“For fuck’s sake, Daniel, you’ve got to come with us,” Amelia sighed, her arms folded tightly as she stood in the doorway.
Daniel gave her a brief sideways glance, barely acknowledging her presence. His spindly fingers tapped rapidly on the keyboard to his front, his breathing slow and methodical.
“This is the sixth time you’re going to miss a visit to mom. Get off your lazy ass for once.”
Ignoring his sister, Daniel reached over to the glass on his left and took a sip of water, carefully avoiding the miscellaneous junk scattered on his desk. There was a slight twitch in his bloodshot eyes as he scratched his chin, staring blankly at the computer monitor.
Stomping past the discarded clothing and general garbage on the floor, Amelia grabbed Daniel’s slumped shoulders, spinning him around to face her.
“Look at you. Look at this place. It’s falling apart,” Amelia gestured around the room. Large pockets of dust and cobwebs had accumulated in the room’s crevices, the unwashed walls laden with grimy posters slowly falling to the ground. Daniel’s bed was unmade, its sheets peeling away from the mattress, the blanket wrinkled and stained. The lights were turned off, with narrow slits of sunlight trickling in through the gaps in the blinds amidst the bright flaring of Daniel’s computer.
“You’re a mess. You haven’t been outside for a week, Daniel. The entire apartment smells like sweat and dirty underwear. You need to end this obsession.”
Daniel sighed, rolling his eyes like a teenager. His long, bedraggled hair bounced softly up and down in the light wind of a fan on his desk.
“It’s not an obsession, Amelia. I’m telling you, I’m this close to digging up something big. I can feel it.”
“Yeah, well, uncle Terry isn’t very convinced. And neither is anyone else in our family, me included.”
“Uncle Terry’s got something to hide, Amelia. Trust me. All those years working for the government. He’s bound to have some secrets.”
“This isn’t about Uncle Terry, Daniel. Just come to the care home with us. It’ll be half an hour. Mom’s begging to see you again. Please.” Amelia pleaded, an encouraging look in her eye.
Daniel turned back to the monitor.
“Not while there’s government lies afoot.”
Scowling, Amelia stood up, her brow furrowed.
“Fine. I hope you’re happy with yourself. Now we’re gonna have to break the news to mom again.”
“Try and guilt trip me all you want, it’s not gonna work. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
With a frustrated mumble, Amelia walked out of the room, her footsteps echoing as they thumped down the stairs. Slamming the front door behind her, Daniel was left alone.
A small blip appeared on Daniel’s monitor. It was a Skype call invitation. Clicking the little green phone icon, Daniel was brought face-to face with Michael as he took the tape off his webcam, Michael’s wide face nearly filling up the entire screen.
“Hey, Daniel.” Michael’s nasally voice bounced into the room.
“Hey Michael. Are you sure this chat room is safe? I don’t want any incidents.”
“Yes, I’m sure. The entry key is encrypted. It’s got billions of possible combinations. There’s no possible way someone could get in without me inviting them.”
“Alright,” Daniel shrugged.
Adjusting his glasses, Michael leaned in for a closer look, his eyes widening slightly.
“Woah. Wasn’t expecting that. You look like a hobo.” Michael spoke up.
“Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you’re committed to your work. And I also haven’t slept for days.”
“It sure shows. Sister still giving you trouble?”
Daniel dragged his hands down his face exhaustedly, his eyelids sagging.
“Yeah, she’s bringing me down a bit. I’m pretty sure my entire family loathes me at this point.”
“Well, we all have to make sacrifices for our work. Y’know before we met each other online, I had a particularly lovely lady by my side. I was different back then. More naïve. Slightly skinnier too. But that’s the life I’ve left behind, I’m afraid.” Michael sniffed loudly, wiping his nose with his sleeve. Crumbs of food were lodged in his scraggly beard.
“Uh huh. Do you have anything for me?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes, I do have something. Uh…government website. It was only made a few hours ago, so you might get lucky and manage to worm your way in. Good luck.”
