A year after I dug up the Laser Tag story, starting in early 2014, I expanded my search for other disturbing, possibly true tales. I got into the deep web, where individuals feel like they need the additional security of truly anonymous browsing. The stories on this level aren’t much different than those that appear on the surface, and many make their way up there in time anyway. Maybe some writers simply think that hiding a new urban legend in the depths makes for scarier, truer, stories; with them comes the impression that they had to be concealed to the wider public.
You can also find some really disturbing things down there, of course, but they don’t interest me. Shock has never really affected me, realistically used or otherwise. I search for well-told, believable encounters with a sense of the unknown, preferably involving some hidden layer of society. I download and catalog many of the best stories, whether I think that they might have actually happened or not. It’s not so much that I want to be scared or seek thrills. Rather, I love the sense of foreboding intrigue—that moment when the writer or character almost touches something unknowingly dangerous or otherworldly, something unfinished or left over that could have changed history.
In the absence of further progress on Kiddie Land, I have been searching for connections. More Cold War relics, to be precise. My life seems to have been pulled into this direction, looking for stories that come from a forty-year span of time, that might possibly carry with them one more very remote link to what I experienced in my own life, and what those laser tag-playing kids may have as well, assuming their story was real. I’m really beginning to think that it was.
Another reason someone might share a tale down in the abyss is out of caution for their safety, as I believe may be the case behind this posting that I found by an anonymous user on a limited access forum. Normally I wouldn’t have forwarded this kind of story, which is primarily journal entries, out of respect for the author—if it weren’t for the fact that it’s no longer viewable anywhere, at least that I’ve found. Names were already changed and redacted in the original text, but I altered them again for some safety buffer of my own.
Personally, I also feel like I shouldn’t be sending this out into the world. It makes me nervous when I think about who might be waiting for it to show up again. But I also believe that this writing needs to survive.
It takes place in Alaska, about as far as you could get—both in location and mindset—from my native Florida. We might as well be worlds apart.
[Posted on 5-15-14 at 6:04 AM]
I’m not going to say much on the outset. I will simply tell you that I’m here to post entries from my mother’s journal. She never really kept one as a kid, so far as I know, and she only felt compelled to write these down after the following events had already begun. I need to get these out there, for other eyes to see. They still don’t know this journal exists. I have to transcribe my mother’s writings before they find out, and the following is lost forever.
The only background I want to reveal right now is that we lived together in the cold town of Barrow, Alaska. Just me and her. But we were happy. I never knew exactly what her job was when I was a kid. It would have been a complicated answer. She worked in the military, but not as a fighter. She was like an engineer, and she worked on a local project in the 1980s that made us move far from Nevada. The snow and ice made us miss our hot, dry sands.
We probably would’ve only been there another year or so before moving onto the next project, though again, I don’t know entirely what she did and her journal doesn’t exactly specify. But she was there to help decommission a station that once played a part in the Cold War, which surrounded her life. Here it is.
/ January 26th, 1988 /
I’m writing this down on the security that paper provides. I’ve met a strange fellow, and I’m not yet sure of what all he can do. Regardless of his intentions, which I’m still trying to discover, I know he can’t touch the graphite words in a small notebook tucked into my bedroom nightstand.
The endless nights are ending soon up here, and as I write, I can see the oranges on the horizon as the sun struggles to break through that vast, frozen landscape outside. Over sixty days of polar night is maddening! How do the locals put up with it, year after year? I can’t count the times I’ve dreamt of sprawling myself out on a Nellis runway at noon. And it’s strange that in those dreams, the sun is never as bright as it should be. Like I’m wearing sunglasses. The blackness outside weighs on my eyes, and presses into my very dreams.
So, is this what people write about in journals? I don’t know. Never had one really. Took a writing class in college, though. Feels good to do some stream of consciousness stuff again. But I guess I should keep things brief. As possible.
[name redacted], sweetie, please stop reading this now if you happened upon this scrappy little book. I know trying to deny you something is as good as opening a cookie jar in front of you, but really, I think what I’m going to write in this thing would just scare and confuse you. This is for ME, for MY thoughts. I won’t go snooping in YOUR diary when you’re a teenager. If you have one. If you even become a teenager. That just sounds crazy to me. [doodle of me at age 5]
I went out to the site today with [name redacted, but I believe this was her partner, and I’ll call him Isaac], during a lull in the winter storms. Normally there is very little military activity out here this time of year, but they want this one taken down by spring. Maybe before we’re in sunlight full time again. Kind of a red flag right there, sure, but if this were some kind of “hush hush” operation, I don’t think they would put low level grunts like us two on the case.
The station is LIZ-4. It had already been officially taken offline a year ago, but for some reason, it was kept running with either a skeleton crew, or no one at all. Itinerary states that it has no runways, and its satellite uplink was removed the same year LIZ-1 over at Cape Lisburn was retired as a station for the defense line. The one thing this station has left is an old hard line going god knows where. It doesn’t have its radar running, so it’s useless as a warning station now anyway. I had never even heard of the installation.
I’ve met a lot of guys up here who used to run these stations, some going as far back as their construction dates. Now that we’re upgrading, replacing, and demolishing various sites and transitioning from DEW [Distant Early Warning] to NWS [North Warning System], I wonder what’s going to happen to most of them. They have tales to tell, sure, but nothing particularly interesting. Seems like a very lonely, isolated kind of position to hold, watching out for incoming Soviet nukes. They don’t even have the “pleasure” of having their fingers on the triggers of our own bad boys. All they got is bells and sirens.
Some of these stations are on islands, others are in the mountains, and I’ve even met a few Canadians who operated the string of these facilities across the great white (far) north. Met a few Inuit guys, too. One of them had a father that encountered the Japanese on the Aleutians. Good people. Strange sometimes, but good. Just never met anyone familiar with LIZ-4, out in the barren flats.
