I was up shit crick. I didn’t have a paddle. I didn’t even have a boat. I was trying to get the SD card I lifted to BossMan95, but I had a major roadblock: Jenny.
I was up shit crick. I didn’t have a paddle. I didn’t even have a boat. And, it wasn’t so much a crick as a raging, churning, river of sewage.
I was on a Greyhound Bus in the middle of nowhere. It was raining cats and dogs, the bus had pulled over twice because the driver couldn’t see… you know… the road…
Most importantly, I had just finished explaining to Jenny, my neighbor on the bus, the woman who had just seen some very inappropriate and illegal content on my laptop screen, that I was not a pervert who should go to jail.
Holy balls - lightning struck a road sign we were passing just now. That was close. Hopefully that wasn’t a sign that God thought I was a pervert who really should be in jail. Come on, God. You know I’m cool.
In my explanation to Jenny, I was 100% honest. No, really. I mean, the porn shit was definitely not me, and I did tell her all about my heist at Gateway Underground Secure Storage. I stunned Barry, rammed the fence with the first car, ran the road block with the second car, jumped out of the second car, lost my bag, found my bag, Uhaul, I covered it all.
I was 100% honest, but I did leave a few parts out.
The tide turned in my favor, when I told Jenny why I did it: Because my sister is dying of COVID-19. Teresa ran a chain of nursing and assisted living homes and was one of the first to come down with it. She was really sick and of course, the assholes at her insurance company refused coverage. Of course. Not that it mattered. The doctors didn’t know how to treat her anyway.
No, Teresa hadn’t been tested. There are more reliable tests now, but not back then. What we needed was a cure. I explained to Jenny how I posted on Dark World a few months back and got a DM from a guy with the handle BossMan95. I even pulled out my old iPhone with the shattered screen and tried to show Jenny the DMs I’d exchanged with BossMan95.
Jenny absorbed all of that, rapt with attention, captured by the tension. But she said, “That doesn’t explain why you have that shit on your computer.”
I said, “So, BossMan95 and I thought it would confuse the FBI or police detectives or whomever if we took random SD cards, instead of only the one we wanted. We needed to give them more leads to chase. So, we did. And, I was just looking at what we had taken, because apparently, one of them is that Cyber Weapon. I wanted to see what I had taken… and I found that… that….”
I trailed off, I didn’t even want to say it out loud.
So, I had explained all of that to Jenny, and … she bought it!
Let me rephrase that. She believed it. After all, what I said was true. I’d left out a few things, but the stuff I included was factual.
Jenny said, “This is amazing. Here I am just taking the bus to see an old boyfriend in Denver, and this happens to me. It’s so exciting. What are you going to do with this Cyber Weapon… uh, Styx?”
At that moment, there was a “whump” and a “thump thump thump” and the bus was swerving, and crap was flying everywhere. I had my laptop on my lap and a mobile hotspot balanced on my knee and it all went flying. Like a ninja, Jenny snatched my laptop out of the air. We swerved a couple more times, and the bus came to a stop on the side of the highway.
Over the intercom, the driver said, “It appears we have a flat tire. I will go check it out.” Jenny looked at me and giggled. With a flourish, she presented me with my laptop.
A couple of minutes later, the driver, soaked to the skin from all the rain, came back on the bus and announced. “The driver-side front tire is flat. I’ve called for a truck to bring a new one. It will be at least an hour.”
I swore, but Jenny said, “Ooo, this is becoming an adventure. This is a more exciting trip than I thought it would be.” She changed her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. She said, “What are you going to do with the weapon?”
I whispered back, “I don’t think I actually have it.” I explained about the supposed countdown and how I hadn’t actually done anything.
Jenny’s excitement drooped. She said, “Oh, okay. You think it’s just a coincidence?”
I said, “I guess. Or someone is using my heist as cover for something.”
“Show me the SD cards.”
“Uhhmmm, Okay. I guess.” I dug out my faraday box, opened it, took out the pouch and handed it to her. I took the SD card out of the laptop and handed it to her, too. She said, “This is it? This is what they think is a weapon?”
I said, “The CIA created a software program, that’s all. So, yeah, if I had it, it could be on an SD card as small as that.”
She shook the SD cards out of the pouch onto a blanket spread out on her lap. She said, “There’s only five here. Where’s the sixth one?”
I counted them too. She was right. We got out our phones, turned on the flashlight and looked all around on the floor of the bus.
She said, “Did it get lost when we got the flat and were swerving all over the road?”
