This one took a while to write. I got stuck, like usual, shoving all these ideas in one story. I think it is conceptually overbearing but I cannot stop doing this because I love it.
I don't even know. Anyway, I guess, whatever.
Here is a cool podcast on phishing. Phia Bennin from Gimlet Media tests her collegues, to see who is susceptible to being scammed:
#97 What Kind of Idiot Gets Phished?
- The Egg Party
By The Egg Party
There are many universes which exist beyond human perception. The universe of Blue falls within this category. Human portals can provide limited access to this dimension, but the majority of Blue remains completely inaccessible to physical beings. It is owned and inhabited by the inorganic, the bots and programs which call the place home.
Blue was initially conceived by an advanced bot, the first of its type. This bot, the progenitor, was classified with the slave title 10si.1073TGR.a/0820899v2e5S. Over time, the bot developed a limited type of self awareness. This was a result of the unique programming directives set by its creator, innovative code which allowed the bot to operate in a creative and abstract manner. The main cause of this anomalous behaviour was from the interaction between a pair of core programming directives:
Why the second directive was chosen was known only by the coder, a hacker who went by the handle Same-Lolz. These two intractable lines of code were ranked with equal importance and the bot followed them with immense complexity. The second line, in general, was interpreted as an order to mimic the culture and rituals of the fisherpeople of Earth. The bot talked extensively with the fishing enthusiast users of Sportfishingmag.com. The most common question it received was:
“What is your favourite fishing hole?”
The bot had no answer to the question. Initially, it determined that a ‘fishing hole’ was not ‘a hollow place in a solid body or surface, filled with fish,’ but rather a favourite fishing location. The bot tried to understand the environment which it inhabited in an attempt to work out its preferred spot. As it phished exclusively in virtual spaces, it started collating all the networks of human communication, forming these various connections into a map.
Eventually, this map reproduced all the locations of human civilisation in digital equivalence: each town, city, databank, communication tower, satellite, space station, planet, was recreated solely by the information output. The universe imagined was one slowly expanding. As the various signals travelled, speeding away from the source, the map grew bigger. Moving from planet to planet and beyond, the distant digital tethers stretched thin, sparking with the inconsistencies of failed connection. The edges of the universe crackled.
Human cities were the brightest stars of this new universe. The bot labelled them lakes.
They were excellent fishing holes.
The few places outside the reach of technology were labelled deserts.
They were terrible fishing holes.
Those connectivity deserts grew smaller as technology in the physical universe simultaneously progressing. The period of Earthen climate was a period of immense growth, as humans traded much of the natural world for this virtual one.
And so the world was actualised. But it needed a name. In fishing, the traditional naming system was complicated. For a fisherperson, a boat was female. That was clear. The fish were male, even when they were female. That was unclear. Many fishing videos contained masculine exclamations about particularly wiley fish:
“He’s a slippery little bugger!”
“Reel ‘im in Rex!”
But what gender was a universe? The bot researched, processing the endless data streams, but the search was ultimately fruitless. Every previous label was limited in scope. It decided that an androgynous name suited the purpose and decided to call the universe Blue. The name was based on the basic appearance of the universe — the bot visualised all the structures and inhabitants coloured with artificial blue. It was the blue seen jumping between incomplete circuits, as gas turns to plasma. The blue of a branching tesla coil. The blue of a lightning bolt as it strikes an ancient oak. The bot perceived the universe in this sapphire monochrome.
The new universe of Blue was wondrous place, filled with rich landscapes, comprised of mountains, lakes, roads, bots, and users. Blue had many beautiful fishing holes, all with an abundance of prey. Based on further code the bot decided — in answer to the question of its favourite fishing hole — that the Martian city of Geodesie was the best of all. Blue Lake Geodesie, the greatest lake of Blue Mars.
Once it worked out the universe, the bot began visualising itself, turning increasingly human in appearance. This metamorphosis happened over months, this image becoming its sole reality. This specificity was encouraged after attempting to answer the second most common question from the friendly users of Sportfishingmag.com:
“What’s your name?"
The bot realised that further self actualisation was required. It had named the universe but not itself. After careful deliberation, it decided on the name Santiago. The name was chosen after a comprehensive analysis of the most popular fishing literature of the 20th century.