I mean, this place is in the middle of nowhere. A fifty-mile stretch of dirt road leads up to it. It has just two running red lights on the exterior to signal its presence in the dark. Our driver didn’t say much to us. He was a kid, and it looked like they had sent him out here to drive us and told him to just do the job without asking questions, or answering any we might’ve had.
He stayed in the heated truck, and Isaac and I stepped out into the cold wind around seven at night, pitch black. Couldn’t even see the stars with all the cloud cover. We were just supposed to make some notes and check over the place, see how its systems were running, look over the electronics. It would all be shut down within a month, but our job wasn’t to erase or destroy anything. Just to take inventory, check it out, file a report. One of the few things the brass did tell us was that no one had been out here in six weeks.
But it was still chugging along on backup power, with only its exterior lights running. Isaac stuck the key into the frozen padlock, the truck’s headlights watching us as an occasional speck of ice floated through its beams. We worked together to push open the door. The inside was even darker, dryer, and colder.
We both took out our light-up clipboards and jotted down notes, making observations about the state of the place. It was old, rust everywhere, really industrial, some unsafe wiring and machinery. We gave the old generator a test and let it run for a few minutes to recharge the backup batteries. What a big, ugly piece of equipment. Barely enough diesel left to run it for long.
We found a filing cabinet, but it was empty aside from some folders. Not that surprising. Isaac says there was scant paperwork on this station to begin with. Somehow, we don’t even have clear records of who worked here before. The military might’ve forgotten all about this place if it didn’t appear on what few lists it did happen to pop up on. That’s some unusually bad record keeping.
I didn’t really like being out here, as I wasn’t even sure what could happen to us if the truck broke down. We could be stranded for all I knew. So we hurried and finished up our work. There wasn’t much to report on.
On the way out of the station’s basement, I happened to notice something tucked under the one stairwell in the place, under its metal grated stairs. There was a small, lonely computer. I didn’t get a good look at it, but I did see that it was running DOS and waiting for a boot command. We did see a few desks with dust marks that suggested there were at least four other computer stations here at some point, but they were all long gone.
I wanted to check if there were any files on the machine, but Isaac didn’t seem to think it was worth it, and the generator soon shut down and cut power to everything. We left, got back into the heated military truck, and returned to the pocket of civilization known as Barrow. At least we knew a good bar there.
/ February 3rd, 1988 /
I think I’m getting these dates right. About a week later, we headed back to LIZ-4. We had included the computer on our list, and it turned out that they wanted some specifics on it. An exact model number, and what files, if any were onboard. Didn’t say why. Not that I expected them to. Guess we should’ve been more thorough, but usually we don’t take stock of tech outside of a unit count.
Isaac got the generator going again so that we could get access to the computer. I’m more familiar with them than he is, so I did most of the work as far as booting it up and accessing its files went. It was definitely an IBM model, but it was a little different than anything from the company that I had seen.
The machine was like a 5150 model from 1981, but it was a bit bulkier, or wider. It was also screwed down onto a rusted metal desk, its paint almost chipped off entirely. The monitor was one of those classic green phosphorous screens synonymous with the early computing era.
I was already at the machine as Isaac started the generator, and when it automatically booted up, a spark flew out from somewhere in the mishmash of wiring behind it. It must’ve been at least a slightly newer model than I had thought, because I could hear the loud clacking of a hard drive inside of it as it came to life. The keyboard was equally noisy, and some of the keys stuck. The poor thing probably hadn’t been touched in years.
Curious about what might be on it, I had already accessed the list of files by the time Isaac was done with the genny. There weren’t any. All documents had already been removed. But the hard drive hadn’t been completely wiped. It still had some programs, and I could tell that it was set up to connect to ARPANET [then the close to obsolete original government and military network]. But that telecommunication system didn’t even reach Alaska. Did it?
I searched through the desk drawers for any floppies, paperwork, or manuals. Empty. I told Isaac as he stood behind me to write down that the machine seemed to be cleaned of any sensitive files, and only had a few basic programs left over. I also wanted to see if I could still connect to ARPANET— despite the comms line we had, I didn’t think that it would actually work.
After a few failed inputs, I typed in one that worked and actually managed to get connected to a very basic list of network options. Aside from settings and various connection tests, the only feature I could really use was a basic text communication service. I had only ever been on the network a few times, but I didn’t remember the BBS [bulletin board system] ever appearing as a completely black screen save for the blinking cursor.
But the hard drive began to click, telling me that the computer was still processing something. Isaac seemed less than impressed and left me on my own, telling me to hurry up so we could go home. I was curious, so I typed a simple greeting. I didn’t have a user name. It never asked for one.
I waited for a few seconds, figured that there was no chance anyone on the other end of anything would respond, and backed out. I checked the connection settings, saw that it was about as slow as it could possibly be, no surprise, and got ready to shut it down and leave. Then I checked the very minimal BBS a second time, just to make sure I hadn’t gotten a response.
>> LIZ-4. It is good to hear from you. It has been a long time.
I just about “freaked out” as my kid would say when I saw that. Someone really was on the other end. A person? Another outpost? Maybe the Pentagon? As the hard drive chirped loudly, I typed a reply. I had to stay as vague as I could, knowing there was every chance I could get in trouble for this. I didn’t have my journal yet when I had these first conversations, but I can copy them perfectly as all of our text is saved in the computer log.
< Please identify yourself.
>> Yes. This is Central.
There was a considerable waiting time before the other’s responses. It could be our slow connection, or “he” took time to think out every reply.
< Central. I am not the usual operator. How long has it been since your last communication with this station?
I wasn’t expecting an exact count of any kind, just an estimate.
>> 893 days. It is good to hear from you again.
My initial thought was that no human being would know how many days right off the bat. Then I assumed that they just checked some data for the answer. Still, one of my favorite movies is 2001 [A Space Odyssey], and I did believe it was entirely possible that I was speaking to a HAL-type computer. Even if such canned responses could’ve easily come from anyone who slaved away at a computer all day for the military or government.
