July 1st, 2018
A face is staring into the camera. Sandy hair, mid-twenties, male, somewhat reminiscent of a squirrel in his rabid mannerisms.
“The big day is finally here. This is our first time testing out our new SPYDER bot on the dark web, and we’re both pretty excited. We’ve only got a week left to iron out the bugs before Kevin has to defend his thesis, but I don’t anticipate any problems. Kevin is nervous as hell, but the kid is an absolute genius. He’s still configuring his TOR network and VPN, so I’m going to catch everyone up who are just joining the stream now.
“Typical web crawlers haven’t been able to explore the dark web because they can’t index specific inputs like forms or authentication passphrases. I’m mostly here for moral support and don’t understand it completely, but Kevin’s SPYDER bot has machine learning algorithms which have been training the last few weeks to learn a new adaptive method of keyword selection.
“You hear that derisive snort at my oversimplification? Yeah that’s Kevin. Say hello Kevin!” The streamer looks off camera.
Off camera voice: “Shut up Brian.”
“Whatever, fuck you too man. Based on the training results, we should be able to index a couple thousand pages a day. Google only reaches 16 percent of all available websites, so that means it’s going to take us approximately… forever to get through it all with our current computing power. This is just a proof of concept though. All we’re using at the moment is Kevin’s old laptop that his dog Crinkles practically smashed. The power chord was stretched across the room and this little bulldog comes barreling right through —
Indistinct grunt off camera.
“Hold on, it looks like we’re good to go. If all goes well, then in a couple of months you’re going to start reading about how the dark web ceased to exist because of our little SPYDER. I’m going to end the stream now to let it get started, but join us again tomorrow to explore all the cool stuff we found!”
July 3rd, 2018
The sandy-haired man is back. There are bags under his eyes, but he’s as enthusiastic as ever.
“Hey guys, it’s me again. Sorry for the delay, but we hit an unexpected bump. SPYDER was doing great and had already logged a few hundred sites when it abruptly stopped with this weird error. It keeps telling us that it has already indexed everything. Kevin is able to manually direct it to keep finding new sites, but as soon as its automated it just says its finished again.
“Kevin is practically ripping his hair out, but it’s not like this has been a complete waste of time. We did discover a brand new, never-before-seen color that I’m pretty sure didn’t use to exist. All Kevin had to do was put on a white t-shirt a week ago, then eat nothing but BBQ chicken wings and sweat out the sauce.”
The camera starts to pan to the left. An unseen hand shoves it back into place.
“Anyway,” Brian rambles, “it looks like we might still be a while, so —”
Off Camera Voice: “Got it. I don’t understand it, but I’ve got it.”
“Well whip me red and call me applesauce, because it looks like we’re back in business.”
Off Camera Voice: “What? That’s not a saying. Nobody says that.”
“Kevin Kevin Kevin, you have GOT to get out more. People are saying that like ALL the time. So what was the holdup?”
Off Camera Voice: “It’s all linked. Look at this — a drug marketplace, an anime-forum, a counterfeit producer, some dungeon-porn —”
“You have my attention.”
Off Camera Voice: “It’s all referencing the same destination. SPYDER stops indexing because it thinks the whole dark web is this one site. I’m going to try to get in…”
“That relates to a joke I know. So a drug lord, a weebu, a conman, and a pornstar all walk into a bar…”
Off Camera Voice: “This isn’t a real joke. Just shut up, I’m trying to concentrate —”
“—and the barman says, ‘what are you guys doing together?’ So the drug lord says —”
Off Camera Voice: “They’ve all got something to hide.”
“Even the pornstar?”
Off Camera Voice: “It’s gotta be a blackmail thing. These guys must be tunneling into other websites to get info or hold them ransom. But there’s no way they can be everywhere. Every single site SPYDER finds… shit. Shit-mother-fucking-bitch-sticks.”
“Oh like that’s a real saying.”
Off Camera Voice: “They’re on my computer. I have no idea how they traced SPYDER back, but the mouse is moving on its own. It’s typing an address into TOR…”
“What are you doing?”
Off Camera Voice: “Popping out the battery. The power button isn’t working.”