A notification popped up from the side of Daniel’s computer, Michael’s camera feed cutting away. Clicking on the link, a wall of code appeared on the screen, stretching down to the bottom of the taskbar. Daniel stared longingly at his bed. It was going to be a long night.
Daniel gasped loudly, waking up. He blinked, wiping the crust from his eyes. Vague memories of a nightmare were stained in his mind. The wooden floorboards beneath him creaked as he pushed himself upwards, staggering back to his desk. Daniel peered at the monitor, trying to make out the small numbers in the bottom right. It was 2:00am.
Yawning loudly, Daniel sat down at the desk once more, closing the tabs. He yearned for the sweet embrace of his blanket, even if it was only for a few hours.
Then, just as he was about to click the ‘shut down’ button, something caught Daniel’s eye. There was a single tab still open, the one he had been trying to crack into. Daniel leaned closer to the monitor, trying to make out the miniscule text on the page. Various titles with dramatic fonts topped long, formal documents with an occasional image or link. A drop-down list on the left of the screen showed multiple folders stacked on top of each other, with various subjects and codenames Daniel didn’t recognise.
A few seconds went by as Daniel’s bleary mind tried to contemplate what exactly he was looking at.
Suddenly, the penny dropped. He had cracked the website. Daniel’s mouth began to droop open as he stood up from the desk, his eyes wide with excitement. A hint of trepidation stained his mind, as he forced his shaky hands over to the mouse, skimming over the text with the glee of a child in a funhouse. Every sentence seemed to harbour its own secrets, as Daniel began to scribble the info down furiously on a nearby notebook.
The site was almost never-ending, each page leading onwards to some other private details. Conspiracies, secretive projects, international involvement, there it all was, laid out in front of him. Everything he’d worked so hard to get. There was a search engine for government workers. A quick click on the magnifying glass, and there was Daniel’s own uncle, everything he wanted to find out, neatly organised into little boxes of info.
Beaming with pride, Daniel quickly pasted everything he had onto a separate file. The quiet tune of the skype call screen rang out into the room as Daniel waited impatiently for Michael to pick up. Only 20 seconds passed, but for Daniel, it felt like years. No response.
Frustrated, he banged his fist onto the desk. He needed to get the info out quickly. It wouldn’t have taken them long to decode his VPN. How long had the website been cracked? Daniel cursed at himself for falling asleep. Heart pounding, he brought up a few news sites, adrenaline still rushing through his body.
There was a sudden squeal of tires barely audible from outside the apartment, followed by a sharp pounding at the door. Daniel froze, as everything suddenly became deathly still. Slowly, he pushed himself away from the desk, flicking off a lamp to his right. A minute passed, as Daniel simply stood motionless in the middle of his room, paralysed with fear. He kept his eyes trained on the doorway, barely daring to breathe.
Finally building up some courage, Daniel leaned over to the window, and pushed open the slatted blinds with his finger.
Two SWAT vans were lined up on the street, a dozen officers surrounding Daniel’s front door, their weapons held out in front of them. Dark helmets with jet-black visors lay on their heads, their bodies adorned with bullet-proof vests. Daniel recoiled backwards in shock as one of the officers pointed to the window, shouting something unintelligible.
A deafening boom shot through Daniel’s head as his front door was blasted open, the officers yelling directions as they stormed inside. Daniel cried out in shock, yanking down the blinds as he tried to prize open the sticky window lock. Heavy footsteps raced up the stairs, seconds away from Daniel’s room.
With a final strain, the window flew open, the cold autumnal air beginning to waft into the room. Daniel clambered onto his desk, only managing to get one foot outside before a gloved hand grabbed the back of his shirt, pulling him back into the room. Daniel’s pleas fell on deaf ears as one of the officers brought the butt of his gun onto his head, knocking him unconscious.
