Short Story: Digital Tsunami

The light-net’s fracture was the trigger to a digital tsunami that came in three, tidal depths. Its waters receded further each time, yet rose, preparing to drown the world. Preparation was most obvious in the power-user groups, often tech and software companies full of innovators. When their innovation gave way to investment and castling; withdrawing from the public behind their own, flood-proof walls, danger was imminent. Those doors remained open long enough for the last, aging gen-x’ers to hustle in, then shut for good before a stillness set about.

It lasted all of thirty-seconds before the first, vomitous tidal-wave poured in.

Users craving net-fixes of gray-market things turned to the dark-net. The one-time loose affiliation of shadow users known only by their silhouettes and negative space, were connected via specific protocols to form a world-wide net as vast as the light-net. Indeed, formed seemingly of its own, collective will. Exclusive clubs and cliques, hidden from public scrutiny for decades, were exposed without warning to oft-voiced, petty or righteous anger.

Simply, light was shed across darkness into even its deepest corners.

The effects too, came in waves. The worst dark-net offenses drowned first from corporate bodies and watch-dog groups, even PTA and church congregations, all rallying against the trafficking and murder-for-hire it was notorious for. These things, existent regardless of action, were merely avenues for opportunists using the net’s openness to communicate. (Later, the avenues to corporate domination.)

Most readily agreed to the moderation, but it was the cunning cruelty of their strategy that allowed them to use such shame and fear in unseating people. The precedent set, it could now be used to order and occupy them.

All the same, silence only made people less aware of their own existence– that of the individual. Worse still, within that silence was a vaccination formed of mixes of outrage, fury, and righteous validation. Those not inoculated against their future’s diminishing rights felt tremors brewing. It was only the second wave that finally swept them off and into the world.

If the first wave made the former dark-net lighter, the second immolated it.

Users founded and contributed to communities the same way they had when the light-net was built in, but in an age following the (CDCA) Corporate Digital Communications Act, which banned sedition or dissent in all corp-owned blogs, forums, and chat rooms or their subsidiaries.

The new light-net could look identical to its former self, but along with reasonable, civil discourse, even lamentations vilifying certain corp-assets was grounds for legal action. To those relying solely on public access, but fundamentally wishing structured debate in a calm order, the net seemed unrecognizable.

Even before the second wave, the Darknet was ordering itself into a functioning organism, as yet not entirely hell-bent on scum and villainy. It was never meant to stay so. Such is the way of the human frontier. No matter the subject, nomadic susceptibility exists within all humans. The ideal goal therein, creating so much between camps that each becomes interconnected with the rest. The net was that, and more.

But the nature of the universe demands chaos. Thus chaos dominates where it can.

Once loose affiliations climbed toward critical mass with new light-net users, their formerly-open discussions censored by those shouting dissenting opinions. These first, biased few were quickly swatted down, banned, and otherwise digitally reprimanded. It would do little good, in time proving them merely sacrificial lambs for those seeking to establish controls and boundaries.

Rank scents of money and greed began tainting communities.

Once-proud, vocal proponents of free speech and net rights went silent, bought by corporate affiliates or coaxed into relaxing certain restrictions while tightening others. It wasn’t long before the corporate take-over manifested in certain, glaring changes that otherwise would go unnoticed if natural. Though some argument to their validity existed, few doubted corporate involvement in the incidents, most simply did recognize its importance.

The second wave hit without ceremony. Its effects, undeniable. Soon more and more boards– of questionable repute but ultimately victimless, disappeared; illicit drug swaps, sexual expression, even banes for corp-aligned politics, gone. Their eradication was slow, timed. The only proof for members’ wrongdoing when reported, those of dubious, “friend of friend” sources.

The new light-net was nearly complete, now gray to off-white.

Drawn by media frenzies– engineered by parent corporations to gain information on citizenry– new users flooded the former dark-net. Their renewed vigor promised supposed freedom, a veneer for the reality of controlling, corporate interests. Even then, many speculated of newer, more clandestine dark-nets forming regardless of skepticism.

