Craig knew how this worked. He’d seen The Matrix.
He knew there was more to his hum-drum existence than met the eye. He knew that the hours, days, and weeks spent hunched over his keyboard, trawling the web for reality’s secrets would one day bear fruit.
It was a pity his mum and dad didn’t see it in quite the same way. They wanted him out of the basement and in the fresh air. “It’ll be good for your allergies,” his dad had said. Craig failed to see how.
But once he told them he’d finally made contact, maybe they’d change their tune. Maybe they’d finally understand it was all worth it, even if he did have to skip a lot of school to get this far.
Craig’s theory was simple – make yourself as visible as possible online, then the insiders, keepers of knowledge, free-thinkers… whatever would find him.
Now, finally, he was making progress.
A couple of blog posts he’d made months previously received a seemingly unrelated comment each. The first was in German. Craig hit the button that helpfully offered to translate it into English for him.
“must be! Honor to whom honor give & # 252; hrt. Have you seen the Naked Gun @JekyllaAuf modern & # 2ns;? Berwachu2ssy0teme for & # 252; but ckgreifen not even an electric (rolling) chair he has. Thus k & # 246; he might meet every mountain!“
Craig breathed deeply through his mouth while he cleaned his glasses, processing the message’s meaning.
It was so hugely unrelated to what he’d posted that it must have been a coded message.
“Honor to whom honor give” – Sounds like a greeting. Old school. Kind of like the knights of the round table or something.
“Have you seen the Naked gun?” – Yes. But what could that mean? Craig was pretty sure it wasn’t worth his time going through the film frame by frame for something that was going the shed light on the matter.
But he did own it. He checked the box and the DVD disc for any numbers or code that might match up with the jibberish in the next bit of the message.
Then it twigged – he owned it. Whoever wrote this message knew he owned it. They could see him. Maybe this was a warning. Impending danger – The title mentioned “gun” after all.
Craig shivered. As he consulted the next bit of the message. Electric (rolling) chair. An electric wheelchair? His grandma has one of those. He hadn’t seen her in ages because the basement was down some tricky stairs and he’d never bothered to come up when she visited.
Oh my God. She’s who’s coming for me.
Craig’s blood ran cold at the thought of his gran trying to gun him down. He should have known.
But now he needed a plan. He looked at the second, equally cryptic, message he’d recieved in the hope of finding some guidance.
It was in English this time:
“Before I vote, I want to say that I thought the story about Death interviewing Vlad the Impaler was hilarious. I seriously couldn't stop thinking about it all weekend.And because voting for your own Funny Scene is like laughing at your own joke, making it less funny…I'm going with Tim Roast, for this line: "Avenge… My… De&o..h.aqutt;Absolutely awesome.“
Vote? Well, if you vote, you’re making your voice heard. An obvious reference to doing something before the author reveals themselves.
“Death interviewing Vlad the Impaler”… If the last message was to be believed, ‘Death’ was obviously his gran. ‘Vlad the Impaler’… Maybe that was a clue about Craig’s would-be saviour. He’d have preferred Morpheus to Vlad the Impaler, but whatever – this was an emergency.
“Couldn’t stop thinking about it all weekend” – Gran was due to visit at the weekend. That’s when she’d strike. Three days’ time. Not long.
“And because voting for your own Funny Scene is like laughing at your own joke, making it less funny…” – Craig was his gran’s own flesh and blood. This is how serious the enemy was about getting him.
“Tim Roast”. Who the hell was Tim Roast?
Craig frantically Googled the name for clues. A games website contributor. Possibly a performer at the Edinburgh Fringe. A billion and one names on Facebook.
Clearly an alias. Move on.
“Avenge… My… De&o..h…auaa;Absolutely awesome.” Craig stared at the screen. This wasn’t about avenging a death at all. He put ‘De&o..h…auaa’ into Google. Hits came at him from Nassau, Fort Wayne, Wilmington….
It was revealing a Network. A web of locations. Now all Craig had to do was find the centre of the web.
Both email notifications about the messages contained various source IP addresses. Craig frantically looked up their locations.
All of them were in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The centre of the web.
Craig spent more than a few hours trying to link Nassau, Fort Wayne, Wilmington, Saint Petersburg, “Tim Roast” and killer grans.
A few chilling tales of psychopathic OAPs was all it took to convince him to look up the cost of plane tickets to Saint Petersburg.
He winced at the prices.
Perhaps Saint Petersburg, Florida would be ok? Craig wondered. It was nearer, cheaper and warmer. Probably better for his allergies.
But, during dinner he was bombarded by visions of Tim Roast standing at the arrivals gate in Saint Petersburg, Russia, waiting for him with a little card. Hoping he’d done enough to save this boy’s life and start the process of opening his eyes to the real world.
He took a deep breath and asked for a raise on his allowance.
His dad simply said “No”.
Mum tried to change the subject by asking if Craig was looking forward to seeing his gran at the weekend. He simply said “No”. It caused a short, but brutal, argument.
After storming away from the dinner table and ordering a bolt for the basement door from Saint Petersburg (Florida) as a temporary measure, a thought occurred to Craig. The one thing he hadn’t tried.
He copied and pasted the messages in full into Google.
They were everywhere. Message boards, comment pages, blogs, vlogs, forums. Everywhere.
Either the ‘real world’ movement was desperate for new members… or…. No…. It can’t be….
It was all spam.
Craig rewound the exchange at dinner to try and remember if he had said anything about his gran that he’d need to apologise for. He felt like such an idiot.
How could his gran ever hurt him? She loved him, and he knew that.
He shut down his computer, with no small hint of betrayal, and headed upstairs to face the music.
Meanwhile, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Tim Roast waited. He wondered why nobody was coming to join his group and learn the secrets of the real world.