Chapter I: The Stream

Kevin stared at the screen for over twenty minutes. He wasn't looking at anything particular. It just took that long for the words he just read to sink in. And then he snapped out of that hypnotic state. He launched RedPhone to call Mike:

“You have to come to my place. I need to show you something,” Kevin said.

“What... what time is it?” Mike held his smartphone in one hand and rubbed his left eye with the other.

“It's 3 AM, but this is huge, you have to come right away!”

RedPhone was deemed the most secure communication application available, officially still not cracked in over 20 years of existence. But Kevin trusted nothing to be secure as soon as it was reachable through the Internet. He knew better. He was only 17, but already cracked anything running software - from his school servers to numerous websites all over the net. He had to show this to Mike in person.

Twenty minutes later, Mike showed up at the back door. Kevin's foster parents were asleep, so they snuck into his room and kept it quiet:

“What's so important?” whispered Mike

“You have to see this,” said Kevin, pointing at his laptop

“What is it?”

“Just read it, it was written by a NASA employee”

Mike sat down and pulled the laptop closer to him. An unfamiliar hostname of the SSH session revealed that Kevin logged in remotely into some other computer across the Internet. The text file viewer occupied the screen, displaying a file that looked like a diary. The entries were sorted backwards, so he started reading the latest first:

diary.txt : read-only : 0%

March 31st, 2037

The future of mankind in on the table.

We are on the verge of a new era.

I'm writing this document to give future historians an insight into events that are about to happen. I want them to understand our reasons to make this hard decision that will affect lives of all people on the planet.

Since you are reading this file, you probably had to decrypt it. If all goes well, the password should be publicly known to everyone in the future. But until then, I have to protect myself and our project. Should our plan fail, I wouldn't want anyone to access this file. But beside that, nobody should be allowed to read this before the disaster happens. They would blame me for staying silent and not sharing my knowledge with the world.

But once we get rid of all that's bad in this world and build a better Human Society, people will want to know how it all started. I'm not writing this to become famous or praised. I just want everyone in the future to understand why the new rules are needed and why we should never go back to the old ways.

Soon, a cataclysmic event should happen, which would wipe out most of the human race. Only a few of us who are aware of it would survive. We plan to use this opportunity to start over, to create a different human society, with different values. But to do this, we have to keep quiet. We could save more people if we would speak publicly about our findings, but that would mean losing this wonderful opportunity. Now, some may ask: Why? Why would we let billions of innocents die because of a few bad people in this World? The reason is simple: the current value system of the World is wrong. If too many people survived, it would be impossible to make the switch. We need a blank state, with only a few select individuals that share our views.

So what is wrong with the current system? If you are reading this in the future, born into the new society, you might find it hard to believe how the things were before. You might not believe what our World looks like now. So, I have to explain that first:

Our World is based on the same principles we used as we evolved from simple animals into intelligent beings. Survival instinct. Currently there are millions of people starving to death, having no access to clear water and dying from various diseases for which cure has been discovered decades ago. On the other hand, we have enough resources to stop all that, but we do not. Why? Because everyone is focused only on their own well being. Most people are guided only by their interests. We have division between rich and poor countries, and inside each country we have the same divide between rich and poor people. Most of the countries are run by capitalistic economic system, where goal of each participant is to maximize their own wealth. The problem with wealth is that it represents the relative measure of one person against the others. If someone is rich, others have to be poor by definition. If everyone had one million dollars, then one million dollars would not be worth much.

There are multiple problems with this system, but it boils down to this: Entities that have more money are able to defend their positions better and maintain the status quo. Companies lobby the politicians and create monopolies or cartels. They use the judicial system to drain small competitors of their capital by bogus lawsuits.

Pharmaceutical companies aren't incentivized to create cures. Instead, they create temporary palliations that keep the patients sick. It's more profitable to have a customer that keeps buying the same drugs indefinitely.

We have planned obsolescence in products. They are deliberately made less durable. They are designed to break down after some precalculated time. The consumers have to buy replacements over and over again. Companies that try to provide quality, quickly go out of business due to competition. Products of lower quality usually cost less and thus sell better. But even if they could compete on price, the company with shorter replace cycle would earn money faster. Soon it would become powerful and acquire their competitor, shutting down its line of products.

Rich people also try to maintain the status quo. They can provide better education for their children, leading to better job opportunities. They don't need to take loans and pay the interest rates. They can increase their wealth by investing money. They can buy goods in bulk and save money. They can afford expensive lawyers and enjoy better legal protection.

I'm not the first man to notice all this. People have pondered over this problem for many years. Some even tried to force the change by revolution. The most notorious attempt was "communism", which failed miserably. Communists tried to solve the problem by limiting the amount of wealth one can accumulate. If anyone became too rich, they confiscated all their assets above some predetermined threshold. They thought that removing the motive to maximize profits would prevent bad behavior. However, economies of communist countries were shuttered by this experiment. Without capitalist incentive, there was no desire to invent. The progress halted. They produced the same models of cars, guns and trains for 40 years. As soon as the import of foreign products was allowed, the domestic companies collapsed. So, the communism does not advance the human race either.

The problem is not the economic system, but the way humans perceive the world. All those years of evolution had taught us that the survival of the fittest is the way to go. This was because resources were scarce and we had to fight to stay alive. But, that is not the case anymore. With modern technology we are able to produce more than enough for everyone. Some bright people acknowledged this years ago.

The futurist engineer Jacque Fresco imagined the Venus Project, a place run by engineers. They would build and maintain machines providing food, clothes and shelter for everyone. If everyone had everything they needed for free, they wouldn't have to fight over the resources. This would eradicate greed, hatred and crime.

Sci-fi writer Marshall Brain wrote a novel "Manna". It talks about a gloomy, state controlled society where the divide between the rich and the poor is stretched to the extreme. Then comes a billionaire who disliked the situation. He bought the whole of Australia and created the Australia Project. Computers and robots produced everything. Everyone had their own monthly allowance of common resources, which they could allocate as they wanted. With basic needs taken care of, people could select whichever interests they wanted to pursue.

Venus and Australia projects seem like utopia, but I believe they are closer to reality than anyone would imagine. The problem is not technological.

The real problem is that a major shift in human behavior is required. Every man alive would have to agree with the change. There are too many stakeholders ready to do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo. Using various FUD tactics they would keep the public scared and confused. It would be easy to turn them against us. There are billions of people, it would be impossible to reach each individual and assure them that this transformation is needed.


That should change soon.


March 11th, 2037

I talked with Robert today. He agreed with my ideas. We talked about the current state of the life on planet Earth many times before. We wished for this opportunity, but never expected it would be served to us on a silver platter.

I'm preparing my list of people to evacuate and he is preparing his. We agreed to limit the lists to 50 people each, more female than male if possible. We need to be relentless with procreation after the flood. A mix of smarts and physical abilities will be the best. Some of my NASA fellow scientists, some of Robert SpecOps friends. Their wives, girlfriends and children included. He'll pull their medical files to avoid any genetically inheritable diseases.

They should be unaware of the details for the time being. We will organize a picnic in the woods, with a visit to the ex-nuclear repository. A train ride into the tunnel used to be a tourist attraction until the DoE closed the site to the public five years ago. The folks will enjoy the private tour we plan to arrange. Once everyone gets inside, we will explain things and seal off the cave. With so little time left until the impact, they won't have any other option but to save themselves and themselves only. Entrance into Yucca is 100 miles away from anything.

diary.txt : read-only : 36%

Mike rubbed his chin. He turned his head to Kevin and raised his eyebrows.

“You're pulling my leg. Right?” he asked.

“No, man, this is legit,” Kevin said as he shook his head.

“This stuff is straight from some sci-fi novel. Come on,” said Mike, thinking how his friend was going to burst out laughing any time soon

“You can check the logs, IP addresses, and browse the server files if you want to.”