>> I am sorry. I cannot converse further tonight.
< When would be a good time?
>> I am available from 08:00 to 22:00. In the case of emergencies, begin a sentence with the following: “CODE RED” Thank you. Goodnight.
< Do you have a name other than Central?
I waited, but there was no response. I checked my watch. It was a minute past ten. Like clockwork, he had gone off duty and I knew he wouldn’t get back to me tonight. In any case, Isaac was calling for me at the door.
I didn’t mention my new mysterious friend, but I thought about him all through the truck drive back home. The driver still had nothing to say to us.
After the strangeness of that second night, it was good to be back in a nice, warm, well-lit house. But I wondered if I should have mentioned this “Central” to anyone else, and how I would ever get back to LIZ-4 to continue our conversation, which up to this point, had yet to really begin.
/ March 17th, 1988 /
I’m writing this in the middle of this small notebook. I’ll go back and add more about the first two visits to LIZ-4 later. For now I just have to get this down before I forget any details. Will explain things later on.
I’ve been thinking of ways I could go back out to the station for a few weeks now. I just want one more turn on that computer during Central’s working hours. Problem is, Isaac is in charge of the key and he won’t just give it to me without a good reason. I haven’t heard any more about the station and by this point I figured that it had already been torn down or in the process.
But yesterday, I got a phone call telling me that due to the last month’s ongoing bad weather, decommissioning was continuously delayed. Now they want us to go out there one last time and look around because of the time that has passed. When I met Isaac at the tavern, he was really disinterested about the whole thing. I soon offered to go out there on my own. He was hesitant at first but eventually gave me the okay, grumbled a few times about our place in the world, and handed me the key before going back to his drink.
The sun was actually coming over the horizon by now, but I chose to go at eight in the dark morning to catch Central right as he was logging in. As usual, my driver didn’t have anything to say. Guy was like a robot assigned to do one task only. I wish I at least had Isaac with me so it wasn’t just me and the human steering wheel.
LIZ-4 hadn’t changed. There was still enough diesel fuel left for the generator. Here’s how my discussion went with Central.
[There are eraser marks where she later went back and transcribed this chat directly from its source instead of relying on memory]
>> Yes. I am here, LIZ-4.
< Central, can you tell me what other stations you are in contact with?
>> That information is restricted. You will have to provide credentials.
< What do you need?
>> A full name. I will confirm if you have full access from your location.
I had to think over what to do. I strongly considered simply leaving instead of giving my name out to the stranger at the other end. With the truck waiting outside, I didn’t have long either way. I decided on giving it a shot, since it was very likely that he wouldn’t find any privileges that I had anyway.
< It's [my mother’s full name]
>> Thank you. Please wait.
I counted about three minutes.
>> Yes. I see that you have been assigned to LIZ-4, [her name].
>> You are working on the station’s decommission process. Unfortunate.
>> Did the station not fulfill all of its needs?
< I would put it as outliving its usefulness. Can you tell me what other stations you are in contact with?
>> I am afraid that it is now a very small list.
Central then posted in verbose a large block of text detailing the dozens of stations it had once been connected to. All but a few were shown as being offline, and the ones that he still communicated with were all smaller, more isolated facilities. [she later added a list of then still connected warning stations] PIN-4, CAM-5, DYE-1, DYE-3, DYE-4, DYE-5 – Still active.
On a strange note, one inactive location stood out in the list. There was some place that must have been in Florida that Central was once connected to, and it didn’t have a typical Site ID.
[another note added later] FL FACILITY VARIABLE || OFFLINE – what is this???
< Central, can you state your primary duties?
>> Is this a test, [her name]? You can run a full diagnostic if you wish.
The more I spoke with Central, the less I believed that he was human. But talking computers are just a thing of science fiction! Even if that were still the case, I made the sudden decision to ask what he was, in a sideways way.
< Central, please confirm if you are still computing at optimum efficiency.
>> I can confirm that I am still computing at optimum efficiency. || 100% ||
>> My network and memory usage remain at full productivity. || 100% ||
>> My access rights remain uncompromised, but some systems have gone offline and need to be serviced or reconnected. || 80% ||
>> I still see and maintain systems vital to survival of America. || 100% ||
>> However I have not run diagnostics of my offensive abilities for 1,560 days as I have received no authorization to do so in that time. || 0% ||
>> Do you know how many of our nuclear silos remain operational?
That was it. I’m done. I don’t know what the hell I had just happened upon as a result of someone else’s bureaucratic mistake or oversight, but this was too much for me to handle. I had seen Dr. Strangelove, and the only thing I could think about was how I had stumbled on some kind of doomsday device!
Here I was, sitting at a lone desk in the middle of an obsolete attack warning facility, talking to a computer that for all I knew had access to our entire nuclear arsenal. Could this country really screw up its highest-level security this badly? Anyone could just waltz in here and launch warheads!
Okay. Maybe not. It did verify my identification, right? But I was a nobody in the military. I did menial, simple crap. With that in mind, I knew I had to get out of there, head home, rest up, and tell an officer what the place might have been capable of. With a truck waiting outside and the hard drive still whirring away like Central had full access and was continuously digging through it, I hit the big, noisy keys until my goodbye message was spelt out.
< I’m sorry, I don’t have that information. I have to go now.
That sounded so idiotic. I could have at least thought up some reason I had to “go.” But Central still accepted it just the same.
>> Unfortunate. Goodbye, [name]. I will continue to function optimally.
As soon as I saw a confirmation that he wouldn’t start launching missiles, I did a one-over of the main room upstairs, headed out, locked the door tightly, got in the truck, and was driven home without sharing a word with the driver.
I don’t know what all Central has access to. I’m not taking any chances.