Daniel bolted upright in his chair, collapsing onto the floor. A few throaty coughs escaped his mouth. Unsteadily, he rose again, feeling the large lump on his temple. Gradually, his mind began to piece itself back together, his vision un-blurring itself.
“Hello, Daniel.” The voice of an elderly man spoke up suddenly.
Pulling himself up, Daniel got his first view of the stranger. He was old, very old, and had the saggy complexion of a tired grandparent. Wearing a formal suit and tie, his shoulders had a slight hunch to them, and a walking stick was gripped tightly in his left hand. The man smiled, but not in a way of warmth or kindness. His upturned lips, creased cheeks, and slightly narrowed eyes gave every impression of a smile, but with a distinct absence of soul or personality. Rather, it was as if he was smiling without smiling at all.
Taking slow steps away from the man, Daniel’s breathing was ragged and coarse.
“Fuck. Fucking shit. Fuck. Are you going to kill me? You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?” He said franticly, feeling the wall press up against his back.
The man chuckled slightly, taking a seat at the table in the middle of the room.
“Have a seat, please.”
Daniel didn’t move, trying to keep a calm expression as thoughts raced through his mind.
The stranger’s expression shifted slightly.
“I’m not asking you again, Daniel. Take a seat.”
Daniel apprehensively approached the chair, lowering himself down onto it.
“Good. My name is Eric Matthews. You are Daniel Powers, a moderately skilled computer hacker living in a small apartment in Wyoming. I read your file. No girlfriend, no job, no actual friends, no social life, outside of internet forums, of course. A good few years of experience tampering with government websites with the assistance of a man named Michael. We’ve been listening to your little chats together. I have to say, your chat room was pretty easy to get into for an entry key with ‘billions of combinations’. I won’t list off everything we have on you, or we’ll be here all day.”
“Please, just leave my family be. They probably wouldn’t care about me anyways, but can you just-”
“Shush. Let me continue.” Eric interrupted. Wiping the hair from his face, Daniel fidgeted nervously with his fingers.
“Now, after some late-night digging, you may have encountered some information that, shall we say…is quite out of your depth. Fortunately, we were able to intervene before anything got out of hand. Sorry about the head wound. I ordered specifically for you to be unharmed, but those officers are slightly…unpredictable. They’re brutes, really. A little modification to the human psyche can go a long way.”
Daniel winched slightly as he rubbed his fingers against the bulge.
“You’re quite lucky to be alive, actually. My colleagues were insistent on your termination from the beginning, but I overruled them, just so we could have this discussion. You should be grateful.”
“Look, it was a hobby. I never expected to…I never thought I would actually make a discovery. I’ve seen the stuff you guys have. Memory-wiping…things. Can’t you just use that?”
“Oh, I’m sure it was much more than just a hobby. Entire nights spent running programs and decoding encryptions, long periods of time spent browsing conspiracies, internet discussions about the tyranny of government. It doesn’t matter, anyway. That’s not the point, Daniel.” Eric began to explain.
“Then what is the point? Why am I here?”
“You’re here because I want to offer you a choice, Daniel. I was once in your position, just a reclusive loser trying to fight the system. You’ve seen some secrets, Daniel. How do you think our numbers are so big? This is how we recruit people. It takes a man or woman of at least above-average intelligence to hack a government website. We could easily make them un-breachable if we wanted to. Even after all you’ve seen, that leaked group of files barely scratched the surface of what we do. You know what’s funny? Almost all popular conspiracy theories have been created by us. Moon landing was a hoax? Who knows, but we started the idea. Big Pharma? Vaccines? Fake news? It’s all us.”
“So, that’s it? I’m being recruited? Is this what happened to uncle Terry?”
“Your uncle fell into our hands the same way you did. And look where he is now. Rich. Loving wife. Good family connections. A lot of repressed memories, most likely, but that’s what you get when you work for us. We would have set up some bullshit story about your connections with Terry and how we wanted to employ you, etcetera, and that would be that.”
