I sat, awaiting the fate I decided for myself. Unrelenting rain crashed all around. Thunder rumbled, gradually becoming louder, as if the lightning was eager to strike me down. As a bolt was sent down, I snapped. Time’s flow had nearly halted, and I made a jump from the chair I planted myself on. Potent electricity forced itself into my body, forcing it into the flooded ground.


Sharp pain overtook my back and spine, but I brought myself up before the water could begin to drown me. That electric chair that I had crafted minutes earlier was charred, but not aflame. Despite a nearly crippling pain, I fought my way back to my home, moving against a swift current of runoff water. It felt like hours, but I made my way back inside, with the rooms of the house still warm and dry.


Strangely, my pain was already fading nearly immediately after entering the house. With my mobility returning to normal, I took the time to inspect my electronics for damage. Nothing seemed fried, but the power had been knocked out. Function testing could wait, though. With a battery-powered lantern, I lit up my small bathroom, and removed my shirt in front of the mirror. A Lichtenberg Figure decorated my entire back, confirming that the lightning strike was no hallucination.


With no wounds to be found, and no glaring problems showing themselves, I made the decision to sleep for a few hours. No dreams were crafted by my brain, and instead hours had flashed by after I closed my eyes. 4:07 AM, and I can’t fall asleep again. May as well start the day early. The storm that printed its lightning onto my back had eased up, but not passed. Still, it was enough that the electrical company could perform repairs and bring power back to residences.


As a pot of coffee brewed in the kitchen, I glanced around, seeing that many of my devices powered back to life on their own. I flicked on the television, and it greeted me with a logo, and afterward a plain blue screen. Looking at the console that was plugged in, I was able to remember why I was even outside in that awful force of nature.


Anne…


No matter. I hit the power button of that console just for the sake of checking, and it gave no response. Dead, killed by the crashing electricity outside? Possible, but my pondering was interrupted by my phone giving an audible notification of a text message. An unknown number, with the contents of the text only being a string of letters and numbers. Giving it a search online revealed it to be a DHL tracking number. It moved extremely quickly, starting from France yesterday but already departing a nearby distribution center. Estimated to arrive today.


After the last package I had received, it made me uneasy knowing I was about to receive another. Out of paranoia, I retrieved a pistol from my nightstand, and kept it nearby as I awaited the courier. 12:04 PM, and the delivery arrives. The courier came and went, and no one was behind or ahead of him. Carefully opening the cardboard, it thankfully was not another console. Instead, it was a laptop, and an awfully expensive one at that. Included was a piece of notebook paper with crudely written instructions, and a USB flash drive of unknown origin.


The instructions told me as such:


  • Power on laptop and keep it connected to charger. Do not allow power to run out.
  • Connect flash device and solve the files. Required software is not provided. Find it.
  • Files will be modified when solve is complete. Upload to this FTP: [Redacted] with password [Redacted]
  • Perform task quickly. Rewards await.


What the hell kind of “reward” would I get from this? Who would be issuing it? I wanted so badly to dismiss it all, but couldn’t bring myself to ignore the contents. So, after spending the next hours preparing an isolated, secured network, I turned on the laptop and was greeted with a boot menu. Between Debian Linux and Windows 10, I picked the more familiar Windows.


The desktop was filled with files, folders, and shortcuts, but I ignored them. Before anything, I plugged in my own flash drive, and installed a network analyzation tool. Connecting to my isolated network, and then connecting the flash drive I was sent, greeted me with a single folder with the name of “Task”. It contained “one.ogg”, “two.sfc” and “three.vbs”


Figuring this meant the order to “solve” these in, I went for one.ogg first. Thankfully, a media player was already installed that could handle it. The file had no problems opening, but the audio itself was jarring. It was a 5 second file with pink noise playing in the background, with odd chirps playing at a higher volume. Even listening to it on a loop, I was stumped.


I decided to set one.ogg aside and move on to two.sfc. It obviously cannot run on Windows natively, but I recognized this file type as a Super NES ROM. I went ahead and downloaded the first result for a SNES emulator, and got the ROM running. The game booted up with a bit of lag, and had a blank title screen except for “PRESS START” in small, white text. It looked like some sort of homebrew or bootleg, as it wasn’t a game I could recall existing.


I was placed into a simplistic looking level, a side-scroller. The background was a dull cave level, with bats scattered about that you could kill. The character looked like a generic knight and he swung a sword around to attack. For this first level, it seemed like someone’s attempt at SNES homebrew development. It wasn’t offensive, but it wasn’t very good either.


However, it seems the developer had a different idea for the second level. It brought you outside the cave, and into a burning village. Some buildings were half-collapsed, and all were mere tinder to the flames. There were no enemies, no NPCs, and no obstacles. The screen stopped scrolling, with one house at the end which wasn’t caught on fire yet. Trying to enter prompted a password input.


