’s history. I’ve had a lot of quiet time lately. It’s given me an unavoidable opportunity to think. It’s painful.

I’m an intelligence analyst for the National Spy Agency. My name is Jon Salk. Codename Deadman. I’m a guardian of democracy. I’m doing a piss poor job of it.

Sun comes up. I put on my cleanest dirty suit. Eat some dry cereal. Drink some warm bottled water. Use the last of the water to brush my teeth. Wander outside. The city is very quiet. An Agency car will be along to pick me up. Eventually. I think some more. Maybe I should get a bike.

My public service career started when an army recruiter lied to me at the mall. Did two tours in the desert. Tech support, never saw the enemy. Didn’t bother me. Somebody had to keep the wifi flowing. Transferred to military intelligence. Went from trying to fight the enemy, to trying to find him. Switched to the National Spy Agency to get out of the fucking desert. Now I sit in a cornbelt data center and look for the enemy at home.

A data center with back-up generators. And hot coffee.

Eventually a car shows up and takes me to work. I savor a coffee. Tastes like civilization.

The morning meeting has been delayed. Nobody can get to work on time. I wish they’d just start without us. Assholes. Whatever. I use the delay to get some work done. Normally, I’d be panning the internet for idiot badguys. But, the blackout has effectively shut off the internet. I’m reduced to searching our archive of the internet. Maybe I’ll find a badguy who isn’t an idiot.

A small chime goes off. My civilian partner has arrived. I put on my augmented reality glasses, and she appears. Contractor 11-17, codename Lodestone.

For reasons I don’t understand, contractors are not allowed on site. They work remotely. We use augmented reality glasses to interact. Like Skype, but more future-y. It’s pointlessly complicated. I mean, I understand why our contractors aren’t allowed on site. All of our data is top secret, minimum, and these fuckers always fail their security clearance. I just don’t understand how giving them remote access to secret data solves that problem.

That said, what do I care? Lodestone’s the reason I’m still here. Lodestone, hot coffee, and protecting democracy. In that order.

I fucking hate my job. It’s beaten the idealism out of me. I wasn’t always a miserable asshole. I came here to save the world. To help save the world. To help somebody. I’m not helping.

This operation is fucked on every level. For example, the conceptual level. Our mandate is to be a pre-crime police force. We’re supposed to catch terrorists before they terrorize. Sounds great on paper. It’s a hell of a campaign promise. We suck at it.

We’re spying on a couple billion people. We have a file on everyone who uses the internet. We use psychometric algorithms to sort them into risk categories. Unfortunately, the risk profile of a terrorist is an angry, suicidal dude, who owns a gun, a truck, or a knife. We’re drowning in false positives. There’s a million guys who fit this profile for every terrorist. I’ve put thousands of guys on the terror watchlist, but nobody’s really watching them.

While we suck at pre-crime, we’re awesome at collecting secrets. We know the sex you’re having. We know the sex you wish you were having. We know the drugs you do. We know where you hide your money. We know all your little crimes. Speeding, piracy, time theft, jaywalking, tax evasion, abuse, and neglect. We know your politics. Who you vote for. What you believe. We know where you are, and where you’ve been.

It’s fucking crazy.

“Morning meeting starts in 25 minutes.” says Lodestone. “I’m going to find a quiet spot and rub one out. Care to join me?”

Lodestone is my technical asset. She’s a computer genius. She’s also super shady. She’s exactly the type of agent we need, except we can’t trust or afford her. So, we hire her as a contractor. She’s making at least 10 times what I am. She’s a scary, amoral, mercenary, bitch.

“Yes, I would like to join you.” I say.

I fucking love her.

I go to a low traffic bathroom. Lodestone goes to someplace similar, wherever she is. Probably not that similar. I bet she has someplace classy to wack-off.

She gets sexily disheveled. Begins. I watch for a bit, then join in. We finish, nod, head to the meeting.

We do this everyday. At first I just watched. Then masturbated by myself immediately afterwards. Took a while to figure out that was crazy.

The meeting is run by Senator Kentucky. Codename Evil Dumbfuck. That’s not his actual codename, just the one I use.

“Someone has started an illegal internet.” says Evil Dumbfuck. “Find out who it is.”

