01 Feb The part of the deep web we aren’t supposed to see Part 5
You know how they say that time flies when you’re having fun? Well, that also applies when you think you’re about to be smoked.
It didn’t take long for them for them to break down the door. The thing is… jumping out the windows wasn’t an option here. I tried opening a vent in the washroom, but they were already inside the apartment. I remember seeing Caine fish a pistol out of a kitchen cabinet before getting bodied by some behemoth of a man. This all happened in what felt like seconds.
The last thing I saw before I blacked out was the butt of a rife coming towards my face.
I awoke sometime later, face down on a dusty floor in a dim, empty room. My head was pounding. I wasn’t restrained, but there was nowhere to go. One door leading out and it was dead-bolted. I turned my head to see Caine pacing on the other side.
“Look, I didn’t lead them here.” I tried to reason with him. He looked pissed.
“Oh, I don’t doubt that.” He responded. “Not on purpose at least. They know that I can’t help them. Would’ve tried a while ago.” He followed it up with a sigh. “This is fucked.”
I turned away from him and started feeling around the walls. I was under the delusion that there would some secret way out. A delusion it was. After my futile attempt at escape, I just sat down at a corner. There was no good ending to this, I thought.
Caine seemed to read my mind because he chimed in: “You know you can’t tell them how to get there.” He looked at me again. This time his demeanor was dead serious. “You can’t let that thing loose over here. That’s not an option.”
Initially I was annoyed. He was asking me to take what was surely torture and then death. But then I thought about it. This was bigger than me. There was no way out of it.
The door suddenly swung open. About five people stepped in, all sporting those damn bags over their heads. Two had shotguns.
“You’re awake. Good.” Said the one at the front. I instantly recognized that voice. Was it really? He slipped it off, revealing a big shit-eating grin. It was Jackson.
“It didn’t have to be like this, you know. You could’ve just told me how to get there.”
I thought back to the conversation we had in the diner. I clearly told him what I had entered at the prompt. Did that not work for him? But I put that thought to the back of my head. At that moment, I was nothing but angry.
“Like it would’ve mattered. You psycho fucks would’ve ruined the world regardless.”
He just sighed. “Ruin? Look, I don’t expect you to understand. Only to co-operate. But… this world… it isn’t right. It was a mistake.”
“So you just follow the orders of some crazy dead guy, huh?” Caine laughed. “It sounds like you guys are the mistakes.”
One of the men walked up and whipped the shotgun barrel across his face. There was a terrible cracking sound as he fell to the floor. He started coughing up blood.
“Why don’t you guys just kill me? I can’t help you. Wouldn’t if I could.” He muttered as he sat against a wall.
Jackson chuckled. “No. This is something we all need to see. The more people who stand witness, the better. It’s the greatest salvation anybody could ask for.”
He was just bloviating nonsense at this point. I didn’t feel like arguing, however. There was no changing his mind. I had questions, though.
“How’d you find me, huh? It doesn’t make any sense.”
He walked over to me and reached behind my ear. I felt a sharp pain at the back of my neck as he pulled out what looked like a tiny computer chip. Oh. So that’s what that was. I just let out an exasperated sigh.
“Funny enough, this wasn’t our doing.” He said as he flicked it away.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I spat at him. But then I thought about it. When those guys were shooting at me in the locker room, I swear I felt something hit my neck. But in the moment, you just don’t care.
Jackson smiled as he saw the horror on my face. “We can thank those guys for that. It’s just a shame that they won’t be here to see it. Everybody always resists. Only the lucky ones truly get it.” I recalled Ben’s message. A lot of groups are after this. But we’re only afraid of one.
“Who were they?” I asked him.
“Don’t know.” He replied. “It never mattered anyways.”
I was reliving the whole journey in my head at this point. Thinking about where I messed up.
“How’d you get to the terminal? You needed a key card.”
Jackson pulled one out of his pocket. Oh yeah. I forgot. They killed everybody who had one. I was beyond frustrated at this point. Not even just at him. At this whole damn situation.
“This thing that you want to send over here. Do you even know what it is?”
He paused for a second. A look of pure contemplation was plastered across his face.
“I’ll tell you what Blake told me: It’s not for us to know. We don’t belong here. And every second we remain the universe deteriorates. We need to correct this.”
It’s funny. These guys actually thought they were after something good.
“Blind faith, huh?” I retorted. “You guys are pathetic.”
Jackson scrunched his nose at this. His expression contorted into one of pure rage.
He gestured to the two men standing beside him. They started dragging me out of the room. As we left, I could hear Caine screaming at me. Screaming that I couldn’t give in.
I tried wrestling the shotgun away, but it was a pathetic attempt. There was nothing I could do. They tossed me into another room. This time, it was larger. I guess the rest of the cult was also in there, cause about 15 people stood, lining the perimeter of the room. All with those bags over their heads. There was also a computer set up in the middle, wires running everywhere. They forced me into a chair in front of it and strapped my legs down.