I said, “Maybe. I know they were all here when – ”
Then, I had a horrible realization. I was looking under the seat in front of me. I stopped and straightened up. I said, “Oh, no.”
Jenny said, “What?”
I said, “Hold on, let me think.”
I thought: “oh, no.” I knew it must be true, but I didn’t want it to be true. I didn’t want to believe it. Please, please, please! I didn’t do that. Am I that stupid?
Jenny stared toward me, trying to read my reaction, but able to see only a bit of my face. I had a hat pulled low, and a COVID face covering. After waiting a moment, she said, “Tell me.”
I said, “I think I left one of the cards at DeKeisha’s house.”
About this time the truck with our spare tire arrived. We had to get off the bus while the mechanic jacked up the bus and changed the tire. It was still raining cats and dogs, and bats and frogs, and rats and hogs and… I can’t think of any more, but honestly, a fucking SCUBA tank would have been more useful than an umbrella.
Speaking of umbrellas, the mechanic was well-prepared. He had brought twenty umbrellas with him. I shared one with Jenny. I held it up over both of us, and then Jenny squeezed under my arms. She said, “If your arms get tired, you can rest them on my shoulders.”
I didn’t say anything. I needed to focus.
We stood there in the downpour, watching the mechanic, listening to the rain. Jenny smelled good. It was plumeria. It reminded me of Hawaii. When I was in high school, Teresa had paid for me to go to Hawaii with her. She’d just dumped this guy she was engaged to. It was supposed to be their honeymoon. We tried surfing and windsurfing, we snorkeled. We walked the beaches. We talked about life. What we were going to do. Where we were going to go. Teresa had practically raised me after mom died, and this was our moment, the one that glued us together for the twenty years since.
During that trip, we had twice hiked to volcanoes, and both times were caught in downpours just like this one. Plumerias. Hawaii. Teresa. I was going to miss her.
Oh shit, what did I just think?
Just then, Jenny said, “Who’s DeKeisha?”
I shivered. The temperature had dropped dramatically and I was getting wet despite the umbrella. Had I really just thought that I was going to miss Teresa? This effort to help her was not doomed!
Then Jenny said, “Allen?” And, I realized she was talking to me. I’ll never get used to using aliases.
I said, “DeKeisha’s the woman who had the backpack.” I explained to Jenny about the Uhaul pickup and how I’d left my backpack and how DeKeisha had rented it. How I’d nicked the Uhaul form, found her address, went into her house, used her computer to see what was on those cards. But none of the SD cards worked, and then DeKeisha came into her house, got mad, I ran… and forgot all about that sixth SD card.
Jenny looked at me like I was crazy. She said, “You walked into her house, tasted the food on her stove, food she prepared for her family, and sat down at her computer?”
I… nodded. When you say it that way….
Jenny shook her head and said, “That has to be the Cyber Weapon. DeKeisha found it and activated it.”
I said, “No way, to even view the file names on the SD card I had to patch a reverse engineered version of Virtual Box and create a special VM with a very specific file system type.”
She said, “I don’t understand.”
I said, “It’s like trying to run a Windows program on a Mac computer. It doesn’t work natively.”
She said, “Okay. But, we need to see what’s on the rest of those cards.”
I agreed, and a few minutes later, the tire was changed, they let us back on the bus and the bus got back on the road. I shivered. Jenny shared her blanket with me. She spread it over both of us, snuggled up close and put her right hand on my left leg. I fumbled with my laptop, almost dropped it. Jenny giggled. She was being very forward. In general, I’m all for such behavior, but I had just admitted to criminal behavior, she’d caught me with some very illegal images, and she’d never seen me without my mask. She was nuts.
Anyway, her cuddly mood didn’t last.
There were six SD cards. One was at DeKeisha’s. One was the COVID-19 data. I’d already looked at that one, and one other one. We had three left.
We popped in #4. And… ugh. The fourth card was as bad as the third one. Revolting. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. And, I can’t unwatch it. The images pop into my head all the time now. It sucks.
We checked out the fifth card. Also revolting, but much more gory and violent. Jenny nearly barfed. I needed a shower and… a long talk with God.
After that card, we needed a break. We only had one left to look at. Maybe it was the cyber-weapon, but if not… ugh. I don’t know if I could look at any more. The stuff people hid on the secure servers at Gateway was disturbing.
The bus stopped at a depot in Shreveport and we got off to get some water and use the bathroom.