“I can't believe this is true, this guy was probably writing a book or something.”

“Just read the rest of it, so we can talk about it.”

“Ok. Maybe I should scroll to the bottom and start from the beginning?”

“I tried that. You'd have to go back and forth after each entry,” Kevin said. “I made a script that reversed the entries. Open the file diary-rev.txt.”

diary-rev.txt : 0%

November 2nd, 2036

In 1994, long before I got my employment here, NASA had shut down the SETI program. The program was restarted by other organizations and individuals in subsequent years, each of them fruitlessly trying to catch a signal of extraterrestrial intelligence. Some of the old equipment was still here when I came. A few days ago I was searching for something completely different in the Deep Space Storage facility, and I accidentally ran into it.

It piqued my interest immediately. I got a permission from my supervisor to use it for a side project and learn how it worked. The gear is ancient by today's standards, but it's still operational. I took only one of the recievers. The computer used to analyze signals is completely obsolete, so I spent a couple of hours with a soldering iron, creating a converter that would enable me to hook it up to my PC. I found the program used to control it, but could barely understand the syntax. So I wrote my own, using the old source code only to look up the codes sent by the device.

This should be fun.


November 3nd, 2036

Looks like I made some mistake in my program. The device is not fully configured yet, so it should only recieve random static noise. Instead, I'm getting some kind of repeating message. I thought it must be picking it up from some satellite in the orbit, but there are no satellites in that part of the sky.


November 5th, 2036

I searched for a bug in my code to no avail. Everything seems in place. The signal is definitely coming from the outer space. Maybe I should try to analyze it.


December 3rd, 2036

I think I finally cracked it. The signal contains a binary coded message. It repeats itself after about 1600 million bits. I believe I managed to figure out the start of the pattern. It starts really simple, with binary numbers increasing from one up to 2048. Then it skips, and 4096 is next. I assume that 4096 doesn't represent a number, but rather a different symbol, one that marks an end of a concept.

After that point, it starts mixing numbers below 4096 with higher "numbers" in between, like this:

1 4097 1 2 4096
1 4097 2 3 4096
1 4097 3 4 4096
2 4097 3 5 4096
58 4097 3 61 4096

I guess 4097 means addition. It's a "plus" sign. The last line translates to: 58+3=61.

This goes on for twenty different number combinations. Then it introduces minus, division, multiplication, power and squares. Then comes the number Pi to 2048 decimals. And then the basic trigonometry: sine, cosine, etc. Formulae for volume and surface area of various geometric shapes, and each shape gets it's own "name", i.e. a new number is used. I will need a lot of time to decipher all this. I'm currently writing a small Python program that will help me analyze sequences much faster.


December 20th, 2036

The message is huge and appears to hold the complete mathematical, physical and chemical knowledge of the Universe. All physics constants are in there, some of which I was not familiar with before reading them in the Stream, as I call it now. Quick search on the Internet confirmed most of those valid, but some I could not find. Apparently there are some constants and equations we are yet to discover. Which could be a first proof that this message is sent by some extra-terrestrial beings, more advanced than us.


December 25th, 2036

The Stream switched to Chemistry. I almost missed it. My mind was so boggled with complex physics formulae. At first, I failed to recognize the simple neutron, proton and electron counts when Helium and Hydrogen showed up.

The entire periodic system followed, and then atoms got grouped into molecules. Simple molecules like acids and salts were named first, followed by more complex ones. And soon enough, the four bases found in DNA showed up: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine.

Whoever is sending this message knows about the organic compounds and organisms similar to humans.


January 2nd, 2037

The Chemistry class is over. We are learning about Astronomy now. It started with simple gravity formulae from Physics part, which then expanded into something too complex for me. I guess we still do not understand gravity completely as I was unable to find matching equations in any of our current theories.

The gravity was just a setup, used further to explain planets, moons and stars. And this is where it got scary: it explains by example of OUR SOLAR SYSTEM. Earth, Moon, Mars, Deimos, Phobos, Jupiter with its moons, all with approximate planetary masses and orbits matching.


January 12th, 2037

I haven't updated the diary in 10 days because I was too scared to write down my findings. If the Stream is correct, we are DOOMED. I had checked, double checked, and triple checked. I wish I could ask someone else to look at it, maybe I missed something. Maybe I miscalculated something. I hope I'm wrong, but I cannot see it.

After all the planets and moons were listed, the Stream started to enumerate comets and asteroids with all their trajectories and periodic visits to our solar system. I cross-checked every one of those with astronomy data available. Those are all correct.

And then, at the very end, a HUGE object is listed on a trajectory suggesting that it never visited our system before. And it's heading STRAIGHT TO EARTH.

In less than 6 months! The impact day is July 5th.


January 17th, 2037

I met with my brother Robert today. We were really close when we were kids. We both went to college, and after he graduated he got a job as NSA. As the time went by, he got more and more secretive about his life. Talk about work was completely out of the question. We were drifting apart. But, about a year ago, we met at a wedding party, got a little drunk and went for a walk. Was it for the alcohol or he just needed to talk to someone, but he suddenly spilled everything out. He was fed up with the work in the agency. They were doing stuff that was unconstitutional, and he could barely sleep some nights. They were protecting the American interest, but actually those were only interests of a few in power. Most Americans were spied on and under constant surveillance for no reason whatsoever. He said that since the Snowden debacle over 20 years ago, no other whistleblower was brave enough to talk publicly about anything. And Agency changed its internal policies to make sure nothing like that would ever happen again.

We talked at great length about the injustice in the world. About the idea of freedom that the United States were built upon. About poverty, both in financial and cultural sense. And what about leading countries, those that influence how things work? Not much has changed since the ancient Rome. They used to have "bread and games", where "games" were people dying in gladiator arenas. We have junk food and reality TV. Not so brutal, but the end goal is the same. It keeps majority of population fed and their minds busy with trivial matters. We imagined how things could be much better if the World could start from the scratch. With technology we have today, we could create a much better World for everyone.

Out of nine billion people on the Planet, Robert is the only one I can confide into. I didn't realize this until I met him today. We started talking and I cautiously reminded him of our old talk, the one about the Planet starting from Scratch. He did not need any reminders or clues, he was thinking about it all the time. Then I suggested a what-if scenario. Just hypothetically.

I really wanted someone to verify my findings. Robert was a field agent, and later became the Deputy Director of Operations, but he still had his scientific mind as well. The concepts were not too hard, he would be able to grasp it. So I broke the silence. I had him swear he would not tell anyone unless we both agreed on it.


January 20th, 2037

We analyzed everything on my computers again. It is sure without any doubt that this asteroid, or whatever it is, will hit the Earth. I ran the astronomical simulation. It will plunge into the Atlantic Ocean near the Carribeans.

We used a different program to estimate the damage potential. The huge mass of this object would make it devastating if it hit the spot by the trajectory the Stream suggests. It would shake the planet, lift waves so high they would flood all the land, destroying all the cities on their way. Simulations estimate that the initial tsunami after the impact would rise about 16000 feet tall. It might take days or weeks for things to settle down. When it's done, we would be left with washed out continents - without buildings, people, or even vegetation. Everything would be crushed by impact or high pressure that follows afterwards.

But, the more we talked about it, the more we realized that this disaster of biblical proportions wasn't only a threat. It was also an opportunity.


February 11th, 2037

We decided to find a good site, possibly an underground cave, where we could hide while things settled down. I remembered the Bible and the Noah Ark. Neither of us are religious, but it really seems that the Great Flood is coming. I never debated the exact definition of God, but it is a matter of fact that we did recieve a warning. Presumably by a more powerful and advanced entity. Is the history repeating?