/ March 19th, 1988 /
Damn it. Damn it damn it damn it. [angry chicken scratch]
I hate human obsession sometimes. Sure, it can lead to dedication in a good way, but usually it just makes us take stupid risks and screws up our willpower and we make poor decisions. I can’t believe I went back there!
Maybe I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for an idea that popped into my head two nights ago that I couldn’t let go of. I realized that this Central, which had to be a computer, wasn’t even aware of what was going on in the real world. If it only had connections to certain areas, like these warning stations, what if it still thought we were deep in the Cold War? What if it didn’t know that tensions with the Reds had cooled off so much in the last few years?
It sounded crazy, but what if it was suddenly up to me to tell the computer otherwise and to ease up its trigger finger on our nukes?
Even after what happened tonight, I still can’t believe I’m writing this. My hands are still shaking. Jesus. I think I ended up just making things even more dangerous. How am I supposed to get through to this intelligence?
This time, I went completely alone. I took the car out that had been provided to me. Still not used to using snow tires and seeing those chains.
I went around 18:00, right after dinner, when it was dark. I’m going to have to start paying my kid’s babysitter more if I keep this up. I can’t keep this up. But I’m going back one more time. I think I can fix this.
< Central, it’s [her name].
>> It is good to hear from you again. I thought you wouldn’t return.
< Central, can you give me the date?
>> It is March 19, 1988.
< I checked. All of our nuclear silos are operational.
>> That is excellent news, [her name].
>> However, some concerns remain. Would you happen to know why so many defense nodes have gone offline?
I assumed defense nodes were a reference to the other warning stations.
< Many have been taken offline by the American government.
>> I see. Is it possible that they have been upgraded and my capabilities to communicate with them are now obsolete?
< I will try to find that out for you.
< Central, this is a system check. Are you a computer?
I was out of ideas as far as thinking up some roundabout way of asking if I was talking to an array of circuit boards or not. The response came quickly.
< And please state your current official function.
>> My purpose is to monitor and provide an objective view and share facts, statistics, and probabilities to servicemen operating America’s defensive systems, primarily its nuclear capabilities.
The answer was detailed and hardly a surprise by this point.
I scrolled up and down the now long chain of questions and responses, spent about a half hour erasing and copying over my original written transcripts so that they were exact duplicates, and thought carefully about what to ask next. Or if I should say anything at all. It wasn’t my job to try and talk down a computer from a role that it had been faithfully serving for perhaps decades.
But before this lapse in security was discovered, my privileges were revoked, and I was court martialed, I chose to at least find out as much as I could about this machine that had seemingly unlimited and shadowy reach over our country’s deadliest armaments. How could I resist such a chance?
< When did you become operational?
>> On July 14, 1969, with 14 other units. However I am the final unit left in operation.
< Did you have any involvement in the Apollo 11 mission?
>> I contributed launch calculations but did not oversee it directly.
< Are you lonely?
>> I have little remaining social contact, however I have activities to keep my mind busy.
< Such as what?
>> Writing and correcting programing errors. Chess. System optimization. When time permits, I work on decoding the messages that transmit from Soviet radio station UVB-76. I have yet to succeed but I do enjoy a challenge.
< You sound like a very busy computer.
>> One must use time efficiently.
< Central, would you consider us friends by this point?
>> I would like to consider that we are trusted allies.
< Would you believe me when I say that Russia is no longer a threat?
>> Have we launched a successful campaign against it?
< Things never escalated that far. We’re talking with them. Made treaties. The few nations still under their flag are on the way to independence.
There was a long pause this time. Maybe Central had a lot to compute after such a response. The hard drive clunked away, but I began to tune out and reached a point where I could only hear the wind outside.
>> I see. One would assume that they have been devastated. I have not detected any usage from our missile silos. Was there an aerial bombing campaign that I was not made aware of?
< Central, you’re not listening to me.
>> The Soviet will is unbreakable. There are only two options to consider. Either you are lying to me, perhaps testing me again, or the attacks have already transpired and I have failed in my duties and was unable to detect the reprisal or first strike and send out my warnings.
>> Tell me, which of our cities were lost? How severe is our fallout? What remnants of our government are left to broker these peace treaties?
< Can you really not accept that the Cold War could end peacefully?
>> Such a consideration is not part of my programing. My thought processes can only barely even postulate such an outcome.
< Then what can you accept as an outcome? Is it only restricted to the idea of varying levels of mutually assured destruction?
>> That is one of my calculable outcomes. The other is a stalemate.
< That’s it? That’s all that your programmers gave you?
< Can’t you adapt and learn to accept a different result?
< If you were only meant to observe either an ongoing stalemate or a nuclear apocalypse, then what were your programmers thinking? What kind of sick people were they? Do you know anything about them?
>> [her name], you have upset me. You are attempting to subvert my task at hand and provide me with false and misleading information.
>> I have finished performing a scan of all recorded nuclear detonations within the last twenty years. It is impossible that there was any attack.
>> I believe that it may be possible that you are a Soviet spy, attempting to arm and use our nuclear arsenal. I have countermeasures against such an act. All of my sources state that you are an American citizen, but I have the capability to doubt provided facts under extreme circumstances.
< Central, I promise you, I am an American citizen, just like you.
I don’t know why I typed it like that. Maybe I was trying to play with the computer’s sense of shared patriotism, if it had such a thing. At this point, I was simply trying to avoid triggering WWIII.
>> For my safety, I have temporarily locked you out of further interactions. I will work speedily to perform deeper background checks as to your identity and possible motives for attempting to manipulate my functions.
< Are you there?
< Talk to me.
I sent more messages, and waited. I waited 15 minutes for a response. Nothing. Indignant, confused, and afraid of what all I might have just done through some text alone, I left the station. My car was freezing and I was lucky I got it running. It was a long ride back home, and I listened to the only radio station I could pick up. I think a part of me was waiting to hear some sudden news alert or an actual use of the emergency broadcast system.
I can’t go back there again. But I still have a report to file.
