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STORY: Where the Eye Lacks Message - Luna Lindsey

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  • STORY: Where the Eye Lacks Message - Luna Lindsey

    Where the Eye Lacks Message
    By Luna Lindsey

    I haven't slept all weekend, since I started this puzzle. The others think this is just a game, a badge contest, an entertaining distraction, but I know differently. I understand the deeper meaning. Nothing gets past me.

    I have examined the badge and con program, attended the "Welcome to DEF CON" panel that explained the badge-design process, decrypted the lanyard, solved the puzzles in the other rotunda, intuited the clues from the t-shirt art, picked up all the secret dead drops, met with each Z-Agent, and found all the hidden web links.

    All of them.

    My long purple hair catches a little on the zipper of my hoodie as I toss it aside. I tie it into a ponytail. No sense getting blood in it.

    A colorful crypto-wheel is decaled on the hard floor beneath my feet. A ring of numbers encircles a ring of letters, and the circle frames a pale yellow pyramid. At the apex of the pyramid shines the Eye of Horus, just like on the dollar bill, and beneath that are stacked the three DEF CON symbols: a smiley face skull and cross bones, a diskette, and the dial from a rotary phone. Radial lines shine out from both the pyramid and the circle.

    It is literally the biggest clue. As a woman, I could lie in the pyramid without a limb touching its edges. During the day, an entire crowd can fit within the circle.

    I have sharpened the edge of the Human badge. It is purple-brown, made of antiqued titanium, a thin cold circle with the Eye of Horus and "H42" laser-cut into the surface like a stencil. I have sharpened its edge and, now prepared, I hold it steady between my fingers.

    It doubles as a razor. Like Occam's Razor, it will cut, simply, to the truth.

    The inside of my left forearm is already bleeding slightly, a light layer of seepage coming through a fresh tattoo of an eye, inked at a parlor here in the Rio Hotel.

    As the badge parts my skin and the tattoo, blood wells up and I stifle my scream into a whimper. I am careful to miss my artery. The clues do not suggest this is a suicide mission.

    No one notices me. It's five in the morning, the only time a con sleeps. By now, I assume con security, the red-shirted goons, are all drunk or passed out. There are cameras here, but they are temporarily switched off. I convinced hotel security I would be playing a harmless prank. The goons had already warned them against social engineering, so I had to blow a Hamilton to insure they believed me.

    One of the first clues, decrypted from the convention signs, said, "Look within yourself where the eye lacks message there hoboes thud of horror."

    There, The Brotherhood of Horus.

    Look within yourself. Relics of the past. Ghost. Candy. The moon can sometimes appear brighter than the sun. The eye is the key. Sheep of the Damned. Lost and found. 153, 108, 33. All have double meanings. The second meaning always points to the second puzzle.

    And here I stand, where no one can see me. Where the eye lacks message. Just another layer of Truth. I chuckle, then wince at the movement.

    I lean over the Eye of Horus. My blood drips into the black circle as large as my splayed hand.

    I kneel.

    With careful alignment, I had placed a piece of scotch tape in the center of the eye, with an Eye of Horus etched in blue ink. It is now covered in blood. At the top rests a wooden coin with Egyptian symbols drawn along its edge. The other solvers think the coins are meaningless misdirection, mere jokes played by the Goons or other DEF CON attendees.

    Haha. So funny. I know this coin in particular is essential to the ritual.

    Where the eye lacks message.

    Not all the clues are metaphor. I look within myself now.

    I reach into the hole in my arm and dig beneath the tattoo. My finger passes through the narrow place between the two bones and I grit my teeth to keep from passing out. As the clues promised, I find two objects: A bloody artifact, and an RFID chip. The final clue, and a key.

    Whether these items were always there, or materialized during the ritual, I don't know. I don't care.

    The RFID chip looks like any other.

    The relic is a small bronze disk, about the size of the wooden nickel, with raised characters I do not recognize. Maybe hieroglyphs. It's like a Mayan pocket calendar or a portable crypto wheel.

    The wooden nickel has absorbed the blood, as has the piece of tape. I lift the coin and leave the tape. There is still a little blood. I leave it for hotel staff to clean up.

    When I stand, I feel a bit faint, and realize my arm is throbbing.

    I have to get going. There isn't much time. It's already the last day of the con, and soon Ra, the sun, will rise. The Brotherhood of Ra is closing in.

    I wrap my hoodie tightly around my arm to stanch the bleeding. It makes me feel a little better. I head to the tower to find the right room.

    LosT is the guy who designed this puzzle. It's going to be a long walk, so I review the clues he has left.

    During the Welcome Panel, he said to, "Keep it simple, stupid." KISS. This was a reference to the shorthand printed in the program, written on a lipstick-stamped note. He also said to use Occam's Razor, with which I just cut myself.

    That's the problem with keeping it simple. This advice only serves to complicate, because simple is relative. To me, it means relying on my intuition, looking past the crypto, the numbers, the math, and looking into the heart of the symbols.

    How do they make me feel? What stories do they tell?

