I’m on a Greyhound bus, where there always seems to be at least one someone trying to overcome some sort of demon.
Who was the One Someone on this bus? Me? No, it was that woman.
This time, the One Someone sat right next to me. I stared at her. At her reflection. Looking toward the window, appearing to watch the green jungle on the side of the road slip by, on a trip my sister would be glad I went by.
This woman, you remember her? She’s the one that peeked in my room. Followed me to the taqueria. Fixed my collar. Called me mental.
Oh, I’m mental? Me? Hahaha, I’ve gone completely out of my mind??!?? That’s what she thinks, this woman sitting next to me. The nice young woman in a clean white skirt and shirt Carrying an expensive bag and purse. And I’m the one who’s gone berserk? Well?!?!?
Looking back, yeah, I can see it now. At the time, I was a little on edge, that’s all.
The bus rocked, back and forth, back and forth As I, of course, I spied on the woman’s reflection While her reflection stared at her phone The bus (yawn) rocked and the woman swapped Between the Fox News app, CNN, Twitter and… I couldn’t believe it She had the Dark World Forums app That app required the Tor network It could only be installed on a jailbroken phone Most people wouldn’t risk it For some it’s a one-way ticket to brick it This shit, I was getting tired of it I was getting tired, I couldn’t resist it Tired, my eyes were so heavy… The bus’ motion… Tired, like someone slipped me a…. Who was this woman? Sleeping potion… Bus in motion… Like someone slipped me a…. My eyes were heavy… Heavy, heavy, heavy… Slipped me… yawn… sleeping potion.
The bus rocked me to sleep, like a baby. I don’t know if you detected the slight edge to my voice before, but man, did I need that nap!
It took a few minutes to wake all the way up enough to look at my phone. We were two hours from Birmingham, the bus’ idling was the loudest sound, we were stopped at some other Greyhound depot in some other town.
Time to get some work done.
I got out my laptop, set up my new wifi hotspot and went to work on figuring out how to read these weird SD cards. Apparently one of them was a Cyber Weapon. One of them was my COVID data. What was on the other four cards?
First, just to confirm, I put one of the SD cards in my new laptop and got the same error message as I had on DeKeisha’s machine. Pcue “Unrecognizable drive format.” Next, I searched for how to read a GUSS card. I found nothing, other than that FAQ entry from the Gateway web site, which, I thought was really strange. When was the last time I googled something so obscure there weren’t any answers. 2008?
I logged into the Dark World Forums app and posted “How to read the GUSS SD Card format?” From beside me, the woman’s phone dinged. I glanced over as she checked it. It was a notification from the Dark World Forums app notifying her that someone she was tracking had just posted.
She was tracking me.
A lot of times, a niche post like mine would take days to get a reply, but I had an inbox full of replies in less than 30 minutes. I had become a Dark World Forums celebrity. An account called TheDoxxxer was trying to dox me, and in the meantime, he sure made sure everyone knew my username, dist1nc7ive, was associated with the major theft from Gateway Underground Secure Storage. He was trying to be an asshole, but really, he was being helpful. People wanted to help me.
Having said that, there were hundreds of posts unrelated to my question. Posts from “fans” – air quotes – who saw my post and replied to it. They wrote stuff like, “What are you doing to do with Styx? What does the Styx DO? My favorite Styx song is Mr. Roboto, what is yours?” And I’m all like, “what the fuck are you talking about?”
I had stolen six SD cards. I really only wanted one card, a card with data that could help my sister. The others were to obfuscate which one I really wanted. One of those was apparently some sort of CIA Cyber Weapon. It seemed so stupid. I mean, why would the CIA store such a thing at Gateway instead of on government servers?
Oh, yeah (chuckle). The CIA sucks. Sucks in what way, you ask? Google “Vault 7 breach”. That’s why.
So, in my case, apparently, Wikileaks surfaced some documents leaked to them a year ago by an anonymous contact. The documents described the weapon. The CIA had code-named it Styx.
Yesterday, when the rumors about Styx started, the CIA had released a statement, denying any such thing existed, saying it’s a conspiracy theory, blah, blah. A few hours later the CIA released a statement saying okay, something had been stolen, but it was not a weapon.
Then, within the last twenty minutes, the CIA released a statement saying an advanced cyber weapon they had built had come online and it was weaponized. They said the weapon had begun a countdown.
The Internet went bonkers. A countdown? What kind of countdown? What was it counting down to? I mean… holy fucking fuck, right?
Of course, the CIA refused to say what would happen if the countdown hit zero, but they did offer a million dollar reward for the return of Styx. So, we can assume that if the countdown hit zero, it would be very fucking bad.
Then, I realized… Oh. My. Lord. I had a million dollars in my backpack. And, that wasn’t even the data I really tried to steal. Just, kind of a bonus.
Or… not. It couldn’t be me. I had been on this bus for the last several hours. I hadn’t done anything to enable any countdown. Gateway feared multiple coordinated break-ins, that’s why they had all that security. Surely someone else had also attacked Gateway at the same time as me. In fact, it’s probably one of the reasons I managed to escape. I couldn’t be the only thief. I was just the only thief in the news. Which, was super bad news. If they caught me, there was no way I could convince them I hadn’t stolen a cyber weapon.
Not everyone on Dark World was supportive. Many replies were scathing responses about the Countdown. The most recent post said, “The information on Wikileaks says Styx a kill switch. After the Countdown, Styx will, quote, “detonate and propagate,” end quote. It’s designed to take down the Internet wherever it is launched, stopping at the first major Exchange Point.”