“Go ahead.” Jackson’s voice echoed from behind me. “Everybody’s waiting.”
I refused at first. I really did. But I guess that’s what they were expecting. First came the water-boarding. Don’t know if you’ve experienced it, but it definitely wasn’t pleasant. However, it also wasn’t enough.
What came next almost was, however. One of the men took out a butterfly knife and started slicing my pinky toe off. Slowly. He did this over the course of what felt like an hour. Then came the salt. It was pain that transcended anything I’ve ever felt before. He finally finished up by cauterizing it.
“You have nine more.” Jackson’s voice oozed from behind me. “You can end this anytime. You can die the way you’re supposed to.”
Hearing him say this just gave me more motivation to tell him to fuck off. But I’ll admit, I was nearing my breaking point. The next part was excruciating beyond belief. They started scraping the skin off of my shoulder. It wouldn’t have been that bad if it wasn’t for the boiling water they poured on it afterwards.
“Okay, alright!” I finally blurted out. They stopped and started applying some cream to the burn. It was pure ecstasy.
I heard Jackson breathe out what sounded like a sigh of relief.
This was all a ruse, however. I just needed a break for a second. My plan was to get to the prompt and then flip the damn table over. If they were going to torture me to death, I was going out with a bang. The human spirit is hard to break. A billion thoughts ran through my head as I went through the whole fucking process again. Memories of family and friends. Better times. I solved those riddles and encryptions until that damn question popped up again. “Quid quaeris?”
I was about to enact my spree of destruction when I noticed something. Something small, in the corner of the monitor. It was hard to read so I had to squint. It was text. Just two words. In English this time.
I just stared at it for a second. What the hell was it supposed to mean? That’s when I came to a realization. I recalled what Ben had told Caine. It was only Blake sitting at that computer in the basement. He was the only one watching. Everybody who saw this thing went insane and killed themselves. Somehow, the AI also knew this. I smiled to myself.
I felt somebody poke at my back. “Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind. We can change it back.” Jackson’s voice rung out.
“Don’t worry” I responded.
I answered the prompt question. What also seeks me. The familiar list of links soon appeared in front of me. I started scrolling down, clicking on various links until a familiar question appeared in the corner. I clicked “yes”.
And just like that, there they were. The four links. I leaned back in the chair.
“Well, there it is. First link’s the one you’re looking for”.
I watched as they all gathered around me. “This the first time you’re going to see it?” I asked. I could see Jackson nodding out of the corner of my vision.
“Blake did make one mistake. He thought that we weren’t ready. We were always ready.”
They unstrapped me from the chair. Jackson put his hand on my shoulder in appreciation.
“You don’t know this, but you just did something good.”
“Spare me.” I responded. “Is Ben still alive?” I needed to know.
“Well, where is he?”
“Why does it matter at this point?”
“I just want to tell him to brace himself. I owe him that, at least.”
Jackson sighed. He took out a piece of paper with an address and postal code scribbled onto it and handed it to me.
“Good luck with that.” He gestured to a couple of armed members.
“Follow him out. In case he lied again.”
They obliged. I could barely hold in my grin as they walked me out. They closed the door behind them and trained their shotguns on me. There was only one thing I could do at this point. I just waited, listening intently.
There was a few muffled voices before silence. I started counting. One. Two. Three. Four. And then came the screams.
Even though I was expecting it, I still flinched. Caine was right. Those sounds should not have come out of a human being. The two guys guarding me flipped shit. One of them ran inside and the other stumbled on his feet. He was looking back and forth between me and the room, so I disarmed him easily and shot out his kneecaps. I guess he hit his head hard on the floor because he went limp. That’s when the cacophony of gunshots started ringing out from inside the room. It lasted for about ten seconds and was followed by silence.
With a shotgun in hand, I walked inside. Bodies were lying, haphazardly scattered around the room. Pieces of the burlap sacks they were wearing were now stuck to the blood-stained walls. The monitor was face down on the floor, shards of screen everywhere.
There was only squirming figure left – Jackson. Guess he really was dedicated to this. He was muttering something incomprehensible as he snaked his way towards a stray pistol.
I thought about finishing the job for him. But that’d just be putting him out of his misery. Instead, I went around the room and took the clips and shells out of every weapon. He gave me one last look before I left. His skin was paler than snow. Arms and legs trembling. Expression a mix of shock, dismay and confusion. It looked as if he was pleading for something. I just flipped him off and closed the door behind me. This is what he wanted, wasn’t it?
I walked down to the room where Caine still was. I’d picked up the keys from one of the bodies. At this point, the cream on my shoulder as well as the adrenaline was wearing off. A wave of pain hit me at once. I stumbled a bit before I got to the door and unlocked it.
Caine jumped when I walked in. He seemed relieved at first. And then horrified.
“D… did you?” The words faltered out of his mouth. I just shook my head. He exhaled in solace. He wanted to take a quick peak inside the room before we left, just to make sure. Jackson was still in there, twitching violently in the corner, facing away from us.