    They tell of Egypt and Brotherhoods and ancient pacts and forgotten technology. They lead to a rabbit trail of links through an internet forest, with meadow websites along the way. I have stopped in each to pick wildflowers. I draw deeper clues from them, these conspiracy sites and fanfic writers who accidentally got a few things right.

    To illustrate, the shorthand in the con program translated to, "The password is Little Sister". There is a single website out of billions that uses this phrase: a chapter from a Harry Potter fanfic, with the title, "The City on the Edge of Forever". Which is also a Star Trek episode where McCoy meets a god-like guardian protecting a portal into the past.

    Horus is the moon, and Ra is the Sun. Ra's ship is said to traverse the sky, just like the Enterprise did when it found the portal. And Horus lost his eye to Set. It was healed, but he plucked it out again to give to Osiris.

    Where the eye lacks message.

    One of his eyes is said to be the sun, the other the moon. Or Ra's eye is the sun, and Horus's remaining eye is the moon. Eyes are the portal to the soul.

    I know my thoughts are rambling, but I go over it again to keep myself awake. The hotel is huge, and the elevators so far away.

    The recurrence of the number 153 had me confused. Until I looked at the stories. It crops up in the bible over and over, and it is said to represent grace. LosT quoted Amazing Grace, the hymn, when he said, "I once was lost, but now am found".

    The rest of that line goes, "was blind, but now I see". Just like Horus.

    The realization gives me shivers. The excitement keeps me vertical.

    The clues repeat the number 33; also biblically and culturally significant. Not to mention its prominent placement in the word "l33t".

    The number 108 is the most significant in this whole game. It won't go away. Everything adds up or multiplies or points to 108. Of course I didn't miss the reference to the TV show "Lost". Just about every religion in the world holds it significant, with ties to the Sun and the Moon.

    Of course these numbers all have something mathematical in common. The digits of 153 and 108 add up to 9. 33 multiplies into 9.

    The other solvers have dismissed The Sheep of the Damned, a creepy black and white image of a row of sheep with glowing eyes. They think it's a joke, but the geotag shows this photo was taken 108.42 miles, or 333,333 cubits, from the hotel. At the site of numerous sheep mutilations.

    Like stray synchronicities, the clues blur and merge, like a ball of yarn with a hundred little tails, and I, an obsessed kitten, bat at each until it unravels. I take nothing for granted. I could write a whole wiki to explain it all.

    In short, The Brotherhood of Horus is real, and they oppose The Brotherhood of Ra. Both are here, at the con.

    Ra plots disaster in seven days. I got the date from the Chinese symbol for "ghost" printed all over the place. It just happens that the Chinese Ghost Festival starts exactly one week from today, when the realms between heaven and hell open.

    A portal. The kind of portal that can't be good.

    Here I am, working the final clue, spilling blood on the floor. Trying to prevent some terrible disaster I barely understand.

    Elevators take forever, even at 5am. I press the "up" button and wait.

    I have the RFID chip pinched lightly between my fingers, a cylinder the size of an overweight maggot. It will open the door to a room in the tower. I just need to figure out which one.

    I have my guess. Each badge-type has a number that I believe will point to a four-digit room number. But which ones, and in which order?

    I've ruled out Human badges. Goon and Contest badges are single digit, and Uber Badges are blank. That leaves Press, Speaker, Vendor, and Sleeper Agent. 52, 54, 60, and 36. Two of these will join together to form the Voltron of room numbers. There I will find either friends or foe.

    When all else fails, brute-force is every hacker's fallback plan. I can look for an RFID reader. I can do this.

    But I'm feeling faint. Twelve rooms don't seem like much, but I'm low on sleep and food and water and caffeine and I'm bleeding like a suicide victim.

    Then it clicks as the elevator dings.

    Keep it simple. Sum to nine, like the other numbers do. 3+6 and 5+4. It is either room 5436 or 3654.

    I go to the fifth floor first, on instinct. As the elevator climbs, I realize the sums of both room numbers will be 18; sum it again to get 9.

    At the door of 5436, I hesitate. I see it there, a thin wedge of a black plastic portable RFID reader. The blood is drying on the chip. As I hold it close, a green light blinks.

    The door swings open on its own power. A large man stands behind it, his arms crossed before him. He is wearing a black suit. They're always wearing black suits. I wonder if, in the end, this is all just an elaborate game of Spot the Fed.

    "What's the password?" he asks.

    "Stillest rite." It's an anagram of little sister. Keeping it simple.

    He nods his head once, and motions me in. I gratefully collapse on the stuffed hotel chair. My head is spinning.

    "So I guess you're The Brotherhood?" I ask.

    Suit nods his head once, at a 33 degree angle.

    The bathroom door opens and a skinny bearded guy in a DEF CON 12 t-shirt walks in. He shakes my hand. My good hand. He congratulates me. I ask him what I've won, other than the need for a blood transfusion. He seems to notice my wound for the first time and he pales.

    "Why so surprised?" I asked. "The clues were clear. I couldn't get in here without gouging myself open."

    "There were... several other ways," he says. I probably look shocked or upset at this point.