“Would be?” Daniel inquired, raising an eyebrow.
“That’s not going to happen, I’m afraid.” Eric sighed, staring blankly at Daniel.
“The day your Uncle ended up here, he had this…burning in his eyes. The burning of youth, of innocence. He was a lively young man. He got recruited, worked with us for a few years. The last time I saw him, the other day, I couldn’t help but look into those eyes again. And you know what? They were empty. Soulless. You must see it, too. Worn down to that point by this place.”
Daniel stayed silent, unsure of what to say.
“I’ve been here for too long, Daniel. I’ve done some horrible stuff to some not-so deserving people. I have no right to feel emotion anymore. And yet it remains, despite everything I’ve seen. All of this stuff we’re doing…experiments, international involvement, the betrayal of trust for millions of Americans. It shouldn’t be perpetuated any longer. It just shouldn’t. People deserve to know.”
There was a long pause, Daniel stuttering aimlessly as he tried to formulate a response. Hundreds of questions swam through his mind, yet he couldn’t get a single one out through his mouth.
“If someone is going to break the cycle, to spread the word and get the truth out there, it can’t be me. I’m past the point of redemption. No-one should have to suffer through what your uncle saw any longer. Not you, Daniel. I understand the thirst for knowledge within you. It inhabits us all, pushing us to find what is right. Nobody understands how better it is, simply not knowing.”
Eric pulled out a slim, rectangular object from a bag under the table, opening it up and placing it in front of Daniel.
“It’s your laptop. We had a little look for ourselves before you woke up. Deleted search history, but that just circulates back to us, of course. Luckily for you, none of the pornography was illegal, but you were really pushing it with some of those videos.”
Daniel slid the laptop to his chest and circled his finger on the mousepad, checking its functionality.
“Mostly, we just looked. Long list of government websites you were trying to hack. I’ll give you credit, you got pretty close a few times. Most of the others couldn’t hack half as well when they were in your position. Of course, then you got lucky, just like they all did, and that’s how you ended up in this mess.”
“Are you implying I have to-”
“This is the choice. Listen closely. You have two options. Number one, you can have your memory wiped. You won’t remember anything that happened after you woke up in your room, including this conversation. Life will go on as normal, and you we will make sure you never successfully hack a government website again. You can go back to the lonely life you were trapped in, and live out an unremarkable existence until you die. Second option. We tweaked a few things on your laptop. It now has complete access to all of the info we have. Everything you’ve worked so hard to get, laid out before you. You release the info and everybody finds out.”
“And then what happens?”
“That’s up to you.”
Daniel leaned back in the chair, cupping his hands over his face. Theoretical scenarios played out in his mind, as Eric leaned on his cane, gazing at the wall behind Daniel. Taking a large sigh, Daniel stood up and began pacing around the room.
“This is fucked. This is completely fucked. You’re turning me into you.”
“If you truly feel that way, I’m sure you’ll be comfortable with the alternative.”
Exasperated, Daniel thumped his fist on the table. A visual of him being thanked, praised for the liberation of such well-hidden documents to the public began to act out in his head. It seemed likely to him that his family may finally understand and respect him as a person, too. The thought was certainly engaging.
An hour passed. Eric stood patiently in the corner of the room, as Daniel clutched his head in his hands, feeling himself gradually coming to a conclusion. Eric looked hopeful as Daniel approached the computer once more, bringing up media websites with shaky hands. A few clicks and some typing, and it was out.
“I’ve done it. It’s out there. Not long before everybody finds out.”
Eric stepped over to Daniel’s trembling body, placing his hands on Daniel’s shoulders. A sorrowful smile perked up on Eric’s face, his eyes welling up with tears.
Eric turned away, reaching into his trouser pocket, and pulling out a small remote-looking object. As he started to whisper into it, Daniel could just make out a few pieces of conversation.
“Code red…tie up loose ends…execute act PSC.”
