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Insecure Box

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  • Insecure Box

    Insecure Box
    by Episkipoe

    I'm sitting on the stone floor of the Rend Lake rest area. Vending machine Sun Chips on my left side, sitting cross-legged with a trackball on my thigh, laptop in front of me. Plugged in, recharging. Back against the wall, cranking out some code that came to me while I was driving.
    He comes in dripping, waiting for the rain to stop. The dark clouds rolled in sudden and fierce, but they won't last long.
    He sits next to me, periodically peering at my screen. Looks at me quizzically. I'm swearing at my machine, but when I notice that he's listening to me I subdue my stream of obscenities and start explaining.
    "I refactored the learning algorithm, trying to more faithfully model LTP."
    "What's that?"
    "Using a modified hidden Markov model to determine the deltas for the weight vector utilizing a time by signal matrix."
    "What's that?"
    "Which part is confusing you?"
    "All of it."
    "Well, look. I loop over the elements here. Shit, I'm missing an equal sign, resulting in assignment rather than a test for equality. No wonder it's crashing. "
    "Yeah, totally."
    I realize that explaining it to him forces me to think about the code quite differently. More pedantic and careful. Traits I tend to eschew. He could help me find bugs before I even compile the code, let alone fire up the debugger. A tool like this is too powerful to pass up. I decide to take him with me. I don't bother phrasing it as an offer; thankfully he seems eager to come along.
    He tells me that his name is Voltaire. I don't think that is his real name. I decide to call him Volt. I tell him my name is Edgar Illin' Poe, but he should call me EIP. I pretend that I've long forgotten my given name, but I just hate being called Bob.

    I'm making room for his suitcase in the car, displacing the ramen and whiskey. He asks me about the box.
    I picked it up last night from Nick Oliveras, an individual I met in one of the shadier back alleys of the Internet. He offered me 160 dollars to deliver a

    package. I needed an excuse to get out of town for a couple of days so I found myself in Grant Park at 23:00 meeting a lanky kid with a mop of tussled brown hair, wearing black slacks, a black wife beater and a pistol in his waistband. He apologized for looking disheveled, "I was just working out." He handed me a shoe box wrapped up in duct tape and a piece of paper with a Tampa address on it.
    Nick held it underneath a street light to show me that the one end that is not covered in tape is adorned with drawings of little skeletons. He then whispered to me "Do not tarry. Death follows this package."
    I think he intended a dramatic exit, slipping into the shadows, but I parked my car in the same direction he was headed so we walked alongside each other in awkward silence until I reached it.

    Volt grabs the box. "Dude, are you kidding me? You have no idea what's in there? Could be drugs."
    "Yes, I've hitherto been operating under the assumption that's what's in there. Now put it back."
    "Feel the weight of this. Now I'm no expert, but this has got to be worth way more than one sixty. Screw Florida, let's just sell it ourselves."
    "Look. This isn't ebay. If I fail to deliver this box it isn't negative feedback I have to worry about. My life depends on it."
    Volt cradles the box in his arm, pulls a knife from his pocket and cuts through the tape. The little knife sticks and snags. Some gray powder spills out.
    "Cocaine! Jackpot."
    "Uhh, I don't think that's cocaine." I sigh as he sniffs it. "Does it smell like cocaine to you?"
    "I can't really tell." He dips his finger in and scoops some into his mouth.
    "Are you high?"
    "I don't know, I don't think so. This tastes like ash."
    "Why would someone put ashes in an Adidas box? Wait, what's this?"
    There's a piece of paper glued to the underside of the lid that reads CREMAINS OF: LAVERNE R. ERSBO
    "I got dead person up my nose!"
    "Well, you shouldn't have sniffed so hard. I tried to stop you."
    "So, what's her street value?"
    He laughs sarcastically. "Fine. We'll take Grandma to Florida. It's where she belongs." We apply some fresh tape to the box and put it back in the trunk.
    We get in the car and take the highway south.

    Voltaire is quiet for a while as he familiarizes himself with the radio controls. Failing to find a song that holds his interest he clicks it off and asks me "So, what do you do? I mean, besides stuff like this."
    "Well, I was a programmer for a bank. It was fun at first, just to have a job where I could spend the whole day coding. So much to learn, fueling my curiosity. But it wasn't long until it became boring. I decided to move on to something more my line. A place where creativity is encouraged and bad code can be rewritten rather than maintained. You can't imagine the nightmares I had."
    "Yeah. Like the one where I'm a webserver and can only speak in SQL and PHP.
    "That doesn't sound scary"
    "Well, I woke up drenched in sweat. And it took a long time to convince myself that it wasn't real. And the whole thing is just so symbolic of my role.

    I'm just a tool, but I want to be the samurai, not the sword. So for now I've gone ronin, freelance."

    "Do you have any games on this thing?"
    "Well, I've been working on this neural net to control a killer robot."
    "Hold the wheel. Here, click load, click Stabby. There's the robot."
    "That's a square"
    "Cube. A 3D simulation. Use the arrow keys to rotate. Robot. Press space to watch him destroy some humans. See, villagers."
    "These are teapots."
    "Right. Well, no. I mean, they're simulated people."
    "This thing isn't really intelligent, is it?"
    "Well, that is an excellent question. It is commonly called 'artificial intelligence' but by artificial we don't mean not-real, but rather, simply that it was created by the artifice of man, as opposed to created by not-man, which in this context would be called nature. It's just a game of semantics, but really you could say that our own intelligence, that is to say human intelligence, is artificial in that it was created by man. Well, man and woman, but I mean man in the sense of the species, not the gender. And now we're only starting to get at the question of what it means to be intelligent. What really constitutes intelligence? An arbitrary threshold on a continuous variable which emerges from an amalgamation of relatively simple components. I find this discourse to be rather invigorating, don't you?"
    "Um, no. I mean that it's stupid. The square isn't moving. These teapots aren't getting destroyed. Oh, now the whole thing crashed. This sucks."