Someone replied to that, writing, “Good job, fucknuts. If it works, you just literally broke the Internet in North America.”
I was like, ‘take a chill pill’ – I knew all the SD cards were in a faraday box in my backpack, riding down the Interstate in a Greyhound. Nothing I possessed was certainly counting down like some lame James Bond movie plot.
Anyway, whatever. The Internet can be a tough place sometimes. I focused on the two legit replies to my post. I recognized the handles, a couple of guys who spent most of their day on Dark World and/or Stack Overflow, competing to increase their reputation. They were neck and neck, each with millions of rep points.
I scanned their answers. Let’s see… Patch Virtual Box… restart… when installing, choose the option that says … Alright, okay… Seemed easy enough.
Then, the woman next to me said, “Oh, you’re following it, too?”
I said, “What?”
She gestured at my phone. She said, “The story about Styx. Can you believe it? A countdown just started!”
I said, “Styx?”
She said, “The Cyber Weapon. The CIA code-named it ‘Styx,’ like the river in Hell … Wikileaks? — Have you been in a cave?”
I said, “Oh. That. Yeah.”
She continued, “It’s so fascinating. The Countdown is at just over seventy hours. I jailbroke my iPhone this morning so I could get the Dark World Forums app and read about it. Everyone there is a hacker. I’m @Jenny92, by the way.” She held out her hand.
A handshake? Who even does that anymore? Instead I waved and said, “Hi, @Jenny92.”
She giggled, “It’s @Jenny92 on Dark World. In real life, I’m just, you know, Jenny.” Even with a mask, I could tell Jenny had a big smile. A big suspicious smile.
I pulled my hat down lower, grateful to be wearing a COVID mask of my own. Jenny was fangirling the Cyber Weapon story and would probably easily recognize me otherwise.
She said, “Hey, jailbreaking my phone hosed my data plan. I’m throttled. What’s your wifi password?” She pointed at the wifi hotspot sitting on my knee.
I said, “Well, the thing is, it’s pay-as-you-go, I don’t have a lot of –”
“I just want to watch the Countdown. Someone created a website for it.”
I said, “I don’t think so.”
She said, “You don’t have to be an asshole about it.”
I said, “Saying ‘no’ doesn’t make me an asshole. No means no, okay?”
She raised her voice. “You’re pulling the ‘no means no’ card on ME?” Jenny92’s eyes were wide open, her eyebrows narrow, her forehead wrinkled. I doubted she was smiling.
I said, “I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Seriously, you misogynistic asshole, if you –”
“Fine, fine. I’m sorry. You can use it.” (silence) “I love God. Period.”
Jenny92 said, “What?”
I said, “It’s ‘I love God.’ With spaces. God is capitalized. Ends in a period.”
She said, “Oh. The password. Okay, thanks!”
Jenny92 connected to my wifi. I angled my laptop away from her just enough so she couldn’t see my screen, but not enough that she’d think I was trying to prevent her from seeing my screen.
I got on the Dark World app again and searched Jenny92. No posts. Dark World was a hacker favorite because it was easy to set up an account and stay anonymous. You could speak freely without worry about being shamed, cancelled or doxxed. It was decentralized. Anyone could own a copy that synced up with other copies throughout the day, backed up by a custom blockchain implementation. No one owned Dark World, and no one could take it down, it was decentralized and demoralizing. It often devolved into a cesspool of bickering, open threats and hate.
Using what I’d learned from those two legit replies to my post, I downloaded a patch for Virtual Box that included an obscure formatting option, downloaded a fresh Debian ISO - that alone took over two hours on my slow-ass hotspot - then installed a new VM using the obscure formatting option, and fired it up.
By this point, Jenny92 appeared to have fallen asleep. I looked at her for a couple of minutes. Her eyes looked closed. Her breathing was steady and consistent. I felt safe in getting out the SD cards.
I opened my faraday box and took out the SD cards. I inserted the COVID-19 card, opened a terminal, typed “cd /media” and hit enter, then typed “ls -la”. Boom. Dot-dat files, dot.db, random stuff I didn’t recognize and didn’t know how to open, blah, blah. But it was the kind of files I expected to see, so, good.
I inserted a different one, typed “ls -la” and boom, it also worked.
This card was a bunch of images in one directory, files with hashed names and a dot-jpg extension. I typed “view” then the first filename I saw, using tab completion to make it easier. I hit enter.
The image opened.
Oh, my good Lord. That’s disgusting. What did I just see? I tried a different filename. Holy shit. This was so bad.
I was deep in thought, thinking about what I was going to do about this, when I heard a voice. An incredulous, shrill voice.
“Oh my fucking God!” Jenny92 was awake. Shit! She saw the image on my screen.
“Is that – was that – what the fuck are you looking at???”
“Nothing, no. I mean, it’s not mine.” I couldn’t believe I had gone off daydreaming with that open on my screen.
Jenny said, “It’s on your fucking laptop, asshole. I’m calling the police –”
“No, wait, I can explain.” Dammit. How was I going to explain? I had to get rid of these SD cards, pronto. The bus window didn’t open. I thought about pushing past her and dumping the cards in the toilet. Or, running to the front of the bus and forcing the driver to open the door.
Jenny92 said, “What could possibly be the explanation for having that shit on your computer?”
She was right. What could I say would excuse it? I didn’t have a lie ready to go for this one. Was there even a lie that would work?
I decided there wasn’t. So, I told Jenny the truth.
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson
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