Eric placed the remote on the table, producing two small pills from his other pocket and placing one in Daniel’s palm. Eric held his pill up to his face, staring deep into Daniel’s eyes.
Within a second, Eric had swallowed the pill. Almost immediately, he slumped down onto his knees, clutching his stomach with a painful moan as the walking stick fell to the floor. An agonised grimace lay across his face. Taking one last look at Daniel, Eric’s eyes rolled backwards, and he collapsed onto the floor, letting out a final death rattle.
Daniel’s mouth hung open in shock. Several quiet thuds could be heard from outside, with a few more groans to accompany them. Horrified, he inched around Eric’s body, approaching the door on the other side of the room.
It was unlocked. Daniel stepped into a long hallway, his face as pale as a sheet. More bodies were slumped against the walls, completely still. He recognised some of them, politicians and representatives from TV.
“Hello?” Daniel called out, his words bouncing back and forth between the walls. No answer.
As he walked, the horror of what he had done began to set in. Each room was occupied by at least a single corpse, not a sound in the air apart from Daniel’s own footsteps.
A sudden ring tone from inside Eric’s room startled him. He walked back through the door, only to see his own phone poking out from Eric’s pocket. Reluctantly, he went to pick it up.
“Daniel?! Daniel, what the fuck did you do? There’s an entire fucking SWAT team outside my house!” Michael’s nasally voice blasted through the speaker. Unable to speak, a single tear rolled down Daniel’s cheek as the sound of Michael’s door exploding open shot into the room. A few deafening gunshots, and the phone went dead.
Another call. Amelia. Daniel hesitantly pushed the answer button.
“Daniel! You’ve got to…you’ve got to get here, now! We’re at the retirement home again. Uncle Terry…he…he took this weird-looking pill and just collapsed. The nurses don’t know what to do and Mom won’t stop crying. Just please…get here as soon as you can.”
Amelia’s teary voice cut out. Bursting into tears, Daniel threw the phone at the wall, kicking over the table. Dropping to his knees, he cried out in anger, looking up towards the ceiling. The pill in his palm was slightly sweaty in texture as he placed it in his mouth, gulping it down loudly.
Just like Liberty's Fall, it suffers from the exact same issues.
Mainly that there are some earth shattering secrets that literally nobody ever suspected, which is not true. There might be some secrets that would lead to a nuclear holocaust between states, but nothing that would surprise the whole world.
Illuminati is bull... Its a myth perpetrated by dispositioned Catholic French clergy post the French revolution.
Big pharma isn't entirely wrong. While they aren't trying to make the population purposely sick and frail, they care about the gains first. That's why we have an overuse of antibiotics and why some meds get discovered as faulty kind of late or even degrade to being improper/dangerous for use.
Politicians don't really care.
The whole aliens thing, while might be true, would only surprise fools.
Now aside from the silly conspiracies of an evil supposedly global elite (which can't possibly exist as states compete with one another, thus leaders aren't buddies with all the other leaders, that's simply impossible), you've ventured into some sillier tropes. The plot escalates because "luck" when Daniel falls asleep after probably having the greatest adrenaline rush of his life which should keep wide awake.
A lowlife hacker with no real backstory to his skill being "the chosen one", it's just bad.
The bad guys letting the good guy into their lair for a trap thing... why even do this?
My favorite part was your characters who seem to suffer from DID as they are devoid of any real emotion, but for some reason act like the most empathetic people on the planet. On top of it all they're kind of stupid, why would they use an equivilent of a cyanide people if they probably have equally effective far more comfortable means of self disposition. Not to mention the fact that they should've at least hidden their own connections to this whole ring of evil (I'm talking about Eric and Uncle Terry... who were nobodies to the outside world).
Not to mention how Daniel has like a weird personality shift from a common internet crook who'd piss his pants if someone screamed at him to a person who is literally unfazed by seeing a sea of corpses. If this ain't breaking him, hearing about his evil uncle go down - especially if he was so zealously trying to beat this evil so to speak, commiting suicide.