“No don’t!” The streamer dives off camera. Bumping noises.
Off Camera Voice: “Dude give that back!”
The streamer returns in front of the camera holding a battered old laptop. “Nah man, this is what the people are here to see! Let’s find out where these hackers are trying to take us.”
“I swear to God, Brian.” An overweight torpedo wearing a blotchy shirt of unclassifiable color hurtles across the screen. The streamer’s chair tips over and both men go down. The laptop is left in front of the camera where a long line of seemingly random letters and symbols are typing themselves into the address bar of a TOR browser.
Indistinct muffled swearing.
The website loads. A countdown timer starting at fifteen minutes begins to tick down. Kevin and Brian stick their heads up over the desk in unison to stare at it.
“At least shut that damn camera off,” Kevin says.
“Only if you’ll let it countdown so we can see what happens,” Brian replies, swatting away Kevin’s hand which stretches for the laptop.
“God, you’re such an asshole. Whatever, fine, just shut it off.”
The sandy man begins to wave, but the screen cuts off halfway through.
When the stream turns the timer reads 15 seconds. The angle is weird, as if the camera is in his lap hidden beneath the desk. The looming Brian is pacing and muttering to himself in the corner of the screen. Kevin surreptitiously leans over the camera and gives a thumbs up, mouthing the letters OMG. The timer hits 0 and stays there.
A dog starts barking somewhere in the distance.
“Are you happy now?” Kevin grunts. “Give it back, okay?”
There’s a knock on the door. A single knock — loud and deliberate. The barking intensifies, snarling, growling, all hell breaking loose in its little world.
“Not really,” Kevin whispers.
A second knock. Then a third, each about three seconds apart.
“You get it.” Both men say at nearly the same instant. They stare at each other until the next knock.
“This is your fault!” Kevin wheezes in a voice halfway between a whisper and a shout.
“Yeah, yeah,” he replies. He approaches the door, the camera angle still at waist height. Then in a louder voice: “Who is it?”
“Are you still recording?” Kevin hisses. “Unbelievable.”
The screen is filled by the door as Kevin gets closer. He’s right up against it, so he’s probably looking through the peek-hole. CRASH — a sound loud enough to max out the speaker volume. The door explodes inward in a wave of splinters. The screen shakes erratically, and there’s nothing but splinters and lances of light and screaming.
A gray-skinned hand streaks across the camera. If you freeze the frame, you’ll notice that the skin looks more like coarse cloth and that there is stitching running up and down the fingers.
The stream cuts off.
The streamer is back. His face seems paler. His skin is breaking out and his hair hangs in greasy strings around his face. He’s sitting at a bare table in a concrete room. The lights are dim, but there’s a large man standing in the back of his room. His hands are folded motionlessly in front of him.
“Um, yeah, hi guys. This might be… my last broadcast for a while.” He glances back at the figure in the corner, but there’s no movement. Back to the camera:
“Kevin’s okay. I mean, he’s different, but he’s okay.”
He glances back to the corner of the room, but the figure still hasn’t budged. Brian’s shadow shifts with his movement, and for a moment the stitched cloth/skin of the person in the corner is visible running all the way up his arm.
“I guess they had something like SPYDER. They were only tunneling into websites on the dark web anyway. I guess those kinds of people could disappear without as many questions being asked. They wanted my followers to know though…”
Brian swallows. He looks behind again. Then a sudden burst of movement — grabbing the camera and dragging it up to his face. “Close your browser now. Shut off your computer.”
The figure in the back has started to move. Great, lumbering steps, charging forward.
Brian’s words are a breathy rush. “It only takes fifteen minutes for them to find you once they’ve established a connection.”
The cloth hands seize Brian from behind and drag him off camera.
“Don’t do this Kevin!” He shouts.
“How long has your browser been open already? Just shut the damn thing off!”
There’s a heavy THUD. A heavyset face appears in front of the camera for a moment. The human eyes look strange embedded within the cloth. Stitches run down either side of the face along the jawline. The cloth might just be sewed to the skin, but it fits so closely to the anatomy of Kevin’s face that it looks more like the cloth has replaced it.
The stream cuts to black, replaced by the last few seconds of a depleting timer.