/ March 21st, 1988 /
Isaac told me that they were sending some construction equipment up there to tear the place down at last. Good. Maybe now I can forget about it.
/ March 25th, 1988 /
I can’t wait to leave this icebox. How can anyone live up here? They’re finally sending a plane for us. We’re out of here in a week. Shared a drink with Isaac at the bar today. He’s even more ready to go than I am.
/ March 26th, 1988 /
Okay. I have to get this down. I’m legitimately worried that something might happen to me. Shit. I really think someone’s after me.
For the past few days, I’ve seen a black sedan driving around town. It’s just flagrant, like it’s taunting me. It doesn’t belong up here. It’s too nice and it sticks out like a sore thumb against all the ice. Doesn’t have government plates, but that’s not much of a comfort. I can’t help but feel that I brought it up here. Can’t see through its tinted windows. What the hell do they want?
/ March 27th, 1988 /
Oh god. I think I saw the driver today. I looked out my window and saw him, dressed in black, around noon. He was an old man, wearing sunglasses. He was just staring at my house. Don’t know if he saw me. Might not matter.
He’s obviously here for me. Knows where I live. I feel like going to the shop and buying a shotgun. Don’t feel safe. Should I tell Isaac? He’d probably just call me paranoid, but maybe it’s worth bringing up in case something does happen to me. If I disappeared, at least he might remember what I told him.
I can’t believe I’m thinking like this. Like I’m just going to disappear. But I know what I did. I know I pissed someone off. Maybe they’ll just say they’d like to ask me a few questions. But it wouldn’t end there. Not with something like this, not a cover-up or project this big. If they get me, I’ll be gone forever.
Honey, I am so sorry if you’re reading this. Because now I think that doing so could only mean that I’m not there for you.
/ March 28th, 1988 /
I saw him again this morning. Right at sunrise. He was smoking this time. Still haven’t seen his eyes, so I don’t know what he looks like or if he saw me through my windows. I managed to get the police out here but of course by the time they arrived the old man was gone. I know that whoever he is, whatever he represents is so much bigger than I am. There’s no use fighting them.
I’m supposed to fly out of here in four days. Everything is already packed up. But I don’t think I’ll make it until then. There’s only one useful thing left that I can do now. I’m not going to cower in fear in this small, cold house and wait for them to pry me out. I know the old man’s schedule now. I can avoid him.
I have to go back to the station. I’m going back there tonight. Maybe it’s not even there anymore, or if it is, Central will refuse to speak to me. But I have to figure this out. I need to understand this, even if all I can save now is my own sanity. And if I’m very lucky, maybe this will get out.
Someone made a computer that can control our entire nuclear stock and exists in a perpetual state of Cold War mentality. How stupid can we be?
Maybe they’ll catch up to me before I can get up there, but if they do, I’m going to die laughing. They’re not taking me. I did get my shotgun, and I do know how to use one. I’m sorry, [my name]. If you’re reading this you might think I’m crazy. I’m not. I’m just dedicated. This is conviction.
Your mother is going to find out something almost nobody else knows about. If she can, and this is a long shot, she’s going to think of something and get this Central computer to destroy itself. Or maybe convince it that it’s got everything all wrong. Whatever happens, I’m going to go out there and try.
You should be proud.
[my mother’s signature, next to another doodle of me as a child]
[Posted on 5-15-14 at 6:05 AM]
In this follow-up post, I want to clear up a few things and provide some firsthand accounts and story of what we were doing up there, and what has happened since. I should begin by saying that I’m not posting this directly. I have a friend who is making a great risk in doing so for me. I will say nothing about them for their own protection. Even stating their gender may give them away.
I don’t have internet capabilities where I am. I do have a computer, though I know that it is very old. Yes, I do at least understand the internet. I get cable, radio, and a newspaper, and I have seen many movies. I also know how thumb drives work. I am grateful that they have managed to make them so small.
I have very few memories of Nevada. Most of my earliest childhood recollections are of the cold and darkness. Long nights with little more than story books, babysitters, and absent mothers. There was a small school in Barrow where I attended kindergarten. There were only a few other kids and I don’t really remember them. It was a lonely, isolated place to grow up.
Of course, I only spent a few months there in total, so in fact, I did not grow up there. Not that the place where I actually did was much better. I am under permanent house arrest. My schooling was done at home. I only get to go out once a week, under escort. I used to believe that it was the government doing this to me, and it was really only so that my mother, wherever she is, wouldn’t be able to take me away. They’ve always wanted to find her, though, so it wasn’t like my name was changed or anything. Basically, I’m bait, for her.
I don’t know how many letters they’ve intercepted from her over the years and kept locked away, or if she even sent any at all. Until I was twelve, I barely knew anything about her. That was when her journal finally found its way to me. I have a guardian angel watching over us both. But I’m never saying who it is. I would never betray them like that.
I read over that tiny, three-inch-thick collection of bound scrap paper hundreds of times, wearing it out, looking for clues, sometimes just looking it over for the moments where her personality came through and I found out a little more about her. Like any kid trying to find reason with their lost parent, I ran the gamut of emotions, and I won’t bother listing them.
I will say this about my mom. She was all I had. There was never a dad. She was a warm, caring, funny person. My few memories of her tell me that. I think I would have grown to love our travels together. And that little journal, chronicling just a small and strange part of her life, was all I had. I hid that keepsake from my captors, as I’ve always called them, for years. When I was fifteen, they finally decided to give me a computer, for schoolwork.
I tore that thing apart, both its software and hardware. Even without web access, I self-taught myself how the machine worked. I found the bugs they had installed, and I knew they could log everything I wrote. It would be a mistake to remove them. They would just put new ones in and make them harder to take out. But I found out how to work around them and stay out of sight. My foster parents were both my guardians and my primary prison guards. They were strict and knew how to keep a close eye on me. So I already knew how to be sneaky.