    We stop in Paducah for dinner. I check my email and find another death threat waiting for me. I've been going back and forth with some chuckle-head that's upset because I managed to grab the username EIP on a couple sites. He seems like a real nutjob so I conceded it to him on all servers except for those on my personal domain. After he started going after my home network I wrote some scripts to mailbomb him. After a few escalations there was some collateral damage. It really wasn't my intention to expose his mother to a dump of and all that porn, but I must admit I'm kinda glad it got him kicked out of the house. Well, he's decided that I should die for that: "I am the EIP and that to which I point will next be executed. And tonight I point at you."

    Now, this isn't the first time some Internet tough-guy has threatened to kill me, but this one did attach a .jpeg of my apartment so I decided it would be best to play it safe and be elsewhere until this blows over.

    I'm putting gas in the car when Volt reaches down and taps his knees.
    "I just realized that I'm not wearing pants."
    "I wish you wouldn't say things like that."
    "I didn't even know I'd packed a pair of shorts. But look at me, I'm wearing some. Hot damn! Hey, let me drive."
    "Alright, fine."

    Coding in the passenger seat I work through a few bugs and read a book while the simulation runs. I'm currently going through the Norton Anthology of English Literature. To save a few bucks I usually buy my books used. While I personally don't write in books I have on occasion enjoyed the insight of readers that have come before me. However, the previous owner of this copy of volume 2 went overboard. Like in Don Juan, where it reads:
    "Her struggles ceased with one convulsive groan;
    On her sire's arm, which until now scare held
    Her writhing, fell she like a cedar fell'd."
    The note in the margin reads "she falls."
    This is the literary equivalent of commenting i++; with /*increment i here*/ Infuriating.

    I'm looking out the window. Without my glasses things in the distance look softer. The world is swathed in fuzz, it loses the perception of precision The trees at the horizon are just a solid smear of green. Clouds melt into the blue sky.
    Strange though, that the things nearby are also so blurry. Eyes must be getting worse. Then I realize how fast we're going. "Hey, slow it down a little, will ya? We're trying to fly under the radar. Do NOT get us pulled over."
    "Sorry, chief. But I'm racing this Miata." He glances in the rear view window. "We're winning"
    "Does he even know that he's racing?"
    "He might have figured it out when I flipped him off. He stopped signaling his lane changes, so I've done the same."
    "Jumping Jesus. It's a wonder you still have a license."
    "I guess it would be. Technically I never got my license."
    "Wait, what? No license? But that story you told me... The one that ended with you getting a DUI. You think that you would've mentioned not having a license."
    "Actually, that time I was on a horse. Didn't I mention that? That was the best part of the story."
    "You can't get a DUI while riding a horse."
    "That's what I said!"
    "Pull over."
    "I'm not going to pull over here, too dangerous. Can you wait until we get off the highway a little bit"
    "Fine, fine. Just slow it down a little. OK?"
    "You got it. I'll try and keep it in the double digits."

    It's getting dark as we come up on Nashville.
    "Hey boss, don't you think it's quitting time? It's beer thirty. Let's hit the bars."
    We each order a pint then find a booth near an outlet so I can plug in the laptop.
    "Don't look now, but I think that the guy from Miata just walked in."
    "This should be great. I really hope you don't expect me to get involved. You had this coming. Just take it like a man."
    "Oh, he's coming towards us. I'm getting out of here."
    Volt dashes from the table and is out the back door as I'm still gathering cords. I hear breathing in my ear. I turn around and come face to face with a pasty, balding gentleman, about two stone overweight. He's grinning oddly. I start to apologize on behalf of Volt and explain that while it was my car I wasn't the one driving it. But he cuts me off before I can get through any of that.
    "Hello there, Y.T., my little courier. Hand me the package and no one gets hurt."
    "Just who in the hell are you calling 'whitey'? You're paler than me and that's quite an accomplishment. I'm actually rather proud of my deathly pallor.

    And you'd better keep your hands off of my package."
    "No, no, you philistine. It was a Snow Crash reference."
    "And you want to be my Hiro? I'm sorry, but you seem to have mistaken me for a teenage girl. Who are you?"
    "Just give me the box."
    "Uh huh. You want my box. But we just met. Buy me a drink at least."
    "According to your dossier you may still prove useful to us. It'd be a shame if I had to kill you." He pulls a snub-nose revolver from his pocket and leads me outside. I open the trunk and hand him the box.
    "So, who's Laverne?"
    "She was my partner. You have been hired to take her to the trophy room, but I cannot let that be her final resting place. She will be avenged. Give me the address and I'll let you walk away. But remember that we'll be watching you. And so will they."
    And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, And I looked and behold: a pale horse. And his name, that sat on him, was Death. And Hell followed with him.

  • #2
    Re: Insecure Box

    Some interesting character interaction along the way but I ultimately felt lost and disappointed by the abrupt ending. Please pass the document through a grammar check as missing punctuation may have been part of why it was a dis-jointed read.
    "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."