Indeed, that second wave saw the rise of operators. Former tech-nerds in hideaways, safe-houses, and literal holes in walls of crumbled infrastructure bought out and never used. They were there, establishing new net-protocols and servers even they might forget the location of, to further protect against centralized nets.

The system’s redundancy was perpetuated by its nature. “The Darknet,” would be the unshakable foundation upon which a permanent system could be established and relied upon. In wake of the Paris Incident, it became that, and much, much more.

The third and final wave directly preceded the Paris Incident, catalytic nexus-point for change that it was. What darkness had remained was deloused in glaring floodlights; corporations could never censor information altogether, but could vicariously outlaw access to it.

And did.

Under the guise of new tele-comm acts, and by degrees of outlawing any person or group from interacting with so-termed “threats,” all possible room for discussion, dissent, or sedition vanished. What remained of free-expression was outright banned or manipulated into suiting corporate aims and bottom-lines. Everything from pornography to inflammatory anti-corp language became grounds for search, seizure, and arrest.

That final wave signaled the last remnants of the digital tsunami rolling through. It began and ended so quickly people couldn’t help finding themselves reeling. In it however, came the formation of a true Darknet, its decentralized existence and expert, ever-changing encryption, their shield and sword– and later, the resistance cells’ blood and spine.

Through simple coordination and code, the Darknet allowed information exchange while maintaining a one-way link to the light-net for intel. In effect, the digital tsunami seeking to drown the people showed them their true strength, allowing not only their survival, but their prosperity. The Darket’s inherent security allowed any willing, to access it, but few undevoted, to understand it. Extra precautions in its planning allowed operators on either end to pass free communications over encrypted channels.

Its openness allowed it to remain an entity capable of safe-guarding freedom and liberating oppression.

When the waters finally receded, little debate existed over the Darknet’s permanence. It could not be taken over. Especially not as before. Its connections were remote, isolated, only exchanged via masked, encrypted data requiring specific codes to crack. Every person in the world could try until the end of existence, and still not crack one key. Even so, the chance at intercepting one in the din makes it pointless to try.

It was built for that very reason; as a bulwark against future tsunamis engineered to sink it by over-intelligent, impetuous babes. The framework is modular, but thus adaptive, infinite. It cannot be conquered, because the idea is not capable in its system.

In the end, information– avarice of the corps, proved their greatest enemy. Poisoned by the limitless liberty of their own wine, their downfall became freedom for all. After all was said and done, their corpses were merely breeding grounds for carrion, as equally as indifferent as they’d been. Those long left behind picked bones and scraps as scavengers were wont to do. Meanwhile humanity lined the oceans with towers and soaked in the view together, no longer afraid of any storm to come.

Short Story: Ode to Shadows

The ocean is an abyss, more desert than plain or forest teeming with life. The thought is a difficult one for humans to grasp when deserts have become synonymous with arid, barren, wastelands. The ocean is seemingly its antithesis, most would think. In truth, it is but one face of a two-sided coin. Humans have descended little more than six miles in one, lone spot, only to find emptiness, darkness. They have mapped little more than five-percent of this lifeless zone with primitive instruments put to shame by even their lesser-advanced, contemporary achievements.

What they have found (or rather, not) is nothing in comparison to what lies hidden in the deepest, unexplored recesses. In places where neither men nor beast can reach, there dwells a spark of existence known only as Shadows. They are unlike their surface counterparts in uncountably unimaginable ways. They’ve no physical bodies, not as a man could touch or feel; no eyes or ears, nor mouths with which to speak. Instead, they communicate with only thoughts projected between one another. Each Shadow is a floating consciousness with no more aim but to continue floating. Were any man or animal to stumble upon their confines, an intentional, psychic transmission would destroy them. It is not with malice nor anger, but merely an effect of Shadows’ extreme differences.

Had someone known this before NOAA sent down their prized research team, perhaps things would have gone differently. But once more humanity was slighted for their curiosity, blissful ignorance. In time, each researcher was subjected to that pulse of mental power, overwhelmed to death by it.