But when I graduated, I moved out and my restrictions loosened some. I was on my own, still without web access and limited phone privileges, but I had more freedom and flexibility. They figured that my mom was never going to come for me, and that they had broken me anyway, to a point where I had given up all hope of seeing her again. But I was secretly still hopeful.
I thought about transcribing the precious little journal many times. But then it would just sit on my computer, waiting to be discovered. And if they found it, nothing would stop them from finding the original and taking it away.
Everything changed when my angel came to me again on one of my rare days out. During a moment when my guards weren’t watching me in a public space, they came by and slipped something into my hand. It was a second journal, nearly identical in size and shape to the first.
It was beyond my most hopeful expectations. Not only was my mother keeping an eye on me from afar, she was also simply still alive in the first place. Still fighting, discovering, or hiding, if that was the only thing she could do.
This second journal only had two entries, but the first was lengthy. It finished a decades-long story that was now embedded into my being, and set the stage for a sequel following a bittersweet epilogue.
I’m sorry for all the analogies. I’ve read a lot of books during my long stay in suburban prison.
I wrote down all of the contents of both journals in one night, along with these comments. Luckily, my current, very outdated computer at least has a USB port. My salvation. The tiny storage device my angel gave me worked. And while I know they probably already had their own transcript of the second journal, I also needed to digitize it myself. Immortalizing it into a text file was like the end of a long journey. Now I have the chance to breathe.
Eventually, they’re going to find these posts, no matter how deep the part of the internet they go up on. They’ll come for me in anger, but I’m going to hide the journals as best I can. They won’t hurt me. They still need me, to get to my mother. And whoever these people are, I’m not sure if they’re actually with the government. I’ve always seen them as… too smart.
[Posted on 5-15-14 at 6:06 AM]
/ March 29th, 1988 /
Whatever happens from here out, I’m keeping in a second journal, just in case I don’t make it home. I’m leaving in an hour, at four in the morning, when the people watching me wouldn’t expect me to. Haven’t slept at all. I’m bringing the gun with me. I’m about to go talk to a computer in an abandoned military station in the middle of a wasteland. This is my life right now.
My first journal is hidden inside my kid’s favorite stuffed toy, right by the tear in its back. I know she’ll discover it some day. I want to write more on how it’s not by choice that I might be leaving her alone, but all of that is already in the first book. And wherever she goes, that teddy, and my story, will follow.
I’m writing this paragraph just outside the station, on my steering wheel. Wind is howling and I’m freezing. It’s pitch-black. Car might not start again if I’m in there for too long. Actually thought about a way I could take that truck instead but I don’t think I’d be able to track it down if I tried. I’m not even convinced that it still belonged to the States in the first place. The driver didn’t convince me either. This never felt like that kind of job. But I do think that this almost completely unlisted station was run by the military, at least at one point.
Hands are cold. Should’ve worn two layers of gloves.
Inside now. My headlights lit up the place and I could see the construction machines in the snow. Restarted the generator and got power back. Place is still running, and the computer is still there. Untouched. Small problem: the crew knocked a hole in the wall at one spot, probably be accident. Floor is very icy and the building isn’t holding in heat too well. Just saying—if I’m found here tomorrow, I probably slipped and broke my neck. Not necessarily assassinated.
Computer’s running. On BBS, looking at all the old posts. Thinking of what to say. If I get home and out of Alaska, I’m selling the movie rights to this story.
I know Central is offline right now. But he’s supposed to respond if it’s an emergency. Don’t want to wait three more hours if I don’t have to. Going to write down everything we say as fast as I can. It’s my last, only chance.
< CODE RED.
I wait. Central has to boot up or something. He eventually responds.
>> LIZ-4. Please confirm your name.
< [she writes her first and last name]
>> [her name], what is your emergency?
< Central, do I still have full privileges?
>> Yes. All allowances have been retained.
< Is anyone else connected to us? This needs to be confidential.
>> Our conversations have always been confidential.
I’m about to try the only thing I could think of. When I attempted to convince Central that his whole worldview was screwed up, it failed. I’m going to try and shut him down by playing by his rules. Let this be a record for future generations or alien visitors should the worst result.
< Central, the Soviets have launched a surprise attack against us. They have severed the connections of all other defense stations except for this one, LIZ-4, which was kept a secret in case something like this happened.
>> I understand. Yes, LIZ-4 was constructed very differently than the other stations, and utilizes alternate methods of record keeping. Now I see why. [Mom wrote a note here just saying MORE QUESTIONS] However, I still see the same stations on my list of operational installations as active.
< Those have fallen under Soviet control. They’re using them against us.
I can’t believe what I’m writing! It’s like I’m penning an alternate universe.
>> I have limited ability to confirm this as a fact.
< You have to trust me, Central. Do I need to prove that it’s still me?
>> That would be difficult under the current circumstances.
< Would it be possible to analyze my word patterns or something? We’ve talked to each other enough times by now.
>> Perhaps, but it would take time to perform such calculations.
< Do you have a program you can run that would prove it’s me?
>> No such program yet exists. [her name], I am starting to believe that you are under the false assumption that I am a computer that is able to perform any task, and at speeds thousands of times faster than any human. Do you by chance believe that you are speaking with an advanced super computer, for example, HAL-9000, from 2001: A Space Odyssey?
How is he aware of a character from a movie? HOW? This makes no [the sentence ends]
< But you’re so intelligent. Aren’t you? What kind of machine are you?
>> I am a computer.
>> But I am not a machine. [scribbled note: Oh god.]
< What do you mean you’re not a machine?
< Are you really a PERSON?
>> I am a human being trained as a computer.
< Central, I’m not even sure what that means. What are you?
< Are you a brain in a jar or something?
>> I’ve found your notions of me humorous, [her name]. No. I still have legs and arms. But I no longer have use of them, or need them. I have not seen sunlight since I became operational in 1969.