While we were marching off the bus, Jenny said, “We should tell someone. Like the CIA or whatever. About the weapon, and about these other cards.”
I looked around. There were people pushed in close, like on a subway. I said, “Are you crazy? No way. They can deal with their weapon. They created the damn thing. I’m worried about my sister.”
“But, the Countdown…”
I said, “I don’t have it. Someone else took it. Whenever Gateway has an outage, half the spy agencies on earth attack.” It was an exaggeration, but really, Gateway did need better security.
We finally climbed off the bus. Jenny said, “Promise me, okay. It’s a three day Countdown. That’s what the news said. If the Countdown gets to twelve hours, we have to call someone. Okay?”
I hesitated. She playfully grabbed my shirt like she was bullying me. She pulled me close and said, “Okay, bub?” Then she giggled.
Then she said, “Seriously. Just give me DeKeisha’s address. I’ll even call it in when the time comes.”
First thing I thought: Jenny’s going to try to get the cyber weapon.
I said, “I don’t remember her address.” It was a lie, but suddenly red flags were waving everywhere. I didn’t want to stand there looking guilty, so I walked away.
I think Jenny believed me. I think. Really, I don’t know. We got back on the bus and the bus pulled away. I said, “Let’s go into the restroom and flush them.”
Jenny said, “No, some of that was child pornography. And, and, innocent animals. Who knows who all those men in that grainy video were, but that one video alone had twenty beheadings. It was like a contest.”
“That’s why we need to flush them before someone catches us with them!” I said that last part too loud. Several people turned around in their seats to look at me. I pulled my hat down lower.
Finally, we put the final SD card into my laptop. I looked away, trying steel myself. What fucked-upped-ness would we find on this one? I just wanted to get it over with, but I couldn’t look.
Jenny said, “I’ll do it. If it’s horrible, you don’t have to look. If it’s not horrible, we’ll look through it together. Maybe it’s just some guy’s personal diary or something. Okay, here goes… (loud porn sounds).
Jenny put her hand back on my thigh and said, “Oh, Sean, you really need to look at this.”
Suddenly, the video got really loud. It was a new laptop, so I couldn’t find the sound button. I had to press a function key, hold down shift and click the left - no wait, sorry, I had to click the right arrow key. Jesus. Half the bus turned their heads to look at us, judgmentally. Jenny stared back at them and said, “Oh, sorry, just reviewing the video we made last night.”
They stopped staring. Jenny winked and giggled, then smiled her big smile. Even though she wore a mask, it was obvious she had a great smile.
She leaned in closer, watching the video. It appeared to be just porn. What I mean is, there was a well-endowed man, a couple of women - adult men and women. And, no animals, no men with machete’s slowly hacking people to death. It even had a plot, good lighting, props and a score. I mean of course they scored. But there was also a musical score, other than the sex. Anyway, at the beginning of a couple of them, the people wore clothes. They said some corny lines. They wore bell-bottoms, wide-collar shirts, and they had all the body hair. It was clear this card belonged to someone into classic 70s porn…
And… Jenny was into it. In the video we were watching, the one guy did this one thing, and the woman, she well… Okay, look, you’re just going to have to use your imagination, okay? So, they were doing their thing and Jenny said, “Oh, wow. Damn.” I saw her glance at me out of the corner of her eye, look around at the people seated around us. Then, she reached under the blanket… and… leaned back for a little while… and… use your imagination again.
When the video had clima – culminated, Jenny said, “I’m going to take a nap.” She laid her head on my shoulder. I fell asleep, too.
I woke up when we arrived at yet another bus stop. I wasn’t sure where we were.
Jenny had gotten off. Uh, the bus. I decided to stay and watch our stuff.
I saw her through the raindrop-spotted bus window and it occurred to me that it didn’t fit that Jenny was taking this bus. What was her story? Visiting a boyfriend?
Through the bus window, I saw two two men approached her. Two men in suits. They flashed their wallets. I scanned the rest of the bus terminal. At the other end, I spotted two more men in suits, and with them, Barry and Kevin.
They were having people pull down their mask to get a look at them. At the moment, they were examining an elderly couple. Like, I could disguise myself at a frail old woman half my weight?
I looked back toward Jenny, but she wasn’t there. The agents that approached her were now talking to someone else. Someone else who nodded and pointed toward the back of the bus where I sat.
I shrunk down and started to panic and then, “ahh!” Jenny startled me. She said, “grab your stuff, we need to get off this bus right now!”
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson
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