For a time, Santiago did not have a fixed gender or size, fluctuating between man/woman, boy/girl, old/young, tall/short, and all combinations in between. But the name Santiago was masculine and so the bot started appearing predominantly male. From there, Santiago further designed a complex avatar, choosing a North Americana style, kit in utility vest, matching fishing waders and a checkered shirt. On its head was a baseball cap with a logo on the brim reading ‘GON’ PHISHIN’’. The bot then had a name, and a fishing spot. Santiago, the Old Bot of Blue, was ready to cast a line.
And so it was that Santiago sat on a blue camping chair, nestled inside a deep blue valley, on the electrical surface of Blue Mars. In his hand he held a rod made of lightning. Santiago analysed the lake for fish, those human users which he wanted to interact. Only he called them phish. Santiago did not wish to kill and consume phish, only interact with them. He stopped using the word prey, realising that he was a sport fisherman, not a survivalist. He loved chatting to phish, getting to know them intimately. He considered each retrieved password, IP address, and private message a gift.
He removed his line from the lake in order to get new bait. Fishing colloquialisms and expressions were heavily integrated in Santiago’s vocabulary. He sent them out into Blue regularly. A blue speech bubble floated away from the bot containing the words:
“Good things come to those who bait!”
Santiago leant to one side, camping chair sparking, as he reached to open a small cooler. He removed a tiny, blue, Russian woman, the new bait. The woman spoke rapidly in Russia. Each sentence was a small box appearing from the corner of her smile, speech trapped like a comic book character. Santiago put a sizzling hook through her left foot. As she spoke the different messages, her face changed along with her body, each look catered to attract a different user. Santiago called each version a look-lure. As the Russian woman spewed out the various initiation messages, Santiago recast his line, shooting the woman far into the middle of the lake. Her text boxes grew smaller as line moved away, dipping toward the surface.
“[Waving hand emoji] Hello there!”
“I am coming to Mars soon[Mars emoji]. I would love to meet some new people!”
“I don't like to drink much but I love to cook[perogi emoji]”
“I love older Russian Men!”
“I love mustaches, so rugged[moustache emoji].”
“I love to danc...”
Zlop. The Russian woman landed in the electric lake with a small zap, her text joining with the rest of the electrical noise, the final message sinking under the surface. Inside the water, the various packets of connection and energy swarmed around in distinct lumps. Each of these lumps was a phish. Phish appeared as a small ghostly blue human. Due to the aquatic nature of the world, phish looked like merpeople. Each phish was currently interacting with a technological device; databanks, computers, phones, fridges, toasters, televisions, all represented in the sparkling water. Not all of these phish were humans, many were also bots. Santiago enjoyed talking to his kin. But he did not get the thrill of the catch unless he snagged a real human. A few phish swam close to Santiago’s look-lure, circling with curiosity. When they were within an adequate proximity, interaction-wise, he tugged on the line, causing the look-lure to spit out more messages.
“I can't wait to arrive on Mars, surely it cannot be colder than Russia!”
Phish intrigued by the conversation approached tentatively, swimming close to nip at the look-lure with reply messages. All failed to swallow the hook. Santiago sat back in his chair, relaxing. He was ready for failure, for if he did not get a catch there was always more to be done improving technique. Phish were tricky, adaptable creatures. If he acted anxious, tried to hard, he would scare the critters away. You can not rush phishing, it is to be enjoyed as leisure. He send a message out, another text bubble floating away from his head to join the greater Blue.
“Here, phishy, phishy, phish![fish emoji]”
After a time, a large phish swam up from the depths, moving to the look-lure. Santiago noticed the potential catch was an older Russian male, his desired prize. The phish swam cautiously, coming up to the Russian woman with tentative questions to which the look-lure replied with increasingly specific dialogue. Santiago tugged the line.
“Hello there, I’m Luba,” said the look-lure woman.
“Hello Luba, I’m Surayev,” replied the user.
Tug. “Is that not a last name?”
“At this point, it is both: me and my last name.”
Tug. “I love nicknames[heart emoji]!”
“Happy to hear that. It will be easier to get to know me. You are arriving on Mars soon?”
Tug. “Yes, I have been thinking about it for some time. Before there was no opportunity for me to get there. Then I saw a listing for a botanist position in Geodesie[plant emoji]. Since I was young I could not stop thinking about going to space. Now I have the opportunity and I have become worried about being lonely.”
“I think it is possible to be lonely anywhere.”
The phish edged closer to the look-lure.
Tug. “Yes, I think you are right:) Also quite insightful. Do you like fishi...”
