*This is part 5 of a 5 part series.
It was a Tuesday night. I had nothing to occupy my time with since there would be a twelve hour waiting period before I could even use a search engine. I looked out of my window into the surrounding midtown cityscape. I’d gotten this apartment specifically because of the angle that I could see the city when I looked out of the living room windows. I was surrounded in all directions by an angled grid of skyscrapers and construction. In the distance, the city seemed to melt together in an incomprehensible mesh of grey-brown and black figures.
I wondered if there were anyone looking back at me in the buildings that surrounded my view. In my darkest times, in the middle of an opiate stupor, I used to put a chair up to my window and imagine Natasha staring back at me from one of the buildings facing me. It wasn’t long ago that I’d convinced myself that those times had passed, that I’d somehow risen above them. I’d taken meditation and abstinence from opiates as my tools of self-help. It took seven or eight months of isolation and regimented practice, but eventually, I came to convince myself that I’d created some level of self-control. That was when the darksurfing became my primary outlet for distraction and entertainment. I wasn’t ready to start a life without darksurfing. What would I do? There was nothing more terrifying to me than the prospect of absolute failure. I’d eventually have to assimilate into the real world, and even one day find a real job. This was simply unacceptable to me. The point of living the way that I did was to create a sustainable way of life around it. I wanted to stay forever in my own constructed universe, without the tethers of contemporary life controlling my movements. Besides, the real world had no place for me anymore. I simply did not belong. There was so much I’d missed in two years. I thought of how Terrence looked at me when I’d come to him for help. He looked at me with this permanent smirk, as if he knew I’d come crawling back right around this time. It was like he knew I couldn’t last on my own.
I went downstairs to the lobby so quickly that I’d forgotten to put on shoes. By the time I’d noticed, I was standing in front of a security guard, asking to see the CCTV footage from the last twelve hours.
“Excuse me?” he looked at me perplexed.
“Someone broke into my apartment. I need to see the camera footage to prove it.”
“I’ll have to make an appointment with head of security. Did you say you were broken into?” he asked and I nodded. “We would’ve gotten a security alert on our computers,” he scratched his head under his uniform hat, “It’s pretty tough even walking through the door if you’re not a regular in the building.”
“I’m telling you that I’ve been broken into. I think that should be enough evidence for me to see the cameras.”
“Well if something was stolen, you should call the police.” he said.
“They didn’t take anything, and I’ll do that once I know who it is,” I started to get annoyed. “You can imagine how frustrating this is for me right now, can’t you?”
“I’ll go get someone,” he finally got out of his chair at the security desk.
I motioned for the attention of the other guard sitting on the other end of the desk to come to my side.
“Yes?” he took a single white ear-bud out of his right ear to hear my answer.
“Could I use your phone?”
I called Zizek’s personal cell number while I waited for the guard to come back. I found multitasking had always made me feel like I was solving a problem more quickly. Before we’d last parted, Zizek and I agreed to track each other’s progress in dealing with the virus. Since I hadn’t been online, I’d assumed he thought the worst had become of me. I don’t know if he’d ever gotten infected, however I did realize that interacting with me might put him at a greater risk.
“Yes?” he answered on the third ring.
“I have to meet with you.”
“Who is this?”
“Aquinas.” I heard a momentary pause, and then he hung up. I waited with the security guards smart phone to my ear for a few moments, waiting for the encrypted call-back. Within seconds, the phone began buzzing against my cheek and I quickly pressed answer on the screen.
“Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” I figured he was probably speaking to me from a gaming headset that was plugged into the speaker of his computer. The tinny sound of his digitalized voice gave me the impression that we were speaking over a proxy internet connection.
“What’s happened with the virus?” he asked.
“I think somehow it’s found my home address and sold it on the nets.”
“Oh my God.”
“I’m not sure, but I think that’s how someone was able to break in last night and make me coffee.” I said.
“Listen, lets meet. Where we’d met last is fine.”
“Fine,” the call immediately went dead.
It wasn’t long before the security guard came back to the front desk to tell me what I already knew. They had nothing captured on the CCTV feed from the previous night that showed anyone entering my apartment.
“And you said nothing was stolen?” the man asked.