We agreed to take some selected people with us. Perhaps some animals as well. And seeds, seeds of any plant in existence. And supplies, lots of supplies. I really need to start making a list, as various things cross my mind every now and then.


February 17th, 2037

We discussed possibility of someone else receiving the message and deciphering it. So I compiled a list of all specific astronomical, physics and chemical information in it. Robert had his guys at NSA plug it into their anti-terrorist communication monitoring system. If anyone was searching the Internet for that data, the system would take notice. If some Internet user begins to match too often, Robert would get alerted and we would hopefully get to that person before he or she speaks to anyone.

This must not get out, whatever the costs. I'm certain that this event is the humanity's only hope in the long term. The current state of things is killing our progress as a species. Should it come to that, some sacrifices will have to be made. Robert says he's killed people on his missions in Middle East, and it would not be a problem. I winced a little bit when he said that, but later realized I'm being hypocritical: it's OK for me to wipe out billions of people for our cause, but I frown of the prospect of killing a couple of people for the same goal. Just because the former would be an act of nature, I guess.


February 20th, 2037

Robert asked me today if I read the whole Stream. I did not. After the description of our doomsday asteroid, the Stream turns to other astronomical bodies, it describes nearby stars, their planets and moons. It would take me a lot of time to decipher it all and we have so little time left to prepare. I'm taking a copy of the Stream with me to the Noah Ark place, wherever we choose it to be. We will have time to analyze it when the flood is over. It's really like an Encyclopedia of Natural Sciences. Which reminds me: I need to get a lot of books on any technical subject possible. We are not going alone, we will bring some people to Noah with us. We will have people of different professions, most of them experts. But human brains are far from perfect storage. We need to preserve as much human knowledge as possible.


March 4th, 2037

We selected the site for the hideout. Abandoned nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain is perfect. It was built to store high level nuclear waste. The structure was completed, but amid political struggles it was never put to use. It's the best possible bunker in the world and nobody is using it. It can be sealed hermetically, so we will be protected from the flood. I find it ironic that the structure meant to protect the human race from harmful materials inside, will protect the future of the human race from the harmful events on the outside.

Robert will use his NSA resources to get us fake DOE IDs and required documentation to transport the supplies past the guards. If some of them asks, we are preparing for a large scientific checkup of the site and many scientists and a lot of security personnel would need to come there and stay for a couple of months. I guess they won't count each can of food anyway.

Hopefully we will be able to get everyone in on the impact day without any conflict.

diary-rev.txt : 100%

Mike took a pause and then lifted his eyes from the screen.

“Is this for real? How did you get it?” he asked.

“I spent past three weeks hacking into NASA servers, searching for any proof that aliens exists. Any files, photos, anything. I'm monitoring over 100 computers. I opened thousands of files, but found nothing. During all this time, I found about a dozen encrypted files which I could not crack. So I set up resident keyloggers and waited for the users to access them. And this one just did it. I waited for him to log off, so that I could read the file.”

“You think it could be true?”

“I don't know, but I have access to the computer where he recorded the Stream. We could get his program that is used to analyze the radio data and then find someone who knows about radio stuff to verify that something is transmitted on that frequency.”

“Good idea. But, I don't know anyone who knows about radio stuff.”

“Maybe we could ask at #slugnet?” Kevin suggested.

“IRC channel? Are you nuts? NSA could be monitoring this. For all we know, they might know names and addresses of everyone on that channel.”

“Maybe some radio-amateur forum? And we'll do it from some cafe using public Wi-Fi.”

“Radio forum is a good idea. But cafe?”—Mike frowned—“Cafes have security cameras. They would match our faces. Not to mention that at 4AM we would be the only customers with a laptop. That would narrow down their search.”

“Well, if you have a better idea...”

“I have one. I was saving it for some situation where I had no other option,” Mike said. “I guess that time is now. It would take us a while to get there.”

“Where is it?”

“It's a hotel in Bellflower. I know their Wi-Fi password although I never got anywhere near it.”

“How come?”

“About a week ago I had a contract to steal some files from some guy's gmail account. I managed to install a keylogger on his laptop and I waited. Two days ago he went to this hotel. They have a very simple Wi-Fi setup, using the same password for each room. When the guy connected to the network, my keylogger recorded it.”

“But how will we establish the connection without going inside?”

“There are a couple of rooms on the ground floor. I know because my guy got into one of those. The windows are facing a huge parking lot. If we can get close enough to catch the signal without being taped by security cameras, we could use it as a gateway.”

Kevin packed his laptop and they left the house through the back door. Since the master bedroom faced the front yard, Kevin made a habit of entering and leaving through the back, to avoid being questioned about his doings. It meant trespassing across the neighbour's lawn, but those folks never complained. They overheard the family quarrelling so many times and decided to cut Kevin some slack.

Thirty five minutes later Kevin and Mike approached the Hotel from the parking lot.

“There's the window,” Mike said.

“Not many cars around here. Where will we hide?” Kevin asked.

“How about there?” Mike pointed to the right.

“Behind the dumpster? I hope there's no smell.”

“It's fine. See?” Mike said as he crouched behind it.

Kevin sat on the ground, took his laptop from the bag and opened the lid. He reset his Wi-Fi MAC address to a completely new, random one and then searched for available access points. The signal was good and the password Mike typed in was still valid. As soon as the connection was established Kevin launched Tor and started searching for radio-amateur forums.

“You're still using Tor,” Mike reproached him.

“Yes. We talked about this before Mike, and I haven't changed my mind.”

“It's a honeypot, and only raises suspicion. You would be better off without it, staying under the radar.”

“It adds a layer of protection. With so many nodes and traffic to check, it adds days or weeks for them to find my real IP address. By that time, I've already done my job and I'm gone.”

“I'm not sure about that. My gut feeling is that there are thousands of government-run nodes, eavesdropping your actions and waiting for you to slip and make some minor mistake. Think about it: everyone who wants privacy and anonymity is using it. If I ran a security agency, I would focus all my efforts on monitoring Tor traffic, because signal to noise ratio is excellent—”

“Let's discuss that later. Here's a forum we can use.”

Kevin created a new GMail address and then used it to create an account at the QRadio website. The forum appeared to be active, but given the fact it was four in the morning, they didn't expect to get any responses until noon. There was no point waiting in the parking lot. Kevin packed the laptop.

“Do you think this might all be a story, a product of that guy's imagination?” Mike asked.

“It could. But it just doesn't feel like it,” replied Kevin.

“What if the radio guys confirm it? What do we do with this information?” Mike said.

“I really don't know. Maybe we should just go to the police.”

“And admit that you hacked into NASA? That would be stupid. If the World is not coming to an end, you would end up in jail. And even if it did, I don't think they would let you off the hook easily.”

“Hm... you're right,” said Kevin. “In fact, I would be lucky to only land in jail.”


“If this whole story is true, that NSA guy would be tracking police reports. He could turn it into a national security case, take custody over me or even kill me. Remember what the diary said about killing.”

“Maybe we could just slip the news to some TV network or newspaper?”

“And write what? That we broke into NASA computers and the planet is doomed. Good luck selling that story. Nobody would believe us. Even if we gave away the radio frequency and the source code, we still lack the Python program used to decipher the data. We only have a sparse description from the diary.”

“That could be enough...”

“But, even if they decipher it and it's all true. What happens then?”

“People could find shelter, hide, ...”

“Yucca is not that big, you cannot store enough supplies to save everyone,” Kevin said. “And where does that leave us? Do you honestly believe anyone would care about two hackers?”

“I guess not. So, if we decide to keep quiet, what do we do?”

Minutes of silence ensued. Both Kevin and Mike were considering the possibilities. Some crazy thoughts crossed Kevin's mind, like hijacking a submarine or renting an airplane with enough fuel to stay up for days. He wasn't sure if that was even possible.