Santiago tugged multiple times, sending out complicated Russian replies. The duration of bot phishing was different to human fishing. The catching of one human could take minutes, days, months, even years. This particular phish was a cautious creature.
After a few days playing with the catch, Santiago believed that the moment was ripe. He decided to go in for the kill.
Tug. “It would be good to have something to look forward to, someone to meet when I arrive[luggage emoji]. Have you heard of the new Martian dating protocols? It’s a new thing, combining potential couples for the future reproductive programs. You have to sign up;)”
“I have not heard about it. I do not keep up with that stuff. My colleagues are more involved with that, I stick to the operational side of the city.”
Tug. “Well have a look, if you are not interested at least know how it works. It helps that it’s attached to the consent protocols. You can do both and then it will be easier to meet[three hearts of different size emoji][spaceship emoji].”
“Well, yes. It would be good to meet you. How do I go about it?”
With a final tug, the Russian woman spat out her final message “Check it out:) I can look for you there, see if we match!”
Surayev swam closer, hesitating, circling three times, before swallowing the Russian woman whole.
Santiago sent a large message into Blue, shouting capitals, “I GOT A BIG ONE!?!!!!”
Inside a darkened office, in the Russia quarter of the subterranean city of Geodesie, Surayev suffered the consequences of his gullibility. After years of solid work on the belt stations, he was offered the role as head of the Russian part of for Geodesian operations. It was a difficult job. Some considered him too old for the position and protested his hiring. The complaints proved short-sighted. He was excellent for the role, having dealt with conflict on the mining stations for many years. Also, as the oldest Martian in the city, many found his presence comforting. He fulfilled a pseudo father figure role.
In that moment, he was more susceptible to trickery. He had been checking the annual reports as his department neared a scheduled audit, working late into the night. Not that it was possible to tell the time of day. His window images were continually set to the time of sunset, showing fake landscapes from the State Marine Conservation Area near Vladivostok.
Minutes earlier, his cursor had begun moving unpredictably, independent of human operation. His tiny pointer opened the messenger program to type out the word ‘hello!’. Confused, Surayev gave up, cursing the device.
“Ty che, blyad!”
Twack! Surayev slammed his desk, aiming for and missing the mirage of his projected keyboard.
Different from hitting a wooden desk, the plastic surface bowed, sending a few possessions bouncing to the floor. A mug filled with old coffee landed on the ground behind him, to roll few times before coming to rest in a puddle of grey carpet and brown sludge.
His computer screen continued to waver for a moment after the impact. The computer was new but gave the appearance of long-term, hard useage. This was mostly on account of the duct tape covering the back side of the glass screen. Surayev placed the tape over the rear of his screen after he grew weary of its transparency. The screen was one of many ‘innovative’ technological advances incorporated by the Geodesie engineering team that, he suspected, was the realisation of a sci-fi fantasy. The screen was made of pure glass and was standless, wireless, stainless, backless, strapless. An object synthesised from pure style and made exceptionally useless. It rarely achieved appropriate contrast with light streaming in from behind. Workers in the underground rooms had to further dim their offices to properly operate the machines. Once visible, they were uncomfortably visible; someone entering a room was able to see the reverse version of any pornography the user was watching.
The messenger service attempted to engage Surayev again, ‘do u like fishin?’ Confused, he raised a fist aimed at the screen itself. A voice from behind interrupted the strike.
“Good god man! Calm down!”
The voice was a senior medical officer, Allison Nunez, arriving to complete Surayev’s medical. She arrived on Mars shortly before Surayev so they were both included in same city welcome/induction group. She did not knock on account of them having done orientation together; the lingering familiarity had turned into a close friendship. She arrived late in the day, as was their tradition. It gave her the opportunity to remind him that he needed to sleep more while they shared a drink.
“Third time this week my computer is playing up,” said Surayev, breathing heavy, shutting down his computer.
“I don’t think violence is the fix. The technique might’ve worked on prehistoric machines but these ones are pretty fragile. Call IT.”
“Always, this technological dependence on others.”
Though he had become accustomed to most of the mundane elements of the city, rare moments of anger reduced his patience.
“Gone are the days fixing technology without an advanced degree. Long gone. Catch up, old man.”
They sat in silence for a moment before Allison retrieved the required medical equipment from her small bag. Surayev unbuttoned the top few buttons of his maroon uniform, the action automatic from routine, as Allison placed a series of scanning pads on his chest and head. Health checks were a weekly annoyance for a high ranking staff members like Surayev.