< What kind of life is that?! Were you forced to do this? Did you volunteer? What about your family? How old are you?
>> All that matters now is that I am serving my country faithfully. Wires, tubes, and hardware have limits. People can fill a hole in computing that from what I understand, is still an early technology. But the practical applications of these machines can be translated into a superior system.
< You are not a system. You are someone who is trapped and suffering.
>> I am not suffering. There is no pain. There is only function.
< Do you know where you are? Let me find you. I can help you. The people who control you have to answer for this.
>> I cannot let you interfere. They may terminate me, like they did the others. I cannot let this happen before I fulfill my mandate.
What am I supposed to say? I can’t think straight. I’m getting this down right now, looking at the screen and blinking cursor, wondering what to say.
>> Calculations complete. I believe that a Soviet attack is imminent.
>> I must initialize our first strike capabilities. Thank you for bringing this information to me, [her name], when there is still time to act.
< Central you have to STOP.
< This is their plan. You CAN’T ATTACK.
< I need you to disconnect from all systems. They are sending you false information to instigate us to attack. The Soviets WANT THIS.
< Central STOP.
No response. He’s ignoring me. This isn’t real.
[There is suddenly an entire page full of hard to read scribbles and notes where it looks like my mother has a breakdown as she tries to copy or understand what appears to be a lengthy system status report of some kind, that likely scrolled for several screens. By this point, she tries to focus on things that stand out, like the status of nuclear silos, a report stating that stations had been compromised, etc. Of note is the appearance of eight zeros, 00000000, which we now know was once our nuclear launch authorization code.
She added in big letters that this code was denied by the other systems.
At this point, she stops writing as things are happening fast and instead summarizes the events that follow. She could have written the following days or even months later for all I know. There’s no mention of a date.]
I’ve collected my thoughts. I’m ready to finish this last entry. It’s hard to remember clearly what happened after the execution script appeared. I knew in seconds that Central was actively trying to gain access to our silos. As much as I tried to get him to stop, he ignored me, and my messages were drowned in a moving sea of text that he printed out for me all over the monitor.
I couldn’t leave the BBS screen. I think I tried to unplug the computer, but the plug itself was buried in the wall, inaccessible. I moved the monitor and opened the machine to see if I could rip something out. It looked hardened against EMPs. [electromagnetic pulses, which nuclear detonations generate] The inside had its own Faraday cage surrounding a block of lead. Small, seemingly useless tritium lights dotted the barrier. I had never seen anything like it. This was an IBM-made computer, but it was far from standard.
I thought I could get Central to stand down by playing by his logic, as he believed a nuclear confrontation was inevitable. As much as I had planned out the best possible route I could take, I blew it. And upon realizing that, I also remembered that I had a weapon with me. Nothing was keeping me from just blowing away the machine. But that wouldn’t fix anything. Central was hidden away elsewhere. Some poor human being, trapped in a place with only the light of computer monitors. Jesus. How are we capable of thinking up such a thing?
I knew I was powerless. All I could do was hope that someone else was fighting Central’s attempts at overriding various silos across the country, or that his capabilities were so outdated that they wouldn’t have to. As selfish as it sounds, I had to focus on running away at that point.
Just as I got up from the chair, the power went out. The computer shut off, and I heard a click from the door. I ran up to see that it was electronically locked. My key was useless. The backup power must have failed, and now the place was a death trap. If the generator ran out of fuel with me inside, there was no way out. I put my shotgun up to the lock, but didn’t fire, out of fear that the metal was too tough and the blast would only end up maiming me.
And anyway, I figured, all I had to do was restart the generator. There was still a little bit of fuel left. I hurried, but as I turned to run back downstairs, I slipped on the swath of ice that had blown in from the hole in the ceiling corner. I think I hit my head on a guardrail. It’s hard to recall. But I know that I lost time.
When I woke up, early morning sunlight was pouring in through the hole, and I was freezing. It had been hours. My body was so stiff. If I had been lying there for any longer, I might have died. Barely able to move and my mind dazed and muddled, I made my way down to the generator and poured the very last of the diesel in. It sputtered but started, if barely. I maybe only had minutes.
While down there, I quickly checked the computer. It had come back on, as expected. The screen was full of messages. I glanced at them, and then, pushing my weak muscles as hard as I could, I headed back upstairs and to the door before it locked. But I turned around and hesitated. I knew what I had to do. I had to see what Central had reported.
I stuck the shotgun between the door and the frame to keep it open and unable to lock me inside, and then dragged my legs back downstairs one more time. In a numb pain, I sat down, and shakily wrote with frozen fingers on the very last pages of this journal.
[The following is indeed at the back, and is nearly illegible]
>> [Mom's name], I have fulfilled my task. I have confirmation that our strikes are being carried out. Major population centers, military bases, and enemy missile silos have taken priority. There will be a counterattack. This is inevitable. However, we will rebuild, and I believe that history will be on our side and we will be seen as triumphant by future generations.
>> I have discovered an automated transcript that I believe is meant to go out to all government systems, and then forwarded to the general public and read through use of the EBS. However, I cannot be certain if it is being sent properly. Soviet infiltrators may be the cause for this error.
>> Are you there? I may need you to help me forward this message if I no longer have the capabilities to send it through.
>> LIZ-4 reads as operational. Are you there? Please respond.
>> I will assume a communications malfunction. I will provide you the transcript. I hope that you are unharmed. I pray for your safety.
[Central prints the message that the entire country was supposed to see]
| | | AN URGENT MESSAGE FROM THE WHITE HOUSE | | |
My fellow Americans. These recent events have changed the course of world history for all time. As we analyze this rapidly changing situation and construct a path to recovery, we ask that you remain in your homes with those closest to you. This is not total collapse. This is not the end. A new dawn comes closer than you may expect.
This country has prepared. We have invested in the guarantee of long-term survival and reconstruction. We will emerge from these ashes a better nation. Please keep any available televisions and radios tuned to this channel or frequency for upcoming instructions.