    He motions to the Fed-impersonator, who presumably will call for medical help, but instead he returns from the bathroom holding a golden scepter. There is a snake twined around it. A real snake. Before I can stop it, the thing lashes forward and bites me.

    I stare disbelieving at the two punctures in my upper left shoulder. My fingers go numb and my arm stops hurting.

    "Don't worry," t-shirt says. "It's a fiery serpent. Are you familiar with the bible? Moses? It will heal you. My name is Ron, and you're the first to solve the puzzle."

    "No shit, Sherlock," I snap.

    His eyes go wide a little. "And as you may have guessed, the puzzle is a little more than a distraction. We're recruiting. We need people who are smart, determined and... a little crazy."

    I thank him for the compliment and ask him what the benefits are. I peel back my hoodie, crusted with blood, and peer at the wound.

    My arm seems to sew itself together. Apparently they provide good medical.

    "Before we sign paperwork, we need the item," he says. His eyes flick towards my arm. "The thing you pulled out of there."

    "Where is LosT?" I ask.

    "He is not here," Ron replies, business-like. He looks a little silly, acting like a Fed with his t-shirt-unshaven-don't-shower-at-the-con look.

    "Is he one of you?" I ask. "One of The Brotherhood?"

    "You are not authorized."

    "Are you Feds?" I ask.

    The suit opens his mouth, and out comes his voice, deep as the bass in a dubstep song. "We've been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun."

    I recognize it as a verse from Amazing Grace. But there are changes to the words.

    "We've no less days to sing Ra's praise, than when we've first begun."

    I leap to my feet and dash towards the door. I'm pretty sure Ra are the bad guys. But the clues were sketchy. Surely the good guys would let me leave.

    These guys don't. Before I reached the door, the nameless suit has me pinned to the wall. He grips my sore arm and I'm grateful it's healed. But it still hurts.

    I spit on him. He spits back.

    "What is the stillest rite of passage?" Ron asks.

    "Death," I say. The ultimate rite of passage. It doesn't get any more simple than that. He nods in assent.

    They want to kill me. Definitely not the good guys.

    Suit struggles to catch my wiggling right arm, which is still free, and I reach into my pocket.

    As it turns out, MACE is an anagram of GRACE. Actually, it isn't, but it is my password out of there.

    My own eyes sting from the overspray, but in seconds I'm down the hall and on the elevator, alone and panting. I punch floor three.

    I would think if each Brotherhood knows where the other is sleeping, they could just take one another out. Maybe it's just like the cat and mouse chase supposedly played by th3j35ter and Sabu at con this year - tauntingly on one another's tail, but barely out of reach.

    Nevertheless, room 3654 has an RFID reader, too. This one is made of white plastic. The light blinks green.

    Just down the hall, the elevator doors open. Ron and suit stand in the light, like angels on their way down from heaven, glaring at me, but not moving. I don't know why they stay put. It's as if they can't step into the hallway, so they don't even try.

    I take it as a sign that I've found the right room.

    The green light still blinks on the RFID reader. The door isn't opening by itself, so I turn the knob.

    Just inside is another door. To my surprise, it is made of stone. There's a circular indentation, and I instinctively hold my badge up to the hole. It fits. The slab moves aside with a weighty scraping sound.

    Within I see a pale desert and I wonder if I'm at the wrong hotel, maybe the Sahara or Luxor.

    The sand melts like ice cream into a field of green grain surrounded by jungle trees. I can see the pyramids in the background, like a postcard out of time. Of course ancient Egypt would not have been a desert. I have opened the portal.

    Behind me is the hotel hallway, and before me, Egypt. I stand on a stone balcony of some building that probably no longer exists.

    There is a man standing here, just another DEF CON geek in a t-shirt, but this one holds out his hand. I place the blood-soaked wooden nickel there, but keep my personal bubble wide, in case I need to bolt.

    "Horus?" I ask.

    He winks, and it is then I notice he is missing an eye.

    I wink back. "Your Brotherhood needs a little sister," I say.

    He nods.

    "And the sheep mutilations? The ghost festival?"

    He speaks for the first time. "All shall come to pass if The Brotherhood of Ra has its way. In one week, a portal, like this one, will open - from whence shall come a million spirits of the dead, released from the grasp of Anubis. Vegas will become a ghost town."

    I laugh at this, and he raises an eyebrow. I'm starting to think he's the real Horus.

    "You two can't go near each other, can you?"

    He shakes his head.

    "And if I join you, I can help stop them," I conclude.

    He nods. I was right, about all of it.

    I hold the little Mayan disc up in my fingers. The Egyptian sun glints from its etched glyphs and I notice a pattern and realize.

    It's another puzzle. One Horus has not yet unraveled. I'm good at this. Exceptionally good.

    "I'll do it," I say. I don't even ask about the benefits.
    Last edited by Nikita; June 1, 2012, 03:27. Reason: Format Tweaks
    "Haters, gonna hate"

  • #2
    Re: Where the Eye Lacks Message - Luna Lindsey

    Nice piece of non-fiction. I never thought to look under my own skin for clues to the badge contest but it makes perfect sense in hindsight.
    --- The fuck? Have you ever BEEN to Defcon?