You've also mistaken Michael for Daniel at the end there.
Overall, I don't find this exactly scary or dramatic, I'm sorry :/
Thanks for the feedback, but I think you may have misinterpreted some things. In terms or your criticism:
1: I'm not trying to push some sort of anti-government message here. Of course the overwhelming majority of conspiracies are completely wacko and extremely unlikely to be real, but the horror element in this story is from envisioning that they are real. You don't have to debunk them in the comments and point out their impossibility. That would be like watching Annabelle or Chucky and saying it was bad because there's no such thing as possessed dolls.
2: Daniel doesn't know he's hacked the website until he wakes up. He doesn't just realise and immediately fall asleep. Most of hacking consists of building programs to do the hacking for you, and running them on what you want to hack. This is what Daniel was doing. The idea is that he fell asleep through exhaustion while the program was running, and it hacked the website whilst he was asleep. I didn't think that it wasn't very obvious, but I'll try to make it clearer I guess?
3: Daniel isn't meant to be "The Chosen One". If he was supposedly destined to make the info public, he wouldn't be given a choice about it. If Daniel hadn't hacked the website, Eric would've persuaded the next person who they brought in. Daniel is expendable, just like anyone else.
4: You clearly have completely failed to see the whole point of why Daniel is there. He is being recruited by the government because of his hacking skills. This has happened to everyone before him, but it changes now because of Eric's decision to break the cycle. It's subverting the expectation that they would just kill Daniel so he doesn't spread all the confidential stuff. How is this not apparent in the text?
5: You say my characters have no emotion...but immediately afterwards call them empathetic? Of course they have emotion. Eric is tired of the cycle of recruitment and has pity for what Daniel might become, just like uncle Terry. Daniel cares about his family, but is too invested in his work to interact with them (he begs for them not be killed, even though he thinks they hate him). After Daniel leaks the info, he is horrified by the immediate reactions of those around him, causing him to commit suicide, showing he has remorse and regret for what he did. This is all evidence of them having emotions and feelings.
6: The cyanide pill (or more broadly, poisoning as a whole) is a common method of quick, effective suicide often seen as a stereotype for government operatives to use. I don't see why it can't be used in mass in the story. There is no "comfortable" method of suicide, unless you count euthanasia.
7: I don't exactly understand the point you're trying to make with Eric and Uncle Terry. They have to appear to the outside world, or else there would be investigations as to why they suddenly disappeared off the surface of the Earth after a SWAT raid.
8: What are you talking about? It clearly does faze him. He trashes the room with Eric and bursts into tears, ultimately choosing to commit suicide. That's pretty fazed if you ask me. More than fazed, broken, I'd say.
Honestly, I wouldn't consider a lot of your advice very valid, but thank you for bothering to suggest something, anyway.
1. You could compare conspiracies to Jeff the Killer, rather than the Supernatural, both are ridiculous. They both tend to defy logic for reasons unclear
2. Uhh sure.
3. "You're better than the rest..." is what gave me "the chose one" feeling about Daniel.
4. I was talking about Eric's lack of emotion, which he stated, I think... so how can he say he has no emotions left while still have plenty of em' left?
5. Again, talking about Eric, could paraphrase that
6. you have all the knowledge you could ever want (in character) and you have the tools, and yet you come up with a poisonous pill? Use your imagination ;) - In general.
7. We know nothing about Eric, so he's out of the whole picture. Uncle Terry could fake some issue, donate all of his wealth quote and qoute and ride off into the sunset. SWAT controlled by the gov't doesn't do shit when there's no command. Which is something I guess I've missed earlier.
8. You mention nothing of him getting upset to the brink of insanity by the sight of corpses, you mention him going into suicidal mode after he hears people he cares about die... so...
But yeah, your story, run with it as you see fit :)