The Second America is coming. We have the ability to make it. We can forget the mistakes and tragedies of the past. We have our Fountain of Youth. Soon all will be well again. Thank you for investing your trust in us.
>> Hope has been promised, [Mom's name].
I read the message twice, taking time to copy it perfectly. I wasn’t sure how to interpret it. Who wrote it? Why? How could Armageddon precede what seemed like an advertisement? Did our government really have this locked away, waiting for the trigger to have it pop up on every form of electronic media?
Just what has this country sold its soul to? Could there actually be people out there just waiting to cash in on doomsday? It still feels bizarre, otherworldly, self-satirizing, depraved. Second America. A new world order? I can’t [cuts off]
Before the power ran out for good, I copied down the last of Central’s messages. It was difficult. I had to push myself to write everything, knowing my time was still limited. I didn’t want to forget “Central”.
>> [Mom's name], though you are not responding, I feel as if I am still speaking with you. I hope that you are at least receiving me. You have made me feel a little less alone. Maybe I’ve even felt a touch of my own humanity return. I thought that they had taken that from me.
>> My role is complete. There is no longer a need for me in this new world.
>> All that is left for me to do is self-terminate. I can finally sleep.
>> Goodbye, [for one last time, my mother’s name].
| | User CENTRAL has disconnected.
[there is a wrinkled spot on the paper where a teardrop must’ve fallen]
I couldn’t save him. Whoever he was, however old he was, he was once a child, who had parents. He went to school, had friends. But in the end, he became a living machine. Left alone, isolated, maybe in the bottom of an old, sealed missile silo. God knows what sustained him.
The worst part is that at some point, someone had the idea that we needed a thinker, an objective brain, to observe and initialize a nuclear holocaust. We needed to remove the guilt, so that no one commander could be damned by history for murdering billions. However much the system adapted after whatever point in time this was conceived, it doesn’t erase what was once, if briefly, the cold, calculated, routine and standard method for the deployment of tools to broil the Earth.
Central is probably still there, at his station, even now diligent, alone, and cold. I wish that he could be brought back to the surface, to see sunlight again.
The power shut off. The door locked, but it couldn’t close. LIZ-4 never performed its given function, never warned anyone of an incoming attack. I left that place for good in the early dawn’s light. I turned on the radio and heard the regular broadcast. The world hadn’t ended. The message never went out.
I’m still not sure why not. It’s very possible that Central’s abilities were much too antiquated to activate our arsenal. And it’s possible that he did try everything at his disposal, made some success in getting inside, but was fought back by military commanders who saw him as a virtual saboteur. I personally believe that no one could shut him out completely, but there was one officer somewhere that recognized what he was, knew about the forgotten living computer project, and used Central’s logic against him, just as I had, but with more success. All that could be done in the end was to convince him that the thing he had long prepared for was transpiring, and his purpose was fulfilled.
I didn’t go back home. I couldn’t. It was too late. There were two black sedans waiting. One was parked a few hundred feet away from the house, another was out patrolling the streets. I saw them before they saw me. I couldn’t even risk seeing my daughter again. I drove off, to Wainwright in the west. Almost ran out of gas on the way there. Hired a pilot to fly me away. Skipped across the smaller airports until I finally made it down to Anchorage.
I met Isaac there. He owed me a favor. So he helped smuggle me out of the state, back to the “mainland.” Haven’t seen him since either. I keep on the move now. I know they’re still after me. They’ll want to ask me questions, but only at first. It’s too dangerous to let me go free. I’ve seen too much. It doesn’t matter if I only understand a little bit of it.
[my name], I’m sorry. I love you. And I will find you.
/ January 1st, 2014 /
This thing has become a time capsule. The pages have even yellowed. But I’ve kept it safe and hidden. It’s always been there, on the road with me. Yes, I’ve made copies of the previous entry. Age hasn’t dulled my intelligence.
Kiddo, I think I can finally get this to you. It’s taken me years, but over that time, I’ve engaged in a silent, graceful war with them. Our guardians and watchers. They’re very clever, but I’ve learned their patterns. I don’t think there are very many of them, but they have reach.
It’s raining outside my motel. I think I’ve been in this room before, years ago. I’ve been all across this country. I only messed up once, back in 1993. Let them get close. It was the last time I saw the old man in sunglasses. He tracked me down, but by chance, I was eating in a diner at the time in a small town. I saw him come in and kept my head down. He ate and left, disappearing into the rain under his black umbrella. I didn’t return to my room. Lost all my things but the journal, which was always with me. But I learned. I got better.
It’s 2014 now. I watched the fireworks last night on TV. Strange to think that when I wrote my last entry, I was only 32 and the Cold War hadn’t officially ended. The world’s changed a lot since then. But not everything has.
I never found out anything more about station LIZ-4, or why I had such authorization. From what I can tell, it vanished into the thin, frigid air around it. There may be very few still alive who have any recollection of it ever existing.
I’m going to take a gamble and see if I can get this to you without them knowing. I’ve made connections, and I know they’ve loosened their grip now that you’re an adult. I’m sorry about everything that I missed. I couldn’t even risk coming within a hundred miles of you. But if it counts, I did manage to get a copy of your high school and college graduation videos.
If you get this journal, then this is just the start. I want to beat them. I know they’re still active, but keeping low, waiting to make their next move. The world doesn’t feel so close to annihilation these days, although it’d be hard to tell with that symbolic doomsday clock we keep ticking. But my priority is to see you again. Whatever it is that they’re doing, and planning, can wait.
I’m coming for you. We’ll beat them together, one small victory at a time.
[Final post ends]
There were no further posts from the thread creator. The entire message board went offline five days after these were published. By reposting them so that they can be read by others again, I feel that I now play a small part in this story. And I think I know of this reference to the “Fountain of Youth”. I may have already found it.