The team of six arrived at a previously undocumented area of sea-floor. Their mission was to map it and catalog its biome. In their specialized submarine– not unlike a ballistic missile design, but different entirely in its purpose– they laid anchor somewhere in the southern Atlantic. The trough they took residence in was three miles deep, enough to require mixtures of exotic gasses to replace oxygen. Those gases of helium and oxygen were necessary given the dangerous nature of Oxygen at such depths and pressures.

The first day of their two-week stay was uneventful, spent largely in configuring their diving gear to the intense pressure outside. By the second day acting leader of the team, Karen West, had ordered they make their first foray into the deep. Through a moon pool in a central compartment, they plunged into blackness without fear, unaware of what lay beyond their ship’s powerful lighting.

Split into pairs, one third was to head for a geothermal vent to the South. Another was to map the extent of the vent’s radiant heat to the North. It was, by way of deduction, in hopes of creating a mapped radius of a possible live-zone. Such is the sea’s nature that, as the desert’s inverse, heat is the life-giving force in the freezing depths. The final third of the group was to remain in range of the ship, collecting sediment samples to determine the anchorage area’s age and composition.

Instructed as they were, the pairs broke ranks and ventured forth in their enormous pressure-suits like over-inflated astronauts. Indeed, the aquanauts’ steps in the low gravity of the Ocean made the comparison all the more apt. Not even the strongest suits could protect them for what was to come.

It was Donald that first saw the shadows. Though the others wouldn’t come to know that until it was too late. He and his partner, in charge of mapping the radiant heat’s outermost reaches, came upon a Shadow without knowing it. They bounced between their feet in a low-G moonwalk, appeared as great, shuffling, tire-clad men with flood-lights atop their heads.

When something skirted the edge of a light, Donald pursued it. A moment later he was stopped dead. Pressure built in his suit. Screams sliced through his comm. It linked to his partner and the rest of the team. Before they could react, there was a shrieking crescendo. A loud, wet pop! Then, his suit toppled over, face-mask spattered with blood and brain in a viscous carnage.

Karen recalled everyone to the ship at-once. It wasn’t enough. As different as Shadows are, like man they shared an intrinsic trait; curiosity. Donald’s partner barely made to flee before he too screamed, silenced by another, wet pop! Karen and the others were already double-timing it to the ship, hoping its poly-alloy walls would protect them.

If only they’d known what they were up against, perhaps they wouldn’t have been so foolish. But how could they have? The only reason anything is known of their encounter is due to a real-time black-box system linked into their comms and embedded in the submarines controls. The black-box was near-indestructible, only discovered when the submarine’s scheduled rise came. Crew or not, the sub was fated to ascend.

When it appeared at the surface, there were only the vaguest of hints of what had gone wrong. After a quarantine period, its exterior was examined and found to be immaculate. Nothing more could be learned without boarding.

Scattered around the sealed, moon-pool doors, NOAA rescue crews in hazmat gear found their four researchers. Audio of a final, few minutes preceded dead-silent comms that lasted two-straight weeks. After the routine, first day, and the chilling events of Donald’s death, leader Karen and the others’ final moments were discovered.

A mixture of swears and cries bled through the comms. Debates about what might have happened, what to do now. Then, with an almost audible breath, a silence. A thump against the sub’s outer-hull gave way to a collective groan. Someone said something about a nose bleed to Karen. Another thump. Then, two more in succession. A crew-member’s screams terrified someone to tears– or perhaps it was the pain of the slow, further succession of thumps omnipresent against the hull.

Before long, little else was to be heard but cries and thumps. Sounds of four men and women dying grated investigators’ ears, whom listened to the thumps for five full minutes. Then came screams. Like Donald and his partner’s, that apexed in shrill cries.

Then, pop, pop, pop… pop!

The deaths were ruled an accident, but NOAA barred return to the site. If only they’d known the Shadows, like humans, were a global pandemic in the ocean’s deepest recesses, perhaps they’d have never again set foot on a ship. Instead, man continued on unawares. But such is the nature of his ignorance and fragility that he might be at death’s door one day, then sailing the high-seas unbidden the next. Alas, that matters not to the Shadows, for they are eternally patient, curious, and wait only to investigate with a wet, solemn, pop!