*This is part 3 of a 5 part series.
I woke up with a gun on my lap and the sound of my ceiling fan rotating overhead. Morning light had begun to peak through the edges of my closed blinds. For no reason at all, I looked through the peep hole in my door, and saw exactly what I was expecting. Nothing. I thought it might be time to seek more professional solutions to the Baphomet problem. Half-answers from bedroom programmers like Zizek weren’t enough. I’d have to go speak with Terrence.
I took a town car from my midtown apartment to Westchester that afternoon. I didn’t ever venture out of the city, let alone upstate. I watched the city move around me, tides of machines and people flowing in every direction. I suddenly felt as if I was submerged under a great river. Waves of metal and brick seemed to be slowly replaced by glass and plastic. I noticed the midtown skyline from my vantage point looked like two civilizations were emerging in Manhattan. The new architecture looked unnaturally advanced, almost alien.
I’d come to Terrence’s estate in Westchester in need of expert opinion. After all, it was Terrence who was the true darksurfer, the person who introduced me to the bottomless pit of discovery that was the deep web. He used it for informational purposes, exchanging illegal goods on the occasion, and the kind of eccentric escort services one could only find on the most lawless regions of the net. As far as I had heard, Terrence was now a family man, or, at least a man who had a family. He’d shown me the ways of the web four years previously, unknowing that the road he would lead me down would be one that I would never return from. It had been so long since he’d seen me that when I arrived at his door, I saw his eyes take a moment to register and identify the pale pea-coated figure that stood before him.
“Dr. Hartman,” he said as he took a step down from the entrance of his Georgian mansion. “I can hardly believe it,” he said with a smile.
“Terrence,” I extended a weak hand. When he clasped mine and shook it firmly, I could tell that my nervousness became acutely apparent to him.
He smiled and motioned for me to enter his home. “It’s too cold for me to tell you how much of an asshole you are out here, why don’t you come inside?” he said, still smiling at me. I followed him past the white Hellenic columns that stood at the front of his home and walked into the estate.
When we entered, I immediately smelt the scent of baby-powder and noticed children’s toys scattered about the large spacious foyer.
“Esmeralda!” Terrence yelled up the winding twin staircases that led to the second floor of the estate. His maid came speed-walking down one of the stairs with a baby swaddled in her arms. “Please get all of these toys out of here,” He said and then began walking past her with me following close behind.
When we were through a large corridor and inside of what he’d later tell me was his personal study and “benzodiazepine testing laboratory,” he sat down in a fine brown leather love seat and exhaled deeply.
“So, speak,” he said.
“I know it’s been a long time, but I wanted to talk to you about something urgent.” I replied.
“So do I,” Terrence said, and then took more than a courteous sip of some whiskey he’d poured for himself. He cringed and unzipped his sweater. “I got something real urgent going on.”
“What is it?”
“My divorce.” He laughed.
“Thing’s didn’t work out between you and Sage?”
Terrence scoffed. “No,” He laughed to himself.
“I’m sorry to see her go,” I say passively.
“Oh no, she’s still here. She’s upstairs actually,” he opened up a cold bottle of water from a mini fridge sitting next to him in the corner of the room. “We’re ‘separated’ until we find ‘common ground’ in our ‘negotiations’.” He said all of this while he used his fingers to air-quote the legalese. He stopped for a moment when he noticed my jaded demeanor hadn’t changed. “You were expecting to see me like this by now, I can tell.”
“I can’t say you were ever interested in being a risk-analyst at Morgan Stanley.” I replied dryly.
“Yeah well,” He took another sip of water. “Why’d you come then? You seem to be doing pretty well. At least you’re still clean.”
“How can you tell?”
“You gained weight, and you can still pull off the whole Banana Republic pretty-boy aesthetic, so I’m guessing things are going OK.” He said.
“Things used to be going OK. But then something happened on the web that I feel might become a physical problem.”
“Oh yeah, what happened?” He asked.
“I got breached by some kind of sophisticated malware. Or some blackhat trolls, or,” I stopped, realizing my only choice in specificity would be to call the problem by name. “It’s called ‘Baphomet’. At least that’s what I’ve been told.”
I saw Terrence’s smile fade, and then for a moment his face turned to a beet-faced rage, and I almost thought he was going to punch me. Then he dropped his water bottle and picked up his laptop and violently smashed it onto the ground repeatedly. I heard the sounds of glass crackling and pieces of keyboard flew in every direction.
When he was finished, he looked at me. “You dumb fuck, that was a new fucking MacBook!”
“What the hell?” I asked.
Terrence sauntered back to his feet with considerable strain. “Are you some kind of fucking idiot?! Don’t you know not to say that with an unsecure computer in the room?” he yelled.
“So you know about it, then there has to be something you must have heard.” I asked.
“All I know is, once it’s breached you, pretty much anything connected to your wifi is fair game. It could have access to your bank accounts, webcams, microphones, anything.” Terrence suddenly got up and began searching through his desk drawers. He pulled out a small USB jump drive. “Here,” he walked over and placed it in my sweaty hand. “If you plug this into your infected laptop and run the program, it should quarantine the virus for a few days at least.”
“Thanks,” I stuffed the jump drive in my inner pea coat pocket.
“Stay off the nets. Get all your personal information double secure. All you can do is ride it out.” Terrence said.
“What exactly is it going to do, the program?”
“It steals your information. At least, that was its original purpose. It’s an ultra-intelligent Trojan Horse.” Terrence answered.
“But I’m assuming it’s become more sophisticated?” I said, catching on to the implied complexity of the program.
“It’s hard to say what’s happened.” Terrence replied. “No one really understands it.”
I began to think of possible explanations. I needed a blueprint to salvation, even if it was made up. “Maybe it’s still being controlled by someone.”
“Doubtful,” Terrence said.
“I know, but maybe it is. Maybe there’s a way to trace the source code.”
“If the FBI can’t do it, neither can you.” Terrence said flatly.
“Then what? I hide and wait for it to go away?”
“No,” Terrence replied more seriously, “You pray.”
Adam Albaari is a writer, originally hailing from Columbia, Maryland. He attended Loyola University New Orleans, graduating with a BA in English with a Writing Concentration. He resides in the Uptown area and has spent over five years writing both journalism and serial fiction for local publications. Adam co-hosts NolaFilmCast with Mike Hogan, a weekly program featuring interviews and film-talk with natives working in New Orleans booming film industry. You can read part 1 of No Daylight here. Part 2 can be found here.