They reached Mike's apartment, without any solution in sight.

“I have no idea how could we survive this,” Kevin said.

“You thirsty? Come inside. Let's try to brainstorm,” Mike said.

Kevin grabbed a soda from the refrigerator. The ice-cold can evoked a memory:

Two years ago on the Badger Pass in Yosemite. The school excursion. A fierce snowball fight. Eagle Rock High versus William Howard Taft. His classmates surrounded and hammered from every direction.

Himself molding a snowball of slush. In the heat of the battle, he hurled the ice projectile towards the leader of the rival band. It smashed right into his face. With blood running from his nose, he screamed that “it wasn't fair” and started to cry.

His friends tried to console him as they walked away. To them, Kevin was a bully who wouldn't play by the rules. But to his schoolmates, he was a saviour.

Kevin was too geeky for his class to ever accept him as one of their own, but that day he at least earned their respect.

He missed the snow, the sledding, the fresh mountain air.

“What are you thinking about?” Mike asked.

“Oh, nothing special, just some old memory,” Kevin said.

“About what?”

“Erm... a mountain?” Kevin just blurted the last thought he had.

“A mountain?”

“It's a long story. I'd rather—”

“Hey! A mountain!” Mike exclaimed, “That's it!”

“What's what?”

“This wave. How big will it be? 16000 feet high? Aren't there some mountain peaks higher than that?”

“Mount Everest?” said Kevin. “You know, I always dreamt about climbing to the top.”

“You? But you barely go outdoors.”

“Yeah, well, like I said, it's only a dream. I never planned to actually do it.”

“So, how high is it?”

“I don't know exactly, but surely more than 16000 feet.”

“Ok, but that's in Asia. How about something closer? Rockies?”

“I haven't got a clue. Let's check.”

They scrambled to open the Wikipedia.

“At 14000, Rockies will be flooded and submerged. Unless you want us to freeze in Alaska, we have to go abroad, ” Kevin said.

“What about Everest?” Mike asked.

“The peak is at 29000 feet, but staying there for long isn't really an option,” Kevin said.

“Maybe we could just climb on the day of the impact,” Mike said.

“Climbing the summit while the whole planet is in turmoil seems too risky to me,” Kevin said. “But maybe we could stay somewhere else on mountain.”

“You think that the wave wouldn't reach us there?”

“I don't know. How far is Everest from the impact point?”

A couple of keyboard strokes later, their screens were filled with maps.

“The Himalayas are perfect,” Mike said. “They are practically on the exact opposite side of the planet.”

“There has to be some place beneath the top where we could stay.”

“Come on climber wannabe, shouldn't you know everything about this mountain?”

“Well, I did read some climbing stories. There should be a base-camp and some villages around there.”

They followed the links on the Wikipedia page, quickly devouring all the information available. They picked up a couple of clues, but they needed more details. Google search for weird names of those places produced a handful of links. The most useful websites were bare-bones, presumably uploaded by the mountaineers.

The design of these pages reminded Kevin of Geocities. It was a make-your-own-website service whose popularity faded long before he was born. About a month ago, he read an article about its interesting history. The piece contained screenshots strikingly similar to the websites he browsed in the previous few minutes.

The most decent ones simply used the default system fonts with black text on a white background. Other authors thought that was too dull, so they introduced a cacophony of colors, like that brown text on a blue background and the everlasting MS Comic Sans. The text itself would talk about the conditions on the mountain that year, advised which paths to follow and recommended the sights worth seeing. It was often accompanied with a couple of bleak photos showing the moraines, snow covered ridges or even direct shots at the sun in the clear sky. The shots were obviously taken by the climbers themselves, which made the raw information presented even more credible.

“Gorak Shep!” Mike exclaimed.

“What?” Kevin didn't understand the words Mike just said.

“Gorak Shep. That's where we're going.” Mike pointed at the screen.

“I expected more snow,” said Kevin looking at a picture showing a small camp at 16900 feet elevation.

“It's a boundary height for normal humans like us. It says here that any higher, and people start having symptoms of altitude sickness.” Mike had no clue what altitude sickness was, but it didn't sound good.

“But is that high enough?” Kevin was unsure.

“According to this, we can go to Kala Patthar, at 23500 feet, the highest altitude you can reach without all the special climbing equipment. I guess we could climb there on the day of the impact.”

“Where would we live, in those lodges?”

“This looks like a base for climbing further to Everest. We could pretend that we want to climb it, and just stay at the camp long enough for the flood to pass.” Mike's idea was slowly shaping up.

“But it says here that July is off-season. We would need to get there in May the latest. And then wait until September for the safe passage down.”

“You're right. We would need to bring in a lot of food.”—Mike counted his fingers—“For about four months.”

“More than that. We don't know if there will be food available after the flood. We need to prepare food and other supplies for at least a year.”

“Alright. This plan isn't perfect, but it could work. But first, let's wait for the radio guys to give us some confirmation.”

“Maybe we should start preparing even if they do not confirm.” Kevin bought into the plan completely. This was a great opportunity to see the top of the world from up close.

“But what if it's only a dud? What if nothing happens?”

“So what. We'll have a nice adventure. One we can always brag about.”

With brainstorming successfully completed, Kevin decided to return home. There was still enough time for him to sneak back in without anyone noticing he went missing during the night.

He headed for the back yard as usual. He skipped over the neighbour's fence and tiptoed beside their garage. As his house came into the view, he froze. His eyes widened, eyebrows raised. He blinked a couple of times in disbelief, as if it were some optical illusion that would go away. But it wouldn't.

Two guys wearing SWAT uniforms were crouching beside the back door. He could hear his heart starting to race. What if they turned around and saw him?

He could try to hide in neighbour's old, hollow oak tree. He hasn't done it in years, but with some effort, he would still able to squeeze in. It was a perfect hiding place, except for one problem: The tree was on the other side of the lawn, without any cover in between.

He crept closer, eyes fixed on the armed man. But minding his steps would have been a much better idea. He heard a twig cracking under his foot. The sound was barely audible, but it stroke Kevin like a thunder. He dropped to the ground and kept still. Did they hear that? Would they come to check it out?

But nothing happened. All he could hear and feel was the spring night breeze swaying the grass. Too scared to get up, he crawled the rest of the way.

The tree had a couple of small cracks on the side facing Kevin's house. To position his eye on one of those he had to bend his knees and tilt his head to the side. His neck strained to the point it became painful, but it was worth it. He could see the back yard, and also a part of the front at an angle.

A black van was parked at the front. Kevin tried to remember if there was any other reason police would be raiding his house? But he hasn't done any hacking in months. They probably detected that he opened the diary file and the NASA guy alerted his brother. This shit just got real.

The black van's door slid open and more men with guns poured out. They stormed towards the house. He couldn't see the front door, but he heard the doorbell. His foster parents were at home, but he didn't expect any help from them.

He felt they never cared for him. Ever since he got adopted, they always wanted to control him. They tried to imprint their vision of a perfect son onto him. They wanted him to become someone else. All this pressure made him reject them. He never knew his real parents, and he would never accept these fake ones. As the time went by, they realized that as well. They wanted to get rid of him. But the laws wouldn't allow it and they were stuck together.

They would surely let the police in, tell them how Kevin spends all his time at the computer and always creates problems. They would be glad to hand over the computers and wherever else was in his room. They probably prayed that he would get detained and imprisoned for a long time.

Good thing he had his laptop with him. But, what else has he left at the house? A desktop computer full with incriminating evidence. Although everything was encrypted with TrueCrypt, Kevin didn't consider that to be secure. Not against this adversary. There were some rumors that NSA is financing some of the TrueCrypt developers. They probably had a backdoor installed in it years ago. But it doesn't matter now. Anything they could discover from that hard drive, they already knew. It would only confirm that the person they were looking for really is Kevin.