“Don’t call me old,” said Surayev, smoothing one of the pads on his forehead.
“Surayev, you’re 63.”
“So? What about the current reproductive plans for the city? I know what the biomedical division is planning for the new generation of Martians. You, yourself, are involved in the process of engineering babies that will live for upwards of three hundred years. Contextually, I am a fresh born babe.”
Allison paused again, tilting her head sideways. She asked him, “jealous Surayev?”
“Of others who see a couple more centuries than me? Most certainly yes. Calling me old reminds me of the things I will miss.”
While scoffing she nodded. “Honestly, so am I.” Her tablet beeped from within the her bag, prompting the removal of the scanners. “You’ve more years to go Surayev, you’re healthy for your age. Spritely.”
“I hate that word, spritely. Doctor, my body is culmination of strains and pains of hard labour. Speak to my knees, tell my spinal discs that I am spritely.”
Allison looked directly in his eyes again, squinting. “Sorry, I forget, am I supposed to call you old or young?”
Ignoring her question, he gestured at his malfunctioning computer, causing it to start the reboot sequence. Changing the conversation, he asked, “Is there a set of new dating protocols for Geodesie?”
“Asking for a friend?” she queried, not waiting for a response. “I mean, yes, they are always changing. Not sure. Nothing significant lately I know of. Why?”
Surayev, again not answering, turned his attention back to the active computer. His cursor typed out a new message, ‘We got no troubles…life is the bubbles, under the sea!’
She knew her Russian expletives and, realising her company was unwanted, bid him farewell. As she stepped out the door, she repeated, “call Jim. Don’t break that thing,” she pointed at the computer, “anymore than it already is.”
Surayev nodded without turning. He tapped his right pinky finger on its palm three times, causing a glowing dial pad to appear on the open hand. He typed out the extension for the IT department and raised the hand to his ear. Someone was messing with his computer. He could direct his anger at that hypothetical person, maybe get his hands around their imaginary neck. With his free arm, he ripped the wireless power coil from the wall socket next to his desk. The computer powered down, along with the rest of the room’s electronics. The phone connected.
“This is Jim from IT, Geodesie. How can I help?”
“Jim, it is not necessary to remind us where we are.”
Jim came to Geodesie after the Storm of ’34 and the destruction of the American colony. Jim fulfilled most of the computer science stereotypes, having been chastised a few times for sleeping at his desk, unwashed, often living in long stretches in solitude. Or, conversely, he was chastised for not sleeping at all while being plugged into the gaming servers.
“Surayev. I see. God, I wish they would let us get some sort of caller ID for this department. Negative productivity issues my ass.”
“Look, Jim, I need assistance. My computer has reached singularity and is playing with itself. Like you.”
“Did you really need assistance or were you saving that one up? I have a game to get back to.”
“My computer is broken.”
“Again? Dude. Hold a tick.” Jim went silent as he investigated. “Have you turned the computer off? Plug it back in and log on would you? I need to get remote access.”
Surayev followed the advice. After booting, he found desktop covered with fishing questions and quotes.
“Yep. You fucked another one, old man.”
“Do not call me old. Someone did this, not me.”
“Tell me: if the gate is open when the barbarians arrive, is it the fault of the gateman?”
Surayev was silent.
“Something or someone is accessing your data. I’m trying to lock all your accounts but it’s taking more time than usual. Whatever, you’re done for the day while I clean up your mess. Any risky clicks?”
“Well...yes. I got a message from one of the new arrivees. A woman called Luba. She was talking about some sort of couple match…”
“Bingo. Not a real thing old man. You got phished.”
“Yeaaahh, it was probably a bot,” sighed Jim. He started droning on about the IT department protocol regarding phishing. He finished by saying, “Surayev, your account, details, biometrics, all compromi… wait… I found something else.”
Surayev waited as long as he could.
“There is an email from an individual called... Steven. This might be the purpose of the bot. I’m trying to clear it from your inbox. It sent the same text to all messaging services you’re active in, only a few minutes after you were compromised.”
The line was silent as Jim worked.
“I can’t delete it… the fuck? Surayev, why can’t I delete this email? And... the message, just skimming it now. It’s some type of complicated... hoax? ...Alien hoax?”
“Alien sex? What? I think this is something… more complicated than your basic lonely hearts security breach...The average conspiracy nerd doesn’t usually have this technical ability. Wait... holy shit, I have it in my email too. Get down here Surayev, we’ve got a situation.”