Again, I was stumped. I tried the FTP server’s password just for the hell of it, but that didn’t work. I’m not sure why it would in the first place, but I figured it was worth the try. Obvious passwords like “password” and “123” didn’t work, nor did any random inputs. I dropped a save state at this point and closed the emulator, and played one.ogg again. Listening to it revealed nothing new, but it sparked an idea in my head.


I downloaded Audacity and used it to open the audio file. In plain waveform, it didn’t look like anything. But using a spectrogram, I was able to find what the file really meant.


A spectrogram view of the audio file, one.ogg. It shows straight lines and the word "Distant".

one.ogg viewed in Audacity's spectrogram


“DISTANT”. Was that the password I needed? I closed Audacity and opened the emulator again, loading the save state. Still at the input screen, I gave it “DISTANT”. It was accepted, and I entered that building I was stuck outside until now. Upon entering, I was given a dark blue screen, with a text box filling the middle.


“Eyes of white. White like milk. To a victor goes the spoils. But what if the victor spoils first? Like milk, he will turn rancid.” “Proceed onward, O knight.” After this, the game returned to the title screen. I kept note of all the dialogue, and went on to three.vbs. With it being a .vbs file, a type of script, I decided to look at it in an editor before trying to run the thing. Visual Basic wasn’t my thing, but I could tell that it had a protocol to modify both one.ogg and two.sfc. I figured this was the last step, so I made a backup of all three files onto my own flash drive, removed it, then ran the script.


It did its work for a minute, and grabbed some new file from a server somewhere, as the folder now contained THANKYOU.txt. Opening that file simply showed “THANK YOU FOR COMPLETION OF TASKS. PLEASE LOG IN TO FTP AND UPLOAD SOLVED FILES.” Looking at the record of network traffic, the script actually grabbed the text file from the very FTP server I need to upload to. I went ahead with the upload, including the save file from the SNES ROM, and took a break from screen time once they were done.


An hour later, I got another text from the same unknown number. This time it said “PLEASE NOW DOWNLOAD FINALE.EXE FROM FTP”. For a moment I questioned why I was still following instructions, but I told myself that I was too far in to drop it all now. Finale.exe ended up being a fairly large file, which hinted at more content than the previous files. I made a backup of it like the previous files, and proceeded to run it.


The application launched in fullscreen, first all black and then with a light gray background. On the background was the title of “Distant” with a single button saying “Play”. Hitting play faded out the title and button, but left the same background. A voice began to speak. “Distant, so distant. But now you are closer than ever. A pair of eyes so white. But the victor had spoiled, and eyes do not last. We are saddened to only be giving you the dust.” I was confused, but then the voice said “If you have not done so, please retrieve the gift from your package. They are kept in good condition.” The program flashed an eyeless face, and closed out, even deleting itself. The network log showed traffic being sent from Finale.exe to some remote server.


Almost immediately after, I got a text once again, same unknown number as each time before. “TO CLAIM YOUR REWARD, PLEASE RETURN THE BORROWED ‘VIDEO GAME CONSOLE’ AND ‘VIDEO GAME CARTRIDGES’. ADDRESS FOR DELIVERY TO FOLLOW.” I knew exactly what console they wanted, but I had to find that “gift” the voice mentioned. I dug in the box, over-sized for just a laptop. Under troves of packing peanuts rested a small, glass vial. It had a mix of dark gray and black dust, tightly packed inside. The cork sealing it was impossible to pull out, and it held a cheap brass chain to wear around the neck.


I donned the trinket and pondered everything said to me on this night. “But what if the victor spoils first? The victor had spoiled.” The victor… victor…


...Victor.


The young man who sent me that console in the first place. What was he up to? I gave his number a call, but got a disconnect tone. Trying multiple times over gave the same result. Victor… what happened to you? I gave up and noticed the wall of texts that the unknown number had sent to me. One contained an address in Bordeaux, France. Then “PLEASE CONFIRM YOU CAN MAKE A SHIPMENT TO THE GIVEN ADDRESS.” “PLEASE CONFIRM IMMEDIATELY.” “WHITE EYES. ARE YOUR EYES SO WHITE?” “WHITE LIKE SPOILED MILK?”


The truth of what has happened crept up to me. The dust, the face with the eyes missing, and all the mentions of a “victor”, all taunting me. I checked the box the console came in, and it held the same Bordeaux address as I was given over text. It was then that I remembered, Victor doesn’t live near Bordeaux. He wouldn’t send it from there, so who the hell was this? How did they find him, and how did they find me?


These thoughts raced through my mind as I packed up the console in its original box, but I had no intention of returning to sender. I saved all the logs of network activity, made backups of all the files and logs, and disconnected the laptop, shutting it down as well.


They may have my address, but I have one of theirs. One of us will make the first move. Whoever this was had Victor, and they nearly led me to my own death. Even if I must cross international borders, I will confront anyone involved in orchestrating this sick plan that is playing out.


Even if I lose it all, I will do it. For Victor, and for myself.


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