He heard some conversation at the front door, but couldn't discern the words. The talking stopped and the door shut. They were inside. The men in the back were still waiting, as if they expected someone to try to escape through the back door.

About twenty minutes later, men came out of the front door and went back into the black van. Kevin couldn't recall how many of them were there initially, but it seemed like there were more. It was quite possible that some of them were still inside.

The men in the back stepped away from the door, walked to a car parked nearby and got inside. One of them slurped his coffee through a straw. The other tilted his seat backwards, leaned back and closed his eyes. His shift would come later.

Concluding that going into the house would lead him into a trap, Kevin snuck out of his hideout and went back to Mike's.

Mike was surprised to seem him so soon. Kevin told him about the raid.

“You can't go back to that house anymore,” Mike said.

“No shit sherlock,” said Kevin. “Can I stay here for a while?”

“You can, but I don't think you have the time for that.”

“Why? They won't look for me here. There isn't any obvious or easily traceable connection between us.”

“I didn't mean that I'm in any immediate danger. But you are, and there is no time to waste.”

“What do you mean?”

“If we're really going to the Himalayas, you must leave now. Your name and picture could soon be posted into every airport and every border crossing across the country.”

“I don't think they know I escaped. All my clothes and things are still at home. They are waiting for me to come back to the house.”

“Exactly. This buys you a day or two the most. You should fly to Asia now!”

“Fly? What if I get caught at the airport? They could've black-listed my passport.”

“It's 5AM, I don't think the administration is that agile,” Mike said. “But we can check. Josh has access to airlines' no-fly lists.”

“Well, you better call him. He's your friend, I barely know him.”

“I will. But let's wait until we leave for the airport. Where exactly will you go?”

Kevin searched for available flights on the Internet. He was unsure which destination to pick. He didn't want to use one of those routes a regular Mount Everest climber would. If anyone would track his airplane ticket, it would be obvious where he headed. He wanted to go somewhere far enough to have no connection with the Himalayas, but still close enough to reach it in a reasonable time-frame.

Recent geopolitical changes worked in his favor. As Chinese aggression grew towards its weaker neighbours, Nepalese government became concerned that they might annex a part of their country. Lacking the military strenght to fight off the potential threat, they turned to their greatest ally, India. But Chinese wouldn't initiate the conflict through the United Nations Security Council, so India had no chance to veto the invasion. Using their forces to defend Nepal was also out of the question. India would never enter into direct conflict with China.

The only solution they could find, was to merge Nepal into India. In 2034, Nepal ceased to exist as a country and became an autonomous province of India. Nepalese currency was soon replaced by Indian rupee. Nepali language became the third official language of India. The World's largest democracy grew even larger.

Kevin had so many options. He could pick any city in India and wouldn't have any more borders to cross until he reached Gorak Shep. Anyone tracking him would have a hard time. India is huge, and he could have gone anywhere. Effectively, he would be lost to the US authorities unless he decided to come back.

“The next flight to Mumbai is at 6:30,” Kevin finally decided.

Mike called Joshua right away:

“Sorry to wake you up, Josh.”

“No prob, I was awake all night, this server I'm hacking into is a tough nut to crack. Pun intended.”

“I need your help,” Mike said. “Well, actually, Kevin does.”

“What's up?”

“He needs to leave the States right now, but we fear his passport might be black-listed. Can you check?”

“Sure, it will only take a couple of minutes. Just give me the passport number.”

Mike listened to a flurry of keyboard strokes coming from Joshua's end. They were all good hackers, but Joshua was the best. He even cracked offline systems, not available on the Internet, from fast-food drive-throughs, to cable TV feeds and traffic light systems.

“He's cool,” Joshua said.

“Sorry, what was that?” Mike's thoughts went away for the moment. It was hard to stay focused with the end of the world approaching.

“I said, he's cool. Not listed.”

“That's great. Thanks.”

“So, what is this all about?”

“We have to hurry to the airport now, but later I'll come to your place to tell you.”

“That serious, huh? You'll drive all the way here just to tell me in person?”

“Yes. When will you be awake?”

“Probably in the evening. Call me before you leave your house.”


Forty minutes later, they arrived at the airport. Mike dropped Kevin off outside the parking lot, and drove back home. They didn't want to risk security cameras catching them together. If Kevin got on an anti-terrorist list, a face-recognition software could be run against all security camera archives on nearby airports. This might not happen soon, but a lot of time would pass before Mike would depart for the Asia himself. One can never be too paranoid if you have a state security agency on your back.

As the first beams of daylight broke through the windows, Kevin joined the baggage check line. About twenty people waited in front of him. As the time passed and the line got shorter, he started to get nervous. What if the NSA guys concluded that he ran away from home? They could have blocked the airport. But, what was he to do? Running away from the line would raise even more suspicion.

His turn came and he handed over the bag. Despite the fact that most of his clothes remained in the house he would never enter again, the bag wasn't empty. It would look suspicious if he traveled all the way to Asia with only a laptop case. So he borrowed a bag and some clothes from Mike. He got a round-trip ticket, as if he would be returning in two weeks. It was just to fool anyone who might investigate his departure afterwards. He never intended to come back. At least, not using this airplane service.

The check-in attendant took his passport, typed something into the computer and waited. To Kevin, seconds seemed like minutes. But it wasn't just his imagination. It really did take too long.

“We seem to have a problem with the computer system, Sir. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Kevin froze up. Is that how they do it when they want to catch someone? Yes, that was probably it. Any time now, the security guys would show up and arrest him. He scoured the area as he assessed the situation. Should he run before they come? Where's the nearest exit? What's the fastest route through the crowd? Where would they come from? He didn't see anyone. Or maybe this delay was intentional? A test for someone looking suspicious. He tried to look calm, but he felt like everyone around him could feel his anxiety.

Kevin's eyes opened wide as he saw two guards coming in from the passage on the left. He quickly turned his gaze to the floor in front of him. He started to breathe heavily. His heart pounded fast, and he could feel the pulse on his temples, ticking away like a clock on a time-bomb. He crouched, as if to tie a shoelace, prepared to spring to his feet and sprint for the exit. However illogical and futile it seemed, it was the only idea he had.

He could hear the guards talking as they came closer, but he couldn't discern the words. Suddenly, one of them burst into laughter. Kevin glanced at their faces. It wasn't directed at him. Apparently, one of them cracked a joke. They kept walking past the lane, completely ignoring all the passengers who waited there. Kevin took a deep breath and got up. He was sweating.

“Finally,” the check-in attendant said. “Everything is alright, Sir. Have a nice flight.”

Kevin stared at her for a moment, until the meaning of those words reached his conscience.

He tried to say ‘Thank you,’ but he got a lump in his throat. He just nodded, took the passport and walked away. He passed through the security checks and joined the other passengers in the waiting area by the boarding gate.

Minutes later, a man came and sat across from him. The man looked around, apparently ignoring Kevin completely. He wore dark sunglasses, so it was hard to tell. To Kevin it seemed like the man is deliberately turning his head sideways, avoiding to face him directly.

The man opened his newspapers and started to read. Reading with sunglasses on increased Kevin's suspicion. Scary thoughts ran through his mind: Could this be an NSA agent? He was taller and bigger than Kevin, just the body type Kevin imagined an agent would have. Could an agent arrive to the airport so fast? Maybe the delay at the baggage check was intentional. Maybe the airport contacted the NSA, and they were told to stall him until agents came. They would not arrest him yet. They would follow him to see where he's going.

Kevin felt like he had to do something. Maybe go to the bathroom and see if the Agent would follow. That sounded like a good idea. If he remained there for too long, maybe the Agent would get suspicious and think he escaped. So, Kevin went to the bathroom and waited for 20 minutes.