That was the last I ever saw of him.
“This’ll be a pleasant surprise for somebody.” Caine said before closing the door. We got out of there after that. Turns out we were in the basement of some abandoned factory outside city limits. We hitchhiked back into town.
We got back to Caine’s apartment where he decided to buy me a plane ticket back. “Least I could do” He stated.
“So where to? You said you were from Delaware?”
I looked down at the address in my hand. “No. I need to go to Vegas first.”
Caine chuckled. “Drinking away this whole experience, huh? Understandable.” He started booking the ticket.
“Do you want to see him?” I asked as was finishing up. He raised his eyebrow.
He paused, staring at the ground for a second before answering: “No. Not really.” He looked back at me. “Tell him I wish him the best, though. Tell him to be careful.” He said it in such a somber tone. I could tell he just wanted to be to done with this whole thing. To never think about it again. Seeing Ben wouldn’t help that.
He gave me some cab money before we exchanged goodbyes. I had to ask him one last thing before leaving:
“You think that’s the end of them?”
He thought about it for a second before answering:
“It has to be.”
I started heading for the airport. I gotta say, it feels weird walking around with a toe missing. I’ll get used to it, I suppose.
Once in Vegas, I took another cab to the address. It was a run-down house in the middle of a sketchy neighborhood. I hurried in and started searching.
I must have looked through the entire place before hearing a soft groaning from the basement. I hurried down there and started yelling Ben’s name. The groaning got louder. It was coming from a room in the back. I tried the handle. Locked. I eventually just kicked it down. Dust blasted me in the face as I walked inside.
Ben was lying there, on a dirty mattress in the middle of the room. He had bruises all over his face and looked like he hadn’t eaten in days. There were packets of instant ramen strewn all over the floor. He turned over to look at me and smiled.
“Knew you could do it.” He uttered out. I looked around the room. There was a small television set, smashed onto the floor.
“Yeah, they wanted me to watch it on the news.” He grinned again. “Like hell I was.”
I picked him up and led him out of there. “It’s alright, I’m good.” He said as he stabilized himself. Once we were outside, he took a deep breath. “God, I don’t even want to think about what I caught in that dusty ass room.”
I laughed. This shit was finally over, I thought. Ben got himself checked and patched up. I also got my shoulder looked at. We ended up hitting the slots, going to a seafood buffet and karaoke bar after. It was the best time I’ve had in a while.
I was getting ready to leave the morning after. Ben said that he had work to catch up on. Truth be told, so did I. I mean, it’s not like my job would be waiting for me when I got back.
“You never actually told me who you worked for or what you do.” I said to him as we were getting ready to leave the hotel. He chuckled.
“Yeah. That was on purpose.”
“Oh c’mon, after all this and you’re still keeping it a secret?” I gave him a casual nudge.
“After all this, and you still want to know more?” He pushed me back.
It was my turn to chuckle. Touché. The cab ride to McCarran was quiet. So was the walk to the terminal. I was headed back to Delaware and he was going to South Korea. He finally spoke up about two minutes before his boarding call.
“I’d like to think that I do my best to try and protect the world from the strange shit that dwells within it. To try and secure the stuff out there that humanity shouldn’t ever see. To put them away in containment forever.”
He slapped my back before getting up to leave. “Keep in touch, yeah? You know how to find me.” And just like that he was gone. I waited about thirty more minutes before my flight was ready to go.
I slept like a baby the whole time I was in the air. When I actually got to my house, there was police tape surrounding it. I knocked on my neighbor’s door to ask her what had happened. I mean, I already knew. But I had to feign some kind of ignorance. She seemed surprised when she opened up for me. Apparently she saw two men entering my house and called the cops that night I went to the diner.
“Everybody’s been looking for you. Where the hell did you go?”
“Uh… sightseeing.” I answered. “Did they catch them?”
“No.” She responded. “But they found these weird ass cards all around your house. It said like FTLOG on the back or something. Who the hell were those nutcases?”
I chuckled to myself and thanked her. After explaining the situation to the cops and giving a statement, I was finally back to at square one – normalcy. I found a new job soon after and settled back into a routine. It was over, huh?
Even though I try not to think about it anymore, it seems like a daunting task. Sometimes I lie in bed, just staring at the ceiling and trying to picture what I saw in my head. I still had too many questions. There were three other links, weren’t there? What the hell were those? I tried to tell myself that I didn’t care. But that was a lie.
I think about what Caine said to me on a daily basis. “You and Blake are the exceptions. Maybe it means something.” Maybe it did mean something.
I feel that site calling to me constantly. I know that sounds strange, but I can sense it. Those links are just waiting to be seen by somebody. By me. The AI still tries to communicate as well. I’ve been getting small messages on the corner of my screen even when I browse the surface web now. “Are you satisfied?” Is what they say.
Good question. Was I?