“Then why do you think you were broken into?”
I looked down and again noticed my bare feet. “It’s not important,” I shrugged. “If there’s no footage from the previous night, then it obviously didn’t happen.” I said flatly. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go put on some shoes.” I turned around and walked back towards the elevators.
The café was just as empty as it was during our last meeting. The only other patron was an elderly man that sat at the front counter with his back to Zizek and I, who were stationed conveniently in the far corner of the room.
“You said something about them making you coffee over the phone.” Zizek asked.
“That was the only thing that gave me any indication that someone had been there.”
“I thought about it, and it may not be such a bad thing.”
“I don’t follow.” I said.
“It’s a common practice with trolls, you know, the coffee thing.”
“You’ll have to explain yourself a little more clearly.” I said impatiently.
“Low-level trolls who buy stolen info bundles on darknet markets. You’ve seen the type of product before at least?”
“So your saying my information is an info bundle on some darkmarket somewhere?”
“Yes, but it may not be available on some of the more malicious sites. If yours were purchased by trolls, then it could be safe to assume that’s as far down the nets as it’s travelled.”
“So some trolls break into your home and make you coffee? That’s a thing?”
“Well,” Zizek smiled somewhat condescendingly at my ignorance, “sometimes it’s coffee. I have heard stories of being made extravagant meals or having hundreds of orders of flowers sent to peoples apartments.”
“But it’s never anything bad?”
“No, it’s just, you know, for the joke.”
I simply scratched my head. “What are all those papers?” I said referring to the small stack of print-outs that Zizek had with him when I arrived.
“I’d normally show you on my phone,” he then shrugged, “but obviously you know by now how this works.”
I nodded. “I think I’m starting to get the function.”
“These are transcripts from a message board I’d visited some years ago. I was able to relocate the actual page of the forum that I was looking for.” He turned around a piece of paper that was upside down from my angle and positioned it for me to read. I saw some sweat imprints from his hand.
“They’re about B-met?”
Zizek paused for a moment and then continued, as if he’d made some sort of a mental note. “Yes, ‘B-met’ as you said. Or at least it’s incarnation at that time.”
From what I could immediately gather from first glance, it appeared to be some sort of advice column. The specific topic was a peculiar malware that had infected a users laptop which had stolen their information and sold it across the darknets. Most replies mocked what they believed to be a hoax, since the user insisted that the infection had resulted in him being followed, videotaped and even an attempted abduction that he’d narrowly evaded.
“Could this be what we’re dealing with?” I asked as I scanned the lines of comments.
“Keep reading,” Zizek replied flatly.
At the very last page in the final comment, there was a single line of text. The font was so irregular and badly rendered that it was nearly illegible in the print out. I squinted to make it out, and suddenly felt the same weakness in my body that had struck me earlier in the day. The single line read: “You will find yourselves in the black hallway.” Zizek saw my expression change and pulled the paper away.
“When I came across this years ago, it was not a complete thread. I hadn’t looked at it again until recently, when the forum had closed.”
“What do we do?”
“I’ve been considering something that I had overlooked before,” Zizek said. “There are countless services on the darknets that advertise malware removal. It’s using the same programs and techniques as the malware developers to combat their software.”
“I’ve seen them before, but they’re mostly hoaxes. Scammers just trying to get a backdoor into your devices.” I replied.
“I’m aware that it’s usually quite untrustworthy,” Zizek said. “But there is one that I know personally.”
“Actually, he has a team of developers working for him. He simply runs the enterprise. I feel he may be able to answer some questions for us.”
“Where is he?”
“Chinatown. However, I don’t think it’s best that you join me.”
“Why?” I asked, but the answer had already registered in my mind before Zizek could find a proper way to explain himself.
“The security risk is simply too high at this point. I am sure you can understand.”
“This seems like it’s only gotten worse since we last spoke,” I admitted.
“I tried to warn you. This was serious from the beginning.”
I felt as though the more I considered my options, the more I realized I didn’t actually have any. There was nowhere else to go. I’d carved this path into my life so deeply, that there was nothing left to do but go further down the road. I’d left myself no alternatives.
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. Be sure you read Part 1., Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of the No Daylight Series!