The Agent never came. When Kevin returned, the man still sat in his place, reading the newspaper. But this didn't prove anything, Kevin thought. Other agents could be around, covering all possible escape routes.

Kevin thought about his options, and concluded he would have better chances escaping this man once they landed in Asia.

They boarded the plane. The man sat three rows back, diagonally to Kevin. A great spot to watch over me, Kevin thought. But why would he want to do that? They were in an airplane. It's not like Kevin could do anything else beside eating and sleeping. Or was that exactly what they prepared for? While Kevin roamed the world of dreams, the Agent would attach some tracking device to his clothes or his laptop bag. Kevin decided to stay awake for the whole flight.

He kept thinking about the way they would track him in India. If those guys were any good, they have already planted a beacon into his checked luggage. He considered dropping the luggage into a dumpster once he arrived. Or even a better idea: put the bag in a cab, and ask the driver to drive it somewhere far away.

Mike got back from the airport, and decided it was a good time to catch some sleep. But, he couldn't. As he laid on the bed, he kept thinking about the things he learned, the events that happened, and what it all meant. Was the disaster really going to happen? Could there be some other logical explanation to the scientist's writings and the police raid? Was some weird combination of coincidences even remotely possible? He twisted and turned, even threw his pillow on the floor, but his brain refused to stop and rest. It was like a fully loaded steam train barrelling on a downhill slope. No brakes would stop it.

Instead, more coal would soon be added to the fire.

After hours of trying, Mike decided to give up sleeping and went outside for a walk. He wanted to clear his head, and then find a public Internet connection he could use to check the QRadio forum. This time he would only be checking for replies without posting anything, which should hide his connection among hundreds of other forum visitors.

He opened the forum homepage, but their topic with the question wasn't there. He knew the exact URL, but he wanted to stay covert and going to it directly was exactly what he had to avoid. It had to appear as if he randomly stumbled on it. He clicked through to the second page of the results. Still no luck. He hated the old forum software that paginated the content. And now he hated it even more as each new page load increased his anxiety.

The list reached the topics started three days ago, but their question still didn't appear. He checked back and forth a couple of times, but couldn't find it. Was the topic deleted? Could this mean that they are on to something real?

He felt the temptation to type in the exact URL. But, his hacker instincts told him that this would be a perfect honeypot. Hiding the topic and waiting for someone to type in the direct URL is exactly what he would have done. They probably had teams waiting to grab his IP address and hunt him down.

He needed to check the address anonymously. They would be staking out the hotel, so going back there wasn't an option. He thought about using the Google cache, but they might be tracking that as well. Posting the URL to Reddit would generate some distraction, but they could trace the original Reddit post back to him. Using Tor could buy him some time, but they would find him eventually. He didn't want to be forced to rush to Asia yet.

He looked around the cafe. Maybe he could borrow someone's computer just to type that one URL. He could think of an excuse, saying that his laptop broke. But there were security cameras and they would be able to track it back to him afterwards.

He even thought about hacking into some mail server and sending a spam message about a huge reward to thousands of people. A message giving away a laptop if you open the URL. Or maybe a link to some celebrity's home video. That could work. It might raise too much attention to the URL, but he didn't care much about that. The thing that troubled him was that they might be able to trace it back to him as they would know he logged into the mail server just before it got hacked.

This wasn't some small company he was against. This adversary was monitoring and logging all the connections worldwide. They probably knew about every SSH login he's ever made. He just hoped that whatever he did after he logged in was safe. Otherwise he should've been in jail a long time ago.

Finally he arrived at the only logical solution. Someone else had to open the website. That person would have no connection with him, and they should never be caught together on a security camera. But how would he make that happen? The more Mike pondered about this problem, the more he understood it wasn't going to be simple.

He discarded many silly ideas. But finally, he devised a way.

He bought a completely new tablet computer and set its browser's homepage to the URL. He kept it offline all the time to make sure he wouldn't trigger it accidentally. He also bought a camera with powerful zoom, allowing him to make clear shots of the tablet screen from the distance.

He walked around the city, looking for a target. His plan was to deliberately forget the tablet somewhere. Someone would pick it up and turn it on. When they opened the browser, Mike would take a photo of the screen. It seemed like a long shot, but it wasn't impossible.

At the end of the day, he settled on a tranquil area of the Griffith Park. He got there early in the morning and placed the tablet on a bench next to him. He turned it on, enabled Wi-Fi for the first time and connected to the free public access point.

In the distance, he could hear the incipient clamor of awakening city. It was time to get up and leave the tablet behind as a bait to the unsuspecting passerby. Mike looked over his right shoulder. Behind the bench was higher ground where he could hide and still get a good shot at the screen.

He walked away on a gentle, long slope, often turning his head back. Once he reached the top, he ducked behind a Lemonade Berry shrub and waited.

A jogger passed the bench, only glancing at the tablet as she loped away. Another one followed soon. Wearing earphones and her eyes fixed on the trail, she completely ignored the surroundings.

A man in a business suit came afterwards. He approached the bench, picked up the tablet and inspected it for damage. He checked the path behind him to see if anyone was coming and then tried to turn it on. As the screen lit up, his curiosity turned into excitement. Mouth half-open, he raised his head and looked around, wondering if a Candid Camera crew was going to jump out of the bushes. With other vegetation much closer, he didn't even notice the Lemonade Berry.

Concluding that he was alone, the man packed the tablet into his briefcase and walked away.

Mike was caught off guard. He didn't plan for this. What should he do now? Run towards the man and request the tablet back? What would happen if the man refused to open the briefcase? If he had to let it go and the man opened the browser later, the police would track it. Once captured, the man would describe Mike to them. He contemplated stealing the tablet back, but dismissed the idea as too risky for the same reasons. This man must never see his face.

Hoping for some lucky break, he followed the man at the distance. The man exited the park, walked across the street and entered a large mall. It was a 5-story building featuring a cylindrical shape with gaping empty space in the center. The ground level was packed with bakeries and fast-food restaurants. Boutiques, jewelries and clothing stores followed above.

The top floor was vacant, except for two offices: a law firm and an accounting agency. Any store opening there would soon go out of business due to the lack of customers willing to bother with the elevator. The building owners tried to attract administrative entrepreneurs who rarely meet with their clients. But the omnipresent shopwindows undermined their plans. People needed to concentrate on their work. The transparent glass walls provided too much distraction.

Mike noticed a large number of security cameras as he jostled through the crowd. The stores bursting with expensive goods attracted shoplifters like magnets, so the coverage had to be impeccable.

The man went to the elevators, and punched the number five. Mike decided it would be unwise to join him there. Instead, he turned to the escalators and pretended he was just browsing around. By the time he got to the third floor, the man was already on fifth and entered into an office there. In search for a better vantage point, Mike went up the escalator once more.

The Carpet Heaven store dominated the fourth floor with a wide selection of carpets, rugs and doormats. While an ordinary person might be amazed with the variety of shapes, colors and sizes, Mike was delighted with the complete lack of security. Apparently, they wouldn't expect anyone to steal a carpet. Even if someone did, they would have to descend the security-tight floors below. Unless some flying carpets were on sale there, the cameras weren't needed. For a moment, Mike felt amused by this thought of a thief gliding away on a stolen magic carpet.

He walked into the store and asked the clerk about a particular carpet. It was just a charade allowing him to have a clear look at the other side of the building. He could see the man inside the office, taking something out of the briefcase. The distance made it impossible to discern if it was the tablet. Mike had to use the camera, but he couldn't do it on the inside.

Looking through the shopwindow for a solution, he noticed a blind spot. He left the store and took a right turn around a massive marble pylon that would hide him from the other customers.