What’s an illegal internet? If someone’s got the internet running during a blackout shouldn’t we be happy? Helping them? Fuck I hate my job.

We go back to my office. Lodestone starts typing furiously. I have questions, but I leave her alone. I’m a pretty savvy technical guy, but Lodestone makes me look like Senator Dumbfuck McCan’tUseEmail. When she has something, she’ll let me know.

I think. Connect to the “illegal internet”. Poke around. Think some more. I don’t like this assignment. It was probably ordered by Old Money. One of the everyday attacks on democracy with which I am complicit.

Democracy was originally a group of vicious rich dudes banding together for protection from other vicious rich dudes. Through a flaw its design - voting - it's occasionally expedient to let more people into the group. It's a slow process, but after 200 years, we're up to a billion members. We let in gay people last week.

In theory, my job is to protect our group from outside threats. That's not very hard. Sure, lots of people want us dead, but we're a lot better at murder than they are. We get the odd suicide attack, but most outsiders just hope we forget about them.

No, the real threat to our group is that it’s falling apart. It's the internet's fault.

See, back in the day, only rich people were allowed to talk. I mean, we povs could talk amongst ourselves, but addressing the nation took a ton of cash.

Democracy was a two step program. Rich people would talk about their problems and dreams, on TV or in the papers, then we would all vote on them. Simple.

But then the internet came along, and everybody could address the nation. Turns out, poor people have problems and dreams too. And now we have to talk about them.

It's not going well.

Which brings us back to my job, the blackout, and the illegal internet.

In an unsurprising, surprise fuck you, it turns out my job is really to make poor people shut up. I feel like I've been lied to at the mall all over again.

Operation Shut Up is pretty straightforward. If you learn a secret that could damage the ruling class, better keep it to yourself. Cause we know your secrets too. Our laws are written so everybody is a criminal. But, we’re too busy to bust you, unless you draw attention to yourself. Get it? Secret mutual assured destruction.

The blackout, while not part of Operation Shut Up, is working really fucking well at shutting everybody up. Old Money is getting a lot done in the silence. It’s the good old days all over again. Why not leave the internet off for good?

Whoever made this new internet is going to get disappeared.

“It's called Leviathan.” says Lodestone. “The new internet. They call it Leviathan.”

“Why haven’t we just shut it down?” I ask. “I thought that would be our first step.”

“We can’t.” says Lodestone.

That’s shocking. I recognize the programs Leviathan is made of. I know for a fact that we forced the companies that made them to put backdoors in them. Cheat codes that let us spy on users, or shut down the programs remotely.

“Backdoors aren’t working?” I ask.

“Nope. We can get into each one once, but it stops working after a second or two.” She says. “I gets weirder. Are you logged on with your phone?” I nod. “Try a backdoor on a program that has nothing to do with internet connectivity.”

I turn on the flashlight app and open the secret location feed. I get in for a second, then I get kicked out. I can’t get back in. That’s weird. I can almost believe that they found all the backdoors in the networking apps they used to make Leviathan. It would be insanely difficult, but it’s theoretically possible. But there’s millions of apps in the App Store and we have backdoors in all of them. Why would they have a patch for the backdoor of this random flashlight app? What are the odds of that?

“It gets better.” says Lodestone. She tosses me a test phone from the burner bin. “Try it again.”

I connect to their network, then try to backdoor the flashlight. This time I don’t get in at all.

“Cool, eh?” says Lodestone. “The network found the backdoor when you opened it. Then it patched over the backdoor on your phone. Then it patched every phone on the network. That backdoor is gone.”

“Fuck.” I say.

Lodestone laughs.

“Holy fuck.” I say. “How is that possible?”

She shrugs. “I guess somebody smart did something smart.”

I stand. Head for Senator Kentucky’s office. Everybody in the NSA is trying to find the creators of this internet. They will be using backdoors like crazy. But doing so will render those backdoors inoperable. Permanently? Maybe? We better stop until we know for sure.

I stop. Has anybody else figured this out?

I make a detour to my secret wack-off bathroom. We’ve millions of backdoors, but we get most of our data from about a hundred. Everybody uses the same apps. I pull out my phone and start opening our best backdoors, one after another.

5 minutes later, I give Evil Dumbfuck the bad news.


About the author

Doctor Zero


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