He knew he didn't have much time. He made a mistake talking to the clerk. The duration of his short visit became noteworthy. He only had a couple of minutes to reappear at the escalator. Otherwise, anyone comparing the clerk's story with the security footage from the floors below would notice the discrepancy.

He pointed the camera lens across the gap, through the glass wall. Leaning back in the chair, the man tapped the tablet. Mike saw the familiar eBay logo and was resigned to the fact that he missed the browser startup. But, did the man reset the homepage? When would he restart the browser?

Minutes passed as Mike watched the man surf the eBay website for similar tablets. Mike couldn't understand why. Was he comparing prices to learn how much it was worth? What was the point? Finally the man dispelled all the doubts as he put it up for sale.

Too much time had passed. At this point Mike was ready to leave his hiding place, buy a new tablet and start from scratch. He would have to find a new location as well. NSA would track the man down within the next few hours. After he told his story, they would stake out the park.

Suddenly, a woman walked into the office. The way the man scrambled to close the browser suggested that she was either his spouse or his boss. Or maybe both.

After a short argument, the man handed over the tablet. She turned the screen on, only to discover a couple of standard application icons and a dull background wallpaper. Just the way Mike set it up before he left it in the park an hour ago. As she launched the browser a huge grin spread across his face. Gotcha!

The rapid-fire feature of his camera finally had its use. The woman allowed the QRadio forum page to stay on the screen for a couple of seconds. Trying hard to comprehend what was that all about, she slowly scrolled down to the bottom of the page.

She shrugged, tapped the history button and got on eBay. The show was over.

Mike fought the desire to inspect the photos right there and then, but decided not to mess up his perfect operation at the very end. He packed up the camera and traversed down the escalators in an orderly fashion.

As he left the building, he felt proud of himself. Even if they bothered to check every person the man met that day, they wouldn't be able to connect it to him. He kept the camera in his bag until he got home.

When he examined the photos, Mike felt cheated. The topic wasn't deleted. It was merely moved to another subforum by some of the moderators. He hated those zealous forum moderators since ever, but this one was special. This one cost him a tablet. But there was no time for anger as even more important issue loomed from the screen.

Someone replied.

It seemed like a clear confirmation, coming from a radio amateur from Michigan who managed to catch the signal:

The signal is a bit weak, but it's there. It seems to be coming from the outer space, but it looks like some garbage. Definitely not a message someone would want to send to us. Some anomaly in the space is probably creating it. Don't get your hopes up, it is probably something like Jovian Plasma torus signals.

But hey, I love investigating such stuff as well. I see your profile is new here. Can you tell me where are you from and what equipment are you using?

Mike had no intention of replying to that question. It would be best if the topic sinked into obscurity as soon as possible. His connection to it had to remain inconspicuous. To ensure that, he would have to delete the photos now.

His finger hovered over the DELETE button for a final confirmation. It felt painful to do it after he went through so much trouble to get those. Maybe he shouldn't delete them? Maybe he would need to show them to someone in the future? But the risk of keeping the incriminating evidence on him felt too high. He tried to memorize the reply as best as he could and then deleted the photos.

Leaving that behind, he started to reflect on the magnitude of the confirmation. The signal was really out there, and people could capture it. But there was something about it that made it uninteresting. Probably some quirk that only the scrapped NASA hardware could catch because it was old, rusty, or maybe broken in some way. Mike only knew bare basics of radio, and this was the way he explained it to himself.

This meant that the governments and scientists would be completely ignorant until they see the asteroid closing in. And then the mayhem would surely follow worldwide. There were still months before July, but there was no time to waste. They had to prepare and ship the food and other supplies to Gorak Shep while the world was still undisturbed. But, how much supplies? How many of them were going to camp there?

Mike thought about the hard task in front of him. He would need to select which people to tell about this. He would have to decide whose lives would be saved. Are hackers the right people to inherit the Earth? Well, better than the police and blood-sucking politicians, or all the stupid jocks and their cheerleader girlfriends. Maybe the hackers could rebuild the world in a better way. Maybe the operation ‘civilization defragmentation’ was in order.

After all, once the flood recedes, everything would be washed away. Everything except the Hackers, the group in the Yucca Mountain, and the satellites orbiting around the Earth. The Yucca group would be well armed, so any conflict with them could be bloody. To prevent this, the Hackers would need to use the satellites to track them. When he got to Joshua's place later in the evening, they discussed this issue as well.

“Do you know anything about hacking the satellites?” Mike asked.

“I've read some docs, but I never tried,” Joshua said.

“We need to learn it. It's our only chance against the Yucca group.”

“I thought that we won't be doing any more hacking, you know, with the Internet gone and all that...”

“It looks like hacking will be an important factor keeping us alive.”

“So, this means we'll need satellite dishes and even more electricity.”

“Yeah, I guess we'll need more solar panels.”

“You should ask Kevin to set it up for us. We cannot drag all that gear from here. It would be very suspicious.”

“You're right. He'll have a lot of spare time anyway.” Mike said. “I wonder where is he now.”

After 16 sleepless hours, Kevin's airplane landed in Dubai, an intermediate stop point. As they exited the plane and got onto the terminal for the connecting flight, an unexpected thing happened. The Agent disappeared. Apparently he only travelled to Dubai.

Kevin wanted to feel relieved, but his mind would not allow it. Was that really an agent? Maybe his job was only to see him through to Dubai and someone else would be tailing him now.

When Kevin got to the boarding gate for the Mumbai flight, all the seats were already taken. He leaned against the wall, and turned towards the crowd. If he were an undercover agent, what guise would he choose?

He analyzed the people in front of him, looking for clues. Could it be that Arab businessman dressed in thawbs, checking his expensive wrist watch every two minutes? Probably not. Or maybe one of the two Indian men arguing over a photo on one of their smartphones? Unlikely. How about that Englishman scolding his unruly son? No, obviously not. That would be putting too much of a show. Or would it? Maybe that was the perfect way to blend in.

Kevin began to doubt himself. If there were agents here, would he be able to detect them? Those people were professionals, trained to do it every day. He stood no chance. He was too tired, too confused and just wanted all this to end. He felt that it would be better if he got arrested than tormented this way.

But he knew nobody would come to arrest him there, and so he kept going through the motions.

An hour later, the airplane reached the full altitude. The captain announced the flight number, weather conditions in Mumbai and the estimated travel time of three hours and fifteen minutes. Kevin never imagined such a trite talk would ever be able to invoke so strong emotion in him. He suddenly pulled himself together, his determination and hope restored. Only three more hours, and he would be out of this one-way trap. Once his feet touch the Indian ground, the number of ways he can escape would grow like the number of dot-coms in 1999.

Three hours later, the airplane finally landed in Mumbai. Paranoia grew in Kevin as he walked through the airport. He ignored the passengers who walked or ran him by. But each one that simply stood there waiting for something raised his suspicion. Were they waiting for friends or family? Or were they waiting for him? Waiting for him to make a move, to get onto a bus or buy a train ticket, to show them where he's going, so they can adjust the network of agents following him.

He stopped a cab, got inside, but then the driver seemed suspicious. So he cancelled, and went across to the stairs leading into the train station.

He never planned the trip in detail. The only thing he knew was that he should avoid going directly to Kathmandu. Instead, he would spend some time travelling across the India first.

After a short consideration, he bought a ticket to Bangalore.

The empty train soon arrived at the station. Kevin climbed inside and took a seat in one of the compartments.

Five more passengers entered shortly. An older Indian woman with two of her grandchildren. And two Indian men. Both seemed to ignore Kevin. One just gazed outside. The other toyed with his smartphone, only lifting his head occasionally. Kevin found them both suspicious.

Seconds before the train would leave the station, he got up, and went towards the end of the car, as if going to the lavatory. He had purposely left his bag under the seat back in the compartment.

As the train started to speed up, he jumped off.

He walked back to the train station. Nobody seemed to follow him. But there were too many people around, and he needed to be sure. He walked out of the train station into the street.

He kept walking, occasionally turning around to see if someone was trailing behind him. If anyone was out there, they did a very good job concealing it.

He noticed a long, narrow alley. Just what he needed. He went into it and walked until the main street was no longer in sight. A couple of cheerful kids exited a nearby building and scooted away. He turned around one corner and waited there. If anyone was following, they would have to run and get to that corner soon. Otherwise, they would risk losing him in a mesh of alleys and side streets that seemed to follow further.

The time passed. Nobody came.

Kevin took out the GPS device Mike gave him earlier. It was a simple device equipped only with a touch screen and GPS hardware. No wifi, no microphone, no camera, no way to track him. It must have been 20 years old. Such devices weren't produced anymore. Everyone relied on Internet access for up-to-date map data and Wi-Fi for precise and fast location detection. Trading away your private information for convenience was something people accepted blindly. Except for those on the run.

The device seemed to take ages to start up. The CPU was obviously from the silicon era, with clock speed in low gigahertz. How archaic. At least the GPS satellites used a standard that didn't change. The OpenStreetMap data that Mike uploaded would be usable.

Minutes later, he walked his way through the labyrinth of narrow streets and passageways shown on the map. Being on foot had its advantages, as one could walk the stairs and jump over ditches and low fences.

He was finally convinced that nobody followed him. The man on the airplane was probably just another random passenger. Still, Kevin feared going back to the train station. He looked at the map, and took a cab to the next station where the train to Kathmandu would stop. It was going to be a long ride.

Romantic Hindu music was playing in the cab, but Kevin barely noticed it. Suddenly he felt how exhausted he was. All this anxiety and paranoia pumped him with adrenaline for hours. And now his mind finally loosened the grip over his body. The music lulled him into sleep almost immediately.

In the end, Mike didn't have much trouble deciding which people he would tell about the impending disaster and his plan to evacuate to the roof of the World. There were only three people he really trusted: his sister Rebecca, Kevin and Joshua.

“What about Jane? She should come too,” said Joshua.

“Jane?” asked Mike.

“My girlfriend. You met her the other day.”

“Oh, right. Of course, she can come. But maybe you shouldn't explain all the details to her. Tell her it's only a trip to the Himalayas.”

“No problem, she tags along with me everywhere I go without any questions. But others won't be convinced so easily.”

“What others?” asked Mike.

“Well, there's Simon, he saved me countless times from being arrested. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I left him to die. Besides, he's a really good hacker.”

“And the other one?”

“I expect Simon to bring his brother David as well.”

“So, that's 7 of us total.”

“David's got a girlfriend too, so make that 8.”

“Ok, I think we can manage supplies for up to 10 people without problems.”

Mike and Joshua spent the following days writing down lists of all the supplies they needed. At one point, Joshua asked:

“What about preserving the human knowledge?”

“I thought about it. We could make a copy of Wikipedia. The whole database is available for download.”

“But Wikipedia is rather shallow on some topics.”

“Well, I guess we would need to get some literature on specific topics then. Time to go on a shopping spree on Amazon.”

“If only we could decipher the Stream itself, I feel like everything we need is in there.”

“I'm not so sure about that. It's too theoretical. For example, I don't think it explains what an iron ore looks like. There are no pictures or diagrams in it.”

“Don't worry so much, we have time until July to figure this out. There's high speed Internet available in Gorak Shep. We should focus on our trip to India first.”

“I just wouldn't want us to miss something important. Something we might need years later.”

“Well, one thing I'll miss is the Internet. Who knows how long will it take for us to rebuild the World to a level where the Internet would be needed.”

Kevin felt someone shaking him. He opened his eyes and recognized the bus driver. The man spoke something in Hindu language, showing him to get up. Still groggy, Kevin recalled the previous 48 hours. Taking a cab to the train station, then a train to Gorakhpur and finally a bus to Kathmandu.

He exited the bus, took a breath of fresh air, and stretched his arms and legs. He felt secure and in control again. It was time he contacted Mike, and let him know about his progress. It's possible Mike left a message for him as well.

Long before leaving the US, Mike and Kevin devised a scheme for communication. Kevin recalled their conversation at the time:

“We cannot rely on RedPhone. It's too risky,” Mike said. “You should never trust a 3rd party solution in a life and death scenario.”

“So what do you suggest? We invent our own system?”

“Yes. But I wouldn't mess with voice encoding. A simple encrypted chat app will do.”

“I'm not sure that's a good idea. I considered similar systems before. We should design something asynchronous.”


“If we communicate in real time, and one of us gets compromised, the other would get caught as well.”

“Ok, so, what do you mean by asynchronous? One of us would drop the message, and the other would read it later? Like e-mail?”

“Something like that. Maybe we could hack into some server and create encrypted textual files on its disk.”

“But if we follow the same logic, we would still have a single point of failure. We would both be logging into the same server.”

“Hm, you're right,” Kevin said. “We need a way to protect the reciever.”

“But how? As soon as he touches the file, he's toast.”

“What if thousands of people touched the same file?”

“You would make it publicly available?”

“It would still be encrypted with a private key only we know. I don't see the problem.”

“But how would you make thousand of people to download it?”

“Maybe we could use steganography to encode it in a popular movie torrent.”

“I'm not sure that would work. We would need to re-encode the movie, which would result in quality loss or a filesize increase. We have no reputation in those circles and we would always run late with the release. People would probably avoid it. Some might download, but I don't think we could reach the critical mass. Besides, there aren't that many popular movies and we'd need to encode a new one for each message—”

“Ok. Ok. Movies are a bad idea,” Kevin said. “We need to hide the message into some content that is updated daily and is easier to manipulate. Preferably text.”

“Daily? Text?” Mike said. “You just described the newspaper.”

“Yes! That's it! Updated often, read by thousands.”

“So how would this steganography work?” Mike asked

“If I wanted to send a message to you, I would first encrypt it using a secret key we both know. Then I would split it into pieces and disperse those into articles on the news website.”

“But the readers would notice strange spelling errors.”

“We could use the HTML comment tags to keep those bits invisible. The only way to see it would be to look into the page source. Nobody does that,” Kevin said. “But even if someone did, those websites use automated software to spit out the pages. The source is full of incomprehensible junk.”

“Could you write a program that does this automatically? You know I'm good at hacking, but I suck at programming.”

“No sweat.”

“Ok. Let's see. We insert the message. Thousands of people read the news and download those pages—”

“I would write another program to scrape the website and assemble the message back from its pieces.”

“Great,” Mike said. “This should work. But how would you reply? You shouldn't use the same server.”

“I won't,” Kevin said. “We need two servers. Each would be used for a one-way transmission.”

As Kevin left for India, Mike hacked into a major Indian newspaper website. Once he got in, he had to secure it properly. Someone else could get in and do something stupid like defacing the homepage. Such action would prompt the system administrators to do a full security review and Mike would have to start from scratch.

Even if the authorities detected that Mike is hacking into the newspaper website, they wouldn't be able to catch Kevin. He would be fetching the same pages as millions of Indians reading the newspaper that day. As his connection is also coming from India, there was no chance he could be singled out. He could read the message without any chance of being detected.

It was a clear April day when Kevin scraped the Indian website for Mike's messages for the first time. There was one. Using his Bitcoin stash, Mike hired an Indian attorney and bought a small local company which they would use to get all the supplies and ship them to the mountain. The company manager was told that the new owner would come to visit them soon.

Kevin located the company headquarters later that day and presented himself as the new owner. He explained that they were preparing for a large expedition in the Himalaya, and that the relevant supplies would need to be shipped there by company's trucks.

Continue to Chapter II

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